Re-Orientation

Week 12 — Notes

“Our Bodies, ourselves; bodies are maps of power and identity. Cyborgs are no exception.” (Haraway, 1991, 180)

For today’s class we watched Ana Voog’s video she made for us, and two readings that represent  a fairly wide range of re-thinking our contemporary embodied lived experience. They offered us new understandings of city life, of embodiment, and of the production of space and bodies in that life. Elizabeth Wilson says “we need a radically new approach to the city” and Donna Haraway also argues for a radically new approach to bodies and identity.

This is how I wish to end the course — in thinking what is at stake for the future and what sorts of alternatives there are to get our problematic of “which bodies? which spaces?”

Hyperstition is a “neologism that combines the words ‘hyper’ and ‘superstition’ to describe the action of successful ideas in the arena of culture.”

Both readings operate in the spirit of “l’ecriture feminine”, feminine writing, a concept that rejects masculinist histories and instead demands that women “write the truth of their bodies”. Two main proponents of this are French feminists Luce Irigaray and Helene Cixous who by using non-linear, performative and autobiographical language to describe the truth of a new kind of body: that of the cyborg/ the sphinx.

Wilson’s chapter uses many forms of scholarship to make a collage type work — fiction, essays, film, and art, as well as history and sociology, to look at London and  Paris. Wilson wanted to do that to emulate the ways in which she argues we experience and live the city, in a fragmented way with many layers of meaning reacting against the rational masculinist logic. She says there is nothing natural about the city, but we have believed this image. Haraway also undoes ideas about what is ‘natural.’ We will see that explicitly in the concept of the cyborg. 

The course has followed a similar ethos, in which I had you read poetry, epistolary exchanges, articles, and videos and maps to get a more comprehensive way to analyze the environment.

Wilson’s city also contradicts the ways in which the city is supposed to be built to showcase the rational mastery of human on environment, with buildings, towers and neatly circumscribed roads for cars and sidewalks for pedestrians and us to enact it through our spatial practice. But we know that the city is not static object, but rather a constantly changing environment. Wilson argues: “the city is in a constant process of change” so the quest is for you (yes, you!) to try to re-experience a city you know, and re-imagine it!

The city “as experience, environment, concept” which is, in other words, what we have been arguing all along. And by seeing it in this way, we can then frame a phenomenological reading of the city!

In Cyborg Manifesto, Donna Haraway offers us not only a response to the regulatory normative system, but also a response to the gender, body and identity essentialism.

We did not have time to watch Sun Ra’s Space is the Place but it is well worth watching! Afrofuturism is a compelling analysis of the environment and one answer to the question “which bodies? which spaces?”

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Questions to Consider

  • What is the cyborg and why is it useful for thinking about bodies and spaces?
  • Haraway argues that the cyborg suggests “a way out of the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves.” How so?
  • Haraway  presents a chart of the differences between “comfortable old hierarchical dominations” (p.161) which appear “natural” since they are so ingrained in our Western cultural imaginary, and the “scary new networks”(p.161) which came post-WWII. Name one pair from the chart and explain how the binaries are false and how the ‘natural’ category is false.
  • Why is sexuality such a threat to the social order of spaces and cities? Think with Wilson, Gira Grant, Knopp and Razack.
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People Vs Places

An interesting collaborative analysis of environment and the relationship between spaces and bodies through images. Inspiration for final project.

Below is a selection of “a photographic collaboration between photographers Timothy Burkhart and Stephanie Bassos. This double exposure project allows us to step back from having full control of the image making process and trust in one another while allowing coincidences to happen naturally on film. Stephanie exposes a full roll of 35mm film of only “people,” and Timothy reloads the film again into the same camera, to imprint only “places” and locations to the same roll. These images are all the end result of our ongoing series and are unedited negatives straight from the camera.”

people vs places website

Blog Post 2 – Re-Orientation – Airports

The space I had chosen for my first blog post was airports. I mentioned they were my favourite because of the amount of stories they witness and emotions they hold. I saw it as a rather positive space, where people experience the pleasure of returning home, or leaving for the unknown.

My explanation had however totally made abstraction of more negative elements. Indeed, I did not pay attention to the prominence of control, surveillance and power existing within that space.

For instance, one thing I notice when I think a second time are the constant directions put in place to guide us through the space. Departures, arrivals, international, domestic, check-in, customs, baggage claim, numbers, arrows – these, all together, control the ways in which we circulate. There is not much freedom as such in an airport. These places are strongly organized, to help the travelers of course, but also to exert a better control on the populations. There are very specific strategies put in place in order to maintain order and regulate movement, and developing tactics to avoid them involves a high risk of reprimand, potentially legally affecting. Plus, trying to avoid control could lead into greater control upon us. Thus, it is rather difficult to become a flâneur and visit the different areas freely, unless we get a particular permission and do so with a security guard.

(Photo courtesy of CNN)

(Photo courtesy of CNN)

Moreover, divisions within the airport are only accessible to those who are in the right. You cannot get to the boarding zone until you have checked in and passed the security gate. This certainly needs to be understood in a post 9/11 context, which caused a massive increase in security. In my personal experience, I can hardly compare post to pre 9/11. The first time I flew was in 2002, and it was a domestic flight. For me, security has always been part of the airport process, and it is difficult to imagine it without. Yet, one could assume that regulations in airports during the 1960s, for example, were less severe than those of the 1980s, which were less severe than those of 2002. Additionally, improvements in technology have an important role to play, as they allow a better surveillance (cameras, ePassports, tracking…) If it can protect us from potential threat, don’t we often, ironically, feel threatened by it? As if everyone was first seen as bad, and then confirmed as good or not. Where has trust gone? Trust, like one of those initial good “airport feelings” I was talking about – humans who don’t necessarily know each other, but who share similar emotions during the same period of time, over time, as it never stops. If we’re actually so similar, why couldn’t we trust each other? I could enter into the question of “racial profiling”, but that is surely and unfortunately a too big subject for the length of this post.

(Photo courtesy of Time Magazine)

(Photo courtesy of Time Magazine)

To keep going with the question of accessibility, the airport itself can also be “hardly” accessible. Often located in the countryside, airports are mostly reached by car or bus, sometimes train and metro. Thus, airports are not strong by-foot destinations. Was this decision taken as to, inter alia, prevent the homeless from occupying the space? Airports seem like obvious shelters for the homeless: they could sit at the entrance and get some warmth. Yet, I don’t remember seeing one in such location. Was this even thought of? What would happen if an itinerant squatted the airport space? Would he/she be kicked out? Yet, as comparison, their presence is mostly allowed in places such as metro stations – which are just another mode of transportation. [Note aside, why putting so much surveillance in airports, but not in the metro and buses? Terrorist attacks were counted in these as well…]

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In a similar manner, airports seem to favor a certain social class. Taken to a further level, we find the economic and business classes within the waiting lines and airplanes, thus reinforcing social disparities, showing off a “I can afford this, but you can’t afford that” mentality. The capitalistic ideology within airports is reinforced as stores invade the space, as if shopping was the only pastime available. Of course many people still read, listen to music, play games, or sleep, but (window) shopping prevails – we are easily tempted. Sometimes I wonder: why don’t we use these (previously) vacant spaces for something else? Instead of promoting the spending of money with stores that sell (for most part) futile things, we could support culture: art exhibitions, concerts, film screenings, plays, etc. It could also be spaces organized for the practice of various sports, thus allowing people to stretch and move before sitting for long hours, this encouraging a healthy lifestyle. I acknowledge that even these often have a capitalist ending (for example, would musicians playing also sell records and make profit out of it?); it is not to say that the capitalist wheel would stop spinning, but at least it would not be intensively encouraged. I also believe such ideas would help creating a sense of community, which would in turn build a stronger sense of generosity and trust, which could only be beneficial to our society.

BLOG POST #2 – RE-ORIENTATION EXERCISE

I first wrote about the floatation baths at Ovarium. People come to this place of business to attend a treatment session or to work there, so in this sense, the Ovarium environment has been constructed as a public/private space for its users, yet it is not an openly public space like a public swimming pool or a beach. It does not constitute an entirely public space because it has been produced and shaped as an experience “product” for a certain demographic of bodies, which is then reproduced by its staff and reproduced again by its users. A spa environment is, by nature of its capitalist business model, a space that entices a mostly middle- to upper-class clientele with disposable income to purchase its therapeutic treatments, products and services (and is usually the kind of place where I feel very uncomfortable, as if I don’t belong there). If you happen upon this space and have the economic means to enter as a client, then you are welcomed in.

It’s interesting to consider that the floatation bath at Ovarium is all about embodying an inward experience of gaining access to your own representational space while floating in a private, liquid, womb-like enclosure, but it now makes me think about how this state of “doing” intersects with the concept of phenomenology to turn such an experience into a commercial product. Given the steady commodification of health and wellness as a luxury service instead of a state of “doing” to achieve or aspire to, perhaps it is telling that Ovarium is located in a building that used to be a bank.

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Ovarium is a place designed to be a healing and quiet sanctuary from the hectic pace of daily life, yet there is a noticeable behavioral practice in place. The staff gently enforce the behavioral dynamic code between producers and users of what Henri Lefebvre would term this representation of space by speaking in hushed tones and maintaining the smile of therapeutic calm at all times, thereby imposing and shaping the owner’s ideology of tranquility and sensorial wellness in its spatial practice as to how a body is to behave in this space, as well as the desired experiences and/or outcomes of spending time here. Anyone who is loud or boisterous or arrives intoxicated would certainly be directed to tame their behavior and actions or would not be permitted to engage in this environment, thus reinforcing to which bodies and characters this space caters. Two people using one floatation tank at the same time is not at all allowed.

This environment hosts a very mixed clientele; no bodies that I have seen in this space are discriminated against on the basis of skin color, age, gender, or sexual orientation, yet the massage therapy is reserved by law for bodies aged 11 years or older. Although the entrance and many of the services at Ovarium are located at street level and assumedly accessible by most bodies, its spatial arrangement now makes me question how a person with physical mobility limitations, i.e.: a body in a wheelchair, could assert their independent agency to access these services as they are intended to be experienced in this space. In research, I discovered that the floatation baths are in fact not accessible to bodies in wheelchairs, although massage therapy and pulsar light treatments are accessible with advance notice to accommodate. I originally thought about how floating weightlessly in a tank of water for an hour would be a pleasing sensorial experience for any type of body, but just as Sarah Ahmed asserts in her essay A Phenomenology of Whiteness, I’ve now realized that “spaces also take shape by being orientated around some bodies, more than others” (157). If certain bodies are restricted from being able to indulge in a space like the floatation pods based on physical ability and economic stature, I have now begun to think critically and liken these simple floats to an exclusive amusement-like ride for a few privileged bodies among us.

Works cited:

Ahmed, Sara. “A Phenomenology of Whiteness.” Feminist Theory. Vol. 8, No. 2 (2007). 149-168.

Lefebvre, Henri. “The Production of Space.” The People, Place, and Space Reader. Ed. Jen Gieseking and William Mangold. London: Routledge, 2014. 289-293.

Blog Post #2 – Re-Orientation Exercice

By Sarah Bibeau

In the first blog post that I made for this class, I said that my favourite space was in the Turks and Caicos Islands. I previously said that I felt like my body was connected to the nature in that particular space. This is why I would like to make a connection with the concept of cartesianism, since it is concerned with separating the mind from the body, and the body from nature.

After learning about this concept in class, I believe that this form of thinking – dualism – can be problematic for many reasons. First, it forces us to think about our bodies as being detached from any form of thinking/reasoning therefore, detached from its richness. Moreover, as it was mentioned in class, a living thing (or, a human being) is constantly being influenced and transformed by the environment around, therefore, following the concept of phenomenology, “the mind and body cannot be split and consciousness cannot be separated from nature/environment” (Week 2- Notes). Next time I’ll be over there, I will try to think about the connection that exists within my own body, and how it  relates to the environment around.

I would also like to address the concept of derive because when I am over there, I don’t always know where I am going; I often go for walks without any particular goal/purpose. Plus, I don’t really know all the areas of this island so I often feel like I am lost, until I encounter a path that looks familiar.

To continue, the concepts of mapping and power must also be considered in this particular space. The Caribbean has a history based on oppression, slavery and struggle for human rights. Today, many hotel resorts have been built alongside Grace Bay, one of the longest beach on the Turks and Caicos Islands. Instead of remaining public, this beach is now privately owned by foreign hotel owners, thus reinforcing the public/private division of particular spaces on the island. These owners also hired police officers – or beach officers – in order to make sure that the beach is reserved for the people staying at their hotel. You cannot decide to borrow a chair or a towel made available for the hotel guests because you will be stopped by the “beach authorities”; everything is controlled and regulated in order to exclude anyone who did not pay the “full price” in order to access this part of the beach. I have joined a picture of the main resorts on Grace Bay beach as a way to show how limited the accessibility is to the beach for local people, and for people who are not staying at these hotels. (You can still access amazing parts of the sea shore  although you are not staying at a resort- the island is big enough for that – but it is a little more complicated when you are not a hotel client.)

 

grace bay

Picture from: http://www.turksandcaicostourism.com/Beaches.html

This also leads us to the concept of whiteness, in order to talk about the power relationships at stake. I might be generalizing here, but I have a strong feeling that the people owning these resorts are white people from the Western hemisphere of the globe. Or, if it is not the case, white people are still the most affluent on the island, although they might not all be born on the Island. White people are the ones owning small businesses over there, hiring local people to work for them, and most of them are paid the minimum wage. Whites are the ones with money, owning the most beautiful houses of the island. Thus, I realized that whiteness on the island really “orientates bodies in specific directions” and is affecting how people can take part of the “picture” of a particular place, and what they can do within these spaces. (Ahmed 149).

BLOG POST 02. RE-ORIENTATION EXCERCISE

As stated in my first post, my ‘favorite’ space is the airport. Dorval airport known today as Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport is the busiest airport in Quebec today. “Dorval was a farming community and a resort area until the outset of the Second World War. In 1941 it became the home of the Ferry Command and of a military airport, today’s Montréal International Airport. After the war, this airport was an economic magnet.”(The Canadian Encyclopedia). For many years, Mirabel airport was the main hub for international flights  and was actually created to replace Dorval. Due to distance outside of the city, passengers were forced to commute which was costly and time-consuming rather than efficient. As a result, the airport has been fairly vacant since 2004 and primarily functions for cargo airlines and as a film set. Since, it has become an abandoned space and since last year in November, demolition of the airport began.

Using Henri Lefebvres’ spatial triad, I will attempt to better understand this space. Lefebvre would identify the airport as a produced space through the social practices that came from capitalism. As a space the airport exists for the individual who is free to travel, is mobile, and works within it. Airports are for societies, symbols of globalization, urbanization, civic progress and overall triumph. They are meant to represent the modern era. However, it is important to keep in mind that travel was a privileged not available to all and with this, it held a certain amount of prestige which was glamorized because to take a plane meant you were going places. International airports are not simple additives to a city or country space but rather became their own independent part of that to which would be found on the outskirts of an areas rather than others forms of transport, such as buses, trains and metros in city spaces. As Lefebvre would suggest, the airport was not yet a space of representational or represented space, rather it was strictly spatial practice. Spatial practice is part of the first dimension otherwise known as the ‘perceived space’ of his triad which constitutes ” ensures continuity and some degree of cohesion…this cohesion implies a guaranteed level of competence and a specific level of performance” (p.290).

YUL Montreal Airport / International & USA Arrivals

For myself, the airport is a representational space which I visited often throughout high school
as an inspirational hub for my personal art work. I enjoyed doing a lot of writing and sketching while I spent my time there. I often question how a space with so much standardization and control through all its forms of security, technologies included, why I was never questioned in that space? A family member of mine works at the airport for customs and when I called him up to ask, he laughed and casually said ” probably because you’re white and you’re a girl, a young one then too”. When he said that, I realized I wasn’t some invisible teen in her own world but invisible in this perceived space due to gender, age and the color of my skin, all of which supposedly does not harm or signal danger to the public, although we all know, I like anyone could do evil rather than good.

Obviously, at the time, I was not aware of ‘lived embodied experience’ proposed through Sara Ahmed’s phenomenology of whiteness, she writes ” Spaces acquire the ‘skin’ of the bodies that inhabit them. What is important to note here is that it is not just bodies that are oriented. Spaces also take shape by being orientated around some bodies, more than others”(p.157). This quote by Ahmed, explains exactly how those who work at the airport orient themselves in making decisions involving our safety and the institution. The airport is not an inherently white space, although it may have been when flights were made affordable for all thus it becomes a space of constant reproduction of ideologies which are practiced every day by employees of the airport. Yet, all humans have to go through the same obedience of following instructions, submitting information and baggage and waiting in lines no matter who you are, however depending on who you are this process could be uncomfortable in comparison to a body that inhabits white skin. Once a space of luxury and accomplishments in the past, is now a waiting zone of impersonal people handling. I would like to return to the space in the near future to really experience and confront the space as much as possible.

Works Cited
– Eggebeen, Janna. “Airport Age: Architecture and Modernity in America.”Google Books. ProQuest, 2007, n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2015.
– Ahmed, Sara. (2007) “Phenomenology of Whiteness.” Feminist Theory 8(2): 149-168.
– Lefebrve, Henri. “The Production of Space.” In Gieseking, Jen J. And William Mangold, (Eds.), The People, Place, and Space Reader. (289-293). London: Routledge.
– Lapointe, Pierre Louis. “Dorval”. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Toronto: Historica Canada, 2009. Web. 15 Sep 2009.
– “Inside Montreal’s Abandoned Airport Before It’s Torn Down.” The Huffington Post. N.p., 29 Aug. 2014. Web. 28 Feb. 2015.

Blog Post 2: Re-orientation Exercise

My initial description of my favorite space is entirely psychogeographic, as I consider my own individual emotions and behavior in the space. In this reflection I will try to expand on other bodies’ experiences in the space.

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Erie Beach is a small residential neighborhood in Chatham Kent, Ontario. It is near the town of Erieau, which was historically a fishing and port village receiving shipments of coal from the United States. The beach is a private space and can only be accessed by property owners. Each property owner owns a piece of the beach making it a very restricted space. Since I have been visiting this space all my life as a privileged guest, the space that is restricted to most has always felt like a safe haven of freedom and lively connections to my surroundings. Although in reflection with Gill Valentine’s idea of public/private space, the private space is not truly private as it is managed and controlled by neighbors and for this reason, many bodies may not truly be themselves in the space.

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Even though the space is technically private, residents share the beach with one and other. There is a certain unspoken set of rules in which bodies must conduct themselves within this private space adhering with Henri Lefebvre’s first triad: special practice. I did not realize this special practice and performance in my initial description of the space as it has been engrained in me as “normal”. At the beach, one cannot stop and rest on someone else’s property while strolling down the shoreline, or play music, dance, or skinny dip without getting negative attention from neighbors. This reinforces the social practice that is constantly reproduced by the majority bodies within it.

In my original portrayal of Erie Beach, the space was a warm, sunny, summer day where I felt connected with the vibrancy of the bodies around me, and at peace from the serenity of my surroundings. When I revisited the space last week it was winter. The lake was covered in snow and ice, haunted by its previous entity. The skeleton of the space was still there, but its soul and flesh had changed drastically. As a socially produced space, the bodies within it were no longer vibrant, connected and loose, but stiff, lethargic and preoccupied. In one sense, the change in bodies’ orientations made the space feel dramatically different, however it was the change in the space’s physical make up that induced the change in bodies’ orientations. Thus a perfect example of Jason Farman’s theory that space is “constructed simultaneously with our bodies” (18) co-constructing one another.

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Through my memories of being in the actual space, as I gaze at the virtual computer image of Erie Beach at summer time, my body goes through the same physical sensations as it would if I was actually there. I feel my shoulders loosen, my breath become deeper, and my ears fill with the sound of the waves. This is an extension of Jason Farman’s idea of the “sensory-inscribed body”. Even in the dead of winter, virtual imagery of a space is able to stimulate my body with same way the actual space would.

Drawing from Sarah Ahmed’s phenomenology of whiteness, I myself possess white orientation in the space along with all other residents of the space, unaware of our orientation of power and exclusivity in the space, due to our ownership, politics and ideology. Along with being an inherently white space, Erie Beach is also authentically heterosexual. Both Valentine and Ahmed draw from Lefebvre in stating that the normality of a space is a consequence of constant reproduction of a certain behavior the bodies that are in that space conduct repeatedly and must always be reinforced. Next summer when I visit Erie Beach in its prime, I am going to challenge myself to try and break the norms of what is socially acceptable.