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Entries in war (132)


Black Mountain College

A. Lawrence Kocher, Studies Building, Black Mountain College, Lake Eden, North Carolina. 1941

Black Mountain College, North Carolina, started an interdisciplinary summer arts school at Lake Eden in 1944 during a war, when things rarely start, and continued to throw artists, musicians, dancers and experimental types together through the 1950s.  One of these was Buckminster Fuller who had done his startling dymaxion work in the 1920s and 30s and by the late 1940s mostly taught, did workshops and mentored people.  One of these was Jeffrey Burland Lindsay, an engineer-industrial designer in Montreal who headed up the Buckminster Fuller Research Institute, a grand name which turns out to be Lindsay and Ted Pope in a small space on the Plateau.  One of the summers Fuller was at Black Mountain, Lindsay too was there: the practical fellow to Fuller's inspirational stuff.  They built a 48' geodesic dome in 1948, called by Elaine de Kooning the Supine Dome, as it failed, gracefully.  From the pictures it looks like they were building it out of ribbon.

One Black Mountain listing says 'the college played a formative role in the definition of an American aesthetic and identity in the arts during the 1950s and 1960s'.  It must have done, it appears to have been stacked with emigrés from the Bauhaus, plus Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Willem de Kooning, Josef Albers; there were poets, there were painters, all was possible.  Students included Ray Johnson, Noland, Rauschenberg, Twombly, John Chamberlain — these are the ones I know, there are many others I don't know, but it was clearly seminal, formative, an essential part of American postwar modern art. 

The college was located on Lake Eden, planned in 1938 by Gropius and Breuer but development was suspended during WWII, and then after the war Lawrence Kocher took over the design of the main building. It was built by students and faculty from 1940-41, plus, for sustenance and extra cash, there was a farm and a mica mine.

This is a curious episode in American architectural history, one senses that money was tight, creativity and optimism high, materials were often found, the country itself was in the grip of a military-agricultural complex.  Kocher's austere, Gropius-influenced, minimal campus building, the stamp of which is in Frey's canvas house of the 1930s, and so similar to a wartime barracks, is also not unlike a North Carolina tobacco-drying shed: wood frame, clad in corrugated galvanised steel.  And it has aged like a tobacco-drying shed, leaving behind its bauhaus modernity and revealing its deeper connection to a local vernacular.

This series of images, taken in 2007 at the Lake Eden Campus of the Black Mountain College, focuses on the Studies Building. Designed in 1940 by A. Lawrence Kocher, the building was completed in 1941 and is the largest structure built by the college.



ceramic armour

ceramic plates in a Dragon Skin body armour vest

When we see the bullet proof vests on foreign correspondents, they are basically kevlar with ceramic trauma plate inserts roughly from 5" x 8" and 1/4" thick for concealed vests, to 10" x 12" plates up to 1/2" thick for tactical vests. They work in combination with the aramid fabrics: high ballistic protection from the plates, dispersal of blunt trauma from the fabrics. 

Boron Carbide: B12C3  for those who understand such things is exceptionally hard because the molecules form a network plane.  Not a new technology, it was first synthesised in 1899.  The discs in the Dragon Skin are silicon carbide (SiC) or carborundum, used since 1893 as an abrasive. thank you wikipedia.  Both these materials have a zillion other uses: something about how their molecules arrange themselves in dense interconnected plates makes them exceptionally inert, resistant, hard and defensive.

The small overlapping plates of the Dragon Skin allows more motion and is designed, evidently, to absorb multiple hits, which is a sobering thought.  All of these are meant to protect vital organs, not to render someone entirely bullet proof.  I expect that development in ballistic technology forces the development of anti-ballistic systems.  There is, for example, something called a full metal jacket bullet which is a soft lead core fully jacketed in hard metal which allows higher velocities as the hard jacket slides more easily down the bore.  Do I want to know this?  I suppose so, I thought the movie Full Metal Jacket was actually about some kind of armoured jacket for soldiers.  The point of a full metal jacket bullet is that they can be used indiscriminately against both soft and hard targets. I think I'll leave this topic now.  

There was a scandal in 2007-8 where the US government did not equip its soldiers in Afghanistan with $5000 Dragon Skin armour, choosing cheaper armour from companies with government contracts.  Some things never change.


Jonas Dahlberg: memory wound, 2014

Jonas Dahlberg. Memory Wound, winning competition entry to Memorial Sites After 22 July. image: Jonas Dahlberg Studio

Memory Wound, above, is one of three memorials to the victims of the massacre at Utøya, Norway in 2011.  The rock cut out of the Sørbråten peninsula to make the channel will be used to make another memorial in Oslo on the site of a car bomb, also Anders Breivik's responsibility.  

According to The Guardian, Dahlberg has spoken of poetic rupture, beauty indissolubly linked to loss. One wall of the cut is inscribed with the names of the children killed, the other is carved out into a ledge from which to view the names.  The cut is aligned with Utøya – it doesn't eradicate Utøya by being placed literally on the site of the massacre itself.

This is how such massively inexplicable deaths are memorialised these days, by massive land art.  There is little else that we feel is significant enough to approach the scale of war, for this was an act of war between a race-based fundamentalism and an unwitting, wealthy, liberal and secular populace.  It seems to be too difficult to explain how Anders Breivik came to be, the best we can do is to set up sites where we can contemplate what he did.  Memory Wound is a powerful place to do this; does it address the rise of anti-islamic fundamentalism in Europe? Not really, it addresses the children, their absence – the effect of a cause that remains active, not absent.

Land art puts human activities into the context of the earth as a planet, the sun as a star, time measured in light years – things almost beyond comprehension for all we have been taught how geology and astronomy works.  These things have become our ineffable, things so detached from the development of the human race that they absorb human failings.  It's cosmic and all, but there are other Breiviks out there, and they are unmoved.  


John Thomas Serres: an artist in the Channel Fleet, 1799-1800

John Thomas Serres, Point de Roquilon, France. Captain M. K. Barritt. Eyes of the Admiralty: J T Serres, An Artist in the Channel Fleet, 1799-1800. London: National Maritime Museum, 2014. Image: United Kingdom Hydrographic Office. Don't think you'll find it on the UKHO website however, this appears to be a working website of great complexity for contemporary documents, maps, charts and shipping publications.

About the time I was young and tooling around on a little sailboat in Nanaimo Harbour, I found a book of drawings of the BC coast done by an artist on Captain Vancouver's ship. They looked much like Serres' paintings (above) – navigation charts, meant to point out signal points, rocks bays, harbours and dangers.  These and Vancouver's drawings, which I've never been able to find again, delineated land, not from land itself but from an opposing position on the water.  The land is the objective other.  

It is interesting, from our map-dominated representations of land today, that in the eighteenth century elevations were as necessary as reckoning by the sun: they are visual one-to-one maps without translation to a plan.  Of course they eventually had charts, but Vancouver was in uncharted territory: a drawing or a painting bypassed translation, gave the context and the scale of the coast, especially if it was potentially hostile.  

From the water, the land-bound built environment is very small – a toytown between the sky, the mountains and the sea, all huge. Even approaching a city such as Vancouver by ferry, its complex urbanity is itself but a pale cluster, not very tall, almost irrelevant.  From the middle of the strait one can see that the Island is the top of a mountain range, that the strait is full of small islands, that there are dozens of boats from tugs to freighters, container ships to barges: daily life on a terrain that remains mysterious to those on land.


failure to update: 20 February 2014

What is the point of Google satellite maps if they only present clean copies taken in the summer? Is there no satellite path near Independence Square/ Maidan Nezalezhnosti/ Майдан Незалежності in Kiev these days? 

Here is the structure of the square: divided in two by a main road. 

and here is the reality of Thursday, 20 February 2014:

or marginally closer to the ground:


Argentina's Playlist for Freedom

Part of BBC's Freedom 2014 programming: Natalio Cosoy's passionate explanation of the music of Argentina's often coded popular and folk songs during both military rule and after.  A wonderful half-hour of 'anthems to perseverance', as he says, 'what music can actually do, in terms of instilling freedom into society.'

Manifestación de las Madres de Plaza de Mayo en 1983, // Click on image to take you to the BBC page. Not ever sure how long these things are available for, but this image gives you all the tracking information.

This is an exciting series.  Here is a link to hip-hop in Africa.  For someone, me, who came to African music in the pre-African Rap late-80s, this program explains much that I had seen as neo-colonialism.  Again, it and the words were and are coded, flying under the radar of convention, tradition and military regimes. 


Rodney Place: art and revolution, 2012

Brett Murray The Struggle, 2010 Silkscreen 100 x 70cm Edition of 22. Goodman Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa

Something to think about: the artist, after the revolution.  We are so distant here in this snow-muffled northern country, the end of apartheid so abstracted, that Mandela's gracious processes of reconciliation have effectively buried the bodies.  

However, on the ground in South Africa the revolution continues to play itself out.  It was announced today that Mamphela Ramphele has become the head of the Democratic Alliance, the main opposition to Jacob Zuma's ANC, which is perhaps a different animal than the ANC of the struggle.  Ramphele was Steve Biko's partner, her cred is enormous, as an activist and as a now wealthy mining executive, doctor and World Bank director.  

Rodney Place in a 2012 essay about the place of the artist in post-revolutionary times, speaks about the relativism of the word 'freedom'.  In the balance between control, as seen in the limits of how and how much the artist can speak, and actual freedom historically charted in other revolutionary times, control has all the weight: the more weighty the control, the more rapier-like the tiny artist must be.  But only if the artists are up to it, and for this, they must be uncorruptable, immune to such things as  fame, market, comfort and the refuge of apoliticism.  Ha.  

The occasion of this essay was Brett Murray's 2012 exhibition in Cape Town, Hail to the Thief II, a collection of vicious satirical pieces that rant on the venality of current South African political culture.  The exhibition evidently was the site of public protests against such a critique, and it was to this that Place's essay responds.  

Revolutions betrayed are tragic, no less so in South Africa than in North Africa and the Middle East.  The Arab Spring has turned into a geography of proxy war on a dozen fronts.  Rodney Place excoriates artists who, as he says,  'want revolutions but we usually prefer being left alone to make art.'  Can art be the gun?  A romantic idea; when it happens it reveals polarities covered by other more pervasive mythologies. 


the silence of the labs

Silence of the Labs, Fifth Estate. CBC 12 January 2014.

Lyndon MacIntyre on the closing of environmental research labs across Canada, 45 minutes.  Science in support of particular policy decisions okay, such as the oil sands. Science that studies pollution, deep arctic history, health of people and waters – no longer deemed important.  

As Neil Young is saying this week, 'we are trading the integrity of Canada for money': close the libraries, fire the scientists, forget researched anthropological history: throw money at the War of 1812 and the Franklin Expedition, two British projects, the first before Canada was even an entity, the second a failure.  The Museum of Civilisation becomes the Museum of History as seen through the lens of Canadian war, something one would think was already covered by the Canadian War Museum.  Subsequent problems of contemporary wars such as the suicide epidemic of ex-Afghanistan veterans, the cutting of veterans' benefits -- these things are not easily rewritten as our glorious war record, so forget them.

What kind of country have we become? 


on food and survival

Apartheid-era prison diets on Robben Island

Watching the archival photos of the sharecroppers and tenant farmers of Gee's Bend during the 1930s it is obvious how thin they were.  And when Mandela was released, he too was terribly thin, and stayed so.  What did they all eat?
There are many images available of this typed-up sheet of the specifications for 'Coloured/Asiatic' and 'Bantu' food allowances posted in the museum that is now the Robben Island Gaol. Clearly everyone takes a photo of it in shock. None of these racialised words exist anymore, but the intent is clear.  

I calculate that Mandela existed on 700 calories a day and Ahmed Kathrada on perhaps 750 calories a day for 27 years.  These are generous calculations, not taking into account the quality of the food.  Neville Alexander was released in 1974 after ten years on Robben Island and wrote a dossier on conditions there, Robben Island Prison Dossier 1964-1974 published in 1994.  The food conditions are in Addendum Seven, p137.  How did they survive on a diet so nutritionally bereft of value?  Evidently the metabolism slows, organs shrink, many die.  

For Alabama, I quote Harvey Levenstein writing about Depression conditions in Paradox of Plenty, part 12, 2003:   'In Alabama sharecroppers scrape by on their historic diet of the three M's: meat (fat salt pork), corn meal, and molasses.  Shrivelled gardens stop producing green vegetables and fruit is but a memory.  When rations run out before Saturday payday, people simply go without eating.'

Those shrivelled gardens had been root crops and greens: the slave tradition had been leftover plant material – turnip and beet tops, dandelions and collards, discarded cuts of meat, plus, if allowed, foraged food, none of which was available to the South African prisoners. 

The monotony of the food on Robben Island must have been appalling, as were the three M's.  Would this mean one never cared much about food again, or would it mean that with prosperity one ate all that one could?  It could go both ways.


Nelson Mandela

18 July 1918 - 5 December 2013: a twentieth century life, in all its cruel outlines, and where this turned out to be training for political grace.  

1966: Mandela sits and sews inmates' clothes in the yard of Robben Island prison


Zaha Hadid: Sackler at the Serpentine

Zaha Hadid, Sackler Gallery, Kensington Gardens, 2013

A provocative portrait of the architect and her building.  Zaha Hadid's addition to the Serpentine Gallery has opened; big fanfare, diehard modernism that neatly jumps over all those tedious conversations about architectural context and replication of: the original 1805 gunpowder magazine remains intact with its proportions correct, the new and necessary addition for a new gallery, restaurant and lobby lands like a hankie beside it.  

1805: Napoleon had designs on an invasion of Britain, the magazine was part of the defensive strategy, built in the gardens of Kensington Palace.  Just because it was a warehouse for armaments, no reason not to make it look lovely.  War with Napoleon appears to have been the backdrop to continuation of elegant Georgian reason: Jane Austen's novels are full of it; some of the most beautiful buildings in London are military.  Today, our military occupy dismal metal or concrete buildings set far away: aesthetics are, perhaps rightly, completely absent from military life, and the military is completely absent from public view.

All that aside, one feels it keenly, the absence of an aesthetic public realm here: no annual pavilion by famous architect set in beautiful palace gardens, no gallery additions by famous architect, no galleries actually.  Here in wealthy oil land life is very utilitarian. 


Holst: Saturn, 1915

Holst's most ponderous planet:


the BSA Airborne Paratrooper Bicycle, 1944

Infantrymen of The Highland Light Infantry of Canada aboard LCI(L) 306 of the 2nd Canadian (262nd RN) Flotilla en route to France on D-Day, 6 June 1944.

On yesterday's photo of the landings at Juno Beach soldiers appear to be landing with bicycles.  I thought when I saw it how far we have come from bicycles to drones in the conduct of war, given that some of those fellows in the photograph are probably still alive: many of them died that day however.  

The bicycles: BSA [British Small Arms, a Birmingham manufacturing conglomerate that made everything from rifles to London taxis] made 70,000 Airborne Folding Paratrooper Bicycles between 1939 and 1945.  As with all things military there are many sites devoted to the most arcane details of this bike, its rifle holder, its pedals, its colour (green).  This one is very complete: Bcoy1CPB  which will mean something to anyone connected with the Canadian Forces: B Company, 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion I think.

BSA was famous after the war for its motorcycles; our geography teacher, Mr Knight used it as a mnemonic for the names and order of the great northern lakes: Bear, Slave and Athabasca — good, eh?

In the D-Day landings, the bicycles were to be used by the second wave regiments to speed their way to the front, but the troops found the roads so congested that they couldn't ride and most were discarded.  B coy reports that they were intensely disliked: probably weighed a ton, and after the war many were sold as surplus: $10 though the Hudson's Bay Company, $3.95 at Capital Iron in Victoria, BC. 

Oh, Capital Iron, a most wonderful weekend tradition of my childhood: huge, dark and gloomy, smelled like metal, oil and canvas, aisles of barrels of nails and tools and incomprehensible metal doodads.  The ceiling was dense with hanging flags.  I suppose it also operated as a reality check, all that metal and machinery, for the men who miraculously found themselves in clean safe jobs with little families and houses with back yards just ten years after the end of the war.


D-day on Juno Beach, 1944

Canadian soldiers from 9th Brigade land with their bicycles at Juno Beach in Bernieres-sur-Mer during D-Day


Jeremy Deller. English Magic, 2013

Still from Jeremy Deller. English Magic, Venice Biennale British Pavilion until November 24, 2013

Jeremy Deller, passionate chronicler of the tangents of war.  The reviews have called his installation at the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale aggressive. Angry, yes; resigned perhaps; this video captures something else. Deller's 2008 piece at the Imperial War Museum, It Is What It Is, was made from a bombed Baghdad car: there is something about the gratuitous destruction of cars in this film that with that earlier car in mind seems obscene. As does the aftermath of the inflatable Stonehenge: heritage as entertainment, the critique levelled at Danny Boyle's orchestration of the positive side of Britain for the opening of the 2010 Olympics.  There is a place and time for critique and the London Olympics was not one of them.  Deller has no such restrictions.

He isolates contradictions in Britain – the gap between pride and insignificance, between a blithe skipping along and a still, red in tooth and claw, countryside; between an imperial history and its modern incarnation as entertainment and celebrity.  Perhaps not contradictions, rather they are complex, near-inexplicable realities which artists and critical theorists keep trying to explain, reframe, re-present.  Adrian Searle calls Deller's Biennale installation a war on wealth — maybe, obviously I haven't seen it, I'm not British and I receive such works through a different lens, however, it seems that at the heart of Deller's work is a critique of war that uses a panoply of images used to disguise the project of war as a series of successes, heroisms and parades.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Will Gompertz on BBC World last night reported on Jeremy Deller's Venice project: the language a classic put-down.  'Aggressive' figures as the first word in every review, every report. If someone is angry, and as Deller said, these things had been in his mind for a long time, they can be dismissed as being aggressive, much as how angry women are written off as strident.  

And then, and this is unforgivable, Gompertz called Deller's angry, close to the bone murals that show just how socially conflicted England is today, 'the heir' to Danny Boyle's Olympic extravaganza.  This trivialises Deller by giving him a critical biography not from art but from the world of entertainment.  Controversy safely contained.


oil: moving it

Nov. 26, 1939: Oil transported by tank cars. Though oil had been shipped in the United States since the 1860s, dozens of commodities made their way around using tank cars in the 1930s. During World War II, tank cars almost exclusively shipped oil as part of the war effort. Photo: Wood Aerial Surveys. NYTimes Archive.

It was always explained to me that the US Interstate system was primarily a Department of Defense project, meant to extend to all corners of the country with a military-specification super-highway connecting dispersed military bases, plants, installations and depots, rather than concentrating such facilities in one or two key sites in the country.  This was a response to the fear that Chicago during the Second World War constituted a key target as the nation's railways all converged there: take out the Chicago railyards and transportation would be frozen.  Chicago wasn't bombed, but the cold war and the threat of larger weapons with greater reach kept the threat alive.

Above is an image from 1939: oil transported by rail.  Oil is essential to the prosecution of war.  And as Al Gore said in an interview yesterday on CBC oil is oil, once it is on its way, as a commodity, it doesn't matter where it goes (I paraphrase).  He pointed out that when Alberta bitumen gets to the Texas coast, it will be sold on, and that is the critical factor for approval of the Keystone pipeline.  This isn't a great fit with the desire for energy security, which is how pipeline projects are sold to us – no more reliance on dodgy sources in the middle east or the Gulf of Mexico, North America can find and refine and consume its own product.  Gore was suggesting that the raw bitumen is extracted in Canada, refined in Texas and then exported, a different proposition entirely.

On the map the Keystone pipeline appears to go right down I-29 to Kansas and then I-35 to the coast.  I remember this route, there is a little jog on I-70 through Topeka to get from I-29 to I-35.  So not as straight as the proposed pipeline route.  Whatever.  Perhaps rather than going through farmers' fields and disrupting their herds, woodlots and endangered species, the pipelines should go down the already disturbed landscape that is the Inter-state highway system.  Those freeways are like culverts with huge gravel verges, surely a pipeline could fit alongside them.  We might start to think of the interstate system not as a transportation network but an industrial-military network of channels carrying vital resources for the defence of the country.  This actually seems more likely than the Interstate as a traveller's joy.


Stan Barstow

Stan Barstow, 1928-2011. author

I came across this photo of Stan Barstow  whilst tracking down something else.  Looking like a young Orwell, he actually was the author of A Kind of Loving, published in 1960.  He was born in 1928, thus the officer's moustache which he was too young to qualify for.  This is, perhaps, one of the things that made that generation angry.  They couldn't help being born in 1928 and so being only 17 when WWII ended – they'd missed it all.  And angry they were, John Osborne, John Braine, Alan Sillitoe, Britain's 'angry young men' writing in the late 1950s, gritty portrayals of postwar northern urban life that cracked the tin ceiling of the working class.  

I'd read these books, because my father was a librarian and they were all around the house, and then in the early 1960s they were all made into films – black and white, wonderfully bleak, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, Room at the Top, A Taste of Honey – all seen in grade 8 or 9 at the Capitol Theatre in Nanaimo.  I fell for it all like a ton of bricks, as they say.  Profoundly passionate, hopelessly romantic within the tough strictures of working class morés; clearly I wasn't reading Virginia Woolf – that came in grade 10, nonetheless I absorbed it all, as a 14 year-old will do.  It didn't have anything to do with a life in Canada, but that's the thing about reading books, one is transported. Completely.

Thinking of re-reading Barstow, I find the Calgary Public Library which lauds itself for being the most active in the country, has none of his books. 


Tim Buckley: Dolphins, 1974

This song was written by Fred Neil in 1966.  Neil spent much of his life in dolphin preservation, but there is another layer in the lyrics about war, which would have been Vietnam. 

The early 1970s were an agonized time, a war had gone on too long for unsupportable reasons, the environmental movement realised just how quickly species were being lost and saw climate change rushing towards us like a dust storm. And poets picked up guitars.


Adrian Mitchell: tell me lies

The earliest filmed version of Adrian Mitchell performing his poem, To Whom It May Concern (tell me lies about Vietnam) at the Albert Hall, June 11, 1965:

And a film by Pamela Robertson-Pearce of Mitchell reciting Tell Me Lies just before his death in 2008.  He constantly adapted the last verse to pull the poem into the continual present, for about war some things never change. 


Mark Knopfler: Brothers in Arms, 1988

Although this was written in 1985 about the Falklands War, it has come to stand for many different kinds of solidarity, most recently British Forces in Afghanistan.  YouTube views of any version are in the multii-millions; this one, live and while Mandela was still in prison, might still be the most moving. 

It is this fellow feeling that infuses the military, more so when things go wrong.  Having one's ship torpedoed, being rescued, enduring a POW camp, sitting in an FOB, or in a convoy waiting for the next IED: the rest of us get it intellectually, but not viscerally.  Is it the sharing of intense fear – the most heightened emotion – that chooses an anthem?  Something about Brothers in Arms has made it anthemic.