Photograph by Meriem Chabani (May 15, 2016)
I had not yet written anything about Nuit Debout, the current movement that has been occupying the square of the République in Paris since March 31, 2016. The reason for this is that my thoughts are still not articulated about whether or not this movement gives itself the means to fundamentally challenges the way systemic violence operates in France. Originating from a demonstration against a new labor legislation drafted by the French government, the movement quickly expanded its political struggle to other issues: regularization of undocumented workers, rights to housing, police reform, change in foreign policy, anti-speciesism, etc. The variety of these struggles as well as their organizers makes it difficult to emit a definitive opinion on the movement. One thing that is proper to it however and can be, as such, the object of our critique is its territorialization. Situated at the core of young-middle-class Paris — the same Paris that had been the target of the November attacks — Nuit Debout can call as much as it wants for the banlieue youth to join it, its territoriality renders such call uninviting. This is the key problem of the movement: it has forgotten to deconstruct the relationships of domination that are at normatively at work in society. It was particularly flagrant when a few male participants were outraged by the non-mixity of some meetings of the Nuit Debout feminist commission, calling it a denial of democracy, assuming here again the Republic’s universalist claim that “all men [sic] are equal” in a society however operating through the continuous experience of inequality. Similarly, one of the foundations of French structural racism (listen to the Archipelago conversation with Nacira Guénif-Souilamas for more about it) is its territoriality through the segregative characteristics of the banlieues (consult the category dedicated to them on this blog). Here again, the work of deconstruction (decolonization) that would have been necessary for an actual “convergence of struggles” as claimed by Nuit Debout has not been done.
Engaging now at the scale of the movement itself, there has been another work of deconstruction that has been forgotten by one of its commissions: the group of architects that eagerly decided to invest their skills in favor of the movement, Archi Debout. While there is a priori no profession that should be excluded from a social movement, it is reasonable to say that all sets of expertise necessitate an introspection proportional to the role this expertise plays within the mechanisms of violence of a given society. Architects would probably agree that if a group of police officers who currently surround the square of the République would express the desire to be part of the movement, they would not only need to lighten themselves from their offensive gears and weapons, but would also need to deconstruct their responsibility in what the movement struggles against. The same is true for architects and the fact that this reflective work has evidently not been done is symptomatic of the way architects consider their profession: they think of architecture as a neutral tool that can be either used for “good” or “evil.”Read more
All photos by Merve Bedir (April 2016) / All rights reserved
I’m in the train to Paris, to meet Léopold for a research visit together to Calais and Dunkirk. During the trip of two hours, my passport and residence permit is checked three times, and my bag is controlled twice. The state of emergency in Belgium and France has been extended for the second time now, which ironically and expectedly increases people’s feeling of insecurity. Move fast in/around the train stations, don’t hang out for too long at the same place.
Based on Léopold’s advice, I go straight to Stalingrad, the ‘arrival neighborhood’ of Paris, right next to Gare du Nord and Gare de l’Est, to see the non-formal camp site under the train tracks. Stalingrad Market sells hardly anything local, but has the world in it. Shop windows are in Russian, Arabic, English, etc. street-stalls-on-cloth offer cell phone chargers, combs, socks, and belts for a quarter worth of the shopping center. The non-formal area for refugees runs all along the tracks from Stalingrad till Jaurès stop, has beds and tents laid out tight together. The basketball court is not in use anymore, and graffiti on every pillar: No one is illegal. Once in while an announcement from above: “Dear passengers, there are pick-pockets at this station, please secure your belongings.”Read more
Yesterday evening, we formally launched the fifth issue of The Funambulist Magazine (May-June 2016): Design & Racism in Brooklyn, NY. After a presentation of the magazine itself (that I conveniently forgot to record), contributor Alicia Olushola Ajayi presented her work featured in the student section of the issue, followed by three successive interventions by Minh-Ha T. Pham, Hadeel Khalil Assali, and Christina Heatherton about their respective interpretation of the relationship between design (in a broad understanding of the term) and structural racism. If you could not be with us last night, you can listen to each of these fantastic presentation through the recording below. I would like to warmly thank my four wonderful guests, as well as the numerous friendly members of the audience, among whom were present three contributors to the first issue of The Funambulist Magazine: Sadia Shirazi, Nora Akawi, and Javier Arbona.Read more
It is my great pleasure to announce the release of the fifth issue of The Funambulist Magazine (May-June 2016) as well as its formal launch event in New York on May 4th. It is dedicated to a tremendously important topic that had been an underlying theme of many articles in the four first issues, but embraces here its entire primacy: the relationship between design and racism. Design tends to crystallize and reinforce the normative relationships between bodies in a given society, often to the point of materializing racist political programs. The issue is composed of articles, interview and projects describing the active contribution of design to structural racism in Palestine, the United States, France, South Africa, and Europe. The contributors are Eze Imade Eribo, Rasheedah Phillips, Nick Estes, Miriam Ticktin, Lwandile Fikeni, Nicola Perugini, Neve Gordon, Nacira Guénif-Souilamas, Alicia Olushola Ajayi, Whitney Hansley, Claire Lubell, and Melisa Betts, as well as Sinthujan Varatharajah and Yaşar Adnan Adanalı who both wrote guest columns that precede the main dossier.
The formal launch event will occur in New York on May 4th, 7PM at 61 Local (61 Bergen street, Brooklyn, NY). It will first consist in a presentation of the issue by editor-in-chief Léopold Lambert accompanied by contributor Alicia Olushola Ajayi, followed by a roundtable about the topic with Christina Heatherton, Hadeel Khalil Assali, and Minh-Ha T. Pham. The issue will be available for purchase.Read more
3 of the 13 drawings for Topie Impitoyable by Loredana Micu
As announced a few days ago, I have a second book being published almost simultaneously with the first one, La politique du bulldozer (B2, 2016). Written (exceptionally) in French in 2014, this volume attempts to articulate a certain amount of ideas gathered under Michel Foucault’s phrase, “Mon corps, topie impitoyable” (“My body, merciless landscape” — topie impitoyable was kept as such for its alliterative qualities, pronounce it out loud to hear it!). It was then illustrated by friend Loredana Micu and translated into English by Anna Klosowska, and it is now published in its bilingual version by punctum books with which The Funambulist has been repeatedly collaborating these three last years.
Topie Impitoyable: The Corporeal Politics of the Cloth, the Wall, and the Street is more invested in raising the question of what a body is than in offering a definitive answer. Instead, it questions some stereotypes concerning structures located at various degrees of proximity to the body’s material assemblage, allowing a better integration of the surrounding objects, atmosphere and other bodies and proposing a political reading of their relationship to the body, whether deliberate or accidental. From the hoodie that Trayvon Martin wore when he was killed, to the streets of New York City during Occupy Wall Street and the apartheid wall in Palestine, this book moves through a series of episodes that illustrate how bodies and objects of all sizes are enmeshed in deeply entangled political relationships.Read more
Important Note: As usual when it comes to such topics, I decided to reserve all rights when it comes to the photographs presented in this article (other pictures that I publish on this blog are licensed under creative commons), as I’m wary that their use could be instrumentalized for political ideologies with which I fundamentally disagree. If you would like to use them, feel free to send me an email to ask for authorization (info.funambulistATgmailDOTcom).
I drove back to Grande Synthe and Calais yesterday, in company of friend Merve Bedir (listen to our conversation for Archipelago) in order to document the new refugee camp of Grande Synthe (see below), as well as the massive demolitions that reduced Calais’ so-called “Jungle” of half its size a few weeks ago. Merve and I have agreed to both establish a report for The Funambulist insisting on our subjective vision of this visit during which we saw the same things but, necessarily, from two different points of view — the photographs we took bring an additional layer of subjectivity to the texts. This article is therefore specifically dedicated to the comparison of the two official camps that have been built in Calais and Grande Synthe. The reason for this is that both materialize into architecture a governmental (whether national or local) political program in which migrant and refugee bodies and lives are the object. Although this article will be constructed in a comparative, and therefore negotiative, mode between both camps, one should not forget the fundamental common point of both sites: the fact that they are and remain camps and, as such, an extremely problematic architecture/urbanistic typology, as we will see in the conclusion.Read more
It has been a little while since I knew that two new books I wrote would be published around the same time. While the second one will exist in bilingual French/English version (more about it in the coming days), this first one, La politique du bulldozer: La ruine palestinienne comme projet israélien (Bulldozer Politics: The Palestinian Ruin as an Israeli Architectural Project) was just published in French by B2 Editions. Here is a translation of the index:
Since there is no English version planned out, and that I used the arguments and some of the case studies in a paper presented at SOAS for the symposium “The Gaza Strip: History, Future and New Directions for Research” (October 2015) I propose to publish this shorter text here for non-francophone readers. In addition of the research specifically made for the redaction of the book, it draws on a few articles and maps written and drawn here for the last two years.
The book can be found in French bookstores that have an architectural theory section, as well as on B2’s website.
One of the most recurrent questions asked by French main media in their current campaign against — the animosity they manifest allows this term to be used here — any form of manifestation of Islamic public signs consists in asking “How many Molenbeeks is there in France?” to which the usual televisual “experts” answer without blinking that France has been doing a better work than Belgium when it comes to constraining “Salafists” — a word that they evidently just learned — to the Republic’s order. Beyond the traditional French condescension towards the northern neighbors (jokes about Belgium people is an entire genre of humor in France), there is this dubious labelization of one of Brussels’ 19 municipalities (Sint Jans Molenbeek) into a synonym of crawling “jihadism” neighborhood; a labelization never questioned by any of these “experts.” This article will attempt to shortly introduce the process that such a stigmatization of a neighborhood inevitably triggers. Whether this process is understood and deliberated engaged by its concerned actors is irrelevant here. My arguments won’t be that news anchor, politicians, police officers and developers are meeting every Tuesday night to discuss about how they will engage the strategy described here, but that these four actors all play a crucial role in this process according to a specific chronology.
Molenbeek is a West-Brussels neighborhood where 94,000 people live, many of which are persons and families of Moroccan Rif descent. Among these residents, 10 were part of a group of 20 people responsible for the coordinated attacks that killed 130 people in Paris on November 13, 2015 and 32 people in Brussels on March 22, 2016. What allows the media and politicians to demagogically ignore the proportion that 10 people out of 94,000 represents, is the fact that Molenbeek is a piece of urbanity that Arab residents, a certain amount of whom carries signs of their faith, have appropriated, in the same way than any population residing in towns where the notion of public space actually means something. Even reasonable journalists seem to believe that they would not be writing a credible article if they were not acknowledging the visible manifestation of political forms of Islam in Molenbeek, as well as a supposed high rate of delinquency and criminality in the neighborhood (usually described through hearsay). However, when one looks at the actual statistic of reported illegal acts, one can only notice that the ones accounted for Molenbeek are significantly lower (often twice less) than the ones for the municipality of Brussels or other municipalities of the capital. We could expect serious journalists to find a way to generate the following graphs but that is apparently too much to ask for:Read more
Carceral dome for the Zaandam migrant detention center by Customr Willem van der Sluis / Photo by Luuk Kramer
As the latest issue of The Funambulist Magazine is dedicated to Carceral Environments, Daniela Ortiz brought to my attention the (past) existence of these carceral domes designed in 2007 by Dutch designer Customr Willem van der Sluis for a migrant detention center in Zaandam, a town situated a few kilometers north of Amsterdam. This is far from being the first collaboration between designers/architects and the industrial carceral complex in all its forms, and we should never refuse a debate of ideas with non-abolitionist designers providing that the extreme violence of incarceration is acknowledged as an axiom of the conversation. Furthermore, if we trust the successive dated imagery available on Google Earth, we can see that the domes were dismantled in 2013, and as such, they might not be so relevant to address here. However, the way the designer describes his project in two videos (see below), helped by a complaisant media coverage, provides a discourse banalizing the violence of architecture (which is far from exclusive to this particular project) and, as such, it seems important to analyse here.
The Zaandam migrant detention center is one of the three of the kinds in the Netherlands. It is situated on an industrial dock and the cells themselves are located in carceral barges anchored to it. In June 2008, Amnesty International published a report (the cover page is a photo of the Zaandam prison) about the criminalization and incarceration of persons in irregular visa situation in the country. The first paragraph of the report states the following: “Each year some 20,000 irregular migrants and asylum-seekers are detained in the Netherlands, where the use and duration of detention and other restrictive administrative measures is increasing. This report examines how far these measures have led to a deterioration in the human rights situation of irregular migrants and asylum-seekers. It also underlines Amnesty International’s growing concern over the control and security oriented approach by governments worldwide, in an effort to “combat” irregular migration, at the cost of migrants’ human rights” (Amnesty International, “The Netherlands: The Detention of Irregular Migrants and Asylum-Seekers,” 2008.). It is crucial to associate these concerns with the design of the domes examined here, since they fully contribute to the exercise of violence denounced by the report — the counter argument presented by the designer that the domes act as “an inverted panopticon” combines the odd architect obsession for Bentham’s carceral scheme and the eloquence of illusive ideas. Although the domes have been dismantled (perhaps moved to another location), they fully take their place in the inventory of the various inventive efforts provided by designers and architects in the enforcement of the walls of Fortress Schengen (see past articles about Calais and the Slovenian/Croatian border for instance) whether these walls are built on the borders themselves, or internally in the forms of heavily monitored refugee camps and detention centers.Read more
Between 2007 and 2008, and since my return to Paris in late 2014, I have been taking numerous Sunday morning bicycle rides in the Paris banlieues (suburbs). I have always been wary to present these visits here, in any other context than a specific research (such as the one about the weaponized architecture police stations) in the fear that they might end up looking like the orientalist journey of a Paris resident (I live in the 14th arrondissement of Paris) in the ‘wild world of the banlieues.’ This new format to present vignettes from these rides still constitutes a risk of orientalization; yet, many of the buildings visited have a rich (hi)story and it is now my conviction that they deserve to be described instead of remaining in my personal archives as too many have been in the past. My hope is that this collection of vignettes (more will follow) can give an interesting account of the banlieues’ built environment, both in its normalized segregative violence, but also in its construction of an alternative imaginary to the retrograde one traditionally associated to Paris. The map below presents the geographical situation of the six sites visited last Sunday represented by the photographs that follow it.Read more