Architecture of destruction

October 30, 2009

I started writing this last week and then got sidetracked with a number of other things so an abridged version of what it was going to be (although having re-read that sentence there’s a certain ontological issue with abridging something before it fully exists, but hey), appears below. Essentially, a couple of interesting points that came out of a roundtable event on The Architecture of Destruction that the Museum of Non Participation – a project devised (I think) by the art collective -facilitated.

Firstly, a mention of Eyal Weizman who works and helps run the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths. What interested me about his contribution to the discussion was the repositioning of dialectical analysis away from the traditional oppositional binaries, preferring instead, to use language of flows; of a concept of dialectical unity. Admittedly, not a new concept (Huyssen argues it well in ‘High/Low in an expanded field’ in Modernism/modernity), but it’s illustrated well by the practico-material realisations of architecture. That is, it’s easier to conceptualise and show the influence of implications of dialectics within the context of the (materially) structured environment, I think, than through more abstract engagement with other aesthetic fields.

The not so spectral presence of Foucault’s meditations on power and control – most notably in the control mechanisms derived from medicalisation – were present in the analysis of the Haussmanisation of cities in areas of conflict. Where the presence of a military as de facto government allows for the structuring of future control mechanisms: the cultural centres (schools, roads, prisons) for the neo-liberal project of democratisation; the spreading of freedom (capitalism). Evident in Eyal’s assertion that the American Military is the biggest provider / funder of public building projects in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The second significant thing that I’d like to mention, predominantly to question the efficacy of, is this series of photographs by Ken Gonzales-Day who has digitally altered images of lynchings in order to remove traces of the bodies and nooses leaving the “viewers attention, not upon the lifeless body of lynch victim, but upon the mechanisms of lynching themselves: the crowd, the spectacle, the photographer, and even consider the impact of flash photography upon this dismal past.”

I saw one of the images at the Spy Numbers exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo in the Summer, and without the qualification of the title of the work – captioned to illustrate what was being conducted at the time of the photograph – I think the image lacks power. It relies on a disjunction between the seen and unseen in order for us to reconstruct the violence in our minds. This, in itself, is a standard cinematic trope that heightens the sense of disgust and disturbance linked to acts of violence by forcing us to engage with them more closely through an active cognitive reconstructive. Now, what troubles me here is that the disjunction is not easy to formulate. The unfamiliarity of the images and scenes that they portray requires further contextualizing or familiarity with the original image – and it’s only upon reading that and then reevaluating the image – that the artist’s desired point (quoted above) becomes apparent.

What he’s trying to do is situate the viewer with the crowd. But, it serves the negative purpose of objectifying and isolating the crowd from the viewer. I don’t think the images manage to transcend the constraints of a body situated to elicit negative representation: the ‘it’s them not me’ response to the crowd. For featuring the crowd but removing the result of the lynching it establishes viewer / subject oppositions on which to project distance; a way of removing any sense of complicity normally associated with assimilation of the gaze by image.


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