There is a whole brand new imaginary crystallizing across European cities. It’s the imaginary of a new generation, moving by way of YouTube and low-cost travel. This generation is telling its own tales, related to radical transformations and unexpected connections. Undoubtedly the web changed the perception of space, urban space included, but the possibility of brisk (and especially cheap) travel has played its role as well. Check-in Architecture was born from this hypothesis. We’ve developed a platform for a new kind of participative research project that attempts to document the evolution of the European imaginary. We invited artists, architects, designers and sociologists studying in universities across Europe. And alongside the students, also a substantial swathe of the creative community. Six hundred people in all, exploring cities and space through the production of short (and sometimes unlikely) documentaries. Some of these reports can look wobbly, unfocused, or goofy, but whatever the result, they can be read as ballads and tales chasing after the imaginary of those architectures that – silently and unexpectedly – are re-defining the geography of contemporary Europe. Check-in Architecture is a cross media platform. Potential, triggered and probably not yet completely exploded. Born through the web, the project connected and communicated, collected and distributed itself online, whether publishing the documentaries on YouTube, mapping them through Google Map, or reflecting on the whole through its blog. But it has been much more, and like its subject has expanded, and ambitiously overflowed: a free-press magazine, a constant presence on colossal façades through Urban Screens, an exhibition and a show. And finally, this reader. In the course of four months, the so-called “missions” have been published on the web, made up of a carefully composed contextual essay, a shooting script, and a weird “travel bag” of books, articles, videos, songs, images and links, meant to both inform and 10
inspire, or - why not? - be rejected. Along with all this, and most importantly, there was a question. The researchers, aided by an editorial department and a production team of their same age, have been daily invited to choose one of the hundreds of missions. Provided with either a flight ticket or a car, they set out to realize their mission on video. Their footage, creative and documentary, has been then posted on YouTube. Trails, misunderstandings, failures and genius interpretations. The project – in a more or less evocative and metaphorical way – proposes answers to the many questions on which the research has been based: how does a low-cost generation reflect itself? How does this generation live and change spaces, and how does space change people? The scope? Conscious of the risk and the potential for error within the entire Check-in Architecture experiment – we’ve attempted with this project to try and interpret with a critical spirit new models of mobility, new ways of using space, and the existence of new personalities and generational communities composed of individuals, who are redesigning Europe, as a geography and as an imaginary. This reader collects, around some conceptual themes, the contributions which guided and stimulated us the most in our research. Heterogeneous materials, both theoretical and narrative, stand in as references tools to try and share a travel bag to face this monumental experiment called Check-in Architecture.
For Check-in Architecture, the production of culture and imaginaries has been an essential key to reading the dynamics and transformations of the city. The missions have explored and dug into the most culturally productive districts in Europe. The relationship between urban development and creative industries is so tight that there is a lot of talk about “creative cities,” and urban territories are the most potent producers of the imaginary. “Imaginary” here is not intended to mean “existing only in the imagination” but rather as Castoriadis defines it: “the unceasing and essentially undetermined (social, historical, and psychological) creation of figures/ forms/images, on the basis of which alone there can ever only be a question of “something.” The role of “imaginaries” is crucial to the development of society and is regularly used in the development of cities. We use this term as not only a word of urban studies, but also to emphasize the imaginative importance of cities. Acceptation that we refer to when using the term in both readers. Unfortunately, it has been too often used to muffle the cries of cities undergoing the painful process of gentrification. Let’s think how the perception of danger is used as a persistent imaginary in metropolises. Architecture plays an important role in this, as do grand events. These instruments are often employed to plaster over the cracks of social inequality spread across urban territories, increasing its ability to attract investors and tourists. But there is also the production of an imaginary, transmitted by cultural industries, bred by subcultures and innovative cultural fronts, creating new stories out of a space of experimental living. While this imaginary is important to those living and producing it, it has become an indispensable regeneration tool for many urban areas. Indeed, the link between gentrification and the capability to generate symbolic value has become 18
routine in many European cities, to the point of becoming an explicit strategy, like in Barcelona. Barcelona is the stereotypical creative city, exuberantly capable of retooling subcultures into cultural industries, capable of matching scenes with real estate, capable of using big events to alter the landscape, and capable finally of exporting this model all over the world. Brian Holmes and Matteo Pasquinelli reveal the mechanisms hidden with the transformation of this medieval city on the Mediterranean. Barcelona has been, with its vices and the nodes, the generational capital for anyone feeling creative in the first years of this new century. And with this feeling came the necessary evils of temp jobs and the unnecessary evil of the commodification of cultural production. Our fringe lifestyles airbrushed, depoliticized, and sold back to us with a mark up. Museums, alternative spaces, creative districts. Today, the production of imaginary appears like a major structural forces affecting urban development, and thus becoming an essential key to interpreting the rapid evolution of contemporary cities.
Capitalism and urbanization in a new key? The cognitive cultural dimension ALLEN J. SCOTT
Capitalism and Urbanization Wherever capitalism makes its historical and geographical appearance, peculiar patterns and rising levels of urbanization invariably ensue. This condition follows from pressures in capitalist economic systems that lead persistently to the formation of large aggregations of physical capital and human labor on the landscape. On the one hand, selected groups of profit-seeking firms, especially when they are meshed together in diverse functional interdependencies, have a definite tendency to locate near their common center of gravity. On the other hand, masses of individual workers are typically drawn to centers where employment opportunities are widely available. The developmental trajectory of any given urban node can then be described in terms of a spiral of interdependencies in which capital and labor continually exert an attractive force on one another in round after round of path-dependent cumulative causation, intensified by the emergence of localized external economies of scale and scope01. To be sure, these processes are intimately dependent on the expansion of final markets, and they are liable to reversal when âˆ’ among other things âˆ’ markets collapse. As capitalism assumes different shapes and substantive content at different times and places, so the urban centers that it breeds reflect a corresponding series of specific substantive outcomes. The 19th century in Britain saw the rise of classical factory towns with their impoverished working-class populations. In 20th century North America, the large industrial metropolis flourished on the basis of Fordist mass production systems. The present moment of history is one in which a so-called postFordist (or better yet, a cognitive-cultural) capitalism has entered the stage in various parts of the globe, and along with it a new urban pattern, one that features a greatly widening gap between the upper and lower tiers of the 20
labor force. Much productive activity today involves digital technologies and flexible organization sustaining the expansion of sectors that thrive on innovation, product diversity and the provision of personalized services. The notion of a cognitive-cultural economy refers above all to the circumstance that labor processes have come to depend more and more on intellectual and affective human assets (at both high and low levels of remuneration), and are increasingly less focused on bluntly routinized mental or manual forms of work. I shall argue that in the context of these developments, we can now pinpoint in some detail the features that mark the particular version of capitalism and urbanization that has been in gestation over the past two decades. One important observation is that the consolidation of the cognitive-cultural economy in many large cities today appears to be sparking new rounds of creative activity and response, not only in the production system, but also in the wider urban environment. The capitalist system, of course, has always been characterized by a cognitive and cultural dimension, and this has always been a source of creative and innovative forces in cities.02 However, the substance and magnitude of these forces typically exhibit a mediated connection to the specificities of the socio-economic order; that is, they are mobilized and assume tangible content by reference to tasks and opportunities that almost always bear a controlled relationship to concrete contemporary realities. I hasten to add, knowing that this last sentence will be viewed askance in certain quarters, that I am not proposing to reinstate some sort of hardedged structuralism here, but neither am I willing to indulge in the vacuities of a purely voluntaristic conception of social life. Different imaginaries are possible in relation to any given social substrate and − this is the point − can be harnessed in the service of political action directed to social change.03 Today, a very distinctive cognitive-cultural substrate is making great headway in the countries of advanced capitalism, and parallel to this d evelopment, a specific and pervasive set of social energies is also coming into play. One of the potent imaginaries that has appeared in the attempt to make sense of and to naturalize this emerging situation is articulated in the work of Florida04 in what he refers to as the “creative class” and the “creative city”. In this article, I propose that an alternative way of approaching the issues raised by Florida can be forged on the basis of the more encompassing idea of cognitive-cultural capitalism and its manifestation in a unique and many-sided pattern of urban development.
The Cognitive-Cultural Dimensions of Production and Work in Contemporary Capitalism Any concrete expression of capitalist economic order can typically be described in the first instance by reference to: 1. 2. 3. 4.
its leading sectors; its technological foundations; its characteristic forms of labor relations; the competitive practices that it unleashes.05
Each of these activity systems is manifest in unique ways in the emerging cognitive-cultural version of capitalism. First, much of the contemporary economy is driven by key sectors such as technology-intensive manufacturing, services of all varieties (business, financial, personal), fashion-oriented neo-artisanal production, and culturalproducts industries (including media). These sectors by no means account for the totality of the capitalist production system at the present time, but they are assuredly at the leading edges of growth and innovation in the most economically advanced countries. Second, and notwithstanding the evident heterogeneity of these sectors, they have all been deeply penetrated by digital technologies that have in turn facilitated the widespread deroutinization of labor processes and the destandardization of outputs. Third, employment relations have been subject to radical flexibilization and destabilization, thereby injecting high levels of precariousness into labor markets for workers at all levels of skill and human capital formation. Fourth, there has been a marked intensification of competition (reinforced by globalization) in all spheres of the economy, though much of this competition occurs in modified Chamberlinian form because products with high quotients of cognitive-cultural content often possess quasi-monopoly features that make them imperfect substitutes for one another and hence susceptible to niche marketing strategies. As these trends have moved forward, the old white-collar/blue-collar principle of productive organization and labor-market stratification so characteristic of classical Fordism has also been deeply modified. On the one hand as Autor (et al.) and Levy and Murnane06 have argued, the advent of computerization has meant that many of the routine functions that were integral to the work of both the old white-collar fraction (e.g. accounting, records management, calculating, information sorting and so on) and the old blue-collar fraction (primarily repetitive manual operations) are rapidly being automated. On the other hand, this same trend has been associated with the formation of a new (core) labor-force elite whose work is concentrated primarily on high-level problem-solving tasks, and a new (peripheral) proletarian fraction that is increasingly called upon to function as a source of flexible labor in jobs such as machine operation (driving a vehicle), materials handling (small-batch assembly of variable components), 23
security functions, cleaning and childcare. These jobs involve significant degrees of physical engagement and call for much less in the way of formal qualifications and training than jobs in the upper tier, but even they are imbued with varieties of meaningful cognitive-cultural content. The upper tier of the labor force of the cognitive-cultural production system can be identified in terms of broad occupational categories such as managers, professional workers, business and financial analysts, scientific researchers, technicians, skilled craftsworkers, designers, artists. These are occupations that require significant levels of human capital, and they are generally well paid, though not invariably so.07 To begin with, managerial and allied workers carry out the functions of administration, monitoring and control of the production system as a whole. Second, skilled analysts and other professionals are needed to maintain the specialized business and financial operations of modern capitalism. Third, scientific and technical workers are employed in large numbers to supervise the underlying technological infrastructure of the cognitive-cultural economy as well as to satisfy its unquenchable thirst for high levels of innovation. Fourth, many of the most dynamic sectors of the cognitive-cultural economy are characterized by a strong service element requiring human intermediation at the producer-consumer interface, and calling for skilled manipulation of affective-behavioral capabilities on the supply side. Fifth, workers with well-honed artistic and intellectual sensibilities make up an increasingly important part of the labor force because contemporary capitalism is also the site of a remarkable efflorescence of cultural-products industries in the broadest sense (i.e., industries with products that are permeated with some degree of aesthetic and semiotic content, and where such matters as fashion, meaning, look and feel significantly shape consumersâ€™ choices). In each of these types of employment, heavy doses of the human touch are required for the purposes of management, research, information gathering and synthesis, communication, inter-personal exchange, design, the infusion of sentiment, feeling and symbolic content into final products. The elite labor force that sustains these functions is expanding rapidly, especially in major metropolitan areas. Alongside this upper tier of workers there exists a lower tier employed in a thick stratum of manual production activities that are not as well paid and much less gratifying in their psychic rewards. I am referring here both to the workshop and factory operations that underlie much of the cognitivecultural economy today (as in many high-technology and neo-artisanal sectors), as well as to low-grade jobs in services such as janitorial and custodial work, facilities maintenance, unskilled hotel and restaurant trades. Additionally, a significant informal employment niche is sustained by the demands of more highly paid workers for domestic labor to perform tasks such as house cleaning, repair work, gardening and childcare. This extended underbelly of the cognitive-cultural economy is notorious for its sweatshop operations and frequent brushes with illegality in regard to labor laws. In the more advanced countries, a high proportion of the labor force in this segment is made up of immigrants (many of them undocumented) from 24
developing parts of the world. Large numbers of these immigrants form a polyglot underclass with marginal social and political presence in their host environments. The gap between the average incomes of these two strata of the workforce identified in the previous paragraphs has been growing apace in the United States over the last decade or so.08 Both, too, are subject to much labor-market instability. Workers of all types face increasingly frequent bouts of unemployment, and are more and more likely to be caught up in temporary, part-time, and freelance modes of labor. Along with these shifts in the structure of the employment relation has gone what some analysts identify as a declining sense of allegiance among workers to any single employer09. To be sure, the capacities of each of these groups for dealing with these predicaments differ dramatically. While social networks are a major source of labor market information for both groups, individuals in the upper stratum usually command resources in terms of contacts and interpersonal know-how that allow them a far greater range of maneuver. In contemporary society, it is not uncommon to come across cognitive-cultural workers who have carried networking to something like a fine art, or more accurately, perhaps, a semi-routinized habit of life in which they devote considerable amounts of time to socializing with fellow workers and exchanging information with one another about job opportunities and the state of the labor market. Reputation is a key item of currency in these fluid employment conditions, and is a major factor lubricating the progress of upper-stratum workers through the employment system. An essential strategy deployed by many individuals in this stratum involves the accumulation of personal portfolios of employment experiences demonstrating the depth and diversity of their career paths and creative accomplishments hitherto.10 For these workers, too, elaborate self-management of careers replaces the bureaucratized personnel functions of the traditional corporation.
The Cognitive-Cultural Economy and the Metropolis As this new economic order grew over the past couple of decades, it found fertile ground in large metropolitan areas such as New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Amsterdam and Tokyo.11 These are the flagship hubs of the new economy, and the primary nerve centers of a cognitive-cultural production system increasingly geared to markets that extend across the entire globe. Cognitive-cultural production activities, then, are typically concentrated in dense locational clusters, yet their market reach frequently extends to the far corners of the world. Two analytical lines of attack help to clarify this apparently paradoxical state of affairs. In the first place, producers in cognitive-cultural sectors of the economy have a definite proclivity to agglomerate together in geographic space by reason of the external economies of scale and scope (or increasing-returns effects) that flow from selected aspects of their joint operation in particular localities. The role 25
of flexible inter-firm networks, local labor markets and localized learning processes is especially critical here.12 Groups of producers with strong interdependencies in regard to these variables have a powerful inducement to gravitate toward their common center gravity, thereby reducing the space-time costs of their traded and untraded transactional relations and enhancing the total stock of jointly-generated external economies. Even though it is true that low (and ever falling) transactions costs make it possible for certain kinds of firms to dispense with the advantages of agglomeration and to decentralize to low-cost locations, the same phenomenon also permits many other kinds of producers to enjoy the best of both worlds (to remain anchored within a specific cluster and to continue to appropriate localized competitive advantages while simultaneously contesting global markets). As the market range of producers in any given cluster increases, moreover, local economic growth accelerates, leading to the deepening of localized increasing-returns effects and the intensification of agglomeration. The signs of this developmental dynamic are palpable in the world’s great metropolitan areas today, both in the rapidly growing incidence of cognitive-cultural sectors and in the frequent expression of this growth in the formation of intra-urban industrial districts devoted to specialized facets of cognitive-cultural production.13 Classical examples of such developments are high-technology and software production in the San Francisco Bay Area, the entertainment industry in and around Hollywood, the business and financial centers of New York and London, and the fashion worlds of Paris and Milan. Along with the widespread growth of cognitive-cultural production systems in the modern city have come numerous parallel transformations of intra-urban space, including significant enhancements of the form and function of privileged parts of the urban fabric. Among the most symptomatic expressions of this trend is a general process of social and economic upgrading in downtown areas and surrounding inner city areas. This process is widely referred to in the literature as “gentrification”14, though the concept originally referred to incursions of middle-class households into decaying inner city neighborhoods. What is at stake in this regard nowadays is nothing less than radical transformations of extensive tracts of urban space by a fourfold logic of cognitive-cultural economic development, social transformation, attendant functional changes and the re-imaging of the environment by means of dramatic new symbologies. An increasingly common manifestation of this process is the recycling and upgrading of old industrial and commercial zones of the city to provide new spaces able to accommodate high-level production and consumption activities. Harbor Front in Baltimore, Docklands in London and the Zurich West development are outstanding examples of this phenomenon. Similar kinds of initiatives can be found in Britain in Manchester’s Northern Quarter and Sheffield’s Cultural Industries Quarter with their aspirations to develop as dynamic hubs for small creative enterprises such as recording companies, electronic media labs, fashion design studios, and so on. In Los Angeles, a new Fashion District just to the south of the central business district has 26
recently been created in what was originally a dispiriting cluster of grimy clothing factories. This development, with its renovated buildings and colorful street scenes, expresses the rising status of the Los Angeles clothing industry as a global center of designer fashions, and helps to sustain the new-found ambitions of many local producers to compete in high-end markets.15 In similar initiatives, local authorities in cities all over the world are engaged in projects that involve the conversion of derelict facilities to serve a diversity of cultural purposes, as in the case of Amsterdam’s Westergasfabriek or parts of the Ruhr region of Germany where efforts to rebuild decaying industrial landscapes are aggressively under way. A related and increasingly spectacular case of the recycling of urban space can be observed in the construction of large-scale architectural set pieces, functioning as iconic expressions of local economic and cultural aspirations in an age of cognitive-cultural capitalism. The grand projects set on foot by President Francois Mitterand in Paris in the 1980s represent one of the pioneering and certainly one of the most determined examples of this kind of ambition, and have done much to add to the already celebrated reputation of Paris as the city of spectacle and a global cultural reference point. Other illustrative cases of urban re-imaging projects in pursuit of economic and cultural status are the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Toronto’s Harbourfront and the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. These projects register a presence on the global stage while generating prestige and cachet that spill over into the wider urban communities in which they are located. Urban elites in all parts of the world are increasingly committed to the pursuit of projects like these in attempts to assert the visibility of their cities as foci of cultural interest and economic promise in the new global order. As these changes have occurred, large swaths of low-income neighborhoods in central city areas have been subjected to appropriation and recolonization by the affluent. This process is expressed both in the renovation of old working-class residential properties and derelict slums, and in wholesale land clearances to accommodate new blocks of expensive condominiums. Gentrification in this sense has been going on in American cities for decades, but it has accelerated greatly in recent years as a result of changing structural conditions in the urban environment and changing priorities in residential preferences. In particular, as jobs in traditional manufacturing and wholesaling activities declined in inner urban areas, much of the old working-class population in adjacent neighborhoods migrated to other parts of the city. Correspondingly, job opportunities for cognitive-cultural workers in and around the central business districts of large cities have mushroomed of late years, and many of these workers are assuming residence in nearby neighborhoods to reduce commuting times and gain access to shopping, leisure and cultural facilities in the city. Very often, the first sign that a dilapidated section of the inner city is destined to go through this sort of transition is the irruption of groups of artists and bohemians in the area and the blossoming of studios, cafes, clubs and so on, serving their needs16. Indeed, some analysts have accorded these groups, along with gays, a special status as key harbingers and tracking molecules 27
of the "creative city” syndrome17. The overt presence in the urban landscape of such groups is said to symptomatize a state of openness and tolerance in local society, qualities that are thought, in turn, to be essential for the blooming of a creative environment. As such, the presence or absence of these groups in the city is taken by some commentators to represent a sort of litmus test of local prospects for general "creativity.” There are numerous signs, then, of important shifts in the functions and form of the city as the cognitive-cultural foundations of modern capitalism have deepened and widened. These shifts are detectable in the economic patterns, social organization and physical structure of many different cities. Specialized areas of the city dedicated to entertainment, recreation, edification and shopping have also undergone much elaboration and embellishment as individuals with high levels of cognitive and cultural capital − not to mention pecuniary capital − have become a more insistent component of contemporary urban life18. In these ways, a new kind of balance and integration seems to be emerging at least in privileged sections of modern cities between economy and society, between production and consumption, between work and leisure, and between commerce and culture. A dark shadow is nonetheless cast over this gratifying picture both by the swelling underbelly of low-wage industrial and service functions that are invariably to be found in large metropolitan areas where cognitive-cultural economic functions are most highly developed, and by the often problemridden residential areas that are the sources of the labor needed to maintain these functions. The deepening pall cast by this condition of social and economic inequality almost certainly puts shackles on the potential of the city for creative performance and on its capacity to promote consistently high levels of social learning, economic innovation and human conviviality. Large segments of the urban population face serious impediments to participation as full-blown citizens in daily life and work, a circumstance that generates high costs to the individuals directly concerned and − via the multiple negative externalities that result from this situation − to urban society as a whole. The problems of a divided and unequal citizenry are compounded by the fact that many of the most underprivileged groups in large metropolitan areas today consist of immigrants from poor countries drawn into the orbit of the urban economy by the low-wage employment opportunities that proliferate in these areas. In many cases, these immigrants form polyethnic and polylingual neighborhoods within the social space of the metropolis, thereby exacerbating the social separation and isolation that constantly work against the formation of a wider sense of community. The relentless withdrawal of public services that is occurring in the context of the neoliberal political climate prevailing in many of the more advanced capitalist countries at the present time only serves to intensify the possessive individualism characteristic of so much of modern urban life at the expense of communal values. Equally, as globalization runs its course, extended geographic echoes of these same predicaments become ever louder. On the one hand, new expressions of formal organic solidarity 28
via the division of labor are taking shape on a global scale as increasingly large volumes of low-wage work are transferred from the more economically advanced countries to diverse locations in the developing world. On the other hand, this trend is proceeding without the concomitant inconveniences of propinquity to more privileged social strata in the developed world, so responsibility or accountability by individuals in the upper strata in regard to individuals in lower strata is apt to be further diminished.
Cognitive-Cultural Workers and the Constitution of Urban Life Over the past few decades, many social scientists have attempted to describe the changing stratification of capitalist society and to typify the shifts that have been occurring in social structure since the heyday of the classical white-collar/blue-collar division that prevailed in American cities over much of the 20th century. In a pioneering statement, Bell19 alluded to the advent of what he called postindustrial society, and he suggested that the old social divisions of capitalism were in fact being transcended by a new-found drive for personal fulfillment and self-realization in a service-oriented economy. Gouldner20 offers us the idea of a "new class” made up of individuals who have internalized an ideology of critical rationality; for them, reasoned arguments take precedence over hierarchical authority as a basis for belief and action. The modern technocrat is the emblematic figure of this new class. Reich21, in turn, refers to "symbolic workers” who constitute, he claims, the elite of an emerging information society. Sklair22 broadens the picture with the concept of a "transnational capitalist class” composed of managers, professionals and technicians who are engaged in forms of work that express and promote the historical project of globalization. Most recently of all, Florida23 has advanced the argument that a new "creative class,” comprising all those workers engaged in one form or another of thought-intensive work, has come into being in American society. Each of these attempts to say something about the changing organization of society in contemporary capitalism unquestionably has something of interest and significance to convey, though none is entirely satisfactory. The term "class,” is perhaps unduly forceful a word to use for some of these rather nebulous social groupings, especially in view of its more orthodox connotation of two opposing strata whose interests clash as a consequence of their structured relations to the means of production and their opposing claims on the economic surplus. Additionally, as Markusen24 has argued, Florida’s proposed creative class is something of an incoherent concept, for it assembles a wide assortment of very disparately situated individuals − from company executives to software programmers and from international financiers to artists − within its rather elastic boundaries. This assortment does not even look much like the relatively diluted Weberian idea of class with its emphasis on occupation and relative life chances. Still more problematical is the way in which Florida invests those individuals who compose the more privileged segments of capitalist society with a sort 29
of ontological capacity for "creativity,” a characterization that carries with it an overload of exhilarating implications, but that is also rather threadbare in terms of its concrete meaning. In reality, the distinctive forms of human capital that these individuals possess − specifically the cognitive and cultural tasks they are called on to perform in their work − are, for the most part, wedged in social grooves and infused with very specific substance. Within the framework of contemporary capitalism, these tasks are focused on activities including neoliberal techno-management, innovation-oriented process and product design, the personalized provision of services, the naturalization of socially-useful aptitudes and beliefs (in educational institutions and the media, for example), and the commercialization of experiences, cultural encounters and leisure pursuits. Special mention needs to be made in this context to the enormous recent expansion of cultural-products industries generally and the concomitant emergence of an important segment of the cognitive-cultural labor force dedicated to the conception and fabrication of outputs whose function is to entertain, to instruct, to embellish and to reinforce identity25. This is a world, as Lash and Urry26 have shown, in which culture is produced increasingly in commodity form, while commodity production itself becomes ever more deeply infused with aesthetic and semiotic meaning. The steady convergence of the economic and the cultural in contemporary capitalism has led some postmodern theorists to claim − no doubt correctly − that the sphere of culture today is endemically subject to a condition of waning symbolic intensity and rising ephemerality27. Various intimations of the logic and meaning of the new social forces and alignments that are rising to the fore in capitalist society are now a common feature of journalistic accounts of current economic and urban realities. Among the more prominent of these effusions on the new economy is a stream of managerial theories and advice directed to the personal and affective qualities required to bring order and dynamism into the cognitivecultural workplace. The normative discourse of management analysts and consultants today is considerably less concerned than it once was with down-to-earth issues of efficiency and control, and much more focused on methods of cultivating human resources including leadership, empathy, self-motivation, adaptability, inventiveness, resourcefulness and ethical consciousness in a fast-moving, high-risk business environment.28 There is incontestably much in this discourse that is helpful to managers and workers trying to find some sort of strategic purchase on the day-to-day problems they face in the new cognitive-cultural economic environment, though it is distinctly less useful as a guide to the formulation of critical insights or as a basis for the construction of sensible and politically plausible imaginaries about alternative possibilities. Various echoes of this discourse resonate in the currently fashionable creed of the creative city, with its upbeat message about the transformation of urban areas by means of programs designed to draw in members of the "creative class” who will then, presumably, express their talents and energies in ways that result in multiple local economic and cultural benefits29. Once more, we can find elements in the analysis 30
that merit our attention, even if in its raw form it greatly oversimplifies the policy challenges that need to be addressed in any economic development program (nowhere more so than in regard to the construction of employment opportunities), and obscures the historically-specific function and meaning of intellectual and symbolic labor in contemporary capitalism. At the same time, it is perhaps worth reflecting that this same creed tends to display an exaggeratedly optimistic faith in the benign social and political impacts of the so-called creative class, if only by reason of its pregnant silences about the deepening social divide in the cities of advanced capitalism today and its signal failure to call into question any of the more regressive aspects of the contemporary cultural scene wrought by this fraction of the labor force. That said, in Florida’s more recent work, 2005, he makes a start on rectifying some of these lacunae by acknowledging the links between the new economy and economic inequality. The less prepossessing features of the cognitive-cultural economy are amplified by the added problem of rapidly rising levels of social instability and risk, so that all strata − even the urban elite − are subject to an intensification of the general precariousness of life.30 Individual members of the labor force exert considerable energy and time in navigating pathways through the reefs and shoals of practical social existence whether by means of very self-conscious social networking on the part of upper-tier workers31 or via diverse ethnic and extended-family ties on the part of the lower tier.32 Many kinds of cognitive-cultural workers − especially in the early stages of their careers − are inveterate joiners of work-related social groups, and they are prone to spend large amounts of time outside their normal working hours in building relationships with allied workers so as to maintain their labor market edge.33 In these conditions, human interaction is apt to take on discernible utilitarian undertones. Thus, in a study of workers in the television industry Ursell34 has shown how an “economy of favors” has arisen in which information about job opportunities and work-related matters is exchanged on an informal quid pro quo basis through extended webs of social contacts. At the same time, the kaleidoscope of shifting opportunities and setbacks that characterize much of the cognitive-cultural economy today is increasingly reflected in careers that unfold across many different employers in many different places, and often especially for upper-tier workers − in many different countries. In this manner, the traditional connection between propinquity and community is subject to further decay, just as a growing ethos of interpersonal engagement without durable commitment becomes a normalized condition of urban existence. The same instability and insecurity provide a strong incentive for members of the upper-tier of the labor force to engage in persistent self-promotion and self-publicity, an incentive that no doubt is magnified the more they are possessed of a portfolio of experiences and qualifications that mark them out as the bearers of a unique package of attributes and talents. In testimony to the above remarks, Sennett35 has pointed to an apparent corrosion of traditional forms of affectivity and trust in both the workplace and social life, while Putnam36 has written more generally about the weakening of 31
communal ties in America. It is tempting to attribute at least some of the narcissism that was thought by Lasch37 to be on the rise in the American psyche to social forces and predicaments of these types. A less ambitious way of making much the same point is to appeal to the accumulating evidence of the expansion of the sphere of the private and the personal and a corresponding contraction of the public sphere in American cities. Quite apart from the condition of public penury and a broadly decaying sense of community, as already invoked, we can see the immediate effects of this state of affairs in the intense fragmentation of the social space of the contemporary metropolis. The very social diversity that is so often celebrated as one of the main conditions of a creative urban environment today is actually inscribed on the landscape of the metropolis in patterns of separation and detachment, accentuated by the striking marginalization of the everexpanding immigrant population of the city. For many immigrants, this situation is manifest in relative and absolute poverty as well as in political disenfranchisement. The fact that so many of these denizens of American cities in the early 21st century have curtailed entitlements and restricted channels for the democratic expression of their political aspirations means not only that they are denied full incorporation into urban society, but also that they have limited incentives to make durable commitments to the community at large. The net result is further deterioration of the capacity of the urban system for releasing and mobilizing the creative potential of the citizenry. Perhaps one of the most symptomatic expressions of the inhospitable character of the city of social extremes as found in contemporary America is the proliferation of gated neighborhoods with their transformation from important sections of urban space into zones of explicit exclusion38. This phenomenon represents a direct incursion on the democratic use of urban space and an actual and symbolic violation of the principle of common citizenship.
Beyond the Creative City As cognitive-cultural forms of production and work penetrate more deeply into contemporary capitalist society, enormously varied bundles of urban responses have been set in motion. A set of privileged intra-metropolitan spaces supporting the work, residence and leisure activities of the new cognitive-cultural elite is now an important ingredient of many world cities. On the other side, and given that large numbers of low-wage, low-skill jobs are a major element of the cognitive-cultural economy, a growing underclass is also a major feature of the very same cities. These trends are embedded in a widening dynamic of economic-cum-cultural integration on the global scale, leading to complex forms of urban specialization and interdependence across the global landscape. Some of the more positive features of this picture have been highlighted in a number of normative commentaries focused on the creative potentials 32
of contemporary cities. Policy makers and planners in many different parts of the world have understandably displayed much enthusiasm in regard to these commentaries, and in numerous cases have actually embarked on attempts to make their cities appealing to the talented and high-skill individuals who are thought, in the more prominent versions of the story, to be the primum mobile of the creative city. The idea of the creative city is all the more irresistible to policy makers in view of its promise of high-wage jobs in sectors of economic activity that are mostly environmentally friendly and promise to upgrade the urban fabric. In a number of cases, practical attempts to pursue the idea have been complemented by efforts to mount displays of architectural master strokes designed to attract the attention of potential visitors and inward investors and to establish dramatized points of reference in the global race for economic and cultural influence. Florida39 has been the most forthright instigator of a normative agenda like this, but his ideas find both implicit and explicit support in other work, including the “consumer city” concept as formulated by Glaeser (et al.)40, and the view of the city as an “entertainment machine” that Lloyd and Clark41 have proposed. Florida’s suggested strategy for building the creative city can be schematized – with only a touch of willful skepticism – in terms of three main brush strokes. First, municipal authorities are advised to encourage the development of amenities that are claimed to be valued by the creative class. Bikeways and fashionable restaurants figure prominently in the suggestions offered here (and regression analysis suggests that warm winters also help things along42); movie theaters and art galleries are apparently of much less consequence. Second, Florida proposes that once appropriate packages of amenities are in place in any given city, members of the creative class will then be induced to take up residence, especially if an atmosphere of tolerance and openness also prevails. As this occurs, diverse creative energies will then presumably be released. Third, and consequently, the dynamism of the local economy can be expected to accelerate along with further upscaling of the built environment and general enhancement of the prestige-cum-attractiveness of the city as a whole. I have criticized this approach elsewhere43, and reaffirm that cities are subject to path-dependent growth trajectories in which both the supply and the demand for labor move in patterns of mutually cumulative causation. The primary engine of this process is not the inward and unilateral migration of particular types of workers, but the complex apparatus of the urban production system (i.e., the network of interrelated industrial and service activities generating locationally polarized economic development). This type of developmental engine was obviously at work in earlier periods of capitalism, and it is still detectable as the major motive force of urbanization in cognitive-cultural capitalism today. Consider the case of factory towns in 19th century England. It was not the prior massing together of dense working-class populations that explains the formation of these towns, even though the presence of a working-class population is essential for a factory town to function. Equally, the growth of Silicon Valley in the second half of the 20th century is not to be accounted for by invoking the prior existence of 33
some undifferentiated creative class in the local area, just as it would surely be absurd to claim that the driving force of the Valley’s long-term expansion can be ascribed to continual incursions by members of that class in search of amenity value. On the contrary, the historic accumulation in Silicon Valley of a labor force comprising specialized semiconductor technicians, computer scientists, software and engineers is comprehensible only when we set this trend in the context of an evolving web of specialized production activities and employment opportunities tied in to ever widening final markets for semiconductors, computers and software. Yes, the supply of labor is a crucial moment in the chain of temporal intermediations through which cognitive-cultural centers of production and work evolve, but it remains a subordinate moment in the sense that the generative power of local economic development resides preeminently in the path-dependent logic of production, agglomeration, and regional specialization. By the same token, dissipation of that power is a virtually inevitable road to ruin even where large numbers of workers with high levels of human capital continue to reside in the local area. Policy makers neglect these aspects of the problem at their peril. Beyond the analytical flaws that underlie much recent work on the creative city, an odd reticence can be detected in many of the claims advanced about the possibilities for revival of the social life and physical environment of cities by tapping into the expansionary powers of the cognitive-cultural economy. While cognitive-cultural forms of production and work offer new and dynamic possibilities for urban regeneration, it bears repeating that there is a dark side to the developmental dialectic of contemporary cities, and the deepening neoliberalism trend is exacerbating the problem. This premise raises issues about the reconstruction of urban society that go well beyond simple pleas for openness, tolerance and diversity; while these are excellent goals, they do not guarantee transcendence of social isolation, fragmentation and inequality. To the contrary, even if these qualities were universally present, the ingrained structural logic of contemporary economic and social order would still give rise to conspicuous inequities and injustices in large cities. In contrast with the neoliberal political agenda that currently holds sway in the United States, and that is endemically associated with high levels of urban poverty and deprivation, only some sort of conscientious program of social democracy with a strong focus on redistribution, decent jobs for all and the re-engagement of the citizenry in the political realm seems appropriate to address social reform. Beyond the implementation of elementary principles of social equity, justice and participatory democracy, an additional challenge looms. As cities shift into cognitive-cultural modes of economic activity, the search for meaningful forms of solidarity, sociability and mutual aid in everyday work and life becomes increasingly urgent − not just because these attributes are important in their own right − but also because they enlarge the sphere of creativity, learning, innovation, social experimentation and cultural expression and are essential for the further economic and cultural flowering of contemporary cities. It is just possible that some of the goals 34
of this search may be realizable if, as Judis and Teixeira44 expect, a new and socially progressive majority begins to take shape in what they call "postindustrial” cities. Finally, an even broader social imperative is brought to the fore as the cognitive-cultural economy continues its ascent and as the symbolic-affective content of final outputs becomes ever more pervasive. Consumption of these outputs has potent direct and indirect impacts on human consciousness and ideological orientation, and this process, by the same token, generates massive externalities for all. These externalities give rise to complex dilemmas for they reappear in various social and political guises with deep implications for modes of social being. And precisely because they are externalities, they can never be adequately processed via market rationality alone. A persistent public debate and mutual education about the personal meanings and political consequences of the consumption side of the cognitive-cultural economy − and about the possibilities of more critically informed participation − is a further prerequisite of a progressive and democratic social order in contemporary capitalism.
Origin Scott, Allen J., “Capitalism and Urbanization in a New Key? The cognitive-cultural dimension.” Social Forces 85.4 (June 2007): 1465 (18) Notes 01. Scott A. J., “The Cultural Economy of
Levy F. and Murnane R. J., “The New
Cities: Essays on the Geography of Image-
Division of Labor. How Computers are
Producing Industries”, Sage, 2000.
Creating the Next Job Market”, Russell
02. Hall P., “Cities in Civilization”, Pantheon, 1998. 03 .Jessop B., “Critical Semiotic Analysis
and Cultural Political Economy”, Critical Discourse Studies 1:1-16, 2004. 04.Florida R., “The Rise of the Creative Class”,
Sage Foundation, 2004. 07. McRobbie A., “Making a Living in London’s
Small-Scale Creative Sector”, pp. 130-43. 08. Autor D. H., Katz L.F. and Kearney M. S.,
“The Polarization of the US Labor Market”,
Basic Books, 2002.
American Economic Review 96:189-94,
Florida R., “Cities and the Creative Class”,
2006. Morris M. and Western B., “Inequality
Routledge, 2004. 05.Boyer R., “La Theorie de la Regulation:
Une Analyse Critique”, Algalma, 1986. 06. Autor D. H., Levy F. and Murnane R. J.,
in Earnings at the Close of the Twentieth Century”, Annual Review of Sociology 25:623-57, 1999. Yun M. S., “Earnings Inequality in USA,
“The Skill Content of Recent Technological
1969-99: Comparing Inequality Using
Change: An Empirical Exploration”,
Earnings Equations”, Review of Income
Quarterly Journal of Economics 118:12791333, 2003.
and Wealth 1:127-44, 2006. 09.Beck U., “The Brave New World of Work”,
Polity Press, 2000.
Van Jaarsveld D., “Net Working. Work
38.Blakely E. J. and Snyder M. G., “Fortress
Patterns and Workforce Policies for the
“Entrepreneurial Labor among Cultural
Talent”, Harper Business, 2005.
New Media Industry”, DC: Economic
United States”, Brookings Institution Press,
Producers: Cool Jobs in Hot Industries”,
Lloyd R., “Neo-Bohemia: Art and
Policy Institute, Washington, 2001.
Social Semiotics 15:307-34, 2005.
America. Gated Communities in the
Neighborhood Development in Chicago”,
Neff G., Wissinger E. and Zukin S.,
Journal of Urban Affairs 24:517-32, 2002
“Entrepreneurial Labor among Cultural
Basic Books, 2002. Florida R., “Cities and
Lloyd R. and Clark T. N., “The City as an
Producers: Cool Jobs in Hot Industries”,
the Creative Class”, Routledge, 2004.
Entertainment Machine”, pp. 357-78.
Social Semiotics 15:307-34, 2005.
Economy. Firms, Regions, and Innovation”,
"Critical Perspectives on Urban
Ursell G., “Television Production: Issues
“Consumer City”, Journal of Economic
Oxford University Press, 1998.
Redevelopment” K.F. Gotham (editor),
of Exploitation, Commodification and
Geography 1:27-50, 2001.
Storper M., “The Regional World:
Subjectivity in UK Television Markets”,
11. Sassen S., “Cities in a World Economy”,
Pine Forge Press, 1994. 12.Cooke R. and Morgan K., “The Associational
Territorial Development in a Global Economy”, Guilford Press, 1997.
18.Zukin S., “The Cultures of Cities”, Blackwell, 1995. 19. Bell D., “The Coming of Post-Industrial
Media, Culture and Society 22:805-25, 2000. 32.Sanders, J., V. Nee and S. Sernau, “Asian
39. Florida R., “The Rise of the Creative Class”,
40.Glaeser E. L., Kolko J. and Saiz A.,
41.Lloyd R. and Clark T. N., “The City as
an Entertainment Machine”, pp. 35778. "Critical Perspectives on Urban
Scott A. J., “The Cultural Economy of
Society, a Venture in Social Forecasting”,
Immigrants’ Reliance on Social Ties in a
Redevelopment” K.F. Gotham (editor)
Cities: Essays on the Geography of Image-
Basic Books, 1973.
Multiethnic Labor Market.” Social Forces
Producing Industries”, Sage, 2000. 13.Arai Y., Nakamura H. and Sato H.,
“Multimedia and Internet Business Clusters in Central Tokyo”, Urban Geography 25:483-500, 2004. Currid E., “New York as a Global Creative Hub: A Competitive Analysis of Four Theories on World Cities”, Economic
20.Gouldner A., “The Future of Intellectuals
42.There is much in this kind of analytical
and the Rise of the New Class”, Seabury,1979.
Waldinger R., “The Immigrant Niche in
maneuver that recalls the obdurate
21.Reich R., “The Work of Nations”, Vintage, 1992.
Global City-Regions: Concept, Patterns,
tautologies of neoclassical economics.
22.Sklair L., “The Transnational Capitalist
Controversy.” pp. 299-322.
For example, if we observe a significant
"Trends, Theory, Policy", A.J. Scott (editor)
tendency for individuals of type x to live
Oxford University Press, 2001.
in proximity to attributes of type y it is
Class”, Blackwell, 2000. 23. Florida R., “The Rise of the Creative Class”,
Basic Books, 2002. 24. Markusen A., “Urban Development and
Development Quarterly 20:330-50, 2006.
the Politics of a Creative Class: Evidence
Pratt A. C., “The Cultural Industries
from a Study of Artists”, Environment
Production System: a Case Study of
and Planning A 10:1921-40, 2006.
Employment Change in Britain, 1984-91”,
25.Bourdieu P., “La Distinction: Critique
33.Scott A. J., “The Cultural Economy of
said that the same individuals must have
Cities: Essays on the Geography of Image-
a “revealed preference” for y. Revealed
Producing Industries”, Sage, 2000.
preference then accounts for their
34.Ursell G., “Television Production: Issues
presence in proximity to y. How do we
of Exploitation, Commodification and
know this? Because they live close to y.
Subjectivity in UK Television Markets”,
43.Scott A. J., "Cultural-Products Industries
Environment and Planning A 29:1953-74, 1997.
Sociale du Jugement”, Le Sens Commun, 1979.
Rantisi N., “The Designer in the City
Hesmondhalgh D., “The Cultural
and the City in the Designer”, pp. 91-109.
Industries”, Sage, 2002.Power D. and Scott.
The Persona/ Consequences of Work in
Contestation in Global Context", Urban
Schoales J., “Alpha Clusters: Creative
A. J. Editors. “Cultural Industries and the
the New Capitalism”, W. W. Norton, 1998.
Affairs Review 39:461-90, 2004. Scott A.J.,
Innovation in Local Economies”, Economic
Production of Culture”, Routledge, 2004.
Development Quarterly 20:162-77, 2006. 14.Smith N., “New Globalism, New Urbanism:
Gentrification as Global Urban Strategy”,
26.Lash S. and Urry J., “Economies of Signs
and Space”, Sage, 1994. 27.Jameson F., “Postmodernism, or, the
Media, Culture and Society 22:805-25, 2000. 35.Sennett R., “The Corrosion of Character:
36.Putnam R., “Bowling Alone. The Collapse
Policy Problems.", Journal of Urban Affairs 28:1-17, 2006.
37. Lasch C., “The Culture of Narcissism.
American Life in an Age of Diminishing
Zukin S., “Loft Living: Culture and
University Press, 1992.
Expectations”, Norton, 1978.
15.Scott A. J., 2002. “Competitive Dynamics
of Southern California’s Clothing Industry:
"Creative Cities: Conceptual Issues and
Simon & Schuster, 2000.
Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism”, Duke
University Press, 1982.
and Urban Economic Development: Prospects for Growth and Market
and Revival of American Community”,
Antipode 34:427-50, 2002. Capital in Urban Change”, John Hopkins
44. Judis J. B., and Teixeira R., “The Emerging
Democratic Majority”, Scribner, 2002.
28.Boltanski L. and Chiapello E., “Le Nouvel
Esprit du Capitalisme”, Gallimard, 1999
Thrift N., “Knowing Capitalism”, Sage, 2005.
The author is grateful to Michael Storper and two anonymous reviewers for their extremely helpful
29.Florida R., “Cities and the Creative Class”,
comments on an earlier draft of this paper.
The Widening Global Connection and
Direct correspondence to:
its Local Ramifications.” Urban Studies
Landry C., “The Creative City. A Toolkit for
Allen J. Scott
Urban Innovators”, Earthscan, 2000.
Department of Geography, University of California, Los Angeles,
16.Zukin S., “Loft Living: Culture and
Capital in Urban Change”, John Hopkins University Press, 1982.
17. Florida R., “The Flight of the Creative
Class. The New Global Competition for
10.Neff G., Wissinger E. and Zukin S.,
30. Beck U., “The Brave New World of Work”,
Polity Press, 2000.
P.O. Box 951524, Los Angeles, CA, 90095-1524. Phone: (310) 925-7344. Fax: (310) 206-5976. E-mail: email@example.com.
31.Batt R., Christopherson S., Rightor N. and
Reverse imagineering. Toward the New Urban Struggles or, why smash the state when your neighborhood theme-park is so much closer? BRIAN HOLMES
What are the steps in the creation of a Disney attraction? According to literature sent out by WDW [Walt Disney World], the steps are: storyboard, script, concept, show models, sculpture, show set design, graphics, interiors, architectural design, molds and casting, wardrobe and figure finishing, electronic and mechanical design and manufacture, show sets and prop construction, animation, audio, special effects and lighting, and engineering. The Unofficial Walt Disney Imagineering Page (www.imagineering.org)
Didascalia mappa precedente 40
On October 17, 2003, seven groups of some 20 to 30 persons descended into the Paris metro, with paint pots, glue, rollers, brushes, spray cans, sheets of paper and marking pens in their hands. Their aim? To overwrite, cover up, deface, subvert, recompose or simply rip to shreds as many advertisements as possible, without violence to any individual or to any piece of property, other than the images which impinge on our most intimate desires. Arising against a background of aggressive cuts in public programs which had originally been designed to withdraw specific activities and times of life from market pressures – cuts which affect teachers, the unemployed, retirees, researchers and performing artists, among others – the “stopub” movement declared its intention: “to attack the driving force of this commodification: advertising. It invades our public space, the streets, the subways, the TV. It’s everywhere, on our clothes, our walls, our screens. Let’s resist it, with creative, peaceful and legitimate means.” And resist it they did, organizing three more major actions in the metro before the end of the year, defacing over 9,000 advertisements and causing almost a million euros of “damage” – at least from the viewpoint of the organization charged with selling the display space, or more precisely, the psychic space of millions of people who ride the trains every day01. 41
The French “stop advertising” campaigns in the fall of 2003 would have been unimaginable without a previous event: the cancellation of the Avignon summer theater festival under the pressure of strikes by part-time performing-arts and audiovisual workers. This movement includes actors, stage directors, set designers, decorators, dancers, choreographers, tightrope walkers, fire breathers, clowns and jugglers, sound and lighting technicians, costume makers, film directors and editors, gaffers, cameramen and women, best boys, location managers, dubbers, special effects creators, animation designers and innumerable other professionals: all the people whose job it is to create imaginary worlds. Since 1969, these intermittents du spectacle had gained the right to a specific form of unemployment insurance which recognized the inherent discontinuities of artistic practice, and provided a supplemental income to cover the periods when paid labor gives way to volunteer productions, rehearsals, training periods, the quest for inspiration or the search for another contract. But in June of 2003, the agreement governing this form of unemployment insurance was abruptly modified by the French employers’ organization and three minority unions, in an attempt to eliminate roughly 30% of the beneficiaries.02 The intermittents responded with detailed proposals to reform the law, but also with a seemingly endless stream of protest actions, mounting counter-performances all over France, occupying government buildings and interrupting ministerial speeches, creating films, organizing debates, and using their special knowledge to break into national TV programs and take over the mike during live broadcasts. Perhaps the most impressive of these break-ins was the disruption of the reality show Star Academy, where the part-time theater workers surged onto the set and unfurled a banner reading “Shut off Your TVs” – symbolically attacking what is literally a training ground for the professional fetishes of the spectacle society. Around the same time, a much broader social movement was forming: the self-organization of casual or “precarious” labor. The catalyst was a group of Italian activists based in Milan, who called themselves the Chainworkers. Using the simplest of visual and rhetorical tools, they built an iconic language that could reach out simultaneously to kids doing chain-store jobs, temp-service workers, and freelance professionals – the so-called cognitariat, who are sometimes better paid than the others, but face similarly uncertain conditions. To begin organizing they did illegal demonstrations and banner-drops inside shopping malls where all rights to assembly in public are curtailed. Their website, www.chainworkers.org, was conceived as an information resource and a way to create collective consciousness. But their best tactic proved to be the reinvention of the traditional Mayday demonstration, around the theme of precarious labor conditions. By 2003, the event had already outstripped anything the unions could muster: the next year it brought together 50,000 people in Milan and had spread to Barcelona; in 2005 it took place in twenty different European cities. Conscious of the way that the consumption environments of the postmodern metropolis play constantly on our desires and emotions, the new labor organizers have made Mayday into a subversive fashion parade, where 42
the technicians of the commodity culture use their on-the-job skills to act out an expressive reversal of their ordinary alienation. Instead of opposing the spectacular image, as previous generations did, they aim to pirate it, appropriate it, recreate it on a different basis and for different ends. What’s behind these new protest movements, which take the urban stage as their own living room, or as their own multimedia studio? Can these gestures of revolt be situated in a socio-economic context? Writing in the early 1970s on The Urban Question, the sociologist Manuel Castells conceived the city not as a directly productive machine, but instead as the realm of “collective consumption."03 The facilities of the city were furnished by the state in order to ensure the reproduction of the working class, according to the needs of capital. For Castells, urban movements demanding improvements and amenities – that is to say, use values – represented a displacement of the basic struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Every new housing project, sports field or cultural center was a victory for the oppressed, at a cost that would someday break the backs of the owners. Such a sociological schema seems far away today, when the demands for collective facilities have faded, amidst the rise of a more “flexible” economy. The city now appears as a realm where consumption is imposed upon the individual. To succeed in doing so, a special environment must be created for the tastes of every target group. The theorist Maurizio Lazzarato has written of the way that corporations “create worlds” to seduce their consumers and producers.04 City councils, development agencies and heritage departments also “create worlds,” in the service of local and international businesses. Urban real estate is conceived as a piece of productive equipment, even, or especially, when it is being used for amusement. The leisure worlds of postmodern cities are very profitable for their owners. But no one dares to say that their consumers – or even worse, their producers – might find them revolting to the taste. Which is also a way of denying that the new movements are truly political. What kind of imaginary worlds do we want to live in? And how do we want to pay for them? At the outset of the twenty-first century, on a planet at war, one of the rising conflicts in the overdeveloped countries revolves around what some call culture, and others, entertainment. What we begin to see are struggles within what the Situationists termed “the spectacle."05 At stake are the human creations which make up our everyday environment: the fictional narratives and perceptual stimulations which, like other forms of knowledge, can be conceived either as common goods or as saleable commodities. The theater of the new struggles is the so-called “creative city.” Its managers now propose constant improvements, infinite amenities, in a race to keep up with the theme-parks that are constantly being built in the suburbs. But the stars that are being painted above our heads – with the help of transnational corporations – deserve to be met with an alternative vision, an antagonistic cosmology. It is a matter of bringing the stars back down to human level, of dissolving the commercial mythologies. It is a matter of assembling what Deleuze and Guattari call a “nomadic war machine,” to 43
subversively deconstruct the imaginary environment that transnational state capitalism is constructing.06 What follows are the elements of the struggle to recreate the world-city.
Earth The ground of the new urban struggles began to take form some three to four decades ago, in the wake of changes in class composition that first became apparent in the overdeveloped countries in the late 1960s. Mass education was one aspect of these changes, as important fractions of the former working classes gained access to socialized universities. In the early 1970s, Alexander Kluge and Oscar Negt pointed out that research and education formed a major contradiction in the planned economy: because innovation is centrally necessary to a technological society, but it is also rare and largely unpredictable, requiring vast investments in a wide variety of disciplines, without any certain results in the output of each individual student or teacher.07 Thus, all kinds of autonomous investigations could proliferate freely in the state-subsidized educational institutions, independently of any market regulation. Experiments with pure use values, withdrawn from the constraints of monetary exchange, were accompanied by calls for even greater entitlements; and state-funded theorists went so far as to imagine a post-capitalist society. To this development of mass intellectuality must be added what the Italian autonomists have termed “the refusal of work": a widespread rejection of the alienating conditions of factory labor, ultimately leading to the decline of large-scale, labor-intensive manufacturing processes in the old industrial centers, and to the exodus of workers from the direct control of managerial hierarchies.08 The industrial discipline of the postwar societies began to dissolve into a broad spectrum of radical-democratic demands for emancipation. The conception, and even more, the use of the modern city were gradually altered by this double dynamics of mass intellectuality and the refusal of hierarchical structures. Consider a characteristic formulation of 1960s counter-urbanism: Henri Lefebvre’s The Right to the City, written with the explicit aim to “break up systems,” to undermine rationalized specialization and class segregation. Lefebvre does not see the city as a reproduction machine, a marketplace or decision-making center, but rather as an enduring artwork to be freely appropriated: “The city is itself “oeuvre,” a feature which contrasts with the irreversible tendency towards money and commerce, towards exchange and products. Indeed, the oeuvre is use value and the product is exchange value. The eminent use of the city, that is, of its streets and squares, edifices and monuments, is la Fête (a celebration which consumes unproductively...)."09 Lefebvre envisioned an urban theater of mobile centers, conjured up and dissolved at will by the city-dwellers’ appropriation of their immediate environment. The aesthete will recognize the links to Huizinga’s figure of homo ludens, to the nomadic designs of Constant or Archigram, to the playful, labyrinthine architecture of Aldo van 44
Eyck – while the activist recalls the Situationist derive and the “constructed situation,” or the revolutionary theatrics of the Provos in Holland and the Diggers in America. All of these interventions sought to open up the modernist city to the “eminent use” of the popular fête. Yet isn’t the urban theme park of today just such a festival environment? What were the consequences of the aesthetic politics of the sixties? To understand how Situationist-type aesthetics combined with a changing class composition to produce a long-term transformation of metropolitan culture, we will need a reference to a very different model of artistic activity in the mid-1960s: Andy Warhol’s “Factory” in New York. Against a backdrop of industrial decay, the artist-impresario opened the doors of an archaic manufacturing building to a gallery of marginal figures – drifters, drug users, transvestites, gays and lesbians, bohemians escaping their class origins – who would experiment with photography, film, television, musical styles (The Velvet Underground), but also with transgressive parties, hedonistic excess. These fringe subjectivities, the exotic detritus of ordinary life, were the “superstars” of the Factory; but only Warhol, with his media aura, could successfully play the role of Hollywood producer and bring them the distribution that they all craved (their “fifteen minutes of fame”). Out of this voluntary blurring of the classes in the postindustrial Factory there emerged two key innovations: the first was a new model of subcultural production, freely translating the energies of social mobility and class conflict into hybrid media commodities; and the second was a new aesthetic of urban inhabitation, based on the gritty attractions of “transitional neighborhoods.” Subcultural production, exploiting all the immediacy of the garage band and the home studio, would become an integral part of the postmodern economy identified by Frederic Jameson;10 while the aesthetics of the urban margins would play a leading role in the speculative renovation of the former industrial areas of modern cities (gentrification)11. This relation between subcultural production and realestate speculation, which only became obvious in Europe in the 1980s,12 is what has laid the ambiguous ground of today’s urban struggles.
(Hot) Air How can youth energies be captured, transgressive desires satisfied and egalitarian claims laid to rest, despite the ongoing progress of segregation and homogenization? How can mass intellectuality be captured and channelled, made productive in the cultural-informational economy, without too much political conflict over the content of what is produced? The consensus-building functions of the postmodern economy’s “cultural turn” should never be minimized. The compromise-formation of subcultural production acts to absorb the energies of class mobility, stabilizing them in multimedia proximity to the hard data of the financial sector. Spatially you see similar outcomes: the computer-assisted service industries scattered throughout the renovated manufacturing zones, the edge-city clubs and bar 45
scenes located within prowling range of the glittering business districts. Cultural and subcultural production – of media, fashion, live performance and urban space itself – become important assets for metropolitan rivalry, as cities with global pretensions compete to attract businesses, tourists and talent. Today, the “creative city,” and even the “creative class,” are the buzzwords of urban development.13 Against this background, it is hard to disagree with Eve Chiapello and Luc Boltanski’s contention that the “artistic critique” of the 1960s has furnished a set of values and attitudes that can easily be exploited for the networked business strategies.14 And these strategies in turn become the coveted object of urban governance. The case in point is Barcelona. The ten-year strategic plan for the city’s cultural sector explicitly aims to “strengthen Barcelona as a factory that produces cultural contents,” to “make culture a key element of social cohesion,” to “incorporate Barcelona into the flows of digital culture” and to “project Barcelona as a platform of international promotion."15 Recognizing the specific characteristics of networked social structure as described by native son Manuel Castells – ironically enough, since Castells had been the prophet of urban struggles in 1970s – the strategic plan of the Catalan capital outlines “a new management model for culture,” based on contractual agreements or “pacts” rather than strictly hierarchical relations between actors, acknowledging the need for autonomy in the development and progressive adaptation of projects to changing situations, and proposing evaluation techniques for the “follow-up” (read: control) “of the cultural pulse of a specific territory (the evolution of cultural practices, the economic dimension of cultural activity, the analysis of the impact of culture in the economic and social context, the analysis of creation, etc.).” This cultural/ economic planning appears as the public-sector equivalent of what is known in business circles as “knowledge management."16 But can the creative class or “cognitariat” be successfully controlled? And what happens to the subversive dynamics of transgressive mobility and social cooperation? In Europe, the British government has most deliberately developed the planning of pop-cultural production, with an explicit concern for the future of the new labor force that was reflected in the culture ministry’s publication of the “Creative Industries Mapping Document” in 2001. This policy text attempts to delineate a bewildering range of new professions: Arts Promoter, Incubator, Consultancy for Inventor, Cultural Strategist, Multimedia Artist, Visual Support Consultant, Media Initiatives and Relations, Digital Design Consultant, Branding and Communications, New Media Agent, BioEntrepreneur (!), etc.17 The attempt to functionalize the so-called creative industries emerged against the background of the “Young British Art” in the mid-nineties, driven by the advertising magnate Saatchi and accompanied by the media froth generated around the slogan “Cool Britannia” in the years 1996-98, with the publication of the book Creative Britain by Culture Minister Chris Smith in 1998 and Tony Blair’s highly conspicuous flirting with the pop-star milieus – all concurrent with the massification of the Internet and the emergence of so-called “new media.” But the drafting of the mapping document also follows after a long period of high unemployment 46
and casualization of the labor market brought on by two decades of neoliberal policy, as well as a serious recession in the early 1990s which saw a fresh influx of marginal cultural producers to London, to occupy spaces temporarily abandoned by capital.18 The dream of integrating a whole wave of new arrivals to the labor market via highly individualized career-paths articulated around the promise of creative autonomy and the productive tools of the latest technology may now sound rather unlikely, after the krach of the “new economy” and the dramatic rise in social tensions all across the planet in the wake of September 11. Yet the formula of the creative city is still being sold by high-level consultancies19 to municipal planning departments across the overdeveloped world, with the eager approbation of local and transnational corporations – perpetually obsessed with the rebranding of everything, even the city itself, for global consumption.
Fire In the artistic fields delivered over to neoliberal management, as in corporate funded-research, the emphasis falls invariably on immediately marketable skills and products – an emphasis which continually raises the levels of frustration, even at the heart of the well-paid cognitariat. Freelance labor, initially promoted as an emancipation from hierarchy, soon reveals its price in subtle or blatant forms of surveillance through mobile communications devices, introjecting professional responsibilities into every hour of the day, into every living space and personal relation.20 Meanwhile, relentless increases in ground rent restrict access to the city, while mounting police pressure (modeled on New York Mayor Giuliani’s “zero tolerance”) is applied to any kind of deviant behavior. The danger of “slipping through the cracks” in societies which have abandoned their welfare safety nets can now be felt throughout the casualized labor force. Yet at the same time, even the most basic jobs increasingly call for “facework,” spontaneity, affective presence, intelligence, creativity. Ours is the age of what the German labor ministry has called the Ich-AG, the “I-corporation.” Biopower, in contemporary capitalism, means turning the self into a business. The subjective consequences of the knowledge economy include a new blurring of the personal/the economic/the political, pushing a resurgent counterculture to experiment in response with models of free cooperation and temporary autonomous zones. And so biopower gives rise to biopolitics: “When self-exploitation acquires a central function in the process of valorization, the production of subjectivity becomes a terrain of central conflict,” remarks labor specialist and leftist philosopher André Gorz. “Social relations withdrawn from the grip of value, from competitive individualism and market exchange, make the latter appear by contrast in their political dimension, as extensions of the power of capital. A front of total resistance opens up. It necessarily overflows the domain of knowledge production toward new ways of living, of consuming, of collectively appropriating public space and everyday culture. “Reclaim the Streets” is one of its most 47
successful expressions."21 The cycle of antiglobalization protests, launched in the overdeveloped countries by the European wing of the Peoples Global Action network in 1998, constituted the first eruption of this “front of total resistance” on the networked urban territory of the world-cities. Marked by a confluence of traditional social movements, single-issue activist groups, disaffected urban youth and rebellious cultural producers – visual and performance artists, musicians, open-air DJs, media freaks and computer hackers – these demonstrations often take the form of politically oriented techno-parties, no longer simply eluding police repression, but using all the resources of cooperative cultural production to actively target the sites and symbols of corporate control over intimate consciousness and public expression.22 If Seattle brought this front of resistance to a higher level, it was not only because of the greater complexity of the social movements involved, nor only because of the direct influence that the movement could now claim over decision-making at the summit. It was also because of the intensity of the urban battle, sparked off by disciplined affinity groups using sophisticated techniques of civil disobedience, and pursued by anarchist “Black Blocs” and untold numbers of city-dwellers revolted by the violence of what one analyst called a “police riot.”23 A Niketown sales outlet, epitomizing the exploitation of distant labor, the cooptation of subcultural creativity and the transformation of the city into a corporate theme-park, was deliberately attacked and destroyed, giving rise in the process both to a transnational urban legend and to a complex form of solidarity between the social classes. Similar demonstrations took place in Washington D.C., Sydney, Prague, Nice, Seoul, Quebec City, Barcelona, Göteburg and other metropolitan centers, accompanied by the development of the Indymedia network and a process of intensive translocal exchange. For many in Europe, the movement came to a head in July of 2001 in Genoa, with a police riot on the scale of the one in Seattle and the murder of a protestor, Carlo Giuliani, followed soon after by the paralyzing shock of September 11. But a giant step further was taken in the highly developed but peripheral country of Argentina, where a currency crisis brought about an alliance between unemployed workers and the middle class, toppling the government with massive demonstrations on December 19 and 20, 2001, and opening a year-long period of radical social experimentation.
Water Today, the Argentine movement fallen, and the counterglobalization demonstrations have been pushed by terror and imperial warfare into the background of mediated consciousness. But the urban knowledge engendered during this cycle of struggles has given rise to a vast network of subversive potential, which permeates the breadth and depth of the world-cities. The autonomous marxist Harry Cleaver likens contemporary rhizomatic or meshworked social movements to the flux of what he calls 48
the hydrosphere: “oceans with their ever restless currents and eddies, now moving faster, now slower, now warmer, now colder, now deeper, now on the surface."24 The intermingling currents which have begun to change class composition on a planetary scale25 convey both an intense awareness of the ways in which intimate desire can be manipulated, and a willingness to intervene in the creation of imaginary worlds. In this context, artists have regained a political protagonism. An example is the project “Nike Ground – Rethinking Space,” by 0100101110101101.org. Expanding on the corporate-chameleon strategies of (r)(tm)ark and the Yes Men,26 this group collaborated with the alternative cultural center Public Netbase to illegally set up a 13-ton “infobox” on the Karlsplatz in Vienna. The imposing, glass-walled container distributed an enthusiastic and bizarrely serious proposal to rename the historic square “Nikeplatz” and to install a gigantic red “swoosh” sculpture at its center. One of the texts reads: “Picture this: rethinking space. Having the chance to redesign the city where you live... It’s Nike Ground! This revolutionary project is transforming and updating your urban space. Nike is introducing its legendary brand into squares, streets, parks and boulevards: Nikesquare, Nikestreet, Piazzanike, Plazanike or Nikestrasse will appear in major world capitals over the coming years..."27 Residents were outraged at the project, and a furor arose in the press; Nike threatened legal action, then finally withdrew all charges. As a 01001 spokeswoman explained: “For this work, we wanted to use the entire city as a stage for a huge urban performance, a sort of theatre show for an unaware audience/cast. We wanted to produce a collective hallucination capable of altering people’s perception of the city in this total, immersive way."28 Can the sophisticated programs of corporate and municipal imagineering be challenged or even undone by a “long wave” of subversive projects, operating at different scales and temporalities, intersecting with the sudden outbursts of generalized urban struggles? Reverse engineering, as a hackers’ manual explains, “is simply the act of figuring out what software that you have no source code for does in a particular feature or function, to the degree that you can either modify this code, or reproduce it in another independent work.”29 The conceptual group Bureau d’Etudes extends the principle to sociopolitical dimensions: “The deconstruction of complex machines and their ’decolonized’ reconstruction can be carried out on all kinds of objects, not just computational ones. In the same way as you deconstruct a program, you can also deconstruct the internal functioning of a government or an administration, a firm or an industrial or financial group. On the basis of such a deconstruction, involving a precise identification of the operating principles of a given administration, or the links or networks between administrations, lobbies, businesses etc., you can define modes of action or intervention.”30 Beyond virtuoso stunts like “Nike Ground,” one can see the tactics of the emerging social movements – such as the “stop advertising” campaign or the intermittents du spectacle in France – as attempts to precisely deconstruct the neoliberal program of total social mobilization for the needs of a flexible economy. These tactics receive 49
widespread support from the cultural/educational sectors, where there is an increasing awareness of the way that all “free time” is being subordinated to market calculations. An expanding range of professionals and selftaught experts are turning their autonomous energies – their “off hours,” if you prefer – to urban subversion. But can such efforts avoid the social and economic capture-devices which tend to isolate a relatively privileged “cognitariat” from the rest of the casualized labor force, or indeed, from the rest of the population? The Chainworkers group has sought to answer that question, by involving the widest social spectrum possible in the new-style Mayday parades. And the intermittents, uncomfortably conscious of the relative privilege afforded by their unique form of unemployment insurance, conclude their texts and speeches with this phrase: “What we defend, we defend for everyone." The struggle over the definition of social services, scientific research, cultural production and the natural and built environments either as private commodities or as common goods under some form of collective stewardship has become one of the central conflicts of our time, disputed on a territory that extends from intimate subjectivities to the networked spaces of politics.31 Given the manipulability of public opinion in the contemporary media democracies, the destinies of this struggle will depend crucially on people’s ability to recognize and resist the new techniques of social management. In this regard, some interesting news has come from one of the premier creative cities, Barcelona. Spurred on by the successful instrumentalization of the Olympic Games in 1992, construction and real-estate interests again joined hands with the city government in the mid-1990s to plan an urban infotainment project: “Forum 2004,” also known as the “Universal Forum of Cultures.” Held in a vast new seaside facility built right next to the poorest district in the metropolitan region (but without any particular benefit for that district), this 3-billion-euro project would act not only as a tourist magnet and an immense source of revenue for construction companies, but also as a simulacrum of the contemporary Social Forum movement, conducted under the direct control of the municipality and its corporate backers. Thus the manufacture of consensus is revealed as the primary postmodern industry: “The Forum does not claim to maintain an equal distance between Davos and Puerto Alegre, but to be the meeting place of the two poles, an exercise of dialogue between opposites,” wrote the director of the event.32 But what does such a meeting lead to in reality? A few days before that declaration was published, a conference had been convened in a public meeting hall, the Ateneu Barcelonés, under the title “Fòrum 2004: la gran impostura.” Speakers claimed that the forum was “something more than a lie and a fake” – it was “an expression of the new political management of life” designed to “promote the trademark of Barcelona."33 Beyond all expectations, the hall was packed to overflowing. A broad, heterogeneous “Assembly of Resistances” began to plan collective actions of various kinds, in order to expose and discredit the Barcelona model of speculative city planning.34 Architects, artists, filmmakers, philosophers, economists, urbanists, political activists, ecologists and 50
squatters all resolved to begin deconstructing the spectacular machinery. One ephemeral collective that came to be known as “Mapas”35 undertook a detailed cartography of the “precarious city,” showing the sponsorship links between the Forum and temporary employment services, consumerproduct distributors, arms dealers, polluting industries, etc., and indicating the precise location of their corporate offices on a folding map which was printed massively and given away at every occasion. The idea was to produce a threatening atmosphere, then bifurcate in unexpected directions. An action was undertaken against the arms manufacturer Indra, which was to provide communications systems for the festival of peace: several dozen white-suited “civil inspectors” surged up the stairway of the firm’s Barcelona office and began dismantling the telephones and computers, which were placed into boxes marked “Danger: Weapons of Mass Destruction.” But the Indra action was only the beginning of the counter-spectacles against the Forum. Even more effectively, a photographic Forumaton was set up in various locations, allowing snickering residents to “pose against the Forum,” with signs that said “The Forum is a business,” “The Forum is for real-estate speculation,” “The Forum is a piece of shit,” “The Forum is precarity,” and so on36. These pictures were circulated through the web; but they were also picked up by the local papers, and an undercurrent of laughter began to accompany the omnipresent publicity of the event. Finally a crescendo was hit with “Pateras Urbanas” (Urban Rafts), an invasion of the Forum by land, air and sea – with marching protestors, a hang glider, and above all a fleet of precarious rafts, recalling those used by immigrants crossing the Straits of Gibralter37. The construction of the rafts turned into a surprisingly popular attraction. Hundreds of participants; outlandish costumes, pirate flags; four hours in the ocean with the Coast Guard everywhere; and a wild landing on the grounds of the tourist spectacle that wanted to turn its back on anything real. As though the long wave of subversive projects had already begun washing over the neoliberal city... Jan. 2004/May 2005
testoooooooooooo Notes 01. For information on the movement,
see www.actionstopub.tk and www.bap.propagande.org; as well as Gattolin André & Lefebvre Thierry, "Stopub: Analyse provisoire d’un rhizome
activiste", Multitudes 16, Spring, 2004 at www.multitudes.samizdat.net/ article.php3?id_article=1376. 02.Cf. www.cip-idf.ouvaton.org, as well as
Multitudes 17, dossier on "L’intermittence
dans tous ses états", Summer 2004. 03. See "The Urban Question: A Marxist
Approach", Mass.: MIT, 1977; 1st ed. 1972, Cambridge. 04. Lazzarato Maurizio, "Les révolutions du
21.Interview with Gorz André, "Economie de
la connaissance, exploitation des savoirs",
Multitudes 15, Winter 2004.
13. Landry Charles, "The Creative City:
A Toolkit for Urban Innovators", Earthscan,
22.Cf. "Friday June 18th 1999", Do or Die 8, at
capitalisme” Les Empêcheurs de penser en
London 2000; Florida Richard, "The Rise
rond, chap. 3, Paris 2004; an initial version
of the Creative Class", Basic Books, New
Emerald City", at www.nwcitizen.com/
of this argument can be found in "Créer
York 2002; Ray Paul & Anderson Sherry,
des mondes", Multitudes 15, Winter 2004,
"The Cultural Creatives", Three Rivers
Press, New York 2000.
14. Boltanski Luc & Chiapello Eve, "Le Nouvel
23.Cf. De Armond Paul, "Netwar in the
to Reverse Engineering Software", at www.acm.uiuc.edu/sigmil/RevEng. 30. Bureau d’Etudes, "Autonomous Knowledge
and Power in a Society without Affects", at http://utangente.free.fr/anewpages/ holmes.html. 31.On common goods, cf. Aigrain Philippe,
"Pick the Right Modernity", downloadable
24.Cf. www.rtmark.com, www.theyesmen.org.
25.Cleaver Harry, "Computer-linked Social
Movements and the Global Threat to
32."El Fòrum quiere ser el punto de
esprit du capitalisme", Gallimard, Paris 1999;
Capitalism", downloadable at www.cseweb.
encuentro de Davos con Porto Alegre", El
intermittants, Jean Baudrillard speaks of a
English summary at www.sociologia.
País, supplement "Cultura", 1/25/2004.
" just revenge against the spectacle – by the
05.With respect to the strike of the
15."Strategic Plan of the Cultural Sector
26. For an idea of the class composition, cf.
33."Los grupos críticos con el 2004 reúnen
Notes from Nowhere collective (eds.), We
mil personas en el Ateneu", La Vanguardia, 1/22/2004.
In "Les Suicidés du spectacle", Libération,
of Barcelona,” at www.bcn.es/accentcultura/
Are Everywhere: The Irresistible Rise of
7/16/2003, archived at
Global Anticapitalism, Verso, London
34. See www.moviments.net/resistencies2004.
2003, website at www.weareeverywhere.
35.See www.sindominio.net/mapas. A short
www.library.nothingness.org/articles/SI/ fr/display/370. 06. Deleuze Gilles & Guattari Félix, "Treatise
on Nomadology – The War Machine",
16. For an example of the knowledge-
management business, see www.debonothinkingsystems.com. 17. Department for Culture, Media and
org. 27."Nike Ground – Rethinking Space",
A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and
Sport, "Creative Industries Mapping
Schizophrenia, U. Minn. Press, 1987, 1st
Document", at www.culture.gov.uk/global/
07.Kluge Alexander & Negt Oscar, Public
doc_2001.htm; cf. McRobbie Angela,
Sphere and Experience, U. Minn. Press,
"Everyone is Creative", at www.k3000.ch/
1993, 1st ed. 1972.
08. Negri Antonio, Marx Beyond Marx,
18.For gentrification in the Hackney district
28."Nike Buys Streets and Squares,” at
1849 N. Sawyer Ave
by The London Particular,
Chicago IL 60647, USA
pas comme les autres: Benetton en Italie et
Le Sentier à Paris, Publisud, 1993.
For a view from inside the machinery of the City", Century City: Art and Culture in
1st ed. 1968.
the Modern Metropolis, exhib. cat., Feb. 1 – and for critique of the art-advertising-
Verso, 1991; original article 1984,
urban development complex, Stallabrass
Julian, High Art Lite, Verso, London 1999;
as well as my article "Reflecting Museums",
1989; 1st ed. 1982. 12. For a case study of urban transformation
forumaton/forumaton_home.htm. 37. See www.paterasurbanas.net.
April 29, 2001, Tate Modern, London;
The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism",
University Press, New Brunswick N.J.
36. See www.sindominio.net/mapas/
gentirification, Dexter Emma, "Picturing
Writings on Cities, Blackwell, Oxford 1996,
and Capital in Urban Change", Rutgers
of this site, at the bottom of the page.
© Brian Holmes
see also Negri’s essay in Des entreprises
11. Zukin Sharon, "Loft Living: Culture
below, can be found in the "action” section
of London, see the texts and videos
10. Jameson Frederic, "Postmodernism, or,
film of the Indra intervention, described
29.Mike Perry & Nasko Oskov, "Introduction
Autonomedia, New York 1991, 1st ed. 1979;
09. Lefebvre Henri, "The Right to the City",
Urbanisation in Zurich", INURA (eds.), Possible Urban Worlds, Birkhäuser Verlag,
at www.u-tangente.org. 19.Cf. the list of consultancies in Creative
Cities, op. cit 20.Cf. Zarifian Philippe, "Les sociétés de
contrôle", A quoi sert le travail? La Dispute,
and subculture politics in the 1980s,
Paris 2003; as well as Holmes Brian , "The
Schmid Christian, "The Dialectics of
Flexible Personality", at www.u-tangente.org.
The Sabotage of the Factory of Culture: Art,Metropolis and Gentrification MATTEO PASQUINELLI
The “life of the city” versus the chimera of the “creative city”
Didascalia mappa precedente 56
“The capital is spectacle to such a degree of accumulation that it becomes a skyline of cement” − at the twilight of the society of the spectacle, surprisingly a very material economy is found in the core of the immaterial production. Debord’s controversial aphorism01 can be finally reversed. Surrounded by the relicts of the post-Fordist factory, when speculation is no easier over the interminable meadows of the Internet, cultural economy reveals its love for concrete. After decades of parallel evolution, two strata of contemporary history finally seem to converge in a unique dispositive: the urban revolution (as Lefebvre described the city in the 1960s, a motor of autonomous production and capital accumulation) and the cultural industry (as the Frankfurt school inaugurated the transformation of culture in business and deception, followed by the apocalyptic simulacra of the postmodernism till today). The name of the newborn chimera is “creative cities” − indeed a chimera, as the mask of culture is used to cover the hydra of concrete in real estate speculation. The literature promoting “creative cities” (like the initiator Richard Florida) or denouncing their hidden neoliberal agenda and social costs is vast. Here I try to show the ideological construct of the “creative city” from a different angle and to provide a reverse engineering of the economic model, so that its functioning can be politically grasped and turned upside down. First, the unsexy struggles against gentrification can be taken as more precise case studies and indicators of the real engine of the “creative economy” instead of the usual indexes and econometrics of “talent.” Second, it is important to underline the profound asymmetry between the layer of symbolic and immaterial production and the layer of urban and material production. The “creativity” of the city is simply a biomorphic extension 57
of its social composition and competition. The two layers move at different speeds and in different directions — there’s nothing like a social progress driven by institutional “creativity.” Finally, between the art of complaining and the celebrating of the “creative economy”, I introduce a “grammar of sabotage” to articulate the contemporary relation between the urban multitudes and the dynamic matrix of gentrification. The chimera of “creative cities” is a complex machinery02, no long based on that opposition between highbrow and lowbrow culture that was so dear to the classics and the Frankfurt School. On the contrary it is a biopolitical machinery, where all aspects of life are integrated and put at work, where new lifestyles become new commodities, where culture is considered a material flow like others and where in particular the collective production of imagery is hijacked to improve private profits — it appears as a close circuit. “Biopolitics” can be dismantled, at the etymological root, bios and politike (techne), that is the “art of ruling (the life of) the city.” Biopolitical machine means then that the “life of the city” is the productive core. Despite of urban décor and futuristic architecture, social networks and digital frontiers, the productive core of any ecosystem is always grounded to the soil. Like the Italian Operaism put back the workers at the center of capitalist innovation and then, more specifically, moved the “social factory” at the centre of postFordism, so we need to locate the productive force of the metropolis and especially those forces that make the urban space so valuable. Even if this may reveal the cynical end of an easy political dream.
Introducing the new urban frontier “Gentrification is class war” — to put it simply. That was the slogan of the legendary anti-gentrification battle of Tompkins Square Park in New York, as photographed by Neil Smith in the case study par excellence of all cases studies about gentrification: the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Neil Smith is the first to introduce gentrification as the new fault line between classes in contemporary global cities, as the title of his seminal book states clearly: The New Urban Frontier03. The new class frontier of capital accumulation is internal to the metropolis, crossing and Balkanising the whole urban territory. It is a space of endocolonisation: inner colonisation of the city that is rediscovered as urban wild nature. During the latter part of the twentieth century the imagery of wilderness and frontier has been applied less to the plains, mountains and forests of the West — now handsomely civilized — and more to US cities back East. As part of the experience of postwar suburbanization, the US city came to be seen as an “urban wilderness”; it was, and for many still is, the habitat of disease and disorder, crime and corruption, drugs and danger.04
New relations between classes and new strategies of capital are played along this unofficial and internal border of the city. If the metropolis becomes 58
the new diffuse factory, gentrification is a peculiar apparatus of capital accumulation and governance. As Baudelaire saw the Hausmannization of Paris, we can take gentrification as the equivalent post-modern and postFordist procedure to rule the metropolis05. Today such a dispositif is evolving and getting more complex. Housing struggles against gentrification are nothing new across European (and global) cities, but only now gentrification emerges in its promiscuous relation with cultural production. When Ruth Glass introduced the term “gentrification” she was describing the districts of London in the 1950s with these words: One by one, many of the working class quarters of London have been invaded by the middle-classes − upper and lower. Shabby, modest mews and cottages—two rooms up and two down− have been taken over, when their leases have expired, and have become elegant, expensive residences [...]. Once this process of “gentrification” starts in a district it goes on rapidly until all or most of the original working-class occupiers are displaced and the whole social character of the district is changed.06
This initial stage is what Neil Smith called the first wave of gentrification in his seminal book The Urban Frontier. Afterwards a second wave took place in the 1970s and 1980s and Smith declared finally the third wave of the 1990s as the “generalized gentrification.” Usually gentrification has been explained according to two theories: the consumption-side theory (simply based on the collective cultural consumption and behaviours of the residents) and the production-side theory. In the second sense, from a precise economic point of view the rent gap triggers the process: The rent gap is the disparity between the potential ground rent level and the actual ground rent capitalized under the present land use. […] Once the rent gap is wide enough, gentrification may be initiated in a given neighborhood by any of the several different actors in the land and housing market.07
However these models do no explain extensively the present gentrification strategies and techniques. Smith is writing a decade before the New Economy and he could not predict such a massive experiment of collective desire and production of imagery put at work. However, Smith himself recognises that “the integration of cultural and capital-centered explanation is vital” and precisely in the way introduced by Sharon Zukin already in 1982 in his book Loft Living08. Today a new wave can be recognized: a second-order gentrification, a global popularization of the grammar of gentrification and its strategic connection with the “collective symbolic capital” (as David Harvey named the engine behind the urban speculation in the case of Barcelona in his essay “The Art of Rent”). The role of artists, bohemians, hipsters in the gentrification of New York’s East Village in the 1960s has been covered as well by Christopher Mele in his book Selling the Lower East Side09. Not to mention Manuel Castells’ work on the peculiar role of gay men as “gentrifiers” of San Francisco10 in 1983. All these studies 59
are only few examples to provide a better understanding of that theoretical context hijacked by Richard Florida 20 years later and transformed in banal marketing strategies for provincial cities re-labelled as “creative cities”. Compared to the traditional forms of gentrification, what we are witnessing today is the rise of a gentrification driven by the in vitro production of artificial cultural capital and new marketing strategies such as the “creative cities”. Neil Smith put the Lower East Side of Manhattan at the beginning of this process: This strategy was probably pioneered in New York’s Lower East Side where in the early 1980s landlords who were unable to rent commercial properties offered them at cheap rents to artists, giving them 5-year leases. After 5 years, with no rent control on commercial properties and with the neighbourhood now gentrifying rapidly, landlords began to demand 400%, 600% even 1,000% rent increases to renew leases. The artists had done their work as the shock troops of gentrification and were themselves displaced. 11
The second-order gentrification has been defined by Sharon Zukin as “artistic mode of production” in the early 1980s, but today such a “mode of production” has become an extended and complete immaterial factory. Over the whole of Europe, above both Berlin and Barcelona for instance, we witness the condensation of a peculiar and homogenous cultural capital, as the leading force behind the real estate business and the “creative cities” strategy of those city councils that are eager to attract more investments and workforce. The side-effects of the local accumulation of cultural capitals has emerged clearly crisis after crisis, especially when investment funds (like in any period of recession) flowed from the dotcom crash back to real estate speculation, avid of new dreams to cultivate. The real estate business has established almost in any major European city a perverse machinery in alliance with the art world and cultural production. More interestingly, for the first time the current generation of radical movements and alternative subcultures have to face the concrete byproducts of their symbolic economy (even if it has always been clear for decades that the counter-culture has been feeding the society of spectacle and the cultural industries with fresh ideas).12 At the turn of the century gentrification becomes a new priority for the grassroots activism after the rise of the “precariat”, in particular in big and dynamic cities like London, Berlin and Barcelona. As even Walter Benjamin13 was complaining in his youth memories about the Berlin bohemian bars invaded by the new rampant middle class (in the 1930s!), a century-long conflict can be traced taking only Berlin as a continental case study (against the usual highly neoliberal context of New York and London). There, the most crucial event has been the arrest of Andrej Holm in July 2007 for his research on gentrification in East Berlin — an arrest that made clear to a wider audience the scale of the economic interests and the morbid attention of the police around the new G word14. However what is missing within the political discourse, academic research and art world is a new composition of forces 60
between artists and activists and a necessary upgrade of the theory toolbox to a faster and faster capitalism, that is changing everyday its fronts of speculation. What is missing is an extensive cartography of the productive heart of global cities and a new political grammar of the metropolitan conflicts around cultural production.
The hydra of concrete behind European “creative cities” The link between local culture and gentrification and on a broader scale between city brands and real estate speculation has become clear across Europe in many and different contexts. Each big city has developed its own model and its own big-scale projects. A typical case study to start with is the choice of the city of Barcelona to place (in 1995) a futuristic building like the museum of contemporary art MACBA15 right in the centre of the old and conflictive barrio of the Raval, where it landed as a minimalistic white starship in a ghetto that was still following the paths of the medieval street map. The gentrifying effect of the Macba was successful thanks also to the underground culture surronding (and supporting) the new musuem and especially thanks to the traditionally democratic social fabric of Barcelona, that was already starting to attract the kids of the world middle-class to Catalonia. The gentrification of the Raval had its violent, obscure and controversial sides as Joaquim Jordà16 showed in his movie De nens, where a case of pederasty was used as a mediatic alibi to promote the social regeneration of the Raval and to cover less ethical real estate interests. This process of city-wide gentrification in Barcelona that witnessed the house prices rocketing in few years is taken as a crucial example by David Harvey. In his seminal essay “The Art of Rent”,17 the real estate business is explained precisely in relation to the “collective symbolic capital” sedimented in the history of Barcelona. In the same years another similar operation was inaugurated in Bilbao: the Guggenheim museum (in 1997) designed by Frank Gehry became soon the main touristic attraction of the city (so much so to be widely named the “Guggenheim effect”). These two examples of museum-driven regeneration are still following the wave and the touristic model planned after the 1992 summer Olympics of Barcelona. A more interesting and relevant case study is the recent urban plan “22@” designed to regenerate the former industrial district of Poble Nou under the concept of “innovation district” and “knowledge city.”18 Both in the districts of Raval and Poble Nou many forms of resistance mushroomed against the voracious real estate speculation. In particular the project Nau 2119 in the former industrial complex of Can Ricart20 tried to established a counter-agenda against the institutional propaganda of the “creative economy” used to attract investments in the area of the Poble Nou. While all these projects were going on, the dramatic housing situation of Spain was triggering the biggest movement of Europe around housing rights. Stealing and readapting the title of a famous film, the movement “V de Vivienda” organized manifestations followed by more than 10.000 people for each 61
event in Barcelona as well as in the other Spanish cities. Under the politically uncorrect slogan: “No vas a tener casa en tu puta vida” [you will never own a house in your fucking life].21 In the early 2000s Barcelona reached a critical mass of high-income inhabitants, in particular because of the “immigration” of young people and bobos (bourgeois-bohemians)22 from North-Europe and North-America. After the Barcelona boom and its saturation, the real estate business moved soon to Berlin looking for fresh opportunities and new spaces. Here, like in Barcelona, the cultural history and the underground of the Berlin East has become a massive driver for gentrification. Since the fall of the Wall a cycle of internal migrations has reshaped the social geography of Berlin passing as a slow tide through the district of Kreuzberg, Mitte, Prenzlauerberg, Friedrichshain, Wedding, Neukölln. Because of the abundance of vacant buildings and empty areas, it seems that the process will continue for a while, even if rumours of experimental attempts of gentrification have been reported even in some apparently ungentrifiable outskirts, such as Gropiusstadt23. Despite the different karma, Berlin and Barcelona share a similar destiny. The old underground of Berlin like in the case of Barcelona attracted and then boosted gentrification. Later, over this humus, a secondorder strategy has been developed. Interestingly, in Berlin we find a project very similar to the 22@ plan of Barcelona. The project Media Spree24 aims to transform a big area of East Berlin on the Spree river in a new pole for media industries. The same architects who designed the new government district are involved, and with a similar volumetric involvement of concrete. The area is well known for its underground and music scene and there is a nodal contradiction that tells more than a hundred analyses: to promote this area the magazines of the investment companies are using the imagery of the same clubs that they put under eviction.25 Even here activists have set up a political campaign to block the gentrification plans, like “Media Spree versenken” [Media Spree sinking],26 and organized grassroot international workshop like “Right to the City.”27 The case of the arrest of Andrej Holm in July 200728 for his research around gentrification occurred in such a longperiod and city-wide context. On a smaller scale each city in Europe is implementing similar strategies of city regeneration. Amsterdam (but also Rotterdam) for instance presents its unique blend of cultural breeding, social housing, creative cities marketing29 and demolitions. The peculiar Amsterdam model should deserve more attention as the Dutch strategy of the “cultural breeding grounds” [culturele broedplaatsen] started many years before the celebration of the “creative economy” and is publicly used to artificially promote areas to be gentrified. As the former Amsterdam mayor Schelto Patijn once famously stated: “There is no culture, without subculture” — even if today the Netherlands look like a country without boheme in the classical definition (destinty of the Low Countries: the underground disappeared). An example of the Dutch cooptation policies is the former building of the Volkskrant newspaper managed by the Urban Resort30 foundation in a multi-cultural creative factory. In this project, according to 62
the traditional Dutch “radical pragmatism,” there is a clear awareness and no mystery about the gentrification effect triggered in the neighbourhood by the post-squat generation. Another interesting model is the new concept of “co-construction” experimented in the Zuidas area, the new business district south of the city. Here art projects are involved directly during the construction of the new site and are not simply a later addition, showing how valorization and glamourisation of a new site are already in the mind of the urband developers before the completion.31 The biggest scale of similar gentrification operations across Europe32 is Hackney in East London, a part of the city that is under “regeneration” looking forward to the 2012 Olympic Games. This critical area is monitored by a hundred initiatives (widely covered for instance by the collective The London Particular and Mute magazine among others33). The scale of the investments in London is likely not comparable with any other areas in Europe (not to mention the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the new economy of concrete in China that falls out of the geography of this overview). Since the early 1980s in New York to the recent Media Spree project in Berlin, real estate speculators and urban “regenerators” have learnt the grammar of gentrification and the “artistic mode of production.” However there may be other genealogies behind this new business. A globalised gentrification process is also an effect of those global capitals that after the dot-com crash flowed into the real estate business, reinventing it as an upgraded version of the New Economy, where exactly like in the Internet saga the collective imagery has a central role in the process of valorization. Real estate speculation follows also the subprime crisis of late 2007, that triggered globally a financial crisis and locally foreclosure and evictions. As Saskia Sassen34 precisely showed in her pivotal works on global cities, the reality of local spaces is always determined by the flows of financial capital. And back on the side of the old state power, as Neil Smith reminds us the “urban frontier” is always militarized by the “revanchist city”35: tolerancezero policies help to clean and prepare urban terrains for profit. Covering the political scenario of gentrification, two options of analysis must be scrutinised: indulging in the necrophilia of the global capital and police-state (as a dominant criticism and even a certain fatalist Marxism do) or turning the attention to the real social subject that originates the value. The traditional political analysis of gentrification stops at the usual point of a moral complain against an unethical business. But actually a proper political platform can be addressed only if the economic engine of gentrification is understood, dismantled and reversed. If the gentrification forces are considered as a social and economic actor, on the other side of the political map a counter-subject is always lacking. The energy spent in a hyper-analytical criticism of Richard Florida’s ideology may be employed on a proper constituent ground. Despite that urban communities and activists are sometimes stuck to old languages and tactics, anti-gentrification struggles just opened up a new space of action and knowledge that is waiting to be described and connected across Europe.
The metropolis as social factory and motor of surplus A bird-view fly over Europe reveals the nature of the anti-gentrification struggles but only from above: an invisible vortex of capitals recolonizing and renovating the old parts of a city, making profit out of their inhabitants and then evicting them. Yet who is producing the value that capital comes to appropriate? It is usually the history, the social imagery and fabric of a specific community that makes an area valuable for new inhabitants and new business. Even when second-order gentrification and city branding strategies want to produce artificial imagery by themselves, they rely on a pre-existent cultural capital. Only looking from below at the roots of capital, can we distinctly spot the diffuse and metropolitan social subject that is responsible for the economic value of a city. How does the metropolis breathe, when not busy at doing business? Even here a brief genealogy of the political concepts of the early XXI century may be useful. The new forms of urban resistance and urban production are not well understood if the traditional and even recent concepts of political subjects are applied. Here the notion of “creative class” as an emerging and consistant social subject is absolutely useless as a friction-less and conflictless notion, described only on the basis of a “positive” and “progressive” paradigm. Other political figures recently introduced by social movements, such as precarious workers and cognitive workers (see the Euromayday events36 across Europe) frame very well the new labour conditions and forms of production in post-Fordist society, but are incomplete when they try to cover the cultural economy and consumption of a metropolis, as they underline individual labour only. In this sense the notion of multitude has been introduced by Italian post-Operaismo precisely to escape the houseprison of the working class and to show how the factory itself evaded its own gates inundating the whole territory and the whole metropolis.37 The notion of multitude has not been introduced to glorify the multiple identities of the global society (in an unconscious version of multiculturalism), but precisely to underline the productive force of a diffuse and distributed social subject that has in the metropolitan multitudes its very incarnation. In the series of seminars “Multitude et Métropole”38 organized in Paris in 2005 and 2006 by Negri, Vercellone and others, one of the hypotheses that emerged stated that “the multitude is to the metropolis, as the working class is to the factory.”39 The idea of the city (that is the metropolitan multitudes) as the engine of contemporary capitalism was already advanced by Henri Lefebvre in the late 1960s, since his book The Urban Revolution.40 In the belly of the metropolis, the multitude — but what do the metropolitan multitudes produce? Far from theory, finally we find evidence of the value produced by the multitude in the concretion of real estate capitals. If the economic rent accumulated on real estate and the relative struggles are taken as a starting point, we outline a social profile that goes to complete the traditional figure of the working class or the new “precariat.” Behind the intuition of the metropolitan multitude, there is also the 64
collapse of the Marxian trinity of rent, profit and wages. Thanks to the work of Carlo Vercellone on the rent, the economy of the metropolis can be explained in a clearer way. In this context Vercellone’s saying “rent is the new profit” means that the first vector of exploitation and accumulation in the metropolis is no more the profit extracted via waged labour, but the rent applied on material spaces, like in the cases of house rent or house mortgage. This parasitic and unproductive dimension has been always part of capitalism, Vercellone reminds us, yet however, today it is getting more and more hegemonic. In the age of anonymous speculative crises and the invisible financialization of daily life, the profile of a new subject is waiting to be outlined. Gentrification is simply the last surfacing evidence of a massive submerged parasite. However, what is needed today is to compare old and new case studies, respectively the North-American ones and the European ones, and to compare as well the Anglo-American theoretical models with the Continental ones, and if possibile to integrate them. The nodal point to understanding the metropolitan “factory of culture” is the asymmetry between cultural economy and the material economy. What is needed is a pragmatic and materialistic taxonomy of the new apparatuses of accumulation established by post-Fordist capitalism along this asymmetry − a sort of new Foucauldian taxonomy of the dispositifs of the factory of culture.
The collective symbolic capital and the asymmetries of the common What do exactly the metropolitan multitudes produce? To understand the value of cultural capital in the economy of the city, it is necessary to unpack the structure of contemporary material and immaterial commodities. Let’s start from the work producing those commodities, that is from the two popular figures of post-Fordism: the precarious workers (“precariat”) and the brain workers (“cognitariat”). Both of them have passed through different attempts to be harmonized and integrated within a less conservative paradigm, that was able to skip the division between manual labour and intellectual labour. A common synthesis declares that all service workers do cognitive labour, and that all brain workers share precarious working conditions. However, looking at the structure of contemporary commodities, more than two levels can be distinguished. The total value of a commodity is produced by the material labour plus the cognitive labour plus the symbolic value brought by the public. The first one is easily described according to the classic coordinates of wage labour and profit. The second one is the value of knowledge embodied in design and intellectual property (patents, copyrights, trademarks). The third one is the value of the brand produced by the attention economy of publics, mass media and advertisement. This third case has been analyzed in a different way by the Anglo-American literature on brand economy and in a more extensive way by Maurizio Lazzarato’s research on Gabriel Tarde’s notion of public, by Carlo Vercellone on economic rent and by Enzo Rullani on knowledge economy. The symbolic 65
component of value is the most important in this context as the one produced by the social factory. More precisely, the modern commodity is simply double, as we can recognize mainly two dimensions: the dimension of profit (value produced by individual work) and the dimension of rent (value produce by collective desire). In this sense, the social value of an artistic or cultural object is the value produced by the collective desire. This social value is exploited by dynamic and temporary monopolies applied to the common and intangible sphere of collective desire. Applying another scheme, the rent economy and temporary monopolies parasiting these islands of desire involve two kinds of entities: objects and spaces. Singular objects are for instance immaterial brands. On the contrary, urban areas, virtual networks and communication infrastructures are the natural or artificial spaces dominated by the new forms of rent speculation. We have monopolies of knowledge and monopolies of space even in cultural economy. To give a practical example, also the definitions of Creative Industries and “creative economy” are related to these two different dominions. The original definition of Creative Industries is attached to the exploitation of intellectual property applied to new knowledge products. Whereas, the “creative economy” of Richard Florida and his “creative cities” involve the diffuse space of the city as a field of valorization and business. In other words, it is based on the exploitation of the diffuse cultural capital instead of patents and copyrights. In conclusion, the cultural economy of objects (rent on intellectual property) is operating on a level that is parallel to the cultural economy of spaces (rent on symbolic spaces). As Rullani likes to remind, these two domains follow an opposite logic. The first is based on the secrecy of knowledge and the protection of intellectual property, the second on the free multiplication and sharing of cultural products and imagery. Both of these domains are involved in the process of furious capital accumulation, but yet critical thought and activism cover them in a confused way. These schematic descriptions (hybrid nature of commodities, rent over spaces, rent over objects) are useful to explain the relation between the “social factory” producing the cultural capital, on one side, and the urban economy exploiting and putting it at work, on the other. Introducing the multiple nature of the commodity is important to understanding how the exploitation of social imagery works, how the desire, dreams and lifestyles of the multitudes are put at work and transformed into value. The new interpretation of rent introduced by Vercellone clarifies the complex and adventurous scenario of cognitive capitalism, that has indeed many fallouts on the physical metropolis. Traditionally rent is the term referring to land monopolies but it has become a crucial notion to understand the economy of culture and metropolis. Today rent can be applied on a diverse set of new material and immaterial spaces and for this reason a new taxonomy of economic rent is needed. Referring to the modern forms of space, we can distinguish: 1. rent on material spaces and new infrastructures, including communication infrastructures; 66
2. rent on immaterial and virtual spaces, like online communities and social networks; 3. rent on material spaces valorized through immaterial spaces. The third type of rent has been sketched by David Harvey in his essay “The Art of Rent” as an expansion of his previous analyses of the theory of rent.41 Capitalism is always looking for new marks of distinction to apply on goods and to cultivate new monopolies. In this sense the concept of collective symbolic capital of a given urban space is the way Harvey explains the mark of distinction that makes that given place valuable. Harvey is referring in particular to the case of Barcelona and to the recent gentrification triggered by the high quality of life and an urban milieu rich in history and sociality. This model brings a crucial rupture as it introduces a profound asymmetry between the immaterial level of collective culture (name it as you like: general intellect, collective imagery, cultural production, etc.) and the material base of the urban economy. Harvey introduces an ambivalent scenario, where the progressive collective imagery produced by the urban multitudes can be hijacked by capital and exploited against itself. The hype of a democratic and tolerant city is turned into business surprisingly without any intervention of brutal enclosure. The notion of collective symbolic capital is an example of an asymmetrical economy based on the multiplication of knowledge (to quote Rullani) or the exploitation of the common (as Negri and the post-Operaismo would translate that). On the other hand, a current trend is promoting a knowledge economy based on easy and progressive symmetries. New keyworkds such as “knowledge society,” “creative economy” and “peer-to-peer production” are advancing an optimistic scenario under the motto “information is non-rival” and the belief in an benevolent “wealth of networks.” But looking carefully, it is clear that contemporary capitalism is composed by strata of different nature and density that slides over each other and sliding they induce asymmetrical frictions, that is making and accumulating profit. Progressive imagery can always have a non-virtuous relation with the urban substratum that produced it — as the “life of the polis” is easily absorbed into the value chain. This asymmetry between the imagery of the metropolis and the economy of the metropolis itself can be traced along all the case studies previously described (from Barcelona to Berlin, from London to Amsterdam).
The artistic mode of production What is the status of art production in such a scenario of asymmetric forces? Contemporary art objects occupy a role between commodity and cultural artefact, and at the end they are also part of the general capital produced by the social factory. This nature was revealed already by Dadaism, conceptualism and art avantgardes of the XX century, but today those intuitions are a natural component of the spectacular capitalism. What is under-estimated and undervestigated is the social role of art in global 67
cities — its molar dimension and not simply its molecular and intimate dimension. When Sharon Zukin introduced the artistic mode of production to describe the gentrification techniques in New York, what was at stake was not the aesthetic dimension of art, but its “society life.” The artistic mode of production rose when real estate speculators learnt the lesson and realized that collective symbolic capital can be catalysed and accumulated in an artificial way. Sadly enough, from Amsterdam to Berlin, the art world is becoming the personal fashion designer of real estate. The chimera born out of the assemblage of real estate and cultural production rised its head again in New York, as Smith reminds us: On the Lower East Side two industries defined the new urban frontier that emerged in the 1980s. Indispensable, of course, is the real estate industry which christened the northern part of the Lower East Side the “East Village”in order to capitalize on its geographical proximity to the respectability, security, culture and high rents of Greenwich Village. Then there is the culture industry — art dealers and patrons, gallery owners and artists, designers and critics, writers and performers — which has converted urban dilapitadation into ultra chic. Together in the 1980s the culture and real estate industries invaded thir rump of Manhattan from the west. […] Block by block, building by building, the area was converted to a landscape of glamour and chic spiced with just a hint of danger.42
The classic account of the promicous relation between real estate business and art business in New York is the article “The Fine Art of Gentrification”43 by Rosalyn Deutsche and Cara Gendel Ryan. Although the new East Village art scene and its legitimators in the press ignore the workings of gentrification, they have, in fact, allowed themselves to become enmeshed in its mechanism. Galleries and artists drive up rents and displace the poor. Artists have placed their housing needs above those of residents who cannot choose where to live. The alignment of art-world interests with those of the city government and the real-estate industry became explicit to many residents on the Lower East Side during the ultimately successful battle which community groups waged to defeat Mayor Koch’s Artist Homeownership Program (AHOP).
The Artist Homeownership Program was a planned strategy of the New York city council “to develop cooperative or condominium loft-type units for artists through the rehabilitation of properties owned by the city” and “to provide artists with an opportunity for homeownership to meet their special work requirements, to encourage them to continue to live and work in New York City and to stimulate unique alternatives for the reuse and rehabilitation of city-owned property.”44 Something quite similar to the present “cultural breeding grounds” policies of Dutch cities. Despite the lobbying of the art community the planwas opposed by a strong social protest and defeated . !!!! 68
The city’s eagerness to allocate three million dollars of these public funds for the
housing needs of white, middle-class artists was seen as a clear indication of the city’s attitudes toward the housing needs of the poor. “It’s like taking food out of the mouth of someone who is hungry and giving it to someone who is eating everyday,” commented one community worker.45
However, the gentrification apparatus had a hybrid nature and was composed by a complex and consensual machinery not only in tha hand of the city council. Many subejct were cooperating to produce a “new state of mind” and a new symbolic space. Consciously or unconsciously, they approach the neighborhood with dominating and possessive attitudes that transform it into an imaginary site. Art journals, the mass media, galleries, established alternative spaces, and museums manipulate and exploit the neighborhood, thereby serving as conduits for the dominant ideology that facilitates gentrification. Myriad verbal and visual representations of the neighborhood circulate in exhibition catalogues, brochures, and magazines. Through such representations a neighborhood whose residents are fighting for survival metamorphoses into a place “that encourages one to be the person he is with greater ease than the other parts of the city.” Inevitably, concrete reality evaporates into thin air: “One must realize that the East Village or the Lower East Side is more than a geographical location — it is a state of mind.”
It was not simply the gradual cooptation of the underground counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s. What Deutsche and Cara Gendel Ryan underlined was also an aesthetical turn. Far from tranforming the anti-gentrification conflict in a obscurantist anti-art movement, it is important to denounce how the molecular dimension of art is affected but molar pressures and political context. The rise of gentrification in the Lower East Side followed the rise of Neo-Expressionism, as the Whitney Museum exhibition Minimalism to Expressionism declared in 1983. Would this cooperation between the art scene and a process like gentrificaton have been so easily achieved in the past? Throughout the 60s and 70s significant art, beginning with minimalism, was oriented toward an awareness of context. Among the radical results of this orientation were art practices that intervened directly in their institutional and social environments. While a number of artists today continue contextualist practices that demonstrate an understanding of the material bases of cultural production, they are a minority in a period of reaction. The specific form this reaction takes in the art world is an unapologetic embrace of commercialism, opportunism, and a concomitant rejection of the radical art practices of the past twenty years. The art establishment has resurrected the doctrine that aestheticism and self-expression are the proper concerns of art and that they constitute realms of experience divorced from the social. This doctrine is embodied in a dominant neoexpressionism which, despite its pretentions to pluralism, must be understood as a system of rigid and restrictive beliefs: in the primacy of the self existing prior to and independently of society; in an eternal 69
conflict, outside of history, between the individual and society; in the efficacy of individualized, subjective protest. The participants in the East Village scene serve this triumphant reaction. But the victory of neoexpressionism and its East Village variant, like the victory of all reactions, depends on a lie in order to validate itself, in this case the lie that neoexpressionism is exciting, new and liberating.
Despite its malicious abuses, the artistic mode of production is simply a partial component of a broader biopolitical mode of production, whose contradictions are not easy to escape. A component of the more general collective symbolic capital, the artistic mode of production is one of the new biopolitical apparatuses of capitalist accumulation. Biopolitical because the life and the desires of the old and new inhabitants are involved in the prodution of a collective subjectivity. Despite the early XX century avantgardes already conceptualized the end of the art object and projected art out of the white cube into the public mediasphere, today’s “cultural breeding” policies reinforce an old and conservative notion of art. Early XX century was the time of the political role of art, before any society of spectacle and the commodity art à la Andy Warhol. Unexpectedly, the “everyone is an artist” utopia of the avantgardes has been realized today by the proliferation of digital media, but with no revolutionary effect. After the democratization of art has been realised by the technological progress, the democratization turns against its original meaning. The crucial aesthetical and political node to confront today is no more “the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction” but “the artists in the age of their social reproduction.” The general intellect knows sometimes its entropy. With the implosion of the Fordist categories (art, labour, politics) into the sphere of mass intellectuality, that artistic gesture itself has passed to the public sphere, that is not necessary the media sphere. If Artaud was concerned about the collective and mediatic gesture of theatre, today the collective imagery cannot be transformed in a representation of revolution. The battleground has changed. Political art today is the art that reveals and cuts the link between collective imagery and its parasitic economy. In this sense today’s avantgarde and conceptual art can be only an art of economic sabotage — an effective sabotage of the parasite, a fight against the hydra of capitals and concrete, not simply an imagery of resistance. Reclaiming the value produced by the social factory, reversing the surplus accumulation, not taking art simply as a medium for a political message. The age of cultural jamming and of the so-called “artivism” (art as a medium of political content) is over. Today’s art grandeur has to confront the grandeur of the surplus-value of the metropolis. This is the role of art abreast the times of the social factory.
The dispostifs of the factory of culture Once the general mode of production of the metropolitan factory has been clarified, more specific models, grammars and concretions of the current cultural economy need to be introduced. Many keywords have been shaped recently after the popular notions of “creativity” and “commons.” As we have already seen, the original 1998 definition of Creative Industries by the task force set up by Tony Blair stated: “Those industries that have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have a potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property.” On the other hand, Richard Florida’s epidemic of “creative economy” has been based on the exploitation of the cultural capital of a given city as a driver of economic growth. Florida addresses a simplistic and progressive political agenda with no acknowledgements of the exploitive sides of such a process. Close to this model, more in the tradition of the North-European social-democracies, the Dutch policies of cultural breeding grounds (culturele broedplaatsen) has been used in a more complex scenario as a strategy to legalize the squat movement, support the art scene and today even to promote the city marketing and the brand of Amsterdam as a “creative city.” Similarly in the online world, as previously covered, the rise of the digital culture has introduced its specific models of cultural economy, sometimes with sort of revolutionary aspirations, like in the case of the Creative Commons initiative. In the previous chapter I have already explained how the Creative Commons are not based on a productive notions of commons, but on a pure digitalist and fictitious notion of economy. The original bug of Creative Commons is the digitalist utopia, the “ideology of the free,” the do-it-for-free injunction for authors — that becomes sooner or later an alienation from the material economy and real life conditions. Against the “creative commons” the political project of the “autonomous commons” has been imagined as a proper productive commons that can allow a personal wage and effect the material side of life and economy. The other side of the immaterial Creative Commons is indeed the very material economic rent applied over the spaces, media and infrastructures that make possible digital sharing. The widely discussed “alternative compensation systems” scarcely address the issue of exploitation of cultural capital and collective intelligence by private profits. If the “autonomous commons” have been described to confront the fictitious Creative Commons, we could imagine as well autonomous Social Industries to compete against the Creative Industries. Here wealth is meant to be produced at the level of human-size markets with no space for the capital accumulation of “anti-markets” (as Braudel defines capitalism against the scale of the small producers). The Social Industries may be considered one of the economic models of the “social factory”, when it starts to self-organize its autonomous production. In opposition to the Creative Industries, the Social Industries are not based on the exploitation of intellectual property but on the economy 71
of material and produtive commons. The concepts of Creative Industries, Creative Economy, Creative Commons, cultural breeding places and the alternative proposals of the autonomous commons and Social Industries represent simply a first conceptual map of the dispositifs of the “factory of culture.” This effort is aiming to make the invisible architecture of cultural economy finally emerge over the skyline of the metropolis. Gentrification can be taken today as the best example of the asymmetrical relation and of the rupture between the cultural sphere and the material sphere. However, gentrification is a pure dynamic process, so it follows the unpredictable animal spirits of the market. Even a process of degentrification may occurs, when urban areas do not respond to speculative attempts and for different reasons go back to the original status. Some districts of Berlin for example, like Mitte, have been passing through a very slow gentrification process, that at a certain point looked like it was going to turn back. Anyhow, the whole art of gentrification is based on deception. From the point of view of real estate business there is no romanticism of the place. The proper revenues are made by the owners selling to the newcomers right at top of the curve of speculation, when the rent gap is highest. The marketing strategies and the inoculation of artificial symbolic capital are aimed only to get rid of the properties as soon as the gap is favourable, and not a minute later. Behind the big PR campaigns of the @22 plan in Barcelona or the Media Spree project in Berlin, there is clearly the wisdom of the good deal at the right time. Gentrification is a temporary and highly dynamic phenomenon, involved in a vortex of capitals that leave as soon as possible for another land of profit. Gentrification is based on “belief” and, in this sense, it may represent a trap of activists and resisting residents when they do believe in the hype. One of the contradiction of the fictitious dimension of cognitive capitalism is precisely that resistance can bring energy to the accumulation of attention and symbolic capital. Everybody has realised the grammar of gentrification from Berlin to Barcelona. However still common knowledge finds difficult to say: “the price of our house rent is rising simply because we produce the value of the district where we live.” Or in other words, “my social life makes my life more expensive” — nothing more “biopolitical” than this. Once symbolic capital is accumulated, it is quite difficult to de-accumulate. In the current discourse around gentrification the complicit role of activists and artists in the process is often debated. Gentrification becomes gentrifiction: gentrification works because even activists believe in it (and here the risk of a postmodern impasse is clear). The trap of gentrification (and especially of gentrification theory itself) is precisely one of the many fictitious dimensions of capitalism. Although in the same way, degentrification can be triggered simply as a self-fulfilling prophecy, a buzz released in the mediascape as a guerrilla marketing strategy. In general, gentrification on a broad scale cannot be stopped, as it is simply a transient status of the flow of capitals. Gentrification like the common is a gradual and dynamic process of accumulation and dynamicall has to be confronted. It can be only modulated, challenged on the plane of valorization, or seldom 72
reversed in degentrification: a mere resistant and reactive form of activism (like in the form of a predictable and polite street protest, for instance) may result to be counter-effective. Many of the forms of resistance are unconsciously complicit with the accumulation they are supposed to fight. How to recognize them? The gesture that is specular to the accumulation of symbolic capital is a gesture of productive sabotage, a counter-dispositif affecting the exchange-value and the surplus-value (to introduce ironically two performative and, why not, artistic categories), not simply a gesture of spectacular resistance.
Origin testooooooo testo Notes 01.“The spectable is capital to such a degree
of accumulation that it becomes an image”,
11.Smith Neil, “Gentrification in Berlin and the
thesis 34, in Debord Guy, “The society of the
Revanchist State”, Mieterecho / Policing
Spectable”, Zone Books, New York 1995.
Crowds, 10/20/2007; see also at einstellung.
02.For a definition of “Biopolitical Machine”
see: Hardt Michael & Negri Antonio, “Empire”, Harvard University Press, 2000. 03.Smith Neil, “The Urban Frontier.
Gentrification and the Revanchist City”, Routledge, New York 1996.
so36.net/en/ps/524 12. See the pragmatic yet reactive book: Heath
Joseph & Potter Andrew, “The Rebel Sell: Why the Culture Can’t Be Jammed”, Harper Collins, Toronto 2004. 13.“Very soon the Romanische Café accom-
04.Ibid., p. XIII
modated the bohemians, who, in the years
05. Ibid., p. 42.
immediately after the war, were able to feel
06.Glass Ruth, “London: aspects of change”,
themselves masters of the house. [...] When
Macgibbon & Kee, London 1964.
the German economy began to recover, the
07. Smith Neil, “The Urban Frontier”. cit., p. 67.
bohemian contingent visibly lost the threat-
08. Zukin Sharon, “Loft Living: Culture and
ening nimbus that had surrounded them in
Capital in Urban Change”, Johns Hopkins
the era of the Expressionist revolutionary
University Press, Baltimore 1982.
manifestoes. [...] The “artists” withdrew into
09.Mele Christopher, “Selling the Lower East
Side”, University of Minnesota, 2000.
mancano provenienza credits!!!
the background, to become more and more part of the furniture, while the bourgeois,
10.Castells Manuel, “Cultural identity, sexual
represented by stock-exchange speculators,
liberation and urban structure: The gay
managers, film and theater agents, literary-
community in San Francisco” in Castells
minded clerks, began to occupy the place
Manuel, “The City and the Grassroots: A
– as a place of relaxation. [...] The history of
Cross-Cultural Theory of Urban Social
the Berlin coffeehouses is largely that of
Movements”, pp. 138–170, Edward Arnold,
different strata of the public, those who first
conquered the floor begin obliged to make way for others gradually pressing forward, and thus to ascend the stage”, Benjamin Walter, “A Berlin Chronicle”, 1932, Schocken, New York 1986. 14. See: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrej_Holm 15. See: Ribalta Jorge, “Mediation and
Construction of Publics: The MACBA Experience”, Republicart, 04/2004, at www. republicart.net/disc/institution/ribalta01_ en.htm; See also the implosive criticism of: Davies Anthony, “Take Me I’m Yours: Neoliberalising the Cultural Institution”, Mute Magazine, 04/18/2007, at www.metamute. org/en/Take-Me-Im-Yours 16. Jordà Joaquim, “De nens”, Massa d’Or
Produccions, Spain 2004. 17. Harvey David, “The Art of Rent:
Globabalization and the Commodification of Culture”, in Spaces of Capital, Routledge, New York 2001.
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrej_Holm, www. annalist.noblogs.org 29. See: Oudenampsen Merijn, “Amsterdam,
the City as a Business”, BAVO (ed.), Urban Politics Now: Re-Imagining Democracy
Amsterdam’s Creative Redevelopment”,
31. See: Boomgaard Jeroen (ed.), “Highrise -
Common Ground: Art and the Amsterdam Zuidas Area”, Valiz, Amsterdam 2008, at www.valiz.nl/en/Highrise-CommonGround 32. For more case studies in Europe, see:
“Contrapolis; or, Creativity and Enclosure
33. See: www.thelondonparticular.org and:
The London Particular, “Fear Death by Water: The Regeneration Siege in Central Hackney”, Mute Magazine, 6/3/2003, at www.metamute.org/en/SPECIAL-
communication language. However the first
www. metamute.org/en/taxonomy/term/3436 34. Sassen Saskia, “The Global City: New
because of its sexist connotation. See also:
York, London, Tokyo, Princeton”, Princeton
University Press, 1991. 35. Smith Neil, “The New Urban Frontier:
Evolució de la població. 1900-2006”,
Gentrification and the Revanchist City”,
36. See: www.euromayday.org 37. Interesting enough the model of “fabbrica
diffusa” or “social factory” has been developed by thinkers with a background
25. See www.mediaspree.de/Magazin.43.0.html
in the North-East Italy, from Toni Negri to
26.“Media Spree versenken”,
Maurizio Lazzarato to Enzo Rullani (this more
at www.ms-versenken.org 27. See: The Right to the City - Soziale Kämpfe
in der neoliberalen Stadt, Berlin, 11-13 April 2008, buko.info/stadtraum/
“The Fine Art of Gentrification”, cit. 46
30. See: www.urbanresort.nl
PROJECT-Fear-Death-by-Water; see also:
24. See www.mediaspree.de; see also
45. Deutsche Rosalyn & Cara Gendel Ryan,
lot of attention precisely by using a modern
23. See: de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berlin-Gropiusstadt
in Deutsche Rosalyn & Cara Gendel Ryan, “The Fine Art of Gentrification”, cit.
using the term ’puta’. The movement got a
Program, Request for Proposals”, p. 1, quoted
“The Fine Art of Gentrification”, pp. 91-111,
Variant, n. 31, Spring 2008, Glasgow,
22.“Ajuntament de Barcelona: Estadística:
October, Vol. 31, (Winter 1984). 44.“The New York City Artist Homeownership
City: An Archaeological Approach to
20.See: “Can Ricart + Parc Central, urban space
and successful slogan has been abandoned
Blackwell, Oxford 1982. 43. Deutsche Rosalyn & Cara Gendel Ryan,
Merijn, “Back to the Future of the Creative
19. See: www.nau21.net
The original version sounds more sexist by
41. Harvey David, “The Limits to Capital”,
Publishers, 2007; See also: Oudenampsen
in the Cities”, workshop, Rotterdam, 26-27
21.“No vas a tener casa en tu puta vida”.
Gallimard, Paris 1970. Trad. “The Urban Revolution”, University of Minnesota Press, 2003.
42. See: Neil Smith, “The Urban Froniter”, cit., p. 18.
March 2008, www.enoughroomforspace.org/
metropolis2.htm 40. Lefebvre Henri, “La Révolution urbaine”,
in the Neoliberal City, Rotterdam: NAi
18. See: www.22barcelona.com
of 21th century”, at www.straddle3.net/
28. See: www.einstellung.so36.net/en,
known for the “cognitive capitalism” model). 38. See: www.seminaire.samizdat.net/Seminaire-
Multitude-et-Metropole,106.html 39. See: www.generation-online.org/t/
Scenius, or Communal Genius KEVIN KELLY
Scenius is like genius, only embedded in a scene rather than in genes. Brian Eno suggested the word to convey the extreme creativity that groups, places or “scenes” can occasionally generate. His actual definition is: “Scenius stands for the intelligence and the intuition of a whole cultural scene. It is the communal form of the concept of the genius.” Individuals immersed in a productive scenius will blossom and produce their best work. When buoyed by scenius, you act like genius. Your likeminded peers, and the entire environment inspire you. The geography of scenius is nurtured by several factors: ƌɄ
Ʉ utual appreciation − Risky moves are applauded by the M group, subtlety is appreciated, and friendly competition goads the shy. Scenius can be thought of as the best of peer pressure. ƌɄɄ ɄRapid exchange of tools and techniques − As soon as something is invented, it is flaunted and then shared. Ideas flow quickly because they are flowing inside a common language and sensibility. ƌɄɄ ɄNetwork effects of success − When a record is broken, a hit happens, or breakthrough erupts, the success is claimed by the entire scene. This empowers the scene to further success. ƌɄ ɄLocal tolerance for the novelties − The local “outside” does not push back too hard against the transgressions of the scene. The renegades and mavericks are protected by this buffer zone.
Didascalia mappa precedente 78
Scenius can erupt almost anywhere, and at different scales: in a corner of a company, in a neighborhood, or in an entire region. The history of art and science is crammed with episodes of scenius. 79
In modern literature there was the Algonquin Round Table,01 the Bloomsbury Group,02 the Inklings03 in Oxford, UK. In art there was Paris in the 20s, the lofts in Soho, NYC, and Burning Man04 recently. In science there was the Lunar Society05 in England, Building 20 at MIT,06 or the ever-spreading Silicon Valley. I was reminded of scenius while watching a documentary about rock climbers in Yosemite. The documentary “Vertical Frontiers”07 did not make my True Films08 list of best-ever docs, but it did reveal a new flavor of scenius I had not known before. The particulars of this scene are a fine example of what makes scenius work. Mountain climbers educated in the Alps discovered the vertical walls of granite in Yosemite in the 1930s and began to scale these monoliths. By 1941 climbers occupied a new permanent camp set up in the north side of Yosemite Valley, Camp 4.09 They would often camp there illegally for the entire summer. Most were climbing bums − young men with little money, lots of time, heedless of laws, and an overwhelming urge to climb in new ways. They hacked together amazingly innovative equipment, techniques, and ethics. Camp 4 became school, club, and summer home for many climbers, not a few who became well-known. Over the next 60 years this scenius would invent most of the modern techniques of rock climbing, and many innovations that would later spill into outdoor skills and gear in general. But the geography of this scenius is unremarkable. Camp 4 is a nondescript, bland, dusty campground. Building 20 at MIT, the home of fantastic engineering exploits like the improvement of radar, was likewise architecturally boring, almost dilapidated. Soho was blocks of unwanted industrial space. Like these other places, Camp 4 was a generic space with flexibility. However Camp 4 is also a walk-in camp. You need to haul everything on your back. That immediately filters out a lot of wannabes. The absence of cars also keeps everyone around. From the outside you would never guess there was anything special about the place. I think that is true of most scenius. The scenius of Camp 4 was threatened after century level floods in 1997 wiped out other camp sites in Yosemite and the Curry Company wanted to build lodges on the higher ground at Camp 4. Climbers around the world campaigned to have Camp 4 designated on the Register of Historic Places in order to keep it. Ultimately they prevailed, and Camp 4 has remained a haven and incubator for climbing enthusiasts. (There’s a book about Camp 4,10 which I have not read. The film is available from Netflix and Amazon.11) Although many have tried many times, it is not really possible to command scenius into being. Every start up company, or university would like their offices to be an example of scenius. The number of cities in the world hoping to recreate the scenius of Silicon Valley is endless, but very few have achieved anything close. Innumerable art scenes begin and vanish quickly. The serendipitous ingredients for scenius are hard to control. They depend on the presence of the right early pioneers. A place that is open, but not too open. A buffer that is tolerant of outlaws. And some flash of 80
excitement to kick off the virtuous circle. You just can’t order this. What Camp 4 illustrated is that the best you can do is NOT KILL IT. When it pops up, don’t crush it. When it starts rolling, don’t formalize it. When it sparks, fan it. But don’t move the scenius to better quarters. Try to keep accountants and architects and police and do-gooders away from it. Let it remain inefficient, wasteful, edgy, marginal, in the basement, downtown, in the burbs, in the hotel ballroom, on the fringes, out back, in Camp 4. When it happens, honor and protect it.
Origin www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2008/06/scenius_or_comm.php Notes 01.See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algonquin_
Round_Table 02.See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloomsbury_Group 03.See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inklings 04.See www.burningman.com
Books, 1998; See at: www.amazon. com/Camp-4-Recollections-YosemiteRockclimber/dp/0898865875/ref=sr_1_1?ie= UTF8&s=books&qid=1213117704&sr=1-1 11.Denton Cohen Kristi, “Vertical Frontier”,
05. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunar_Society
Peloton Productions, 2002; See at www.
07. See www.verticalfrontier.org
08. See truefilms.com
10.Cf. Roper, Steve “Camp 4: Recollections of
a Yosemite Rockclimber”, Mountaineers Credits © Kevin Kelly (www.kk.org/kk)
It’s hard to talk about cities without talking about the ballads that fill them. Hard to talk about ballads without thinking about the spaces they occupy. They are the ghosts giving body to the imaginary. They’re stories. Signs. Traces. They’re scraps of life. They’re the bodies that fill empty spaces, able to connote urban expressions with a sound, a color, a look, a style. They’re the sensibility that defines a cultural scene. It appears to us that, in the city, the most marginal places are the ones able to produce the most surprising ballads, as well as new forms of innovation and creativity. In such spaces new stories and emotions are woven. Experiences – often radically changing cultural consumption – are incubated. It is these spaces that we’ve been looking for throughout Check-in Architecture. With the internet so pervasive, today it seems strange to speak of the relationship between the production of certain sounds, certain signs, and geography. But despite the fact that the bohéme is becoming more and more connected to the cultural industry, urban wastelands remain open to building other narratives, places where stories and generations with nothing to lose coagulate. There are ballads belonging to a specific geographic area, like grime or dubstep, that after saturating pirate radios in London are now on the top of the charts. They are the sound of South London. And then there are records of echoing spaces, where sound has an adherence to some parts of the city so clear and dramatic that it feels as if it were cast from a mold. In the two LPs by Burial, maybe the most surprising English producer today, the ghosts of a harmless, post-rave London are stratified. These ballads capture a city that has digested sounds and stories mercilessly, and today still seems desolate, caught in that limbo between the periphery and suburbia, as in a Ballardian landscape. But ballads are mostly 86
feeling. It is in those places where you can perceive forms of solidarity, passion and friendship, that innovation may be born. Fanzines. Record labels. Exhibition spaces. Clubs. Wrapped inside are the biographies of the people who animate them, traces that often remain hidden, but that are actually the DNA from which experience springs. In “All City Writers,” Andrea Caputo collects the testimonies of those who have been bombing the city with graffiti for years, starting from the urban wastelands and then moving closer and closer to the very heart of the city. Inside this collection are stories of friendship, trains, devastated subway lines and memories of the morning after, stolen on camera. To understand what symbolic heritage a generation is producing in and with the city is to understand the generation. Understanding today’s cities means tracing the biography of these experiences.
“AllCity Writers” describes a vast research on the graffiti writing movement, focusing particularly on the process of its exportation from New York to all of Europe during the 80s. The first part of the research analyzes how graffiti in media such as movies, videos, magazines, and books from New York influenced Europe. When images of the New York subway arrived in London, Paris and Amsterdam, a huge milestone was set: a first generation of European graffiti writers started to follow
The following three extracts
are taken from AllCity Writers (by Andrea Caputo), due for publication.
the letters, the method, the techniques, and the general lifestyle of New York in the 70s. Due to the fact that no one, from the media to the average person, was interested in this import item, almost nothing was released in Europe during this period, except Spraycan Art, which featured a few European artists at the beginning of their careers. Thus, any information regarding this phenomenon emerged from the underground, both physically and theoretically: in countries where the scene was strong, trains were painted and subways were hit, and in order to spread news and local names, a sneaking network of fanzines took root. Tags and pieces were initially concentrated in forgotten areas or non-lieux: under bridges, on railway lines, in construction sites, etc. Basically, writers were the rats of the city, looking for visibility but still undercover. Once the phenomenon began to explode and affect the historic fabric, the cityscape and the appearance of any European capital suffered an unexpected aesthetic blow that was as traumatic as the explosive boom of billboards and commercials during the 60s. The second part is a case study of the aesthetic and social consequences of this movement in Italy, with a detailed analysis of the more prolific and important centres: each chapter examines the places and protagonists of a singular scene, in clear conflict with the singularity of the local historic context. In Italy, this trauma increasingly involved every aspect of the urban fabric, from the outskirts to the city centres, affecting metropolitan areas and
“AllCity Writers” describes a vast research on the graffiti writing movement, focusing particularly on the process of its exportation from New York to all of Europe during the 80s. The first part of the research analyses how graffiti in media such as movies, videos, magazines, and books from New York influenced Europe. When images of the New York subway arrived in London, Paris and Amsterdam, a huge milestone was set: a first generation of European graffiti writers started to follow the letters, the method, the techniques, and the general lifestyle of New York in the 70s. Due to the fact that no one, from the media to the average person, was interested in this import item, almost nothing was released in Europe during this period, except Spraycan Art, which featured a few European artists at the beginning of their careers. Thus, any information regarding this phenomenon emerged from underground, both physically and theoretically: in countries where the scene was strong, trains were painted and subways were hit, and in order to spread news and local Names, a sneaking network of fanzines took root. Tags and pieces were initially concentrated in forgotten areas or non-lieux: under bridges, on railway lines, in construction sites, etc. Basically, writers were the rats of the city, looking for visibility but still undercover. Once the phenomenon began to explode and affect the historic fabric, the cityscape and the appearance of any European capital suffered an unexpected aesthetic blow that was as traumatic as the explosive boom of billboards and commercials during the 60s. The second part is a case study of the aesthetic and social consequences of this movement in Italy, with a detailed analysis of the more prolific and important centers : each chapter examines the places and protagonists of a singular scene, in clear conflict with the singularity of the local historic context. In Italy, this trauma increasingly involved every aspect of the urban fabric, from the outskirts to the city centers , affecting metropolitan areas and small towns alike. The brutal and wild presence of writing and the character of the places affected by it, constitute the starting point for an analysis on the character of Italian cities in relation to this unpredictable form of public art. Through historic and detailed documentation deriving from a singular urban episode, the New York City subway, “AllCity Writers” presents and documents the evolution and the consequences of a subcultural phenomenon, which in the last decades has provoked a change in the rules of aesthetics and communication in modern day society.
Mencio / Pac Crew – “A-Line Memories” I think it was 1996. The A Line, the one with reddish-orange cars, the most underground one, hadn’t been regularly bombed since ETC’s regular raid period. A few pieces came out during the holidays or on rainy nights. But still, the line was mostly clean. Too much. And everybody knows the harder it is, the more prestigious. When a line always gets painted, it means it’s basically for practice. Maybe it’s hard, maybe only the bravest, most badass writers do it, but it’s possible. When a line is more or less virgin there are more uncertainties, so the crew or the writer opening the way gets the credit – recognized or not – in writing’s micro-history. The beginning of the change coincided with a very precise episode, with a train parked in the tunnel before the San Giovanni station, the one leading to the famous basilica. This meant that, if you wanted, you could reach the cars from the platform. What a spot! I was with Foe, a writer from Bordeaux, who was my guest at the time. At the time, I’d gathered some “free” Buntlack spraypaint; even a tag would have been worth it with that paint, but 90
to enter the tunnel right in front of the cameras and the people was risky. The adrenaline told us to “Go!” and then “Let go...” After some brisk reasoning, we decided to move when the passengers were getting out of the train, so that the crowd all over the platform would keep the camera screens busy. At the same time, everybody was turning their back to us because they were heading towards the exits and the awaiting passengers were pushing to get in. In! We made it. We were in the tunnel and we were running along a tight sidewalk. Let’s stop at the first car! No, at the second! At the third one then, so that the engine driver doesn’t see us when he comes to take his train back. Everything’s dark, crazy humid, every train that passes almost takes us away with its uproar. Along with my heart beating like mad in my chest, the scent of paint engulfed us. That I’ll see the traces we left on the cars everyday, exalts me. About fifteen minutes, no more, even though the temptation to stay is strong. We wait for the next train to stop at the station, we run after it like mad, we reach the platform. The luminosity blinds us, we feel light, everything surrounding us appears unfamiliar, far away. Relaxed, exalted and strong... it’s the magical post-train-writing feeling. It’s the very search for this feeling that always leads me to do trains. I feel full, satisfied, even though afterwards I’m already fired up for the next one. Finally, a spot at rush hour, out of the regular Roman standard. I don’t remember if we waited at the station or if I saw the piece later on. Foe was a little disappointed by his silver and black, but I was in seventh heaven. The joy we felt seeing our pieces along the A line pushed us to repeat our deeds. We had to find other solutions. So, like with the orange train line, we took advantage of the short days of winter and autumn. This had to be the timetable, not painting while the yard slept during the night, but while the yard was wide awake; it’s ten times better. The A Line trainyard, South-East of Rome. A suggestive place. With the new district council and an interest in crumbling ruins and Roman aqueducts, the whole area contiguous to the warehouse was fenced-off embellished with tags. Only Rome can offer such a considerable contrast: the genius of the ancient town close to a subway warehouse. Fragments of an important memory next to the culture spread of writing, first from New York and then from Europe. For Romans, the ancient and modern always have lived on top of one another. Every afternoon, me and the PAC Crew go to the warehouse. The outwear is always the same, not really striking, not really hip-hop. We pack a plastic bag with a six-pack of spray cans and sport gloves and a wool hat to make us unrecognizable, keep us warm, and at the very least a mask to keep us from inhaling too much aerosol. The wall we have to climb over is high on the way in and even higher on the way back, because you have to start from a lower level; but agility is a challenge as well. The contrast between artificial lights, underground shades and the coming of the night disguises you well on the one hand, but on the other hand, deceives you about the presence of guards, workers, or train drivers. We always paint on the side closest to the wall, the first pieces are nickel silver, small and unsatisfactory. As we get acquainted with the yards and our reconnaissance improves, we move toward the central platforms. 91
Once our control of the place increases, we clearly understand that we can dare to paint at any moment of the day. We inaugurated in this same way the morning routes of the underground out to the sea. The PAC crew bombed the A line. We did the first whole-car pop up, the first “end to end.” At the And on New Year’s Eve, the first whole-train. The frequency of our tags and pieces increased. The line became ours, and the stories multiplied. I can’t tell you how many times the cops have shot at us. In that moment, you have no fear. You just think of running and trying not to get screwed. You don’t want to stop on the painted train, you don’t want to stop. Besides the action, snapping pictures took a lot of time and patience. Writing can be very ephemeral when you got no images to hand out, to swap, to publish. By day, we used to go out of the warehouse to do our trainspotting, in turns; hours of waiting for a car that never comes. Also the control tower noticed us, and we were chased several times. Trivial compared to our need to write our pieces. Wonderful years, I can’t tell you the satisfaction of seeing a train roll by with your name on it; the signature, a sign that I wanted more, more than others dared. Every story is just a little fragment. The moments, the days, the anticipations, the escapes, the omnipotence, the riding over your fears: you can’t start all this over again. That’s why those who bomb a lot of trains can’t be associated with those who only paint walls. Trains travel with you, embodying your desire of ubiquity, a desire that runs through intensely populated territories; even if cleaned, the fragments of the A-Line will forever belong to us.
Dafne / 2D Music, dancing, street-writing, dress codes in a time before the Internet. How to buy a pair of Superstars in Zurich, leaving from San Remo without a precise address just because a friend heard there was a store downtown that had some on display in the window… I painted from 1990 to 2000, I was in search of something to fulfill my quest to define who or what I was and why… I wasn’t looking for a way to belong, I was curious to discover the chemical connection between things, to sketch a map of influences, and develop a personal language. In the 90s, the evolution of writing from America to Europe could be witnessed on the pages of independent publications like Tox1 from Paris, 400ml from Zurich, On The Run from Monaco, Trap from Milan, and AL from Genoa, or by leafing through a rare monographic book about a European city: Paris Tonkar (1987-1991)... The first time I brought it to WAG in Milan, everyone was blown away. It was all underground, any information was precious and hard to find just like Back deodorant spray-caps that could only be bought in German supermarkets… With Skah and Onis. Train 135 from Vicenza, going to Stuttgart and Frankfurt to see B-Boy battles or Zulu Parties at the Loreto metro stop. I found my name in a book about classical mythology, the phonetics 92
and the shape of the letters were exactly what I was looking for, 2+1+2. As I read the story about the character, I thought it might bring me good luck and maybe I’d even be transformed into a bay shrub if I was being chased for painting… that’s more or less what happened one night in Rome while I was painting trains with friends, we heard some shots and saw security guards running toward us, the fence was so slippery we weren’t able to climb it, as I attempted to, I fell into a bamboo thicket that hid me so I could observe the movements of our pursuers… I mainly painted trains at night, in an exquisitely inverted parallel dimension where fatigue was enough of a drug to alter the following days clear-headedness. We’d arrive by car all tense, and during our activity we felt responsible for the safety of others. I always wore a plastic dish glove on my right hand. Layers and layers of toxic paint pretty much destroyed that glove… The first RAL rail tour was in ’93-’94. After looking over the train schedule, we figured out where the most isolated yards were and which trains would leave first the next morning and where they would go, so we could take pictures of our pieces at that station without looking suspicious... More than once we’d be on the road driving side by side with the train we’d painted… people looked on in amazement as the train passed through the countryside, trains hailing from tiny towns… the tour lasted a week, by day we slept in Marica Rock’s car. New renaissance – this is why Francesca Alinovi’s articles in the magazine Flash Art during the 80s were so important, they were my own private window on New York, stirring up images in my mind which then became a reality right in my own backyard, much to my surprise. In July 1984 in Quattordio, Delta Two, Ero, Phase Two, and Rammelzee arrived from the Bronx and Queens to paint a building and shock the small village with their “army of letters” and their “Armamental” style. “Each character represents a letter. The activity takes place at night, in train yards, forbidden places, ghost battlegrounds. Writing was created in the dark where you can’t touch, you can’t perceive, you can’t concentrate or manipulate a thing. You have to worry about potholes, tracks to jump over, rabid and muddy dogs chasing after you. That’s as close as it gets to Gothic.” Rammelzee 1984
Marcello Kids – San Lorenzo “San Lorenzo suffered with my heart, its survivors and its dead have left an open road inside of me.” This is how Elio Filippo, poet from San Lorenzo and pupil of Ungaretti, concluded his story about the American bombings of San Lorenzo on July 19, 1943. San Lorenzo, a working-class neighborhood located near Rome’s central train station, has always been a place of interaction, cultural turmoil, 93
delinquency; an inspiration for poets, writers, painters, and distinguished directors like Pier Paolo Pasolini. Obviously, the neighborhood has had its share of years of glory and years of misery: “Respectable people only come to San Lorenzo once they’re dead,” Maria Montessori wrote back in 1907, and this reputation stuck with the neighborhood for many years… The actual urban layout of the neighborhood − an elongated quadrilateral shape enclosed by ancient Roman walls, which contain a freight yard, a cemetery, and Via Tiburtina − demarcate and isolate it from the rest of the urban fabric, rendering it a tried and true town within the city itself. During WWII, San Lorenzo became HQ of the Nazi–Fascist Resistance, and this climate influenced and saturated the neighborhood’s mentality throughout the years: in the 70s during the proletarian struggle, in the 90s with student protests, and even in our days. Still today, despite the fact that property speculators and city councilmen would like to “clean up” San Lorenzo and make it more bourgeois, it is still a working-class neighborhood that embodies the real spirit of Rome. As soon as you set foot in San Lorenzo, it is clear that it’s a hotspot for working-class politics, from aggressive Left-wing movements, to Roma soccer fan clubs, to Anarchist groups. D. Orano wrote: “The same people live and struggle in the hideous apartment blocks of San Lorenzo. This social context provides fertile terrain for the diffusion of Anarchist thought as a direct reaction to the widespread state of decay. Still today, it is common to find amidst bona fide San Lorenzo locals and those who often go there, a slight matrix of Anarchism.” The phenomenon of spraypainting San Lorenzo’s walls began at the end of the 70s with the increasing presence of politically-charged writing associated with important squatting structures like Via dei Volsci and Radio Onda Rossa (the historical radio station of the local movement), and with Roma soccer fan clubs like C.U.C.S (Commando Ultrà Curva Sud) and THE BOYS. In addition to this, 10 years later, Roman writers began to mark San Lorenzo’s walls making it one of the city’s first neighborhoods with numerous tags and bombings in ’87 and ’88, thanks to the Kidz crew, who at the time were still called N.F.A (New Fresh Artists). In the years to come, it became a source of inspiration for other writers, even though access to its walls was prohibited for many years. Motivated by an uncommon gang spirit, the Kidz protected their turf by writing their name everywhere and covering other crew’s tags. An atypical coexistence of various and peculiar underground groups that are poles apart in ideology but united by the spirit of the place: Roma soccer club hooligans (not Lazio hooligans), political activists (only Anarchists or radical Left-wing supporters), and writers too: but only the Kidz.
Origin TESTO TESTO Credits ???
The Wire Burial: Unedited Transcript MARK FISHER
Wire: Vocals were always central to your sound, but they have become even more important on this album than they were on your first LP. Burial: I was brought up on old jungle tunes and garage tunes had lots of vocals in but me and my brothers loved intense, darker tunes too, I found something I could believe in... but sometimes I used to listen to the ones with vocals on my own and it was almost a secret thing. I’d love these vocals that would come in, not proper singing but cut-up and repeating, and executed coldly. It was like a forbidden siren. I was into the cut-up singing as much as the dark basslines. Something happens when I hear the subs, the rolling drums and vocals together. To me it’s like a pure UK style of music, and I wanted to make tunes based on what UK underground hardcore tunes mean to me, and I want a dose of real life in there too, something people can relate to. So when I started doing tunes, I didn’t have the kit and I didn’t understand how to do it properly, so I can’t make the drums and bass sound massive, no loud sounds taking up the whole tune. But as long as it had a bit of singing in it, it forgave the rest of the tune. It was the thing that made me excited about doing it. Then I couldn’t believe that I’d done a tune that gave me that feeling that proper real records used to, and the vocal was the one thing that seemed to take the tune to that place. My favorite tunes were underground and moody but with killer vocals: “Let Go” by Teebee, “Being with you remix” by Foul Play. Intense, Alex Reece, Digital, Goldie, Dillinja, EL-B, D-Bridge, Steve Gurley. I miss being on the bus to school listening to Dj Hype mixes. Sometimes some other kids would get us tunes, I’d record off of pirate radio all night. Didascalia mappa precedente 98
W: You started off listening to music because of your older brother? 99
B: My older brother loved tunes, rave tunes, jungle, he lived all that stuff, and he was gone, he was on the other side of the night, almost. He was the one who wasn’t back, he was out there, going to places. He’d tell us stories about it. We were brought up on stories about it. Leaving the city in a car and finding somewhere and hearing these tunes, and he’d bring them back. He would sit us down and play these old tunes, and later on he’d play us “Metropolis,” Reinforced, Paradox, DJ Hype, Foul Play, DJ Krystl, Source Direct and techno tunes. When you’re younger that stuff blows your mind. But then they, they didn’t lose interest in it, but they got on with life and I was stuck for years. And I would still buy the tunes, and my whole life was going on missions to buy tunes and try and impress em by putting together compilations I thought that they would like. I thought I was holding a lighter up for that stuff, I’d cane Jaffa Cakes and make compilations, slip the odd garage tune in. And even when I started making tunes I was trying to impress them, I still am, but I think they hate my new tunes though. When I grew up I thought everyone would be into jungle and garage tunes but hardly anyone I knew was, in the end. W: Your music seems to be about the after effects of Rave, about never actually experiencing it. B: I’ve never been to a festival. Never been to a rave in a field. Never been to a big warehouse, never been to an illegal party, just clubs and playing tunes indoors or whatever. I heard about it, dreamed about it. My brother might bring back these records that seemed really adult to me and I couldn’t believe I had ’em. It was like when you first saw Terminator or Alien when you’re only little. I’d get a rush from it, I was hearing this other world, and my brother would drop by late and I’d fall asleep listening to tunes he put on. W: I suppose your contact with Rave through your brother is what makes your records so mournful: you know what is missing now, whereas others might not even know what they are missing. B: I don’t know if it exists any more at all. A lot of those old tunes I put on at night and hear something in the tune that makes me feel sad, – a few of my favourite producers and DJs are dead now too – and I hear this hope in all those old tracks, trying to unite the UK, but they couldn’t, because the UK was changing in a different direction, away from us. Maybe the feeling of the UK in clubs and stuff back then, it wasn’t as artificial, self-aware or created by the internet. It was more rumour, underground folklore. No mobile phones back then. Anyone could go into the night and they had to seek it out. Because you could see it in people, you could see it in their eyes. Those ravers were at the edge at their lives, they weren’t running ahead or falling behind, they were just right there and the tunes meant everything. In the 90s you could feel that it had been taken away from them. In club culture, it all became like super-clubs, magazines, trance, commercialized. All these designer bars would be trying to be like clubs. It all got just taken. So it just 100
went militant, underground from that point. That era is gone, now there’s less danger, less sacrifice, less journey to find something. You can’t hide, the media clocks everything. The internet or whatever, but DMZ and FWD have that deep atmosphere and real feeling, the true underground is still strong, I hear good new tunes all the time. W: Kode9 says that the new album has a feeling of “downcast euphoria”, whereas the first one was just downcast. B: When I listened to these old tapes, I took what these jungle MCs were telling me seriously. Rolling a tune out, I took it as a commandment about how to make a tune: roll it out, do it fast. I was into old hardcore, darkside, trying to do a properly dark record. Not this new, pumped up tech sound. I liked the old tunes, properly darkside like finding a body in a lift shaft: dank moody tunes, suburban tunes. I want to go back to that hardcore era of darkside someday, which would be rugged, film samples just pitched up and down with strings. It wasn’t just that pure monochrome thing, it was something else, it sounded like tearing through an empty building. But the thing is, I had this bunch of tunes for my 2nd album that were dark tunes, and I just scrapped them. I took ages on them. I was worrying, because after my first album I felt a bit of pressure to follow it up. I worked for hours on these tunes, and I was trying to learn these programmes. These tunes were darker, more technical, all the tunes sounded like some kind of weapon that was being taken apart and put back together again. But then I got sort of sick of them, because I spent so long on them, I was moody about other things. So I wanted to make a glowing record, I wanted to cheer myself up. Instead of doing those dark tunes that took ages and were really detailed, I wanted to make a record fast. Something warm, glowing, junglist and garagey. I was listening to these Guy Called Gerald tunes. I wanted to do vocals but I can’t get a proper singer like him. So I cut up acapellas and made different sentences, even if they didn’t make sense but they summed up what I was feeling. I love those Foul Play and Omni Trio tunes where it was just the girl next door singing, So I got a lot of those quite low-quality vocals and started to pitch them up and down. You can do it really fast. I sort of did the whole album in about two weeks. Most of it in the final week. When I made this a lot of things were wrong. It was nice to say, “fuck this,” I’m just going to make it well fast. So I’m quite defensive of it. When you’re making a tune and it’s really late… I heard this thing on EastEnders about burning the candle at both ends with a flamethrower, I was making tunes in the middle of the night, if I didn’t have the vocal to keep me awake, like singing a lullaby, trying to hypnotise myself so I didn’t fall asleep. W: It’s like a reverse lullaby in a way – instead of sending you to sleep, it’s keeping you awake! With the first album, it felt like the references were earlymid 90s jungle, whereas with the new one, it’s as if things have moved on two or three years, to UK garage and 2-step. 101
B: I love UK garage, I love 2-step and Todd Edwards. For a long time I felt that no-one liked it, some music people cussed it because they’re stupid, but its music for real people, those tunes still sound better than most stuff when you’re out. I don’t know many people who like tunes but I had one mate who had a car and let me test my tunes, I always liked deeper nighttime tunes, a bit more rolling - garage, dubstep is half pulse, half sway, so it sounds good in a car at night. I wanted to make a half euphoric record. That was an older thing that UK underground music used to have. I think that type of euphoria is a British thing, like UK tunes, old rave tunes used to be the masters of that, for a reason, to do with the rave, a half smile, half human endorphins and half something hypnotized by drugs. It was stolen from us and it never really came back. Mates laugh at me because I like whale songs but I love ’em, I like vocals to be like that, like a night cry, an angel animal. Old hardcore tunes would throw these sounds in, anything to create the rush, descent into another world, like Papua New Guinea by Future Sound of London. Love this one feeling, it only happens to you when you’re out in the cold, when your down, this shiver attempts to warm you up, bring you back. For a moment you get this weird, eerie distant feeling like it’s just for you, you get taken out of yourself. Certain tunes just nail that. So I had to do that, but have cut-up vocals and have that slinky bumping feel to it, and not get weighed down in big drums and the big snares. With garage the drums are taken back, they’re quite soft, it’s more about being slinky. They’re like a fishbone, a spine, an exoskeleton that cradles the sounds. It’s not about the deepest kick or the biggest snare. The drums are more about trying to thread sounds and vocals together, they flicker across the surface of the tune, it circles around you, its not just chopping you up, its not about the sounds being big.
B: Then a couple of sounds might come up, glow, the rest of them sink down and burn out.
W: That’s part of the reason you’re not happy with using sequencers?
W: The tracks you made and discarded. Do they still exist?
B: Also because I don’t know how to use them!
B: Some of them I lost because my computer’s dead. But I’ve got a few of them and I might resurrect them. I lost faith. I want to learn but its difficult, I’ve made mistakes. Next album maybe I’ll gather my forces, make a true darkside Burial album. Step up and do it.
W: Yeah, but you could learn! But things often sound sequenced when they are. B: That’s happened to a lot of music. It’s detailed in a boring way. I’m not into big intros, because if you’ve got a big intro, the rest of the tune is forever the rest of the tune, and the intro’s forever the intro. You can never get lost in it, you know where you are in most tunes, and that just takes away the only reason a tune should exist to me, I can’t relate to grey music. I like tunes that just dive straight in, there’s a jump off and once you’re in it, the awareness that you’re two minutes into a tune, or four minutes into a tune is gone. That’s how I like my tunes. Or something like Robert Hood, just pure presence, shark-like, elements woven together. You can sense them sitting there rolling out the tune. W: Your tunes are like being in a fog, it’s diffuse, but it’s all around you. 102
W: I saw you mention it in another interview, that when you’re used to making tunes and looking at a screen, you can just see that grid when you hear the tunes. B: I’ve seen people using sequencers and I’ve tried hard to use them but it’s blocks in different colours and I’m only used to just seeing the waves. I don’t need to listen much to the drums because I know they look nice, like a fishbone, rigged up to be kind of skitty, sharp. My tunes are a bit rubbish and messy but it’s all I know. One day I want to make a tune people can have a dance to, I’ve tried. W: What did you think when people were saying that you hadn’t produced it all in Sound Forge, that is a scam. B: Who? W: People on the internet, saying he can’t possibly have done that whole album in Sound Forge. B: Really? Yeah well I did. I’ll leave those people to their internet or whatever. Yeah I wish sometimes that I’d gone to college to learn music production, but other times I’m like “no, fuck, I’m happy I didn’t.” I don’t really go on the internet, it’s like a ouija board, it’s like letting someone into your head, behind your eyes. It lets randoms in.
W: One of the greatest things about your music is the sense of place, and it’s so specific to South London. When I first heard it, I lived in South London and as I listened to the LP walking around, it was a perfect fit. B: Thanks for saying that. I spend a lot of time wandering around London, I always have. Sometimes it’s because I’ve got somewhere to go, sometimes it’s because I haven’t got anywhere to go. So I’d be wandering endlessly, getting in places. Being on your own listening to headphones is not a million miles away from being in a club surrounded by people, you let it in, you’re more open to it. Sometimes you get that feeling like a ghost touched your heart, like someone walks with you. In London, there’s a kind of atmosphere that everyone knows about but if you talk about it, it just sort of disappears. 103
London’s part of me, I’m proud of it but it can be dark, sometimes recently I don’t even recognize it. It’s about being on a night bus, or with your mates, walking home across your city on your own late at night, or being in a situation with your girlfriend or boyfriend, or coming back from a club, or putting tunes on and falling asleep. If you’re well into tunes, your life starts to weave around them. I’d rather hear a tune about real life, about the UK, than some US hiphop. “I’m in the club with your girl” type thing. I love r&b tunes and vocals but I like hearing things that are true to the UK, like drum&bass and dubstep, Once you’ve heard that underground music in your life, other stuff just sounds like a fucking advert, imported. W: Even though your music really captures what it’s like to be in the UK, it connects with other people outside Britain too. B: If you alone could hear someone upset on the other side of the world, then and maybe then, you could do something about it. I was once in these mountains, you’d see these fires, other people sleeping out in the mountains, traders across the border, and that gives you this feeling, night time, awareness of other people sleeping. But all it is, is just a fire light. You see their firelight and you know they are there, that’s all you need. That’s what ties cities to places that aren’t together, deserts, forests, people. You watch over your city or area at night, you see the distant lights, fires burning in other places. W: Angels are mentioned a few times on the album. Why is that? B: You see people, and you’re disconnected from them, they mean fuck-all to you, but other times you can invest everything in someone you don’t even know, silently believe in them, it might be on the underground or in a shop or something. You hope people are doing that with you as well. Some people, even when they’re quite young, and they’re in difficulty, maybe taking a battering in their life, but they still handle themselves with grace. I hope most people can be like that, hold it together, I wanted this album to be for people in that situation. It’s easy to fall away and fuck up and for many people there’s no safety net. Sometimes one tune can mean everything, it’s like a talisman. W: The people on the album seem like wounded or mutilated angels: angels whose wings have been clipped, or who have been trapped or betrayed. B: Yeah. When you think of some of the things people go through, everyday troubles, relationship things, other stuff. Everyone knows those sorts of feelings. I wanted to do songs about that low-key stuff. There are a couple of tunes with the vocal to do with angels on it. Sometimes I’d be hearing a song… I was worrying, I’d made all these dark tunes, and I played ’em to my mum, and she didn’t like them. I was going to give up, but she was sweet, 104
telling me, “just do a tune, fuck everyone off, don’t worry about it.” My dog died, and I was totally gutted about that. She was just like, “make a tune, cheer up, stay up late, make a cup of tea.” And I rang her mobile twenty minutes later and I’d made that “Archangel” tune, and I was like, “I’ve made the tune, the tune you told me to make.” And I heard this vocal and it doesn’t say it but it sounds like “archangel.” I like pitching down female vocals so they sound male, and pitching up male vocals so they sound like a girl singing. It can sound sexy as fuck. W: That works. When I listen to the record, I can’t work out whether the vocals belong to males or females. And angels aren’t supposed to have no gender. B: Really? Well that works nice with my tunes, kind of half boy half girl, but that can be dark too. Sometimes in a mirror people see the devil’s face for a second, that wrong aspect, the eyes, in your own. When you are young you are pushed around by forces that are nothing to do with you. You’re lost, most of the time you don’t understand what’s going on with yourself, with anything. W: I’ve read you say that you think it’s ok for women to like your music, that people shouldn’t be frightened of making tunes that women will like. B: But girls love the dark tunes too. I understand that moody thing, but some dance music is too male. It’s dry, some jungle tunes had a balance, the glow, the moodiness that comes from the presence of both girls and boys in the same tune, there’s tension because it’s close, but sometimes perfect together. Men sometimes exist in this place where they don’t have a fucking clue what girls go through and vice versa. I was brought up most by my mum, I’m my mum’s son. I look like her. I am her. I own female dogs. I don’t know what I’m trying to say, but with my new album – blokes might be, like, “what the fuck is this?” But hopefully their girlfriends will like it. W: But I think a lot of men want more than blokey music is giving them. Yeah? They should listen to some Todd Edwards, his tunes melt anyone. People are different, but the media, the world has made them afraid to create their own space around themselves, when they should just close their eyes and trust in themselves. Sometimes a man needs a break from the darkness, and just needs a dose of chirpy, buzzing tunes. Your music is very visual. I suppose that’s partly the influence of films? You’ve talked about that sound from “Alien” being one of your favourite sounds. B: The motion tracker, yeah, and the dropship, the sentry guns. My big brother would play that sound to me when I was little, and tell me the stories from the film. He recorded it on a tape. He would tell me about that motion tracker sound, and “Alien” and “Aliens” are some of the scariest films. But he would only show me the bit where they were loading up the weapons, 105
he’d say, “you’re too young, I won’t show you the rest, but I’ll tell you about it”. I love the sound of the motion tracker, you can feel the fear of the empty spaces ahead, it’s like sonar. I like Blade Runner but I’m only obsessed with one scene in it, the bit where he’s sitting at those cafes in the rain. I love rain, like being out in it. Sometimes you just go out in the cold, there’s a light in the rain, and you’ve got this little haven, and you’re hanging round like a moth – I love moths too and that’s why I love that scene. W: Is there a connection between crackle and rain? B: Yeah. But I partly use the rain to cover up the lameness of my tunes. W: It’s a bit like when they put on the mist on the PlayStation game “Silent Hill” because they didn’t have the memory power to render a fully-realised environment. B: Oh, really? Dark. I like Silent Hill. If you hide sounds in the mist. It’s like a veil across the far wall of the tune. W: That’s really important. It’s like the euphoric things are all the more euphoric because they are hidden by a veil, rather than being directly heard. B: Yeah, euphoria trapped in a vial. Or a silencer. Volume’s like a proximity to something. Everyone in their life has heard a muffled conversation from next door where you can’t hear the words, but you know that people are shouting. Or you’re on stairs, and you hear people downstairs, and you’re aware of something not being right, just by the tone of someone’s voice. Even when you don’t understand, when you’re younger, that kind of meaning in the sound, it makes you hold your breath. It’s like when dogs go quiet when there’s a storm coming. W: There’s a lot of pain in the records. Is that personal? B: (pause) .... Yeah, maybe. I don’t know anything about this kind of music, but I love Sam Cooke. I don’t know what it was about his songs, but he’d have some songs, and things on the surface were normal or happy, he’d be singing about having a party, there’s cokes in the iceboxes or whatever, and everything’s glowy, but underneath, it’s like he’s talking about something else, the last party on earth. Something in his voice. I’d rather do something like that than some icy cold electronic music, to try and get a bit of that in it. Because when something’s glowing, if something’s nice, it doesn’t mean that it’s not surrounded by cold things, bad things. W: The glow would only show up if there’s darkness around it. Relentless dark, what I call “Dark TM,” doesn’t sound dark in the end. The faceless thing. Is it just a personal thing? 106
B: Yeah, I’m just a well low-key person. I want to be unknown, because I’d rather be around my mates and family than other things, but there’s no need to focus on it. Most of the tunes I like, I never knew what the people who made them looked like anyway. It draws you in. You could believe in it more. I like it if it’s more secret, people can get into the tunes more. I just want to be in a symbol, a tune, the name of a tune. It’s not like it’s a new thing. It’s one of the old underground ways and it’s easier. Everyone goes on about themselves, they reveal everything and give it away. It’s an obsession in London, people and the media are too blatant, trying to project this image, prove themselves and trying to be something. They should just hold back a bit, it’s sexier. I wanna be out of here. I respect working hard but I dread a day job. Or a job interview. I’ve got a truant heart, I just want to be gone. I’d be in the kitchens, the corridors at work, and I’d be staring at the panels on the roof, clocking all the maintenance doors, dreaming about getting into the airducts. W: Looking for a space away from other people? B: Kind of. A portal. As a kid I used to dream about being put in the bins, escaping from things, without my mum knowing she’d put me out in the bins. So I’m in a black plastic bag outside a building, and hearing the rain against it, but feeling alright, and just wanting to sleep, and a truck would take me away. It’s stupid. W: Did you have a sense of what it was like on the other side? B: Yeah. We all dream about it. I wish something was there. But even if you fight to see it, you never see anything. Because you know when you have a dream, and in your dream you have the weight of the decisions in you, but it has that kind of dream-like ease of everything, like the dream city. You’re walking round London in your dreams, everything is alright, but you wake back in real life and it’s not like that. You don’t have a choice. You’d be on the way to a job, but you’re longing to go down this other street, right there, and you walk past it. No force on earth could make you go down there, because you’ve got to traipse to wherever. Even if you escape for a second, people are on your case, you can’t go down old Thames side and throw your mobile in. W: This sounds like H. G. Wells’ short story “The Door in the Wall.” In it, a child discovers an enchanted garden hidden in mundane London streets. But whenever he sees the door that leads to the garden again, he can’t make himself go through it. He’s always dragged away by the pull of the worldly. Your first album sounded so definitive, I wondered what you would do with the second one. B: Kode9 chose the Ghost Hardware 12, because that was before I’d made the album so we wanted to put out something that sounded like it came off the first album, but hinted at something else. 107
W: I’m glad you moved in the direction you have. There’s lots of emotion in the culture at the moment, but it’s very sentimental and cheap. The real pain doesn’t get articulated. B: When you’re young, things seem much more serious in a way. The most trivial thing you treat like the biggest deal in the world, you get kids doing dark, sad things, being way too upset about something because they can’t get perspective on it. And younger as well. Some people get suicidal because they’ve been bullied by someone at school, but if they waited one more week it’s the end of term. To a kid you can’t explain that very well. I’ve been in situations and there’s no rule book of what you’re meant to do. But then you might listen to some song, some pop song, that gets it just right. Like I love EastEnders and I’ll be watching that, and someone in that, Stacey Slater, will just say it perfectly. W: Depression is increasingly common amongst teenagers… B: They seem to have people all around them, but that’s actually not true. Sometimes you’re surrounded by mates but you’re not surrounded by friends. You feel protective of people, because no matter who we are, we all return to quite a vulnerable place, a flat, mates, a family, a room or whatever. You can see through all that stuff, a lot of young people artificially take on adult issues, that have maybe been pushed at them, or maybe they’re living out an adult relationship, proper life issues, maybe their family isn’t looking out for them anymore, other serious stuff that you can’t take lightly. I’ve seen that if you take on that stuff early on, it fucks you up. My new tunes are about that, wanting an angel watching over you, when there’s nowhere to go and all you can do is sit in McDonalds late at night, not answering your phone. W: Your tunes connect this time with a different era, one that’s gone. B: I hear tunes, I seek out tunes that used to be everything to someone but they probably can’t listen to them now. I know there are tunes I’ve put on, I’ve seen people cry, Moving Shadow tunes, old tunes, because this music is old enough now for it to mean that. Even a single sound, they’ll hear a sound and it’ll just slay them. And you’re right, culture doesn’t seem to notice this. Where I’m from you’re more likely to be sitting around talking about a Rufige Kru or 4hero tune, how much it meant to you, than some other kind of music. I like normal life. It’s weird now, people die and they’re still on Facebook or whatever the fuck else. W: What other influences do you have outside music? B: PlayStation games. A lot of my drums are just people picking up new ammo and weapons in games. I love shells falling to the floor, power-ups, like when you get extra life. It would be good if you could do that in real 108
life: pick up extra lives, fight end-of-level-guardians down by the shops, use cheat-modes. I spent all my pocket money trying to complete Silent Scope at the arcade. I was brought up on that stuff. My Dad when I was really little, sometimes he used to read me M. R. James stories. On the South Bank last year, I was walking along, and I found a book of M. R. James ghost stories. I bunked that day off from my day job and I got this book, and now I’m well into M. R. James ghost stories. W: You’re joking, really? B: There’s a few ghost stories, the one that fucked me up when I was little. “Oh Whistle and I’ll Come To You My Lad.” Something can betray how sinister it is even at a distance. Something weird happens with M. R. James, because they’re short - and I don’t read much – and even though it’s in writing, there’ll be a moment, when the person meets the ghost, where you can’t quite believe what you’ve read, you go cold, just for those few lines when you glimpse the ghost for a second, or he describes the ghost face. It’s like you’re not reading any more. In that moment it burns a memory into you that isn’t yours. He says something like, “there’s nothing worse for a human being than to see a face where it doesn’t belong.” But if you’re little, and you’ve got an imagination which is always messing you up and darking you out, things like that are almost comforting to read. Also, there is nothing worse than not recognizing someone you know, someone close, family, seeing a look in them that just isn’t them. I was once in a lock-in in a pub and the regulars there and some mates started telling these fucked up ghost stories from real life, maybe that had happened to them, and I swear if you heard them. One girl told me the scariest thing I ever heard. Some of these stories would stop a few words earlier than seemed right, they don’t play out like a film, they’re too simple, too everyday, slight, those stories ring true and I never forgot them. Sometimes maybe you see ghosts on the underground with an empty Costcutters plastic bag, nowhere to go. They are smaller, about 70% smaller than a normal person, smaller than they were in life. W: Where I live now, in Suffolk, was where James set many of his stories. Some of the names of the places in the stories are thinly coded names of Suffolk towns. B: I love that, like old churchyards, factories, places out of the way. I used to get taken away to the middle of nowhere, by the sea, I love it out there, because when it’s dark, it’s totally dark, there’s none of this ambient light London thing. We used to have to walk back and hold hands and use a lighter. See the light, see where you were and then you’d walk on, and the image of where you just were would still be on your retina. You couldn’t see anything, but you’d see stars. Loads of the drums on the new album are just a lighter. I love lighters and Swan Vesta matches, the drums on every tune are the same, this little noise. The thing I love about M. R. James, it’s almost like you learn a lesson off 109
the stories, which is to be obsessed with a similar kind of effect until you get it right, because you’re basically circling similar ideas. It’s not about things sounding the same, they’re just, I don’t know what the word would be, singular. Like Photek used to be. The techniques hit you between the eyes because they are so fucking focused, obsessed by the same devices. With M. R. James, it’s that ghost story thing, someone told me this story, or I knew this person – it’s a device to deliver the story into your world. Urban legends get woven so you’re unable to be sure it’s untrue. A statistician would say: of all the millions of ghost stories ever told, what percentage would have to be true for ghosts to exist? The answer is that only one story would have to be true. The new tunes are a tiny misdirection, so I can steal away unseen to the next place.
Origin Issue #286 (December ’07) | In Writing* By: Mark Fisher | About: Burial Credits © The Wire 2008 This transcript is reproduced by permission of The Wire magazine: www.thewire.co.uk
“Magisterial, Precise, Unsettling”: Simon Reynolds on the Ballard Connection SIMON SELLARS
Ballardian: Simon Reynolds is one of the most recognisable music critics around − or at least his style is, not least for its willingness to tackle pop music as an art form worthy of sustained intellectual discourse rather than as a fleeting moment of adolescent flash. Reynolds breaks new ground, melding unbridled enthusiasm with a robust theoretical framework in a body of work that is thrilling for its eclecticism alone: he’s never less than compelling writing about hip hop, Britney or rave, as he is about grunge, prog or grime. Reynolds reached a peak of sorts with the publication of Rip It Up and Start Again, a deliriously good excavation of the postpunk era, the generation of musicians that broke immediately after punk: Cabaret Voltaire, PiL, Magazine and so on. What’s more, J.G. Ballard was a thread throughout the book, as Reynolds charted the influence of JGB − and The Atrocity Exhibition, especially − on this particular era. Reynolds has also invoked Ballard in past interviews regarding his own formative influences, so the stage seemed set for Simon to appear here on Ballardian. I wanted to chat to Reynolds when Rip It Up was published, but the moment slipped away for various reasons. But now, with the release of Simon’s latest collection, Bring the Noise, here’s a chance to put that right. Sellars: You were into Ballard before you were into music. What attracted you to his writing?
Didascalia mappa precedente 114
Reynolds: A better emphasis would be to say I was into science fiction before I was into rock music, and that Ballard was one of my favourite SF writers. Obviously I always loved music but it was things my parents had introduced me to, like Beethoven, or Hollywood musicals, plus stray things I’d heard on the radio like the Beatles. And then aged fifteen or so I was inducted into that whole rockist apparatus of taking music – pop culture, 115
youth culture, rock criticism – seriously. And the thing I was into on a fanatical level immediately before entering rock culture was science fiction; the new fanaticism displaced the prior fanaticism — not immediately, there was an overlap — but eventually totally. At one point I wanted to be a SF writer and then the next major ambition I had was to be a music journalist. Which is where I stuck! I kinda half-forgot about Ballard along with other SF writers that were key for me: Frederick Pohl & CM Kornbluth, Alfred Bester, John Brunner, Philip K. Dick, to name just a few. Ironically this was at a time, the very end of the 70s and the early 80s, when Ballard’s influence was as strong as it’s ever been in music, with postpunk. S: Are you still sweet on Ballard today? R: It’s quite a common syndrome for people to grow out of SF and suddenly drop it as juvenile, and I’d always swore I’d not be one of those, but it happened. Really though it was because a whole set of other obsessions crowded SF out: music, rock journalism, politics and philosophy, critical theory. It’s really in the last decade or so that I rediscovered an interest in SF and particularly in Ballard, who now seemed to me to be clearly the most advanced writer and thinker in that field. I also read more of his critical thinking, his interviews and journalism, and became more and more impressed by him. He seems a much more towering figure now than he did when I first read him as a teenager. S: Which of his books rocked your world? R: In some ways the one that grabbed me most and has yet to relinquish its hold was the first one I read, “The Drowned World.” Penguin used to do these great paperback editions of SF and they had one series with really evocative paintings – glossy, garish, almost hyper-realist – on the covers. “The Drowned World,” “The Drought” and “The Wind From Nowhere” were all in that series and looked particularly good (“The Terminal Beach” was in there too; S.S.). But with “The Drowned World,” the severity and fixatedness of Ballard imagination was what hooked me, and just the idea of the protagonist who – as with all the Ballard cataclysm novels – is perversely drawn towards the heart of the catastrophe, goes the opposite direction to everybody else, and really finds his true self in the transformed landscape. That really grabbed me. Also, the whole idea of the world you knew being drastically transformed… I lived near London, in a commuter town thirty miles north of the capital, and went up to the city quite frequently, so to imagine it submerged was exciting. S: Has he influenced your work in any way — as a cultural critic, say, rather than stylistically? R: Not really. The influences on my writing and thinking come from a totally 116
different place, although there’s certain affinities maybe. A sense of the power of the irrational, these atavistic drives pulsing inside culture. I’ve long felt that pop music is driven by some pretty ambivalent, sometimes outright antisocial or malevolent energies. But I’ve probably derived that more from various French thinkers and Nietzsche, also from certain rock writers. And also just listening closely and honestly to my own responses to music. Still you could see that idea of music as fitting a Ballardian worldview to some degree. The idea of human culture as fundamentally perverse. There’s another parallel actually, which applies to SF in general as well as Ballard in particular: that’s the extreme degree of self-reflexivity that you get within rock criticism. Or at least the zone I move within and which has now broken out into the blog world. It’s very similar to SF, or at least how SF was when I started reading it, which would have been in the years coming out of the whole New Wave of SF. SF writers seemed to have been really into analysing the genre, talking about what defined it as a field of writing and how that related to other forms. And that was largely because – just like rock criticism – its status was contested, it was very much an underdog genre that didn’t get the respect or acceptance from the literary establishment, give or take a Kingsley Amis or an Anthony Burgess who talked about being SF fans and had a go at the genre themselves now and then. So SF, like rock writing, had this mixture of inferiority complex and superiority complex. SF writers loved to see SF as the one really crucial, relevant, truly contemporary form of literature. A literature of ideas, which was exactly what drew me to, the element of speculation, as well as the estrangement effect. Rock critics are just the same: they both crave that validation from the mainstream of arts criticism but they also kinda like being the renegade form. As well as novels and story collections, I would sometimes read books of critical essays by SF writers. It seemed like an exciting little subculture, especially the New Wave writers who always seemed to be having workshops and conferences! Ballard exemplifies that meta aspect of SF, although he goes beyond it to be just a great cultural critic. S: You’ve remarked elsewhere that his short stories have more appeal to you than the novels. R: After the disaster novels I think I read the mid-Seventies urban breakdown ones like Concrete Island and High-Rise, both of which I liked a lot, and also a couple of collections of short stories. And it’s the Ballard shorts that, with my critic’s hat on, I think are his supreme achievement – so magisterial, so distilled and precise and atmospheric and unsettling. In fact, my getting back into Ballard came about through a collection originally published in 1978 but reissued by Picador USA in 2001, The Best Short Stories of J.G. Ballard. My wife was working as a book reviews editor and it turned up in her mail and I was like, “I’m having that.” So many of the classic Ballard short stories are in there, some I’d read before in “The Terminal Beach” and similar collections I’d have got out of Berkhamsted Library as a teenager. There was one called “Low-Flying Aircraft” I particularly liked, especially the first 117
long story in it, almost a novella (“The Ultimate City”), about a young man who lives in a near-future where it’s very green-conscious and placid and dull so he goes to the deserted city and starts up urban life again, gets the generators going, and misfits start to flock in from the eco-communes and garden towns, but of course it all goes haywire. “The Best Short Stories” collection has a few things from “The Atrocity Exhibition” era, and writing and reading them as a thirty-something I appreciated them more. But it wasn’t so much the experimental Atrocityera stuff as the stories he did that are quite close to conventional hardscience SF, but with that extra dimension of interiority and the collective unconscious – all the inner space, psychological aspects that you associate with the New Wave of SF. Back in the day, I didn’t really get on with the experimental writing side of Ballard. I still haven’t read all of “The Atrocity Exhibition” I’m ashamed to admit, and only a few years ago finally read “Crash” all the way through. I’d had a go as a teenager but failed. The impetus to finally read it came from doing the book on postpunk, “Rip It Up and Start Again,” wanting to understand why it was such a big influence on certain bands. And for sure, it’s fantastic writing, and fantastic as thought, too. There’s certain SF writers I can’t get on with, like Samuel Delaney, often the ones who are doing overtly experimental writing. Nor am I that crazy for the side of Philip K. Dick that’s all about multiple levels of reality, what is real and what’s hallucination. So similarly I prefer Ballard’s post-cataclysm novels and his short stories to “The Atrocity Exhibition” type stuff. I think maybe it’s that I like that thing where realism as a literary mode is applied to something with a SF or alternate history premise. In a way, I prefer the side of Ballard that relates to a writer like John Wyndham than the side that relates to Burroughs. I like that dour, flat Britishness confronted by something alien or catastrophic. S: You mention the influence of Ballard on postpunk. As someone who grew up with this music, Ballard was always a vague referent on the edge of my consciousness, glimpsed through obscure Cabaret Voltaire or Ultravox! interviews, so I appreciated the way Rip It Up took the time to unpack the connection. But what about today’s crop? R: Ballard allusions had become a bit of a cliché by the time I started writing about music professionally in the mid-80s – I did a piece on this post-Cabaret Voltaire, Sheffield outfit called Chakk and gave the singer a slightly hard time for overdoing the Ballardisms. Since then I’m hard pressed to think of Ballardisms coming through in music, although this very year The Klaxons put out an album called Myths of the Near Future (also the title of a Ballard short-story collection). But the Ballard homage seems fairly cosmetic in this case. S: But there’s also Kode9 and Burial, right? Every second review I read of their albums last year seemed to invoke the dreaded word “Ballardian” – it seemed to become as much a cliché as it was during the postpunk period. 118
R: That relates more to Spaceape’s contribution to the Kode 9 album, Memories of the Future. His lyrics and delivery – they’re a bit like Linton Kwesi Johnson reading excerpts from “The Atrocity Exhibition.” With Burial, the connection is that his album is supposed to be a concept record about South London becoming flooded when the Thames Barrier breaks in the global warmed near future. I think Katrina and New Orleans is more likely to be the inspiration, but there’s an obvious parallel there with “The Drowned World.” There is also an urban psychogeography thing going in Burial’s music (and dubstep generally) that recalls Ballard in “Crash.” The album draws a lot from South London, this interzone of semi-suburbia between Brixton, where the tube line stops and Croydon which is on the periphery of London, maybe a dozen miles from the centre. So it’s a hinterland probably not unlike the outer London areas near Heathrow where Ballard situated “Crash.” A real anomie zone, but possessed of a certain desolate beauty. Burial has also talked of putting his tunes through “the Car Test,” driving around South London playing the music in his car to see if it has the atmosphere he wants, the “distance” in the music he’s looking for. People have also compared Burial to Joy Division in terms of that bleak urbanism thing, and Martin Hannett, their producer, used to do a similar thing: drive around Manchester’s most brutally industrialised zones in his car, stoned, listening to Joy Division, PiL, Pere Ubu. S: You casually injected something interesting into our correspondence − that you see Ballard and Brian Eno as “the two greatest British thinkers of the second half of the 20th Century.” I’m now going to pin you down and ask you to elaborate. R: That’s slightly over the top, isn’t it? I wonder if it really stands up. Then again, as thinkers specifically about culture, in the British context, I can’t honestly think of too many rivals. Certainly as people who came out of the Sixties but came into their prime – as artists and as influences – in the Seventies, they are these towering figures, I think. One of my fantasy projects that I toyed with for a while was a book on Ballard and Eno. They do seem of a type in some ways and they are patron saints of postpunk to an extent. But the project founders immediately owing to the fact that they are so eloquent about what they do and such brilliant writers, that there’d be zero role for any critic or commentator. There’d be very little to mediate or interpret, as they’ve said it all, so much better. They know what they are doing. I suppose you could historicize them, contextualise them. Ballard with the milieu he emerged out of in the Sixties, which was based around the ICA, right? And Eno with the UK art schools. In some ways the affinity seems as much temperamental as anything ideasbased. There’s this wonderful Englishness. You imagine they would get on like a house on fire, trading ideas over whisky and soda in the Shepperton living room. One thing they both do is take ideas from science and set them loose in culture, find applications. Ballard is like a British McLuhan, except much better because he’s a far better writer, and a better thinker too – more 119
original, more convincing. Eno is almost like a British Barthes, in some ways. S: Explaining his collage method in “The Atrocity Exhibition,” Ballard said he wanted to produce “crossovers and linkages between unexpected and previously totally unrelated things, events, elements of the narration, ideas that in themselves begin to generate new matter.” To me this seems strikingly similar to Eno’s formulation of generative music. R: I’m not sure about that. It seems more related to Burroughs and perhaps also to Ballard’s artistic debt to Surrealism, which I really appreciated a few years ago when I read him talk about it in that RE/Search collection of interviews. I liked the fact that J.G. would stick up for Dali and the rest. Surrealism and Dada is a big teenage impact thing for a lot of us I think, until we learn to say “ooh Chagall, so much better than Dali.” Eno’s generative music is much more cybernetics meets Zen, emptying out the authorial ego, setting up a process and then withdrawing. I don’t think with Ballard there’s that Eastern mystical aspect. With Ballard’s there’s always more of a violence bubbling up from below aspect, even though the writing is cold and controlled. Actually if Eno is a British Barthes, a languid sensualist, I’d say that Ballard is a British Bataille. I can also imagine Ballard enjoying Camille Paglia’s writing, which I can’t imagine Eno doing – it would be too passionate for him. S: Alright, then, try this: both Ballard and Eno inverted, retooled, then abandoned the genre they started out in. As Richard Sutherland wrote, “to call Ballard’s work SF is a bit like describing Brian Eno’s music as rock ’n’ roll.” R: Yes and no. Eno is like the culmination or extension of certain ideas within rock to the point where they verge on un-rock. But when he started out there were obvious debts to Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd, a certain English kind of psychedelia. And he could do the “idiot energy” thing with “Third Uncle.” I think he shifts the emphasis so it’s the noise or the mechanistic insistence of rock that’s retained and amplified, but he sheds the passion, the ego drama, the theatre of rebellion. Later there is the entropy of ambient, which as much as it’s un-rock is also the furthest extension of the psychedelic principle. As for Ballard and SF – I see him having lots in common with the best people in the genre. I mentioned John Wyndham, who’s under-rated I think, and then people like Dick, Bester, Pohl. But really there are lots of SF people, especially in the Sixties and Seventies, who weren’t doing corny pulp nonsense. To elevate Ballard by divorcing him from his genre is unnecessary. The methodology in the disaster stories and the bulk of the short stories is totally SF. S: Spoken like a true SF fanboy! OK, as you said earlier, people tend to drop SF as “juvenile;” similarly, people often say that writers should grow out of writing about music. How do you maintain your interest?
R: It doesn’t take any effort! It’s a compulsion, nothing I can do about it. Although there are lull years – and indeed the last few years have been slimmer pickings than for a long while. The Nineties were an insanely exciting time and that spilled over into the early part of this decade but now it feels like a number of sonic-cultural narratives have petered out. Hip hop in particular seems to be in deadlock. But still I can’t shake this gut belief that popular music is the place where the most exciting cultural energies and ideas get played out. But maybe this feeling is just a hangover from having grown up during the postpunk era and then living through the hip hop Eighties and rave Nineties. Maybe that conviction can no longer be substantiated by what music is coming up with. It could be the “vibe” has moved elsewhere. Certainly the art world seems to have resurged as a place where there’s a lot of energy and a lot of really interesting conversations are taking place. And television I think still has that function where it is where the society examines itself and talks about the issues. It generates an insane amount of rubbish but it’s always interesting, revealing rubbish. And the quality television is really our modern high culture I think, stuff that nearly everybody is plugged into and where a collective conversation goes on. But if this is the case – that pop music is no longer where it’s at – I would be saddened because I think it’s a much more democratic zone than the art world or films or TV. The start-up costs are so much lower. S: You mentioned the blog world earlier; all-pervasive connectivity means that everyone’s a critic, these days. Any thoughts on that? R: Blogging’s too huge a subject really, because it goes into the whole nature of what music criticism is and what it’s for, and also the whole scarily transforming nature of the media, the future of magazines. But I was very excited about the music blogging scene when it emerged in the first years of this decade, and got even more excited when I joined in – there was some really great energy flowing back and forth in this circuit of blogs that I participated in, which is really just one small hood in the universe of music blogs, itself a modest galaxy in the vast blogosphere. Now I’m significantly less excited, while still finding more to read and be inspired by in the non-professional blog world than in music magazines. What I enjoy most, and what has dimmed quite a bit since “the golden age” a few years ago, is the conversational aspect – people riffing on other people’s riffs, that whole argumentative side. But with a few exceptions people seem to have retreated back into a more solitary, monologue-like thing. S: As someone who has successfully integrated critical theory with writing on music, what do you think of the growing incursion of theory into blog-based music criticism? R: Is it growing? The only music blogs I can think of that go for real hardcore theory are k-punk and… that’s it really. There are blogs that are primarily 121
philosophy and/or art blogs who also deal with music now and then, like Sit Down Man, You’re A Bloody Tragedy or Poetix, but I don’t think people would think of them as music blogs. Actually k-punk isn’t just a music blog either, although music is a privileged area of culture for Mark. You get music blogs that do music criticism in a high-powered form or go deeply into the minutiae of subgenres and esoteric knowledge. But I can’t think of that many who are applying concepts from critical theory. I’d make a distinction here between theorising about music and using critical theory and applying it to music. The former goes on a lot, obviously – and you could argue that any critical position is at some level theoretical, it relates to an idea of what music should be and how it works. But there is plenty of theorisation about music going on. What I don’t see a lot of is people using ideas from critical theory or philosophy and so forth and using them to explicate pop music. Even I don’t do nearly as much as I used to. But I certainly still generate theorems and analytical ideas that go beyond the thumbs up/thumbs down consumer guidance aspect. S: OK, but it wasn’t so long ago that if you mentioned the word “scopophilia” in a film review, for example, people would have thought you were referring to what Richard Gere allegedly did to some unfortunate gerbils (this actually happened to me — the misunderstanding, not the gerbil abuse). Now, if you drop it in a review, people groan because they’ve heard it all before; the word’s become such a cliché that you’re automatically a bit of a poser for using it. In music criticism, “hauntology” seems to be gaining similar mass. But you were there from the start. So, what is hauntology, in musical terms, and why has it lit up the blogosphere the way it has? R: Well I think it was me who first broached the idea of “hauntology” as a rubric for this loose network of contemporary bands who were playing with the cultural imagery of ghosts, spectres, the uncanny, the return of the cultural repressed, memory, and so forth, while also trying to make genuinely eerie music. But I didn’t particularly intend for there to be a tight correlation between Derrida’s concept of hauntology and what these bands were trying to do. It was just a convenient and cute term, “haunt” referencing ghosts and “-ology” suggesting the image of crackpot scientists working in the sound laboratory. There are certain affinities with Derrida’s ideas as elaborated in Spectres of Marx. Some of the groups – specifically The Focus Group and Belbury Poly of the Ghost Box label, and Mordant Music – are concerned with ideas of a lost futurism, a spirit of utopian idealism that seems to have faded away in recent decades but which they associate with post-WW2 modernism in architecture, the early days of electronic music, grand public works of amelioration and edification. So there’s a kind of radical nostalgia, a looking back to looking forward. But Spectres of Marx was a very specific intervention in a tradition of philosophy and political thought, and I feel there’s nothing to be gained by aligning what these groups are doing with Derrida’s ideas in some tight doctrinal way. Especially as none of them have read Derrida as far as I can tell! 122
The word “hauntology” has got a lot of traction, though, because it chimes in with things that are going on in modern art (the trend for work based around the concept of the archive and dealing with questions of collective memory) and in academia (with the boom of studies related to the spectral and uncanny, work on ruins, remains and rubbish, mourning and memory work, nostalgia for the future). Even just on the level of the word ghost or its homonyms popping up across popular culture in countless band names, album titles, novels and non-fiction books, et al − something is going on. With the ghostified bands specifically, I think what has grabbed some of us (apart from the music, which is fantastic) is that these are musicians who have tons of ideas both musical and non-musical. They tend to be very well read and thoughtful, real autodidacts with a passion for esoteric knowledge and bizarre historical arcana. They are making connections between music, film, books, TV, the occult, history, design… and their records also have a highly developed visual aesthetic. For me personally, a big thing is the Britishness of Ghost Box and Mordant Music, the way they are plumbing the nation’s collective unconscious. I’m become very interested in nationality, which is not to be confused with nationalism. S: To close, let’s discuss your latest collection, Bring the Noise, which has just been released. It collects your writings on alternative rock and hip hop − why did you bring these disparate musical enclaves together? R: I felt it was time to do a collection of all this stuff I’ve been writing for the last 20 years, but there was a problem in that “Blissed Out: The Raptures of Rock,” which is an essay collection published in 1990, corralled a lot of the late-80s stuff I did, and then “Energy Flash” (aka “Generation Ecstasy”), while not a collection, is based on the rave and electronic music journalism I did in the Nineties, there’s a lot of remixing and sampling from my own pieces. So I didn’t want to overlap too much with Blissed Out or Energy Flash, and what was left was all the writing I did on alternative rock and on hip hop, which I wrote about almost the moment I started out professionally in 1986 – I wrote about Schoolly D, interviewed LL Cool J and Public Enemy, and so forth. And then a theme leap out at me, looking at the relationship between bohemian rock and black street music − this alternately fraught and fertile relationship, with the white underground sometimes trying to catch up with or incorporate ideas from hip hop, and sometimes going its own way. And hip hop referring to not just rap but the whole spectrum of street sounds: dancehall, R&B, grime. There are some pieces on rave in there but usually where it relates to the black/white theme. So it’s Bring the Noise: 20 Years of Writing About Hip Rock and Hip Hop. The “hip” before “rock” is kinda jokey but also accurate, in a way, since nearly all the rock bands in the book are or were hip in some sense, like Nirvana or PJ Harvey. Whereas I’ve nothing on, say, Bon Jovi in there! It’s actually longer than 20 years since the first piece is from Monitor in 1985 and the last is from 2006. I have been around for ever, churning the stuff out. This book is 400 pages long and it is truly a tiny fraction of my output. But 123
this particular slice through the corpus tells a story; it does work as a kind of history of the last couple of decades of pop culture. Iâ€™ve brought out the narrative and the theme by having little commentaries after the pieces that make connections and thread things together. So I think you could read it and get a pretty good picture of what happened in music, starting from when Rip It Up and Start Again ends, 1985, and going up to the present. Thank you, Simon Reynolds.
Origin testo testo ??? Credits testo????
JULIO CORTAZAR AND CAROL DUNLOP
of the Cosmoroute
Concerning the origins of the expedition: its genesis, its slow elaboration and sinuous fruition, and where the readerwill not only see how scientific reflection tends to transform the world vision of whosoever practices it, but shall also notice the obstacles that rise up in the path of the investigator, and shall at the same time have ample opportunity to admire the shrewdness and courage of the daring explorers. The plan becomes concrete. So, in the autumn of 1978, the fundamental bases of the expedition had been set down, with the following rules of the game: 1. 2. 3. 4.
Didascalia mappa precedente 128
Complete the journey from Paris to Marseille without once leaving the autoroute. Explore each one of the rest areas, at the rate of two per a day, spending in the second one without exception. Carry out scientific topographical studies of each rest area, taking note of all pertinent observations. Drawing our inspiration from the travelogues of the great explorers of the past, write a book about the expedition (methods to be determined).
By common agreement, and given that neither of us is a masochist, we decided moreover that we will be allowed to take advantage of all that we can find on the freeway: restaurants, shops, hotels, etc. Furthermore, and after having carefully studied the issue (we are now in possession of a map of the autoroute that indicates the rest areas, thanks to which we know there are sixty-five of them on the southbound side of 129
the Paris-Marseille route), it seemed impossible to load Fafner with all the provisions necessary for thirty-five days, without the risk of succumbing to scurvy or something worse during the course of our trip. We then decided to request logistical support from two pairs of friends, one in Paris and the other in the Midi, who could come to replenish us with fresh supplies on the eleventh and twenty-first day of the journey. It was necessary to choose our accomplices carefully; for a start, such a trip demanded a sacrifice on their part, and only those who had completely understood the meaning and importance of the endeavour would be wholeheartedly willing to help us. Secondly, we had to choose friends as crazy as ourselves, as far as possible, otherwise things could go badly wrong. Thirdly, they would have to have their own car and the necessary time available in order to collaborate. And in the last resort, they obviously had to be friends, since our health and even our lives depended on them. On the Midi side there was no hesitation, and we wasted little time in informing the Thiercelins about our project. Not only were they enchanted with the idea, but our valiant Captain Jean offered to come as far as Corbeil to replenish our supplies, if we judged it necessary, offering to travel every three days or even more often if there was anything we lacked. But he soon understood that such frequent visits would somehow affect the seriousness of the expedition – solitary by nature – and so it was decided that he would come to our aid only on the twenty-first day once we were already well into the midi. A long time went by before we would contact Parisian friends to request the same service. And not because we were short of them but because we had to travel unexpectedly in other directions for different reasons. We told ourselves then that perhaps in the fall, but the autumn we had other commitments, and we swore that in the spring… And then the next autumn was upon us, and we intended to leave as soon as we got back from Paris but then it turned Fafner wasn’t available for reasons beyond our control, and once again we said we’d go in the spring. Meanwhile, dear reader, don’t think we lost heart or sight of the expeditions. Quite the contrary, the more our plans were frustrated, the greater our resolve. We kept buying travel books, scientific equipment, we had all the particulars ready; and in the meantime we travelled up and down the autoroute from time to time, a freeway that was now different since we saw it as a territory to be explored, and on each occasion we noticed details that had escaped us until then. In short, and increasingly, we screwed up our courage. How long did it take Columbus to set sail? And Magellan? But let the reader think of the final results of their voyages: a new continent instead of the Indies, and an immense globe instead of a tabula rasa. It was worth the wait for the fruits of such determination and patience. We waited four years.
A vision of parkingland Eight days on the freeway now. No: the freeway is precisely what’s lacking, for us it’s nothing more than a background noise in the distance that habit 130
reduces day-by-day, that we’ve effortlessly likened to an agreeable echo of the Caribbean sea in Martinique or Guadeloupe. It’s true, we mustn’t let ourselves get carried away so mechanically by a scale of aesthetic values (the sound of the sea is a thousand times more beautiful than that of a freeway, etc.): with eyes closed, the equivalence can reach disturbing levels. Truck-waves, engine-whitecaps… In any case, there are the same intervals of silence, the approximation and crescendo of the next break, that diastole and systole of a waving, breathing sometimes unbearable resounding volume such as we’ve known on Martinique’s beaches and in the rest areas. So, as it seems clearer and clearer, our expedition is first and foremost a navigation of this archipelago of parking lots. We never would have believed it before, because in our memories of our usual trips it’s the autoroute who rules alone. Little by little we become pleasantly convinced that our expedition is leading, like that of Columbus, towards a totally different outcome from what we expected. The Admiral was looking for the Indies and we for Marseille; he found the Antilles and we found Parkingland. Because this is a country whose provinces we are conquering at a rate of two per a day, planting our red Fafnerian flag, drawing up the necessary cartography, taking inventory of the flora and fauna (in yesterday’s rest area there was such a quantity of crows that for a moment we thought we were in a wildlife sanctuary; shortly afterwards we discovered something worse: ants, but we’ll talk about that later). For us, Parkingland is a world of liberty. If the rules of the game oblige us to explore two provinces per day, we’re not going to leave the country because of that, and our duty does not deprive us of the feeling of doing whatever we like. The conduct of the Parkinglandians (I mean the freewayistas who spend their days or nights in the rest areas) does nothing but multiply this feeling of liberty, because it must be said, alas, that the poor things proceed in a way that, while hesitating to pour scorn on anyone, can only be classified as idiotic. One or another might carry in their heart the seed of freedom, and then we regard them with respect, we’re ready to strike up a dialogue, to lend a can opener or chat about the weather and the temperature. But almost everyone comes into the parking lot looking like they have full bladders or empty stomachs, and these looks don’t seem to be replacing intelligence or sensitivity. They piss, they eat (almost always standing up, almost always sandwiches) and flee as if the rest area were full of crocodiles and snakes. Do they suffer from Parkingson’s disease? The only ones who are different, as ever, are the children and the dogs: they leap from the cars like multicoloured springs, run among the trees, explore the kingdom, marvel at the flowers and the lawns, until a terrible whistle or an ear-splitting “Henri!!” returns them sadly to the tin can, which they enter with the sadness typical of all packed sardines. Increasingly alone as night grows nearer (we already know the waxing and waning rhythm of Parkinglandian demography), we take advantage of the last light to walk around each new island and consolidate our compassionate conquest step-by-step. At some moment we arrive at the boundary, and this boundary is a high barbed-wire fence, like in 131
concentration camps. Beyond it the forest continues, a field begins, a village is sketched against the horizon; the world carries on beyond, but we could not go towards it even if the rules of the game allowed us to. And we both feel now that for once the rules of the game have their sinister side as well, a bitter negativity. Parkingland is beautiful; it is ours, we are free within it, and we love it. But its boundary is the mirror of other boundaries that history has made horrible; it’s like seeing the image of Treblinka, of Auschwitz. It does us good to return to our dragon, feel the undeserved but marvellous happiness of being on the good side of the wires, for now.
Origin ???????? Credits Original Spanish text translated by Paola Tomasinelli.
Travelogue Tuesday, 1st June
Breakfast: oranges, biscuits, coffee. h. 11.16: Departure filled with regret, since it was an extraordinarily beautiful rest area. h. 11.22: Avallonais landscape. (Cows to the left and the right.) h. 11.25: Morvan Regional National Park. h. 11.30: Service station: AIRE DE CHAPONNE. Gasoline, restaurant. Fafner headed in direction: S.S.E. Lunch: appetizer “de la maison,” salad with Roquefort cheese, kebab with prunes, ice creams (coffee and hazelnut), coffee. h. 12.55: Departure after an excellent lunch at the “Gril 4 Pentes” h. 12.57: Roadwork, traffic reduced to a single lane. h. 13.00: End of roadwork and entry to Départment of Côte d’Or. Storm threatening. Will we have time to set up at the next rest area before it breaks? The sky darkens like in a Hitchcock film. h. 13.02: (Barely legible note, something like “the great naked Pan”). Cows on our right. h. 13.03: Stop: AIRE D’ÉPOISSES. Fafner headed in direction: E. We’ve arrived at our first nightmare rest area: a narrow strip of asphalt next to the freeway. Carol baptizes it the “Aire de la Poisse,” in other words, Aire of Rotten Luck, for not only are we stuck right beside the freeway, but there’s also a diabolical storm raging. As if that were not enough, it is not so much the roar of the cars keeping us from sleeping as the rattle of the TGV train going by, that passes like a jet plane along the viaduct right beside the parking lot. h. 18.06: 37°! (But tucked away in the shade, we don’t feel the heat). Dinner: Mixed salad: rice, ham, eggs, apples, raisins, coffee.
We’re dabbling in fitness. The relationship we have with our body breeds a geography of pleasure, not only made of gyms and health clubs but also of nail salons, hairdressers and massage parlors: places in harmony with the growing attention people give to performance. But the relationship between urban space and fitness goes further. Reality is looking for new kinds of desires, bodies, aesthetics. The fitness of cities induces us to think about the suitability of its parts and parcels. Infrastructures. Amenities. Houses. Institutions. Bodies. But nowadays, a city’s suitability for human habitation is unfortunately valued through flat numbers and leaden figures. Instruments of measurement link the concept of suitability to a weird ranking system, where quality of life is measured in algorithms. The recovered relationship with the body, with one’s own body, also forces different kinds of individualism that influence architecture and urban design. Bow Wow Atelier’s handiwork rises from the observation of reiterated behavior, exercises we repeat in our daily life as if they were exercises in a gym. There is an attempt to build something around our individual desires. And if our bodies take refuge in gyms, ensconced in silicon and collagen, they change, their sexuality changes, architecture grafts onto the urban fabric, testing ways of morphing, altering the cities’ skins; “the contemporary prosthesis is made of flesh, and the functional outgrowth made of artificial skin is re-formed” (Roche). What Roche thinks of are forms of sci-fi localism, cybernetic fitness, without hiding a reaction to the contemporary metropolis’ hypertrophy, but underlining its prevailing need to identify how reality changes, and how it defines new standards of fitness. The escape from these hypertrophic cities resides in those urban and social experiments that rethink the scale of the metropolis’ particular features, questioning the heart of darkness of the next hyper-cities, 138
offering a warm and cozy refuge. They work as enzymes necessary to the silent and tiny transformations of our urban fabric, building new and recognizable centers. Monuments of a new generation are rising, thanks to the spontaneous acts and projects emanating from young architects’ studios, who attempt to transform the city centers into open and transversal places able to understand and welcome mutable desires and needs, embodied in the many ways the contemporary metropolis reveals itself. This urban handiwork has been unintentionally giving rise to new ways of creating communities of exchange and knowledge, answering to the deep-rooted human demand for places in which to gather and meet one another. In these urban micro-spaces there is the potential to mediate urban conflicts, and at the same time to become the center, however weak and wide-spread, of a more civilized form of urbanism.
“We are standing in a large building where an event is being prepared. This type of architecture can be found in numerous cities. Although its original function might have been forgotten, the structure itself has conserved a certain aura. Over the course of time, the building has been used for many different things. One could say that it is an unstable place. Nowadays it is an old municipal building that appears to have been saved thanks to its design, although in fact this was due to its size. It is an alternative space. There is perhaps no other way to classify such a building. All of the transformations it has undergone have happened by default. Mathematically speaking, when one wishes to formulate a Reductio ad absurdum, or proof by contradiction, to begin with we can let 2 + 2 = 5 in order to envisage the possibility that 2 + 2 = 4. If all x’s are y’s, and if all y’s are z’s, then all x’s are z’s. And yet, there is a theorem of incompleteness which states that an infinite number of possibilities exist which, without deriving from the axiom of a system, can be considered truths within that particular system. We find ourselves in this building without a precise function, left standing only because it had once been built. A structure by default. A building which could have become a hospital or a school.” “The interior was painted a predictable white. An off-white, that has become dirty and inconsistent over time. Bit by bit, the rigid whiteness, along with the multitude of light fixtures, have eliminated all shadow. Nowadays it seems up to the user to determine whether or not there will be shadows in this building. Shadows don’t appear by themselves in this type of environment. Certain decisions have to be made in order for them to appear. As the ambient lighting is flat, the general effect isn’t far from that of a set for a televised sit-com. A T.V. sit-com set shouldn’t – in theory – indicate any difference between the characters. The same is true for the event that is taking place here. The rigid quality of the light recalls 140
“We are standing in a large building where an event is being prepared. This type of architecture can be found in numerous cities. Although its original function might have been forgotten, the structure itself has conserved a certain aura. Over the course of time, the building has been used for many different things. One could say that it is an unstable place. Nowadays it is an old municipal building that appears to have been saved thanks to its design, although in fact this was due to its size. It is an alternative space. There is perhaps no other way to classify such a building. All of the transformations it has undergone have happened by default. Mathematically speaking, when one wishes to formulate a Reductio ad absurdum, or proof by contradiction, to begin with we can let 2 + 2 = 5 in order to envisage the possibility that 2 + 2 = 4. If all x’s are y’s, and if all y’s are z’s, then all x’s are z’s. And yet, there is a theorem of incompleteness which states that an infinite number of possibilities exist which, without deriving from the axiom of a system can be considered truths within that particular system. We find ourselves in this building without a precise function, left standing only because it had once been built. A structure by default. A building which could have become a hospital or a school.” “The interior was painted a predictable white. An off-white, become dirty and inconsistent over time. Bit by bit, the rigid whiteness, along with the multitude of light fixtures have eliminated all shadow. Nowadays it seems up to the user to determine whether or not there will be shadows in this building. Shadows don’t appear by themselves in this type of environment. Certain decisions have to be made in order for them to appear. As the ambient lighting is flat, the general effect isn’t far from that on a set for a televised sit-com. A T.V. sit-com set shouldn’t – in theory – indicate any difference between the characters. The same is true for the event that is taking place here. The rigid quality of the light recalls an ideology which allows everyone to participate in the festivities on an equal level. If shadows were to dominate, a feeling of mystery would arise, and the participants of the festivities, just like the characters in a sit-com, would then become distinguishable from one another. Shadows create the possibility of dissimulation and hide the reality of appearances in people and things. Shadows bring with them a certain complexity. The uniform lighting assumes that if it were played with a bit in any way, the effect would quickly become extreme. If the location were suddenly bathed in red light, for example, the meaning implicated by this decision would be decisive. The festivities would take a nightmarish turn.” “This building is the kind of place which would be a prime candidate for a renovation plan. The architect would leave the general structure intact in order to apply a number of pleasant restorations. Most of these kinds of buildings are part of the legacy of industrial decline, they have been completely abandoned. The space is vast and is testimony to a recent failure. There are traces of an assembly line, although the evidence is barely perceptible. One just has the impression that once, long ago, something or things were produced here. One could perhaps compare the state of this building to the nature of the events described in this book. In a sense, 142
the festivities/event/gathering detailed here can be considered as a kind of assembly line. People coming together to participate in a series of activities inside a gigantic empty shell. Although what predominates isn’t a machine aesthetic but one of interactivity, the illusion is that big things are going to be produced on a grand scale. Large empty spaces always offer the possibility of a multitude of uses. This is a very unique space which reveals enough of its past to allow the emergence of something special. A place where lots of things could be put on display. By walking through the different levels of the building we can observe traces of the past. A variety of functional residues testify to past activities: outmoded power cords, switches, seals from heavy machinery, their outlines and marks. These traces are easily noticeable. Windows, beams and rigging punctuate the roof. There are vestiges of what might have been a drop ceiling. Things have been hung on the walls. Nothing is left except the impeccable holes that were made in them. All of the modifications that were took place over the years are still visible, as unaccustomed as we may be to interpreting these types of signs. Although it may be obvious that this place has been modified and adapted on several occasions, the reasons for which these renovations were accomplished aren’t always readily grasped.” “The walls have been painted and repainted many times. Molding was installed and then taken down. All of these changes have left their marks. It would be easy to redraw the plans for this succession of renovations. Think of the way in which a cartoon is created. In general you start with a series of line drawings. Next color is added to bring depth to the images. It isn’t until it is filmed that the ensemble achieves the illusion of life. In this building time has created the same geological layers as those in a series of celluloid drawings. If these traces had developed into objects, the images would be brought to life. It would take a certain amount of effort, but the building could bring a very nice animated film into being.” “The discards on the floor indicate that the work produced here has varied in nature. Pale dust has solidified where plaster, wood and paint have been sanded, elsewhere oil has infiltrated in places where things have been assembled. Synthetic spider webs made of glass fibers hang from overhead beams. These angel hairs reinforce the idea of a past which can’t be reinvented, they attract light. There are things lying around everywhere. The storage shed is wide open. Inside there are paint cans and tools spread everywhere, destined for use rather than with any prospects of being sold. This shed could be compared to the attic of an old house, where objects that are tied to memories can be found piled up without any consideration of chronological order. The shed unveils the memory of the building in a very specific, non-linear way. This is where everything that has served to dress up the building is stored, here everything that has served to change the appearance of this place has been stocked away which has served to change the appearance of this place. A large number of objects and devices whose function is no longer very comprehensible can be found here. Long ago someone felt compelled to invent simple tools for forgotten tasks. There are fragments of wood here on which materials, paint, nails and hooks have 143
been tested. These practical experiments have left behind a series of strange objects about which a lot of things can be imagined. To lie in a field watching the clouds pass by can incite the construction of dream landscapes. This shed is a dream factory. A place of images as powerful as those provoked by the clouds in a violent storm can be, except they are images of human activity. The disorderliness of this shed gives us certain indications that help better understand how this place has transformed bit by bit.” “So many people have worked in this building that the presence of all of the previous uses can be felt, although only the contours are left, the contours of things which existed once, some time ago. We may be much more used to being confronted by a series of precise images, but we must also learn to deal with a series of signs that are less clear. So, electrical adaptors have been abandoned practically everywhere. They have been used to power equipment from many different countries. People have come here from all over. The building is equipped with a collection of electrical systems. There are diverse adaptors and transformers tied together like AC/ DC serpents. It seems difficult to plug in an electric device without finding oneself entangled in a fatras of unknown electrical systems. The general effect is one of a series of morphs, as the electrical current must pass through a series of transformers before becoming utilizable.” “Concerts have taken place here. Squares of black fabric used to darken the room are lying around everywhere and gaffer’s tape is still stuck to the floor. Various sections of stadium-type seats spread around the space seem to come from a huge stage constructed for a particular event, only the essential parts are missing. Each piece has been repainted in a bold color and treated like a stage in and of itself. These mini-stages, formed from the same structure, give the space an amusement park feeling. A meticulous inspection of the site reveals a large amount of recycling. The term recycling refers not only to the reutilization of objects but also to the mutation of events that allow for new and temporary uses. It is in this way that one discovers mutant objects. Perhaps they have been created by accident, by mockery or as a joke. However it is more likely that this methodical reutilization of objects, which aims at giving new life to decorative elements such as door handles, ramps or chairs, is practiced with the highest degree of seriousness. Christmas tree ornaments for a corporate Christmas tree have immediately found a new occupation as door handles. These resuscitated objects are a reminder of the large number of events that has taken place here.” “Among all these events was a certain festival of 1978. There are flyers from this still lying all around. There are even ripped and faded posters lying in the corners of some of the less frequented spots in the building. It would seem that the festival was dedicated to “Flipper the Dolphin.” There is also a series of effigies of this 1970’s television star. A marine mammal has then been, at some point, of particular importance to the inhabitants of this town. A bit further on we stumble upon a room filled with old fairground equipment and on top of that a huge pile of stuff that must be much too heavy to move, or else have just become obsolete. In another, badly-insulated room, a large amount of holiday-related objects have been abandoned, as if 144
a department store had stocked all of its seasonal merchandise there. Beach balls, kites, parasols and windsurf boards are strewn across this glacial space. All of this waiting for summer. In summer, plastic Christmas trees will be stored in this same space which will at that time, be overheated.” “We already know that this building belongs to the city and therefore to the community. It can be assumed that if certain events took place here it was because the building was at the disposal of those who wanted to put together a gathering. It follows that these events saw the light of day because the building was available. These are the first signs of an ideology. An ideology which aims to redefine the social function of a given space. This function has changed a lot along with certain attitudes. This was a phenomenon that could be observed in the design and planning of public buildings which were constructed during the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s. These building were, at the outset, designed to include numerous communal spaces. Over the years, bit by bit these spaces fell into disrepair. They were then systematically closed down. In the beginning each inhabitant had a key; nowadays one must have permission or a specific project in order to have access. There in lies a great difference. The same thing has happened here. The building was originally open to the community and then one day it was closed without anyone really noticing. The inhabitants lost contact with the panoply of possibilities that it offered. It has nevertheless stood open, and in this way has been vaguely preserved. It would be more appropriate to say that it has been conserved rather than preserved. It is a place where gatherings or meetings can take place freely. A place established by the city and the republic so that events organized by public and social interest groups can take place. It is often used by workers’ unions for meetings, schoolteachers angry with school administrators or by environmental groups. So what we’re talking about is a secular place that is waiting to be utilized by the community. An all-purpose place that has no particular purpose. This permanent availability makes it understood that no matter what goes on here, society should not in the least be endangered. A list of recommendations written by the government municipality indicates the rules of utilization for the site. This text is in all ways similar to the book “A Brief History of Time.” A reading of this long note makes apparent the particular nature of this non-instructional tome; it is judiciously titled “A Brief History of Space.” “Leaflets and flyers which bear witness to all of these activities can also be found. These publications have been designed very carefully. Each leaflet features a very distinct design concept and logo. Some of the more outstanding ones have been framed and hung behind the bar. In noir fiction novels, the barmen often decorate their bar with pictures of dead clients. Here visual memories that command respect also have an important place behind the counter. If time is taken to examine them we can easily recognize the social groups represented, in spite of the different visual identities they have chosen to take on. When perusing a family photo album one always finishes by recognizing all the faces. In general only the logos communicate nothing regarding the specific social issues addressed by those who once 145
used this space.” “On its facade, a large informational panel shows what the building could have looked like. It is a plan for the remodeling of the site. These large painted wooden panels were a shared space in the 1980s. There is a difference between a panel which lists the civil responsibilities of a construction site, a commercial advertisement which communicates the intentions of the seller, and a panel like this one which presents a perfectly depicted image of a vague idea. We are standing in front of an idealized proposal. The building is shown at night, completely transformed, with curtain walls and an array of other neo industrial details. The proposal is in line with some kind of third-generation postmodernism. The architecture uses a series of domestic tool metaphors aiming to give the overall illusion that the building is destined to receive or to produce televised images. Looking at the image hung on the front of this building, one thinks of a Pink Floyd album cover that could have been produced in the 1970s: in a postnuclear industrial zone, radioactive clouds have swept away all the colors in the landscape; a multicolored sign is hung on the front of a derelict building showing the utopian vision of the devastated zone. A banner obstructs a part of the sign. It is welcoming the architect that was supposed to work as a consultant on this project. It is perfectly clear that the inhabitants have been waiting for this renovation to happen since the beginning of the 1980s and that they’ll probably have to wait a long time yet.” “There is no more indication in the area surrounding the building than there is in the city as to where the building is situated. It is up to those organizing each event to furnish this kind of signage for their visitors. Just as it is impossible to disassociate the building from its function, it is also impossible to give it a precise name. This loss of identity through multiple usages prevents the building from establishing a specific role in the town, which highlights even further the municipality’s lack of interest. It has abdicated a huge part of its responsibilities onto the city’s population.” “If you leave the event for a moment and observe the urban signage, you will notice that it has all been made by hand and is composed of old road signs that have been painted over. This temporary signage is present everywhere. None of these, however, will point you directly to the party. In following the different directions you will end up wandering all over the town as you might do while on a treasure hunt. The signage seems to follow some line of public transportation that no longer exists, but will from now on run past the building. Over the course of the game, it is impossible to lose sight of the large lit sign at the top of the building clearly indicating its location. The game is therefore played just for the fun of it. The visitors like to follow the signs. They choose to embark on a treasure hunt even though they know exactly where the treasure is located. After several days, some of these signs will be removed because they were never authorized by the municipality, but most of them will remain unnoticed. It is in fact quite difficult to tell that they are unofficial. This practice, which consists of the wild placement of an urban road sign which seems very official, is known as la lettre volée,01 after Poe’s “The Purloined Letter.” This kind of openly practiced subversive action has
nothing to do with simulation.” “A lit sign which reads “Exit” is affixed to the outside of the building, and another sign which reads “Enter” can be found inside. The colors used for the signs aren’t the standard ones. There is therefore a preoccupation with the fact that there is no difference between an entrance and an exit. The result is that coming and going becomes rather easy.” “The building can take on daytime as well as nighttime functions. In fact, it is very often used as a parking lot at night. Its size as well as placement is favorable to this. It has become quite popular with the kids who like to come hang out here and skateboard, play soccer or make noise. When there are no events going on during the day cars come here and park at night, taking away the kids’ meeting place. An old man has been hired to keep an eye on the place and what goes on here. The parking attendant has at his disposal a little shed in which he can sit down and wait. Other people use this shed during the day. It is a remodeled bus stop shelter. Now it becomes certain that a bus line once served this area, although no one remembers anymore. The glass is covered with advertisements.” “Maybe it’s time to think about the building in terms of its new role: the setting for the event written about in this book. A way to better understand the decisions that were made is to imagine the building as a metropolis, with its network of streets, a park and houses. In a way, the whole building has been conceived as the backdrop for a television series, or a film set. Not in a literal sense, but in the sense that it offers unified conditions for interpretation. Here everything that could be needed for the production of a narrative is provided by the metaphor of the city. The rooms can be seen as town squares and the hallways would function as routes. The first impression that one has in taking part in this event is that of a neighborhood community. An environment that is folded in on itself, with all the possibilities that result, including paranoia or the feeling of oppression inherent to any closed situation. We are in a place that disposes of all the elements required to form a community.” “Groups of people circulate wearing oversized t-shirts printed with bold slogans: UNIVERSITY OF SANTA CRUZ, I’M WITH STUPID… These enigmatic phrases are the expression of the collective desires of the community. Different-sized of t-shirts exist, t-shirts the size of five people, ten or fifteen people. The people grouped together in these giant articles of clothing move about the building like a single entity. All of the houses together form a neighborhood in movement. These t-shirts, as well as other, smaller ones, worn by one person and therefore representing individual houses – are objects that provoke exchange.” “The building has been dressed. A large amount of fabric has been utilized for its decoration. The fabric carpets the walls of the interior and exterior. Oftentimes there are covers with advertising printed on them hung on the outside of buildings being renovated. In big cities, these covers are generally printed with ads or images which are computer-generated, which is supposedly more pleasing to the eye than a building undergoing construction. Here there is no inkjet printout, just fabric in place of 147
images. There is denim, seersucker and gauze. It should be emphasized that the building is very much sought after; it is a very good vector of communication. Lots of posters of a political nature have been stuck onto its exterior walls, which have now been covered over by the wall fabric. Graffiti also covers the walls. Earlier we mentioned that the building had been dressed, it could be added that it speaks. In the majority of cases the graffiti has been made using stencils. Paint has leaked out of the corners of the stencils. Some of the political posters have been cut up and recycled to create new images; a new life has in this way pulverized the narrow framing of these old images.” “In spite of its municipal status which lends it its social sanity, the building could be qualified as schizophrenic. Once the anthropomorphism of a place has been grasped, it can be described in psychological terms: the building suffers from multiple personality disorder. If the building can be described in a way that is used to describe people, the opposite is also be true: the public, in their t-shirts, is also covered with graffiti. The participants in this celebration often discuss the schizophrenic character of this place and in doing so, participate that much more in the schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a behavior that allows one to handle a certain level of complexity, this type of psychosis was formerly qualified as organic.” “When a collective never ceases reinventing social standards, it refuses domestication. The same is true for this building, which has managed to resist being defined through any political association. This space crystallizes projected desires at its core and vice-versa. If the building is viewed through a metaphor of the brain, then each individual is an idea that runs around in all directions, with everyone constantly putting a bit of themselves into it. The people participating in the festivities, whether they are being active or passive, are vehicles for these ideas. All of these traces, these people, these ideas and objects exist inside of an abstract explosion of signs.” “Upon entering, we are given a choice either to access the first room normally or by passing behind the walls. Whichever way we choose the result is the same. This is the first appearance of the kind of choices-that-lead-tonothing that we will make once inside. There are Russian doll-like rooms inside normal rooms. Each person participating in the event is confronted with the same problem. An enormous space which contains a thousand smaller ones inside itself. We evolve inside this building, like Jonas inside the belly of the whale, only our whale is an extra-large illustrated version of the service promoted at the event. If you had to organize a promotional campaign for a new electronic product, you would right away be tempted to produce a very large fiberglass or plastic version of that product. Now imagine that this structure has been taken apart and spread around the space in such a way that you find yourself always at the center of these fractured elements. No matter how hard you try, you can never escape from the event.” “Now we should describe for you the people who are taking part in the event. The audience is very diverse. Heterogeneity is the standard here. In other words, diversity is the norm. There is no dominant style. If we tried to identify a dress code everything would get all mixed up. It is difficult 148
to decipher the rules which govern the way that these people dress. Each detail however proves to be very purposeful. These people show that they have made an effort. Their appearance is very precise and sophisticated and responds to a clear language that can be understood by anyone taking part in the event... Certain people wear glasses that haven’t been made to their prescription, just for the pleasure of seeing the world as if it were a commercial advertisement. These kinds of glasses take away the ability to see depth of field and are a type of representation that has become very popular. Anyone can choose to see the world as if were a fashion photograph, a choice that is normally only given to a select community. This simple gesture can help us understand many marketing strategies.” “The material used to line or stuff bad quality parkas is very much in style. The jackets are voluntarily puffed out to display this white cotton stuffing that makes bodies seem out of focus. Think of commercials for laundry detergents. Some people are much more out of focus than others, who are dressed very rigidly thanks to their starched clothing. It almost seems as if their clothing is much too stiff for them. This is the same sensation one has when wearing a new article of clothing for the first time. Some peoples’ jackets and pants seem perpetually new. Wearing brand new clothing can help you feel more at ease. Everyone passes judgment on the various observable dress codes. It is clear that everyone has very scrupulously conceived the allure they wanted to create for themselves. Imagine a dinner where different people from different countries have been invited. They can all agree on a common language to speak or choose to speak a patchwork tongue. For this event, everyone is conscious of the social codes and plays with them at will. Your appearance matters little as you can always fit in here. Even dressed up as a dolphin you would gain admittance, and then be implicated in a very open judgmental ceremony. You are expected to be alike yet different at the same time. This is yet another example of the schizophrenia described earlier. Everyone is here to gather together yet they maintain a very strong identity all the while.” “One haircut in particular has caught on very well. The majority of the participants have opted for a very specific hairstyle, long in the back, short on the top and on the sides of the head. Soccer players have proven to be very adept at this kind of cut. It is still popular in certain countries. This trend testifies to a working-class kind of knowledge. It is a cut that must be meticulously maintained. Those who don’t have the energy or the conviction necessary to do so wear a wig. There is a place where you can acquire one.” “Some wear heavy work boots, others tennis shoes. All of these shoes are similar in the fact that they cover up the entire ankle. It is impossible to see the precise shape of the feet and ankles. A shoemaker works here. He engraves revolutionary slogans on the soles of our shoes. With these personalized soles, we can leave footprints in the dirt and dust of the building. It is reminiscent of the first walk on the moon. There is a room in the corner where we can experiment with our new personalized soles. The room is filled with a moldable foam-like substance. It is an impressive attraction. It seems really quite natural to want to try out a new pair of shoes. 149
The shoemaker works quickly; he sculpts the soles like one might retread a tire. Service while you wait.” “We can also procure a double of the key to the place. During an event the locksmith can end up making more than 500 of these doubles. We can take one of these keys and use it as an all-access pass to open all the doors, cabinets and drawers of the building. After the festivities some will throw it out, others will take it home with them. The place belongs to the community; if a door is shut then anyone should be able to open it. The locksmith works on this metaphor at the center of the space, far away from the front entrance. He seems panicked to find himself in the middle of a closed space producing these keys for it, just so that he can himself get out. Just like the shoemaker, the locksmith works freelance, he can stop at any time. But his aptitude for working quickly and well is so appreciated that he will end up working the whole event.” “There are boutiques where we can completely make ourselves over. The clothing that can be found here is commercially sponsored. Sometimes the degree of branding isn’t very noticeable. The clothes can be made out of a material that is the same exact color as the light grey of a pack of Marlboro lights or the red of a Ferrari. Inevitably some people at the event will have an air about them as if they had been branded themselves. Fluorescent articles of clothing are available, like the luminous harnesses worn by road workers. The color combinations are inspired by different construction company logos. Not all of the clothes that can be found in these boutiques are necessarily brand-related or glow-in-the-dark, some are made out of natural materials in neutral colors”. “Most of the participants of the festivities come from the city or its environs. It is evident that the majority of them come from around here but it’s impossible to distinguish them from those who have come a long way to get here.” “There is a lot of dancing. This seems to define a certain degree of implication. Some dance and others drink. There are no children. The children have to wait outside in the car. It is important to note the age of the participants. It appears as if the event is primarily frequented by people in the first part of each decade. There are a lot of people between 20 and 25, 30 and 35 and 40 and 45.” “Everyone seems to have a similar amount of buying power. No particular signs of wealth can be observed, although everything here is free. There is however a noticeable difference in the styles of self-expression. Different accents can be identified without betraying anyone of their social class. After all, a way of speaking can easily be taken on. To say that each person has a physical particularity would be objectionable. From far away everyone looks a bit like a model, except a little too short or fat to be completely convincing. One gets a general impression that everyone is elegant, charming and sexy, just maybe a little overweight, skinny, tall or petite. Well-dressed but uncomfortable in their clothing.” “People often have a cigarette in their hands, but smoke very little. Smoking is an integral part of their style, they’ll take one or two hits then put 150
it out, in reference to films from the 1950s. This behavior is very remarkable. It is symbolic and clearly indicates the ability that these people have to change their minds.” “Although there may be many conversations, nothing is being said that might have any meaning in particular. Some people are more concerned with what’s going on around them, making them look as if they have been paid to have a good time. Much like at Euro Disney or in certain large, fashionable hotels, it is impossible to tell the employees from the clients. Everyone is having a good time. Others are the motor behind the event. When an announcer brings a character to life, that character will always act in the way predicted by the person introducing him. Here there is no control being exercised, it cannot really be said who is introducing who, each person is taking part in the same narrative on the same level. There is no lead role. The crowd is the only protagonist in this story. A prefix is often used before the first name, like “our” Wallace or “our” Hugh. It is possible that each participant might be the son or the daughter of another. These expressions give people the impression of having a biography; they give a genealogy to those gathered here.” “Certain groups are more passive than others. Perhaps they are just visitors here to observe the festivities; in any case they don’t react very much. They read, talk to each other and exchange images with one another. Like children who collect anything and everything, these passive groups pass a lot of images to one another. The things they say to one another are rarely comprehensible; they tend to murmur a bit. Their conversations are generally not very surprising. The most passive people group together.” “Play is a way to understand power strategies; it reminds the players of their interdependence. The games played here are no ordinary games; the rules are constantly changing. Under conditions like these it is difficult to control the situation. The rules, the philosophy and the nature of the game are continually being renegotiated, and all of these aspects are given much gravity. Dominant power structures, centralized governments and bureaucracies are not considered part of the playground. They are incapable of measuring their implications and don’t even understand their potential. Here, on the other hand everything must be considered in terms of the game. The big picture must be looked at. By extension, the very existence of those taking part in the event is seen as part of the game, and the world is the domain where the creative impulses of the festivities should be deployed. This is the key to the revolutionary creative impulse of this event. Let’s think back to the re-soled shoes. This is the most literal example of the revolutionary quality of this event, approached with serious gamesmanship and attention to metaphor. By attending this event we get the feeling that the whole community is bound together by a loosely-defined ensemble of ideas. The emergence of a multitude of social groups engenders the inevitable implosion of the notion of a unified society.” “Men adopt combative postures when greeting one another. They pretend to slug one another; they put one another on guard. They seem ready to fight at any time, but it never really happens. There is never any 151
contact made. Another form of greeting that avoids all physical contact can be found – air kisses when someone says hello. There is no contact, just an almost-kiss on the cheek.” “Everyone is drunk but no one dares show it. Does this mean that no one is really drunk?” “It is difficult for someone to be alone without them drawing attention. Solitude always attracts attention. It is necessary to keep moving, if one person stays immobile for too long everyone notices. Embarrassed, people touch themselves all the time, they touch their ears and their mouth, endlessly verifying and readjusting their appearance, without ostentation, as if some of their visual traits weren’t permanent.” “Since we are always wearing earphones or sunglasses, it’s logical to come to consider ones physical features as accessories.” “There are certain things that it is better to avoid doing. Things that can’t be immediately proven shouldn’t be discussed, if not the consequences can be quite cruel and miserable. On the other hand, sex and love are talked about freely and openly. Money is not talked about, or else it is dealt with in a most metaphoric manner. This leads to a certain argot which contributes to blurring the line between rich and poor. All of this is indicative of the amount of control each person has over the situation. Insults are liberally pronounced, but without consequence. No one gets offended. Insults bounce right off of people. You can call someone all of the offensive words you can think of, and they’ll buy you a drink right afterwards.” “There is a collection of old Coca-Cola bottles from the 1950s on the bar. This collection isn’t destined for consumption but for contemplation. In the case of a hangover, one can drink Bloody Marys. After a few Bloody Marys, one vomits a blood-colored liquid. Ales are very popular. There is also a huge collection of illegal alcohol, absinthe, Irish Poteen and moonshine, as well as a number of vodka-based cocktails and candy bar drinks. Candy bars are stuck inside bottles of vodka to produce sweetish drinks. There are also several kinds of herbal drinks. Tea with no caffeine. Smart drinks are very popular. Milkshakes and broccoli juice are also favorites. People pounce on any drink that has vegetables in it.” “What furniture there is in the bar area is made of balsa wood, these are pieces made by contemporary designers destined to be thrown against the wall. There is a festival every year in Italy during which all the old objects that have been replaced over the course of the year are thrown out the window. The symbolic renewal of the interior is celebrated with a big bonfire fed with domestic objects. Bottles, lamps and furniture made by noted designers are all made to be broken. When people feel like breaking things they come here and throw everything against the wall.” “Different styles of music are played here, pirated versions of Beach Boys albums, ambient music, remixes of musique concrete, remastered Pierre Boulez tracks. Each song has its own player. An entire wall is covered with CD players. An old man is in charge of maintaining this machinery. He moves mechanically from left to right all along the wall. The volume of the music is variable. Sometimes it is very loud, other times extremely quiet. All 152
of this is completely unpredictable. Most of the tracks have been remixed. The music works consciously against classical conventions such as rock and representational styles. The entirety produces the soundtrack for a film without images. The effect isn’t far from that of a cartoon, illustrative enough that we are able to guess the action without looking at the images. The songs all have a similar feeling. Music is always international; we provide voiceovers for films but never for the words in a song. The speakers are small, discreet and function very well. In order to create an effect of acoustical ease, huge speakers have been installed all throughout the building. From time to time the dance floor becomes empty because the music isn’t always danceable. Too brutal, too slow or simply inappropriate. It is in any case difficult to dance without interruption. Sometimes the music stops. Nothing is heard for three minutes and then suddenly it starts again.” “A radio station broadcasts the festivities live via FM. Radio Reality has a booth here. It is a particular kind of pirate radio station because it is connected to the building. It broadcasts events that happen here live, then retransmits them. Because of this one can have the impression of reliving the event by listening to the radio the next day. The same program is always on at a specific time, reminding one of the movie Groundhog Day. This radio station is the only predictable element of the building. Cameras and video are not allowed. To be able to record a precise memory of the event would in any case take an extreme amount of effort. Only by using the imagination and fully participating in the festivities can one take an image of the party home. The only possible means of recording is therefore capturing the audio. If someone misses the event, they can always listen to the radio later on to experience it.” “Sounds are mixed into the music so that crying babies, animal noises or electric trains can be heard. By mixing these sounds a series of external events can be introduced. Three kinds of modifications are brought to the music in this way. The first alters the mood of the listener. The second alters the sense of place that the listener has. This modification is obtained by the use of filters. The way the music is perceived can be changed so that the listeners have the impression that they are in a completely different environment – at the edge of a pool, in a train station, in an airport, in a school or in the country. These effects distort the perception of place and also add another dimension to the party atmosphere. Another modification is the addition of sounds. A whole series of sounds can be heard such as holiday sounds, bells, carols, church choirs, the kinds of things that can be heard during the Christmas season. Finally, equalizers are used to mix out certain parts of the music. For example voices can be taken out, bass, percussions or even entire parts of the song.” “Sometimes commercials cut into all of this. The music stops in order to be replaced by the promotion of a product. Since it is an audio recording of the festivities, the products are talked about instead of shown. During a Sega promotional tour, the joystick was talked about instead of the system itself. The crowd plays a large part in these commercial announcements. Once again, everyone implicates themselves. The only element of choice 153
is the degree of implication. Some are whimsical, others give technical presentations. Some explain the social benefits of the objects or products that they have chosen. Most of the time, it isn’t very clear which product or service is being praised, people often forget to mention the brand name or they just invent one. Ads for very improbable products can be heard. Television screens as thin as a sheet of paper that can be thrown away or folded and slipped into a pocket. Commercials for cleaning products, glue, specially-designed products for cleaning fragile surfaces. In the end the only way for someone to really be noticed is to talk about a product that they like or would love to have. The demand for new products is undergoing inflation. People consume ideas rapidly.” “During this whole time, more passive activities are taking place, like the reading of a book and primarily of this book.” “People who talk about the weather can often be surprised, although there is nothing surprising in talking. Outside the front entrance, snow or rain can be seen falling, with all of the sound effects included. These special effects can be so convincing that people frequently go outside just to make sure whether it’s really raining or snowing. This is an integral part of the dynamic movement that surrounds the event itself. It is impossible to tell what time to arrive or leave; the festivities don’t make special announcements like at the movies. It can start or end at any time of the day or night. The few windows that look out to the exterior of the building are boarded up. Sunrises and sunsets are projected onto these windows like on the studio set of a film. There is no way of knowing what time it is.” “The event is over when the music stops and the music can stop right in the middle of a track. At that particular moment everyone leaves immediately. Sometimes when the music stops for a little bit too long people start to slowly head to the door, but suddenly the music starts again and everyone quickly goes back inside. There is no way of telling whether the festivities will last one hour or one day, and since no one knows the duration of the event ahead of time, everyone remains ready to leave at any moment. After a moment, when the music has stopped definitively, everyone is in a similar kind of mood. They leave calmly. They don’t make scenes, they don’t hurry, they just leave. There is no period of time spent hanging around by the cars. No one stays behind to talk about the event. At the end there is just a group of people who go away quietly.”
Origin A short story published by G.W. Press, London in 1995 and adapted into an exhibition at the Consortium of Dijon in 1995 As told to Liam Gillick and Jack Wendler. Note 01.Translator’s note.
Credits Translated from French by Cynthia Gonzalez Valdez.
The Pop Vernacular
Riding in the back of a taxi to my suburban home. On Melody FM they are playing Phil Collins’; “In the Air Tonight.” It’s late, I’m tired. The motion of the cab is hypnotizing. The song seems to slow down. I feel like I’m falling into it, feeling the nuances of the production. Neon signs give way to sodium lit half-timbered suburbia, gradually, it dawns on me: the key to the song is one precise detail. There is something about Collins’ drum sound... A mixture of the primitive percussive hit and something incredibly refined. As though studio technology had allowed Collins to freeze a single beat, zoom into it, navigate the peaks and troughs like a diver over the sea bed. Perfecting the intricate texture of the sound: polishing, burnishing, waxing, filling and sanding. Switching scales back to view the drum beat as an isolated object floating in space, spinning it around, feeling its texture. Whap, Whump. This is a drum beat that has been machined into sonic perfection. If you could pick it up it would feel cold like steel. Once Collins had prototyped and perfected one of these beats, he could roll them off the production line like munitions, deploying them in groups like gun batteries. Wham! It lands a blow to my temple. Whump! A dig deep into my stomach. Each thump the desolation of a man whacked by Fate. Energy expelled like Kubricks ape smashing a skull with a femur. Imagine the pain Collins must have felt in order to manufacture this drum sound. Its an anger distilled. Formed as an exact sonic replica of his inner torture outside his flesh. I can feel each synapse firing in slow motion. Engulfed by this one moment, this one sound slows till it sounds like the fabric of the universe splitting. Didascalia mappa precedente 158
I stumble from the cab, bruised and battered by this AOR01 journey. How is it possible that such lightweight entertainment can have such a profound effect? Perhaps its because pop music is densely packed with content. Even Phil Collins. A long time ago music, painting, sculpture and architecture shared the same subject matters: "Religion” and "How Great the King Is". Art managed to find secular and republican subjects. But in the drift towards secular society, architecture struggled. It became bogged down in stodgy Victorian and Beaux Art architecture. Modernist rejection of all this was understandable. Modernist abstraction was blank and white like new stationary at the start of a new term: full of optimistic possibility. But it’s drive towards abstraction purged everything − not just the boring, useless civicness it was rebelling against, but also the bright vitality of the vernacular. Alongside the high culture of Church and Court was vulgar folk culture: vernacular, bawdy, comic, everyday, ordinary. In art and music − unlike architecture, these traditions continued. Think of all those songs about love: 96 trillion teenage tears. Pop musics obsession with romantic love is high religious devotion, multiplied by folky lust. Pop music uses the vernacular to create radical, progressive and provocative work, AS WELL AS sweet, corny and popular. Think of these moments: Electricity zapping the Blues. Beautiful white Elvis playing black folk music. The Beatles confusing R’n’B with Irish folk. In the Black Ark in Jamaica, Lee Perry combines African folk with cosmic echoing infinity. In London art schools, vectors of rock and roll intersected with radical French art theory. Morrissey paired Oscar Wilde with nostalgic rock and roll. This strange potion of folk, high technology, distribution and consumption spans the globe like atomized perfume. There was a moment when it was impossible to escape Chers vocoded "I believe something inside me...” echoing down Siberian mine shafts, whispering across the antarctic wasteland. Pop teeters on the brink between a unique moment in a specific place and global hegemony. Architects relationship to the vernacular is to patronize it as traditional, kitsch, as the lowest common denominator. Maybe they fear its wild and uninhibited nature, maybe they are wary of its ruthless directness. Certainly it is a different tradition of building. It obeys different laws to high architecture. This makes it difficult to pin down: it absorbs different aesthetics, it mutates, it shifts its subject matter. The Pop Vernacular in architecture is everything you would never see inside a design magazine. Classified under terms like Repro, Neo, or Knock Off. Without the need for authenticity, its free to reinvent itself. The Pop Vernacular is both a graveyard for the old and the superseded and the spawning ground of unexpected futures. A cornucopia of architectural salvage. The Pop Vernacular draws on all of time and space. And despite its familiarity, it glows with optimism and freshness. Far from the end of history, it is the well spring of the imminent future. Washed up on the shores of this electric ocean: rustic bird boxes, ornate 160
plastic plant pots, carriage lamps, gnomes, reconstituted stone statues, sliced pieces of log with house numbers branded into the surface. Regency desks with LCD vanity mirrors, hard drives concealed within drawers and keyboards tucked underneath. Horse brasses. Fibre optic Indian Restaurants. Plastic coated Chinese take aways. Medieval garage doors. To try to get hold of it and examine the way it operates, let us take a specific example: The Pop Vernacular is an ever expanding cornucopia of stuff. Half Timbering was a vernacular construction technique that evolved in Germanic Saxony. It came to Britain with the Saxons in the 5th century BC as a mercenary army for the failing Roman occupation. By the 6th century the Saxons and other Germanic tribes controlled most of the lowlands and were expanding to the north and west. Half Timbering is already cutting loose from being a vernacular building technology, and heading towards a role as a cultural symbol. Removed geographically from its origins but related to a sense of identity. Celtic tradition mixes with Saxon culture. Forests had been home to the "Celtic Druids". Tree spirits possessed magical properties. The AngloSaxon poem "The Dream of the Rood” is a meditation on the crucifixion of Christ. In it, the tree speaks: "I was cut down, roots on end... I was raised up, as a rood... I was wet with blood.” This personification of material suggests symbolism and identity are deep within the technology of building. History continues... The last Saxon King, Harold faced the Norman invasion. At Hastings, William defeated Harold. He was crowned in London on Christmas Day 1066. England was now ruled by a French speaking king. The Norman Lords seized the assets of the Saxons. Norman architecture begins its transformation of England with the Tower of London, the first of a network of castle-strongholds. 21 years later, 100 had been built. Saxon identity remains distinct through this era. Folk heroes like Robin Hood emerge as the scourge of Norman aristocrats. Like Robin Hood, the timber Saxon architecture was light, quick, and friendly in contrast to the cold heavy mass of the stone military State Norman buildings. Oppressed Saxon culture gains mythology and so do its buildings. Half Timbering is the architecture of the people: the tavern and the home. Time passes. Eventually, Henry Tudor seizes the throne. The Tudors forged a powerful new identity for England. Mythologized as one of the glorious eras of British history. Exploration, colonization, victory in war, and growing world importance. Splitting from the Roman church, Shakespeare and Bacon, Drake and Raleigh. The rise of British sea power brought security, riches and glory. Half Timbered architecture became known as Tudor. It becomes more extravagant and decorative, its graphic intensifying. Built with the very same skills which are providing England with her burgeoning sea power, these buildings celebrate the importance and skill of timber craftsmanship. Half Timbering is imbued with military technology. The relationship between military might and architectural statement is pretty clear through 161
Tudorbethan architecture. Sir Walter Scotts novel “Ivanhoe,” published in 1791 was an embellishment of the Robin Hood story big on Saxon/Norman fighting. It leads to a fashion of reviving English vernaculars, re-mythologizing stories of King Arthur and Robin Hood. This historicism is later theorized by Pugin and Ruskin, and bleeds into the Arts and Crafts movement. Arising in response to the Industrial Revolution, its ambition was to revive craftsmanship in the age of the machine. Politically, it was nascent socialism with anarchist tendencies. Half Timbering is revived as an overtly historical style. It is used because it connects with cultural myths supporting their political position. Just like the appeal of Robin Hood to the Arts and Crafts movement: a band of men living in the forest away from civilisation, robbing the rich to give to the poor, in opposition to the control of the state and on the side of the people. Just like William Morris’ rural company. Half Timbering is now used as a badge of allegiance − a decorative political statement. Arts and Crafts drifts from its Christian Socialist origins into mainstream fashion. It becomes a decorative symbol of status not politics. The country houses designed by Lutyens feature Half Timbering as part of their picturesque montaging of historical styles. These large, Tudorbethan, bespoke homes for the wealthy became the template for the inter-war building boom. Volume building interprets the pre-war, expensive Arts and Crafts villas. Building quick and cheap, coupled with a shortage of skilled labour leads to a shift in Half Timbering from structure to appliqué. Thin timber panels fixed to the exterior of the buildings make patterns not limited by the demands of holding buildings up. These houses represented a way of life. These miniaturized manor houses represented safe European homes after the mechanized horror of the 1st World War. Half Timbering still carries the progressive sentiment of Ebeneezer Howards Garden Cities. A mixture of optimism and fear, built on a budget. These metroland homes were a mass market version of pre-war progressive and bohemian lifestyle. Sometime around now, Mock Tudor becomes exported around the world. In part through Englands still large Empire, but also through the pages of magazines like Country Life. Movie stars build Half Timbered homes lining Beverly Hills streets. Frank Lloyd Wright designs icing coloured Half Timbering with giant sized roofs in Chicagos Oak Park. By now any vestige of a traditional notion Half Timbering may have as a vernacular building technique has been cast off. Liberated, globalized through media, it becomes an international style. Its connection is no longer with a tribe like the Saxons, a Royal Dynasty like the Tudors, a country, or an ideology. In the same way, the stories that were once part of Half Timberings myth are remade: Douglas Fairbanks a black and white and silent Robin Hood, Errol Flynn a Technicolor outlaw. Later, Disney cast a cartoon fox Robin Hood. Kevin Costner plays a sullen PC romantic version and 162
Sherwood Forest is stalked by denim clad, fender strummin’ minstrel Brian Adams. The folk story has less to do with Norman England and everything to do with Hollywood sensibilities. Like clouds of radioactive fallout, folk stories reach the jet stream and instantly envelop the globe. Half Timbering continues as a means of construction, but it also gains layers of meaning throughout the centuries. At each iteration it continues the story. Tacked onto the outside of Moes Bar in the Simpsons, painted pink in suburban London like a Jamie Ried collage, the framing of a Morris Traveller, an option offered by developers in Chinese gated communities. Half Timbering is like light from a distant star: incredibly old yet as it falls on our retina bright and new. Half Timbering has been made repeatedly new through its different incarnations. Bristling with meanings which continue to peel away from geographic place, race and circumstance. Phil Collins drum sound was created accidentally when the talkback mikes in the studio at were left on. They picked up the signal of the other mikes which had a reverse compression effect. The recording was not just the sound of the drum, but the sound of the drum in a room. The vernacular thump of drumskin is distorted through high spec technology. The result is a sound which is both familiar and unique, human and superhuman. The sound recalls both ancient tribal drums and the sonic boom of a supersonic jet. Architects pursuit of the original, new, and different has ironically narrowed the possibilities of content within architecture because of its fascination with its own canon. Embracing cultures outside of its own offers myriad possibilities. Here is the artist Jeremy Deller: "Warhol said that pop art was about liking things, whereas for me folk art is about loving things.” And love, warmth and humanity are unlikely sensations for modern architects to be interested in.
Origin First Published in Archis (www.archis.org) Notes 1.Album−oriented rock
Credits © Sam Jacob http://strangeharvest.com/mt/archive/read_mes/the_pop_vernacular.php
Selections from Amok Book
Didascalia mappa precedente 166
Why are people so concerned with closets? I, of course, have had many but never put anything into them. I save the closet strategically. Often I refer to the closets in passing, sometimes going so far as to offer their dubious services to the person in question, as I myself can make no use of them. WHY YOU ASK DO YOU NOT use your closets? WHERE DO YOU PUT your things? And the truth is, I delight in seeing my few belongings. I hang them in place of paintings on the wall. I lay them out on shelves. My clothing, my writing supplies, my books, my maps, my tools. On what else would my eyes find such satisfaction as upon these gathered items − that which I find most suiting to myself in the world. And you say, put them away sir? Hide them away in a closet? I shall not. I shall never. Of course, one’s empty closets are always filling up with children unexpectedly. Of course, that is the price set, the price that must be paid to live the life I do, in the skin of an owl, on the branch of an evening maple. Fortunately for me the nurses were all blind and my nakedness went undetected all through the first and second parts of this complicated Amazonian hospital in the faltering construction of a dream. Without knowing the names of the men who came this way once, gathered up in this same foolishness which I call strength, I rejoice nonetheless in their companionship, in their invisible sovereignty − for surely each has been and is suzerain of some single portion of this clever map? Today I resolved to count things in days to take the uselessness of the week and the day of the week and their names and make it still more useless by lettering any letters seventeenth Sunday of the year, fifth Tuesday, thirty-second Friday. Yes, yes, you have perhaps received already one of my frantic letters dated thus on the back: Thirty-fourth Thursday of my twentyseventh year. I wonder if you took heart at this small uselessness. I wonder if you smiled and braved your way through some season of filth and disease 167
using small kindnesses that I bestowed on you as breviaries or crutches, as pigeons to be mocked and chased. Chase and they shall lead you to the cote where I sit with a good warm bottle of spirits and a fist of chocolate. We shall go on sitting in secret and we shall, I promise you, let no one know what of we speak. And how the portioned day advances never by portion. I refuse its fingertips when they come slipping through my pockets and setting my coat upon my shoulders. Merely because another wants me to go out? Is that reason enough? It is clear to me that the greater part of happiness is to be found in spending as much time as possible roused and gone out from the place in which one sleeps. Yet how to do this simple thing? Even now I write “roused and gone out” yet I’m within my chamber − is it unseemly not to take one’s own advice? But I do, I do. I am a taker of my own advice such as there has never been in this world, and there are many who think me difficult because of it. But there are others − and how sweet their faces are, come calling in my recollection − who see my gladness in the midst of my contrary nature and it is my gladness they go greeting. It is my gladness therefore that goes to greet them, that goes walking with them, impromptu, incandescent, ensconced like a glittering mote in the eye of a sometimes pharaoh who calls upon cats and only cats to navigate this much folded kingdom of days.
Origin: ?????????????? Credits ?????????
Writing the City spatially
The centrality of cities to an understanding of historic societies is an assumption shared by most urbanists but it is scarcely evident in the work of other social analysts. It is still possible to write or compile contemporary histories that allot, at best, a chapter to urban phenomena. This may not be because the other social analysts are being obtuse but rather because urbanists have, in the main, not made an adequate case for that centrality. Among the few that have made such a case Edward Soja’s work is particularly distinctive. As was noted in an earlier discussion of aspects of his work, Soja’s trilogy − “Postmodern Geographies” (1989),01 “Thirdspace” (1996)02 and “Postmetropolis” (2000)03 − is “an exciting enterprise, superbly written, showing great insight and increasing catholicity and generosity towards a wide range of work.”04 But it is more than that. It is a reconceptualization of the field that puts it in touch with and contributes to the recasting of contemporary, transdisciplinary social analysis. It includes, as his personal introduction below to key aspects of his work indicates: a rejection of binary divisions that set, for example, Marxist and postmodern approaches apart; an emphasis on and exploration of the notion of synekism (the stimulus of urban agglomeration), and of the essential spatiality of urban phenomena; and unexpectedly, for those still coming to terms with the spatial turn - a related reconsideration of urban history (including a prequel of 5,000 years added to, and necessitating the rethinking of the established account of, "the Urban Revolution").
Didascalia mappa precedente 172
I have been described as an urbanist, a strangely familiar word that is still underlined as unacceptable in most word-processing spellchecks. Urbanist is listed in the “Oxford English Dictionary,” but is defined either as an adherent of Pope Urban VI or as a nun of a branch of the Poor Clares who was a follower of Pope Urban IV. I think it is safe to say that I am neither. 173
So what then is an urbanist? As far as I can tell, the term was first used by Time Magazine more than 20 years ago to refer to a specialist on cities. Unlike most istsuffixed words, however, including the aforementioned Papal referents, urbanist did not necessarily mean an eager advocate of cities, for many so-called urbanists (Lewis Mumford comes to mind) actually dislike cities and write negatively about urban life. So the term has entered common usage as critically neutral. Anyone who writes specifically about cities can therefore be called an urbanist. Over the past 20 years, however, cities and the practices of “writing the city” from multiple perspectives have been undergoing some dramatic changes. First of all, there has been an extraordinary diffusion of interest in cities affecting nearly every academic discipline. The field of urban studies today is broader than it ever has been, so that to an increasing degree we are all urbanists. Instigating this transdisciplinary diffusion has been a significant transformation, or restructuring, of the material world. It can be argued that over the past few decades, urban life has become almost completely globalized, as cities now extend their reach to the global scale in ways that have never before been imagined. Not only does most of the world’s population, certainly more than three billion people, live in sizeable cities, but we are fast approaching a time when the majority will be living in 350 or so globalized city-regions of more than a million inhabitants. Exploring the nature and substance of “urban life in the era of globalization” − the overarching theme for the conference in Dublin, upon which this discussion is based − has become not just a field of specialized academic interest but an interpretive window to every aspect of the contemporary human condition everywhere on earth. Pushing urban globalization further has been the virtual completion of a process begun in the late 18th century, most noticeably just across the Irish Sea in the now ultrahip postmetropolis of Manchester. Here was launched what I have called the Third Urban Revolution, marked by the inventive emergence of industrial capitalism, probably the most city-based and urban-generated mode of production the world has ever seen. Building on the stimulus of urban agglomeration (more on this later), the formation of urban industrial society − and I insist on this precession of the urban − sparked a new round of globalization organized by the capitalist nation-state but hinging upon expansive systems of cities that were the foundations, the manufactories, of advanced industrial society and culture. The world’s first predominantly urbanized societies and economies took shape, initially in Britain, where the population shifted from being more than 80% rural in 1750 to being over 80% urban in 1900. This new kind of capitalist society, in which the vast majority of the population lived in cities and where the bulk of the social surplus sustaining society was generated in cities, began to spread to other regions. This diffusion of definitively urban industrial capitalism was constrained significantly during the 19th and most of the 20th centuries by the construction, at the global scale, of a macro-spatial division of labour and power, what Immanuel Wallerstein termed a world system, that concentrated 174
more advanced forms of industrial urbanism in what has familiarly been called the core countries or the First World, or more simply and geographically incorrect, the North. It has only been in the last three decades that industrial urbanism has begun to break through this Great Divide to any significant degree, creating newly industrialized spaces in places never so industrialized before (including this land of the so-called Celtic Tiger) and pushing at least the substructure of industrial urbanism as a way of life into every inhabited corner of the world, from the Amazon Basin to Antarctica. Just as we can all be called urbanists today, so too can it be said that, to a significant degree, everywhere on earth is now urbanized. So then, what kind of urbanist do I consider myself to be? In what particular way do I write the city? I am, first of all, a critical urbanist, meaning that I am as much influenced by the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory as by the Chicago School of Urban Ecology. Like other critical thinkers, I seek knowledge that is not only accurate but also useful in changing the world for the better. I am also as much a regionalist as an urbanist. What I do can be described as critical studies of cities and regions, the subtitle of my recent book, “Postmetropolis.” Although I take the -ist suffix seriously and advocate the positive advantages of urbanism and regionalism, I focus my interpretive attention on the more negative effects of globalization and the New Economy of flexible capitalism, but with the optimism that these problems can be effectively addressed by concerted political action. Am I then a Marxist urbanist as well? The answer is emphatically yes and no. I continue to be inspired by Marxism when trying to understand how contemporary urban life remains fundamentally capitalist, that is, when exploring the present in its stubborn continuity with the past. Insightful though this may be, however, it is not enough to make practical and theoretical sense of the present, and also leads too quickly to unfulfillable yearnings for total revolution. I depart then from the urban Marxism advocated by such scholars as David Harvey primarily in stressing the importance of the here and now, what is new and different in the contemporary world, and in using this understanding to rethink and revise all established epistemologies, Marxism included. My approach to the current era of globalization, economic restructuring and innovative informational technologies thus does not begin and end with demonstrating how effectively Marx captured capitalism’s essences and effects on urban life. I seek instead new and different opportunities to engage in social action and spatial praxis that is not aimed exclusively at transforming capitalism into socialism tout court but at maximizing the possibilities for a flexible and democratic socialism within existing capitalist societies. What this represents is not a rejection of Marxism per se but a refusal of all categorical or exclusive forms of critical thinking, those that remain rigidly fixed on either/or dichotomies or binaries of the sort that insist that an unbending choice be made between capitalism versus socialism, capital versus labour, the bad and the good. I have no doubt which side I am on when forced to choose, but I choose sides in a more open and inclusive way, one that preserves the possibility of new strategies and coalitions and 175
“Some chose other ways to thread through the complexities of the modern world, for example, through literature or the unconscious or language. I chose space . . . I dug deeply into the concept and tried to see all its implications.” (Lefebvre, 1975, p. 218)
By choosing to write cities spatially, I am joined by an ever-widening circle of other scholars, for what I have described earlier as a growing interest in cities has necessarily built upon an even more pronounced and transdisciplinary “spatial turn.” Never before have so many scholars from so many different fields of interest been so involved with interpreting what they study using a spatial perspective. But there are still very few who, like Lefebvre, put space first, that is, see all the complexities of human existence, especially cities, through assertively spatial lenses. Lacan, Derrida, Lyotard, Bourdieu, Baudrillard, Jameson, Harvey, Said, Bhabha, Sennett, Giddens, Sassen, Spivak, Appadurai, Wallerstein are all creative spatial thinkers, but none chooses space as their primary interpretive viewpoint. I have spent the past 20 years trying to convince critical thinkers of every stripe to recognize the extraordinary power and insight of foregrounding space as a primary mode for interpreting the world. This has not been an easy task. Not only is spatial thinking unfamiliar to most scholars, an assertive and powerful historical perspective is still so solidly established among critical thinkers that it afforded little room for a perspective claiming equal interpretive insight. Given the continuing influence of binary logic and its insistence on the either/or, it was also difficult to avoid being seen as a spatial determinist, or as some Marxists called me, a spatial fetishist, trying to push aside all other modes of interpretation to establish the primacy of the spatial. Forced into an either/ or choice, there was little chance that an emphasis on the spatiality of human life could compete with perspectives emphasizing life’s historical and social dimensions, its historicality and sociality. Cutting a long story short, the turn of the 20th century has seen the beginnings of a significant sea change in critical social thought, marked by a still incomplete rebalancing of the critical perspectives based on spatiality, historicality and sociality, or what in more dynamic terms can be described as the production of space, the making of history and the constitution of society, to use the key phrases of Lefebvre, Marx and Giddens (Soja, 1996). And as this “spatial turn” spreads to more and more fields of study, it is carrying with it a resurgence of interest in cities. In an effort to summarize and move on in our exploration of how writing the city can contribute to an understanding of urban life in an era of globalization, I look back to three observations by Henri Lefebvre on the city and of urbanism as a way of life that I have used to introduce chapter 1 of “Postmetropolis,”(Soja, 2000; see also Kofman and Lebas,06 1996) entitled significantly enough “Putting Cities First.” Behind each is a forceful demonstration of how a more comprehensive and generative spatial perspective is changing the way we write about cities.
I too am not simply someone who uses a spatial perspective to write about cities, but I choose to put space first − before literature, or the unconscious, or discourse theory, or history, or historical materialism − as an encompassing viewpoint through which to make practical and theoretical sense of the complexities of the (post)modern world.
“The development of society is conceivable only in urban life, through the realization of urban society.” “Until recently, theoretical thinking conceived the city as an entity, as an organism and a whole among others, and this in the best of cases when it was not being reduced to a partial phenomenon, to a secondary, elementary or accidental
alliances, as well as deep changes in longestablished methods of critical analysis. This rejection of binary logic is central to my critical studies of cities and regions, and leads me to another way to describe my work. I consider myself to be among a rather small group of scholars who feel no qualms in being described as radical or critical postmodernists. I say a small group, for on the left as well as the right there has been an almost indestructible conviction that radical postmodernism is an oxymoron, an intolerable contradiction in terms. After all, it is argued, the postmodern condition, with its multiple announcements of deaths and triumphs, and its formidable increases in poverty and polarization, has clearly been dominated by conservative or, to use its contemporary re-baptism, neo-liberal forces and politics. Surely there is guilt by association? How could one be considered radical and progressive, yet also advocate a postmodern approach to studying the contemporary world? Does this not lead into the hands of the enemy, even if driven by good intentions? I have spent much too much time and effort in the past to explain why this kind of guilt by association is absurdly oversimplified and misguided, rooted in a kind of mind-numbing essentialism. Yet it remains extraordinarily widespread in the academic world and popular media, even among some scholars who call themselves postmodernists. Much of this stereotypical view of postmodernism is rooted in the persistent power of binary logic, or what might be called the terrorism of the either/or. For the moment, however, let us just tentatively assume that a radical postmodernism can exist and perhaps even produce some new insights into urban life in an era of globalization. This raises still another question: what kind of radical or critical postmodernism do I choose to practise in writing the city? Here my identity as a postmodern urbanist simultaneously narrows and widens, for I write about cities spatially. More specifically, I am an avowed spatialist, a determined advocate for the critical power of the spatial or geographical imagination. I see the city and urban life, today as well as over the entire 12,000 years of urban societal development, as generatively and causally spatial. To illustrate this comprehensive and assertive spatial perspective, I draw on the words of Henri Lefebvre,05 as I have often done before. Distinguishing himself from other philosophers and critical thinkers, as well as from others who write about cities, Lefebvre describes his lifework as revolving around space as both product and producer of social life.
aspect, of evolution and history . . . a simple result [or outcome], a local effect reflecting purely and simply general history . . . [This view] did not contain theoretical knowledge of the city and did not lead to this knowledge; moreover [it] blocked the enquiry at a quite basic level . . . Only now are we beginning to grasp the specificity of the city.” “The city is the outcome of a synoecism.”
The first of these observations is the most comprehensive and the most demanding. It requires more than a tacit acceptance, a nod of agreement, for it calls for a radical shift in the historical and sociological imaginations that underpin the critical thinking found in all the social sciences and humanities. If human society, social relations, sociality itself can only be realized in urban life − in what one might call, building on Lefebvre’s other observations, the spatial specificity and synoecism of the city − then surely writing the city spatially cannot remain simply a useful add-on, a flashy new interpretive approach, or a metaphorical gold mine. It must take precedence in writing the city, and, through the city, in making sense of globalization and other complexities of the contemporary world.
Putting cities first Let me illustrate the potential of foregrounding a spatial perspective in writing the city by opening up some new meanings for an ancient Greek word that has remained almost entirely ignored by scholars for nearly 2000 years. The word is synoikismos, sometimes translated in English as synoecism, or as I prefer to spell and pronounce it, synekism. The root of this word is oikos, home or dwelling place, the same root that is found in economics (which started out simply as household management or home economics) and ecology, as well as ecumene and ekistics, a more recent term invented by the Greek urbanist Constantinos Doxiades for the study of all forms of human settlement. The suffix mos in synoikismos connotes the conditions arising from, while the prefix syn refers to being together. Synoikismos or synekism thus becomes definable as the conditions that derive from dwelling together in a particular home place or space. Given its connotations of coming together to live interdependently and, I might add, efficiently and creatively, synoikismos is also used to refer to wedlock, the integral unity or “family” formed through marriage. The term survives in biology in several ways. According to the online “Dictionary of Difficult Words,” it can mean having male and female flowers in the same inflorescence, or an association of species to the benefit of at least one (but no harm to the others). Again, the connotation is a creative living together. The most widely used application of the term, however, refers to the processes associated with the formation of the city-state or polis, another Greek word that virtually oozes with urban connotations. In this sense, synoikismos is the coming together or growing together − the wedding if you will − of proximate communities, neighbourhoods, villages, towns 178
into a single urban political unit, an urban polity. The ancient Greek geohistorian Thucydides describes this process of societal consolidation and centralization in two ways, as a physical agglomeration of people and as a form of political unification, noting that these two forms of coming together do not always take place at the same time. Particularly important for Thucydides was the Great Synoikismos of the Athenian Polis, which took place around 900 BC, an event celebrated for two days every other year in the Hellenic calendar as Synoikia, commemorating the birth of the city-state and honouring the “city guardian.” Aristotle, however, provides the most elaborate theorization of synoikismos. He saw it as an active social and spatial process that involved political and cultural confederation around a distinctive territorial center: a polis, or metropolis (literally “mother” city). This process carried with it the very essence of politics, a specifically urban politics involving the creation of a civil society, concepts of citizenship and democracy, family and identity, creativity and innovation, the foundations of city-based and city-generated civilization. Associated with this social and spatial process are many other terms that help to distinguish between the urban dweller, or polites, a politically aware citizen, versus idiotes, the barbarian or rural resident, the source of Marx’s often misunderstood political comment about the peasantry and the “idiocy of rural life.” These extensions of synekism include such terms as police, policy, politeness, civility, urbanity. Writing the city for Aristotle thus begins with, and continues to develop from, this essential process of citystate formation. In resurrecting and expanding upon this long-neglected concept, I enrich the Aristotelian meaning of synoikismos with an even more explicitly spatial interpretation, reflecting the remarkable resurgence of interest in critical spatial thinking that has been reaching into nearly every discipline over the past 10 years. In my more assertively spatial reformulation, synekism is no longer confined to the moment of city formation but is seen as a continuous and highly politicized process of urban growth and development, a dynamic process that provides a constantly evolving source of stimulating social synergy and is part of the very essence of urban life. Formulated in this way, synekism involves the creativity, innovation, territorial identity, political consciousness and societal development that arise from living together in dense and heterogeneous urban regions. It is in this sense that I define synekism as the stimulus of urban agglomeration and connect it directly to what can be described as the spatial specificity of urbanism − the real and imagined, material and symbolic, geographies or spatialities of urban life. Some obvious questions come to mind. What exactly is meant by the stimulus of urban agglomeration? Given that we intuitively recognize that cities have always tended to be centers of innovation throughout human history, what is it in particular about spatial agglomeration or clustering that leads to new ideas and accelerates societal development? Just how significant is this specifically urban stimulus and synergy? Unfortunately, these are not easy questions to answer, for there is very little of a theoretical 179
or interpretive nature written explicitly on the social and spatial dynamics of urban agglomeration. Indeed, it can be argued that Western social science and social theory has paid relatively little attention to the explanatory power that arises from the urbanization process, preferring to see cities as mere background or environment for social processes. Perhaps the closest approximation to an explicit study of synekism is the literature on agglomeration economies, or as they are also called, external, locational or, most aptly, urbanization economies. This literature on agglomeration economies, especially as it has developed within the field of economic geography, has recently received renewed attention because of its usefulness in understanding the complex economic restructuring and globalization processes that have been reshaping the world over the past 30 years. I will return to this contemporary connection to urban life in an era of globalization later in my presentation. But first a quick look at the dynamics of agglomeration. The basic notion of agglomeration economies builds on the savings in time and energy that derive from clustering things together rather than spreading them out. Clustering and nodality represent a fundamental and strategic human response to the friction of distance that affects all life on earth, even though the reasons for such behaviour often remain out of conscious awareness. We can all recognize how this saving of time and energy through propinquity operates in our individual daily lives, but agglomeration economies are also imbricated in larger social and historical processes in ways that have rarely been explored in detail. Most pertinent to our current discussions, the savings in time and energy derived from agglomeration and the stimulating opportunities for creative endeavours that these savings provide are a vital part of the very nature of cities. Theoretically, human beings, families, households and all associated activities can be dispersed evenly or randomly over the landscape, with little or no clustering. But for at least the past 12,000 years, human society has predominantly lived in nodal settlements or urban agglomerations of varying sizes, and this particular form of human settlement or built environment has always provided distinctive benefits—as well as costs, it should be added, for there are also important agglomeration diseconomies that periodically disrupt urban life. Just exactly how such savings in time and energy are actually translated into creativity and innovation is not well understood analytically, but again we can intuitively grasp the existence of some causal link between the two. Rather than going further into the contingent linkages between agglomeration and innovation, however, let me turn the question around and approach it in a different way. Assuming for the moment that there exists a significant stimulus to creative innovation associated with cities and the specific geography of urbanism, why has there been so little written about synekism and related concepts in the social science literature, other than in the very minor branch of economics dealing with external economies? I speak specifically about the social sciences and social theory, liberal as well as Marxist, for I think it can be argued that the arts and literature have 180
always been about synekism in one way or another, even if it is not explicitly acknowledged. I might also add, in honour of Dublin, the stimulating urban environment that provoked my discussion, that few have been better at helping us to understand synekism than James Joyce. But I digress. Western social theory has not just ignored the causal or explanatory power of synekism, it has until very recently been notoriously anti-urban, in the sense of avoiding any specifically urban explanations of social phenomena and societal development. To be sure, it is widely (and almost unavoidably) acknowledged that things take place IN cities, but with a few prominent exceptions (the old Chicago School and the writings of Henri Lefebvre come immediately to mind), rarely have social theorists recognized that cities in themselves have a causal impact on social life, that the historical development of human societies does not just take place in cities but is also, in significant ways, generated FROM cities, and more specifically from the stimulus of urban agglomeration. As Lefebvre asserted, the development of society is conceivable only in urban life, through the realization of urban society. Elsewhere he elaborates further, stating that all social relations remain abstract and unrealized until they are concretely expressed and materially and symbolically inscribed in lived space. Let us think about what these related assertions mean. As I read him, Lefebvre is saying that human society, indeed all forms of social relations and social life, originate, evolve, develop and change in the materially real and socially imagined context of cities. They do so through what he would call the social production of urban space, a continuous and contentious process that is filled with politics and ideology, creativity and destruction, and with the unpredictable interplay of space, knowledge and power − if you will allow me a little plug for Foucault’s version of synekism. For most social thinkers and theorists, without a significant and rigorous idea of the explanatory power of synekism or a clear and dynamic notion of the social production of urban space, such a statement rings either hollow or hyperbolic. Even followers of Lefebvre and Foucault pass it by with little more than a nod. How can fixed and dead urban geographies shape the dynamic development of social processes, social consciousness, social will? Isn’t this just another form of environmental or geographical determinism, such as the one that eventually led to the decline of the Chicago School? This has been the prevailing view of both social scientists and scientific socialists, or Marxists, over the past century and a half, the very epitome of what I have described as both an anti-urban and an anti-spatial bias. But as I referred to earlier, something has been happening in the past 10 years that is leading to a transdisciplinary resurgence of interest in both cities and critical spatial thinking, an almost simultaneous spatial and urban turn that is slowly leading to a major rethinking of canonical ideas in almost every field of endeavour, from archaeology and literary criticism to accounting and ethnography. With this increasing spatialization of all the human sciences, arguments about the explanatory power of synekism and the spatial specificity of urbanism have become more widely comprehensible and plausible. 181
To illustrate this turnabout in spatial thinking, let us take a new look at a book published in 1969 and written by that great urban iconoclast, Jane Jacobs. In “The Economy of Cities,”07 Jacobs presented a theorization of the city that resonates particularly well with the expanded notion of synekism. She defined the city as a settlement that consistently generates its economic growth from its own localized resources. This “spark of city economic life,” as she called it, clearly revolves around the stimulus and social savings that arise from dwelling together in cities rather than in rural areas. Density and cultural heterogeneity are its primary triggers. Cities concentrate need, creating many challenges to social reproduction but at the same time providing greater incentives to address problems in new ways. Cities attract newcomers of all sorts, strangers, visitors and migrants, who often carry with them innovative ideas. With her characteristic terseness she concludes, “Without cities we would all be poor.” In other words, we would still be hunters and gatherers. In “The Economy of Cities”, Jacobs not only theorized about cities, she forcefully applied her ideas to a major revisioning of the historical development of human societies. She did so by building on the work of the British archaeologist, James Mellaart, who had recently excavated what he called a Neolithic city in southern Anatolia at a place called Çatal Hüyük (alternatively, Çatalhöyük). Jacobs’ argument about this Neolithic city − a complete oxymoron to nearly all archaeologists at the time − deserves some elaboration and, indeed, revival, for it, like so much innovative urban thinking in the 1960s and early 1970s, remained ignored and misunderstood for decades by other scholars oblivious to the explanatory power of synekism and the spatial specificity of urbanism. Our look back begins with an 8500-yearold wall painting found Çatal Hüyük . The art history textbooks call it the first known landscape or “nature” painting, but far from being a depiction of nature what it depicts is a cityscape, a dense urban settlement nestled near an exploding red volcano, source of the volcanic glass obsidian that was a major resource for the hunting and gathering societies of the time. The texts would also say, with little attempt at explanation, that nothing quite like this panoramic and creatively perspectival cityscape painting would be found for another 7000 years. In its vivid portrayal of a revolutionary transformation of nature, a move from the raw to the cooked, so to speak, the wall painting symbolizes the first synekism. Recent archaeological excavations have supported the idea that here at Çatal Hüyük and elsewhere in the ring of highlands surrounding the Fertile Crescent, there were established the world’s first urban settlements or cities, predating by more than five millennia the rise of the citystates of Mesopotamia, the only Urban Revolution recognized by prehistorians and most archaeologists. From present knowledge, Çatal Hüyük was the largest and most fully developed of these first cities, numbering at its peak as many as 12,000 inhabitants. In the first chapter of “The Economy of Cities”, in her version of what can be called putting cities first − an alternative title to my presentation today − Jacobs argued that the beginning of all societal development and 182
especially the revolutionary transformation from hunting and gathering to agriculture and animal husbandry took place not only in, but because of, the creation of a distinctive human habitat, the city. Driving these developments in Çatal Hüyük, which also included the first known examples of metallurgy, weaving, crude pottery making, as well as that extraordinary self-conscious cityscape painting and the very first hand-made mirror, both symbols of intentional self-reflection, was that self-generating developmental spark of urban economic life, the stimulus of urban agglomeration. Not only was Jacobs turning conventional prehistorical wisdom on its head by stating that cities came before the so-called Agricultural Revolution, she extended her arguments about the explanatory power of urban agglomeration across history to the present. She asserted that every major innovation, every significant transformation in human society, came from the inherent synergies and creative time-saving efficiencies obtained through living in dense and focused urban settlements. It is worth repeating her wry comment, that without cities we would all be poor! This may appear to some as merely recognizing that cities have always tended to be centers of innovation and creativity. But it is much more than this. It is a profound example of using urban spatiality to better understand the entire history of societal development and social change. It opens up these possibilities by identifying a specific dynamic force arising from the very nature − or essence − of cityness. When “The Economy of Cities” first appeared, its urban spatial assertiveness was either totally incomprehensible or else considered to be almost absurdly exaggerated. As with the work of Lefebvre and Foucault at about the same time, its deeper epistemological meaning would become clearer and more creatively challenging only in the 1990s, after the spatial turn created a wider and more receptive academic audience, comfortable with the assertion of a powerful and critical spatial perspective. In the first three chapters of “Postmetropolis,” I build on these prescient scholars to reformulate the geohistory of cityspace around three distinct urban revolutions, each instigated (not entirely but significantly) by the innovative stimulus of urban agglomeration. The first began around 12,000 years ago, as we have already mentioned, and led to the first great transformation of human society, the Agricultural Revolution. In this fundamentally urban revolution, contrary to what most scholars have assumed, it was not the creation of a social surplus that made cities possible. It was the formation of cities that made possible the creation of a social surplus. What has conventionally been considered the first round of cityformation, the rise of the city-states in the alluvial plains of the Tigris and Euphrates, can now be interpreted as a second Urban Revolution. Expressed most clearly in such places as Ur and Babylon, and later, after the Great Synoikismos, in classical Athens, it was an essentially political transformation leading to the formation of the first centralized states and empires, as well as the first prominent social class divisions, the accumulation of private property, and the development of slavery, bureaucracy, a military class and, in a marked turnaround from the first cities, the empowerment of patriarchy. 183
Five thousand years later, a third Urban Revolution began with the rise of what can be described as necessarily urban industrial capitalism, based in the creation of the world’s first societies in which the majority of the population lived in sizeable cities. Industrialization brought with it the rapid growth of two, again distinctively urbanbased, population groups, the urban proletariat and the urban bourgeoisie, antecedent descriptions that have largely disappeared in the vocabulary of anti-urban social science and scientific socialism. For the past two centuries or so, persistently urban industrial capitalism has gone through many rounds of crisis generated restructuring, each in part a response to a particular form of synekism that arose with the unprecedented concentration of the working class in the city core. As Engels was the first to notice and write about, the tight agglomeration of workers in such cities as Manchester stimulated both class consciousness and class struggle, initiating significant reorganizations of urban spatiality to respond to urban unrest and to find new paths to national economic recovery and expansion, among which, from the very beginning, were strategies of increasing globalization, the expansion of city activities and national capitalisms to the global scale. Skipping over a great deal of urban geohistory, we find ourselves today at the tail-end of the most recent, and one of the most transformative, of these restructuring and globalization periods. Let us look briefly at this most recent phase and the New Economies of flexible and globalized capitalism that have developed in its wake. It is important to note, especially for those who persist in calling the present era post-industrial, that our understanding of these New Economies of flexible, global and, I might add, still urban and industrial capitalism, has been significantly advanced by a group of scholars, mainly geographers and regional planners, who have shaped a new field that can be broadly described as the critical study of cities and regions. This growing body of theoretical, empirical and applied research has not only put to the foreground a critical spatial perspective, it has also hinged upon a rethinking of the powerful forces arising from synekism, the stimulus of urban and regional agglomeration. In such concepts as innovative milieux, regional innovation systems, industrial districts, economic clusters, regional worlds of production and the untraded interdependencies that arise from local conventions, once mechanical and severely limited theories of location and agglomeration have been opened up to much richer social and cultural as well as geopolitical and economic approaches. And it is perhaps no surprise to find that significant inspiration for many of the scholars working in this area can be traced back to Jane Jacobs’ “The Economy of Cities” and its creative discussion of the self-generating and developmental spark of city economic life. Thanks to the work of scholars such as David Harvey, the very origins of these economic restructuring and globalization processes have been rooted in the spatial specificities of urbanism. It was the social unrest exploding in the major cities of the world in the 1960s that announced the imminent end of the post-war boom in the advanced industrial countries, and the initiation of a period of experimental restructuring of national, regional and urban 184
economies. As Harvey noted, these were at least in part urban spatial crises and they would engender a search for what he would so insightfully call a specifically spatial fix. This search for a spatial fix reflected a built-in need for capital, especially in times of crisis, to reorganize its specific geography and built environment in an effort to restore rising profits and economic expansion. It is just such a search for a radical reorganization of urban and regional space that drives the globalization process, especially with regard to industrial capital and financial investments. It is also a primary source for the development of what I have termed the postmetropolis and the postmetropolitan transition, processes that are still ongoing today all over the world. Whether seen through the concept of a spatial fix or not, the restructuring of the mass production-, mass consumption- and welfare state-based national capitalisms that led the post-war boom have come to be seen, more than in any similar period in the past, as a fundamentally spatial process. And the same was true for the emergence of the presentday New Economies of flexible and post-Fordist production; the expanded globalization of trade, investment, migration and culture; the rise of information-centered network societies, and the growing power of giant cityregions such as London, Tokyo and New York. In contrast to the main emphases of the growing globalization literature and its close ties to notions of post-industrialism, the new geopolitical economists see the New Economy as still fundamentally industrial, arising from fundamental changes in the persistent interplay of urbanization and industrialization. The first impact of economic restructuring was the rapid drying up of the old Fordist industrial nodes and regions as innovative milieu, triggering perhaps the most pronounced de-industrialization ever experienced in the advanced industrial countries. It was this decline that made many believe in the rise of post-industrial society, but so much more would follow to indicate otherwise. De-industrialization came to be coupled with a recuperative reindustrialization of remarkable proportions, much of it concentrated in new industrial spaces, districts or clusters. These were often greenfield sites, not industrialized before, and ranged in size from whole countries − the socalled NICs or Newly Industrialized Countries (to which has recently been added the Irish Tiger) − to specialized industrial complexes and technopoles typically located in the once suburban rings of major metropolitan regions all over the world. What was happening here was a breakdown in Fordist agglomeration economies and synekism, and the creation of new and more flexibly specialized and information technologystimulated innovative milieux. In some cases, these regenerative and synekistic clusters were located in revived old city centers (as with finance and the culture industries in London and New York). But most often, they developed as new centers in the urban periphery. In this they contributed significantly to a dramatic spatial re-organization of the modern metropolis arising in part from the urbanization of suburbia and the creation of much more polycentric city regions, expanding constellations of local synekisms. 185
The new urban form increasingly blurred the simple dualism that dominated the modern metropolis − the separation between a dense, heterogeneous and highly synekistic central city and the sleepy, homogeneous world of the suburbs. In its place, there has been developing a more multi-centered, networked, globalized and information-based City-Region, generating an explosion of new terms trying to describe its primary features: outer city, edge city, postsuburbia, technoburbs, silicon landscapes, technopoles, metroplex, exopolis. As the modern metropolis has been turning itself inside out in this urbanization of suburbia, there has also been in many cases a movement back into the central city, especially through the mass migration of people from what we used to call the Third World. This paradoxical peripheralization of the core has created the most culturally heterogeneous cities in history and, at the same time, contributed to intensified social polarization and inequalities of wealth and power based on class, race, ethnicity and immigrant status. Indeed, the increasing wealth gap between rich and poor has been perhaps the most insidious hallmark of this current period of urban restructuring. Emerging from these changes, not surprisingly, has been a major restructuring of synekism. The notion that the stimulus of urban agglomeration would intensify simply with the growing size and density of a single city reached its limit with Fordism and the effects of the information and communications revolution. However, despite the predictions of some that agglomerations would lose their significant efficiencies in the new Information Era, with synekism being tossed on the heap with the end of geography and the death of the friction of distance, the stimulus of urban agglomeration persists but in a different form, organized as multiple nodes in regional networks. Large city-regions containing more than a million inhabitants have today become the major driving forces of the global economy. They have not only become the centers of innovation for capital, they are also becoming synekistic settings for the development of innovative practices for labor, especially in the massive concentrations of what today are called, in the USA, the immigrant working poor and the welfaredependent underclass. But here I am beginning to spin out into a much larger story, about the rise of new urban spatial movements, about efforts to achieve greater spatial justice and regional democracy in the face of rising inequalities, and about the future of the postmetropolitan world. But I cannot follow up on these stories here. What I have tried to do in this essay is to convince those not familiar with the spatial turn and its more recent urban twist of the potential new insights they can generate. At the same time, I have tried to encourage those who believe they are already participating in the new geography, especially in writing the city, to expand the scope of their already fertile geographical imaginations by giving more attention to the explanatory power of urban spatiality and synekism. There may be no more appropriate and urgent moment than the present to develop such a critical urban and spatial consciousness, for more than ever before we are all urbanists now.
Origin Recomposed version of a Keynote Address given at an international conference on “Writing the City: Urban Life in the Era of Globalisation”, 24–27 August 2001, Dublin Business School, School of Arts (LSB College), Dublin. Notes 01. Soja, Edward W., “Postmodern Geographies:
The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory”, Verso, London 1989. 02 .Soja Edward W., “Thirdspace: Journeys to
Los Angeles and other real-and-imagined places”, Blackwell, Oxford 1996. 03. Soja Edward W., “Postmetropolis: Critical
Studies of Cities and Regions”, Blackwell, Oxford 2000.
York? Urban Studies and the Present Crisis”, CITY, Vol.6, No.1, 2002). 05.Lefebvre Henri, “Le Temps des meprises”,
Stack, Paris 1975. 06. Kofman Eleonore and Lebas Elizabeth,
“Henry Lefebvre - Writings on Cities”, Blackwell, Oxford 1996. 07. Jacobs Jane, “The Economy of Cities”,
Random House, New York 1969.
04.Catterall Bob, “It All Came Together in New
Credits Edward W. Soja is a Professor of Urban Planning at UCLA and Centennial Professor of Sociology at LSE. ISSN 1360-4813 print/ISSN 1470-3629 online/03/020269-12 © 2003 Taylor & Francis Ltd DOI: 10.1080/1360481032000157478 CITY, VOL. 7, NO. 3, NOVEMBER 2003 Copyright of the City is the property of Carfax Publishing Company and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder’s express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.
Index Adams Brian
Van Beethoven Ludwig
Pasolini Pier Paolo
Van Eyck Aldo
Velvet underground, The
Wells Herbert George
Ballard James Graham
Poe Edgar Allen
Pope Urban IV
Dick Philip K.
Kornbluth Cyril M.
Doc Scott Goldie
Belbury Poly (Jim Jupp)
Kwesi Johnson Linton
Pugin Augustus Welby
LL Cool J
Lloyd Wright Frank
Bureau d’Etudes group
Focus Group, The
Burial (William Bevan)
Burroughs William S.
Gendel Ryan Cara
Scott Walter, Sir
Murnane Richard J.
N.F.A. (New Fresh Artist)
Orano D. (aspetto di capire
chi è sta D.)
Guy Called Gerald
Ursell G. Paul
Theorical articles about interesting stuff realated to Check in Architecture.