A few days ago, Mayor of Cannes David Lisnard promulgated a formal ban on full-body swimsuits worn by some Muslim women on the city’s beaches — these swimsuits are oddly designated as “burkini” when the apparel seems to be a beach equivalent of the chador, not of the burka. The ban stipulates “Access to beaches and for swimming is banned to any person wearing improper clothes that are not respectful of good morals and secularism.” This sentencing regulates the amount of epidermic surface that should be exposed, while strongly recalling phrasing we usually encounter that fixes the amount of epidermic surface that should not be exposed, proving if need be that these two unjunctions although seemingly opposed are, in fact, the same. As it was already the case for the 2010 French legislation forbidding anyone to have their face dissimulated in public space (see past article), explicitly drafted against Muslim women wearing the burka or the niqab, we could insist on the demagogic dimension of such laws, targeting a significantly small amount of persons to engineer an electoral spectacle. Then again, we should also examine them for their deeper signification and what they reveal about the way the French society is still operating on its colonial bases. It would be indeed a mistake to read this recent municipal ban through the spectrum of a recent European “resurgence” of discriminatory policies, some of which have to do with the over-mediatization of the few dozens of thousands of migrants and refugees whose bodies have been used as a recurrent televisual material for the last recent months, some others with the ongoing State of Emergency in France (one of the reasons invoked by the Mayor). When it comes to French islamophobic and racist politics, in particular the colonial fetish constructed around the colonized woman’s mode of being and mode of dress, the logics behind them are to be found deeper into history.
On May 13, 1958, the French colonial authorities in Algeria organized the spectacle of Algerian Muslim women ceremonially taking off their veil and burning it in the demonstration of liberation from the patriarchy — a liberation that colonization would have supposedly enabled. This event was probably in Frantz Fanon’s mind when he wrote the first chapter of his book L’an V de la revolution algerienne (“The Fifth Year of the Algerian Revolution,” translated into A Dying Colonialism, 1959), entitled “Algeria unveiled”:Read more
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.Read more
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.Read more
Image above – Street art by Dip Social Klub at Nuit Debout: “The police violence you are currently experiencing, it exists in the banlieues for more than thirty years.” “Homage to all the victims of police crimes.” “The dance of suffering.”
In an interview with Christina Heatherton and Jordan T. Camp featured in their book, Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter (Verso, 2016, soon on Archipelago), Naomi Murakawa states the following:
The terminology we use betrays the notion that policing at its core is acceptable, that it only becomes a problem when things go awry. But let’s be clear: there is no such thing as racial profiling. To say the police are profiling suggests the possibility that there could be colorblind policing. There never has been, and the social order in which we live means there never could be. “Police brutality” is also a hollow term, in the sense that all police interactions, by definition, occur under the threat of brutality.
This last passage, as well as the rest of the interview and the rest of the book, is extremely helpful to think of the current spectacular violence we are witnessing in France in the interaction between the police and strikers/demonstrators against the project of a legislation project that would regulate labor to the detriment of workers. An important part of the media and politicians have insisted that police officers were the victims of many actions of “casseurs” (literally, “breakers”) organized against them. This discursive stigmatization allowed the French government to order the legal exclusion of nine people from the area where a police demonstration was being held on May 18 to protest against “anti-cop hatred” — the police here lost an opportunity to protest instead against the long extra hours they have been asked to provide since the January 2015 attacks. Although this order was broken in courts — the suspicion against these nine persons to organize actions against the police was fund to be funded on nothing — we can see how the imaginary provided by most press outlets associated to the executive power of the ongoing state of emergency can deploy its arbitrary violence on targeted bodies.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
Introductory note: In July-August 2014, the war launched by the Israeli army on Gaza killed 2,251 Palestinians, among which at least 1,463 were civilians. When confronted to these figures, the Israeli army legal corps justified this drastic proportion by invoking legal fictions supposed to legitimize them. Many of these fictions have already been exposed here (see here, here and here), but one in particular stroke us for its extreme demagogy: Palestinian civilians were killed by the Israeli bombs because they are used by Hamas as so-called “human shields” (see past article). In a forthcoming article for The Funambulist Magazine’s fifth issue (May-June 2016), Nicola Perugini and Neve Gordon deconstruct the racist dimension of this legal narrative manufactured in order to legitimize the killing of thousands of Palestinians.
I was in Brussels all day yesterday, which allowed me to experience the heavy deployment of military and para-military (masked police officers with assault or sniper riffles, etc.) forces in some (strategic) parts of the city. “My thoughts and prayer [do not] go to the family of the victims” as the formatted sentence normally says. I suppose that, in their immense pain, they could not care less about this; instead, I hope that my anger represents them well. If we follow the dubious logic of the Israeli army’s spokespersons, their loved ones, and us all, ‘normal’ citizens using the public transportation systems of our metropoles are nothing else than the so-called “human shields” of our governments. In the wake of the November 13, 2015 attacks, the powerful slogan “Your Wars, Our Deads” (Vos guerres, nos morts) quickly emerged, although it did not reach the circulation of a consensual “Pray for Paris” — the French extremists of secularism still managed to find it problematic! — or the significantly more cleaving “Je suis Charlie” created after the assassinations of journalists in January 2015. Although the absolute conceptual separation of citizens and their governments is problematic in the deresponsabilization that it would imply, there is indeed a clear separation between them when it comes to the experiencing the consequences of the last 200 years of violence deployed by Western governments both internally and externally — a similar argument could be applied to the Turkish state-violence in Kurdistan or the islamophobic policies of the Indian local and national governments for instance.Read more
As I am currently working on the next issue of The Funambulist Magazine dedicated to Design and Racism, I was particularly interested to listen to the video of the recent round table organized by Mabel O. Wilson at Columbia GSAPP about “Critical Dialogues on Race and Modern Architecture” (see below). This enriching conversation between the guest speakers, Adrienne Brown, Mark Crinson, Dianne Harris, Saidiya Hartman, and the two discussants, Irene Cheng and Charles Davis is self-explanatory and I simply encourage readers to take the time to listen to it — I particularly/personally recommend Hartman’s intervention, as well as the discussants’ inspiring formulation of additional questions. What triggers my need to write an article about this conversation is therefore much less the vain idea that I would have anything to add to these works, than the shock of seeing the amount of empty seats during the conversation in Columbia’s school of architecture’s main auditorium. Of course, there are always circumstantial reasons that can explain such a low attendance: the time of the event (lunchtime), the lack of publicity (although I did hear about it while living almost 6,000 kilometers away), or the various deadlines that students and professors may encounter at various times of the semester. However, hiding behind this contingency would be ignoring the reality of things: not only do architects rarely address the relationship between their discipline and racism, they seem to ignore it when the topic is finally raised in this kind of occasional events. The small audience gathered around this topic in a school that has the ambition to present a vision of architecture’s future is painfully symptomatic of this problem.
At the base of this problem, there is this eloquent figure of 91.3% of American architects being White, as Wilson recalls in her introduction — figures in most European countries are likely to be even more overwhelming. Just like when it comes to statistics of gender inequality, it is easy to understand that challenges to patriarchy and white supremacy, although not necessary actively prevented — they often are but this is beyond the point here — are mostly ignored in a profession that is mostly composed by bodies benefiting from such systems of inequality. The more this disproportion in the composition of who is architect will tend to disappear (as it is likely to happen, in particular when it comes to gender), the more we can expect anti-racism and feminism to be addressed by the profession. However, considering the problem only through this angle as it is often done (focusing on who can be considered as Black and/or female successful architects, for instance) is not enough (although, again, crucial too) and would ignore the essential function of architecture.Read more
Still from You, the Living by Roy Andersson (2007)
Text originally published as “Shelter’s Political Violence,” in Arjen Oosterman and Nick Axel (eds), Shelter, Volume Magazine 46 (2015)
Shelter is often interpreted as the original typology of architecture, both for its primitiveness and for the simplicity of its function: a shelter is an architecture that protects the bodies it hosts from external conditions, such as the rain, the wind, the snow, etc. However, as often when it comes to the original figure of something, there is a risk of transforming this figure into a ‘pre-political’ myth, which recalls the illusory opposition between Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Hobbes seeking to define the natural condition of the object we consider. The question is not whether the pre-political subject is intrinsically good (Rousseau) or bad (Hobbes) but, rather, if this very notion of pre-politics exists and helps us to interpret the world. Our imaginary tends to confirm this pre-political vision: after all, what is more innocent than a simple shelter whose only function is to protect our bodies from the elements? By extension, if we were to prove such innocence, we could draw the conclusion that architecture does not always bear political consequences. To the contrary, this text will attempt to demonstrate that the primitive shelter contains the totality of architectural characteristics that make the organization of space violent, regardless of the intentions that motivated its construction.
Let’s try to consider a shelter, the bodies it hosts and its direct environment, in utter simplicity: whether it consists of simply a roof or a walled enclosure of some sort, there is a separation – either an abrupt or a gradual one – between the sheltered space and the space outside of it. The sheltered space is, by definition, limited, which means that it can only contain a finite amount of matter. Bodies are material assemblages, which means that a shelter can only contain a limited amount of bodies and, by extension, that only a limited amount of bodies will be sheltered.Read more
Project for the Stockholmsporten by BIG (2011)
Horizonte: Deleuze described the shift from disciplinary societies to societies of control. Thinking about the impact on resistance of these shift, one notices an increasingly fragmentation and diffusion in practices of resistance. Precise juxtapositions seem to disappear. How does this affect architecture, a profession always entangled into political and economical forces?
Léopold Lambert: I find the notion of resistance rather problematic if we do not begin by defining it. A good way to do so consists in thinking of it through its physics definition: resistance consists in the opposition capacity that a material assemblage can afford against a given force. For example, resistance is what keeps our bodies from being swallowed by the ground, and what prevents us from passing through walls. We can see that there is nothing moralizing about such a definition: resistance is not a fundamentally good thing, nor is it a bad one, it simply operates through all material encounters and, importantly, it operates reciprocally on both bodies/objects. The reciprocity should however not make us forget that the degree with which each body/object is affected by their encounter is necessarily different. More often than not, a body crashing into a wall will suffer a higher ‘structural’ damage than the wall itself will. What I think that you mean by “resistance” is thus only one side of a directional force, the side of the body/objects that gets affected in a greater way than that it encounters. It is certainly a legitimate ethical interpretation of this notion that implies that we always stand “for the weaker side” whether in sports or politics, but we might want to complexities this vision.Read more
Today (October 19, 2015), Al Jazeera released an article entitled “Eritrean mistaken for Palestinian shot dead in Israel” recounting one more murder of a man of color in Palestine by Israeli civilians. This title reminded another from last week, when an Sephardic Jew was stabbed by an Israeli man who “had him mistaken for an Arab” (see “Stabbed Israeli Jew mistaken for Arab criticises violence” in The Guardian). Encountering the notion of mistake in the context of a racist murder is rather surprising when we come to think of what it implies. Following this logic, the numerous racist murders against Palestinians from the last three weeks would therefore be non-mistaken crimes, even in the cases where the only thing that precipitated the violent death of a Palestinian man or woman was to be finger-pointed by an Israeli person screaming “(S)he has a knife!”. The mistake would thus be less about the legitimacy for a Palestinian to be killed than about the fact that this person is actually Palestinian or not.Read more