Days 1 and 2

It’s too much to explain what it is like to arrive at the Oloffson and to be plunged into the energies of the Ghetto Biennale. Suffice to say that it is a medium.

It turns out that the Tap tap I’ve commissioned to be painted has already been half done and that there seems to be some confusion as to whether the owner – Evel – will allow the rest of his truck to be painted, and whether the $100 US I sent to pay for the job will be recuperable from the guy Michel who painted the other parts of the truck.

I meet with Evel and Chevy from Atis Rezistans and some sort of deal is struck about making a painting on the bonnet of his truck on plastic so that it can be taken off after the biennale. That’s agreed. Now it’s a question of finding the painter and working out the cost.

After dinner I meet with a guy who says he can do the job. But we will have to speak to Michel first. I’m not sure how this is going to work out exactly or whether any definitive agreement was reached because I’m working in incredibly bad, broken French with bits of English thrown in. I’m never sure exactly what I’m saying or if it’s being understood. There’s also a lot of discussion and debate moving in Kreyol between the different interests to which I’m not party. I’m re-assured something will be sorted.

The next day I spend some time walking around the neighborhood with Jana Evans Braziel, who is writing a book about Atis Rezistans and the Ghetto Biennale. I take the opportunity to take some photos of signs in the area.

I notice that several of the signs have business names and contacts written on them, suggesting that they are made by free-lance painters. I had assumed that their might be some kind of guild system working, at least with the tap tap painters, but I’m starting to think that sign painting in Haiti is a much more individual and entrepreneurial venture pursued by any one with a feel for it.

That certainly seems to be the case when I start to negotiate with both of the sign painters, who turn out to be friends, down at Grand Rue, the site of the biennale.

Michel and Joseph on the Grand Rue

After some negotiations with Evel, Eugene, Michel and his friend we agree on a price for the new work which will be painted on a canvas which will be attached to the bonnet of the truck: $200 US, $100 each, the first today, the second on completion of the job in two days time. We shake on the deal. I will be at the rue tomorrow at 8 to start the filming. I go back to Eugene’s yard, take a few more photos of the biennale space as the light fades, then head off back to Oloffson on Evel’s truck.

Romel and Racine at Eugene’s place

Shooting Diary

The Entrance to the Oloffson Hotel

I’ve decided to keep a shooting diary for the Tap-tap Painters Project I’m working on while here in Port-au-Prince. This will not be a well-formulated and carefully considered thing but something I’ll be doing first thing each morning, head and energy willing. It may not have anything to do with the painting either. Let’s see.

Comfort Inn, JFK – 10th Dec 2011

I awake from a dream after having met the first delegation from the Ghetto Biennale on a house-boat I was living on precariously with my flatmate Kelda.

Leah introduced the group. We began to talk about what we were thinking of doing for the Biennale. The conversation moved along associational relationships between ideas and words. One such association – I think it was ‘mint’ – led to my proposing to do some research about the Haitian central bank and the minting and printing of Gourdes. One of the women in the group said that she had access to the National Mint but was reluctant to support a project around it as it could be seen as a colonialist gesture. I asked her how so? She said that Haiti’s international reputation was very much associated with its economic history and negative stereotypes about the mismanagement of its economy. I suggested that, on the contrary, by making work which looked at the practical economic and fiscal ‘realities’ of Haiti I was approaching the Haiti like any other nation currently operating within a global financial economic context. The conversation moved on.

I found myself in a low wood by the edge of the water. It’s not clear what I’m looking for but it has something to do with the ‘project’. I find a pile of used-waste DVD packages (reminiscent of the ‘Dirty Material‘ we found at La Moleya dump in 2009).

I think they may have some significance-value and start to see what they are. Nothing of much immediate meaning. I then become aware that I am in visible distance from a road along which people are walking and become very conscious of what people might think about me rummaging around in this wood, or indeed, what other people might have been doing in here before. At the same time I notice that there are multiple copies of one video, a recognition that brings a sinister affect. It is a video with the image of three Latin-American brother cowboys on the cover in white shirts and black Stetsons, a third-rate Mexican action-romance-music movie with resonances of Los Tigres del Norte and Antonio Banderas. I don’t see any title.

On the runaway at JFK airport I am thinking about some of the ideas expressed in the early essays about Kant in Nick Land’s Fanged Noumena. I notice that the drones of the plane’s engines, mixed with the cascade of voices from inside the cabin have a hypnotic and deeply reassuring affect. There is a momentary and trance-inducing choreography of machines on the runway that resonates in accord with the event of a female sparrow eating crumbs and drinking from the fountains in the airport terminal just before we departed. There are frequencies and tones that come from machinic outside, that are purely haphazard, formally, but still have the effect, in combination, of calming the ‘wild/blue beast’ (see Nick’s ‘Narcissism and dispersion in Heidegger’s Trakl Interpretation’). The material world generates healing as well as violently maddening frequencies. Nick quotes Hegel:

‘One can admire the stars because of their tranquility: but they are not of equal dignity to the concrete individual. The filling of space breaks out [ausschlägt] into endless kinds of matter; but that [i.e. the casting of the stars] is only the first outbreak [Ausschlagen] that can delight the eye. This outbreak is no more worthy of wonder than that of a rash in man, or than a swarm of flies’.

I am also reading Sybille Fischer’s Modernity Disavowed: Haiti and the Cultures of Slavery in the Age of Revolution. This book and Nick’s seems to be conspiring -along with David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5000 Years (which I left in London) – in a paranoiac critical convergence of thematics. I could barely get through a paragraph of the former without the interconnections amassing and overwhelming the read. In Note 2 of her introduction – ‘Truncations of Modernity – “The Fate of Striking Events”’ – with reference to the New World’s apparent ‘limitless hunger for slaves’, Fisher refers to the same text as Graeber in Debt: Orlando Patterson’s Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study (1982) in which he defines slavery as “the permanent, violent domination of natally alienated and generally dishonoured persons”. (Graeber develops the theme of ‘Honour and Degradation’ in relation to debt in Chapter 7 of his book). Fisher proposes two models of slavery which have been proposed in the literature on the subject: ‘Slavery as Domination’ and ‘Slavery as Exploitation’. I recall on my last visit to Haiti the unspoken significance of de Sade for the discussions of slavery in Haiti and Nick’s reminder that power is exercised not simply or primarily in the interests of profit.

This resonates immediately with the opening paragraphs of the first essay in the collection –  ‘Kant, Capital and the Prohibition of Incest’ – which in turn evokes the thought of Immanuel Wallerstein’s world systems theory as I remember it, that welfare state democracy was established to ameliorate the risk of revolution ‘at home’ while exporting the full violence of raw capitalist exploitation to the colonies and to that the British abolitionist movement was simultaneously a strategy for disciplining the British labour force.

‘The policy [of apartheid] seeks to recast the currently existing exteriority of the black population in its relation to the society that utilizes its labour into a system of geographical relations modeled on national sovereignty. The direct disenfranchisement of the subject peoples would then be re-expressed within the dominant international code of ethno-geographical (national autonomy)’.

Nick’s understanding of revolutionary insurgency as an ecstatic ‘complicity with anonymous materials’ (to use Reza Negrastani’s formulation of the same general idea) must surely have relevance too in terms of Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker’s The Many-Headed Hydra; Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of Revolutionary Atlantic, a core resource for Fischer’s thesis of an unfinished and sub-altern – un-known (in Nick’s terms) –  revolutionary history that could (have) taken the dominant discourse of historical modernity in another  direction.

‘In response to the [Haitian] revolution [by the settlers of European descent] a cordon sanitaire was drawn around the island to interrupt the flow of information and people’.

There is a correlation here between the primary Foucauldian thesis of the ‘great confinement’ and ‘the plague city’ in Madness and Civilization/Discipline and Punish and Nick’s account of Heidegger’s retreat from the full scabrous and virulent implications of Trakl’s Ausschlag (‘outbreak’, ‘blossom’, ‘waive’ and ‘beat out’) and Aufruhr (‘turmoil’, ‘revolt’).

In an amazing passage from one of the first histories of Haiti in the English language – Captain Marcus Rainford’s A Historical Account of the Black Empire of Haiti (1805)- which Fischer uses to exemplify an early example of the ‘Haiti-as-exception’ thesis and quotes in full –  the last lines leapt out:

‘The same period [the age of revolution] has witnessed a great and polished nation, not merely returning to barbarism of the earliest periods, but descending to the character of assassins and executioners; and, removing the boundaries which civilization had prescribed even to war, rendering it a wild conflict of brutes and a midnight massacre

As the plane leaves the ground I’m thinking of Nick’s writing, his philosophy of the cosmic howl of virulent materialism and planetary trauma. I see two ovular holes in the alostratus clouds, which become the eyes of a skull, with the sun directly between them, a celestial pareiedolic neotony of death and I am reminded of the benign version of this same psychological mechanism.

Global Data Map of Zombies

A group of researchers from the Oxford Internet Institute have recently mapped the global distribution of content on Google Maps containing the word ‘Zombie’. Interestingly the word does not occur in Haiti. The closest place is Puerto Rico, with the lowest level incidence of references. The zombie search epicenters seem to be in the metropolitan areas of the US and Western Europe. A full resolution image of the map can be found here: Mapping zombies.

Although this zombie map is most explicitly relevant for Zonbi Diaspora (the name of which was changed recently from ‘Zombie’ to ‘Zonbi’ for reasons I will explain later), some of the other maps on the ‘Visualizing Data’ site have more implicit value in terms of the Ghetto Biennale and the work of Tele Geto. The visualization of the user-generated ‘georeferenced’ content on the internet shows the dominance of material from the USA and Canada and the relatively small amount generated in Latin American and the Caribbean. The Internet Penetration, Literacy and Gender and Location of Academic Knowledge visualizations gives us a background story. What they indicate is a clear information-knowledge imbalance which is amplified by the internet.

An underlying assumption of Zonbi Diaspora is that the migration of the zonbi/zombie figure from pre-slavery West Africa to contemporary zombie films followed paths which coincided with the evolution of communications media. The transition from a folkloric Haitian legend to a ghoulish horror figure coincided with the convergence of exotic western travel literature, sensationalist newspaper reporting and early cinema. This is not the whole story. But the informational-mediatic dimension of the story is fundamental here.

I contacted Mark Graham, one of the creators of the map and asked him why he had chosen to plot the word ‘zombie’? What was the background for this choice?

‘I guess just a small obsession with zombies that I have. Together with Matt Zook and Taylor Shelton, I’ve also co-authored a chapter on zombies that should be out in a book called ‘Zombies in the Academy’ next year’.

Haiti: Hope among the rubble/ Belle Williams on the Ghetto Biennale

Belle Williams speaks about the Ghetto Biennale

Here is a great short film featuring Belle Williams from the Grand Rue Atis-Resiztans community talking about the Ghetto Biennale and how the community is responding the the crisis.

And here is a very good program on Haiti after the earthquake from Al Jazeera which shows Haitian government workers telling reporters that it is important that they should lead the repair and reconstruction work of Haiti rather than foreigners, a message which we need to support. The program has interviews with Haitian government representatives explaining how they have been handling the disaster and even an interview with Réne Préval, the Haitian president, being questioned about the perceived US occupation of the island. Such reporting has been sadly very rare in our mainstream media.

The program also includes an interview with Haitian businessman Fritz Mevs who is allowing US troops to use his family’s private pier and land on his 2 1/2 million square foot ‘industrial park’ to land helicopters and transfer wounded people to USS Comfort hospital ship. He puts forward a rather unconvincing argument about how private business interests should lead the re-construction of Haiti. “What we need to do”, he says “is not to punish the rich for being rich but to educate the poor to have the means to become rich”.

More problematic are the images of Haitain’s blocking government officials trying to collect aid, suspicious that they are doing so for themselves. In response they chant for the “USA, USA!”. This footage was shot six days after the earthquake when there was still hope that the US military might be better at delivering the much needed aid than the Haitian government which is generally considered to corrupt to do so.

Please pass the link to the video on.