levitown

A picture of a family infront of their Levittown house (Cape Cod design), Tony Linck for LIFE Magazine, 1947 /// Found by Olivia Ahn

In the frame of a recent conversation recorded for Archipelago with designer Olivia Ahn about the research she has been conducted these last two years, I had the opportunity to re-articulate a few references that could compose a counter-history of American suburbia, as well as to learn additional ones thanks to her work. The latter focuses on the post-war invention of the suburban house as an architectural typology that simultaneously invents (or reinvents) an heteronormative gender performativity.

As I had the opportunity to write in Weaponized Architecture (dpr-barcelona, 2012), the rationale behind the creation of American suburbia is multiple and more strategical than usually admitted. Beyond the official historical version that insists on the ability for each member of the American middle class to become the owner of its own house, lies a political agenda that unfolds itself through the weaponization of the totality of scales of design. I will expose these interpretations through a form of zooming within these scales that start by the entire American territory and end with one of the smallest designed object, the drug, in order to propose a holistic examination of the strategies that lies behind suburbia.

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ouvrir-venus-fw-2011-art-26

Dress by Yiqing Yin (photograph by Laurence Laborie)

Topological Life: The Politics of Exchange between Membrane/Bodies

(originally written for Berfrois based on the third episode of the Funambulist’s Simondon week)

Topology is a term I heard many times when I was studying architecture, too often without questioning its implications for the world around us, and more immediately for our own bodies. The work of French philosopher Gilbert Simondon (1924-1989), which seems now to be returning to the spotlight of academia, can help to interpret this notion through a social-political lens.

The first occurrence of Simondon’s use of the term topology in my reading was found in the 1964 book The Individual and its Physical-Biological Genesis (L’individu et sa genèse physico-biologique) in a context that needs to be explained first. In the first part of his book, Simondon attempts to show the limits of the Aristotelian scheme of hylomorphy as a way of describing the world. Hylomorphy thinks of all objects as a combination of matter and form, which is problematic to Simondon both at the physical-chemical level and at the social level. He describes at length the molding of a brick as a paradigmatic example of how the matter already contains the notion of form within itself – what he calls the “colloidal characteristics of the matter” – and how the form needs to materialize first in the object of the mold in order to realize itself. The principle of energy is also forgotten in the hylomorphic scheme. Simondon takes this omission as his starting point and goes on to argue for a new paradigm through which to think of objects and bodies: the allagmatic (change) scheme. As I mentioned above, the hylomorphic scheme is also problematic at a social level as it creates two categories that can be read as social classes: those who think of the form (“the masters”), and those who act upon the matter (“the slaves”). There is therefore something highly societal in Simondon’s manifesto for the allagmatic scheme. The form should not be considered abstractly, but rather with a deep understanding of the matter’s intrinsic characteristics in mind.

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Interrogation Techniques Justice Department

My recent encounter with the document presented above reminded me of the article “Violence on the Body: A Manual for the French Police Escorting ‘Illegal’ Immigrants” that I wrote three years ago, and that I recently revisited for the seventh volume of the Funambulist Pamphlets about Cruel Designs (see illustrations below). The manual that constituted the object of this past article had been investigated and released by French news website Mediapart to expose the methods recommended to police officers in charge of escorting bodies expelled from the French territory by plane. Entitled “Instruction relative à l’éloignement par voie aérienne des étrangers en situation irrégulière” (Instructions for the aerial distancing of foreigners in irregular situation), using a recognizable bureaucratic jargon, this manual explains the physical and technological means that a body has to restrain absolutely the movement of another. The first graphic continues this jargon by evoking the aim of the constraint as “phonic regulation.” When one knows how the expelled bodies are often forced into a plane to be sent to the country of their citizenship, “phonic regulation” equals preventing the body from screaming that have created precedents of protests from other passengers of the plane or sometimes even the refusal for the captain to take off. Such situations are often remediated by the use of entire charter flights to expel large groups of bodies all together.

As I noted in this past article, the Manual’s graphics show us a strange choreography, a sort of embrace between the two bodies that does not immediately reveal the violence imposed from one to another. This dissimulation of violence, accentuated by the inability for the victim to scream, is designed for similar aim than the one cited above. Each escorting of an expelled body has to hide the violence of the expulsion to the bodies around. This is how violence operate in representative democracies: there a tacit understanding between the suppressive forces and the bodies in “regular situations” (the citizens) that violence needs to operate outside of the regime of visibility to allow these citizens to be consistent with their interpretation of society. Violence has therefore to be precisely designed and enacted in a skilled performativity.

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mass arrival - Tings Chak Funambulist

Mass Arrival – Toronto, August 12, 2013 – Courtesy of Tings Chak

Today’s Funambulist Paper is written by my friend Tings Chak whose work I admire for its brilliant articulation of academic research with political activism in the struggle against the systematic oppression that migrants have to face in Western countries. As an architect, she focuses part of this struggle against the existence of detention centers in Canada for bodies whose only crime consists in having located themselves on a territory considered apparently as sacred. Her text “Racialized Geographies and the Fear of Ships” stigmatizes the importance of the influence of race in considering the bodies of the migrants. She does so through the paradigms offered by a few historical migration ships to Canada (from the 15th century to today) and the opposite manner these ships are considered (heroic or invasive) depending on the bodies they host.

The Funambulist Papers 52 /// Racialized Geographies and the Fear of Ships

by Tings Chak

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Bose_Gandhi_1938

Mahatma Gandhi and Subhash Chandra Bose (wearing a Gandhi cap) in 1938

Thanks to Mimi Thi Nguyen, I got to read Clothing Matters: Dress and Identity in India (University of Chicago Press, 1996) by anthropologist Emma Tarlo. This book focuses on five distinct and successive clothing paradigms that India has experienced in the last century and half. There is so much to write about them that I would like to only focus on the two first ones (ending with the Indian independence in 1947) in this article and to keep the three following ones for another text.

One of the systematic characteristics of the colonial organization of another nation consists for the colonizers to categorize a part of the colonized population as elite that is entitled to some privileges in society. This categorization can be done through ethnic differentiations (the Rwandan 1994 genocide tragically showed how this ends after the independence), religious ones (listen to the Archipelago conversation with Harjant Gill about Sikh men being privileged by the British colonizer), or it can also operates through less ‘essential’ properties, through voluntary behavior like the one of wearing the colonizer’s clothing rather than the colonized one. In the context of the Indian Raj, Tarlo first evokes the social and functional reasons that would prevent a priori Indian males from wearing European clothing, but that is sometimes transcended by the will to be treated in a better way by the British. Clothing has indeed the semiotic power to suggest a certain social positioning within society, as well as a behavior related to this positioning:

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Slaveshipposter-contrast

Stowage of the British slave ship Brookes under the regulated slave trade act of 1788. (Library of US Congress)

In the previous article, I was evoking the architecture of the holocaust’s gas chambers to address the role of design in industrialized death; today’s article will describe another atrocious historical example of how architecture can no only serve the most violent ideologies, but also often makes itself indispensable for them to be implemented. From the 15th century to the 19th century, about 14 million West-African bodies were captured, brought to the coasts of the Guinean Gulf and then forced into ships to be enslaved in the Americas (the Caribbeans, the United States and Brazil in particular). Architecture intervenes at many steps in this process of displacement (the most massive in human history); however, I would like to focus on the slave ship in this text, as a technology without which the entire principle of the slave trade would have been simply impossible.

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temple grandin

Dr. Temple Grandin is a professor at Colorado State University who wrote several books about autism and animal science. Her autism allowed her to a detailed perception of the animal behavior and the factors that influence it. Grandin’s architectural inventions were created in reaction to particularly brutal and insensitive means of bringing the cattle to their ultimate slaughter. Her designs provide a multitude of material and spatial apparatuses based on a deep understanding of cattle’s inherent behavior and tendencies that leads it to death without stress nor indication of what is about to happen to it. The drawings that follow this article demonstrates of this precise care for the animals that seems to integrate the totality of factors that could potentially affect them on their way. Such an exhaustive care associated to the generous sharing of the totality of plans, techniques and advice is by all means admirable, and  I don’t think that her design is problematic in the way it functions but rather, in what it reveals about architecture in general.

Let us begin by saying that a design that is created in view of bringing bodies from a point A to a point B strongly suggests the anticipatory aspects of its conception. Even in the case of a simple corridor like the ones we experience on a daily basis already holds a certain degree of authority enforced by architecture through the material means it uses to effectively brings body from one side of the corridor to another, leaving little option to this body. For each corridor we experience, there was a transcendental entity (architect, engineer, politician etc.) that, not only anticipated this movement when conceiving the space that contextualizes it but also had an interest in having this movement effectuated.This anticipatory aspect of architectural design is admittedly difficult to fully suppress in the creative process since it mostly defines its essence; yet, understanding the degree of violence that it allows the designer is an important step in the awareness of architecture’s weaponized characteristics.

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New York Racial Dot Map

Map of the five New York City boroughs represented by a dot per person living there / Dot Map / (blue: white / green: black / red: asian / yellow: hispanic / brown: other)

In a city like New York, gentrification is one of the main social and racialized violence that is currently at work. Brooklyn neighborhoods like Williamsburg, Bushwick, Green Point, Bed Stuy or Park Slope are experiencing it at speeds that makes it impossible to attribute this process only to immanent causes. Its origin that consists in a reduced amount of middle-class often white people moving in a lower-class often black or Hispanic neighborhood might be immanent indeed, although it is also motivated by prohibitive prices in other parts of the city, but this displacement is quickly identified, then multiplied at much larger scale by profit-driven developers.

Gentrification is implemented through bodies choosing to locate themselves (as usual, our body can only locate at one space at a time, and only this body can be located on this specific space) in a space where they are historically, culturally and racially outsiders. The presence of these bodies exercises only a violence when it triggers a disruption in the modes of existence of the local population. Bodies rarely come alone indeed: they bring with them standards of comfort that modify the urban fabric and drastically increases the price of life (rent, goods, services, etc.) to a point that it becomes prohibitive and thus exclusionary to the local bodies. The gentrifying bodies also carry with them the promise of safety that society made to them. As Spike Lee argues in a diatribe that I will evoke below, there is therefore a retrospective legitimate frustration from the local black or Hispanic population to see that the thing that will effectually bring the police to secure a given neighborhood is the presence of white bodies.

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Comme des Garcons - Erin Manning - Funambulist01

Comme des Garçons AW 2010/2011

Today’s Funambulist Paper complements well yesterday’s launch of the eighth volume of the Funambulist Pamphlets dedicated to the work of Arakawa and Madeline Gins since my guest, Erin Manning (see my interpretations of her books 1 and 2) examines in her extensive text their shared interpretation of design and the body with Comme des Garçonsfounder and designer Rei Kawakubo. An anecdote is always a good way introduction, so I will say that Erin and I convened of the topic of her essay while we were at Comme des Garçons’s Dover Street Market New York inside Madeline Gins and the Reversible Destiny‘s recently built permanent monumental stairs — to which I am happy to have contributed — before recording a conversation for Archipelago. There is therefore no chance involved in these multiple inspirational bridges!

In the following text, Erin articulates how Arakawa+Gins and Kawakubo’s creative methodology both embrace the idea that we don’t really know what a body is, and what it can do. Such a statement does not seem much, but as we have seen numerous times on this blog, fathoming this simple fact have tremendous consequences both in the creative and political realms. Kawakubo says herself that she does not want to make clothes; this can appear as odd for a fashion designer but, as explained by Erin, it needs to be understood in the refusal to separate the cloth to the body. In other words, Kawakubo does not design cloth as such, but rather shapes bodies without knowing in advance what they should be, thus denying the power of the norm.

THE FUNAMBULIST PAPERS 51 /// Dress Becomes Body: Fashioning the Force of Form

by Erin Manning

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08- Arakawa + Gins

The eighth volume of The Funambulist Pamphlets that gathers and edits past articles (as well as additional illustrations) of the blog about the philosophical-poetic-artistic-architectural work of Arakawa, Madeline Gins and their Reversible Destiny Foundation is now officially published by Punctum Books in collaboration with the Center for Transformative Media at Parsons The New School. You can either download the book as a PDF for free or order it online for the price of $17.00 or €15.00. This price is higher than usual and we apologize for it, but this specific pamphlet required its illustrations to be in color, hence this punctual raise within the series. Click here to see the other volumes of The Funambulist Pamphlets.

Thank you to Eileen Joy, Anna Kłosowska, Ed Keller, Madeline Gins, Joke Post, Momoyo Homma, Sheung Tang Luk, Shingo Tsuji, Stanley Shostak, Russel Hughes, Hiroko Nakatani, and Esther Cheung

Official page of The Funambulist Pamphlets Volume 08: ARAKAWA + MADELINE GINS on Punctum Books’ website.

Our species has made a declaration. Let us call this the Reversible Destiny Declaration. We will not just take it anymore. We will no longer throw ourselves into the mortality waste-baskets. Shall we put it in the following gentle but firm way? Oh yes we shall! Enough is enough. We have decided not to die. And how do we go about doing this? Through architectural procedures, made explicitly to help us reconfigure ourselves. If you do not yet know what an architectural procedure is, you will know soon. Start with this declaration, and never back away from it: we have decided not to die. ~Madeline Gins

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Hannah Hoch-Platonische Liebe-1930

Platonic Love by Hannah Höch (1930)

Here comes the fiftieth Funambulist Paper! This gives me the opportunity to say a huge thank you to the fifty-two contributors who greatly enriched the content of the Funambulist that would otherwise be suffocate from my only writing.

Today’s contributor is law and political theorist Elena Loizidou who continues the series of texts about the body by inviting us to look at the way dreams of flying are being interpreted by Sigmund Freud on the one hand, and Gaston Bachelard, on the other hand. Elena demonstrates that Freud, by reducing the realms of interpretation of the dream to the field of sexuality limits considerably the spectrum of means to question the very definition of the body. On the contrary, Elena argues, Bachelard, by refusing to “interpret” such dreams of flying, and rather by insisting on the experience of the sleeping body itself, contributes to the understanding of what a body is and what a body can do.

THE FUNAMBULIST PAPERS 50 /// Dreams of Flying-Flying Bodies

by Elena Loizidou

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Police spray Ugandan opposition party leaders with coloured water during demonstrations in the capital Kampala

Two months ago, London mayor Boris Johnson declared its support to the water cannon as a potential anti-riot weapon for the London police. This comes as an additional step toward the universal militarization of the police (see past article) conveniently combined to a capitalist arm market in which too many have too much to loose not to encourage the conditions that require their use. In an article entitled “White-washing the water cannon: salesmen, scientific experts and human rights abuses” for Open Democracy, Anna Feigenbaum establishes a short history of the use of this weapon in the United Kingdom as well as points out a lack of research on its effects on the bodies affected by it.

It was only last year that the hundreds of thousands occupiers of Gezi/Taksim and other public spaces of Turkey were violently attacked by zealous policemen — so zealous sometimes that they would hide their matriculation — often armed with these water cannons. The latter had the particularity not to be loaded with plain water but with water mixed with chemicals that triggered burns on the bodies targeted (sometimes even inside buildings) by them. Associated to the ubiquitous teargas canisters, the Turkish modified water cannons were paradigmatic of the will to control the atmosphere of the public space by acting on its toxicity as Philippe Theophanidis brilliantly pointed-out in his Funambulist Paper, “Caught in the Cloud: The Biopolitics of Tear Gas Warfare.”

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Prosecutor-Evidence

Trayvon Martin’s hoodie shown as a piece of evidence by the prosecution at George Zimmerman’s trial (July 2013)

It has now been a few articles that I attempt to describe how clothing has such an important role in the social interactions of bodies and their positioning toward the norm in terms of gender, race, sexual orientation etc. It is correct to assume that the various interpretations that are made of the public bodies through (or complemented by) their clothing is a subjective (and therefore under the influence) interpretation of society. However, this subjectivity can be the object of an investigation with an objective claim like in the case of judicial prosecution. This article is therefore a short and far too incomplete examination of clothes used as a piece of evidence in trials (if anyone knows some additional information, I would be very interested to hear about it!).

Often, clothes introduced in court rooms are not so much presented as evidence for what they incarnate, but rather, they are received as receptacle for an outside matter: DNA, blood, and other parts/products of the body can be thus collected to prove the interaction between two or more bodies. This is how, for example, one of Monica Lewinsky’s dresses was received as piece of evidence in the procedure of US Presidential impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998, since this dress was still carrying Clinton’s sperm on it, and was thus proving the existence of sexual relation between them that he had been denying at first. Some other time, clothes are considered as judicial evidence as logical elements of the narrative of the crime. This is how we learned these last days that the clothes worn by Reeva Steenkamp when she was killed by her partner, Oscar Pistorius on February 14, 2013, will be introduced in the latter’s trial to deny the logic of his defending narrative. However, these cases do not tell us anything about the way clothing plays a tremendous role in the social interpretation of otherness to the point that it can actually be part of a sort of judicial fashion forensic in which this interpretation has to be unfolded.

One recent and illustrative example of the use of a piece of clothing as evidence of such an interpretation in a trial was presented during the prosecution of George Zimmerman in July 2013 (State of Florida v. George Zimmerman). The piece of clothing introduced then was the hoodie that Trayvon Martin was wearing when he got murdered by Zimmerman on February 26, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. The evidence was used to show where the clothe had been penetrated by the deadly bullet but, more importantly, it was presented to the jury for it to determine if the hoodie — implicitly complemented by Martin’s black body — could present sufficiently suspicious characteristics for Zimmerman to legitimately confront Martin in his claimed expectation that “he was up to no good” (for more on this topic and the underlying racism it reveals, you can listen to the conversation I had with Mimi Thi Nguyen for Archipelago). This evidence, presented by the prosecution was probably expected to illustrate how only a racist interpretation of this piece of clothe worn by a black body could justify Zimmerman’s behavior. but the almost unanimously white jury decided otherwise — and thus became complicit of this racist interpretation  — since Zimmerman walked free from his trial.

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Queer History of Fashion - Funambulist

Photographs from the exhibition “A Queer History of Fashion” at the New York Fashion Institute of Technology (2013) /  Suit worn by Marlene Dietrich – Skirt by Jean-Paul Gaultier

This article is based on two books (only in French) written by feminist historian Christine Bard in 2010. The first one is Une histoire politique du pantalon (A Political History of Trousers) and its immediate ‘sequel’ is Ce que soulève la jupe (What Brings up the Skirt). Both books focus on the specific case of historical and contemporary France; however, the detailed documentation of Bard’s research allows a deeper questioning about the relationships between clothing and gender that can be extended, at least to the Western World in general.

Bard starts her political history of trousers with the 1789 French revolution and the quest for a shift of paradigm vis-a-vis the ancient regime combined to the medical observation than the old trousers (culotte in old French) tend to make men sterile. On the second year of the first French Republic, a decree stipulates that “nobody of any sex could constraint any male or female citizen [citoyen ou citoyenne] to dress in a particular manner,” as well as the fact that “each is free to wear any clothing of his or her own sex per his or her preference.” The etiquette of the monarchy is thus destroyed and any body becomes free to wear anything (s)he might want providing that this clothing belongs to his or her respective gender.

Before even addressing the relations of power unfolded by this division of society into two genders, we can note a few functional characteristics inherent to clothing that prevent the female body from the liberty of movement given to the male one (my translation):

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V38_Lambert-2

The thirty-eighth issue of Volume entitled The Shape of Law has been recently released and I have the great chance to have a paper in it, in company of many friends (Daniel Fernandez Pascual, Nina Kolowratnik, Pedro Gadanho, Ethel Baraona Pohl, Brendan Cornier, Cristina Goberna, Urtzi Grau, Dubravka Sekulic and Paula Alvarez). This issue is very useful as an introduction to problems of space in relation to the legal system that produces it. My own contribution is entitled “The Law Turned into Walls,” and despite the fact that it does not really bring any new element to the essays gathered in The Funambulist Pamphlets: Volume 04: Legal Theory, the articulation of the ideas developed in various texts written in the past was a useful exercise and constitutes a synthesis for this book:

THE LAW TURNED INTO WALLS ///
originally written for Volume 38: The Shape of Law (February 2014)

01. The lines of the law

Law and architecture are two instruments in the same toolset of political power. Law provides the diagram, while architecture embodies its imperfect violent concretization. Each wall is the crystallization of a law. One of the most immediate examples is the materialization of private property. Someone traces a line in the soil: this is the first act of this legal-architectural union. The architectural act is rather limited (a simple line), but its legal consequences are great: it delimits a territory that now belongs to the person who traced it, and so do the fruits of production made there.

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ONotkiL

Rarely an image would have known how to express the potential for a city to become a battlefield than this photomontage of Kiev’s Maidan Square before and after its occupation started (see below for a zoomable version). Similar photographs have emerged to show the extents of the tragic damages produced by the current civil war in Syria (see below). I won’t be addressing the specificity of Ukraine or Syria, about which I know very little, but rather, I would like to insist on this potentiality for any city “at peace” — the notion of peace is an illusion of course — to become, not only the scene for war operations, but also an actor in it.

As written above, the very fact of thinking that a city might be at peace is already part of a problem that can sometimes degenerates into civil war. The city intensifies the relationships between the bodies of a given society. Isolating the aggressions between bodies at a micro-level is forgetting that this aggressions are produced by a normalized, ideological and urban context that needs to be addressed at a macro-level. Thinking of a city as being at peace is usually an interpretation of it made by bodies that dominate (voluntarily or not, it does not matter) this normalized, ideological and urban context. These bodies are therefore the most surprised to see a city that they thought was at peace turning into a battlefield where the relationships of power could not be more expressively operating.

As the image above illustrates, the very fabric of the city thus becomes an explicit weapon. On Maidan Square, all cobble stones have been withdrawn from the floor and either thrown at the police bodies and vehicles, or used to construct defensive barricades with other movable objects that can act as a physical barrier when aggregated together. The width of the street, the height of the buildings, the various points of access, all these elements that were not necessarily thought — or so we think — within a logic of political urban antagonism, become fundamental components in the way the city is an undeniable participating agent to the conflict.

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