Archive for July, 2007
[Originally I had planned to summarise this article; then I thought I could copy and paste snippets, like scattering selected pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Finally I realised that the only way for me to preserve the very essence of this statement is to leave it untouched.]
Ten Dispatches About Place
by John Berger
Published in the July/August 2007 issue of Orion magazine
Somebody inquires: are you still a marxist? Never before has the devastation caused by the pursuit of profit, as defined by capitalism, been more extensive than it is today. Almost everybody knows this. How then is it possible not to heed Marx, who prophesied and analyzed the devastation? The answer might be that people, many people, have lost all their political bearings. Mapless, they do not know where they are heading.
Every day people follow signs pointing to some place that is not their home but a chosen destination. Road signs, airport embarkation signs, terminal signs. Some are making their journeys for pleasure, others for business, many out of loss or despair. On arrival they come to realize they are not in the place indicated by the signs they followed. Where they now find themselves has the correct latitude, longitude, local time, currency, yet it does not have the specific gravity of the destination they chose.
They are beside the place they chose to come to. The distance that separates them from it is incalculable. Maybe it’s only the width of a thoroughfare, maybe it’s a world away. The place has lost what made it a destination. It has lost its territory of experience.
Sometimes a few of these travelers undertake a private journey and find the place they wished to reach, which is often harsher than they foresaw, although they discover it with boundless relief. Many never make it. They accept the signs they follow and it’s as if they don’t travel, as if they always remain where they already are.
The details in the image on this page were taken by Anabell Guerrero in the Red Cross shelter for refugees and emigrants at Sangatte near Calais and the Channel Tunnel. On orders from the British and French governments, the shelter was recently shut down. Several hundred people were sheltering there, many hoping to make it to Britain. The man in the photographs—Guerrero prefers not to disclose his name—is from Zaire.
Month by month millions leave their homelands. They leave because there is nothing there, except their everything, which does not offer enough to feed their children. Once it did. This is the poverty of the new capitalism.
After long and terrible journeys, after they have experienced the baseness of which others are capable, after they have come to trust their own incomparable and dogged courage, emigrants find themselves waiting on some foreign transit station, and then all they have left of their home continent is themselves: their hands, their eyes, their feet, shoulders, bodies, what they wear, and what they pull over their heads at night to sleep under, wanting a roof.
Thanks to Guerrero’s image we can take account of how a man’s fingers are all that remain of a plot of tilled earth, his palms what remain of some riverbed, and how his eyes are a family gathering he will not attend. Portrait of an emigrant continent.
“I’m going down the stairs in an underground station to take the B line. Crowded here. Where are you? Really! What’s the weather like? Getting into the train—call you later…”
Of the millions of mobile telephone conversations taking place every hour in the world’s cities and suburbs, most, whether they are private or business, begin with a statement about the caller’s whereabouts. People need straightaway to pinpoint where they are. It is as if they are pursued by doubts suggesting that they may be nowhere. Surrounded by so many abstractions, they have to invent and share their own transient landmarks.
More than thirty years ago Guy Debord prophetically wrote: “the accumulation of mass-produced commodities for the abstract space of the market, just as it has smashed all regional and legal barriers, and all corporate restrictions of the Middle Ages that maintained the quality of artisanal production, has also destroyed the autonomy and quality of places.”
The key term of the present global chaos is de- or relocalization. This does not only refer to the practice of moving production to wherever labor is cheapest and regulations minimal. It also contains the offshore demented dream of the new ongoing power: the dream of undermining the status of and confidence in all previous fixed places, so that the entire world becomes a single fluid market.
The consumer is essentially somebody who feels or is made to feel lost unless he or she is consuming. Brand names and logos become the place names of the Nowhere.
Other signs announcing FREEDOM or DEMOCRACY, terms plundered from earlier historical periods, are also used to confuse. In the past a common tactic employed by those defending their homeland against invaders was to change the road signs so that the one indicating ZARAGOZA pointed in the opposite direction toward BURGOS. Today it is not defenders but invaders who switch signs to confuse local populations, confuse them about who is governing whom, the nature of happiness, the extent of grief, or where eternity is to be found. And the aim of all these misdirections is to persuade people that being a client is the ultimate salvation.
Yet clients are defined by where they check out and pay, not by where they live and die.
Extensive areas that were once rural places are being turned into zones. The details of the process vary according to the continent—Africa or Central America or Southeast Asia. The initial dismembering, however, always comes from elsewhere and from corporate interests pursuing their appetite for ever more accumulation, which means seizing natural resources (fish in Lake Victoria, wood in the Amazon, petrol wherever it is to be found, uranium in Gabon, etc.), regardless of to whom the land or water belongs.
The ensuing exploitation soon demands airports, military, and paramilitary bases to defend what is being siphoned off, and collaboration with the local mafiosi. Tribal war, famine, and genocide may follow.
People in such zones lose all sense of residence: children become orphans (even when they are not), women become slaves, men desperadoes. Once this has happened, to restore any sense of domesticity takes generations. Each year of such accumulation prolongs the Nowhere in time and space.
Meanwhile—and political resistance often begins in a meanwhile—the most important thing to grasp and remember is that those who profit from the present chaos, with their embedded commentators in the media, continuously misinform and misdirect. Their declarations and all the plundered terms they are in the habit of using should never be argued with. They have to be rejected outright and abandoned. They will get nobody anywhere.
The information technology developed by the corporations and their armies so they could dominate their Nowhere more speedily is being used by others as a means of communication throughout the Everywhere they are struggling toward.
The Caribbean writer Edouard Glissant puts this very well: “the way to resist globalisation is not to deny globality, but to imagine what is the finite sum of all possible particularities and to get used to the idea that, as long as a single particularity is missing, globality will not be what it should be for us.”
We are establishing our own landmarks, naming places, finding poetry. Yes, in the Meanwhile poetry is to be found.
As the brick of the afternoon stores the rose heat of the journey
as the rose buds a green room to breathe
and blossoms like the wind
as the thin birches whisper their stories of the wind to the urgent
in the trucks
as the leaves of the hedge store the light
the day thought it had lost
as the nest of her wrist beats like the chest of a sparrow in the turning air
as the chorus of the earth find their eyes in the sky
and unwrap them to each other in the teeming dark
hold everything dear
Their Nowhere generates a strange, because unprecedented, awareness of time. Digital time. It continues forever uninterrupted through day and night, the seasons, birth, and death. As indifferent as money. Yet, although continuous, it is utterly single. It is the time of the present kept apart from the past and future. Within it, only the present is weight-bearing; the other two lack gravity. Time is no longer a colonnade, but a single column of ones and zeros. A vertical time with nothing surrounding it, except absence.
Read a few pages of Emily Dickinson and then go and see Lars von Trier’s film Dogville. In Dickinson’s poetry the presence of the eternal is attendant in every pause. The film, by contrast, remorselessly shows what happens when any trace of the eternal is erased from daily life. What happens is that all words and their entire language are rendered meaningless.
Within a single present, within digital time, no whereabouts can be found or established.
We will take our bearings within another time-set. The eternal, according to Spinoza (who was Marx’s dearest philosopher) is now. It is not something awaiting us, but something we encounter during those brief yet timeless moments when everything accommodates everything and no exchange is inadequate.
In her urgent book Hope In the Dark, Rebecca Solnit quotes the Sandinista poet Gioconda Belli describing the moment when the Somoza dictatorship was overthrown in Nicaragua: “two days that felt as if a magical, age-old spell had been cast over us, taking us back to Genesis, to the very site of the creation of the world.” The fact that the U.S. and its mercenaries later destroyed the Sandinistas in no way diminishes that moment existing in the past, present, and future.
A kilometer down the road from where I’m writing, there is a field in which four burros graze, two mares and two foals. They are a particularly small species. The black-bordered ears of the mares, when they prick them, come up to my chin. The foals, only a few weeks old, are the size of large terriers, with the difference that their heads are almost as large as their sides.
I climb over the fence and sit in the field with my back against the trunk of an apple tree. The burros have made their own tracks across the field and some pass under very low branches where I would have to stoop double. They watch me. There are two areas where there is no grass at all, just reddish earth, and it is to one of these rings that they come many times a day to roll on their backs. Mare first, then foal. The foals already have their black stripe across their shoulders.
Now they approach me. They smell of donkeys and bran—not the smell of horses, more discreet. The mares touch the top of my head with their lower jaws. Their muzzles are white. Around their eyes are flies, far more agitated than their own questioning glances.
When they stand in the shade by the edge of the wood the flies go away, and they can stand there almost motionless for half an hour. In the shade at midday, time slows down. When one of the foals suckles (ass’s milk is the closest to human milk), the mare’s ears lie right back and point to her tail.
Surrounded by the four of them in the sunlight, my attention fixes on their legs, all sixteen of them. Their slenderness, their sheerness, their containment of concentration, their surety. (Horses’ legs look hysterical by comparison.) Theirs are legs for crossing mountains no horse could tackle, legs for carrying loads that are unimaginable if one considers only the knees, the shanks, the fetlocks, the hocks, the cannon bones, the pastern joints, the hooves. Donkeys’ legs.
They wander away, heads down, grazing, their ears missing nothing; I watch them, eyes skinned. In our exchanges, such as they are, in the midday company we offer one another, there is a substratum of what I can only describe as gratitude. Four burros in a field, month of June, year 2005.
Yes, I’m still among other things a marxist.
John Berger was awarded the Booker Prize for his novel G. and a Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award. He lives in France.
Recently I published a brief post on the Wall House by Marc Frohn & Mario Rojas and FAR team. And while I was looking for images relating to it, I came across another building with a similar name (though unrelated, I guess): ‘Wall House 2′ by John Hejduk.
Hejduk appears to have been an artist in the world of architecture, a world that (at least in theory) deals with relationships, in particular those between people, yet in which it seems Hejduk created attractive artistic objects with little or no socially redeeming value. From what I have read about him, pragmatic or utilitarian consideration were sidestepped in favour of shapes, of form becoming an end in itself. In Great Buildings he is described as someone who “detached himself from context, materials, structure, and climate to create artistic environments”.
“[Hejduk] was an architect who largely abstained from conventional practice, and the bulk of his work consisted of theoretical projects, executed in the form of drawings that were combined into poetic, often highly personal narratives. … He was a solitary artist who chose to work in a highly social form of art. But he had a particular way of living out the contradiction. Instead of constructing social spaces with bricks and mortar, he fashioned one from ideas and emotions and peopled it with students and faculty members of the school he led for 25 years.” [Herbert Muschamp, John Hejduk, an Architect And Educator, Dies at 71 (registration required), New York Times, July 6, 2000].
That school was the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, where Hejduk held the position of Dean from 1975 until his retirement in 2000. His arrival at Cooper Union (including the cooperation of many other influential architects such as Raimund Abraham, Peter Eisenman, Elizabeth Diller or David Shapiro) is seen as having transformed the practice and critical thought of architecture in ways that might be compared to Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe’s influence on the metamorphosis of the Armor Institute into the Illinois Institute of Technology. And during his time, John Hejduk developed his personal signature: after moving away from “hard-line” modernist space-making exercises of the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright or Mies Van Der Rohe, he became more and more interested in free-hand, poetic “figure/objects” forms which were influenced by mythology and spirituality.
Hejduk’s probably most famous built work, Wall House 2, encapsulates that approach by being what he considered a meditation on the passage of time. “The Wall symbolises the physical transition from past to future through the present, a transition between back and front, closed and open. The Wall, one-and-a-half metres thick, forms the basis of the house. The entrance and living elements literally hang from it. To reinforce this idea, a narrow gap is left between the Wall and the elements. Hence the Wall is not directly manifest in the interiors but can only be perceived visually. It is without doubt a theoretical house, based on an idea about the physical confrontation between space and time, elaborated in complex composed of separate elements. In that sense it is a unique icon, a museological manifestation of an important architectural concept.” [Archined]
Wall House 2 was originally designed for a rural site in Connecticut in the early 1970s as the ‘Bye House’ (after the client’s name) but never realised there; instead Hejduk chose it from his portfolio of drawings when asked in the mid-1990s by town planners Groningen (Netherlands) to select from his designs the one he would like to build. Originally set in the hilly landscape of Connecticut, the house was to be approached from the side so that the entrance was not immediately apparent – which still is the case. And despite it being hard to define what are the front, rear or sides of the building, you had (and still have) to pass along a lengthy corridor and to reach ‘the other side’ of the Wall where you were/are presented with a wide-open vista.
In Groningen this vista is a lake, but the house itself is situated in a quintessentially Dutch suburb with row upon row of new and cheerful but nevertheless suburban dwellings – an environment which represents the extreme opposite end to the rolling hills of Connecticut. Rather than making the building being an inhabitable home, this setting almost forces it to take on the form of a sculpture. Given Hejduk’s relationship though to functionality, utilitarian and social requirements, this character does not seem to come as a surprise. It certainly is supported by such design features as the almost hidden accessibility to the building, the physical separation of living spaces, by and large the absence of windows that can be opened or the overwhelming presence of the wall that dwarfs the interior.
Nevertheless: apparently the building became an instant hit. In the month following its September 5, 2001 opening (Hejduk died on July 3, 2000), it drew 13,000 visitors. And it looks like the form has found its expression in quite an appropriate functionality: the house seems to be used for exhibitions and performances, and also as a temporary housing for artists, who spend a few months in the house, working on their art. A perfect use for a beautiful building designed by a remarkable architect – at least in my books.
The WALL HOUSE (Santiago de Chile, 2004-2006) is designed by FAR Ltd. (Marc Frohn & Mario Rojas and team) as a suburban residence. As opposed to the general notion that our living environments can be properly described and designed “in plan”, this project is a design investigation into how the qualitative aspects of the wall as a complex membrane, structure our social interactions and climatic relationships and enable specific ecologies to develop.
The project breaks down the “traditional” walls of a house into a series of four delaminated layers (concrete cave, stacked shelving, milky shell, soft skin – click on the above link for more detail) within which which the different spaces of the house exist.
The layers build upon one another from the inside out, both materially and geometrically, and blur the boundary between the interior and the exterior, creating through the specificity of the different materials used (many of which are not common in architectural applications) a series of qualitatively distinct environments.
The building’s most standout feature, an energy screen typically used in greenhouse construction, constitutes the outermost layer, creating not only a diffused lighting and comfortably climatised zone inside but also, through its folding and sometimes reflective and sometimes translucent surface, contributes to the diamond-cut appearance of the structure.
Tags: global justice, human rights, Israel, Palestine, state sponsored terrorism, warfare & conflict
Israel historically is well-acquainted with so-called terrorism. On this day, 61 years ago, a violent Jewish right-wing underground movement in Palestine, the Irgun Zvai Leumi, blew up a wing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, killing 91 soldiers and civilians.
Irgun (Hebrew; shorthand for Ha’Irgun Ha’Tsvai Ha’Leumi B’Eretz Yisrael, “National Military Organization in the Land of Israel”) was a clandestine militant Zionist group that operated in Palestine from 1931 to 1948. In Israel, this group is commonly referred to as Etzel, an acronym of the Hebrew initials. For secrecy reasons, people often referred to the Irgun, in the time in which it operated, as Haganah Bet, Haganah Ha’leumit or Ha’ma’amad.
The group made retaliation against Arab attacks a central part of their initial efforts. It was armed expression of the nascent ideology of Revisionist Zionism, expressed by Ze’ev Jabotinsky as that “every Jew had the right to enter Palestine; only active retaliation would deter the Arabs and the British; only Jewish armed force would ensure the Jewish state”. The organisation was a political predecessor movement to Israel’s right-wing Herut (or “Freedom”) party, which led to today’s Likud party.
The most well-known attack by Irgun was the bombing of King David Hotel in Jerusalem on 22 July 1946. British authorities condemned Irgun as terrorist already in the 1930s. The commander of Etzel/Irgun from 1943-1948 was Menachem Begin who later became Israel’s sixth prime minister.
A few days ago, TechRepublic again drew attention to their flame fractals site (see below), which seems to have been expanded since I last saw it. Some of these images are absolutely stunning – click on the links below to check them out; 3D Flame Fractals require3d glasses.
Flame Fractals offer a feast for the eyes
From his chaotic Crab Cooker to an elegant Crystal Window, Webshots member Rajahh cooks up another batch of fantastic Fractal Flames.
Incredible flame fractals take you through the wormhole
Another batch of amazing fractal flames created by Rajahh using the Windows, freeware application Apophysis.
Chaoscope fractals showcase the beauty of chaos
Webshots member Sandyckato used Chaoscope to create these beautiful fractal images. According to the Chaoscope Web site, the program is a “3D strange attractors rendering software.”
Flame Fractals continue to dazzle
Revisit the beauty of mathematics with this second flame fractal set from Webshots member Rajahh.
3D Flame Fractals
Webshots member Rajahh has taken his amazing fractal creations into the third dimension. Using Apophysis and a custom Paintshop Pro plugin, Rajahh created these fractal flames with a stereoscopic 3D effect. You’ll need two-color, 3D glasses to get the full effect.
Amazing flame fractals take your breath away
Witness the beauty and elegance of mathematics with 50 breathtaking fractals. Webshots member Rajahh created these Fractal Flames with Apophysis.
Last night was not only the time of a dark moon, as my friend Glenys pointed out, it was also July 14 in America, the day Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, or short: Woody Guthrie, was born in 1912 (he died October 3, 1967). Guthrie was a prolific American folk musician. He described himself in one of his songs as “The Great Historical Bum”, a first hand observer and survivor of the economic and environmental hardships of the dust bowl, which shook the great plains states during the great depression. Guthrie’s body of music consists of hundreds of songs, ballads and improvised works. The breadth of his song topics ranged from political and traditional songs to children’s songs. Guthrie performed constantly throughout his life; his guitar frequently sported the slogan “This Machine Kills Fascists”. He is perhaps best known for his song “This Land Is Your Land“. Many of his songs are archived in recordings in the Library of Congress and some such as “This Land” are regularly sung in US schools. He occasionally had regular radio shows and was a founding member of The Almanac Singers.
Woody Guthrie traveled across the USA many times and spent much of his time on early trips learning traditional folk and blues songs and creating new American folk songs of working people. His travels frequently followed the movement of migrant workers across the great plains and in California. He was associated with and regularly performed for, but was never a member of, several communist groups in the US throughout his life. He had a great many odd jobs including sign painter, radio host, fruit picker, sailor, dish-washer, and soldier in the US army.
He fathered eight children from his three wives including American folk musician Arlo Guthrie and is the grandfather of musician Sarah Lee Guthrie. Later in life, he developed symptoms of the degenerative neurologic affliction, Huntington’s disease. Like his mother, he eventually died from complications of this fatal congenital disease. In spite of his illness, during his later years, he served as a figurehead in the folk movement providing inspiration to a generation of new folk musicians, including mentor relationships with Bob Dylan and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot.