Walking Corporate Suburbia: A Photographic and Sonic Record

  • Nicholas Bauch (Creator)



[Written by Nicholas Bauch, 2021] This is a collection of digital photographs, audio recordings, maps, and creative writing. They were all made by artist Nicholas Bauch during multi-day walks that he did in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area between 2018 and 2020. The nodes of the walks are Fortune-500 corporate headquarters based in the Twin Cities (as listed in 2019). Bauch navigated from one headquarter to the next using only a compass while walking. His main camera was a GoPro 4, which he wore for most of the walks attached to either his head or chest. This camera was programmed to take one JPG picture every two seconds for the duration of the walks, which ranged between 4 and 7 miles each. Without the use of other wayfinding technologies, the resultant routes are not always the most direct, creating documentation of an embodied trek among some of the world’s most influential repositories and wranglers of capital, and—more importantly—the urban and suburban space in which these centers are situated. Any large scale economic system—capitalism, in this case—has a built form that emerges to accommodate the (dys)functions of that economy. The photographs produced on these walks seek to expose that built form, implicitly positing that the organization of suburban spaces is intimately tied to the needs, as it were, of the global corporations. These include things like high-speed roads, protected residential areas, and recreational opportunities like water bodies and parks. One can also read in this built form spaces of oppression and poverty, such as unmaintained housing and sidewalks, shuttered storefronts, and many instances of economic liminality, that is, places for people who are involved in the economic system without much choice, but are not its beneficiaries. One of the great consequences of capitalism is its tendency to direct wealth and resources into smaller and smaller numbers of people as time progresses. This can be read in the urban form, and this collection provides visual evidence for this movement towards unequal wealth distribution as it existed in these years. The photos, therefore, record the urban form of a mid-sized, Midwestern, United States metropolis in the late 20-teens. Urbanists, geographers, and planners, among others in the future may benefit in particular from seeing how the myriad details of suburban and urban spaces were conceived, constructed, and inhabited. Bauch’s 70,000-plus scenes document the everyday spaces of life and work, spanning the four seasons of Minnesota’s extremely variable continental climate. The headquarters between which Bauch walks are the main decision, management, finance, and research centers for large-revenue companies that impact the lives of millions of people across the local region, the nation, and the world. While many lives—bodies, even, as in the case of health insurance and food manufacturing—are materially shaped by these entities, most people could not say where they are located within the city and its surrounds. Examples of these companies, along with their annual revenues in 2019, are UnitedHealth Group ($242 billion), 3M ($32 billion), Ecolab ($15 billion), CHS ($32 billion), C.H. Robinson ($15 billion), Cargill (privately held, $115 billion), Best Buy ($43 billion), United Natural Foods Inc ($21 billion), Target ($75 billion), and General Mills ($18 billion). This is not a celebration of corporate life or of the normalization of wealth accumulation, nor does it condone the historically (and currently) racist social systems that make continuously accelerating commercial growth possible at a global scale. On the contrary, it is an attempt to point attention--much as Pop Art might have--toward the realities of economic geography, in an attempt to know them and sow the seeds of rebuilding them in ways that benefit all people. From the artist: My identity as a middle-aged, white, English-speaking, employed, housed, U.S.-passport-holding male positions me to blend-in, as it were, when I walk through areas that do not experience high volumes of foot traffic from “outsiders.” That is, even with a strapped-on camera, I look enough like a local to not arouse visits from the police, or suspicion from other entities that enforce social and economic boundaries. Being ignored is a privilege that only proves the existence of the racist structure in the first place; I suspect that someone pushing a grocery cart, or someone with a camera strapped to a turban, would not move as unencumbered as I have. When I walk, I often find myself trying to imagine the landscape as it might have looked before European contact with the Americas. Without assuming details about the Dakota experience, I think about lives that might have been lived in these places. With each picture, I see what now appear to be banal landscapes as deep containers that have amassed generational layers of meaning. That is, stories about real people who held all the complexities, fears, joys, and wonders of a life fully lived have happened in the places where my feet hit the ground, where motorists fling out cigarette butts and where plows heap oil- and salt-soaked snow.

HOW TO BEGIN: Open the readme file. This exists in both .TXT and .PDF. The .PDF is formatted for easier reading. This is a description of what is included in this project. The WalkLog is an important key for understanding which unique walk ID corresponds to date, geography, duration, etc.
Date made availableApr 19 2021
PublisherEuropean Spatial Data Research (EuroSDR)
Date of data productionNov 1 2018 - Aug 5 2020

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