Istanbul Notes

GUATEMALA IS STILLNESS

31 August 2015

Istanbul feels like metal, but tastes like tear gas. In the city itself, I find it safe to say there’s more gas in the air today than there was during the 2013 Gezi protests. We may not see the manifestation in its most obvious form, but we can rest assured it’s there.

From what I saw in 2013, much of the Gezi uprising stemmed from the Lefebvrian concept of Contradictory Space that highlights not only the exploitation of labor—but the exploitation of land.[1]

As valid as the reality and expectations of Gezi were, I have a hard time trusting the authenticity of a largely middle-class secular uprising. Especially one that uses barricades as spectacle,[2] where the purpose becomes urban centric enclosure on a piece of land that has since been forgotten (except for the sake of nostalgia). Forgotten for many reasons, but the point is—it’s forgotten by many. Perhaps the metallic city relates to a land dispossession that started long before the manifestation of bodies. Long before the manifestation of gas used to disperse those bodies, yet one that is able to disperse within the nostalgia itself—where the taste is even more acidic than before.

Land highlights the disassociation of social relations that a staged unity rarely fails to conceal. However this is a disassociation I rarely see among my Kurdish friends, who although forcibly displaced, hold more land together than among anyone in any place I’ve ever seen in Istanbul.

The people of Guatemala know the exploitation of land and labor.

The process of taking down ex-military commander Otto Pérez Molina, today’s President of Guatemala, involves confronting the same man who was once in charge of the scorched earth campaign and massacre of Mayas during the 1980s under military dictator Ríos Montt.[3] The process to take down Pérez Molina’s government doesn’t taste like tear gas—as far as I can tell. In fact, Guatemala reminds me of smoke. Smoke, burning from the houses to cook dinner; burning from the roadside to protest. For me, I remember the smell of fire from the homes themselves—from the firewood itself.

When I left Guatemala in November 2011, Pérez Molina had just been elected. Essentially a symbol of genocide erasure showing that having the Partido Patriota’s “Mano Dura” in power might bring stability to a violent and poverty-inflicted country—indicating the severity of the situation in Guatemala where collective genocidal memory could be negotiated for collective, yet most likely individual, security today. When I returned in February 2013, the insecurity and violence had worsened under another failed governance—but the people had remained strong (and even strengthened) in contrast to Pérez Molina. I noticed what had remained especially strong was the overwhelming majority of land-less Maya.

Guatemala’s rural population is 49%, whereas Turkey’s is 29%. [4] Guatemala’s overt political manifestations (since April 2015) may be taking place in a square in front of the National Palace, but unlike Istanbul’s “urban uprising”—what’s happening in Guatemala is not void of (or distanced from) the rural. Although I’m not there today, I’m positive rural indigenous Mayas are in the square, where 27 August worked in tandem with more than 37 roadblocks that had been set up for two days across rural Guatemala.[5]

Barricades for purpose versus barricades “for looks.”

Without the rural, the marginal, the peripheral, whatever we call it—the urban is nothing more than “structure” as spectacle. But as the structure is taken down piece by piece—we choose how to fill it.[6]

Journalist Allan Nairn said that “if the souls of Rios Montt’s and Pérez Molina’s victims could descend to earth in corporeal form … they would more than fill the Plaza de la Constitución”.[7]

Guatemala is in stillness, whereas Istanbul is in silence—because stillness is when the ground takes root.

Footnotes:
[1]
Lefebvre, H. (1973). The production of space. Cambridge: Blackwell Publishing.
[2]
Bissen, S. (2013). [Photography of barricades from Gezi Park protests on June 4, 2013, within overarching body of work on land dispossession]. Istanbul.
[3]
For more on the current and historical Guatemalan context, see interview with journalist Allan Nairn in Democracy Now! Goodman, A. (2015, August, 27). Guatemala president faces arrest as business interests and U.S. scramble to contain uprising. Democracy Now!
[4]
Based on 2014 World Bank estimates and United Nations, World Urbanization Prospects, referring to people living in rural areas and calculated as the difference between the total population and a defined urban population. The World Bank. (2015). Percentage of population in rural areas (in % of total population) [Data file].
[5]
(2015, August, 28). Massive protests call for president to resign as corruption scandal hits Guatemala. VICE News. Further, Paco from Hijos Guatemala stated that “the city was the last focus of resistance that began with the indigenous peoples of Guatemala at the beginning of this government (of Otto Pérez Molina).” Abbott, J. (2015, May, 2015). Guatemala: Popular protests challenge corruption and the political establishment. The Fifth Column.
[6]
(L. Cohen-Shapiro of Applied Psychology for Yogis, personal communication, 2015). Dialogue and continued research based on the theory and practice of stillness.
[7]
A Nairn. (2015, August, 30). [Twitter entries A) and B)].

Latin America, September 2011.

Latin America, September 2011.

DISSOLUTION

31 May 2015

From Beginning to End:  We value the work as a product because it is “finished” yet we forget what it means to complete the process.

 

 

Revolutions

LAND

29 May 2015

The Land that Emerges from the Map:  Finding what we choose to dispossess as inauthentic, or choose to dispossess because it’s real, to realize that both can be found in the same place yet at different points.

 

POSSESSION OF PROCESS

21 May 2015

Perception of Illogical:  We can choose to reproduce our labor process, or allow our processes of labor possess multiple, varying breaks on the surface.

image

[ SCAR ] CITY

07 May 2015

Doing [ and ] thinking are scarcities.

From the Void: Where thinking is doing and no longer seen as a scarcity, or felt as a scar in the city.

CHAOS

03 May 2015

I love chaos.

Chaos enlivens me. I both have it and get it. But lately, I’m finding that sometimes I hate it and need to push it away. Fight it—even though I’m well aware I live in fire.

I’m beginning to think there are two, dominant kinds of chaos present in my life. One is what I’ll call [ abstract chaos ], the other I’ll call [ tangible chaos ].

I once had a teacher tell me how interesting it was to land at New York City LaGuardia. Interesting to observe the workings at the arrivals area, trace the baggage claim, and follow the ground transportation. To him, LaGuardia, was an embodiment of capitalism: [ nothing works ].

In my recent confusion about chaos, I remembered this observation while flying [ recent confusion because I used to embrace it all as one, meaning I let my confusion of chaos engulf my clarity about what arises within my chaos ]. When [ nothing works ], I get abstract chaos—and I usually don’t know what to do with it.

See LaGuardia, among other examples.

But, if I can touch something within that abstract chaos, then the abstract burns away. Tangible chaos allows me to touch something real and express it—but I have to find the space in which to do it. I don’t think entering further into a system as a whole, like LaGuardia, has it all for me. Because from far away, it pretends as if everything works as it should—whatever that means. So why look at it?

We must know how to act. We’ve already landed in it. We are here. So instead, maybe we enter where [ nothing works ].

Maybe where nothing works is actually one part of the abstract chaos where we need to be looking right now—and even attending to. Maybe there’s enough aliveness and wholeness in ourselves to match an aliveness that has fallen through the cracks of the whole abstract—but only if we are willing to not only look at it—but touch it. Maybe amidst the shards of abstract chaos we find a tangible chaos where staying with its fire burns us closer to the spaces we can touch—rather than making us want to run away from it.

SaraBissen_UrbanDecay-6

The Griffith Piano Company, Newark, 2013.

BALTIMORE

28 April 2015

I am thinking about time and place. I am also thinking about times and places that repeat themselves.

I think first of Istanbul, where I am. Then I think of Newark, where I was before Istanbul. Then of Istanbul again, where I was before Newark.

Confusing—but confusion doesn’t mean there’s not a pattern. I guess it’s our work to make sense of it—make sense of something by finding the continuum of time within the shattering of place. Maybe if we find enough of ourselves to stay within the shattering—enough of us to find enough of the continuum—we might be able to see within the means of power as power shifts.

Right now, I can think of one thing. One thing from a clear enough place in between, but also within time—based from the grounded invisible—when and where what we feel and do as right is valid enough to be our structure of rights.

The grounded invisible.

The grounded invisible.

FAKE PLASTIC TREES

18 March 2015

I was listening to one of my students discuss the future. He called it “futurism.”

He had asked his 11–year–old son:

“What does the year 2050 look like to you?”

Answer:

“There will be plastic trees, plastic plants, and plastic grass.”

Notice, he didn’t say:  “There will be no trees, no plants, and no grass.”

He was specific about the texture, and here’s what it looked like.

Plastic trees, plastic plants, and plastic grass.

Plastic trees, plastic plants, and plastic grass.

In my 2050, wearing our 11–year–old glasses will be mandatory. We must keep the glasses on at all times. If we take them off, then our punishment is a chained life of confinement staring at a computer screen and using our hands only for typing on an electronic keyboard—performed entirely, while sitting in a chair.

My student also said that one of the most important and demanded jobs in 2050 would be performed by surgeons who transplant memory into patients’ bodies.

The imaginary is more alive and powerful than much of the dead plastic I touch everyday. Let’s not forget the vastness of our memory, and how our transconsciousness can better serve the world—[ the world ] because I’m not sure we can call it [ our ] own, or even if we have the right to do so anymore considering what we’ve done, what we do, and what we continue to plan to do to it. [ It ] being key, because it is smarter than anything our conceptual mind produces. Well we should fuck the plan and go for an imaginary where what’s real takes hold over the plastic

Let’s not forget the texture of our own soil, and how its roots transform all of what we hold in this life.

Let’s not forget to wear our 11–year–old glasses, so that the power of our collective imagination might one day be able to transmute the fake plastic trees into real life-giving, wooden trees.

AVALON

16 March 2015

I’ve got this definition. I call it [ bullshit space ].

I recently spent time in a Mediterranean village that is situated with its back to a mountain. In fact, it is made from the mountain; made from earth. One morning when I awoke to this mountain, I found myself in a cloud. I stood in white—in all directions around me. Gorgeous because it’s gorgeous, but gorgeous because it means I could not see the [ bullshit space ] beneath the clouds:  the lowlands of the village’s urban sprawl.

I have no proof, but I feel that village is not placed in the clouds by accident. It’s strategic. Distanced from the urban—not only to not be seen by the urban—but so that it may also look down upon the urban. A perceived power relation, inverted. In the clouds, I found myself in an interesting relationship, where I felt at home and in what my mentor Livia calls { “right relationship” } (Cohen-Shapiro, Livia. Emotional Literacy for Yogis. Online Course. 2014) with a place I have never known. This is the inversion I actively seek everyday—and here, in this place, I could touch it.

All of a sudden, my panopticon (yes, panopticon) reversed itself. When the clouds arrived to the doors of each and every home in the village, the rural welcomed it and allowed itself to be enveloped by them; held by their intangible tangibility—for however long they decided to stay. Although it was satisfying to finally be able to physically look down upon the urban form the vantage point of the rural, it was even more fulfilling to not have to see the urban at all.

But, clouds or no clouds—you could hear it. Maybe not at first, but with the slightest amount of attention, you could hear it.

A buzz. A constant dull drone. Industrial. As if I were inside a factory. But I wasn’t. Unless I was confused about my whereabouts. Considering everything we see around us everyday, that could actually happen, easily. It is no coincidence how this special kind of dull buzz reminded me of another dull buzz I heard 9 months ago, halfway across the world on my family’s farm. On a quiet summer night, with no cars passing-by on a road situated five miles from the closest 300-person town, I heard a distant droning sound while sitting outside the house. Rather than chirping crickets, which I hear every summer, I now heard chirping crickets alongside the fan noise of a giant grain bin to keep the corn dry. It seemed to have the need to run day-in-and-day-out, kind of like how city buildings and shopping malls run air conditioners day-in-and-day-out during the summer for no good reason. There were no high-rises nor shopping malls down the road, but instead we found ourselves in the presence of a newly built, presumably shiny giant grain bin placed miles down the road. Presumably shiny because I’ve never actually seen the fucker—I’ve only heard it.

This bin in the middle of the rural Midwestern plains is related to the urban sprawl in the middle of the rural Mediterranean mountains.

In both cases, I wasn’t in what could be [ zoned ] as a factory. In both cases, it was possible for the sound to go into the background of my experience if I focused on other things and chose to ignore this underlying layer. Good—I thought, to be able to divert my attention elsewhere, away from the invasive quality of my surroundings. Invasive qualities I hear everyday during my life in the urban core where the sound seeps into my own rhythm to become part of me. I noticed this same drone more acutely in the rural most likely because the rural is naturally absent of this byproduct. At least it used to be. In any case, the rural as I see it is the rural that is minus the [ bullshit space ] remains present all the time, and makes it a point to appear at its own door when welcomed and invited to stay—wherever or for however long that may be. Yet, I also questioned—am I turning my awareness in, or just severing my senses? I guess regardless, it’s interesting what we become more sensitized to once we welcome the clouds inside to direct the awareness of our gaze on something besides looking at [ bullshit space ].

Based on my experience, I can say that the urban will always find its own way to show up and envelope the rural. But as a ruralist, and based on my experience, I know that like the clouds, the rural enters and traverses the urban. Instead of only [ bullshit space ], we have the opportunity to experience what I also define as [ shit ]—the latter of which becomes the soil of our life and the basis of our relationships with each other. It is gold. Maybe we can’t see it, or even hear it, but we can touch it. Rather than letting the sound of the urban core seep into my body and my soil, I’m going to let the core of my body and soil seep into the urban. The is an inversion I can practice daily, with or without standing amidst the clouds that roll into the village, leaning its back into the mountain, or vice versa.

Wherever we are, I think we can ask ourselves and each other how we can find subtle ways to shift our relationship to the bullshit space, by looking at the ways in which it seeps into our homes—even if we can’t see it.

Double-concealment.

Double-concealment.

 

DETROIT

13 March 2015

If there’s one thing I know, it is that my body is my house.

Because of this, I also know the institutionalization of that house is a bad idea. An idea, that unfortunately we practice.

Right now, take Detroit as one example, where alongside forced evictions we see subsidized demolition.

If our bodies are our homes, consider the implications of being forced from the physical structure of your house; forced from the physical structure of your body. For many, this has happened. For many others, this has happened in more subtle ways. For those who don’t identify—I’m sure one day you will on some level. In the meantime, you can consider the feeling of what happens to you—and all that is around you—when you are not there to live in your own house.

Consider also the contrast of body and house in relation to how our society values property rights over human rights. Since when and how did this become separate?

I’ve never lived in Detroit, but I’ve lived parts of Detroit in every other part of the world I’ve been. I also know that in collapse, my body turns its awareness to its own aliveness. Where, when grounded and rooted, refuses to leave; a process which is how I imagine those who refuse to leave their houses in Detroit might relate. I guess this process is the way in which the two separate words—body and house—transform to become one:  home.

As householders, we need the power to stay. We also need to be the ones deciding what to demolish around us. In contrast, consider the institutionalized householder and what each one of us internalize and inherit from someone else telling us when to leave, and what to throw away.

Urban decay.

Urban decay.

THE RE-CONQUERING OF THE IMAGINARY BY THE IMAGINARY

09 March 2015

[ Assemblages of Practice:  Time spent in the physical [ and the ] rise of new conditions, from the full body ].

We are temporary rural spaces in the city.

1. We

There is something to be said about spending time together. In spending time anywhere.

Time anywhere as an individual means time spent with people, with place.

Once, I remember hearing from a teacher about how dominant powers, like urban planning, function to control space. Yet—while they have space, we have time. We have flows, we have rhythms.

2. Temporary

On 01 March 2015, I participated in a dialogue on [ Temporary Rural Projects in the City ] as part of a Re-Imagining Rurality conference in London, which focused on rurality as a site of resistance. I was invited to present two days prior on the bastardization and idealization of the rural in the urban, which focused on the deceptive seduction produced by the city’s simulacra.

That following Sunday in Temporary Rural Projects of the City, I went into deeper conversation surrounding my practice of The Ruralist Body. What was striking to me was how the night before this discussion on temporality, I heard someone say it was strange to spend the past two days talking about space, without actually being in that space. What I found striking was the disconnect in this statement. Then again, that’s typically what academia and the city makes us do:  create distance.

As a ruralist, my space is with me all the time, unless I choose to leave my body. The case studies that academia typically requires of me for the scientific validity of my work is sedimented in my body—which for me, has the physicality of soil. I can touch it. I can smell it. Soil is alive—it is messy, and it is rural. If I live from that rural space in relation to what I’m confronted with everyday—then I can relate from a deeper place, even if I am forced to relate to what I call [ bullshit ] spaces of the urban simulacra. From rural Iowa to Guatemala, Newark to Istanbul, all of my experiences [ “case studies” ] are rooted in the time and space of my body.

It seems if we look towards tactical urbanism for inspiration against dominant powers, why are we not instead focusing more on rooting ourselves in what is tactile? What can we touch? Where is the soil? Where is the body? All of which are questions of both time and space, and not in an abstract sense.

3. Rural

In speaking about rural temporality in the urban, I circled back to Michael Woods’ opening remarks on { rural “assemblages” }.

For me, temporal rural spaces in the city are less temporal than they appear. This temporality actually embodies a rural quality, which is that of staying power—rooted in time and space. We are the site. I consider the rural to be defined by communal social relations and as a place absent of dominant control, where the logic moves in a direction opposite capital growth and the urban simulacra. As temporary rural projects in the city, we are Woods’ assemblages. Tactile in both time and space.

It’s similar to how through the practice of yoga and meditation we open the body as a site of connection. We spend time with the tangible. We move from one space of criticality to the next. We create assemblages in the body, and as a community as we move from pose to pose, re-establishing form and foundation every time. The practice demands us to stay with ourselves through time and through the movement.

The assemblages are temporary. But we stay. In the space of the body, and in relation to the space around us. The staying power is rural, and it lies either dormant or awake beneath the temporal and moving images we see on the surface.

4. Process

In order to feel this (via the guidance of my somatics mentor { Cohen-Shapiro, Livia. Embodied Psychology for Yogis. Online Course. 2015 }, I invited people to close their eyes and turn their awareness inside.

As bodies in one room in the urban, we were temporal—we were assemblages of the rural based on time spent together in this space. With eyes closed, I re-used words that were spoken in this temporary space over the past few days. As I re-spoke the following words, they held the potential to be re-assembled, re-purposed, and re-rooted in the body as a rural space in the city.

{ In No Particular Order }

Land
Self-built
Mobility
Reclaim
Soil
Resources
Access
Asymmetrical
Householder
Value
Ground
Underneath
Beginning
Maintain
Existence
Seed
Different
Sustain

Temporal—but perhaps this is where the rural enters to traverse the urban—and stays in ways we can’t see, in ways that do not merely reproduce the dominant power system we are given.

Maybe if we look not in the direction we are told to look, we can become more aware of our individual and collective power in both time and space.

The Ruralist Body.

Our labor in relation to our land.

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