Bruno Munari (1944) / Bruce McLean (1971) / Didier Faustino (2009)
My friend Alexandre Pachiaudi recently made me remember two works of Bruno Munari and Bruce McLean, respectively entitled Seeking comfort in an uncomfortable armchair (1944) and Plinths I (1971) that display similar situations in which their bodies were interacting with a chair-like object in positions that are uncommon to the usual practice of this same object. For the sake of this article, I am adding to this short inventory of similar body exercises, two works by Didier Fiuza Faustino: Opus Incertum (2009) and Auto Satisfaction (with students in Georgia State University, 2009).
These three works have all in common that they seem to consider the body as a sort of viscous matter that can embody various configurations in relation to the object on which this matter is falling. Viscous is a key word here as fluid would consider the body as a surface rather than a flesh assemblage. It seems that the body does not have any mechanical function that can negotiate with gravity but rather, it is a sort of viscous corpse that interacts with the volume of the object, yet cannot separate its parts one from another.
Mohamad (Lebanon) / Photograph by Bridgette Auger
This is not me: Enduring Syria’s War is an exhibition by artist Bridgette Auger currently on view at NYU’s Tisch Gallery in New York. The endurance that B. Auger chose for the title of her work is not the one that we might immediately think about. In fact, in the last article I wrote about the Syrian revolutionary war, I was afraid that the topic and the images I was writing about might be too spectacular and therefore potentially misleading in the way we can approach the conflict from abroad. This assuredly won’t be the case with B. Auger as the two young Syrian men, Husan and Mohamad, she took for object of her work (photographs and interviews) are not in Syria: one is in Beirut and the other, in Germany. What the sensitive work of this exhibition manages to address, is the endurance of the war that one has to suffer when far away from it. The photographs, associated with pieces of monologues that must be trotting out continuously in the two protagonists’ minds, express the anguished dilemma that they have to deal with: staying safe out of the country like their families would like them to be, or going back to Syria to be with their friends and relatives.
This dilemma reminds me of the one exposed by Jean-Paul Sartre in his lecture Existentialism is a Humanism. Sartre explains the choice that one of his student were confronted to during the Second World War: he could either stay home to take care of his sick mother or enter into resistance against the Nazis with the Free French Forces. Sartre adds that this choice is particular as one possibility will insure some immediate comfort to one person while the other might bring much greater effects but in less immediate and guaranteed conditions.
Aarhus-based architect James Martin was kind enough to share with me the small book he created (with the help of my friends Ben Clement and Sebastian de la Cour) around, what I would call, an archaeology of truth in Northern Ireland. He named the book Revising Histories [building truth] to reflect the collection of narratives that he came to encounter in his attempt to reconstitute what we might call, an illusory reconstitution of truth. By illusory I do not imply that there are many truths that would be all equal, but, rather, that the notion of truth is only communicated through constructed discourses, which always involve the subjectivity of the “teller” and the “listener”. This subjectivity is based on what I would like to call “axiomatic truth”, i.e. that on what one’s constructed system of truth is constructed upon and that constitutes the very core of any political conflict since there is a fundamental impossibility to understand each other as long as the axiomatic truths do not overlap. What James conveys brilliantly in his project is that several constructed narratives — sometimes in conflict with each other — can be collected around a given object, thus creating another level of truth discourse.
The book includes for example two leaflets illustrating two antagonist discourses about the same region of Ulster for which they are both hoping to develop tourism : one coming from the Northern Island government — officially part of the United Kingdom — and one from the Irish Nationalists. While the first part promotes a sort of “pre-political” history of the region as well as the geographical quality of the site (see edited photograph below on the left), the second one, on the other hand, is focusing on the local resistance to the British occupation materialized by the remaining watchtowers (see document below too) and goes as far as promoting the (veritable or not) amount of British soldiers killed in the region.
Israeli settlement of Rimmonim on the road from Ramallah to Jericho
I am not quite sure to know the reasons that made me take so much time to write this article, three years after my last trip in Palestine; better late than never as one says so here it is: a majority of the photographs (see below) I took when I was there of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. It seemed important here that I include only my own photographs in order to reduce the “degree of separation” between the readers and them.
Those photographs are important to me as they give another approach to the multitude of maps that have been traced to ‘cartograph’ the situation in Palestinian territories. The latter are effectively fundamental to understand the legal implications of the occupation but it also tends to desincarnate any discourse one might have about it. It is therefore extremely important to add to them a more subjective approach, not so much for emotion to emerge, but rather to trigger a clear understanding of the physicality of the occupation on the field. Without this understanding, everything remains abstract and in the realms of territories, thus forgetting that these territories are actually physical and host physical bodies on it.
I want to stress the fact that approaching the problem in a more incarnate and subjective way does not mean in any way that we should focus on the ‘news items’ however tragic they may be. What I mean by that is that what requires all our attention is what systematize the colonial organization of space and the bodies, what affects them on a daily basis. That might be less spectacular than the “news items” I was just evoking; however, there lies the real and durable condition of occupation. In this regard, I would like to link this article with another I wrote a bit more than a year ago entitled The Ordinary Violence of the Colonial Apparatuses in the West Bank that was addressing a similar dimension of the occupation through the various devices that control and hurt the Palestinian bodies on a daily basis.
This article is the first one of a trio which will investigate the architectural elements that makes Paris, a contemporary fortress. The Boulevard Périphérique (highway ring) around it, marks its geographical limit and embodies the latter in a solid barrier of low porosity. Of course, the city walls are not as evidently militarized than its 19th century ancestor, the Thiers fortifications built in 1844 on the same route than the current Périphérique and carrying the name of the character who slaughtered the Paris Commune few decades later. However, the will of ‘defending’ Paris’ integrity against the exterior is still strong and expressed in a (barely) more subtle way. At the exception of the Western suburbs -where the highest social classes live- the city is very difficult to access from its surroundings thus materializing the policies of social exclusion at work in Paris.
The physical border that separates the center of the city from its suburbs is embodied not only by the Périphérique but also, on its side, by various zones differing from the simple state of no-man’s land to various zones of office buildings, malls or other non-residential program that scarify the threshold between inside and outside. In order to illustrate this buffer zone that is well-known of Parisians -at least those who have to experience it on a daily basis- I selected sixteen views (see below) from google street in which you can see how the entrance in Paris materializes. I tried to keep as a visual continuity, the small sign announcing Paris like in every towns in France. By doing so, I wanted to insist on the graphic contrast between the function of this same sign (its welcoming status) and its actual environment which constitutes a gate -and that is indeed their official name- to the Fortress Paris.
See part 2: Paris sous Tension by Eric Hazan
and part 3: The Suburban Heterotopia
Rufina Wu and Stefan Canham. Portraits from Above: Hong Kong’s Informal Rooftop Communities. Berlin: Peperoni, 2008.
Those of you who know a bit about the Canadian Center for Architecture in Montreal are probably aware of the existence of a lecture series entitled Learning from… based on the well known Learning from Las Vegas written by Denise Scott Brown, Robert Venturi and Steven Izenour. This Thursday (May 3rd), the CCA organizes a new opus of the series with Learning from…Hong Kong by Rufina Wu and Stefan Canham who will presents their photographic and architectural analytical work about the informal rooftop communities that they collected for their book Portraits from Above.
Hong Kong is a city so dense that all space have to be claimed, used and optimized and rents are part of the highest in the world. Confronted to this observation and empowered by the necessity, some people built-up their own houses on the roof of existing buildings. R.Wu and S. Canham’s photographs and drawings constitutes a non-exhaustive collection of those architectures without architects as a possible manifesto for the incredible city that Hong Kong incarnates.
Learning from… Hong Kong: Rufina Wu and Stefan Canham
3 May 2012, 7:00 pm
Presented in English
The event will also be live streamed
Extracted from Pennsylvania Coal Mine Tipples by Bernd & Hilla Becher. Dia Center for the Arts, 1991.
The world photographed by Bernd and Hilla Becher is fascinating as it often introduces fantastic architectures which yet have been built in the absence of concern for an architectural quality. Whether they photograph the Ruhr factories, the various water towers of the world or, in this case, the Pennsylvania Coal Mine Tipples, their pictures present buildings translating their function as literally as possible. In the case of the coal mine tipples, architecture reflects even more its craftsmanship and the absence of architect. Structures seem (deceivingly) fragile and clumsy, enclosures are approximate and materials seem to have been found in the direct environment of the building. For all these reasons, this architecture without architects is exemplary for architects to achieve a high degree of vernacularity, both for its materials and its construction methods, as well as for its ‘laisser faire’, allowing a high degree of flexibility on site and a lack of differentiation between people who conceive and those who make.
PLAYGROUND Harskamp/Reek by Jeroen Hofman (2011)
Socks Studio just released an interesting article about the Potemkin village of Marnehuizen in the North of Netherlands, which was built inside the military base Marnewaard in order to simulate and train military attacks in urban environment. This fake village is one more on the list of training settlements that trains the various armies of the world (see this (too) short previous article); however, this one seems to be dedicated to a potential suppression internal to the Netherlands as the architectural typology seems to indicate.
This leads me to a fundamental problem for architects that echoes directly the recent debate that the Funambulist has been hosting this week. In fact, the more an architecture is conform to the archetype used in this kind of training village, the more the military action -that was precisely trained to operate within this archetype- gains in efficiency. Uniformity implies an indubitable potential of control whereas difference reduces legibility, and this way also decreases the risk of capture of space. One can even think on playing on those archetypes to develop a strategy of decoy that participate even more actively to forms of resistance against a military/police state. What is valid for architecture is also valid for urban design as we have been exploring it many times on this platform (as an example see the comparative Manhattan/Casbah).
Michael Oliveri is a pretty unique photographer. The subject of his photographs are in fact nanolandscapes that he creates via metal oxide fumes and powders. The microscopic vision that his camera allows provide a different interpretation of the world in which scales although they seem to evolve in parallel, actually interact with each other, all being part of a complete immanent machine allowing no externality.
I already wrote a more developed article about the 29 minute masterpiece, La Jetée, less than a year ago; nevertheless, I wanted to point out the existence of a very beautiful book that proposes an alternate (or complementary) mean of exploring the powerful universe created by Chris Marker. This book is designed by Bruce Mau, edited by the very valuable Zone Books (see previous articles about The Power of Inclusive Exclusion and Rituals of War) and distributed by the MIT Press.
Since La Jetée is a film composed exclusively (almost !) of photographs and an off voice reading the narrative, not only it fits perfectly with this format of a book that Chris Marker decided to call a Ciné-Roman (roman in French means novel), but the pages allows to associate several photographs together (see above) that compose another way to read images that constitute the movie.
The following link is Zone Book’s page about this book.
picture: The Shower by Kerry Skarbakka
Gravity is never more perceptible than when an object falls and when this object is a human body, the visual expressiveness of the scene becomes even more dramatic. Photographs of the body falling probably all owes a lot to the one composed by Yves Klein jumping in the void of a Parisian street in 1960. Since then other photographers worked on this subject, more or less voluntarily as we will see.
The photographs of Kerry Skarbakka are very expressive in this matter. Although his body is always suspended, he indeed succeeds to translate the weight of the body in his literal meaning: the degree of attraction of the body towards the earth. The viewer can inexorably imagine the moment that comes next, the collision of the earth and the body, climax of the violence of gravity.
Denis Darzacq is observing a similar method but, for better of worse, tend to express a feeling of slow motion that add to the aesthetics of the image but reduce this very interesting attraction which subject the body. In D.Darzacq’s photographs, bodies seems to be suspended in the void for ever as if the notion of weight was not effective anymore.
Eventually, one last photographer, Richard Drew, somehow involuntarily revolutionized this photographic subject as he managed to photograph one of the most traumatic scenes from the September 11st 2001′s attack against the New York World Trade Center, a man who chose the void over the flames and fell for long seconds along the very linear facade of the towers. This photograph tackles a lot of problems in the definition of art and its limits; nevertheless, it expresses the subjectivization of the body to gravity like no other work and provoke an intense emotion to the viewer who cannot not identify to this body and associate to it the context in which it has been photographed.
Sept 15th Add-on: The Huffington Post just released an article about a beautiful video filming base jumpers…it seemed appropriate to add it here.
Read the first sequel to this chapter published on September 26th 2011.
Read the second sequel to this chapter published on December 6th 2011
Read the third sequel to this chapter published on January 3rd 2012
All the concerned photographs are to be seen after the break:
The traditional High School education received in the countries winners of the Second World War does not insist much on the absolute massacre that occurred in Japan on August 6th and 9th 1945. Using only two bombs of a new generation, the US Army killed more than 250 000 people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This mass killing of civilians has been justified by the Allies as a necessary evil in order to stop the war and this official version remains the one currently taught in those countries’ schools.
By this month of August 1945, Japan had already pretty much lose the war and those monstrous attacks have to be understood more as occasions to try on “real scale” a new dreadful technology that would became crucial in the antagonism to become with the Soviet Union. Of course the official “necessary evil” version had to remain and in order to implement it, the Truman administration had forbidden the release of any documents coming from Hiroshima that could possibly shock the American population. In the meantime, they sent 1,150 military personnel and civilians, including photographers to collect information on site to observe the effect of their new weapons.
Almost seventy years later, the International Center of Photography in New York City, releases an exhibition with sixty photographs which were taken by some members of those 1150 American officials. You can watch a “trailer” to this exhibition below that seems to insists mostly on the urban damages rather than the human aspect. The latter can be approached via this link (I have yet to warn my readers about the crudity of those photographs) that among other things, describe the incredible phenomena of those silhouettes of bodies and objects that have been printed on walls in the same way than a photo on a film (see the first picture after the break).
Those two series of photographs participate to constitute a collective imaginary of the true horror that happened those two days of August 1945 when this same imaginary had been voluntarily and actively restricted from the people to disconnect the information and its reality.
In order to complement such participation, I cannot help to recommend the beautiful Hiroshima mon Amour (1959) by French director Alain Resnais (with a script by author Marguerite Duras) that introduces two characters, a French woman and a Japanese man whose love to become is troubled by their respective traumatic pasts under the Nazi occupation and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
After having evoked a very literal vision of camouflage yesterday (see the article), the book entitled Camouflage written by Neil Leach in 2006 and published by the MIT Press, proposes a more philosophical way to interpret such notion.
In this book, N.Leach interprets camouflage as a phenomenological survival strategy or masquerade that questions the notion of the “self” and the “other”. It can be said to be a sort of treatise of aesthetics in architecture, a value that after having being demonized currently comes back as a self-sustaining argument. N. Leache stands obviously out of those two “schools” and proposes a series of chapters referencing the depth of the aesthetical discourses by themes (mimesis, mimicry, becoming, death, narcissism, identity, paranoia, belonging, sacrifice, melancholia, ecstasy…). Each of those chapters are accompanied by beautiful photographs by Francesca Woodman of young women phenomenologically amalgamating their bodies with the building.
Neil Leach uses references from philosophy (Benjamin, Adorno, Deleuze, Caillois etc.), psychoanalysis (Freud, Lacan), gender studies (Butler), anthropology (Levi-Strauss), religion (St Teresa), botany (orchids), zoology (chameleons), literature (Bataille) and myth (Narcissus, Daedalius, Medusa etc.). One who would like to explore all those fields related by the erudite Leach would have to read the book (or listen to the course at USC attached at the very end of this article, but this is only an overview of the book) but here, I would like to copy the two first pages of the chapter “Sacrifice” that I find profoundly interesting (probably because that might be one the most “architectural” moments of this book):
pictures: Stephen Walter (above) and Sohei Nishino’s (below) maps of London
Maps, in our imaginary, carry much more objectivity than they actually do in reality. We can probably explain that by the reliability that we put in them in order to locate ourselves in a city or in a country. However, just like the architect plan (another kind of map), maps are actually a form of representation that is characterized by just as much subjectivity than any other forms. They only shows what make sense in their system of logic, they use a more or less complex aesthetic vocabulary and they often emphasize the importance of some of their included elements.
The work of art that expresses the best this subjective beauty in my opinion remains the medium length 1978 movie by Peter Greenaway, A Walk Through H. (see previous article) in which an ornithologist recounts his journey in 92 maps that one by one leads more and more toward abstraction. Very luckily you can watch this movie by following this link.
Stephen Walter and Sohei Nishino are two artists who are exploring the subjectivity of the map. S. Walter has draw two gigantic maps of London and Liverpool in a sort of report of Situationist drifts (derives) experiencing the psychogeographies of those two cities. His maps are mostly constituted by doodles and words that places various neighborhoods and its characteristics but also his autobiographical feeling about those places when he went there. Space’s representation and narratives are then completely colliding in one documents and makes S.Walter’s maps absolutely fascinating.
Sohei Nishino is using photographs to compose his maps which oscillate between aerial views and maps using a technique that became famous by David Hockney which consists in assembling pictures together despite their different vanishing points. S.Nishino chose some very generic photographs from main monuments of each city to make the map more recognizable but one could imagine his work with an approach more similar to Stephen Walter’s that would assemble pieces of life brought together with pictures that would eventually constitutes the city.
picture: Joe Sacco. The Fixer. London: Drawn and Quarterly 2003
In 2009, Saskia Sassen was organizing a symposium at Columbia University entitled, Cities and the New Wars (see previous article) that was gathering intellectuals such as Stephen Graham or Eyal Weizman who presented brilliant lectures about how cities are affected by urban combat.
Cities are the new battlefields for two mains reasons. The first one is related to the fact that many of the current wars are established in an asymmetric scheme (Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechenia, narco-wars in Rio’s favelas etc.) The second one is caused by the will of the belligerents to involve the population and perpetuate the urbicide (read the essay I wrote about this topic).
In this article, I would like to introduce three works of different mediums that expresses life in cities at war:
The Fixer by Joe Sacco (see his interview for Al Jazeera) is a graphic novel/documentary by the famous American author who created a very striking series about Palestine several years before. The Fixer recounts his trip to Sarajevo in 1995 at the end of the Bosnian war which is reported to him via Neven, a para-military soldier that explains the situation in Sarajevo during those three years of combat. Three years later, the war in Kosovo occurred and expressed in its most painful degree, this notion of urbicide. (see the article about the book Violence Taking Place. The Architecture of the Kosovo Conflict)
Come Again is a very beautiful book by photographer Robert Frank that collects photos of Beirut at the end of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990). The city seems to be empty and every buildings is a ruin that managed not to completely collapse. Beirut is indeed one of the city of the world that has been destroyed the most since the European/Japanese cities of the Second World War and 1991 was certainly not the end of it as the Israeli army attacked the city in 2006 in its raid against the Hezbollah. (thank you very much Xinyang for offering me this book)
The last work is a ten minutes movie created by Orlando Von Einsiedel and entitled Skateistan (see at the end of this article). It introduces the story of a small school of skateboarding in Kabul, Afghanistan in which kids can forget the war for a while and learn to use their skateboards. The movie is a little bit too much aestheticizing in my opinion but remains a very moving documentary about the expression of a passion in such a city at war. (thanks Pico for the link)
French street artist JR just received TED Prize and gave a lecture about his work that is definitely worth watching. Starting from the roofs and the suburbs of Paris, he developed his art with passion, intelligence and humor in Bethlehem, Berlin, Rio de Janeiro, Nairobi, Delhi and a lot of other cities in the world. He argues for a democratic art, that does not need any institution to get exhibited and that directly expresses the essence of a place by its people (and more specifically its women).
He now launches a new project that involves the diffusion of the images and posters sent to him by whoever wants to. This can be done on the website of the Inside Out Project:
INSIDE OUT is a large-scale participatory art project that transforms messages of personal identity into pieces of artistic work. Everyone is challenged to use black and white photographic portraits to discover, reveal and share the untold stories and images of people around the world. These digitally uploaded images will be made into posters and sent back to the project’s co-creators for them to exhibit in their own communities. People can participate as an individual or in a group; posters can be placed anywhere, from a solitary image in an office window to a wall of portraits on an abandoned building or a full stadium. These exhibitions will be documented, archived and viewable virtually.
Architect’s Brother is a very beautiful series of photographs by artists Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison. The architect, here, seems to be God and his brother seems to have been in charge of setting up the World at its creation.
You can see the rest of the series on their website by clicking this link.
The series of images created by Philipp Schaerer entitled Bildbauten (built pictures in German) includes twenty five rendering of monolithic buildings that seem to have been produced by their environment in some sort of camouflaged bunkers.
Here are a some pictures of a project of the very interesting french artists collectiv called Survival Group. This project “Anti-sites” is focused on street and public area details that are created in order to avoid any kind of sitting, resting or sleeping possibilities, they made a photographic inventory of this kinds of hostile public spaces and even build one sample as a manifesto (Esthétique assedic) for the french social welfare .
Following is a serie of pictures of the pretty popular photographer Clark little , former pro surfer.
He’s going inside the water to take the best pictures of waves around the world.
Those pictures really give the feeling of being inside the waves and Clark Little really catch the critical point of the curl each time. The space created between water, light and air is pretty cool!