Tag Archives: the apocalypse

Reading Material: Cities / Playscapes / Drugs / Jerusalem / Time / Bunkers / Apocalypse

It’s been awhile.

The internet got shut off. Life got complicated. Enderender maintenance became less of a priority.

Sine last posting, I traveled by thumb from Portland, Oregon to Los Angeles  California. I came back to New Orleans afterwards and things were bad. Then I left America at the start of last year, went travelling in the Middle East. I returned to New Orleans, this time in late spring. Now I work in a public library.

Perfect. That’s the explanation for the my nearly 18-month absence.   Now, to readjust focus…

A list of recent reading material, in no particular order:

common ground
Common Ground In A Liquid City by Matt Hern

Ideas for sustainable urban futures specifically focused on arguments for density, localization, and city planning as a collective, participatory activity. The premise for this collection of essays centers around the comparison of various locales (New York, Las Vegas, Istanbul, Diyarbakir–to name a few) to the author’s own, Vancouver. The result is a civic-minded sampling of the successes and failures of different cities, with special attention paid to the possibilities of the places being analyzed.

Common Ground has a lot to with basic considerations of public space. A lot of the themes throughout the book  suggest that in order to transform our cities–whether it be through redesign, repurposing, or rehabilitation–we need to first change the way we think about them.

Makes sense. Hern’s approach to the shaping of cities is informal, organic, and spirited. He’s into bikes, potlucks, and as much shared space as possible. Corporate interest and privatization don’t make for the kind of city he’s trying to envision in this book. Essentially, he’s calling for cities to be built from the ground up, to develop character on their own, rather than be assigned one by aggressive development firms and government officials.

The writing is consistently approachable, although he could probably stand to put a little more effort into the visuals accompanying his next book. It wouldn’t be unfair at times to  categorize Hern  as “idealistic”. Of course, imagining the type of place we want to live and be a part of is a lot easier than actually implementing the changes necessary to make that place a reality. His best argument is for densification, building fecund urban centers with lots of resources and preserving the rural areas in the process.

I’d probably be pulling quotes from it if I didn’t already lend it out, recommending it to a friend as definitely worth reading.

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Reimagining Recreation by James Trainor

I developed a weird fascination with playscapes awhile back. This article is about the trials of New York City playground development, the radical urban playground designers of the 60’s, and Robert Moses.

In my reading, I was dragged back to the age of six-years old, running around on what would now be most certainly condemned as a totally unsafe playground at The Hansen Elementary School in the suburbs of Massachusetts. It’s gone now, replaced by a generic, prepackaged play environment. It was made mostly out of thick lumber and old tires. There was a pyramid you could crawl on top of and around and inside, made completely out of conjoined automobile tires! And it was on the huge monster-truck tires, half-buried in the sand, with an 8-foot gap in between them traversable through a rope swing, where I split open my forehead. Lots of crying, some stress for my father, and a few stitches.

I look back upon that place as magical, maybe even more so because of my painful experience.

Lady Allen of Hurtwood, “a British landscape designer and fierce child welfare activist” and one of the major influences of Richard Dattner, a radical playscape designer, was known for her  “…unsettling dictum, ‘Better a broken bone than a broken spirit’.”

Reimageining Recreation does a good job of positioning these designers amongst fine artists and, especially, land artists. It’s seems totally reasonable to talk about playgrounds and the Spiral Jetty or Roden’s Crater in relation to one another, conceptually juxtaposing these spatial interventions.

Regarding the radical playscapes of NYC circa 1960:

The playscapes were the first in New York to be designed by architects—idealistic, savvy, and ambitious young designers with their own tots in tow, steeped in New Left politics, versed in current social theories and child psychology, and at home in downtown art circles. (Friedberg was a lifelong friend of artist Jackie Ferrara, whose feminist take on post-minimalism featured wooden staircases, ramps, and stacked pyramids that almost invited the viewer to start climbing on them.) Unbeknownst to most, Dattner and Friedberg embodied a small but important vanguard working in parallel and often anticipating the environmentally engaged work of Robert Smithson, Nancy Holt, Robert Morris, Sol LeWitt, and others.

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Operation Delirium by Raffi Khatchadourian 

Totally scary, fascinating article about an army doctor conducting drug experiments on young soldiers during the cold war. This expose calls into question the ethics of the US Government feeding young men illicit substances in the interest of developing psychological weapons. Centered around James Ketchum, one of the leading doctors at Edgewood, the article is a collection of horrors and cold military rationale:

In 1949, L. Wilson Greene, Edge wood’s scientific director, typed up a classified report, “Psychochemical Warfare: A New Concept of War,” that called for a search for compounds that would create the same debilitating mental side effects as nerve gas, but without the lethality. “Throughout recorded history, wars have been characterized by death, human misery, and the destruction of property; each major conflict being more catastrophic than the one preceding it,” Greene argued. “I am convinced that it is possible, by means of the techniques of psychochemical warfare, to conquer an enemy without the wholesale killing of his people or the mass destruction of his property.

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 Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City by Guy Delisle

Guy Delisle documented, in comicbook form, his year spent in Jerusalem.  His partner worked for Doctors Without Borders, spending much of her time in Gaza, while Delisle looked after his two young children and explored his surroundings. What came out of this is a very honest account of Delisle’s personal experiences in a place of conflict.

I think the initial naiveté of the author is actually one of the strengths of the work. From the beginning, he seems routinely surprised at the conditions produced from the tensions between Israel and Palestine. He’s not visiting Israel for religious or historical reasons, nor is he visiting Palestine in the interest of solidarity or politics. Instead, it seems more like he just ended up there, the caretaker for the kids while his wife  was at work. For this reason, Delisle’s perspective is valuable. Simple and straight-forward.

It’s a good counterweight to reading Joe Sacco….but if you’re going to only read one, definitely choose Sacco.

time-machine
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

I’ll spare you from my own unabashed adoration of the father of modern science fiction and just leave you with a crude synopsis: A scientist travels way far into the future. The leisure class has turned into supple, dim-witted imps, the working class into subterranean savages. The future looks bleak.

‘For the first time I began to realize an odd consequence of the social effort in which we are at present engaged. And yet, come to think, it is a logical consequence enough. Strength is the outcome of need; security sets a premium on feebleness. The work of ameliorating the conditions of life–the true civilizing process that make life more and more secure–had gone steadily on to a climax. One triumph of a united humanity over Nature had followed another. Things that are now mere dreams had become projects deliberately put in hand and carried forward. And the harvest was what I saw!’

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Home at the End of Time: Robert Vicino Built an Underground City Where You Can Ride out the Apocalypse by Austin Considine and You’re (Probabaly) Not Invited: End Times Living with the Doomsday 1 Percent by Jake Hanrahan

Both these articles came from the same place (Motherboard), around the same time (the Mayan Apocalypse), and deal with the same content (doomsday bunkers) so I grouped them together.

Remember 2012? Like last year, when that thing didn’t happen? Well, at the very least, it propelled “the end of the world” into the mainstream for awhile, which was exciting and then, quickly, tired and annoying.

When reading about these survival bunkers, I can’t help but think of that old Don Johnson movie A Boy and His Dog. I’m specifically thinking about the post-apocalyptic, subterranean community that kidnaps the young Don Johnson for his sperm. In this underground society created in the aftermath of nuclear disaster, it’s all hyper-Americana and inbreeding, weird violence and verbal instructions for apple pie blasting out of speakers. Not necessarily a future worth sticking around for.

What Robert Vicino’s bunker company Vivos offers is the economic version of the doomsday domicile. The going rate for a spot in one of his bunkers is $50,000 per adult, $35,000 for children. Vicino said reassuringly, “What Vivos is, is a modern-day fortress or citadel, where our members are safe and secure, with all the supplies they need to ride it out. And we can defend the facilities. So if the rest of the world’s gone crazy, our people will at least be in a safe haven,”

Sounds fun. And according to the Vivos website, this mass hysteria, necessitating a flee from collapse into the underground,  could be a result of any number of forces including, but not limited to, bio war, anarchy, a killer comet, a global tsunami, or a super volcano, respectively.

Larry Hall’s Luxury Survival Condo is unique in that his bunkers are built inside repurposed missile silos built by the Army Corps of Engineers. In terms of design, they’re stunning. And two million dollars for a spot…before they sold out. Which leads to this interesting predicament noted by the article’s author:

So with all the comforts that any wealthy survivalist could throw money at, Larry Hall has designed the survival condo for likeminded millionaires savvy enough to realize that if or when the economy or society goes to pot, their cash-at-hand will be worthless, and their survival investment will be money well spent. But surely Hall realizes this, too? It’s my hope that, come time to batten down the hatches, those people sharing his oxygen don’t get on his nerves when all the profit he’s made becomes worthless in a barter-based economy.

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Chinese Dig in for ‘approaching doomsday’ by Rita Alvarez Tudela

More architecture for the apocalypse. Imagine the end of the world actually happening, the only survivors being the guys brazen enough to lock themselves inside a giant ping-pong ball. Or better yet, imagine the end of the world being brought on by a global tsunami, earth turned into one giant ocean dotted with tsunami survival pods carrying the last surviving members of mankind, trapped inside giant ping-pong balls.

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Double happiness.

[Didier Faustino’s Double Happiness in Shenzhen-Hong Kong]

 

I wanted to point out this “urban reanimation device” produced by artist Didier Faustino in 2009 for the Bi-City Biennial of Urbanism and Architecture in Hong Kong. In some of the same ways that Carsten Holler’s slides are exciting, Double Happiness utilizes the idea of creating a work that is necessarily experiential,  a piece which presents an eminent physicality that demands participation in order to be actuated.

Upon first seeing the above image, I initially had romantic notions of a renegade artist stoically welding the hardware of the swings in the earliest hours of the morning, overlooking from on top of the former advertising platform   a plethora of other abandoned structures littering the skyline, monuments and tombs to a collapsed version of capitalism. I must admit that I was a little disappointed when I figured out that this “billboard” was actually created for the specific purpose of being an art object and actually not really a billboard at all.

[Philippe Petit tight-roping across the Twin Towers in 1974]

 

I still think that the most exciting aspect of this work is the ideas it brings forth of re-purposing urban space, transforming the post-industrial landscape into a playground. I’ve been trying to find online evidence of an old factory converted into a nightclub/recreational facility that had scuba-divers in the silos…I thought it was somewhere in Germany. Am I just making this up? Regardless, there is a lot of solid conceptual terrain to reimagine derelict architecture, to transform the  abandoned into a new archetype of activity based around the exploration of transcendent possibilities. Ziplines and high-wires traversed by Philippe Petit proteges across an ever-changing network of rooftops; endurance parades with ever-growing floats that march through vacant shopping malls collecting costumes, instruments, and members as they travel; highways and overpasses dominated by Mad Max flower children on tandem bikes responsible for circulating the mobile lending library and seed bombing the remains of the city…

I found the image of Double Happiness via Elodie Friedmans blog, a recommended place of perusal for your fill of visual stimuli.

Betelgeuse.

 

This place is crazy:

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“Earth will undoubtedly have a front row seat when the dying red supergiant star Betelgeuse finally blows itself into oblivion.

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The explosion will be so bright that even though the star in the Orion constellation is 640 light-years away, it will still turn night into day and appear like there are two suns in the sky for a few weeks.

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The only real debate is over exactly when it will happen.”

 

 

 

The Walking Dead

[Image: One of the zombies introduced in the The Walking Dead’s first episode, Days Gone By.]

AMC has a new miniseries, The Walking Dead, based on a graphic novel of the same name. The show takes place in the ruins of a zombie apocalypse. Just as in 28 Days Later The Walking Dead begins by depicting  the main character going through a trial of surreal moments, waking up in a hospital bed  and navigating through a ravaged world.

Why a riot of zombies can cover the face of the earth, including inside the actual hospital building, and somehow overlook a person passed out in bed is beyond me. Regardless, an unconscious patient seems to be a relatively successful way to introduce a protagonist to the viewer as well as the newly cleared out/decimated world. In this case Rick Grimes, an injured small-town sheriff, discovers the horror of piles of dead bodies and mangled carrion shells of the once living.

Kind of like a nightmare, kind of like a smattering of every other zombie flick out there, the world portrayed post-zombie apocalypse in this miniseries is one in which emptiness is eerie and the urban areas are the most dangerous, though in this case alluring due to the misconception that they may provide a form of hope or salvation (spoiler alert: but really a bunch of zombies will just eat your horse instead).

[Image: Zombies eating the innards of a horse.. Scott Garfield.]

 

I would be curious to see, not just in this particular zombie escapade but in most contemporary zombie media,  how survivors actually survive beyond just fighting zombies. How are basic needs met after the collapse of industry and in what ways, if any, does an intelligible infrastructure present itself over time?

I like watching dead people get hit in the head with baseball bats as much as anyone else, but I wonder about ten, twenty, one hundred years past a zombie invasion, assuming that survivors last long enough to procreate and a sort of normalcy can set in in the same way a country reverts back to it’s everyday proceedings after a nuclear attack or natural disaster, adopting new ways of living and adapting to the changed world.

And how long can zombies survive for anyway? I guess you can rudimentarily freeze them in some snow-capped mountain like the zombie nazis in Dead Snow. But besides for that, one would think that over a certain period of time, the carcasses of zombies would have to undergo a process of organic decay, eventually just rotting away into nothingness. After all the zombies were gone, how would the world rebuild itself? What decisions would it make differently, ensuring it’s safety, comfort, and chance of any further outbreaks?

You can watch the first episode of The Walking Dead here.

Welcome to Armageddon, USA: A Tour of America’s Most Toxic Town

[Image: Finlay Mackay]

“The apocalypse is already here; it’s just unevenly distributed. Urbanization has lured more people to bustling metropolises, but precious little thought has been given to what happens when these cities fail. Over time, the underlying systems and processes of civilization—from lead mining to offshore drilling to car commuting—slowly poison us. Power grids brown out, the climate heats up, and industrial accidents ravage ecosystems and cities alike. For all the famed cities with thousands of years of continuity—Paris, London, Cairo, Athens, Rome, Istanbul—most cities just stop. Picher isn’t simply another boomtown gone bust. It’s emblematic of what happens when a modern city dies: A few people stay behind, trying to hold on to what they can. They are the new homesteaders, trying to civilize a wasteland at the end of the world.”

Read the full article from Wired here.

The Twilight Zone—Season 1—“Time Enough at Last”

“…Henry Beamis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers, a bookish little man whose passion is the printed page, but it was conspired against by a bank president and a wife and a world of time clockers and the unrelenting hands of a clock. But in just a moment Mr. Beamis will enter a world without bank presidents, or wives or clocks or anything else….”
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Mr. Beamis is not “an efficient member of [the] organization”. His superior reprimands him for being “a reader”, a quality unappealing in an employee. Beamis’ ritual of scanning through texts at work is a direct result of the autocratic rule of his wife who refuses to let him read, rejecting the custom as “sacrificing the art of conversation”.  Sterling crafts for us a situation where the society of a man rejects his hermetic habit of books. Albeit, this is not a Farhenteit-451 construction in which books are considered completely deplorable and to be done away with by force. While the libraries still stands and the texts are still available, it seems that the forces in Mr. Breamis’ world, the company he keeps, prevent him from his indulgence.

Mr. Beamis sneaks away while at work to read within a bank vault, inadvertently functioning for our protagonist as a bomb shelter. In this appears a perfect juncture to insert an apocalypse, a cataclysm by hydrogen bomb. It seems impossible for much of the television and movies produced during this time (late 1950’s) to not address world war fears and the development of nuclear armaments. This particular episode is really most interesting for it’s presentation of the post-apocalyptic moment, after the breaking of Beamis’ pocket watch, which cracked due to the bombing, into a new mode of time. The destroyed innards of the bank serve to symbolize the ceasing of a world created upon a very specific system of values, a collapse of civilization.  The destruction of  a structure created for the purpose of storing and dispensing forms of capital, is the initial indicator of the end of the world. A tape recorder reels out the speech dictated by the head banker to his secretary for the Thursday night banquet (“a constant remembrance that the bank, like a political office, is a public trust”) self-destructs as the sole survivor first moves with timid steps through the remains of a past-life vanished. The “battered monuments” of infrastructure, (a pay-phone, a neighborhood bar, a mailbox) help to confirm the mysterious extinction of Beamis’ former environment.

On a side note, one of the cinematography effects I appreciate about the scenes portrayed of a world-burned-out are the obvious markings of the shot taking place on a set, like the weird way the horizon looks and how the sky appears totally motionless. There is something exciting about the idea of imagining the world destroyed and then constructing such a vision, “a smashed landscape”, on a closed set in warehouse in southern California.

There is a moment when Beamis almost succumbs to his loneliness, finding a small handgun amongst the rubble. At the moment when he is about to exact his own demise, a beacon of hope presents itself—a fallen pillar of the public library. This is the most beautiful portrait of destruction, Beamis excitedly running up the debris-ridden stairs littered with novels by famous authors. These works appear to be his saving grace, his reason to live.

Of course, it seems rather obvious from the beginning that this bespectacled man with lenses thick like magnifying glass will suffer some strange fate related to his sight. Indeed, upon his greatest moment of joy, his exuberant embrace of time unconstrained, he leans over and his glasses fall from his face, smashing to pieces on the ground.

It’s fair to say that this is a morose story. Without doubt, it would be unlikely for Beamis’ fate to not become somehow twisted, for everyone else’s apocalypse to become his own utopia. Still, we are never led to view Beamis as a morally corrupt man deserving a harsh sentence. Instead, we witness a man saved from death twice only to suffer a grueling sentence, to be stripped of his vision and, ultimately, his will to live by Sterling’s exploitation of a frailty.

This episode contains the classic sort of irony characteristic of Rod Sterling and The Twilight Zone, the appearance of a situation that reveals itself as not possibly being what it seems. The viewer can understand at an early point that the plot will somehow manifest a shifted version of reality by the end, the last moments destined to make sense of the scenes prior and generate an end with a resemblance of shrouded explanation. What is commendable about The Twilight Zone is it’s unwillingness to edify, the series reluctance to provide unprecedented glimmers of optimism or explicit morals. The whole premise of Sterling’s creation is to depict an altered dimension more-often-than-not with a rationale not based in our own immediate realities. So nice about this approach to storytelling is the expressive freedom present in creating a world where things are inexplicable and left with an aura of the unknown. This allows for the tales to present ideas not constricted by the rules of reason, or as Sterling would say, in The Twilight Zone.

Aldous Huxley’s “A Brave New World” (1932)

Realizing I probably should have read this book back in high school, I was a bit amazed both at how pleasurable reading Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” was and that I hadn’t read it sooner. I think I had something built up in my mind, the false idea that this book would be more challenging and dry than it was. In reality, I found Huxley’s most prized piece of writing to have some genuine humor throughout it. The absurdity of situations are elevated to comedy. For example, police spraying soma gas (a universally popular and near mandatory narcotic distributed by the government meant to provide feelings of bliss and absent-mindedness) at a crowd on the verge of aggressively rioting and altering the mass into a sobbing horde of groping bodies drugged out of their dissent.

Alas, there is also violence present within the novel that is raw and not intermingled with the light-hearted. An earnestness underlines the entire work and reminds the reader that what they are in fact engaged in reading is a tragedy, putting the problems of peace under scrutiny.

This is a theme I find interesting, an alternative among the abundance of post-apocalyptic scenarios drawn out in countless science-fiction tales where the world is burned out or neglected to the point of being uninhabitable. In this version of the future, the apocalypse as a cataclysmic event is stunted by the control of a governing body that works to maintain peace and order, to preserve and progress human society to a point of thoughtlessness, in effect ruling out the possibility of war altogether.

The point made with “Brave New World” is there can no great tragedies or art in the absence of social instability. In a societal structure shaped through conditioning, culture is necessarily mass-produced and insubordination beyond the realm of the imagination. Religious over-tones aside, Huxley at times coming across as a tinge conservative in beliefs and possibly a racist, “Brave New World” certainly deserves the title of “required reading” among any literate person interested in ideas of social structure or visions of the future.

I found Kurt Vonnegut through a high-school English class after reading “Harrison Bergeron”, an author undoubedtly influenced by Huxley. Perhaps this particular novel would have soared over my head in my teenage years. Some would even go so far as to say that books like “Brave New World” and “1984” are so dated that they don’t elicit the same level of shock as they used to amongst young readers, the fantasy described in the novels already being a reality. Be that as it may, well-formed ideas of the future, even if written over a half-dozen decades ago, still elicit some excitement from me and seem worthy of sharing.

Also, I’ve been meaning to find the cartoon comparing and contrasting Huxley and Orwell. I had seen it awhile ago and it sort of fell out of my mind until I started reading “Brave New World” and found it on chimac.net. Read the cartoon “Amusing Ourselves to Death” by Stuart McMillen here.

Tsunehisa Kimura

Gunnery Pagodas / Manhattan Niagara / The University of War

A great post from BLDG BLOG I found via the gaybombnazicastle blog. Just putting it up as I figure it’s worth sharing and I’d like to remember it later.

I wish I could find more of Tsunehisa Kimura work. A quick google search didn’t yield terribly much but I did find this interesting piece with some insight into the artist who claims Metropolis and the first-hand experience of witnessing the firebombing of Osaka in 1945 influenced his work.

Player Piano – Kurt Vonnegut’s first novel

“Better to be nothing than a blind doorman at the head of civilization’s parade.”

Vonnegut’s earliest novel “Player Piano”, published in 1952, expresses a fear of a technologically-dominated society in which the basic mechanisms of life are mediated by calculated machinery. All but the most educated of men, the engineers and managers, are left with little to do, they’re basic sense of pride and purpose stripped by society at large. Albeit, this automated America provides levels of luxury and domestic comfort previously unattainable by the majority prior to the war which the premise of this book proceeds. Here Vonnegut presents the interesting problems present in times of peace, where the existential dilemma that is faced by many of his characters is one of normalcy and boredom and how to create change regardless of whether it is for the better.

As with nearly all of Vonnegut’s work, this was a pleasure to read. Showcasing the authors attraction to all things apocalyptic and his bittersweet, optimistic dread, it’s an intriguing window into the development of Vonnegut’s trademark brand of sardonic, humanistic science-fiction.