Monthly Archives: January 2012

# HISTORY /// The Insurgent BarricadeJanuary 31, 2012

History - By: Léopold Lambert

I recently wrote an article doing the inventory of resources one can find about this very special weaponized architecture that constitutes the barricade; that was before I read the book The Insurgent Barricade (University of California Press, 2010.)  written by Professor Mark Traugott as a series of (chronological) essays around this notion. M.Traugott, in an obsessive will for historians to determine an invention date for each technology, – as he recognizes it – considers that the Parisian revolt against the King Henri III in 1588 can be consider as such for the barricade. The word comes in fact from the old French word barrique (barrel in English) which depicts the original element – one might actually say that it was the chain – composing those defensive street obstacles.

As I wrote in the previous article, the 19th century will be the era during which barricades will be the most regularly and efficiently used by insurgents. In this regard M.Traugott’s book dedicates an important part to the various European insurrections in 1848 started by what could be called the third French Revolution: Munich, Vienna, Naples, Prague etc. followed indeed the insurgent movement by using barricades as well. One can also look at the various maps of the book including the one below that illustrate the incredible proliferation of barricades during the two revolutions of 1830 and 1848 in the narrow streets of the center of Paris. This map expresses well the locality of such architecture that was mostly built-up and defended by people living around it, thus creating a new form of social space shared and negotiated by its participants.

The book also include a very useful chapter ‘The Function of the Barricade’ that allies recurrent functions with more anecdotal ones like the brief invention of mobile counter-barricades by the suppressive power in 1848 for example (see image above).

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Revolution in Cairo (January 2011) Photo by Mohammed Abed / AFP-Getty

The following text is an abstract I wrote last August as a response to the call for papers organized by Melbourne Doctoral Forum on Legal Theory (see previous article). I am neither a doctor in anything nor knows much about law but my paper was selected to participate to the forum. Unfortunately I did no have enough money to go all the way to Melbourne so this abstract never went further (at least in this form) than that. The topic was entitled Law and its Accident:

Collision, Sexuality and Resistance.
By Léopold Lambert

Calling for papers about law and its accident is indubitably recognizing that law is a technology, and that each technology implies the invention of its own failure as Paul Virilio numerously pointed out in his books. Accident, here, could be defined as the moment when the concerned technology ceases to function right after its collision with another body. The violence of such collision is normally understood as unfortunate if not fatal.

Nevertheless, in 1973, English author James Graham Ballard published a novel entitled Crash that precisely describes a new form of sexuality that reaches its climax at the very moment of the accident. He uses the car as the paradigm of the modern technocracy and introduces his characters as the pioneers of this sexuality. Each scar, trace of a previous accident, becomes a new orifice that constructs these characters’ desire until the next machinist orgasm. The latter is produced by the violent penetration of the piece of technology within the human body. This event celebrates the death of technology which often implies the death of this same human body that is dependent of it.

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King Kong meets the Gem of Egypt / Partially Buried Wood Shed. Image from Field Trips: Bernd and Hilla Becher / Robert Smithson. Porto: Museu Serralves

In the chapter Threshole of the great book Formless: A User’s Guide, (Zone Books, 1997) Yve-Alain Bois addresses more specifically architecture to illustrates this concept created by Georges Bataille. I hope to make a review of the whole book sometimes soon, but for now I would like to focus on Robert Smithson‘s work which, along with Gordon Matta Clark’s share the focus of this chapter. Yve-Alain Bois introduces Smithson as somebody who is interested in strategies of entropization of architecture on the contrary of the latter’s pretention:

“The ideal is architecture, or sculpture, immobilizing harmony, guaranteeing the duration of motifs whose essence is the annulations of time.”
Thus the dream of architecture, among other things, is to escape entropy. This dream may be illusory on its face; but this is something that must be demonstrated nonetheless – which is to say that one must “exit the domain of the project by means of a project.” (P187)

This project that exit the domain of the project, Robert Smithson will first attempt to achieve it in 1970 with a project entitled Island of the Dismantled Building that was going to build and dramatize a ruin/island in Vancouver Bay. In the end, this project never occurred (because of local associations) but few months later, he will re-iterate such attempt with his Partially Buried Wood Shed on Kent State University campus, associating his fascination for formlessness and entropic architecture. Indeed, a year earlier, he created one of his most famous work Asphalt Rundown which dramatized the slow drip of hot asphalt on an earthly slopped. This artificial geological interaction is fascinating for a lot of reasons. The slow movement of this black matter winning over the earth is not without making us think of an anti-matter that would absorb whatever interacts with it, the asphalt drip characterizes quite convincingly a materialization of formlessness, one can also think of this fluid mass that will eventually dries-up and somehow strangle the earth below it etc.

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The magnificent movie Der Himmel Uber Berlin (strangely translated into Wings of Desire) released by Wim Wenders in 1987 is an ode to our humanity via the testimony of the weight of the bodies, but also the weight of life and history (in the individual and collective sense) that facilitates the enclosing of the self and the defiance of the other. As a taxi driver thinks in the film:

Are there still borders? More than ever! Every street has its borderline. Between each plot, there’s a strip of no-man’s-land disguised as a hedge or a ditch. Whoever dares, will fall into booby traps or be hit by laser rays. The trout are really torpedoes. Every home owner, or even every tenant nails his name plate on the door, like a coat of arms and studies the morning paper as if he were a world leader. Germany has crumbled into as many small states as there are individuals. And these small states are mobile. Everyone carries his own state with him, and demands a toll when another wants to enter. A fly caught in amber, or a leather bottle. So much for the border. But one can only enter each state with a password. The German soul of today can only be conquered and governed by one who arrives at each small state with the password. Fortunately, no one is currently in a position to do this. So… everyone migrates, and waves his one-man-state flag in all earthly directions. Their children already shake their rattles and drag their filth around them in circles.

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Since I left India where I used to live for a while, I wrote only one article about the multitude of interesting architectures that can be seen in this country. The book Steps to Water: The Ancient Stepwells of India written by Morna Livingston and published by the Princeton Architectural Press is a good excuse to come back to it.

Stepwells are indeed one of the most fascinating typologies of Gujarati and Rajasthani architecture. I visited some of them around Ahmadabad when I  traveled there and was lucky enough to experience the slow architectural procession to the water that those wells offer to their visitors. Morna Livingston’s book introduces an important variety of them via her texts, photos and drawings (see below) which helps efficiently our imagination to reconstitute the religious ceremonial that used to occur in those sacred wells.
In 2006, the movie director Tarsem Singh extracted the spatial power of some of those wells (see the photo from a previous article) for his very aesthetizing  film, The Fall that was repeatedly using classic Indian architecture to compose  a fictitious environment for his plot. Morna Livingston’s photos, on the contrary, do not hesitate to show the wells in their current state which, sometimes, implies an important affect of time that thus accentuate the beautiful minerality of this architecture of stones.

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# LIBERTY SQUARE /// Reclaim the One Chase Manhattan PlazaJanuary 18, 2012

Law - By: Léopold Lambert

After the re-opening of Liberty Square following our numerous requests to the New York Department of Buildings (see previous article), whownspace started a new action to reclaim a public space that has been closed since September when it became known that the first occupation would precisely happen on this space: One Chase Manhattan Plaza. Since 2009, this space has been declared as a landmark and therefore requires a prior notice before any work that would alter its exterior aspect.

As written by Paula Segal for whownspace (click to read the full article):

Under New York City law, before doing work on landmark properties that will  affect their exteriors, building owners or tenants need to apply for a  permit from the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Violations of the Landmarks Law occur either when work is done on a Landmark without a permit or when work does not comply with a permit. The fences  around Chase Manhattan plaza clearly affect the exterior of the  building, yet no one has applied for a permit for their erection (the only permit for exterior work filed in the last two years — scaffolding for the sculptures — is here).
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1a
Strangle Poise Lamp
from the Red Goods collection by James Chambers (2010)

After a month of absence on the Funambulist, the guest writers series is coming back with its 18th opus written today by Esther Sze-wing Cheung, principal of ESC Design and currently working with the Reversible Destiny Foundation (Arakawa/Gins). Her essay, entitled Twin (Technology / Art Induced) Architectural Daydreams is a mind peregrination triggered by two pieces of art she recently encountered. While the Strangle Poise Lamp (by James Chambers) questions in her, the potential  contractual masochism that industrial design and architecture could develop with the human body, the Object Breast Cancer (by caraballo-farman) pushes her to investigate the symbolic dimension of architecture as a conscious or unconscious memory once physically experienced by the body.
This essay is thus a small ode to the process of creation that chronologically alternates a brief understanding of reality with what Esther calls here a daydream which eventually leads us to the production of artifacts, subtle chemistry of the reality’s objectiveness and 0ur imaginary’s subjectiveness.

The Funambulist Papers 18 /// Twin (Technology / Art Induced) Architectural Daydream

by Esther Sze-Wing Cheung

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# PHILOSOPHY /// Pulse Demons by Eugene ThackerJanuary 13, 2012

Philosophy - By: Léopold Lambert

The human swarm in Dante’s Divine Comedy by Gustave Doré

Regular readers of the Funambulist have read about Eugene Thacker at least for the Cyclonopedia symposium he organized at the New School with Ed Keller and Nicola Masciandaro and the lecture he gave to it, Black Infinity; or, Oil Discovers Humans. In the following essay published by Culture Machine in 2007, he explores the notion of swarm, not only to the behavioral level that fascinates many artists and scientists (and architects… see the swarm interviews in the sidebar), he attempts to distinguish behind this collective entity, a presence of the non-human, i.e. demons. The example of the New Testament and its famous phrase “I am legion” as well as the swarm described by Dante in his Divine Comedy (beautifully illustrated by Gustave Doré) are exemplary in this regard, but E.Thacker goes beyond those paradigmatic narratives. In fact, he starts from the Sanskrit etymology of the swarm itself as meaning ‘to resound’ in order to investigate this collective unified sound (dramatized in horror movies) as carrying a hidden meaning that can be explored in a form of counter-Kaballah like in Xenakis or Dumitrescu’s music for example.

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# PHILOSOPHY /// Purity and Danger by Mary DouglasJanuary 11, 2012

Philosophy - By: Léopold Lambert

Cover of the Routledge Edition of Purity and Danger

Following my last post in which I was referencing few items that are helping me to write an essay about the landscapes of insurgencies, here is another one coming from another field of exploration but much closer to the topic that one might think at first sight. Purity and Danger is a book written by British Anthropologist Mary Douglas in 1966. This work explores the notions of purity and uncleanness in various cultures and religions of the world. She explains that, beyond hygiene those notions are all relative and what is considered as banned in a religion can be sacred by another like in Antonin Artaud’s Heliogabalus (see previous essay).
But she mostly elaborate around those notions, a remarkable understanding of how societies use these considerations of dirt as a social mechanism of exclusion of their non-normalized elements. As she describes those mechanism of exclusion ion parallel of a culture’s mechanisms of purification, Mary Douglas describes pariah as formless in society just like the feared stickiness that blurs the limits between bodies. She therefore manages to establish a sort of materialist sociological reading of societies and thus participate to an elaborated critique of the latter. Here are few excerpts that touched me particularly:

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Barricade during the Paris Commune in 1871

I am currently writing an essay about “landscapes of insurgencies” across which the architectural typology of the barricade is, of course, predominant. This post will not be elaborating about this topic, since I am doing it in this essay, but rather gives a set of references specifically for the example of Paris  from the revolution of 1830 to the students and workers general strike in May 1968. Paris is indeed probably the most documented example of such militarized architecture but barricades have been built and used in many cities (Barcelona, Mexico, Warsaw, Riga etc.) around the world during the 19th and 20th century.

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