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Police chekpoints Paris - Photo by Leopold Lambert

Police checkpoint filtering the access to the June 23 demonstration in Paris / All photographs by Léopold Lambert (2016)

This article is written in the continuity of two others that described the relationship of the French State and its police with the numerous demonstrations organized in opposition to the new labor law project since March 2016. While the first one, “Police Brutality Is a Hollow Term” (May 31, 2016) insisted that we should not look at police violence as a punctual (and rare) episode of spectacular force, but rather as the very function of the police experienced in particular by the banlieues residents, the second one, “Architecture Under Attack” (June 16, 2016) was examining the demagogic instrumentalization of the (minor) damages caused on the Necker Children Hospital in Paris during one of the June 14 demonstration. This present article considers the demonstration that followed the latter, as the potential paradigm of the future spaces of protest in our cities, in particular when such measures are deployed during a neocolonial (now newly-renewed) State of Emergency.

The political context described in the article cited above is important to understand this present one. Strengthen by its dubious spectacle produced through the images of broken bank and advertising windows that the June 14 demonstration caused through a faction of so-called “casseurs” (breakers), the government granted as only option for the June 23 demonstration a static gathering on the Place de la Bastille in Paris. Such a proposition by the government and the police prefecture was categorically declined by the seven unions organizing the demonstration — the largest one being the Confédération Generale du Travail (CGT) — which led the police prefecture to ban the demonstration altogether on June 22, triggering an outrage from all citizens attached to the right of protest. A few hours later however, an agreement was found between the unions and the government to organize the march from and towards the Place de la Bastille by looping its trajectory around the Port de l’Arsenal in a total length of 1.5 kilometer, as the two maps below illustrate. In agreeing to this option, the unions may have thought to save their face but committed  instead to a dangerous precedent.

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Cover Design & Racism

I am happy to announce that the sixth issue of The Funambulist Magazine (July-August 2016), dedicated to Object Politics is now officially published. This new issue concludes the first year of existence of the magazine; I hope that you enjoyed it and that you will continue to do so during the second year. Similarly to the third issue (January-February 2016), dedicated to “Clothing Politics,” this new issue is dedicated to a scale of design that, sometimes, goes unnoticed in the examination of its political dimension: the scale of objects. Our bodies are surrounded by them, wear them, use them, and eat them. They are all precisely designed, and are involved in complex manufacturing systems, yet we often fail to address the political intensity of our interaction with them.

The issue includes guest columns about Native resistance in New Mexico by Jennifer Marley, and about the most recent Palestinian Festival of Literature by Bhakti Shringarpure. The articles of the main dossier are written by Charmaine Chua about the shipping container, Françoise Vergès about the banana, Manar Moursi & David Puig about Cairo’s street chairs, and Pascale Lapalud & Chris Blache (Genre & Ville) about gender and urban furniture in French cities. It also includes a short graphic essay about Ramallah’s Mukataa by Samir Harb and a text about the New Palestinian Museum “without objects” by Karim Kattan. The transcript of a 2014 Archipelago conversation with Miami artists/writers Gean Moreno & Ernesto Oroza examines the systems in which generic objects take place, while the photographic section is a partial report of the most recent Unknown Fields‘ expedition in Rajasthan’s garment factories. The three student projects invent a passport and a backpack for the refugees in Lesvos (Embassy for the Displaced), a kit of facial prosthetics to “trick biometrics” (Alix Gallet) and a bridge countering the segregating effects of the concrete walls of Baghdad (Sarah Almaki).

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Houston,TX.,9/1/2005--Thousands of hurricane Katrina survivors from New Orleans are bussed to refuge at a Red Cross shelter in the Houston Astrodome.
FEMA photo/Andrea Booher

Text originally written in French for a journal that should remain nameless as the text was published along 14 others, all written by male contributors. I nevertheless want to thank Nicolas Hannequin for his help.

On August 12, 2015, 2,500 refugees, mostly Syrians and Afghanis, are kept prisoners for 24 hours in a stadium of Kos, a Greek island situated only a few kilometers from the Turkish coasts. They were promised that they could undertake their asylum claim in the European Union once they’ll be gathered in the stadium. It is not clear whether it was only a rumor or a trick from the Greek police. In any case, the 2,500 refugees, families and individuals who feel the civil war in Syria or the greatly precarious situation in Afghanistan we thus enclosed in the little stadium of Kos, forming a dense crowd under the sun of August for long hours. People fainting and panic movements are frequent, water and food are lacking, bathrooms are not accessible, and the tears of the children are a testimony of the cynic situation: populations fleeing tragic situations, accomplishing thousands of kilometers from East to West to find only additional turmoil once they set foot on the European land.

The fact that these 2,500 persons were gathered in a stadium could appear innocent at first glance. We could have thought that such a concentration of bodies could have taken place anywhere else. Nevertheless, places that simultaneously enable the gathering a great number of bodies as well as their control by a given authority are significantly limited, in particular in an urban context. This text will thus think the stadium as an architectural environment which sport and entertainment functions can, without any modifications be dissolved to be replaced by other uses related to a political concentration of bodies in such a space.

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Paris Demonstration Police - Photo by Leopold Lambert (1)

Mobile police fence, allowing only a controlled pedestrian access to the Rue de Rennes on June 14, 2016 / Photo by Léopold Lambert

To the risk of spending too much time on political matters specific to France for a certain amount of the blog’s readers, I would like to come back to a very recent event that occurred a few hundreds meters away from my office, and that I was therefore able to document and investigate in a way that is not dissimilar to the (much more rigorous) methods of Forensic Architecture. On Tuesday June 14, a massive demonstration took place in Paris and gathered several hundreds of thousand people protesting against the new labor legislation that intends to (de)regulate labor conditions in the workers’ disfavor. Exceptionally the demonstration was organized as a march from Place d’Italie (South-East of Paris) to Invalides (Center-West of Paris). A certain amount of clashes occurred along the way between the massively deployed police — we’re still under the state of emergency — and several dozens of masked participants who undertook to break down advertising windows, banks and insurance companies’ storefronts, as well as throw stones at the police — whether one thinks that such action is legitimate or not, one is obliged to observe the asymmetry of means, as well as the fact that these individuals represented less than one percent of the participants to the demonstration. As it is customary (cf. this widely shared/translated cartoon), the press and politicians strictly framed their coverage and discourses on the spectacle offered by cocktail molotov, fire bombs and other firecrackers (conveniently forgetting the ubiquity of teargas and deafening grenades), rather than on the human tide of dissent that flowed the Paris boulevards.

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08''
“The Rule of Walls: An Architectural Reading of the State’s ‘Legitimate’ Use of Violence”
Lecture given on May 18, 2016 at the Warwick Political Geography Conference

The notion of “legitimate use of violence” by the state, although far from new, still allows an understanding of the way our societies operate, according to a particular societal order. The punctual action of the police is often used to illustrate this notion, but the structures that condition it rarely incorporate architecture as a key actor. This lecture therefore proposes to examine this state violence through the scope of architecture using several examples: the state of emergency and the neo-colonial police stations of the Paris banlieues (suburbs), the foreseeable policed gentrification of Molenbeek in Brussels, the dehumanizing walls and container camp of Calais. Although emerging from significantly different political contexts, these case studies have in common that they implement themselves through architecture, using the latter’s intrinsic violence in order to force a political order on bodies.

A big “thank you” to Aya Nassar, Mara Duer, Antonio Ferraz de Oliveira, Maria Eugenia Giraudo, and Javier Moreno Zacarés for their kind invitation, as well as to Stuart Elden for his introduction.

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Archi Debout Meriem Chabani (2015_0515) 2

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.”

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Calais 2016 - Merve Bedir (3)

 All photos by Merve Bedir (April 2016) / All rights reserved

Report from Calais and Grande Synthe (part 2): (Spatial) Transformation of Migration Control by Merve Bedir

See part 1: “Two Political Architectures of (in)Hospitality” by Léopold Lambert

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.”

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Launch of The Funambulist 5

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.

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Cover Design & Racism

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.

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Léopold Lambert - Topie Impitoyable - Illustrations by Loredana Micu

3 of the 13 drawings for Topie Impitoyable by Loredana Micu

Topie Impitoyable: The Corporeal Politics of the Cloth, the Wall, and the Street published by punctum books, 2016.

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.

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