Since the 2013 purchase of the Asinabka islands by Toronto-based developer Windmill Development and real estate company Dream Unlimited Corp. (formerly Dundee Realty Corporation), a persistent and controversial condominium development called ZIBI has been pushed forward by the Ottawa-Gatineau municipal governments. Despite resistance from Algonquin communities and activists, it has been enabled by the provincial and federal Liberals through a consistent rejection of appeals, an evasive and profiteering approval process, and a perversion of private land zoning policies that causes public interests to be in collusion with those of corporate property owners. The condominiums are being built in the middle of the Ottawa River, on a peninsula between Ottawa and Gatineau, directly across from Victoria Island, that is Asinabka, or Place of Glare Rock. The Algonquin have long considered this area sacred and Asinabka carries a legacy of being a place of meeting for visiting Indigenous councils. The area has been drafted for UNESCO World Heritage status with the continued discovery of over 6,000 year old artefacts and traces of human civilization being found along the river’s coast – but remains in flux and as an impediment to high-density development that self-assuredly began blasting at the islands to pour concrete foundations in 2016.
“…those who believe the land belongs to them cannot ever really understand”
I am in the earth, wind and waters;
I am as the bird flies, the wind blows, the water flows…
On the ancient river, seagull rock crests out of the waters. An outcrop within its sight is thorned by a few young silhouettes, taking turns plunging into the river some feet below. Riverboats and water taxis, white river cruise-ships weave short and cyclical tours between the two shores. When the black outlines all fall into the water, seagull rock disappears entirely underneath a white swarm. The steady rhythm of a drum carries down the rocky riverbed. At a great distance, an undulating song ripples through a woman’s throat, a few moments, and then the screaming birds are all that is heard again. Drumming and song are held here as if in a cup, the Ontario bank curving in to the gushing water. Millennia before, the Champlain Sea coursed through this cup. This river, and the humid nest of the city, is at the ancient floor of the sea. Shells and fish bones mingle with cemeteries. The condominiums and government buildings of the 80s settle comfortably on the graves of ancient people, on the fossils of ancient animals. Cranes and the hideous metal hydro towers grow in the east with each day, raising the condominiums of reconciliation. Grey gunmetal silhouettes cut the distance behind the Algonquin teepees that dot the island – those three sturdy pyramids, white as the screaming gulls.
“Evolution is toward more life
and it is irreversible
and incompatible with the hypothesis
– Ernesto Cardenal, Coplas on the Death of Merton
There is a forest of crooked maple trees in Gryfino, Poland. No-one can explain how they became so crooked. Some say they are bent because of the crushing tread of military tanks during the Second World War, while other stories have it that farmers and foresters deliberately stepped on the trees when they were still young. Meanwhile, in the fields of Hiroshima, twisted daisies grow out of nuclear soils, their heads engorged and conjoined. Trees are growing ancient in our fast cities, bending and crouching into their strange forms as they emerge through the concrete poured over their roots. A crooked nature of beautiful mutants is born every day, learning to move in new ways, learning new bodies that are shaped by accidents of both joy and grief.
The surface of our cities is a porous skin, tender enough to be bruised, resonant with its arteries and deeply rooted canals. This skin takes on an imprint of everything outside, transforming, and returning to our touch in new forms. This skin is cleaved open by the incisions of our material demands, which require more of the earth to make more of ourselves. Fine scaffolds of our dwellings collapse equally under inevitable movements of rock and water, as under missiles of greed and hate. And yet, in the slow-burning breath in between, we see that this skin remains, reddened and stinging, its material finding any possible means to grow over.
Alberto Burri, Cretto di Gibellina (1984-2015).
“When, for example, the question arose about the treatment of those lunatics who said that they had received the power of seeing the insides of things, I would quote the saying of an ancient Circle, who declared that prophets and inspired people are always considered by the majority to be mad; and I could not help occasionally dropping such expressions as “the eye that discerns the interiors of things”, and “the all-seeing land”; once or twice I even let fall the forbidden terms “the Third and Fourth Dimensions”.”
– Edwin Abbott Abott, “Flatland”. Chapter 22: How I Then Tried to Diffuse the Theory of Three Dimensions by Other Means, and of the Result.
A binary notion of interiors and exteriors suggests that space can be defined through a distinction between a material shell, or something that can be touched, and an immaterial space that is encompassed by this form. Architecture is often concerned with creating these types of defined interiors: shaping typologies, instructing materials to divide space in specific ways, and provoking fixed experiences of moving through, into, out of, towards, and away. It is a challenge to create and experience spaces that are more suggestive, indeterminate or subtle in the ways that they express this presence of form and its perceived absence as a kind of ‘interior’.
A material form maintains a delicate line of communication that is always indicating elsewhere — to something else outside of itself, anywhere but at itself, but doing so through itself. Seen this way, interiority is not only a consequence of the space or an intermediary non-place, but can be understood as an elusive form of its own, affecting us through sensations of dimension, weight, texture that are deceptively assigned to the domain of what we can see and touch. A bit of magic may be necessary to make this invisible space visible — for the obvious to meaningfully divert our attention towards something that is not.
An elimination of language.
accompanied by instruments and light.
(Kamaitachi 08, Eikoh Hosoe, 1965.)
. . .
“Le monde crie, ce monde-ci, le monde maintenant, au-delà des murs des chambres chaudes, au-delà de nous liés. A travers les voix revient le grondement plus fort, plus puissant pour nous envahir. Appeler ta force pour supporter, te sortir de la douceur, t’apporter la dureté cruelle latente autour de nous. Qui se suicide. Qui se sépare. Toi et moi arrachés. Capitule, vivante encore. Je suis entre le tremblement désespéré et l’apaisement qui plane, éloigné, silencieux. Entraîné de l’un à l’autre par la peur.”
Danielle Collobert, Dire, 1972.
The world cries, this world, the world as it is now, from outside the walls of our scorching rooms, outside the walls by which we know each other. Its voice roars back stronger, more powerful, to overcome us. Call forth your strength for support, to pull you out of your tenderness, to give you that cruel endurance that surrounds us. That pushes to suicide. That separates. You and I, divided. Give in, to live. I am between the tremors of desperation and a paralysis that is flat, distant, silent. Wrested between one and the other by fear.
. . .
Responding to a question regarding the ‘illusion of participation’ that social media allows, Iskandar spoke about how one of the greatest regrets of Egyptian activists was that they were not in the streets long enough. “When they went home, that was it.”
How do we relate to conflicts that are geographically distant, when responsive tactics appear limited to the theatrical adaptation of these conflicts into our own identities? A regionalized perspective that limits tactics to performed solidarity ultimately permits a lack of responsibility for the invisible networks that permeate our communities, and further limits tactics as responsive rather than creative, precognitive, and prophetic. To anticipate and intuit, and invoke a manipulation of circumstance before enabling the conditions for resistance. To believe that one is not involved in a conflict because one is not situated within an area being directly bombed, for instance, is to simplify warfare to the act of killing, when it is complex and entangled with systems that may appear to be tangentially, or almost entirely unrelated to military industry. Because we are not holding the gun, we are not implicated in murder. Because we have not sent bombs with our own hands to raze cities, our projects are in no way connected to the institutions that give those commands. Because we stand to profit monetarily for a few years, it is admissible to ‘rebrand’ submission to a broken economic system as ‘development’, ‘integration’, ‘reconciliation’.
The strategy begins with the non-distinction between voyeur and participant — an acceptance of the contradictions inherent in the consumption of images and their appropriation into identities of resistance, a critique of the sensationalism that determines the aesthetics of communicating the realities of war, and the inherent theatricality that perpetuates a psychological distance from the banal realities that enable institutional and commodified violence. As the internal systems of the carnival fold inward, there is a certain manipulation of time that is required: an imagination that pushes the horizon, and the possibility of the “apolitical” is revealed as illusion.
what’s in a name — that is no part of thee
Death on the screens. Death on our plates. Death on the streets. Death in our dreams. “Keep calm and carry on.”
The absurd is paradoxically disempowered as a mode of agitation when it is replicated and magnified to surpass the forms that preceded it, adjusting the horizon of what is experienced as the grotesque. Such is the case with the permeation of images of destruction and grief into our daily routines and rituals of identity. An “institutionalized reproducibility” can refer to the modes of viewing and sharing these images through social media, based on an algorithmic popularity. The weight of violence is known through hierarchies of shock and novelty; violence is made known by aestheticizing the abuse and slaughter of life — to understand something as violent when it conforms to the logic of harmony. The danger is where even the revolutionary act must rely on the tactics and language of the militant state, and the grotesque must self-replicate, where it is possible to speak calmly in a lecture of a series of videos, “I watched the pilot being beheaded, I watched Aleppo burning…”
Polite languages of avoidance. Antivalues of the experts. Experts in snakehandling. Vires, noli me tangere. Pasty hands that slink and grapple under tables. White-washed Tragodia, a history of “sleepily polite masses”, those hearers and responders. A new ethics for the immovable stone. A hell for every rock, so that there was no distinguishing between animate and inanimate things.
Stones have better ethics than we.