11 November 2010

Highway of Heroes: 65 overpasses on highway 401

arrival in Toronto

Christine Leu

The Highway of Heroes is a stretch of the 401 Highway between Canadian Forces Base Trenton and the coroner’s office at the Centre for Forensic Sciences in downtown Toronto.  It was renamed in honour of Canada’s fallen soldiers.
      Regardless of where a Canadian soldier is stationed, a soldier is repatriated at a ceremony at CFB Trenton, and then transported with a family and military automobile entourage to Toronto for an official autopsy.  The current count of fallen soldiers who have travelled this route is over 130.
      The Highway of Heroes began as a grassroots movement.  In an impromptu manner, people began to congregate on the 65 overpasses between Trenton and Toronto which represent the only safe and accessible opportunity for the public to pay their respects to the country’s fallen:  CFB Trenton is open only to family, military, dignitaries and media; the coroner’s office is also closed to the public.
    Despite the contentious nature of the Afghanistan War, the public ritual gained momentum and there were calls to officially name the route.  The big break was when an online petition was mentioned on morning radio airwaves.  The number of signees was a few thousand, but by 10:30am, the number had risen to over 9000.  A few days later on August 24 2007, the Highway of Heroes was officially designated by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, in the midst of his successful re-election campaign.

Each overpass is different due to variables such as landscape, topography, adjacencies, span and the period in which it was built.  A few are exclusively for trains, but the vast majority is for motor vehicles.  Human occupation was not considered.  It is no wonder as overpasses are inhumane places – they are like standing in a blustery wind tunnel and a howling pit stop at the same time.  On a typical day, overpasses are used almost exclusively by motor vehicles to traverse the great divide that is the 401 Highway.
     Around the time the convoy is expected to pass, however, these overpasses are transformed into impromptu mourning grounds.  The east-facing guardrails overlooking oncoming westbound traffic are lined with locals: civilians, former military, fire, police, ambulance workers and the media.  There is a surprisingly jovial air as people wait – people chat while holding their Tim Horton’s double-doubles; others rig their Canadian flags to the guardrails.  Below, truck drivers honk their horns and drivers and passengers wave the peace sign; people on the overpasses wave in response.
     That air changes to respectful silence as the flashing lights of the motorcade appear on the horizon.  It takes only a few seconds for the police escort, hearse and entourage to pass.  Then the overpass community quickly evaporates until the next soldier’s death.

Leu, Christine.  'Highway of Heroes'  On Site review, no. 22 Fall 2009
©Christine Leu and On Site review

Basic Gestures: tortured positions

Untitled (Abu Ghraib)

Shawn Michelle Smith
Private First Class Lynndie England became the most salient figure in the 2004 US media coverage of the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal.  Few can forget the images of the woman holding the leash, or pointing to men’s genitalia and signalling ‘thumbs up’.  As the Abu Ghraib photographs circulated globally on the World Wide Web, the infamous ‘hooded man’ became the international icon of the anonymous Arab victim, and England, a white female soldier, became the international icon of the American torturer.  In many ways, England became a symbol of the war gone wrong. 

     Many were shocked to discover torture enacted by U.S. soldiers, and many more were shocked to see that torture perpetrated by a young white woman soldier.  England became a symbol of the perversion not only of American democratic ideals and military procedures, but also of an ideal of white American femininity.  If women soldiers have always unsettled ideals of gender norms, women soldiers as torturers did so doubly.  England figured as the negative and inverted image of that other gendered symbol of the war, the heavily scripted hero, Jessica Lynch.

     Now years after the revelation of torture at Abu Ghraib, the legality of American military procedures continues to be debated.  England has served a term in prison, but the orchestrators of the torture policy have not been prosecuted.  Today England figures as both torturer and scapegoat, as one of the few punished for a much more pervasive administrative and military strategy.

     In this triptych I reproduce the now iconic gestures of England, but reduce them to their minimal forms.  In doing so I hope to highlight the fundamental disconnect between these familiar, cocky, even seemingly innocuous expressions, and torture.  Choosing white silhouettes, I hope to evoke the ways in which England, and the acts of torture she has come to represent, continue to haunt American culture.  Ultimately I hope to trouble the disjuncture between ideas about American innocence and righteousness and the illegal provocations the nation has normalised. 

Shawn Michelle Smith is Associate professor of Visual and Critical Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  

Smith, Shawn Michelle.  'Basic Gestures: tortured positions'  On Site review, no. 22 Fall 2009
©Shawn Michelle Smith and On Site review

Dark Tourism: spectacle vs barbarism


Taïka Baillargeon
For about a decade now, newspapers and travel guides have talked about a growing phenomenon called Dark Tourism which is described as ‘the act of travel and visitation to sites, attractions and exhibitions which has real or recreated death, suffering or the seemingly macabre as a main theme’.1 For some countries and particularly cities that experienced war in the last century, such tourism has become one of the most – if not the most – profitable branch of the local economy. For the purpose of tourism, sites are commonly transformed, redesigned, revamped, in order to be more accessible to the public. Malcolm Foley and John Lennon, who came up with the idea of dark tourism in 2000, talk about a ‘fundamental shift in the way which death, disaster and atrocity are being handed by those who offer associated tourism ‘products’’2 While this shift is promoted by politics, economy and media, it is often criticised, or at least questioned, amongst theorists. What is to be questioned here is not tourism itself, but the conversion of places of traumatic history into spectacles.

Some would argue that for most foreigners, going to countries that experienced wars and visiting memorials or remembrance sites seems to put them more directly in contact with a reality they don’t fully comprehend; it informs them. On the other hand, for local communities, the transformations of these places and/or their reconstruction often pushes a re-evaluation of history, forcing them to consider ethical and aesthetic values of space and building, which is necessary in order to go forward. Nevertheless, several theorists who thought about the importance of rebuilding and redesigning as an effort to embody – or simply remember – history, have mentioned their doubts on the commercialisation of theses places. The main problem is that promoting market-driven representations of history encourages reproduction instead of invention, as it keeps one prisoner of his past instead of turning him to his future; it also creates a slowing down of continuity and prevents the making of a new start. For Françoise Choay, the cult of patrimony ‘is justifiable only for a period of time: the time to take your breath in the present’s run; the time to re-insure a destiny and a reflection. Past this point in time, the mirror of patrimony would forfeit us with false conscience, fiction and repetition’.3 In this sense, even though a memory work is necessary, the ethics of it should be carefully handled.
What is to be feared here is that when history becomes a spectacle, the witness becomes a passive spectator. Although the spectacularisation of past events might have some cathartic and educational effects, it also keep the spectator uninvolved: ‘the alienation of the spectator, which reinforces the contemplated objects that result from his own unconscious activity works like this: the more he contemplates, the less he lives’.4  Guy Debord stated that ‘the spectacle is the bad dream of a modern society in chains and ultimately expresses nothing than its wish to sleep’.5   By visiting these places, spaces used and transformed for the purpose of an industry, dark tourists as well as locals might end up avoiding reality – even if unconsciously: we accept a spectacle in order to refuse a reality, to remain still, if not, detached.
While reading Foley and Lennon, I was challenged myself: what makes me want to visit post-war cities?  Although I recognise that by going to these places I want to see and experience history, I think that perhaps Foley and Lennon have left something out. Dark tourism should also be considered as a more profound search for change, movement and creation in a time of global saturation. We might not visit these cities to see the end but the beginning. We might look for what is hidden beyond the spectacle in order to find something new. We are looking for a place where invention and movement is still possible and the destruction of certain cities and buildings doesn’t only provide new spaces for construction, it forces one to innovate and create. We therefore recognise destroyed sites and post-wars zones as purely inspirational. Global saturation pushes us to search for positive barbarism as Walter Benjamin described it in Poverty and Experience: ‘Barbarism? Yes, indeed. We say this in order to introduce a new positive concept of barbarism. For what does poverty of experience do for the barbarian, it forces him to restart from scratch; to make a new start; to make a little go along way; to begin with a little and build further looking neither left nor right’.6   We, the contemporary dark tourists, are not necessarily voyeurs as we might not ‘[yearn] for new experiences’.7   We want to see and practice the making of a new start; we want to take part in the development of new mindsets.  

Belgrade – the wild
Thinking of Benjamin’s barbarism in this context also made me think of the countries that experienced wars in this context of global saturation. I then considered the wars that have occurred since the second half of the twentieth century and, referring to my own experience, I thought most particularly of Belgrade.
     During my few visits in Belgrade, I had a strong impression that everything was possible in the Serbian capital. As most Westerners, I first expected a greyish torn-down city, but then realized that despite its complex politics and critical war-history, the cradle of ex-Yugoslavia is extremely upbeat, lively and dynamic. Although the city was bombed five times during the twentieth century and regardless of the political and economic instability, the city experienced tremendous changes  – most of which were lead by the citizens themselves. In fact, Belgrade is for me a very convincing example of what positive barbarism can look like and bring in terms of cities, architecture and urbanism.

In 2002, Stealthgroup (a group of architects from Yugoslavia and the Netherlands) published an article in which they referred to Belgrade as a wild city.9  They explained that ‘the paradigm of ‘wildness’ emerged through non-planned and scarcely regulated processes. In the urban domain, these processes feature a remarkable degree of innovation and led to possibilities for redefining institutional participation in the creation of urban space. The project shows a city that acts as an incubator of new urban forms’.10  They portrayed Belgrade as a city that continuously redefines itself, presenting and analysing ‘the uncontrolled urban processes that took place in the city of Belgrade during the 1990s’.11 Since 2002, the Stealthgroup has presented many projects concerning urban development in the Balkans, always with the idea that these wild processes were to be considered by other professionals and foreigners as a powerful and creative new approach to architecture and urbanism. The main idea here is to promulgate a positive balkanisation that is very close to what Benjamin called positive barbarianism. The work of the Stealthgroup shows how the experience of war has permitted new mindsets.12  And this type of projects is – or should be – part of what makes us dark tourists, it should be what pushes us to visit a city that experienced war. We have to stop visiting the past and start visiting the new. We have to accept that war is over and acknowledge what happens afterwards.

We live in a society of the spectacle, a saturated world where everything is a reproduction, where life goes faster and faster and where competition, in every domain, forces us to go further all the time without ever fully experiencing renewal. As a result, some of us might suffer from something close to what Walter Benjamin called poverty of experience. When, following the First World War, Benjamin recognised a new poverty, it wasn’t related to the war itself but to the rapid changes that occurred after it. This rapidity never really slowed down since and what Benjamin was presenting a century ago is still present today. What is left for us is ‘to free ourselves from experience [as] we long for a world in which we can make such pure and decided use of our poverty […] that it will lead to something valuable’.13      

1  Stone, Phillip, Dark Tourism Forum, http://www.dark-tourism.org.uk, [June 2009].
2   Foley, Malcolm & John Lennon, Dark Tourism: The attraction of Death and Disaster.  London: Thompson, 2000.   p 3
3   ‘Le culte du patrimoine n’est justifiable qu’un temps : temps de reprendre souffle dans la course du présent, temps de réassurer un destin et une réflexion. Passé ce délai, le miroir du patrimoine nous abîmerait dans la fausse conscience, la fiction et la répétition.’ Choay, Françoise, L’Allégorie du patrimoine.  Paris: Seuil, 1992.  p 189
4   Debord, Guy, The Society of The Spectacle.  London: Rebel Press, 2004. p 30
5   Ibid p 10
6   Benjamin, Walter, ‘Experience and Poverty’ in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings: Part 2, 1931-1934. edited by Michael W. Jenning, Howard Eiland & Gary Smith. Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2005.  p 732
 7  Ibid p 734
8   1914 and 1915 (WW1), 1941 and 1944 (WW2), 1999 (NATO).
9  The StealthGoup: Ana Dzokic, Milica Topalovic, Marc Neelen & Ivan Kucina, ‘The Wild City’ in Hunch. Berlage Institute, 2002.  pp 106-127
10  The StealthGoup, http://www.classic.archived.nl/wildcity/, [June, 2009].
11  The StealthGoup, ‘The Wild City’ in Hunch, Berlage Institute, 2002.  p 108
12  We could easily visit such concept through a political point of view, for it could be seen as close to fascism or terrorism. This should certainly be looked at, but for the purpose of this text, it is more in terms of art and raw creation. This is not to make an apology for war but to acknowledge barbarism as Benjamin presents it.
13   Benjamin, Walter, ‘Experience and Poverty’ in Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings: Part 2, 1931-1934. edited by Michael W. Jenning, Howard Eiland & Gary Smith. Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2005.  p 734

Baillargeon, Taïka.  'Dark Tourism: spectacle vs barbarism'  On Site review, no. 22 Fall 2009
©Taïka Baillargeon and On Site review

Ties That Bind

Deryk Houston

Ties that Bind was installed at Beacon Hill Park, Victoria BC in the spring of 2009.  In such work there is the legacy of a lifetime, in this case, emigration, the death of my young mother, and in the aftermath an awareness of the fragility of life.  There is also the present: the ongoing deaths of British soldiers in Afghanistan.

War, and its inevitable deaths of soldiers and civilians, grandmothers and children, is the negation of so much about living that we take for granted.  It is argued that war is a necessary evil even if it is complete hell.  The counter to this is that life is precious and must be protected.  Life must be held together.

Deryk Houston’s work has focussed on peace issues for the past fifteen years, including a series of earthworks, the subject of an NFB documentary, From Baghdad to Peace Country, 2003.    www.derykhouston.com

Houston, Deryk.  'Ties that bind: (en)countering war'  On Site review, no. 22 Fall 2009
©Deryk Houston and On Site review

Deception in the Art of Camouflage

USS West Mahomet, 1918, in razzle dazzle camouflage
courtesy of Naval Historical Foundation, Washington Navy Yard

Aisling O'Carroll

Concealment and deception in hunting have been necessary for the survival of man since the earliest times. Survival in nature is a struggle in which speed, wit and especially concealment are vital. While many creatures have devices of camouflage and deception inherent in their physical make-up, humans have had to develop these methods of protection. The development of military technology was central to the development of camouflage in military activities.
Military camouflage falls into three categories: concealment, screening and misdirection.1 Concealment makes use of natural and artificial means such as colouration, paints or materials, or covering areas with netting to make the objects – for example, factories, airfields or troops – blend into their surroundings. Concealment is only effective with long-range weapons where attacks can be made from such a distance that colouration and shade conceal one’s position and machinery. Screens such as walls, hedgerows or smoke also can be used to hide military activity.
It is deception and misdirection that allows the widest range of approaches to camouflage. This method attempts to either mislead or distract the enemy. Rather than making an object disappear, it is made to look like something else. Deception provides the most interesting and surprising look into camouflage.

Deception in nature
Cuttlefish have the ability to change the colour of their skin within seconds to reflect and blend into their surroundings. This survival mechanism is produced by layers of cells in the skin, chromatophores – small organs containing dense pigment which can be expanded or contracted to show a dot of a particular colour on the skin’s surface. The layer beneath contains iridocytes, which produce a reflective or iridescent quality in the skin.2 Certain species however do more than disappear in their environment; Sepia officinalis uses disruptive patterning to distract and hypnotise both predator and prey. Wrapping around the central region of its back, irregular bands of light and dark colour radiate outward in a flowing zebra-pattern. This mechanism abstracts and confuses the contours of the body, distracting the creature in question long enough for the cuttlefish to either escape or make an attack.3

Dazzle Painting
Similar disruptive patterning was proposed in 1917 by Norman Wilkinson, a naval lieutenant and painter, to protect the British Navy from German submarines. Ships could not be made invisible through regular camouflage because of the constantly changing light and weather conditions at sea, but by painting them with strong patterns their recognisable shapes could be rendered as apparently distinct masses. Dazzle-painting, called Razzle Dazzle in the USA, made it difficult for a U-boat to determine the exact position or direction of the ship it wished to attack. The patterns were designed for maximum distortion when viewed using a periscope through which distance was normally calculated through a bioptic alignment of surfaces, something totally confounded by the stripes and colours of dazzle painting.4 Although there exists no real statistical evidence to prove dazzle painting did save ships, it was reported that sailors felt safer in them.

Decoy on D-Day
Deception can be used to produce two main effects, firstly to draw an enemy’s attention away from the real attack, and secondly, to distract from the real target and cause the enemy to expend its energy and ammunition on a false target. Both of these results may be produced by strategic use of decoys and dummies. A manifestation of this is the use of false radio transmissions and the planting of false operation directives and plans of battle. In many cases however, the decoy is quite literally constructed of dummy tanks, troops and artillery.
Camouflage was integral to the success of the D-Day invasion in WWII. By land and air different tactics were used to deceive the enemy. On the night before D-Day, dummy parachutists were dropped in a large-scale diversion over Normandy to distract from actual airborne landings. These dummies were designed one-third the size of a normal man, with parachutes to scale and weighted with sandbags. Noise mechanisms were attached to them to simulate the sound of weapon fire when the dummies hit the ground. As a small number of real Special Air Service troops were also dropped, it was the breadth of the operation that camouflaged the real from the decoy.5

In the North African campaign, also in WWII, an intensive plan of deception was laid out in order to break through the German lines, cutting their supply routes. Seven weeks were spent preparing for the October 23 launch of an offensive at El Alamein. While the main Allied infantry attack came from the north, a diversionary attack diverted German attention to the south. Once the northern infantry broke through the line, it was planned that armoured troops would follow to cut off supplies. Huge effort was put into concealing the vehicles assembling to the north, and simultaneously constructing enough decoy armour for the south to suggest preparation for a substantial battle. During the final stages of preparation for battle, trucks served as place-holders along the northern front, and would be furtively replaced by tanks on a night preceding the battle. The tanks themselves were disguised by ‘Sunshades’ – canvas covers giving them the appearance of trucks, so the Germans would not realise a switch had been made. As well as disguising weapons and vehicles, it became necessary to conceal 6000 tons of supplies. This was creatively achieved in a number of ways; petrol tins lined the walls of trenches as if they were masonry reinforcement, and food supplies were arranged in the form of trucks and camouflaged with canvas coverings. Meanwhile, similar effort went into bolstering the ruse of a larger offensive gathering to the south. As well as the apparent movement of armoury, the construction of a dummy pipeline to the south was staged. A trench was dug in regular stretches, with dummy pipes laid out alongside it. Each night these pipes would be moved forward to the next stretch, and the trench filled in. Dummy pump stations and filling tanks were constructed to reinforce the scheme.

After defeat in WWI, General von Seeckt was commissioned to reduce the German army as outlined by the Treaty of Versailles to a size less than the army of France. Defeat was not happily accepted by Germany, and while re-forming the Reichswehr according to the guidelines, von Seeckt also developed a nucleus idea – in theory, a small military nucleus could defeat a larger enemy with well-trained troops, superior mobility and mechanical strength.6
Mobility was addressed in 1930 when Fritz Todt, an engineer, veteran of WWI and close friend of Hitler, published a paper, ‘Proposals and Financial Plans for the Employment of One Million Men’, outlining his idea for a new national highway system. In theory this system was devised as a solution to the country’s unemployment problem, however also provided mobility for the armed forces. After Hitler’s election in 1933 Todt became the administrative director of the Reichsautobahnen and led the building of the Autobahn which was often presented as a facilitator of tourism in Todt’s magazine Die Strasse.7 Todt then went on to direct the construction of the West Wall fortifications, a 5-mile deep band of thousands of pillboxes, observation posts and anti-tank defences8 which drew the Allies to destroy it, even although it was not actually used in attack until near the end of the war.
In 1945 President Eisenhower presented his proposal for a National Highway System – an interstate network linking major cities. It was portrayed as an urban planning tool, reducing urban blight by redistributing population to the suburbs. Although this portrayal diminished the awareness of the network’s military uses, Eisenhower considered the system as a defence highway: ‘the road net must permit quick evacuation of target areas, mobilization of defence forces and maintenance of every essential economic function’.9 With both the Autobahn and the Interstate Highway System, deceptive propaganda successfully camouflaged the military significance of monumental infrastructure projects, portraying road networks as simple vehicles of liberatory convenience.

For the camouflage to successfully aid both offensive and defensive plans, it must be integral to the organisation of the operation. In war, disguise and confusion rely on cunning and inventive deception to considerably help one’s chances where total protection is impossible. However, deception only works when everyone, including civilians, believe the camouflage, not the underlying military narrative.

1 Hartcup, Guy. Camouflage, A History of Concealment and Deception in War. Vermont: David & Charles Inc, 1979. p 7
2 Norman, Mark and Amanda Reid. A Guide to Squid, Cuttlefish, and Octopuses of Australasia. Victoria: CSIRO Publishing, 2000. pp 12-18
3 Cott, Hugh B. Adaptive Colouration in Animals. London: Methuen & Co, 1957. p 96
4 Hartcup, Guy. p 43
5 Ibid. p 91
6 Mallory, Keith, and Arvid Ottar. The Architecture of War. New York: Pantheon Books, 1973. p 111
7 9 Vahrenkamp, Richard. ‘Tourist Aspects of the German Autobahn Project 1933 to 1939’. Working Papers in the History of Mobility No. 4/2006. University of Kassel, 2006
8 Mallory, Keith. p 109
9 Branyan, Robert L and Lawrence H Larsen. The Eisenhower Administration 1953 - 1961. New York: Random House, 1971. p 545

O'Carroll, Aisling.  'Deception in the Art of Camouflage'  On Site review, no. 22 Fall 2009
©Aisling O'Carroll and On Site review