It Takes a Change in Scenery.


Alan Grabinsky and Yvonne Feiger applied for a collaborative Micro Grant for their new project cosmopolis. 

It Takes a Change in Scenery:

Alan Grabinsky is a recent masters graduate from the Media, Culture and Communications program at New York University, and the co-founder of the "Cosmopolis: a scrapbook of global life" blog/project.

One must travel great distances to find what the search was all about, or so they say. In this sense, it is the process itself—the 

journey—which becomes the project; the constant transformation of the scenery, the shifting change of direction, all the time. And, as priorities shift, the goal changes, and we are left with nothing but to adapt. What was deemed important a few months ago no longer stands out for us, at least not in the same form.

The concept of "cosmopolis" emerged in New York as part of our ongoing talk of our professional lives. Throughout these discussions, the nature of globalized life in cities remained a common, underlying thread. The interest in global cities was personal, but mostly academic: we wanted to “understand” the convergence of global circuits and creative circles, to “research” the role of media in the creation of urban identities, to “explore” urban life in different parts of the world. The collaborative grant from ROI gave us confidence in this pursuit, making us feel that we had a worthy cause. Yet, as we found ourselves reflecting on our experiences in different establishments in New York, Mexico City and Istanbul, we realized that the academic language used to do “research” felt too constricted, too paternalistic, too narrow to express the complexities of city-life. Yes, these cities are passing through enormous shifts: the disproportionate growth, the influx of immigrants, the circulation of images, the economic and identity crises—but we decided to come at it through a different way.

As we traveled we came to understand that the most personal of stories were the most powerful ones. Thus, we decided to focus on our own.

Not that we haven’t succeeded in our original goals. The three qualities of the project—research, networking and creation—have certainly been met. During a short stay in Vienna we have been able to get the ball rolling and registered "cosmopolis," which could allow us to receive further funding from the Austrian Government and the European Union. I have also been accepted to present at the International Media, Technology and Design Conference taking place in Istanbul on April 28. And we have met with Atölye, an innovative hub for designers and creatives in Istanbul.

Back to storytelling, I have written about our experiences in Portable Identity and plan to release an online publication on a diversity of topics of our interest in The first edition, on INTIMACY, should be ready by the end of the next month.

A Journey Begins

Yvonne Feiger founded cosmopolis in the beginning of 2014 with ROIer Alan Grabinsky. She is originally from Vienna and moved to New York City for grad school. Dedicated to her project and to find out more about urban living around the world, she currently resides in Istanbul.

Alan Grabinsky and I applied for a collaborative Micro Grant for our new project cosmopolis. We want to expand our knowledge on global cities and are going on a journey to investigate urban life on different continents. Three months into the project we have traveled from Mexico City to Istanbul, we have collected countless stories in New York City and, now based in Istanbul, we are about to unravel some of our secrets for the first cosmopolis disclosure.

It took us some time to accept that New York City, the place we lived in and wrestled with for over two years, is about to become a story of our past. Alan, having been born and raised in Mexico City, moved to NYC with a lot of experience with big cities–noise, traffic, smog, etc. I had a completely different upbringing, coming from a small and very protected European capitol. Housing, poverty, and education were the subjects of many discussions–not to forget the imagination and functionality of a city. Eventually, we invented our own narrative about the cosmopolis and followed the urge to conquer the global city jungle on our own.

At the beginning of the year we traveled to Mexico City. I was visiting for the first time and was in shock about the manifold faces and incredible diversity of the city. Mexico was not what I expected because the media do not contain the reality of a city. In good spirit, I tried to challenge Alan’s own perspective by offering him my sometimes naïve and definitely Eurocentric opinions on everything; and we both learned something new about his city.

“What do you think of Mexico?” I am still not sure if this is a simple translation from Spanish or if people really care about my opinion. Usually people do not bother to ask open-ended questions; all they want to know is, “So, do you like it here?”

The different worldviews Americans, Europeans, Latin Americans and now borderline European/Asians bring to the table is definitely one very interesting theme that came up during our project talks and will be followed up on. Monuments and symbols that operate—from the past into the present and for the future—are objects of observation for cosmopolis, as well as the rhythms that surround high-streets, tourist attractions, or local hang out areas. People’s behavior and the small details that constitute their everyday lives are worth a look and are as relevant for us as research on gentrification, urbanization, and infrastructure. ROI enabled us to start this venture and made it possible for us to travel to the named cities. We are excited to see where this project will take us geographically and in terms of the imagination. Cosmopolis provides us with space for surprise and serendipity, and we thank ROI for this opportunity.

Post-Cosmopolis Reflection:

When looking for apartments to stay for two months, in Istanbul we—a Mexican man and a Viennese girl—found ourselves negotiating prices with two Iranians, a Turk, and an Armenian. There was no common language, we had to communicate by translating back and forth. 

Something was always lost. These sorts of unforeseen encounters and interactions are the ones we wanted to reflect on in the research project “Cosmopolis”, originally conceived as an academic and cultural journey through a variety of global cities. We started with Mexico City and then visited Istanbul, Vienna, New York, London and Budapest. Even though we originally focused on globalization and its influences, it was soon obvious that we were more interested in telling stories through our own eyes than through complex theories. Now, we still need to make sense of the collection of ideas, notes and snippets, photographs (more than 2,000!), word clouds, characters, and other notes to create a bricolage of our experiences and have yet to decide if the format will be digital or analog storytelling. 

Ee are back in Mexico City, where we started our year ago, and the first city visited with our collective micro grant. Yvonne is taking Spanish classes and is out and about experiencing the city on her own. Alan has received a yearlong writing grant from the Mexican Government (FONCA) to compile all his diaries, written in more than 50 cities around the world. Obviously this forms part of the project. We are confident that soon we will find the right way to express such a mindblowing experience.