UNDER THE PAVING STONES


Let’s think about [concrete] in the abstract for a second.

This contradiction offers a glimpse of [concrete’s] essence — an amorphous, grey substance whose overt, rigid physicality is at once shadowed by its slippery ability to take any shape. It is liquid and spectral, coursing through society at an oceanic scale.

Its solidity, however, is always assured. Like words spoken or written, once poured into its mould [concrete] becomes its own meaning— literal, functional, blunt and authoritative, always already hardening into its predetermined shape. And like any authority, it compels us to forget that it was ever anything else.

To define [concrete] is to redouble and enact its own materiality. Made from a mixture of broken stones, sand, cement and water, it is a composite of shattered matter, paved over into an unnatural whole, the most widely-used artificial material on the planet. Therefore the monolithic uniformity it steamrolls into existence extends even to itself, to its own formation and erasure, like a censored obscenity or corporate graffiti.

In its omnipresence, [concrete] claims a near-elemental aspect. It forms both the skeleton and the topsoil of our built environment; the fossilised carcass of modernity; the excavation of subterranean parking lots; the slurried vestiges of prehistory.

It is both street and city; outline and outcrop; blatant and murky; seducing/swaddling the suburbs and crashing smoothly against the coastline. And from the deforested urban jungle to the vast periphery of [concrete] cliffs, basins and rivers that comprise our global infrastructure, the naturalistic aura of this massively artificial rock means that is it is ultimately received in terms of the unsublime, the mega-dull, the drip-dripping of manmade stalactites.

This sweeping banality recalls Brian Eno’s far-seeing description of ambient music, something “as ignorable as it is interesting”, playing in cement-sculpted airports and shopping complexes that have themselves become indistinguishable from each other— runways flashing with bright lights, taking you anywhere within the same depthless [concrete] swimming pool. The borders of space no longer contain but dissolve, dictate, the parenthesis has become the comma, in- verted, inflecting each moment with an irony as dull as trademarked cheekbones.

In the 1968 uprising, students in Paris ripped the paving stones out of the ground, hurling them at the police and exposing ‘the beach’ beneath the ancient metropolis, the sand and sediment of the old and new inchoate in their hands. Today in this digital era, as our attention lapses even further away from the coarse physicality of the city, streets and skylines crystallise into mere screens against which we project our miniature fantasies. Social media and the theatricality of politics only feed into this alienation, obscuring the real conditions that underlie the cracks in our global landscape. ‘The street’ as a site for radical action feels more distant than ever.

Ultimately [concrete] offers the illusion of malleability while remaining violently fixed. It suggests endless possibilities while brutally reproducing the same systems. Like late-capitalism, it co-opts diverse realities and flattens them into a single grey area. Necessity is replaced with inevitability, architecture is replaced by texture, the real, the solid, sinks into itself.

What we are left with is an empty space at the heart of things, one that is then instantly paved over. What once stood for substance now stands for a lack. We yearn for something [ ] 

A body is pulled from the cement with a death mask of surprise across its face. The crowd is still watching for signs of life.

RECIPE FOR CONCRETE


Concrete as we know it is a bad idea, yet its ubiquity has never been more pronounced. 30 billion tons of this bad idea are produced every year, along with 3 billion tons of carbon emissions. Concrete is the chief architect of the Anthropocene — an entirely designed geological epoch. But it’s more than that. Concrete is the general acknowledgement of imminent danger and simultaneous commitment to the high speed train hurtling down the tracks.

It’s a trawler sailing our oceans, muting the vivid blue with every deployment of its boundless net. It’s a perennial viral video, becoming the only thing on your feed. It cryogenically froze your ancestors and they’re waking up into this air-conditioned nightmare. It’s a sprawling global highway where each exit is to the same place.

Concrete is prosthesis. Like an automatic Kalashnikov it is an expression of power and violence, but the wielder of the gun is the bullet-riddled corpse. It is not external, it is an extension which augments terrestrial ability.

Concrete is the substance, ideology is the mould. But even that distinction has been absorbed into the 30-billion ton monolith that appears before us each year. Its size is obvious, but its flu- idity blinds us to its scale. Its charm is its simplicity— its ability to fill voids, and assume any form, fulfil any desire, scratch our restive itch for progress. Our society is the aggregation of 30 billion-ton bad ideas whose charm we fail to resist.

And no wonder. We can no longer tell our needs from our wants, guided by algorithms whose job is to erase the distinction entirely. Content and packaging have become one and the same, an erosive drip of granular, pre-digested matter, smoothing rough formations into polished mirrors. We swipe past fads and faces, searching for the bottom of this infinite surface, distracting ourselves from catastrophes that have already happened, repeating the same outdated recipes for the future.

The final twist of this spiral plays out at the level of permanence itself— in the castles of sand that our built environments have become in the wake of the climate crisis, a fragility obscured by the digital, non-fungible posterity of our online lives. If cities were once the enduring backdrop against which the anonymity of human existence blurred, that differential has now been eliminated by a superabundance of data. A flat earth comprised of images of ourselves. We are now bodies in the walls.

TWIST magazine takes this condition as its starting point— the viscous equivalence between blank page, white museum wall, displayed art, sprayed graffiti, peeling advert, sinking street and virtual self. The world in perpetual media res. Helvetica becoming suspicious of itself.

But this instability between the eternal and the ephemeral is not only a death-throe, it is also an opportunity— for agitation, for new ways of consuming and inhabiting this world. If everything and nothing lasts forever, the temporary takes on new, ambiguous meaning. The extreme becomes the everyday.

e.g. All cities are the same underwater. A magazine is as everlasting as a comet. Space has no speed limits. The past is as fixed as the future.

The concrete is still wet.