Monthly Archives: September 2011

# POLITICS /// "I am a Citizen of Liberty Square"September 29, 2011

Philosophy - By: Léopold Lambert

In front of the incredible silence of the media about the Occupying Wall Street Movement -the New York Times had a very small article in the NY section about it five days ago bias(ly) entitled “Gunning for Wall Street, With Faulty Aim“- I feel obliged to talk about this extremely interesting micro-society existing right in between Ground Zero and Wall Street in New York. About this very eloquent silence in the press, you might want to read the excellent article  by Gaston Gordillo on the never disappointing Critical Legal Thinking. Silence is indeed their best weapon to fight against their fear of this movement increasing.

The Police should know that its brutality is only bringing more reasons to resist the injustice that capitalism develops in its implementation and that now reach summit in the social inequalities. Nevertheless, the movement voluntarily remains absolutely non-violent and leaderless. Organization is the key notion here. A computer lab on site is relaying information directly on the Internet, a kitchen supplies food for the American indignants, and several working group gather everyday to discuss and create how this micro-society could sustain itself in time and implement outreaching actions. At the end of each day, a General Assembly is gathered in which propositions and votes are effectuated in a very communal way characterized by the mean used by the indignants to make themselves heard: one person speaks and the rest who could hear repeat for the crowd further, in a very symbolic union of voices. Here again, the organization is impressive, especially as far as the domain of law is concerned with competent lawyers -some of the National Lawyers Guild– and other Cop-watchers who make sure that nobody is left alone if arrested.

Some people outside of the movement seem to blame the lack of specific demands. I, however, would claim that this group seems to have understood something about revolt: in fact, they create a micro-society, two blocks away from their antagonistic way of life’s embodiment (Wall Street), which implements de facto the democracy and the solidarity they are calling for as a model of society. Just like for the recent Egyptian Revolution, the moment of liberation is not so much the achievement (and therefore the termination) of the resistance movement but rather the process of this movement which forces people involved in it to develop a collective identity.

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Whoever reads regularly this blog knows that I develop an attraction for architecture schools in the United Kingdom; however I tend to focus a lot on the London ones (Bartlett, AA, Westminster, Royal College of Arts and Greenwich) and tend to forget too much the others which are proposing a very interesting pedagogy as well. This article is to make it up to those schools that might communicate less on an international level but work very rigorously with talented (young often) teachers.

The two following projects are third year undergraduate projects at Oxford Brookes University in a studio tutored by my friend Colin Priest along with Carsten Jungfer. The following text exposes the studio’s field of exploration:

This year we engaged in relevant theoretical and current practice-based discourse around Form Follows Performance. In critiquing Adolf Loos’ writing in ‘Ornament and Crime’ we challenged spatial conditions to re-discover the core values of architecture – space and material. In observing behavioural shifts violating prevailing norms, informal processes and their effects, we asked can negative acts manifest positive opportunities? Ultimately designing architectural solutions to proactively address cultural conflict and contribute towards the redefining of new forms of social and spatial order at a local scale in the city.

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Stills from 36 Quai des Orfèvres by Olivier Marchal

I recently wrote an article (Sept 14th) entitled The Weight of the Body Falling which consisted in a first approach of a study of the effect of gravity on the human body and its potential architectural interpretation. The latter can be explored by writing about the notion of Landing Sites created by Arakawa and Gins (see all previous articles), I don’t feel ready to elaborate about it yet but it should come very soon.

For now, I would like to approach this notion of bodies falling in a Spinozist way, focusing on the notion of collision. The introductory image of this article is not innocent here; I noticed that however bad a movie can be as far as the scenario or the acting are concerned, I have a strong respect for films that are attached to the weights of bodies – body, here, has to be understood as a coherent cluster of microscopic particles forming a macroscopic ensemble. Off the top of my head, I am thinking in particular of the movies directed by Akira Kurosawa -in particular The Hidden Fortress– and of a very recent one directly registered in this genealogy: 13 Assassins by Takeshi Miike. I recommend -in addition of watching the movies themselves, of course- to watch entirely both movies’ trailer by clicking on the two previous links which in few minutes manage somehow to transmit this importance of the weight. Horses galloping in the mud, never far from sliding and falling, human bodies falling in the water or on the earth, and of course the instrumental steel of the swords  that resonates when clashing, are as many indicators of the reality of two bodies colliding with each other.

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# PALESTINE /// The Palestinian Legal Right of ReturnSeptember 24, 2011

History / Law - By: Léopold Lambert

Refugee Camp of Tadamon in Beirut (Lebanon) / Photograph by Simon Norfolk

While the Palestinian Authority is playing a risky game at the UN forcing to Obama to be more Zionist than a very important amount of Israeli people themselves, Al Jazeera releases an extremely interesting article about the legal implications of the Palestinian right to return on an international justice level. It is very well known that the State of Israel is violating the article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention by implementing and developing a civilian colonization of the West Bank and East Jerusalem since 1967, the legal aspect of the right to return was until now unknown from me.

Since 1948, about five millions Palestinian are considered as refugees by the United Nations for Relief and Works Agency including a million and half of them living in camps. In Lebanon, for example, where 250 000 Palestinians refugees live in camps, this status is even harder to carry as a strong discrimination is exercised against them.
As I have been writing a numerous times already on this blog, the Palestinian struggle can be approached with two filters. The first one is a personal one, and there are millions of us who are personally shocked by the situation there in what we consider being a human injustice. This aspect of things is what pushes us to enter in resistance against such injustice but cannot really brings us to what can be called “a solution”. The second filter consist in a strictly legal approach which recognize law as the technology that mankind invented in reaction to the numerous human injustices evoked above. The sad irony here is that a very important part of the International Law was invented  following the Second World War and more specifically the Holocaust who brought the Jewish Diaspora to create the State of Israel. This law should therefore be even more meaningful to the Jewish citizens of Israel.

Whenever one speaks about the Palestinian struggle, it seems important to re-enumerate what is at stake as the issues are so multiple. I can see five problems relative to a belligerent Israeli attitude:
– The problem of colonization in the West Bank
– The problem of colonization and recognition of East Jerusalem as being a Palestinian territory.
– The problem of the incarceration of an entire population in the Gaza Strip, regularly bombed like in a hunt in a preserve
– The problem of the Arabs citizens of Israel who are being segregated
– The problem of the five millions Palestinian refugees who are not allowed by Israel to return on the land they belong to. As stated before, this is this problem that we tackle here.

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Architecture or Techno-Utopia: Politics after Modernism is a book written by Felicity Scott and published in 2007 by the MIT Press. She is director of the new program at Columbia University in Critical, Curatorial and Conceptual Practices in Architecture. This book is a historical exploration and analysis of the evolution of the political ideology that functioned as a motor for architecture since the 1930’s. The first chapter is entitled A Vital Bearing on Socialism and recounts the struggle against capitalism orchestrated by art historian Meyer Shapiro.  It is interesting to observe how architecture, just like any discipline in between the two world wars, was able to carry a pretty straight forward and strong Marxist reading of society registered in the idea of class struggle. Following its course, the book ends-up with the Koolhaasian paradigm and his voluntary prisoners of architecture (see here for the text and here for the documents in previous articles). This approach to ideology is indeed more ambiguous and never stands too far from theories that gloriously self-declared as indeed post-ideological at the end of the 20th century. The quintessential example chosen by F.Scott, of such so-called post-ideological architecture is the competition for the reconstruction of New York’s World Trade Center after its destruction in 2001. Such competition could have legitimately be expected to carry a tremendously interesting debate about the relationship between architecture and the polis; unfortunately the least we can say is that it did not happen…
What distinguishes however Rem Koolhaas’ Exodus and the masters of the current architecture lies in his attachment and his rooting in the notion of utopia/dystopia which makes him use the means of fiction. In this regard I would like to finish by reproducing here one of the very last paragraph of F.Scott’s book to tackle this notion:

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In his class at the Universite de Vincennes in 1983-84, Gilles Deleuze approaches cinema by what he calls la puissance du faux (power of the false) which intermingles (and not confuses) imaginary and reality to create the false and by extension, fiction. The notion of truth is therefore fundamental for his class and in his December 6th 1983 session, he exposes two visions of the world  of truths of existence (in opposition to truths of essence) affiliated with each other. The first one comes from 17th century philosopher Gottfried Leibniz who imagined an infinite pyramid composed by the infinite possible worlds in which, each variations of circumstances brings each world to be what it is (see excerpt 1 after this text). To end up with a truth of existence, Leibniz has to bring in the notion of moral -and even of theology- for that he states that at the top of the pyramid, stands the world that God has chosen as it is unmistakably the best one.
The second vision, born from Leibniz’s narrative, occurs two centuries and half later, in 1941 with the short story El Jardin de Senderos que se Bifurcan (The Garden of Forking Path) written by Jorge Luis Borges. In this story, Borges introduces a book in which all the possible world are contained, simultaneous and equally real (see excerpt 2).

To this two visions brought-up by Deleuze, I would like to add the one proposed by Philip K. Dick in 1977 for the Metz’s (France) Science-Fiction Festival in a lecture entitled If you find this World bad, you should see some of the others. In fact, this vision has less to do with architecture and more with fashion design (!) as he suggests that each world is a coat owned by God who decides “in the morning” which one to wear. One obvious novel in which he developed this theory is The Man in the High Castle (1962) in which P.K. Dick introduces a parallel world (one might say an uchronia) that saw the Axis Powers (Germany, Japan and Italy) won the second world war three decades before the plot.

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It became a sort of tradition on The Funambulist to publish regularly the work of specific people whose interesting projects, add one by one over the years compose a coherent ensemble. Fredrik Hellberg is one of those people. After his Manhattan Oneirocritica, his Japanese Embassy in London and his essay about Meta-Virtual Solipsism, his work is back on the blog with his thesis project at the Architectural Association that is now competing for the RIBA’s 2011 Silver Medal.
The project, already published on dpr-barcelona for its homage to Konrad Wachsmann is named The Second Community. It starts with an exhaustive research about three community based on the notion of game: Online-role playing gamers, the Burning Man Festival and the Cosplay Conventions and the architecture that result from such gathering. Considering the abandoned city of California City in the desert, Fredrik designed a gigantic structure -indeed influenced by Wachsmann and Buckminster Fuller- that can host a new form of event that gathers the three concerned game gatherings.

His project, in addition of introducing this poetical structure, impresses for the numerous technical means it uses to describes itself. The important amount of documents that follows the text constitutes only half of the whole set Fredrik managed to compose in order to give to his project a strong consistency. The notion of tourism as a form of territorialization and deterriorialization being important to him, he fabricated his boards as maps that literally unfold the project in front of the viewer (see the following film).

The following text is his introduction to the project (for more renderings and another approach to the project read the article on dpr-barcelona):

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After writing an article about Björk, the transition is easy in order to speak about the her husband, Matthew Barney‘s work, and more specifically the short-film he released in 2004 under the name Hoist for the collection Destricted.
This idea to write about Hoist came for the reading of a similar article written by Todd Satter on his very interesting Any Space Whatever. Although my own (short) post will not reach the intellectual level reached by T. Satter, I felt that it was important that I wrote about this 12 min film which manages to bring the sexual relationship between human and technology to a new level. This new level is purely visual here and does not reach the power of Crash by James Graham Ballard -about which, I was incidentally writing yesterday- yet its literalness succeeds to increase our imaginaries.

Hoist shows a man hoisted under a deforestation caterpillar truck, itself suspended in the void. This man is methodically ejaculating against the rotating axis of the truck in such way that this operation appears as being part of the machinist process itself.
I am not really interested here, to dissect M.Barney’s own constructive interpretation involving the fact that his character seems to be related to the forest that the truck has been built to destroyed, or any other obscure narrative that would leads us into the usual “what he is trying to say” etc. On the contrary, I am much more eager to insist on the pure literalness of those images that mix a pure mechanic process with an organic one. The Deleuzian concept of the body as a desiring machine here seems so obvious and so literal that we might want to be cautious with it. In fact, the production of desire here does not appear to be its own end but rather a mean registered within the global function of the machine. The machine itself should barely be differentiated from the body who complete it and is somehow prisoner of it. Nevertheless the poetic aspect of those two entities hybridizing themselves together (it goes to the point that the body’s skin color is very similar as the bulldozer) manages to maintain the literalness of the film when symbolism is screaming to exist.

Watch the movie after the break

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Whether or not we like Björk‘s music (I personally do a lot !), we are obliged to recognize that she always knows who to work with in order to continuously push the limits of the musical field. The last example of this great sense of collaboration is the conception of new instruments for her album Biophilia, and more specifically the design and realization of what she called Gravity Harps.

In order to achieve those giant musical pendulums, she worked with Andy Cavatorta who designed a what we could call a robotic string bell mixing something as simple as gravity with high technology of sensors and mechanical operators. In an interview for The Creators Project, A.Cavatorta explains:

There are four pendulums, each with a cylindrical harp on the end. As each pendulum swings through its lowest point, a single string on its harp gets plucked. The harp is cylindrical and can rotate, so any one of its eleven strings can be played by facing it to the plucker. There is also an ‘empty’ string position for playing rests.

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Theo Jansen and his beautiful Standbeests are having an exhibition in the Oita Art Museum (Japan) with Earthscape. Entitled in a very Miyazakian way, The Beach Animal that Eats Wind seems to translate very poetically T.Jansen’s narrative in which the ingenious assemblages he builds-up acquire the status of living beings once achieved.

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