There are three designated "holding" centres for immigrants in Canada but more than one third of detainees are incarcerated in rented beds in provincial prisons, some of them maximum security prisons where visits and support services are limited.
Artist and designer Tings Chak has combined her training in architectural design with her interests in human rights, migrant politics, and spatial justice in a graphic novel called Undocumented: The Architecture of Migrant Detention (Architecture Observer, 2014. Available on amazon USA and UK)
The 'undocumented' are not so much the human beings who are detained merely for being born somewhere else. The undocumented are the sites where they are detained. All information about these facilities is classified and access to them is extremely limited.
In her publication, Tings investigates the migrant detention centres in Canada -- "the fastest growing incarceration sector in an already booming prison construction industry," from the everyday acts of resistance inside the centers to the role that architectureplays in controlling and regulating migrant bodies.
The purpose of this investigation, she writes, is to make visible the sites and stories of detention, to bring them into conversations about our built environment, and to highlight migrant detention as an architectural problem.
Undocumented: The Architecture of Migrant Detention is a brave, shocking and incredibly revealing little book and because its relevance goes way beyond the frontiers of Canada (i'm looking at you Europe and Australia), i asked Tings to tell us more about her work:
Hi Tings! Why did you chose to use drawings and only drawings to investigate the architecture of migrant detention centres in Canada?
In architecture school, we spend a lot of time thinking about visual representation. Often times, architecture is as much about the representation as it is about the built. I am interested in the way using architectural visual language and tools of representation as a political practice - how can drawings reveal and spark a conversation about the invisibilized practices and spaces of detention?
Canada's prisons and detention centres are not privately owned/run, though there have been past attempts to privatize facilities and there are many lobbying efforts, including from U.S. private prison corporations. Many private parties, however, are contracted and paid millions of dollars to manage, operate, and provide services in immigration detention centres. As an example, the Toronto Immigration Holding Centre, the largest of Canada's three designated immigration detention centres, is managed by Corbel Management Corporation and security services are provided by G4S - the world's largest security firm which has been central to maintaining the apartheid state of Israel.
In terms of the life of migrants detained, up to one third of them are locked up in provincial prisons, often times in maximum security prisons. We consistently hear from detainees about the horrendous conditions, even worse than in general population, and the staff shortages that result in lockdowns for days on end. Also, being held in these prisons means that detainees often cannot call family members abroad, are too remote for in-person visits, and don't have access to the legal resources necessary to regularize their immigration status, which all exacerbate the isolation they face in detention.
How much restriction to information did you have to face while investigating spaces for mass detention and deportation? Apart from testimonies from migrants, which kind of evidence is your research based on?
Information about these spaces are highly restricted, access to them is nearly impossible for members of the public. The title of the book is an acknowledgement of how these spaces are purposefully invisibilized and any information about them is classified. Recognizing this, the book is an assemblage of bits and pieces that I gathered from various sources - testimonies from detainees, descriptions from legal counsel who have visited such spaces, research that others have done about specific aspects of detention like solitary confinement, legal recommendations, and design standards for prisons and detention centres.
Here are the links to key resources I based my work on (more can be found here):
These places are surprisingly banal. Unlike the dank, dark dungeons that popular depictions of prisons would have us believe, many of these facilities are familiar in the way that most institutional buildings are. This is something I wanted to highlighted in my drawings.
Another aspect has to do with the highly securitized nature of detention centres, which means that the building is compartmentalized according to discrete functions for processing, monitoring, interrogating, and containing detainees. It is impossible to understand the building as a whole, so as not to be challenged.
What are the architectural mechanisms used to control the experiences of the people detained there?
From the segregation units to the bullet resistant glazing, the sally port to the recessed lighting units, the surveillance systems to the bolted down stainless steel toilet/sink units, every architectural detail of a space is designed to manage and maintain control of incarcerated individuals.
What I was particularly fascinated by were the design guides specific to detention centres (in the U.S. context). These manuals provide a detailed analysis of minimum design standards, including occupancy capacities, material specifications, program adjacencies, etc. Often times, the definitions of the "minimum" or the "habitable" (according to legalistic definitions) are quantified in terms of square footage or cubic volume of air space. The architectural logic of these spaces, along with a lot of other architectures, is governed by the minimum standards, which seek to minimize risk and regulate human bodies.
Could architecture be used to welcome or at least ensure a less traumatic experience for migrants?
I believe that detentions and deportations are inherently violent and traumatizing. Incarcerating people on the basis of being born somewhere else is not something we can humanize through design. I've spoken to architecture students, professors, and practitioners over the course of creating this book, and it's clear that the vast majority of them believe that immigration detention is a "problem" that could be fixed with a better "solution." What is important to note is that often times the ambition of making a space more humane and more optimal distracts and deters us from questioning the prison industrial complex, and the complicity of architects within it.
Israeli architect Eyal Weizman speaks about this problem in his book "The Least of All Possible Evils: Humanitarian Violence from Arendt to Gaza" (2012).
The major impetus of this work is to challenge architects to engage in the very difficult ethical question: are there programs for which architects should not design? There are groups such as Architects, Designers, Planners for Social Responsibility in the U.S. that have been working for years to get architects to boycott prison design. I believe that architects should be intervening by pushing the discussion towards imagining and designing real alternatives to detention.
You are also an organizer with No One Is Illegal - Toronto. How much impact do your actions and protests have on the immigration system? Could you give some examples?
The work that No One Is Illegal - Toronto has impacts on various levels, which include shifting the public discourse and imagination around migration and borders, building our social movement through mobilization, and developing and sharing an intersectional political analysis, among other things. At the core of it, though, is the belief that the immigration system here (and in the U.S.) is not a "broken" one that we need to reform, but that it is functioning exactly as it is designed to. The system is built on the exploitation of precarious labour, exclusion of poor migrants from the global South, and ongoing displacement of Indigenous people on Turtle Island and across the globe.
That being said, there have been significant victories over the past 10 years. After decades of community organizing, Toronto declared itself a "Sanctuary City" in February, 2013, which means that residents regardless of immigration status can access city services without the threat of detention or deportation. It is still far from being a reality on the ground. Around the End Immigration Detention Campaign that began just over a year ago, there have been some important developments. Specifically, in June 2014, after our submission to the U.N., they released an opinion condemning Canada's practice of detaining migrants for immigration reasons, and for detaining them indefinitely. The work is ongoing, and people are still organizing courageous actions inside to protest their unjust detentions.
Imagine Architecture. Artistic Visions of the Urban Realm, by Lukas Feireiss and Robert Klanten.
Publisher Gestalten writes: Contemporary developments in the visual arts are often reflected in urban landscapes. Imagine Architecture explores the ways in which visual culture develops in public spaces and how it shapes those spaces. This book focuses on the fruitful exchange between visual culture and architecture and follows up on the themes introduced in our previous release Beyond Architecture. It compiles experimental projects and creative perspectives from the fields of illustration, painting, collage, sculpture, photography, installation, and design.
A young generation of creatives sees the urban landscape as the starting point for their work. When these illustrators, sculptors, or photographers engage with architecture, their art overrules conventional doctrines on the use of space. They use buildings as a medium for their ideas, breaking norms and triggering new tensions. Whether they make sculptures that are created within the context of a given structure or street art whose forms and colors impact its surrounding architecture, all of the featured projects interpret and reflect their spatial settings in compelling ways. In the process, these visionary concepts are playfully expanding the definition of architecture. Their creativity has the potential to breathe new life into public spaces and promote the evolution of our cities.
Imagine Architecture follows Gestalten magical recipe: a theme which will catch everyone's imagination, a straightforward introduction, a brief description of each work and lots of very big images. The formula works every time.
It's not my favourite book from Gestalten though. It's still a brilliant one but i opened it with the assumption that artists exploring architecture were always going to be far more thought-provoking than architects expressing the radical or outlandish ideas you'd expect from an artist. I looked back at architecture titles i've reviewed in the past (in particular the two i've just linked to) and realize that i was wrong, i shouldn't dismiss architects' creativity.
Now to what i like about the book: the title and content might be catchy but that doesn't reduce the Imagine Architecture to a catalogue of what was cool and trendy on design and art blogs these past couple of years. The editors have brought to light gems from exhibitions and portfolios that haven't reached the mainstream yet. Some of the works are deeply political. Others have no other ambition than be poetical. Some are paper models of an imaginary city that, like a real one, is ever growing, ever-evolving. Others are typographic experiments that attempt to dialogue with architecture. Some explore architecture through the introspective lens of the home. Others look at the arrogance of men who hope to control and dominate from the height of the towers they've built.
Right, i can see now that my arid review hasn't probably done justice to the book, let the images speak then:
Tom Sachs' The Island is a modified model of the radar tower of the USS Enterprise CVN-65, "The world's first and finest nuclear powered aircraft carrier." It's also one of my favourite works ever.
The Fog Factory is the model of the area around the train station in Nancy, France. Fog, which creeps over the streets, constitutes the architecture, an artificial copy of a meteorological phenomenon, mechanically produced but randomly distributed and imponderable.
Beth Dow looks at the American environments, and its penchant for fake antiquities. My pictures of faked antiquities are an attempt to evoke nostalgia for inaccurate history, to wrestle with ideas of authenticity, and to question the value we place on classical ideals.
Laurent Chehere looks for understated and overlooked examples of architecture in Paris. From caravans to circus tents to sex shops. He photographs them and then sends them high up in the air from his digital manipulation room.
Collapscapes are fictitious industrial spaces made of glass. Called Chemical Plant, Mine Shaft, Super Collider and Gas Depot, the objects look at industrial architecture and the contraction (or collapse) of industrial sites that follows increasingly mechanised production.
A synthetic cotton treehouse for children in the shape of a mushroom cloud.
Daryl Chen's New Socialist Village explores what the UK can learn about planning from the community living in the village of Caochangdi, an atypical 'new socialist village' outside of Beijing. In the space created by the Chinese government's evolving planning laws, the village's growth is driven by the instincts of local peasants and the bohemian opportunism of artists who have established a set of unstated rules governing urban form.
Jiang Pengyi creates Unregistered Cities, miniature abandoned cities. He then places them in the historic abandoned houses that Beijing's hunger for "excessive urbanization, redevelopment and demolition" has left to rot.
Views inside the book:
The Deadly Life of Logistics. Mapping Violence in Global Trade, by Deborah Cowen, an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Toronto. Her work focuses on the politics of space and questions of citizenship.
Publisher University of Minnesota Press writes: A genealogy of logistics, tracing the link between markets and militaries, territory and government
Deborah Cowen traces the art and science of logistics over the past sixty years, from the battlefield to the boardroom and back again. Though the object of corporate and governmental logistical efforts is commodity supply, she demonstrates that they are deeply political--and, considered in the context of the long history of logistics, deeply indebted to the practice of war.
The image above encapsulates rather efficiently the intimate connections that link the military and the private businesses which transport 'seamlessly' all kinds of goods around the world. Basra Logistics City used to be called Camp Bucca and it used to be the largest U.S. military detention facility in occupied Iraq. In December 2010, the US handed the base to the government of Iraq, which, on the same day, gave Kufan Group of Iraq a license to turn the place into a 21st-century logistics hub for Iraq's port.
The Deadly Life of Logistics demonstrates how logistics is at the very heart of war and trade. Since WWII, businesses have been learning lessons from the infrastructures, strategies and technologies that armies have put in place to ensure that soldiers are fed and ammunition is available at the front. Logistics plays a key role in war. The greatest volume of material shipped from the UK to France during WW1, i read in the book, was oats and hay for the horses. Over time, private companies have not only learnt from the military, using logistics to reshape the geographies of capitalist production and distribution on global scale, they have also quickly started to support war efforts and are now providing housing and feeding to the soldiers stationed in Afghanistan. The author speaks of a militarization of the economy and a privatization of warfare.
The book offers a fascinating tour of the instruments and tactics of logistics: the palet, the container, the deregulation of the transport industry in the U.S. in the 1980s, the use of 'flags of convenience', etc. All of which provide huge benefits in time, space and capital. DHL delivers your parcel on time, new toys arrive in store before Christmas and everybody is happy. Except the workers who saw their wages, rights and the strength of their unions reduced. Their very safety is at risk as well. Port, transport and logistics are consistently ranked among the most dangerous industries by governments that monitor health and safety on the workplace.
The picture that the book offers is rather bleak. In the world of logistics, China imports its cheap labor model, the port of Dubai where the vast majority of the private workforce have no formal citizenship is heralded as a model for the U.S. port security, Somali pirates are presented as enemies of humanity while foreign companies illegally dump toxic substances in Somali waters and others deplete them of marine resources in total impunity, the flow of capital and commodities is a matter of species survival and human rights are a rather tiresome hindrance.
The Deadly Life of Logistics is a fascinating, informative and politically engaged book. I sometimes found that the constant abbreviations, quotes, references and repetitions got in the way of a fluid reading but otherwise it's a book i'd like to place in the hand of artists and activists. Of artists mostly because no one better than them can translate the impact and dangers of contemporary logistics into an arresting language understood by the broad public.
Ways of Looking: How to Experience Contemporary Art, by Ossian Ward, Head of Content at the Lisson Gallery and former chief art critic at Time Out London.
Publisher Laurence King writes: Art has changed. Familiar styles and movements that characterized art production prior to the twenty-first century have all vanished. Traditional artistic media no longer do what we expect of them.
This book provides a straightforward guide to understanding contemporary art based on the concept of the tabula rasa - a clean slate and a fresh mind. Ossian Ward presents a six-step program that gives readers new ways of looking at some of the most challenging art being produced today. Since artists increasingly work across traditional media and genres, Ward has developed an alternative classification system for contemporary practice such as 'Art as Entertainment', 'Art as Confrontation', 'Art as Joke' -- categories that help to make sense of otherwise obscure-seeming works. There are also 20 'Spotlight' features which guide readers through encounters with key works..
Contemporary art is not what it used to be. The old rules, classifications and movements don't apply anymore. Art can be anything, anywhere, it can even be anyone. You might pass by it on the street and never realize it. The author thus set up to guide us through art appreciation and consumption. Thankfully, Ward is a witty, straightforward and seasoned art critic who realizes that no one needs an encyclopedic knowledge of art history nor a master in art speak to enjoy art. In fact, Ward advises that you come with a fresh mind and a clean slate, calling for a tabula rasa approach where T.A.B.U.L.A. stands for:
Time: just hold on, don't turn your back yet. Stay there for a few minutes before deciding the work is not for you (that's one rule i should follow more often.)
Ward then suggests that we look at today's art through various lenses: entertainment, confrontation, event, message, joke, spectacle and meditation.
The theory is never overwhelming nor dogmatic. The author illustrates each point with a number of artworks which he dissects according to the T.A.B.U.L.A. perspective.
I loved this book. I'm tempted to offer a copy to my many friends who stare at me with a look of "poor loser, that art job must be so BO-RING" in their eyes. I never managed to explain them why what i do for a living makes me want to spring out of bed every morning but this book might be more convincing. But Ways of Looking will be of great help to me as well. I've always thought that i was good at feeling when a work is 'good' or 'bad' but i often struggle to form intelligible thoughts that would help me express what i find so interesting about a particular piece or exhibition.
I particularly liked the tone of the book. While the author sounds genuinely passionate about contemporary art, he doesn't seem to take it too seriously either. From what i could infer, he doesn't suffer sloppy, easy and pompous art. There certainly isn't any of that kind of art in his book.
Some of the works presented and analysed in the book:
This 7-metre-long version of a medieval bronze and steel cruciform sword is suspended in mid-air over the heads of visitors. Like the Sword of Damocles, this memento mori reminds us of the precariousness of all things.
Mohamed Bourouissa's photos look like evidences from a photo reportage about delinquency in French suburbs inhabited by Arab and African communities. Taken between 2005 and 2008, the photos directly echo the 2005 unrest in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois.
Each image has actually been carefully staged and choreographed to simulate the documentation of tensions and confrontations about to explode. Yet, the composition is so precise and elegant that the photos also evoke Romantic paintings.The series was named after the Boulevard Périphérique, the ring-road surrounding Paris that effectively ostracizes communities that live beyond this physical and metaphorical barrier.
The trilogy And Europe Will Be Stunned follows the activities of the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland (JRMiP), a utopian political group that calls for the return of 3,300,000 Jews to Poland.
Views inside the book:
Vice interviewed the author about Ways of Looking.
Image on the homepage: Gregor Schneider, Man With Cock.
100 Ideas that Changed the Web, by Jim Boulton, curator of Digital Archaeology, an organisation that seeks to document the formative years of digital culture and raise the profile of digital preservation.
Publisher Laurence King writes: This innovative title looks at the history of the Web from its early roots in the research projects of the US government to the interactive online world we know and use today.
Fully illustrated with images of early computing equipment and the inside story of the online world's movers and shakers, the book explains the origins of the Web's key technologies, such as hypertext and mark-up language, the social ideas that underlie its networks, such as open source, and creative commons, and key moments in its development, such as the movement to broadband and the Dotcom Crash. Later ideas look at the origins of social networking and the latest developments on the Web, such as The Cloud and the Semantic Web.
Following the design of the previous titles in the series, this book will be in a new, smaller format. It provides an informed and fascinating illustrated history of our most used and fastest-developing technology.
The book had me at page 8, the one that says "The idea of the internet was born in Belgium.' I was born there too! How thrilling! That idea, thus, was born at the Mundaneum, an institution which Slates calls a 'Proto-Internet made of index cards' and Speigel defines 'an analog version of Google'. Created in 1910, the Mundaneum had the ambition of collecting all human knowledge and classify it according to a system that Belgian lawyer Paul Otlet and Nobel Peace Prize winner Henri LaFontaine called 'Universal Decimal Classification'. While this networked world relied on index cards and telegraph machines, it nonetheless anticipated the hyperlinked structure of today's Web.
100 Ideas that Changed the Web is a thick, compact book that charts the key moments that made and make the Web. The author presents one idea over two pages. One of them being the short essay, the other is the image that illustrates the concept. The book follows a logical and chronological order. The 20 first ideas are about the vanguard that paved the way for the creation of the Web. Ideas 21 to 53 are about the early days of the Web. These were times of experiments and wild dreams. The following 20-ish ideas deal with the pre-social era of the Web, full of ups (PayPal) and downs (that dot-com bubble). Ideas 74 to 98 brings us into the right here, right now of the web. The last two ideas look into the future.
The book is very upbeat and celebratory. It makes me love the fact that i lived from dial-up modems (don't miss understand me: i'd never ever want to go back there) to the era of Big Data. It also reminded me of the importance of ideas i either take for granted nowadays (eBay!! or real-time reporting) or had almost forgotten (The Blair Witch Project, a film that accumulated a series of 'first time ever', one of them being that its promotion relied heavily on a website.)
I think it's a book anyone might enjoy. It sums up efficiently important concepts and allows readers to take a step back and look at how much their lives have changed in a relatively short period of time.
With that said, i feel that the book is glossing over the unpleasant aspects of the web: the trolls, the spam, the scams, the mass-surveillance, the revenge porn, the platforms that are closing themselves, etc. All are corollaries of those magnificent 100 ideas that changed the web.
More views inside the book:
Publisher Leonardo/Olats writes: Artists have opened new avenues in the art world by employing these developments in biotechnology, synthetic biology and Artificial Life; going from inanimate to autonomous objects to living creatures; exploring the thin border between animate and inanimate; confronting the grown, the evolved, the born and the built; and raising aesthetic but also social, political and ethical issues.
New forms of 'exo-life' may not arrive on Earth from outerspace by hitching a ride on a meteorite, but instead come out of the lab, designed by scientists - or perhaps artists - weaving together biology and computing in a petri dish or bioreactor.
Over the last fifty years our ideas about the nature of life have changed dramatically. Revolutionary advances in genetics and molecular biology have given us new insights into how carbon based life on our planet originates and functions. In more recent years the development of synthetic biology has dramatically expanded our ability to design and modify life forms. At the same time, disruptive developments in computing technologies have led to the possibility of generating digitally-based artificial life. And outside traditional institutions, emerging DIY, bio-hacking and citizen science movements have begun to appropriate laboratory technologies, challenging ideas about the governance of the life sciences.
Meta-Life is an anthology of articles published in Leonardo about the living, the non-living and the 'kind of living' in all their forms. There are 45 articles in total, some date back to the 1990s, others are newly commissioned texts. In fact, the whole DIY Biology - BioHacking section is composed of new commissions.
A quick look at the titles of the sections demonstrates the wide-range of themes explored: Between Bio, Silico and Syhtetic: Life and the Arts reflects on how our notions of life and of art are challenged both by computer technology and biotechnologies; Artificial Life and the Arts as well as the section called BioArt contain theoretical and philosophical texts about both fields, Bio - Fiction, Design, Archictecture explores the thin border between reality and fiction; DIY Bio - BioHacking proposes various points of view on the bio DIY movement.
I haven't been through the whole ebook but i've read most of the articles and so far, so very good. To be blunt, I don't trust Leonardo to publish texts that are approachable and engaging. Intelligent, informative and thought-provoking, they do very well but appealing to broad(ish) audiences? I wasn't not so sure. Well, that's where i was very wrong. There is no abstruse language nor complex theories in this ebook. Trust me, I deliberately looked for it.
Here's just a couple of examples of the essays i've enjoyed, in no particular order:
Dr Craig Hilton writes about his collaboration with artists Billy Apple® to create what is simultaneously a subject of art and of scientific endeavor. This project consisted in growing the first biological tissue made available for artists and the first biological tissue for science research made available by an artist as art. The Immortalisation of Billy Apple® is a work of art that lives, multiplies and has the potential to create other works of art ad infinitum, especially because there is no restriction placed on the use of the Billy Apple® 's tissue.
The flamboyant Adam Zaretsky authors a sex-infused manifesto about the utopias surrounding the art (manipulation) of the living.
Following the exhibition GROW YOUR OWN ... Life After Nature, Michael John Gorman offers a coherent and crystal-clear introduction to synthetic biology, in which he also manages to include a few reflections on intellectual property, ethical and regulatory framework, media frenzy, and market interests.
Anna Dumitriu explores the relationship between bacterial and digital communications networks through the lessons she learnt while working on her project Cybernetic Bacteria 2.0.
Steve Tomasula places bio art into the context of the tradition of manipulating nature for aesthetic reason.
Oron Cats investigates the concept of being alive or 'just kind of living.' He makes some important points about the absence of a cultural language that would help audiences deal with tissue culture and other fragments of life. How should we culturally articulate and position lab-grown life when we have no cultural reference that would allow us to relate to it?
David Benqué has an enlightening conversation with independent synthetic biologist Cathal Garvey. The discussion explores the difference between DIY biology and BioHacking, the fear of biotechnology escaping the labs, the cost of creativity in biology, etc.
The first text i ran to was actually Alessandro Delfanti's research about DIY biology and its position in the world of science, the world of the market and the state.
I think i could go on and on. I carried Meta-Life in my e-reader throughout the Summer and enjoyed dipping in and out of it. I think that this collection of texts by illustrious artists, designers, and researchers constitutes a great reference to anyone who has a mild-to-strong interest in how the art world is exploring the synthetic and the aesthetic, the artificial and the new natural, the fictional and the ethical dimensions of life.
Get that one for your Kindle, it's a gem.
Image on the homepage: Brandon Ballengée. Malamp Reliquaries, 1996-ongoing. Unique IRIS prints on water-colour paper. 2003-07.