ISSUE 01_DO MACHINES HAVE ORGASMS? _BY DAN SCLZ _SUBJECTS_ # DEAR ARCHITECTURE SCHOOL... _The developments in Fitzroy, Northcote,Preston and Brunswick, are branded and sold to the middle class as ‘part of’ the North’s bar, music and food culture – ‘part of’ really meaning ‘in proximity to’. Yet, these developments fail to contribute to the very culture that it markets itself to be participating in. Not only are the ground floors occupied by corporations such as Coles, Woolworths, Nando’s etc. (part of what is called the ‘viability of architecture’), the homogenisation of dwelling into fifty square metre, multi-level apartments, even with adequate “light and space”, totally excludes the types of labor that have, historically, sustained this culture. It disables musical experimentation which has, in this case, been a function of suburban architecture – the garage, unemployment and drug-use. One could barely imagine The Primitive Calculators, a seminal Melbourne punk band, rehearsing in a new Fitzroy development, doing lines of speed on a rain forest veneer coffee table next to a copy of the latest Artichoke magazine and ensuring that they finish at 8.00pm because the entire apartment has to drive to work at six the next morning. Neither, could you imagine a marginalised political group such as the Anarchists club passing by the Woolworths for a packet of dorritos on their way to a meeting on level ten, or imagine Pi O, Fitzroy’s most notable poet, performing his poetry to a bucket of peri peri chicken... Perhaps staging these activities in modern housing developments is possible and even has some dramatic and ironic merit, but the reality is that the actors on this cultural stage will be banished further to the fringes of suburbia, abandoning a bewildered and narcissistic audience left wondering what happened to all those interesting people and events, why Coles specials and everyday prices are the new rally cries, why ‘vintage’ cafes have replaced music culture and political outsiders and why poetry, once performed on a stage by a wild eyed Greek-anarchist, is now a dusty anachronism present only in books. The tragi-drama of Northern development is not a matter of “ventilation and sunlight”, of cheap construction or un-architected building as claimed by #buildquality. That architecture has a parasitic relationship to culture is no accident. It is, ironically, architecture’s appetite for relevance that has led to its collusion with developer economics, a carefully constructed relationship of social signification. #buildquality is a band aid attempting to bridge a gaping and fetid divide between the market, an astral and virtual machine, and culture, a entangled ecology of emergent phenomena and non-local objects. Culture is a real object, albeit esoteric, withdrawn and difficult to measure, it is, nonetheless, approachable. But the cultural object strikes fear of failure in the hearts of architects because architecture, like almost all the humanities has had a definitive period of styling itself as a natural science. Many schools of thought still clutch at this still-born hoping a formula for social relationships can be deduced with methodologies of mathematics, associative reasoning or statistical data. The market appears on the horizon as a solution to the problem of measuring culture. It puts a direct monetary value, with decimalized accuracy, on the needs, desires and dreams of people, ordering them statistically and quantifying their positions. The market is undoubtedly a machine and “alas for the machine, it can never transcend its own operation... All machines are celibate.” (ToE) That the market, a sexless artifact, is the measuring stick of culture is no accident either. We once dreamed of the end of political economy and the abolition of social classes and this was as much a driving force of colonisation as imperialism and world domination. In the process of eliminating class difference we have overcoded social relationships with a system of capital. “Money is now the only genuine artificial satellite. A pure artifact, it enjoys astral mobility; and is instantaneously convertible.” The vast mass of money “whirling about the Earth in orbital rondo” (ToE) has become more real, more effectual, more significant than the actual streets over which we stumble. Capital’s realness is no accident. It is architecture’s fear of ‘getting it wrong’ which led to period of trailing behind the natural sciences like an obedient dog, decorating factoids with architectural sprinkles, and resigning itself to the warmth and security of market forces. Despite what materialism and reductive reasoning have claimed, objects cannot be reduced to the sum of their parts. The human species is not a teleological categorization of a set of individual objects based on an essence nor is it reducible to the composition of its DNA, a molecule carrying genetic instructions for its development, functioning and reproduction. The human species has emergent properties that cannot be at all reduced to these components, expressed by the fact that when I start my car I don’t mean to harm the biosphere nor am I actually harming it, my action is statistically meaningless but billions of me do exactly that (Morton). This is the species human, a real object, affecting the world on a meteorological and geological scale. Enter the Anthropocene. An era that specifically labels the human species as an effectual geophysical force. There is an anxiety inducing gap between me and the Kantian object, human species. Just as there is an anxiety inducing gap between the bacterial, cellular composition of my body, the oxygen I breathe into my lungs that evolved from the swim bladders of fish, my oedipalised mother-son relationship, the song on the radio that won’t stop repeating in my head, the fuzzy feeling in my brain from last night’s 8 pints of fermented yeast juice and what I declare as the object ‘Me’. An object is not ontologically greater than the sum of its parts because we now live in an ecological world in which all objects are ontologically equal, it is elementary that the parts, greater than one, are always bigger than the whole, one. If wholes are always smaller than the sum of their parts, there inevitably exists a withdrawnn-ness to objects, which means as you try to understand them scientifically, experientially or artistically, they withdraw from knowledge and you fail to exhaust your understanding of the object. That all objects can have a dotted line drawn around them with a little tag that says ‘cut here’ is a totality that the object itself defies.
“We all know it’s about basic amenity - everyone deserves ventilation and sunlight” #BuildQuality
“Money is now the only genuine artificial satellite. A pure artifact, it enjoys astral mobility; and is instantaneously convertible.” Not even science purports to be able achieve this totality but the humanities, limping dumbly behind them like some brain-dead Igor, have blind faith in absolute truths. Yet, there are three scientific discoveries, symptoms of our anxious experience of the withdrawing object, that further describe this uncanny withdrawn-ness, these discoveries are space-time, ecological entanglement and non-locality. Rippling with time, objects tease other objects into their sphere of influence. A planet has time melting and rippling along its surfaces, an imperative so powerful and embedded within our experience we take the ground we are standing on for granted, the ground that constitutes our irreducible experience of space-time. Space-time is the interconnection between all things that change constantly, relative to objects externally and internally to the point where an inside-outside distinction is no longer possible. Tiny clocks on the twirling eraser at the end of the pencil register a slightly different time than tiny clocks on the graphite tip that remains still, while tiny clocks on the tip of my nose... and so on and so forth. It was not until 1900 that time and space became thinkable as effects of objects, rather than absolute containers and is not until the possibility of ecological destruction in the late twentieth century that we could experience ecology as a profound and anxious interconnectedness of all things, an interconnectedness that cannot be experienced as One, as a totality, no matter how much MDMA and acid fizzle through my neural circuits and nervous system, or how much full moon bush dancing or eye-gazing orgasms I have with my dreadlocked polyamorous lovers. It is a reality that has led us to skepticism and cynicism. It is not the skepticism of the facts of something but skepticism of the reality that the facts describe. For we know, because of facts, that when we extract old dinosaur and plant matter that has taken millions of years of geological folding and planetary catastrophe to become liquids and gasses buried beneath the surface of the planet, and we heat this stuff up to 850 degrees Celsius in a fraction of a second so that the steam produced moves faster than the speed of sound, and we produce a molecular composition called polyethylene that is non-bio-degradable and toxic to most life-forms, and that when we produce 80 million tons of this stuff annually, it assembles in islands of floating rubbish in the oceans and is buried in the ground in mass graves, creating a layer of geological material that cannot be absorbed by the very system of decomposition that created the dinosaur goo from which this alien material is a bi-product. We are not skeptical of the facts that we are creating a geological and meteorological catastrophe, even when sometimes these are alarmingly obvious and come in the form of natural disasters such as the gulf of Mexico oil spill or the coal seam fire in Pennsylvania that started in 1962 and still burns today and YET.... we still remain skeptical of this reality, because we live in a world, a human correlate world, where I eat yoghurt and discard its container into a bin, and no matter how much I try to think Ecologically I just can’t do it. Ecology pertains to objects that withdraw from our understanding the more we try to draw a line around them. These objects phase in and out of different layers of our experience so when the news reader interviews the climate scientist we hear the crackling plastic bottle and the taste of chlorination as we squeeze its contents into our mouth. This an experience of some futural object, some slowly emerging catastrophe, sending fuzzy messages to us in a ghostly voice, that seems to say ‘the bottle, look at the bottle, it’s made of dinosaur goo and does all this freaky stuff to the ocean and to the atmosphere’. Objects have imperatives that form our experience, just like the object planet informs our human experience of the ground. Yet, despite this a significant number of Humanists and Architects are still Materialists. Even if they don’t claim to be, in principle with Aristotelian metaphysics, if you behave like a Materialist than you are one. Pushing inanimate digital matter around inside a computer with mathematical formulas or watching a robot rearrange basic materials such as plastic and foam waiting for the withdrawn properties of an ineffectual blob to emerge – is a kind of materialism. Object-oriented-ontology as a way of describing the world hasn’t given us the tools to treat the same objects in a different way, it is allowing us to see previously ignored objects that are changing our very experience of reality – whether we want them to or not. The plastic bottle is screaming for our attention, so too is the fluctuating weather patterns, the bleaching coral reefs and the ignorant apartment buildings suddenly appear like strange dermatological anomalies on the skin of the warming globe, symptoms of a market system that overcodes everything, the dinosaur goo, the plastic bottle, the poetry of Pi O, with a quantitative monetary value. The cultural object is shrieking for attention in the only way it knows how, a disparate, non-local, and ecologically entangled morse code of anxiety and panic. It wants us to become attuned to its rhythms, to study its sensoral patterning, to be scholars of the lines and shades of its futural shadows. Rhythms and patterns that are not signaling for more ventilation, sunlight and minimum building standards that #buildquality purports is the solution, these are the tools of the pseudo-scientific Historical Materialist and the wave of socialist reform that reduced the needs of the proletariat to originary essences. Essences that do not make the cultural object the strange withdrawn creature it is. But this does not entirely negate #buildquality either. For there is nothing wrong with demanding a minimum standard of fresh air, sunlight, functioning amenities and durable new builds. There is, however, something wrong with thinking this will solve architectures flaccid relationship with culture, its premature affiliation with the natural sciences, its materialist attitudes to objects and its fear of the unknown. #buildquality skates over a thinning layer of ice that does not see the ocean of phenomenological fish that stare up at us, squeaking for our attention in bubbly little aquatic voices, fish that are also sharks and giant octopi so that when the sun finally melts the icy surface of #buildquality, we will find ourselves sinking in the depths of an ocean of wondrous and unfamiliar phenomena, praying our lungs can de-evolve into swim bladders again before we drown. This is not cynicism or nihilism either. It does however redirect the discerning finger of blame away from developers, away from those that cannot and will not engage the cultural object for they are born out of the logic of capital and are the neutered and genderless offspring of ‘the market’. It does not wish to contain architecture’s lameness to another ‘ism’, consumerism is a symptom, another ‘ism’ in our attempts to point to the object. Our attempts to draw a dotted line with a tag that says cut here, is precisely the problem, I could cut it out if I could only draw a line around it. Architects still miraculously and in despite of the fumbling humanities, retain the skill and will to engage these objects, objects that call for our attention, objects whose shadows loom out of the future and into the present, objects that provide clues to our very existence. We did not arrive in the world and out of our own prophetic curiosity study that which was around us, objects direct us toward their impenetrable depths or to other objects, giving us glimpses of the future, redefining our past, defying our structures of thought, structures of the subject and object, of aesthis and praxis, while they make themselves present and imperative to our bodies, while they are our bodies, our experience, our language, our speech, our world, a world they can destroy, or create anew, like the shattered modernity scattered at our feet, feet now embedded in an ecologically entangled reality. It is no accident that we have become skeptical – the withdrawn-ness of objects is fundamentally a terrifying and uncanny experience, one that defies the reality that has founded the systems of our thought. But as we have always done, this withdrawn-ness does not mean we cannot approach it and cannot catch little glimpses of a depth unknowable. . . .