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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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Satirical Map brussels

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.

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gsapp race and modern architecture

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 BrownMark CrinsonDianne HarrisSaidiya 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.

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You the Living

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.

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stockholm01

Project for the Stockholmsporten by BIG (2011)

“Bjarke’s Panopticon, the Rolling Stones and Slight Misunderstandings”
Conversation with Horizonte (Bauhaus-Universitat Weimar, 2015)

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.

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Palestinian-flag-1

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.

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14433426

It seems like the October 5, 2015 event at Air France no longer needs an introduction since it has been broadly relayed by the international press. It happened after the company announced that it was going to fire 3,000 employees: during a meeting with the unions, both the director of human resources and the director of the company in Orly airport were stripped off their shirts before they finally escaped from the crowd under the protection of their private security service then relayed by the police. The quasi-totality of politicians (in particular the Prime Minister Manuel Valls) and the main medias have expressed their outrage against what they considered as a violent “unacceptable” assault. The photos and videos of these two semi-naked bodies were nevertheless spread at great speed, which proves well the hypocrisy of the media that, on the one hand, condemned this event, while capitalizing on the spectacle of these two bodies’ humiliation (I have personally preferred to blur the image above to insist on this body’s social position, rather than its identity). Worse, the same politicians and journalists profusely used the term “lynching” to describe the situation in a dismissal of the actual definition of a lynching while the latter is currently manifested on Palestinian bodies living on the Western side of the Apartheid Wall. On the other hand, a few other journalists and thinkers have then reminded us of the equivalence of physical violence and the structural, capitalist one that constitutes the announced 3,000 firings and their individual and familial effects. Rather than repeating these legitimate arguments (that never seem to be fathomed by those who do not experience structural violence) I would like to address two components of this event: the pictorial display of the body stripped from its shirt, and the fence that it attempts to climb up in order to seek protection of the police on the other side.

Last week, at a meeting in Saint Denis preparing the October 31st Paris March for Dignity and Against Racism (Marche de la dignité et contre le racisme), Cameroonian French artist Bams pronounced the following words in the beginning of her speech that made me want to write this article (my translation):

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1406323924620_wps_5_Palestinians_throw_stones

Once again, I feel the absolute urge to write in order to join the voices gathered against the Apartheid imposed on Palestinian bodies by the Israeli government, and its recent tightening, in particular in Jerusalem itself (see recent article).

The Western mainstream Press, as usual, is preparing the appropriate conditions for the Israeli army to deploy its violence without a strong reaction from their respective governments. It does so through a verbal and pictorial narrative that depicts violent, masked and uncontrollable Palestinian youth throwing stones at Israeli soldiers and vehicles. A few other media have been providing the violence of the conditions in which these scenes have occurred, but this is not what I would like to do here. Instead, I would like to reflect on this very act of throwing stones: what does this act reveal about the state of Apartheid, and the role of Palestinians within it?

A series of new measures executed by the Netanyahu administration recently significantly increased punishment (up to four years in prisons and substantial fines) towards Palestinian that throw stones against its army. But it also constructs the legal conditions in which the Israeli army could use live fire (0.22 caliber live rounds) on stone throwers — sometimes through undercover agents as we saw yesterday — in an absolutely literal manifestation of the asymmetrical antagonism we are describing here, echoing the voluntarily “disproportionate” military response of the loose rockets launched from Gaza by heavy, precise and dreadful bombardments. Asymmetry is the most obvious way of looking at the fighting forces in presence. Nevertheless, reading the situation only through this filter constitute a mistake in the assessment of these forces through their means, and not through their very reason to fight: while the Israeli soldiers fight to enforce order in a state of Apatheid, Palestinians fight for their life as Amira Hass points out in a column yesterday in Haaretz.

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03 Aug 2014, Rafah, Gaza Strip --- Smoke rises following what witnesses said was an Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip August 3, 2014. An Israeli air strike killed at least 10 people and wounded about 30 others on Sunday in a U.N.-run school in the southern Gaza Strip, a Palestinian official said, as dozens died in Israeli shelling of the enclave and Hamas fired rockets at Israel. The Israeli military said it was looking into the reported attack, the second to hit a school in less than a week. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa (GAZA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST MILITARY CONFLICT) --- Image by © IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/Reuters/Corbis

Article commissioned and published by Warscapes on July 30, 2015 about the “Black Friday” report by Forensic Architecture and Amnesty International and the links that can be drawn between the Palestinian and African American struggles.

Part 1: Hannibal Directive

On July 2, 2015, architect and intellectual Eyal Weizman gave a lecture at the Médecins Sans Frontières headquarters in Paris in which he presented the latest research of Forensic Architecture. Since 2012, this think tank, founded and directed by Weizman at Goldsmiths University of London, has investigated several dozen geopolitical events for which the “testimony” of architecture and/or objects was interpreted in order to be presented as evidence for prosecution of state responsibility in these events. A few of these cases investigate Israeli and U.S. drone strikes, respectively in Gaza and Pakistan. One involves the deliberate lack of assistance given to a drifting migrant boat in the Mediterranean Sea. Yet another focuses on a former concentration camp buried in former Yugoslavia.

The organization’s most recent research consists of the reconstruction of events in Gaza that immediately followed the capture of an Israeli soldier on August 1, 2014, during the so-called “Operation Protective Edge” (which killed 2,220 Palestinians, including 1,492 civilians, and displaced more than 500,000 others in July and August 2014). The comprehensive and meticulously documented report covering a single day in the conflict has now been released in the form of a collaborative online publication by Forensic Architecture and Amnesty International under the name “Black Friday.” 

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Colon The Political - Leopold Lambert

“The Political” Interview for C-O-L-O-N (Columbia University GSAPP) Volume III alongside Bernard Tschumi, Peggy Deamer & Paul Segal, Eyal Weizman, Ai Weiwei, Mary Mc Leod & Rheinhold Martin, and Cristina Goberna. See website for the other conversations.

C-O-L-O-N: I’d like to talk to your emphasis on the word “corporeal” in your upcoming book Topie Impitoyable: The Corporeal Politics of the Cloth, the Wall, and the Street. In that book you describe the human body firstly as a material assemblage. Why do you see the need to emphasize this materiality?

Léopold Lambert: I always find it useful to go back to the most elementary way of looking at architecture and our bodies. In the case of bodies and architecture as material assemblages, it is necessary that they are situated somewhere, occupying a space. A wall may occupy a space for 300 years while my body might occupy the space on this chair for maybe one hour. The essential difference we make out of it comes from an anthropocentric way of looking at things and, similarly, we may not look at the space the wall occupies and the space my body occupies as similar. But if I stand up from my chair and try to occupy the space of the wall in front of me, there is going to be a fight between the material assemblage of my body and the wall. I am going to have to use force, but the wall will withstand my body.  There is a violence in this encounter; in other words, both material assemblages are affected by it, although not equally. Violence always varies in degrees, never in essence. The violence I just mentioned is pre-political. Not chronologically, of course, but methodologically, we can see that there is a violence inherent to architecture, which is then necessarily instrumentalized politically: the way we normally build walls is to resist the energy of the body. We then invented devices like doors—a regulator of the wall porosity—and keys, which allows us to establish who can get past architecture’s violence and who cannot. Now, who gets access to the instrument that can transform a regular house into a prison cell is political, but it is not architecturalper se to say who gets the key.

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