Capitalism: when the real is not impossible; it is simply more and more artificial*

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“In 2005, a helicopter belonging to the army of the former Yugoslavia carried an unlikely object: a small Serbian Orthodox Church, built in metal at a harbor shipyard in Montenegro. The church was manufactured, pre-assembled, and welded in painted steel in the form of a small chapel with a single nave and a miniature dome. After a short helicopter ride, the metal church was delivered to its destination: a mountain site marking a dispute border claimed by both Serbian Orthodox and Montenegrin Orthodox religious aspirations. Ordered, manufactured, and delivered to this remote site in haste, the miniature church was quicly santified by a Serbian Orthodox priest waiting for the metallic church to arrive.”

This provocative story is the start point of the book Evasion of Power. On the Architecture of Adjustment, an exploration of the relationship between architecture and geo-politics. Concepts as deterritorialization are present and accompanied by a deep political, social and cultural research. If we understand deterritorialization as to take the control and order away from a land or place [territory] that is already established, it’s possible to think on this concept as catalyst of new connections between political sovereignty and human rights. The case of the Serbian Orthodox Church also opens a powerful debate around the concept of resistance.

In 2009, Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss sent along to several blogs and media this provoking picture from Bosnia:

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Accompanied with the following explanation:

As I was searching for positive aspects of Balkanization, this image came from Bosnia.
The tenant on the second floor of the building on the picture refused to contribute to the buildings’ renovation.
The result a wonderful clean piece of neglect.

Both cases can be understood as a resistance to the spatialization of power. A vivid reminder of Michel Foucault words [1] “There are a thousand things to be done, to be invented, to be forged, by those who, recognizing the relations of power in which they are implicated, have decided to resist or escape them.” Insofar as power has many different representations, maybe on this situation we can indeed talk about architectural adjustment as a way of resistance against spatial power.

We can find several examples of such adjustment and resistance worldwide. One of them is the [unfortunately] famous Chinese “nail houses”, with people who refuse to make room for on-going real state developments puts over the table the discussion about ownership and privatization. According to Deleuze and Guattari, the decoding of flows and the deterritorialization of the socius [the society effect] constitutes the most characteristic and the most important tendency of capitalism; and the situation in China is representative of this economic power and how with the strengthening of the local economy and the rise of free markets, private developers began building developments which required displacing local residents. Resistance in this situation has become not only a testing ground for property rights but also a challenge for the judiciary. In this context, thinking about capitalism as one of the strongest representation of power, we remember again Deleuze and Guattari, when they point that on capitalism the real is not impossible; it is simply more and more artificial.

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Nail House in China. Source: io9

At this point, it’s easy to understand the contradiction between what is ‘the real’ and how ‘the real’ is transformed into ‘the artificial’ by the system; a system where the territory no longer follows a linear development, but a succession of elements, where economy and money are some of the leading actors. The relationship between politics, economy and space acquire a diffuse nuance which define the territory. According to John Palmesino, “The rise of new possibilities of measuring and describing the complex systems that form the Earth has unexpected connections with contemporary reshaping of the notions of sovereignty, exclusive economic licensing and more in general on notions of inhabitation.” Money [economy and currencies] has been one of the main issues —if not the most important— to define the creation of territories and space.

The excess of the capitalist approach can be found in luxury real estate developments in China, based on the recent trend of China’s architectural copycat culture. Entire facsimile towns, such as Tianducheng with its own Eiffel Tower standing at 108 metres or the replica of the Austrian mountain town of Hallstatt, have easily become ghost-towns after their opening. The debate in the context of this reflections is not about copying, but the motivations behind the copycat behavior [2]. Which are the values that drives this powerful economic force to imitate old urban models?

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Eiffel Tower replica in Hangzhou. Source: Wired

On this capitalist system, the idea of a “happy life” is deeply related with the vision that has been exported from the Western modern lifestyle. Nevertheless, during the past years we are starting to perceive capitalism as a failed system and probably as not the only option anymore. One of the signs of this failed system can be found on the sovereign debt crises that have placed several Eurozone nations under a situation determined by the European Union’s so-called troika —European Commission, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund [IMF]— and not determined by their citizens and inhabitants.

Within this ever-changing scenario, we also need to learn how to deal with resistance and refusal based on new experiments that sometimes are subject of mistake. Some years ago, we use to talk about the “Tragedy of the commons” [3] but now, in the middle of these experimental processes, it is possible to talk about the “tragedy of the anticommons“. New and innovative economic models are being tested everyday, such as crowdfounding, social money and micropayments. Experimental currencies as bitcoin are expected to be the next bubble, but at least it opens new ways of thinking about different economic models.

If currency is not just a neutral economic tool, as the economists would have it, but it embodies cultural, political, and economic values, as Emily Gilbert pointed, can we say that all these new economic experiments are the new models of spatial resistance? Pier Vittorio Aureli wrote that the more architecture culture raised the bar of radical experimentation, the more it anticipated the following cycle of capitalist development; and we wonder if the current economic experiments can be a new path to envision how can resistance will be manifested in the near future.

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Header Photo by Savo Kovacevic. Podgorica, Montenegro.
*Quote taken from L’Anti-Oedipe, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari.

[1] Dits et Écrits 1954–1988 (1976) Vol. II, 1976–1988 edited by Daniel Defert and François Ewald, p. 911-912
[2] Counterfeit Paradise by Matthew Niederhauser. Downloadable PDF
[3] The Tragedy of the Commons by Garrett Hardin. Downloadable PDF

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