Alexander Klose Plovdiv lecture Oct. 15th 2010,


2010 UTOPIAS OF DISORDER - theory on the verge of collapse

1 the situation

We are living in complex and confusing times. The forces of so called globalisation tear apart and isolate what used to belong together, producing new coherences by recombining the particles formerly separated.

For example the busses in Plovdiv: They come from different european cities. Outside, they often still carry their former destinations in foreign languages. Inside, some of them still have the original route plans. ... If the bus drivers in Plovdiv drove according to these plans it would be like the implementation in public transportation of a rather famous concept by the situationists, a french artist group in the tradition of surrealism in the 1950s: to navigate with the map of the wrong city.

Or this morning on TV in the breakfast room of the hostel I am staying: Women in kimonos were trying out and demonstrating Ikebana-techniques of wrapping all kinds of things to become beautiful gifts. I didn't understand a word. But what I saw was that those women were definitely not japanese and that the setting was some kind of datscha-vacation resort.

Or the different, more or less official ways of waste disposal and recycling in Plovdiv that were one of the main inspirations for this exhibition, and are also reflected in some of the works shown: We find very complex, though less visible systems of second and third circulation. Complex industrially manufactured products like cars or household electronics are divided into particles and materials, not seldomly by hands and using archaic techniques like burning in open fires. Those parts or raw materials are then fed into different economic cycles again: Some are used for local purposes. But others may show up in Egypt or China, re-entering the global manufacturing chains.

How many of the ingredients of our everyday consumer-capitalistic "first world" machines, gadgets and items are produced in these "shady" and non-controlled, non-measured ways? How many second, third, fourth economic cycles feed into the first cycle that produces the official imagary manifesting the rulership of globalisation and modern lifestyles?

Our world is full of mixed up things and situations that we don't seem to have the proper tools to explain.

The social technics of modernity: demography, urban planning and architecture, social politics, the police, sociology, political theory, life sciences, psychology ˝ the whole complex that french philosopher Michel Foucault coined with the term Đbio-politicsý was and still is in many fields based on reductionist explanations. Explanations based on simple models and few core theoremes that can easily be transformed into plans or, today, become the starting proposition for marketing schemes.

Throughout the second half of the 20th century opposition against these simple plans grew. At the latest with the collapse of the post-war political world system it became obvious that a world of inconsistencies and contradictions couldn't be explained let alone ruled by simplicistic schemes anymore.

"Globalisation" came in as a kind of new historical-philosophical term and joker explanation for everything. But what does globalisation mean?

Being a meta-term not rooted in any specific economic or social theory it can stand for more or less every development that ist connected to the expansion of markets, traffic and lifestyles.

2 BabelWorks

- media culture + media design -> theoretical and artistical research in "babel situations": complex heuristics for complex situations + historical background

- german name: BabelBauWerk, focusses more on the work above ground: architecture, city plans, fortresses, etc.. Whereas Babel Works connotates infrastructure (the works = english short term for all city infrastructures: electricity, public transportation, sewers, garbage removal, etc.

- theoretical background: "babel theories" -> theory on the verge of collapse (part 3) / development of concept "utopias of disorder" (part 4)


3 theory on the verge of collapse

the Babel question

It all beginns with a failure in eternally dividing sea and land.

The Babel harbours and Babel cities where ship labs try to tow and lab houses try to set sail are not located on the shore of one single water. They are crossed by and made out of thousands of streams, thousand stream velocities, tenthousand curls, turbulences, stagnations. Everywhere sedimentation, mud accumulation, congestion. Everywhere erosion, washout, breakthrough. Solid over liquid, solid in liquid, zones of indistinguishability between solid and liquid: the frozen sea as highway for pulsed world traffic. The liquified land on which territories pile like layers, swimming, or reduced to islands, or mobile phantom territorialities. Mobilization of houses, men, goods, money, garbage. This is the situation of babel cities.

The first question aroused by such overcomplexities, overcodings and multistructuralities is: How can it be that everything functions more or less. Why do they work?

The second question following the first is: How can one pose this question? How can one face the strangely organized chaos of babel situations without falling pray to a mania of order, explanation or beauty? How can one fish in the murky waters of Babel and not return with simple images of order, with vectors of determination, with systems, with history? Is it possible to erect an analytical babel building that stands in symmetrical relationship to the complexities of the researched situations and not in a representational one?

science as art - art as science

Two epistemological problems derive from trying to get a hold on complexity through theoretical activity:

Firstly, a dynamic situation has always already changed the moment you describe it. Theorizing needs stagnation or at least delay. dynamics here are always synthetic dynamics: cutting, sorting out, re-combining, re-activating. Every theory, every theoretical model about a situation therefore is no explanation but a machine, reproducing its own parallel reality. To make it even more complicated, it is a machine which starts to operate, organize, in other words have an effect on the situation towards which it pretends to just be a neutral research tool. It starts to become a part of the babel complexity.

Secondly, theory can always just grip a part of any given situation, in terms of space and time, much the same as an image can always only reproduce a section of the whole picture. A first way of trying to cope with this problem is to take a lot of images and put them next to each other to get a fuller image. Another method is to produce different kinds of images and not just put them next but also on top of each other, in other words to work multi-disciplinary. But apart from the problem that some of those disciplinary images might be despotic the most principle of all problems related with images is still unsolved. Despite all acumulative techniques of composition every image still remains an aperture: What do I consider as relevant in a given situation and what falls out of the range of my image?

In other words: With a picture, I can never get hold of the total, but always just grip a part, which makes it quite problematic to believe or pretend that you describe something general. Friedrich Nietzsche turned attention to the principle analogy between the scientific production of theories and the artistic production of images. Every theoretic activity, according to Nietzsche, is driven by a principally creative character Consequently, Nietzsche proposes that science could and should learn from the intuition and the subjective methods of artists.

A successor and contemporary of Nietzsche, the french author Alfred Jarry, who later became one of the mythical predecessors of surrealism, drove the realization of the principal impossibility of any objective general theoreme to an extreme by announcing the new discipline of pataphysics. Pataphysics, according to Jarry, is the science of the singular (as opposed to the ruling concept that science aims for the general). It is "the science of imaginary solutions".

Pataphysics doesn't make a difference between "inner" and "outer" phenomena. It is more interested in the processes of taking-something-for-real than in the so-called realities. It is interested in how we construct our own thought- and belief-systems and then start living as though reality equaled those projections.

For obvious reasons, pataphysics didn't develop into a scientific agenda, and probably was never meant to, being more of a provocation and a joke. But it's basic assumption of a world developing through singularities seems to resonance in theories, that today are considered to be of great importance, like in the theory of hybrids and networks of French sociologist Bruno Latour who focusses on the translations and transformations that singular observations go through before becoming scientific facts. On the other hand it is worthwhile to note how highly influential Jarry's concept of pataphysics became among artists (at least french ones). Among the members of the Đcoll╦ge de pataphysiqueý, which was founded after Jarry's death, are names like Ren╚ Clair, Jean Dubuffet, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Eug╦ne Ionesco, Michel Leiris, Raymond Queneau, Man Ray or Boris Vian.

Regarding the Babel question and the potential of artistic and scientific methods combined to describe complex situations, another lineage is of the greatest interest: Harald Szeemann who is considered to be the inventor of the artist-curator and probaby the most influential exhibition-maker of the post-war era, described himself also as higly influenced and inspired by Jarry's ideas. There is a direct line from Jarry's pataphysics to Szeemanns concept "individual mythologies", applied in the organisation of documenta V in 1972, and from there to his concept of the "museum of obsessions" which was the basis of almost all his later exhibitions.

Speculative Caviar

Before finally coming to the utopias of disorder, I have to tell you about another prominent lineage of a concept between art and science, Salvador Dalis "paranoic-critical method", which resonates in the formative years of the architectural concepts of Rem Koolhaas.

In the 1920s, Dali described the activities of the surrealists as follows: "We surrealists are not exactly artists and we are also not real men of science; we are caviar. (...) If caviar is the vital experience of the sturgeon, at the same time it is for the surrealists. Because like the sturgeon we are flesh-eating fish, swimming between two waters, the cold waters of art, and the warm waters of science".

" Shortly after, Dali developed his "paranoic-critical method" to get over the first, experimental phase of surrealism and find new surrealistic methods to Đsystematically research the irrational". The aim should be to produce Đimages of the concrete irrational (...) that is truly unknown images." These had to be renewed to avoid to repeat a surrealstic style that had begun to establish itself among the recipients. And they had to aim for a higher digree of "objective and physical existence in reality". "Against the dream memories und the virtual and impossible images of states strictly receptive "that can only be told" the physical facts of "objective" irrationality on which one can get wounded." To get hold of these kinds of images Dali develops the praranoic-critical method, "which is founded in the abrupt power of systemic associations common to paranoia".

Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas later interpreted this method as a "vacation of the healthy into the realm of paranoia." In a provocative chapter of his book "Delirious New York" he applies Dalis paranoical-critical method on Le Corbusier, showing how in the utopian, rationalistic urban plans of the star architect these was a paranoid core enabling him to believe that his idiosyncratic ideas about the world had an objective quality.

4 Utopias of disorder

Yona Friedman: "To condense my eighty years of thoughts in a simple reflection, I have discovered, and I am not the only one, that disorder is a kind of order."

Hans-Dieter Bahr: "What if the so well kept oppositions of chaos and order, of building and decay, of contract and force themselves have remained the unquestioned problem that continues rewriting itself throughout history? Wouldn't philosophy today be obliged to face the uncomfortable truth that neither logic nor unlogic are the problem but a logos of disruptions, a logos of 'crampled and knotty disruptions' (...)"? In other words, a babylonian logos?

Since WW II, at the latest since 1989, the utopian impulse to formulate spacial scripts for a better life and a better society cannot rely on simple images of order anymore; at least not in those societies that were directly affected by the cruelties of war and totalitarian regimes.

[The utopian project of prewar modern architecture to form better men through rational environment organization on the basis of simple rules was perhaps the last utopia of order, at least for the time being. From there one can draw a direct line to the NS-concentration camps, in which consequent rationalization of spatial order was a central element in a total experiment in dehumanization ˝ the most nightmarish dystopia imaginable. Since the 1920s, a new biopolitical ideal of rationalization and planning spreads with great success throughout all modern societies and political systems, be it the US, the Soviet Union, or Germany. It brings forward new forms and organizational structures implemented and tested at the same time in the factory, the film studio, in traffic, private households, in institutions, and in camps.]

Consequently, after WW II, when all around the world mass housing projects were erected following the scripts of the pre-war architectural masters, these architectures soon became a key symbol for the inhumanities of modern society. "Blow Ýem up! Blow Ýem up!" That's what according to american novelist Thomas Wolfe the people of St. Louis proposed when, at the beginning of the 1970s, asked what to do with the behated Le Corbusier-style housing project turned into a ghetto they were forced to live in. For many this was a symbol for the beginning of the end of modernity. Since the 1960s, cry for freedom and the aim to break free from the technocratical order of the modern societies regularly culminates in the demand to break up rigid and uniform architectural orders.

All classical utopias (of order) carry an apocalyptic dimension insofar as they dream to put an end to all irregularities, inconsistencies and hybridities - once and for all - and install against these the image of a transparent, constistent order, the image of a new Jerusalem. A new generation of utopian drafts for houses, cities and societies draw on the classical biblical counter image (diffamated a thousand times): the inconsistent, puzzling, pluralistic, multi-lawed, and ever-changing mish-mash of Babylon.

These utopias of disorder and complexity, as shown in drafts by Yona Friedman, Archigram, or in the New Babylon project by the Cobra-Artist Constant, leave the container-space of classical utopias in which good order was thinkable only as locally fixed and timeless. Instead, they put their hopes into systemic space concepts that develop in time and have the potential to transcend themselves. They want complex orders to emerge from simple parts: techno-social hybrids with feedback-functions in which a liberal social practice adjusts the impositions of planning when they start to counteract their own ethics.

Instead of designing built environments one room after another, instead of drawing plans and determining uses, these architectonical drafts define connecting links, modular multiple-use base units, meta-structures, protocols. Often, they build on ephemeral materials, use waste products of industrial production or recycled materials, produce nature-culture-hybrids. Their models for systemic self-organization of built environments are illegal settlements, like the gecekondus of Istanbul or the favelas of Brasil, monstrous, proliferating city-agglomerations like in the boomtowns of Asia, Africa and South-America, or the development of logistics zones more or less without any plan or architects in between cities of North America and Europe.

the good emergence

Turning down the idea of a (consistent) planning intelligence, believing in systemic self organisation, and hoping for a higher wisdom of (urban) mish-mash, the utopias of disorder reflect core ideas of anarchism. At the same time they connect to theoremes of cybernetics. And last but not least ˝ in a paradoxical tension with the political position of many of its protagonists; a problem yet unsolved -, they function according to the neoliberal, capitalistic ideal of flexibilisitation and self organisation on the deregulated marketplace.

Literature Bahr, Hans-Dieter, "Der babylonische Logos". In: Ders., Der babylonische Logos. Medien, Zeiten, Utopien, Wien 2005, S. 15-18. Ders., "Ernst Bloch und das Problem der Utopie". In: Ebda., S. 141-174. Dal╠, Salvador, "Die Gewässer, in denen wir schwimmen". In: Gespröche zwischen Alain Bosquet und Salvador Dali, München 1974; S. 95-104. Derrida, Jacques, "No Apokalypse. Not now (full speed ahead, seven missiles, seven missives)". In: Apokalypse, Wien 2000, S. 81-118. Friedman, Yona, Pro Domo, Barcelona 2007. Jarry, Alfred, Heldentaten und Lehren des Doktor Faustroll (Pataphysiker): neowissenschaftlicher Roman, Frankfurt/Main 1987. Koolhaas, Rem, Delirious New York, New York 1994. Latour, Bruno, Wir sind nie modern gewesen. Versuch einer symmetrischen Anthropologie, Berlin 1995. Nietzsche, Friedrich, Die frľhliche Wissenschaft, KSA 3, München 2003/1988, S. 343 ˝ 651. Shattuck, Roger, "An der Schwelle der ÝPataphysik". In: Ferentschik, Klaus, `Pataphysik ˝ Versuchung des Geistes; die Pataphysik & das Coll╦ge de Pataphysique; Definitionen, Dokumente, Illustrationen, Berlin 2006, S. 57 ˝ 69. Szeemann, Harald, "Agentur fŞr geistige Gastarbeit". In: Bezzola, Tobia/ Kurzmeyer, Roman (Hg.), Harald Szeemann, with by through because towards despite, Catalogue of all Exhibitions 1957 ˝ 2005, Wien 2007. Wolfe, Tom, From Bauhaus to our house, New York 1986.


METAPOLISM. Urban matters
Center for Contemporary Art CCA Plovdiv – The Ancient Bath
ART PROTECTS YOU / Jochen Traar / Austria
gangart / Simonetta Ferfoglia, Heinrich Pichler / Austria, Italy
Institute for Cultural Resistant Goods / Barbara Zeidler, Abbé Libansky / Austria
Josef Ramaseder / Austria
Heiko Bressnik / Austria, Germany
Kurator: Jakob Racek
Ausstellung: 16. Oktober - 12. November 2010