In 1966, Michelangelo Antonioni released his first English-language film, Blow Up, in which he introduces a photographer played by David Hemmings, who realizes in his dark room that he may have captured the evidence of a crime on one of his photographs. Intrigued by a detail in the background of the picture he took, he undertakes to ‘blow up’ this detail (something proper to film photography) to a point where he is able to confirm his suspicion. Similarly, a few days ago, I realized that the most updated Google Earth data for Gaza consisted in photographs taken on July 29, 2014, the day when the Israeli army bombed the single power plant of the Strip (see this July 2014 map to understand the electric power supply in Gaza). The photographs show a large cloud of smoke spread over the land of Gaza as an evidence of the dreadful action of the Israeli army against the 1.8 millions inhabitants of the Strip, since those of them who were not directly suffering from the destruction of their homes had nonetheless to face shortage of electricity, clean water and sewage because of the power plant bombing (see past article). Google uses a mix of satellite and aircraft photography in order to compose their representation of the Earth and, just like in Antonioni’s movie, we could think of a coincidence for the satellite to be present a few moments after the bombing, and it has been suggested to me that Google deliberately kept this imagery as a form of geopolitical positioning. However, the last murderous siege on Gaza (July-August 2014) cannot be compared with the crime depicted in Blow Up: there is no coincidence or, rather, the coincidence is continuous.
Latrun Monastery and the Green Line / Excerpt of Atlas of No-Man’s Land by Orit Theuer (2013)
A few days ago, Orit Theuer, a recent graduate from the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, shared with me her thesis project (2014) investigating the 1949 Armistice Line between Israel and the Palestinian territories on the West Bank of the Jordan River, which was under Jordanian control until the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967. This line is more known as the “Green Line” and Theuer’s work allows us to explore its path and debate of its hypothetical obsolescence.
Many people who produce knowledge around the territorial struggles at work in historic Palestine, experience a fascination for cartographying their spatial components. Nevertheless, maps and aerial photographs can potentially disincarnate the issues at stake if they’re not complemented by other documents ‘on the ground’ bringing the viewers to the earthly realms of bodies and materiality. Theuer thus undertook to drive as close as possible of the totality of the Green Line path from its North intersection with the Jordan River, to its Southern one with the Dead Sea (see map below) and associated photographs she took to each aerial view of the Green Line. Her main site of investigation is less the territories on both sides of the line than what I like to call, “the oxymoronic thickness of the line” (see the 2010 graphic novel Lost in the Line as one instance of it) and the ambiguous legality applied in it. A similar approach in Palestine has been undertaken by Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency directed by Sandi Hilal, Alessandro Petti, and Eyal Weizman in their research “The Lawless Line” (2010) about the West Bank areas’ lines as defined by the 1993 Oslo Accords. As Theuers reminds us in the beginning of her Atlas of No-Man’s Land, the Green Line was originally defined by both the Israeli and Transjordanian commanders of Jerusalem in 1948, respectively Moshe Dayan and Abdullah el-Tell. Drawn in precarious conditions considering the future impact of its path — the story goes that it was either on the ground or on a military jeep’s bonnet — the line could not acquire the mathematical ‘purity’ that its definition entitles (a line has no thickness) since it was drawn by “three to four millimeters wide” grease pencils. Based on the scale of the map on which it was drawn (1:250,000), the thickness of the line is no less than 80 meters, a substantial space of legal ambiguity. Moreover, this thickness increases with a significant degree in the region of Jerusalem where the line occasionally splits (another oxymoron) into two between Dayan and el-Tell’s paths (in red on Theuer’s maps). As Theuer recounts, the zone between the two lines has a real juridical precedence in the ambiguity it constitutes as the 2003 trial “Eitan Kramer vs. The State of Israel” attests. The 168 pages of the Atlas of No-Man’s Land reconstituting the totality of the Green Line’s path show us the paradoxical ‘full-ness’ of the line’s thickness: towns, fields, roads occupy its liminal space despite the lack of legal definition proper to it.
“The Political” Interview for C-O-L-O-N (Columbia University GSAPP) Volume III alongside Bernard Tschumi, Peggy Deamer & Paul Segal, Eyal Weizman, Ai Weiwei, Mary Mc Leod & Rheinhold Martin, and Cristina Goberna. See website for the other conversations.
C-O-L-O-N: I’d like to talk to your emphasis on the word “corporeal” in your upcoming book Topie Impitoyable: The Corporeal Politics of the Cloth, the Wall, and the Street. In that book you describe the human body firstly as a material assemblage. Why do you see the need to emphasize this materiality?
Léopold Lambert: I always find it useful to go back to the most elementary way of looking at architecture and our bodies. In the case of bodies and architecture as material assemblages, it is necessary that they are situated somewhere, occupying a space. A wall may occupy a space for 300 years while my body might occupy the space on this chair for maybe one hour. The essential difference we make out of it comes from an anthropocentric way of looking at things and, similarly, we may not look at the space the wall occupies and the space my body occupies as similar. But if I stand up from my chair and try to occupy the space of the wall in front of me, there is going to be a fight between the material assemblage of my body and the wall. I am going to have to use force, but the wall will withstand my body. There is a violence in this encounter; in other words, both material assemblages are affected by it, although not equally. Violence always varies in degrees, never in essence. The violence I just mentioned is pre-political. Not chronologically, of course, but methodologically, we can see that there is a violence inherent to architecture, which is then necessarily instrumentalized politically: the way we normally build walls is to resist the energy of the body. We then invented devices like doors—a regulator of the wall porosity—and keys, which allows us to establish who can get past architecture’s violence and who cannot. Now, who gets access to the instrument that can transform a regular house into a prison cell is political, but it is not architectural per se to say who gets the key.
Manama (Bahrain) Pearl roundabout demolished after the 2011 revolution attempt
After spatial thinkers like Keller Easterling, Beatriz Colomina or Chantal Mouffe, the Critical Spatial Practice series edited by Nikolaus Hirsch and Markus Miessen now publishes a short book by Eyal Weizman, entitled The Roundabout Revolutions (Sternberg Press, 2015). In it, Weizman briefly introduces the research work (with Blake Fisher and Samaneh Moafi) that preceded the design of a folly for Gwangju (South Korea) Biennale. This architectural intervention mostly materializes by circular marks on the asphalt floor corresponding to the circumferences of seven roundabouts of the world that hosted large insurrectionist movements in the recent years (to the exception of one): from the smallest to the largest, Ramallah’s al-Manara square (2011), Gwangju’s Provincial Hall roundabout (1980), Damascus’s al-Sabaa Bahrat Square (2011), Tunis’s Place du 7 Novembre 1987 (renamed after the revolution to Place du 14 Janvier 2011), Cairo’s Tahrir Square (2011), and Tehran’s Azadi Square (2009). More squares would need to be added to this list (Manama’s Pearl roundabout, Kiev’s Maidan Square, Istanbul’s Taksim Square, etc.) and some of them are indeed described in Weizman’s book, which undertakes to introduce the genesis of this particular urban typology.
Bao Steel #8 / Manufactured Landscapes series by Edward Burtynsky
What is Nature? An article written for the sixth issue (Summer 2015) of Too Much Magazine of Romantic Geography ///
As this issue of Too Much Magazine investigates artificial replications of natural elements, we might want to stop for a moment and wonder what these notions of artificial and natural could possibly imply. While the first part of this article will propose a non-anthropocentric interpretation of the world, which renders obsolete the distinction between these two notions the second will attempt to show that even within an anthropocentric rationale, their dissociation can no longer be made in our era, when all things are subjected one way or another to human activity.
The 17th century saw the collision of two Western philosophical paradigms about nature. I hope that readers will forgive me for the following simplification: While Descartes (1596-1650) argues that humans should make themselves “master and possessors of nature,” Spinoza (1632-1677) bases his entire Ethics on the idea that “Deus sive Natura” (God or Nature) is infinite and composes all things that exist. In the Spinozist interpretation, humans are thus fully part of nature and the belief that we can act outside of it — by exercising what we commonly call “freedom” — results from our ignorance of the causes that determine us. By stripping humans of the idea of free will, Spinoza inscribes them within an irresistible movement that engages all things. Such a vertiginous idea (because it shatters all our certitudes) is at the foundation of various philosophical materialist movements (including Marx’s work), the latest version being found in recent schools of thought, such as object oriented ontology and speculative realism.
NYPD’s Domain Awareness System / Photograph by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
In a recent article (May 15, 2015), the investigative news platform Mediapart, reported the use of a crime predicting algorithm by the French Ministry of Interior since the end of 2014. This type of algorithms that predicts the degrees of probability for crimes to occur at a given place and a given time, has been used for the past few years by various police department in the United States, as well as the in the United Kingdom. The Los Angeles Police Department and its Real-Time Analysis and Critical Response Division, in particular, relies on the private (!) company PredPol in order to organize the location of police patrols in the city (see a 2014 article in The Guardian). Of course, when talking about these algorithms, Philip K. Dick’s short story, Minority Report (1956) and its cinematographic adaptation by Steven Spielberg (2002) are invoked as the prophecy that announced such policing practices. Minority Report indeed describes a police force able to arrest people before they are about to commit a crime based on predictions made by three “precogs.” The vision developed by this fiction insists on the potential fallibility of this system and the problem of arresting someone for a crime (s)he has not yet committed. However, what I would like to shortly examine here, is rather what the use of these algorithms implies in the way a society is structurally conceived.
The first thing that ought to be said might be candid, but there seems to be a fundamental problem in the fatality of criminal behavior that these algorithms imply. As I wrote in a previous article about police and the notion of “law enforcement,” the very fact that such a thing as ‘anti-riot police’ exists, implies that the State anticipates that demonstrations against it would be fundamentally illegitimate and should thus be suppressed by a branch of police designed for it. Crime predicting algorithms register themselves in the anticipative function of the police, which might appear as an obvious function to us, but that can actually be dated historically as a recent paradigm. Anticipation requires a set of incriminating criteria that essentially rely on collective and/or individual subjectivity, not on any legal basis, since one cannot be legally accused of “already resembl[ing] his crime before he commits it,” as Michel Foucault states in his 1974-1975 Lectures at the Collège de France (Abnormals, 2004). This collective and/or individual subjectivity obviously involves racism as a determining influences and the overwhelmingly numerous cases of police officers searching, arresting and sometimes killing non-White bodies in the Western world are here to remind us of this.
Maps created by Léopold Lambert for The Funambulist (June 2015) / Access a high-quality version here (12MB) (license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0)
Two recent events involving the policed/militarized evacuation of a swimming pool based on the ethnicity of the swimmers have recently came to light. 1. McKinney, U.S. /// On June 6, 2015, in McKinney, a suburban town of Texas, a group of African American children who were celebrating the end of the scholar year by organizing a pool party in the local swimming pool were evicted from it by the police. Some of them were arrested and insulted, and one Black teenager girl was violently assaulted by a White police officer before being crushed onto the ground by the same officer for long minutes. We can suspect that we would have never heard of this sickening event if it was not for a clear video showing the totality of the assault — in this regard, it is crucial to see that the cut images massively shown in the press reflects less the violence of the assault than do the long minutes of the video during which the young woman, sobbing, had her face in the ground, the police officer pressing his weight on her back. I am adding here a small map of what I believe is the spatial context in which this racist assault occurred (I found it through a few information found in articles, as well as from the visual indications of the video itself), since the aim of this article is to understand these two events through the spatial politics at work in both situations — a situation that I do not know specifically in the policed neighborhood of Craig Ranch in McKinney, Texas, but that evidently do not escape from the structural racism the characterize the relationships between the American forces of police and Black bodies.
Reversible Destiny Lofts Mitaka in memory of Helen Keller by Arakawa and Madeline Gins / Photograph by Léopold Lambert (2014)
This discussion with Momoyo Homma about the work of artists/poets/philosophers/architects Arakawa (1936-2010) and Madeline Gins (1941-2014) took place in the Reversible Destiny Lofts Mitaka where the Tokyo part of the Arakawa/Gins office is situated. We begin by introducing their work through a biographic approach, then through our interpretations of the manifesto “We Have Decided Not to Die,” which fuels the creative process of the five architectural projects built in Japan and in the United States, as well as the multitude of non-built ones. We conclude the conversation by describing the space around us, one of the Reversible Destiny Lofts: its bumpy floor, its sphere room, its colors, and all the others architectural apparatuses that challenges and strengthen any body whether young or old. This conversation comes as a useful complement to the many contributions made by and for The Funambulist about Arakawa and Gins’s work
Map created by Léopold Lambert for The Funambulist (2015) / Access a high-quality version here (12MB) (license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0)
This is the second article accounting to my current research about the bulldozer used as a weapon of war by the Israeli army. The first one was about the Jenin refugee camp during the Second Intifada in 2002, while this one will briefly describe four historical episodes of such destruction in Rafah, a city separated by the (militarized) border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. For the occasion, I created the map above, that can be complemented by another one, made a year ago, at the beginning of the last Israeli siege on Gaza.
EPISODE 1 /// 1971: “Pacification” of Gaza by Ariel Sharon
In December 1969, General Ariel Sharon — the same who was Prime Minister during the 2002 siege on Jenin — is named at the head of the Israeli army Southern Command after his determining contribution of the 1967 invasion of the Sinai Peninsula. In October 1970, the first Israeli settlement is built in the Gaza Strip, quickly followed by six others in the 1970s. The Israeli army thus wants to fully control Gaza and destroy the Palestinian resistance, particularly active since the beginning of the occupation three years earlier. In 1971, Sharon thus leads a mission of counter-insurrection that he recounts in his memoirs (Simon & Schuster, 1989) . Like other counter-insurgency specialists of colonial armies, from French Marshall Robert Bugeaud (see past article) to U.S. General David Petraeus, Sharon trains his soldiers to know the terrain on which they operate, as well as to think with the same rationale than the ‘insurgents.’ He also describes the various tactics used to detect P.L.O. hideouts in the Gaza urban fabric, some of which can be considered as quite architectural: we can think of the systematic use of knotted ropes to measure homes both from outside and inside to spot potential hidden rooms, as well as the use of folded ladders to conveniently observe what is happening behind private walls.
As one can suspect, Sharon’s memoirs present the Israeli army’s actions as inoffensive to the Palestinian population not affiliated to the P.L.O., only briefly mentioning his decision to widen the streets of several refugee camps (mostly Rafah’s) and the massive home demolitions that result from it. Indeed, 2,500 Palestinian houses were destroyed by this operation of bulldozed street enlargement that will be reproduced thirty years later in Jenin. Dense urban fabrics always constitute a problem for the counter-insurgency officer, who occasionally improvises himself as an architect of destruction in the reconfiguration of these neighborhoods. The 16,000 inhabitants of Rafah subsequently homeless were offered to relocate in new neighborhoods nearby designed and built by Israel (called Brazil and Canada) providing that they will renounce their status of refugee and, thus their rights to return.
The cast of The Expandables 3 at the 2014 Cannes Festival, momentarily contributing to the #BringBackOurGirls Campaign (May 18, 2014): a surely explicit symbol of the problem.
Amrit’s Picks is a new series on The Funambulist and Archipelago. It consists in a series of transcripts curated by Amrit Trewn (literacy educator, and aficionado of early ’90s jazz rap, poetry, and Sylvia Wynter) of past conversations recorded for Archipelago. It allows a written and illustrated archive of these conversations through a curation and an order that I am very happy to leave to Amrit here. The first conversation presented here is the second Archipelago conversation with friend Mimi Thi Nguyen — the first one was about clothing and politics (October 2013). This conversation was originally motivated by some unformatulated concerns that I experienced during the campaign #bringbackourgirls in April-May 2014 in reaction to the rapt of 276 Nigerian young women by Boko Haram. I therefore meant to ask a few questions to Mimi, as well as converse with her about the crucial importance to formulate problems in ways that won’t make our questions legitimize that against what they want to challenge. The arguments we expose here emerged from Mimi’s long-documented research about supposedly “transparent” concepts such as freedom and beauty, as well as a few (too) brief articles that I recently wrote on The Funambulist. Together, we attempt to dismantle the language we use in a political and intellectual context, as well as challenging ideas that, despite their intuitive virtue (our outrage at seeing children massacred in Gaza for example), serve discourses that go against our struggles.
ARCHIPELAGO 47: FORMULATING OUTRAGE: THE LANGUAGE OF POLITICAL STRUGGLE
Conversation recorded with Mimi Thi Nguyen in Chicago on July 26, 2014
Transcription by Amrit Trewn
Israeli army Caterpillar D9 bulldozer (2002) / This photograph by Khalil Harra is however not from Jenin but from Rafah (Gaza)
This article consists in a way for me to articulate a few thoughts before organizing them more rigorously in a short book I’ve been asked to write. This specific text is axed on a testimony published by the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot on May 31, 2002. This testimony was given by Moshe Nissim, a reservist who operated a Caterpillar D9 bulldozer for 75 hours straight during the Israeli army siege on the Jenin refugee camp in April 2002, during the Second Intifada. Although I accessed the full testimony in its French translation and commented by Tsadok Yeheskeli in the excellent Revue d’Études Palestiniennes (Vol. 85, Fall 2002), I found the English translation on the Gush-Shalom website and copied it here at the end of the article in order to make sure that it remains available as an archive.
On the contrary of more recent Israeli soldiers’ testimonies collected by the organization Break the Silence (see past article), Nissim’s account of his own actions can in now way be understood as repentance. On the contrary, the absence of any sign of shame in his saying — signs of shame can usually be found in what is left ‘untold’ — is striking in how much it reveals a deep dysfunction in his inability to perceive reality and exercise restraint. Several times in it, he recounts that he repeatedly asked his hierarchy to order him to destroy more Palestinian buildings (although he did not seem to fundamentally need orders to do so): “I kept begging for more and more missions,” “I bitched them to give me more work,” “I want more work!,” “I wanted more.” Nissim describes how he never stopped destroying Palestinian houses during 75 hours, half naked and sustaining himself with “whisky and something to munch on.” His obsession for destruction (“I wanted to destroy everything. I begged the officers, over the radio, to let me knock it all down; from top to bottom. To level everything.”) seems to only find an equivalent with his passion for the Jerusalem (Israeli) football team of Beitar: he wanted to raise a flag of the team on top of one of the mosques of the refugee camp, and proudly declares that his substantial contribution to the destruction of about 100 buildings in the neighborhood of Hawashin consisted in the creation of a stadium for the camp (“I made them a stadium in the middle of the camp”). Although Palestinian bodies are almost completely absent from his account (they occasionally appear through the vague pronoun “they”), his delusional sense of reality does not forbids him to understand that many people died from the action of the bulldozer he drove: “I am sure people died inside these houses, but it was difficult to see, there was lots of dust everywhere, and we worked a lot at night. I found joy with every house that came down, because I knew they didn’t mind dying, but they cared for their homes. If you knocked down a house, you buried 40 or 50 people for generations. If I am sorry for anything, it is for not tearing the whole camp down.”
Map created by Léopold Lambert for The Funambulist (2015) / Access a high-quality version here (6MB) (license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0)
I made this map in complement of last week’s article that introduced a few hypotheses about new ways of envisioning governance. It represents the world, no longer by its national borders but, rather through its regional ones. Although this article insisted on the importance of the scale of governance to resist national essential identities, the choice for administrative regions is less an emphasis on this particular scale — after all, regional identities can be quite hermetic too — than an attempt to blur our cartographic imaginary constructed, day after day, by the same conventions (North should be up, countries’ borders should be shown, oceans should be blue, etc.). This map does not try to replace this conventions by others, but simply to offer an alternative among an infinity of potential others to them.
As argued in the previous article, cities are also a fundamental scale of governance and are represented as such on this map. The 100 most populated cities of the world that gather 884 million inhabitants are thus shown on the map. This remains however a relatively traditional way to represent the world, and since the hypothesis of a new governance implied that bodies can fully take part of the governance of the territory on which they are currently situated, I added to them the 100 most visited cities in the world (such as Macau, Antalya, or Mecca). The aimed imaginary that this map can create is thus insisting on where the bodies are, rather than where they “belong.” Of course, the type of migration is not the same in cities like Las Vegas (tourism), Mecca (pilgrimage) or Dubai (employment), and this map lacks this degree of refinement to describe the specificity of each city’s reason for such a concentration of bodies. Nevertheless, the ‘original’ reason that motivated hundreds of thousands of bodies to be temporary present in a city is never the exclusive reason for it. Although Pukhet, Djerba, Agra, and Venice can be reasonably considered as touristic destinations and, as such, a migration characterized by the economic wealth of its bodies; yet, this specific population of bodies in this cities are consequently complemented with numerous others, engaged in the infrastructural work necessitated by such an afflux.
The map is a work-in-progress and I am making the source-PDF file available to download here.
Chinese anti-riot police exercising in a drill before the 25th anniversary of the 1989 student revolt (AFP/May 2014)
I recently encountered a video showing a 2011 South Korean anti-riot police drill (watch it below), which I found revealing enough to try articulating a few thoughts about it. Drills are interesting because they offer us a clear vision of the way the police sees itself, sees insurgent bodies, and sees the built environment that surrounds it. This specific video (for a quick watch of it start at 2:20) is particularly illustrative of such a vision, and I propose to examine these three dimensions through it here:
INSURGENT BODIES: Whether they wave banners, kick policemen, hit them with sticks — they do not seem to aim at anything else than their shields — or throw molotov cocktails at them — thus triggering a particularly burlesque troop movement (see 5:30) — the insurgent bodies (probably enacted by other policemen) are represented as soulless mechanistic bodies only able of a limited amount of actions, continuously repeated. This vision not only represents the way counter-insurrection forces consider the bodies they find in front of them (what is written on the banners or screamed by the revolted bodies is irrelevant), it is also an operative narrative that needs to be continuously produced in order for the policing action to be legitimized. In other words, for the authorities, the encounter between the police bodies and insurgent bodies should not be a political one: because insurgent bodies are systematically depicted as simple mechanical (violent) assemblage, the political convictions and principles of individual police bodies cannot be engaged.
Local parliament in Cizîre, Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) / Photograph by Jonas Staal (2015)
Last Tuesday, I attended a lecture of Dutch artist Jonas Staal at the Centre for Research Architecture in Goldsmiths (London). Among other things, he was introducing the last work accomplished through his brilliant project of New World Summit in which he invites representatives of black listed and/or stateless political organizations of the world to present their struggle and debate with other members of the summit. I recommend to everyone to have a close look at the four occurrences of the summit since 2012 (in Berlin, Leiden, Kochi, and Brussels), but through this article, I would like to insist on one particular aspect of Jonas’s lecture, when he described his recent trip to the self-governing canton of Cizîre in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) where a new mode of governance is currently practiced in the vacuum of power created by the Syrian civil war. This canton, situated in the Kurdish area where Syria meets both Turkey and Iraq, is to be distinguished from the two others in Rojava: Kobané and Efrîn. Jonas explained that despite a common goal aiming at the creation of the State of Kurdistan, the Rojava revolution movement, as well as the Kurdish Women’s Movement (who presented their manifesto for a Democratic Confederalism at the last New World Summit) operate independently from the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), which tends to adopt a relatively dated mode of governance compared to these younger movements.
When presenting the photograph above, Jonas described the inverted hierarchy of the various parliaments operating in this mode of governance: when we are used to observe the strong decisional power of national parliaments, decreasing as the scale of governance becomes smaller (regional, departmental, cantonal, municipal, neighborhood-based, etc.), the Rojava revolution movement, Jonas says, has adopted an exact inverse principle. Neighborhood parliaments have the strongest ability to take important decisions for the territory on which it operates, when cantonal and even more so, national, parliaments’ authority operates to a lesser extent. As simple as this inversion sounds, it appears to me that such a mode of governance can radically change the way political life is practiced. In order to attempt to explain why, I propose two points that are radically engaged by this principle: territorial and body scales of governance and intensity-based citizenship.
Map created by Léopold Lambert for The Funambulist (May 2015) / Download a high-quality version of them here (8.1MB) (license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0)
The Israeli settlement of Gilo (26,929 inhabitants), whose construction started in East Jerusalem four years after the 1967 invasion, is well-known to be exemplary of the occupation and colonization of East Jerusalem. One of the main reasons for this consists in the road-infrastructure associated to it: a high viaduct dominating the Palestinian town of Beit Jala (see photos 5 and 6) and two tunnels (see photo 7) constituting what Eyal Weizman calls “the politics of verticality” (different sovereignties applied on different layers of the same territory) in Hollow Land (Verso, 2007), whose cover shows a drawing of the viaduct. Gilo, and its ‘little brother’ Har Gilo (602 inhabitants) are also forming the buffer area between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, two municipalities separated by the apartheid wall built by the Israeli government starting 2002. The two checkpoints that filters Palestinian (and pilgrims) movement between Jerusalem and Bethlehem are situated nearby: Gilo checkpoint itself (also known as 300) allows (on ‘normal’ days) pedestrian crossing (for Palestinian who have a permit to access Jerusalem) in addition to vehicles (most Christian pilgrim coaches use it), when the tunnels checkpoint regulate Road 60 that joins Jerusalem to Hebron — vehicles with an Israeli plates can go through the tunnels, while Palestinian cars cannot.
Photograph from the “Breaking the Silence” report
The Israeli organization Breaking the Silence has just released a 237-page report of soldier’s testimonies following the dreadful siege on Gaza in July and August 2014, which killed 2,200 Palestinians, including at least 1,492 indubitable civilians (OCHA numbers). There is already a lot that has been written yesterday and today about it, from the newspapers pretending to believe that the atrocities described by the Israeli soldiers themselves constitutes some exceptional misbehavior when, actually it is clear in the reading of these testimonies that they are the war’s modus operandi, and corresponds to orders (or the absence of orders), to more interesting articles written in the Electronic Intifada, +972 Magazine or on Geographical Imaginations. It therefore does not seem so useful to add a description of what is only an (admittedly important) confirmation of something we already knew. What I can propose however, is to state a few points about which we should be careful when we read these testimonies from sixty-five Israeli soldiers.
Objects of Cairo: Excavating the City’s Narratives ///
How difficult it is to write about a city you barely know but that had a great impact on you! Jumping to conclusions, romanticizing what we see, thinking that we understood something, the risks are multiple. Rather, what traveling allows is to get to know that we fundamentally do not know: we refine our ignorance, somehow. In this process of refining, I would like to thank the people who took the time to talk to me, and thus enriched my mesmerized eyes with some important contextual information: May al-Ibrashy, Beth Stryker, Omar Nagati, Manar Moursi, David Puig, Ahmad Borham, Azza Ezzat, AbdulRahman el-Taliawi, Nermin Essam El-Sherif, Salma Belal, Heba Raouf Ezzat, AbdelRahman Hegazi, Ramy Zeid, René Boer and, of course, Mohamed el-Shahed.
Le Corbusier’s Modulor / Fondation Le Corbusier (1957)
2015 is the year of the 50th anniversary of Charles-Edouard Jeanneret aka Le Corbusier‘s death. As usual, this kind of dates triggers a series of cultural production, the main one being a large exhibition at the Pompidou Center in Paris, and another is the involuntarily synchronized release of three books excavating the relationship of Le Corbusier with fascism: Un Corbusier (A Corbusier) by François Chaslin (Seuil), Le Corbusier: Un fascisme français (A French Fascism) by Xavier de Jarcy (Albin Michel) and Le Corbusier: Une froide vision du monde (A Cold Vision of the World) by Marc Perelman (Mochalon). Through his biography, as well as his private correspondence, these three authors establish unequivocally that Le Corbusier was keen with antisemitic and fascist ideas. Although I can only recommend articles written in French about them (see the interview of François Chaslin by Mediapart for instance), it is not in my interest to reflect on any aspect of his biography. I believe that it is important that this excavating work has been done and it is currently eagerly relayed, but judging the person of Le Corbusier, especially with such unequivocal evidences, is easier and less useful, than judging his architecture in its complexity, and the vision of society it envisioned and actually produced: although modernism is not the invention of one person, nor of one discipline, we can reasonably think that without his work, our cities would not look exactly the same today.
Although the approach of Olivier Cinqualbre and Frédéric Migayrou in the Pompidou Center exhibition does not attempt to propose any level of critique to Le Corbusier’s work, the curatorial choice centered around “The Measure of Man” certainly allows us to articulate our own. An entire room is dedicated to the Modulor in its multiple variations: numerous drawings, a scale-1 sculpture, and even customized tape-measures that allows to apply the modulor’s system of dimensionning to all things. Although Le Corbusier insists that the Modulor is a proportional system — something that would mobilize an aesthetic debate rather than a societal one — he calibrated this system on a normative 183-cm male (“The Measure of Man” takes its full expression) body, which will then have consequences on the totality of his design and architectural work, and thus on the city itself (especially in the case of Chandigarh). I already articulated several times a critique of such a calibration whether in Le Corbusier’s or Ernst Neufert’s work (see one of the past articles) but also through the gendered normative bodies of Joe and Josephine in Henry’s Dreyfuss’s design; yet, this calibration exists at a more of less conscious level, in all design, and we thus need to keep researching what politics lies behind this practice.
“Collapse” / Photograph by Léopold Lambert in Aulnay-sous-Bois during the 2005 revolt
THE BANLIEUES ///
In last January, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls described the situation of the French banlieues (suburbs) as “a territorial, social, ethnic apartheid.” Beyond the problematic use of the term of “apartheid” that tends to normalize South Africa’s history — I personally use it in the context of Palestine, because the political intensities of both situations are somehow comparable — we could potentially appreciate the gravity of the words from the head of the government, if they actually corresponded to a radical national plan of territorial revalorisation, as well as an unequivocal acknowledgement of responsibility from the political ‘class’ for what is surely the most important issue of the country (Valls was himself mayor of Evry in Paris’s Southern suburbs between 2001 and 2012). Although Valls probably did not intend to have the term ‘apartheid’ understood this way (we can also suppose that he never really thought about what the apartheid actually is), we cannot strip it away from the governmental strategy contained within it.
Ten years ago (October-November 2005), an important revolt started in the banlieues after two Black and Arab teenager, Bouna Traoré et Zyed Benna, died from electrocution (October 25) while running away from a vehicle of the BAC (Brigade Anti-Criminality, a branch of the police, known for its regular verbal and physical violence against the banlieues youth) that suspected them from having trespassed a construction site. The movement of outrage for this particular event and, more generally, the territorial and citizenry exclusion that the banlieues constituted, mostly manifested in numerous vehicles and buildings set on fire. On November 8, 2005, President Jacques Chirac (assuredly inspired by his then Minister of Interior…Nicolas Sarkozy) declared the state of emergency. Although many of the exceptional measures allowed by this legal state were not applied — a curfew was however applied in six neighborhoods — we can see in this decision how the state considers discursively and politically the racialized and economically precarious populations of the banlieue as absolute otherness. The state of emergency ended on January 4, 2006, a long time after the last car burnt, and ten years later, things have only gone worse between the economic struggle than a majority of the banlieues population has to face, as well as the increased liberation of physical and verbal forms of racism and islamophobia.
Masterplan for a new Egyptian Capital by Skidmore Owings, & Merrill (2015)
About a month ago, the General el-Sisi’s administration announced that the Egyptian government will be soon building a new capital city for the country. Designed by the famous American architecture office Skidmore Owings, & Merrill (SOM), the masterplan of this new city places it in the desert about 50 miles East of Cairo, thus continuing a politics of expansion to the desert that someone like friend Mohamed el-Shahed has consistently proven as unsuccessful. Yet, this plan should not be judged for its success or, rather, its success (i.e. the actualization of the intents that motivated its construction) is precisely what should be feared here. The following text will attempt to articulate the hypothesis that this masterplan will constitute a new urban paradigm for the future, sharing similarities (although updating them) with the infamous Georges-Eugène Haussmann’s masterplan to radically transform Paris between 1853 and 1870, which is well-known to have facilitated the counter-insurrectionist military movements once implemented, as well as with the appropriation of the brand new Brazilian capital by the military dictatorship in 1964.
Let’s start with a reminder that since July 3, 2013, Egypt is ruled by General el-Sisi after the army overthrew the elected Mohamed Morsi’s administration after massive protests contested the politics of the Freedom and Justice Party (the political party of the Muslim Brotherhood). Since then, Sisi and the army have conscientiously undertook to break the inertia of political gatherings in Cairo that started with the 2011 revolution. The administrative and consular areas of the city are sealed by heavy concrete and steel barricades, and their access is strictly filtered to only allow authorized people to these parts of the city and, in other areas, various architectural militarized elements defend specific buildings or dissimulate armored vehicles (see past article). The military understands that, despite their overwhelming domination, the control of a urban fabric is easier to implement when undertaken at the source, in the designing phase of the city. It is thus not that surprising to see a soldier-president deciding to create a new city, where military control will be fully part of the agenda (whether it is explicit as such, or not). As Mohamed el-Shahed describes in an article for Architectural Record, such a control begins with the very property of the land on which this new city will be built: