Creatures of Habit, Breathing
06.29.2020 – 07.29.2020
Creatures of Habit, Breathing
06.29.2020 – 07.29.2020
This work is part of Creatures Of Habit, a long-term research project that explores the complex system of power dynamics that affect the relation between bodies, space, and environment.
This research examines the most basic human functions such as breathing, sleeping, and eating: although vital and shared by (almost) all living creatures, these activities are conditioned by social and cultural superstructures and technological infrastructures that have modified their evolutionary patterns.
Habits are here conceived as bodily practices that are radically connected to political dynamics such as class inequalities, gender issues, colonialism, anthropocentrism, and bio-politics.
Within these relations, architecture and design play a controversial and at times ambiguous role. On the one hand, being practices of artistic creation, they widen the gaze towards possibilities of an alternative life. On the other, being techniques, they function as tools of social control and bodily normalization.
Through catastrophes, the space of human habitat renews itself, responds to medical emergencies, fixes social dislocations. Then it crystallizes and becomes the norm, the dominant model.
Breathing is the essential practice of being in the world, and thus also of dwelling.
Breathing is an involuntary action, yet – from the point of view of ecology – a complex one, for the system of relations and balances it generates.
Breathing is also a lens that allow us to critically observe the contemporary situation of dwelling, which is suspended between health (of the individual bodies and of the mass) and the control of the bodies in the space.
The latest global development in which our lives are inevitably immersed are a fundamental food for thought. The virus affects the possibility to breath. Post-colonial racism is also metaphorically suffocating (I can’t breathe). The pollution of victimized lands has both effects.
Our need to breathe, however, is an essential factor that has shaped the space and time of urban routines.
The video tackles the theme of breathing in three sections.
Do you know how or where they’ve been producing your clean energy?
Do you know where they extract lithium for batteries?
Do you know where the vegetables in your poké come from?
Decentralized production is the latest form of colonialism. It is perverse for western people to wonder why Asian cities are so polluted.
“It is hard to breathe in many places – in some places more than others, for some bodies more than others.” (Timothy Choy)
When did breathing safely – or breathing at all – become a privilege?
Urban life is based on the intersectionality of species.
Insecticides subtly penetrate the body. Insects are more porous than us. They inhale and exhale with their whole body.
Pesticides are processes of purification from any living entity classified as an inconvenient agent, a plague. Legitimate interspecies genocides.
The impossibility of breathing is territorial, it alters the breathable atmosphere.
When affected by pathologies and physical oppression, the breathing of the colonized is occupied.
“We can no longer allow others to turn our mucous membranes, our skin, all our sensitive areas into occupied territory – territory controlled and regimented by others, to which we are forbidden access.” (Félix Guattari)
We always live in a post-disaster condition. Life is what happens between the last and the next disaster. The reason we exist – and breathe – is an event known as the Oxygen Holocaust, that started 2.4 billion years ago and is ongoing. Before it, creatures weren’t based on oxygen. Oxygen was a waste product. Cyanobacteria produced too much of it and caused a mass extinction by rendering life impossible for themselves. From then on, some bacteria evolved to live inside bigger breathing life forms. What we call anthropocene is nothing but a grain of sand inside a bigger catastrophe that gave birth to complex organisms – with eyes, sphincters and lungs. Laid flat, human lungs would cover about 80 to 100 square meters – the size of an average residential unit in Europe. The living space for a traditional nuclear family. Mom, dad, child, small dog. Standard apartments are a modern technology. At one point in human history, architecture started to be thought of as a medical device. A sanatorium for everyday life. “Tuberculosis helped make modern architecture modern” (Beatriz Colomina). Architecture evolves through emergencies, and the emergency is always about bodies. Individual bodies, medical bodies, ill and sanitized bodies, collective bodies, racialized bodies, migrant bodies. Civilization has always been an immunological effort. An act of self-insulation by determining volumes of space disconnected from the surrounding air. Air conditioning is the ultimate form of domestication, the domestication of climate. The construction of interior weather is the cosmological project of a planetary greenhouse. It is a process of territorialisation to control and predict the behavior and growth of bodies.
The Henneguya salminicola is an animal that doesn’t have to breathe. It has lost the genes to do it. In order to survive, it evolved backwards. Can humans live somewhere with no air?
Living in the air always meant being immersed in the world. But air is no longer natural matter. It is a matter of concern. We all experience this feeling of chronic distress. A sense of powerlessness or lack of control. A new abnormality.
Dust is in the air. Mineral particles floating and settling. Sometimes you can see it, sometimes you can’t. We have technologies for it, with sensors made of silicon providing data visualized on screens that are, in turn, made out of sand.
“Mineral is something of our bodies. We breathe minerals, we breathe dust, we breathe sand.” (Giuseppe Penone)
Architecture is mineral too. It’s inorganic matter that affects organic life. Sand and particles and oil – combined together to form a shell.
What if architecture were alive? What would it tell us?
Would steel beams recount the lives of workers breathing in non-filtered emissions?
Would concrete tell us something of the sand’s illegal and terrifying ocean crossing from India to Europe?
Would plastic tubes tell us about their hundred-million-year-long transformation from biological corpses to oil? Would they tell us of their journey through thousand-kilometer long piping to the final extrusion?