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.
One of the themes of the BIO 50 design Biennial which opened last week in Ljubljana looked at the simple act of walking in the city. Several designers explored walking under various guises and lenses but i was particularly interested in the street markings, research and performances of Giuditta Vendrame and Paolo Patelli from design and research studio La Jetée.
The designers logged into a Friction Atlas some of the rules and constraints that regulate the circulation of citizens within urban space. For example, any reading or picnic gathering over 20 persons in one of New York city parks requires a special event permit. In Sweden, you need to apply for a permit to dance in public. In Cairo you're allowed to spontaneously discuss public matters only if you are fewer that 10 people.
Giuditta and Paolo drew 1:1 diagrams onto the pavement to illustrate rules that control the use of public spaces in cities such as Genoa, Cairo, Washington, Stockholm, Sydney, etc. They then invited the public to perform staged choreographies while discussing issues of public space, law and legibility.
Friction Atlas addresses the issue of legibility of public space, its programs, and the laws that regulate its uses. Many regulations discretize human behavior, tending to be algorithmic, quantitative and invisible. Sometimes they are rigorous and mathematical, other times loose and under-defined. They are textual, prone to contested interpretations. Friction Atlas aims to make regulations - that are always implicitly present in any public space - explicit and visible, through graphical devices.
I can't resist a project that makes the dynamics of authority not only visually but also physically discernible, so i contacted the designers to discuss their work for the BIO 50 biennial (proper report on the event will be on your desk. One day):
Hi Giuditta and Paolo! Could you explain what you mean when you talk about the algorithmic quality of these regulations that govern the use of public space?
Regulations are nothing but symbols, conventions, but they have the power of persuading human beings to act. When they are put to work, they make things happen. They are sets of instructions that incorporate power, while responding to internal and external conditions. They are a kind of invisible structural force that plays through into everyday life.
In the context of public space, a number of legal prescription can generate differences in the displacement, mobility and assembly of bodies. Citizens perform in their everyday a synchronized routine of elaborate moves on public surfaces. We recognize, in such patterns, a choreography.
Assembling in public space to discuss, demonstrate either support or opposition, publicize a cause, mark or commemorate an event is both an individual and a group activity. Figures and routines involve interplay and sometime synchronization. The use of public space is choreographed not only to the organizer's intentions, but also to abstract regulations. As sets of instructions, algorithms are rules. They are abstract, but always implicitly present in any public space. These prescriptions extend way beyond exceptional events, and pervade our everyday urban experience thoroughly. Regulative rules exist for picnicking in a park in New York City, for group dancing in Sweden, for kids to return home in Iceland. For example, it is not uncommon to see in the media demonstrators keeping their march to one line, standing on the sidewalk, always fewer than fifty, in front of the White House.
The idea of making such instructions legible on public ground, came to us last April, while we were in Cairo. We were greeting a group of Egyptian friends, just outside a bar in Talaat Harb, Downtown. Suddenly, one of them grinned, realizing that - according the recently introduced Egyptian anti-protest law - we were being illegal. Giuditta and I immediately thought of what it means to be a group of ten people. How do you define it? How do you recognize it? Where are the thresholds to be found in our mutual interactions? Of course such relations extend to our online presences.
Indeed, in recent Cultural and Media Studies, as in the writings of Scott Lash and Alexander Galloway, the phrasing "algorithmic rules" has been associated to new forms of power, that reside in the networks, computers, information, and data, rather than being exerted from above by legitimate institutions. Paolo Gerbaudo used the expression "choreography of assembly" while analyzing the online organizational structures and process of the recent urban revolutions in Egypt, USA and Spain.
Our project is more basic. It is on the ground perhaps that a wide range of phenomena can be recognized at their maximum degree of visibility.
How do you (and citizens living in a particular city) find out about these regulations?
We started asking friends who are living in different cities and countries if they were aware of legal prescriptions that regulate the use of public spaces. Sometimes they would tell us anecdotes or they would suggest us to look for specific events on the news. For example Marko Peterlin recalled of a protest in Koper, which couldn't take place because the Slovenian law states that the organizers of any public event must always have with them a written agreement with the owner of the land where they want to assemble. In that case, protesters meant to express their disagreement with a local policy, through a demonstration on public ground. The problem then was that "public" means owned by the Municipality and managed by the local government. This resulted in a weird short-circuit, which we also tried to visualize.
We subsequently met with NGOs, with lawyers, we had meetings with the local police, and with public officials. While collecting anecdotes, listing procedures, and saving titles from the local news, we also started looking into the actual codes. We photocopied and downloaded when possible City Ordinances, Public Order Acts, Police Regulations, Park Regulations, even Children Protection Acts, from different cities and countries. Across these documents, we searched for numbers, quantities, distances, conditions, predicates. We searched for the abstractions that shape our public behaviors, to represent them visually.
Paolo, i read on your online page that you worked with Urban Sensing. That project relies a lot on digital technologies and is generally quite sophisticated. Friction Atlas, on the other hand, is pretty low tech: diagrams on the floor and walks. Why did you make the project so 'tangible', instead of having an app for example?
In code as much as in regulative rules, objects - even people - are abstracted. They cannot be known in themselves or in their being. Things are only known through their predicates, their "quantified" qualities. Citizens, as individuals or groups, are measured for their number, the noise they make, the age they have, the distance they keep, the money they have paid. Against the abstract, the mathematical, it is the real that embodies resistance. The materiality of the street, and of walking, are the natural media for making this tension tangible. They are also the best sites for opening a discussion which needed to be im-mediated. The street, in fact, afforded unexpected interactions of the public with our graphic devices, beyond what we had planned and designed.
We wanted to turn the physical context into an open playing field, or a loose game board, and keep the experience ambiguous. We posed an invitation to play, while valuing the uncertainty of the status of the performance as game. Taking part to a choreographed debate about regulative rules on the use of public space, by enacting such rules in a real public space, raises questions: Is this a game? Are we playing? Which role am I playing?
In the street, the boundary between being in and out of the game is blurred, and so are the social boundaries between who is playing and who is not. Our diagrams represent strollers, as well as protesters and policemen, but the player identity and the normal everyday identity always somehow overlap.
The sort of game we propose, at the same time playful, ironic and highly serious, has no goal - only rules, which without context, interpretation and the active participation of the visitors would exist only as static code, as ready-made, found predicates.
Keeping a 1:1 scalar ratio with the human body is central to affording this interplay and to really make the rules legible on the ground. It also helps maintaining different levels or engagement, from the superficial interaction of kids and cyclists, to the concerned reading of students and people with a bit more time.
Do you see Friction Atlas as a continuation of Urban Sensing, or is that a totally different approach to the urban environment?
We are getting accustomed to seeing the behavior of the citizens - users, customers, consumers - of any given city represented through spectacular real-time maps and data visualizations.
Our attempt this time was to look through our transparent society to try to visualize the other side. Rather than in a bird's view on the city, we were interested in looking to what's above it.
I certainly see Friction Atlas as a reflexive continuation of the work I have done in Urban Sensing, and at MIT's Senseable City Lab. As other projects and prototypes developed in the last couple of years - from my research residency at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design, to a number of workshops, including at SALT Institute in Istanbul, and at Strelka Institute in Moscow - it shows a more critical edge. Central to all of them, anyway, is the transformation of data into fully visible (or sometimes audible) agents, in order to provide a possible model for opening up to new forms of civic and aesthetic engagement with hidden or abstract layers of the city. Even when - to say it again with Scott Lash - information is not *in* society or related *to* society, but it *is* society, and vice versa, the focus on space offers a tangible - and therefore debatable - representation and an embodiment of such immaterialities as code or law. The city is a mirror of the current society and culture.
Finally, but very importantly, in the case of Friction Atlas, Giuditta and I have worked together as "La Jetée". She has an encompassing fascination for invisible borders and flows, and has worked in the recent past with legal loopholes and related paradoxes. We believe that design has a lot of space for experimentation in these areas. How can it cope with invisible things? Sometimes ideas can be expressed very simply.
I'm also interested in the term 'friction' in the title? Where do you locate this friction?
The friction we wish to represent in our atlas is to be found in space, on the ground. Within the contemporary city, a plurality of processes and logics converge in the same sites. The sites extend to our own lives, to our desires and perspectives.
Densely weaved dispositions - more or less integrated, more or less coordinated - inhabit the same space we live in. Our everyday experience of the urban cannot be understood but in relation to other processes, other dimensional scales. The encounter between these different logics happens on contended ground, hence the friction. The security paradigm followed by many cities worldwide is inscribed in space, the commodification of our historical heritage is inscribed in space, the media bubble that surround global events is inscribed in space. The visibility of the battlegrounds, of the exceptional event - as argued among others by Andrea Mubi Brighenti - shows and proves the importance of the infra-ordinary in its invisibility. We don't sample from different cities in order to show specific conflicts, but because we are interested in the pervasivity of minor and daily frictions.
Is this an ongoing archive? or will Friction Atlas end with the biennial?
The diagrams represent cases from different cities, including Cairo, Genoa, London, Ljubljana, New York City, Rome, Stockholm, Sydney, Washington. We definitely want to continue with this research, add more cities, involve more people, expand the discourse. Comparisons between cities, countries are particularly enlightening: try with Singapore and Egypt, or with USA and Iceland. You would be very surprised. The installation in Ljubljana, together with an edited collection of comments, short interviews, excerpts from articles and public acts, constitute our notes towards a critical atlas.
We set up a tumblr, to start collecting external contributions: do you have any anecdote, article, or thought that you would like to share?
You can do it on the beta version of the Friction Atlas archive: http://frictionatlas.net/
We would also like to bring our research further by moving beyond prescriptive rules, and including other formal strategies that define "a priori" the possibilities - and the impossibilities - of movement (e.g. public transportation trajectories). Making tangible the invisible text of such implicit rules - which are biopolitical rather then disciplinary - would define - in the words of Andrea Mubi Bringhenti - subjective environments, or horizons, rather than traces and routes.
This is a big challenge, as we really want to keep all the levels of engagement present, especially the most playful.
Thanks Giuditta and Paolo!
Also part of BIO 50: Engine Block. Or how to turn a moped into a boat or a concrete mixer.
Yesterday was the press view of Constructing Worlds: Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age at the Barbican Art Gallery. I eagerly go to those journalist tours because i'm allowed to take photos to my heart's content. The day after it's often strictly verboten.
Constructing Worlds looks at how photographers have documented key moments in the history of 20th and 21st century architecture: the skyscrapers rising up in New York, the remains of an industrial Europe well past its glory days, the glamorous Californian lifestyle of the 1940s, the unstoppable urbanisation of China, the traces of colonization in Africa, the aftermath of the war on Afghanistan, India's enthusiasm for modernity as built in Chandigarh by Le Corbusier, etc.
I was particularly seduced by the photos from the 1930s to 1970s. Their authors looked for beauty and evidences of social changes where most people would have only registered dust and mortar.
Constructing Worlds exhibits the work of 18 photographers only. But that's good enough for me as i'm no fan of those Barbican shows that asphyxiate you by their discouragingly high amount of images and information. I'm therefore going to follow suit and keep my comments short.
In 1929, Berenice Abbott traveled to New York City after having spent eight years in Europe. In her absence, countless 19th-century buildings had been razed to make way for skyscrapers. She decided to stay in the country and document the changing face of the city. By 1940, the photographer had completed "Changing New York," an invaluable historical testimony of a life in Manhattan that has disappeared.
Walker Evans is famous for the work he did for the Farm Security Administration documenting the effects of the Great Depression. I've seen these images several times before but i doubt i'll ever get tired of them. The photos were taken at the same time as Berenice Abbott's.
Guy Tillim's work examines modern history in Africa against the backdrop of its colonial and post-colonial architectural heritage.
Constructing Worlds: Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age is at the Barbican Art Gallery until 11 January 2015.
I just spent a few days in Ljubljana for BIO 50. It's a design biennial and i know i keep shouting around that i often find design dull and pretentious but that particular biennial was anything but boring. Or pompous. But more about that in later posts.
The event positioned design as a space for collaboration, experimentation and enquiry. Nine themes were explored and the one that i -surprisingly- found most fascinating dealt with the future of transportation. Called Engine Blocks, the project was led by designers Gaspard Tiné-Berès and Tristan Kopp of Re-do Studio who chose to work with Tomos, a Slovenian manufacturer of mopeds.
The result of the collaboration focuses on the mechanical essence of vehicles and uses one Tomos engine as an ever-adaptable, hackable and interchangeable element that can be transferred to different vehicles, machines and contexts.
The Engine Block group envisions a not so distant-future when instead of buying the latest model of a vehicle or machine, people will be able to take (post-)post-industrialisation into their own hands and use a unique modular engine that they can re-purpose and customize to their specific needs.
Re-Do-Studio, Engine block
Engine Block is for me what design should be: it is imaginative, critical and down to earth. It doesn't pretend to change and save the world but that doesn't stop it from suggesting valid ideas, scenarios and models.
I asked the members of Re-do Studio more details about the project:
I found it amazing that one engine could end up being able to power so many different tools and vehicles. But was the whole process as easy as it sounds? Can you really plug one engine into different context and make it work? Is there really no limit to what this engine and a bit of imagination can do?
Well this particular engine is quite a simple one so it wasn't such a big problem to make it work on the different machines, but it obviously needs a bit of time to attach it properly before you can run the machines. And about the efficiency, it's an engine that has been design to power a small scooter so obviously it's not ideal for the other machines, but our intention was not to make the most efficient machine more to talk about how industrial product can always be used for a different purposes than what it was designed for.
What were the most challenging moments and steps in the Engine Block project?
So, the project started with a Slovenian industrial partner, TOMOS the brand that produced the engine, and about 2 month before the opening of the show they went bankrupt and told us that they was not allowed to give anything from the factory.... not even an engine ...
So that was quite challenging, but it actually triggered a larger reflection and debates with the participants that enriched the project and helped us push the statement further, we then decided to change the scenography and to make a sci-fi style movie, enlarged the group and everybody had a great time conceiving and shooting the movie so we think that everybody actually made an advantage out of this problem, so it was great...
Why did you decide to show the final works as museum pieces?
The project is showing a close and apocalyptic future where the economic crisis destroyed the local industry, and a guy fixes old tools by using a unique engine to run all of them. This idea of standardised components and especially energy source has been there for years in the industry and it is the most rational way to run a range of tools, but lately industrial product tend to produce more and more unaccessible, unfixable and unadaptable goods. We basically state that humans will always finds ways to hack and tweak even the most complex industrially-made product, to propose more rational and sensible way to use them.
So the idea of showing the product as archeological piece was to express this idea of a important shift in the design world when people had to go back to put their hand inside the goods and finds ways to fix them, stating that even if the industry would collapse the people will still go back to the most logical solutions...
So to try to make it clear; we are showing a near future but in the past tense, with archeological pieces that express the importance of a big change or rupture in the relationship people have with goods and the moment we might have to go back to fix and hack them again rather then buying the latest versions.
Thanks Gaspard and Tristan!
Over the years, Burnham-on-Sea, a seaside resort in Somerset has been regularly affected by tidal flooding. As a response, a high wall was erected along the coastline, returning waves back to the sea. The 1.6 kilometres long and 3.2 metres high sea wall regulates access to the sea by a series of raised steps and vehicle access points which can be closed during storms.
As part of her BA Design course at Goldsmiths, designer Hannah Fasching decided to make use of that gigantic wall and reacquaint the inhabitants of the town with the intertidal zone, the space between the high and low tide. She organized a screening along the sea wall, using footage shot in the 1930s, before the wall was built. The films shows how people used to ride bicycles and do sport on the beach and how in the past, the seafront functioned as a vibrant cultural hub.
The project, called the Intertidal Cinema, established a conversation with this architecture of control and neutralization. It also looked at how new relationships can be established between humans and the temporary spaces provided by nature.
Can we continue to exist within an infrastructure that seeks to not only resist, but nullify natural forces? How might we approach increasingly fragile sites in a way that challenges the inherited attitude of conquering nature as though it were an opponent? Can the temporary spaces that occur naturally in the environment provide us with a new way in which design can operate?
Hannah has recently exported the project to London. For three nights, she turned the tidal beach of Deptford creek into a social space. I caught up with Hannah to have her talk about the project in general and about the film she projected in Deptford.
Hi Hannah! Could you first tell me again the story of that beautiful vintage cinema sign we see emerging from the water in Burnham-on-Sea?
The first Intertidal Cinema took place in Burnham-on-Sea's intertidal zone, between high and low tide. We stood the sign in the mudflats on the beach at low tide. What we didn't realise at the time was that the speed of the tide coming in depends mainly on the bank of the beach and that the flats being 'flat' submerge within minutes. Thinking we had time to play the film and collect it afterwards, at sunset, just as the film began playing we turned around just in time to see a wave sweep away the bottom rung of letters. And a few minutes later the whole sign was submerged; an unexpected but appropriate demise.
What made you chose Deptford Creek for the second edition of the IC, rather than any other area by the river bank?
Deptford is at a pivotal point in its history, the waterfront that I remember less than a year ago is now unrecognisable. As a former royal dock, it has evolved from an area defined by its natural topography into an area characterised by rapid urbanisation and gentrification.
In Deptford, much like in Burnham, there is an abrupt contrast between the natural and artificial landscape though the artificial is much more dominant here. The tidal river, Ravensbourne runs from the Thames through Deptford and creates an intertidal zone fluctuating 7m in the heart of Deptford.
As a project that explores this relationship by creating social spaces in temporary environments, taking the project to Deptford meant it developing in a new way.
I've never been there but i had a look on google image. It seems to be a radically different from Burnham. How is the tidal creek of Deptford used now? Is there any social activity there?
Things do happen here, but many are not specifically tied to the river. There is a big community of artists along this part of the river, with studio spaces and galleries as well The Laban Dance Centre, which was built 11 years ago.
The creek creates a unique wildlife area which the local authorities are keen to preserve. The creekside centre, an educational facility, provide tidal walks once a month on the creek. The ahoy centre, a charity in Deptford based on the waterfront, encourage water activities and sports on the river. The Ha'Penny hatch bridge, which can open to allow boats to pass, is a public walkway with many commuters passing over every day. The creek runs underneath this bridge.
How did you make the space more comfortable and enjoyable for people?
Holding a cinema in an area where it doesn't normally function instantly transforms it. Using the bridge as a watching platform, we projected onto structures which faced out onto the creek. One of the projections leaned out over the bridge, projecting vertically onto the water. The cinema took place as the tide was going out, as the water emptied from the creek the projection became clearer, until it eventually hit the rocks below the surface. The tide became the factor which focused the image.
Could you talk to us about the Deep Ford film? It seems to be very different from the film you showed in Burnham.
The film in Burnham consisted of archive footage, a window into the history of the seafront before the wall.
In Deptford it's more of a contemporary take on gentrification and how the area has developed relating back to the history of the dock.
The Deep Ford is a reference to the ford on which Deptford developed. The film shows historical architectures and landmarks around Deptford, many of which played an important part in the shipping industry. Voices of people who were interviewed as part of the project are used to animate these architectures, each voice representing a different place, as though the places are talking to you. These people are people who live, grew up and work in Deptford, but also people involved with how it's changing such as redevelopers. The physical space starts to take on the voice of the social.
Why do you think that it is important that humans (re)connect with natural forces?
To use a quote from Wendell Berry, a poet, environmental activist and cultural critic:
"The cities have forgot the earth and will rot at heart till they remember it again."
Wendell Berry, 1969
In its broadest context the project is about climate change, though it addresses in a different way than a project that might involve weather robots and cloud seeding. I think what is required is an increased understanding of the natural environment, but it seems to me that the well documented expansion of cities is fundamentally incompatible with this. A city is essentially a hardscape.
Using an extreme example; Tokyo as a city sitting on a tectonic boundary, is in permanent conflict with it's natural surroundings. The strict building codes in Tokyo mean that the architecture responds the the natural surroundings. Building foundations are built to move with seismic activity. If our natural environment is to be increasingly volatile, a failure to understand and act in relation to it will only ever cause problems.
The Intertidal cinema that took place in Deptford works in direction relation to the tide, using this force to focus the image of the projection.
Your project explores ways for people to "experience the extremes of the environmental conditions'. Is that out of concern for the future of a country threatened by sea rising?
It can't not be. The project began by documenting an area of land artificially lower than sea level, and suffers from flooding as a result (Somerset).
If the sea is rising what will our relationship with it be?
I think this is already happening, this relationship is being configured through sea wall's and flood defences. Whether it's on the coast in Burnham or in the city of London. They both dissolve the relationship with the water and are also potentially apocalyptic because of the risk of them failing.
What's next for the Intertidal Cinema?
Following on from the last answer, I see the project developing towards larger scale responses to the temporary spaces in the natural environment.