“Urbanalities” is the third major collaboration between Canadian writer and artist Chris Joseph and Spanish born artist Maria Colino, created under the names babel and Escha, respectively. Unlike past collaborative efforts “Animalamina” and “Dadaventuras,” “Urbanalities” is described as a “versus” rather than an “and” collaboration. Rather than working together on a preconceived narrative, Joseph and Colino remix and revise each other’s work without feedback or discussion. The result is a ten-minute short story-poem-comic strip-musical based around the experiences of a young woman living in a modern, unnamed city.
Presented in Flash, “Urbanalities” requires no interaction from the reader and, because of its the randomly generated text, the piece will never be experienced in the same way twice. Dadaism has influenced much of Joseph and Colino’s work, and “Urbanalities” first appeared on the online Dada magazine 391.org. The Dadaists, who often use chance as an avenue of expression, inspire the aleatory verse style. The black, white, red and blue colour scheme of “Urbanalities” acknowledges the aesthetic of Russian Constructivism.
“Urbanalities” is divided into eight segments, excluding title and credits, which may be viewed in succession or accessed individually through the drop-down bar that appears at the top of the screen. Many scenes are visually and textually kinetic; text flies on and off the screen quickly, capturing the chaos of the city that the images behind the text represent. The poems in the first scene speaks of the city’s evolution and uncertain future, while the cityscape in the background is constantly moving and changing, creating a visual representation of what the words convey. Joseph’s soundtrack adds to the multi-sensory experience; the jarring violin strokes of the first scene contribute to the suspenseful tone.
“Urbanalities” employs a multidisciplinary approach to display the dualities and contradictions of urban existence. The poems in each scene are to varying degrees supplemented by images and sounds that together create a multisensorial impression of contemporary urban life. Some scenes are visually complex, while others are sparsely illustrated. In sixth scene, comic book frames combine with the feminine perspective on sex and relationships to convey the problems of communication between the genders. The dialectic of creation and destruction is represented in the second scene, where the growing city is contrasted with the thoughts and rationalizations of a sniper on a rampage. The third scene features a clock with the face of a Victorian woman in the center. As each second ticks by, the regimented routines of daily life are listed below, detailing the trivial nature of urban existence. This theme is echoed in the title, which implies an “urban, banal” condition.
Mikaela Grigg was a student of Dr. Kiki Benzon for a course in Contemporary Fiction taught at the University of Lethbridge, Canada during the Winter term of 2011.