I've been reading this great book about the Stories of Johannesburg's Highrises (of the same title) that is full of documented one-to-one interviews with people who once inhabited or spent time in these once iconic modernist towers. Each tower is documented through both reportage and floor plans and images. This quote really struck a chord with me.
It is from artist's Rodney Place's account of Johannesburg's Station Complex. I feel that the business of our society is very much concerned with the management of the population's social relations - whether it be played out within the built environment &/or the digital arena.
UP UP: Stories of Johannesburg's Highrises is edited by Nele Dechmann, Fabian Jaggi, Katrin Murbach, and Nicola Ruffo with photography by Mpho Mokgadi
originally published October 2015
When I was growing up, living at my parent’s house in a coastal suburb, I remember that the night skies were extremely lucid during summer. We had a large treeless backyard and I'd lay on my back either on the grass or on top of the surface of the warm water of our swimming pool with my ears just below the surface so there was no sound; just the open sky above.
I would summon forward invisible sheets of stars from the black hole gaping in front of me. I'd relax my head so it’d feel like an open crater and just focus on perceiving the distances between the points of light within the sky. I’d try to feel these distances as matter and as I apprehended that this was an image of time stretched out before me, I’d think, what do I want to have happen?
If the instinct to want to create is synonymous with feeling our capacities (and limits) as human beings, then is the instinct to want to materialise something fundamentally connected to the question of “what do I want to possess” - even if it is the transcendence of materiality itself?
Is the potential of what our capacity to possess synonymous to our definition of ourselves and humanity in general? And what do we call into material form that reflects our image of ourselves – on both a personal and collective level?
How does this form the basis of our institutionalised cultural beliefs and pull forward some things to be seen of more value over all other things?
The process of objectification is contingent to what we value our reality should reveal to us. And fundamental to where we think we should place ourselves within this reality based on what we value from it.
The ‘transitional object’ was theorised by psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott to be where we understood a situation through an object. As a possession, something that is mine, it is imbued with meaning and memories associated with ideas, places and people. It has informed us about a set of social relations and norms and helped us identify our stance within a learned relationship model. A child’s teddy bear is a good example. What I possess is with which I have a defining relationship so that object also defines me and to lose this object would have a bearing on the ego.
In Phenomenology of the spirit (1977), Hegel suggests that there essentially is no separation between humanity and materiality. Everything we are and do comes about through the process of objectification – the made form is a mirror image that has come about through the process of creating. In terms of economics, the acquirement of material commodities is the way in which we can extend our human capacity. We define ourselves as consequence of having or lacking commodities whereas to be poor, reflects a critical limit to our abilities. A Marxist way of seeing this is that humanity is viewed as the product of its own capacity to transform the material world in production, in the mirror of which we create ourselves. This creates the connection between production and commodity value.
This would also reveal something that links institutionalised belief systems, whether it be religion or finance where the consequences of people operating according to abstract tenets and somewhat intangible practices have material effects.
Is it that through the process of objectification we ultimately understand ourselves as a set of social relations?
I believe that this act of summoning is about realising an ultimate form that draws connections between elements representative of comprehended information. These elements are substitutive. More so, I feel that this act of drawing some things to the forefront whilst others remain peripheral is cyclical and is an underlying phenomena. I like to think of the immense black gaping hole as my revelation of this action that has been occurring and will continue to occur through the distance that is time.
Hegel, G . 1977 Phenomenology of Spirit, Oxford: Oxford University Press
Etienne, B. 1993. The Philosophy of Marx, La Dècouverte, Repères
Miller D. 1987 Material Culture and Mass Consumption, Oxford: Blackwell
Winnicott, D.W. 1953 Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena; a study of the first not-me possession.,Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 34:89-97
Ideas, interests and projects that are under way