About Play in the City

“Play recalls forgotten depths and summons them up to the light of day. By making them stay within the everyday, it encompasses art and many other things as well. It uses appearances and illusions which – for one marvelous moment – become more real than the real. And with play another reality is born, not a separate one, but one which is ‘lived’ in the everyday, alongside the functional. It may seem that we are regurgitating the old apology for the acte gratuit, but no. We are protesting against the loss of grace and gracefulness. Play is a lavish provider of presence and presences.”
Henri Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life

Water line

Wall maker indicating an underground water line

Bundled up against the cold central european wind that whips through this city well on into spring, I kept my head down as I walked the few blocks from the 41 streetcar to the University of Vienna, whose main library is my new work place. Along the way, I noticed the regular spacing of iron water line covers dotting the sidewalk every 20 meters or so, and the irregularity of their designs. 1995 – circular with radiating lines; 1985 – similar, but with the addition of some kind of arrow; 1927 – square, emblazoned with someone or something’s initials. Somewhere in the process of crouching down over 50 times to investigate the design and craftmanship of these covers, the idea occurred to me to chronicle them by making rubbings of covers from as many different years as I could find.

1895 rubbing

After a few days spent procuring supplies (thin paper, wax pencils, masking tape, paper portfolio), I embarked on my first rubbing. Initially feeling a bit awkward, I crouched down, blew the dust off a 1895 cover, secured an A4 piece of paper to the asphalt, and began to rub. The black relief came to life on the white paper over the course of three or so minutes. In that span, the feet of passersby circumnavigated me; having not looked up at their faces, I’m not sure whether they expressed interest, amusement, curiosity or impatience. A few blocks later, I stumbled upon 1995.

Since then, I’ve been creating rubbings of all the different water covers I can find, throughout the different neighborhoods in Vienna. Eventually, I hope to systematically map these covers, and research the history of infrastructure and urban development in those districts. It continues to be a fun, rewarding, and exciting way for me to play in Vienna.

Play in the City is Ingrid Behrsin’s research, travel and love of industrial design and urban infrastructure blog.  Launched in April, 2012 while living in Vienna, Austria, the site chronicles her initiative to create wax rubbings of Vienna’s municipal water system covers from the past 100+ years.  Inspired by Henri Lefebvre, Iris Marion Young, Jane Jacobs, David Harvey, Alex Loftus, Bruno Latour and other critical urban thinkers, Ingrid’s interventions aim to relate the mundane with the magnificent, and draw attention to the artistry and interactions that coalesce around everyday urban infrastructures, and the histories of those who create them.

Ingrid Behrsin is a Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the newly-formed Office of Public Scholarship and Engagement at UC Davis. Her research focuses on infrastructure from an urban political ecology perspective. Her dissertation investigated the framing of waste as a renewable energy source in Europe, drawing on insights from critical urban geography, science and technology studies,  environmental justice, and feminist studies.  She holds a PhD in Geography from UC Davis, an MSc in Community Development from UC Davis, and a BA in Development Studies from UC Berkeley.

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