Monthly Archives: July 2012

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Would Have Been My Last Complaint
(2012). See full credits at end of the text

This week’s guest writer is a long time friend of mine, Camille Lacadée, with who I share the taste for living in places far from “home”! Camille is the recent author of a text for LOG 25 entitled (rama)kanabolism: Bangkok’s furious, sensuous hankering which marks its difference with the other essays as it uses words as a graphic, rhythmic and sonorous material rather than as semiotic container of knowledge. Similarly, her guest writer’s text is written as an inventory in a similar form than the one written by French poet Jacques Prevert in 1946. This one describes the recent construction of an architecture in South India by [eIf/bʌt/c] (Institute for Contingent Scenarios that she co-founded with François Roche in 2011) with Ezio Blasetti and Stephan Henrich as well as an international group of students and friends. Would Have Been… declines itself as an architecture, but also as a forthcoming film, some evocative photos like the ones above, and thus as an inventory that hides, beyond its apparent dryness, a multitude of narrative combinations (aka contingent scenarios)

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The Palestinian Archipelago: Island of Al Walajah surrounded by reefs /// Metaphorical map by the author

To mark the unfortunate anniversary of the Separation Barrier whose construction has been started ten years ago by the Israeli government, the online magazine +972 published a dossier about various aspects of the Palestinian life as changed by the wall. Let’s remind everybody that the wall is not following the 1949 armistice Green Line which separates Israel from the Palestinian territories, but rather attempts to push its line as far as possible within the West Bank in order to bring as many settlements as possible on the same side than the Israeli territory.
One of this +972 dossier’s chapter is dedicated to the case of the village of Al Walajah near Bethlehem. This village is situated very close from the Israeli settlements of Gilo and Har Gilo and is thus planned to be surrounded by the wall as a form of inclusive exclusion (read the previous article about the book with the same name). The village is already almost enclosed by the wall and only one last part remains to be built. According to Israeli journalist Haggai Matar who wrote the article, “The High Court at first stopped construction of the wall, but in 2011 allowed the state to proceed with construction even though a final ruling on the route has not been given.” Israel promised to build a tunnel for the village to be able to reach Bethlehem, but farmers won’t get an access to their land and the village in general will be surrounded by a wall and thus deprived from its direct environment.

It is important to observe that Al Waljah is also separated from Bethlehem by the well-known viaduct of Gilo (see maps and photo below). Most illustrative example of the Israeli colonial infrastructure, it carries a highway for the exclusive use of Israeli settlers and army. Walls, Settlements, and colonial roads constitute the reefs that transformed the “continental” land of Al Walajah into an isolated island of the Palestinian Archipelago. In this regard, this village’s situation is very similar to another one which has been already enclosed by the wall, Bir Nabala, not far from Ramallah that I evoked in a past article about the Israeli West Bank Highway, the route 443.

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As a third chapter of a series of articles about what I called the ideal normatized body, I would like to archive in the blog, the beginning of Judith Butler‘s introduction to her book Bodies That Matter. In this short text, she describes how bodies are being subjected to a normalization process which never fully reach the essence of the norm itself, in that case, “sex”. This oxymoron of an ideal norm is actually inherent to the status of the norm itself as it correspond to both a social construction describing a majority of behavioral and material characteristics, and an ideal in the sense that no body can actually incarnates absolutely the norm. J. Butler uses the notion of abjection to describe “those “unlivable” and “uninhabitable” zones of social life which are nevertheless densely populated by those who do not enjoy the status of the subject.” The abject constitutes precisely this excess considered as waste by a system that can find an economy with it, this “matter out of place” as British Anthropologist Mary Douglas wrote in Purity and Danger (for more about this question, one might want to read my “underdog” contribution, Abject Matter to the most recent LOG). Living the unlivable, inhabiting the uninhabitable constitute the refusal to processes of subjectivation as those “able” terms are precisely attributed by the normative system served by these same processes.

See the two first “chapters” of this series:
The Modernist Ideology of a Normative Body
A Subversive Approach to the Ideal Normatized Body

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Teresa Margolles, Muro Baleado (Shot Wall), 2009

The 31st episode of the guests writers series is written by Greg Barton, currently curatorial fellow at the storefront for art and architecture. His name might be familiar to the funambulist’s sharpest readers as in last October, I published a short article about the exhibition Ecologias Correlativas that he co-curated with Emma Chammah. His text bases its discourse on the book The Femicide Machine written by Mexican journalist Sergio González Rodríguez  and published at the always excellent semiotext(e) edited by Sylvère Lotringer, Chris Kraus, and Hedi El Kholti.

The Femicide Machine describes the situation in the city of Ciudad Juarez near the American Border and which seems to incarnate an illustrative example of a urban life shaped by the maquiladoras -there is 300 of them in Ciudad Juarez. In this model, women are the primary victims from the collision of geo-political trade agreements and their cryptic version, the narco-industry and its wars. Greg quotes the film Sleep Dealer to evoke the capture of bodies’ energetic production (see previous article) in maquiladoras which correspond to an even more generalized capture in the case of women whose bodies is continuously at work and at risk between labor, rape and murder. In this regard, he also quotes Octavio Paz who wrote that a woman was considered by our world as “an undifferentiated manifestation of life, a channel for the universal appetite.” Just like the raw material they export to Mexico in order to gain it back under the form of merchandise, the United States are both at the source and at the exit of this machine which exploits the Mexican labor energy for its fuel. Those border territories, as places of human, goods and money fluxes, then constitute the ideal scene for other fluxes to plug themselves in the circuit. That is how the subindustries developed and sustain itself through violence on women bodies.

The Funambulist Papers 31 /// Femicide Machine/Backyard

by Greg Barton

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It is not the first time -nor it will be the last probably- that I evoke the Kowloon Walled City (see this past article for example) as a Proletarian Fortress which is very interesting to look at as it provides us a historical example of a district which immanently constructed its own form of urbanity. In few decades, this housing block like it exists many of them in Hong Kong, got transformed by its inhabitants into a compact piece of city in which all object and person finds its place and function despite the density. The section drew by Japanese architects for the book 大図解九龍城, is very illustrative of what life has been like in the Walled City as it includes a multitude of micro-scenarios animating the district from the darkness of the ground to the aerated rooftops. The Walled City, by its relative self-sufficiency was the object of many myths from the outside population and authorities who was seeing it as a criminal neighborhood, argument that was used to destroy it in 1993. The density of the district as well as the addition of many alternative bridges and pathways was making it indeed very difficult to control and the police is said to have simply gave up on it. From what several authors who worked on it tell us, although the walled city was a shelter for drug addicts, criminals were not living in it.

Graphic narratives seem the right way to describe such district as it allows the restitution of the richness of micro-events and sociality that were occurring in it. The global section (see below) is therefore full of small annotations describing those micro-events. Rio Akasaka had the good idea to translate them into English and to put them online. I also extracted a dozen of significant details from the section that can be seen below.

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Fred Wigg Tower in Leytonstone (East London) (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Yesterday, Judge Haddon-Cave of the Hight Court of England decided in favor of the British Minister of Defense that the installation of surface-to-air missiles on the roof of a 17 floor building in East London during the Olympics of this year. Residents of the Fred Wigg Tower in Leytonstone (see map below) had indeed challenged this decision in justice. Those missiles are being set-up in prevention of potential terrorist attacks against London during the Olympics. This decision marks a new step in the establishment of national states of emergency since the 2001 terrorists attacks against the United States. For the last decade, western countries declared themselves at war against terrorism and had implemented a certain amount of measures which grandly restraint freedom and privacy in favor of a claimed security. The so called “war against terrorism” is indeed convenient for governments to acquire more power over their citizens as terror precisely consists in the generalization of a feeling of fear among a population when the latter is confronted to a durable state of urgency. In other words, what maintains terror is not so much the original event of the attack -if I can allow myself to call this event “original” when in reality it is based on a long history- but rather the durable ideological “state of exception” that follows it.

As said yesterday by David Enright, one of the lawyer of the residents, “the Ministry of Defense now has the power to militarize the private homes of any person in Britain as long as they can demonstrate that there is, in their view, a matter of national security in play. They do not need to ask you, they do not need to consult you, but can take over your home, put a missile on your roof, a tank on your loan, or soldiers in your living room.” In my last article, I was evoking how domestic design could potentially unfold its weaponized characteristics, this new case provides us with one more example of such a process. It also demonstrates, if needed, that the weaponization of architecture is usually triggered by a legal framework which finds its embodiment in the physicality of architecture. For example, in the case of a legal apparatus like curfew or quarantine, an “innocent” home (but we know that there is no such a thing) can be transformed into a prison through its impermeable walls, floors and roof. In that London case, architecture is used for its height and the flatness of its roof (both advocated by the modern movement) in order to be transformed into a militarized machine.

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bibliotecaIndependiente

Today’s guest writer’s essay, Open Stacks, is the story of those clandestine informal Cuban libraries that were created as a form of resistance against the governmental censorship of what officially constituted as “ideological diversions”. Liduam Pong, who lived her entire childhood in Havana, gives us a personal approach to describe those libraries at the back of a house, or at the bottom of a bag.  In her opinion, these small and informal spaces of knowledge diffusion are more entitled to be called Public Libraries than the official institutions usually carrying this name.

No need for a very strong organized movement here, the “open stacks” are part of micro-networks developing small yet crucial forms of resistance against censorship and its suppression. Censorship is used here as a tool of constraint of the imaginary, a paranoid reaction fearing the choice of the multitude if it was to see other possible worlds. Liduam and I started to talk about the power of books (power emphasized paradoxically by its censorship) after the small presentation I did (see previous article) around this theme. The following text is her investigative work to find the tracks of stories and actors that participated to the micro-strategies of counter-censorship.

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One goal of this blog is to demonstrate how political -and sometimes military- strategy are embodied in design that do not always explicit them. That is not necessarily to say that the whole built environment has been drawn and built by an evil transcendental power to oppress its subjects (although sometimes that is the case) but rather that design is always involved within broader political mechanisms that forces it to take position.

Take a highway for example. Nothing more usual for many of us. In an old article, I was already quoting thinkers (N.Chomsky & P.Galison) who were interpreting it respectively as an economical catalyst for the car industry and a territorial strategy to spread resources during the cold war. The photos and videos included in this article brings another aspect of highways’ weaponization. In march 1984, NATO organized an exercise in West Germany to plan for potential emergency operations in case of open conflict against the Soviet Union. Army aircrafts, including a transport C130 Hercules (see further below) and an A-10 Thunderbolt II jet (see above), landed and a piece of highway that had been designed specifically to fulfill this potential function. Of course, it would be inaccurate to attribute the function of highways exclusively to their potential weaponization, however, it would be just as much inaccurate to ignore the part of their design that has been voluntarily militarized.

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Those last three days, members of the Salafist armed group Ansar Dine destroyed seven of Timbuktu’s (Mali) Muslim mausoleums on the UNESCO world heritage list (see the Al-Jazeera reportage at the end of this article). The reading that Western medias gives of this event is very simplistic as usual (you can hear or read the words “barbarians”, “god’s madmen”, “illiterate extremists”)   and I thought that it would be interesting to try to go a bit deeper in the meaning of those destructive acts.

First of all, the reaction that this news provide on many of us who live in “a safe place” is interesting. We are used to read about many human crises or murders and we managed to dissociate the information from their raw meaning (which would indubitably shock us tremendously). This recent news of the mausoleums/mosque destruction as well as the immanent danger that threatens Timbuktu’s extremely precious manuscripts, makes us -and the western world political representatives who called it a “war crime”- react in a rare epidermic way. Do we think that a six hundred years old building worth more than a human life? And, if we think that way, does that make us any less human? Things are probably more complex than that, and one might not react the same way when confronted directly to a situation than when thinking of it abstractly. Yet, something in many of us is deeply troubled when understanding the loss of extremely old and valuable buildings or documents. Is it simply the potential tourist in us that cries from being depraved from a part of the consumable beauty of the world, or does it tell us something deeper about our relationship to history and the cultural production of a civilization?

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Biosphere by Tomas Saraceno

Today’s guest writer essay is written by Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, co-director of the The Westminster International Law & Theory Centre in London. Andreas was kind enough to center his text on the figure of the Funambulist who incarnates both the body that experiences and creates the atmosphere (s)he is in. He uses Tomas Saraceno‘s sculptures as a materialization of this atmosphere. Materiality is indeed important here, as Andreas points out that atmospheres are too often perceived within a phenomenological interpretation rather than a materialist one. His essay is therefore an attempt to describe the epidermic reaction a body experiences from the atmosphere which prevents any form of contingency.

The Funambulist Papers 29 /// The Funambulist Atmosphere

by Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos

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