Thursday, April 30, 2009

'Deflected Bildungsroman'

Admit to being very pleased with this, though I'd like to make clear that no monies between myself and Meades were exchanged.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Socialist Lavatory League, Bulletin 6

A highly worthwhile contribution to the proceedings from The Institute, who reminds us how important public toilets are to the achievement of full Communism, quoting Lenin thus:

When we are victorious on a world scale I think we shall use gold for the purpose of building public lavatories in the streets of some of the largest cities of the world. This would be the most “just” and most educational way of utilising gold for the benefit of these generations which have not forgotten how, for the sake of gold, ten million men were killed and thirty million maimed in the “great war for freedom”, the war of 1914-18, the war that was waged to decide the great question of which peace was the worst, that of Brest or that of Versailles; and how, for the sake of this same gold, they certainly intend to kill twenty million men and to maim sixty million in a war, say, in 1925, or 1928, between, say, Japan and the U.S.A., or between Britain and the U.S.A., or something like that. But however “just”, useful, or humane it would be to utilise gold for this purpose, we nevertheless say that we must work for another decade or two with the same intensity and with the same success as in the 1917-21 period, only in a much wider field, in order to reach this state.

He also sends me further proceedings, which suggests, irrespective of the undeniable achivements of the Cuban revolution, that its dubiousness does not stop at homophobia and dynastic succession. Guevara, proving his hostility to the righteous cause of the Socialist Lavatory League, thus:

It is a bit like... I do not know, but I would almost classify it as a colonial mentality. I get the impression they are thinking of making the latrine the fundamental thing. That would improve the social conditions of the poor Indian, of the poor Black, of the poor person who lives in subhuman conditions. “Let's make latrines for them and after we have made latrines for them, and after their education has taught them how to keep themselves clean, then they can enjoy the benefits of production.” Because it should be noted, distinguished delegates, that the topic of industrialization does not figure in the analysis of the distinguished experts. Planning for the gentlemen experts is the planning of latrines. As for the rest, who knows how it will be done!

If the president will allow me, I will express my deepest regrets in the name of the Cuban delegation for the loss of the services of such an efficient specialist as the one who directed this first group, Dr. Felipe Pazos. With his intelligence and capacity for work, and with our revolutionary activity, within two years Cuba could have become the paradise of the latrine, even if we did not have a single one of the 250 factories that we are beginning to build, even if we had not carried out the agrarian reform.

Image via, and previous proceedings of the League here.

Save Ballard from Hampstead

Me, I.T and a Mark K-Punk on ferocious form, trying to reclaim Ballard from Martin Amis, in the last of Ballardian's Ballardosphere tributes.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Deep Fried in Gleadless

I've written a lot about the Sheffield trip, the results of which should hopefully be up in a week or two pending some editorial decisions - but I did spend two days in the company of architectural media polymath The Sesquipedalist, in which time we visited Gleadless Valley, an Alton-style English Modernist-Picturesque estate in the south of the city. It's a place every bit as astonishing as Park Hill, and was planned by J.L Womersley at around the same time; the suburban counterpart to Park Hill/Hyde Park's ultramodern urbanity, using similar ideas - the use of the hilly landscape, access from the street, a breathtaking sense of scale - to milder, more placid effect. The whole walk is written up here, along with some very pertinent observations on the essential inadequacy of architecture - if even something as tremendous as this is considered a sink estate (note how here the picture has been taken from possibly the only angle that would not make the estate look beautiful), then we have to reverse Corbusier's choice between architecture and revolution. Incidentally, there is of course a Pulp connection - violinist, antiques dealer and former flying picket Russell Senior comes from Gleadless, which implies the environment produced at least one great modernist stylist.

Poverty and Partitions

Inspired by the Fantastic Journal's posts on the space of the British suburban sitcom (and a nod to Sand/orB on comedy and conjuncture), a post on the space of an urban sitcom, Steptoe and Son. Galton and Simpson's relentlessly grim show is a practically Pinteresque study of an Agonistic father and son in inner West London (sometimes it seems to be Shepherd's Bush, sometimes Earl's Court - but regardless, this is not suburbia), and the tensions of their relationship and permanently beleaguered rag&bone business. Left-wing Modern architects were both despisers of rag&bone clutter, and conversely enormously keen on moveable partitions as a way of ensuring both changeability and privacy - some, like Leonid Sabsovich, even believing that 'divorces' between couples could be achieved through partitioning his communal blocks. Meanwhile the French Modernist architect and PCF fellow-traveller Andre Lurçat once designed a house for a mother and daughter, with the strict instructions that the house had to be divided between them, so that they would never have to encounter each other unless they absolutely wanted to. Divided we Stand, an episode from the especially grim 1970s run of Steptoe and Son is the story of what happens when you try to do the same thing in a far more impoverished context, and a reminder of the pitfalls of clean living under difficult circumstances.

As ever, the episode hinges on disagreements between the Steptoes, with the younger Harold wanting to improve himself and his father Albert sneering at his every attempt to rise above his decidedly lowly station. A lesser sitcom (Citizen Smith for instance) would sneer with him at any hint of artistic or political pretensions, but while Albert is often sympathetic in his loneliness and poverty, Harold's constantly thwarted desires for escape are not patronised. Here, Harold is fed up of the clutter, chaos, waste and dirt of a house like a permanent junk market. He tries to convince Albert that the house needs to be redecorated and some of the crap thrown out, but his books of colours ('Etruscan red? How about Wedgwood Blue?) and his wallpaper suggestions are ridiculed. In frustration he goes round the house, throwing around old newspapers ('Mr Chamberlain meets Mr Hitler in Munich??') and finding particularly gross examples of squalor to throw at his father - who, of course, has affection for everything from the half-century old newspapers to a set of false teeth lost in 1941. Not for the first time, Harold is driven to desperate measures.

Using some of the clutter left around the flat ready for sale, including a turnstile taken from a defunct toilet, Harold manages to completely partition the house, creating what he calls an 'apartheid' between them. The differences in aspiration between the two are exemplified here in spatial terms, in that Albert leaves untouched the familiar piles of god knows what, and a Smoking-Jacketed Harold attempts to create a minimalist, Georgian influenced half-house for himself, with carefully selected pictures on the walls, finally using his 'Wedgewood blue'. The problem of course is that he simply doesn't have the space, the light or high ceilings that come with real Georgian privilege, and so it seems poky and ludicrous. In order to get a bit of light from the window, he has to have the partitions stopping at a point where Albert's hat is constantly visible. It all comes to a head over the partitioned TV, where Harold wants to watch Nureyev at the Festival Hall on BBC2, and Albert 'Blood of the Ripper' on ITV. During the fight over it they ignore a fire which has broken out in the kitchen, and both end up in hospital - where, finally, in the uncluttered and sterilised hospital environment Harold gets his revenge, and is able to close the curtains as a decisive partition.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Resistance through Surveillance?

‘Among the obligations of the state’s highest official is the job of informing the nation regularly by means of the radio about his activities and their justification. The task of the radio does not end, however, with the transmission of these reports.
Beyond this, it must organise the collection of reports, i.e. it must transform the reports of those who govern into responses to the questions of those governed. Radio must make exchange possible.
Should you consider this utopian, then I ask you to reflect on the reasons why it is utopian.’
Bertolt Brecht, 'Radio as a Communications Apparatus' (1927)

I don't think it lessens the force of the various critiques of the G20 'riot' from participants and non-participants if we acknowledge that we missed a trick here somewhere. One of the most irksome things about the day itself, other than the kettling of course, was its overwhelming mediatisation. That had already been signalled by whoever wrote the Zizekian graffito 'enjoy your spectacle!' on the steps of the Royal Exchange, and is fully, depressingly visible in the images of photographers outnumbering crusties as the windows of RBS were smashed in. And yet, while there's still no question that as an attempt to provide direct resistance to capital (which, as I tried to argue before, was not really the point - these things are self-described 'street parties', self-governing encampments or attempted temporary autonomous zones, not Make Poverty History-style Oedipal 'protests', and need to be judged on their own terms, which are deficient in a very different way) the G20 manifestations have, almost accidentally, generated the biggest archive of police brutality seen in this country since the Miners Strike.

This is still a failure, as capitalism as an economic system and as a totality, partly through its most symbolic citadel (and that symbolism is deeply dated), the Bank of England, was the target. But nonetheless, for the majority of the population, the police have always been the people who help you if you're burgled, who you want as 'bobbies on the beat', occasionally disdained as the dozy plod but certainly not thought of as a paramilitary force like the French CRS. The record of police brutality as it affected Brixton or Toxteth, Orgreave or Wapping, has never quite been mainstream. In this case it suddenly has gone mainstream, and the reasons for this are inextricably to do with both the police's own desire not to be surveilled, and the self-surveillance in which we all now indulge. First of all, this record was compiled soon after a law was passed making it effectively illegal to photograph a policeman if a connection, however tenuous, could be established between their activities and 'the war on terror'. I noticed myself when trying to get out of the kettle with a press pass how anyone, be they American cameramen or South African news anchors, were subject to its strictures, enormously pissing them off - but to make an exception for them would totally destroy the kettle's overwhelming logic - many press people were kept in for 7 hours. Secondly, the record was not just compiled or distributed by the usual suspects. Much as I wouldn't want to slag off the likes of Indymedia (glad they do what they do, etc), what is noticeable about this is the unexpected uses of mainstream new media. 

Usually, when people film political events on their cameraphones or budget DV cameras, it's to put a macabre spin on events where the trajectory is already known in advance. Nothing new about the 7/7 bomb attacks came out of the commuters' self-surveillance other than the bleak vistas of lines of people filing along tube tunnels, making jerkily, grainily clear something we already knew was latent. Yet these acts of political tourism, self-surveillance, call them what you will, have given us a record of policemen whacking women in the face, crashing with their shields into crowds of climate campers with their hands in the air chanting 'this is not a riot', of beaten photographers in orange visibility vests, Police Medics with truncheons raised, and most obviously, in the act of manslaughter, all of them viewed by thousands on YouTube. And although there has indisputably been a rise in the level of police aggression over the last year, there's little new here. What is new is that we now have the record, and can hold them to it, and these records are documented by entirely mainstream news sources. This isn't just based on photography and film, but the slippages in the ego-projections of the social networking sites - Facebook messages incriminate coppers out for 'beating up some long haired hippys', marchers asked to spy have evidence against their would-be spymasters. 

In all this we can see outlines of the media-as-response envisaged by Bertolt Brecht at the turn of the 1930s, the democratisation of the technological apparatus creating the possibility for 'responses of the governed', presaging the total democratisation not just of art, but of the media in its widest form. We should be careful not to get carried away, as this has huge limitations - as anyone who recalls Los Angeles 1991 could attest - and the conspiratorially minded could fairly consider the whole thing a cover-up to save the bankers, the armed guard of capital setting itself up as one gigantic patsy. Nonetheless, not only have we seen media usually employed for inane self-promotion suddenly turned into a self-surveillance turned outwards at those who obsessively survey us, we have also ensured that the next time this happens - as it will - there's a chance we can break out of the old circuits, as police tactics will be very, very closely scrutinised. That's if we use the opportunity as something other than proof of our own righteousness.

Friday, April 24, 2009

It Liveth

You may guess from the photo above where I've been; and from this link that much skulduggery is occurring there. There will probably be at least two Sheffield pieces, one focused one for BD, one where I ramble on a bit more about such things as Gleadless Valley, which I visited in the hospitality of the Sesquipedalist, and possibly another one about the place above. As things have been quiet on this space of late, I promise over the weekend some new posts, which will hopefully be on subjects such the liberatory potentials of self-surveillance, more austerity nostalgia horrors, Charlotte Roche, and perhaps if I can manage it a post which was suggested to me on the strange resemblances of the young Prince and Charlie Chaplin. 

Also, Militant Modernism was yesterday officially launched (thank you to everyone who turned up, and who had to talk to me when I was either extremely nervous or extremely drunk) and is today officially published. Regular and increasingly desperate demands that you buy my book will be posted as the sales figures dictate. With remarkable swiftness, Stewart Home has already reviewed the launch, and you're no-one in this town if you haven't been looked at somewhat askance by Stewart Home. You can also watch the preliminary k-punk oration here, and me extemporising (always risky) and playing with my fringe, here, should you so wish.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Do it to Julia!

The reason Orwell writes in fetters when he writes of Winston and Julia, and at liberty when of Big Brother and the Ministry of Truth, is because he is a right bastard and of O’Brien’s Party without knowing it.

Dominic Fox puts love on the operating table. I have been meaning to link to his fascinating recent series of Sexpol posts and their rather fearless attempt at a fusion of Andrea Dworkin and Alain Badiou, so belatedly: go read, and at some point I intend to have some sort of position worked out on, and a more general response to, the many questions raised here...

Friday, April 17, 2009

Unconscious Cities

Me on the architecture of Red Riding for Building Design, overlapping a lot with the Fantastic Journal. I hadn't read the latter when I wrote it, but I think his description of John Dawson's house in particular is better than mine. I had also not realised that my mention of The Offence and Get Carter as 1974's forbears might have been subliminally influenced by an old k-punk post (itself inspired by this excellent piece of urbanist writing) which mentions them as the representations of the British city most akin to postpunk - it must have been unconscious, as I only saw The Offence for the first time a few months ago. Similarly, I hadn't realised until re-viewing The Parallax View a couple of days ago how much the portrayal of the Yorkshire post journalist, the exteriors, the architectural space, is indebted to Alan J Pakula's geometry of investigation and subterfuge. Regardless: what made 1974 so much more interesting to me than the rest of the trilogy was partly the Lynchian weirdness pinpointed by the FJ, but also the way in which all these Brutalist/70s paranoiac references suddenly make the British city brutal, fascinating and cruelly elegant, rather than just brutal in the man's-inhumanity-to-man sense. They approach it in the way that those of us who have grown up in these cities have always tried to see them, airbrushing out the aesthetically uninteresting - and then put that through an oneiric filter. They aren't mere replications, but a dream of Brutalism, with roughly the same relation to reality as a dream.

On similarly Yorkshire-related matters, am visiting Sheffield in two days, for my BD cities series. I'm increasingly aware that my idea of Sheffield, which is, via People's Republic of South Yorkshire/Cabaret Voltaire/Human League/early Warp/Pulp/Park Hill/New Brutalism, some sort of compendium of all that I hold dear, is going to bear very little relation to the reality. Sadly, I was never able to afford to visit it before they started demolishing everything. But if anyone has suggestions of things I should see when there, please please suggest away in the comments box below.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

More détournement

Via - with more in that vein here.

Suburban Light

In lieu of the photos which I didn't take in Southampton, a perambulation with Google streetview, atypically on the good old things rather than the bad new. When growing up in a city, you don't think much about why your environment is how it is. In Southampton, we knew certain things. Mandela Way was hardcore, St Marys was hardcore but interesting, Holyrood estate, home of Craig David, was where those who tried to batter you at the weekend came from, and Highfield and Bassett were posh. As a class traitor, most of my friends were from the latter, and I still recall a certain shock at the size of their houses, these grandiose semis with their vast back gardens, which would become the site for frantic cider drinking when parents were absent - space out of kilter with what seems (and is) a very dense city. Along Highfield Lane are certain developments which look posh, but in a rather different way. One of them, Glebe Court (above), resembles in its planning some kind of costume drama manor house - if you look closely, you realise these are actually terraces, but they aren't real terraces, not Victorian, with no line of cars parked along the shabby kerb. This puzzlement was an inadvertent introduction to the mundane and peculiar world of Garden City architecture.

Of all the things once derived from some kind of socialism, the garden cities are among the most difficult to trace back to their original impulse. They aren't council housing, which has over the last few decades come to signify a kind of housing of last resort; but they were 'affordable' housing, an early example of that euphemism, an ambiguous attempt to either give decent housing to, or make 'property-owning democrats' out of, the lower orders. I suspect Letchworth, Welwyn and Hampstead Garden Suburb, rather than being emergency housing, were mainly inhabited, early on, by that grey area between the reading, unionised working class and the insecure, poor, reading lower middle class. I come from this grey area, and am very defensive of it, particularly because it no longer seems to exist - but the romanticisation of these schemes leads to the fallacy that housing associations are better landlords than the apparently faceless state, and that 'mixed' developments are anything other than an alibi for gentrification. Regardless, the Southampton outpost of the garden cities derives from one such: the Swaythling Housing Society, started by Quaker architect Herbert Collins, who built several developments, mainly of small, leafy terraces, in the north of the City. Architecturally, they initially seem rather dull. Certainly the materials are good, the space unusual and the designs confusingly classless, but the form is neo-Georgian, promising none of the angularity and futuristic scale of the later City architects like The Spence, Lyons Israel Ellis or L Berger. They looked like better, more verdant versions of the nearby neo-Georgian sink estate, the Flower roads (mine, the cream-painted one in the middle, if you're wondering - turn right and then left to get to the Collins stuff)

The North of Southampton is kindly described by the Buildings of England, over-kindly, as suburbia at its best. Walking at night from the Victorian urban of Shirley to well-to-do interwar suburban of Highfield and back is alternately dispiriting and intriguing. A road named after Cunard fails to evoke either the modernity of the ships or the beauty or leftism of Nancy. The Common dominates everything, and I wonder if the strange lack of coherence of this City is partly due to all the parkland in the middle, cutting areas off from each other, flattening the landscape. There's some moderately handsome Victorian B&Bs, but mostly this is the world rendered poetic and elegant (well, someone had to) on The Clientele's Suburban Light. Empty, quasi-rural space, birdsong, trees overhanging dim streetlights, arterial roads lined by semis, whimsical post-war churches with unintentionally funny posters, the distant glow of chip shops and off licences, yellow Neighbourhood Watch signs, the clocktower Dudokery of the King Edward public school, and a bit further on the strangely American, Sunnydale High-ish campus of the FE college which I used to attend, with a yawning green space between you and the city centre - and seldom a soul in sight. It's a place surprisingly easy to become sentimental about, until you remember how when you lived near here, you loathed its privilege and smugness.

I took a wrong turn on this familiar route, and ended up chancing upon one of Herbert Collins' enclaves. Maybe it was the darkness, or maybe the relief of coming across them after the seemingly endless Tudorbethan semis that seem to stretch for miles round here, but suddenly their true modernity, their contrast with the rest of suburbia, became apparent. This is, in its retrogressive, Merrie England way, collective housing. You notice this in the walk from the villas, with their driveways and gigantic hedges, all of which loudly proclaim their lack of sociality, to these terraces, courts and flats. One row of them in particular is a moment where you can really see the link between the garden city and the clean-lined new city of the Weimar Republic, where you remember that Ernst May used to work on Hampstead Garden Suburb. A whitewashed row, with Voysey-like angular chimneys, cohesive and coherent rather than blandly individualistic. Then, walking a bit further on, and working out where I was, they gradually developed into blocks of flats - and outside one of them, a plaque: 'Herbert Collins, Architect and Worker for Peace'. I mention this in the pub to one of my Highfield friends, and she rolls her eyes, evidently having heard a great deal of self-regard about these places, viz a residents newsletter dedicated to complaining about new developments and travellers. I don't doubt they sell for preposterous amounts. There is, though, a faint outline of their social aspirations still just about visible.

Herbert Collins photos via.

Zero as a Limit

I picked up my six complimentary copies of this from the DHL depot in Vauxhall a couple of days ago, after they had been refused by the builders renovating the 'communal' landing of my Rachmanite abode - this copy, meanwhile, is being modelled by Bat. So it exists! You can turn the pages! There are photographs! The whole thing has a nicely Brutalist roughness about it, meaning it will sit ill on coffee tables but will hopefully be read well on buses and when walking the disappearing highwalks of the City of London. The cover in particular looks fine indeed, mainly thanks to the Apollo Pavilion with torn Red Flag contributed by the invaluable Mr Murphy, taken from his 'Pavilions' series.

It can be ordered on Amazon, but like Dominic I recommend you 'support your local independent bookseller by eyeing up the goods on Amazon, then taking careful note of the ISBN and ordering it from the aforementioned brick-and-mortar outlet.' Or, alternatively, you can buy it from me myself at the Zero Books launch in Daunt Books, Marylebone, where there is an interesting Alphaville office block nearby with a sub-Hepworth sculpture attached, which perhaps we can lead a walk towards to pay drunken tribute. Details as follows: Zero Books, a new imprint for philosophy, politics and aesthetics, will be launched on Thursday 23rd April 2009. The first two titles are David Stubbs' Fear of Music, asking the question of why people get Rothko but not Stockhausen, and Owen Hatherley's Militant Modernism, a defence of Modernism against its defenders. There will be wine, crisps and readings from the books, in the genteel setting of Marylebone High Street.

Come to Daunt Books, 83 Marylebone High Street, London W1U 4QW 6.30 -9pm. If you want to attend, please RSVP to zerobooks(at)

Saturday, April 11, 2009


A miscellany held together by politicised journeys and travelogues of one sort or another:
I.T on a walk in London couple of days before the G20 farrago, through two lost worlds of British social democracy - the Barbican/Golden Lane, and the fragments of Lubetkin and Tecton's 'Finsbury Plan', isolated and embattled Constructivist experiments adrift in the media/property districts of Clerkenwell and Islington;
K-Punk on the right to the city, container ports, and Containerisation, a subject very close to my heart, as a lapsed Sotonian - a city which I've argued seems to have taken containerisation as the organising principle for an entirely new, if remarkably boring, form of urbanism. While Felixstowe or Tilbury's ports exist in isolation, the Southampton container port is central to a city (of a sort), and does very strange things to it. Am staying there for a few days from tomorrow, so there may be relevant dispatches from that godforsaken non-city, as the container port is walking distance from my Mum's - though you would hardly know it, but for the views of the cranes over the terraces. Much like the Suffolk port described here, it's a fascinatingly quiet place, where 'humans are invisible connectors between automated systems'. Also relevant to a forthcoming piece on English travelogues, which will also mention Andrew Cross' extraordinarily blank containerised English Journey, tracking one of them from Southampton to DIRFT to Manchester...more of which later.
Me in the NS on a travel book dedicated to Latin America and its pink tide. A badly written bit of exotica, yet worthwhile as a sustained discussion of one of the few places where 'we' are in the ascendant - mainly through a fearlessness about using state power, about nationalising things that make a profit as much as things that go bust, and a lack of compunction about using class and resentment as organising tactics.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The uses of Surveillance

Amazing, really, that they thought they would get away with this, or that anyone, after De Menezes, believed for a second in 'natural causes' and heroic police medics being 'pelted' with 'missiles'. It also suggests at least one consequence of our self-surveillance, with ubiquitous digital cameras and camera phones - that we can put surveillance to our own uses. Note also that the person who filmed this was, like the man killed, a bystander.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Viva Ponders End

Supplementary to 'aren't factories pretty' posts: x-posted from Leniency, this. Especially pleased to see solidarity from the Ford plant in Southampton. There's an emergency support rally at 11 on Thursday.

Support the Ford Visteon Workers Occupation
Come to the factory anytime!
Especially around 12 noon
Morson Road EN3 4NQ
near Ponders End train station, Enfield
The plant is 5min walk, cross the foot-bridge, walk down main road towards Central London, the next street to the left is Morson Road, the factory situated at the end
Statement from some Ford Visteon workers and supporters (from inside the occupied factory) ►
We have occupied our factory. Ford Visteon workers have occupied our factory since Wednesday 1st April. The previous day in a meeting lasting just 6 minutes we were told that the European company, with plants in Belfast, Basildon and Ponders End, Enfield, was going into administration and that we were to leave - without our wages being paid. Personal possessions could be collected the next day, but at 10 o'clock the factory was locked closed. Workers had already occupied the Belfast factory.
We demand what is due to us. The 200 workers who are part of the Ford subsidiary want the same conditions they have always had via "mirror contracts" with the parent company. Up to now they don't know when they will get wages due, and their pensions are to be controlled by the government Pensions Protection Fund. This means a maximum of £9,000 payout, and much reduced conditions! Some of the women and men have 40 yrs service!
The move is to save Visteon USA money at our expense. But unexpectedly Unite union members have taken determined action that bosses thought they had eliminated years ago. The workers want their existing terms respected. Ford Visteon can't be allowed to avoid their responsibility.
Negotiations have now started. As a result of the occupation Visteon have agreed to negotiate with us, and our convenor will be flying over to the USA this week to meet US company reps.
The future? As well as proper redundancy payments, some are suggesting that the skills of the workers who can make anything in plastic, should be used to make increasingly needed parts for green products - bike and trailer parts, solar panels, turbines, etc. Government investment in this rather than throwing money at bankers could be profitable & save jobs in the long term.
All support welcome. Ford Visteon workers have been pleased at the support received from other Ford plants as well, such as Southampton, who are blacking Visteon products. 100s attended our rally outside on Saturday.
Please come to the factory at any time (especially 12 noon) to show us your support. Get your Union branch or organisation to pass a resolution in support. Help raise money by doing workplace and community collections, and drop by...
Messages of support to those inside:

This is a fight we can win. We're off our knees and fighting fit!
(photo from here.)

Industrial Aesthetics for Industrial People

Two things - me on Barkow Leibinger's industrial kitsch for Frieze, and on the touring Le Corbusier extravaganza, for the current issue of Icon. The most interesting thing in the latter, though, and continuing the general theme of 'thou, the repulsive one, art gorgeous', is the feature on Branislav Kropilak's industrial photography, several pages of bright, lurid images of refineries. Refineries are incredible things. Having lived in sniffing distance from the biggest refinery in Europe, which lines up bizarrely in front of the former site of the biggest hospital in the world, I remember some spectacular hilltop views over what looks in the darkness like a vast, uninhabited metropolis, a jagged, neon-lit cityscape made from an obsessive tangle of tentacles and tendrils. Kropilak's photos respond to the spaces not through the cold camera-eye of Renger-Patzsch or Bernd & Hilla Becher, but instead are deliberately strange and distorting, taken at night to emphasise the spaces' strangeness. They manage to catch the uncanniness of the refineries, presenting images of a weirdly organic technology, its endless connections and intersections showing an industrial non-aesthetic seemingly more inspired by fevered dreams than calm sachlichkeit. Although nobody has ever, to my knowledge, written a tract on Learning from Fawley Refinery, these kind of structures are one of the main inadvertent parents of high-tech architecture, in that, as suggested by Reyner Banham's debunking of the International Style's pretensions to up-to-the-minute technology, they showed an industrial aesthetic that was not calm, that had little in common with the serene Platonic volumes Le Corbusier saw in grain silos, but was instead busy, seemingly chaotic, overcoded and overdetailed, wildly impure.

However they do (again wholly inadvertently) take up a certain other kind of Modernist architecture, the impurism and 'component fixation' of Soviet Constructivism, the techno-messthetic that reaches an apotheosis with Chernikhov's Architectural Fantasies. The architectural question, meanwhile, is the counter-intuitive one of how to replicate these utilitarian forms for entirely different building types. The jibe that Lloyds 'looks like a refinery' should have been taken as a compliment, but the building's function could have necessitated all manner of entirely different styles. It would be strange and Ruskinian to suggest that the refineries are beautiful because of their fulfilment of function, especially given that their absurdly complex nature means that the function can only be guessed at by the person looking at them for aesthetic jollies. But they raise one of the questions begged by Barkow Leibinger's industrial ornamentation - what is the appropriate form for an honestly technological architecture in (very) late capitalism? Barkow Leibinger's answer seems to be to use the same extremely advanced techniques employed within the factory on its facade, on the roof, on the walls for the purpose of aesthetic edification - but everywhere, when you look for the buildings of today's industrial and distribution centres, they look like these places - an architecture more bare, more white, more Platonic and more blandly pure than any Corbusian could have possibly wanted.

Friday, April 03, 2009

....That's What I'm Not

'Once out of doors they were more aware of the factory rumbling a few yards away over the high wall. Generators whined all night, and during the day giant milling machines working away on cranks and pedals in the tunnery gave to the terrace the sensation of living within breathing distance of some monstrous being that suffered from a disease of the stomach.'
Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

The latest instalment in my trip from Southampton to Glasgow for Building Design - Nottingham, or four things to do with a post-industrial city *. The bile is mostly reserved for new student housing, although Make's Jubilee Campus receives the now-customary kicking. What is especially interesting is that this random assemblage of decon-lite tat, with its apparently contextual pinkish tiles (a bit like brick!) and its utterly risible giant sculpture (a bit like some spokes in a wind sock), is placed in something of a ground zero for the British kitchen sink novel - the site of the Raleigh Bicycle Factory where Arthur Seaton works in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. As in my current East Greenwich manor, industry still exists at the edges of the Jubilee site, even if the main site has been cleared for Blairboxes - and with particular aptness, not far away, looming over the site, are four plattenbau blocks which were filmed by Anton Corbijn for Control, that misbegotten combination of rock myth and kitchen sink, presumably because Nottingham looked more authentically grim than contemporary Manchester. Which it does.

More thoughts on Arthur Seaton, relevant to the discussion between Padraig of Communist Realism and K-Punk over whether Red Riding marks merely a more sophisticated version of capitalist realism, a more intelligent Life on Mars, a commenter on Red Pepper's forum discussion on the Miners Strike has the following to say about Sean Bean's powerful, replulsive portrayal of a refracted version of John Poulson: 'Dawson, the property developer makes me think of all those 'angry young men' in the northern fiction of the late 50s and early eighties. The likes of Joe Lampton and Arthur Seaton were never typical 'working class heroes'; too individualist, aggressive and avaricious to fit that mould. You could easily imagine them turning into a Dawson-type character. The sort of self-made gob-shites that fell over themselves for Thatcher and who she in turn loved.' This is the kind of analysis that Robin Carmody would agree with, where the supposedly anti-establishment figures of pop culture mytholology, with their contempt for Butskellite paternalism, became the foundation for a new, and yet more brutal establishment. Let's not forget who Ian Curtis voted for in 1979.

* With many thanks to Chris Matthews for his very useful guide to new architecture in the city, and to Anthony Paul Smith for board and lodging.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Their Spectacle and 'Ours'

Can't help but agree almost entirely with Mark's critique of the G20 protests as a purely spectacularised revolt, something acknowledged both by the protesters themselves (that 'Enjoy Your Spectacle' graffiti), by the media (even before the RBS windows got smashed, photographers were around a quarter of us in the Kettle) and by the Police, who in a sense gave a proportion of the crowd exactly what they wanted, the 'wounds' to display about which Mark is so withering. It seems to me that it shows the final uselessness as a concept and protesting tactic of the 'Temporary Autonomous Zone' - but before we bury it, we should acknowledge exactly why this is initially so persuasive a tactic, in both political and geographical terms. The City of London is a place ringed by steel even on the most mundane rainy Tuesday, and seeing it yesterday presented a spectacle of the latent become suddenly blindingly obvious, as the quiet surveillance and police presence became thumpingly loud and brutal, something made especially apparent at 8pm when those de-kettled all had to submit to be photographed and have their name taken down. What can really be seen here is an inversion of a Situationist tactic - the creation of a spectacle is the degeneration of the production of a situation, a failed situation.

The photos here, courtesy of Felix Waterhouse, document some of this in architectural terms - a line of police in front of the Bank of England, Herbert Baker's horribly lumpen, clumsy 1930s edifice parasitic upon John Soane's original (and, as an 18th century anti-riot gesture, windowless) ground floor, a classicism that imitates the past while actively destroying it, lined up in front of the sculptures on the building's frontage, redolent of Hitler's favoured sculptor Arno Breker; the climate camp setting up something genuinely adaptable and indeterminate in the shadow of the capitalist Constructivism of Lloyds...the City should, in theory, have been an enormously difficult place to kettle, given the complexity of its streetplan, the diametric opposite of those Haussmanian anti-barricade boulevards, and it's remarkable that the organisers managed to pick, for symbolic value, one of the few areas there that can be successfully enclosed. Both the police and the protesters tried to remake everyday spaces, either intentionally or unintentionally. After being dekettled, I walked around streets of offices where you could see, readied, vehicles more usually employed in 1970s Northern Ireland, or groups of riot police psyching themselves up like American footballers. The security landscape became blindingly, barbarically obvious. This should in theory have contrasted with the area within the protest itself, with its own transformation of space, but whether this was noticed by the office workers of this already deeply enclosed and protected area of London is a decidedly moot point. So who was this for? 

The zone created was certainly temporary, but there is no sense whatever that it was autonomous, as the entire area was sealed off with remarkably little difficulty, and the potential - which, by being broadcast to those outside of the 5000 inside the kettle, was necessarily a spectacle rather than a situation - of a reclaimed space, an area of work and capital reclaimed for the ludic, is easily replaced with a spectacle of boredom, violence and aimless inertia, moreover of ritual. A tactic of this sort could only work on a far wider scale, where a large area - which could become part of everyday life, not be contained within a fixed boundary - were reclaimed. That would be a question of numbers as much as of tactics. The video above suggests that the Climate Camp demonstrators - who, much as I dislike their supposedly classless rhetoric of the 'green' and the 'sustainable', don't deserve to be dismissed, given that the economic policies they advocate are necessarily not concomitant with even a reformed, neo-Keynesian capitalism - had a linked, but dissimilar problem. Obviously determined not to give the Evening Standard what it wanted, they reacted to the riot police's attempt to sweep them off Bishopsgate by putting their hands in the air and chanting 'this is not a riot' - and faced almost exactly the same treatment. Now that, as a televised spectacle, would be genuinely alarming, something outside of the rules as currently played - but broadcasters can simply choose not to show it. 

Nonetheless, I don't agree with Mark that we can fairly contrast the thinktanks and institutes that successfully created neoliberalism with current anticapitalist protest. Our ideas might have (potential) resonance with millions of people, but neoliberalism directly appealed to those who already possessed power and capital, and told them what exactly they wanted to hear. We are telling people something which, even after neoliberalism's failure, they frequently do not want to hear. But we must surely be able to think of smarter ways of doing it.

Update: The Institute responds.

'This Ruckus is Sponsored by JobCentrePlus'

Due to a combination of cowardice, claustrophobia and Crohn's disease, I do not react well to being 'kettled' at marches, that increasingly popular police tactic which, in short, involves penning in a group of protesters, waiting until they get pissed off enough at being penned in that tempers fray and stuff starts getting thrown, then piling in with the shields, pepper spray and truncheons. I tend to moan, and/or panic. So the plan today, at least as far as I was concerned, was to get as close to the protest as possible without getting kettled. In this I failed entirely, and me and those I was with were not allowed to leave for three hours. After several attempts at trying to get through the police lines with my new shiny NUJ Press Pass (helpful police comments: 'try the end of the police line', 'dunno, am just calling my boss', 'go up Bartholemew Lane', 'try Lombard St' best of all 'try over there, but it depends who you ask') I eventually got through - the friends I had abandoned got through about 15 minutes later, I presume thanks to the 'breaking of a police line' that the reports have been mentioning. 

A good thing too, as apparently, police told two other hacks "You won't see some of (the protesters) until midnight," So, I'm not all that well disposed to the tactic where you reclaim the street by letting the police imprison you in it, but there's something at these marches you don't see at the more well-organised, well-stewarded marches, such as the decidedly Make Poverty History trudge that I participated in on Saturday. The chants are better, the costumes are better, the music is better and, as I.T's photo essay comprehensively proves, the placards are far, far better. 'Harm Bono' and 'You try for ages to destroy capitalism, and then it destroys itself' being my personal highlights. What is interesting is that, today, there was a sense in which four different actions occurred, all of which are like broken parts of a unified movement - and the fact that they all happened on the same day would suggest that they can't stay broken apart for long. Hopefully, we can put something together with the dramatic wit of the 'G20 Meltdown' described above; the determined organisation and use of actual, er, 'tactics' exhibited by the climate camp happening round the corner in Bishopsgate; the stewarding and coherence of the Stop the War march in Trafalgar Square; and the working class direct action of the factory occupation in Enfield, at the other end of town. Together, these could become a genuinely combustible new left.

There has been an enormous amount of speculation in the London press over the last week that bankers would be targeted by protesters, with staff advised to wear Chinos (subtle!) to avoid lynching. Actually, I saw loads of bankers today, and I would be enormously surprised if any of them suffered as much as a Chinese Burn. The most inflammatory (as opposed to alternately boring or scary) moment today for me was a perusal on the way home of the letters page of thelondonpaper, which in its vacuity seems to undeniably speak for the worst elements of working London, and which provided a stunning example of what k-punk describes as 'the resentment of resentment'. Any sense that The City might feel slightly contrite after directly creating the direst financial crisis in 70 years seemed decidedly premature, reading this collection of missives. Some advice for letter writers and those writing the imaginary letters - avoid describing protesters as 'scroungers' when banks have just received the biggest injection of state largesse (or 'taxpayers' money') in world history; don't claim we 'don't understand economics' when it's clear, with your preposterous attempts to prop up an entire economy on finance and property, that you know even less; and don't sneer at the 'unemployed' when your own actions have created a rate of unemployment at 2 million and counting. It rankles, somewhat.

And architecturally speaking, I am enormously disappointed that an opportunity to burn down Number 1 Poultry was wasted.