The article Practicing Restraint written by Will Wiles for the last issue of Cabinet about punishment is a very interesting article introducing the cruel piece of design embodied by the straightjacket (camisole de force). I am used to write about architectures or instruments that are not necessarily assimilated to objects of restraints but which are ultimately achieving this effect on the body. The straightjacket, on the contrary, “wears” the violence it inflicts to the body in a demonstrative manner. The similitude to a traditional jacket reinforce this violent appearance; as if the game we played as children to cross our sleeves was transformed into a nightmare when we realized that the sleeves could not go back to normal.
Nevertheless,as W.Wiles points out in the very beginning of this article, this invention, along with the guillotine (another famous piece of French design!), constitutes the product of a technocratic will of reducing cruelty in comparison of previous objects in charge of the same functions. The guillotine’s operation used to be performed by an executioner with an axe with all the painful imprecision that it implies. The guillotine, invented during the terror, right after the French Revolution, constituted a more efficient mean of executing someone to the point that it remained the official instrument of French death penalty until its abolition in 1981. Similarly, the straightjacket’s function used to be insured by chains and was therefore considered as a form of progress when it was introduced as a new object of restraint at the Hopital Bicêtre in 1790 (two years only before the invention of the guillotine!). In his article, W.Wiles quotes Scottish physician William Cullen in 1784:
As I wrote in a previous post, I was lucky enough to be included in LOG 25 Reclaim Resi[lience]stance, edited by Cynthia Davidson and curated by François Roche. My essay consisted in a historical philosophical interpretation of the two very specific architectures that are the barricade and the tunnel. As said in the text, the title Abject Matter, is both communicating my will to read them through a materialist philosophy, as well as my questioning of the recurrent terminology of counter-insurgent strategies that tends to associate insurrections and social movements with filthiness and infection. I concluded my text with a short introduction to Gilbert Simondon’s concepts of form and matter, that I am hopeful to develop a bit more in the near future.
Abject Matter: The Barricade and the Tunnel
by Léopold Lambert
Seen through a materialist reading, the built environment can be a way of contextualizing political struggle. Architecture, as a modification of the material world, allows us to observe the political implications of such transformations. Whether intentionally or not, it has been recurrently used as an instrument of control upon bodies, and considering architecture’s ability to transgress a given system’s rules, the discipline seems inherently in collusion with this same system. Given this conundrum, is it possible to conceive of a resistive architecture? Two different operations on matter – aggregating and digging – can be seen as acts of creation toward two potentially resistive architectural typologies: the barricade and the tunnel.
Yesterday, I ran into this commercial for a new TV show entitled The New Normal, which dramatizes new forms of family through a monoparental one, and a homosexual one. The title of the show itself struck me as particularly aware and specific of its role within society: participating to the on-going processes of normalization of homosexual couples. Tragically, not a single current nation in the world seems to have fully integrated homosexuality as a given and systematic moral or physical persecution is still occurring everywhere. However few parts of society have progressed to the next stage of those processes in which the sexual orientation does not constitute a target of stigmatization. Many people fought for years to make society reach this stage and the current normalization we observe is the product of their hard work.
The mechanisms of a society would be much more simple if they stopped here. In reality, the processes of normalization involves also a “dark side” that can not be neglected. When a minority of power integrates the norm, it becomes confronted to a whole new range of issue. What constituted its binder when engaged into the fight for power, has disappeared and is replaced by an access to the same comfort than the rest of the norm. Through this substitution -which was obviously the purpose of the struggle- the collective dissolves into the individual who has to reconstitute itself as “minor” to be engaged in another fight. On the contrary, if the normative status is fully embraced, an individual is more likely to be part of a form of oppression towards the other minorities.
Time Square on October 17th 2011 /// Photograph by Léopold Lambert
In March 2012, I wrote a text for my friend Lucas Issey Yoshinaga who was contributing to the Brazilian book Approach edited by Gustavo Utrabo, Juliano Monteiro, Pedro Duschenes & Hugo Loss. The other contributors ended up to be Graham Harman, Nannette Jackowski . Ricardo de Ostos & Bernardo Bento for a collection of five texts about our perception of the architectural discipline. I entitled mine Impetus, as a reflection on the current return of politics within the architectural discourse and education. This wondering/wandering was then based on the question on whether or not this new interest for politics was simply based on a opportunist trend or could potentially be crystallized and then engaged as a non-avoidable dimension of the architectural practice.
I recommend the reading of this very well made little bilingual (Portuguese & English) book that cultivates architecture’s sense of doubt about its role and action. The title, Approach, is a good indicator of its editors’ consideration for those texts which tries to avoid a peremptory tone to prefer a more dubious one. If you would like a copy you can write to mail(AT)alephzero.arq.br
by Léopold Lambert
In an old article about the notion of urbicide, I was introducing some ideas developed by Eyal Weizman in one of his lectures entitled Forensic Architecture. In the latter, he was calling for an approach of the international law based on architectural evidences. This approach corresponds to a current integration of building science in the practice of war, and therefore proposes its counter-weight in the frame of trials examining war crimes and other violations of the international legislation. Our era brings a very important amount of data that can serve the reconstitution of conflictual situations if they are interpreted by experts (in that case, engineers, architects etc.). Wars do not happen anymore in (battle)fields, but within cities and, most of the time, in the frame of asymmetric conflicts. It is logical that the same actors who builds the city are also the ones who can understand -if they decide that they want to understand- the use of the city made by the belligerents.
It turns out that Forensic Architecture is now a group of research hosted by the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths University (London). It involves many actors who work on different cases requiring their expertise. While some questions the current legislation about white phosphorus munitions, others reconstitute the ballistic of a tear gas grenade that tragically killed a Palestinian activist; some others are interested in the American drone attacks in Pakistan and the tragic regular shipwrecks between Libya and Europe.
This research council is extremely important when one is eager to consider it outside of the Academia in which it is hosted. It allows a whole new sort of forensic experts in a complex context for which traditional fields of expertise are not enough to solve crimes that are perpetuated in a very skilled knowledge of the international law’s weakness. Let’s not forget that in the current (civil or international) wars, the direct weapons that kill the most important amount of people are precisely the buildings themselves. One might say that buildings don’t get destroyed by themselves; however, the fact that ultimately it is the building that brings its inhabitants to die when it collapses is sufficiently appalling for architects to look very closely at this aspect of their field of knowledge.
Today’s post is a short homage to those who I call funambulists. Among them, of course, are the literal funambulists, tight rope walkers exercising their freedom by subverting the power of the line they work on; but more generally, anyone who uses her or his body to create and express forms of freedom of movement (parkourers, skaters, jugglers, dancers etc.).
I recently encountered a piece of the work of German artist Oskar Schlemmer (merci Martial) who was working for the Bauhaus in 1927 when he created the Slat Dance choreography. The latter consists in a man wearing a dark bodysuit and dancing with a full set of sticks attached on each of his limb. The visual effect for the spectator (see the video below) is the abstraction of the body itself and the quasi-hypnotic movement of the lines materialized by the sticks. The body is thus perceived in its bare mechanical form, an assemblage of straight pieces articulated by a kneecap at each junction point. The fascination of this dance surely comes from the ambiguity created between this mechanical dimension and a pure geometrical one created by those lines that can concentrate the entire visual ability of the spectators. The extension of each of those lines also impacts the space around the dancer and materializes forces of influence created by the movement.
I often write about the power of the lines as used as primary medium by the architect; their static dimension and heavy materialization (the wall being its paradigm) enforce a violence on the body that it convenes to study (to remain with dance, see for example the body of Pina Bausch violently encountering the stage’s wall in her Cafe Muller). In the case of O.Schlemmer’s work, the line is created and animated by the body itself, producing a complex system of movement and forces. The latter would then be interesting to observe when it encounters another system centered on another body. In this last case, the lines could either negotiate forms of harmonization or, on the contrary, encounter themselves in a more antagonistic and violent way.
See the more recent adaptation by Gheorge Iancu in the following video:
For the last seven days, a group of twenty Eritrean refugees have been trapped between the two fences materializing the border between Egypt and Israel as they were trying to enter the latter. Today, the group was dismissed as a vast majority of them was expelled and three of them were brought to a detention center on the Israeli territory. This short post does not even want to spend too much time deploring the “normal xenophobia” that motivates European countries and Israel to let migrants dying at their frontiers – in that case, and from the article in the Guardian, one of the women of the group miscarried a child as no other humanitarian aid was brought to them other than a limited amount of water. This reality reached a long time ago the tragic stage where it has been accepted as a collateral effect of globalization and would requires a much longer article.
What I would like to stress on here is the geometrical paradox that makes a border acquiring a thickness. In reality, the line traced on a map is often materialized by a physical element and inevitably, this element has a given thickness. In that case, the materialization of the abstract border is achieved by a double fence, thus creating a space in between that seems ambiguous on the legal level. Technically this space is on the Israeli territory. Nevertheless, for seven full days, the state of Israel refused to grant access to its territory to those twenty migrants, implying that this space was not part of this same territory. Harriet Sherwood for the Guardian even precises:
An Israeli government spokesman said: “According to international practices and binding precedents, the fence is a de facto border, and therefore anyone who is beyond it is not located in Israeli territory and is therefore not eligible for automatic entry.”
Similarly to the Korean DMZ, or the Cypriot Buffer Zone, the space between the two lines of fences carries a legal status that is not the same than the ones on each of its sides. Whoever lives in this space can be said to be liberated from the law. However, such a liberation also implies the loss of a legal status for each individual which then becomes the target of one or both sides’ fire, or in that case, the dispossession of the right to be treated humanely both by Egypt and Israel. In his book, Homo Sacer, Giorgio Agamben invents the now well-known concept of bare life to characterizes the individuals subjected to the state of exception and who are now expelled completely from the political and legal process. We can probably attribute the border’s thickness as the space, par excellence that provides the conditions of existence of the bare life status.
Today’s guest writer comes from my dear friend Nora Akawi, who was kind enough to make it happen in a very busy schedule between her practice and teaching in Jerusalem, and her new responsibilities as the curator of the Amman Lab, the branch of New York Columbia University’s Studio-X in Jordan. In the following text, Mapping Intervals: Towards an Emancipated Cartography, she introduces the archive, and more precisely, the map as instruments of power through the subjective narrative they convey. Colonial mapping, collective forgetfulness, cultural genocide and domain name system are as many problematic aspects of the dissensus created by the attempted collective materialization of memory. In this regard, Nora quotes Jacques Derrida who affirms that “there is no political power without control of the archive, if not of memory.” From there, she examines what could possibly be an “emancipated cartography”, which would not refuse this control without which there is no political power, but rather would attempt to articulate the multiplicity of cultural narratives as the very essence of its materialization.
Mapping Intervals: Towards an Emancipated Cartography
by Nora Akawi
The map as a tool for domination is the visual inscription of a seamless story for a specific group of people sharing specific characteristics. It represents their history, knowledge and claims for control within a territory with specific borders.
So what is a map as a tool for liberation?
It has been a very long time that I did not write about the movement Take Back the Land (see previous article) which allows to ask very interesting questions about civil disobedience and fundamental rights. This movement, often represented by Max Rameau, constitutes, to my knowledge, the most illustrative and efficient illegal practice of architecture. In fact, the movement reclaims city’s space that suffered from speculative operations (vacant parcels, foreclosed homes) in order to accommodate those who, precisely, were the human victims of these same operations. The resistive actions orchestrated by Take Back the Land, beyond the simple civil disobedience, are implemented within the broader framework of a dialogue with the local community (neighbors and other people helped by these actions). Such a dialogue, not only organizes a better control of a group of people on the space it lives in, but it also sustain the illegal operations in time as it creates processes of defensiveness within a whole neighborhood putting pressure on the municipal authorities and the police.
The movement’s objectives are interesting to look at as they introduces very clearly what those resistive operations are trying to achieve:
- Fundamentally transform land relationships;
- Elevate housing to the level of a human right;
- Community control over land and housing;
- Empower impacted communities, particularly low income communities of color.