Demolition Raqs Media Collective

Demolition is an action undertaken by judges, urban planners, policemen, and military personnel in order to selectively (and needlessly) demonstrate the laws of Newtonian mechanics to hapless citizens. Structures rise only to prove that they can fall. History attests to gravity. All things that are built will become ruins some day, but the natural process of ruination generally follows a rhythm that is consonant with the flux of animation and abandonment meandering through time as people settle and then desert sites, build, and forget cities. Occasionally, an earthquake, a plague, or an invasion might hasten the process of decay, but left to themselves, human settlements grow and layer themselves to accommodate their own futures without necessarily canceling out their pasts. Demolitions ensure that they are not, in fact, left to themselves.

While falling walls and crumbling beams attest to the eventual action of time on materials, a demolition (an earthquake caused by the rustle of paper in a court or the corridors of power) is history on speed.  The instruments of demolition are documents, surveys, identity cards, forms, hammers, bulldozers, excavators, wrecking balls, and occasionally bombs and artillery shells. While a demolition may be completed using a bomb or a bulldozer, it is triggered by a survey, a judgment or a document. The destiny of that which is demolished hinges on its not being able to prove its entitlement to occupying the ground on which it stands. It is sometimes found that the majority of a city’s inhabitants may in fact not have access to this entitlement. Their fate is a fragile house of cards awaiting the angry breath of an order and its ordinance.

Demolition means much more than the dismantling of a constructed structure, be it a house, a hamlet, a neighborhood or a city. It also means the sudden dissolution of a lifetime of labor, the destruction of affinities, histories, relationships, and ways of living, sharing, thinking, and dreaming. A demolition rewrites the destiny of a city by translating the violence of a decree into a hammer blow on the fabric of time. When a house is razed to the ground it is almost as if the life it contained were wrested out of time, as if the years and days spent in filling a structure (no matter how ramshackle) with the sound and breath of life, were suddenly reduced to nothing. A demolition is a wound, not only in space, but also in the body of time. A house can be built again, but the time taken to build the life that animated a house, once lost, can never be retrieved.