“DEMILIT’s tour made the relationships between all of these systems of power, infrastructure, and urban design blatantly obvious. The most visible aspects of our country’s surveillance ecosystem, the security cameras and police cars, are merely one small aspect of a much larger ecology of which we can barely see. While in the Rotunda Building housing the DHS offices, we were not allowed to photograph anything. The security apparatus is designed to be opaque, and while I’d argue the Snowden revelations have shown the level of secrecy has gone much too far, the invisibility of other infrastructures is equally alarming.”—Ben Valentine, Exposing Our Infrastructure: MacroCity Conference Reveals the Secret Machinery of Cities - Core77
Thanks everyone who came to our MacroCity walk in Oakland! We’ll continue charting and investigation this geography, but for now, here is a selected bibliography that helped prepare this tour, as a PDF…
And our final walk map, left in Oakland for other people to explore…
Podcast — A Weaponized Urbanity: Morning Drift in Militarized Downtown Oakland
On an average, sunny day in Oakland, we took a walk to discuss the commonplace securitization of the downtown environment. “We observe objects and spaces that are produced by securitarian logic that often attempt to dissimulate their function by an aesthetic of the ordinary.”
Thanks to Léopold Lambert for having us as guests on Archipelago: The Funambulist podcast. We’re in great company! And congrats on the new Graham grant for more extensive travels and interviews!
The embedded audio is above, but best to enjoy with the whole collection of photos and maps here. itunes link here.
A Proposal for a Monument to Cold War Victory by DM³, 2012-2014.
The Cold War’s victory lies in its ghostly perpetuity throughout society. Its revanchism emerges in paranoid bodies, furtive double takes on crevasses of public space, and fears of fallout burning one’s insides. Augmenting these feelings of uncertainty, a clandestine monument to Cold War victory sprouts from the north pole ice sheet as if seeded by atomic dust blowing in an Arctic wind—a new border wall that divides safety and danger, known and unknown.
Ice Curtain is a terrestrial telescope through which to peer at the many faces of the prohibited. Rare visitors who actually find this monument stare through the thin veils of dry ice, deep past the murky sheets of the Cold War’s walls, to look upon a terrain of classified intelligence. Beyond these numb distortions what one might get is a fleeting breath of a secret history. Ice Curtain is a meditative encounter with the truths and non-truths buried in the Cold War’s marbled obscurity. This icebound barricade is a symbolic looking glass into the refractory clandestine afar—meant to ponder the spatial opacity of the Cold War’s political wake, still unfurling its infrastructure of smoke and mirrors today, still haunting from its historic precipice.
Somewhere on a tenuously-determined continental edge, quietly in danger from the legacies of global climate change, cast in the sights of private satellites monitoring ongoing border conflicts where the Cold War, in fact, is still fought, a longitudinal sinew unravels as a walkable panoramic looking glass to gaze at the Cold War’s persistent black-sited history, framed in the architecture of a classic separation barrier. Upon this surface, solid yet unstable—obstinate but in constant motion—pale imaginaries of these secret histories are conjured in a new scopic regime forged within this glass wall’s frozen gaze. The monument acts as both mirror and archive where all covertness of the Cold War will be melted down into a single pool of memory, once climate change and geopolitical conflict drags the Ice Curtain down.
Water and ice here symbolize the veils of secrecy and the liquidity of truth that we must wade through to find clarity in this spectral past, to capture traces of the unseen as they can be reduced to a new surface, and brought to light over the glacial purity of the whitest landscape. Ice Curtain glimpses and traces the government’s shadowy covert landscape frozen in time, where the Cold War’s victory remains lodged as a neverending wager over a black and white world.
The melting of the wall dissolves the nature of this secrecy, unmoors its trapped truths, and returns the border to lucid amorphousness. Somewhere squirming towards a level surface, sonic ice worms of the clandestine’s echo resound in a warning siren played from an apex where no one can hear, until all is made water again.
DARPA is back with part two of MENTOR, the program that brings makerspaces —and the Pentagon— into high schools. In their own words:
"DARPA’s Manufacturing Experimentation and Outreach Two (MENTOR2) program aims to improve defense readiness by improving the secondary school and post-secondary school education of those who will be called on to utilize, maintain, and adapt high technology systems in low technology environments. MENTOR2 will achieve this goal by developing and demonstrating new teaching tools and materials in the fields of electromechanical design and manufacturing. It is envisioned that project based curricula employing MENTOR2 design and prototyping tools can teach a deeper understanding of high technology systems, and better enable future competence in the maintenance and adaptation of such systems through the manufacture of as-designed components or the design and manufacture of new components."
No word yet on how the first round of MENTOR went. The past iteration of “DARPA High” created waves in the hacker world, perhaps most famously with Mitch Altman’s vocal opposition to military funding for hackers. At the time, Tim O’Reilly (whose organization Make Magazine and Makerfaire received funding) wrote that
@snifty the kids neither know nor care where the funding is coming from. Besides, DARPA is a force for good in the world.
No word at all about the children’s personal records that the Pentagon would presumably be able to scope. No clue if any of the students did ask questions about the funding or what the military does. One to keep a close eye on…
“At one point in time, the duplicitous conglomerate of multinational powers that we will refer to hereafter as ‘emperor’ was satisfied to know that the subject of how people interacted with cities could be sufficiently covered by the simple term urbanism. It always validated the fact that ‘his’ territories could be seen all at once in context, by virtue of one definition, reflecting in a single gaze the totalizing image of limitless sovereignty, as if his entire empire was minted on a rare coin; urbanism as a technology of jurisdiction made royal crest.”—[IN]VISIBLE SITES | This text was commissioned by Joseph Redwood-Martinez for The Exhibition of a Necessary Incompleteness, a part of Timing is Everything (October 3 to December 6, 2013) at the University Art Gallery, University of California, San Diego. Timing is Everything was curated by Michelle Hyun. The fiction was presented as a chapbook freely distributed throughout the duration of the exhibition.
“Yet just as every wall casts a shadow, so too does each inspire its own mechanism of subversion. Each wall invariably serves as the instrument of its own undoing, its own intrinsic failure. Migrants, refugees, smugglers, coyotes, cartels, militants, militaries themselves, and various ‘others’ set in to motion have never failed to devise ingenious ways to pass unseen. The wall is an object that inadvertently designs its own negation in this way. It is a surface ultimately defined by the pressures exerted upon it, destined not to stand as a monument to efficacy but to its own delusional failure.”—Bryan Finoki, Tunneling Borders
Shannon Mattern published an essay in Places on the ontology of “infrastructural tourism.” It’s an essay on the notion that the infrastructures of the globalized, militarized, digitized (&tc…) planet are not really “things.” Instead, they are vast non-things—complicated systems that are neither easily perceivable nor mapped. Infrastructures of myriad types are political circuits and they are lived in plural ways. They grow, change, break, disappear into the earth, come back out of the ground, appear on our phones, consume energy, produce new natures… In short, our lives do not exactly depend on them, as we often like to believe, but rather our lives are shaped in cacophonous ways. We also adapt to the forms of society that relate to these; they affect the experience of time itself, for instance.
And a number of artists are working in ways that deal with these infrastructures, devising new forms of getting to know or sense these. But then what? Shannon’s essay pushes us to think more about intervention, action, participation; in brief terms, who is infrastructure for; who does it affect? Once you begin pulling out that yarn, where does it lead? What affinities begin to form and what actions are taken? We’re thrilled to be in great company with those discussed in this essay—Smudge, Amy Balkin, the LA Urban Rangers, and many more. From our repertoire, Shannon dives into #terraincognita. We’re further prodded here to question methods, participation, and action. It’s a great jumping off point.
The Edward Snowden case is causing quite a stir, not to mention quickly becoming an enormous embarrassment for our journalism caste, which can’t seem to figure out what to make of the leaker. Pathologize his psychology? Outright fault him for his convictions? Undermine the work of the muckrakers, Greenwald and Poitras, who brought his leaks to light? Among the “progressive” and quasi-Left media, the confusion verges on the absurd, directly or indirectly blaming Snowden for causing an international row, even when it becomes more and more evident that the United States—not Wikileaks, Anonymous, or any other—is the world’s greatest hacker.
Central to many ideological claims on both the left and right is the bizarre notion that in order to assess the damage that the United States spy apparatus does, it is necessary for Snowden—not the rogue’s cast in the government—to turn himself in. This startling contradiction hinges on the idea that if Snowden was of a high moral caliber, and his claims were truthful, he’d be “brave enough” to bring his words to court. Such an idea cherry-picks from history, conveniently forgetting routine government abuses. Most famous from this history is Daniel Ellsberg, who eventually turned himself in when his cover was blown and was then (illegally) hounded by the government in order to destroy his case.
Meanwhile, forget all of the fugitives: the CIA rendition thugs, the government officials who approve torture programs, the baby killers behind drones. Who in the news media demands that people like Henry Kissinger turn themselves in to the countries who have sought them since the 1970s? When foreign governments press charges against CIA agents or U.S. officials who approved torture, the press corps shrug it off. One shouldn’t take into account, either, the secret courts with secret evidence, the images of force feeding mechanisms at Guantánamo, and the brutality of solitary confinement. Set aside unjust cases such as those of Jeremy Hammond and Oscar López Rivera, or the hell that a US prosecutor put Aaron Swartz’s through. Forget the scope and scale of the public/private carceral establishment in this country. Instead, simplistically call Snowden’s bravery into question (parroting, by the way, the empty words of the multi-millionaires in Congress). Such is the integrity of the national reportage clan.
Needless to say, then, that there really is no contradiction, at the heart of it all. These sorts of confusing claims can be expected from a state-supporting, NSA-hugging, co-dependent media establishment. (Note: they like leaks — when those come from the White House). No less than three of The New York Times columnists, the former enablers of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, vouched for the NSA spy program, imposing on readers the point of view that the government’s role is to protect national “security,” rather than the basic democratic rights that the state is supposedly built upon (and this, of course, exposes a certain contradiction to the state’s own self-aggrandizing mythology, but we digress).
It’s been more than ten years since 9/11, but the message from a unified political and press elite is the same: fear another attack. No one pauses to seriously address the enrichment of “intelligence” and military contractors, and yet when it comes to other forms of security—security from sexual abuse, police misconduct, war trauma, racial profiling, or hunger—the authorities remains recalcitrant to intervene, thus revealing the untenable nature of the government and the media’s position. Claims, then, that call on Snowden to act in the national best interest only serve to distract attention away from the routine violation of citizens’ rights that take place throughout the body politic, day in and day out.
How to proceed, then? One way is to envision the NSA itself, but not as one might first expect to see it. Behind the hyperventilating confusion-mongering, another series of spaces might come to view, if one cares to look. The forms that need to come to light are the lived contours of the security state — the moving edges, vectors, and territories that have an everyday presence. These are not the outlines that Snowden helped to reveal. Snowden knows the solid architecture of the NSA all too well. (Perhaps this is precisely why he is trying to go underground, and hopefully he will succeed). Put differently: what could be the less-grasped valences of the security apparatus? What elements of the security architecture could never be summarized on a powerpoint slide? For the security state is not only a scalar leviathan—that which would never be domesticable anyway, even if Congress did put its little minds to it. It is a series of relationships that can enmesh and exclude those who would start to unravel those connections.
The everyday of the security state is an always emerging rabble. What’s actually going on behind the scenes would not be terribly surprising, truth be told. It is the business of surveillance, run as a giant institution, with hierarchies and command chains, jealousies and dirty tricks, dry-erase boards, office rules, and sworn allegiances and company barbecues. One could take the approach of measuring stuff in purely physical forms: How many miles of fiber optic does the NSA require? How many teraflop-bytes of data storage? How many Sharpies? How many cubicles; how many codenames—how much of all this stuff? In the end, one would gets an almost infinite and Borgesian infographic—but an infographic nonetheless.
Meanwhile, what are the common extensions of the NSA and the rest of the security state: the next-door neighbor that makes a trust app on a laptop in their garage and licenses it to the government? What are the very particular machinations—the NSA jokes, for instance? Where are the mom-and-pop shops that devise a few lines of code? Who are the otherwise unemployed Hollywood or New York actors, screenwriters, producers, and gaffers that make an NSA recruitment video? Who installs the internet wiretaps, and where do they buy their lunch? Where does the paralegal grab drinks with the data analyst, and what banal intimacies do they share with the bartender?
Snowden (and others before him) revealed a certain “globality” to the NSA. But it is with a whole, vast array of human relationships, transactions, and negotiations with which the security apparatus wraps the world several times over. There seems to be a certain shared pleasure pulsating through the networks, as if delighting in the publicness of their own transgressions—which makes the Snowden revelations something quasi-theatrical; another hedonistic chance to show state power by disciplining him. This flow would be the actual “dark matter” that a salivating agency like DARPA could never boil down into a business requisition. Through the tendrils of this mesh, furthermore, flow the very constructs like “bravery” and “justice,” repeated as mantra, like a glue that bonds the intersections—words that are lobbed against those who poke out of the darkness. Snowden did his part, but it is never enough. Now it’s time to start.
[Note: feel free to share this text or cut-and-paste it; please credit to Demilit]
The city is an open ended puzzle. Terra Incognita is a game of urban exploration. With the help of the DEMILIT Collective, we will be discovering the city anew and making the familiar unfamiliar and either way It will be a great way to spend a spring afternoon in Oakland. The Game: Puzzles begin with placing the first piece. Take the plunge. Play a game. Enter Terra Incognita. Start an infinite geographical puzzle. Explore your routine world in a way you wouldn’t even recognize. Study your city to discover something you had never imagined. Every piece of Terra Incognita you create can be the seed for a new puzzle or the newest addition to an expanding one. TERRA INCOGNITA (TI) is played to cipher and decipher a city.
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-conversation=”none”><p>Thx to @<a href=”https://twitter.com/resonantcity”>resonantcity</a> for helping put this together! <a href=”https://twitter.com/search/%23TerraIncognita”>#TerraIncognita</a> noon, May 4th in Oakland, outside, making urban puzzles. @<a href=”https://twitter.com/newcityreader”>newcityreader</a></p>— DEMILIT₃ (@demilit) <a href=”https://twitter.com/demilit/status/322502719585796096”>April 12, 2013</a></blockquote>
<script async src=”//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8”></script>We’re going to do an impromptu Oakland event! May 4th at high noon, playing #TerraIncognita & starting at the Public School. More info soon!
Fes, Morocco, on a scrubby hill overlooking/over-listening the city. Like the view, the image in sound is dense in detail. Tiny spikes of contrast: a distant horn, sparrows flittering in the foreground, the sharper cry of a child nearby. Emerging from a grey droning sea: scooters, voices, air conditioners, idling buses, the overlapping calls to prayer. This sound altogether is the averaged sound of a city.
This is a collection of speculative audio experimentation that explores the concept of the sonic properties of retail space. The tracks were developed as part of the exhibit As Real As It Gets at apexart in Manhattan, organized by Rob Walker. The exhibit’s run: November 15 - December 22, 2012.
These 23 tracks are part of a larger group created as part of the Disquiet Junto series of communal music projects. These 23, totaling about an hour of audio total, were selected by Walker from 2.7 hours of total sound and music created.
“When GARPA first issued a call and invited the general public to submit designs for a ‘revolutionary zoological terrain,’ the blogs and social media sphere went crazy. Seductive was the prospect of establishing a more scrutinising relationship between the highly privatised sector of defence systems design, and the public, whose opinion of government has grown wearily unfavorable for years. Ever since the phenomenon of anonymous underground hacker networks and whistleblowers cemented themselves as a chronic digital thorn in the sides of corrupt democracies worldwide, there’s been a renewed effort on the part of these institutions to “green politics” again—by weeding out entrenchments of government secrecy. As you might imagine, “transparency” became the measure; it became the new green.”—“they came to the desert and were consumed by a flickering fortress” by demilit | THE STATE
Some inchoate thoughts in the form of a premature conclusion, drawn from a draft paper (—a paper that might never see the light of day, so therefore, what the heck?)
By overlapping architecture and blockbuster film Avatar, we can draw a dual conclusion. First, Avatar iconically represents for the viewer a very paradoxical American breed of quasi-environmentalism, one in which culture and biological security come about through war and violence while professing to defend life.
James Cameron himself told The New Yorker: “I suppose you could say I believe in peace through superior firepower.” (Cameron, in fact, is Canadian, not that it makes much of a difference). American militarist culture, which itself has become even more militarized since September 11, gets presented for audiences through what Derek Gregory calls the military-industry-media-entertainment (MIME) complex, which Avatar clearly fits into.
Beyond what Fredric Jameson once said about the underbelly of postmodern culture being “blood, torture, death, and terror,” an updated iteration for today could be “blood, torture, death, terror, and environment.” As opposed to merely isolated culture or architectural objects like the Bonaventure Hotel that Jameson beheld, the environment is an extension of endless war. The contemporary info-entertainment environment, a totalizing tele-connected space, is a violent weapon that complements and completes Cameron’s “superior firepower.”
In Avatar, as one commodity of the MIME complex, the story begins with the grandiose and deceptive promise of direct physical violence being replaced with cultural violence woven into the environment. At least that was the idea of sending the avatars, before it all devolves into another typical American incursion.
The avatars, a perfect neuro-tethered “biodrone” of the sort that DARPA now begins to pioneer, eerily evoke, in fact, the actual American cultural soldiers (anthropologists, psychologist, and other social scientists), these culture warriors the Pentagon has sent to Iraq and Afghanistan to supposedly win the war for hearts and minds.
An idea of the biodrone is meant to indicate that the environment and the biodrone itself, as much as they may seem from two opposing worlds, are ultimately parts of one and the same homespun medium. The American idea, so well crystallized in Avatar, of mastering the invaded environment through intelligence and knowledge, is the biodrone fantasy. The ultimate myth of Avatar is that of socio-environmental penetration; of an interiority replaced by absolute exteriority.
At least that’s the desire from the drone-operator’s control room, a reclusive detachment similar to architecture’s “research studios.” And that’s similarly the view in research architecture today: the fantasy to anxiously replace the represented, crisis-prone environment with controlled design itself thanks to research knowledge.
Architecture has to face what amounts to a combined methodological and political crisis that’s been put off for all too long, but how? The question brings me to the second idea.
The other side of my conclusion revolves around the real architecture of Avatar. In order to produce Avatar, the commodity, it was necessary to first produce the movie’s own unique filming environment, a techno-space that Cameron had to wait twelve years for until animation technology caught up with his plans. The environment we see on film is but one apparition that emerges from a complex and discontiguous material environment of computers, digital models, sets, and costumes, not to mention corporate offices.
At the end of it all, no matter the left-appealing message in the film, Rupert Murdoch’s insidious News Corp (Fox News’s parent) beat Wall Street expectations in the quarter of the film’s release. But much like the biodrones in the movie, architecture in the bland, corporate design research environment can’t see—refuses to see—its own material threads from within.
After all, the gaze of the drones that fly over Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Palestine, Mexico and more countries every day, have a way of visually disassociating people, even while targeting them, from their complex territories and environmental relations in order to bind them to the frame of vision and kill them. Not only that, but this deceitful vision simultaneously opaques the fact that the humans who fly these drones are not merely the pilots.
Behind each drone there are human operators who occupy myriad spaces: spy headquarters in Virginia, lawyers in the White House, the Commander-in-Chief, on-the-ground “intelligence” in conflict zones, and pilot consoles at American military bases. In the end, it is nearly impossible to identify who the killer is and ascribe guilt for murder, aka “collateral damage.” At least, that’s the idea.
This fragmented vision and dispersed spatiality, spinning out into society-at-large through social, affective, and kinship ties begins to incriminate and penetrate us all. The militarized political environment of the everyday is simultaneously the biological one, demolishing any illusion of autonomy or interiority. And the architecture field, if it can get a grip of its own materialist crises, stands uniquely poised to imagine different political environments from the ones we are beleaguered with today.
To the manifesto and adherents of today’s “Yes Is More!” I say “NO Is More!” Let’s get rid of Le Corbusier’s “architecture, or revolution” once and for all, and instead rally around something both radical and uncertain: Homeostasis, or architecture! Of course, homeostasis can be avoided.
In this recording, the DM field agent strolled a downtown San Francisco department store exploring a fictional architecture environment of his own imaginative creation, one that plays on some sorts of fears and pleasures of the theatre mechanique that’s perhaps right before us at the mall, but we might hardly ever notice it. In a larger sense and in connection to other ongoing DM investigations, the piece explores the cheap thrills, B-movie quality, and soothing disconnect of some of society’s seemingly most advanced spaces.
Posted for The Disquiet Junto project. This Disquiet Junto project was done in association with the exhibit As Real As It Gets, organized by Rob Walker at the gallery Apex Art in Manhattan (November 15 - December 22, 2012): http://apexart.org/exhibitions/walker.php/