3/04/2009

Melbourne Central Mall: Enviro-Porn

As a belated follow up to this post I stumbled across the 'urban garden' below in the entrance to the Melbourne central shopping mall.

The oddest thing about this structure is that the plants appear to be plastic.

Commenting on my CH2 post in this excellent piece Owen Hatherley surmises:

"Infantile as this is, the face of green urbanism has to 'look' green".

Here we see a wonderful extension of this logic, where the aesthetics of 'being green' have detached completely from the actual business of environmentalism. Not only are the plants synthetic, but the infrastructure covered by the plants appears to have no discernible environmental benefits. It is not solar-powered, or self-sustaining; it's a bog standard shopping mall wall plastered with the totemic feel-good symbol of "greenery" (one thinks here of the UK supermarkets lobbying to have the standards of "organic" produce lowered in order to offer lower quality produce for lower prices but with the word "organic" on the packet in a nice green pastoral font). Behind the plastic flowers is the plastic illusion of holistic conscience. It's a PR man's allotment.

If you look at a genuine working man's allotment you will see a real embodiment of urban greenery; scruffy & surrounded by dirty metal and concrete. The Melbourne Central greenery is the polar opposite of this. Underneath its "organic" facade is the synthetic obscenity of a hardcore LA porn film.

12/19/2008

The John Curtin Hotel, Carlton: "A Calm, Neighbourhood Clientele"


Gentrification seems to be becoming a central obsession of this blog, but is it any wonder? It is unfolding in Melbourne like never before. With the population expanding like a bullfrog's croaker there is increasingly less space for the proles in hip and cool inner-city dwellings. So it is with The John Curtin.

Named after the Labor prime minister, the Curtin was once a drinking den for trade unionist and true believers of the labour movement. Situated in the working-class heartlands of Carlton this was where blue collar blokes could drink in a pub named after one the heroes of the movement they created (that the hero in question died of alcoholism is a moot point, almost as incongruous as the Harold Holt Swim Centre).

Now though Carlton is a prestige suburb, and there's no time for the heroes of yesterday. The Visit Victoria website boasts (alongside a picture of a martini I might add) that the Curtin, "once a drinking spot for union workers, now entertains a calm, neighbourhood clientele. Its warm, cosy setting invites quiet front bar drinks." Note the 'calm' and 'quiet'. Not like those oikish union thugs eh? A rowdy & noisy bunch THEY are. This might be because you don't win and protect workplace rights by being quiet. Curtin himself could not have become Australia's greatest prime minister, inspiring a country on the brink of aggressive invasion by remaining quiet. But hey, what does any of this matter to a creative industry professional on the hunt for background chill-out grooves and a dry martini?

Thankfully, while the Curtin is being colonised the nearby Comrades Bar hold true to the cause. As long as the ETU retains ownership there ought to be no room for techno-bourgeois posturing there, and the day the ETU sells it to a consortium of advertising yuppies looking for an investment enterprise... well then we're all fucked.

7/28/2008

Spending Time in Australia

"Well, my feeling about this country (Britain) — that we have nothing left but consumerism — does, as far as I know, translate to other consumerist societies like America and Japan. My impression is that Australians, however, have got other things to do with their spare time. They’re not besotted with shopping, because the country’s so large and there are so many opportunities for recreation — that’s probably another delusion of mine, I’ve no idea."

- JG Ballard in interview on Ballardian

Well, even sages have to be wrong some of the time.

Ballard seems here to have fallen for the English disease of transposing onto Australia his ideal of what it ought to be. Generations of Englishmen have fallen for the same trick, building up Australia as a wonder-land of plenty, the anti-England. Of course it's not all false, as those who experienced the grim pessimism of post-war Britain and then moved here would no doubt attest. But certainly there is a compulsion to dream everything one wishes for in existence in that Great Southern Land, and it is one that proves easier if you stay in Britain. Ballard's Australia seems to be a huge expanse of driving terrain, free of the British social hierarchies he so rightly loathes and ripe for the exploration of inner space. The reality proves somewhat duller.

Presumably Ballard does not watch Kath and Kim but it offers a clear picture of Australian suburban reality/banality. The suburban consumerism & anti-cultural, alienated thinking explored in Ballard's novel Kingdom Come is here too, made even more intense than in Britain since in Australia everything is fucking miles away! Australia's space does not facilitate liberation, quite the opposite. Those McMansions parked on large, cheap tracts of land hundreds of kilometres from the city are intensely claustrophobic. The nearest library, cafe, pub or shop requires a seemingly endless voyage through bland medium density habitations.

All of this is done by car of course, which might impress Ballard I suppose. Yet while there are plenty of roads in Melbourne, they aren't the neon highways of Crash, and of Heathrow airport (stretches of the new Eastlink freeway excepted). The roads here are decorated by factory outlets, discount kitchen warehouses and hardware superstores. And all roads lead to a mall, even those from the CBD:



That is not to single Australia out for special punishment, but the idea that it is exempt from the dumbed-down second rate consumerism in Europe, Japan and North America is patently false. What does place Australia apart however, is that the space here means people are less 'hemmed in' and so maniacal bourgeois terror cells are probably less likely to appear, but I'm not sure Ballard would think that a good thing. Then again there's always hope that this was the beginning of something bigger...


7/06/2008

Clifton Hill: Accusations in the Concrete


Perhaps the thing confusing me the most about this cemented accusation near my house is whether Lily is being accused, or whether Lily is accusing the forces of gentrification. If it's directed at me I'm not sure how to take it. On the one hand I'm no yuppie wanker, on the other I'm not a blue collar worker hailing from the area either. Just because I work for a trade union doesn't mean I don't drink cafe lattes (I'm afraid I do).

I read an interview with Michel Gondry recently which touched on this conundrum. Gondry, lamenting the gentrification of his New York neighbourhood, was horrified by the interviewer's suggestion that he was part of the process. Of course he didn't like to think of himself that way, but if having a commercially successful art house movie director in the area doesn't count towards gentrification I don't know what does. Even if Gondry himself is no wanker, wankers are sure to follow.

This is also the case in my home town of Manchester where the Hacienda yuppie flat complex is a natural, if perverse & unintended, consequence of the nightclub. How to infuse an area with something fresh and useful without attracting vacuous parasites? That is the question.


7/02/2008

Reach For Your Pipe and Dressing Gown....


Alas, I have neglected blogging duties in the past months due the hard work of my new job as a trade union official. Slog on behalf of the working man is immeasurably more rewarding than corporate wage slavery, but it certainly saps one's energy and creative juices. Such is my fatigue I have begun longing for the days of the Dalston dole office. In spite of the loss of dignity encountered there I at least had the freedom to flaneur the streets of London, if not to escape chronic debt and general impoverishment.

I have resolved to make more time for urban exploration and regain my blogging vigour. In the mean time I shall absorb some of the lessons offered here at The Measures Taken.


3/10/2008

Sam Newman's House, St Kilda: The Dialectics of Materlialism


As he stood beneath the fractured, glacial stare of Pamela Anderson, her linear geometry echoed a television howl. Vomit, violence, tabloid architecture. Was this, he wondered, the denouement of the French Revolution?

2/28/2008

Psychogeography and its Discontents

I recently discussed with Simon from Ballardian, the limits of the term psychogeography. Is it possible to even use the term anymore? Certainly there is little amongst the current crop of psychogeographic literature that correlates to what the Situationists meant by the word, which might better have been named psychogeometry.

The so-called ressurector of the practice, Iain Sinclair (who doesn’t really claim to be a true practitioner anyway) is more concerned with the arcane titbits of Hackney’s hidden cervices than anything else, while Will Self (who, judging by his book’s title, does claim to be a practitioner) and his pontifications on landcape architecture and sojourns to Barcelona, published in the Independent on Sunday and British Airways Magazine, are not psychogeography in either sprit or content. Anarchists like Stuart Home have dragged into the movement occultist elements that Debord would not recognize, while JG Ballard has been reluctantly dragged in himself by various lazy journalists.

The question I faced in founding a Melbourne Psychogeographic Society was, with so many disparate elements, does it make any sense to use the term anymore? After all, the word was never even meant to mean anything anyway, Debord ascribing its coinage to “an illiterate”. I chose the thesaurus-tastic term ‘cognitive topography’ for this blog, but for all of my concerns of its tainted or contradictory associations, the word psychogeography remains a usefully recognisable term in a way that 'cognitive topography' and other neologisms are not.

I was relieved then to find the question solved, insightfully as ever, by Iain Sinclair in a recently published interview:

‘I’ve been doing what everybody else has been doing for years, but now there’s a convenient label, a franchise, "psychogeography". It goes back to De Quincey, theRomantics, you wander this landscape without necessarily having preconceived notions, follow your impulses and drift into the street. Sometimes this is looked on as a derangement of the senses, a hallucinogenic high, a drug vision transposed onto the town. Sometimes it becomes Situationism or Psychogeography or this Baudelairean dandy looking at reflection in windows. Sometimes it’s Walter Benjamin. It is still the same human impulse to get out, to align yourself with what is out there and to treat the city as a kind of book or library, an open gallery, exploded museum. All of these things are true and it means covering the city from night to day and it means noticing the meat markets and slaughterhouses, the pubs, going underground to sewers and cellars and up into church towers. The theory and description is redundant as far as I’m concerned, you can apply whatever franchising slogans to the same impulse in whatever historical period’.

2/11/2008

The Reich Stuff: Melbourne's Porno Lanes

One of the more curious aspects of Melbourne’s structure is the proliferation of ‘adult’ shops along Swanston Street and its lanes. Of course it is to be expected that Melbourne, like any major city, will have a sex quarter, but that it occurs along the main drag is quite strange, rather like displacing Soho’s vice dens onto The Strand.

All of which makes me wonder if, in the past, someone high up in the city’s planning department was an avid follower of Wilhelm Reich. Surely if Reich was correct, and Orgone energy is the key to health and happiness, and the best means of accumulating Orgone is through sexual orgasm, then wouldn’t it make sense to line the main arteries of a metropolis with erotic boutiques? Perhaps those men in stained raincoats are flushing the city with streams of pure Orgone. They are not sordid, they are our saviours! Certainly I have always felt that Reich’s ‘Orgone Accumulators’ look like booths to house peep show voyeurs (in this light Einstein’s dalliance with them seems even more bizarre).


While on this theme can any readers enlighten me as to what happens in a Ram Lounge? This feature seems to provoke sufficient pride in those erotica venues that possess one to plaster it all over their promotional signs. A natural timidity, a disapproving girlfriend and a suspicion that I may be of the incorrect sexual persuasion have prevented me investigating first hand, but revelations from those with stronger stomachs are welcome. It would put to an end my mulling over some very bizarre scenarios…

1/31/2008

Against Hayek: The Harold Holt Swim Centre



There is something delightfully incongruous about the Harold Holt swim centre. It is not simply the naming of a swimming centre after a drowned Prime Minister (though this never fails to raise a grim smile whenever I mention it to anyone), but rather that one of Melbourne’s premier examples of Brutalism should be named after a conservative leader. Not only this but that it should be situated in one of the most conservative areas in Australia, home to two Liberal Prime Ministers (and probably three if Peter Costello was not “all tip and no iceberg”) is rather amusing.

As an unrepentant left-wing modernist, I have always had quite a penchant for the Brutalist. There is something about that clash of the clinical beautiful modernist geometry and the material harshness of concrete that appeals. With their communitarian ideals and bludgeoning aesthetics, Brutalist structures have always appeared to me as great socialist fists, pummeling an outmoded conservative topography. Of course not many people these days would view this imagery in such a positive light as I do
, and so it is the concrete fists themselves that have come to be outmoded (the family idiot for one hates them almost as much as I despise him). More reason then to cheer that the wonderful Harold Hold Swim Centre has survived. It has not clung on as a heritage fetishists' relic like the Brutalist Clyde Cameron College in Wodonga, which was built as a training school for trade unionists (huzzah!), but is now preserved with a token heritage listing as a private hospital (boo!). The Swim Centre endures as as a vital and vigorous institution. It's aesthetics may not be overly popular, (even its website doesn't have a picture of it) but still it remains undefeated.
Perhaps the distaste at its forms stem from the widespread distate at the ideals behind the Brutalist movement. Keynsianism and government investment in public works have no place in the Late Capitalist epoch, and so neither does an architecture representing such heathen ways. Yet in this particular structure we can see that there is no reason for this, that those fists are not outmoded at all but more necessary than ever.

Rather than existing as a mere curiosity, a museum piece for architecture students, the Swim Centre continues to function in providing a valuable community service. For only a small fee the public can paddle with their children, take a sauna and a hydrotherapy session, or swim in an Olympic sized pool. It is an embodiment of the state-sponsered, community-driven projects that neo-liberal zealots have spent the past twenty-five years warning us against. Here we have a brilliant and (literally) refreshing embodiment of the contrary argument, a celebration of public over private, of state investment over commercial re-development. One only has to go to a nearby gym to see how snobbish, vapid, exclusive and hideous a privatised version of this place would be.

The Harold Holt Swim Centre ought to act as a rallying call to stop felating the market and for the state to take the initiative of looking after the people. It stands as a small but supreme realisation of a noble municipal dream and a feeling of political satisfaction cheers me every time I swim there. It is tainted only by looking at my fellow swimmers and knowing that some of them voted for Howard….

1/16/2008

Travels in the Interzone

A new job (assessing the licence for Crown Casino of all things!) and an imminent visa application have been sapping my brainpower of late. But to temporarily satisfy any readers (should there be such things), here is a superb structure from Melbourne's Ballardian outskirts.


1/08/2008

M-C-M: Branding the City

On the corner of Russell Street and Little Collins street is a nondescript piece of luxury neo-modernism, containing yuppie apartments and a handful of high-class boutiques. This is nothing special of course, not in the teeming hub of economic rationalism that is the hypermodern metropolis. But what (literally) marks this structure apart, is that it sports a large barcode on its facade. It unashamedly embraces its architectural status as a mere commodity; not a benevolent server of a social function, not a monument of collective significance, nor a model of aesthetic wonder, merely means of accumulating capital. And why not? The (mis)guiding ethos of the age is Adam Smith's assertion that it is not the benevolence of the butcher that motivates him to provide us with meat, but his selfishness, and while this is the case why not be honest about it?


The building stands as the ultimate example of consumerist architecture in the city, not simply because it lays bare what other projects cloak in corporate speak, but because its chosen symbol, the barcode, is itself the ultimate avatar of free market capitalism.

As Michel Pastoureau illustrates in his brief but excellent book, "The Devil's Cloth: A History of Stripes & Striped Fabric", stripes in medieval times were viewed with extreme suspicion. The stripe, with its dynamic bichromism and implication of movement, was an aberration within feudalism both aesthetically and philosophically. The heraldic eye was trained to read images in terms of monochromatic layers (reflecting the feudal structure), to which the stripe was an aggressive assault. But this was not the only reason that the stripe was such an abomination. The medieval man was not a historical agent in the sense that we would understand, that is he did not conceive of himself as being a player in an ever-changing historical narrative. Rather he existed within a stable world, overseen by God and king, that always had been and always would be. The brash linearity of the stripe proved a disturbing and incongruous presence, and as such it was attached to those disturbing elements in the medieval world; Prostitutes, criminals, heretics, fools and the Devil himself all were branded with the stripe.


This stigma began to fade only with the rise of modernity. As the industrial revolution powered forward, taking with it an ascending bourgeoisie, so the stationary concept of history gave way to Utopian ideas of progress. A locomotive of Comtean dialectics steamed over the feudal model and into the future; suddenly the linearity of the stripe was in vogue.






The barcode thus serves as a branding of the historical narrative of laissez faire capitalism. And as Melbourne, like other Western cities, follows the Parisian model of purging the city of all undesirable (i.e. non bourgeois) elements, the barcoded building brazenly reaffirms that the city was/is the key unit in this march of consumerist triumph. It is where capitalism was born, and now that the industrial dirty work that was once done here can be passed on to lesser nations, it is where the oligarchs of late capitalism come to play. An arena of 21st century opulence.

This is underscored by the fact that the barcode on the building is not small, manageable and accessible, like that of a chocolate bar or soft drink, a product graspable by the plebs. It is large, imposing and overbearing. The masses cannot afford the product it represents, and it lets them know it. The barcode says to those who do not live in luxury apartments, "the city is the domain of capitalist power, it does not belong to you, it is ours." It stamps its ideological dialectic on the the urban sphere.

Of course, if a barcode is scratched or marked, it is rendered useless, no longer able to transmit the value of the item it appears on... see below.

Culture and Thuggery in Melbourne: Postscript

Regarding Melbourne's graffiti, I have just stumbled across this line in William Gibson's Neuromancer:

"He knew this kind of building; the tenants would operate in the interzone where art wasn't quite crime and crime not quite art."


There is a paradoxical attitude towards graffiti in Melbourne, with the embracing of it as a tourist attraction and simultaneous zero-tolerance enforcement of draconian anti-graffiti laws. Or perhaps it is not a paradox. Iain Sinclair (reputedly Gibson's favourite writer) notes in Lights Out For the Territory how he prefers the civil disobedience of a crudely inscribed tag on a tube seat to the more elaborate gallery-sanctioned 'graffiti art'. I am inclined to agree with him. Is deeming graffiti to be 'art' a means of empowering it, as implied, or a means of co-opting it into the bourgeois culture narrative, and of thus castrating its disruptive power?


Certainly Banksy is unlikely to create anything as 'confronting' as the youth who scrawled "YOU'RE A CUNT" on an empty Evening Standard headline board I once saw in Hackney. Brutal scribblings. And so the more Melbourne's glossy tourist brochures feature edgy snaps of stenciled laneways, the more wedding couples pose in front of urban etchings, the less power graffiti has as the language of the powerless and the more it becomes the language of officialdom; a codified norm requiring permits, printed on coffee mugs, hanging in exhibitions opened by politicians.


Support for a small-scale quasi-official graffiti scene does not contradict anti-graffiti heavy-handedness, but rather is the perfect compliment to it. "Why can't they just do it on a community wall or something?" cry liberal bourgeois anti-graffitist when accused of being reactionary. By not rejecting the whole form, but rather adopting a tolerably minor portion as legitimate, conservative forces (often self-identifying as liberal) are able to identify all other graffiti that does not conform to such constricting definitions as illegitimate and worthy of harsh suppression. In this way they are able to remain back-slappingly open-minded ('but we do like graffiti when it's art' i.e. when it conforms to our comfortable restrictions) whilst eliminating all illegitimate, non-bourgeois friendly markings. The aim is to strip graffiti of the status Gibson describes, a disturbing, ill-defined anomaly in traditional notions of what is crime and what is art, and rigidly dissect it into the moral (art) and the immoral (crime). There is but one response:


"YOU'RE A CUNT"

1/07/2008

Australia on Collins: In Praise of Direct Action

One of the more curious cultural differences to strike me on arrival in Australia was the 'two-flush' toilet system. I had never experienced severe water shortages before and was surprised and amused at the division of the flusher into small and large flush options. Initially it seemed to make sense, but there was something rather out of joint about the whole thing. The unspoken categorisations of the system (small flush for urine, large for faeces) leave a set of taxonomical conundrums (what to do with vomit, and other forms of organic detritus?) and autocratically dictate a forced toilet etiquette that may often not be logical. Small amounts of faecal matter, requiring only the small flush, will be given the large regardless, because to abandon the division of fluids would be obscene.




A solution might include an appeal not to flush the large option unless absolutely necessary (as is attempted in the sign above) but in order to be truly effective, and to override the auto-categorisation of the flusher, it would require a discussion of, or at the least a clear allusion to, shit, and so it is unlikely in a conservative country of Anglo-Saxon anal dismissive character.


Another solution is the reintroduction of a monistic flusher, only with half the amount of water. Anything requiring more flushing could be given a second dose, and anything hanging around longer than that would necessitate brush intervention whatever the system. Not only this, but it would help to roll back a fairly puritanical piece of bodily repression and a further atomisation in an already obsessively sub-divided social structure. This is the preferable option but it could prove difficult to execute, after all once a taxonomic structure has been introduced it is often hard to dismantle it.


Joyous news then, that the Second Option (note capitals) that has been directly imposed on the toilets in the Australia on Collins mall on Collins street, which can be viewed below.




It is an excellent nugget of socio-ecological liberation. I call for the universalisation of the Second Option and more direct toilet action!

1/03/2008

Flinders Street Station: The Death of Cerberus

I have been on something of a flaneuring hiatus over the holiday due to parental visitations and spending time in Sydney (boo! Judas! etc etc), more of which in due course. But I am back now, and one of the first things to strike me on my return to Melbourne was the removal of the previously mentioned Cerberian dog heads at Flinders Street station, due to vandalism. Perhaps their menace pushed someone over the edge?





An interesting addition in the same space is that of a collection of severed heads. It is not clear if the same perpetrator was responsible for the removal of the official art, and the installing of the unofficial, but it's certainly a triumph of romantic independence over patronage. Another interesting comparison between the two is that where the threat of the dogs was overt and menacing, the malignancy of the new installation is rather more oblique. A stencilled message simply reads: 'It's lucky for the world I'm willing to stop at one murder. Together we could rape the universe'



It is the second part of the statement that contains the threat. I assume that it's an eco-anarchistic "political" statement, but there's always the vague possibility that it's an invitation...


12/21/2007

CH2: The Stain of Atavism

Melbourne City Council likes to promote itself as the loveable alternative authority to the Victorian State Government. It is green and progressive (approving an experimental scheme limiting motor access to the CDB) where the State Government is outdated and reactionary (over-ruling the council and quashing said scheme). It is friendly and accessible (the ever-smiling "world's most popular mayor" John So) where the State is cold and distant (the pugnacious and increasingly unpopular Premier John Brumby). Little surprise then, that down the road from the State's faceless power-structure, the Council has built a pioneering piece of eco-architecture. Where the Justice Building is all glacial coldness, the Council building is a Pompidouesque Mechano set writ large. Cuddly constructionism.

Winner of many industry awards, Council House 2, or CH2 (sounds a bit like CO2 and is also the chemical formula for Methelyne, do you see?) is the jewel in the Council's eco-friendly crown. Reflecting the preoccupation with sustainability in contemporary planning, CH2 is a carbon-neutral, auto-recycling, self-sustaining Gaia-structure. It is a technologically impressive project. Yet, as is the fashion with many green skyscraper projects, the Council and its cheerleaders do not promote the building in technological terms. Instead we find hippyish justifications and celebrations of the buildings being 'in tune with nature'. Who are they trying to kid? Are we expected to think that if nature were allowed to dominate the environment freely we would find neatly clipped hedges in window boxes and self-sustaining air conditioning systems? These projects are the ultimate example of man's domination of nature, the taming of it to meet our needs. We largely want to tackle climate change not because of concern for the earth but rather for concern over our reliance on it to survive, and these kinds of buildings offer the possibility of a sophisticated mechanical means of doing so.



These buildings do not deserve the epithet 'natural' by any means, on the contrary they are utterly artificial, a glorious fusion of the organic and the inorganic. We should not shy away from this but rather embrace it unashamedly and reclaim our dreams of the future. This marriage of the synthetic and the natural should be touted as a testament to humanity's genius, yet it provokes widespread discomfort and this technological masterpiece does not celebrate its own achievement. Instead it hides behind a facade of pine, looking like a 19th century Scandinavian woodcutter's hut, shielding its true nature from the public. But why do we not wish to see this structure in all its magnificent mechanical nakedness? Why does it not display a proud techno-aestheticism but only an atavistic pseudo-natural appearance?


In our new century the concept of the organic has been fetishised to such a degree that technology itself is forced to cloak itself in order to be accepted. Scientists used to be our heroes, and now they are the ultimate villains. Issues such as GM crops (boo!), nuclear power (boo!) animal testing (boo!) and cloning (boo!) have turned people against science. We now treat 'Science' as a pariah, the evil opponent of the morality of the organic. There is an element of Heidegger in this, who famously declared after the war "Agriculture is now a motorised food-industry - in essence the same as the manufacturing of corpses in gas chambers". There is truth in this statement, yet coming from the Nazi-supporting Heidegger in the late 1940s it smacks of a squirming passing of the buck; 'It weren't me guv, it was the machines what done it!'. But there were men operating those machines and Heidegger lent them his moral authority as a philosopher. He spent the rest of his days bemoaning technology, pining for an imagined agrarian past and drifting into the realms of mysticism, promoting an anti-modernism that was in actuality an attempt at vindication through denial. It was essentially a philosophical elevation of the 'I was only obeying orders' line. This is what we are now seeing with regards to climate change. Able to accept its anthropogeneticity only at face value we instead pass the buck to a usefully ill-defined Other: Science. Like Heidegger we tut tut, and wag our finger at technology for harming Mother Earth, taking the moral high ground where we ought to be taking responsibility. 'How could I, with my fair trade coffee and organic potatoes be responsible for that?' we ask incredulously. In a sense we are all climate change denialists, denying our own culpability.

Unlike Heidegger though, rather than abandon faith in technology we are able realise that it provides our only hope of reversing the effects of climate change. Moreover, aside from a few hardcore feudalists who would be happy to live in a treehouse with just a spliff and a banjo for company (the only honest perpetrators of the anti-science orthodoxy) people overwhelmingly like technology. How else could one get to organic supermarkets and self-help workshops? And so we take a spectacular and paradoxical leap of bad faith to a state of affairs where science is both the redeemer and the devil incarnate, where a highly technological achievement is swathed in the language of anti-science.The hypermodern Western man lives in the luxuries of technology, whilst simultaneously lambasting them, and pompously propagating obscurantist teleologies. We must put an end to this morbid and masturbatory posturing and wholeheartedly embrace our technological future. There has to be a realisation that the fusion of the organic and the inorganic is not undesirable, but indispensable. That the ideals of the Viridian Design Movement and others are necessary for a stable future.

The forms of CH2 are not displeasing in themselves, I actually find its IKEA-architecture quite attractive. But for its purpose the structure is simply too timid. What we should see in a project such as this is not the self-conscious restraint and 'naturalism' of CH2 but something more akin to the biotopian eco-science of the Eden Project or the recently launched Earthrace eco-ship, both purveyors of a striking futurist vision.


Technology helped us get into this mess, but it is the only thing that can help us get out.

12/17/2007

Curtin House: The Dictatorship of Irony

Curtin House is Melbourne's ultimate beacon of vicious irony. Often referred to as a 'horizontal laneway' it was built in the 1910s, originally named the Tattersalls Building and housing an upheel gentleman's club inside its walls. One of the components of the modern laneway, The Toff in the Town bar, with its top and hat monocle logo, is a conscious nod to the building's early century incarnation, a simultaneous revelling in and mocking of the snobbish grandiosity of the gentleman's club. The idea seems to be to replicate the splendour of those clubs (the private booths, a lift operator) but with a distinctly 21st century accessibility (serving cheap(ish) beer, the lift operator is a biker). And yet the Toff in the Town does not point to a new egalitarianism, but to a new and subtler form of socio-economic exclusivity. Bouncers man the entrance to the building in the evenings, ready to turn away anyone simply because they don't like the look of them (a privilege they share only with officials in military dictatorships) and the crowd is overwhelmingly white, young, middle class and painfully hip. Cultural codes of music and clothes make sure that those who do not belong are aware of it. The building has been claimed by a elitist cliche of fashionistas. This phenomenon is not new of course, punks, skins, glam etc all operated a similar ethos, but in this case it is not a banding together of the powerless, but a junta of Gen Y funkster yuppies; skateboarding CEOs, investment bankers with i-macs, PR executives who take pills and various forms of the same Nathan Barley wanker from the "creative industries". Cashed up and clued up with quasi-degrees (Master of Retail Management, anyone?) the new breed bourgeoisie are much more effective than their Toffish predecessors, and they keep their hands clean too. Of course you can come in, if you want to, technically, its not our fault if you don't want to or the bouncers won't let you, we're not exclusive.



Below stairs, while the neo-Toffs get off on their ironic displacement of the old order and social ascension, the wankery continues in the uber-trendy Cookie. Cookie looks like the half-baked brain bastard of a mouthy, over-the-hill promoter and a Media Studies undergraduate. While the bar serves ridiculous and expensive drinks alongside laughably pretentious snacks ("Hmm, what to have with my $10 beer? The Bettel Bliss Bombs DIY or the Drunken Prawns with garlic, coriander and Mekong whisky?") grating Latino house music seeps from the walls and silent films are projected without a soundtrack, serving only as preposterous decor, devaluing them almost beyond rescue. In the midst of all this, the dancing clowns strut in their Soviet kitsch shirts and badges. Quite what the building's other former tenants, the Communist Party of Australia, would make of this we can only imagine.

In 1940, the Australian government outlawed the Communist Party as a subversive force (this was before Uncle Joe was attacked and had a change of heart) and pitched battles were fought on the stairs of the building, as government agents tried to force their way in to arrest organisers and confiscate literature. It was a bitter and vital collision of political principle; those who saw themselves as the defenders of civilisation from Asiatic barbarity versus those who saw themselves as the servants of history, wiping away oppression. Neither position means anything now, not to the nu-aristocrats of cyber-capitalism who can appropriate the top hat and monocle or the
hammer and sickle just as easily as each other, because they view both as below serious consideration. The re-naming this former-Communist HQ after a Labor prime minister was a point of political ownership (social democracy over Stalinism), but it made the mistake of taking its opposition seriously. By so overtly suppressing the past it gave political credence to that past. The power of the new masters is in their ability to co-opt the once potent symbols of potential enemies and drain them of meaning. Neither patrician nor proletarian symbolism denotes a serious political reality any longer, and so neither can begin to challenge the media oligarchy; the future is a pair of Vans stamping on a human face forever.

I for my part have decided to salute the forgotten idealists of Curtin House with a tribute to the tragic dream of the Mighty Soviet Union. Watch in admiration or disgust, but please, without irony.


UPDATE:

As I write, the agents of ironical fascism will be preparing for the new season at the Rooftop Cinema on the top of Curtin House. Ready to chatter like apes and bask in semi-fictionalised nostalgia with screenings of The Goonies (SOLD OUT!!), Labyrinth and The Breakfast Club. While genuine classics of cinematic art (Metropolis, Battleship Potemkin) serve only as amusing wallpaper, the 80s fetishists gawp with brainless giggles at average documents of a barely remembered decade, manufacturing memories in their Mr T-shirts. Baudrillard was right, fool!

12/13/2007

High Street, Armadale: Encountering the Ghosts of History

"Shh! Under the paving stones, the ghosts of history are sleeping."

So read the poetry on the train. A tad morose compared to the Situationist catch cry of "Under the paving stones, the beach!", but then Melburnians are less inclined to the beach than their counterparts in other Australian cities, and they are more inclined to wear black.

I was reminded of this piece of "public poetry"when walking across the paving stone below on High Street, Armadale.


For those with less than perfect monitors/eyesight, it reads A CURSE UPON THE REMOVAL OF THIS SLAB AS IT FINALLY LAYS TO REST WITNESSED 1ST DECEMBER 1989

This mysterious artifact is casually inserted into an otherwise rather dull stretch of road. I have walked past it many times and don't recall ever seeing anyone except myself stop to look at it. A tentative questioning of locals has wrought no answers (disappointingly my questions were met with blank looks rather than a Wicker Man style suspicion of outsiders) and Google has drawn a blank.

In a sense though, I am satisfied to remain intrigued. I hope that it is the work of some anonymous magic-maker, embedding mystical anomalies in the fabric of a rational world. A city without mysteries, without magic, is barely a city at all. With its unknown origins and talk of curses, the paving stone is a magnificent avatar of gnostic urbanism.

In a churchyard near to where I grew up in England, there was a nameless grave with only a skull and crossbones and date on it (sixteen-hundred and fifty something I recall). I was similarly fascinated and perplexed by this oddity and conjured up for it many exotic tales. In the end made no attempts to find the details of its origins, for concern that they could not live up to my fantasies.

What I feared was a minuscule reflection of Zizek's "revolution which consumes itself". I did not want my stone to echo the libertarian "sexual revolution", which in the end destroyed sexuality itself, leaving in its wake only a dispassionate and unerotic void of simulated images and surface-level narcissism (a recently published survey, for instance, found that Australian men are more body fixated and attend the gym more than men in other Western nations, and yet they have sex less often). I could not bare the idea that my liberation by truth might, like the naked body at the end of a striptease, purge the stone of all that was seductive about it. The aura of uncertainty is why this paving stones stands as a perfect mythical fragment of the city.

Although we are condemned to inquisitiveness (jouissance aside, the exquisite repression cannot be self-administered) the true beauty often lies not in the truth, but in the mystery.

12/06/2007

Brachycera Diabolica: Rubbing Your Face in the Vomit

I have often noticed that as summer arrives and warm weather sweeps in, with it comes a palpable animal sexuality. Places of public congregation seem to be permeated by an ethereal fornication and one is almost choked with hormones. All around, rational Homo Sapiens recede to become slaves of tertiary biological drives, abandoning themselves to the frenzy of being 'on heat'. It is, a friend of mine once observed, as if evolution is only half-finished (something of Konrad Lorenz here, who posited that the elusive 'missing link' between beast and man, was humanity itself). This same friend was also convinced that humanity's future depended upon the removal of base urges. Having observed a marked increase in serenity in his neutered cat, he would often threaten to "evolutionise" himself, especially after heavy drinking bouts, whereupon he would bang dementedly on the table crying "It's coming off! It's coming off! It's coming off!"

This hormonal phenomenon has seemed somewhat less distinct in Australia (might this have something to do with an incongruous imposition of the European four seasons where Aboriginals identify six?) but nonetheless it exists. Which brings me to the object of this post; the bush fly.




These infuriating creatures invade the city from early December and for a short but glorious reign they claim it as theirs. Humans cannot walk anywhere without these pea-sized bullets of hyperactivity swarming around them, colonising their flesh. They fly into your hair, land on your lips, crawl near your nostrils, and all you can do is flap your arms frantically in a desperate fit of flailing violence. You cannot ever find satisfaction, the flies are too fast. This leaves an aura of unrealised aggression in the city. Suited businessmen and blue collar workers alike waft their hands insanely, their faces reddening with rage. Women in high heels stumble as they swing their desperate arms and children spit and punch the air. All are left angry and victimless.

This unsatiated violence must find an outlet somewhere. Violence demands catharsis, and it is interesting to note that as Australia's mean temperature (and thus the amount of flies) has increased there has been a correlation in the increase in Melbourne's violent crime rates.






But why do the flies torture us so intently? The flies swarm around humans because we provide them with easy access to the necessary conditions for reproduction. To female flies, sweat glands act as protein vending machines, while a pile of faeces is the perfect incubation unit. It is for this reason that the females are keen to crawl all over us, and for that reason that the males are keen; the humans are where the chicks are. Your whole face is a microcosmic horny disco floor.

The human animal is at its most repulsive and ridiculous when it engages in violence (inter-species violence especially) and when it engages in public copulation. The presence of the flies reflects and encourages both such behaviours. This, rather than mere annoyance, may be why there is such disdain for them. JG Ballard once claimed that he wanted to "rub humanity's face in its own vomit and force it to look in the mirror". This is what the flies achieve, and we hate them for it.