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Bodies of Logistics

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On Adrian Paci's The Column (2013) focusing on mobile labor and the notion of logistics from Fred Moten and Stefano Harney. Printed in Rijin Sahakian, ed., Shangri La: Imagined Cities, Los Angeles: Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, 2014,
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    J a s o n   W a  i  t e ,   B o  d  i e s  o  f   L o g  i s  i  t  i c s 145144    B o  d  i e s  o  f   L o g  i s  i  t  i c s  J a s o n   W a  i  t e 145144 BODIES OF LOGISTICSJASON WAITE How can we understand the column as endemic to a Western ideology built on smuggled histories? Cleaved from the earth, a block of pale white stone with thick grey veins is thrust into a trans-mutationa l nautical journey. Aboard a rusting Chinese-flagged freighter manned by stonemasons, these bodies are dislocated by the accelerated pace of consumptive needs and desires in late capitalism. The latest large-scale work by artist Adrian Paci,  The Column  (2013) explores the collapsing of production and circulation by documenting the construction of a monolithic column. The film follows the quarrying of a marble block in China to its transport onto a factory-ship that serves as the site of a mobile workshop in transit on the open sea. Based on a story the artist heard of stone factory ships that companies in China were employing to reduce the delivery time for finished carvings, Paci created his “fairy tale” — an odyssey of trans-oceanic labor. The various stages of work are presented in the film, which is usually exhibited adjacent to the horizontal column itself, shown waiting on its side in a state of anticipation of being “used” and always ready to be transported. What is the relationship between the representation of the conditions of labor and the status of the column? Moreover, how can we understand this as an act of migration, yet one that simultaneously contests the economic forces that precipitated its move?Paci is no stranger to bodies in flight. He himself migrated across the Adriatic Sea to Milan due to civil unrest in Albania, his movement coinciding with the rise of post-1989 globalization that has led to a significant flow of bodies and goods across borders. Inflected by an overt transience and a questioning of what the construction of a home could mean, Paci’s oeuvre is pervaded by a critical view of nostalgia. Home to Go  (2001) depicts the body of the artist bearing the weight of a roof that he is tied to; it is a heavy burden but simultaneously acts as a symbolic shelter he can translocate —albeit under much duress. His vulnerable bare flesh is reminiscent of ecclesiastic scenes of martyrdom, yet his poses belie a classical stature, instead exuding a certain awkwardness. He is perpetually contorting himself in the images, similar to the process that accompanies dislocation and adaptation to a new context. Connecting his own experience to the broader experience of migration in his film Centro di Permanenza Temporanea  [Center for Temporary Permanence] (2007), Paci puts forward a vision of migration that questions the process of “arrival” as a final state, seeing it rather as one step in a complicated political and emotional form of movement that, once in motion, inexorably changes the subject and the constitution of what the parameters of “arrival” might be. The title refers to the camps set up on the Italian coast to house the waves of undocumented migrants arriving by boat that began coming after the Schengen Treaty eased travel inside Europe in the mid-1990s, compounded by crises in certain regions of Africa. The film, however, is set on the tarmac at the San Jose International Airport, in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley. Here, a group made up mostly of Latinos, partaking in different histories of economic migration from agriculture to software, walks in a line across the tarmac. They climb a movable  staircase used to board aircraft, only to be left in a limbo reminiscent of Godot. While aircraft take off and land in the background, no plane arrives at the empty parking space for the prospective passengers. The scene evokes a state of being in suspension, a waiting in passage laden with ennui. Here something greater is being asked of transience, not as a temporary moment in between, but rather as a need to accommodate the perpetual state of being in transit while we are displaced by desire and capital. The lone architectural feature adrift on the empty sea in The Column  also grapples with displacement  of people and objects. In the film, the column is heading to an unknown destination, never reaching land, while the column itself, when exhibited adjacent to the film, does show its presence, but as with all artworks, it never really arrives. Art is forever de-moored, passing from port to port not in search of a home but rather as a permanent resident of a state of transience, not only in its physical state — a constant mode of transport from one venue to another or one collection to another — but also in the reading of the work itself. Meanings are roped to artworks for a time until time passes and a new context evolves with a new set of instruments and a different set of concerns. This condition of transience is shared both by people and capital in the era of late capitalism, a period marked not by singular sites, but rather a multiplicity of nodes and exchange. As The Column  proposes in its mobile production process, the transition between these nodes is no longer a boring passage, but now a moment of incessant production. Not only with the physical labor of the masons; passage is also replete with immaterial labor thanks to the ubiquitous access to email, smartphones, even wifi in airplanes — passage is a site of value production. The prophecy during the stage of industrialized capitalism that technology would bring less labor, espoused by the economist John Maynard Keynes and others, has been obliterated by fiber optic light. The unusual scene of work on water that Paci depicts illuminates this conflation between production and circulation. This logic of late    J a s o n   W a  i  t e ,   B o  d  i e s  o  f   L o g  i s  i  t  i c s 147146    B o  d  i e s  o  f   L o g  i s  i  t  i c s  J a s o n   W a  i  t e 147146Notes 1 Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study   (Wivenhoe: Minor Compositions, 2013), p. 872 Ibid ., 913 Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority   (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1979) p. 51 capitalism, defined by the compression of production and circulation, not only aims to make work more efficient — its ultimate goal is to get rid of the worker entirely. The Column  partakes in the field that Fred Moten and Stefano Harney describe as logistics, with its own set of precise desires: For capital the subject has become too cumbersome, too slow, too prone to error, too controlling, to say nothing of too rarified, too specialized a form of life. Yet it is not we who ask this question. This is the automatic, insistent, driving question of the field of logistics. Logistics wants to dispense with the subject altogether. 1   Logistics here is a subject-less framework of the control of flows, a rapidly growing matrix that ensnarls us in a ready-at-hand availability that reduces agency in favor of convenience, and utilizes dense algorithms of support — navigation, work-flow management, object and image recognition — that cumulatively work together to act as a command function over machine and the body to shape a different way of relating. In Paci’s film, the crew of the boat is rarely seen, as if the boat is on autopilot. One shot during the day shows a crew-member sleeping on the deck, floating along in a state of passive unconsciousness. Moten and Harney describe “logistical populations” that “will be created to do without thinking, to feel without emotion, to move without friction, to adapt without question, to translate without pause, to connect without interruption.” 2  Paci seems to sense the oneiric capacity of logistics as a form of perpetual motion where one is just along for the ride and the direction is known only by the navigation system. However, within this de-subjectification, Paci counterposes the labor of stonework as embodied activities that form their own affective relations not despite work but in the process of labor itself: a relation based on a common material knowledge and physical exertion that extends into a deeper affinity. Shrouded in the concentration of labor and enveloped in techne, the stone carvers express a certain symbiosis with their object, corpus and stone, impressed and etched by each other as they traverse the sea. The workers’ faces are unflinchingly  focused, seemingly impervious to the clouds of dust chiseled from the rock that blanket their impassive expressions. While there is a certain anesthetization of the process there is also a casualness in the workers that belies romanticism. In the work, largely void of language, the affective exchange that takes place with the viewer relies on the response to the appearance of the workers themselves. This understanding is fostered by the face-to-face encounter posited by the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, which centers on the role of the expression embedded in the visage which “breaks through all the envelopings and generalities of Being to spread out in its ‘form’ the totality of its ‘content,’ finally abolishing the distinction between form and content.” 3  The absence of language does not exclude an intimate form of communication that, as Levinas describes, is both specific and direct. Despite the hard work, which it clearly is, the struggle and satisfaction that are bound up with a common labor are visible. Paci shows a resistance against de-subjectification stemming from the collapse of logistics and production. The shared affinity of the workers in the open sea unfolds a dynamic of mutual aid and reliance, tethered to one another and the stained hull, only a thin barrier between them and the ocean floor. Here the political dimension of being together in a precarious state of transience — form — and its affective dimensions — content — are shown intertwined without distinction, putting forward a proposition in the film for a poesis of being that transcends the difficult conditions. The union of “form and content” can also be found in the archetype of the column itself, an apparatus whose aesthetics is integral to its function. In this instance, however, the column is not erected and never bears the weight of a building, but is forever left horizontal in a state of transit between capacity and action — a position of confluence that mirrors its own history. While the column is ostensibly deployed here with its Corinthian capital as a symbol of the “West,” the form itself actually undoes the homogenous notion of an Occidental culture. Developed by Mesopotamian cultures and popularized in Egyptian architecture, the column as a form was later taken into the Greco-Roman tradition, and its symbolic use stems from this usurpation. What emerges in The Column  is a confluence of histories, culture, and labor that subverts the presumptions of the materials and the work, exposing the affective dimension of the de-subjectified logistical network through an importation of artistic production. This precarious state of transit and production, a collapse of spaces endemic in late capitalism, might be isolated but nonetheless has its own form of being-together and mutual aid. Paci both revels in and contests this emerging space, putting forth a complex vision of the overlapping realms of production and circulation that results in a disclosure of what it means to work and live together, no matter what the conditions are. The column itself is not a monument but rather an itinerant migrant, shaped by the process of transit — a fugitive for a common future.
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