Monthly Archives: May 2011

Modernist Architecture is characterized by a thaumaturgic (talent of miraculously curing) ambition which would heal the “diseases” of individuals and society. Although this ambition appears as obsolete and slightly ridiculous nowadays, after several decades of post-modernism that constituted in denying any other power of architecture than a merely aesthetic one. However, my thesis, that I have been developing though a reasonable amount of articles on this blog, is that architecture does certainly own a power, but rather than the power of healing, it might rather be the power of hurting.  (see weaponized architecture)

In this regard, what appear to be the quintessential example of a set of norms and a residue of the modern ideology are the overwhelming diagrams proposed by the fascinating Architectural Graphic Standards (cf introduction cover page). Indeed, following the modern dream of an optimized built environment, those architectural documents consider a normative body –one could think of Le Corbusier’s Modulor- and advocate for an architecture that is perfectly adapted to this same body. This normative body is not an ideal body in the classical meaning of it (mostly based on aesthetic values) but can be considered as such, as it does not represent anybody’s body but rather constitutes an unreachable state of normality.
As we saw with the work of Arakawa and Madeline Gins (see my essay Architectures of Joy) , architecture can be considered within the time frame of human evolution and, this way, be designed in order to influence such evolution. The normative body of those diagrams constitute the exact opposite of Arakawa/Gins’ work that attempts to activate bodies in order to resist death. In fact, the normative ideology by choosing an oxymoronic normal ideal body as a model, refuse the very idea of the human evolution. This denial organizes a violence effectuated on the body as it makes it interact with an environment that forces it to remain the same. Such a normative environment also implies a normative behavior that implies a set of pre-defined activities relatively to each space and furniture.
One can dream (I do !) of a re-interpretation of those diagrams subverted by various activities and bodies that were not thought about by those normative documents (the coitus seems to be a good way to start them for example !).

The following documents and the first image are all extracted from the Architectural Graphic Standards. Hoboken: Wiley, 2000.

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picture by Anthony Suau

TDR journal published by the MIT Press just released its summer issue in which one can read an interesting article written by Tamara Underiner (professor at Arizona State) about a Caminata Nocturna (Night Walk in Spanish), strange event taking place every week in the Mexican countryside. Her article Playing at Border crossing in a Mexican Indigenous Community…Seriously in fact describes a Mexican indigenous community which weekly reconstitutes the conditions of the crossing of the Mexican/US border as a mix between the game and the ceremonial.

The article starts with a narrative that puts you in those conditions and blurs the difference between a real border crossing and its reconstitution:

If it’s Saturday night in the Mexican town of El Alberto, it’s time to cross the border. If you’re lucky, the moon will be out and you will be able to pick your way through the rugged terrain. You will be able to see glimmers of the streams you will have to cross, and the river you will want to avoid. If the moon is out, there might be some light at the end of the sewer tunnel you will crawl through, enough at least to let you fairly calculate how much flesh will be left on your palms and your knees by the end of its rough passage, and how many creepy-crawly things have already landed in your hair as you’ve crept along, parting curtains of cobwebs with your face. You will be able to gauge the incline of the next hillside you will have to scale, and the width of the next plank you will have to walk, across a patch of stinking swamp. You might be able to distinguish the difference between a cactus arm and a tree branch, so that when you lose your balance, you won’t grab hold of the wrong one.
If it’s a moonless night, you will have to rely on the expertise of your guides, the polleros or coyotes1 you have hired to help you navigate these challenges. You will try using your flashlight, or your lighter, or your cell phone — anything to show you where to put your foot next. You will be told in no uncertain terms to turn it off or put it out. In the dark and the quiet, you will see the flashing lights of the US Border Patrol, which pursues you nearly constantly, on foot and in pickup trucks; you will hear the orders they yell to turn yourself in, and the gunshots they will use to convince you. You may manage to elude capture, but some of your fellow travelers will not — especially the ones who are obviously drunk. You may find yourself chuckling at the sight of them being hauled away, even as you wonder just when and where you’ll see them again.

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I did not have much time to write long articles lately…I apologize for that and leave you with one of the most beautiful illustration of a funambulist I know. This beautiful illustration has been created by Russian artists/architects Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin (see previous article) extracted from the just as much beautiful monography: Brodsky & Utkin: complete works. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2003.

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Arne Quinze continues his obsessive beautiful work on the tracks of Tadashi Kawamata and Yona Friedman. This new installation will be soon visible at the Lousiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk (Denmark) from June 1st to October 2nd.
My Home my House my Stilthouse & my safe Garden is an investigation of the notion of domesticity and neighborhood. Each “building” is, as always, architecturally recounting its own fragility and self-construction.

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One of the element that created modernism is the introspection accomplished by artistic disciplines for what they really are, followed by the expression of such look on itself.
This introspection has been set in motion much before the XXth century, notably in painting (and very likely in literature too). My weak knowledge would place Rembrandt and Velasquez as precursors, respectively with the Artist in his Studio (1628) and Las Meninas (1656) which both include a canvas and the painter within the painting. However I would claim -and I may be wrong- that such examples were more introspection by the artists on their own person rather than a real questioning of their discipline and the act of representing in general. Marcel Duchamp is probably one of the face of this modern revolution in art but since this article tends to consider very straight forward example, I would name Rene Magritte and his “Ceci n’est pas une Pipe” (This is not a Pipe) as a pure formulation of the problem of representation. In fact, the pipe on the painting is not a pipe but the representation of a pipe.

Here I would like to tackle the same issue by a very short analysis of five (six) films that are all (almost) entirely based around the idea of making films. The five of them have very different visions/manifestos of cinema to the point that Jean-Luc Godard will finish to break up his friendship with Francois Truffaut after the latter released La Nuit Américaine (Day For Night).

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Are intolerable: High courts, cops, hospitals, asylums, school, military service, press, TV, the State and primarily prisons.

Groupe d’Information sur les Prisons

In my last article about Antonin Artaud and Vincent Van Gogh, I was evoking the issue of psychiatry being society’s mean of “suiciding” some of its undesired components. Today, I want to evoke an issue that is similar to some extents. I recently read that France has currently 65 000 of its citizen who live in prison which represents almost exactly 0.1% of the population. Of course it does not reach USA’s sad record of 2.5 millions detainees (0.8% of the population), but this amount is definitely frightening.

Prisons are zones of exclusions included within the space of society. They are micro-totalitarian societies that can difficultly be thought without architectural apparatuses. The cell fully expresses the supremacy of the wall on the body and the prison subtly negotiates between hyper-seclusion and hyper-visibility. Spaces of punishment, in their essence, have been created in a peculiar revanchist way of thinking. Indeed, they have been programmed to suspend the application of the law for people who have been suspending the law for themselves. It is then important for the society that hosts those territories of punishment that the exceptions they represent do not appear in any way as enviable. Their design is therefore intentionally and considerably aggressive to the human body.

In 1971, in France, Michel Foucault, Jean-Marie Domenach & Pierre Vidal-Naquet decided to make the hermetic border between the societal space and the zones of exclusions that prisons embodies, more porous. They thus created a collective entitled Groupe d’Information sur les Prisons (Prison Information Group). In fact, this group was trying to extract information from within those zones to put society in front of its responsibilities, but it also attempted to bring information the other way around, from the milieu depending on law to the milieu in which law is suspended. Members of the collective would therefore make pressure (and actually succeed) to bring the radio and newspaper within prisons, or stand outside and scream information in megaphones.

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In 1947, one year after having spent nine years in psychiatric hospitals, Antonin Artaud published a beautiful book as an apologia of Vincent Van Gogh, “suicided by society” like every other visionaries that has been categorized as mad. Artaud, fifteen years before Michel Foucault, affirms that madness has been created by psychiatric medicine and not the other way around. He accuses doctors and Van Gogh’s brother Theo, to have, not only ignored, but actively suppress the expression of the painter’s art.
The invention of the adjective suicided illustrates exactly the process of psychiatry. By having elaborated this medicine method, society did not want simply to kill those that it could not assimilate (like it would do for prisoners for example), but it wanted them to recognize themselves their vision as a pathology and therefore to make them commit a social suicide.

Just like Heliogabalus or the Crowned Anarchist (we’ll see it in another article sometimes), Antonin Artaud’s literary style is magnificent and untranslatable. One of the most illustrative example of that is Artaud’s obsession for Van Gogh’s “coup de pinceau”, which literally means paint brush’s strike and therefore express the painter’s power but the same expression is the correct expression to talk more simply of any painter’s action on the canvas…
Nevertheless, I attempted to translate by myself several excerpts and I already apologize for providing such badly transcripts in English (the original version in French is below):

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After writing a (too) short article about war and the city, now is one about too books that, each in its way, question the relationship of Art and War.

The first one is entitled Rituals of War. The Body and Violence in Mesopotamia and is published by Zainab Bahrani for the great Zone Books (distributed by the MIT Press) in 2008.
The book starts by this powerful sentence, War is organized violence and thus begins an introduction that proposes a brilliant archeology of violence. Brilliant, in fact, as Z.Bahrani manages to mix the topic of her book, the representation of war by ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, the ME (the Assyrian word for “the arts of civilization”) and a more contemporaneous approach of war as thought by Michel Foucault, Giorgio Agamben, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari and Georges Bataille. Z.Bahrani quotes the latter in her introduction saying that according to Georges Bataille, war exists because the taboo on violence in daily life relegates violence to areas of existence confined in space and time and that follow their own rules.  This confinement has indeed a name, war, and is almost paradoxically regulated by conventions and laws, thus legitimizing violence and introducing the ambiguous notion of Just War.
The book then lead us through the various representation of war in Mesopotamia, analyzing steles and monument describing the power of the king’s body and the degradation of the one of the enemies. It also show us the relationship with war and the divine through human sacrifices, omens, and oracles in bodies.
After a very interesting series of chapter specific to Mesopotamia, the conclusion goes back to the mix between general considerations and their application to the Mesopotamian case that the introduction started. Within it, we can find an interesting analysis of Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of war machine: War is appropriated as a Repressive State Apparatus but remains outside state power proper and outside the law. To kill in war is appropriate and sanctioned. It is not a punishable act. It is a transgression that forms an exception to the normal order of things and to the law. The war machine falls between the juridical and the theological; it intersects with and connects them. But it exists only in its own metamorphoses, in industrial and technological inventions, in religious and militaristic rituals.

The second book, At War, is the book associated to the exhibition of the same name organized by the Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona in 2004. The book itself is edited by Antonio Monegal, Francesco Torres, Jose Maria Ridao and published by Actar.

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After the video of David Harvey (see previous article) here is the RSA Animate video for Slavoj Zizek‘s speech at the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. Zizek’s lecture, First as a Tragedy then as a Farce is associated with his book of the same name (2009) and is now well known by the public but the brilliant illustration of the RSA Animate makes it very didactic, concise and clear.

Thanks Hannibal

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It seems to me that there are two kinds of true horror. There is the absolute relentlessness of the real that is felt through the built-up realms of rationality. However, there is another type of true horror, the one that escape from this rationality and belong to the domain of dream. No need here to dissociate dreams and nightmares as this terminology is only specified retrospectively when the dream is over and that rationality is reactivated.
Dream and its generator, the unconscious were both the raw material and the object of the Surrealist work. In 1929 the young Luis Bunuel with Salvador Dali created a beautiful 15 min film, Un Chien Andalou, that was exploring this notion of dream as the irrational sequence of irrational -and therefore terrifying- events created by the unconscious of one person. This uniqueness of the person who dreams is actually interested to observe here as this film has two authors. As Gilles Deleuze points out in his lecture at the FEMIS in May 1987 (cf previous article), if you fall into the dream of another person, you are screwed-up. Here, Deleuze speaks more about the dream as an enunciated desire, than the dream as an experience in which the unconscious has all power. However, we can argue that both of these definitions of the dreams are in fact creating a unique one that celebrates the victory of the unconscious over the real. Deleuze therefore advices against the imposition of the surreal on the real as the dream needs to use the whole power of the real in order to implement itself in it.

Dreams are true horror as it does not incorporate any exit. They are the ultimate labyrinth that I believe is being described in Kafka’s work as I wrote in my hypothesis that The Trial has not been well reconstituted by Max Brod and is actually a post-mortem dream. In this hypothesis, I argued that death’s time is out of the real and therefore is “lived” as an infinite dream in which only the unconscious remains. Dream, in this regard, is a moment of death and Un Chien Andalou, a vision of death.

Watch the movie after the break:

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