Literature Program

Thursday, May 1, 2014 at 7:00 p.m.

SUNY at Buffalo, Talking Leaves…Books, & Hallwalls presents

Ineffably Urban: Imaging Buffalo

Although famously and at various times ruined, rich, poor, cold, Midwestern and Eastern, industrial and no longer so, the fact is that Buffalo, New York, is a city that thoroughly engages its historians, artists, writers, activists, architectural essayists, urban anthropologists and cultural critics, not to mention poets, runners and wing gobblers.

The city is the subject of a new and distinctive exploration, Ineffably Urban: Imaging Buffalo (Ashgate Publishing Ltd., Surrey, 2014), edited by art historian Miriam Paeslack, assistant professor in the Arts Management Program at the University at Buffalo.

It is a collection of critical essays and rich imagery by scholars, artists and community members, some of whom were participants in the 2011 "Ineffably Urban" symposium organized by Paeslack for UB and held at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center.

The book's public launch at 7 p.m. May 1 at Hallwalls, 341 Delaware Ave., Buffalo, will feature talks and book signings by the contributors, who will offer the audience a smorgasbord of intriguing and unexpected ways in which they addressed the Nickel City.

It is an event that will be of interest to Buffalo history buffs, photo lovers, non-academics and academics of many stripes.

The goal of the book, as was that of the symposium, is the exploration of the conflicting imagery, identities and many narratives of Buffalo and similarly situated cities that have emerged through art in recent years: stories told by garbage, old industrial giants, urban farming, even abandoned shopping carts.

Because Buffalo's urbanity is "ineffable"—too complex to be expressed or described in words— the authors explore how it appears in images found in photographs, maps, advertisements and other visual media that reveal the city's peripheral spaces, rubble, neighborhoods, activism, "new pastoralism," refugee urbanism and even pyromania. 

Mary N. Woods, Michael A. McCarthy Professor of Architecture at Cornell University, says the book "challenges and complicates the usual imagery and discourse surrounding today's shrinking cities … excavating the many lives and places nested within the city's past and present."

The book features a forward by Andreas Huyssen of Columbia University, author of "Twilight Memories: Marking Time in a Culture of Amnesia" and a scholar of theories of representation and difference. It ends with an afterward by well-known Buffalo urban activist, author, entrepreneur and local historian Mark Goldman.

Contributors include culture and urbanism writer Jeff Byles, whose work unearths, among other things, the history of demolition and the "unbuilding" of our cities; prominent local artist Julian Montague, whose "Stray Shopping Cart Identification System" provides a language with which to engage in meaningful discussion of these often-homeless and terribly familiar critters; photographer Gregory Halpern, whose photos, he says, are "from the American Rust Belt without being about it," and American historian and photographer Peter Bacon Hales, who considers representations of Buffalo during its monumental transformation from 1804 to 1929.