florian schneider on Wed, 15 Aug 2007 14:33:26 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> On_Eyal_Weizman's_Hollow_Land

[there is a lot more reviews at: http://roundtable.kein.org/node/655

From: Markus Miessen <miessen at studiomiessen.com>

When thoughts turn into acts, On Eyal Weizman?s Hollow Land

In Notre Musique, Jean Luc Godard has a diplomat ask a writer: ?do
writers know what they are talking about?? ?Of course not?, the writer
replies, ?those who act never have the ability to talk or think
adequately about what they do.?

In early April 2007, US soldiers started building a concrete wall,
separating one of Baghdad's Sunni enclaves from surrounding Shia
neighbourhoods. This wall is not an isolated phenomenon. It is part
of a genealogy of historic references of power-architectures and
their oppositional reverberations, ranging from the Berlin Wall and
the Vietcong?s Cu Chi tunnel system to the Fence for Life, a security
barrier along Israel?s borders.

Recently, architects and urban planners have started to understand
the importance of their critical role within political, social, and
spatial complexities ?? producing engagements other than those of the
?commissioned project?. Over the course of the last decade, one can
trace an interesting phenomenon: that of the spatial practitioner
inhabiting the role of the uninvited outsider. Those ?cross-bench
politicians? pro-actively force their way into discourses that are
usually not understood as the remit of their profession. Operating
without mandate, such role is understood as a mode of participation
that is conflictual rather than consensual. This non-physical violence
opens up an operative margin that enables the rethinking of local and
indeed global politics.

Israeli architect and theorist Eyal Weizman has spent half a
decade of pioneering research on the ?military urbanism? of the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His work has forced a new critique of
the occupied territories, through the goggles of an urban planner.
Part of what he discovered is that the realities on the ground
are constructed by a fusion of military generals, urbanists, and
intellectuals, the result of which is a form of warfare that is
designed to work against the spatialisation of a Palestinian State.
Weizman?s work is an indicator for both a change in contemporary
spatial practices as well as in our conception of the politics
of space. What many educational institutions in Europe, and most
certainly in the US, haven?t realised is that the discourse on spatial
politics outside those institutions is already miles ahead. Weizman?s
reacted by launching a new department at Goldsmiths College. As the
Director of the Centre for Research Architecture, he managed to
formalise parts of his own practice: investigating the politics of

Hollow Land, Weizman?s most encompassing publication to date,
archives his investigation on the political methodologies that allow
for a physical transformation of the Israeli/Palestinian landscape.
In order to understand the long-term strategies employed by city
planners and cartographers that use settlements and borders to
delay the assembly of a Palestinian State, he radically exposes how
purpose-built hilltop-settlements turn into strategic weapons, how
soldiers double as architects, and how the Israeli military is using
post-structuralist theory as a means of preparing operations. The
book explores both the political system behind the conflict as well
as the incentives of colonial occupation. From militarized airspace
to the natural and built features that function as ammunition with
which the conflict is waged, the publication critically unravels
Israel?s state-sponsored policy of expansion, and how ?? within
the architectural and urban planning professions ?? extremely
sophisticated strategies have been devised in order to turn military
thinking into actualised space. Here, space is understood as an
embodiment of ideology.

In a conversation I recently had with Weizman, he claimed,
?geopolitics is a flat discourse. It largely ignores the vertical
dimension and tends to look across rather than cut through the
landscape.? The narratives within Weizman?s thesis are always spatial.
It defines what he calls the ?Politics of Verticality? as the process
that fragmented the territory of the West Bank not only in surface but
also in volume. With the technologies and infrastructure required for
the physical segregation of Israelis from Palestinians along complex
volumetric borders, he argues that the most complex geo-political
issue of the Middle East has gone through a scale-shift and took on
architectural dimensions.

The book is spatially most precise in the chapter titled
?Checkpoints: The Split Sovereign and the One-Way Mirror?. Here,
Weizman elucidates the spatial relationships between what he
calls the transparent border and the architectural features of
checkpoints. Whatever he interrogates, he tries to understand how
architecture becomes operational within the conflict. Whether Weizman
discusses the influence of archaeology on urban planning, Sharon's
re-conceptualization of military defence through the planning and
architecture of settlements, or the contemporary discourse and
practice of urban warfare, he never speaks from a single point of
view. The book embodies a multitude of views, perspectives and
respective audiences. At times, the methodology with which Weizman
approaches his writing could be described as that of legal documents,
those that are generated by different voices and combine various modes
and rationales. The different material practices he presents become a
direct register of politics. While Hollow Land, seen from the point of
view of an archive, is never bound to one species of text, the author
avoids the singularity of a particular role. He acts as human rights
consultant, spatial practitioner, academic and curator simultaneously.
The book is a discussion rather than a singular statement, it
constitutes the beginning of an open-ended dialogue, the setting of a
forum: a theory saturated with things. What one is confronted with is
not architectural theory, but an idea of architecture as a tactic of

Probably the most important and commendable achievement of the book is
that it points at an acute reality: the crimes that manifest spatially
are in desperate need of dismantling; not only by politicians or
Human Rights groups, but architects and planners, recognizing
the relationship (and their own entanglements) between space and
power. Architecture is by nature enlisted to political and economic
goals, it serves the establishment, capital and complies with state
and municipal regulations. But architectural practice is often
romantically perceived as a creative profession only. Tomorrow?s
practice should reach for an architecture of spatial standards and
frameworks that prevent future scenarios in which architects? can
commit crimes against Humanity. Is there even a need for a Geneva
Convention for the built environment, a court of justice to persecute
spatial war crimes?

Hollow Land points at the potentials of the autonomous space of
production. It exemplifies how discursive theory can be turned into
practice, while the space which one is operating from becomes an
enabler. Whereas the artistic space, and its autonomy, is usually
thought of as a test-ground that only affects a certain audience,
Weizman?s act supersedes the symbolic. While human rights groups,
the Palestinian government, artist collectives and curators are
referencing his writing simultaneously, it has become an index of

The physicality of the book presents a somewhat new type on the
architecture bookshelf: it feels like it wants to speak to a larger
audience, one that gets their books at Borders?s history section at
Stansted Airport. This is a highly important and commendable move.
While theorists of various disciplines have discussed those issues
in relatively closed-off circles so far, Hollow Land is a genuine
attempt to break with this isolated discourse and take it out there.
The graphic design, general layout, and style of writing (which never
comes across as theory), help a great deal.

The Museum of the City of New York recently showed a retrospective on
the work of Robert Moses. The most unsettling part of the exhibition
was a small piece of stencilled text on the wall, a quote by Moses
saying: ?the critics build nothing?. Maybe it is time to understand
that Godard was right and that the critique brought forward in
critical spatial discourses are acts, practices, and an architecture
in itself.

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: majordomo@kein.org and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime@kein.org