Betsky on the Jeffersonian Grid

“The Jeffersonian grid converted the continent into territory, in which the scale of the whole country specified itself down to states, communities, neighborhoods, farms, building sites, and finally into the rooms within each balloon frame structure. American became the Descartian Eden, where every aspect of reality presented itself as a grid, from the street to the room, from the social space of the town square to the furrowed land. The undulations of geography, the vagaries of discovery, and the peculiarities of site disappeared below this invented spatiality.

William Garnett “Lakewood Housing Development” (c. 1950)

Most fundamentally, the grid meant that all the world was developable. Fallow land became unfulfilled space, waiting only to give up its potential within a gridded reality. The great mountains were the only boundary to this rule. They rose suddenly out of the West and gave it its heroic backdrop against which the potential of the land could be measured — until the mountains themselves could be mined either for minerals (becoming, in the process, part of the gridded plan) or for entertainment value as locales for recreation.”

Aaron Bestky “Emptiness on the Range: Western Spaces” in Crossing the Frontier: Photographs of the Developing West, 1849 – To The Present

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Krauss on The Grid

“In the spatial sense, the grid states the autonomy of the realm of art. Flattened, geometricized, ordered, it is anti natural, anti mimetic, anterior. It is what art looks like when it turns its back on nature. In the flatness that results from its coordinates, the grid is the means of crowding out the dimensions of the real and replacing them with the lateral spread of a single surface. In the overall regularity of its organization, it is the result not of imitation, but of aesthetic decree. Insofar as its order is that of pure relationship, the grid is a way of abrogating the claims of natural objects to have an order particular to themselves; the relationships in the aesthetic field are shown by the grid to be in a world apart and, with respect to natural objects, to be both prior and final. The grid declares the space of art to be at once autonomous and autotelic.”

— Rosalind KraussGrids,” in OctoberVol. 9 (Summer 1979)

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Benjamin on The Image, The Past & The Present

“Every present is determined by those images that are synchronic with it: every Now is the Now of a specific recognisability. In it, truth is loaded to the bursting point with time. (…) It is not that the past casts its light on the present or that the present casts it light on the past; rather, an image is that in which the Then and the Now come together in a constellation like a flash of lightning. In other words, an image is dialectics at a standstill.

Carleton Watkins, “Devils Canyon geysers, looking down,” Sonoma County, California – 1865

For while the relation of the present to the past is a purely temporal, continuous one, the relation of the Then to the Now is dialectical: not temporal in nature but imagistic. Only dialectical images are truly historical — that is, not archaic — images. The image that is read — which is to say, the image in the Now of its recognizability — bears to the highest degree the imprint of the perilous critical moment on which all reading is founded.”

— Walter Benjamin The Arcades Project

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Solnit on The Visibility Wars

“William James imagined a war against war; if it is being fought today, it is fought in part by making the invisible visible. War is a stain that has sunk so deeply into the fabric of our society that it is now its ordinary coloring; we now live in war as a fish lives in water. Ours is a society of war, and a society at war with itself. This is so pervasive and so accepted that it is invisible. And its invisibility is a shield seldom ruptured. But it is ruptured here. (…)

Trevor Paglen, “Detachment #3, Air Force Flight Test Center, Groom Lake, NV,” 2008 © Trevor Paglen, from “Invisble: Covert Operations and Classified Landscapes” [Aperture, 2010]

There are the things we know we see. There are the things we know we do not see. Then there are the things we do not know we do not see. And finally, there are the things in plain sight we choose not to see, or repress. Walter Benjamin referred to photography as the “optical unconscious,” and that’s one way to describe this fourth category.”

— Rebecca Solnit “The Visibility Wars” in Trevor PaglenInvisible: Covert Operations and Classified Landscapes

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Buck-Morss on Shock and the Senses in Modern Space

“…In industrial production no less than modern warfare, in street crowds and erotic encounters, in amusement parks and gambling casinos, shock is the very essence of modern experience. The technologically altered environment exposes the human sensorium to physical shocks that have their correspondence in psychic shock”

Susan Buck-Morss “Aesthetics and Anaesthetics: Walter Benjamin’s Artwork Essay Reconsidered” in October, Autumn/Winter 1992

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Butler on the State, Representation, War and Perceptibility

“Currently, the state operates on the field of perception and, more generally, the field of representability, in order to control affect, and in anticipation of the way that affect informs and galvanises political opposition to the war. I refer to a field of ‘representability’ rather than ‘representation’ because this field is structured by state permission; as a result, we cannot understand this field of representability simply by examining its explicit contents, since it is constituted fundamentally by what is cast out and maintained outside the frame within which representations appear. We can think of the frame, then, as active, as jettisoning and presenting, and as doing both at once, in silence, without a visible sign of its operation and yet effectively.”

Judith Butler “Torture and the ethics of photography” in Environment and Planning: Society and Space (2007)

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Virilio on Vision and War

“After the Second World War, it became possible to sketch out a strategy of global vision, thanks to spy-satellites, drones and other video-missiles, and above all to the appearance of a new type of headquarter. The central electronic-warfare administration – such as the so-called ‘3ci’ (control, command, communication, intelligence) in place in each major power – can now attend in real time to the images and data of a planetary conflict.”

Paul Virilio “The Sight Machine” in War and Cinema: The Logistics of Perception

Sophie Ristelhueber, “Babylone 2000, 2012″ – 2012

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Buck-Morss on Phantasmagoria

“Phantasmagorias are a technoaesthetics. The perceptions they provide are “real” enough – their impact upon the senses and nerves is still “natural” from a neurophysical point of view. But their social function is in each case compensatory. The goal is manipulation of the synaesthetic system by control of environmental stimuli. It has the effect of anaesthetizing the organism, not through numbing, but through flooding the senses. These simulated sensoria alter consciousness, much like a drug, but they do so through sensory distraction rather than chemical alteration, and – most significantly – their effects are experienced collectively rather than individually. Everyone sees the same altered world, experiences the same total environment. As a result, unlike with drugs, the phantasmagoria assumes the position of objective fact.”

Susan Buck-Morss “Aesthetics and Anaesthetics: Walter Benjamin’s Artwork Essay Reconsidered” in October, Autumn/Winter 1992

Lisa Barnard “New York, Las Vegas Strip” from “Whiplash Transition 2010 – 2013″ in “Hyenas of the Battlefield, Machines in the Garden” [GOST Books, 2014]

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Scheppe on Schulz-Dornburg and Seriality

Ursula Schulz-Dornburg, “Erevan, Sevan” 2001 from “Bus Stops” © Ursula Schulz-Dornburg, courtesy of Gallery Luisotti.

“The first and most universal form in the codified articulation of Ursula Schulz-Dornburg’s work consists of cycles and series based on a dismissal of the individual images’ fetishization. The principle of the sequence found its way into contemporary art via Minimalism and the basic idea of permutative seriality and took hold in photography early on in the motion studies of Edward Muybridge. The construction of the series not only opposed the aura of the individual tableau and its determination of contexlessness and claim of autonomy, but also simultaneously legitimises itself as a procedure of expounded archival knowledge.

This method of recording and storing by means of a taxonomy is exemplified in Ursula Schulz-Dornburg’s cycle of Armenia bus stops, which was compiled over a period of seven years. Built as futuristic structures and structures with a future, these bus shelters are architectural statement from the Stalinist era of the Soviety Union, when monumental infrastructure facilities were erected in five-year plans as a sheer demonstrative gesture, often in the middle of the desert.

Ursula Schulz-Dornburg, “Erevan, Sevan” 2002 from “Bus Stops” © Ursula Schulz-Dornburg, courtesy of Gallery Luisotti.

Her adherence to stringent rules in the process of taking pictures facilitates the comparability of objects. The serial character results from the systematic treatment of photographic variables such as distance, angle, orientation, and alignment of the horizontal lines. This formal discipline is not about cinematic sequentiality with direction and dynamic, but a sober syntactic  interrelation of the sequence that reveals the rule-bound nature of a typology. Through the coexistence of works within the collection, an individual building of this type of vernacular architecture refers to a ‘genus proximum,’ to its universal incidence, and thus becomes recognizable in its universality. (…)

Ursula Schulz-Dornburg, “Erevan, Artashat” 2001 from “Bus Stops” © Ursula Schulz-Dornburg, courtesy of Gallery Luisotti.

The constituents of formal continuity that lend a series the character of interconnection are sometimes latent intimations and sometimes salient characteristics of a sustained formal language. In any case, they are subject to the purpose of identifying a space. They act as measures for the production of relation and comparability, of coherence and context, but are never an aesthetic criterion in and of themselves. Images are justified not by the adherence to formalisms, but by the concept of the object. The prints that are related to one another in the grammatical structure of a series are oriented solely to recognition and explication while dispensing with the suggestion of an interpretation. Serving as material and a lever, the visual document of photography fosters thinking in this process without itself wanting to be a presentation of evidence and judgement.”

— Wolfgang Scheppe “Field Loss” in Some Works by Ursula Schulz-Dornburg.


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Thrift on Violence

“violence is an expanding series of practices in which objects – many of them of a sophisticated kind – have a more than incidental place (…) increasingly, violence works to an agenda driven by the requirements of these objects, and not least the affective landscape being produced by the media.”

Nigel Thrift “Immaculate Warfare? The Spatial Politics of Extreme Violence” in Violent Geographies: Fear, Terror, and Political Violence

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