September 19, 2014 · Print This Article
I met Arturo Ortiz Struck at his studio in Polanco, around the corner from the Libyan Embassy. I was surprised—I don’t know why, it’s been more than two years since the Arab Spring bled out into autocracy, terror, and disarray, metastasizing into brutal land grabs and ISIS/ISIL—to see that the Embassy uses the current colors of the Libyan flag: black, red, and green. I wondered what happens in the embassy of a failed state and asked the guard what street I was on. Thankfully, I was close to Arturo’s studio. Arturo Ortiz Struck is an artist, architect, urbanist, and theorist, who I encountered at a screening of a Jan-Peter Hammer film at Labor a few weeks previously. When I arrived, there were books on design all over his desk. I asked him about the history of design in Mexico.
AOS: It’s a strange history. We used to have very powerful policies that were oriented to create not just furniture and industrial design, but also a graphic identity for Mexico. I really love this book. It’s about the Olympics in Mexico in 1968. This was state-funded design. There wasn’t any kind of market. When the state invested in design, we had incredible design; when they stopped investing, we stopped having design.
JW: Why was the state investing in design? Only for the Olympics?
AOS: Yes, only for the Olympics. There was funding in the 70s to design the postal service as well. In the 80s, we didn’t have anything. This table and these chairs are from the 40s. They are really beautiful. After the 40s and 50s, we had the Olympics, with this strong national investment in design; after that there was a desert. It’s interesting. But let’s talk about architecture.
JW: My interest in this is in the power of architecture, or the ambient environment in general, to affect the way that people act, the way that they behave.
AOS: From my point of view, there are a lot of processes in which you can create an identity with particular issues that will legitimate some actions. Most of the time, there is propaganda, in the long sense of the term: how can I make that group of people think as I want them to think? This propaganda no longer issues from the state. Who is exercising this power? I always think of Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs is this really cool guy, who is completely apolitical—he doesn’t appear to have any political agency. He is the model of the entrepreneur everybody wants to be: the entrepreneur who is really cool and easygoing, who used to be a kind of hacker working in a garage, who reshaped the idea of computers, and so on. He will not talk about politics or the economy or anything, but he does talk about “thinking different,” through an advertisement. Think different, count on yourself. This is the idea of Milton Friedman, the idea of bringing people to believe that they are able to be individuals and as such are able to live without any kind of society. In a way it’s this kind of Nietszchean figure who exists completely outside of his subjectivity. This guy is a cool guy, completely apolitical, who doesn’t care about any problem that is not his problem. It’s a solipsist kind of behavior in which you are inside yourself, inside yourself, inside yourself, and the way you have to relate with others is completely determined by some ideological rules, some fantasies. So: you should be cool. In those terms, the new apparatus of control is not Steve Jobs. Instead, it’s the idea of being Steve Jobs. It’s much more diffused. That’s what is controlling space and controlling behavior today.
JW: It’s internal rather than external.
AOS: It works. The people behave. In that sense, I think about Foucault. Everything is really controlled in a kind-of-mysterious way, but it’s not so mysterious. These power systems are operating through the things you buy, the ways you represent yourself, the behaviors that are accepted as cool or rejected as not cool. The body is the object of all of these systems. It’s not difficult to understand and it’s not difficult to see. I work with that. I want to show it.
JW: Lyotard talks about the difference between legitimating via a narrative, which has an arc—a beginning and an end, which may not be definite—but it’s a story, it’s like “I was born poor and I will die rich, and I’m going to evaluate every situation I encounter based on this narrative that I have”—or on the other hand there’s a legitimation via paralogy, wherein you evaluate your situation based on how available all the options in a given situation are. So a narrativist, if such a thing were to exist, would encounter a roadblock in a very different way than a paralogist. The narrativist would go over the bump, you know, always onward or whatever, and the paralogist would look around. It feels like that’s what you’re doing in your work—that you’re trying to make visible all the available options, without necessarily presenting a better way.
AOS: I started to study housing, many years ago, these new kinds of housing projects from the state, I don’t know if you’ve seen them…
JW: I have, yeah, I went out to Nicolas Romero a couple of weeks ago and saw them. They’re ridiculous…
AOS: What I was thinking about these projects is that what they are producing is credits. For the financial system and the state to survive, there needs to be a stable economy. In order for the economy to remain stable, there needs to be a lot of people with debts and credits, and they have to pay their credit, or not. There just needs to be a huge amount of people who are going to circulate capital. They need to want to buy things they can’t afford so that there can be more credit and more debt. It is by this logic that housing is produced. Housing is produced from the need to continue the financial system. It is an abstraction. When I started to talk about this, it was 2005. Everybody told me I was completely crazy and that I didn’t understand anything about urbanism or the new middle class. I decided to create a test model. What is happening and how can we look at it?
[Arturo walks to his computer and begins to play a video.]
AOS: That’s what we are doing. We are doing great at this abstraction. I don’t care if they’re sustainable or whatever, it’s exactly the same. The abstraction becomes really aggressive and really violent to societies that are unable to see what is happening to them. It’s like the movie Modern Times, when Charlie Chaplin is winding the clock: everyday life is people winding the system. They think it’s because they are going to own a house or a car or a lifestyle, but at the end of the day what the system is selling is money, and people cannot see that. It is an abstract commodity. So we start to see a lot of things about fetishism and lifestyles and how other things start to work around it. And this is really violent.
JW: Is there something that you would consider non-violent architecture?
AOS: I don’t know. For ten years I worked as an architect in the far east of Mexico City, in Chimalhuacan and Chicolopan. I have been developing different housing projects there, doing different workshops. Where I am in terms of urbanism is completely linked to everything else. What I am saying is that informal settlements are much less of a problem than we used to think. They are a problem, of course, because of issues of power and the production of poverty; but it is sometimes better to do business for yourself, away from the financial system. In any case, it is almost impossible to change these conditions. Sixty percent of urban grown in Mexico City is informal growth —it’s huge! You cannot wave your hands and change it. Instead, we’ve been developing workshops with people in Chimalhuacan, Chicolopan, Texcoco, for the last three years.
JW: You worked with the people that already live there?
AOS: No, we worked with new settlers. We went with them, we asked them what they wanted, and they told us what they wanted, in a very strange way…
JW: What did they want?
AOS: We made a kind of study. Instead of telling them how their houses should be, we told them, look, you should look at the sun. You should look at the sun and the air. You should understand how the sun moves so you can have better lighting; you should study the air so you can have natural ventilation. That was the first workshop. We found that all these people already know a lot of things about the sun, the wind, everything. They aren’t able to link this knowledge with construction, but they have it. They know it really well. They learn it from the basic curriculum in Mexico. Everybody learns it. All the books in Mexico for basic education are the same for everybody. The government publishes them. They teach about the sun and the air, but they do not teach the link between these things and construction. Our current project, which we are submitting to the Ministry of Education, is to add some diagrams to these chapters about how to link this knowledge with construction, with the setup of your classroom or your house. We have not been very successful.
JW: That’s great, to insert this kind of radical architecture into basic education…
AOS: It’s not radical architecture! It’s about making the house you want to make, but keeping in mind where the sun is. That is not radical. If you go to Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl, you will see that most of the terrain is completely built over. There are no trees. The houses are really obscured and without good ventilation, so they are always going to feel bad. How can you feel better? We have this house that costs $30,000MXN and can be built in one month. It became very popular in architecture circles. We built one at the United Nations in New York, we took one to the Venice Architecture Biennale, and it was part of an exhibition at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum in St Louis, MO. I will show it to you. In a way, we are trying to understand architecture that can be created without the financial system.
[We walk back to Arturo’s computer to watch the video.]
AOS: This piece translates from a very practical kind of thing to a much more symbolic thing.
JW: Something that’s actually practical seems suddenly so unreal.
AOS: With the natural disasters last year in Mexico, because of the rains in Guerrero, I sent this model to the guy in charge of the disaster relief, because it’s really fast, it’s really easy, and it’s an external foundation system so it’s hard to wash away. It’s simple physics. We’ve just brought this technology from the river to the house. It’s amazing.
JW: Do you think this kind of architecture will have a positive effect on the way people act inside of it?
AOS: I don’t know. It’s up to the people living in it to act. It’s up to people living in architecture to reshape it. It’s an issue of control and propaganda. When you walk into these incredibly cool places, with Barcelona chairs and Tom Dixon lamps and whatever, everything starts to become a kind of set. When I walk into Crate & Barrel, I feel the set. They are telling me, you should live like this. This is the lifestyle you deserve. If you have that furniture you probably have this kind of computer, you probably have these kinds of clothes, you probably have these kinds of behaviors. It is a little bit like the Truman Show. Everything’s set—you don’t have to think beyond just being in the set. It is completely impossible that this set aids your subjective growth in any way. All of this has to do with the body, with limiting or obscuring what you can do with your body. In a way, I agree with Lyotard, when he writes in the Postmodern Condition that we are losing against the system. And that was in 1979! That’s why I love working with the idea of the body. It’s through your body that you can be out of the set. It’s not so radical: we are losing against the system and the only way to have political agency is through your body.
Arturo Ortiz Struck is head of the architectonic and urban research workshop Taller Territorial de México and a member of the National System for Art Creators, FONCA.
One of my earliest memories of playing video games: I’m sitting in my dad’s office playing Wolfenstein 3D and my grandfather walks in. He walks slowly and methodically; he’s elderly, but every time he drives it’s right there on his license plate: a purple heart from World War 2. I’ve just rounded a blocky corner and I know what’s ahead of me. Adolph Hitler shows up in some sort of robotic suit, his twin Gatling guns blazing. And I freeze: to not play is more difficult, a larger acknowledgement of the idea that I am portraying a caricature of my grandfather’s experience. In shame, I return fire until Hitler collapses into a bloody pulp. Silently, my grandfather walks away.
Last year, I played for the first time a game called Rage, which was actually developed by Id Software—the same company that worked to create Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, two early era games which helped popularize the first-person shooting-other-persons genre. I remember wading through several minutes of introduction until I finally sneaked into the rundown and dilapidated hotel a band of post-apocalyptic bandits had made their home. A shirtless bandit noticed me and charged. A shot rang out of my pistol, hit him in the face, and spread digital blood out in a skyward arc as his lifeless corpse fell to the ground. I quit and uninstalled the game a few minutes after.
Even though I grew up surrounded by increasingly devastating examples of a world of violence—digital Nazis, the theatrical release of Spawn, Columbine, 9/11, the invasion of Iraq—it wasn’t until that fake man’s head exploded at the behest of my mouse click that I felt ill about the genre, down to my core. Just months before had been the notorious Sandy Hook shooting, and as a country we were embroiled in a debate about gun control that was already quickly fading, just as every shooting since then has faded into this bleak tapestry of ill will, self-harm, and an inability on our part as a society to see these things as solvable problems. As though it will always and has always been too difficult to turn the mirror towards ourselves and ask, what, as a country, society, or group of people, we could do better.
This isn’t to say, as the NRA suggested after the Newtown Massacre, that videogames cause violence, but it’s hard to ignore that so much of the genre is branched out of the idea of the powerful, silent protagonist. His eyes are our eyes; his gun is our mouse. As though a monitor or television were a window into a universe where everything has been created to showcase destruction at the hand of the only person who has agency in a programmed existence: the consumer as player as protagonist. Like in movies and in television, we as audience members are asked to enjoy, engage, and sympathize with main characters as they perform astonishing acts of violence, either by watching or propelling the action forward with our controllers.
But: it’s all representative, maybe? When we shoot a fake man with a fake gun we are not engaging in real violence; the play violence does not spawn real violence. But, with each graphical update and each realistic sound effect, the genre moves further and further into a “more authentic” experience. Guns recoil authentically, bullets whiz by the headphone as they would the ear in actual war. Grenades disorient. Soon, Oculus Rift virtual-reality headsets will make it so that a head turned on a couch will be a head turn on the digital battlefield, a red mist before it.
But is it the fidelity of the experience or the experience itself? It’s a question Lovely Planet seems poised to ask, but I’m not sure it’s actually asking. The description isn’t really hopeful on that count:
A First Person Shooter Gun Ballet set in a cutesy abstract world. Jump and shoot your way through five worlds full of treacherous enemies with your trusty semi-automatic!
Cutesy abstract world is right on, though. Where there might be tall grasses or trees to hide behind in some sort of world-conflict, Lovely Planet’s terrain is a flat, calming green punctuated by small stones and salmon-colored hearts that pop up like flowers. Fluffy white clouds and multi-colored balls dot the sky as you run past colorful spaceships and giant soda containers that erupt out of the ground. An anemic blue-and-yellow arm juts out of the screen, holding a semi-automatic broomstick with a star attached to it. The star spins and you fire equally-absurd bullets, which pierce the sky on their way to injure red blocks with angry faces that disappear in a puff of smoke.
If videogame violence is representation, Lovely Planet seems poised to take that to task, because even in this world of absurd landscapes that seems like a lo-fi Katamari Damacy, the action is still the same: point, shoot, destroy (or save, depending on how you view it). Ideally, it would be this message: that no matter how you dress it, gun violence is still gun violence and even the cutest setting in the world won’t change it. But instead of offering this as commentary, it offers it up as celebration: look how great this semi-automatic is. All distractions have been stripped away: there is only you, your gun, and these enemies which must perish.
It’s a shame, because the game is well-crafted. Hypocritically, I find the action on point, the speed of the game intoxicating, but even though I can stomach its cutesy celebration of violence, it’s never clear that there’s any intent at all. Is it proof of concept? Minimal artistic design as necessity? An exercise in restraint? Problematically, all it becomes is another shooter, another weird war game, albeit set in a place of floating islands and child-like expressions of joy and violence. It ultimately doesn’t matter what it looks like, because the symbolism is still there. It’s not doing anything different.
I’m not sure if I’m growing tired of it all because I’m getting older or games are. As a fledgling player with a fledgling medium, I was thrilled to experience the highs and lows of war through it and its comfort and safety of a screen, because, in this new and fresh interactivity, it was exhilarating. At the time, false war was one of the best ways to showcase the power of “the game,” a first-person perspective ideal for a computer screen, the pointing of a gun ideal for a mouse.
If games can be art—and they can—the genre needs to be ready to accept a change, for a shift where violence isn’t the predominant expression of the medium, be it via guns, fists, or even the jump of Mario’s boot. Yes, film functions as a propeller of art and also the action movie, but so much of that visual media is obsessed also with comedy and drama. But where action is a subset genre of film, action is inherent in a videogame because there must be some sense of challenge. (The alternative, historically, is puzzle.) But a film (or book, or poem, or painting) may be challenging on themes or subject matter alone. Games are only just recently discovering the latter’s place in interactivity—games like Gone Home, To the Moon, and Depression Quest.
I’m looking forward to the day when a shooter is a parody of a shooter, but Lovely Planet isn’t it. It’s not that it’s not smart enough, or “good” enough, but it’s just tired, the same, nothing we haven’t seen before wrapped up in a different paper (lovely though it may be). Guns can have their place, will always have their place in a medium that was once (and still may be) defined by them. But, in the wake of tragedy after tragedy—will that place ever be comfortable? I’m not sure. But each year, more and more games are more than happy to join the ranks of pretend violence, no matter the setting or period, and more and more people are happy to buy them. Lovely Planet just wants to be another gun game, and that’s not really its fault; it’s ours.
When following an agenda or thesis of some kind â€” in this case, my steady and probing look at hybridity â€” one often tries to fit multiple practices under one umbrella: there is a desire to keep everything neat and tidy, in order, I suppose, to embolden an intuition with evidence, to make that intuition feel reasonable, and therefore true. Theoretical exercises might resemble murder investigations in that way â€” one wants to find proofÂ beyond the shadow of doubt. At least, that’s what I find I do, and in this particular case it’s amusing, because my original inquiry is centered on an unstable concept. Hybridity is intentionally resistent to categorical thinking. The minute categories are defined, the hybrid wants to transgress and muddle and undermine the categorical thought it inhabits.Â Thus, I take some deep pleasure in printing the following transcript. It shows how I began to get too comfortable with what “hybridity” might mean, and thus how I began to apply it, suddenly and smoothly, to anything. The following transcript marks a failure in that attempt. It is not so simple, (as I had originally and perhaps hastily presumed) to call Vanessa Place’s practice a hybrid one: yes, she is both an esteemed lawyer and experimental poet. Yes, her legal work â€” the plethora of accrued documents â€” has become, literally, her poetry. And with these two yes’s, combined with my own experience of her performance â€” during which she read, word for a word, a trial transcript â€” I imagined she was combining two worlds. I thought I could convince her to talk about her work in those terms, under my umbrella. Instead, Place calls attention to the slippery nature of words; Â meaning falls slick through our grasp like sand, ever sensitive to context just as it is always capable of transformation. In fact, words, like people, like bodies and chairs: are fickle, multifacted, both present and out of reach. Vanessa Place has published many books, includingÂ Â Dies: A SentenceÂ (2006),Â La MedusaÂ (Fiction Collective 2, 2008),Â Notes on Conceptualisms, co-authored with Robert Fitterman (Ugly Duckling Press, 2009), andÂ The Guilt Project: Rape, Morality and LawÂ (2010). In addition to her own poetry and legal practice, she is also the co-director of a magnificent, experimental poetry press called Les Figues.
Caroline Picard:Â In some ways, it seems like you lead a double life as a criminal appelate lawyer and literary force. These two occupations could require a split in your mind, but you have managed to integrate them: How did this possibility first occur to you?Â
Vanessa Place:Â It was more a matter of capitulating to the inevitable; one learns not to avoid the trap, but to walk into the trap and see if it can be trapped.
CP: Are traps generally trappable? Do they have inherent weakness (by virtue of being traps)? Or are those weaknesses a result of the expectations we impose upon ourselves? (For instance that one must choose to be one thing or another).
VP: Traps are always trappable. The trick is to want the trap: see Brer Rabbit. The other trick is to have no expectations.
CP:Â How is the poet most often trapped? How does this compare to traps in witness testimony?
VP:Â Both fall for the truth-trap.
CP:Â Is language itself a trap?
VP:Â Wittgenstein said so. If so, it is the unavoidable trap. As is meaning (though there is no difference in this).
CP: When I saw you read here in Chicago you read a transcription of a domestic assault trial as poetry. Would you consider that transcription a hybrid text? Does the hybridity rely on the performance/context? Or does it exist just as well in a court of law?
VP:Â It exists simultaneously as a legal document and as a poem. Itâ€™s not a matter of hybridity, but of transubstantiation. In other words, words only exist in context, in whatever language game in which they happen to be deployed. Content is context.
CP: Can the human body be similarly transubstantiated? Are texts and bodies synonymous? This would make us like chameleons, in some way…
VP: Not chameleon because the chameleon remains chameleonish. That is to say, it alters not when it alteration finds. Texts, like bodies, are capable of complete metamorphosis
CP: How is it possible to communicate meaning if meaning is always contextualized (and therefore, I presume, relative to each subject)?
VP: Subjects are always sobjects, amalgams of subjects and objects. Consider whether it is possible that we are meeting at the point of our mutual thingness rather than our mutual selfness.
CP:Â Is it possible that mutual thingness is an experience held in common by all things â€” living and nonliving alike? Would a text’s thingness be equivalent to a chair’s thingness?
CP: How much does your performance of the material influence that context? When I saw you read, for instance, it was as if each word was given the same treatment and weight, as though you removed the emotive passion of the spoken words.
VP: Performance is another context, thus creating another piece. Similarly, one performance context, such as a reading in a gallery, creates a different piece than the same performance occupying another context.
CP:Â Where does the animation come from? Is there anything especially remarkable about words said via breath vs. words written on the page, or on the ground, or letters scattered on a refrigerator?
VP:Â Not remarkable. They are different creatures, however. In other words, you tell me.
CP: Does something essential about that “found” manuscript transform when it is recontextualized by a poetry reading? Or maybe, more generally, what happens? (For my part, I remember being astonished both by the horrific violence you were relaying, what was nonetheless paired with a simultaneous experience of beauty â€” the beauty of language, for instance, the beauty of a vernacular and the beauty of appropriation, even the visceral experience of horror).
VP:Â What happens depends on the receiver of the text â€” all of the things you describe are absolutely true â€” for you. Another person might be blinded to any potential for beauty, another, aroused by the violence. There is nothing essential in the text itself: the text is dead. The context, on the other hand, remains quite animated.
CP:Â Is violence a necessary tool for animation? Or, more generally, what does violence do? What is its function?
VP: It insists on.
CP:Â How can an impersonal force contain insistence in all its manifestations?
VP:Â Think of shame.
CP:Â Does violence have a mutual thingness?
CP:Â How does violence impact a given page? Does the trauma it inflicts reoccur each time that page is read? Would that somehow be equivalent to someone who, in retelling the story of his or her violence, reenacts the incident in some way?
VP:Â Pages are people too. Like pages, they flip, depending on who they turn to.
CP:Â I have a friend who went to law school initially because he said he wanted to learn more about human language and (in his words) “the scaffold of reason.” How do you feel your relationship with language has changed with regards to your legal background?
VP:Â You assume it has changed.
This is how it has changed.
August 25, 2009 · Print This Article
Miles Fisher is an actor that has had many roles over the last few years first in God’s & Generals and most notably the parody he did on Tom Cruise a few months back. He also is a musician and the video he did for his latest song, a cover of the Talking heads “This Must Be The Place” is both a great remix and a killer video homage/parody of American Psycho. Needless to say if you have seen the film this is a video that is not safe for work environments but take a look.