UC Berkeley (Nick)



Aug '08 - Jun '10

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    Paul Virilio: Trajectories of the Catastrophic

    Nick Sowers
    Oct 26, '08 5:30 AM EST
    Bunker Wallace, Marin Headlands

    This summer I picked up a copy of Bunker Archaeology by Paul Virilio, and this guy has lit a fire in me. No one has every written so eloquently about big chunks of concrete. His writings have pushed me to see the world as a landscape of perpetual war. Rather, I came to the book with that hunch, and he sealed the deal. I keep returning to his writing, probably becoming more and more lost the more I read, but that's not such a bad thing, I think.

    So I feel it's fortuitous and timely with my travel/thesis interests that Peter Marvelis of City Lights Books put this conference together (sans Virilio lui-meme, alors). The two-day event was called Trajectories of the Catastrophic, and it is probably no coincidence that the conference comes as we are in the midst of a financial catastrophe. Almost every speaker/presenter mentioned this, and I think it might indicate a trend in popular appreciation of Virilio's writings as we learn how to navigate this world of the impending "accident".

    There were so many good presentations and cinematic experiences over the past two days that I have a hard time choosing what to talk about. Yesterday I saw some IED's, that is Information Explosive Devices. Themes centered on information warfare, claustropolis, the increase of potential catastrophes as information is exchanged at faster rates (less reaction time equals less control).

    Today the presentations and discussions tended toward a collision of art and politics: how Virilio has influenced the world of art and digital media and how we might find ways to link art back to the political through 'hactivism'. Ricardo Dominguez's work on a detournement of border security and surveillance was of special interest to me.


    One thing that was really wild was a real-time (ha ha) Second-Life interview with the artist Stelarc in Australia. He brought us around a virtual museum of his art work, at one point grew a robotic arm, and flew away at the end. This was followed by a live Skype conversation with DJ Spooky in NY. Fun stuff!


    But the most fascinating experiences for me was the tour of Bunker Wallace, one of several bunkers in the Marin Headlands, by a docent from the Headlands Center for the Arts. This was followed by a bad-ass presentation by the artist John Colle Rogers, of Virilio's photographs on overhead transparencies. He played a soundtrack of noise under the 880 freeway while he played quotes of Virilio on a tape deck. Good old fashioned technology!


    I did my own recording of the space and the first part of John's presentation:

    also, I tested the inside of the blast chamber:

    These are some photos of the bunker. I consider this as a test run of my travel research that will encompass the whole of 2009. I'll be looking at a lot more than bunkers, and so I'm thinking about a method of online representation that will link together the various threads of research having to do with military space.


    The Oozlefinch, mascot of the now nonexistent Coastal Artillery Guard:image

    I do intend to keep this blog while I'm traveling, but probably most of the content will be hosted on a separate site as I will be wanting to integrate maps, sounds, and images into a cohesive experience. And man, I can't wait to plumb the depths of the Maginot Line.

    I will do my best to keep things interesting... feedback and criticism is of course welcome!


    • Wow, sounds like a great conference. I think Ricardo showed you the Cesar Chavez re-enactment that I went to, which was really weird because the people organizing it kept stage-managing the crowd - I'm curious how he presented it in his talk. But I'm especially jealous that you got to go on the tour of Marin Headlands bunkers - I'm from Marin and have been hanging out in those bunkers for over a decade, so it would be really cool to see an official tour of them. Anyway, I hope you do keep up the blog on your travels; it's been a nice read.

      Oct 27, 08 12:30 am  · 

      Oh, also my ex, who's in the Rhetoric dept at Berkeley, says he must have been right behind you for the overhead transparency presentation since he had the exact same view. Small world!

      Oct 27, 08 12:33 am  · 

      hey Scott, that's really funny--it is definitely a small world. I think the Headlands Center for the Arts does tours from time to time.

      Yeah I wasn't that big on the Cesar Chavez re:enactment. Maybe I didn't get it, but it seemed out of context with the whole conference, like a tack-on to the end of what I thought was a great presentation by Ricardo.

      Oct 27, 08 1:22 am  · 

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