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Disturbances #15: The Flavour of Los Angeles
"There are many smogs.

Classic smog, of 1950s London “pea-souper” fame, is sulphurous, as SO2 from burning coal mixes with cool, foggy air to produce H2SO4, sulphuric acid. But London was not the only city to experience such noxious vapours. Atlanta has biogenic smog, containing terpenes from sources such as pine trees and rotting organic matter. Intensive agricultural regions such as California’s Central Valley can have an unusually alkaline smog, from ammonia and amines in fertiliser and feedlot manure.

In May 2015, Nicola Twilley and the Centre for Genomic Gastronomy made meringues of each in an exploration of ‘aeroir’ (the gaseous version of terroir). Apparently “different cities’ smogs do, indeed, taste different”. The repulsion felt at the prospect of actually eating the meringues also served to make the point: you’re already taking this stuff into your body with every breath."



"Los Angeles has a smog problem for both human and topological reasons. Even today, the city is not just the home of Hollywood and dubious lifestyle ‘influencers’ but the biggest manufacturing centre in the US, the country’s largest port, and its second largest auto manufacturing location. Each steel factory, chemical plant and oil refinery produces hydrocarbon and/or nitrous oxide emissions, providing the chemical ingredients for smog to form.

But its geography also makes the city a natural pollution trap. Hemmed in by mountains, smoke & exhaust from is trapped in the city lowlands. Cool sea breezes are drawn on-shore but cannot circulate, as this denser air finds itself trapped by an inversion layer of warmer air above, which operates as a kind of atmospheric lid. The pollution cannot go anywhere, and so stagnates, cooking gently in the sunshine.

Los Angeles has a temperature inversion for 260 days a year. It trapped the smoke of Tongva Native American villages in 1542, and it still traps pollution now.

The air has improved over time. Pollution levels are down about 75% since their peak in the 1970s (), and diesel-based particulates dropped 70% in the last decade. On that day-by-day air quality index map, much of the city has ‘acceptable’ air quality much of the time - below an AQI index of 100, the limit damaging to health. Occasionally Central Los Angeles even rates ‘good’ - astonishing, really, for the centre of a city. Kids in the LA Basin are literally growing stronger lungs. How did this happen?

In the 1950s & 60s activist groups, such as Stamp Out Smog, a women’s group in Beverley Hills, brought kids to rallies wearing gas masks, and successfully pushed politicians to do something about the crisis, in some of the earliest environmental protesting in the US. 1963 saw Congress pass the first Clean Air Act, followed by national emissions standards for cars. California passed stronger standards for cleaner cars and cleaner gasoline, and legal battles forced car manufacturers to comply. Then catalytic converters, rolled out in cars from 1975, were “the key piece of technology that allowed everything to change,” says Mary Nichols, chairman of California’s Air Resources Board.

So we need to ask: why is the Inland Empire still purple, for ‘very unhealthy’?"



"Yet smog remains central to Los Angeles’ mythology and will do for a while yet, even if experience one day fades into nostalgia. Smog produces the crimson sunset I watched bleed out behind the Hollywood sign one evening back in January; at night it makes the city lights glow.

It is, literally, the atmosphere of the city - and serves to symbolise that in so many of the canonical books and films about Los Angeles. Bladerunner, of course. The grubby haze on the horizon in Chinatown. Smog stands both for everything hidden and obscured about the city, and the neo-noir detective’s desire to see through it.

“Since the mid sixties, the aurora of smog has become a governing symbol of Los Angeles, the emblem of avoidance and self-reflection,” writes Norman M. Klein in The History of Forgetting. “One drives into it with the same expectations as driving into a city skyline - for the city out of control. Along the San Bernadino mountains, towards Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear, the smog can rise up to a mile high, like a mysterious erasure, like the top of an Ed Ruscha painting.”"



"We have come round, through shame and future-nostalgia, to desire.

Which raises the question, why do I care so much about the filthy aura of a city 5,000 miles away?

Because I was raised in its mythic tradition.

Los Angeles does not only exert a hold on the cinematic imagination - it’s done a number on geographers.

I studied at LSE then UCL in the mid-2000s and my reading lists were thick with urban scholarship both from and about the city. Mike Davis (who called it the ‘City of Quartz’); Ed Soja (that wonderful subtitle, ‘Journeys To Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places’); and Frederic Jameson on the ‘Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism’ as epitomised in the Westin Bonaventure hotel.

Los Angeles was the twentieth century, you see: the city of the motorcar, of film & TV, of aerospace and the WW2 military-industrial complex; a thick nexus of globalization, migration, white flight and urban renewal. And it was the definitive American city because it was the first truly American city, the first not to look back towards Europe for its streetplans and topography but to sprawl hungrily a hundred miles into the desert, cannibalising water supplies from lesser municipalities, a luxuriant low-rise efflorescence lurching from one crisis to the next. It was late capitalism, post-Fordism, postmodernism - and as such, the crucible where late C20th urban geographical theory was heated to sometimes fervid degree.

There we were in London, a metropolis with far greater claim to ‘world city’ status and several thousand more years of urban development and global reach to study. And yet we were taught to long for palm trees and the perversion of the freeway.

My department had a thing for Los Angeles. Iain Borden’s work on "skateboarding, space and the city" was Dogtown And Z-Boys in academic form, rooted in a deeply embodied knowledge of the joy of skimming across sun-kissed concrete; the joy of youth and risk and thrill of reappropriating the urban realm. Matthew Gandy on the concrete sump of the LA River. The essays I kept writing about the history and function of bodily metaphors for the city. The fixation absolutely everybody seemed to have with JG Ballard. Papers on Cronenberg's film of 'Crash'.

These are libidinal geographies. And it was a kind of fascination that’s equally close to disgust. If the city wasn’t polluted, if the highways weren’t sclerotic and the political machinations machine-y – and yet the whole thing somehow still seeming to hold together - there wouldn’t be much to write.

Anna Karenina problems: happy cities are all alike. They end up on Monocle’s ‘Best Places To Live' ranking and become interchangeable commodities.

Without the smog, LA would lack atmosphere. Flavour."
losangeles  jayowens  2017  air  flavor  nicolatwilley  iainborden  london  cities  desire  place  geography  pollution  inlandempire  california  smog 
july 2017 by robertogreco
Toward a Poetics of Skateboarding | The American Reader
"But for all of its private jargon, skateboarding’s poetry has never been linguistic. It is forever embodied and also, though this is difficult to speak of seriously, spiritual. How else to explain its appearance in Uganda without even a single retail outlet to support it? In fact, the only conveyable language of skateboarding, outside of participation and socialization in the activity itself, has always been spoken through film.

In broad terms, skate media splits time between documentation and advertisement, and their commercial evolution has skewed ever more crass and spectacular. Recent work from select video artists, however, attempts to confront the activity’s basic mystery and meaningful meaninglessness. Non-skateboarders have tended not to look very closely at these films. They mostly do not care. Skateboarders meanwhile care far too much to care exactly why. In any case, it’s here that an attempt toward a poetics of skateboarding must begin."



"Nor can we call such an effort unselfish. My own struggle with the mystery of skateboarding began five years ago, fifteen after I first stepped onto a board, when I began work on my second novel. The problem I encountered was that none of skateboarding’s confectionary can or should be dismissed. Speaking technically and contra Ian Mackaye, skateboarding today is a sport and a hobby both, along with countless other things: a therapy, an obsession, a conservative anti-drug. In its basic meaninglessness, skateboarding has become the tool that takes the shape of whoever’s hand it’s in."



"What in those first years had fit awkwardly into a de facto rubric of athletics—a sport to be timed and judged for athletic merit—became in the 1970s something more rhetorical. The ethos was the punk scavenging of revolution by way of repurposing. Whatever prefigurations of the object we had seen, never before had they been deployed creatively. To speak in China Mieville’s terms, what emerged was something counterposed to the comfort of the uncanny. The activity, new, unrecognized, and bounded only by imagination, was abcanny."



"While the basic spirit of skateboarding might have remained constant since the addition of polyurethane, the marketplace around it quite obviously has not. Now and once again the importance of skateboarding in our time is on the increase. Today, it is on Fox. It is on ESPN with real-time algorithms for evaluating tricks. Once more the marketplace would have us comprehend skateboarding as a sport.

We know on first glance that skateboarding, in its dominant form of street activity, stands apart from ball and net athletics. It seems uninterested, too, in velocity and stopwatch performances. But the first challenge to the rubric of sport begins even lower, at a semiotic level. You and I could, if we wanted, go and shoot lazy jumpshots on a netless schoolyard hoop, or go to the driving range and smack buckets of balls into the green void. We can take our gloves to the park and throw grounders and pop flies and apply tags to invisible runners. But for any of these to qualify as “basketball,” “golf,” or “baseball,” we would require the structure of competition and order of rules.

Systems such as these have no bearing on skateboarding, of which even the most negligible acts, no matter how brief or private, simply are skateboarding. Consider: between my home and the nearest skatepark is a well-paved boulevard with sewer caps embedded into the blacktop every half block or so. A source of joy for me is to push down this boulevard and pop tiny ollies over these sewer caps, sometimes barely scraping my tail, other times popping hard and pulling my knees up to my chest. These are not tricks proper, just ways to see and engage with the street’s reality. This is not, as athletes might call it, practice; I am not training for a future event. It is travel, yes, but the joy has little to do with the scenery or distance covered. In the purview of skate competition, this pushing down the boulevard, the single most fun I have in any given day, is not a scorable act of skateboarding. It is worth zero and it is worth everything.

In a world increasingly data-driven and surveilled, skateboarding lives beneath scoring and resists all datazation by establishing everything as a performance. It deflects the surveillance state by its primal devotion to documenting and sharing itself, monitoring every possible development, repetition, and failure. It pre-empts the onslaught of observation by embracing it. To pre-empt is to deflect, but also to admit defeat. Luckily, skateboarders are shameless—in this way, they’re the perfect actors to play the role of themselves.

Our potential heuristic now approaches what literary and cultural theorists today speak of, with a smirk, as the so-called authentic self. But a skater, whether standing on his stage, behind a camera, or at a keyboard, sees and thinks and performs precisely as what and who he is. What other memberships function in this or a similar manner? Parenthood. Romantic partnership. Citizenship. Does artistry?

***

To date, the most complete attempt to theorize skateboarding has been Iain Borden’s Skateboarding, Space and the City: Architecture and the Body (Berg, 2001). Borden, a Professor of Architecture and Urban Culture at The Bartlett, University College London, treats the activity of skateboarding as a Lefebvrian practice with a potential to become its own sort of architecture: not of construction, but by the “production of space, time, and social being.” He traces the history of skateboarding into the 1990s’ street skating movement, and speaks of the way this “oppositional subculture” rethinks architecture “as a set of discrete features and elements…recomposing it through new speeds, spaces and times.” The gears of capitalism create spaces in which behavior is prescribed and easily accounted for. Skateboarding’s opposition is thus a compositional process, partially of the individual body, which is recomposed against the “intense scopic determinations of modernist space,” and partially of a deeper critique of urban life: “production not as the production of things but of play, desires and actions.”"



"By contrast, today’s most compelling skateboarding films aim to capture not only the play of skateboarding, but enact what Borden calls the “positive dialectic that restlessly searches for new possibilities of representing, imagining and living our lives.” The “Panoramic Series” from Philip Evans, for example, relieves the actor from the full burden of attention. Here Evans follows Phil Zwijsen through his hometown of Antwerp:"



"The skater, Austyn Gillette, appears only after the environmental context, resulting in a portrait not of one or the other, but both. The subject is, as skateboarding’s always has been in practice, the interactions between city and individual body. Alongside recent work by Mike Manzoori, Evan Schiefelbine and select others, these films find energy beyond the progressive trickery of athletics, or the documentation of extant geographies. They combine the skateboarder’s practice—creative, productive—with a distinctly non-skateboarding meta-awareness of the activity’s potential for meaning. Their grounding within the geist of skateboarding is obvious: there is nothing a skater spots more quickly than the fraud, or tourist. These are films made by skateboarders who have lived within the activity’s world, and who choose to leverage the activity as a tool to understand itself. How long, they ask, must a toy endure before it becomes something else? What does it become, and does this mean it has ceased to be a toy?"



"Roberto Bolaño called surrealism “something convulsive and vague, that familiar amorphous thing.” If indeed there is ever to be a poetics of skateboarding, familiarity will have to play a role. Suvin argued that science fiction’s value lay in its ability to effect cognitive estrangement. Campbell’s film documents and creates ostranenie by the re-presentation of a familiar world as captured by, and portrayed through, the glance of the radical dreamer. In fact, what Cuatros does better than any film I’ve seen is remind us that skateboarding’s heuristic usefulness is ontological. Its topos is not that there is a world inside the world, but rather: there is a world the exact shape and texture of the world that you know laid seamlessly over top of it, and you, for some reason, fail to see how beautiful it can be.

Convulsive, vague, and conveyed by slidy looks. Campbell’s subject is our ineffable, binding thing, that lurking, trembling essence that he can only render by images and motions of the surreal. The artist whose art was born from skateboarding has made an object about skateboarding that conveys this birth and mode of being. Skateboarding infects the filmmaker infects the musicians infects the viewer. Viewer goes out skating. Skateboarding is self-perpetuating in this way. It is always itself and something else, it is infectious, it is comprehensive and sublatable to the core. This is how the infinite comes to be—once born, skateboarding can never now die.

But the dreamscape of Cuatros Sueños Pequeños is not an expression of this infinity. Rather, it is mimetic. What world is this?, asks the skateboarder. A familiar one we have seen so many times that it’s rendered unseeable. More importantly, what is to be done in it? The answer, like Campbell’s film, is incoherent, and thank goodness. The answer is anything at all."
skating  skateboarding  skateboards  quantification  measurement  urban  urbanism  surveillance  iainborden  meaning  film  video  robertobolaño  thomascampbell  cuatrosueñospequeños  performance  datazation  repetition  monitoring  failure  documentation  process  capitalism  henrilefebvre  space  place  play  culture  movement  infectiousness  inspiration  feral  ecosystems  socialbeing  time  architecture  landscape  kylebeachy  understanding  experience  robertzemeckis  pontusalv  punk  metrics  schematics  markets  poetics  filmmaking  darkosuvin  sciencefiction  ianmackaye  technology  history  circumstance  california  socal  sports  chinamieville  abcanny  zines  creativity  competition  commercialization  commercialism  commoditization  diy  systems  rules  revolution  resistance  practice  authenticity  artistry  philipevans  philzwijsen  colinkennedy  stasis  motion  austyngillette  mikemanzoori  evanschiefelbine  javiermendizabal  madarsapse  dondelillo  cities  meaninglessness  participation  participatory  democracy  tribes  belonging  identity  spirituality  social  socializati 
july 2014 by robertogreco

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