ADS2: Demonic Shores – Imaginaries of Indeterminacy in the Age of Logistics
'There are doorways kept well-hidden that open into the monstrous formation of our world system. On the shores of Africa’s Guinea Coast, lie ruins from the earliest moments in the universe of global capitalism. At Elmina, the oldest and largest slave castle in the world, there’s a trap door from the courtyard of the women’s dungeon to that of the governor’s private quarters and bedroom. The intimate violence of an architecture weaving Europe’s plantations into the planetary network of modern capitalism'.—Dele Adeyemo, Field Notes 02/09/18, Cape Coast, Western Region, Ghana
The advent of modernity came with the violent imposition of thresholds that regulated the flows in the world system. The modern construction of shorelines produced the slave castle with its door of no return, the blood-stained gate and the trap door. Out of the circulations produced in transatlantic slavery, global capitalism coalesced into being – bodies, resources, finance, and commodities became orchestrated by logistics. Cartography enabled the projection onto new territories of the desire for seamless transit, logistical infrastructures naturalised the imagination of capital. The unknowable and unpredictable spaces of indeterminacy, which Katherine McKittrick has described as the ‘demonic’, endured the violent imposition of measure, control, and logistical predictability. A line between land and sea was drawn, bodies born to be free became racialised as unfree labour, and nature coerced to the will of capital through infrastructure.
In 2020/21, ADS2 will delve into the realm of the demonic. Dwelling in the unpredictable, we will examine the tension that lies between logistics and spaces of indeterminacy. As a point of departure in developing design, we will engage with multiple forms of media – image, text, dance, sound and interactive digital technologies – to explore the cartographic strategies of those subjugated cultures that embrace the unknowable.
Contemporary logistical processes drive urban growth and orchestrate the patterns of daily life by dictating the flows of people, goods, data and finance. Held in a tense architecture of infrastructures, these processes depend on cartographic systems that, while managing geo-located information, also negate indigenous and other worldviews. If in the twentieth-century, the skyscraper became the architectural form at the apex of capitalist production – superseding the factory and maximising the value of the land by optimising its height to footprint ratio – a century later, architecture is no longer a machine for making the land pay but, as theorist Jesse LeCavalier has argued, instead pays the land to be part of a machine. The real estate parcel is therefore no longer an end in itself, but a temporary station in a long chain of logistical circulations.
Complex networks of logistical flows that are managed by powerful computational Geographic Information Systems (GIS) now dictate architectural development. GIS is an extension of cartography that provides the ability to capture, edit, store, analyse, manage and share spatial and geographic data. Popular histories of GIS locate its early emergence in the application of spatial analysis to the field of epidemiology, first by geographer and cartographer Charles Picquet (1832) and later by the physician John Snow (1854), when visualising the spread of cholera in Paris and London respectively. One hundred years later, spatialised forms of statistical analysis took on a new dimension with the integration of GIS within computer systems. The Canada Geographical Information System (CGIS) was developed in the early–1960s to collate, store, and analyse data on land usage across the country’s vast territories. The CGIS appears to be the first computerised geographical information system in the world. Soon, other national agencies were adopting GIS and, as software became increasingly user friendly, it gradually integrated into commercial logistical operations.
An extended history of cartography, however, highlights the antecedent to GIS in the nautical charts from Europe’s Age of Discovery. Displaying the outline of the lands of the known world and the connections between its ports, these charts appear as an early modern representation of global logistical power. One of the most famous of such charts, the Cantino Planisphere (1502) conveys the impression of sovereign mastery over the circulations in the world that it depicts. Architectural technologies of ports, towers, castles and forts become the interfaces of the leading maritime states of the Mediterranean, Portugal and Spain. Yet, in reality, navigation remained a complex embodied art form – in addition to compass readings and maps, navigators resorted to memory, the stars, the flavour of the waters, the outline of the coast, the force of the breaks, submerged hazards, or songs and poems describing routes and tides.
In the Cantino Planisphere, the only human figures we see are the crudely sexualised bodies of Africans dancing and being disciplined in close proximity to the slave castle of Elmina on the Guinea Coast. The scene alludes to the importance of slavery in the emergence of global maritime trade. This representation of the world reimagines sophisticated indigenous African cultures as primitive communities, appearing alongside wild animals as part of the land to be exploited. Such representations eclipsed indigenous knowledge and naturalised the worldview of logistical capitalism. The caricature of their dancing bodies in the Cantino Planisphere belies a culture that used sculpture, movement and sonic rhythms as a form of cartography. Taking the form of masquerade, it enacted the history of social relations within the local society, connecting the community to the earth and bringing into–being anticipatory time and imagined futures. In West Africa, the talking drum appears as a communication device that accompanied the masquerades in conveying the spirits of the land. The tonal quality of the languages in the region informed the various talking drums through the reproduction of stresses and numbers of syllables. When activated, the vibrations from the drum travel through the landscape, trembling through the creeks and mangroves of the rivers, signalling instruction and alerts to other individuals in the village. The talking drum abstracts speech into a code, providing another form of spatial representation beyond the bounds of Western epistemologies.
In addition to the obfuscation of these forms of sensing, the acceleration of the global logistics that drove processes of urbanisation also makes the shore vital to managing the flows of people and resources. Maritime transport is responsible for over 80 per cent of global trade by volume and more than 70 per cent of its value is carried on board ships and handled by seaports worldwide. Coastal regions account for around 6 per cent of the Earth’s surface, yet 10 per cent of the world’s population live in coastal areas, which are less than 10 meters above sea level. Built on top of colonial legacies, through the infrastructures of ports, pipelines, landing stations and new city expansions, these segments of space become an ever more defined architecture.
Cartography deploys a hard line between the land and sea, portraying littorals as fixed, non-negotiable boundaries. Yet the disastrous flooding brought about by climate change on coastal cities reveals the artificiality of such a division. In reality, the coast remains a ‘demonic’ space, which is characterised by its unpredictability and indeterminacy, populated not only by techno-scientific infrastructures, but also by diverse practices and modes of production, cultures, myths, ghosts and indigenous knowledges. As Amitav Ghosh argues, a kind of collective madness has taken hold in the entrenchment of a colonial vision of the world in the planning of these cities in such precarious locations. While the fluctuating logics of littorals challenge the architectural notions of certainty, stability and predictability, the importance of logistical circulations reveals the strategic role of these spaces in the contemporary production of space.
In 2020/21, ADS2 will examine littorals and other spaces of indeterminacy in relation to accelerating logistics and climate change. We will interrogate the clear-cut division drawn by maps and nautical charts between land and sea. We will learn about the role of logistics in the production of space today, the racial-sexual conception of geography on which capitalist architectural development is dependent, and the interrelated geological, political, ecological and epistemic forces that shape our global shores.
Through a year of workshops and seminars with invited participants, students will choose a site and develop trans-disciplinary research and design tools, while defining new cartographic logics, techniques and terminologies. Design proposals will stem from alternative modes of mapping, such as embodied experiences of black life, non-linear conceptions of time, more-than-human perspectives and indigenous subjectivities, which interrogate the cartographic and logistical systems at work on each site. What forms of life does the violence of cartographic abstraction threaten? What relations and hidden potentials do these forms of cartography uphold? How can we turn cartographic knowledge into instruments of design?
The studio will participate in the creation of a mapping collective that investigates spaces of indeterminacy through the analysis of logistical flows, regulatory frameworks, colonial legacies and processes of environmental transformation. Students will develop the collective’s working methodologies and management strategies in the context of the international architecture and design exhibitions, which the tutors are contributing to in Istanbul, Venice and Shanghai.
Dele Adeyemo is an architect, creative director and urban theorist. His creative practice and research interrogate the underlying drivers in the production of space, locating them in the racialising logic of logistical processes that orchestrate planetary patterns of life.
Dele’s projects have been presented internationally including at the Venice Architecture Biennale and World Design Capital. In 2019, as part of the 2nd Edition of the Lagos Biennial, he curated and produced Black Horizon with the artist Hermes Chibueze Iyele, a short film and performance documenting rhythms of endurance within the precariously situated community of Oworonshoki on the edge of Lagos Lagoon. In January 2020, his oral piece commemorating the mutual experience of Black diasporic life, Black Ubiquity-Ubiquitous Black, was performed as part of the opening ritual to Ummah Chroma’s exhibition G\ D Thyself: Spirit Strategy on Raising Free Black Children during the International Film Festival Rotterdam. His latest work, The Cosmogony of (Racial) Capitalism will be showing at the 5th Istanbul Design Biennial, titled Empathy Revisited.
Dele is a PhD candidate in the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths, University of London, a fellow of the Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam and a current recipient of the Canadian Centre for Architecture and Andrew Mellon research grant.
Ibiye Camp is an artist, her work investigates postcolonial subjects, technology, and the built environment. Ibiye’s practice uses architectural tools to create video, augmented reality and 3D objects. Her past projects in Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Ethiopia investigated the dynamics of technology as a means to explore the glitches and tensions between digital infrastructure and the landscape.
Ibiye is a member of the design collective Xcessive Aesthetics and also runs a clothing line called ‘Such A Fan’, which was presented in a performance at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2016. In 2019, Ibiye’s projects were presented in the Porto Design Biennale and Sharjah Architecture Triennial, and in 2020 she showed in the Triennale Milano and Istanbul Design Biennial. Ibiye graduated from MA Architecture at the Royal College of Art in 2019 and studied her BA in Fine Art at Central Saint Martins in 2013.
Dámaso Randulfe’s work spans art, architecture and design. His transdisciplinary research explores the entanglement of contemporary regimes of circulation, technologies, territories and ecologies. He is an editor of Migrant Journal, a publication series on the spatial politics of human and non-human migrations. His work and various collaborative projects have been presented at the Oslo Architecture Triennale, Venice Biennale, Triennale de Milano, Design Museum and Tate Modern. Dámaso currently teaches at the Royal College of Art and The School of Art, Architecture and Design, London Met, and has been a guest lecturer and critic in several institutions such as the Architectural Association or the University of Westminster.