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.”Read more
“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.Read more
Bao Steel #8 / Manufactured Landscapes series by Edward Burtynsky
What is Nature? An article written for the sixth issue (Summer 2015) of Too Much Magazine of Romantic Geography ///
As this issue of Too Much Magazine investigates artificial replications of natural elements, we might want to stop for a moment and wonder what these notions of artificial and natural could possibly imply. While the first part of this article will propose a non-anthropocentric interpretation of the world, which renders obsolete the distinction between these two notions the second will attempt to show that even within an anthropocentric rationale, their dissociation can no longer be made in our era, when all things are subjected one way or another to human activity.
The 17th century saw the collision of two Western philosophical paradigms about nature. I hope that readers will forgive me for the following simplification: While Descartes (1596-1650) argues that humans should make themselves “master and possessors of nature,” Spinoza (1632-1677) bases his entire Ethics on the idea that “Deus sive Natura” (God or Nature) is infinite and composes all things that exist. In the Spinozist interpretation, humans are thus fully part of nature and the belief that we can act outside of it — by exercising what we commonly call “freedom” — results from our ignorance of the causes that determine us. By stripping humans of the idea of free will, Spinoza inscribes them within an irresistible movement that engages all things. Such a vertiginous idea (because it shatters all our certitudes) is at the foundation of various philosophical materialist movements (including Marx’s work), the latest version being found in recent schools of thought, such as object oriented ontology and speculative realism.Read more
NYPD’s Domain Awareness System / Photograph by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
In a recent article (May 15, 2015), the investigative news platform Mediapart, reported the use of a crime predicting algorithm by the French Ministry of Interior since the end of 2014. This type of algorithms that predicts the degrees of probability for crimes to occur at a given place and a given time, has been used for the past few years by various police department in the United States, as well as the in the United Kingdom. The Los Angeles Police Department and its Real-Time Analysis and Critical Response Division, in particular, relies on the private (!) company PredPol in order to organize the location of police patrols in the city (see a 2014 article in The Guardian). Of course, when talking about these algorithms, Philip K. Dick’s short story, Minority Report (1956) and its cinematographic adaptation by Steven Spielberg (2002) are invoked as the prophecy that announced such policing practices. Minority Report indeed describes a police force able to arrest people before they are about to commit a crime based on predictions made by three “precogs.” The vision developed by this fiction insists on the potential fallibility of this system and the problem of arresting someone for a crime (s)he has not yet committed. However, what I would like to shortly examine here, is rather what the use of these algorithms implies in the way a society is structurally conceived.
The first thing that ought to be said might be candid, but there seems to be a fundamental problem in the fatality of criminal behavior that these algorithms imply. As I wrote in a previous article about police and the notion of “law enforcement,” the very fact that such a thing as ‘anti-riot police’ exists, implies that the State anticipates that demonstrations against it would be fundamentally illegitimate and should thus be suppressed by a branch of police designed for it. Crime predicting algorithms register themselves in the anticipative function of the police, which might appear as an obvious function to us, but that can actually be dated historically as a recent paradigm. Anticipation requires a set of incriminating criteria that essentially rely on collective and/or individual subjectivity, not on any legal basis, since one cannot be legally accused of “already resembl[ing] his crime before he commits it,” as Michel Foucault states in his 1974-1975 Lectures at the Collège de France (Abnormals, 2004). This collective and/or individual subjectivity obviously involves racism as a determining influences and the overwhelmingly numerous cases of police officers searching, arresting and sometimes killing non-White bodies in the Western world are here to remind us of this.Read more
This discussion with Momoyo Homma about the work of artists/poets/philosophers/architects Arakawa (1936-2010) and Madeline Gins (1941-2014) took place in the Reversible Destiny Lofts Mitaka where the Tokyo part of the Arakawa/Gins office is situated. We begin by introducing their work through a biographic approach, then through our interpretations of the manifesto “We Have Decided Not to Die,” which fuels the creative process of the five architectural projects built in Japan and in the United States, as well as the multitude of non-built ones. We conclude the conversation by describing the space around us, one of the Reversible Destiny Lofts: its bumpy floor, its sphere room, its colors, and all the others architectural apparatuses that challenges and strengthen any body whether young or old. This conversation comes as a useful complement to the many contributions made by and for The Funambulist about Arakawa and Gins’s workRead more
Amrit’s Picks is a new series on The Funambulist and Archipelago. It consists in a series of transcripts curated by Amrit Trewn (literacy educator, and aficionado of early ’90s jazz rap, poetry, and Sylvia Wynter) of past conversations recorded for Archipelago. It allows a written and illustrated archive of these conversations through a curation and an order that I am very happy to leave to Amrit here. The first conversation presented here is the second Archipelago conversation with friend Mimi Thi Nguyen — the first one was about clothing and politics (October 2013). This conversation was originally motivated by some unformatulated concerns that I experienced during the campaign #bringbackourgirls in April-May 2014 in reaction to the rapt of 276 Nigerian young women by Boko Haram. I therefore meant to ask a few questions to Mimi, as well as converse with her about the crucial importance to formulate problems in ways that won’t make our questions legitimize that against what they want to challenge. The arguments we expose here emerged from Mimi’s long-documented research about supposedly “transparent” concepts such as freedom and beauty, as well as a few (too) brief articles that I recently wrote on The Funambulist. Together, we attempt to dismantle the language we use in a political and intellectual context, as well as challenging ideas that, despite their intuitive virtue (our outrage at seeing children massacred in Gaza for example), serve discourses that go against our struggles.
Conversation recorded with Mimi Thi Nguyen in Chicago on July 26, 2014
Transcription by Amrit Trewn
Last Tuesday, I attended a lecture of Dutch artist Jonas Staal at the Centre for Research Architecture in Goldsmiths (London). Among other things, he was introducing the last work accomplished through his brilliant project of New World Summit in which he invites representatives of black listed and/or stateless political organizations of the world to present their struggle and debate with other members of the summit. I recommend to everyone to have a close look at the four occurrences of the summit since 2012 (in Berlin, Leiden, Kochi, and Brussels), but through this article, I would like to insist on one particular aspect of Jonas’s lecture, when he described his recent trip to the self-governing canton of Cizîre in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) where a new mode of governance is currently practiced in the vacuum of power created by the Syrian civil war. This canton, situated in the Kurdish area where Syria meets both Turkey and Iraq, is to be distinguished from the two others in Rojava: Kobané and Efrîn. Jonas explained that despite a common goal aiming at the creation of the State of Kurdistan, the Rojava revolution movement, as well as the Kurdish Women’s Movement (who presented their manifesto for a Democratic Confederalism at the last New World Summit) operate independently from the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), which tends to adopt a relatively dated mode of governance compared to these younger movements.
When presenting the photograph above, Jonas described the inverted hierarchy of the various parliaments operating in this mode of governance: when we are used to observe the strong decisional power of national parliaments, decreasing as the scale of governance becomes smaller (regional, departmental, cantonal, municipal, neighborhood-based, etc.), the Rojava revolution movement, Jonas says, has adopted an exact inverse principle. Neighborhood parliaments have the strongest ability to take important decisions for the territory on which it operates, when cantonal and even more so, national, parliaments’ authority operates to a lesser extent. As simple as this inversion sounds, it appears to me that such a mode of governance can radically change the way political life is practiced. In order to attempt to explain why, I propose two points that are radically engaged by this principle: territorial and body scales of governance and intensity-based citizenship.Read more
Map created by Léopold Lambert for The Funambulist (May 2015) / Download a high-quality version of them here (8.1MB) (license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0)
The Israeli settlement of Gilo (26,929 inhabitants), whose construction started in East Jerusalem four years after the 1967 invasion, is well-known to be exemplary of the occupation and colonization of East Jerusalem. One of the main reasons for this consists in the road-infrastructure associated to it: a high viaduct dominating the Palestinian town of Beit Jala (see photos 5 and 6) and two tunnels (see photo 7) constituting what Eyal Weizman calls “the politics of verticality” (different sovereignties applied on different layers of the same territory) in Hollow Land (Verso, 2007), whose cover shows a drawing of the viaduct. Gilo, and its ‘little brother’ Har Gilo (602 inhabitants) are also forming the buffer area between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, two municipalities separated by the apartheid wall built by the Israeli government starting 2002. The two checkpoints that filters Palestinian (and pilgrims) movement between Jerusalem and Bethlehem are situated nearby: Gilo checkpoint itself (also known as 300) allows (on ‘normal’ days) pedestrian crossing (for Palestinian who have a permit to access Jerusalem) in addition to vehicles (most Christian pilgrim coaches use it), when the tunnels checkpoint regulate Road 60 that joins Jerusalem to Hebron — vehicles with an Israeli plates can go through the tunnels, while Palestinian cars cannot.Read more
Photograph from the “Breaking the Silence” report
The Israeli organization Breaking the Silence has just released a 237-page report of soldier’s testimonies following the dreadful siege on Gaza in July and August 2014, which killed 2,200 Palestinians, including at least 1,492 indubitable civilians (OCHA numbers). There is already a lot that has been written yesterday and today about it, from the newspapers pretending to believe that the atrocities described by the Israeli soldiers themselves constitutes some exceptional misbehavior when, actually it is clear in the reading of these testimonies that they are the war’s modus operandi, and corresponds to orders (or the absence of orders), to more interesting articles written in the Electronic Intifada, +972 Magazine or on Geographical Imaginations. It therefore does not seem so useful to add a description of what is only an (admittedly important) confirmation of something we already knew. What I can propose however, is to state a few points about which we should be careful when we read these testimonies from sixty-five Israeli soldiers.Read more
2015 is the year of the 50th anniversary of Charles-Edouard Jeanneret aka Le Corbusier‘s death. As usual, this kind of dates triggers a series of cultural production, the main one being a large exhibition at the Pompidou Center in Paris, and another is the involuntarily synchronized release of three books excavating the relationship of Le Corbusier with fascism: Un Corbusier (A Corbusier) by François Chaslin (Seuil), Le Corbusier: Un fascisme français (A French Fascism) by Xavier de Jarcy (Albin Michel) and Le Corbusier: Une froide vision du monde (A Cold Vision of the World) by Marc Perelman (Mochalon). Through his biography, as well as his private correspondence, these three authors establish unequivocally that Le Corbusier was keen with antisemitic and fascist ideas. Although I can only recommend articles written in French about them (see the interview of François Chaslin by Mediapart for instance), it is not in my interest to reflect on any aspect of his biography. I believe that it is important that this excavating work has been done and it is currently eagerly relayed, but judging the person of Le Corbusier, especially with such unequivocal evidences, is easier and less useful, than judging his architecture in its complexity, and the vision of society it envisioned and actually produced: although modernism is not the invention of one person, nor of one discipline, we can reasonably think that without his work, our cities would not look exactly the same today.
Although the approach of Olivier Cinqualbre and Frédéric Migayrou in the Pompidou Center exhibition does not attempt to propose any level of critique to Le Corbusier’s work, the curatorial choice centered around “The Measure of Man” certainly allows us to articulate our own. An entire room is dedicated to the Modulor in its multiple variations: numerous drawings, a scale-1 sculpture, and even customized tape-measures that allows to apply the modulor’s system of dimensionning to all things. Although Le Corbusier insists that the Modulor is a proportional system — something that would mobilize an aesthetic debate rather than a societal one — he calibrated this system on a normative 183-cm male (“The Measure of Man” takes its full expression) body, which will then have consequences on the totality of his design and architectural work, and thus on the city itself (especially in the case of Chandigarh). I already articulated several times a critique of such a calibration whether in Le Corbusier’s or Ernst Neufert’s work (see one of the past articles) but also through the gendered normative bodies of Joe and Josephine in Henry’s Dreyfuss’s design; yet, this calibration exists at a more of less conscious level, in all design, and we thus need to keep researching what politics lies behind this practice.Read more