a novelty choking hazard

Simon Norfolk – channeling Virilio?

The supercomputer at the Wellcome Trust's Sangar Institute, Cambridge, UK.

The supercomputer at the Wellcome Trust’s Sangar Institute, Cambridge, UK.

It’s taken a few days, but I finally found the time to read BLDGBLOG’s substantial interview with the “landscape photographer” Simon Norfolk, who is attempting — with considerable success, I think — to extend the viewer’s understanding of what constitutes a “battlefield”.

All of the work that I’ve been doing over the last five years is about warfare and the way war makes the world we live in. War shapes and designs our society. The landscapes that I look at are created by warfare and conflict…

His comments about his relationship to the art world are especially apposite:

I cannot fucking believe that I go into an art gallery and people want to piss their lives away not talking about what’s going on in the world. Have they not switched on their TV and seen what’s going on out there? They have nothing to say about that? They’d rather look at pictures of their girlfriend’s bottom, or at their top ten favorite arseholes? Switch on the telly and see what’s going on in our world – particularly these last five years. If you’ve got nothing to say about that, then I wonder what the fucking hell you’re doing.

I’m surprised not to see Paul Virilio mentioned in here, though. The themes Norfolk is investigating: how cities are shaped by war, and by preparations for war; cities being to a great extent the creatures of warfare; the requirements of the military being the driving force of technological advancement, notably in the advancement of photographic technique and hardware; the tendency towards disappearance in contemporary warfare, into light-speed telecommunications, satellites and supercomputers; the primacy of speed and logistics; the vital importance of mobility to getting any idea of what is really going on — all of this is straight out of Virilio. See especially: Speed and Politics, Pure War, Popular Defense and Ecological Struggles, War and Cinema. If Norfolk isn’t influenced directly by Virilio (and I don’t see any mention of him on his web site, either, although I haven’t been all over it) then he is recapitulating Virilio’s work to a degree which is downright spooky.

I just found a long essay on Virilio by Jason Adams, Popular Defense in The Empire of Speed, which I have attempted to skim; it looks as if it might be a fair summary of Virilio’s thinking, but I haven’t read it closely; it is marked up in such a hilariously unreadable fashion, close reading is simply impossible. Have a look, you’ll see what I mean.

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