Maraya: Sisyphean Cart is a mobile ‘sousveillance’ cart that conducts a site-specific participatory spatial investigation of Vancouver’s False Creek and the Dubai Marina. It premiered at the 20th International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA) in Dubai in November 2014, and completes its second leg for ISEA 2015 in Vancouver. This custom-designed hand-drawn cart is mounted with an automated pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) camera and pulled along both waterfront seawall paths. Imagery produced by the skyscraper-facing camera will provide alternative perspectives on this built environment, from vantage points that intentionally torque a conventional street-view perspective. Through a custom designed program, the PTZ camera searches for connections, similarities and anomalies, generatively remixing its HD video capture with imagery from its doppelganger. Archetypal architectural forms surround the camera, reflecting the master-planned urban landscape that in turn reflects the design and desire of lifestyle and capital that is so fluid and mobile in today’s globalized economies. The cart itself, and significantly the pulling of it, invokes the spectre of labour — purposeful walking as a form of resistance to readily consumed images of idealized leisure — and the Sisyphean weight of this vision.
Meaning mirror or reflection in Arabic, Maraya focuses on the building of Vancouver’s False Creek in the Arabian desert as the Dubai Marina. The Sisyphean Cart is the culmination of an ongoing investigation of these large-scale urban developments that share the same architects, engineers and urban planners by the Vancouver-based collaborative team of artists M. Simon Levin and Henry Tsang and cultural theorist/writer Glen Lowry. Previous projects by the Maraya project have included exhibitions at the Museum of Vancouver, ISEA2014 in Dubai, Art Dubai, Centre A, Vancouver International Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, outdoor projections and installations, public talks and walks, and an interactive Online Platform (marayaprojects.com).
The neighbourhoods of False Creek represent a new form of urbanism, heralded by architecture critic Trevor Boddy and others as Vancouverism, a homegrown response to an outmoded Manhattanism. Indeed, it was the transformation of the post-Expo’86 lands that attracted the attention of Dubai-based EMAAR Properties to realize a new version of False Creek in the Arabian Desert. As a result, Vancouver’s towers of glass and steel set amongst urban waterfronts have become synonymous with an emerging global city built for and populated by newly mobile middle classes from the Middle East and Asia.
Against this backdrop, the Sisyphean Cart functions as a foil that challenges the audience to consider the vital social processes that are lost behind the proliferation of glass and steel facades. Cities as apparently distant and disparate as Vancouver and Dubai have become key sites in unfolding the narrative of neo-liberal mobilities. The historic flow of ideas, people and money between Vancouver to Dubai is a story that binds developers and planners to the goals of capital; it chronicles a zealous faith in returns on investment—rather than addressing concerns around affordable housing, public amenities and usability and the importance of growing civic involvement. We ask, what is missing in this spatial collusion of urban mega developments, real estate speculation and city planning? Is the promise of the livable city another marketing ploy to lure tourist dollars and the capricious flow of international investment? Set amidst the false “green” of Vancouver and the genuine “bling” of Dubai, the Sisyphean Cart reflects the desires of these cities to compete for attention on the world stage, upstaging the local inhabitants in the search for global capital.