Ahmad Makia

Wet Urbanism


ISSUE 69 | CARBON | OCT 2016

Come and help The Amphibian Collective continue the liquification of privation! We are looking for a sea captain and research vessel to explore extraterrestriality at sea. During the voyage, the collective will investigate the following questions:

1 - Who is a Blue Human?

The collective will imagine humans and geographies as aquatic and circulatory life-forms. We believe there is an urgent need to develop creative and rigorous thinking around contemporary existences that are semi-aquatic and semi-submerged, such as the Mediterranean refugee crisis, art professionals drowning in Venice, neoliberal waterfront development, the insanity of Dubai’s man-made islands, the Panama Papers, the Arctic entering a rapid state of dissolution, Somali piracy, the Pacific trash island vortex, rehabilitations of abandoned port industries into new freezones, and the geopolitical battles over the South China Sea. We believe marine life must become a new space for citizen-driven strategies and the locus of our public education programs so as to advance a marine-literate society.

Our curriculum will critically revisit the Aquatic Ape Theory, as developed by Max Westenhöfer then Alister Hardy and popularized by feminist writer and scientist Elaine Morgan. We believe that since our highlands are sinking into the sea, we must become more aware of our biological and evolutionary history as a coastal and aquatic people rather than accepting the common self-conception of humans as agrarian animals. We, instead, want to know what assertive habitation of waters will look like and how we can begin to imagine the operations of these biogeographies.

2 - Why land?

We see the transition to land-based trade as a critical moment in our cultural imagination when contact ceased to be informed by ‘slower’ journeys through oceans and shifted to immediate and localized transactions within land. This phenomenon was amplified by investments in the railway and automotive industries and the creation of spaces encouraging their mass consumption, where passenger travel is treated as a separate identity than migrations of other materialities and life-forms. Secondly, these land-locked technologies created systems of belonging and identification with territory through fossil fuel extraction economies and semi-automated vehicles. These technologies work to compress both time and space as concepts tied to roots, soil, territory, property and nationality. These media, we believe, continually ossify the sense of malaise we are enduring with the current state of global governance and community ties. We, in turn, would like to ignite a sense of place that is overly wet and not dry.

3 - Leaving the city?

Cities have become extremely malleable to the homogenizing force of capitalism that city insurrection is becoming a globally ubiquitous feature, either as lived experience or mass social paranoia. This especially because access to DIY explosives and detonators is becoming democratized through the forces of global capital. Among the most prominent leftist political responses has been the practice of, or at least desire for, fleeing the ‘urban center’ and moving into an aestheticized rural commune where self-sustenance and preservation is campaigned as revolutionary struggle. Yet, what is terribly naive about this mode of action is that inhabiting a ‘green’ and unassuming hinterland is nowhere to be found because the hinterland itself does not exist; what we consider as the hinterland is only a vast area of exploitation where only GM seeds, multinationals and machines can operate. The hinterland is also the metropolis and is urban too.

Politicians, thinkers, artists, policy makers and writers confuse our cities as places for quality, knowledge and civic integrity, yet the ‘real value’ of the city as a network of target, terror, and surveillance is now, maybe more than ever, rearing most significant aspect. Many today ask: where to go? We believe that the current condition is a terrain crisis and that responsible habitations of oceanic space must become our new frontier.

4 - Diagnosing Landscape Architecture

The politics of the modern global order is no longer about sedentary centers and peripheries; rather, power has shifted to a globalized system of transport infrastructure. It is the route itself rather than the device or destination that is the main representation of power. Even though we use our cities and their monuments as indications of power, telling us where it is distributed and located, yet these indications are misleading, as the dramatic appearance and functions of the city are not but a little glimpse into the political ecology of power. Cities showcase only the superfluous remainder of power. Power is in the highways, air routes and surveillance space, marine and port industry, land grab, international fishing zone; spaces that make the world appear seamless and drifting, and mobile. But, no, these systems are physically built and they are slicing land into many borders that provide access only with strict obedience to an unseen and terminal power. We have an adequate vocabulary for the dynamics of power, but we don't have a good sense of its geography. Modernity on land is a heaving chest, tall of neck, and bewildering, but power and capital is not a building or a suit, or the penitentiary, it is in transport and modes of transport where bits, currencies, data, monies, foods, bodies, drugs are transferred; transit lines. Our imagination for these systems is incredibly shallow as they are visualized as dotted invisible lines that travel over or around earth. Mostly, over water. Yet, these systems take an incredible physical toll on our surfaces, and they are plugged in all around us. In 2006, The Coming Insurrection called for the rupture of railway tracks and in 2016 Brussels Airport was bombed, so what the violent revolutionaries of today are saying is that it is not a particular country or ideology that needs to be harmed but an entire globalized infrastructure of movement. The ocean contains the majority of our global pathways and highways, which keep the surface of the ocean as a completely flat transit line for the smooth movement of capital. Thus, we would like to use the circulating research vessel as a surveillance and monitoring hub for some of these water transactions, which remain to be a huge blind spot in our imaginations of power. Surveilling these waterways can provide new linkages in our understanding of how human positioning at sea and on land can create new pathways for the disruption of capitalist endeavors. The ‘hard’ architecture of our complex entanglements as a global society, through a variety of cultural, commercial, and physical exchanges, is the result of a planetary-wide computation vibrating through the seabed. What the Collective believes is that beckoning and existing in the hydroworld is a kind of self-alleviation from the suffocative political geography of contemporary power.

5 - Diagnosing Landscape Architecture II: Do we need more than vehicles?

We believe that vehicles which move and transfer capital, knowledge and power are the actual sites of political contestation, not squares or parliaments. The boat, the ship, the cruise, the vessel, the freight, the airplane, the lorries and trucks carrying most of our exchange and shared economy need to become inhabited for the creation of new intimacies and affinities. These vehicles should not be valued only for their commercial purposes but also as spaces for political possibility. After all, they are the main objects which connect and sustain us, so we must become more protective of those vehicles which we deem necessary for ourselves. Car bombs or airplane hijacking cause fear because they use the structures that keep us moving as instruments of destruction. Occupying the boat is a creative force for knowledge production and thinking because it inhabits structures created only for industrial – or leisure – purposes.

6 - Where to? Port belts

Port belts have, historically, gradually developed as their own infrastructures excused from the governing powers of the continent or nation. These belts exist to serve many paths, movements and circulations, which have become more and more repurposed for capital transfer, in the form of the port-freezone. However, this extensive marine infrastructure contains access points into shared-water terrains that do not mimic territorial inscription of politics on land. We would like to consider marine citizenships that can expand from the already available movements of marine workers as new forms of comradery for circulation and movement. This is the ultimate goal of The Amphibian Collective: to create radical social systems of recognition through waterways. We should visualize the water terrain as spaces for belonging, affinity and solidarity, especially since no legislation and governance about human behavior at sea is critically defined.

7 - Where to? Marine Friendships

Historians now recognize that ship culture in the 18th and 19th centuries was a form of society which developed in complete divergence from the social and religious institutions that existed on land. The physical and psychological limits of the ship as well as its isolation from social attitudes and developments from the ‘land’ characterize marine societies as their own independent, complete institutions. One major elements of this history is the rather ‘perverse’ gender and sexual relations existing aboard ships. Pirate history is filled today with speculations regarding a range of sexual perversities, from sodomy and pedophilia to sexual revolution and suicidal love. The erotic nature of the ship will be imbibed within the socio-political nature of our vessel so as to arrive and perform a range of new sexual identities.

8 - Where to? Aquatic Extraterrestrialism

The Amphibian Collective will publish these inquiries and circulate them at various bays and ports. We believe there is an urgent need for novelty, a long tradition we have cultivated through voyaging at sea. We find that our return to sea is an invitation to explore both extraterrestrialism and the offshore as a radical lived form. Here's to a life aquatic!


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