Every time we refer to recently deceased lawyer Jacques Vergès, it seems like some discursive precautions need to be taken. This is likely to be because commentators stop at the name of his clients (Klaus Barbie, Slobodan Milošević, Carlos, etc.) without listening to Vergès’s plea that significantly complexities these defenses. What he calls himself “rupture defense” or “rupture strategy” is not really a defense; quite on the contrary, it is an offensive against the very principles that set the prosecution. The trial of Djamila Bouhired in 1957 is particularly illustrative of this strategy.
Bouhired was a member of the Algerian FLN (National Liberation Front); during her trial, she was convicted to have put a bomb in a cafe in Algiers that triggered the death of 11 French colons. She was not the first one to be judged for similar crimes referred by the colonizers as “terrorism.” Most of the lawyers who were pleading for accused Algerians were French leftists who were trying to attenuate the circumstances of their client’s crime to the colonial court; a sort of negotiation that proved not to be efficient. Vergès, when he undertook Bouhired’s defense however, used this “rupture strategy”: Such a strategy consists in accepting rigorously the description of facts that the colonial prosecution deploys, embracing the absence of attenuating circumstances to the crime, and furthermore, to affirm that the accused does not regret her or his crime and would be eager to commit more if given the opportunity.
On January 29, 2014, friends Mariabruna Fabrizi and Fosco Lucarelli posted an interesting article on Socks (check out their new interface!) based on photographs taken by Mike Ma of a map illustrating the chronology of the bloody week (May 21-28 1871) that eradicated the socialist Paris Commune. Seeing this map made me want to, not only retrace it in a “cleaner” version but add to it other valuable information so to obtain a comprehensive “chrono-cartography” of the 1871 Paris Commune. You can download a high-resolution of this map (28 Mb) here under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0 International license (i.e. use it in any way you want providing that you’re not making money out of it and that you’re referring to the original map’s credits). This article is built on five chapters that distinguishes each component of the map.
Chapter 1 /// Before the Commune: Avenues and Boulevards
A picture of a family infront of their Levittown house (Cape Cod design), Tony Linck for LIFE Magazine, 1947 /// Found by Olivia Ahn
In the frame of a recent conversation recorded for Archipelago with designer Olivia Ahn about the research she has been conducted these last two years, I had the opportunity to re-articulate a few references that could compose a counter-history of American suburbia, as well as to learn additional ones thanks to her work. The latter focuses on the post-war invention of the suburban house as an architectural typology that simultaneously invents (or reinvents) an heteronormative gender performativity.
As I had the opportunity to write in Weaponized Architecture (dpr-barcelona, 2012), the rationale behind the creation of American suburbia is multiple and more strategical than usually admitted. Beyond the official historical version that insists on the ability for each member of the American middle class to become the owner of its own house, lies a political agenda that unfolds itself through the weaponization of the totality of scales of design. I will expose these interpretations through a form of zooming within these scales that start by the entire American territory and end with one of the smallest designed object, the drug, in order to propose a holistic examination of the strategies that lies behind suburbia.
Dress by Yiqing Yin (photograph by Laurence Laborie)
Topological Life: The Politics of Exchange between Membrane/Bodies
Topology is a term I heard many times when I was studying architecture, too often without questioning its implications for the world around us, and more immediately for our own bodies. The work of French philosopher Gilbert Simondon (1924-1989), which seems now to be returning to the spotlight of academia, can help to interpret this notion through a social-political lens.
The first occurrence of Simondon’s use of the term topology in my reading was found in the 1964 book The Individual and its Physical-Biological Genesis (L’individu et sa genèse physico-biologique) in a context that needs to be explained first. In the first part of his book, Simondon attempts to show the limits of the Aristotelian scheme of hylomorphy as a way of describing the world. Hylomorphy thinks of all objects as a combination of matter and form, which is problematic to Simondon both at the physical-chemical level and at the social level. He describes at length the molding of a brick as a paradigmatic example of how the matter already contains the notion of form within itself – what he calls the “colloidal characteristics of the matter” – and how the form needs to materialize first in the object of the mold in order to realize itself. The principle of energy is also forgotten in the hylomorphic scheme. Simondon takes this omission as his starting point and goes on to argue for a new paradigm through which to think of objects and bodies: the allagmatic (change) scheme. As I mentioned above, the hylomorphic scheme is also problematic at a social level as it creates two categories that can be read as social classes: those who think of the form (“the masters”), and those who act upon the matter (“the slaves”). There is therefore something highly societal in Simondon’s manifesto for the allagmatic scheme. The form should not be considered abstractly, but rather with a deep understanding of the matter’s intrinsic characteristics in mind.
My recent encounter with the document presented above reminded me of the article “Violence on the Body: A Manual for the French Police Escorting ‘Illegal’ Immigrants” that I wrote three years ago, and that I recently revisited for the seventh volume of the Funambulist Pamphlets about Cruel Designs (see illustrations below). The manual that constituted the object of this past article had been investigated and released by French news website Mediapart to expose the methods recommended to police officers in charge of escorting bodies expelled from the French territory by plane. Entitled “Instruction relative à l’éloignement par voie aérienne des étrangers en situation irrégulière” (Instructions for the aerial distancing of foreigners in irregular situation), using a recognizable bureaucratic jargon, this manual explains the physical and technological means that a body has to restrain absolutely the movement of another. The first graphic continues this jargon by evoking the aim of the constraint as “phonic regulation.” When one knows how the expelled bodies are often forced into a plane to be sent to the country of their citizenship, “phonic regulation” equals preventing the body from screaming that have created precedents of protests from other passengers of the plane or sometimes even the refusal for the captain to take off. Such situations are often remediated by the use of entire charter flights to expel large groups of bodies all together.
As I noted in this past article, the Manual’s graphics show us a strange choreography, a sort of embrace between the two bodies that does not immediately reveal the violence imposed from one to another. This dissimulation of violence, accentuated by the inability for the victim to scream, is designed for similar aim than the one cited above. Each escorting of an expelled body has to hide the violence of the expulsion to the bodies around. This is how violence operate in representative democracies: there a tacit understanding between the suppressive forces and the bodies in “regular situations” (the citizens) that violence needs to operate outside of the regime of visibility to allow these citizens to be consistent with their interpretation of society. Violence has therefore to be precisely designed and enacted in a skilled performativity.
Mass Arrival – Toronto, August 12, 2013 – Courtesy of Tings Chak
Today’s Funambulist Paper is written by my friend Tings Chak whose work I admire for its brilliant articulation of academic research with political activism in the struggle against the systematic oppression that migrants have to face in Western countries. As an architect, she focuses part of this struggle against the existence of detention centers in Canada for bodies whose only crime consists in having located themselves on a territory considered apparently as sacred. Her text “Racialized Geographies and the Fear of Ships” stigmatizes the importance of the influence of race in considering the bodies of the migrants. She does so through the paradigms offered by a few historical migration ships to Canada (from the 15th century to today) and the opposite manner these ships are considered (heroic or invasive) depending on the bodies they host.
The Funambulist Papers 52 /// Racialized Geographies and the Fear of Ships
by Tings Chak
Mahatma Gandhi and Subhash Chandra Bose (wearing a Gandhi cap) in 1938
Thanks to Mimi Thi Nguyen, I got to read Clothing Matters: Dress and Identity in India (University of Chicago Press, 1996) by anthropologist Emma Tarlo. This book focuses on five distinct and successive clothing paradigms that India has experienced in the last century and half. There is so much to write about them that I would like to only focus on the two first ones (ending with the Indian independence in 1947) in this article and to keep the three following ones for another text.
One of the systematic characteristics of the colonial organization of another nation consists for the colonizers to categorize a part of the colonized population as elite that is entitled to some privileges in society. This categorization can be done through ethnic differentiations (the Rwandan 1994 genocide tragically showed how this ends after the independence), religious ones (listen to the Archipelago conversation with Harjant Gill about Sikh men being privileged by the British colonizer), or it can also operates through less ‘essential’ properties, through voluntary behavior like the one of wearing the colonizer’s clothing rather than the colonized one. In the context of the Indian Raj, Tarlo first evokes the social and functional reasons that would prevent a priori Indian males from wearing European clothing, but that is sometimes transcended by the will to be treated in a better way by the British. Clothing has indeed the semiotic power to suggest a certain social positioning within society, as well as a behavior related to this positioning:
Stowage of the British slave ship Brookes under the regulated slave trade act of 1788. (Library of US Congress)
In the previous article, I was evoking the architecture of the holocaust’s gas chambers to address the role of design in industrialized death; today’s article will describe another atrocious historical example of how architecture can no only serve the most violent ideologies, but also often makes itself indispensable for them to be implemented. From the 15th century to the 19th century, about 14 million West-African bodies were captured, brought to the coasts of the Guinean Gulf and then forced into ships to be enslaved in the Americas (the Caribbeans, the United States and Brazil in particular). Architecture intervenes at many steps in this process of displacement (the most massive in human history); however, I would like to focus on the slave ship in this text, as a technology without which the entire principle of the slave trade would have been simply impossible.
Dr. Temple Grandin is a professor at Colorado State University who wrote several books about autism and animal science. Her autism allowed her to a detailed perception of the animal behavior and the factors that influence it. Grandin’s architectural inventions were created in reaction to particularly brutal and insensitive means of bringing the cattle to their ultimate slaughter. Her designs provide a multitude of material and spatial apparatuses based on a deep understanding of cattle’s inherent behavior and tendencies that leads it to death without stress nor indication of what is about to happen to it. The drawings that follow this article demonstrates of this precise care for the animals that seems to integrate the totality of factors that could potentially affect them on their way. Such an exhaustive care associated to the generous sharing of the totality of plans, techniques and advice is by all means admirable, and I don’t think that her design is problematic in the way it functions but rather, in what it reveals about architecture in general.
Let us begin by saying that a design that is created in view of bringing bodies from a point A to a point B strongly suggests the anticipatory aspects of its conception. Even in the case of a simple corridor like the ones we experience on a daily basis already holds a certain degree of authority enforced by architecture through the material means it uses to effectively brings body from one side of the corridor to another, leaving little option to this body. For each corridor we experience, there was a transcendental entity (architect, engineer, politician etc.) that, not only anticipated this movement when conceiving the space that contextualizes it but also had an interest in having this movement effectuated.This anticipatory aspect of architectural design is admittedly difficult to fully suppress in the creative process since it mostly defines its essence; yet, understanding the degree of violence that it allows the designer is an important step in the awareness of architecture’s weaponized characteristics.
Map of the five New York City boroughs represented by a dot per person living there / Dot Map / (blue: white / green: black / red: asian / yellow: hispanic / brown: other)
In a city like New York, gentrification is one of the main social and racialized violence that is currently at work. Brooklyn neighborhoods like Williamsburg, Bushwick, Green Point, Bed Stuy or Park Slope are experiencing it at speeds that makes it impossible to attribute this process only to immanent causes. Its origin that consists in a reduced amount of middle-class often white people moving in a lower-class often black or Hispanic neighborhood might be immanent indeed, although it is also motivated by prohibitive prices in other parts of the city, but this displacement is quickly identified, then multiplied at much larger scale by profit-driven developers.
Gentrification is implemented through bodies choosing to locate themselves (as usual, our body can only locate at one space at a time, and only this body can be located on this specific space) in a space where they are historically, culturally and racially outsiders. The presence of these bodies exercises only a violence when it triggers a disruption in the modes of existence of the local population. Bodies rarely come alone indeed: they bring with them standards of comfort that modify the urban fabric and drastically increases the price of life (rent, goods, services, etc.) to a point that it becomes prohibitive and thus exclusionary to the local bodies. The gentrifying bodies also carry with them the promise of safety that society made to them. As Spike Lee argues in a diatribe that I will evoke below, there is therefore a retrospective legitimate frustration from the local black or Hispanic population to see that the thing that will effectually bring the police to secure a given neighborhood is the presence of white bodies.
Comme des Garçons AW 2010/2011
Today’s Funambulist Paper complements well yesterday’s launch of the eighth volume of the Funambulist Pamphlets dedicated to the work of Arakawa and Madeline Gins since my guest, Erin Manning (see my interpretations of her books 1 and 2) examines in her extensive text their shared interpretation of design and the body with Comme des Garçons‘s founder and designer Rei Kawakubo. An anecdote is always a good way introduction, so I will say that Erin and I convened of the topic of her essay while we were at Comme des Garçons’s Dover Street Market New York inside Madeline Gins and the Reversible Destiny‘s recently built permanent monumental stairs — to which I am happy to have contributed — before recording a conversation for Archipelago. There is therefore no chance involved in these multiple inspirational bridges!
In the following text, Erin articulates how Arakawa+Gins and Kawakubo’s creative methodology both embrace the idea that we don’t really know what a body is, and what it can do. Such a statement does not seem much, but as we have seen numerous times on this blog, fathoming this simple fact have tremendous consequences both in the creative and political realms. Kawakubo says herself that she does not want to make clothes; this can appear as odd for a fashion designer but, as explained by Erin, it needs to be understood in the refusal to separate the cloth to the body. In other words, Kawakubo does not design cloth as such, but rather shapes bodies without knowing in advance what they should be, thus denying the power of the norm.