31 January 2011

Airwave Dreams (or: Pink Guitars vs. the Negative Dialectic)

A bit belatedly, finally getting around to giving Jim/James Ferraro's On Air and Night Dolls with Hairspray a proper listen. I've been enjoying them, or (more accurately) finding them highly interesting and sweetly warped.

At any rate, On Air has its share of retrograde synthscapery à la Boards of Canada, Ghost Box, Oneohtrix Point Never -- yknow, the base ingredients for damn near the entire menu at the "glo-fi"/"chill-wave"/hypnagogic noodleshop, of late. Or it has it in parts. But the rewarding moments, for me, are the more lo-fi guitar-oriented, collage-y stretches; the tracks that come across as some crude aural facsimile to the act of tooling around the radio dial sometime about 1986 or so. The cultural mulchifying in these parts is pretty first-rate, in an amusingly wonky way. Sure, it owes much of its modus to an idiomatic loop-based construction, the sort what's been around for ages in one form or another, and what Black Dice help put over to larger audiences in recent years. In fact, some portions of On Air remind me of the more delirious and playful moments from the latter's catalog...

But really, all the ironic cultural reference points and supposed hauntological retro-rama recycling aside, if I get any major sense of deja vu from the thing, it's that much of it uncannily reminds me (in general style and spirit, at least) of The Residents' Third Reich 'n Roll. The Residents' album, naturally, is of a completely different era and pedigree, falling much closer and mostly in line with the whole Freak Out! school of pop satire.1, 2

But it gets back to thinking about the whole "hauntological" aesthetic, as its been delineated in certain quarters. It seems some more discussion and explications have passed under the bridge since the last time I was paying much attention. In which case, perhaps doing some catching up is in order before I start winding up for a pitch.

Anyway, speaking of uncanny resemblances and loop-based compositions, someone recently brought this to my attention, which very strongly put me in mind of this favorite artist, except some years before the fact.

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1 Admittedly, Ferraro's musical aims may be little or no different from what the Residents had in mind at the time -- i.e., a type of sardonic shredding of pop music's past. The difference being that when the Residents did it, it didn't dovetail into any emerging theoretical discussion, didn't fall within any sort discursive context or overarching aesthetic rubric, because there was no such thing or anything remotely like it at the time. One key difference being, however, that the Residents were dismembering the hits of the (then-)
recent past, whereas Ferraro is revisiting the sounds of an era of a more distant past -- the era that fell (I'm guessing) about or just before the date of his own birth. That latter aspect being something that I expect will factor into my next post on the matter.

2. Placing Third Reich 'n Roll in the Freak Out! tradition is an pretty obvious choice, I suppose -- what, given its proximity (in terms of style, time, geographics) to the formative pop-parodic work of Zappa and Beefheart. But it could be strongly argued that TRnR falls more squarely in the realm of proto-punk/postmodern sensibilities of the 1970s, but a sort that smacks of po-mo ironic distanciation and critical self-awareness. From the sound of it, with TRnR the Residents were having a lot of fun dismembering the hits of the 1960s. But the album's energy and jouissance is at times undergirded by a purgative, exorcistic sense of urgency at times; as if by scraping the music of the prior decade, the Residents were also dismantling the decade's myths -- the varied myths of progress and naive utopianism. Along with these myths, so to with the notion of pop/rock music as a cultural product of supposed socio-political significance; with the Residents opting treating the 1960s hit parade as nothing more than a menagerie of commodified fantasies and desires.

And in relation to all this looking-back-on-looking-forward business is concerned, one could situate all of this into the context of the emergent nostalgia industry in the 1970s, particularly in punk/po-mo relation to the release of the Lenny Kaye-complied Nuggets anthology. But I've probably gotten too digressively off-track as it is, so best to leave it as it is for now.

28 January 2011


Above are works by British photographer Jonathan Andrew, who recently did a photo series of abandoned WWII bunkers Maginot and Atlantic Lines in the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. Of course, some of this amounts to retracing the footsteps theorist Paul Virilio took many years ago, which ultimately resulted in his book Bunker Archeology. In an interview with CTheory back in 2000, Virilio discussed the origins of the his book and photographs:

I have always been interested in the architecture of war, as can be seen in Bunker Archeology. However, at the time that I did the research for that book, I was very young. My aim was to understand the notion of 'Total War'. As I have said many times before, I was among the first people to experience the German Occupation of France during the Second World War. I was 7-13 years old during the War and did not really internalise its significance. More specifically, under the Occupation, we in Nantes were denied access to the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. It was therefore not until after the War was over that I saw the sea for the first time, in the vicinity of St Nazaire. It was there that I discovered the bunkers. But what I also discovered was that, during the War, the whole of Europe had become a fortress. And thus I saw to what extent an immense territory, a whole continent, had effectively been reorganised into one city, and just like the cities of old. From that moment on, I became more interested in urban matters, in logistics, in the organisation of transport, in maintenance and supplies.

Coincidentally enough, it looks like Virilio's book has just been republished by Princeton Architectural Press, perhaps due to the coffee-table cult status it attained since its last printing over a decade ago.

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Speaking of theorists and things from a decade ago, I'd long ago seen these, but had entirely forgotten about them...

{ here }

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Spam architecture by Alex Dragulescu, looking like a cross between Lebbeus Woods and something from an Autechre video.

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Undercity, a short film by Andrew Wonder. An excursion into the hidden sublayer of New York, as led by Steve Duncan, whose site of the same name is a repository of "guerilla history" and urb-ex info.

27 January 2011

Throwback NYC in Miniature

Something I happened across in the course of scrounging around and researching the two pieces linked to in the prior post. A miniature trainset recreation of an NYC upper borough neighborhood circa 1980-ish. (Guardian Angels action figures old separately.) More about the photographer Peter Feigenbaum and his project here, and it turns out TMN interviewed him about his project, as well...

TMN: Why did you pick '80s-era ghettos?

PF: Can’t explain why I like what I like. But I guess I have this fascination with urban wildness—it’s a way for me to objectify an urban experience that’s quite different from my current scenario. Nostalgia for an era that I never experienced? I was also inspired by a lot of location-heavy graffiti and crime films from the late 1970s/early '80s as well. I also have a dark sense of humor!

And later in the interview...

I still have a fetish for Corbusian Brutalism -- I really liked the decaying/futuristic housing projects in Scampia near Naples that figured prominently in Matteo Garrone’s film Gomorrah.

Too amusing. And he has an architecture degree from Yale.

26 January 2011

Strategies Against Architecture

Just a heads-up that I posted a new (and somewhat sprawling) bit up at one of the off-site venues. Turned out the thing needed more legroom than I'd expected, so it became a two-parter. And it deals with a lot of what I normally traffic in here -- a compressed gloss of things I've touched upon previously, and which I intended to address in a more detailed and in-depth manner in future posts on this blog.

The first part is on the socio-economics of NYC and the South Bronx in the 1970s, here. The follow-up is an overview of the work of Gordon Matta-Clark in relation to the preceding, here.

25 January 2011

(It Was) The Economy, Stupid

(1) Proto-'ruin porn' -- complete with quasi-Wagnerian Philip Glass score -- by way of an old panoramic cult film, and (2) the ossified cliché, via the PBS version of Robert Hughes's The Shock of the New, versus (3) a belated re-framing of the narrative?

The verdict about the "death of Modernism," it long seemed to me, was a dubious one. The argument being that Le Corbu and those like him imposed their ideas in a top-down fashion -- inhumanly idealistic and utopian, they failed to account for social dynamics, for human needs. And so thusly their projects were doomed to failure. Essentially, the argument goes, their vision was a strictly aesthetic one. Yet the critics often failed or neglected to properly contextualize the reasons for Modernism's supposed demise in the first place, never addressed any of the core factors (economic, public policy, etc.) that brought it to pass. Meaning: In lieu of truly accounting for the social and sociological factors, the critique carries little weight -- ultimately amounting to little more than a condemnation that is merely aesthetic in its thrust. Thereby re-perpetuating the very failure it decries.

24 January 2011

Drive-By Shootings

Above are excerpts from photographer Michael Wolf's series The Architecture of Density, shot in Hong Kong and dating from 2006. In some aspects Wolf's series is representative of a certain trend we've seen in a lot of photography in recent years -- work that addresses specific recurring themes, especially those of the architectural manifestations of the globalized economy, urban density and sprawl, environment degradation, etc. Positively Ballardian? Yes.

But a more common theme that underlies much of Wolf's work seems to hinge on the production of social space in the contemporary urban landscape. It makes for intriguing documentation of human activity in the public domains of everyday life, of the "to-ing and fro-ing" between the open interstices and sheltering recesses of city streets, revealing some of ways in which people engage -- or disengage -- from their physical environment. (To say nothing of the issues of surveillance and voyuerism that immediately come to mind.)

Wolf's most recent exhibition is of the series Paris Street View, culled from (as you might've guessed) Google's Street View. He's done similar projects on this theme from a couple of other cities, including New York City. Between the various locations, he was also able to spin off a newer subset entitled Fuck You, Google Street View. About the use of Street View images, Wolf recently explained:

"It's a form of appropriation and I’m making it my own. They have copyright notices every 10 inches or so on every Google image, so you can see it in some of my photographs. I have images I'm showing in Paris of the sky and there's a 'Google copyright 2009' in the sky. I would look intentionally for the copyright sign to make a point. As Google, you can’t go and do this without asking people and expect to have ownership--and they’re making money off it, putting ads and stuff."

Effectively it's the blue-chip postmodern game of appropriation, except sans issues of "authorship" and originality and instead filtered through the more contemporary hot-button concerns swarming around copyright law, intellectual property, ownership and piracy, and the like. Judging from Wolf's Copy Artists series from 2006, it would appear that this is yet another conceptual trope that runs through some of the work. Later in the same interview at TMN, however, Wolf addresses the issue of privacy and indiscriminate surveillance/documentation. Worth reading in full.

20 January 2011

One of Many Hobbies

An interesting riff from Simon Reynolds. Interesting because it squarely hits on some things I've had on my own mind for some time, and I'm intrigued to see that he more or less arrives at the same conclusion that I have. (And does so far more succinctly and eloquently, of course.)

Simon's responding to a happened-upon pair of posts (here and here), which caused him to share a few thoughts about the connection between politics, "digimodern" "pseudo-participations," and the shapings-up of contemporary cultural landscape. He also -- more specifically -- wonders if the blog author "is using the term 'spectacle' in the Guy Debord sense of the word or whether he's just fastened upon the word unawares of its applications."

I can definitely see why Simon would be curious, would wonder about a connection. At times, the phrasing at times ("The sign of ideology is the spectacle.") closely shadows that of Dubord & co., though I suspect it's by mere chance. I suspect the author of the posts in question just happened to chose that particular word to embody the concept he was crafting. After all, some have pointed out vague similarities between Debord's theory of the Spectacle and Daniel Boorstin's discussion (c. 1961) of "the Image." And my guess would be that what the blogger had in mind was probably more akin to the latter.

18 January 2011


Expectoration, December 2005, Darrow, LA (detail)

Untitled, June 2010, Gulf of Mexico (detail)

Nightmare, Carville, LA, 2010

Gangrene, Luling, LA, 2010

By way of the latest photo gallery at The Morning News, above is some work by eco-minded photographer J. Henry Fair, from his recent series Industrial Scars. Fair's been doing a great deal of work on this theme, much of which has been collected and is about to published in book form, which is to be published sometime this month.

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And once again, because critical discussion on this topic seems to being going full pitch these days, over at Guernica contributor John Patrick Leary weighs in on the recent trend of "Detroitsploitation":

Ruin photography, in particular, has been criticized for its 'pornographic' sensationalism, and my bookseller friend won't sell much of it for that reason. And others roll their eyes at all the positive attention heaped on the young, mostly white 'creatives,' which glosses over the city's deep structural problems and the diversity of ideas to help fix them. So much ruin photography and ruin film aestheticizes poverty without inquiring of its origins, dramatizes spaces but never seeks out the people that inhabit and transform them, and romanticizes isolated acts of resistance without acknowledging the massive political and social forces aligned against the real transformation, and not just stubborn survival, of the city. And to see oneself portrayed in this way, as a curiosity to be lamented or studied, is jarring for any Detroiter, who is of course also an American, with all the sense of self-confidence and native-born privilege that we’re taught to associate with the United States.

Quite a long and thorough piece -- comprehensive, intelligent, and astute. Full article here.

About the only question I have from reading the thing is...someone's making a Red Dawn 2?

(And no, I haven't been researching this topic lately. Just seems like it keeps popping up in a number of places.)

17 January 2011

Histories of the Immediate Future

A mini-travelogue highlighting the new and sparkling modern architecture of several British towns in the late '60s, via a book entitled Colour in Shopping - A Visual Survey, British Paint Prize, 1968. Via Between Channels, who has so far posted excerpts from four segments of the book [here, here, and here.] The slightly darkened, slightly jaundiced look of the aged and informal Instamatic snapshots gives these pics a special appeal that's appropriate to the subject.

All the shots of shopping centers remind me of another thing I stumbled upon recently -- a site that documents the locations for the 1976 sci-fi film Logan's Run, much of which it appears was shot in a mall and various commercial spaces in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

Somewhat related to the top item but from a more contemporary perspective, one blogger's two favorite things -- Brutalism and Booze.

16 January 2011


Jane Jacobs might've told 'em as much...

"Now there are signs that the cult of clean has overshot its utility. [Spacings senior editor Dylan] Reid connects cleanliness to problems like 'bigger roads, sanitized suburbs, and failed megaprojects that destroyed the complex ecology of cities even as they tried to revive them.'

'Messy urbanism' is the term coined for an alternative to all of this neatness; it’s an attempt to strike a compromise between the need for order and maintaining the unplanned, energetic, and chaotic nature of city life. Not only does the nascent movement espouse structural diversity—old alongside the new, expensive alongside the cheap—it encourages looser governance and a higher tolerance for disorder.

Street food carts are a perfect example: They’re banned or highly regulated in most places. Yet, Reid points out, a sociologist studying New York City found that a solitary hot dog vendor can bring an entire plaza to life. For all the wannabe policy makers out there who are trying to kick-start stalled metropolises, that’s food for thought."

15 January 2011

Ruin Porn Reprise

Hyperallergic contributor Kyle Chayka posting about a recent edition of WNYC's Studio 360 that addresses the recent cultural meme of 'ruin porn'...

In the apex of our era of high-flying capitalism, Detroit ruin porn functions as just such a momento mori, a call to remember that the same fate as Motor City could befall all of our great cities, all of our unstable accomplishments. I think Detroit ruin porn is so popular, and such a well-traveled visual avenue, in part because we want to be reminded that it could all fail. The voyeurism isn't just gawking at the old buildings; it's gawking at the possibility and the danger of death.

Which more or less covers my own thoughts on the topic some time ago; as well as echoing what Dylan Trigg, a number of Urb Ex-ers, and anyone who's ever given the matter a little bit of contextual thought might've said on the matter, as well.

And it seems this is the meme that's going to keep giving for a while, because Sean O'Hagan also had a piece on the topic in the Guardian a couple weeks ago, specifically about the noted Detroit work of photographers Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre and their book The Ruins of Detroit. O'Hagan provides a bit of pertinent background info about the duo:

Marchand (29) and Meffre (23) have been taking photographs together since they first met in 2002. They are both children of Paris's banlieue, hailing from the southern suburbs of the city. Without formal training, they describe themselves as 'autodidacts who share an obsession with ruins', which, says Meffre, 'allow you to appear to enter a different world, a lost world, and to report back from there'.

Having photographed old buildings -- 'mainly disused theatres' -- in Paris, they happened upon an image of Michigan Central train station in Detroit while surfing the internet for pictures of abandoned buildings. 'It was so stately and so dramatic that we decided right then we had to go,' says Meffre, 'but we were naive; we had no idea of the scale of the project, of the vastness of downtown Detroit and its ruins. There is nothing comparable in Europe.'

All of which mean, I suppose, that we'll continue to hear more on the topic in the future. Perhaps at some point there'll be some international academic symposium at some point, one involving a call for papers from scholars from a variety of disciplines (cultural studies, sociology, urban studies, art and architectural history, philosophy, etc.), with a published collection of the contributions appearing after the fact.

14 January 2011

Mere Formality

Žižek on Wikileaks, 'necessary' fictions, and the paradox of public space:

"There has been, from the outset, something about [WikiLeaks's] activities that goes way beyond liberal conceptions of the free flow of information. We shouldn’t look for this excess at the level of content. The only surprising thing about the WikiLeaks revelations is that they contain no surprises. Didn’t we learn exactly what we expected to learn? The real disturbance was at the level of appearances: we can no longer pretend we don’t know what everyone knows we know."

Full piece at the LRB.

Interestingly: The core of Žižek's piece is effectively an echo of what Umberto Eco's comments of weeks ago. But whereas Eco's thesis constituted little more than a cynical shrug, Žižek steers it in the direction of a substantive critique.

Here's to keeping up appearances.

{via biblioklept}

Winter Now

R.I.P. Trish Keenan.


Time to take a short music break. This is a Public...Service...Announcement. With wobble....

Steinski, still the man.

On the Poverty of Student Life, Redux

"The spatial politics of the occupations themselves are obviously worth consideration," writes Owen Hatherly in an article about recent student unrest and the aesthetics of occupation in the U.K.. Via Afterall:

"It's also a reminder that students were encouraged under New Labour to be an ideal combination of indentured serfs and aspirant yuppies. The actual conditions of students' existence in the 2000s, from the poverty of their housing, to their catastrophic debt, to their part-time jobs in call centres, to their years of unpaid intern labour, were bleak indeed; but all was hidden by an oxymoronic language of inclusivity and privilege -- they might have been living in cupboards, but they were cupboards with plasma screen TVs; they might have felt underpaid, overworked and tithed, but were also constantly reminded of how lucky they were to enjoy the hedonistic student lifestyle. Suddenly, under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, one half of that bargain -- the expansion of education that accompanied its part-privatisation -- has disappeared, and we're now witnessing the fallout. So it's worth keeping New Labour's student architecture -- desperately private, paranoid, gated, restricted, securitised -- in mind when you think of the occupations of universities that have been such an important part of the student protests. Implicitly or explicitly, this is the kind of space they are reacting against. It is a protest against the coalition, to be sure, but it's also a magnificent rejection of the fear, quietism and atomisation that was the result of earlier policies. The students' use of space is equally fearless. ..."

Full article here.

12 January 2011

Unintentionally Topical

Semi-lenghty guest post of mine up at one of the outboard venues. Something along the order of: "The Quest for Fame in the 'Me Decade': Political Assassination as Theater of the Absurd." Link here.

I wanted to work in something about Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme as well, but couldn't without it over-burdening the thing (re: "fact fatigue") or it veering into tangentiality. Shrug.

06 January 2011


As far as failed urban housing projects go, Le Corbusier's "Unités d'habitations" gets beat up on all the time. It's something of overplayed anti-Modernist cliché, innit?

Above, we have photos by Berlin-based photographer Tobias Zielony, images that accompanied his recent video project Le Vele di Scampia. The project takes its name from its subject, the "Le Vele" ("The Sails") public housing district in Naples. Designed by architect Franz Di Salvo, the project was completed and opened in 1975. Having been a reputed haven for squatters, drug trafficking, and various mafia activities over the years, the complex is apparently in the process of being gradually demolished, as it has been deemed a municipal failure.

As the exhibit's press release has it:

Only about a hundred families – the last remaining assignees and occupants – still live in the buildings, which have now been reduced to ghostlike ruins. Consisting of 7000 shots taken at night with a digital reflex camera, and edited at an artificial speed, the Le Vele di Scampia photographic animation uses the language of cinema to convey the deprivations of those who live in or frequent these places.

... As well as the subsidised-housing districts and the authorised private-cooperative “parks”, this part of the city is also home to a Rom camp – on the landings of the light-blue Vela (“housing units” for the designer) – with American sub-culture models (hip hop and breakdance, for example), which are local versions of global codes and the only means of reacting to boredom and urban decay, overlapping and interacting with a very strong local identity. ...This is why, more than in other metropolitan areas, [Zielony's] work has been influenced by the very particular characteristics of the context, which is afflicted by a staggering level of unemployment among the young (50%), in which there are both widespread forms of illegality and some sparse centres of cultural resistance which, through a pervasive system of associations, has led to social initiatives of various types.

The film also recently served as the setting for the 2008 film Gommora.

As a matter of fact, there's the Public Housing Archive blog, which appears to have stalled some time ago after a mere two posts. It's two entries? Le Vele,...and Chicago's Cabrini Green. So I suppose that means the two are/were worthy companions.

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(On a side note: Apologies for the dearth of posts recently. A couple of months ago, the opportunity popped up for me to net some desperately-needed income. I was pulled onto a publishing project, and it's kept me busy plowing through boocoo manuscript in recent weeks. That, and the holidays, plus I've been drafting some things for that guest-blogging venture I mentioned earlier.)

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