23 March 2013

Objective Properties

Alberto Toscano of the Cartographies of the Absolute blog writing about the spatial logic of capital, quantified bucolia, and the "neutron bomb school of photography" as typified by the work of "New Topography" photographer Lewis Baltz...

"When the landscape is not scoured for traces — aftermaths of trauma, indices of futures past — its indeterminacy is most often coded as indifference: the indifference of modularity and iteration across social spaces, the indifference of concrete abstraction (pun intended). It is an indifference remarkable for its ubiquity and magnitude, as well as for the sheer scale of its continued reproduction — tract homes all the way into a vanished horizon, container terminals that never sleep, banks of screens in a stock exchange.

"It should come as no surprise that landscape — that prime terrain for the assertion of the view from power — should have been thematized in the 1970s as the emblem of a kind of inhuman subsumption. With the urbanization of capital transmuting the lived and visible landscape into a social factory — especially evident in once-rural suburban and functional milieus — built space attained an experiential, as well as an allegorical, status that it didn’t previously enjoy. This was especially so in those places where postwar 'planner-states' enabled an accelerated industrialization, as seen in the massive industrial establishments in Michelangelo Antonioni’s seemingly depopulated Po valley. It is worth dwelling on two salient approaches to representing landscape in the shadow of these shifts, found in the work of the photographers surrounding the 1975 'New Topographics' exhibition, with its attention to the suburbanization of habitation and production in the American West, and the landscape theory (fukeiron) proposed by militant artists in Japan in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

"Aside from their foregrounding of 'landscape' as medium, object, and in a sense subject of their work, these otherwise unconnected aesthetic practices share some telling formal traits. In both cases, vistas are vanquished (and if they open up, it is only into a kind of orthogonal featurelessness). The built world is encountered frontally, deadpan. Captions are minimal, doing little of the critical work famously invoked by Brecht and Benjamin. Spaces are depopulated and if humans appear it is in the kind of routine everydayness that sees them circulate obediently through the built world — which is ironic, given that demographic density is a significant feature of the processes that produce these spatial figures. [...]"

Or: How the production of pantyhose and megadeath intersect in the shaped environment of the industrial park. The full essay "The Equator of Alienation" appears in the 2012 edition of the Taipei Biennial journal.

Also in the same edition, Henri Lefebvre's "The Manipulations of Time," and excerpt from Michael Taussig's 1984 essay "History as Sorcery," and -- curiously -- a extract from Ian Svenonius's The Psychic Soviet.

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