Our lives are indebted to griddedness. Grids organize space, organize movement, shape how we read, how we use and visualize language, how we classify (often problematically) bodies… In fact, to be modern seems to be equivalent to be gridded, taxonimized, streamlined, easily fit into and read by a ratio.
For the second issue of Soapbox, graduate journal for cultural analysis, we invited students and established scholars alike to contemplate what it might mean to be “Off the Grid” in our gridded contemporaneity. The responses within “Off the Grid” address this question and range from attending to spider webs and tiny houses to alternative forms mapping and trans narratives of grappling with the biopolitics of the grid.
Order a print copy by emailing [email protected]. Single issues are €16, while yearly subscriptions (of two issues) are €30 or €25 for students. Copies of Soapbox 1.2 are also available in select bookstores.
You can read and download individual articles below:
Laura Pannekoek & Zoë Dankert, editors-in-chief
Off the Grid, An Introduction
In this introduction to 1.2, Bakke reflects on this edition’s essays noting how they “demonstrate…that infrastructure and civilization can be negatively coordinated. Infrastructure can (and perhaps must) become less in order for civilization to become more.” Bakke muses that “off the grid” represents the “next necessary step for a better world”, gathering the essays under the banner of an infrastructural turn that reconfigures the terms by which we think and characterize civilizational progress.
Gretchen Bakke holds a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in cultural anthropology. Her work focuses on the chaos and creativity that emerges during social, cultural, and technological transitions. She is author of The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future (2016) and co-editor of Anthropology of the Arts: A Reader (2016) and Toward an Artful Anthropology (2017).
Caught in the Lattice
This paper connects recent philosophical discourse on ontological entanglement and materialist epistemologies, following the unfolding of the ecological crisis with the modern episteme, through the historical example of the Linnaean classification system. It suggests a comprehensive theory of grids as a relay between the concrete and the abstract, coining the term conceptual grid. For this purpose, Bernhard Siegert’s media-theoretical understanding of the grid is modified. As conceptual grids shape perception, they become widely invisible. This unnoticed pre-structuring of relations to the world is problematized in the contemporary humanities discourse on the ecological crisis. To counter the separating functions of the conceptual grid, notions such as holobiont, endosymbiosis and sympoeisis are drawn from recent observations in evolutionary biology, arguing for an entangled becoming-with.
Lena Reitschuster studied South Asian Studies and Religious Studies at Heidelberg University, Philosophy and Curatorial Practice at HfG Karlsruhe, and Media Studies at The New School in New York. Her research is located at the intersection of philosophy and biology with a focus on the conceptualization of broadscale system change in the face of ecological crisis.
This essay explores how migrant transgender experience is structured through medico-legal and temporal grids. Following other trans scholars, such as Dean Spade, this paper uses autoethnography to break down the barrier between theory and its object, foregrounding my own subjective stakes within grids of transgender control. Specifically, this essay analyzes the consequences of being in-between or off the grid, and ultimately asks to what degree this is currently possible for trans people seeking medical and legal services as migrants. Ultimately, despite my own privilege as a white transgender woman, at the time of writing this I have not been able to escape the controlling aspects of the grid(s) described here. This lack of agency has reinforced, and reiterated, a progressive linear temporal unfolding through the medico-legal system as I fail to become fully legible to the BIOPOLITICS of the grid.
Mina Hunt is a research masters student in the Gender Studies Department at Utrecht University. Hunt is currently researching issues of transgender migration and mobility.
“Why are we so afraid of the grid?” An Interview with Het Nieuwe Instituut
Marina Otero Verzier, Katía Truijen and Marten Kuijpers
What is the role of public institutions, museums and archives vis-à-vis the various financial and authoritative grids that support them? The Research Department at Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam works at the intersections of architecture, design and digital culture to develop the ideas, concepts and formats that in turn shape the institute’s agenda. We spoke to Marina Otero Verzier (the institute’s Director of Research), Katía Truijen (media theorist and senior researcher for Architecture of Appropriation) and Marten Kuijpers (architect by training and senior researcher for the Automated Landscapes project) about Het Nieuwe Instituut’s uneasy relationship with, and attitudes towards, various gridded structures. Is it possible — or even desirable — to resist, reshape or break away entirely from these grids?
Regional Politics: On Region, Nation, and Regionalization
This paper takes up the conceptualization of region introduced by Imre Szeman in his 2018 article “On the Politics of Region” to consider longstanding tensions between different regions in the Netherlands. While Szeman’s conception opens up new ways of looking at regions, this paper argues that it introduces too stringent oppositions between nation and region, positing the former as artificial and the latter as natural. Considering the case of the Netherland’s ‘Green Heart’ region through Szeman’s region concept, and analyzing how regions are constituted, or what Pierre Bélanger calls regionalization, this paper moves away from an opposition between nation and region.
Thom Aalmoes is a graduate student at the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis. His research interests focus on the formation and institutional formalization of regional and urban identities.
The Grid as Structuring Paradox: A Case of Tiny Living
This short position paper addresses the gap between idealistic, entrepreneurial, and culturally critical concerns over the emergence of new environmental communities that strive for more sustainable and self-sufficient modes of living, taking the tiny house community in the Netherlands as a case in point. Reflecting on the micro and macro processes of deterritorialization and reterritorialization at play in the concrete case of tiny living, the grid is seen to wield a stricter interpretation of a more general problematic with regards to contemporary urban/human life, where the notion of the grid, I argue, functions as a structuring paradox that at once allows and disallows for the negotiation of possibilities and limits in our thinking about community, sustainability, and alternative modes of living today.
Pepita Hesselberth is Assistant Professor Film and Digital Media at the Centre for Arts and Society, Leiden University. She is the author of Cinematic Chronotopes (2014), and co-editor of, amongst others, Legibility in the Age of Signs and Machines (2018) and Compact Cinematics (2016). She has published widely on Disconnectivity in the Digital, a project for which she received a fellowship from the Danish Council for Independent Research and was appointed as a research fellow at the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies at the University of Copenhagen (2015-2018).
A Grid, Memes and David Hockney
Stepan Lipatov and Sissel Møller
This visual essay explores the patterns of accretive interpretation often afforded to “memes”. Citing the Loss meme, a meme format that has been replicated and re-interpreted countless times through different configurations of its basic visual elements, this collaborative effort works to mirror this replication and re-interpretation based around an episode of the artist David Hockney being stuck in an elevator at the Van Gogh museum. Artists were given a keyword around which to structure their reproduction of this event and explore the images as “a series created with a non-visual grid in a simple act of reproduction.”
Sissel Vejby Møller (1994) and Stepan Lipatov (1989) are both graduating students at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. As graphic designers they experiment with the language between text and image.
Blurred Lines: Challenging Urban Grids On and Off the Page in City Illustration
Tânia A. Cardoso
This paper draws parallels between the acts of walking and drawing in the city as appropriations of the urban grid. Following Michel de Certeau’s theorisation of urban practices, it reflects on both my own drawing in situ practice and [the] picture book The Soft Atlas of Amsterdam
by Jan Rothuizen. Both reflect lived experiences and (urban, spatial) stories, determined by and reshaping the city’s constructions of spatiality and an urban imaginary. By distorting the pictorial grid, the illustrations speak back to mapped city space, emphasizing that a line between two spatial elements is not blank but rather full of social and cultural significance. These illustrations, by revealing space through metaphorical practices, disrupt the authoritarian logic of city planners and traditional mapping, creating blurred lines in the urban grid and in its corresponding pictorial grid. This way, their heterogeneous, embodied depictions echo the city’s impact on both artists’ imaginations.
Tânia A. Cardoso (Lisbon, 1985) is an urbanist and illustrator based in Rotterdam who has had exhibitions in Portugal, the United Kingdom, Brazil and the Netherlands. Her work has been rewarded the Worldwide Picture Book Illustration Competition 2015 and the Gorsedh Kernow Creativity Award 2017. Currently, she is a PhD candidate at the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis researching the relationship between illustration and the city.
The From of Affinity: Line and Landscape in Four Shadows
This essay considers the ways in which lines are integral to how the concept of affinity is formalized in Larry Gottheim’s structuralist film Four Shadows (1978). The film presents a number of landscapes, references to nineteenth century Romanticism, and a rigid formal structure shaped as a grid. This essay explores how these facets interrelate and asks whether the structural grid functions to enclose the visual landscapes, or whether the role of the grid is emphasized so that these various parts, along with the film’s sonic and formal operations, instead work to open it up. Against a purely Romantic reading, this essay offers an analysis of how the film employs lines to account for this balance between confinement and opening, which, this paper argues, is the definition of affinity.
Aaron Dowdy is a graduate student at Columbia University. His research focuses on twentieth century aesthetics, philosophy, and the cinematic image.
This afterword reflects on the political ecology of infrastructure in Amsterdam. Building on recent work by anti-colonial and feminist materialist scholars concerned with the historical conditions of anthropogenic climate change, my proposition is that cultural analysis as a discipline is in a unique position to critically examine the interimplication of capitalism, carbonization, and colonialism in and through infrastructure.
Jeff Diamanti teaches Literary and Cultural Analysis at the University of Amsterdam. Before that he was the “Media and Environment” Postdoctoral Fellow at McGill University. His book project, Terminal Landscapes, tracks the convergence of economy and ecology across the energy systems of postindustrial capitalism.
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Graphic design by Sissel Vejby Møller and Stepan Lipatov