Saturday, 27 May 2017

A SPIRAL

Round like a circle in a spiral like a wheel within a wheel...

Aeonium tabuliforme courtesy wikimedia commons

 Above, a detail of the succulent Aeonium tubuliforme, one of many examples of the golden ratio/ Fibonacci sequence found in nature. Recently, I've been considering the potential for the revival of scared geometry in landscape and urban design (in truth, in an effort to make my own designs more interesting), remembering a project that my friend Fergus Channon was involved with some years ago, at Manchester University Hospital.

One of the many projects in which Fergus was involved was the courtyard at the Eye Hospital. Working alongside friend and long time collaborative artist artist Richard (Rick) Dickinson, the pair created a number of life-sized deer sculptures, consisting of copper-mesh hide stretched over a skeletal frame of tubular copper. The astonishingly lifelike, yet somehow alien animals, sit amid a landscape designed in collaboration with landscape architect Jane Parker.

So what does this have to do with sacred geometry? It's all part of the plan...

Although I had no involvement in the design process of this scheme, I was fortunate to watch as it unfurled, like the fronds of a sacred fern, from germination to full realisation. In the beginning, Jane Parker and Fergus Channon were exchanging ideas online, and Fergus kinda got sucked into a Fibonacci rabbit hole (or vortex, which would be more appropriate I suppose). He showed me an incredible site, one which I have sadly been unable to find, connecting cyclones and ammonite shells to why propellers appear to go the wrong way when they caught on film.

In the end, the site plan consisted a central glass pool, with several arms spiralling out from the centre: 

Picture courtesy https://ferguschannon.wordpress.com/
So it's been my mind much of late, and in an attempt to see where it might lead, I thought I might draw myself a spiral. You start with squares, of course.

The Snail, Henri Matisse, Courtesy Tate http://www.tate.org.uk/art/images/work/T/T00/T00540_10.jpg
Not like that, though... more like this:



Using some arbitary unists, this square measures one by one. Then you add one the same size above it:

So, two squares each measuring one by one, followed by another square measuring  2 x 2:

Following the Fibonacci sequence: 1, 1, 2 .... then 3...

Each time, the square's edge is equal in length to the sum of the preceding two squares, following the Fibonacci sequence but also fitting snugly alongside the preceding squares with no overlap. Of course, this means the next numbers in the sequence are 5, 8 and 13:



Finally, two further squares are drawn, measuring 21 x 21 and 34 x 34:

The Fibonacci spiral is then constructed by drawing a series of quarter-circle arcs, beginning in the bottom right of the first square, using the top right of the same square as its centre. Each new arc begins where the previous one left off, but with a centre point on the perimeter of the new square.








 So there you have it, a Fibonacci spiral. What value this represents is anyone's guess, but I've been lazy of late and needed to break my duck. So here you are, some spirals.



Thursday, 9 February 2017

HUE/BECKTON - STRATEGIC VS> TACTICAL [PSYCHO]CARTOGRAPHY (PART THREE)

FINAL PART IN A SERIES OF THREE. READ PART ONE HERE


In the event, i hit a wall. A ten metre fucking thick wall of brick and earth. Then I walked beneath the arch instead of through the wall, which was a more sensible option. Then I hit another wall (pictured). This time there was no massive arch, but an entry fee and tickets and electric vehicles and i wasn't in the mood for any of that.

It was a cool, overcast, February day in Hue, city of walls, and I was at the citadel, the citadel not even noted in Full Metal Jacket, where the rebel army had holed themselves up for several weeks until they were ultimately bombarded out of hiding by American air power. There's not a lot of that in the local histories, nor about the initial atrocities they insurrectionists committed, nor the vicious reprisals they and their sympathisers likewise endured. Instead, the story is focused on Vietnam's Imperial past, the colonial protectorate of the Nguyen Dynasty, the anachronistic monarchy and life at court. I was not in the mood for all of that.

What I was in the mood for, I knew not. Somehow the disparate threads at which I'd been tugging had remained just that- disparate. For once, sticking a map on top of another one didn't really achieve anything other than make a nice picture.  It wasn't even my picture- it was Struan Brown's. The ingredients were there but it wasn't working: the military origins of psychogeography and cartography, the horrors of war aped, in children's play and cinema, but I felt disinclined to pull the pieces together, and I was not quite sure why.

I made a circuit of the inner wall, which amounted to a stroll of just under 2.5 km. This is not long for a walk, but it is long for a wall. As I patrolled the perimeter I tried to put my self in the shoes of one who would have made such a journey before: a guard, most likely, or maybe a penitent. Perhaps a bored concubine looking to sneak back in after attempting to escape palace life, but later having a change of heart. The shoes of the soldier felt small on me, not because soldiers have small feet, but because I'd pretended to wear them as a young boy, under similar circumstances, circumambulating Hadleigh Castle. That magnificent wreck is slowly crumbling into the Estuary after more than seven centuries. Hue's citadel has been around for a much shorter period of time, but it's historical significance is arguably greater.

In Roy Bayfield's book Desire Paths, the author describes: 

"..the finding approach described by Duncan Barford in his blog post  'Inside the Entrances to Hell': "

Perhaps this is what I should have done, instead I wandered around, eyes flitting at materials, looking for something that would make everything fall into place. I didn't find that. Instead I found this:



Friday, 27 January 2017

HUE/BECKTON - STRATEGIC VS> TACTICAL [PSYCHO]CARTOGRAPHY (PART TWO)

PART TWO IN A SERIES OF THREE. READ PART ONE HERE

“Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.”
-Charlie Chaplin


Looking back at the Hue psychocarte from 2014, experiencing disappointment: a pretty picture, but practically useless. A fraction of a battle map, spliced out and blown up, the details blurred and indistinct, all before the overlay… The plan had been to trace a random path through the citadel using the overlay, the route of a drive, but the streets were barely visible.

"All space is occupied by the enemy. We are living under a permanent curfew. Not just the cops — the geometry" -Raoul Vaneigem, The Unitary Urbanism Manifesto


The roots of the dérive (as opposed to its routes) are supposedly in urban warfare: the “aimless drift” was used as a means of reconnaissance. DeBord and the Situationists were engaged in cultural warfare, and via dtournement (cultural re-appropriation and re-purposing) these tactics were being turned back against the state. Like war, psychogeography was a political act. But like the actors portraying Joker and his comrades in Full Metal Jacket, there was also an element of play.

The closing chapter of Full Metal Jacket occurs in 1968/86 in Hue/Beckton. A crazed General, Kubrick, has ordered a platoon to wander through the remnants of a gasworks in search of a Vietnamese woman, whom they are to kill. She is the third and final woman, and the only one not to be presented by Kubrick as a sex object, though is equally disposable. The only enemy whose face is seen in close up- feminine, because the enemy must be emasculated. In the end, after a hard day’s play, the lads wander across the burning landscape, singing a song Mickey Mouse. In spite of yourself, you may just feel an incongruous warm glow inside.

Not only was 1968 a big year for Hue (just as 1986 was a big year for Beckton, although it would be made aware of that until long after the event), it was a big year for the Situationists. Increased militancy amongst industrial workers and students, culminating in a series of occupations, protests and a general strike nearly brought the French establishment to its knees. Though there were numerous socio-economic causes for this period of civil unrest, the Situationist International can take credit for providing some degree of leadership, and its writings strongly influenced the political graffiti of the time, which have provided some of the most enduring images of the period. 

Ultimately, the status quo prevailed, state power managed to suppress the protestors, and returned stronger and more resilient. Likewise, in Vietnam, the Tet offensive was ultimately crushed by the combined ARVN and US forces, and the rebel forces were expelled from all the major urban centres they had assaulted. In Europe and the USA, 1968 is often remembered as the last gasp of the counter-culture, a glorious failure. In Vietnam, the Tet offensive was a dress rehearsal for 1975, and victory for the revolutionaries (who, predictably, went on to impose their own repressive regime of state power). Ho Chi Minh’s forces succeeded, perhaps, because there was a coherent strategy in play, one which would outlive its progenitor.

Tet is rapidly approaching, 49 lunar years having passed since the infamous offensive, and the Battle for Hue. 31 years have likewise elapsed since the Battle of Hue was recreated at Beckton gasworks. Both of these are prime numbers. The 49th Boulevard was also the previous name given to Pham Van Dong Street in Hue. The time (and the cosmic numbers) is right for some kind of intervention. Yet without a coherent strategy- in this case, my psychocarte- there can be no opportunity for a successful operation. From the outset, the superimposition of a Hue map atop a map of Beckton (or perhaps the other way around) seemed like the best place to begin.
Sadly, it's been done before: here is Struan Brown's interpretation of Beckton overlaid on Hue. One cannot be startled by the fact that this has been done prior to it being imagined by me, but what is perhaps surprising is that Struan was actually a class mate of mine at the University of Greenwich. We studied together on the Landscape Architecture masters programme in 2014 (both of us had also been Greenwich students in 2013, but during different semesters). I have no memory of seeing this before, but was suddenly beset by a strange fear that I was experiencing cryptomnesia, the phenomenon of experiencing a memory as an original thought. 


Image by Struan Brown via http://struanbrown.blogspot.com/2013/12/beckton-gas-works.html

Perhaps of greater concern was the possibility that, having previously seen this image, the map of Hue had been buried in my subconscious, and that its presence there had subtly compelled me to find its origins. My journey to Hue, less than one year later, was not only on a whim but also somewhat serendipitous. Originally, I had obtained a job (via an agency) as an English teacher in Hanoi. Whilst booking the flights, I discovered it would be much cheaper to fly to HCMC and travel up to Hanoi independently than fly directly. On informing my agency, however, it transpired that this would not be acceptable to my prospective employer (I would have missed some "essential" part of the induction process whilst travelling from HCMC to Hanoi), and a new course of action was decided. Instead of teaching in Hanoi, I was told to meet up with a group of newly-qualified TEFL teachers in HCMC and travel with them to Hue, a city I believed I had never heard of.

It's hard to recall what was influencing my decision making processes at that time, the whole period prior to my departure is a miasmic blur. My memories of this period are a series of weird vignettes, mostly of one-on-one conversations with people who's lives are going to be somehow disrupted by my departure. There's no truth in them, really,: I've spliced and edited them back together too many times, there were filters on the lenses, and they're remakes anyway. 

PART 3 TO FOLLOW

Thursday, 26 January 2017

24 HISTORIC STYLES DÉTOURNED: PART I of XXIV

I recently downloaded a copy of Tom Turner's 24 Historic Styles of Garden Design, published by Gardenvisit.com. Tom Turner was one of my teachers at Greenwich, on both the BA and MA programmes. In this book, Tom aims to provide  "a short illustrated history of western garden design from 2000 BC to 2000 AD". "Western", in this context, includes Egypt, the middle east and northern India. If, like me, this subject is of particular interest to you then I recommend it: the text may be brief (and there are one or two typographic errors) but the accompanying illustrations- especially the style diagrams- are incredibly useful. 

Cover of Twenty Four Historic Styles... via www.gardenvisit.com

The style diagrams (illustrated on the cover, above) are part of a larger series that Tom Turner has been developing over many years. Clearly delineating how the elements of buildings, paving, vegetation and water are organised within each historic garden, they also imply, with a little bit of imagination, how these gardens may have been used. It occurred to me that they were also ripe for a bit of détournement- all in the best possible taste, of course.

So: every so often, I will select one of the twenty four diagrams at random, re-arrange it a little, then attempt to ascribe it to a time period or cultural movement.


Twenty Four Historic Styles of Garden Design by Tom Turner can be downloaded at Google Play Books

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

ON FASCISM

A political aside. I've been wrestling with my conscience for a day or two, in the aftermath of the events depicted below, a still lifted from a newsreel that’s circled the globe numerous times, has been memed and re-tooled and set to music and greeted with triumphant whoops. On my part, a momentary rush of malevolent glee was superseded by guilt, and then sadness, and then confusion.

Image via metal injection, of all places
In case you have been asleep for the past four days, the image depicts Richard Spencer, a prominent alt-right white indentitarian [sic], previously famed for addressing a group of white supremacists with a Nazi salute and a cry of “Hail trump”. The man to the left of him, clad in black, has punched him in the face because he disagrees with his views. The event took place in Washington on Friday, when Spencer somehow found himself in front of a camera within spitting of a particularly volatile demonstration of anarchists in Franklin Square.

Spencer is a hateful figure. A white nationalist, he has called for a “peaceful ethnic cleansing” of Europe in order to restore the continent’s traditional culture (whatever that is), called for the creation of a white Ethnostate within the USA, and denied being a white supremacist on the grounds that he does not support slavery. He also denies being a neo-Nazi, despite repeatedly making oblique references to Nazi propaganda throughout his career in alternative media. Whilst his detestable, irrational and abhorrent views are not the most extreme one might encounter amongst that interminable shower of pricks that have labelled themselves the AltRight, the acceptance of such views amongst people within earshot of the leader of the free world represents a clear and present threat to social progress and hope of a better world. For that reason, for a second or two, that technically incompetent fist (although, in the replay, it looks a lot like an elbow to me) to the fascist’s mouth felt fucking great. For a second or two.

A recent piece in the Guardian asks “Is punching Richard Spencer inciting violence or as American as apple pie?”, documenting the flurry of gleeful internet activity that followed the footage’s release, and quoting the references of a number of people to the American tradition of punching Nazis, a practice which largely takes place in the fictional universes of Indiana Jones or Captain America. The piece concludes, however, with a tweet from one of Captain America’s current writers, Nick Spencer (no relation), who stated “Today is difficult, but cheering violence against speech, even of the most detestable, disgusting variety, is not a look that will age well.”, in turn leading some commentators to question whether he should continue to write Captain America stories at all.

This element of the debate- this comparison of real life actions with those of fictional characters, and the tangents that such discourse engenders- is significant. A good friend of mine once remarked that we (in the west) are “descending into trivial fascism” and this evidenced by our ongoing debate about what Captain America would have done whilst protestors in Seattle are being shot at by fascists. Nonetheless, Spencer’s (comic Spencer, not Nazi Spencer) remarks are well worth considering. Punching people in the face because you disagree with them is what fascism is all about.

"He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster.
                                                                                                                -Friedrich Nietzsche,
Beyond Good and Evil

Fascism is all around us, it is the enemy of humanity, of a just and fair world. For this reason it is not something that can be punched in the face and defeated. Fascism is the speech of Richard Spencer, but it is also in the fist of his assailant. It is the gleeful reaction of otherwise pacifist, liberally-inclined individuals, seeing a total chode receiving his just deserts. It is the outraged reaction of alt-righters, preparing to arm themselves in “self-defence”. It is the crowd falling in love with its own applause, as my friend also said.

The philosophical foundation of the libertarian (as opposed to the authoritarian) right is known as the non-aggression principal, which grew out of the philosophy of Ayn Rand, and later Murray Rothbard. If the very mention of Ayn Rand sends shivers down your spine, please hear me out (and remember, although an apologist for radical, unfettered free-marketeering she was also a rationalist, a feminist, an atheist and a [classical] liberal defender of human rights, AND an avowed anti-fascist). The non-aggression principal asserts that the initiation of force is immoral: a rational, reasonable human being does not use violence, except in self-defence (or in the prevention of immediate violence… which is the trickier part). Right libertarians extend this principal to the role of the state in society, which it considers to be immoral because it a) monopolises violence (through police, military and gun control) b) and confiscates property (“taxation is theft”). Although this contains within it some loony extrapolations, it is a concept that those on the libertarian left should take on board: violence is wrong! Seems so ludicrous to write that, and worship of violence is certainly not specific to the political left. It crosses the political spectrum.

To me, this is what fascism is: a worship of violence. It is about submission to violence, subjugation of the individually weak by the more powerful, the assertion of will by force instead of reasonable argument. It is the praise of superman, whether that be in the form of a master race, a strong leader, or a messiah figure. Its roots in the authoritarian right are understood, but there is most definitely a “fascism of the left” in the form of so-called “socialist” states around the world. There is a “fascism of the centre”, in the casual worship of violence and the ubermensch that permeates mainstream western popular culture, as well as the mainstream media bias that blighted the recent US election. There is fascism at the fringes of identity politics, embracing individuals at the expense of the collective and a postmodern fascism embracing the collective at the expense of the individual. Finally, there are religious fascists amongst all the world’s great religions- Christian Falangists, Moslem jihadists, Jewish Israeli settlers on the West Bank, Hindu nationalists in India, even Buddhist Sinhalese ultra-nationalists in Sri Lanka.

The greatest enemy, however, is the fascist that lurks within the individual. Deleuze and Guattari explore this notion in Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia: fascism is at once the fear of being subjugated and the desire to be subjugated. When we see a Nazi getting punched in the face, it is the fascist within us that rejoices.

I consider myself to be an anarchist. I believe that true freedom, prosperity and justice for all humans- and for our planet- will occur when we have relinquished our thraldom to state power, indeed to all power. Fascists, on some primordial level, desire a regression to subservience, to the rule of masses by elites, to division and subjugation. Victory will not occur through violence, but through the end of violence. This does not mean that anti-fascists should not defend themselves, and they should indeed defend others who are the victims of hate, with force if necessary. But we should all be wary of being subsumed within this terrifying machine, this chimera of corporate capitalism, militarism and pop culture that is almost inseparable from our conception of who we are... and when the argument can be won, via both objective rationality and from a position of compassion, what need is there to surrender to the fascist within? 

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