Saturday, December 30, 2006

Ontological Envy

My dear friend Monster Bobby once declared that, out of all historical personages, he would ideally like to have been Serge Gainsbourg. Me, I think it would be most fun to have been Dieter Meier from Yello, professional gambler, conceptual artist, millionaire, bon vivant and wearer of an excellent moustache.

Plakaty 105

Friday, December 29, 2006

Two posts about Fertility



Bacteriagrl, whose generosity and holiday arrangements are enabling me to explore the wilds of suburbia and post vaguely rude things about it, on strange theologico-sexual phenomena among komodo dragons. 'In terms of a general evolutionary strategy, one might say that it's better to have sex with yourself and risk some serious inbreeding, than die off completely.'



So, then, to the hauntological attempt in music to create something new without actually being involved in any sort of cultural er, conception. The Impostume, prior to getting all satirical on our collective arse, asks some intriguing questions about the hauntological 'canon' (which I guess is fairly established as Ghost Box/Mordant Music/Broadcast/Trunk, plus Ariel Pink, The Caretaker, Burial) and the generally morbid, moribund crepuscular forms it takes: 'After all, it’s not about ghosts right? It’s about opening up a breathing space within Po-mo. It’s a lunge for freedom, it's a call to arms. Shouldn’t the music quicken the pulse a little more, as much as the theory does, at least?'



While this doesn't seem entirely fair- there are moments of real, heartstopping beauty in all of the above, shaking off all the dust and murk- there's an argument here that's worth a response. I guess the main point is that there isn't much room for life in a music about awakening the dead, yet the lack of affirmation is curious. Perhaps the interesting thing here is that this conflicts with a relentlessly affirmative general culture, restoring in however oblique a manner what k-p called 'nihilation' a while ago (though I'd maintain he used this term solely to avoid the oh-no-Hegelian connotations of 'negation', with the possibility of the negation of the negation). When it has become affirmative (which perhaps is as good an idea as Carl makes it sound) it wouldn't be hauntological any more, as its purpose would be served, the mourning it marks out over and completed. But then on the other hand isn't the uncanny, Frankenstein-like undeadness of hauntology, and its lack of blood and life kind of its very essence? Incidentally, perhaps something like The Mover and his ilk offer a hauntology you could dance and/or headbang to... ('Skeletons March' indeed). Intriguing point on the Manic Street Preachers also, in their perennial position of interesting ideas, shame about the music; I should have added to the 'forthcoming' list a defensive confessional thing called I Was a Teenage Manics Fan.

Plakaty 104

'I'm looking for a man, to sell him to another man...'

There's a bit in Beavis and Butthead where after a procession of rubbish music videos, something by GWAR comes on and they sit up, shout 'YES! YES! YES!' and claim 'all the stuff that sucked before it is worth it, because it makes this rock even more'. This is precisely the reaction I have to this. Modernist architecture! Unsubtle sexual symbolism! References to silent films! Monochrome cinematography! It's almost like I'd just dreamed it...

We're Young and Strong in this Party

Christmas Colours



Apart from the absurdly entertaining Faking It: Burlesque Christmas Special, only two blog posts offered respite from appalling telly and excessive consumption of sprouts and liquers this xmas. Specifically, IT's Porcine Extravaganza (and let's not forget Orwell's rather ambiguous use of the pig to denote the Bolshevik Party in Animal Farm- 'they looked from pig to man, and man to pig...') and Momus' meditation on Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence and Sylvian-Sakamoto's 'Forbidden Colours', complete with links to a new version by Sakamoto and Carsten Nicolai, Sylvian's video to the original song, Sakamoto playing it on the piano, and Momus' own remix of the lot (wish he'd sung on it though).



I've always found 'Forbidden Colours' almost embarassingly beautiful, like Satie's 'Gymnopedies' one feels almost guilty for falling for something so obviously sentimental and appropriate for ad campaigns, yet I don't think I've ever heard it without becoming at least slightly lachrymose, without misting up at least a tad. On the day Diana Spencer (who, let's not forget, got her haircut from Sylvian) was forcibly reminded not to get in a car with a drunk driver Radio 1 scheduled a continuous loop of music of some sort of universal poignancy- mostly risible, but with the instrumental of 'Forbidden Colours' popping up, as if to force me to weep for the mangled aristo.



A surprising element missing from Pop now, as K-Punk pointed out in his piece on Tin Drum and elsewhere, is the Sinophilia that accompanied postpunk Germanophilia and Jamaicophilia. Sylvian's fascination with not just Orientalism (that is undoubtedly there, of course) but also the alternative versions of modernity of China and Japan, from the asceticism of the former to the delirious cities of the latter. If China really want to be the USA of the 21st century (pending apocalypse) then the programme of cultural colonisation is long overdue. But except for the brief and intriguing fad for sinogrime (Jammer's 'Vice Versa' most stunningly), outbreaks of Pop sinoromanticism like 'Forbidden Colours' seem to be exceptions.

On the non-existence of the Actually Existing



It's always nice to see Trotskyist orthodoxies being poked around a bit, just to remind that the tradition isn't totally moribund. Hence The Tomb on substitutionism in the anti-Stalinist left, and the former habit of left intellectuals to apologise for the Eastern Bloc 'actually existing socialist' states. I must admit to being horribly conflicted on this question, my position probably resembling some melange of Leninism at its most Statist and Luxemburgism at its most spontaneity-eulogising. I usually find myself being equally swayed by the Workers' Opposition's critique of nascent substitutionism and Lenin's quasi-Taylorism, and while obviously one should ridicule the claims to socialism of, eg the former German Democratic Republic, this is ususally balanced out by a fascination with the material culture and political morality of the Soviet Bloc, and the various and frequently non-cynical attempts to build a non-capitalist culture in these states.*



Also, I'm not sure how appropriate the notion of substitutionism necessarily is in the case of most former Bloc states. Moshe Lewin's The Soviet Century makes the intriguing argument that, rather than the process being the accepted line of Party substitutes for Class, then merges with State, instead the State Apparatus simply occludes the Party and uses it as proof of its revolutionary continuity and as a clapping machine, while real power lies in the institutions and the nomenklatura. Hence the attempts to salvage the system from the Left Opposition onwards always involved reinvigorating the Party- though of course usually stopping short from advocating real Proletarian Democracy. Lewin's position that the USSR was neither socialist nor, in the Cliffite sense 'State Capitalist' seems apposite as well. But the main, and admittedly rather simplistic, contention I would make though is that any experiments in non-laissez faire always make the possibility of capitalism's end conceivable. Whether its Swedish social democracy or Yugoslav self-management or even to a certain degree the shabby excuse for socialism of the Eastern Bloc, simply the fact that these states managed to achieve something, didn't spontaneously combust simply by abandoning the free market, marks them out as what Jameson (on Cuba) has called a kind of 'liberated territory', irrespective of their petty failures and brutalities. To hold this up as a model is of course another thing altogether...

* Despite considering myself to be a socialist first and an aesthete second, there is a constant temptation to read a society via its artefacts. This has obvious pitfalls, but I don't think it always serves as mere window dressing. The clunky attempts at socialist culture like the mosaic on the East Berlin Haus des Lehrers (where these pics are from) have a certain surplus, speak of what the 'socialist' states were themselves unable to achieve.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Disgruntled of Hampstead Garden Suburb



Briefly resident* in a such a Burgerlich area, one suddenly feels a valued member of society. So after being caught up in some Rail Chaos (copyright Evening Standard) yesterday, involving being made 3 hours late by some 'engineering work at West Byfleet', I felt I was able, if I wanted, to write a complaining letter. For the first time I could be Disaffected of East Finchley! Disgusted of Temple Fortune! A sense that suddenly I was a member of the civitas infused me with a warm feeling of power. This, I realised, was what must keep these people going, through the traffic jams in their SUVs and packed in under someone's armpit on their way to Bank on the Northern Line.

*Well, am recently returned from my mum's in Southampton: was incidentally very gratified to find on googling the places wherein I was made wot i am, such as the sprawling 30s attempt at a garden council estate known as the 'Flower Roads', that one of the first hits was the Chavscum website- where genocide against the proletariat of Southampton was being advocated with much self-righteousness. That strange combination of irritation and entitlement that seems to pervade the Brit bourgeoisie.

Forthcoming Attractions



Partly as self-reminder, so that my cider and bubble & squeak stuffed brain doesn't entirely mislay them, soon to come here and at the other place in 2007 are the following, some of which have been a very long time in the gestation:



Orwell, against his Defenders and Adapters, which I have been talking about for at least a year: an attempt to de-Hitchensify Eric Blair, partly pre-empted by the Tomb's excellent piece on the essay 'Not Counting Niggers' but with a great deal more discussion of seediness and architecture and less of geopolitics;
Planning for Emptiness, a picture post of architectural drawings from town planners and architects of (mainly) Britain in mid-century: the projection of future space via strangely tapering depictions of families walking round pedestrian precincts and people calling each other from balconies;
Make Way for Winged Eros! (title via Alexandra Kollontai and subject to likely change) a discussion of the Anti-Sex League position of various Lacanians, likely involving another attempt to rehabilitate Wilhelm Reich and a breaking ranks from some under-argued orthodoxies (as by far the most interesting and argumentative of these proposals, this is the least likely to actually get written);



Jarvis Cocker is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, a critical exegesis of the bonus tracks of the recently reissued Pulp albums of the 1990s and the new solo LP.
Any other ideas please forward to the usual address. Picture at top from the Trunk site's somewhat Oedipal gallery of cooking glamour models of mid-century...

Monday, December 25, 2006

Ding Dong Farely Merily for Xmas

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Music from the Haunted Bedsit



The perennial problem with any attempt to resurrect unacknowledged or unfinished artefacts of the past is the possibility of mere pastiche. Most hauntological works manage to avoid this, despite an occasional tendency to resort to Radiophonic Workshop tributes. One problem with hauntology though is that, perhaps unsurprisingly given the concentration on memory (as this is the area of the assumed eternal present, no matter how derivative the music) it's never really Pop.



Something like The Puppini Sisters I sort of feel I ought to like: I saw them live a few months ago and Andrews Sisters travesties of Smiths songs seemed rather like a good idea. But what tends to make this little more than a one-joke cabaret act is the otherwise unrelenting fidelity, the clarity of the pastiche, with only a couple of raised eyebrows or feminist subtexts to indicate the passing of 60 or so years. What would be really interesting, and a possible way out both for the un-popness of most hauntological music and the retro gestures of various conceptual bands, would be a synthesis of the two.



I've had a vague idea for a band for a little while, though zero musical ability or inclination have stopped it from gestating in any interesting manner. They might be called Greeneland, or Impromptu in Moribundia. The gist would be a kind of Grim Brittania pop, the musical equivalent of a Patrick Hamilton novel or a Bill Brandt photograph. The band would be photographed in smokily melancholy caffs like this one, would look vaguely akin to the young WH Auden (for boys) or Dorothy Parker (for girls), would play no Rock instruments of any sort and would generally do Tin Pan Alley covers: none of that 'writing your own songs' piffle. But the crucial point would be that the sound would be totally degraded and worn, suffused with echo and glitch: essentially it would have to sound like The Caretaker producing Anne Shelton, or Fennesz collaborating with Hutch, taking the crackle and hiss of the old recordings and treating them as an instrument in themselves. It would be the sound of decomposing matinee idols. It would be pervaded by twitching net curtains, dilapidation and lashings of guilt-ridden sex. This wouldn't have to limit itself to pre-pop pop either: Spector's wall was already pervaded with echo and aural degradation to match the songs' simmering sexual frustration. What it would have to be is pre-Rock, of course.



Considering that ever since Pop Idol and its ilk the pre-rock and roll model of stardom has been more or less restored, there's no reason why it couldn't happen. With an ever more elderly population, it could be marketed in some 'memory lane' manner, in much the same manner as retro jazz mag Classic Glamour, except with all the gaps, lacunae and disintegration of real memory left in. All it needs is for Louis Walsh to get into Basic Channel, or Simon Cowell decide that he can sell Luomo for it to become a possibility...

Plakaty 103

Grim Britannia



Serial killers were always a bore in my book
The Fall, 'A Past Gone Mad'

Beyond the Implode excellent on the weirdness of late 1970s Britain, and leaping into unsurprising action on the question of the Ipswich 'ripper'. Much of this seems a product of Martin's fevered imagination anyway- even calling yourself 'The Bishop' has a distinct ring of 1974 about it. Although several of the other details are more grimly 21st century: a MySpace, somehow inevitably.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Ideas I wish I'd thought of, Part XVIII



Britney and Christina- Pioneers of Modern Design is a comprehensive history of the Modern Movement via these two archetypes of Pop. Not sure if we're not just dealing with a virgin/whore dichotomy here, but regardless. As you might have guessed, I'm much more of a Britney person: rather the magnificent metapop of 'Toxic' than Xtina grunting in a boxing ring to the sludgefunk of 'Dirrrty', but perhaps I'm just a wuss...

We are not afraid of the Continent



Much of the identity of Britain in the 20th century has rested on not being Europe. Robin Carmody has written extensively that both the Tory and Pop models (which are not as mutually exclusive as they might seem) have generally defined themselves against what Reginald Blomfield called 'the dubious continent of Europe' (towards America, in pop's case), but for a few odd exceptions, most of which are obsessions of mine familiar to anyone reading this blog: Vorticism, Festival of Britain, synthpop, yada yada. All of which makes the project Bata-Ville: We are not afraid of the Future even more strange and fascinating.


The starting point for the film is the Czech shoe magnate Thomas Bata (briefly mentioned here a while ago), who set up a company town in Zlin in the 1920s. The town was in the same mould as the company towns of the turn of the century in Britain: garden cities for the workers. The likes of Cadbury's Bourneville outside of Birmingham or Port Sunlight in Merseyside were a decidedly peculiar mixture of paternalism, humanitarianism and silliness. J.B Priestley's English Journey (a deightfully dry and inadvertently un-PC travelogue of Britain in the mid 30s) is flummoxed by the way these towns seemed on the one hand to offer a hope of society liberated from the yoke of laissez-faire, and on the other were really quite, quite silly: the very idea of the city of the future being built on Chocolate. What made Zlin different was that instead of filling it with vernacular chocolate box (ho ho) cottages, this time the factory town, right down to the houses, would be relentlessly cubic, unornamented and Functionalist.



This was all surprisingly successful, so Bata and his Czech architects built factory towns all over the world, and in England did so in East Tilbury, which is where Nina Pope and Katherine Guthrie's film starts. Most curious about the video footage on the site (I haven't seen the whole film) is that the residents of East Tilbury didn't seem to realise that they were part of an East European experiment in living, simply didn't register the sheer Un-Englishness of the situation: curious, as the photos on the site show the Tarkovskyan eeriness of East Tilbury, its boxes surrounded with scrubland, a situation described by one of the passengers on the film's coach of the place being like a dream you can't quite grasp. It doesn't look remotely like England, certainly not like Essex*. Then you're brought up sharp by clips of the 'Bata Library and Resource Centre', with its pasty and disconsolate youth cycling aimlessly around in a manner familar to anyone resident in the postindustrial UK.



East Tilbury is part of the Thames Gateway lebensraum-for-London project: bathos is provided by the clips of various regeneration specialists, all of whom seem amiable enough, yet who all purvey the same line that the postindustrial town has to reorient itself towards the service industry and tourism: the workers' paradise is over, so get in that Costa and serve lattes to the architecture buffs who will surely chance upon this place soon enough. At least it definitely looks like a possible destination for the Zone Tours...

* Although Essex does have its own Zone-like otherness at the edges: perhaps the most depressing week of my life was at a Militant Summer Camp (am not joking) at Mersea Island in 1995. The mudflats and sense of utter emptiness and desolation have stuck in my mind, particularly in weaker moments. A jellyfish got swept up once on the shore and it felt like some sort of Biblical portent.

Sunday, December 17, 2006



If you would like to have an argument, due to some moderate template fiddling you should now be able to so in the comments boxes without having to get a Google account or any such nonsense.

Plakaty 102



This one, (which is really quite something, no?) is for Dziga Vertov's musique concrete extravaganza Enthusiasm. Courtesy of the excellent Rouge.


More on the mysterious East Finchley archer, carved by one Eric Aumonier:
There was another link with Eric Aumonier. This occurred in 1946 at Denham Film Studios of the Powell and Pressburger film ‘A Matter of Life and Death’. On a giant moving stairway David Niven fights for his life and happiness, hovering between this world and the next. Eric was responsible for work on the statues of various famous people, which stand on pedestals at intervals beside the staircase. The film production company was called, believe it or not, ‘The Archers’!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Plakaty 101

Garden Suburbs of Tomorrow



In true Pygmalion fashion, due to housesitting commitments this blog shall be leaving its usual slum conditions be resident for much of the next few weeks in Metroland. Specifically, dispatches will be made from the area around East Finchley (the terrific Holden station of which is the provenance of the above Archer) and Hampstead Garden Suburb, a fantastically Wrong attempt at adapting Ebeneezer Howard's ideas to North London, laid out in the 1900s by Raymond Unwin, and originally sponsored by various Fabian types, such as future Stalinist lickspittles Beatrice and Sydney Webb.



Which reminds me. One forgotten, if blindingly obvious entry into the historically significant worlds fairs and expos discussion earlier is the 1937 World's Fair. The Second World War acted out in advance by the juxtaposition of Albert Speer and Boris Iofan's pavilions, competing for which could be more imposing. Oh, and a fair bit of appropriately Stalinist rewriting has been done on the Pro-Associational Post, particularly on the vexed question of the veil, topicality fans. An intriguing comment there by Padraig as well.

Ludovico Institute



Oh, for the days when Universities looked like spaceships. Murray comments (or would have done here, if switching to beta blogger didn't seem to require people getting google accounts)

As a Leeds ex, I can confirm that it is the university, science departments on right and in warp purple, connecting to a building stuffed full of lecture theatres, though I think D Republic must have flipped the image. Apparently, Blake 7 was shot in the science bit.
This whole section of the campus was always my favourite bit until they tried to humanise it by making a garden out of the empty square in front of these structures...




Not that all current University building is all PFI brickwork, as Will Alsop's Goldsmiths art faculty extension squiggle amply demonstrates.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

When you enter my House, it becomes Our House



Oh Deptford Salvation Army shop, with your three CD House Classics box for 2 pounds you are really spoiling us... This goes to show a few things, including that Hip House was a really, really bad idea, and also that everything else I have written about Chicago House is entirely correct. Viz Sterling Void's 'It's All Right', amongst other things. There seems to be something specifically American about the combustive combination of hedonism and techno-romantic-utopianism in Chicago House, and am puzzling out why this is so, and why such a music couldn't have sprung up anywhere else. (No slur on Rave, but its permeation into British popcult made for something so much more blokey, did it not?) Not entirely sure if this is something to do with 'the pursuit of happiness' being enshrined in the Constitution...but I'm working on it.
The pic above incidentally is the Designers Republic's excellent cover to Warp's Influences, which introduced me to the joys of er, jacking my body. Also first in an occasional series of 'brutalist buildings on record covers'- I think that's Leeds University, am currently trying to find it on Flickr's remarkable Brutalism Pool...

Plakaty 100



From the archive here, which should ensure another hundred cyrillic posters for your enjoyment and instruction.

Notes towards an attempted refutation of the 'Associational Fallacy'



There is just as logical a connection between clinging to traditional forms and looking backwards politically as between supporting the new architectural purpose of our age and its new political ideas
Erich Mendelsohn, 1928

There is a curious term in architectural circles: the 'associational fallacy' (closely akin to the better known association fallacy), which derives from Geoffrey Scott in his book The Architecture of Humanism, published in 1914. In brief, it is a refutation of the correlations usually made between repressive regimes and their architecture: the pyramids incarnate despotism, neoclassicism incarnates Nazism (and a particularly demented version of it, Stalinism). Naturally only an area as mind-bogglingly commonsensical and mendaciously conservative as the Edwardian architectural scene could be so offended at the really not all that extreme idea that artistic form and political context tend to have a affinity, but nevertheless it is a trope perhaps a little too easy to use, particularly as architects are a slippery lot.



The temptation to equate directly Leftist art and actual day-to-day Leftism is often a little overwhelming, although this has been a little tricky due to some current reading and watching. Specifically, reading Kathleen James' Erich Mendelsohn and the Architecture of German Modernism, and watching Dziga Vertov's Three Songs about Lenin. Now pretty much everyone with an interest in the subject knows that all the great Modernists of the International Style - most famously, the Bauhaus directors Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe - got the hell out of Nazi Germany, and presumably were then prominent anti-fascists. In fact, the migrations seemed to have been motivated simply by the fact that they couldn't get work, and were utterly unwilling to stylistically compromise. Biographism here isn't necessarily relevant (Karl Ehn, designer of Karl Marx-Hof, may have co-operated with the Nazis, but that didn't stop this workers' fortress being the antithesis of everything they stood for) but its noticeable how these German 'official' Modernists wouldn't comromise their Art: a category the Functionalists and Constructivists always rejected.



On any other issue though the future apostles of the corporate skyscraper were willing to work for whoever, where ever: Gropius jetted to the USSR to check the progress of his entry for the Palace of the Soviets contest soon after the Nazis took power, then entered in a design for the Nazi Reichsbank competition. He seems to have been surprised this made people suspicious. In Mies and Gropius' letters of the time you can find a fair bit of 'mit Deutschen Grusses' (the Nazi greeting) and occasionally outright anti-semitism: appallingly, Gropius wrote to the RIBA in 1934 to protest at their honouring fellow 'refugee' Erich Mendelsohn: 'I am no special friend of the Jew'. The only real consistent oppostion to the Nazis from the architectural profession was, unsurprisingly, from Jews like Mendelsohn, and from Communists like Hannes Meyer, the unsung 'other' Bauhaus director. While the Bauhaus refused to stick by the Communists, with Meyer and other fellow travellers being sacked by Gropius or Mies, the Communists were the only prople to vote against the Bauhaus' closure by the Nazis: this at a time that Mies, its third and last last director, was trying to court the favour of Alfred Rosenberg.



Now as Robert O Paxton points out, its a better idea to look at what Fascists did, rather than what they said. And under Nazism no Modernist architecture at all was built. That's none. Some things a bit streamlined, a few covertly daring houses hidden under pitched roofs by Hans Scharoun, but nonetheless the dominance of the Heimatstil and stripped classicism was not a retrospective modernist myth. So there was something in these flat roofs, concrete and glass surfaces and high density flats that fundamentally repelled the Nazis. Famously, they produced a postcard of the Weissenhof Siedlung with superimposed Arabs, labelled 'Arab village, Stuttgart'.

Life Caught Unawares
'Our generation has set itself the aims of working precisely in accordance with commission'
El Lissitzky, 1941



Which brings us to the interestingly different version of the associational fallacy as experienced in the USSR. Dziga Vertov's Three Songs of Lenin has a scene early on of whitewashed, boxy houses in Central Asia, which are succeeded a few shots later by similarly white and cubic houses in the new industrial towns, bearing the stamp of Ernst May's work for Magnitogorsk. Here, and in the shots of headscarfed women with microscopes that criss-cross it, is a conception that doesn't run from barbarism to civilisation, but re-inscribes the avantgardist borrowing from 'primitive' cultures as proof that those cultures were already advanced: akin to the Kodwo Eshun point that substitutes for 'roots' the notion that African music might always already be breakbeats, but never vice-versa.



However we're dealing here with the moment where the avantgarde is fully in co-operation with Stalinism, and Three Songs of Lenin is a cinematic equivalent to El Lissitzky's work on the magazine USSR In Construction, harnessing Constructivist montage and factography to a glorification of the new national state and its godlike ruler. This underlines a crucial difference between Soviet and Weimar avantgarde practice. While a Mies wouldn't stylistically accomodate the Nazis, the Soviet avantgarde morphed from a concern with the industrial object, to photomontage, to faktura and documentary according to the particular direction of construction in the USSR. The style would morph according to diktat, but avantgarde defamiliarisation and dynamism would be applied to whichever form the apparatus shunted them into. Rather than being naive aesthetes caught up in politics, the Soviet avantgarde knew what they were about, which is either more or less disturbing, depending on your politics. It's also worth noting that the only avantgardists to be killed in the purges were those who were Communist Party members - USSR In Construction contributor Sergei Tretiakov, Vsevelod Meyerhold, Alexei Gan, Gustav Klutsis.



So throughout Three Songs of Lenin there's a tension between what we see and what we know it stands for. Even though the current version, a 1969 re-edit by Vertov's editor and wife Elizaveta Svilova, cuts most of the references to Stalin, this is still a deeply Stalinist work. The first 'song' is called 'My Face was in a Black Prison', in which Central Asian women praise the party that liberated them from the veil. Its too easy to either condemn this as glorifying the oppression of the USSR's minorities or laud it as freeing women from it, but what is inescapable is how active these strident Central Asian women scientists, construction workers and sportswomen are, how much they are presented as being utterly in control.



The act of 'unveiling', displaying the face to the camera, is presented at regular intervals in the film: a recurrent shot shows different women in niqabs throwing their veils off, grinning at the camera. There is a recurrent gesture here that is paralleled in other instances of the practice of a Modernising (Stalinising?) avantgarde. The excellent current issue of October extensively documents Sergei Tretiakov's attempts to spread Factography to the Muzhiks of the new collective farms, usually presented in terms of trying to democratise the new technology, putting it in the hands of the producers: preventing them from becoming one of the 'illiterates of the future', in Moholy-Nagy's phrase. One photo from this time shows Tretiakov and two peasants. Tretiakov is clearly trying to force one of them to look at the camera, to facially acknowledge the new factographical form. To be unafraid of it. But given what this new technology was doing at the time, (eg, Rodchenko's documentary aestheticisation of the convict labour project at the White Sea Canal) his distrust of the camera is understandable. In these terms, Vertov's insistence that the subject face the camera unblinking takes on a rather less liberatory aspect.



The associational question in architecture manages to slip through in the Soviet case: the Modernist new building so beautifully shot by Vertov in 1934 was at its absolute last gasp at that point, and after the Kirov assasination and the ushering in of high Stalinism, historical eclecticism was an unavoidable diktat. A significant fact about the clean lines and classical associations of the International Style as it was developed in the USA by Gropius, Mies and Breuer and subsequently in every capital city in the world, is that it had to occlude first the Communist Functionalism of those who had fled the Nazis to the USSR, and the dynamism and excitement of the commercial Modernism developed by those, like Mendelsohn, who would (briefly in his case) escape to Palestine. The corporate style didn't adopt the forms of the Marxist new builders (fairly unsurprisingly), but the new corporate skyscrapers of postwar Imperial America had to incarnate permanence rather than the flux and force of Mendelsohn's department stores.



Finally though, what did it mean that the architecture of Italian Fascism in its Imperial Phase was Art Deco? Something like the Fiat Tagliero Building, imposed on the conquered Abyssinia: what did it signify to the colonised? Power, modernity, a Sunday matinee starring Clark Gable...?

Don't make fun of the Fair



There's something distinctly hauntological, in the Ghost Box sense, about a World's Fair or an Expo. These festivals of temporary architecture and optimistic science and technology which would be dismantled almost straight away. One of the fun things about Kraftwerk breaking an 8 year silence in 1999 with a jingle for Expo 2000 was how utterly Kraftwerkian an expo is, somewhere that the future can be browsed through with an air of Apollonian calm, like a three-dimensional edition of Tomorrow's World.



Doubtless Walter Benjamin would have made great play of these almost ethereal events, each marking a massive technological-aesthetic advance that would only become clear later on: starting with the Crystal Palace in 1851 (a pivotal moment in the ushering in of the society of the spectacle, according to Debord), the Melnikov and Le Corbusier pavilions in Paris in 1925 the capsules of Moshe Safdie in 1967, Buckminster Fuller's geodesic domes. But as the 20th century society's piece implies, the most perversely utopian expo would have to be the 1958 Cold War one, not least for the bizarre nuclear optimism of the Atomium*, but also for the USSR's Khrushchevite return to Modernism, and the flayed form of Corbusier and Xenakis' Philips Pavilion...the imminence of nuclear destruction leading to a last flourish of improbable design. What the Millennium Dome perhaps could have been, but for Blaritite idiocy and general Brit mocking of anything out of the mundane...
Does anyone know if these things even still happen? I assume there's some equivalent in Shanghai or somewhere...?



* I visited this place a few years ago, and the inside had been turned into an exhibit by famous minimalist eccentric Charlemagne Palestine, who had filled it with his totemic cuddly toys, and left drones running through each rung of the escalators. There's definitely something Benjaminian about that kind of fetishising of mass produced objects, though also rather disturbingly infantilist. All this stuff was frequently naive, but unlike now it was never childish.