Monday, 24 July 2017

MAP OF THE WEEK #4

This week's map of the week arrives courtesy of artist Emma McNally. Like the previous two featured artists (Emily Garfield and Derek Lerner) Emma McNally's work is inspired by a vast range of phenomena, from cities to organic structures, all of which seem to relate to one another in that curious, fractal manner underpinning the machinery of the universe. In her own words: 

"I mine all sorts of ways of thinking visually about space and time: the spiral paths of particles in bubble chambers, which are infinitely fast and small; images of cellular mitochondria; the Hubble Deep Field images that probe deep time, where all time is held in the surface of the image but can’t be reached. I like looking at images that show fleeting events and images of aerial views of cities at night—all the emergent formations at a macro scale that look like deep-sea organisms in the dark water. I also love aerial images of airports, both in use and obsolete, as well as the Nazca Lines."


The map above gives the impression of being a nautical navigational chart, or maybe a weather map, but ultimately the viewer lacks the key or legend to unlock the meaning of its symbols and lines. Without this, the map becomes appreciable only in terms of its own aesthetic, granting it a tantalising mystique. We are invited to peek into another world, one which may or may not exist beyond the limits of our own realm, but we cannot visit. This might be true for most of the maps featured here, but Emma McNally's work has a strong orthographic quality that makes it more... authoritative.

Have a look at her Flickr account, it's stunning:


Monday, 17 July 2017

MAP OF THE WEEK #3

This week's map of the week is taken from the sketchbook of artist Emily Garfield.


Emily Garfield creates maps from her imagination, explorations of cartography and urbanism in pen and ink. Much of her work is for sale at her site https://www.emilygarfield.com/.

The particular image is taken from her sketchbook, produced as part of a process of self examination, more of which can be read about on her blog.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

24 HISTORIC STYLES DÉTOURNED: PART II of XXIV

An occasional series playing with historic garden plans taken from Turner's 24 Historic Styles of Garden Design, published by Gardenvisit.com.



What we might be looking at:

Bam. Circles, lines and a grid. This is clearly a constructivist painting! Except it isn't, it's a garden plan. So we have a wild outer edge- we can assume it's vegetation, but there's something spiky about the scheme which suggests that they could just as well be stalagmites.

The combination of spikes and the garden geometry conjures images of a violent sport, something like Speedball 2 or Salute of the Jugger. Actually, it's far more likely that the giant circle in the centre inspired that particular interpretation. It's now getting harder and harder to imagine how a game might be played here. Where's the goal? Where would the teams muster?

That said, there's something of a bowling green to the central rectangle. If this were a postmodern garden plan (which it is) then an ironic anachronism would be entirely in-keeping with that particular school of design. But by now I've revealed that I'm already familiar with the plan. This clearly references Tschumi's famous Parc de la Villette

What we are actually looking at:
Yes, this is a postmodern garden. Turner has a lot to say about postmodernism in City as Landscape, but in 24 Styles... he is more generous, noting the inventive use of geometry and materials that characterise postmodernism in landscape design:


"Geometrically, postmodernism is associated with a layered and deconstructive geometry. Rectangles clash with circles and are interscected by hapazard diagonals, as in a Russian constructivist painting. Steel and concrete structures are painted in bright col ours. Glass and other reflective surfaces help create illusions and startling visual effects."

-Twenty Four Historic Styles of Garden Design , page 71

Monday, 10 July 2017

MAP OF THE WEEK #2

This week's map of the week is brought to you by New York based artist Derek Lerner, ASVIRUS 39.


Taken from a series of paintings (ASVirus##), the hand-drawn image very closely resembles a city plan, albeit one that is fragmenting or being reconfigured. Lerner states on his website that he has an interest in systems, urbanism, and disease, amongst many other things, and this is reflected in the cyborg aesthetic that he is somehow able to convey through these monochromatic plans.

In a statement for the Conveniant Gratification exhibition at which this work was exhibited, Lerner said that all these pictures are produced using a simple rollerball pen. No drafting or planning is carried out, with the drawings growing organically as ink is applied to paper.

To enjoy more of his work, please have a look at the thumbnails page of his website http://dereklerner.com/Art/Thumbnails.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Thursday, 6 July 2017

THE REALM OF HUNGRY GHOSTS


"Finish your bowl!" she said, as though admonishing a naughty child.

The small bowl was nearly finished... it had been his third, after all, and he was sated. He had made the mistake of pushing it away from himself, indicating he was done, and was immediately shamed. Generations brought up in times of scarcity rear a generation of scolds, but these in turn tend to begat profligate sons and daughters. He laughed, nervously, and with guilt, as he finished the remaining grains.

"Good. I wouldn't want you to become a hungry ghost when you die."

Hungry Ghost- what a collocation. It seems so apposite: the disembodied spirit refuses to let go of some shred of life from hunger, from lack. And above, pictured, No-Face (or even Noh-Face): spurred by his desire to befriend a sympathetic girl, he ate his way through a bathhouse of rogues and fiends, shitting gold.

Noh-face was but one of many characters in the movie Spirited Away, and by no means central to the story, which was principally concerned with a little girl from the "normal" world negotaiting the complex and bizarre world of ghosts in order to rescue her parents. The standard reading of Spirited Away is that it is a kind of coming-of-age story, albeit one in which the protagonist transitions from infant to juvenile rather than adolescent to adult. Ultimately, Chihiro/Sen leaves the magical world for the mundane, as we all most do (apparently) as part of growing up.

The universe according to the child is undoubtedly a more terrifying yet magical place, and in many respects parents are agents in the creation of this landscape. Figures from folklore, myth and religion are used to manipulate children into conforming. Sometimes, this is a performance that the child realises (eventually), is intended purely for the aforementioned effect; at other times, this practice is an embedded cultural artefact as real to the parents as the children uttering it. Warnings that bad behaviour will result in a eternal damnation, perpetual immolation in the flames of hell are, right now being issued to Muslim and Christian children all across the globe, even as you read this. Many will carry a subtle fear of that fate to their grave.

The creative intellect of the child is quick to populate their immediate universe with invisible spirits. It is a facet of our psyche that is evolutionarily advantageous: establish agency, be wary of revealed agents, fear those agents that cannot be seen or understood. On top of this multifarious cosmologies have been constructed, but on top of this layer children build their own folklore, spending, as they do, a great deal of time in the realm of the imagination.

The six realms of Buddhism (Animal, Human, Jealous Gods, Hungry Ghosts, Gods, Hell) were "depending on what one read... mystical states, psychological states or actual physical places", according to Roy Bayfield in Desire Paths. Bayfield had been exploring Buddhism in the aftermath of major surgery, and seeking to engage more directly with the subject (and, one suspects, to give himself an excuse to do some walking), took it upon himself to explore the six realms in person. Superimposing a simple mandala-as-map over the United Kingdom, the six realms converged at the traditional centre of England, somewhere near Coventry. Over a period of two days, Bayfield utilised the "Finding" approach (discussed briefly here), "externalising my mediation practice into physical territory.." The Six Realms were psychological and mystical states and actual, physical places, because he said they were!

The idea of alternate realms of ghosts and spirits operating on a parallel plane to our own is common to the mythology of many European and Asian folk traditions: the Sidhe of Celtic legend, the world of the Kami in Shinto, the elemental planes of the western mystery tradition. Likewise, the Hungry Ghosts of Buddhism seem to occupy two worlds simultaneously, that of the living and the dead... or, rather, their world exists within our own, but is invisible most of the time.

Re-constructing the mythology of the hungry ghost in Vietnamese culture is complex, not least due to the cultural layering that seems to take place in Vietnamese and other Asian cultures. Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity and Communism have all impacted the folk practices of the Vietnamese to lesser or greater extents, with no doctrine completely able to oust the other one. This might explain why ostensibly Catholic families still maintain ancestral shrines and whilst otherwise secular families might make an offering to the ancestral spirit of Ho Chi Minh. Perhaps this is no more remarkable than the appropriation of pagan festivals by the Christian calendar, but it is hard to draw objective conclusions when one sat in the midst of the subject.


So, whilst the threat of becoming a hungry ghost might be familiar to Hue's children, in parts of China the phrase hungry ghost  is synonymous with ancestor worship. This may or may not tie into Buddhist tradition, wherein those who have committed the least evil spend a period in the realm of Hungry Ghosts prior to rebirth, a kind of purgatory. Whilst there it is confusing for the layman outsider to negotiate the nomenclature and the architecture of indigenous belief systems, there are some obvious takeaways to be had, not least that to the majority of Vietnamese people ghosts are a real and important part of life, and their intentions are not always benign.

Dr. Gabor Maté is a physician who has worked with "hardcore drug addicts" (his words) for most of his career. Drawing upon his experiences working with these people he has concluded that addiction stems principally from childhood trauma, rather than genetics or the psychoactive properties of the substances themselves. When his experiences were published he chose the title In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction. The title is evocative, and speaks sympathetically to those among us who have encountered addiction in our own lives or those close to us. Dr. Maté offers this explanation for his choice of title:

"Now, the hungry ghost realm, the creatures in it are depicted as people with large empty bellies, small mouths and scrawny thin necks. They can never get enough satisfaction. They can never fill their bellies. They’re always hungry, always empty, always seeking it from the outside. 

"That speaks to a part of us that I have and everybody in our society has, where we want satisfaction from the outside, where we’re empty, where we want to be soothed by something in the short term, but we can never feel that or fulfill that insatiety from the outside. The addicts are in that realm all the time. Most of us are in that realm some of the time. And my point really is, is that there’s no clear distinction between the identified addict and the rest of us. There’s just a continuum in which we all may be found. They’re on it, because they’ve suffered a lot more than most of us. 


In other words, to Maté we are all Hungry ghosts, to a lesser or greater extent, and that extent is defined by the degree to which we have suffered in childhood. Whether one can be led into permanent exile in the realm of hungry ghosts merely by being traumatised with threats of being turned into a hungry ghost is open to debate....

Back in Blighty, Roy Bayfield ventured to Coventry in his quest to externalise his understanding of the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, "a place of endless, unsatisfied consumption and continuous, grasping poverty" (the Realm, not Coventry), and did not initially find hat he was looking for. However, it soon occurred to him that his feelings of discomfort and dissatisfaction was entirely in keeping with the feelings that a hungry ghost would encounter, thus "job done", he took a train to the next stop in the six realms, that of the Realm of Jealous Gods.

In the Human Realm the man finished his bowl of rice, and asked his wife if she really believed in Hungry Ghosts.

"Don't be ridiculous." she said, and finished her rice porridge.


Monday, 3 July 2017

MAP OF THE WEEK #1

This blog is named psychocartography. What the means is still very much up for grabs, and I suggest there are psychocartographies as much as there are psychogeographies, but within my own praxis I'm still nowhere near arriving at a satisfactory definition.

It should- I suggest- have something to do with maps. Seems appropriate that from time to time an especially interesting map should be shared. Welcome, then, to Psychocartography's inaugural map of the week, courtesy oAnthony Boguszewski.



The map above is taken from the following blog http://edouardcabayatelier.blogspot.fr/2012/09/anthony-boguszewski.html, and traces the movement of chairs in the Jardin de Luxembourg park in Paris. When this was first published, Anthony Boguszewski was a student of Edoard Cabay  at L'Ecole Speciale d'Architecture (ESA). Cabay's atelier, Re-, developed "a process-focused approach to design which is based on the creation of cartographical catalogues of the physical context revealing emergent patterns creating opportunities for design."

Of the interesting piece of cartography his study produced, 
Boguszewski remarked: "Chairs do not migrate anywhere but closer to the other chairs."

This may or may not continue into a series labelled map of the week.

Monday, 12 June 2017

THE POLITICAL LANDSCAPE

All maps are political. Right now, there's only one political map that counts for UK citizens, and after Thursday, that map looks something like this:
Map courtesy Guardian UK

The map above was created by the Guardian and typifies that newspaper's high standards of graphical communication. At a glance, and following a brief explanation of the UK political system, the uninitiated are able to assess the political geography of the United Kingdom. The blue team are stronger in the South and rural areas; the red team in the North, Wales and metropolitan areas. Both teams are struggling to make in roads in Scotland, where the yellows hold sway... and Northern Ireland does its own thing.

Such was the case when one of my Vietnamese colleagues took an interest in the colourful map upon my screen, making those precise observations above. What the map does not display is how it has changed. The story of this most recent election is not told in one image, it is a series of images, a series of maps of as many elections as one would wish. 

So whilst there is so much to talk about- the decimation of moderate parties in Northern Ireland; the declining fortunes of capital "L" Liberalism; the growth of regional nationalism- this is not really the place for such things, but an opportunity to reflect on the limitations of the map. 

No graphic is capable of displaying data equivocally. The politics is in the selection of which data to display. But beyond that, maps are limited by the constraints of their dimensions. A 2D image may be able to display 3D data, but that fourth dimension is trickier to pin down.  Thus maps show us only a snapshot of history, a moment frozen in time, devoid of any context apart from geography. 



Thursday, 1 June 2017

THE GREAT SILENCE



Recently, I have been listening to a lot of podcasts. Most recently, an episode of This American Life grappled with the issue of loneliness, starting at a cosmic level. Given that I listen to podcasts principally out of a kind of loneliness (living and working in a non-English speak environment), it was amusingly apposite. In a very short time, however, my amusement gave way to a feeling of existential dread.

The programme bore the title “Fermi’s Paradox”, and used the conundrum of cosmic loneliness to springboard into the more general topic of loneliness. For the uninitiated, Fermi’s paradox is the contradiction presented by the apparent likelihood of intelligent life existing in our Galaxy and the complete lack of visible evidence that this is the case. In Fermi’s words, “Where are they?” (“they” being technology advanced aliens).

For the show’s producer, David Kestenbaum, the possibility that humans are alone in the visible universe made him feel profoundly sad. I do not share this feeling: perhaps when there are fewer things to feel sad about within human civilisation I will start to grow melancholy at the silent universe. I did allow myself to consider Fermi’s paradox yet again, however, and this led me to a darker place.

The predominant hypothesis concerning the apparent absence of intelligent life is quite simple: there are no aliens. The Rare Earth Hypothesis states that the conditions necessary to create life, even in its most simple form, are exceptional. Technologically sophisticated, culturally complex civilisations such as humanity are therefore beyond an oddity: the evolutionary coincidences that have led to our development amount to probabilities of trillions-to-one, we are alone in the Universe. This was what rendered Kestenbaum so upset. The universe, within which our tiny planet is barely a pinprick, is teeming with death: it is a cold, desolate, empty expanse, which will ultimately consume all human endeavour.

The show was a journey of reconciliation- allowing Kestenbaum to come to terms with his feelings of cosmic isolation. Part of this process seemed to focus on gently mocking his sensitivity, and allowing him to recognise that there are far more pressing things to worry about in the world. Additionally, other reasons for the Great Silence were touched upon, suggesting that Fermi’s Paradox need not preclude the existence of alien life.

One of the reasons explored was the so-called “Zoo Hypothesis”: the existence of alien civilisations is being deliberately kept from us so that our cultural and biological evolution can follow its own course, without external influence, presumably for similar reasons to those of conservationists preserving endangered species in their natural habitat. It was a thought I’d had before, but had not pondered for some time… least not since the Simulation Hypothesis had been re-popularised by Elon Musk. It was putting these two ideas together that sent me into my own existential tailspin.

An extension of the Zoo Hypothesis posits that in their efforts to conceal the rest of the universe from us humans, the advanced alien civilisation(s) have somehow isolated our world and its immediate astral environs, surrounding them with an incredibly sophisticated simulation of the rest of the universe, which has been created bereft of other sentient beings. For me, Fermi’s paradox naturally dovetails into the Simulation Hypothesis: our entire reality is a digital simulation that has been created to observe how a human civilisation might develop in a universe lacking any other sentient beings.

Imagine those early pioneers of agriculture, trading the uncertainty of the foraging lifestyle for the relative security of sedentary life. These men and women ultimately set in motion an unprecedented revolution in culture and technology, culminating after tens of thousands of years in the exploration of space.

Along the way they have created hierarchy, religion and war. To facilitate their industrious exploitation of their planet’s resources, they have poisoned their own environment against them. Whilst they have made progress in reversing the inequality that has sprung up over the centuries of cultural evolution, it is unclear as to whether this progress is sustainable given the scale of the environmental problems and capacity to annihilate themselves over political disagreements.

Cue intervention by an interstellar civilisation. Detecting the emergence of a technologically advanced civilisation within range of their spacecraft, said civilisation decide to introduce themselves. They are dismayed to find that Homo sapiens has been unable to resolve its social differences in spite of its huge leaps forward technologically. They issue dire warnings to the terrified denizens of earth, having witnessed this behaviour in previous civilisations. Almost universally, world leaders surrender to the superior beings and follow their recommendations, in order to steer humanity from its path to destruction. Not all of earth’s citizens are so eager to comply, resulting in a bloody war.

Reluctantly, the aliens assist earth’s leaders in the suppression of the global insurrection, but in doing so they reinforce support for the rebel forces. The whole planet is in the throes of a bitter, bloody civil war. The aliens have failed utterly, and after much discussion, decide that their only option is to intercede directly: follow our road map to peace and prosperity, or face annihilation- annihilation at their hands.

The threat is enough to at least get the leaders of the significant parties to agree to meet. The dividing line is clear and stark. On the one hand, the establishment opinion holds that humanity will be destroyed unless the aliens’ instructions are followed. On the other hand, insurrectionists argue that it was the aliens who created this situation in the first place, are now threatening the earth directly, and better to die fighting for freedom than to continue living with no control over their fate.

The divisions and arguments are predictable, but the alien civilisation is able to steer a way through the debate with their trump card: simulated realities. They have the power to create incredibly accurate hologrammatic simulations, and are capable of demonstrating the outcome of actions on a galactic scale by tweaking the simulation’s parameters. Hundreds of these simulations are run, each demonstrating that if humanity was simply left to their own devices, the only possible outcome is increased misery and suffering and ultimately, the extermination of all biological life.

Naturally, the insurrectionists suggest that these computer models are weighted in favour of the extra-terrestrials preferred outcome. As a measure of good faith, the aliens induct the top computer scientists and programmers from the insurrectionist side into the inner workings of simulation construction. Across earth, an uneasy truce reigns.

After several years, the insurrectionists are convinced by the civilisations validity, but this does not put an end to the conflict. The debate turns to the age-old issue of individual agency and the greater good, the Platonic/Aristotelian dialectic that has plagued public discourse since the dawn of civilisation. However, faced with annihilation, the wider populace overwhelmingly choose life as well fed slaves than hungry free me. A new world government begins to institute the aliens’ original programme for cultural and environmental recovery.

Naturally, pockets of resistance still exist across all continents. Though they can no longer count on the same levels of popular support as before, they are still able to interrupt the recovery programme and cause misery, pain and suffering. For some, this is the price of progress, and anticipate on the remaining insurrectionists slowly dying out. For others, it is unnecessary and hideous, and are dismayed by the establishment’s inability to stamp it out completely.

Once again, the aliens manage to steer a path through the fog. Human leaders are urged to reach out to the remaining extremists and offer amnesty: not in return for seizing their actions, but for the opportunity to negotiate and discuss once again. The aliens are desperate to understand the desires and motives of these men and women, and to do what they can to end what they see as unnecessary suffering. Amongst the myriad demands and aspirations lurked something curious: it wasn’t that the insurrectionists wanted the aliens to just go away, they wanted them never to have arrived.

So: in order to demonstrate at least some degree of compliance, the aliens agreed to run a simulation in which they never came to earth. In fact, they agreed to run a simulation of the universe entirely devoid of other sentient life forms. They hoped this would demonstrate the hopelessness of the remaining insurrectionists’ cause. I cannot speculate on the outcome, because I believe that this is the simulation in which we now live.

I snapped out of my reverie in a manner similar to Dhasa in the Glass Bead Game: I found myself back in the present, doing something completely mundane, having lived through not just one life time but tens of thousands of years of parallel history. Like Dhasa I was by water, pouring from a shower head not a gently babbling forest stream. My heart rate felt higher than usual and I was aware of a great deal of chatter in my head. I resolved to practice some mindfulness, in an effort to return myself to normality.

Inhale, exhale: as long as you are breathing, there’s more right with you than wrong with you.

I felt the cold, wet torrent immerse my head and body.

I looked at the soap bubbles forming between my fingers.

I observed the complexity of the iridescence on the surface of each bubble, each one, containing within it its own universe.

What kind of technology would simulate this? Even at a level observable by the human senses, what power would be required to simulate something so complex, so convincingly?

It looks so real. It feels so real.

But then again, it’s all we’ve ever known. How do we know that this is what wetness feels like?

Embrace the matrix. There is no way out.


You can listen to the podcast that inspired my melancholy here.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

A SPIRAL

Round like a circle in a spiral like a wheel within a wheel...

Aeonium tabuliforme courtesy wikimedia commons

 Above, a detail of the succulent Aeonium tubuliforme, one of many examples of the golden ratio/ Fibonacci sequence found in nature. Recently, I've been considering the potential for the revival of scared geometry in landscape and urban design (in truth, in an effort to make my own designs more interesting), remembering a project that my friend Fergus Channon was involved with some years ago, at Manchester University Hospital.

One of the many projects in which Fergus was involved was the courtyard at the Eye Hospital. Working alongside friend and long time collaborative artist artist Richard (Rick) Dickinson, the pair created a number of life-sized deer sculptures, consisting of copper-mesh hide stretched over a skeletal frame of tubular copper. The astonishingly lifelike, yet somehow alien animals, sit amid a landscape designed in collaboration with landscape architect Jane Parker.

So what does this have to do with sacred geometry? It's all part of the plan...

Although I had no involvement in the design process of this scheme, I was fortunate to watch as it unfurled, like the fronds of a sacred fern, from germination to full realisation. In the beginning, Jane Parker and Fergus Channon were exchanging ideas online, and Fergus kinda got sucked into a Fibonacci rabbit hole (or vortex, which would be more appropriate I suppose). He showed me an incredible site, one which I have sadly been unable to find, connecting cyclones and ammonite shells to why propellers appear to go the wrong way when they caught on film.

In the end, the site plan consisted a central glass pool, with several arms spiralling out from the centre: 

Picture courtesy https://ferguschannon.wordpress.com/
So it's been my mind much of late, and in an attempt to see where it might lead, I thought I might draw myself a spiral. You start with squares, of course.

The Snail, Henri Matisse, Courtesy Tate http://www.tate.org.uk/art/images/work/T/T00/T00540_10.jpg
Not like that, though... more like this:



Using some arbitary unists, this square measures one by one. Then you add one the same size above it:

So, two squares each measuring one by one, followed by another square measuring  2 x 2:

Following the Fibonacci sequence: 1, 1, 2 .... then 3...

Each time, the square's edge is equal in length to the sum of the preceding two squares, following the Fibonacci sequence but also fitting snugly alongside the preceding squares with no overlap. Of course, this means the next numbers in the sequence are 5, 8 and 13:



Finally, two further squares are drawn, measuring 21 x 21 and 34 x 34:

The Fibonacci spiral is then constructed by drawing a series of quarter-circle arcs, beginning in the bottom right of the first square, using the top right of the same square as its centre. Each new arc begins where the previous one left off, but with a centre point on the perimeter of the new square.








 So there you have it, a Fibonacci spiral. What value this represents is anyone's guess, but I've been lazy of late and needed to break my duck. So here you are, some spirals.



Thursday, 9 February 2017

HUE/BECKTON - STRATEGIC VS> TACTICAL [PSYCHO]CARTOGRAPHY (PART THREE)

FINAL PART IN A SERIES OF THREE. READ PART ONE HERE


In the event, i hit a wall. A ten metre fucking thick wall of brick and earth. Then I walked beneath the arch instead of through the wall, which was a more sensible option. Then I hit another wall (pictured). This time there was no massive arch, but an entry fee and tickets and electric vehicles and i wasn't in the mood for any of that.

It was a cool, overcast, February day in Hue, city of walls, and I was at the citadel, the citadel not even noted in Full Metal Jacket, where the rebel army had holed themselves up for several weeks until they were ultimately bombarded out of hiding by American air power. There's not a lot of that in the local histories, nor about the initial atrocities they insurrectionists committed, nor the vicious reprisals they and their sympathisers likewise endured. Instead, the story is focused on Vietnam's Imperial past, the colonial protectorate of the Nguyen Dynasty, the anachronistic monarchy and life at court. I was not in the mood for all of that.

What I was in the mood for, I knew not. Somehow the disparate threads at which I'd been tugging had remained just that- disparate. For once, sticking a map on top of another one didn't really achieve anything other than make a nice picture.  It wasn't even my picture- it was Struan Brown's. The ingredients were there but it wasn't working: the military origins of psychogeography and cartography, the horrors of war aped, in children's play and cinema, but I felt disinclined to pull the pieces together, and I was not quite sure why.

I made a circuit of the inner wall, which amounted to a stroll of just under 2.5 km. This is not long for a walk, but it is long for a wall. As I patrolled the perimeter I tried to put my self in the shoes of one who would have made such a journey before: a guard, most likely, or maybe a penitent. Perhaps a bored concubine looking to sneak back in after attempting to escape palace life, but later having a change of heart. The shoes of the soldier felt small on me, not because soldiers have small feet, but because I'd pretended to wear them as a young boy, under similar circumstances, circumambulating Hadleigh Castle. That magnificent wreck is slowly crumbling into the Estuary after more than seven centuries. Hue's citadel has been around for a much shorter period of time, but it's historical significance is arguably greater.

In Roy Bayfield's book Desire Paths, the author describes: 

"..the finding approach described by Duncan Barford in his blog post  'Inside the Entrances to Hell': "

Perhaps this is what I should have done, instead I wandered around, eyes flitting at materials, looking for something that would make everything fall into place. I didn't find that. Instead I found this:



Friday, 27 January 2017

HUE/BECKTON - STRATEGIC VS> TACTICAL [PSYCHO]CARTOGRAPHY (PART TWO)

PART TWO IN A SERIES OF THREE. READ PART ONE HERE

“Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.”
-Charlie Chaplin


Looking back at the Hue psychocarte from 2014, experiencing disappointment: a pretty picture, but practically useless. A fraction of a battle map, spliced out and blown up, the details blurred and indistinct, all before the overlay… The plan had been to trace a random path through the citadel using the overlay, the route of a drive, but the streets were barely visible.

"All space is occupied by the enemy. We are living under a permanent curfew. Not just the cops — the geometry" -Raoul Vaneigem, The Unitary Urbanism Manifesto


The roots of the dérive (as opposed to its routes) are supposedly in urban warfare: the “aimless drift” was used as a means of reconnaissance. DeBord and the Situationists were engaged in cultural warfare, and via dtournement (cultural re-appropriation and re-purposing) these tactics were being turned back against the state. Like war, psychogeography was a political act. But like the actors portraying Joker and his comrades in Full Metal Jacket, there was also an element of play.

The closing chapter of Full Metal Jacket occurs in 1968/86 in Hue/Beckton. A crazed General, Kubrick, has ordered a platoon to wander through the remnants of a gasworks in search of a Vietnamese woman, whom they are to kill. She is the third and final woman, and the only one not to be presented by Kubrick as a sex object, though is equally disposable. The only enemy whose face is seen in close up- feminine, because the enemy must be emasculated. In the end, after a hard day’s play, the lads wander across the burning landscape, singing a song Mickey Mouse. In spite of yourself, you may just feel an incongruous warm glow inside.

Not only was 1968 a big year for Hue (just as 1986 was a big year for Beckton, although it would be made aware of that until long after the event), it was a big year for the Situationists. Increased militancy amongst industrial workers and students, culminating in a series of occupations, protests and a general strike nearly brought the French establishment to its knees. Though there were numerous socio-economic causes for this period of civil unrest, the Situationist International can take credit for providing some degree of leadership, and its writings strongly influenced the political graffiti of the time, which have provided some of the most enduring images of the period. 

Ultimately, the status quo prevailed, state power managed to suppress the protestors, and returned stronger and more resilient. Likewise, in Vietnam, the Tet offensive was ultimately crushed by the combined ARVN and US forces, and the rebel forces were expelled from all the major urban centres they had assaulted. In Europe and the USA, 1968 is often remembered as the last gasp of the counter-culture, a glorious failure. In Vietnam, the Tet offensive was a dress rehearsal for 1975, and victory for the revolutionaries (who, predictably, went on to impose their own repressive regime of state power). Ho Chi Minh’s forces succeeded, perhaps, because there was a coherent strategy in play, one which would outlive its progenitor.

Tet is rapidly approaching, 49 lunar years having passed since the infamous offensive, and the Battle for Hue. 31 years have likewise elapsed since the Battle of Hue was recreated at Beckton gasworks. Both of these are prime numbers. The 49th Boulevard was also the previous name given to Pham Van Dong Street in Hue. The time (and the cosmic numbers) is right for some kind of intervention. Yet without a coherent strategy- in this case, my psychocarte- there can be no opportunity for a successful operation. From the outset, the superimposition of a Hue map atop a map of Beckton (or perhaps the other way around) seemed like the best place to begin.
Sadly, it's been done before: here is Struan Brown's interpretation of Beckton overlaid on Hue. One cannot be startled by the fact that this has been done prior to it being imagined by me, but what is perhaps surprising is that Struan was actually a class mate of mine at the University of Greenwich. We studied together on the Landscape Architecture masters programme in 2014 (both of us had also been Greenwich students in 2013, but during different semesters). I have no memory of seeing this before, but was suddenly beset by a strange fear that I was experiencing cryptomnesia, the phenomenon of experiencing a memory as an original thought. 


Image by Struan Brown via http://struanbrown.blogspot.com/2013/12/beckton-gas-works.html

Perhaps of greater concern was the possibility that, having previously seen this image, the map of Hue had been buried in my subconscious, and that its presence there had subtly compelled me to find its origins. My journey to Hue, less than one year later, was not only on a whim but also somewhat serendipitous. Originally, I had obtained a job (via an agency) as an English teacher in Hanoi. Whilst booking the flights, I discovered it would be much cheaper to fly to HCMC and travel up to Hanoi independently than fly directly. On informing my agency, however, it transpired that this would not be acceptable to my prospective employer (I would have missed some "essential" part of the induction process whilst travelling from HCMC to Hanoi), and a new course of action was decided. Instead of teaching in Hanoi, I was told to meet up with a group of newly-qualified TEFL teachers in HCMC and travel with them to Hue, a city I believed I had never heard of.

It's hard to recall what was influencing my decision making processes at that time, the whole period prior to my departure is a miasmic blur. My memories of this period are a series of weird vignettes, mostly of one-on-one conversations with people who's lives are going to be somehow disrupted by my departure. There's no truth in them, really,: I've spliced and edited them back together too many times, there were filters on the lenses, and they're remakes anyway. 

PART 3 TO FOLLOW

Thursday, 26 January 2017

24 HISTORIC STYLES DÉTOURNED: PART I of XXIV

I recently downloaded a copy of Tom Turner's 24 Historic Styles of Garden Design, published by Gardenvisit.com. Tom Turner was one of my teachers at Greenwich, on both the BA and MA programmes. In this book, Tom aims to provide  "a short illustrated history of western garden design from 2000 BC to 2000 AD". "Western", in this context, includes Egypt, the middle east and northern India. If, like me, this subject is of particular interest to you then I recommend it: the text may be brief (and there are one or two typographic errors) but the accompanying illustrations- especially the style diagrams- are incredibly useful. 

Cover of Twenty Four Historic Styles... via www.gardenvisit.com

The style diagrams (illustrated on the cover, above) are part of a larger series that Tom Turner has been developing over many years. Clearly delineating how the elements of buildings, paving, vegetation and water are organised within each historic garden, they also imply, with a little bit of imagination, how these gardens may have been used. It occurred to me that they were also ripe for a bit of détournement- all in the best possible taste, of course.

So: every so often, I will select one of the twenty four diagrams at random, re-arrange it a little, then attempt to ascribe it to a time period or cultural movement.

GARDEN ONE:


What we might be looking at:

An irregular shape in light green, surrounded by a lighter colour. There is  a suggestion of a perimeter wall. the irregular shape may be a consequence of landform- perhaps it is erected on top of a hill. Small dark green circles, most likely trees, are scattered across the plan.They seem able to cross the barrier between the light green and yellow areas- perhaps there is no wall at all, just a loosely defined fence.

A circular water feature sits at the centre of the plan, with other structures radiating out from this point. Closest to the fountain or poo are three small buildings, the largest of which is orientated on a north-south axis, adjacent to a wide avenue. This avenue connects two large, walled gardens: one running west-east, the other at slightly tilted to the north-west from the main axis.

The east-west walled garden contains a pool, and terminates in the east at a larger building, also facing east. No trees stand in front of this structure, perhaps giving it a commanding view from the top of the hill. This is most likely the main house.

The designer of this plan wants to invite the wild in from the outside, allowing it to run across the site (the trees), but is also keen to demarcate formal areas and keep them enclosed.

What we are actually looking at:

A classical villa, c100 AD. In the words of Tom Turner:

"Buildings and gardens were grouped together within a bounded enclosure. The spaces adjoining individual buildings were axially planned but, by the standards of renais sance villas, the lack of an axial relationship between buildings is surprising. Structures were scattered like parcels on a table. Either there was no overall plan or it was asymmetrical."

-Twenty Four Historic Styles of Garden Design , page 14


Twenty Four Historic Styles of Garden Design by Tom Turner can be downloaded at Google Play Books

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

ON FASCISM

A political aside. I've been wrestling with my conscience for a day or two, in the aftermath of the events depicted below, a still lifted from a newsreel that’s circled the globe numerous times, has been memed and re-tooled and set to music and greeted with triumphant whoops. On my part, a momentary rush of malevolent glee was superseded by guilt, and then sadness, and then confusion.

Image via metal injection, of all places
In case you have been asleep for the past four days, the image depicts Richard Spencer, a prominent alt-right white indentitarian [sic], previously famed for addressing a group of white supremacists with a Nazi salute and a cry of “Hail trump”. The man to the left of him, clad in black, has punched him in the face because he disagrees with his views. The event took place in Washington on Friday, when Spencer somehow found himself in front of a camera within spitting of a particularly volatile demonstration of anarchists in Franklin Square.

Spencer is a hateful figure. A white nationalist, he has called for a “peaceful ethnic cleansing” of Europe in order to restore the continent’s traditional culture (whatever that is), called for the creation of a white Ethnostate within the USA, and denied being a white supremacist on the grounds that he does not support slavery. He also denies being a neo-Nazi, despite repeatedly making oblique references to Nazi propaganda throughout his career in alternative media. Whilst his detestable, irrational and abhorrent views are not the most extreme one might encounter amongst that interminable shower of pricks that have labelled themselves the AltRight, the acceptance of such views amongst people within earshot of the leader of the free world represents a clear and present threat to social progress and hope of a better world. For that reason, for a second or two, that technically incompetent fist (although, in the replay, it looks a lot like an elbow to me) to the fascist’s mouth felt fucking great. For a second or two.

A recent piece in the Guardian asks “Is punching Richard Spencer inciting violence or as American as apple pie?”, documenting the flurry of gleeful internet activity that followed the footage’s release, and quoting the references of a number of people to the American tradition of punching Nazis, a practice which largely takes place in the fictional universes of Indiana Jones or Captain America. The piece concludes, however, with a tweet from one of Captain America’s current writers, Nick Spencer (no relation), who stated “Today is difficult, but cheering violence against speech, even of the most detestable, disgusting variety, is not a look that will age well.”, in turn leading some commentators to question whether he should continue to write Captain America stories at all.

This element of the debate- this comparison of real life actions with those of fictional characters, and the tangents that such discourse engenders- is significant. A good friend of mine once remarked that we (in the west) are “descending into trivial fascism” and this evidenced by our ongoing debate about what Captain America would have done whilst protestors in Seattle are being shot at by fascists. Nonetheless, Spencer’s (comic Spencer, not Nazi Spencer) remarks are well worth considering. Punching people in the face because you disagree with them is what fascism is all about.

"He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster.
                                                                                                                -Friedrich Nietzsche,
Beyond Good and Evil

Fascism is all around us, it is the enemy of humanity, of a just and fair world. For this reason it is not something that can be punched in the face and defeated. Fascism is the speech of Richard Spencer, but it is also in the fist of his assailant. It is the gleeful reaction of otherwise pacifist, liberally-inclined individuals, seeing a total chode receiving his just deserts. It is the outraged reaction of alt-righters, preparing to arm themselves in “self-defence”. It is the crowd falling in love with its own applause, as my friend also said.

The philosophical foundation of the libertarian (as opposed to the authoritarian) right is known as the non-aggression principal, which grew out of the philosophy of Ayn Rand, and later Murray Rothbard. If the very mention of Ayn Rand sends shivers down your spine, please hear me out (and remember, although an apologist for radical, unfettered free-marketeering she was also a rationalist, a feminist, an atheist and a [classical] liberal defender of human rights, AND an avowed anti-fascist). The non-aggression principal asserts that the initiation of force is immoral: a rational, reasonable human being does not use violence, except in self-defence (or in the prevention of immediate violence… which is the trickier part). Right libertarians extend this principal to the role of the state in society, which it considers to be immoral because it a) monopolises violence (through police, military and gun control) b) and confiscates property (“taxation is theft”). Although this contains within it some loony extrapolations, it is a concept that those on the libertarian left should take on board: violence is wrong! Seems so ludicrous to write that, and worship of violence is certainly not specific to the political left. It crosses the political spectrum.

To me, this is what fascism is: a worship of violence. It is about submission to violence, subjugation of the individually weak by the more powerful, the assertion of will by force instead of reasonable argument. It is the praise of superman, whether that be in the form of a master race, a strong leader, or a messiah figure. Its roots in the authoritarian right are understood, but there is most definitely a “fascism of the left” in the form of so-called “socialist” states around the world. There is a “fascism of the centre”, in the casual worship of violence and the ubermensch that permeates mainstream western popular culture, as well as the mainstream media bias that blighted the recent US election. There is fascism at the fringes of identity politics, embracing individuals at the expense of the collective and a postmodern fascism embracing the collective at the expense of the individual. Finally, there are religious fascists amongst all the world’s great religions- Christian Falangists, Moslem jihadists, Jewish Israeli settlers on the West Bank, Hindu nationalists in India, even Buddhist Sinhalese ultra-nationalists in Sri Lanka.

The greatest enemy, however, is the fascist that lurks within the individual. Deleuze and Guattari explore this notion in Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia: fascism is at once the fear of being subjugated and the desire to be subjugated. When we see a Nazi getting punched in the face, it is the fascist within us that rejoices.

I consider myself to be an anarchist. I believe that true freedom, prosperity and justice for all humans- and for our planet- will occur when we have relinquished our thraldom to state power, indeed to all power. Fascists, on some primordial level, desire a regression to subservience, to the rule of masses by elites, to division and subjugation. Victory will not occur through violence, but through the end of violence. This does not mean that anti-fascists should not defend themselves, and they should indeed defend others who are the victims of hate, with force if necessary. But we should all be wary of being subsumed within this terrifying machine, this chimera of corporate capitalism, militarism and pop culture that is almost inseparable from our conception of who we are... and when the argument can be won, via both objective rationality and from a position of compassion, what need is there to surrender to the fascist within? 

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