Assembled by Edward Gwyn Jones
Thursday April 9th - Thursday April 16th
*This is an archived version of this edition of Soft Spot Online; artworks are therefore not embedded but instead have been replaced with images and links to view the works in their respective spaces on artist's websites*
Having raided the library in anticipation of lockdown a couple of weeks ago, in a state of unease, I picked only books by Paul Virilio, apparently ignoring the fact that Virilio will do little to relieve any global anxiety. As I made my way through the essays in 1997’s Open Sky I struggled to work out whether the eerily relevant context was feeding my anxiety or helpfully confirming the confusion I’m sure many of us are feeling. Open Sky, as with much of Virilio’s work, seems scarily pertinent now. As the world appears to slow to a pace I have never experienced I thought it might be interesting to talk about speed.
Here, in this temporary space, I attempt to trace disparate conceptual and literal manifestations of speed through the lens of a selection of works. For example, the speed introduced, or imposed, by the transport revolution - the development of super-sonic and high speed travel which seems to eliminate distance and begins to minimise perceptions of the world. Here, there is naturally an allegorical or preemptive way of looking at industrialised transportation as precursor to cybernetic travel - travel via networks and through the screen.
“Where physical displacement from one point to another once supposed departure, a journey and arrival, the transportation revolution of the last century had already quietly begun to eliminate delay and change the nature of travel itself, arrival at one’s destination remaining, however, a ‘limited arrival’ due to the very time it took to get there. Currently, with the instantaneous broadcasting revolution, we are seeing the beginnings of a ‘generalised arrival’ whereby everything arrives without having to leave, the nineteenth century’s elimination of the journey (that is, of the space interval and of time) combining with the abolition of departure at the end of the twentieth century, the journey thereby losing its successive components and being overtaken by arrival alone. A general arrival that explains the unheard-of innovation today of the static vehicle, a vehicle not only audiovisual but also tactile and interactive.”*
This undoubtedly becomes relevant, at least for a lot of us, as our journeys to and from work are deleted and we work through our screens at home - something which Virilio might call Telepresence. The horizon is now contained within the screen, within the frame…
To arrive so quickly, even instantaneously, is to remove the prerequisite of departure. If speed “enables us above all to see, to hear, to perceive and thus to conceive the present world more intensely”*; then what happens when speed is absolute and distance is totally condensed? Perception without its journey doesn't allow us to see more clearly but rather can’t seem to keep up with the cultural effects of technological acceleration and so renders us helpless to change it. This is from where I take the title Generalised Arrival - arrival which takes place not only without departure, but all at once, everyone and everything never departing and always arriving.
You will find this post dotted with quotes from Open Sky which I’ve contextualised as neighbours to some works - I’m seeing these quotes as a lens to look at the works through as they seemed to respond to me. Perhaps this is a practice of détournement through a collection of artist films, texts and images.
The Edge of the Frame (2016)
courtesy of the artist
Focusing on one cartoon-world trope, The Edge of the Frame is perhaps an allegory for the existential doubt created by facing the possibility of being globally over-full, of reaching the edge of the frame or experiencing cybernetic real-time. Our character here might also be caught up in repeated attempts to escape the acceleration of televised sequences made necessary by instantaneously transmitted small screen images.
Wrong then, wrong today (2016)
courtesy of the artist
Wrong then, wrong today fuses the visual and political in analysing the prejudice inherent in mid-century cartoons and the exacerbation of this in their re-masterings from analogue to digital. Considering Hollywood's lack of diversity and inherent racist profiteering, this seems increasingly relevant and vital.
Failing to Distinguish between a Tractor Trailer and the Bright White Sky
Essay in e-flux Journal #101, June 2019
Click/tap image to read
James Bridle's exploration of a Tesla auto-pilot accident in relation to his own artwork Gradient Ascent, prompts me to consider the rise of automation an attempt to decrease accidents inherent in humanity’s inability to control speed. Virilio writes: “When are we going to see legal sanctions, a speed limit, imposed not because of the probability of a road accident but because of the danger of exhausting temporal distances and so of the threat of inertia - in other words, of parking accidents?”*
Eva Richardson McCrea, Frank Sweeney and the Dublin Dockworkers Preservation Society
Made Ground (2019)
courtesy of the artists and the Dublin Dockworkers Preservation Society
This two channel film explores the struggle of the Dublin Dockworkers to address the speed at which industries are transitioning from manual to knowledge based forms of labour and its relationship to gentrification. These ‘developments’ seem to be happening across Europe, especially in the dockland areas of major cities, where architecture changes from warehouses to glass office blocks; trendy new post-industrial suburbs leaning against the backdrop of afflicted industry and its devastating wake on surrounding communities. I’ve partnered Made Ground with Charmaine Chua’s 2018 lecture at Sonic Acts Academy to further contextualise Eva and Frank’s film within the shipping industry and its lack of human consideration as it attempts to build increasing ‘indurable monstorisites’.
"Made Ground is a collaboration between artists Eva Richardson McCrea, Frank Sweeney and the Dublin Dockworkers Preservation Society (DDWPS). Taking the DDWPS online archive of over 3,500 photographs as its starting point the work draws on a range of source material including interviews, institutional and personal archives, documents and original footage. The two channel video work considers the movement from manual to knowledge based forms of labour in the Docklands, the changing architecture of the area, and the impact of these changes on the surrounding communities."
‘Indurable’ Monstrosities: Megaships, Megaports, and Transpacific Infrastructures of Violence
Video lecture at Sonic Acts Academy, Amsterdam, 2018
"In the past decade, container ships have more than doubled in size as shipping carriers seek to capture economies of scale in transportation, fuel, and crew costs. In turn, the upsurge of megaships has placed intensified demands on global shipping networks, requiring ports to make perpetual and capital-intensive adaptations to their infrastructure, placing heavy demands on logistics labour, intensifying environmental damage, and generating a global shipping crisis of massive proportions. And yet, as ports struggle to catch up, ships keep getting bigger. By interrogating the interface between these two massive infrastructural projects through a case study of the ports of Singapore and Los Angeles, Charmaine Chua examines the irrational rationalities of obsessions with monstrosity in the logistics industry. In situating the growth of megaships and ports within the broader context of the rise of logistics, she argues that the material systems of global supply should be understood not as durable infrastructure — public works that stimulate local economic development — but as ‘indurable’ monstrosities that imprint the colonial violence of global circulation onto the lived spaces of vulnerable populations."
Buffer Stop (2020)
courtesy of the artist
Read Buffer Stop here
In sending me this text written from the perspective of a buffer stop at Glasgow Central Station, George brought to my attention this Walter Benjamin quote; “Marx said that revolutions are the locomotive of world history. But perhaps things are very different. It may be that revolutions are the act by which the human race traveling in the train applies the emergency brake.”** I’ve partnered this text with three posters by Maurice Beck; public service announcements ensuring Londoners that automated mechanical stopping systems are to keep them safe while travelling. The posters have a bizarre atmosphere as, just like the potential failures of George’s buffer stop, any contingency for accident is ignored. The failures ingrained in technology are revealed once again in the empty space.
Underground Electric Railways Company Ltd Posters (1930)
courtesy of the London Transport Museum
©TfL from the London Transport Museum collection
Nothing left to chance THE DEAD MAN'S HANDLE Whilst the train is in motion the driver must always keep the controller handle depressed. Should any unforeseen circumstance cause him to remove his hand, the current is automatically cut off from the motors, the brakes applied, and the train is stopped.
Automatic Control THE TRIPCOCK & TRAIN-STOP Should a driver pass a signal set at 'Danger', a lever on the train strikes an arm on the track, which automatially cuts off the current from the motors and applies the brakes, thus stopping the train.
Safety - Escalator safety gear the emergency brake which holds the steps fast in case of mishap.
Again, it objects. (2016)
courtesy of the artist
The protagonist in Again, it objects. is subsumed into a black hole in their living room; accepting a mysterious and undefined void. Perhaps this void, mysterious but enticing, is our cybernetic vacuum “that no longer depends on the interval between places or things and so on the world’s very extension, but on the interface of an instantaneous transmission of remote appearances, on a geographic and geometric retention in which all volume, all relief vanish.”*
Virilio quotes, M. Dufourneaux, a free fall specialist's account of the sudden magnification of vision as a result of increased speed in Open Sky (1997):
"Eyeballing consists in visually assessing the distance between you and the ground the whole time you are falling. You evaluate your height and work out the exact moment you need to open your parachute based on a dynamic visual impression. When you are flying in a plane at an altitude of 600 metres, you don’t have anything like the visual impression you have when you clear this altitude in a high-speed vertical fall. When you are at 2000 metres, you can’t see the ground approaching. But when you reach the 800 to 600 metre mark, you start to see it “coming”. The sensation becomes scary pretty quickly because of ground rush, the ground rushing up at you. The apparent diameter of objects increases faster and faster and you suddenly have the feeling you are not seeing them getting closer but seeing them move apart suddenly, as though the ground were splitting open."*
M. Dufourneaux, L’attrait du vide, Paris, 1967
Lightning, an excerpt from Can we talk about the weather? (2019)
Full PDF of Can we talk about the weather?, an open ended research project that exists as a handmade publication here.
courtesy of the artist
Virilio defines dromospheric pollution as “an unnoticed phenomenon of pollution of the world’s dimensions […] - from dromos: a race, running”*. If dromospheric pollution is an all encompassing and ignored phenomenon, a speed pollution, then I’d like to look to weather as a comparable force - an evermore global experience, similar to the acceleration of technological connectivity, which is increasingly delocalised.
Andrea Coyotzi Borja
The Street Enters the House: Spaces Becoming Places (2017)
courtesy of the artist
Here Andrea considers the inside and outside, how speed and accelerated life blind us to our surroundings and to the horizon.
"This video work intends to propose a line of observation for what is seemingly ordinary, an everydayness; as Paul Virilio* writes in his text ‘On Georges Perec’: “what happens when nothing happens”. And how these, seemingly unworthy experiences for many, are set to establish our first approximation with a becoming of the spaces, places, and ultimately, the image of the self.
*Paul Virilio, extract from ‘On Georges Perec’, AA Files, no. 45/46 (London: Architectural Association. School of Architecture."
*Paul Virilio, Open Sky, Verso, London, 1997
**Walter Benjamin, and Tiedemann, R, 1999. The Arcades Project. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press.
Thank you to all the featured artists, the London Transport Museum and the Dublin Dockworkers Preservation Society: