WITCH-HUNTING BRIGADE, SAUDI ARABIA

Region/Concept: Middle East, Myth
Sub-Concepts: Discipline, Inquisition, Magic, Evil, Otherworldliness
Description: Saudi Arabian police force creates special unit for tracking witches.

Theory: If every codification of a law gives rise to the temptation and transgressive possibility of breaking that same law, then it should be no surprise that every totalitarian structure will give rise to a magical underground. The disciplinary severity of the surface always necessitates the opening of a subterranean world of non-conformism, heresy, and criminal superstition. Moreover, those who would hold the reins of power are aware of this inevitable outcome: thus the paranoiac urgency with which they stalk down and raid any semblance of witches, sorcerers, fortune-tellers, and subversive healers. Let them take the capital cities of empires; the others will take to the remote provinces, the forest hideouts, the jungles, the chasms, and the sand dunes. Let them take the official language of the center; the others will take the illegitimate counter-language of rumor, legend, fairy-tale, and occult whisper. Inquisitions are never the intended suppression but rather the breeding-ground of evil formulations (to forbid is to invite proliferation). If anything, this is the logical motion of enchantment itself: accusation, judgment, sentencing (some burned, stoned, or beheaded), followed by an inescapable supernatural backlash. Those who would build finite worlds will be met increasingly by those who desire nothing more than otherworldliness.

Link: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/08/saudi-arabias-war-on-witchcraft/278701/

Posted by: Jason Bahbak Mohaghegh

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MICRO-IMPALEMENT, UNITED KINGDOM

Region/Concept: Europe, Space
Sub-Concepts: Idleness, Stabbing, Treason, Soullessness
Description: Urban planners in London install spikes along luxury buildings, stores, and bridge underpasses in order to deter the homeless.

Theory: How will the neo-aristocratic quadrants of today’s urban space accommodate the figure of the vagrant, the drifter, and the unproductive? Micro-impalement. And so the threat of idleness is met by the modern restoration of a medieval tactic: the spectacular violence of old kings who once lined their courtyards with stabbed-through bodies has now returned in minorized form (one-inch metal spears rising upward from city benches) as a trend to ward off the rootless and the deprived. This notwithstanding, the old kings reserved such punishment exclusively for the traitor, for the worst conspirators and enemies against their dominion, thus leading one to ask: in what specific way has the beggar betrayed the modern age; in what way do these piercing instruments reveal an accusation of full treason against power? Why does their loitering offend to the extent of pre-emptive torture? Perhaps the architects of such discomfort, the ones who nervously usher in an era of needles and thorns, who spitefully steal sleep from the sunken, who discipline sloth with puncture wounds, detect a kind of mastery at work within the slouched or sprawled body of the homeless person: that is, a will to fallenness. Their lack of need to ascend, their lack of need to generate a living or join the crowd, to prove oneself in the continuum of social value, is also the lack of need to exist. They may in fact occupy some vantage of Being, in a manner foreign to our definitions, but they do not require its attainment (non-striving). And no doubt one should fear the man or woman who does not need to exist, for this seemingly impoverished subject is also the one who cannot be intimidated, persuaded, forced, manipulated, seduced-unto-unity, bought or sold (beyond the torment of the others). The waiting-for-no-one; waiting-for-nothing. They have chosen a certain soullessness, and are the richer for it (the spikes do not reach far enough).

Link: http://mashable.com/2014/06/12/anti-homeless-spikes-london/

Posted by: Jason Mohaghegh

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THE SUMMONING WOMEN, AFGHANISTAN

Region/Concept: Middle East, Violence
Sub-Concepts: Taunting, Provocation, Intimacy, Lyricism, Immortalization
Description: New book titled “I Am the Beggar of the World” collects the pieces of Afghani wives, mothers, and daughters of Taliban fighters and anti-Taliban rebels who compose poetry for the battle.
Selection: “Be black with gunpowder or be bloodred
But don’t come home whole and disgrace my bed.” (107)

Theory: The poetics of the taunt, the challenge, the boast, and the provocation. This feminine textuality supersedes its masculine counterparts at the level of sacrifice, vehemence, and brave loss, for it is nothing less than a direct inviting of the enemy to come kill their most intimate relations. Battle-lyricism. A speech-act of mockery and contempt that masochistically dares its opponent to come closer (angered by hostile language games) and confiscate their adored fighters; in this way, it is also a poetics of summoning and vitriolic calling-forward, one which attains its height only in the incensement/temptation of the foreigner to annihilate the woman’s lineage. There is no traumatic consciousness here (emotion is traded for tribal conviction); instead, we find a becoming-unprotected (vulnerability as armament); we find a mode of incendiary war-romanticism that bares its chest and begs the most distasteful ones to penetrate and set afire the ties of kinship. Their most prized possessions placed at risk upon the scales of combat (as they emblazon). The father; the son; the brother. All are fair game and ventured in a campaign at once cheered onward and mourned by the women who stay back in the tents, awaiting the results of the arena, and who ready their hands to wash, bury, and immortalize the torn bodies of their men as a final gift to the struggle. Do not fear the rebels; fear the reciters.

Link: http://www.slate.com/blogs/behold/2014/03/05/eliza_griswold_and_seamus_murphy_document_afghanistan_s_landays_in_i_am.html

Posted by: Jason Mohaghegh

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PACKAGED LIFE, ARGENTINA

Region/Concept: Latin America, Body
Sub-concepts: Compression, Growth, Limit, Suffocation, Commodity
Description: Argentine artist Nicola Costantino creates sculptures of animal bodies grotesquely contorted within the confines of visible and invisible limits.

Theory: At first they appear to be misshapen spheres of some raw ore extracted from the earth, pressed together by an unknown force of gravity. But then more definite features begin to emerge on the surface from among the strangely familiar geography of fissures and cracks. Immediately one is struck by a horrifying recognition: these are not raw elements but somehow bodies. The horror is not that they are dead but that they are possibly still alive. Through some perversion of the vital tendency to grow, these bodies were forbidden the spatial conditions to expand, grotesquely contorting them within immovable limits. Contained inside a form that coincides with their identity (as a resource for consumption or exchange, a commodity) these bodies were cultivated to fill the package that would inevitably realize their calculated finality. In this way the body’s capacity for life becomes the very condition for its exploitation by capitalism. Even in an apparently open field the bodies remain bound up as if inside a hostile womb, where their dependency is materialized as an inability to breathe. This world of suffocation, of life without an atmosphere, in which any possibility of movement is merely apparent, is the common condition of all bodies in capitalism, the shared pathology of our compressed vitality and our stifled screams. Indeed, a packaging surrounds each of us at an indeterminate distance outside our bodies to make us circulate only within its enclosed economy and to suffocate us when we expand too much within its invisible bounds. Perhaps then the greatest affirmation of life is written in the grotesque lines and cracks of our suffering, in those folds of contorted flesh which inscribe the impossibility of total homogenization, and maximum growth at the limit.

Link: http://hifructose.com/2014/07/14/nicola-costantinos-sculptures-confront-animal-cruelty/

Posted by: Will Scarlett

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STONE MASK – GAS MASK, JERUSALEM-PALESTINE

Region/Concept: Middle East, Body
Sub-Concepts: Paradox, Simulation, Dissimulation, Trickery, Shamelessness
Description: Exhibition of the world’s oldest masks opens in Jerusalem museum; meanwhile, gas masks line the streets of Syria, Turkey, and Palestine.

Theory: The mask is a paradoxical device; within its structural logic rests the potential for simulation and dissimulation, transformation and deception, concealment and revelation, alienation and seduction, sadism and innocence, terror and pleasure. That it requires the almost total surrender of identity to the façade (one is allowed to keep only their eyes), that it seals the world of appearances in a state of eternal frozenness and trickery, that it lies in brazen form, that it transparently announces its own will to mislead and thus turns duplicity and fraud into a visual apparatus, and yet still remains a force of attraction and fixation, makes it something for us not to underestimate. For these reasons and beyond, the mask has facilitated many axes of human action over centuries, including those of: criminal concealment (the bandit, the ninja, the robber): anarchistic play (the carnival, the masquerade, the orgy); and militant violence (the gladiator, the knight, the Bedouin, the samurai, the face-painted warrior). There are even images of various gods wearing masks. What is more, these first gods were invented in the same region where ancient stone masks are now placed on display in galleries at the same moment that postmodern gas masks signal an ongoing flux of protest, upheaval, and war right outside the museum. Thus we are compelled to ask: Is there a conspiratorial link between the coverings of nine thousand years ago and the visors of the present state of emergency? Are these new masks descended somehow from their elder counterparts, and hence partake of the same matrix of power, distortion, disguise, frivolity, secrecy, and reckless bloodshed that has always been harbored by this one accessory. Accessory to what, then? To celebration and murder, to the simultaneity of celebration of murder, to the hour of shamelessness and the opening of an irresponsible universe, with its light and dark absurdities, such that it is this very same mask which at once allows us to dance (without judgment) and allows us to kill (without judgment).

Link 1: http://asianjournal.com/arts-and-culture/ancient-masks-go-on-display-in-jerusalem/
Link 2: http://www.dawn.com/news/710200/pro-palestinian-activists-dismiss-israeli-warnings
Link 3: http://www.i24news.tv/en/news/international/middle-east/140416-syria-blames-israel-turkey-us-for-chemical-attacks
Link 4: http://boingboing.net/2013/06/03/gas-mask-dervish-occupygezi.html

Posted by: Jason Bahbak Mohaghegh

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ENDLESS AFTERMATH, RUSSIA/UKRAINE/ESTONIA

Region/Concept: Europe, Space
Sub-Concepts: Corrosion, Debris, Desolation, Apocalypse
Description: Former Soviet submarine bases continue to stand and haunt despite being abandoned.

Theory: What are the exact properties behind this elegant work of desolation: i.e. the complex array of colors, textures, and shapes that emerge only in the wake of deserted and rusting edifices? An entire poetics of debris and decay have taken hold here, as each evacuated underground structure or broken particle sits ready to transmit their two important messages: 1) that the world of objects will always outlast the world of subjects (the inhuman is superior to man); 2) that there is no death, only the dying (the absolute is subordinated to the interminable process). Beyond the last remaining trace of functionality or relevance, these discarded spaces and contraptions speak to the terrible endurance of things. Carnivalesque. Undefeated. No architect remains, no blueprint or creative origin…only the generative matrix of corrosion into which uninvited forms shoot and perish over expanses of time. Not just dystopian echoes of failed utopias, but rather ongoing habitats of insane and chilling atmospheric turns. Thus they retain their investment in the Open. And this powerful state of aftermath compels us to rethink the very concept of apocalypse itself: for these hollowed-out subterranean bases are not quite signs of the “post-apocalyptic” (since it is not clear that we have in fact passed some definitive threshold of extinguishment), nor of the “pre-apocalyptic” (since it is not clear, given our technologies of prolongation and artificial immortality, that we even still have the capacity to die or end). Instead, we find in these wasteland chambers the evidence of something without totality or destination, and thus far more daunting: that is, an endless procession of the apocalyptic.

Link: http://io9.com/journey-into-the-dystopian-world-of-abandoned-soviet-su-1602292367

Posted by: Jason Mohaghegh

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BLADE DELIRIUM, HAITI

Region, Concept: Caribbean, Movement
Sub-Concepts: Meaning-Overthrow, The Thing, Cruel Play
Description: Rural peasants gather in the forests to practice secret martial art (machete fencing).

Theory: This blade has many histories: an implement of hard labor in the cane fields and rain forests; a mechanism of insurgent action in anti-colonial rebellions; and a transcendent instrument of dream-fighting in hidden gatherings across the island. Creation, destruction, and banality thus converge here (along the sharpened surface): immense narratives of economic misery, political resistance, and otherworldly aesthetics all find their source in the wooden handle of the machete. What is this mad potential housed within the object, the artifact, the thing—that it might serve such mutually exclusive forces? How does the same device that enforces daily toil and emaciation, or which drips with the blood of concrete revolutionary action, now come to associate itself with an outsider art-form (of simulated fatal movement)? What does it take for bare technology to become theater, vision, dance? Nothing less than a colossal semiotic overthrow: that this relic can transition between meanings so seamlessly (part-burden, part-weapon, part-medium), is the sign of a phenomenological breakthrough…for it draws a calligraphic arc from the material to the immaterial, from disenchantment to enchantment, senseless pain to ecstatic pain/pleasure, from deadening everydayness to the secretive, the untold, and the realm of cruel play.

Link: http://m.apnews.com/ap/db_268779/contentdetail.htm?contentguid=F60lmy4w

Posted by: Jason Mohaghegh

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