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CURL mixes academics and visual arts in ongoing discussion of cities

CURL mixes academics and visual arts in ongoing discussion of cities

The Collaborative Urban Research Laboratory (CURL), under the auspices of the Critical Research Laboratory in Law & Society at York's Osgoode Hall Law School, has officially been launched, bringing together an unusual mix of the academic and creative, and adding a complex and layered perspective to discussions about cities.

CURL provides an innovative and visual approach to discussions involving globalization and cities by giving social scientists, lawyers, urban studies scholars and geographers an opportunity to interact with photographers, digital media artists, documentary filmmakers and their works. It brings an understanding to the issues that wouldn't be possible without weaving an interdisciplinary academic approach together with the artistic, says Gregory Smith, CURL's acting academic director, 2009-2010.

Left: A guest at the CURL launch studies the photos by artist-in-residence Jorge Uzon. Photo by Uzon.

The space itself is a state-of-the-art multimedia and research facility designed to bring people in and get them talking about urban places. There is a gathering area, a small conference room and two labs with equipment for filmmakers and photographers, which include sound mixing and studio recording capabilities, editing software, as well as high-definition digital cameras, lighting equipment and more.

"On the academic side of things, I think the real genesis for this…came from the fact that there was this really great body of literature that was being written, at least for the last 10 years, about globalization and cities, but that there really wasn't any input by those who focus on the academic side of law," says Smith, a PhD candidate at Osgoode whose research focuses on the role played by law in constructing urban space and society. "The idea was to open lines of communication between people who would traditionally do urban studies and lawyers….and bring the legal community into the discussion of how cities are run." That idea grew to include not only other disciplines, but visual arts.

Right: From left, Greg Smith and Mars Horodyski at the launch of CURL. Photo by Jorge Uzon.

One of the ways visual arts and the academic side of things will come together is through an ongoing reading lab. "We have readings, for example, of work written by filmmakers about cities, as much as we would have, say, a reading from Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, literature, law, urban studies, geography, as widely varied as we can put together," says Smith. The first reading lab in January will look at Toronto, focusing on its growth and the planning decisions that have affected it over the years.

There will also be an online artist-in-residence every month showcasing work that represents some aspects of cities. Photographer Jorge Uzon is the current artist-in-residence. His black and white images of Mexico City and Toronto, which look at how the two cities have changed over the years, are on exhibit at CURL and can also be seen on the CURL Web site.

Left: Greg Smith mingles with guests at the official launch of CURL. Photo by Jorge Uzon.

The equipment is available to those with project proposals related to issues that include city life, urban growth, governance and development, that are accepted by CURL. The project leaders need to show a willingness to collaborate with other CURL members to help nurture the cross-fertilization of ideas and techniques between artists and academics, says Mars Horodyski, a filmmaker and CURL's artistic director, 2009-2010. Already there has been interest from faculty members wanting to partner with CURL and use the equipment. CURL is unable to provide funding, so artists must have their own in place.

Left: A guest at the CURL launch reads about the lab's mandate. Photo by Jorge Uzon

"There are a lot of artists doing really interesting city work," says Horodyski, winner of Ryerson University's 2003 Norman Jewison Filmmaker Award for her film Lemonade and of the 2007 WorldFest Houston International Film & Video Festival Golden Remi Award for her latest short, Spoonfed. "The challenge is figuring out how they fit into our mandate. The global cities theme is a pretty broad one."

Horodyski co-wrote the script for Where the Sidewalk Begins: The University and the Global City, a documentary film celebrating York's 50th anniversary with York law Professor Peer Zumbansen, CURL's director and founder of the Critical Research Laboratory in Law & Society at York's Osgoode Hall Law School. Zumbansen holds the Canada Research Chair in the Transnational & Comparative Law of Corporate Governance. A preview of Where the Sidewalk Begins can be seen on the CURL Web site.

Right: Peer Zumbansen

CURL will also host a screening series in the new year beginning with Radiant City, which looks at 21st-century suburban sprawl. The second film, Vernon, Florida, will explore whether or not a place defines the people within it or vice versa.

"In terms of the long term…it's more of the process, that's the most important aspect, to find engagement with academics and artists," says Smith.

Left: Mars Horodyski

In addition, there will be ongoing blogs with Smith and Horodyski, as well as others, and book reviews and articles to do with cities in the future on the CURL Web site. "There are lots of ways people can get involved," says Horodyski. In 2010, CURL will also host a conference.

Anyone interested in providing essays, book reviews, urban musings, blogging or photography for online publication, should contact Horodyski at or Smith at For larger project proposals, there is a set of application criteria available. For more information, visit the CURL Web site.

The Collaborative Urban Research Laboratory is at 218 Computer Methods Building on the Keele campus.

By Sandra McLean, YFile writer