(De)Urbanization

✆ EXTINCTION PHONE

Nicholas Monsour
Extinction Phone, 2014

Aluminum, thermoplastic, PVC, plywood, paper, refurbished pay phone, crystal oscillator timer circuit, Arduino control circuit, audio circuit, lead-acid batteries, recordings of extinct species, phone book containing scientific names of extinct species.

The extinction phone rings every time a unique species goes extinct on Earth, which is 73,000 times per year, or 200 times per day, or every 7.2 minutes.

This project is a site-specific, interactive art installation.  The phone is controlled by an Arduino microcontroller, and uses an AdaFruit Waveshield to playback audio.  The phone also includes custom built timer and interaction circuitry.  The recordings of extinct animals were gathered from various libraries and collections around the world.

The directory that hangs from the pay phone contains the most up to date and comprehensive list of identified species believed to be extinct.  The phone book can be purchased here.

The hummingbird people

Regard Eloigne

"To the Yanomami, each person has an ‘image-essence’, a double called a utupë, to which they are joined until death.  A utupë can present itself in the image of many different living creatures, including a bird, mammal or insect. There are also spirits of trees, waterfalls and wild honey." (Survival International)

One by one the spirits arrived. The toucan spirits arrived with their big ear sticks and bright red loin cloths, describes Davi. The hummingbird people arrived and flew around. The moka frog spirits were there with quivers of arrows on their backs. Then came the peccary spirits, the bat people and the spirits of the waterfall.

My soul began to shine.

All came and slung their hammocks in my chest.


Tropic of Chaos

Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence

By Christian Parenti 

Nation Books, 304 pages 

From Africa to Asia and Latin America, the era of climate wars has begun. Extreme weather is breeding banditry, humanitarian crisis, and state failure. In 

Tropic of Chaos

, investigative journalist Christian Parenti travels along the front lines of this gathering catastrophe--the belt of economically and politically battered postcolonial nations and war zones girding the planet's midlatitudes. Here he finds failed states amid climatic disasters. But he also reveals the unsettling presence of Western military forces and explains how they see an opportunity in the crisis to prepare for open-ended global counterinsurgency.  Parenti argues that this incipient "climate fascism"--a political hardening of wealthy states-- is bound to fail. The struggling states of the developing world cannot be allowed to collapse, as they will take other nations down as well. Instead, we must work to meet the challenge of climate-driven violence with a very different set of sustainable economic and development policies.

Work In Progress: yx

In 2007 I shot ten scenes for a feature length project called The Upper Air, but I was dissapointed with the results and scrapped the project.  I've decided to re-edit the scenes into a short entitled yx, which will hopefully be finished next month.  The themes and concept are very much the same as the original project: the privitization of resources and of bodies, the translation of hermetic spaces into hermetic narratives, allegories of ecologies in crisis.  The new title comes from Stéphane Mallarmé's poem, Sonnet en -yx.  The video has performances by Jeff Harms and Evan Rubin, and Sam Wagster was an immense help in the production.  Below are some stills from the edit in progress.

Beckoning the post-apocalypse

Max Ernst, Epiphany (1940)

Whenever desire climbs a tree, internal repercussions trip it up and it falls to its death; the rhizome, on the other hand, acts on desire by external, productive outgrowths.  That is why it is so important to try the other, reverse but non-symmetrical, operation.  Plug the tracings back into the map, connect the roots or trees back up with a rhizome.

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A thousand plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia.

 

An emergent thought:

The recognition of the illusion of economic growth is a symptom of a crisis — a self-betrayal of the materiality of capital in the grain-become-visible in the tightly stretched membrane.  Crisis relocates idealist and utopian strategies from the hypothetical and fantastic to within the possible, pragmatic and even necessary.  It brings the holistic and broad to bear upon the specific, and the local — global ecology becomes tangibly present in everyday negotiations of individuals and small communities.  Unexpected regions of the metaphysical materialize as we are forced to perceive the interconnectedness of living beings and the power of cosmologies to inform, motivate and direct human behavior.  The neurotic visions of post-apocalypse projected by the philosophies of growth, industry and economic disparity reveal their attractive democratic foundations, the leveling of qualities of life and the rationality becomes evident in post-industrial models.  Intrinsic rights of the individual cannot be argued to be dependent upon individualist goals, and it becomes urgently necessary and unavoidable to conceive of communal organizational structures which function as part of a whole.  It becomes undeniable that our belief in a better possible future, so necessary to undertake the difficult work of reaching it, is part of a long, intertwining and diverse lineage of holistic beliefs that have always existed and been valuable, yet were not always recognized outside of the codified boundaries of official culture. Essentially, to instrumentalize belief, we assume an analytical (extra-dimensional) vantage, creating in the zone of the singularity — the space in which belief is transformed into objective forces by “necessity” — a probability map of possible positions and trajectories.

I have a sense that we need to, in communities of natural human scale, carefully and analytically revive the historical records of cultural ecologies — the materially conjoined structures of human organization and natural environments — with projected relevance in inverse proportion to their proximity to the epicenters of empires. We have firmly entered the borderlands — the frontline of the conflict between programmatic expansionism and the indigenous, the genesis of synthetic cultures that from the inside appeared occult and mystical and which, in the analytical revival is revealed to be programmed by holistic mythologies. Here and now we will reconfigure the historical syntheses of nomadic federations and city-states.  The border is still being pushed outward, but when we look toward the future-past, we can begin to re-imagine practices of ecological existence and experience — formerly maligned as “primitive” and “superstitious” — as praxises arisen from sound, resonant and beautiful theory.  Such an analytical retracing becomes a novel progression, taking what once came after with us into what once came before. 

Perhaps this precludes an inversion of the deepest sense of deterritorialization.  Perhaps this prefigures a recorporation of the imaginary body. 

Progress and Resistance in Central India, Part 2

For two months in 1999, I lived in a Gond village 11 km from the town of Dantewara in what was then Madhya Pradesh, India (the next year, in 2000, the Gond region was bifurcated by the creation of the new state of Chhattisgarh).  The Gond villagers had been struggling for fifty years to survive despite increasingly polluted water supplies, no schools, no hospitals.  Through an organization called Dakshinayan I worked on an ashram with villagers to build new irrigational structures, repair deep groundwater pumps, facilitate literacy and empowerment women's groups, teach English and bring medical supplies to remote villages. Despite the short time I spent there and the great amount of the history and politics I did not know, it was obvious to me that the tiny amount of "development" funding that was allocated for projects such as mine was completely insufficient, and that the official channels open to the tribal people of India to protest and take control of their own land and the resources within it were never going to be sufficient to make meaningful changes in the direction of increased hunger, poverty and dislocation they were heading.

Thinking further about Arundhati Roy's amazing article Walking With the Comrades, published earlier this month, concerning the tribal resistance movement in central India, has generated in me a flood of recollections of the two months in 1999 I spent as a volunteer on a watershed development and social justice project in the area that is now a Maoist stronghold.  In light of the continuing assaults on the people of this area by the Indian miltary and their  plans for escalated violence, I wanted to post some pictures from the time I spent there of the people I met and the landscape so rich in minerals as to attract the most focused and violent attention of capitalist forces worldwide.  The children I worked with and met would now be in their late teens and early twenties, and could very well be among the lists of rebels killed each day.

I have also posted a personal essay I wrote about my trip to central India in 1999, a few months after returning home to California.  I was eighteen years old, and did not know of much of the political activity that was surely going on around me in Dantewada.  This essay is essentially a distillation of the notes I took and sort of seismological recording of the personal impact that the project had on me. You can read the essay here.

Progress and Resistance in Central India

PLGA Militants (photo from dawn.com)

Having dispossessed them and pushed them into a downward spiral of indigence, in a cruel sleight of hand, the Government began to use their own penury against them. Each time it needed to displace a large population — for dams, irrigation projects, mines — it talked of "bringing tribals into the mainstream" or of giving them "the fruits of modern development". Of the tens of millions of internally displaced people (more than 30 million by big dams alone), refugees of India’s ‘progress’, the great majority are tribal people. When the Government begins to talk of tribal welfare, it’s time to worry. 

— Arundhati Roy, Walking with the Comrades. March 21, 2010.

Last month Arundhati Roy broke the taboo of reporting directly on the Naxalite (Maoist) rebels in Central India. In the resulting articles and media appearances she has made, she has been attenmpting to draw attention to this struggle which is largely invisible and unreported in mainstream Indian media, to expose the hypocrisy of the joint corporate/government "relief" and "development" projects in the tribal areas of India.  As the Isreali government announces that a re-occupation of Gaza is immanent, the  Israeli military is training Indian "counter-terrorism" forces and supplying them with hi-tech weopenry to hunt down and destroy anyone who resists the destruction of the tribal culture, livelihoods and environment of  central India.  Please read Arundhati Roy's extremely well-researched, beautifully written and deeply troubling article, Walking with the Comrades from earlier this month here.

 

The Museum of Nature

Roller-coaster, by Ilkka Halso, 2004.

Museum I, by Ilkka Halso, 2003.

Kitka-river, by Ilkka Halso, 2004.

Theater I, by Ilkka Halso, 2003.

 

From Ilkka Halso's press release for Museum of Nature:

IN ORDER TO PROTECT AND RESTORE NATURE WE NEED STRONGER MEANS. ILKKA HALSO HAS CONTINUED HIS CONQUEST IN ORDER TO SAVE THE WORLD. HE PRESENTS PLANS FOR BRIGHTER AND MORE DURABLE MILLENNIUM.

Museum of Nature is next step in continuum of imaginative nature restoring project, which started year 2000 as Restoration exhibition. Restoration series was about restoring single nature objects in means of technology and building skills. Museum project takes one step further. I make plans and construct visually buildings, which protect nature from treaths of pollution and what is more important from actions of man himself. I visualize shelters, massive buildings where big ecosystems could be stored as at present. These massive building protect forests, lakes and rivers from pollution and what is more important from actions of man himself. At the same time I study different aspects of mans relation to nature as rare unique endangered place. While putting nature into a museum you have to take under consideration aspect of audience/consumer. Nature becomes joyride for turists or beautyfull landscape turns into a meditative theatre show. Project is based on pessimistic vision of what is happening on earth. I am looking into future and I am not very happy about that. I am considering these pictures more as visual pamphlets than estetical images.  Digital process is constantly present in the works. I am combining freely photographs of landscapes and computer genereted 3D-models. Works are visualized building plans, plans I rather not want to see realized.

— Ilkka Halso

Thirdworld

Thirdworld (1998)
Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul


"This film depicts landscapes, metaphorically and actuality, of the southern island called Panyi. It reflects the impression of the shooting time at the island for several days. The sounds are taken from different sources, but all were recorded while the subjects were not aware of the recording apparatus. Thus, this piece may be called a re-constructed documentary. The title is intended as a parody of the word that is being used by the West to describe Thailand or other exotic landscapes. This film is the voice from individuals who reside in such environment. The film is presented in crude and rugged quality, as it is a product from the uncivilized." 

Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Letters from Fontainhas

I cannot overstate the importance of Pedro Costa in film history or current global cinema — nor can I here sum up the importance of these three films which are being given a long overdue US release by Criterion this month.  Suffice it to say that many critics have said that Costa has reinvented every aspect of filmmaking and has created completely singular, honest and beautiful works since his earliest films on 35mm to his latest landmark DV pieces. 

In discussing the earliest of these three films, Ossos (1997), Costa himself as well as many critics are preoccupied by discussing the failures of a traditional 35mm film production in acheiving the filmmaker's goal of blending into the environment of the real Lisbon neighborhood of Fontainhas and preserving the texture and natural quality of the residents and performers — all issues which Costa goes on to dramatically address in his subsequent DV films.  However, the fact remains that if not viewed in comparison to Costa's subsequent films but all precedent film history, Ossos is an undeniable masterpiece of naturalism, realism, and the rarely attempted or successful project of creating films that are simultaneously poetic and political.  Shot by the brilliant cinematographer Emmanuel Machuel (L'argent, Um Filme Falado, Casa de Lava) in liminal greys, blues and blacks with almost no artificial lighting, the film inhabits the damaged and painful lives of the residents of Fontainhas through a revolutionary collaborative and self-aware artifice of style and structure.

But this was not enough for Costa, who was compelled to become a resident of the Fontainhas and generate the material with the performers in an organic yet imaginitive two-year process that became the unprecedented masterpiece, No Quarto da Vanda (2000).  While completely eschewing the institutionalized practices of film production — shooting without lights, script, actors, crew, or even a noticible division between filmmaker and subject — Costa elevates the most impoverished material to the emotional and visual tenor of high-renaissance painting through what I consider the most original and talented "eye" in cinema today.  This is a cinema whose great depths of meaning and heights of intent are only made possible through the divestment of power structures and official culture — which, for my money, is the most important kind of filmmaking happening in the world today.

Juventude em Marcha (2006) takes this progression into a third, reflective and elegaic phase, treating the collaboratve construction of this narrative space within the real physical locations of their neighborhoods as an an epic meta-text of the everyday that is equally psychological, poetic and political.  In an extraordinary technical and aesthetic feat, Costa ramps up the symbolic grandeur of the characters while simultaneously heightening the alienating self-referential stylistic elements: what was the near lack of film lighting in Ossos, then the total lack in Vanda, is in Juventude an ecstatic use of DIY expressionistic and highly stylized film lighting acheived by the use of many pieces of reflective materials and mirrored surfaces, bouncing and cutting the natural light into eye-popping tableaus.  Juventude puts institutionalized commercial film production methods to shame twice over: the honesty and poverty of his production methods proudly become integral to and involved in the meaning of the film at the same time that he is creating images far more innovative and stunning than the biggest-budgeted, hi-tech films currently being made. 

Some have likened what Costa has done in this trilogy to the development of abstract expressionism in painting — which I would have to disagree with given that movement's all-too-comfortable repurposing as corporate lobby decoration.  If I had to find an analogy in traditional high-artistic media, I would say that Costa has done to film something like what Samuel Beckett did to the novel in his famous trilogy — stripped of institutionalized and commercial techniques, infusing dazzling gestures of prosity with what was before hidden from view by established codes of representation, the work of generating radical subjectivity can begin — if we seek it out.  You can order (or pre-order) the box set from the Criterion website.

 

Izenzaren

Izenzaren is a Moroccan Amazigh band founded in 1972 by six musicians. Characterized by a raw and hypnotic sound based on traditional berber music featuring virtuostic banjo playing, heavy drumming and lo-fi production, Izenzaren is still present in the musical scene appearing at numerous festivals and cultural gatherings in Morocco and other countries.  While it is at this point very difficult to find information or translations about the band in English, I can only hope that with the current wave of interest in other Amazigh and Saharan bands (such as Tinariwen) they  will eventually gain the recognition they deserve.

From the liner notes of "Legends of Berber Music":

In the field of Amazigh (Berber) music, the experience of the group Izenzarn presents certain characteristics. The emergence of this group occurred in the general context of the social changes in the post-colonial Morocco. The emigration (rural migration in the Moroccan sociological terminology) became an irreversible phenomenon.

The rural society settles in the town and is confronted at the same time with the violent process of integration and assimilation and with the social problems resulting from the arbitrary management of country by the makhzenian Mafia. This situation requires the invention of new forms of poetico-musical expressions (or the adaptation of the old forms) to express at the same time the nostalgia of the origins and the anger towards the abusive policies. Also, at this times, Anglo-Saxon musical groups (such as the Beatles) as well as Moroccan groups (Nass el Ghiwan, Jil Jilala, etc.) impose their rhythms and influence the development of musical groups known as popular. Mixing modern and traditional instruments, these groups interpret songs, inspired by the ancestral tradition or expressing the current sensibilities of a generation coming from the first wave of the rural emigrants.

Founded at the end of the Sixties by a group of young people from newly urbanized families, Izenzarn is among the first Amazigh groups to modernize and radicalize the Amazigh song. After tribulations under different names, a first album is recorded in the year 1974. Thus starts the first season of the group, characterized by love songs such as: Wad ittemuddun (traveler), Wa zzin (Oh! beauty), etc, or nostalgic and traditional songs: Immi Henna (My gracious mother)... In the beginning of the Eighties, Izenzarn embraces more protesting themes: ttuzzalt (dagger), ttâbla (plate), tamurghi (grasshoppers)...

The protest in Izenzarn's songs is characterized by the challenge of the dominant speeches:

Iggut lebrîh idrus may sellan igh islêh
Plenty of speeches And yet Nobody listens to the reason

and the harsh description of the reality:

Nettghwi zun d teghwi tmmurghi gh igenwan ikk d lhif akal
We are like grasshoppers taken between the skies and the dry grounds.

This reality is a world of fear, oppression and torture [tawda gh will ugharas (fear in the paths), izîtti wuzzal (iron bars), ur nemmut ur nsul (neither alive nor dead)]

The success of the group is due to its strange musical style and the poetry of its songs that presented already at the end of the Seventies the germs of a revolution in the modern Berber poetic creation.

After a disagreement, the group had split. Two groups dispute the name: Izenzarn Iggut Abdelhadi and Izenzarn Shamkh. But, it is the first one that imposed itself due to the emblematic image of its main singer, Iggut Abdelhadi.