14 July 2009

The Katsu Kaishu Peace Museum

A Small Protest

Steve Chodoriwsky

When I asked the composer Nakai if he could recommend an interesting museum in Tokyo, he began to tell me the rumour of one dedicated to a certain Katsu Kaishu. ‘Actually I’ve never been there myself’ he said. He had heard that to visit this private (or was it public?) collection, you would first need to bring an object that somehow deals with its namesake. Your contribution is both the ticket and price of admission. There appeared to be some sort of screening process as well. ‘I think it can be anything’ Nakai said ‘as long as you can prove to the owner how it relates to Kaishu’s life’ (as it turns out Kaishu is a critical figure in late seventeenth century Japan – statesman, naval officer, swordsman, peace advocate and one of Japan’s first international representatives. It was his diplomatic skill that is considered instrumental in Japan’s transition of power from the Tokugawa shogunate to the reinstatement of Imperial rule).

Nakai then put me in touch with the architectural historian Nakatani, who was at first puzzled by my interest. ‘You are making a very personal request’ he told me when we met, ‘the museum is just my father’s house’. I soon learned that the so-called Katsu Kaishu Peace Museum is the ongoing project of an 83-year-old retired mathematics teacher and lifelong Marxist, and an anomaly of a museum in what often feels like an entire city composed of anomalies.

The corner property has three parts: a sturdy but featureless two-storey concrete house (which Naktani’s father himself designed), the remaining portion of a mid-century wooden dwelling and a courtyard garden. As is so often the case in Tokyo the lot is tiny and surrounded by a patchwork of neighbouring buildings. Nakatani and his father led me up to the second floor of the concrete building, where the exhibition occupies but a single room. The flick of a lightswitch revealed four walls covered with carefully hand-drawn maps and black and white photographs, coupled with several anti-violence texts focussing on the life and virtues of Katsu Kaishu and, a bit unpredictably, the thorough decimation of Tokyo during the Second World War. In fact the general site of the house is not without significance. Located in a neighbourhood just north of downtown, it was an area largely destroyed by aircraft bombing and completely rebuilt after the war; Nakatani’s father had at that point moved to, and has lived on, this property ever since.
Nakatani then explained to me his father’s activities. For several years, he has been conducting a slow and meticulous archaeological excavation of his property. Sure enough, in the corner was a small glass display case with the objects unearthed so far, dating ruins of the fire-devastated area, centred around everyday life: fragments of ceramic bowls and saucers, bits of glass or crystal, sake cups, utensils, buttons and jewellery, half bottles and pieces of jars.

Nakatani is at least in part his father’s co-conspirator. He has designed a conveyor belt will which transport the objects up to the second floor to be sorted for display. And he is poetic about the implications, referencing the original wooden house on the property. The earth, he explained, is part of the domain of the ground floor. It is used in traditional dwellings to form the doma, a hard-packed earthen floor mixed with hardening components such as bittern and ash. But here the site’s earth goes through a process of displacement, where its bits and pieces are upended and elevated, examined and exposed.

The garden takes up half the property and is thriving in midsummer with watermelons, grapes, rice and sweet potatoes growing amongst recently-planted saplings, various digging sites and collections of pebbles in the midst of being sorted. ‘My father has a long history of being a protester’ Nakatani explained as we wandered through the small wilderness. By excavating objects from his property and categorising them, it is, in his own peculiar way, a protest against violence – the violence that obliterated this and many other areas of Tokyo, and the violence that Kaishu rejected by never drawing his sword. The yield of fruits and vegetables, off of which Nakatani’s father largely lives, then becomes a next stage of the site’s rehabilitation.

The original concept of admitting only those bearing Kaishu-related paraphernalia has since fallen away, but the museum remains a work in progress and subject to its creator’s curatorial whims. For instance, on the property, the remaining portion of the original post-war wooden house contains fifty years’ worth of collectibles, documents, household objects, and ‘trash’, in a state of perpetual disarray. Unfortunately I was unable to see inside. The future intention, I was told, is to assemble it all into a ‘museum of ordinary life’, which would complement the excavated artifacts found on the property.

A thought occurred while talking to this spry octogenarian that this bizarre little conceptual complex, dedicated to peace, is less the product of an old man’s contempt for lethargy and more a device, in its own personal way, against the act of forgetting. ‘Therefore, doesn’t it succeed as a museum?’ I asked Nakatani upon leaving. Ever the patient observer of his father’s escapades, the architectural historian shrugged, musing ‘Maybe, at the age of 83, the difference between useful everyday things, trash things, and art things is really not so much’.

Chodoriwsky, Steven. 'A Small Protest' On Site review, no. 20 Winter 2008
©Steven Chodoriwisky and On Site review

10 July 2009

At the Titan Missile Site

rehearsing the end


Joseph Masco

‘We don’t strike first; we strike fast’ says our guide, a former cold war Titan missile commander now taking us through a simulated launch of a thermonuclear missile. We are standing in the control room of a Titan II missile silo, 30 miles south of Tucson, in Sahuarita, Arizona. We are buried deep underground, facing a wall of lime green computer terminals that look much too archaic and quaint to produce any real degree of violence. We play out the authorising of failsafe launch codes, the countdown and launch sequences, and imaginary nuclear war – an act that happens daily in this room just as it did for the two decades of the Cold War (1962-1982) in which this Titan silo was a central part of the US nuclear deterrent. Now presented to us as ‘history’, the nuclear war logics that support mutual assured destruction and the necessity of the Titan missile system are visible today only as relics, seemingly disconnected from the nuclear militarism of the contemporary United States.

The Titan Missile Museum is the only place in the world where you can see an intercontinental missile system on public display, joining a number of new US history museums devoted to the cold war security state. It stands as both a museum and an archive of cold war technology, presenting an all too rare chance to walk through the infrastructure of the nuclear ‘balance of terror’ and interact with the former Titan missileers that now staff the museum. A museum visit consists of viewing a small display of artefacts and cold war history, a film presentation which gives background on the Titan system (hosted by Chuck, a pony-tailed narrator who looks more like a forest ranger than a cold war veteran) and in my case, a tour of the missile silo by a former Titan commander. The Titan Missile was part of a global system for nuclear war, linking the US and the USSR in a shared technological apocalypticism. We learn, for example, that the Titan Missile bases were located as close to the US - Mexican border as possible to maximise the time for radar to pick up Soviet missiles coming over the north pole, giving the missile crews time to launch their retaliatory strikes.

The Titan Missile itself is over 100 feet tall and protected by eight-foot thick steel blast doors hardened against nuclear attack. The entire facility sits on giant springs to absorb the impact of nearby nuclear detonations; even the electrical and plumbing systems were designed with enough slack to allow 18-inches of bounce.

Massive silo doors (now bolted open to allow satellite reconnaissance of the decommissioned missile) are the only visible aspect of the silo from ground level. However, an above ground museum site is now populated with outdoor displays of the multiply-redundant communication and security systems, plus an exhibit on rocket engines and fuel management systems. [overleaf, top] Much of the tour however is spent underground rehearsing the security of the site (working through multiple code words, safes, telephone checkpoints and procedures for crews entering the facility and various failsafe mechanisms for preventing infiltration or an unintentional launch) and playing nuclear war.

We learn early on that crew members carried a pistol at all times while on duty, marked as necessary for site security but also to ensure that a reluctant crewman ‘did his job properly in case of a launch order’. They needn’t have bothered with this implied threat. The crew was pre-selected and trained precisely for their ability to launch a thermonuclear missile on command. Our guide tells us, for example, about daily life in the missile silo – the four person teams (two on duty, two off) that would work 24 hour shifts, and spend each minute on alert checking and double-checking the equipment. This constant rehearsal of maintenance and launch sequences served also to make the crews robotic in action and thought regarding the facility.

Our guide states repeatedly that the US would never launch first – even though Air Force policy suggested otherwise throughout much of the Cold War – underscoring the strange moral authority required to be a cog in a larger nuclear war system. The one-shot Titan missile was, of course, pre-targeted by military planners. The silo crew (which rotated shifts between multiple silos) never knew where any of the missiles they controlled would land: their job was simply to maintain the facility and to push the launch button without hesitation on order of the President. Crew members simply knew that ‘58 seconds after the launch keys are turned the engines will ignite’ and ‘thirty minutes later a target on the other side of the planet will be destroyed’ — where, when and why was someone else’s responsibility.

Today the technology looks so archaic as to be incapable of being truly violent. The computer controlling missile guidance – ‘state-of-the-art 1963 technology’ we are told – has a total of 1 kilobyte of memory. ‘That 1K is less than the ring tone on your phone’, says our guide in the best laugh line of the tour. But consider what this 1K system could unleash: lifting off via a two-stage liquid fuel rocket, the Titan II ballistic missile could reach near space orbit and then send its heavy payload, in this case a 9-megaton thermonuclear warhead, back to earth with enough precision to destroy an entire city. Withstanding radical acceleration and vibration as well as extremes of heat and cold, the Titan missile system was designed to launch within sixty seconds and deliver absolute destruction from over the horizon to anywhere on the planet in under 30 minutes. Never has the potential for mass death been rendered as automated, anonymous or immediate as in the Titan system.

The Titan II missile system was a central part of the technological and psychological infrastructure of the nuclear age. Built in terrified reaction to the Soviet launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite in 1957, the Titan missile was a response to the perceptions of a ‘missile gap’. Top-secret reports at the time imagined a Soviet Union deploying hundreds and soon thousands of intercontinental ballistic missiles. John Kennedy was elected President in 1960 in part to solve this so-called missile gap through a massive arms build up. Soon after his election the new top secret Corona reconnaissance satellite provided proof that the Soviets had deployed less than 10 missiles, not the hundreds imagined by US planners. The phantom Soviet missiles of the 1950s that produced the Titan Missile complex were very much like the phantom Iraqi WMDs in 2003 that ‘enabled’ the invasion of Iraq. As fantasy they say much about the power of fear and militarism in American culture. At the Titan Missile Museum there are only hints of this history and its over-determined form, for example, in the exhibit on nuclear overkill. Overkill is a theory of nuclear targetting that accounts for imagined future failures in the system by exponentially multiplying the number of nuclear weapons used. In its ultimate form, this produced a US nuclear arsenal of over 36,000 weapons by 1968 and a target list designed to enable a simultaneous global nuclear strike on all communist states. It is difficult today, despite all our current rhetoric of terror, to imagine the social conditions capable of producing a technological system of such total destruction or a national culture that could accommodate the apocalypse so completely within everyday life that it was soon rendered all but invisible.

The Titan Missile Museum is today largely devoted to veterans, who make up the vast majority of visitors. It is run by veterans, caters to military tourism and is designed to enable Cold Warriors to have a public site of recognition and remembrance for their service. However, this call to memory is complicated, supported as much by amnesia and repression as by recognition and commemoration. This is because the national security state fundamentally relies on, and strives to produce, an absence of public memory. The ability to shift public fear from one ‘enemy’ to the next relies on a combination of perception management and state secrecy enabling, in the case of the U S, the constant roll-out of new threats and new technologies to meet them. Just as declassification can change our understanding of past national security policy and conflicts, public memory is always at odds with a national security apparatus that relies on such a highly flexible approach to the production and management of danger.

Put differently, the fears supporting the Cold War ‘balance of terror’ can morph into the ‘war on terror’ today not because it makes any real sense but because the images of threat can be presented to American citizens as both coherent and eternal. Efforts to unpack the detailed history of the Cold War, or to address the specific claims of current counter-terrorism, inevitably challenge the rationale of the national security state. For this very reason, the public history museums and archives that address aspects of American security are both essential and highly politicised. Thus, when Chuck, the narrator of the Titan Missile Museum film, tells us that ‘peace is never fully won, it is only kept from moment to moment’ and then thanks the Titan missile crews for a ‘job well done’, he merely underscores survival. However, walking through the technological infrastructure of a cold war nuclear complex also forces us to think about the constant nuclear war rehearsal that took place in Titan Missile silos (and in other places, then and now) and to consider the production, not only of a nuclear deterrent, but also of a highly militarised, nuclear culture. Cold war ‘defence’ produced a minute-to-minute ability to destroy human civilisation and a militarised national culture that continues to naturalise such a possibility as simply an aspect of the world system. The Titan Missile Silo Museum provides access to the origins of this project while occluding the continuing power of these ideas in the US by presenting them as archaic technology.

The ultimate question provoked by the Titan Missile Museum is, then, what would it take to imagine, let alone engineer, a world that does not rely on such mechanised terrors and a society that will not naturalise such apocalyptic potentials?

Masco, Joseph. 'Rehearsing the End' On Site review, no. 20 Winter 2008
©Joseph Masco and On Site review

03 July 2009

Samarkand

travelling the silk road, archiving empires


Gerald Forseth

Samarkand, Uzbekistan has a growing population over 425,000 of which 50% are 15 years or younger. The city is divided neatly in two: east (old) Samarkand, and west (new) Samarkand, each with a distinct spatiality.

East or Old Samarkand
Old Samarkand is an Asian town near the mid-point of the ancient Silk Road with tangled alleys on hills and valleys, tightly constructed spaces, hidden courtyards and beautiful, contemplative and reflective public places. The oldest buildings and squares remain important places of pilgrimage and visitation, and close to each other. Walking is easy and pleasurable. The main axis is Tashkent Kuchesi between the sumptuous, historic Registan Madrassah and Maydoni [public square] and the central bazaar – a frenetic and colourful display of shawls, embroidered dresses, traditional coats, western jeans, turbans and hats of every nationality and every era. The west boundary of old Samarkand is Koksarai, a modern Russian-built maydoni on a visible old/new division line running north and south.

West or New Samarkand
In Central Asia, the Russian imperialists of the late nineteenth century built beside existing towns, leaving the old intact, liveable and protected. In west Samarkand shady European avenues radiate from the Koksarai Maydoni, the modern heart of the city and province, and adjacent to the old heart, the Registan madrassah complex. Russian empire planning contributed underground sanitary services, broad boulevards, tree-lined streets, large plazas, immense parks and gardens, gigantic fountains and monumental sculpture. Beaux-art fa├žades were built of local beige brick and stone, continuous and long on the street, with grand doorways, sculpted jambs and headers, and lofty interior rooms. Soviet planning, particularly in the 1950s, installed Corbusian planning theory: isolated, tall, concrete buildings within large green parks surrounded by wide streets specifically scaled for fast-moving automobiles. This planning has led to a continuous, sprawling footprint. Covering west Samarkand on foot requires much traversal of heroic concrete plazas, green parks and long distances. Using public transit is necessary, now handled by thousands of small Daiwoo vans.

Samarkand Through History
Samarkand (known as Marakanda to the Greeks) was founded in the fifth century BC. It is one of Central Asia’s oldest settlements, located on the edge of the Khryzlkhum desert east of the Caspian Sea, nestled into the foothills of the Tian Shen and Fan Mountains, and situated north of the great Hindu Kush and Pamir mountain ranges. In 329 BC Alexander the Great from Macedonia conquered central Asia and married pretty Roxanna from Samarkand.
At the crossroads of the great Silk Road between China, India, Persia and Italy, Samarkand grew to a city larger than the one we see today. From the sixth to thirteenth centuries it changed hands about every 100 years, occupied by Western Turks, Arabs, Persian Samanids, Karakhamids, Sejug Turks, Mongolian Karakitay and Khorizmshaw. Amir Timur, born near Samarkand, a powerful tyrant and a grand patron of literature and the arts made it the capital of the Tamarlane empire by 1370. Timur and his grandson Uleg Beg (1400-1447) forged Samarkand into a new, magical, economic, cultural and intellectual epicentre with extraordinary fortress walls and gateways, mosques, madrassahs, minarets, mausoleums, palaces, bazaars, caravansaries (traveller’s inns) and an astronomical observatory.
In 1868 the army of the Tsars of Russia arrived, constructing the Trans-Caspian Railway in 1888 as a fast link to Moscow. In 1924 Samarakand was declared, briefly, the capital of New Uzbekistan Soviet Socialist Republic, but in 1930 lost that honour to Tashkent.

Samarkand Today
Samarkand is an archive of its imperial pasts. There are archaeological sites with exposed parts of the original Arks [fortress walls] destroyed by Alexander the Great in 329BC, by Atilla the Hun in the fourth century AD, by Ghengis Khan and his Mongol horde in 1220 and by his grandson Kublai Khan in 1250. There are historic and sumptuous UNESCO-protected buildings (Zoroastrian and, after the seventh century, Islamic) commissioned by, for example, the Samini tribe (ninth century), by Amir Timur, the greatest builder in Samarkand (1369-1408), by Uleg Beg, ruler, scholar, mathematician and astronomer (1410-1450) and by the feuding Khanates from Kokhand, Bukhara and Khiva of the 1800s. There are the adjacent broad streets, immense plazas and monumental buildings parachuted into Samarkand by the Russian empire (1873-1917). There are immense and brutal concrete apartments, offices and bureaus constructed under Lenin, Stalin, Khruschev and later Soviet presidents (1917-1993). Finally there are contemporary steel /glass hotels and offices to accommodate global tourism and multi-national petroleum companies, and replacement public sculpture dedicated to the pre-Russian past representing post-Soviet unfettered capitalism and heroic nationalism (1993 – now).
By 100BC the Silk Road, linking Europe to Asia, was pretty much established. Cultural conversions and conversations moved quickly along that road – around the same time the Chinese Kushan dynasty converted to Buddhism. The peoples of the Silk Road worshipped a mix of Greek, Roman, Buddhist, Iranian and Hindu deities; this mix continues – in Samarkand today some people live as they might have the fifteenth century. Others sport iPods, buy Guess-designer clothing and drink mocha lattes. Samarkand exhibits the great mix of Europe and Asia, past and present. It also impressively presents people and places that profoundly and proudly showcase European and Asian linguistic, music, fashion and food distinctions. All this contrast can be easily and precisely observed at the boundary that separates extant old Samarkand from new Samarkand.

Forseth, Gerald. 'Samarkand' On Site review, no. 20 Winter 2008
©Gerald Forseth and On Site review