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Entries in war (132)


Taysir Batniji's Watchtowers

Watchtowers (Israeli military miradors in West Bank, Palestinia), 2008 serie of 26 photographs B&W, digital prints, 40 x 50 cm (photo Dieter Kik).
Taysir Batniji is showing a series of photographs this year at Untitled (12th Istanbul Biennial), 2011 which investigates the relationship between art and politics. Batniji's series, Watchtowers, consists of watchtowers on the West Bank border with Israel.  There is a project of witness here, the recording of the watchtowers' existence, and there is a formal project, the typology of the watchtower, and there is a project of photography, the implications of the processes and products of the Bechers, their watertower series in particular.  

Water Towers (Wassertürme), 1980. Nine gelatin silver prints, unique, approximately 61 1/4 x 49 1/4 inches (155.6 x 125.1 cm) overall. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. © 1980 Bernd and Hilla Becher

Batniji describes the watchtower project:
Significantly, the project registers the attempt (or the situational difficulty in trying to attempt) to follow the Bechers’ method. The particularly perilous conditions of these photographs render them compromised. As a Palestinian born in Gaza I am not authorized to return to the West Bank, so I delegated a Palestinian photographer to carry out these photos. They are out of focus, clumsily framed, imperfectly lighted. In this territory, one cannot install the heavy equipment of the Bechers or take the time to frame the perfect position, let alone afford to wait days for the ideal light conditions. Aestheticization becomes a vivid political challenge, both in the creation of these photographs and in their reception, as these images challenge viewers to see these functional military constructions as sculptural, or as a part of a formal architectural heritage.

Aestheticisation is such a danger and must plague all photographers in war situations where the camera both sees and makes beautiful simply because it isolates a dynamic and horrific scene in a detached and calm image, and the calmness, and our inevitable space-time distance as viewers from the scene, sanctifies it somehow.  The janus-face of documentary photography.


divided cities

Border Town. Paul Graham Raven: I can get an infinitely reproducible copy of the iconic shot of Conrad Schumann leaping the checkpoint barricade within seconds of googling for it, but the symbolic buttons it presses get pressed much harder when one buys it as a postcard from a shop on Unter den Linden before sitting down among the glistening new constructions of Potsdamer Platz 2.0 to scribble a suitable message on it and send it to a friend back home.

On FOP, Friends of the Pleistocene, a section of Smudge Studio, I found this link to a studio held in Toronto on divided cities, Border Town
First of all it is interesting that one can initiate a 10-week design studio outside an academic institution simply because you want to investigate something.  This is how it should be.
Second, what constitutes a border town is predictably open, from those towns where the line between one country and another runs down the main street, New Brunswick seems to have several of these.  Or, between provinces, as in Lloydminster, Alberta/Saskatchewan.  Or a container port, where the containers and their contents are not in this country, only physically, but not in any other sense.  
The Border Town website has a number of provocative statements and diagrams as a group exhibition.  

It is, of course, the 50th anniversary of the building of the Berlin Wall this year, and there have been many tv and radio documentaries recently: a terrible partition of a city and a people, released only with the economic and thus the ideological collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989.  

Léon Krier. Master Plan for the New Hafenviertel, Berlin-Tegel (1980-1983)

What seems surprising now that Berlin and Germany are unified, is how Berlin was perceived in the early 1980s at the time of the 1984 IBA, the Internationale Bauausstellung, which focussed on the rebuilding of central Berlin, much of which had not been repaired since the war, and had further damage because of the wall.  A residential 'heart'  had to be re-established.  IBA Berlin was like a world's fair of architects who went on to be stars and others who died a graceful postmodern death: Koolhaas, Hadid, Siza, Krier, Hejduk, Portoghesi, Botta -- it is a long list
At the time, this was the only architectural conversation worth having, it dominated all conferences, publications from both Europe and the US, it made architecture a public conversation; pilgrimage to Berlin was mandatory.  

But not for me, I think I was struggling to survive the economic downturn after the collapse of the National Energy Policy.  However, discussions of the Berlin Wall are strangely absent in my memory.  It is as if it was some sort of geological feature, a cliff that one could not scale, a natural edge to the city.  What was beyond it was wilderness, not architecture's problem.

I wonder if IBA Berlin did not signal the death of architecture as an autonomous act, something that the Harvard Design Review devoted a whole issue to around this time.  I have it, I loved it then.  It gave architecture a kind of unfocussed and undeserved agency which is quite dangerous.  Nonetheless, this way of viewing architecture survives, and it cropped up again at the Musagetes Sudbury Café in a session about architecture and aboriginal sacred space.  There is much to blame architecture for: its linearity, its inhospitable cities, its dead and deathly materials (a tree has a spirit, cut down and made into lumber, the spirit is lost), and above all, its indifference to social and cultural realities.  It does not live, it does not understand the longue durée.  
In such a critique, both the role and the act of architecture are considered as having some sort of inherent power to blight one's life and one's culture. Its very indifference makes it malevolent. One can make the critique, but to make it one has to believe in architecture as an autonomous act with inadvertent social and cultural consequences.  

The Berlin Wall fall did not fall because West Berlin imported a lot of excellent international architects who rediscovered perimeter block housing and made the city complete again. It was the project of a very prosperous state, and the fall of the Berlin Wall was because of an unsustainable political edifice which had effectively lived under a western embargo for forty years.  Did architecture play a part in re-unification, other than to be yet another form of glamourous consumer durable?  

Architecture is a tool, the power is in the hand that wields the tool, not in who makes it. But there are other kinds of architecture with much wider, less ambitious possibilities, architectures which can resist being made symbols of political power.


Giulio Petrocco


Giulio Petrocco, photographer. Juba, 2011Giulio Petrocco  took the photographs for Joshua Craze's article on Juba, South Sudan in On Site 25: identity.  Petrocco is an Italian photojournalist who places himself in dire and dangerous circumstances: see for example, his work from Sana'a, the Yemeni spring which becomes progressively more violent, or a curious site: a neighbourhood in Queen's which was built on a swamp and was a mafia dump.

 Through Petrocco's lens the third world seems to exist anywhere there is struggle.  One wonders if the first world is a definition of sleep walking with plenty of rights and lots of food.  

He keeps a running commentary on his blog What I Learnt Today.

Joshua Craze is an essayist based in Juba, Southern Sudan. With Meg Stalcup, he investigated counterterrorism training in America, which was published by the Washington Monthly.  Now maybe I am a naïve first world sleepwalker, but I found this study really upsetting – not that there is terrorism and counter-terrorism, but the massive distortions of identity and affiliation that can get one so easily killed.  His piece for On Site wasn't quite so dismaying. It was about South Sudan, new country, no identity other than tribal groups which have animals as totemic markers.  There was a perhaps spurious plan to rebuild Juba, the capital, according to a plan the shape of a rhinoceros, the totem of the current power group, the eye being the seat of government (and no doubt a great site for future protests – a Tahrir Square in the making).  Frankly, I thought it looked reasonable as a plan.  As reasonable as any other kind of abstract diagram upon which to base a city. 

The distance between this idea and Juba's reality as shown in Petrocco's images is indeed vast, but the plan is so hopeful, so clean, so deceptively simple.  For something of the complexity of this area see Craze's piece on Abyei in The Guardian.

Proposal for the rebuilding of Juba, South Sudan, 2010.




Bob Marley, live in Dortmund, 1980.


Tim Hetherington

Tim Hetherington. Still from Restropo, 2010.Tim Hetherington was a British news photographer who made a career covering conflict for news organisations and for Human Rights Watch.  He was not a removed observer behind the camera, but an engaged humanitarian who intervened either directly or through a sustained commitment to struggles such as the Liberian civil war, and the current Libyan war in Misrata, where he was killed on April 20.

Current estimates put the death toll in Libya between February 16 and April 21 as two and a half thousand opposition and eight hundred Gaddafi loyalists.  It is an ugly war with executions, lynchings, rapes, mercenaries, untrained troops, betrayals, lies and human shields.  The death estimates indicate the asymmetry of this war.

Restropo, from which the above still is taken, was a 2010 film about US forces in Afghanistan, in the Korengal Valley.  The image could have been from many or any war: dugouts, trenches, blasted landscapes, small indications of soldiers trying to stay human. Photo-journalists, such as Hetherington and Chris Hondros, also killed on April 20 in Misrata, or Rory Peck killed in Moscow in 1993, reporters such as Orla Guerin – they are witnesses, for us, at great personal sacrifice. 


Vivienne Koorland

Vivienne Koorland. Close Your Little Eyes, 2010. Oil on stitched canvas 31" x 27" inches (79 x 68 cm) Collection the artist

Vivienne Koorland works in New York, is currently showing in London at East Central Gallery and grew up in South Africa, leaving it before the end of apartheid.  Her mother was a hidden and smuggled child in Poland during WWII, ending up in a Jewish orphans home in South Africa in 1948.
Koorland's work is characteristically complex where everything from the kind of marks made, the material they are made with, the canvas or burlap or bookcovers they are made upon is heavy with historical memory, from her own conflicted childhood in Africa to her mother's loss of childhood and family to her own exile and homesickness for an impossible childhood that cannot be revisited.  
It is not just Germany, or just the holocaust, or just apartheid, or just the unfairness, or just the loss of material goods, or talents, or love; it is all these things, constantly jostling on the crowded historical surfaces of her work.  Letters, writing, ledgers, sheet music, popular songs, maps – they all lie together.  

Her working method reuses her own rejected drawings and paintings, burlap rice bags are stitched together to make a full canvas, their printed labels worked into the content.  Her work is constantly being remade and re-referenced.  
Although nominally about the past, it is the present that is often discussed: a magnificent gold map of Africa is so simple, yet so complex in reference to gold mining, to a shimmering beautiful potential and a hateful process of extraction.  This is work that sinks in complexity rather than skimming on a too easily grasped surface. 

Vivienne Koorland. Gold Africa, 2010. oil and pigment on stitched burlap. 68.5 x 61 inches (27 x 24 cm) Private Collection, London


Sarajevo Survival Tools 

Isak Albahrij's Oven, 1992.The Sarajevo survival tools project is both an exhibition and a virtual archive of the tools, implements and re-inventions from the Sarajevo siege of 1992-1996. 

Seige, whether by war as in the 3-year seige of Leningrad or by sanctions as in the last forty years for Cuba or by environmental disaster as is now unfolding in Japan, means a lack of everything: food, water, medicine, fuel.  It shouldn't be that total deprivation makes people creative, but it does. 

Sarajevo survival tools run from the watering can made out of a cooking oil tin delivered as humanitarian aid,  to a sat phone left behind by fleeing UN workers and quickly appropriated.  There is a double-barrelled rifle, minimal in the extreme, and a hand crank flashlight made out of a bicycle lamp.  This isn't a return to primitive technology, many of the materials are taken from electronic equipment and re-engineered with considerable sophistication.  However, even making an oven out of an aluminum drum results in an object that sustains life and therefore is necessarily beautiful.

Isak Albahrij's Oven, 1992.


responsibility to protect

Prague Spring: January 5 - August 21, 1968

Hungarian Uprising:  October 23 - November 10, 1956.

Benghazi:  February 21, 2011

Irving Cotler wrote about Libya and R2P in the New York Times (28 February 2011)The situation in Libya is a test case for the Security Council and its implementation of the RtoP doctrine. Yet it remains the case that, as the U.N. secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, put it, 'loss of time means more loss of lives'.  The Security Council must do more — and fast. It is our collective responsibility to ensure RtoP is an effective approach to protect people and human rights.

And when, in all the news reports, did Libyan anti-Gadaffi protesters become 'rebels',  semantically removing the sense of peaceful protest in favour of a word that has such violent confrontational references?   A civil society has been established in Benghazi, the first they have known.  Can one have rebellion against a rebel? For surely that was both Gadaffi's history and his present: violent confrontation in the pursuit of power.  We should be careful with our words.  Gadaffi supporters are advancing on and quelling supporters of civil society.  Would that make the responsibility to protect a little clearer?


North African distances


The Western Desert. WWIIGaddafi expelled all Italians from Libya in 1970.  Libya had been the North African staging post for the Italian-German axis in WWII, as Libya had been under Italian control/occupation since the 19th century.

On Al Jazeera last night there was a map of the north coast of Libya with Tubruq on it which, when it was known as Tobruk, was the site of a major and extended battle during WWII.  Rommel held Tobruk for 240 days and then lost it to the Eighth Army.

On the maps we are seeing on the news, one realises just how close Tunisia and Libya are to Sicily.  Lampedusa, a miniature and bleak little island 70 miles off the coast of Tunisia is still part of Italy and until 1994 had a US Coast Guard base on it, used to monitor Libya and fired upon by Libya after the US bombed it in 1986 killing, among many others, Gaddafi's daughter.   Lampedusa is the main entry point for African refugees/ illegal immigrants / economic migrants to Europe.  Although closer to Tunisia, Libya is the easier country to leave from, evidently.

During WWII Tunisia and Libya were simply known by the Allies as the Western Desert.  Strategically important, it was the launching point for the Italian invasion which began with the landings on Sicily.   In On Site 22: WAR, Aisling O'Carroll wrote about the use of camouflage in the desert where whole dummy armies were installed in misleading locations.  This was a North African war conducted, it seems, without local involvement, something that seems difficult to believe now. 

Tunisia, Libya, Sicily. google maps


Green Square

Green Square, Tripoli, Libya. google maps

At the time the google satellite took the picture of Green Square in Tripoli, this week the site of an emergent genocide, it was used as a parking lot.  it is across the street from a vast museum and archaeology complex, on the other side, to the south east is an immense stretch of parks and squares.  Directly south and south west is a bit of city – shops and offices, directly north a large pond, a divided highway and the Mediterranean with a built up edge – all gardens and plaza.

Green Square isn't a place of compression, it leaks all over into adjacent flat spaces.  One can read urban patterns only so far.  Tripoli has an unused traffic circle, it has larger open spaces, it has spaces adjacent to more powerful government buildings than the National Museum, so why Green Square?

Ah, on a tourist site I find (from 2009):  'The square is one of the most important celebration places in Libya.  Muammar Kaddafi addresses his speeches to the nation from here on the most important days such as 1st September Revolution anniversary. . .. Traffic circles the square and it is full of speeding cars day and night.'

So it has been made a potent urban site by association with the reiterated revolutionary origins of Gaddafi who came to power in 1969 with a coup against King Idris.  He was 27, Gaddafi was.


Tahrir Square 2

Aerial photo of Tahrir Square, February 2nd, 2011.


distressed fabric

  Joseph Beuys. Felt Suit, 1970. Felt, 1700 x 600 mm sculpture Tate Collection T07441Shelley Fox and scorching fabric reminded me of Beuys's use of felt: distressed fibres for one reason or another, aesthetic or metaphoric.  The material of construction is changed in some way, not just the form. 

As architects we tend to use material as it comes to us, at most the colour changes.  A long time ago , so I don't even know if it was recorded but the idea was a powerful one and so persists, Wally Mays, a Calgary sculptor, built a wall out of warped 2 x 4 studs.  It curved, it leant, its form was entirely dependent on the natural tendency that thin pieces of wood have to bend.  It was a lovely thing.

Joseph Beuys told the story often of his winter rescue in the Crimea during WWII by nomadic Tatars who covered him in fat and wrapped him in felt: felt was protection, life-giving, dense and felted with meaning. 
Shelley Fox found the qualities of fabric burned in machinery, something that could normally cause the operator his job, gratuitously more interesting than perfect production.  Somehow the materials are given a history of making, a history of use, a social and cultural history that, if one wanted to deconstruct them, simply add more layers of meaning to the form such fabrics make.

There appears to be an interest in both abraded material and form – Oikos  and Jellyfish, the theatres made of scraps and pallettes as examples.  I wonder if this is a harbinger of an architecture interested in material processes and a collaborative understanding of materials which might lead to a different understanding of a building's deep context.


Afghan war rugs

Rug, Afghanistan, 2001-2007. L88cm x W64cm. knotted pile; plain woven; wool, fringed. T2008.1.38. Gift of Max Allen, Textile Museum of Canada.Unravelling the Yarns: War Rugs and Soldiers is an exhibition of Afghan war rugs from the Fyke collection at the University of Calgary, on now at Calgary's The Military Museums. 
There was a similar exhibition, Battleground: War Rugs from Afghanistan at Toronto's Textile Museum of Canada in 2008. A different collection, but the same kind of carpet: traditionally woven but, as Max Allen said in his curatorial essay for Battleground: 'Afghan weavers depict on their rugs what they see and what matters most to them. And so over three decades of chaos, the customary images of flowers have turned into bullets, or landmines, or hand grenades. Birds have turned into helicopters and fighter jets. Landscapes have filled up with field guns and troop carriers. Sheep and horses have turned into tanks.'

They are not rare, and although the Unravelling the Yarns notes by curator Michelle Hardy seemed to suggest that they are a form of tourist art, some of the carpets are so similar to pre-conflict carpets in their graphic form that they do appear as a personal, narrative recording of war where grenades look like flowers. 

Others are like small posters, often with the world trade centre, maps and much block printing. Or they are careful and accurate depictions of AK-47s.  One can see these as using woven traditions to make souvenirs of war, notations of the tools of war that have blasted traditional landscapes into irrelevance. 
Image on the cover of Made in Afghanistan. Rugs of Resistance, 1979-2005. Calgary: University of Calgary, Nickle Museum, 2995


Jamelie Hassan: Poppy Cover

Jamelie Hassan. Poppy Cover. LOLAfest, London Ontario, 2010Poppy Cover was installed during London Ontario Live Arts' LOLAfest, September 16-19, 2010. 
Two thousand poppies were attached to a large camo net which then covered a Sherman Tank that sits permanently in Victoria Park, London.  The WWII tank was dedicated to the park in 1950 by the 1st Hussars of the Canadian Forces, based in London.  It was the only tank of the 6th Canadian Armoured Regiment to complete the entire European campaign from D-Day to the end of the war.

Jamelie Hassan's Poppy Cover restores this WWII history (the tank mostly provides an ad hoc climbing frame for children outside Remembrance Day services) and adds the current Afghan conflict to it.  The poppies reference the WWI Flanders field poppies, the Canadian Legion poppy tradition for Remembrance Day and the poppy fields of Afghanistan which flood the world with opium and heroin. 

As with all Hassan's work, objects have deep histories and consequently multiple readings.  History is not simple, it is striated; monuments are not fixed and stable, they are ongoing and mutable.  


Henryk Górecki

Henryk Górecki (6 December 1933 - 12 November 2010)

Henryk Górecki.  Syphony of Sorrowful Songs.  Second part of the 3rd Movement - Lento e largo—Tranquillissimo


do remember this

10 Course RCAF July 7th 1944.  Nicosia, Cyprus

Vic Seaton   Frank Buck X   Alex MacDonald   Tut White   Bill Wilkes X   Don Downing
Shearer   Eric Von Bock X   Les Corney X   Jack Fitzpatrick X   Monty M Brown   Bill Wilson
Eric Watts   Robert Thomas   Neil Moss    Vic Treasure   Frank Purnell X

6/17 killed: 35%


46,998 Canadian military killed in the Second World War.
Canada's population in 1939: 11.25 million
Enlistment: 1.3 million, 41% of all men between 19 and 25.

  • Royal Canadian Air Force deaths: 17,974
  • Royal Canadian Navy: 4,154 
  • Canadian Merchant Navy: 1,146
  • Canadian Army: 24,870 

Dick Averns

Dick Averns. Duff, 2009In our mortal lives, the gods assign a proper time for each thing upon the good earth - Homer

Operation Calumet is Canada’s contribution to the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO), a little known international peacekeeping organization (not connected to the UN) comprising 11 countries and almost 2,000 troops. Their job is to monitor the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt: observe, report, verify.

Dick Averns was attached to the MFO through the Canadian Forces Artists Program in 2009. 



Cottonwoods at Lone Hand Ranch

June 2008, no summer in Penticton yet;
the rain last week more like March or November.
Last night it hailed, then poured for six wet hours.

In Summerland, the apricots froze.
This is the coldest June on record this centennial year;
and at LH Ranch all the trees are down,
all the cottonwoods have been cut, dumpstered and removed.

And east of Zhari two dogs whimper,
Await their master who is not there;
and at the airport in Kandahar a soldier is ramped home.
His photo on the ‘National’;
his life, beauty, presence removed by chance
like cottonwoods at Lone Hand Ranch.

DBJ Snyder
June 2008

— smsteele

This war?  Afghanistan.  smsteele's chartilng of it:

TVO has mapped where the 152 Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan come from.  Overwhelmingly they are from rural Canada.

TVO. The rural/urban divide, 2010




William MacDonnell

William MacDonnell. The Wall, 1994. Canadian War Museum AN19970054-001A week of thinking about wars.  This one, the Bosnian conflict in the former Yugoslavia 1992-95.  MacDonnell was in Croatia with the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry of the Canadian Forces. 

He is quoted in Legion, “What struck me was the fact that the worst aspects of the war seemed to be based on the destruction of each other’s culture. It was always churches, schools, libraries and monasteries that were being destroyed, sites that were hundreds or even thousands of years old with no military advantage. When you understand that it’s a cultural war, the whole thing seems to make some kind of horrible sense. You begin to understand the fear and how it works….”