Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Towards a New Visualization of Secrecy?


If you are in or near Amsterdam come the end of March, I would encourage you to sign up for this conference, Towards a New Visualization of Secrecy? Representations of Secrecy within Contemporary Terrorism and Counterterrorism.
The conference explores theoretically as well as visually the emergence of new phenomena of secrecy within transnational terrorist and counterterrorist networks. Since 9/11 and in the aftermath of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq worldwide clandestine operations have increasingly been undertaken by terrorist and counterterrorist networks. Conflicts are on the whole no longer fought in public, but rather in concealment. In the present ‘state of exception’, the ‘war on terrorism’ has been waged in a symbolic realm consisting of global ‘cobwebs’ of names, actions and locations. This conference addresses the question as to whether the increasing awareness of hitherto invisible contemporary terrorist and counterterrorist actions has produced a new ‘visualization’ of secrecy. Intending to offer a cross-disciplinary and experimental platform to negotiate new and critical positions this conference will question the extent to which both antagonists use secrecy as a strategy in an asymmetrical global warfare. The conference participants, coming from diverse backgrounds such as academia, human rights activism, new media, visual arts, and politics will debate on the strategic and visual aspects of these new forms of secrecy.

Sounds excellent. Speakers include: Tariq Ali, Albert Benschop, Kathalijne Buitenweg, Jordan Crandall, James Der Derian, Meta Haven: Design Research, Buro Jansen & Janssen, Nicholas Mirzoeff, Naeem Mohaiemen, and Trevor Paglen. And they will discuss:

new forms of secrecy within transnational terrorism


The Internet has become the virtual database and training camp through which Al Qaeda as umbrella organization keeps its message alive, holding a powerful grip while remaining in secrecy. As quasi ‘open universities’ of violence and spectacle, the dynamic cell structure of the multi- and transnational terrorist alliances, affiliations of semi-independent cells and loosely interconnected jihadi groups have presented themselves as invisible and ‘spaceless’ enemies. Concealed spaces of terror are dispersed in cyberspace through chat rooms, online broadcasts, virtual handbooks on training and combat methods as well as in homes, sleeper cells, or training camps. As the most powerful tool of terrorism and global jihad (by visualizing atrocities and concealing logistical, financial and communication structures), the Internet has been used by Al Qaeda and other jihadi networks to conduct a sophisticated form of psychological warfare, that serves to gather information, to train, to fundraise, to propagate ideology, to recruit and network, to plan and coordinate terrorist acts worldwide.

new forms of secrecy within counterterrorism

Guantánamo, more than an American prison camp in Cuba, is an icon of lawlessness that has functioned as a kind of synecdoche standing in for the other known and unknown (secret) ‘rendition’ programmes all over the world. Recent investigations by the European Parliament’s Temporary Committee on the alleged use of European countries by the CIA for the transport and illegal detention of prisoners confirmed that several governmental organizations as well as individuals attempting to counteract terrorism simply wish to remain unseen. As a multifaceted image of today’s ‘state of exception’, they embrace a wide-reaching system of ‘black sites’ or so-called ghost prisons (‘ghost planes’, ‘ghost ships’, etc.) in which numerous persons have been illegally detained and secretly transported to third countries, where they have suffered human rights abuses including torture.

a new visualization of secrecy?

The conference aims at pinpointing the rising global ‘states of secrecy’ as well as the multifaceted, twisted meanings they engender. A veil of secrecy has always surrounded the shadowy world of intelligence agencies and their opponents, the terrorist alliances. However, in our present day, their transnational nature, infrastructure, and methods of operation, including the virtual realm, have undergone a definite metamorphosis. Secrecy has taken on new dimensions on both sides as revealed persons, locations, and actions (such as the Hofstad Network, Azzam.com, Osama bin Laden, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Guantánamo Bay Camp, Bagram Airbase, USS Bataan, Aero Contractors, Khaled El-Masri, Murat Kurnaz, etc.) provide incontestable evidence. At the same time these clandestine operations, locations and networks have become a matter of public interest. As a result, new phenomena of secrecy have been made visible for a larger audience and a new ‘visualization’ of secrecy emerged: the secret became public.

questions

In response to changes in the realm of information technology and global security, what exactly happened when ‘networks of terror’ and ‘networks against terror’ met the ‘network society’?

Do global ‘states of secrecy’ emerge with the prevailing ‘state of exception’ or are they a consequence of these?

In this battle space of representation and information, is this an American, European, Western, or universal war of secrecy that is primarily fought in secret and by secrecy? And how, after all, do you fight a war against an enemy you cannot see, on a battleground you cannot touch?

Can we speak of an archipelago of disclosed and undisclosed sites that have become visible as a global ‘cobweb’ of names, operations and locations?

Is the invisibility of these phenomena promoting a potential for a new visibility of a per definition non-representational nature, the intelligence services and their growing enemies, the terrorist alliances?

How are terror and counterterrorist networks visualized? How can we locate and visualize their clandestine operations and network structures, both on a real and virtual level? And how does the visualization of these networks correlate to an operational strategy of symbolic violence, coercive intimidation and political fear?

Can we argue that the representation of these publicly exposed phenomena of secrecy produces a new visibility of secrecy? Can we therefore speak of a new visualization of secrecy that began camouflaging unlawful activities?

What is still secret about them if they are already known and discussed at conferences, like this one?

The conference will be moderated by Brian Holmes and David Campbell, and is being jointly organized by Tina Clausmeyer and the Jan van Eyck Academie in cooperation with the Stedelijk Museum CS, and will take place March 24, 2007.
Seriously, if you have any chance, be sure to check it out. And of course, don't be shy about recording it, taping it, taking notes and then, giving us your thoughts. Since, sadly, Subtopes won't be able to attend this one.

Doing Time on Christmas Island


While the media and skeptics go round and round over James Cameron’s new documentary claiming to have possibly found the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth, I came across an update on a massive detention installation that is being built on Christmas Island just off the coast of Australia.
A quick history lesson (and correct me if any of this is inaccurate) tells us that for centuries, Christmas has resisted settlement with its natural palisades and rugged coastal geography. After British and Dutch navigators charted the island in the early seventeenth century, it wasn’t until Christmas Day, the 25th of December in 1643 when it was named “Christmas Island” after Captain William Mynors of the East India Ship Company vessel, the Royal Mary, called it such upon his arrival there.
However, the island remained undockable for years despite multiple attempts, until finally in 1888 the British government annexed it and managed to establish a mining outpost there.
After bringing over laborers from China, Malaysia and Singapore, the Japanese eventually invaded the island in 1942, which resulted in the internment of the foreign miners until the end of WWII.


[Image: British military encampent during the bombing tests conducted on Christmas Island under 'Operation Grapple.']


[In 1957, the British government used the island for bomb testing, and successfully exploded their first hydrogen bomb there under a program detailed on this site, called ‘Operation Grapple.’ From the BBC, “It was almost certainly part of the thermo-nuclear weapons programme which was started in December 1954 to develop the megaton hydrogen bomb, which is as powerful as one million tons of TNT.“ Finally, in 1958 Australian representatives claimed the island under the Australian Indian Ocean Territories.

However, the internment of laborers during WWII would only mark the beginning of this island’s soon to be bright future in the bustling global detention market. Reading on, we are reminded that during the late 80’s and early 90’s Christmas Island was met heavily by boatloads of refugees mostly from nearby Indonesia. During 2001, Christmas Island received a large number of asylum seekers traveling by boat, most of them from the Middle East, intending to apply for asylum in Australia.
But, after the Norwegian cargo vessel MV Tampa rescued hundreds of people from the sinking refugee boat in international waters, the Australian government refused to let the ship dock in its territory. Soon an international fiasco had ignited between Australia, Norway, and Indonesia, and with roughly 450 asylum seekers (mostly from Afghanistan) stranded at sea, and so close to reaching the mainland, the Australian SAS took over and had them routed to Nauru Island (another major offshore detention island near Papua New Guinea) after the captain of the ship threatened to dump them on Christmas Island.


[Video: A clip from a movie documentary about Australia's detention policy entitled We Will Be Remembered For This.]

Since 2005 Australia’s Department of Immigration has been constructing an "Immigration Reception and Processing Centre." 2,400 km from Perth, 360 km from Jakarta and nearly 2000 km from Darwin, this deteniton complex is at the far end of the island which, according to this dispatch, is a narrow strip 24 km long and 7 km wide.
Keep in mind, as Angela tells us, “under Australian law it is possible to intern people extra-judicially (without trial or charge) and, since 2004, to do so indefinitely. Migration detention is, therefore, a wholly administrative matter.”
So just what exactly are they building out there in them pristine jungles?
Well, it turns out it’s not just some rinky dink detention outfit with some barbed-wire fencing and ramshackle barracks cliff-side. No, this is a $396 million tropical prison paradise. That’s right. For what the government refers to as a ‘deterrent to illegal immigration’, it is a state of the art 800-bed prison complex, with electric fences, movement detectors, hundreds of surveillance cameras, hidden microphones in the trees, the works.


[Image: "Camp Howard" - Australia's very own Guantanamo Bay on Christmas Island, Feb. 2007.]

“The camp on Christmas Island has CCTV linked to a RCR [Remote Control Room] so guards in Canberra can watch detainees around the clock.” And planners aren’t leaving any thing out for this rugged remote little island prison either. “Detainees will wear electronic ID tags or cards, identifying them wherever they are.” While the place crawls with guards wandering in between a perimeter of checkpoint cubicles, there is a hospital, operating theatre and visiting rooms, solitary cells, and even family units and a nursery. “Everything can be controlled remotely — doors, TV, radio.”


{Image: Floor plan for the Detention Facility at Christmas Island.]

In addition to developing this offshore island-chain barrier against migration, the Australian government has launched its border patrol ship, the Triton, dubbed the ‘prison ship’ by critics. This “98-metre trimaran” is said to be capable of detaining “30 people for up to a month" on board and is "armed with twin machine guns.”


[Image: The ACV Triton Australian Border Patrol Ship.]

While officially deployed to patrol and intercept illegal fisherman, others are more concerned what the Triton could mean for migrants stranded at sea already facing one of the most conservative immigration-intolerant nations in the world. One can only imagine the day when the oceans are dotted with naval networks of prison hulks patrolling the future migration routes at sea, routing floatable detention centers full of refugees through the militarized channels of the great detention archipelago; the nomadic fortress clenching it's powerful sea jaws down on all those who flee their native shores from persecution.
I’m not sure if the construction of Christmas Island's detention facility is complete yet or not, but so far 85 asylum seekers were recently sent their after being rescued near the island by the Australian navy. There was even talk of them being sent back to Sri Lanka via Indonesia and Nauru.
“Under Australia's Pacific Solution introduced in 2001” the Washington Post writes, “to deter asylum seekers and people smugglers, people who arrive illegally by boat can be sent to immigration detention in Papua New Guinea and the tiny South Pacific nation of Nauru while their claims are assessed.”


[Image: Sri Lankans asylum seekers are transported to Christmas Island from HMAS Success, which intercepted their boat last week. Photo: Kee Seng, The Age, 2007.}

However, by intercepting them and detaining them on Christmas Island, they never have legal recourse for applying to Australia for asylum since they have not technically met the mainland. The Migration Act stipulates refugees must reach the mainland to file a claim.
While the Australian government says it will not repatriate the refugees if there is evidence they will face persecution in their homeland Sri Lanka, officials have also been adamant about them never reaching the mainland.
Where does that leave them? Well, Christmas Island for now.

(spotted at del.icio.us/diasporas.)

Also, be sure to read Alex Trevi's take on The geography of displacement.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

carceral urbanism: the CMU and the Arab round-up


[Image: The Terre Haute Federal Correctional Complex (FCC), photo via Raw Story.]

It seems the Justice Department has established a new prison unit in Terre Haute, Indiana to detain “a hodgepodge of second-tier terrorism inmates,” the Washington Post tells us, most of which, not to our surprise, are Arab Muslims. Named the Communications Management Unit (CMU), it is housed in the former death row facility within Terre Haute’s Federal Correctional Complex where Timothy McVeigh was executed.
Falling under the jurisdiction of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, lawyers and prison advocates have pointed out that the CMU was created without any public notice or due process, nor with any clear advisement or outline as to how inmates are chosen or would be sent there.


Here, the ability of inmates to communicate with the outside world with any sort of privacy is completely deprived. For example, “all telephone calls and mail are monitored, the number of phone calls limited and visits are restricted to a total of four hours per month.” These tactics are apparently within the rules, and "by concentrating resources in this fashion,” officials claim, “it will greatly enhance the agency's capabilities for language translation, content analysis and intelligence sharing,"
But some believe that the only reason why these communication rights remain in tact at all are simply to ascertain terrorist group associations.
However, these tactics have come under intense public scrutiny, with some calling the CMU the place where all Arab Muslim terrorist suspects and prisoners are being rounded up in a national operation to house them under a single roof, whereby they can be intensely watched for having and making connections to terrorist groups. According to Raw Story, the current unit has at present only 16 prisoners, but is expected to have 60-70 more added soon.


Critics have lambasted the unit for its conduct of racial profiling, since these tactics are not employed with other high-security inmates. They also claim that this new unit is operating in a certain nebulosity of legal language left purposefully ambiguous in the Bureau’s code of regulations to allow the transfer of Arab and Muslim prisoners to the CMU from other facilities around the country, setting up a 'race and religion-specific' compound that not only can get away with incarcerating proven terrorist criminals, but suspects, detainees, other non-terrorists, and perhaps even witnesses, too.
So, if you are an Arab or a Muslim in an American prison, get ready because you may soon be sharing a tailor made facility with all of the nation’s other Arab and Muslim inmates, just in order to share space with proven terrorists, when all you may have done was steal some bread from the liquor store.
For years, government analysts have feared the rise of radical Islam in American prisons, so, I wonder, what do they think will be the impact of this type of mass grouping, both in this CMU and within the larger Arab/Muslim community? Is this the kind of strategic radicalization of Islam the American government is counting on? Do prisons engineer radicalism, of all kinds? Will all Arab prisoners in the U.S. one day occupy the same prison together, alone? Will all of the gang-plagued prisons one day become ethnically divided this way; total prison population segregation?
If anything, maybe the CMU can help us see how the logic of the War on Terror continues to revise the spaces of detention and the politics that oversee them, where human rights can be gobbled up by some (il)legal black hole, and where a mass assortment of immigrants, detainees, asylum seekers, and terrorist criminals gradually come together to form a single suspect line-up, posied at the edge of a hungry carceral landscape that waits to devour them.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Guantánamo and the Border Exodus


[image: A group of Cuban rafters spend the evening playing dominoes in one of the migrant villages at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. - The Miami Herald, ALBERT DIAZ.]

In a bid to prepare for a possible migrant crisis in Cuba, prompted by the questionable health of Fidel Castro, the U.S. Congress has approved an $18 million proposal for the Department of Defense to build a migrant detention facility on the Navy Base at Guantánamo Bay. Or, excuse me, according to U.S. officials who spoke with The Miami Herald, “to shelter interdicted migrants.”
What does that mean exactly? According to the same article, parts of Guantánamo would be used as a “shelter of last resort if the volume of Cubans interdicted at sea overwhelms the U.S. policy known as wet foot/dry foot." Basically if you paddle your boat and make it to U.S. territory you are safe, otherwise once the Coast Guard nabs you, you are more than likely brought back to Cuba where you are either persecuted by the Cuban government, or held on the naval base until your refugee claim is sorted, or sent to a third country.


[Image: Caribbean migrants preparing for their treacherous voyage to the U.S. Photo by Sarah L. Voisin, for the Washington Post.]

The Herald tells us that “the new installation is needed because terrorism suspects occupy space on the base used in past emergencies to hold large numbers of migrants,” […] facilities “designed to house people from any Caribbean nation who attempt to enter illegally -- not just Cubans.”
But, this begs the question, is the U.S. building out these new facilities to handle a mass Caribbean exodus to Florida in the event of Castro’s death? Or, is that just another excuse to expand the capacity of Guantánamo’s detention space, which, for all intents and purpose, could be used for any number of detainees? “For years, migrants captured during surges ended up in tent camps at Guantánamo on a bluff called Radio Range, on the larger Windward side of the base.”


[Image: Map of Guantánamo Bay showing approximate U.S. Naval Boundaries.]

From 1994 to 1996, more than 40,000 Haitian and Cuban rafters were housed here while politicians debated their refugee status, a history that links the naval base closely to many immigrants in Miami, the Village Voice stated. But now since the U.S. has built its terrorism detention and interrogation center there, the new plan “would put them on the smaller Leeward side, which has an airstrip but no docks for large ships.”
While bids are being solicited, the $18 million “would pay for things like land leveling, sewage and electrical infrastructure, bathrooms, dining facilities and administrative offices to process asylum applications,” and “will be initially designed to handle about 10,000 migrants.”
It’s like Gitmo is becoming an entire city now; a city designed strictly for the purpose of detention. Add this latest expansion to the new terrorist suspect courtroom and processing facility that is going up beside the terrorist detention camp, and you’ve got an even more insidious form of managing immigrants and terrorists simultaneously under the same roof. It’s like Gitmo is quickly becoming some freaky new plug-in architecture, or open-source urban model for securing the border, where the politics of migration and terrorism dangerously and ambiguously overlap.

(This item was spotted at Boing Boing.)

Baseworld Archipelago Meltdown


[Image: Diego Garcia "Camp Justice" is a British territory mostly populated by the US military, and is the largest of fifty-two islands which form the Chagos Archipelago, located in the heart of the Indian Ocean.]

Almost answering me from a previous post about how much real estate is dedicated around the world to underground military landscapes, Chalmers Johnson instead describes the meltdown of the American baseworld archipelago as it tries to endure the legacy of Rummy’s flexible military posturing around the globe. From his newest book, Nemesis, he cites the Base Structure Report, an annual inventory of the real property that is owned around the world by the Defense Department from 2002 to 2005.
In a classic statement, he writes, “Once upon a time, you could trace the spread of imperialism by counting up colonies. America's version of the colony is the military base; and by following the changing politics of global basing, one can learn much about our ever more all-encompassing imperial "footprint" and the militarism that grows with it.”


[Image: "The Salt Pit" CIA Interrogation Facility outside Kabul, compliments of Global Security.]

So, from this meaty excerpt of Nemesis printed here, Johnson places the total of America's military bases in other people's countries in 2005 at 737, and quickly points out, that thirty-eight large and medium-sized American facilities spread around at this time – “mostly air and naval bases for our bombers and fleets” – mimics Britain's thirty-six naval bases and army garrisons at its imperial height in 1898. And, even more interesting, he says, is that the Roman Empire at its height in 117 AD required thirty-seven major bases to oversee a geography that ranged from Britannia to Egypt, and Hispania to Armenia. “Perhaps the optimum number of major citadels and fortresses for an imperialist aspiring to dominate the world is somewhere between thirty-five and forty.”
In terms of the numbers, the book reports:

Using data from fiscal year 2005, the Pentagon bureaucrats calculated that its overseas bases were worth at least $127 billion -- surely far too low a figure but still larger than the gross domestic products of most countries -- and an estimated $658.1 billion for all of them, foreign and domestic (a base's "worth" is based on a Department of Defense estimate of what it would cost to replace it). During fiscal 2005, the military high command deployed to our overseas bases some 196,975 uniformed personnel as well as an equal number of dependents and Department of Defense civilian officials, and employed an additional 81,425 locally hired foreigners.

The worldwide total of U.S. military personnel in 2005, including those based domestically, was 1,840,062 supported by an additional 473,306 Defense Department civil service employees and 203,328 local hires. Its overseas bases, according to the Pentagon, contained 32,327 barracks, hangars, hospitals, and other buildings, which it owns, and 16,527 more that it leased. The size of these holdings was recorded in the inventory as covering 687,347 acres overseas and 29,819,492 acres worldwide, making the Pentagon easily one of the world's largest landlords.

But, all this is not without many crucial omissions. For instance, Johnson says it does not include major bases held in Kosovo "like Camp Bondsteel which was built in 1999 and maintained ever since by the KBR corporation.” It apparently does not tally Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, and Uzbekistan, “even though the U.S. military has established colossal base structures in the Persian Gulf and Central Asian areas since 9/11.” Also, is does not include the number of bases owned by other countries that are jointly shared with the American military. Other foreign bases, Chalmers says, are kept secret for fear these other countries will be exposed for colluding with the Americans. Nor does it even begin to include the secret bases such as the CIA’s prison system, or other installations that might begin to associate the American military with imperialism.


[Image: Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, 2000.]

By military analyst William M. Arkin’s own words, he says that the pentagon’s more nimble strategy or reorganizing the bases with American military forces having already been stretched to the limit, “goes far beyond preparing for reactive contingencies” but rather “reads more like a plan for picking fights in new parts of the world." Or finding less obvious vantages for at least monitoring these parts of the world, or, perhaps even conducting our own dirty business hidden in and amongst them, either ourselves or outsourced to foreign regimes.
Anyway, staggering to think about. The geography of empire, the pentagon’s new map, a baseworld archipelago meltdown where, "if the American people do not find a way to choose democracy over empire -- at least our imperial venture will end not with a nuclear bang but a financial whimper. From the present vantage point, it certainly seems a daunting challenge for any President (or Congress) from either party even to begin the task of dismantling the military-industrial complex, ending the pall of "national security" secrecy and the "black budgets" that make public oversight of what our government does impossible, and bringing the president's secret army, the CIA, under democratic control. It's evident that Nemesis -- in Greek mythology the goddess of vengeance, the punisher of hubris and arrogance -- is already a visitor in our country, simply biding her time before she makes her presence known."

To read more of this excerpt from Johnson’s Nemesis, go here.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Wes on the Rust Belt


[Image: Detroit, Michigan, October 2006. Photo: Wes Janz.]

We recently posted another feature on Archinect written by a friend of mine, Wes Janz, who has been furiously traveling around the country, writing, scoping, researching, all the while teaching architecture at Ball State University. I wrote this intro for a piece he produced documenting his investigation of the shrinking cities of the midwest:
Wes Janz, author of the forthcoming book One Small Project, which will present itself in a gallery show this April, has been staying busy since we last caught up with him. Last winter, he visited several informal settlements and squatters in Buenos Aires. And last summer he scouted the Tijuana borderlands for an upcoming field study project he's planning for his Ball State students this February, where they will document the landscapes and architectures of the undocumenteds coming across the border into the U.S. In addition, his spring semester studio at the Virginia Ball Center for Creative Inquiry explores the homeless context in Indianapolis. The group will produce an installation at the Dean Johnson Gallery to depict their findings and host three discussions to bring some of their questions to a larger audience. In September, a number of his projects were featured in the “Shelter” show at the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit, and Azure Magazine will be featuring Janz and his work in their May/2007 issue. Most recently, however, he has been touring the Rust Belt of the American Midwest, where local economies are evaporating and cities are literally shrinking overnight.

What follows is a field dispatch from what he and colleague Olon Dotson called the "Midwess Distress Tour." Together, the two vanned up a dozen or so students and drove furiously through the hollowed landscape of Detroit, Flint, Gary, Chicago, East St. Louis, and Cincinnati, to chart a depressing survey of an endless supply of demolished memories, places of eviction, architectures in abandonment, and the emotionally-charged back roads of antiquated America lingering on the chopping block of redevelopment. It is an eerily beautiful but sad glimpse of urban depression, the phenomena of decay, scrap futures, and the end of one run-on symbolic deconstructed home; it is the portrait of a hidden real-estate and recycling war zone that has become an undercurrent for much of America’s future city planning strategy.

So, with that, go to Archinect and read Compared to What? (Detroit, Flint, Gary, Chicago, East St. Louis, and Cincinnati, 2006 A.D.), by Wes Janz.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Bunker Sprawl

“Until two years ago” we read in the Guardian, “the existence of this complex,” a 34-acre underground bunker in Wiltshire, “variously codenamed Burlington, Stockwell, Turnstile or 3-Site, was classified.” This secret complex, as we mentioned a few months ago, is one place the British government planned to take refuge in the event of all-out thermonuclear war. “Solid yet cavernous, surrounded by 100ft-deep reinforced concrete walls within a subterranean 240-acre limestone quarry just outside Corsham.”


[Image: Photographer Jason Orton in this piece for OpenDemocracy took these shots of the infamous British nuclear bunker: the "Turnstile".]

Another place the British government could have withdrawn to was Station Z, "an alternative centre of government" we are told by Geoff Manaugh at BLDGBLOG, “located in the western counties, consisting of bombproof underground citadels." Today, Geoff says, Station Z is owned by Kodak, even tough they have no intended use for the site.


[Image: Station Z, photographed by Nick Catford of Subterranea Britannica].

Then, the BBC reminds us of “driving through Switzerland, south to Italy,” where “you are likely to take the route via the charming town of Lucerne” through the Sonnenberg tunnel wherein resides the world's largest nuclear shelter. Like many of the world’s nuclear bunkers, “there are vast sleeping quarters, with bunk beds four layers deep. There is an operating theatre, a command post,” and even a prison. In addition, there are “coloured lights, indicating whether it is night or day outside.”


[Image: The Sonnenberg Bunker.]

Ahh….subcities of retreat. While these places are no doubt fascinating in themselves, I wonder, what are the implications of all this accumulated underground fortress space and what will become of it in 1000 years? Better yet, what should become of it, now or then?
What if the British government and Kodak returned to their stashed bunker networks only to find them one day completely overrun by unknown populations of people other than terrorists? Blind homeless communities, urban squatters who have converted the vaults of secret passages and hidden corridors, underground libraries and disused storage compounds into viable factory-spaces of their own? Government hideouts become buried hostels run by cross-border migration lords who’ve taken in the discarded waifs of globalization, co-opting hidden corners of the earth where the sun never shines, and political paranoia still embalms the atmosphere. What if these wasted swaths of restricted real estate were turned into thriving refuges with adaptive economic engines, their own government chambers – the infrastructure of the west’s “fall-out urbanism” turned into an undetected industrial-salvage economy?
And then, what if the British government had no choice but to leave them there because they had no other option, no valid plan for their removal? So, instead of expanding Britain’s carceral landscape, these concrete monoliths and steel leviathans are quietly chunked away to form the micronational niches of illicit subtopian redevelopment: places for scrap futures, subterranean agricultures, bottom-feeder ecologies, urban knot theory academies, and discrete industries that improvise a sovereignty of their own out of these neglected caverns and sunken fortresses, bound by wild and elaborate hand-dug tunnel systems that unite laborers from all across the world.


[Image: Black and white topology of intake valves, photographed by Dsankt].

Really, though, I wonder, how much (and I mean in terms of square miles) real estate around the world is devoted to such secret underground military landscapes: what is the total estimated square footage of governmental retreats, what is the real estate value of the ‘black world’s’ property portfolios?
How might this geography of bunker sprawl be recontextualized, or what purpose might it serve in the future spatial reorganization of human settlements, megacities, shrinking cities, refugee encampments, illicit economies, subversive migration, strategic detention archipelagos?
What if someone peeled the roof off the planet and in a single glimpse found billions of resourceful nomads mining their own incredibly sophisticated trade routes that stretch from South Africa to Ireland, Beijing to Moscow, Gaza to New York?
Imagine armies of exploited laborers amending international boundaries with crawl spaces and their own brands of acoustic navigation; decrepit sewage canals repurposed for low-key strip malls; albino cooks running bizarre food stalls from the trenches; dusty control rooms revised by refugee leaders into a hearth of tribal council; imagine multitudes of labor solidarities inhabiting the time-warped blast rooms now where they have been forced ever deeper into clandestinization.
What if there existed one day entire hollowed cities forgotten below the earth’s militarized crust? Bunker burbs, bunker sprawl, subtopian suburbanism. I don't know what you'd call it, but could one day the majority of the earth's population end up living entirely underground, pushed there by war, held there by climate change and economic persecution, adopting existing infrastructure, mining their own colonies - garrisoning the subterranean squatter spaces of the future?

(thanks Paul M for the heads up!)

[See these earlier posts on bunkers: Touring the Greenbrier; Secret Cities of the A-Bomb; Area 71; Washington's New 'Survival City'; A Silo Full of Cash; Secret Soviet Submarine Base; Fortress Baghdad; The 'Long War' enters its capsule; Subterranean Urbanism; Tokyo Secret City; Bunker Archaeology; Smugglers' Paradise Uprooted; [Re] improvising sub_Base landscapes; Secret Synagogue; Mt. Seemore and the watchful gaze; from Leftover-Bunkers to Tourist-Traps...; A "Closed Atomic City": Open for Business]

Peripheral Milit_Urb 14


[Source: United States Agency for International Development(USAID)| Date: 06 Aug 2003.]

IRAQ RECONSTRUCTION

US money is 'squandered' in Iraq: "Millions of dollars in US rebuilding funds have been wasted in Iraq, US auditors say in a report which warns corruption in the country is rife."

Five charged over Iraq reconstruction scandal: "Three US Army Reserve officers and two US civilians have been charged with taking or helping funnel more than $1mn in cash, sports cars, jewellery and other items as bribes to rig bids on Iraqi reconstruction contracts, US officials said on Wednesday."

Reconstruction Teams at Premium in Iraq: " One of the cornerstones of President Bush's new Iraq strategy is to have more civilian experts working alongside the military on what are called "provincial reconstruction teams." But while President Bush said there would be more teams going to Iraq, finding civilian specialists to serve there has not been so easy. And for now, military reservists are being asked to pick up the slack."

'Reconstructing Iraq' by Jason Yossef Ben-Meir: "the United States still has the potential to finally apply in Iraq a basic lesson about how to implement successful development and reconstruction projects. Local community members in rural villages and neighborhoods need to identify and self-manage development projects that meet their priority needs. This bottom-up approach should borrow from the lessons of experience of Morocco."


One Year Later, Golden Mosque Is Still in Ruins: "It has been a year since Sunni insurgents ripped a hole in the glorious dome here of one of Iraq’s most sacred Shiite shrines, shattering its 72,000 golden tiles and unleashing a tide of national sectarian bloodletting. Not a single brick of the mosque has been moved since. There has been no rebuilding and no healing; the million annual pilgrims, and the prosperity they spread, are gone. The roads south to Baghdad and north to Tikrit are pocked with roadside bombs and fake checkpoints where travelers are abducted. The citizens of this Sunni city, who protected and took pride in the Shiite mosque for more than 1,000 years, say they want to lead the reconstruction, but Shiites will not hear of it."


Iraq’s only port gets a multi-million dollar face-lift: "The Port of Umm Qasr directly influences the economy of Iraq and the U.S Army Corps of Engineers works to help improve the services of the Iraqi berths to handle the cargo flowing in or out of the country. To provide port security and harbor defense at the port of Umm Qasr, we installed a 9.7 kilometer chain link security fence around the perimeter of Umm Qasr North Port and South Port, built 19 observation posts, two points of entry, an interior and exterior truck staging areas,” she said."


Army Engineers Help Build Potable Water Treatment Plant In Iraq :"The Umm Qasr water treatment plant, one of the six largest infrastructure projects in southern Iraq, provides potable water for Umm Qasr port facilities and the town of Umm Qasr, thanks in part to the efforts of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers."

The Iraq Migration: "Displacement creates its own problems, and they sneak up on policy after it's too late. For one thing, displacement is the counterweight of permanence and stability. Note that these are the objectives of those prosecuting the war and trying to get out of it. What tragic symmetry."

Shiite District, Flash Point in Baghdad, Rebuilds: "Just past the main checkpoint into Sadr City, children kick soccer balls at goals with new green nets, on fields where mounds of trash covered the ground last summer. A few blocks away, city workers plant palm trees by the road, while men gather at a cafe nearby to chatter and laugh. Sadr City, once infamous as a fetid slum and symbol of Shiite subjugation, is recovering, with the help of $41 million in reconstruction funds from the Shiite-led government, all of it spent since May, according to Iraqi officials, and millions more in American assistance. But as Shiite areas like Sadr City begin to thrive as self-enclosed fiefs, middle-class Sunni enclaves are withering into abandoned ghettos, starved of government services."

Unfinished power plant a symbol of Iraq's reconstruction woes: "Saddam Hussein promised the Youssifiyah power plant would serve homes across a 330-square-mile (850 square-kilometer) stretch of Iraq. Instead, the derelict compound has served as an insurgent stronghold, and is now a makeshift base for 300 U.S. and Iraqi soldiers."

Operation Soccer Ball: "When you are told to hand out flat soccer balls, you hand out flat soccer balls. So the soldiers who served in 2nd Battalion, 63rd Armored Regiment piled the flat soccer balls into their Humvees. Driving through the Sunni Triangle's war-torn towns, they tossed the deflated balls to children. [...] To focus on the air in the balls, or lack thereof, undermines the American spirit of generosity and completely misses the point of giving." (Unbelievable story, utterly ridiculous, the symbolism of the U.S. role in Iraq never ceases.)

Iraqis use internet to survive war: "Google is playing an unlikely role in the Iraq war. Its online satellite map of the world, Google Earth, is being used to help people survive sectarian violence in Baghdad."



Related:


Israelis Are Gone, but Gaza Rebuilding Is Slow
: An article from the NYT on how a group of Palestinians have lobbied the Palestinian government for a plot of land to build 300 replacement homes for those who lost their housing during repeated Israeli demolitions before the settlers were removed. Much of the abandoned settlements still remain in tact but underutilized. Greenhouse economies have been weak and incapable of funding needed to kickstart them.

Conference Focuses On Terror Potential Of Abrupt Climate Change: "Much of the attention devoted recently to global climate change has focused, understandably, on its causes and possible prevention. But a group of international experts gathered on January 24 for a conference, organized by a think tank focused on security issues, on the potential for extremists to use the effects of climate change to their own advantage."

KNOWING THE ENEMY by GEORGE PACKER: Can social scientists redefine the “war on terror”? A dialogue with David Kilcullen, expert on counterinsurgency planning.


In other stories:

°mirror, mirror: Some excerpts from Eyal Weizman’s “Seeing Through Walls: The Split Sovereign and the One-Way Mirror” (Grey Room, 24, 2006)

Planned 'Divine Strake' Bomb Test Incenses Locals: "The Pentagon has labeled it "Divine Strake," the detonation in the Nevada desert of a record-setting superbomb. The official line is that this is the test of a new bunker-busting weapon. But weighing in at 700 tons, the bomb cannot be delivered by any existing planes or missiles, experts say. [...] Insiders believe the test is actually meant to simulate the effects of a tactical nuclear weapon on underground tunnels, as a prelude for the Defense Department making a case to Congress for developing a new line of nuclear weapons to penetrate entrenched sites, such as those in North Korea and, it is believed, Iran."

Public Pushes Back Against Planned Test on Old Nuke Site: "Suspicious of government assurances that a planned desert explosion in Utah will not rekindle radioactive fallout from past events, Westerners and Native Americans want the plan halted."


Corps Aims to Shift Big Easy Levee Funds: "The Army Corps of Engineers is proposing to divert up to $1.3 billion for levee repairs from the Mississippi River's East Bank, which was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, to the West Bank, where tens of thousands of people have resettled. [...] The West Bank was one of the only parts of the New Orleans metropolitan area spared the flooding that followed the 2005 hurricane. But the levees protecting it, and the roughly 250,000 people who live there _ are inadequate, the corps concedes."


However, with all of this talk about the Army Corps of Engineers, Alex Trevi over at the ever imaginative Pruned proposes turning it into a kind of speculative game; the past time management of your own omnipotent hydrologic intervention. That's right, it's the military landscape design of the earth's aquafarious future placed in your hands. You vs. the Apocalypse. He says, "You will have a budget of $1 trillion, of course, and have all the structures and widgets ever used in the long history of hydroengineering -- from the Garden of Eden to the Three Gorges Dam -- to choose from: groynes, seawalls, revetments, rip raps, gabions, breakers, levees, dams, canals, bridges, channels, spillways, pumping stations, marram grass, artificial reefs, imported sand, and fleets of trailing suction hopper dredgers."
Interested publishers, he's waiting for your call.


And some more....

Prez's New Top-Secret Net
Agents of the Crown
The CIA vetures into social networking recruiting
US anti-missile shield stirs up protest
Inside New York's revamped emergency HQ
Clear sailing for some through airport security
Big brother will be watching you fly
Designing crime out of the picture
In Beirut, the Show Pauses, then Goes On

[Earlier peripherals ... 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13]

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Repurposing the Settlements


I just came across an excellent little interview published in the January issue of Canadian Architect with Eyal Weizman apparently on the eve before he delivered the Stirling Lecture. It's a good quick dose on the planning evolution of the settlements, colonial spatialization and the form identities of conflict, the Palestinian resistance to speculative post-settlement adaptive reuse, and - the absurd realities of repurposing 40 years' worth of the occupation’s architectural garbage as a wave-breaker outside Gaza’s port.
Incidentally if you are in Vancouver Eyal is speaking tonight. New York this Thursday, at the CUNY Graduate Center on The Architectures of Lesser Evil. Then, end of March at UPENN for Slought’s Evasions of Power Conference Series. And, Eyal if you are reading this, I’d love to invite you back to New York late May for an event Subtopia may be co-hosting. I mean, you are the most demanded architectural lecturer worldwide, if I read that right, right? Would love to hear from you.

Anyway, some good snippets posted below:

“[t]he most interesting project was one where the Palestinian authority invited me to think with them settlement reuse in post-evacuation times. It became a very intense problem leading up to the Israeli evacuation in August 2005: what do we do with the settlements when they are evacuated? Are they to be abandoned, reused, converted, recycled? What do you do with a set of suburban single-family houses? It was difficult, because the Palestinians rejected them as suburbs. The proposal was finally to spatialize a set of public institutions into the evacuated shells of settlements: agricultural university, a cultural centre, a clinic for the Red Cross, and so on.”


[Image: Military forces install a shrine, created by the Serbian Orthodox Church, on the disputed border between Serbia and Montenegro. Photographer unknown, 2005.]

“Israeli architecture in the '50s and '60s, Alfred Neumann, Zvi Hecker and Eldar Sharon were doing hillside habitat systems before Safdie was. It was a sophisticated modular modernist architecture already influenced by local typologies of Arab villages--Friedrich Kiesler once called the Israel Museum built in similar modular style "an Arab village built in international style." Many other international figures who were drawn to Jerusalem and advised on building there never contested the politics that allowed this form of construction to occur in the first place--that Jerusalem has been occupied and must be united under the Israeli regime. The question was how to make an architecture that would naturalize Israeli domination there. Starting in the late 1970s, ideas originating in new urbanism--of walkable communities and repetition and variation of typologies--were used in several settlements. In the 1980s, Israeli settlements mimicked gated communities. The strangest thing is when Israeli architects are influenced by Palestinian architecture, the very habitat against which they are constructing.”


[Image: Israeli Defence Forces use Bulldozers to demolish a house in the Jewish settlement of Morag in the southern Gaza Strip.]

“[Martin Bressani] You could do a spatial history of warfare, of conflict. What about the reverse? Can we learn from your study of military urbanism something fundamental about architecture?

[Eyal Weizman] Certainly. This research looks at the way in which forms emerge across the landscape--not only as the result of a master-planning process, but of a set of conflicts: armed conflicts but also wider social conflicts. These are registered in space: land annexation, the way roads are rerouted, and so on. I'm interested to learn about the way in which conflicts are mediated into form. Take, for instance, a multi-polar force field in which NGO activity, UN activity, independent settler groups, independent resistance groups, peaceful demonstrations, and the high court etc. all intersect. The politics of their interactions are registered in space. So for example, Israel's Wall--the "security fence" between Israel and the West Bank--could be seen on one scale as a giant state project. But it also reacts and incorporates these micro-forces into its path. Therefore, the understanding of intense conflicts allows you to identify the way political forces are constantly brought into the organization of form. And, in fact, every city is a register of these forces. But in this region it happened much faster; formative forces are brutal and explicit. It's a perfect laboratory. The Israeli government was never able to institute the wall in the way it was designed. Sometimes the form of the wall is determined by something as mundane as some nature enthusiasts trying to protect a hill with some wild irises on it. Or by settlers saying, "If you cut us off from that Palestinian village we will have no cleaning ladies anymore."”

Monday, February 12, 2007

Circus of Detention

“Ringed by barbed wire, a futuristic tent city rises from the Rio Grande Valley in the remote southern tip of Texas.” The $65 million camp is a sprawling squat of inflatable domes plopped down on top of massive concrete slabs. It is the largest camp in the U.S. federal system’s archipelago of immigration detention, quietly deployed last summer between a federal prison and a county jail where, as we are told by the Washington Post, “illegal immigrants are confined 23 hours a day in windowless tents made of a Kevlar-like material, often with insufficient food, clothing, medical care and access to telephones.”


[Image: Border Policy's Success Strains Resources, Washington Post 2007. Photo by Kirsten Luce.]

Subtopia has actually covered the “detention market” before, but recent news has a way of joggling loose much needed reminders. So, for anyone who doubts that the real spatial translation of all this border militarization and enforcement is a hyper expansion of prison space and absolute boom for the real-estate moguls of incarceration, then I have a few articles you should check out.


[Image: A detention center in Raymondsville, Tex., that can be built in 24 hours as needed. (NYT-2006)]

260 miles south of Austin in Willacy County, one of the country's poorest, we are told, the ICE has set up 10 huge circus-like tents, surrounded by 14-foot-high chain-link fences looped with barbed wire. The sprung structures hold about 200 men or women in each and are divided into four pods. It’s no surprise that “similar temporary buildings were used for troop recreational facilities in Iraq,” the article points out.

“About 2,000 illegal immigrants, part of a record 26,500 held across the United States by federal authorities, will call the 10 giant tents home for weeks, months and perhaps years before they are removed from the United States and sent back to their home countries.”


[Image: Detainees at the Willacy County Immigration Detention Center in Raymondville, Texas, are escorted back to their housing from a recreational area earlier this month. The detention center holds nearly 500 illegal immigrants. Associated Press Photo, 2006.]

From a prison investment standpoint, the blow-up jails are not only cheap but are obviously faster to construct, move and dismantle. There is a spooky air of stealth about them now that in itself is rather frightening. Think about a flexible urbanism of immediate captivities. Mobile prisons. Nomadic detention centers. Nocturnal parachutes that hail from the sky and imprison you. Football field-sized flying nets with self-mounting structures designed to end global migration as we know it.

While perfect for field deployment they’re a nightmare for captives, go figure. The article in the Post says “the tents are windowless and the walls are blank, and no partitions or doors separate the five toilets, five sinks, five shower heads and eating areas. [..] Lacking utensils on some days, detainees eat with their hands.” And if that isn’t bad enough, the lights are left on 24-7 and a visitor “finds many occupants buried in their blankets throughout the day.”

It’s the lobotomization of illegal immigration. Migrant families reduced to communities of sleeping bag larvae. Sounds like torture to me. If we go back to Nancy Duff’s vision of the entire North American continent forming a singular massive body, say, if Canada were its eyes and mind, the USA its beating heart, and Mexico its pumping legs - then these border crossers have been ingested and now fester somewhere in the sun-stretched bowels tucked behind Texas’s prison belt – literally consumed by giant pneumatic architectural stomachs keeping fat prison operators fed. Jodi Goodwin, an immigration lawyer from nearby Harlingen calls it 'Ritmo' - the Gitmo in Raymondville, Texas.

With an increase in stricter immigration laws and Washington's push for tighter enforcement, comes the early signs of a new alien jowled pop-up landscape in rural America – the instaburbs of inflatable detention sprawl.

“With roughly 1.6 million illegal immigrants in some stage of immigration proceedings, ICE holds more inmates a night than Clarion hotels have guests, operates nearly as many vehicles as Greyhound has buses and flies more people each day than do many small U.S. airlines.” Craziness.


[Image: The T. Don Hutto Correctional Center would hold up to 600 detained immigrants and would be suited for families with children. (Source: Austin-American Statesman). Spotted at Latina Lista.]

Also, in Texas just outside of Austin, sits the T. Don Hutto Family Detention Center, operated for the government by none other than the Corrections Corporation of America, according to the New York Times, “under a $2.8-million-a-month contract with Williamson County. It is named for a founder of the company, which runs 64 centers in 19 states. It now holds about 400 illegal immigrants, including 170 children, in family groups from nearly 30 countries. […] There is only one other family detention center in the country, the Berks Family Shelter Care Facility in Leesport, Pa.”


[Image: Gary Mead, an Immigration and Customs official, speaking Friday at the T. Don Hutto Family Detention Center for illegal immigrants. Pool photo by L.M. Otero, New York Times, 2007.]

The facility was recently opened up to the media for the first time last week since it has come under intense scrutiny for having a reputation as a prison that locks up children. You can watch a video here (thanks Nick!). From recent reports, it seems the facility had been quickly doctored and dolled up with cheap plants and fresh paint jobs to make it “presentable.” The operators claim it is the most humane response to dividing families, while most agree, children under no circumstances should be locked up.


[Image: Photo by Sarah L Voisin, Washington Post, 2006.]

Mother Jones produced a great piece on the TDH Center despite the fact that not much is really even known about the place, telling us that “it is the only detention center housed in a former prison, and agency officials say it has been extensively renovated into "a modern, state-of-the-art facility." The government has taken the position that family detention centers are generally the most effective ways of managing hordes of migrant families,” and according to MoJo, in March, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said he plans to open more of them.

On down the road, the ICE recently added another 512-bed center in Taylor for immigrant families, run of course by Corrections Corp. All part of a chain of facilities in South Texas reported to have 6,700 new immigration detention beds available now. Every day since July, “six officers have manually tracked and transferred detained immigrants among 24 regional offices, matching bodies to vacant beds and airplane seats in a Detention Operations Coordination Center.”

In Georgia, the ICE recently added a 1,524-bed facility in Stewart County. Then, just check out Florence, Arizona. This article on CorpWatch breaks down the numbers behind illegal immigration in terms of the kinds of dollars and stock values that are at stake in the privatized prison industry. Beyond the numbers and dollars, though, the article talks about how these new immigration detention zones are reviving old communities leftover from the mining industry that now thrive around the replacement industry of operating prisons; truly a carceral urbanism. Florence hosts Arizona’s state prison, two privately run prison complexes, and one Department of Homeland Security (DHS) immigration jail. Read on and we find out that it was, who else, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) who built the two prisons in Florence. Recently, with immigrants in prison garb coursing through America’s rural veins, the INS began renting bed space, “and then built its own prison out of a town's old World War II prisoner-of-war camp,” Deepa Fernades writes. It was the revitalization of prisons and internment camps that have brought back Florence to life.


[Image: Photo by Sarah L Voisin, Washington Post, 2006.]

There, as a new mantlepiece, the DHS-run Special Processing Center “is a massive one-stop-shop, where immigrants can be jailed, tried in an immigration court, appealed before an immigration judge, and ordered deported—all without leaving the self-contained complex.” Remind anyone of the new project being built outside Gitmo? Self-contained state-of-exception rapid trial sentencing centers? Even though the DHS denies that their facilities are jails, Hernandes doesn’t let us escape the fact that the Special Processing Center in Florence “is ringed by concertina wire, surrounded by chain-link fences, with inmates locked into cells, […] facing zealous prosecution and in many cases are left to languish for weeks and months without trial or sentencing.”


Map of DHS Detention Facilties. (Click Image to Enlarge)


The complex in Florence is part of a 300-facility-strong network of immigrant incarceration facilities.


[Image: Border Policy's Success Strains Resources, Washington Post 2007. Photo by Kirsten Luce.]

Get ready America, if you see a crowd of tents popping up on the outskirts of your town, don’t mistake them for a new circus – it’s just a few hundred migrants performing some little detention act to an invisible audience. Nothing to be concerned about, just move along.

Also worth reading:
Immigrants Held in U.S. Often Kept in Squalor
Forgotten Prisoners: The Problem With Our Immigrant Deportation System
Eye on Williamson: Keeping An Eye On Williamson County, Texas
South Texans Opposing Private Prisons (STOPP)
Architects of Nebulous Detention

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

31 days in Iraq


(Click here to enlarge)

[Image: 31 Days in Iraq: "In January more than 1,900 people — soldiers, security officers and civilians — were killed in the insurgency in Iraq, up from 800 in January 2006. Many corpses showed signs of torture, meaning the victims were probably killed by religious and tribal death squads. This map, based on data from the American, British and Iraqi governments and from news reports, shows the dates, locations and circumstances of deaths for the first month of the year. Given the vast size of Iraq and the communications difficulties inherent in war, the information may be incomplete. Nonetheless, it is our effort to visually depict the continuing human cost of the Iraq war."

By Adriana Lins de Albuquerque, a doctoral student in political science at Columbia, and Alicia Cheng, a graphic designer at mgmt. design in Brooklyn. 2007, The New York Times.]

(thanks Bryan!)

Monday, February 05, 2007

(un)Documented Disappearance


I came across a very cool project recently by an Israeli artist named Ronen, who, from what I gather on his/her website, is working towards a MFA at the Bauhaus in Weimar, Germany. Ronen's recent project (un)Documented Disappearance lit up the sewage drains and waste canals that run through the streets of Jena, a city with "a strong history of migrant struggle that has been successful in improving the conditions," he/she writes. However, in the pale inviting sewer lights, the project situated several scaled images of asylum seekers and refugees from all over the world holding their respective documents, so as to face the public from the street floors trapped behind the grated bars, like captives of the filthy jail spaces of sewage infrastructure which stretch in subtle views just below our feet.



Using the lights to draw people's attention to the sewers, "The viewers like the police/border guard" the artist tells us, "will be able to check the papers and explore the bureaucracy. Through different examples in different sewage entrances they can learn about the different kinds of legal status of refugees and migrants in Jena and elsewhere." The project is meant to depict the hellish process of existing unseen, unacknowledged, and how immigration is strategically controlled and removed from public consciousness the same way that the public's own waste is hydrologically managed.


Even though the installation has since been taken down and I believe kind of re-packaged for a gallery, Ronen explains the intention of the installation was to function like an informal "museum of bureaucratic legal papers, which to some people mean the difference between life and death. But the display does not last. Rain and snow, cigarette buts and chewing gum, and the rubbish of the city erases these pictures and the display of different migrants showing their papers to the public from the city's sewage start to disappear, just like so many people who already have." In the end, "the papers," he/she says, are the only "evidence of the regime, that will [...] last and will stay in the sewage as memory of the people who we have been confronted only days before."





From this collection of project images posted on Flickr, Ronen writes: "Society does not want to see its bodily wastes and the results of its consumption. We want dark tunnels to carry these away to places removed from visibility. Our economic and political systems work in a similar ways, we want the unpleasantness, the problems and the disasters that we create distanced from us, to places we don’t see, places which are, in the best case, thousand of miles away. Nobody wants to live in the sewage; therefore, hundreds of thousand of people each year flee from the areas of the political and economic waste - both historical and contemporary – of the world system. Many of them don’t make it; they die, trying to reach a better life. The few that manage to “enter” the so-called Western world are subject to migration regimes that confine them into segregated neighborhoods of poverty or camps."


Anyway, the installation is compelling, and I dig the concept of both using and illuminating the sewers, fixing our persepctive of immigration right under our feet, amidst the unsighted daily flows of our waste removal systems, and letting it all sort of wash away in a subtle temporary surface protest - in the irregular overflows of incarcerated political conscience; the waste regime of asylum bureaucracy guiding Europe's inundated underground of secret life like banal hydrology, redirecting discarded refugees out of view, compressing international peopled trash in spaces below the street; the unknown journeys of lost documents quietly struggling against their fates ushered into the abyss.

All images were created by Ronen and found on flickr.