Book review – The Politics of the Impure


The Politics of the Impure, edited by Joke Brouwer, Arjen Mulder and Lars Spuybroek (available on amazon USA and UK.)

NAI Publishers and V2_ say: Modernist belief was informed by the vision of technology as a tool of reduction, purifying nature from a state of randomness into one of cleansed controllability and perfection. It was not just the art of modernism that was all about purity and the search for abstraction, the same logic and politics of purity were also at work in rationalized agriculture, refined food, urban planning, population control, and the experience of the Other, both as the goal and the legitimization of the means to reach that goal. With amazing, world changing consequences – but also with devastating effects for the environment, climate, cultural diversity, biopolitics, and city and country life.

This book investigates this urge for the pure, but also advocates a much deeper need for the impure, not to reinstate a new organicism or back-to-nature movement, but to trace progression to a point where all modernist values reverse, where technology becomes an agent for the impure and the imperfect. Technology, long an agent for homogeneity and purity, is now turning into one for heterogeneity and global contingency.


knowbotic research, macghillie (remnant)


knowbotic research, macghillie (Deposit in Public Library Essen)

I’ve been guilty of a “don’t judge a book by its cover’ offense. I almost recoiled in horror when i saw the design of The Politics of the Impure. Heavy book, flamboyant design, golden cover. When i finally decided to open the illuminated manuscript, i realized that it was probably the publication most relevant to my interests i could have received this year.

Lars Spuybroek presents ‘The Politics of the Impure’


Herwig Weiser, Lucid Phantom Messenger, 2010

The Politics of the Impure alternates presentations of art works with interviews or essays by thought-provoking thinkers. Their conversations oscillate between the ‘right here, right now’ and the tomorrow. Whether they are activists, socio-biologists, artists, science-fiction writers or philosophers, the contributors to the book deal with mess in all its guises.

Academic, journalist and activist Raj Patel calls for a more democratic food system which he calls “food sovereignity”; sociologist and economist Gunnar Heinsohn discusses violence, education, integration and lost generations; Arjun Appadurai explores possible ways to deal with intolerance, minorities and fanaticism on a day to day basis; Arjen Mulder investigates what is left of the so-called “European spirit”; artist and architect Lars Spuybroek has an essay about the use, meaning and purpose of ornaments in culture; (controversial) biologist and geologist Lynn Margulis answers questions about bacteria, their creativity, gene exchange and autopoiesis (the whole interview was so fascinating i wish i could copy/paste it here), designer Christian Unverzagt pens the obligatory essay about garbage, except that what he has to say about it is everything but banal; the interview with writer Bruce Sterling drives you from Tokyu Hands department store to Luxembourg, via supervolcanoes and Casablanca. The list of essays and interviews goes on and on.


Ken Rinaldo and Amy Youngs, Farm Fountain

Each of them is followed by the presentation of an artwork that gives a form to the impurity at the heart of the book. The model is one page of bio and description of the work + a dozen pages of photos to illustrate the piece. There’s Ken Rinaldo and Amy Youngs, Herwig Weiser, P.A.P.A. (Participating Artists Press Agency), Casey Reas, Tord Boontje, Knowbotc Research, Driessens & Verstappen and Wim Delvoye.


P.A.P.A. (Participating Artists Press Agency), Public Bedroom in São Paulo,


P.A.P.A. (Participating Artists Press Agency), Asleep in Lagos


P.A.P.A. (Participating Artists Press Agency), In Lagos again

This book is exciting every step of the way (except that i clearly don’t get its design). You might not agree with every statement and idea put forward by the experts called to participate to The Politics of the Impure but that’s what makes the book so engaging. The bold opinions shared in the book are bound to make you put it down and reflect about some of today’s most chaotic issues.