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The global politics of give and take: a workshop with Susanne Schütte-Steinig and Sabine Sörgel in two parts

sabine sörgel
Image 1: In lieu of the audience: the gaze of the touch-spectre
Our performance workshop started from the premise of ‘give and take’ in the global dynamics of social and economic exchange to investigate the notion of ‘dis:connect’ from a phenomenological perspective. By emphasising sensual touch in the encounter with personal objects, we sought to abstract from the visual and intellectual engagement that is often the focus of such transaction in other contexts. The debates on the restitution of art objects from the Global South to their countries of origin was also at the back of our minds, yet we did not want to make this our direct and obvious starting point. Rather, we sought to address some of those issues at a micro-level of interhuman exchange and communication. Our shared interest in objects and hands also arose from a common background in yoga, meditation and somatic practice. We both wondered about how such practices affect communication and how we cope with the global intersections of contemporary crises, as the wider consequence of the many so-called darker sides of global modernity and racial colonial capitalism. Our initial conversations started over socially distanced walks and coffees in the Englischer Garten. Susanne Schütte-Steinig soon showed me a sketch of two wooden boxes facing each other closely resembling a basic puppet theatre. Except that in this case, the puppeteers use their own hands only, whilst their bodies are held in upright stillness, resting their chin on a soft foam pad, legs shoulder-width apart in a relaxed posture, with their pubic bone just underneath the open window facing their partner on the opposite side (Image 1, 2 and 4).[1]
Image 2: The somatic “box set”
That sketch ended up depicting the position held by our workshop participants for several heartbeats a couple of months later, half-way through my research fellowship. And whilst each participant centred their hands on their chest, focusing their attention inwards before offering their object for exchange, I wondered about the shadows of globalisation in that empty space (Image 4).

Part one: interviews at global dis:connect

Image 3: A sprocket cassette from Taiwan
Interviews are a common method in various types of research, including oral histories, anthropology and history. They are also a common feature of the TV and social-media world, and many of us will have sweated through an interview as the final hurdle to getting their dream job. However, our artistic workshop was not particularly interested in any of these interview techniques and formats. Rather, the focus was to be solely directed towards the object itself, as well as the gestures of the hands holding it. The objects were therefore initially chosen by each participant with the following instruction:
  • Bring a personal object related to your current research project, either an archival source or an everyday tool, that is indispensable to the way you work at your best.
Later in the artistic process, this instruction was modified to say that the object would have to be three dimensional and fit between two hands and no larger than a laptop screen, for the practical reason that it had to fit through the window set-up as well, as we became more and more interested in the idea of being able to hold something of personal value in your actual hands from both a kinetic and felt-energetic perspective. Some of the interview questions arose from my academic research on the Jungian notion of the shadow to investigate the darker aspects of globalisation, as those repressed parts of the Western European psyche run havoc in the present shaping of contemporary crises, from the resurfacing of unaddressed systemic racism to the extraction of resources and climate change. The aim of the interview was thus to interrogate the extent to which Europe itself, and perhaps academia and academics more than others, must question many commonplace Enlightenment values and liberties, which have historically been built on the exclusion and exploitation of human and non-human ‘sources of life’ from the Global South.[2] Susanne’s artwork, on the other hand, addresses some of these questions through her practice in dance and architecture to investigate the in-between space of encounter through the performative engagement with objects she designs and choreographs as set spatial scores and actions. Through dance and body work, we each had a point of reference that connected us throughout the initial conversations on the theme of ‘give and take’ that led to the following set of interview questions for the workshop participants:
  • Why did you become a historian (researcher)?
  • Why did you choose to bring this object?
  • What is your fondest memory of visiting an archive?
  • What is your relationship to the European Enlightenment?
  • Did you ever experience theft, steal something or was something stolen from you?
The interviews were planned so as to meet our participants in our everyday work surroundings at the global dis:connect offices and to introduce the object as a personal object closely tied to both the researcher’s sense of self as well as their profession and research. As a researcher at global dis:connect, I was very aware of the risks this workshop was asking my colleagues to take. A professional habitus is hard to acquire, difficult to shed and marks so much of our market value as humanities researchers in the contemporary world. Therefore, we were careful to create an open situation of mutual trust that would make it very difficult for the researcher to automatically fall into their default academic habitus of presenting themselves through an elaborate talk or paper, but rather to give us an impromptu and spontaneous response of no more than three to four unprepared sentences. Such initial thoughts and associations, as a matter of fact, enabled an open encounter with the participants’ objects as a form of disconnect rather than a carefully crafted argument that would usually have to be closed to persuade. It was thus that I hoped to get hold of the shadow aspects entailed in this form of presentation. On the day of the interviews, we had four participants from global dis:connect share their objects and responses, whilst the camera captured the ‘handling of the object’ in a posture of care no wider than the camera frame between lap and top and the gestures one makes in this sacred space between the pelvis (lap) and the heart (top).

Part two: the Yoga of talking hands

Hand on your heart, are you ready to give your object?
Disconnected from our everyday working environment, the invitation to Susanne’s Atelier in Munich’s Baumstraße offered the researchers an opportunity for a performative encounter with each other and our objects in a different setting. The day was sunny and two more members of global dis:connect were able to join us, as they had recovered from a Covid-19 infection the previous week. In their cases, we had no accompanying interview to go with but only their yoga of hands. Not unlike the European Enlightenment, yoga practice has also journeyed across the globe into our living rooms and local gyms. Yet, as a practice it predates the European Enlightenment by centuries and perhaps is the more sophisticated for it. Although many people around the world practice yoga and meditation these days, there is still a tendency to consider these spiritual and physical activities separate – as separate as is the body from the mind, even now, for some of us brought up in a false sense of neutral objectivity grounded in notions of Enlightenment philosophy and the split that was supposedly created there. In this second part of the workshop, it was our chance to break with the Enlightenment conventions of European research and bring these disconnected spheres of research and artistic practice together. With the help of the artist’s skill to re-connect the disconnected through her theatrical set-up, we hoped to shed some light on the shadow aspects of global exchange practices in other realms. And as each participant entered Susanne’s installation, they found themselves no longer able to hide behind elaborate words or even in a photographic representation of themselves as in aesthetic realism, because all but their hands touching was withheld from their own view. In this vulnerable moment, the hands started talking their own language, as they were led by the energy of the individual heartbeat.
The Yoga of Hands and the Space In-Between

The wounded researcher

A week after the workshop, I listened again to the interviews in search of the shadows of our hidden thoughts, those truths we so often do not dare to speak. This is to say that in each of our thoughts there is always a disconnect from all that is not thought in that moment so that an in-between space marks this shadow area that is always also at work in thought processes. As Merleau-Ponty continues to explain this idea in an essay called The Philosopher and his Shadow:
Just as the perceived world endures only through the reflections, shadows, levels, and horizons between things (which are not things and are not nothing, but on the contrary mark out by themselves the fields of possible variation in the same thing and the same world), so the works and thoughts of a philosopher are also made of certain articulations between things said.[3]
These ‘certain articulations between things said’ are now captured in the yoga of hands and the silent negotiation that takes place in the in-between encounter of Susanne’s edited film of this performative installation in two parts. Deprived of their elaborate wordings, the researchers in this project opened themselves to become vulnerable to the essence of touch. This in-between space holds, for me, the colon in the conceptual idea of the centre’s name: ‘Dis:connect’ then offers an opportunity to account for the shadow aspect of that absence, which is only made visible by all that is not seen much less explained, but merely felt in an instance of touch.   [1] There is no audience in the conventional sense, only the camera (alias ‘The Touch-Spectre’), which zooms in on the exchange of hands and the space in/between. No one claps, the beginning and end are decided by the two participants only and guided by Susanne’s movement instructions and action score. [2] Achille Mbembe addresses this point in several of his works and the term ‘sources of life’ reflects on the energetic and creative essentials of living that have been sacrificed to the necropolitical project of Western colonial modernity whilst they remain a constant source also for the rebuilding of new African subjectivities. [3] Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Signs (Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 1964), 160.
Bourdieu, Pierre. Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977. Hicks, Dan. The Brutish Museums. The Benin Bronzes, Colonial Violence and Cultural Restitution. London: Pluto Press, 2020. Iyengar, B.K.S. Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. London: Thorsons, 1993. Mauss, Marcel. The Gift. The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies. London/New York: Routledge, 1990. Mbembe, Achille. Critique of Black Reason. Durham: Duke University Press, 2017. Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Signs. Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 1964. Mignolo, Walter. The Darker Side of Western Modernity. Global Futures, Decolonial Options. Durham: Duke University Press, 2011. Priyamvada, Gopal. ‘On Decolonization and the University’. Textual Practice 35, no. 6 (2021): 873–99. Romanyshyn, Roman. The Wounded Researcher. Research with Soul in Mind. London/New York: Routledge, 2013. Savoy, Bénédicte. Africa’s Struggle for Its Art. History of a Postcolonial Defeat. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2022. Schütte-Steinig, Susanne. Going to Paradise. München, 2022. www.sss333.de.  
citation information:
Sörgel, Sabine, and Susanne Schütte-Steinig. ‘The Global Politics of Give and Take: A Workshop with Susanne Schütte-Steinig and Sabine Sörgel in Two Parts’. Blog, Global Dis:Connect (blog), 29 November 2022. https://www.globaldisconnect.org/11/29/the-global-politics-of-give-and-take-a-workshop-with-susanne-schutte-steinig-and-sabine-sorgel-in-two-parts/?lang=en.
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Mapping the wounds of the world: dis:connectivities of global representation at the 12th Berlin Biennale

ayşe güngör
  The title of this year's Berlin Biennale, Still Present!, reflected its objective to examine the consequences of the collective trauma caused by colonialism, structural violence and, more generally, the crimes of modern capitalism through a current perspective. Kader Attia, curator of the Biennale, and the curatorial team[1] expand on their approach, namely, to make the crimes of colonialism apparent through the agency of art. Repairing this trauma and the ‘wounds accumulated throughout the history of Western modernity’[2] – as Attia refers to it – the reparation process appears as both a question and a tool throughout the works presented in the Biennale. In this context, the Biennale's global artistic scope will be my focus, which connects as well as disconnects through a range of artistic approaches in its curatorial agenda. Throughout the course of the Biennale, the artistic and curatorial decisions were broadened with numerous decolonial perspectives from various regions, pluralising the global representation. Parallel to the ideas of Bilbao, ‘most discourses and narratives that account for the Biennale’s globality rely almost entirely on visibility’,[3] which is reflected in the curatorial agenda of the recent Berlin Biennale in terms of an approach to globalisation that accentuates unseen local issues in various regions. The issue at hand, as Ndikung points out, is:
Where is the local, especially in this postcolonial era and context, in the crafting of the concept of global museum? And this local cannot be simplified but analyzed in its complexity that goes beyond national or racial categories and that takes into consideration historical and geographical entanglements as much as geopolitical and social intricacies.[4]
Entanglements are occasionally emphasised in the framework of the Biennale, which emphasises broadening the perspectives it represents. This framework, which seeks to account for the ‘global’ by combining cases from diverse peripheries, also risks reducing a multifaceted globality to the dichotomies of ‘the West and the rest’ or ‘colonisers vs. colonised’. Recalling the part that situatedness plays in the logic of liberal capitalism, the general intention of global art discourse is to dissolve these dichotomies. As Jacob Birken addresses, the discourse ‘might not solve anything — just make [these dichotomies] easier to swallow’.[5] When examining the Biennale as a larger phenomenon, a pluralising strategy emerges as the prevailing tool to maintain its position in the global art world. Therefore, the Biennale is often taken as a microcosm of the globalisation of the arts. The curatorial approach of the recent Biennale reflects the general tendency to portray the globe, with its objective of interconnecting the stories of many cultural spheres. In this regard, the 2022 Berlin Biennale fits the general narrative of Biennale-making in a transcultural context, since it seeks to present a comprehensive picture of the globe by focusing on the shared meanings of those affected by oppression and violence. The globally interconnected histories reflected in the artworks navigate distinctive modalities of artistic production. Specifically, archival practices and the ‘field of emotions’ that Attia illustrates are a frequent tool artists implement to confront the legacies of colonial racism. Here, a ‘field of emotions’ helps to reclaim our present, which no longer belongs to us since it has been ‘colonized 24/7 by computational governance and capitalism’.[6] Attia proposes that the agency of art provides us with the freedom to be in the present. In a similar vein, the framing of art in this context evokes an artistic manifesto. When it comes to seeing the globe through a range of artistic practices, thinking broadly about these methodologies raises the question of what connects us and disconnects us. To this end, I would like to gain a clearer sense of what Attia means when he refers to ‘the field of emotions’. One could refer to Dewey’s concept of ‘aesthetic emotion’ through the agency of art experience. This principle describes how, as the artist works with their raw materials, they transform the raw feelings into artistic emotions. Based on the premise that there is no fundamental difference between everyday life and art, but simply a difference in the degree of differentiation and integration, aesthetic emotion is therefore well-structured.[7] Since aesthetic experience is made possible by reshaping materials on purpose until a sensitivity to the characteristics of objects can be realised, this process makes it an aesthetic experience rather than simply an experience. Aesthetic experience gives us a chance to engage with our emotions in this artistic playground. These works not only generate a field of emotions, but also produce for the audience a space in which they are able to pause, think and reflect. This space provides the means to identify with the subject at hand and, as a result, engage with it as it's being recognised. For instance, Thuy-Han Nguyen-Chi’s work incorporates elements such as a bluescreen, a hospital bed, a boat, an oxygen mask, a portrait, and a fire-resistant plant into an installation that tells multi-layered stories independent of a specific time or place. Using a blend of real and fictitious elements, the film follows a woman as she travels from Vietnam to Thailand and then to Germany in the aftermath of the American war in Vietnam. The elements of the installation metaphorically set the ground for an imaginary journey and enables the audience to identify with the subject and the story in a womb-like setting, symbolised here by the boat and the operating table. Similarly, using natural and synthetic materials like metal, sugar, charcoal and latex, Christine Safatly's paintings and sculptures depart from the artist's personal history and local setting to probe social constructions of gender and other forms of alienation. Using allegorical narration and juxtaposition, her works encourage the viewer to relate to subjects of physiological suffering and everyday experiences with authoritarian regimes in Lebanon and beyond. This allegorical storytelling is not limited to this, in many cases, the emotional field presented invites viewers to think and reflect.
Thuy-Han Nguyen-Chi, THIS UNDREAMT OF SAIL IS WATERED BY THE WHITE WIND OF THE ABYSS, 2022, video installation, mixed media, dimensions variable, research image, Photo by the author

Christine Safatly, PIECE 1, 2019, from the series THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE BETWEEN KETCHUP AND RIPE TOMATOES, 2019-20, fabric pierced with nails and pins, Photo by the author
  Archival research and documentary modes of representation also recur throughout the Biennale. Most of archival art's potential is due to its frequent reproductions of alternative historical perspectives, primarily depicting the unrepresented in official histories to challenge power relations and authority. However, archival practices have also attracted criticism for their representation politics and institutional critique. For instance, Hal Foster criticised the lack of critical engagement, ‘representational wholeness,’ and ‘institutional integrity’ in archival art. In his article Archival Impulse, he adds:
The work in question is archival since it not only draws on informal archives but produces them as well and does so in a way that underscores the nature of all archival materials as found yet constructed, factual yet fictive, public yet private. Further, it often arranges these materials according to a quasi-archival logic, a matrix of citation and juxtaposition, and presents them in a quasi-archival architecture, a complex of texts and objects.[8]
Artistic approaches to archives cannot be limited to these critical approaches since they also enable alternative forms of representation by challenging the normative historical narratives or reinterpreting them. Archival artistic practices reflect unstructured information that is neither inherently linear nor connected, and they admit a wide variety of formats. Many instances of archival art appear in the Biennale, including the work of Azoulay, who assembled texts and images shot in Berlin right after World War II with some quotations of women who lived in Berlin in 1945. By interspersing these historical documents with her comments, modifications, and substitutions, so she uncovers the existence of these women who were excluded from official historical archives. Similarly, research agency Forensic Architecture's Cloud Studies (2022) investigates how the air we breathe can be weaponised through herbicidal warfare, tear gas, forest fires, oil and gas pollution and bomb attacks from Palestine to Beirut, London to Indonesia, and around the United States–Mexico border.  
Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, THE NATURAL HISTORY OF RAPE (detail), 2017/2022, vintage photographs, prints, untaken b/w photographs, books, essay, magazines, drawings, dimensions variable, Photo by the author
Forensic Architecture, CLOUD STUDIES, 2022, 2-channel video installation, colour, sound, 26′08′′, Photo by the author
While these documentary and investigative practices intertwine in many instances, mergers of art and documentation sometimes collapse the separation between the emotional field and documentary practices. Such works often combine political and poetic voices, such as in Exile Is a Hard Job (1983/2022) by Nil Yalter, which involves experimenting with photographs, transcriptions, quotes, and videos to explore lives immigrant women and families from Portugal and Turkey. These practices of documenting, drawing, and collecting involve an open-ended process of tracing and moving with the experience itself, implicating several challenging modalities of artistic production that exist between art and anthropology. Archival modes of representation employ particular narratives to reflect upon historical realities. They, on the other hand, do not leave enough room for interpretation or engagement with the subject and instead present the audience with the narratives that have already been transcribed. After getting involved in a great deal of documentation procedures throughout the Biennale, one may, in the end, realise that they are drowning in an excessive amount of information that might be hard to engage. I believe that the more room they give for the audience to interpret the subject, the more possibilities for connection they generate. This most likely corresponds to the ‘emotional field’ that the curatorial team intended to yield with this selection of works in this context. What can the Biennale accomplish with these practices? What connects and disconnects us globally and interpersonally is rooted in the space provided for viewers to think rather than inundating them with information. Since any dichotomous division does not represent the complexity of the world, such global representation fails to question the narratives that have shaped the world. Given the diversity of the art world, it is difficult to identify a single world centre or global narrative that might include all the forms of transformation.[9]  To achieve a decolonised representation of art, one must refrain from making geographical generalisations when selecting which parts of history are — or are not — included in narratives. Instead of constraining viewers to a certain time and location or overloading them with information while engaging in documentary practices, the space opened by the poetic core of the aesthetic experience transcends both. That space enables the viewer to connect with their thoughts and feelings while experiencing this artistic playground. Mapping colonial wounds would not be reduced to geography but may be opened to the exchanges, circulations, entanglements, conflicts, and disconnections of the global context.   [1] Kader Attia, curator of the 2022 Berlin Biennale, has assembled a five-member team to assist him, including Ana Teixeira Pinto, Đỗ Tường Linh, Marie Helene Pereira, Noam Segal and Rasha Salti. [2] Kader Attia, ‘Introduction’, in 12th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art (11.6. -18.9.2022), Catalogue (Germany, n.d.), 22. [3] Ana Bilbao, ‘From the Global to the Local (and Back)’, Third Text 33, no. 2 (4 March 2019): 179–94. [4] Soh Bejeng Ndikung Bonaventure, In a While Or Two We Will Find the Tone: Essays and Proposals, Curatorial Concepts, and Critiques (Berlin: Archive Books, 2020), 186. [5] Jakob Birken, ‘Spectres of 1989: On Some Misconceptions of the “Globality” in and of Contemporary Art’, in Situating Global Art, ed. Sara Dornhof et al. (Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2018), 49. [6] Attia, ‘Introduction’, 34. [7] H. Hohr, ‘Aesthetic Emotion: An Ambiguous Concept in John Dewey’s Aesthetics’, Ethics and Education 5, no. 3 (1 November 2010): 247–61. [8] Hal Foster, ‘An Archival Impulse’, October 110 (2004): 3–22. [9] Christian Morgner, ‘Diversity and (In)Equality in the Global Art World: Global Development and Structure of Field-Configuring Events’, New Global Studies 11, no. 3 (2017): 165–96.
Attia, Kader. ‘Introduction’. In 12th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art (11.6. -18.9.2022), Catalogue. Germany, n.d. Bilbao, Ana. ‘From the Global to the Local (and Back)’. Third Text 33, no. 2 (4 March 2019): 179–94. Birken, Jakob. ‘Spectres of 1989: On Some Misconceptions of the “Globality” in and of Contemporary Art’. In Situating Global Art, edited by Sara Dornhof, Nanne Buurman, Birgit Hopfener, and Barbara Lutz, 35–52. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2018. Bonaventure, Soh Bejeng Ndikung. In a While Or Two We Will Find the Tone: Essays and Proposals, Curatorial Concepts, and Critiques. Berlin: Archive Books, 2020. Foster, Hal. ‘An Archival Impulse’. October 110 (2004): 3–22. Hohr, H. ‘Aesthetic Emotion: An Ambiguous Concept in John Dewey’s Aesthetics’. Ethics and Education 5, no. 3 (1 November 2010): 247–61. Morgner, Christian. ‘Diversity and (In)Equality in the Global Art World: Global Development and Structure of Field-Configuring Events’. New Global Studies 11, no. 3 (2017): 165–96.  
citation information:
Güngör, Ayşe. ‘Mapping the Wounds of the World: Dis:Connectivities of Global Representation at the 12th Berlin Biennale’, 15 November 2022. https://www.globaldisconnect.org/11/15/mapping-the-wounds-of-the-world-disconnectivities-of-global-representation-at-the-12th-berlin-biennale/?lang=en.
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Breaking water: the dilemmas of dis:connection in the global-South city

sujit sivasundaram
  In this blog, I investigate the work that went into the making of  breakwaters in Colombo, Sri Lanka, around 1900 as a way of meditating on the relations between the environment, urban change, labour and politics in a global-South city.[1]

Arms stretching to sea

After the opening of the Suez Canal, Colombo became the second-most-used port in British Asia. By 1910, it was slightly behind Hong Kong and the seventh-busiest of the world’s ports by tonnage, easily ahead, for instance, of Calcutta/Kolkata or Bombay/Mumbai. At the heart of this transformation were infrastructural arms stretching out to sea, taming the winds and waves, and allowing steamer ships to dock in calm water for re-coaling. These arms were the breakwaters of Colombo. A south-west breakwater was constructed by 1885, followed by a further bout of infrastructural consolidation in the late 1890s and early 1900s and the building of a north-east and north-west breakwater. More recently, when I returned to Colombo in 2021, after being stuck in Britain over the course of the early pandemic, it was a shock to see another new arm stretching out to sea from Galle Face Green. This is Colombo’s $15 billion dollar Port City Development Project, an attempt to make it compete with megacities such as Singapore and Hong Kong and financed by China.[2] Meanwhile, Galle Face Green, on the seafront, was first formally laid out by the British as a parading and sporting ground in the mid-nineteenth century. One tradition is that the Dutch, who preceded the British, needed this level lawn to aim their cannon at the Portuguese. The new port city development project that faces this lawn has proceeded regardless of protests from environmental groups, fishing communities and from those concerned with the huge debt-burden to China which it will create. It is also at Galle Face Green that the wide-scale protests against the Sri Lankan government, in the midst of a pandemic-inflected economic crisis, arose. ‘Gotagohome village’, calling for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation, became a permanent site of protest on Galle Face Green in 2022.[3]  

Image: Dhammika Heenpella

Staging connections and the reality of disconnection

The breakwaters of the past and the Chinese-financed project of the present are attempts to make Colombo a connected node of global capitalist trade and politics. If so, thinking with the underside of this infrastructure, meaning the work that goes into its making and the way it changes the environment, takes us in turn to the interrupted dynamics of projects like this. It also takes us to why the sea face of Colombo continues to be a place where politics is appropriately staged and performed even in our present. The projected connections of capitalism lead into both the realities of disconnection and the generative possibilities that follow for political movements and resistance. In arguing like this I develop my claims in a book, Islanded, which came out about a decade ago, where I argued that disconnection and connection lie at the heart of the contradictory origins of the Sri Lankan state as an island set apart but linked with a mainland. I ended that book with this line:
a connection is a disconnection when viewed from another direction.[4]  
In what follows, I juxtapose a series of vignettes, firstly related to the interventionist power of the breakwaters, over nature, people and disease; secondly, I attend to resistance and consequences of various kinds, environmental and social included, which came from these infrastructural interventions. And then, at the end, I return to the contemporary moment.

A breakwater in the sea

In the late-nineteenth century, the work of making a breakwater was hard, and it also required work beneath the sea. The nature of the work changed according to whether the monsoon was in force or not. During the monsoon, stones and blocks and quantities of sand could be washed away unexpectedly. Additionally, the nature of the waves changed dramatically. The importance of keeping an eye on the sea in making plans for breakwater-making was especially evident in how records were kept on this seafront on wave heights, wave periods and winds. It was supposed at first that nine feet was the greatest height of waves at Colombo, but subsequent measurements determined that where the breakwater was being built waves rose to twelve feet and fifteen feet.

Image: KHK global dis:connect collection

Line of control

The breakwater is a line, a line of attempted control between sea and land. But it also served this purpose for the control of disease.[5] In the 1890s a large number of vessels were put under quarantine as fears of plague spread. By 1905 disinfection was undertaken ‘at the root of the breakwater’ with ‘an Equifex disinfector [a boiler and three disinfecting chambers]’[6] which was erected at that point alongside an immigration depot. The Bombay steamer was a particular target: all Bombay water was emptied off the ship rather carefully. Each individual on the Bombay steamer was allegedly inspected; their temperature taken, and ‘the state of the glands of his (sic.) neck, groins and armpits’ were examined; while ‘[f]emales are examined by a female examiner.’[7]

Beach reorganisation

The growing harbour of Colombo would not have expanded the way it did without the new breakwaters. For this was not a site with a significant natural harbour; the breakwaters made it possible for Colombo to become a site of trans-shipment at the centre of the Indian Ocean. Meanwhile, their construction and the resulting expansion of the city saw urban reorganisation. For instance, the harbour was emptied of ‘native vessels’[8], used by fishermen and a separate fishery harbour arose to the north of the main port in 1902. But once again, like in the assault of the waves on those who were building the breakwaters, this programme of managing the sea-face did not work. Fishing communities were incensed by their relocation. In one petition of 1906 with 11 signatures, for instance, they wrote against how their boats were forbidden to fish in the harbour area where they had traditionally done so. ‘True it is the Government have provided for us outside the Colombo Harbour, a place called ‘Fisher’s Harbour’... during the SW Monsoon the entrance of the harbour is not safe and the room for the accommodation of our fishing boats …  is quite insufficient’[9]. Various catamarans, fishing boats, that sought to continue operating in the harbour were seized by the harbour police. Meanwhile, the beach that was allocated to fishing communities was divided up so that different groups, demarcated by place of worship, had access to different stretches of the shore.


In late 1894, when the railway line was being laid along this stretch of shore, there were ‘disturbances’ at St. John’s Beach, and the accusation that some men had incited ‘a riot’ and turned on government officials.[10] This resistance was not only human; it was natural too. A fishermen’s petition from 1901–  from a group who had beached their boats close to Mutwal and the mouth of the Kelani River since ‘immemorial’ times – complained of all the functions occurring on their beach. The result was that:
[The] flow of water in the river is greatly obstructed by the large number of timber lying in the bed of the river and fever is spreading amongst the poor families of the fishermen who use the river for bathing purposes, the water being stagnant, the mud at the bottom has become putrid and the smell very offensive. [11]  
By 1912, the problems of space had affected fishing communities to the extent that one Sinhalese group, taken to be the majority ethnic community in the island today, asked that ‘Tamil’ fishermen be ousted from Colombo, on the basis that Tamils ‘are not residents of Ceylon’ and also since these fishermen were using types of nets prohibited by the state.[12] Modes of attempted management, to allow the port to connect, allowed inter-community relations in turn to deteriorate to ethnic tussles.

The stage of dis:connection

To move from the early twentieth century to the present and the sustained protests on this stretch of beach, there are various geopolitical reasons for their emergence. Grand schemes by the Chinese and Indians and others, including the Japanese, dictate the present and future of Colombo as well as the whole island. The pandemic and the loss of tourist and migrant labour incomes, for instance in the Middle East, have played a role too. In addition to this, it is also about the hold of an older generation of corrupt male politicians, who adopted supposedly populist tax cuts and new fertiliser policy for agriculture. If these reasons can be taken to indicate de-globalisation, strikingly, the protests of our moment have been led by the young and by those who did not grow up in the midst of the island’s civil war, between the Sinhala majority and the Tamil minority. The protests have crossed ethnic boundaries and seen the rise of new forms of solidarity. Muslims, one of the most discriminated communities, have broken fast in the midst of the protests. I want to end simply by stressing that these protests have also occurred on a stage facing the ocean. This is a lawn that repeated governments have struggled to keep green and struggled to convert into an iconic landscape of nationalism. It is fitting also that the protesters who stormed the president’s residence were seen swimming in a pool of water. It was this recording, together with others of the protests movement on the stretch of shoreline, that went viral when the news first broke.[13] Going into the water was a way of bringing a political movement to its sweet result: Colombo is a specific ecology, which has faced connection and disconnection, over centuries and not only at the hands of the British, but also the Portuguese and the Dutch and now various other superpowers. It is in the gap between connection and disconnection that Colombo has given rise to new political forms. The breakwater or indeed the lawn or harbour, have been effective places from which to rethink the political in a global South city. Meanwhile the performative possibilities of sites facing water carry on apace.   [1] This blog returns to an earlier article while bringing in lots of new dimensions: Sujit Sivasundaram, ‘Towards a Critical History of Connection: The Port of Colombo, the Geographical “Circuit,” and the Visual Politics of New Imperialism, ca. 1880–1914’, Comparative Studies in Society and History 59, no. 2 (2017): 346–84. [2] For an excellent introduction to the story see: Kanchana Ruwanpura, Benjamin Brown, and Loritta Chan, ‘(Dis) Connecting Colombo: Situating the Megapolis in Postwar Sri Lanka’, The Professional Geographer 72, no. 1 (2020): 165–79. [3] For some recent commentary on the protests and their causes, see for instance: J. Uyangoda, ‘The #GotaGoHome Protest Movement: Significance, Potential, and Challenges’, Social Scientists’ Association, 2022, http://ssalanka.org/gotagohome-protest-movement-significance-potential-challenges-jayadeva-uyangoda/; and: Shamara Wettimuny, ‘Protests in Sri Lanka: A Historical Perspective’, Medium, 10 April 2022, https://shamara-wettimuny.medium.com/protests-in-sri-lanka-a-historical-perspective-289e58908c5a. [4] See: Sujit Sivasundaram, Islanded: Britain, Sri Lanka, and the Bounds of an Indian Ocean Colony (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013); See also: Zoltán Biedermann, ‘(Dis)Connected History and the Multiple Narratives of Global Early Modernity’, Modern Philology 119, no. 1 (2021): 13–32, https://doi.org/10.1086/714972. [5] For references to the primary material in this paragraph and that following, please see: Sivasundaram, ‘Towards a Critical History of Connection: The Port of Colombo, the Geographical “Circuit,” and the Visual Politics of New Imperialism, ca. 1880–1914’. [6] Sivasundaram, 'Towards a Critical History'. [7] Sivasundaram, 'Towards a Critical History'. [8] Sivasundaram, 'Towards a Critical History'. [9] ‘Petition to the Hon’ble Government Agent of the Western Province’, 25 October 1906, Lot 33/3964, Sri Lanka National Archives. [10] ‘Documents’, n.d., Lot 33/3961, Sri Lanka National Archives Colombo. [11] ‘Petition’, 3 December 1901, Lot 33/3481, Sri Lanka National Archives. [12] ‘Petition to the Master Attendant from Signatories Who Sign in Sinhala’, 27 March 1912, Lot 33/3976, Sri Lanka National Archives. [13] ‘Sri Lanka Crisis: Protesters Swim in President’s Pool’, BBC, 9 July 2022, https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-asia-62105698.


Biedermann, Zoltán. ‘(Dis)Connected History and the Multiple Narratives of Global Early Modernity’. Modern Philology 119, no. 1 (2021): 13–32. https://doi.org/10.1086/714972. ‘Documents’, n.d. Lot 33/3961. Sri Lanka National Archives Colombo. ‘Petition’, 3 December 1901. Lot 33/3481. Sri Lanka National Archives. ‘Petition to the Hon’ble Government Agent of the Western Province’, 25 October 1906. Lot 33/3964. Sri Lanka National Archives. ‘Petition to the Master Attendant from Signatories Who Sign in Sinhala’, 27 March 1912. Lot 33/3976. Sri Lanka National Archives. Ruwanpura, Kanchana, Benjamin Brown, and Loritta Chan. ‘(Dis) Connecting Colombo: Situating the Megapolis in Postwar Sri Lanka’. The Professional Geographer 72, no. 1 (2020): 165–79. Sivasundaram, Sujit. Islanded: Britain, Sri Lanka, and the Bounds of an Indian Ocean Colony. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013. ———. ‘Towards a Critical History of Connection: The Port of Colombo, the Geographical “Circuit,” and the Visual Politics of New Imperialism, ca. 1880–1914’. Comparative Studies in Society and History 59, no. 2 (2017): 346–84. BBC. ‘Sri Lanka Crisis: Protesters Swim in President’s Pool’, 9 July 2022. https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-asia-62105698. Uyangoda, J. ‘The #GotaGoHome Protest Movement: Significance, Potential, and Challenges’. Social Scientists’ Association, 2022. http://ssalanka.org/gotagohome-protest-movement-significance-potential-challenges-jayadeva-uyangoda/. Wettimuny, Shamara. ‘Protests in Sri Lanka: A Historical Perspective’. Medium, 10 April 2022. https://shamara-wettimuny.medium.com/protests-in-sri-lanka-a-historical-perspective-289e58908c5a.  
citation information:
Sujit Sivasundaram, ‘Breaking Water: The Dilemmas of Dis:Connection in a Global-South City’, 2 November 2022, https://www.globaldisconnect.org/11/02/breaking-water-the-dilemmas-of-disconnection-in-the-global-south-city/?lang=en.
        Continue Reading

Ruminating on a hunch at Filamentous Magic Carpets

Anna Sophia Nübling
From left to right: Eiko Honda, Enis Maci, Anna Sophia Nübling (Image: Luzia Huber)
On Sunday 14 August 2022, the Lenbachhaus hosted an event in its beautiful garden: Filamentous Magic Carpets, curated by the writer and global dis:connect fellow Enis Maci. The event was part of the exhibition ‘Rosemary Mayer. Ways of Attaching’ at the Lenbachhaus. The event was inspired by the artist’s engagement with textile materials, weaving and matters of form that resonated with Enis Maci’s own interest in the 1990 science-fiction film Habitat and the Internet conspiracy saga surrounding the user 9MOTHER9EYES9HORSE, which she explored while at global dis:connect. Habitat is a science-fiction high-school comedy that examines the ecological discourse about the ozone hole and its disastrous consequences for life on earth in the late 90s. With the sun to incinerate all life on Earth in the near future, a scientist invents an inexplicable life form that expresses constantly emerging, shifting and disintegrating forms. The story of 9MOTHER9EYES9HORSE is a mashup of familiar conspiracy theories with LSD-fuelled paranormal occurrences around fleshy tunnels into other dimensions. Both narrations deal with implications of beholding the world through the lens of connections. The film is about a global ecological ‘system’ in which everything is connected with everything and that enables both a sense of attachment to what is called nature and technicist notions of its readjustment. The saga shows that, if done excessively, imagined connections can lead to the paranoia of conspiracy theories. Each in its own way, they challenge the notion that everything is connected and raise the (utopian) question of how a lifeform or a community might look when not fraught with the danger that notions of connectedness can entail, when they weave worlds too tightly. They inspire thoughts about a mode of living and thinking that would go beyond unifying, holistic notions of the self and of social entities to a way of thinking difference, alterity and a form of life that can entail such difference. As the exhibition showed, Mayer thought about her artworks as being at the ‘borderline to chaos’. That is, they are about forms that are hardly forms. In this sense, her work, too, is engaged with a way of thinking not in closed, well-ordered entities, but of dissolving rigid forms into ones that change, that can’t be fixed, and are therefore open to different interpretations and otherness. The life form in the film and Mayer’s textile sculptures and installations don’t dismiss any connections or attachments, but, as Enis Maci proposed with this event, inspire thought about how we imagine such connections, because they have implications for how we act. Following a ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’, as she called it, Enis Maci juxtaposed different artistic and scientific approaches and perspectives to ‘ways of attaching’ by association, which fruitfully complemented and communicated with each other. Under a bright sunny sky, the event started with a talk between Enis Maci, Eiko Honda and me. This was followed by readings from the publication Filamantous Magic Carpets, which the event launched (– mind the connection: the title is a citation from the book Utopia by Rosemary Mayer’s sister Bernadette Mayer). It brings together texts of writers (Sophia Eisenhut, Marius Goldhorn, Jonas Mölzer, Mazlum Nergiz and Pascal Richmann) and scholars (Eiko Honda and me). A concert by the sound artist Rosaceae and a film screening of Habitat completed the program. The light atmosphere of those special hours, the words that wafted through the warm air were ephemeral and will remain inscribed in the memories of those present, but what remains is the written word. Check it out at https://www.maerzverlag.de/shop/buecher/literatur/filamentous-magic-carpets/. Continue Reading

Surviving disconnections: global history behind North Korean engagement with Tanzania in the 1960s

seung hwan ryu
  On 30 January 2020, Rodong Shinmun, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), reported that North Korea had adopted the national emergency anti-epidemic system due to the outbreak of Covid-19.[1] Although North Korea did not officially confirm any Covid-19 cases until May 2022, Chad O’Carroll and James Fretwell wrote that commercial flights, train services—except for intermittent cargo deliveries—and shipping activity between North Korea and both China and Russia were heavily influenced by the pandemic.[2] While North Korea is notorious for its isolation from international society, the pandemic caused North Korea to be eventually disconnected from neighbouring countries in the 2020s. Although China and Russia have been the closest allies of North Korea since its independence from Japanese colonial rule in 1945, the Covid-19 outbreak was not the first time that North Korea has experienced disconnection from its patrons. In the 1960s, North Korea was more or less directly involved in the conflicts among socialist countries. One significant disconnection was the Sino-Soviet split, and the other was North Korea’s exit from the international . These disconnections induced severe political and economic ramifications for North Korea and Kim Il Sung (1912-94), but they also marked the beginning of a new connection between North Korea and African socialist countries, particularly Julius Nyerere’s Tanzania.
Julius Nyerere and Kim Il Sung congratulating the actors and actresses after watching a musical <Song of Paradise> in Mansudae Art Theater (Rodong Shinmun March 28, 1981), photograph by the author.
Why did North Korea establish a close connection with Tanzania in the 1960s? Among several explanations for this neglected connection, I focus on North Korea’s disconnections with its socialist allies as its primary historical background condition. Then, I describe the earlier phase of North Korean-Tanzanian relations to demonstrate how the two countries understood and perceived each other as post-colonial socialist partners.

Disconnections: rifts in the socialist world and North Korea

The Sino-Soviet split, which refers to the confrontation between the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union caused by different interpretations of Marxism-Leninism and disagreements on their methods of handling US imperialism,[3] was one of the most prominent and influential disconnections in the socialist sphere during the Cold War. Their dispute not only reshaped the topography of the Cold War into a tri-polar one but also had repercussions for their socialist neighbours. According to Lorenz Lüthi, the alliance between the Soviet Union and China gradually collapsed from 1956 to 1966, mainly due to ideological disagreements, and their relations eventually improved in the late 1980s.[4] This disconnection in the socialist world had repercussions for North Korea, which had often received financial and technical aid from its patrons after its independence and especially during the post-war reconstruction of the mid-1950s. The alliance between the Soviet Union and China turned into a confrontation after Nikita Khrushchev’s ‘secret speech’ during the 20th congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in February 1956 that called for de-Stalinisation and ‘peaceful coexistence’ with the capitalist bloc. Even though scholars provide different explanations for North Korean-Soviet relations in the late 1950s, Tae Seob Lee argues that there were no major disputes between February 1956 and September 1961.[5] Lee infers that the Soviets threatened to intervene between October and November 1961, based on Kim Il Sung’s emphasis of ‘rebirth through own efforts’ (Charyŏkkaengsaeng) in December, which was a reaction against the earlier attempt to intervene.[6] Furthermore, Khrushchev’s pressure on North Korea and other socialist countries in Eastern Europe to join the CMEA and participate in the socialist division of labour eventually triggered North Korea to publicly denounce the Soviets as revisionists and imperialists in 1962. As a result, North Korea stagnated economically as a mere supplier of raw material.[7] Park contends that Kim Il Sung could not renounce his principle to prioritise the development of heavy industry to light industry and agriculture which the Soviet Union had asked him to reconsider in the mid-1950s. Heavy industry had remained a North Korean priority since the end of the Korean War.[8] Along with the Soviet Union’s pressure on North Korea to join the socialist division of labour, the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 inspired North Korea to reinforce independence and self-defence instead of relying on the superpower.[9] North Korea’s decision to disconnect itself from the CMEA in 1962 led the country—at least in its foreign policy—to take a pro-Chinese stance. However, diminished aid from the Soviet Union led to a slowdown in economic growth, where Kim Il Sung admitted a de facto economic recession in the New Year’s address in 1965 and encouraged foreign trade and accept foreign technologies to overcome the crisis.[10] As North Korea perceived dogmatism on the part of China, where Mao focused on enforcing the Cultural Revolution and not cooperating with the Soviet Union in supporting North Vietnam, Kim Il Sung emphasised national independence and self-reliance again while searching for alternative partners among socialist countries in Eastern Europe and the newly independent countries in Asia and Africa.[11] While North Korea gradually restored its relationship with the Soviet Union after the ouster of Khrushchev in October 1964,[12] the idea of Juche (Chuch’e Sasang, often translated as self-reliance) became predominant in North Korea, since the regime tried to avoid further ramifications of the Sino-Soviet conflict. While the practical effect of the rhetoric of self-reliance is debatable, WPK newspapers and magazines repeatedly mentioned the significance of self-reliance. In 1965, Kim Il Sung vehemently insisted on Juche as a core principle of the state during his speech at the Ali Archam Academy: ‘… our Party has made every effort to establish Juche in opposition to dogmatism and flunkeyism towards great powers. Juche in ideology, independence in politics, self-support in the economy and self-reliance in national defence—this is the stand our Party has consistently adhered to’.[13] This precept was also applied to diplomacy, where ‘independent diplomacy’ was declared official doctrine in 1966. For instance, the WPK published an article in the daily newspaper as well as the monthly magazine of the Central Committee, Embracing Independence, in 1966, pointing out the problems of the international communist movement, including the Soviet Union’s and China’s and interference in domestic affairs, which are imperialist stances.[14]

Connections: searching for new partners

In order to realise independence in diplomacy, North Korea established diplomatic relations with newly decolonised countries in Asia and Africa to reduce its reliance on socialist allies and create an anti-imperialist connection. Its endeavour to establish a network with the ‘Third World’ had already begun in 1955, when it declared solidarity with the Bandung camp.[15] For instance, the provisional Algerian government and Guinea were the earliest African states to establish diplomatic relations with North Korea in 1958.[16] While some experts argue that North Korea did not have a sufficient economic resources or international status to create its own diplomatic network,[17] its aid to Egypt during the Suez Crisis and to Congo-Brazzaville in the 1960s show that North Korea managed to enhance its influence over African countries during the Sino-Soviet confrontation.[18] As the manifesto of Afro-Asian Networks Research Collective argues, connections among Asian and African countries in the 1950s and the 1960s were not only postcolonial diplomacy, but also ‘intensive social and cultural interaction across the decolonizing world’ that ‘navigated, ignored, and subverted’ the world order and power dynamics during the Cold War.[19] Following a goodwill mission led by Kim Thai Hai, North Korea and Tanzania established diplomatic relations in January 1965. Tanzania was one of the most significant socialist companions for North Korea due to the prominence of Julius Nyerere (1922-99, in office 1964-85) as the leader of African socialism.[20] Moreover, Dar es Salaam was an opportune place to connect with the foreign press and a refuge for African liberation movements in exile, such as the South-West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) and the Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO).[21] Rather than merely promoting the personal cult of Kim Il Sung, Juche ideology and military aid, which were eventually used later,[22] North Korea built proximity and familiarity with Tanzania by referring to the shared history of anti-colonial and anti-imperial struggle in the 1960s.

Julius Nyerere addressing a speech in front of a mass rally in Pyongyang (The Nationalist, June 27, 1968), photograph by the author.
For instance, references to anti-colonial and anti-imperial struggles were repeated in articles on Tanzania and Kim Il Sung’s speech when Tanzanian President Nyerere visited Pyeongyang in June 1968. The editorial of Rodong Shinmun on the day of Nyerere’s arrival in 1968 states that the peoples of North Korea and Tanzania were geographically distant, but they had both suffered from colonisation in the past and had a common denominator of struggle against imperialism and colonialism.[23] Rodong Shinmun published a half-page article on the history of Tanzania, from European colonialism’s suppression to its nation-building process after its independence in 1961.[24] It even mentioned the Maji Maji War as a prominent example of how Tanzanians fought against colonisers and emphasised that the anti-colonial struggle did not end in the 1960s, even after the independence of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, due to the permanent imperialist threat. Nyerere, who gained prominence throughout the socialist world with the 1967 Arusha Declaration, also considered North Korea as a favourable partner in 1968. A memorandum from the Australian High Commission in Dar es Salaam that evaluated that Nyerere’s interest in North Korea noted his appreciation for North Korea’s achievements, and that he took North Korea as a model to inform the Arusha Declaration.[25] Furthermore, Nyerere regarded North Korea and Tanzania relations as equals, without dominance, unlike the ‘implied inferiority’ of Tanzania in its relations with China. Following Nyerere’s visit to North Korea, the TANU Youth League invited North Korean experts to learn ‘the concept of a true social revolution’.[26] This invitation suggests Tanzania’s positive understanding of North Korea as an ideological leader of socialism, as it was the first invitation of external experts to practice revolutionary ideas, according to the Nationalist. Nyerere also visited Pyongyang twice more in the 1980s before he stepped down, and Ali Hassan Mwinyi (in office 1985-95) succeeded in the presidency in 1985.


North Korea’s establishment of solidarity with Tanzania and other African countries in the 1960s was preceded by the two major disconnections, the Sino-Soviet split and North Korea’s withdrawal from the socialist division of labour, which caused crises in its economy and foreign relations. North Korean engagement with African countries, particularly Tanzania, was initiated to overcome the predicament in its foreign relations. In order to build proximity with these countries, North Korea referred to the history of anti-colonial struggle and continuing problems of imperialism. China also used the rhetoric of anti-imperialism in its competition with the Soviet Union to expand its network to include Tanzania and other ‘Third World’ countries.[27] North Korea denounced the conflicts within the international communist movement—the Sino-Soviet split—to legitimise its independent path and differentiate itself from its socialist patrons. According to the Modern History of Korea, published in 1979 by the Foreign Language Publishing House in Pyongyang, independence, the anti-imperialist stand and internationalism in foreign activities are three fundamental principles of North Korea’s foreign policy.[28] Kim Il Sung argued that these principles were settled ‘since the first days of the founding’ of the country, but its reliance on the aid of socialist neighbours continued even after its disconnection from the socialist division of labour. Still, these principles helped North Korea explore connections with newly decolonised countries in Asia and Africa, where the rhetoric and shared memory of colonialism and imperialism could unite them with the underlying principle of independence, anti-imperialism and internationalism. Although Tanzania had little contact with North Korea before 1965, Julius Nyerere was attracted not only to North Korea’s post-war economic success, but also to the possibility of equal relations—compared to China—and the idea of anti-colonial and anti-imperial struggle. Even though North Korea’s self-identification as the global anti-imperialist leader might not be as persuasive in later years, its connection with Tanzania demonstrated how North Korea survived double disconnections in the socialist world by identifying new partners and asserting the principles of independence and self-reliance.   [1] ‘Sinhyŏngk’oronabirusŭgamyŏmjŭngŭl Ch’ŏljŏhi Makki Wihan Pisangdaech’aek Kanggu [Searching for Emergency Measures to Contain Coronavirus]’, Rodong Shinmun, 30 January 2020. [2] Chad O’Carroll and James Fretwell, ‘Pyongyang Officially Claims No Infections within Its Territory, and Has Taken Strict Steps to Stave off an Outbreak’, NKPRO, 26 March 2020, https://www.nknews.org/pro/covid-19-in-north-korea-an-overview-of-the-current-situation/?t=1585236870435. [3] Lorenz M. Lüthi, ‘The Sino-Soviet Split and Its Consequences’, in The Routledge Handbook of the Cold War, ed. Artemy Kalinovsky and Craig Daigle (London: Routledge, 2014), 75. [4] Lüthi, 75, 84–85. [5] Tae Seob Lee, Kimilssŏng Ridŏsip Yŏn’gu [Kim Il Sung Leadership Studies] (Seoul: Tŭllyŏk, 2001), 284; Sooryong Jo argues that de-Sovietisation in North Korea began in 1954 when the cabinet wrote the guidelines of the First Five-Year Plan (1957-61), and Kim Il Sung declared its de-Sovietisation in 1955 when the term ‘Juche’ was first used in public. See: Sooryong Jo, ‘Pukhanŭi Che1ch’a 5kaenyŏn Kyehoek(1957~61) Ch’oan’gwa t’alssoryŏnhwaŭi Kaesi [The Draft of the First Five-Year Plan (1957-61) and the Beginning of De-Sovietization in North Korea]’, Yoksa Hakbo, no. 249 (2021): 183–215. [6] Lee, Kimilssŏng Ridŏsip Yŏn’gu [Kim Il Sung Leadership Studies], 284. [7] Lee, 285–86. [8] Ah Reum Park, ‘1962nyŏn Pukhanŭi “Sahoejuŭi Kukchebunŏp” It’al Punsŏk [Analysis of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s Departure from the “International Socialist Division of Labor” in 1962]’, Critical Studies on Modern Korean History, no. 45 (2021): 457. [9] Lee, Kimilssŏng Ridŏsip Yŏn’gu [Kim Il Sung Leadership Studies], 286. [10] Lee, 299–301, 311. [11] Bomi Kim, Kimilssŏnggwa Chungsobunjaeng: Pukhan Chajuoegyoŭi Kiwŏn’gwa Hyŏngsŏng (1953-1966) [Kim Il Sung and the Sino-Soviet Split—Origins and the Making of North Korea’s Self-Supporting Diplomacy (1953-1966)] (Seoul: Sŏgangdaehakkyoch’ulp’anbu, 2019), 427. [12] Kim, 411. [13] Il Sung Kim, ‘On Socialist Construction in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the South Korean Revolution, Lecture at the “Ali Archam” Academy of Social Sciences of Indonesia, April 14, 1965’, in Kim Il Sung Works 19 (Pyongyang: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1984), 263. [14] ‘Chajusŏngŭl Onghohaja [Embracing Independence]’, Kŭlloja, August 1966. [15] Young-Sun Hong, Cold War Germany, the Third World, and the Global Humanitarian Regime (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 63. [16] Hong, 63. [17] Kim, Kimilssŏnggwa Chungsobunjaeng: Pukhan Chajuoegyoŭi Kiwŏn’gwa Hyŏngsŏng (1953-1966) [Kim Il Sung and the Sino-Soviet Split—Origins and the Making of North Korea’s Self-Supporting Diplomacy (1953-1966)], 268. [18] Hong, Cold War Germany, the Third World, and the Global Humanitarian Regime, 59. [19] Afro-Asian Networks Research Collective, ‘Manifesto: Networks of Decolonization in Asia and Africa’, Radical History Review, no. 131 (2018): 176, 178. [20] Owoeye Jidi, ‘The Metamorphosis of North Korea’s African Policy’, Asian Policy 31, no. 7 (1991): 636; ‘A1838’, 1 February 1965, 154/11/91, National Archives of Australia. [21] Tycho van der Hoog, ‘On the Success and Failure of North Korean Development Aid in Africa Yonho Kim’, in NKEF Policy and Research Paper Series, ed. Yonho Kim (Washington: George Washington University, 2022), 33; For transnational characteristics and influence of Dar es Salaam in the 1960s, see: George Roberts, Revolutionary State-Making in Dar Es Salaam: African Liberation and the Global Cold War, 1961-1974 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021). [22] These elements appear in North Korea’s Africa policy in the late 1960s and the 1970s. Recent publication by Benjamin Young provides a historical overview of North Korea-Third World relations: Benjamin Young, Guns, Guerillas, and the Great Leader (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2021). [23] ‘Ch’insŏnŭi Sajŏl, Kwijungan Sonnim [Envoy of Friendship, a Valuable Guest]’, Rodong Shinmun, 22 June 1968. [24] ‘Panjejaribŭi Killo Naganŭn t’anjania [Tanzania towards the Route of Anti-Imperialism and Self-Reliance]’, Rodong Shinmun, 22 June 1968. [25] ‘Tanzania: North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and North Korea’, 10 September 1968, A1838, 154/11/91, National Archives of Australia. [26] ‘Koreans to Advise TYL on True Socialism’, Nationalist, 12 November 1968. [27] Jeremy Friedman, Ripe for Revolution: Building Socialism in the Third World (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2022), 127. [28] Han Gil Kim, Modern History of Korea (Foreign Languages Publishing House, n.d.), 576–77.
‘A1838’, 1 February 1965. 154/11/91. National Archives of Australia. Afro-Asian Networks Research Collective. ‘Manifesto: Networks of Decolonization in Asia and Africa’. Radical History Review, no. 131 (2018): 176–78. Kŭlloja. ‘Chajusŏngŭl Onghohaja [Embracing Independence]’, August 1966. Rodong Shinmun. ‘Ch’insŏnŭi Sajŏl, Kwijungan Sonnim [Envoy of Friendship, a Valuable Guest]’, 22 June 1968. Friedman, Jeremy. Ripe for Revolution: Building Socialism in the Third World. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2022. Hong, Young-Sun. Cold War Germany, the Third World, and the Global Humanitarian Regime. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015. Hoog, Tycho van der. ‘On the Success and Failure of North Korean Development Aid in Africa Yonho Kim’. In NKEF Policy and Research Paper Series, edited by Yonho Kim, 31–42. Washington: George Washington University, 2022. Jidi, Owoeye. ‘The Metamorphosis of North Korea’s African Policy’. Asian Policy 31, no. 7 (1991): 635. Jo, Sooryong. ‘Pukhanŭi Che1ch’a 5kaenyŏn Kyehoek(1957~61) Ch’oan’gwa t’alssoryŏnhwaŭi Kaesi [The Draft of the First Five-Year Plan (1957-61) and the Beginning of De-Sovietization in North Korea]’. Yoksa Hakbo, no. 249 (2021): 183–215. Kim, Bomi. Kimilssŏnggwa Chungsobunjaeng: Pukhan Chajuoegyoŭi Kiwŏn’gwa Hyŏngsŏng (1953-1966) [Kim Il Sung and the Sino-Soviet Split—Origins and the Making of North Korea’s Self-Supporting Diplomacy (1953-1966)]. Seoul: Sŏgangdaehakkyoch’ulp’anbu, 2019. Kim, Han Gil. Modern History of Korea. Foreign Languages Publishing House, n.d. Kim, Il Sung. ‘On Socialist Construction in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the South Korean Revolution, Lecture at the “Ali Archam” Academy of Social Sciences of Indonesia, April 14, 1965’. In Kim Il Sung Works 19. Pyongyang: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1984. Nationalist. ‘Koreans to Advise TYL on True Socialism’, 12 November 1968. Lee, Tae Seob. Kimilssŏng Ridŏsip Yŏn’gu [Kim Il Sung Leadership Studies]. Seoul: Tŭllyŏk, 2001. Lüthi, Lorenz M. ‘The Sino-Soviet Split and Its Consequences’. In The Routledge Handbook of the Cold War, edited by Artemy Kalinovsky and Craig Daigle, 75. London: Routledge, 2014. O’Carroll, Chad, and James Fretwell. ‘Pyongyang Officially Claims No Infections within Its Territory, and Has Taken Strict Steps to Stave off an Outbreak’. NKPRO, 26 March 2020. https://www.nknews.org/pro/covid-19-in-north-korea-an-overview-of-the-current-situation/?t=1585236870435. Rodong Shinmun. ‘Panjejaribŭi Killo Naganŭn t’anjania [Tanzania towards the Route of Anti-Imperialism and Self-Reliance]’, 22 June 1968. Park, Ah Reum. ‘1962nyŏn Pukhanŭi “Sahoejuŭi Kukchebunŏp” It’al Punsŏk [Analysis of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s Departure from the “International Socialist Division of Labor” in 1962]’. Critical Studies on Modern Korean History, no. 45 (2021). Roberts, George. Revolutionary State-Making in Dar Es Salaam: African Liberation and the Global Cold War, 1961-1974. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021. Rodong Shinmun. ‘Sinhyŏngk’oronabirusŭgamyŏmjŭngŭl Ch’ŏljŏhi Makki Wihan Pisangdaech’aek Kanggu [Searching for Emergency Measures to Contain Coronavirus]’, 30 January 2020. ‘Tanzania: North Vietnam, South Vietnam, and North Korea’, 10 September 1968. A1838, 154/11/91. National Archives of Australia. Young, Benjamin. Guns, Guerillas, and the Great Leader. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2021.  
citation information:
Ryu, Seung Hwan. ‘Surviving Disconnections: Global History behind North Korean Engagement with Tanzania in the 1960s’, 10 April 2022. https://www.globaldisconnect.org/10/04/surviving-disconnections-global-history-behind-north-korean-engagement-with-tanzania-in-the-1960s/?lang=en.
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lithospheric connectivity

tom menger[1]
He saw in oil a weapon, and he heard groaning in the bowels of the Earth when the jack pumped up the oil (…)
From Varujan Vosganian’s novel Book of Whispers (2018 [2009])[2] What if global dis:connectivity stretches not only around the surface of our globe, but also into its crust? Let me present some initial thoughts on this idea from the perspective of global oil and gas extraction since the nineteenth century. Since August 2021, I have been researching early colonial oil extraction (ca. 1880-1920) at global dis:connect. Specifically, I am investigating the imperial infrastructures in situ that made such extraction possible and that bound commodities into global networks of extraction and consumption, creating new connections while simultaneously diverting or cutting others. In this piece, however, I want to chart a more experimental course and look, from a broader dis:connective as well as historical and contemporary angle, at oil and gas drilling as connecting and disconnecting the world above with its lithosphere − what one could tentatively call lithospheric connectivity. Obviously, this human foray into the earth did not only involve fossil fuels but all sorts of minerals. Here, however, I focus mainly on oil and gas extraction. Humans have been digging into the earth for millennia – deep mines were already known in antiquity. In China, oil wells up to 240 metres deep already existed in 347 BCE. Nevertheless, fossil fuel extraction and the consequent incursions into the lithosphere grew dramatically from the second half of the nineteenth century onwards. This was ‘the golden age of resource-based development’, when the last yet-unincorporated territories were colonised and capitalist power pushed into these new, non-commodified spaces − a process Jason Moore has called the ‘lifeblood’ of capitalism.[3] The urge to dig deeper was certainly unprecedented, as for instance in the oil boom of the second half of the nineteenth century. While it is little known, many of the areas that were to become centres of Western colonial oil extraction actually already had local extraction infrastructures. Some were quite elaborate, others more rudimentary. In British-occupied Burma, at the Yenangyaung fields, Western oilmen came upon an extensive hand-dug well industry, controlled by a hereditary monopoly of 24 men and women, named the twinzayo.[4] In the Mesopotamian oilfields (i.e. Iraq), European travellers noted how fissures where oil seeped from the rocks were leased out by the state and that lease-holders had artificially deepened these natural wells with, for instance, steps hewn out in the rock. At some places, wage labourers emptied the oil pits every four or five days; at others the oil was channeled through iron tubes into collection reservoirs.[5] Generally, however, these wells did not reach very far into the lithosphere. In Burma, most wells were 46-76 metres deep; in Mesopotamia they were only a few metres deep.[6] Depth was not really necessary; often the shallow wells were already producing enough to cover local demand. Transportation obstacles also made it unprofitable to produce for further afar. Producing for further afar, however, was exactly what the incoming Europeans wanted. Their ceaseless extension of horizontal, global lines of transport was what drove the vertical push deeper into the earth. When a German military commando unit, the first Westerners to drill in Mesopotamia during wartime in 1917-1918, arrived on site, they already had with them steam-powered drilling equipment able to reach a depth of 400 metres.[7] In Burma too, the depth of the existing wells was quickly overtaken by new wells drilled by industrial machinery. Interestingly, however, the twinzayo reacted by adopting the diving dress, which allowed their drillers to stay underground for longer and deepen their wells, thus remaining competitive for several decades.[8]
This Bank of Burma banknote, first issued in 1987, shows a Burmese oil driller carrying a diving dress (Image: Nsmm45, Wikipedia).
But how connected was humankind really with the subsoil? Relative to the enormity of the lithosphere, these wells remained limited in depth as well as extraction. The Germans in Mesopotamia, could not operate the machinery for their deep drills, first by a lack of personnel, then by the collapse of the front, which saw the German connection to the area cut (the region was taken over by the British Empire, whose engineers would only resume drilling there in 1927).[9] Furthermore, drillers actually extracted very little of Original Oil In Place (OOIP), a technical term denoting the total amount of oil present in a basin. For a long time, drillers had only the vaguest estimates of how much of this OOIP they actually extracted, although they sensed that it was very little. In 1925, some 65 years after first industrial oil extraction in Pennsylvania, a German study surveyed the existing literature and concluded the rate of extraction could be anywhere between 4 and 20 per cent. Later research has shown this to be closer to 5-15 per cent (obviously, the exact amounts vary depending on the location). A French expert was cited who, with some justification, held that an oil well, for all the industrial machinery and the drilling towers, was nothing but a ‘pin prick’ into the earth.[10] For most of this extraction, the drillers relied not on machinery but on the forces of nature. Natural water or gas, reacting to pressure differences in underground basins, is generally what pushed the oil to the surface. Initially, this often occurred with great force, as we know from the famous images of blowouts or ‘geysers’.

An oil gusher in the Kirkuk district, Iraq, c. 1932 (Image: G. Eric and Edith Matson, Matson Photographic Collection, Library of Congress, Wikimedia)
Interestingly, too much connectivity was actually a bad thing here. The more ‘pin pricks’ into the Earth, the more outlets to release pressure that would otherwise push the oil to the surface. However, as the article quoted above noted, human egotism generally led to an ‘overdose’ of such connectivity, as there were too many rival actors at the same spot (at least initially).[11] As we now know, perforating the Earth in that way was also detrimental in that it released the natural gas (mostly methane) from the reservoir into the atmosphere. Such gas leakage remains an important contributor to climate change. Over the course of the twentieth century, new drilling technology enabled the oil industry to penetrate ever deeper. In 1949, when records began, the average depth of oil wells was already 3635 feet (1108 metres). By the end of the 2010s, it sank to nearly 6000 feet (1828 metres, or 1,8 kilometres). Outliers are poorly reflected in these averages. The world’s deepest well (measured by true vertical depth) in the Tiber Oil Field, in the American portion of the Gulf of Mexico, pierces 10.87 kilometres into the ground (though it is currently dormant). Worldwide, ‘shallow’ oil reserves are largely exhausted. The introduction of directional drilling in the 1970s has changed the idea of depth itself, as it entails drilling horizontally from a certain depth. The former ‘pin pricks’ thus become tentacles, extending our subterranean reach. Depth is no longer equivalent to distance. For example, the Sakhalin O-14 well in Russia, with a modest depth of a less than a kilometre belies an astonishing length of nearly fifteen kilometres.[12] It should also be noted that the hunger for fossil fuels did not drive human infiltration into the lithosphere alone. Superpower rivalry was another motive. In 1970, the Soviet Union started drilling the Kola Superdeep Borehole (on the Kola Peninsula, near the Norwegian border), to reach the deepest artificial point on Earth. This was not ventured as a hunt for fuel, but as a scientific feat. In 1979, it became the deepest borehole in the world, surpassing the Bertha Rogers oil well in the United States. Despite several breakdowns and interruptions, the Soviets reached a depth of 12,262 metres in 1989. Symbolising the breakdown of the Soviet Union itself, the borehole could go no deeper, though drilling from other holes at the same shaft continued into the early 1990s till financial problems prompted its abandonment in 1994. The temperatures at that depth exceeded expectations, and the rock became plastic, precluding further drilling.[13] Technology has not only changed the depth of humanity’s reach into the Earth, but also its intensity. Primary recovery — the initial phase of production — can extract some 5-15 per cent of OOIP. When the pressure starts to fall, as is natural in all producing oil reservoirs over time, yields decrease. Pumps can compensate for a while, but that is where primary recovery ends. Therefore, the oil industry has long been using secondary recovery: flooding water or gas into the reservoirs, thus restoring pressure. This allows for more extraction, though typically only to some 30-50 per cent. Recent decades have seen the adoption of tertiary recovery, which can increase yields by an additional 5-15 per cent. These processes, which mostly involve the injection of further fluids into the reservoirs, impact the subsoil drastically. For heavy oil, these processes are mostly thermal, reducing viscosity through heat to ease extraction. This can involve introducing hot steam into the Earth under heavy pressure or simply burning part of the oil underground to release part of the rest. Other methods include injecting chemicals into the wells or using microbes (though the latter, apparently less damaging, is still very rare).[14] Human efforts to extract the resources of the lithosphere reach their maximum when just over half of the OOIP has reached the surface. The natural properties of subterranean oil resist some of the oil industry’s machinery, which leads some scientists to speak anthropomorphically of ‘recalcitrant oil fields’.[15] Moreover, reaching into the Earth also has unintended consequences. As Martin Meiske has noted for huge artificial canals, humankind cannot interfere with impunity in what took geological processes millions of years to create.[16] While the damage done by oil extraction above ground is well-known (e.g. pollution and human conflict), the effects underground can be at least as intense. For instance, in the Dutch province of Groningen, where natural gas has been extracted from below ground for decades, empty gas reservoirs have destabilised the soil, leading to increased seismic activity, with homes sinking and fracturing.[17] Hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’), another aggressive mode of extraction, whereby rock formations containing gas or oil are ‘cracked open’ by injecting liquids at high-pressure, has led to the contamination of groundwater and triggered earthquakes in fracking areas in the United States and elsewhere. However, will the anticipated ‘end of oil’, or fossil fuels more generally, disconnect us from the lithosphere at some point? Despite the currently breath-taking rise in fuel prices, pressure to decarbonise will eventually make reaching deep into the lithosphere for oil and gas unprofitable. In the long run, all such connections will be cut.[18] Will this mean a retreat of lithospheric connectivity? First, abandoning and plugging oil wells have been a constant in the age of fossil fuels. Wells that fail to produce are abandoned. This points to a key aspect of dis:connectivity: connection and disconnection generally occur simultaneously, and they are mutually constitutive. On Sumatra, another of my case studies involving early oil extraction in a colonial setting, the Peureulak oil field in Aceh, was the field that effectively launched the Royal Dutch Shell oil company. However, by the time Shell had become one of the world’s main oil companies, the Peureulak field was already exhausted and abandoned, leaving a huge area of derelict pumps, tubes and polluted soil (though drilling continued in other parts of the island).[19] Currently, some 29 million wells have been abandoned globally, which brings us to the second point: abandoning a well does not disconnect it from our surface and atmosphere. Instead, many continue to leak gas or oil, sometimes for more than a century (and some might go on for another century). By one estimate, 2.5 million tonnes of methane might escape abandoned wells globally per year, with the annual damage to our climate equivalent to three weeks of current US oil consumption.[20] Third, rather than cut connections, we will likely merely reverse their direction. While we have mostly been extracting hydrocarbons from the Earth, there are ambitious plans to refill oil and gas reservoirs with carbon dioxide sequestered from the atmosphere. Ironically, however, this is in part intended as a way to access the oil remaining in ‘depleted’ oilfields. As it is, injecting carbon dioxide into these reservoirs can modify some qualities of the oil still in place so that it is more easily released from the rock. This ‘CO2-Enhanced Oil Recovery’ is represented as a bridge to a carbon-free future — still extracting oil for consumption while simultaneously sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. According to one study CO2-EOR has the potential to sequester 140 billion tonnes of CO2 (for comparison: global annual emissions are now some 36 billion tonnes). In the Permian Basin in the United States and elsewhere, there is already an extensive pipeline network carrying carbon dioxide to oilfields.[21] If subsoil sequestration of carbon dioxide does indeed take off globally, we might soon have a global network of such pipelines. One day, however, even the underground reservoirs will be full, and this network might fall idle like the preceding infrastructures of lithospheric connectivity, becoming terminals to nowhere, testimonies to the human urge to penetrate and capitalise on the ground beneath our feet. Let us return, finally, to the Kola Superdeep Borehole. According to a picture on Wikipedia, the borehole appears to have been welded shut sometime after the project was halted.

The Kola Superdeep Borehole, welded shut, August 2012 (Image: Rakot13, Wikimedia)
While closed now, its ability to ignite popular fantasies is unbroken. In 2020, it starred in a Russian horror film, in which a mysterious mould contaminates researchers in a fictitious secret lab deep down the shaft, causing them to melt into one huge aggressive creature that hunts for the rescuers on their way down.[22] The real horror of lithospheric connectivity, however, might lay instead in its prolonged effects on our environment. The human ‘pin pricks’ into the Earth will prove of great consequence for all of us — and certainly also a subject worth exploring further from the perspective of a global lithospheric dis:connect.   [1] I thank Ben Kamis not only for his copy-editing but especially also for giving me the thematic suggestion for this piece. [2] Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are my own. [3] Jason W. Moore, Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital (London: Verso, 2015), 82; Edward B. Barbier, Scarcity and Frontiers: How Economies Have Developed Through Natural Resource Exploitation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), chap. 7, https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511781131.008. [4] Marilyn Longmuir, ‘Twinzayo and Twinza: Burmese “oil Barons” and the British Administration’, Asian Studies Review 22, no. 3 (1998): 339–56. [5] See for instance: Walther Schweer, Die türkisch-persischen Erdölvorkommen (Hamburg: Friederichsen, 1919), 41–42. [6] Longmuir, ‘Twinzayo and Twinza’, 341; Schweer, Die türkisch-persischen Erdölvorkommen, 40–46. [7] Erich Reuss, Reisebericht über die Kommandierung zum Brennstoffkommando in Arabien von Jan. 1917-März 1919, Landesarchiv Nordrhein-Westfalen, Oberbergamt Bonn BR 0101, Nr. 1286, pp. 5-6, 14. [8] Marilyn V. Longmuir, Oil in Burma: The Extraction of ‘Earth-Oil’ to 1914 (Bangkok: White Lotus Press, 2001), 158–59. [9] Reuss, Reisebericht, p. 31; Ferdinand Friedensburg, Das Erdöl im Weltkrieg (Stuttgart: Enke, 1939), 48–49. [10] Gottfried Schneiders, ‘Wieviel Erdöl ist in verlassenen Ölfeldern zurückgeblieben?’, Petroleum XXI, no. 13 (n.d.): 866. [11] Schneiders, 866; E. Tzimas et al., Enhanced Oil Recovery Using Carbon Dioxide in the European Energy System (Luxembourg: Publications Office of the EU, 2005), 22. [12] ‘Average Depth of Crude Oil and Natural Gas Wells’, U.S. Energy Information Administration, 1 October 2020, https://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/pet_crd_welldep_s1_a.htm; ‘Longest Vertically and Directionally Drilled Oil and Natural Gas Wells Worldwide as of 2019’, Statista, November 2019, https://www.statista.com/statistics/479685/global-oil-wells-by-depth/; ‘How Far Do We Drill To Find Oil?’, Petro Online, 5 November 2014, https://www.petro-online.com/news/fuel-for-thought/13/breaking-news/how-far-do-we-drill-to-find-oil/32357. [13] Christopher McFadden, ‘The Kola Superdeep Borehole Is the Deepest Vertical Borehole in the World’, Interesting Engineering, 29 March 2019, https://interestingengineering.com/the-real-journey-to-the-center-of-the-earth-the-kola-superdeep-borehole. [14] Tzimas et al., Enhanced Oil Recovery, 21–22; Ann Muggeridge et al., ‘Recovery Rates, Enhanced Oil Recovery and Technological Limits’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 372, no. 2006 (13 January 2014): 20120320, https://doi.org/10.1098/rsta.2012.0320. Also note that the sequence of primary to tertiary recovery has become increasingly obsolete, with tertiary techniques currently being used right from the beginning in a process now known simply as Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR). [15] Christina Nikolova and Tony Gutierrez, ‘Use of Microorganisms in the Recovery of Oil from Recalcitrant Oil Reservoirs: Current State of Knowledge, Technological Advances and Future Perspectives’, Frontiers in Microbiology 10 (2020): 1–18. [16] Martin Meiske, Die Geburt des Geoengineerings: Großbauprojekte in der Frühphase des Anthropozäns (Göttingen: Wallstein-Verlag, 2021), 205–7. [17] Herman Damveld, Gaswinning Groningen: een bewogen geschiedenis (Bedum: Profiel, 2020). [18] ‘The Age of Fossil-Fuel Abundance Is Dead’, The Economist, 4 October 2021, https://www.economist.com/finance-and-economics/the-age-of-fossil-fuel-abundance-is-dead/21805253. [19]Anton Stolwijk, Atjeh: het verhaal van de bloedigste strijd uit de Nederlandse koloniale geschiedenis (Amsterdam: Prometheus, 2016), 185-186. [20] Nichola Groom, ‘Special Report: Millions of Abandoned Oil Wells Are Leaking Methane, a Climate Menace’, Reuters, 16 June 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-drilling-abandoned-specialreport-idUSKBN23N1NL. [21] Michael Godec et al., ‘CO2 Storage in Depleted Oil Fields: The Worldwide Potential for Carbon Dioxide Enhanced Oil Recovery’, Energy Procedia 4 (2011): 2162–69. [22] Arseny Syuhin, Superdeep [Kolskaya Sverhglubokaya], motion picture, 2020.  
U.S. Energy Information Administration. ‘Average Depth of Crude Oil and Natural Gas Wells’, 1 October 2020. https://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/pet_crd_welldep_s1_a.htm. Barbier, Edward B. Scarcity and Frontiers: How Economies Have Developed Through Natural Resource Exploitation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511781131.008. Damveld, Herman. Gaswinning Groningen: een bewogen geschiedenis. Bedum: Profiel, 2020. Friedensburg, Ferdinand. Das Erdöl im Weltkrieg. Stuttgart: Enke, 1939. Godec, Michael, Neil Wildgust, Kuuskraa, Vello, Tyler Van Leeuwen, and Stephen L. Melzer. ‘CO2 Storage in Depleted Oil Fields: The Worldwide Potential for Carbon Dioxide Enhanced Oil Recovery’. Energy Procedia 4 (2011): 2162–69. Groom, Nichola. ‘Special Report: Millions of Abandoned Oil Wells Are Leaking Methane, a Climate Menace’. Reuters, 16 June 2020. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-drilling-abandoned-specialreport-idUSKBN23N1NL. Petro Online. ‘How Far Do We Drill To Find Oil?’, 5 November 2014. https://www.petro-online.com/news/fuel-for-thought/13/breaking-news/how-far-do-we-drill-to-find-oil/32357. Statista. ‘Longest Vertically and Directionally Drilled Oil and Natural Gas Wells Worldwide as of 2019’, November 2019. https://www.statista.com/statistics/479685/global-oil-wells-by-depth/. Longmuir, Marilyn. ‘Twinzayo and Twinza: Burmese “oil Barons” and the British Administration’. Asian Studies Review 22, no. 3 (1998): 339–56. Longmuir, Marilyn V. Oil in Burma: The Extraction of ‘Earth-Oil’ to 1914. Bangkok: White Lotus Press, 2001. McFadden, Christopher. ‘The Kola Superdeep Borehole Is the Deepest Vertical Borehole in the World’. Interesting Engineering, 29 March 2019. https://interestingengineering.com/the-real-journey-to-the-center-of-the-earth-the-kola-superdeep-borehole. Meiske, Martin. Die Geburt des Geoengineerings: Großbauprojekte in der Frühphase des Anthropozäns. Göttingen: Wallstein-Verlag, 2021. Moore, Jason W. Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital. London: Verso, 2015. Muggeridge, Ann, Andrew Cockin, Kevin Webb, Harry Frampton, Ian Collins, Tim Moulds, and Peter Salino. ‘Recovery Rates, Enhanced Oil Recovery and Technological Limits’. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 372, no. 2006 (13 January 2014): 20120320. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsta.2012.0320. Nikolova, Christina, and Tony Gutierrez. ‘Use of Microorganisms in the Recovery of Oil from Recalcitrant Oil Reservoirs: Current State of Knowledge, Technological Advances and Future Perspectives’. Frontiers in Microbiology 10 (2020): 1–18. Schneiders, Gottfried. ‘Wieviel Erdöl ist in verlassenen Ölfeldern zurückgeblieben?’ Petroleum XXI, no. 13 (n.d.): 865–70. Schweer, Walther. Die türkisch-persischen Erdölvorkommen. Hamburg: Friederichsen, 1919. Syuhin, Arseny. Superdeep [Kolskaya Sverhglubokaya]. Motion picture, 2020. The Economist. ‘The Age of Fossil-Fuel Abundance Is Dead’, 4 October 2021. https://www.economist.com/finance-and-economics/the-age-of-fossil-fuel-abundance-is-dead/21805253. Tzimas, E., A. Georgakaki, C. Garcia-Cortes, and S.D. Peteves,. Enhanced Oil Recovery Using Carbon Dioxide in the European Energy System. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the EU, 2005.  
citation information:
Menger, Thomas. ‘Lithospheric Connectivity’. Static. Thoughts and Research from Global Dis:Connect (blog), 20 September 2022. https://www.globaldisconnect.org/09/20/lithospheric-connectivity/?lang=en.
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Mars and the urge to connect around 1900

anna sophia nübling
  What do you think this drawing depicts?

Marsland from Les Terres du Ciel (1884)

It might seem a strange question. Isn’t the answer obvious? We see a cloudy sky. The viewer’s gaze is drawn to the horizon where the sun is either rising or setting. The mood is calm and peaceful. In the foreground, we see a marshland streaked with channels, though seemingly untouched and natural. Something is peeking into the immediate foreground. It could be rocks or a wooden fence, imparting the impression of looking down on the lonely landscape from a hill. But the motif is very different from what it appears to be. It is no peaceful marshland. Rather, it’s Marsland: a depiction of the surface of Mars. And it is by no means as untouched and unspectacular as it may appear.

Theories about connected life on Mars around 1900

The drawing is taken from a book titled Les Terres du Ciel, published in 1884 by the French astronomer Camille Flammarion.[1] In this publication, Flammarion argued (as in many other books he authored[2]) that Earth was not the only inhabited planet. Life on other planets, he was convinced, was highly probable. Whether or not life exists elsewhere is an old debate,[3] but as for Mars, there seemed to be proof, since in 1877 the astronomer Giovanni Sciaparelli claimed to have seen channels on the surface. Other astronomers, like Flammarion in France or Percival Lowell in the USA, reaffirmed this observation and argued that these channels must be artificial, interpreting them as huge canals created by Martian creatures.[4] Mars seemed especially suitable for life, as it appeared geographically and chemically very similar to Earth.[5] Lowell in particular propounded the thesis that Martians were building vast canals, as ever more seemed to be appearing over time. Referring to Lowell, the New York Times from 27 August 1911 headlined: Martians Build Two Immense Canals in Two Years. Vast Engineering Works Accomplished in an Incredibly Short Time by Our Planetary Neighbors.[6] Lowell, according to this newspaper article, had detected canals of which there had been no trace two years before. No natural reason for their existence, such as ‘seasonal changes’ on Mars, could explain these new canals. They must have been built! Their geometric arrangement encouraged this interpretation — ‘of most orderly self-restraint’ and ‘wonderfully clear cut’, as the author of the Times article quoted Lowell.[7] Therefore, they must have been the result of engineering. Around the turn of the twentieth century, this theory found considerable resonance in popular culture, as is well known. It inspired works of literature and film such as H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds and fuelled an imaginary of Mars that remains vivid today. A depiction of the imagined system of canals on Mars. Title of Cosmopolitan Magazine XLIV, 4 (March 1908). https://www.loc.gov/item/cosmos000114. This theory about life on Mars featured prominently in the discussion around 1900 about whether the new wireless communication technology could be used to communicate with extra-terrestrial beings — a discussion electrified by pioneers of that technology, like Nikola Tesla and Guglielmo Marconi, as well as the keen interest of the press. Already in 1892, Flammarion was convinced that the prospect of communicating with extra-terrestrials was ‘not at all absurd’.[8] In fact, Tesla published an article in 1901 claiming that he had actually received extra-terrestrial signals with a wireless device. They must have been signs of intelligent life, as they gave a ‘clear suggestion of number and order’. Tesla also prophesied that ‘with the novel means […] signals can be transmitted to a planet such as Mars’,[9] rendering interplanetary conversations thinkable. According to the press, Marconi, too, revealed in 1920 that he believed some of the signals he had received during his experiments ‘originated in the space beyond our planet’ and had been ‘sent by the inhabitants of other planets to the inhabitants of earth’. He even explicitly referred to the inhabitants of Mars when he stated that he ‘would not be surprised if they should find a means of communication with this planet.’ As ‘our own planet is a storehouse of wonders’, nothing seemed impossible.[10]

Connectivity as a feature of progress

The story of the nineteenth-century fascination with Mars has been told many times.[11] Of course, as far as we know there were and are no real connections at all, neither canals on Mars nor signals from Martians. But around the turn of the twentieth century, people started to imagine them, and this is no less interesting. The whole story about Martians building infrastructure and communicating is about them being connected to each other and even to the inhabitants of other worlds. Obviously, this tells us less about Mars than about the significance and valuation of connections and connectivity as they were perceived on Earth at that time. Imagining extra-terrestrial beings is, therefore, not about imagining the other, as is often argued in scholarship,[12] but about imagining oneself.[13] Here begins historians’ interest in Martian canals, at least those historians seeking to offer a more nuanced and less normative history of the role connections have played in making of the modern world. They offer an unusual point of departure for a critical history of the euphoria induced by connectivity and its implications. First, the obvious: discussions about canals on Mars and communicating Martians reflect recent experiences on Earth. Martian canals would have been unthinkable without the impressive technological developments of the nineteenth century. Flammarion, for instance, explicitly mentioned alpine tunnels, the Suez Canal (opened in 1869), the Panama Canal (opened in 1914), and, more generally, railways, telegraphy, electricity, photography and the telephone.[14] Around 1900, speculation about communicating with Mars became a fanciful extrapolation on the future use of the new wireless technology. More abstractly, however, visions of infrastructure-building and communicating Martians reveal a lot about late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century assumptions about the significance of connectedness for the idea of progress. Tesla took for granted that Mars was best suited for communication with Earth because ‘its intelligent races […] are far superior than us.’[15] The planet’s beneficial climate, but especially its age, supported that widespread conviction.[16] Flammarion, for example, found it ‘naturel’ and ‘logique’ that the greater age of  ‘humanité’ on Mars made it ‘plus perfectionnée’ than that on Earth.[17] Evolution, according to Flammarion, occurred on all inhabited worlds the very same way. A ‘long-period comet passing in sight of the Earth from time to time’, he envisioned, ‘would have seen modifications of existence in each of its transits, in accordance with a slow evolution […] progressing incessantly, for if Life is the goal of nature, Progress is the supreme law.’ And this law of evolutionary progress, he was convinced, was ‘the same for all worlds’.[18] For observers on Earth, Martians’ ability to build huge canals and to communicate with wireless was the ultimate proof that evolution had led Martians to a higher stage of development. The famous inventor Thomas Edison, for example, in 1920 equated technologically assisted communication with advancement, stating that: ‘If we are to accept […] that these signals are being sent out by inhabitants of other planets, we must at once accept with it the theory of their advanced development’.[19]  And as for the canals, the writer H.G. Wells made use of the typical argument in an 1908 article in Cosmopolitan Magazine about Things that live on Mars. Referring again to the correlation between age and advancement, he speculated that ‘Martians are probably far more intellectual than men and more scientific’. He attributed this alleged Martian advancement to the fact that they were, according to him, ‘creatures of sufficient energy and engineering science’, who were able ‘to make canals beside which our greatest human achievements pale into insignificance’.[20]

Outer space and global history

Discussions about life on Mars around 1900 are, therefore, more than mere fanciful speculation. Reading them as reflections about the familiar rather than the other, they reveal deep-reaching assumptions about the nature of connectedness and its normative implications. They indicate that connectivity had become an important marker of progress. Both a state of being connected and the ability to build connective technology became signs of the evolutionary advancement of a particular place, territory, or even an entire planet. Global historians should take this as a reminder that connectivity often had and has normative implications as an indicator of advancement in a progressive teleology. Those without connections or broken connections were perceived as laggards in the scheme of evolution — be they in Africa or Mercury. The drawing that opened this essay, we may conclude, is not a romantic scene, but an important sign of a cosmological theory of progress by means of connectivity where technological infrastructure is the most important factor (and evidence). It is a vision that, in cosmological terms, extends beyond Mars and in which outer space is potentially full of communicating empires. Such assumptions suffuse not only science fiction, but were also formative when the Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence became a state-funded scientific enterprise in the 1960s in the USA and elsewhere — but that’s another story.   [1] Camille Flammarion, Les terres du ciel (Paris, 1884), 65. [2] Flammarion published his first book, La pluralité des mondes habités in 1862 at the age of twenty. Especially for Mars, see also Camille Flammarion, La planète Mars et ses conditions d’habitabilité (Paris, 1892). [3] For the history of the idea of extra-terrestrial life, see Michael Crowe, The Extraterrestrial Life Debate 1750-1900. The Idea of a Plurality of Worlds from Kant to Lowell (Cambridge, 1986). [4] Helga Abret and Lucian Boia, Das Jahrhundert der Marsianer. Der Planet Mars in der Science Fiction bis zur Landung der Viking-Sonden 1976. Ein Science-Fiction Sachbuch (München, 1984), 44. Lowell published his ideas about Mars in his books Mars (Boston et al., 1895), Mars and Its Canals (New York, 1906) and Mars as the Abode of Life (New York, 1908). [5] Flammarion, La planète Mars et ses conditions d’habitabilité, 589. [6] Mary Proctor, ‘Martians Build Two Immense Canals in Two Years’, The New York Times Sunday Magazine 1911 (27 August 1911). [7] Ibid. [8]  Crowe, The Extraterrestrial Life Debate 1750-1900, 395. [9] Nikola Tesla, ‘Talking with the Planets’, Collier’s Weekly 1901 (9 February 1901): 5–6. [10] ‘Hello Earth! Hello! Marconi Believes He Is Receiving Signals from the Planets’, The Tomahawk 1920 (18 March 1920). One of his recent biographers, however, clearly understates Marconi’s belief in extra-terrestrials Marc Raboy, Marconi: The Man Who Networked the World (Oxford, 2016), 471. [11] Most comprehensively, Mars has been studied as a topic of literature and film. See, for example, Justus Fetscher and Robert Stockhammer, eds., Marsmenschen: Wie Die Außerirdischen gesucht und erfunden wurden (Leipzig, 1997). [12] As, for example, John D. Peters argues in his book John D. Peters, Speaking into the Air. A History of the Idea of Communication (Chicago/London, 2000), 230. [13] I agree with Roland Barthes, who put it thus: ‘Der Mars ist […] bloß eine erträumte Erde’. And more boldly: ‘die Unfähigkeit, sich das Andere vorzustellen, ist einer der durchgängigsten Züge jener kleinbürgerlichen Mythologie [des ‘Mythos des Selben’].’ Roland Barthes, Mythen des Alltags. Aus dem Französischen von Horst Brühmann, trans. Horst Brühmann (Berlin, 2010), 54, 55. [14] Flammarion, La planète Mars et ses conditions d’habitabilité, 586. [15]  Crowe, The Extraterrestrial Life Debate 1750-1900, 395. [16] Beyond those mentioned, see, for the typical argument, Elias Colbert, Star-Studies. What We Know of the Universe Outside the Earth (Chicago, 1871), 78. [17] Flammarion, La planète Mars et ses conditions d’habitabilité, 586–87. [18] Camille Flammarion, Astronomy for Amateurs, New York 1904 (First Published in French in 1894) (New York, 1904), 331. [19] ‘Hello Earth! Hello! Marconi Believes He Is Receiving Signals from the Planets’. [20] H.G. Wells, ‘The Things That Live on Mars’, Cosmopolitan Magazine XLIV, no. 4 (March 1908): 342.
Abret, Helga, and Lucian Boia. Das Jahrhundert der Marsianer. Der Planet Mars in der Science Fiction bis zur Landung der Viking-Sonden 1976. Ein Science-Fiction Sachbuch. München, 1984. Barthes, Roland. Mythen des Alltags. Aus dem Französischen von Horst Brühmann. Translated by Horst Brühmann. Berlin, 2010. Colbert, Elias. Star-Studies. What We Know of the Universe Outside the Earth. Chicago, 1871. Crowe, Michael. The Extraterrestrial Life Debate 1750-1900. The Idea of a Plurality of Worlds from Kant to Lowell. Cambridge, 1986. Fetscher, Justus, and Robert Stockhammer, eds. Marsmenschen: Wie Die Außerirdischen Gesucht Und Erfunden Wurden. Leipzig, 1997. Flammarion, Camille. Astronomy for Amateurs, New York 1904 (First Published in French in 1894). New York, 1904. ———. La planète Mars et ses conditions d’habitabilité. Paris, 1892. ———. Les terres du ciel. Paris, 1884. ‘Hello Earth! Hello! Marconi Believes He Is Receiving Signals from the Planets’. The Tomahawk 1920 (18 March 1920). Peters, John D. Speaking into the Air. A History of the Idea of Communication. Chicago/London, 2000. Proctor, Mary. ‘Martians Build Two Immense Canals in Two Years’. The New York Times Sunday Magazine 1911 (27 August 1911). Raboy, Marc. Marconi: The Man Who Networked the World. Oxford, 2016. Tesla, Nikola. ‘Talking with the Planets’. Collier’s Weekly 1901 (9 February 1901): 5–6. Wells, H.G. ‘The Things That Live on Mars’. Cosmopolitan Magazine XLIV, no. 4 (March 1908): 342.  
citation information
Nübling, Anna Sophia. ‘Mars and the Urge to Connect around 1900’. Blog, Global Dis:Connect (blog), 6 September 2022. https://www.globaldisconnect.org/09/06/mars-and-the-urge-to-connect-around-1900/?lang=en.
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Nomadic camera: photography, exile and dis:connectivity

burcu dogramaci
  In 1939, 16-year-old Hans Günter Flieg took a final photo in his hometown of Chemnitz, before he and his family emigrated to Brazil due to anti-Semitic persecution. Upon his arrival in São Paulo, he took the first photo of his exile home. Both pictures appear next to each other on a film strip. Here I focus on these photographs and bring together two concepts that are new to photography and exile research: the nomadic camera and dis:connectivity.

Image: Hans Günter Flieg, Last photograph taken in Chemnitz and first photograph in São Paulo, 1939, credit: Hans Gunter Flieg / Instituto Moreira Salles Collection.

  Flieg photographed with an Agfa roll film (Isopan F) suitable for 35mm cameras. He worked with Leica equipment that his parents had purchased in anticipation of his planned emigration to Brazil.[1] Flieg had been taking a photography course with Grete Kaplus at the Berlin Jewish Museum since March 1939. This enabled his family to justify the purchase of cameras for professional reasons and to prepare their son for a career as a photographer and a livelihood abroad.[2] The film strip shows two black-and-white shots: on the left is a view from the window of a street with buildings in the Gründerzeit style. Multi-storey apartment buildings stand on a residential street densely planted with a row of trees. The view of the camera — aimed from one of the upper floors of a building — leads past a residential building; on the left is a broad part with a cloudy sky. Flieg was taking pictures from his parents’ flat, which was located in the Kaßberg district of Chemnitz. Since the turn of the twentieth century, with the industrial boom in the city, the area was considered an upscale and exquisitely built residential district.[3] Flieg’s photo was taken in August 1939. The next photo on the right is dated December 1939 and shows a bright vase of white orchids. Here, too, one of the subjects, the vase, is cropped on the right, standing on a table. Four months separate the two adjacent shots. This film strip is often shown when Flieg’s photographic work is published.[4] Flieg also spoke about this picture in an interview uploaded to the page of the digital exile museum Künste im Exil (Arts in Exile) of the Deutsches Exilarchiv (German Exile Archive) 1933—1945, which itself is a project of the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek (German National Library).[5] The fascination with this negative strip is due to the two photos and the narrow strip between them, which condense an emigration (hi)story. The narrow strip and the four months of time suspended in it both conceal and expose a difficult route that led from Chemnitz to Munich, over the Brenner Pass to Italy and from there by sea to São Paulo. Several thousand kilometres condense just as much on the narrow strip between two photographs as time accumulates on an in-between space. Based on this (arguably enlarged) contact print of the film strip, I offer reflections in two directions. One is about the concept of the nomadic camera. The other is about the adaptation of the term dis:connectivity to photography and exile. With nomadic camera, I refer to the camera and photography as the central medium to visualise cross-border changes of place. Included in the term nomadic are forms of forced or voluntary relocation, i.e. migration, flight, displacement, exile. Etymologically, nomadic derives from the Latin nomas/Greek nomás. Nomás alludes to non-sedentary forms of existence that historically developed in the Old World dry belt — from West Africa, across the Arabian Peninsula to East Asia — of those who spend their lives wandering, adapting to living conditions with scarce resources spread over a wide area.[6] This archaic nomadism of migratory ethnic groups, which persists, has its revenant and related figures in post-industrial societies — in commuters, labour migrants, political refugees, in employees of globally oriented companies, students, global travellers, in artists who are globally present as visiting scholars and exhibitors.[7] With these diverse connotations of nomadism in mind, I would like to refer to Caren Kaplan, who recognises ‘continuities and discontinuities between terms such as “travel”, “displacement” and “location” as well as between the particularized practices and identities of “exile”, “tourist” and “nomad”. All displacements are not the same’.[8] But precisely the often-one-dimensional reception and connotations of these different transitive forms of existence — migration as alienation, travel as experience, nomadism and vagabonding as (artistic) freedom — problematise perceptions of them as sharply delineated possibilities of existence. The point is to focus instead on the intersections that emerge from them and how they catalyse new thoughts and perceptions. Nomads, migrants and travellers are united by change and movement, the potentially temporary instability of their existence, their experience of new spaces, societies and languages. Sometimes, as the history of emigration in the 1930s and 1940s shows, the transitions between tourism and exile were fluid. Examples include transalpine border crossings disguised as ski tours and exhibition and reading tour by artists and writers becoming exile because political circumstances no longer permitted their return.[9] As a concept, the nomadic camera connotes a non-settled and nomadic ‘meta-figure’ or ‘general metaphor’[10] and denotes a transitory state that proceeds from the technical apparatus, the camera, to include the act of photographing, the camera operator(s), the resulting photographs and their circulation as well as the objects photographed. With the accent on the camera, the research interest centres on the complex interconnections of photography, mobility and technology. It extends to touch on the photographic form and aesthetics. Photography can find different languages for forced and voluntary displacements, so the question of a specific pictorial aesthetic, the formal and compositional parameters of the photography of exile, migration and flight, arises. Already in the early days of photography since its introduction in 1839, photographers travelled even with heavy-plate and large-format cameras. Throughout its existence, photography has served as a means of visualising displacements. In 1852, the French writer Victor Hugo went into exile on the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey, where he composed autobiographical texts as well as drawings and photographs that pictorially recorded his escape.  Hugo’s portraits in the island’s natural environment, taken in cooperation with his son Charles and the journalist Auguste Vaquerie, are perhaps the earliest exile photographs.[11] From Hugo’s exile, widely branching lines extend to current migration, flight and displacement. The 150 years of photographic migration history — or migrant photographic history — is closely connected with technical innovations that can only be traced coarsely here. Camera techniques like the plate camera and the daguerrotype or calotype favoured mainly professional photographers, as these techniques and transporting the large cameras were expensive and time-consuming. The introduction of the Kodak box camera in the late nineteenth century fuelled the market for amateur photography, which burgeoned globally with the miniature 35-mm cameras of the 1920s.[12] Hans Günter Flieg's film strips, the Agfa Isopan F film and the Leica miniature camera indicate photography’s unprecedented mobility in the 1920s and 1930s. Photography with film rolls was a democratic medium of images whose affordability and user-friendly technology made it broadly accessible. In addition, shops sprang up all over the world as service facilities where film had to be deposited for processing, with the negatives and prints to be collected later. Outsourcing the development process promoted the global use of photography by amateurs. Not only was the technology portable, but the photographic prints — the result of the technical process — were also available on the road. Since the massive introduction of miniature cameras in the 1920s at the latest, photography became the technical and artistic medium of migration, exile and flight. Handheld cameras accompanied their owners along their migrations, leaving their homeland either voluntarily and, after 1933, often forcibly. Photographs taken on passages into exile tell of the outward routes and modes of transport.[13] Thus, images created in emigration or reflecting migration phenomena themselves have inherently nomadic qualities. For me, photography is part of a history of migration and mobility. Flieg’s negative strip highlights this in an unusual way, as the movement of the photographer, his camera and the film manifests itself through the photographs in Chemnitz on the left, the narrow strip in the middle and the shot in São Paulo on the right. The localisation in a specific environment as the starting point of the flight is clearly recognisable on the left in the Chemnitz cityscape. São Paulo as the terminus of the escape, meanwhile, is marked by the vase with the white orchids — in Brazil there are about 3,000 species from the Orchidaceae family.[14] The passage itself, as already explained, remains hidden in the dark strip. The negative strip also offers access to, or an adaptation of, the concept of dis:connectivity in the context of global flight movements and their mediatisation in photography. Dis:connectivity overcomes a binary approach and has already been applied in, for example, sociological media theory, to capture digital (dis)connectivity, media consumption and media abstinence.[15] Dis:connectivity is a new approach to global history, which we global dis:connect have already used productively and which focuses neither on interconnectedness nor on deglobalisation exclusively. Rather, as Roland Wenzlhuemer writes, it is about a ‘tension between processes of entanglement and disentanglement’,[16] which means that global connections always contain interruptions, detours and voids, be they transport routes, communication channels, escape routes or capital flows. For exile research, the concept of dis:connectivity can illuminate both the actors (persons) and actants (objects). That is precisely the purpose behind examining Flieg’s photographs, which are connected to each other as successive images on a negative strip. Yet, there is an interstice, a gap between them. Theoretically, two images on 35-mm film could be separated by only a few moments, as it was possible to take up to 36 images in succession with the Leica camera. Flieg, however, took the photographs and put the camera aside, not using it while in transit. Therefore, no photograph exists of this passage into exile, at least not on this film and not with this camera. It can be assumed that he did not want to draw attention to himself, at least towards the beginning of his journey, which led to Italy over the Brenner Pass. On the ship — I sadly don’t know the exact route — no photographs were taken with the Leica either. Absence, the blank space marked in black on the strip, thus stands for a journey that was not visually documented. Absence, as Ulrike Lehmann writes, refers to a former presence and what has now disappeared: ‘The absent presupposes the present. ’[17] But the space in-between also evidences the dis:connective relationship between home and abroad, between the origin and the terminus of the journey that was to separate Flieg almost permanently from the city of Chemnitz and from Germany. He only returned on the occasion of his first solo exhibition in Germany at the Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz in 2008, almost 70 years after he had emigrated.[18] The film strip can also be understood as a timeline in which the direction runs from left to right, corresponding to the numbering of the images from 10 (Chemnitz) to 11 (São Paulo). Timelines are culturally bound. Where Latin script predominates, they run from left to right (i.e. as one reads), and where Arabic prevails, they are ordered from right to left (again according to the direction of reading). In everyday life, time is perceived as a trajectory that always runs irreversibly in one direction towards a final state.[19] This negative strip, however, also allows for another interpretation, namely time as something that runs from exilein two directions separated by the dividing space. There is a time before exile and a time of exile or post-exile. These times are not characterised by succession, but by the difference and divergence of experiences and of cultural and linguistic spaces. Time and space — the latter as a variable often used for flight, exile and migration — form an important connection. One could equally speak of dis:connective times and dis:connective spaces. Incidentally, Hans Günter Flieg found the film strip with the two photos from Chemnitz and São Paulo among his early photos only many decades later, when he was preparing a retrospective of his works for the Museu da Imagem de do Som in São Paulo in 1981. Through this find, he was able to recall the time of his emigration with temporal distance, thus creating connectivity.     [1] Michael Nungesser, ‘Chemnitz Liegt Bei São Paulo. Der Fotograf Hans Günter Flieg’, ed. Ingrid Mössinger and Katharina Metz, 2008. [2] Agi Straus, Interview mit der Malerin Agi Straus, São Paulo, 15 April 2013, https://kuenste-im-exil.de/KIE/Content/DE/Objekte/flieg-interview.html?cms_x=4&catalog=1; Nungesser, ‘Chemnitz Liegt Bei São Paulo. Der Fotograf Hans Günter Flieg’. [3] Tilo Richter, ed., Der Kassberg. Ein Chemnitzer Lese- Und Bilderbuch (Leipzig: Passage-Verlag, 1996). [4] Ingrid Mössinger and Katharina Metz, eds., in Hans Günter Flieg: Dokumentarfotografie Aus Brasilien (1940-1970) (Bielefeld: Kerber Verlag, 2008), 48–49; Sylvia Asmus, in ......Mehr Vorwärts Als Rückwärts Schauen... (Berlin: Hentrich & Hentrich, 2013). [5] Hans Günter Flieg, Interview des Deutschen Exilarchivs 1933 - 1945 mit Hans Günter Flieg : São Paulo, 18.04.2013 / Interview und Bild: Sylvia Asmus und Jochanan Shelliem, 18 April 2013, https://d-nb.info/1059580241. [6] Alfred Hendricks, ‘Menschen unterwegs. Mobilität als Erfolgsstrategie’, in Unterwegs. Nomaden früher und heute, ed. Alfred Hendricks (Gütersloh: Linnemann, 2003), 8–11. [7] Birgit Haehnel, in Regelwerk und Umgestaltung. Nomadistische Denkweisen in der Kunstwahrnehmung nach 1945 (Berlin: Reimer, 2007), 29; T. J. Demos, in The Migrant Image: The Art and Politics of Documentary during Global Crisis (Verona: Electa, 2017), 18–26. [8] Caren Kaplan, Questions of Travel. Postmodern Discourses of Displacement (Durham/London: Duke University Press, 1996). [9] Thomas Oellermann, ‘Wenzel Jaksch Und Die Seliger-Gemeinde’, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, 27 November 2021, https://www.fes.de/themenportal-geschichte-kultur-medien-netz/artikelseite/wenzel-jaksch. [10] Peter Gross, ‘Der Nomade’, in Diven, Hacker, Spekulanten. Sozialfiguren der Gegenwart, ed. Stephan Moebius and Markus Schroer (Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2010), 316–25. [11] Denis Canguilhem, ‘En Collaboration Avec Le Soleil. Victor Hugo, Photographies de l’exil (Cat. Exp.), Textes de F. Heilbrun, Q. Bajac, P. Néagu, N. Savy, S. Rouleau, F. Rodari, Paris, Paris-Musées/Réunion Des Musées Nationaux, 1998’, n.d., https://journals.openedition.org/etudesphotographiques//200. [12] Todd Gustavson, Camera: A History of Photography from Daguerreotype to Digital (New York: Sterling Publishing, 2009); Erich Stenger, Die Geschichte Der Kleinbildkamera Bis Zur Leica (Frankfurt am Main, 1949). [13] Burcu Dogramaci, in Fotografieren Und Forschen: Wissenschaftliche Expeditionen Mit Der Kamera Im Türkischen Exil Nach 1933, 1. (Marburg: ‎ Jonas Verlag, 2013). [14] ‘Orchideen S.O.S.’, 20 December 2021, https://brasilienportal.ch/wissen/brasilien-report/kurz-reportagen/orchideen-sos/. [15] Pepita Hesselberth, ‘Discourses on Disconnectivity and the Right to Disconnect’, no. vol. 20, 5 (8 June 2017). [16] Roland Wenzlhuemer, ‘Dis:Konnektivität Und Krise’, 12 November 2020, https://www.blog.cas.uni-muenchen.de/topics/global-worlds/dis-konnektivitaet-und-krise. [17] Ulrike Lehmann, ‘Ästhetik Der Absenz. Ihre Rituale Des Verbergens Und Der Verweigerung. Eine Kunstgeschichtliche Betrachtung’, in Ästhetik Der Absenz. Bilder Zwischen Anwesenheit Und Abwesenheit, ed. Ulrike Lehmann and Peter Weibel (München/Berlin: Klinckhardt & Biermann, 1994), 42–74. [18] Hans Günter Flieg, in Hans Günter Flieg: Dokumentarfotografie Aus Brasilien (1940-1970), ed. Ingrid Mössinger (Bielefeld: Kerber Verlag, 2008), 8. [19] Erhard Keppler, Zeitliches. Vom Umgang mit der Zeit seit der Antike. Eine Kulturgeschichte des Zeitbegriffs (Katlenburg-Lindau: Copernicus, 2007).  
Asmus, Sylvia, and Marlen Eckl, editors, ‘... mehr vorwärts als rückwärts schauen ... ’. Das deutschsprachige Exil in Brasilien 1933-1945 / ‘... olhando mais para frente do que para trás  ... ’. O exílio de língua alemã no Brasil 1933-1945 (Berlin: Hentrich & Hentrich, 2013) Demos, T.J. ‘Charting a Course. Exile, Diaspora, Nomads, Refugees. A Genealogy of Art and Migration’, in The Restless Earth, exh. cat. Fondazione La Triennale di Milano. Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, Milan (Verona: Mondadori Electa, 2017), 18-26. Dogramaci, Burcu, Fotografieren und Forschen. Wissenschaftliche Expeditionen mit der Kamera im türkischen Exil nach 1933 (Marburg: Jonas, 2013), 29 and 81 En collaboration avec le soleil. Victor Hugo. Photographies de l’exil, exh. cat. Musée d’Orsay et Maison de Victor Hugo, Paris, 1998 Flieg, Hans Günter. “Interview on 18 April 2013, video, https://kuenste-im-exil.de/KIE/Content/DE/Objekte/flieg-interview.html?cms_x=4&catalog=1, accessed 3.4.2022. Gross, Peter, ‘Der Nomade’, in Diven, Hacker, Spekulanten. Sozialfiguren der Gegenwart, edited by Stephan Moebius and Markus Schroer (Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2010), 316-325. Gustavson, Todd, Camera. A History of Photography from Daguerreotype to Digital (New York: Sterling Publishing, 2009). Haehnel, Birgit, Regelwerk und Umgestaltung. Nomadistische Denkweisen in der Kunstwahrnehmung nach 1945 (Berlin: Reimer, 2006) Hans Günter Flieg. Dokumentarfotografie aus Brasilien, edited by Ingrid Mössinger and Katharina Metz, exh. cat. Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz, Chemnitz (Bielefeld: Kerber, 2008). Hendricks, Alfred, ‘Menschen unterwegs. Mobilität als Erfolgsstrategie’, in idem, editor, Unterwegs. Nomaden früher und heute (Gütersloh: Siegbert Linnemann, 2003), 8-11. Hesselberth, Pepita, ‘Discourses on Disconnectivity and the Right to Disconnect’, in New Media & Society, vol. 20, no. 5, 2018, 1994–2010. Kaplan, Caren, Questions of Travel. Postmodern Discourses of Displacement (Durham/London: Duke University Press, 1996) Keppler, Erhard, Zeitliches. Vom Umgang mit der Zeit seit der Antike. Eine Kulturgeschichte des Zeitbegriffs (Katlenburg-Lindau: Projekte-Verlag Cornelius, 2007). Lehmann, Ulrike, ‘Ästhetik der Absenz. Ihre Rituale des Verbergens und der Verweigerung. Eine kunstgeschichtliche Betrachtung’, in Ästhetik der Absenz. Bilder zwischen Anwesenheit und Abwesenheit, edited by Ulrike Lehmann and Peter Weibel (Munich/Berlin: Klinkhardt & Biermann, 1994), 42-74. Nungesser, Michael. “Chemnitz liegt bei São Paulo. Der Fotograf Hans Günter Flieg, in: Hans Günter Flieg. Dokumentarfotografie aus Brasilien, hg. v. Ingrid Mössinger und Katharina Metz, Ausst.-Kat. Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz, Chemnitz 2008, S. 10-14 Oellermann, Thomas, ‘Wenzel Jaksch und die Seliger-Gemeinde’, 27.11.2021, https://www.fes.de/themenportal-geschichte-kultur-medien-netz/artikelseite/wenzel-jaksch, accessed 3.4.2022. Richter, Tilo, editor, Der Kaßberg. Ein Chemnitzer Lese- und Bilderbuch (Leipzig: Passage-Verlag, 1996). Stenger, Erich, Die Geschichte der Kleinbildkamera bis zur Leica (Frankfurt/Main: Umschau 1949). Wenzlhuemer, Roland. ‘Dis:konnektivität und Krise’,  CAS LMU Blog, 12 November 2020, https://www.blog.cas.uni-muenchen.de/topics/global-worlds/dis-konnektivitaet-und-krise, accessed 4 April 2022.  
citation information
Dogramaci, Burcu. ‘Nomadic Camera: Photography, Exile and Dis:Connectivity’. Institute Website. Blog, Global Dis:Connect (blog), 8 February 2022. https://www.globaldisconnect.org/08/02/nomadic-camera-photography-exile-and-disconnectivity/?lang=en.
This post has also appeared in issue 1.1 of our in-house journal, static.
Dogramaci, Burcu. ‘Nomadic Camera: Photography, Exile and Dis:Connectivity’. Static. Thoughts and Research from Global Dis:Connect, 2022.
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Dis:connected Cold Wars: rethinking the existence of a vanished state in global history

ann-sophie schoepfel

Stele commemorating Tran Van Ba in Liège (Image courtesy of the author)

On a springtime walk in one of the green parks in the Belgian city of Liège, I was astounded to discover a stele commemorating Vietnamese anti-communist Tran Van Ba. This memorial turned out to be the perfect embodiment of the aesthetics of Cold War omission. It piqued my curiosity. Liège, situated in the Meuse valley, is known as the former industrial backbone of Wallonia. What was a stele in memory Tran Van Ba doing here? Though I had originally planned to discover explore the industrial heritage of Liège and to visit the House of Metallurgy and Industry that day, I decided to go back to my hotel to learn more about Tran Van Ba instead. On the way back to my hotel, I remembered the name Tran Van Ba as a whisper echoing from the chaos of French colonial archives in Aix-en-Provence. My small hotel room had a funky atmosphere, like a 1970s youth hostel. I turned my computer on. I felt like I was going to solve a mystery like Sherlock Holmes. Who was Tran Van Ba? Who had built this stele? Here Google would serve as Dr Watson, my loyal assistant. Tran Van Ba was a major figure of the Cold War, to whom Reagan awarded the Medal of Liberty. My preliminary investigation revealed that many Vietnamese in exile saw Ban as a martyr of the struggle against communism.  On 8 January 1985, roughly a decade after the end of the American war in Vietnam, Tran Van Ba (1945-1985) was executed for high treason in Thu Duc, a municipality close to Ho Chi Minh City. It was an ignominious end to a life deeply marked by the violent upheaval Vietnam witnessed throughout the twentieth century.

Tran Van Ba, the gentleman (Image: agevp)

Here − in life and death − there is a strange symmetry. In 1966, Tran’s father, himself a prominent political figure with presidential ambitions, was assassinated in South Vietnam by the Viet Cong. Two decades earlier, in 1945, his uncle, the founder of the Vietnamese constitutional party, was shot by the Viet Minh. These symmetries condemned any possibility of moderation in a Vietnam torn between nationalism, communism and capitalism. For North Vietnam, the fall of Saigon in April 1975 represented triumph in a decade-long war for national liberation against American imperialism. For Tran Van Ba, it was just the beginning of a new struggle that ended in Thu Duc, a struggle that persisted across three generations and permeated the lived experience of Tran Van Ba. It combined a series of disconnections − war, memory and diasporic battles over symbols of nationhood – and raged from Saigon to Paris, Bandung to the United Nations and from Little Saigon in California to Alt-Mariendorf in south Berlin. These disconnections resulted in the erection of the statue of Tran Van Ba in Liège. In my small room, I decided to turn off my computer. I had to understand where the origins of these disconnections lay. I dived into the abyss. I thought about my scientific research on French colonial Indochina. Finally, I understood. These disconnections were dawning as French imperial sovereignty waned, when a sprawling empire, which dominated much of the Southeast Asian landmass and West Africa, disappeared in the aftermath of World War II. Decolonisation represented a disjuncture in Vietnamese history, symbolised by the death of Tran Van Ba’s uncle, Bui Quang Chieu (1973-1945), whom I had the chance to study during my doctoral research. Bui Quang Chieu was a politician and a journalist in French Indochina. In 1917, he founded the journal La Tribune Indigène in Saigon. French Governor General Albert Sarraut supported him. Indeed, Bui Quang Chieu advocated the modernisation of Vietnam under French colonialisation, but the Vietnamese communist party did not accept his position. The Viet Minh considered him a collaborator. When Japan surrendered, the Viet Minh executed Bui Quang Chieu, his four sons and his daughter. Decolonisation entailed fratricidal struggle between the various Vietnamese nationalist movements. France’s Afro-Asian empire did not evaporate into thin air. In the 1950s and 1960s, Vietnamese statesmen, commissions, committees and a bevy of soldiers and scoundrels descended on the waning French empire. They dissected, sorted and reorganised its parts into what we might call ‘ground zero’ for Cold War in Afro-Asia. It was unquestionably a foundational moment for a new post-imperial and international order. On the turbulent frontiers of post-imperial Asia, the end of the First Indochina War between the Viet Minh and France was a messy process of redrawing collapsing boundaries. Populations displaced in wartime migrated. The new post-colonial states and societies were militarised in the Cold War. Diplomats from France, the Viet Minh, South Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, the Soviet Union, China, the USA and the UK sought agreement in Geneva from April to July 1954. The agreement they achieved temporarily separated Vietnam into two zones, a northern zone to be governed by the Viet Minh and a southern zone to be governed by the State of Vietnam, then headed by former emperor Bao Dai. The disconnections at the end of the French colonial empire mentioned here had global impacts. They shaped not only the transformation of international relations in the Cold War; they also laid the ground for a transnational exiled network at the end of the American War in 1975. It is at Bandung, Indonesia that the divisions between North and South Vietnam became glaring. The 1955 Bandung Conference is considered the birth of the Third World. As the Western empires slipped into crisis, anticolonial elites were fomenting a frenetic vision of how to reshape world affairs. For the Martinican poet Aimé Césaire, Bandung signified ‘to Europe that the time of the European empire was over’.[1] The French sociologist Raymond Aron was more critical: Bandung, although Afro-Asian, was very similar to a typical meeting of Western intellectuals and diplomats. He noted the same disproportion ‘between the pretensions of the men and the insignificance of the unanimous motions’ and ‘the same invocation of principles (fundamental human rights) by those who despise or violate them’.[2] Neither Césaire nor Aaron saw Bandung as the birth of a divided nation − Vietnam. After nine years of war, North and South Vietnam were irreconcilable. Their delegations present at Bandung refused to meet. The Democratic Republic of Vietnam delegate Pham Van Dong addressed the conference by reiterating the commitment made in the 1954 Geneva Conference. The delegate of the State of Vietnam, Nguyen Van Thoai, cited the influx of North Vietnamese refugees in South Vietnam as the result of a ‘dictatorial regime’.[3] The two delegations had contradictory views on politics and nationhood. After Bandung, North and South Vietnam became two pawns on the global chessboard, taking on Korea’s role of the hot front of the Cold War. North Vietnam was supported by China and the Soviet Union, the South by the United States. With the Vietnam War from 1955 to 1975, the term ‘Vietnam’ came to signify the transformation of modern war. It became central to the global countercultural movement, and it suffused debates on war, torture, colonialism, technology and media. In the midst of that war, new global networks were created, networks that would come to be meaningful after the fall of Saigon in 1975. Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, became home of the monthly journal of the Asian Pacific League for Freedom and Democracy, The Free Front. This journal had a global audience in Australia, Japan, South Korea, France, Germany and the United States. From Paris, the former imperial metropole of French Indochina, Tran Van Ba led a student movement denouncing communism. In Western European cities, Vietnamese students demonstrated against communism and the American intervention in South Vietnam. The United Nations became the diplomatic arena for North and South Vietnam. The two states both sought international recognition. In Europe and the United States, Vietnamese students appealed to the United Nations in their fight against communism. The Vietnamese Undersecretary Bui Diem attempted to secure UN support against North Vietnam. In October 1966, he visited the UN headquarters and met with UN Secretary General U Thant. However, his attempts and the students’ demonstrations were fruitless. Bui Diem, as South Vietnam's ambassador to the United States, desperately attempted to secure $722 million USD in military aid to defend South Vietnam against the North in 1975. Yet, with the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975, the state of South Vietnam was wiped from the map. Two years later, communist Vietnam was made an official member of the UN. Bui Diem became a refugee and university professor in the Unites States. For Tran Van Ba, the fall of Saigon was unacceptable. He decided to leave Paris, where he had studied political science, to engage in another, third war. His aim was to install an anti-communist government in Vietnam. In the process of deimperialisation, the disconnections in the Vietnamese nation became striking.

What a difference a uniform makes. (Image: indomemoires)

The disconnections in the history of Vietnam during the Cold War became visible in societies at the end of the Cold War. The fall of Saigon catalysed the mass exodus of Vietnamese ‘boat people’. Transnational exile networks grew throughout the worldwide diaspora. They built upon the pre-existing Vietnamese students’ and anti-communist networks that had emerged in Western Europe, the United States and Australia. These disconnections transformed the political, social and visual landscapes of the cities where the boat people lived in exile. For them, the flag of South Vietnam became the symbol of freedom from North Vietnam. It consists of a yellow background, symbolising the Empire of Vietnam, with three red horizontal stripes through the middle, emblematic of the common blood running through North, Central, and South Vietnam. In Alt-Mariendorf in south Berlin, Hannover, Hamburg and Stuttgart, this flag is displayed during the Vietnamese communities’ gatherings to call for democracy in a unified Vietnam. On 21 October 1990, in the United States, former soldiers and refugees from the former South Vietnamese regime founded the Provisional National Government of Vietnam, headquartered in Orange County and Little Saigon. Dao Minh Quan was elected as the president of the newly created ‘Third Republic of Vietnam’. US government staff gave speeches and expressed hope that the newly elected president would work closely with the USA. Yet, for many exiled Vietnamese, Dao Minh Quan did not have any political legitimacy. He was only interested in embezzling from the provisional government. In Europe, Vietnamese diasporas are still fighting against the communist Vietnamese regime. They consider the current regime ‘authoritarian and corrupt’. They denounce human rights abuses in Vietnam. In parallel with this political struggle, the exiled Vietnamese communities are committed to building sites of memory. In Hamburg, Liège and Geneva, members of the Vietnamese diaspora have contacted municipal authorities to install steles commemorating the boat people. The mayor of Paris first agreed to the installation of a plaque in memory of Tran Van Ba in the 13th arrondissement in 2008. The Vietnamese embassy protested to French authorities, who eventually renounced the plaque. In Liège, a statue honouring Tran Van Ba was erected on 30 June 2006. Local and Belgian national newspapers, such as Le Soir, La Libre Belgique and La Meuse published articles on Tran Van Ba as well as on the boat people at that time. Every year, on 8 January, the Vietnamese exiled community in Liège pays respect to Tran Van Ba, a ‘martyr of communism’. The Vietnamese government considers these commemorations problematic. It listed the Provisional National Government of Vietnam as a terrorist organisation and condemns the efforts of the Vietnamese diaspora to overthrow the current regime. It is said that the Cold War ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall. In fact, it continues in the streets and the squares of Liège, Berlin, Paris, Orange County and Little Saigon. In my small room in Liège, I was reflecting on my own investigations. To no one’s surprise, Google is a wonderful fount of information. I never regretted not visiting the House of Metallurgy and Industry in Liège and or skipping my exploration of its industrial heritage. I thought to myself how a series of disconnections resulted in the creation of a statue in a Belgian city, and how the complexities of global disconnections have transformed our societies. [1] Statement at the meeting of 27 January 1956 organised by the Comité d'Action des intellectuels contre la poursuite de la guerre en Afrique du Nord. [2] Raymond Aron, ‘Bandoeng: Conférence de l’équivoque’, Le Figaro, 27 April 1955, 1. [3] ‘Konferentsiia Stran Azii i Afriki Zakonchila Svoiu Rabotu’, Pravda, 25 April 1955, 4. [4] Interviews of members of the Vietnamese diaspora in Berlin in November 2021.  
Aron, Raymond. ‘Bandoeng: Conférence de l’équivoque’. Le Figaro. 27 April 1955. Pravda. ‘Konferentsiia Stran Azii i Afriki Zakonchila Svoiu Rabotu’. 25 April 1955.  
citation information
Schöpfel, Ann-Sophie. ‘Dis:Connected Cold Wars: Rethinking the Existence of a Vanished State in Global History’. Institute Website. Blog, Global Dis:Connect (blog), 19 July 2022. https://www.globaldisconnect.org/07/19/disconnected-cold-wars-rethinking-the-existence-of-a-vanished-state-in-global-history/?lang=en.
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The wreck of the Highland Fling: tragedy and ballast at sea

paul blickle

Port side view of 'Highland Fling' (1889), from the break in the hull, looking aft along dock. People can be seen in the cross-section of the hull. Credit line: © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Gibson's of Scilly Shipwreck Collection Object: G14156 Artist: Gibson's of Scilly Shipwreck Collection Date: unknown Medium: glass negative Size: 254 mm x 305 mm

  This photograph of a shattered hull hides a rare sight. It is not the shipwreck. The ship in question is the British steamer Highland Fling and the picture was taken at the Falmouth drydocks early in 1907.[1] A terrible disaster has sundered the ship in half, and all that remains is an almost anatomical cross-section of the ship. Labourers are interrupting their work to pose for the photographer. They are in the process of clearing ballast from the ship’s hold before its engines and parts can be salvaged and the rest of the Highland Fling scrapped. The Highland Fling had been a mighty ship, almost a hundred metres long, first launched 17 years previously from a Newcastle shipyard. The ship boasted a modern steel hull and was fitted with electric lights as well as refrigeration machinery (the purpose of which remains obscure). Originally named the Duke of Portland and later the Morayshire, the steamer became the Highland Fling around 1905, when it joined the fleet of the Nelson Line of Liverpool (which christened all their ships with names beginning in ‘Highland’). The new owners employed the Highland Fling for trade with South America.[2] It was on one such voyage that disaster struck. According to the London Times, the steamer ran aground near the Cornish coast in thick fog on the night of 7 January 1907. It had left London only days before carrying several thousand barrels of cement to Buenos Aires. An inquest by the Liverpool Board of Trade later ruled that the ship had exceeded safe speed too near the coast. The ship’s master, a Captain Purvis, was held responsible for this navigational error and his captain’s licence was suspended for a year. This was a light punishment, given that the newspapers valued the Highland Fling at £25,000 (nearly £3.2 million today), excluding the value of its cargo. At least, no loss of life was reported, and the vessel was sufficiently insured. On 10 January, the Times reported a first, unsuccessful attempt to tow the steamer from the rocks after several hundred tons of cargo had been jettisoned. A second attempt, undertaken two days later, also failed and left the bow section of the vessel badly damaged. After repeated attempts to free the Highland Fling had proved futile, the London Salvage Association tried to retrieve at least part of the cargo and the ship’s most valuable parts (its engine and refrigeration machinery, which were located in the rear). Engineers planted dynamite along the hull with the aim to separate bow from stern by force, but heavy waves interrupted this plan. After being stuck on the rocks for two weeks, the sea finally achieved what the engineers had failed to do and smashed the ship in half, after which the rear was towed by tugboats to the nearby port of Falmouth. The bow section of the Highland Fling was left on the rocks, until it was smashed into oblivion by a storm on the night of 23 January. At Falmouth the Highland Fling was documented in a series of dramatic photographs by the local studio of Gibson & Sons. The Gibsons ran a multigenerational business and hailed from the Scilly Isles — an island group southwest of Cornwall long associated with maritime disasters. Exactly 200 years before the calamity of the Highland Fling, another series of navigational errors had sunk four ships of the Royal Navy and killed 1500 sailors as well as an admiral on the cliffs of the Scillies. The disaster of 1707 famously sparked the eighteenth-century quest for more precise longitudinal measurements, and it was perhaps this piece of local history that had given the business’s founder, John Gibson (a sailor turned photographer in the 1860s), and his sons their taste for maritime tragedy. Pictures of the wrecked Highland Fling were probably taken by John’s son Herbert, who, over the course of his career, photographed countless ships in varying degrees of destruction.[4]

Port side view of 'Highland Fling' (1889), from the break in the hull, looking aft along dock. People can be seen in the cross-section of the hull. Credit line: © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Gibson's of Scilly Shipwreck Collection Object: G14156 Artist: Gibson's of Scilly Shipwreck Collection Date: uknown Medium: glass negative Size: 254 mm x 305 mm

  Tragic as it was, the fate of the Highland Fling was by no means unusual. Surviving images of the shattered ship bear witness to the dangers of seafaring even at the dawn of the twentieth century. The dimensions of the remaining half of the hull are impressive, dwarfing the men labouring in its shadow, yet the advances of the industrial age were no match for the violence of wind and sea. Yet the apparent catastrophe of the shattered Highland Fling conceals something as mundane as it is invisible. Strewn across the lowest point of the hull lie sand and rocks, which the labourers are slowly removing by means of their shovels and wheelbarrows. These are not the remains of the cement cargo the ship was transporting to South America, which was packaged into barrels, some of which are still visible. What the labourers are removing is in fact the ship’s ballast. The word ‘ballast’ is used almost exclusively as a metaphor today. But ballast was an integral part of seafaring. Its purpose was to lower a ship’s centre of gravity and to stabilise it at sea. This was done by loading cheap and heavy materials like sand, small stones and rubble into a ship’s hold, which lowered its waterline and reduced its tendency to pitch and roll. As ships travelled to the farthest corners of the globe, they carried ballast from and to ports all over the world. Ships needed the most ballast when they were running empty, but even fully loaded ships carried it. Especially during the winter months, shipmasters took care to load additional ballast. Looking at ships of similar size and displacement, the Highland Fling (which sailed in January) would have easily carried between 200 and 500 tonnes of sand and stones as ballast.[6] Ballast was evidently necessary for safe travel at sea, but at the same time it routinely disrupted trade. Purchasing ballast and paying for the labour of loading and unloading it was a recurring expense, but what made ballast particularly vexing were the lengthy delays while ships waited to be ballasted. Shipping was a highly competitive industry in which the priority was to keep ships profitably at sea with cargo rather than wasting precious days in port. Waiting for ballast-men to load ballast after stevedores had unloaded cargo (or vice versa) considerably extended the time in port to the point where captains opted not to unload all their cargo rather than to wait for ballast. While global economic connections intensified, the necessity to carry ballast weakened and sometimes severed such connections. As a mundane nautical component, ballast was deeply ingrained in the everyday practice of seamanship. As such, it is almost invisible in pictorial records. There are some depictions showing how it was loaded or unloaded, as well as a few anaemic photographs taken by archaeologists of ballast recovered from sunken ships. The images from Falmouth are a rare exception because they show ballast while it was in its proper place —in situ at the deepest point of a ship’s hold. This is important because whether any amount of sand and shingle counted as ballast or not was wholly determined by the nautical context: only their use at sea transformed sand and shingle into ballast. The very same materials could later be used to pave roads or build houses without a second thought given to their erstwhile nautical purpose.[7] Another interesting aspect of the photographs is that the cross-section shows neither a double bottom nor double hull. Towards of the end of the nineteenth century, many ships had adopted double hulls, which made them more durable. The space in-between was waterproofed and used as a tank that could be filled with seawater. Water is less dense than sand and stone, but it is free and could be loaded and unloaded much more quickly. This solved some of the disconnective issues associated with solid ballast. Today, water ballast is used on almost every ship and has contributed significantly to the spread of invasive micro-organisms around the world.[8] Not all water ballast was kept in double hulls. On board the Highland Fling, the water was most likely carried in large tanks located at the bow and stern of the ship and is therefore not visible in the cross-section. While it is often argued that solid ballast, like sand and stone, was quickly replaced by water, the images of the Highland Fling demonstrate the persistence of solid ballast. At the turn of the century, most steamers still used a mixture of water and solid ballasts, as well as the weight of their fuel, to stabilise the ship.[9] The stranding of the Highland Fling might be a cautionary tale of navigational incompetence or the persisting dangers of maritime mobility a century ago. But what makes this image of tragedy exceptional is that it documents an otherwise almost invisible and forgotten aspect of seafaring. [1] Gibson & Sons of Scilly, A View of the Stern Section at the Break in the Hull, of the Cargo Steamer Highland Fling (1890) in Drydock at Falmouth, c. 1907, Photograph, G14156, National Maritime Museum Greenwich, London, Gibson’s of Scilly Shipwreck Collection, https://www.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/rmgc-object-1113561. [2] Lloyd’s Register of British and Foreign Shipping. From 1st July, 1906, to the 30th June, 1907. Volume 1 – Steamers (London, 1906). [3] ‘The Marine Insurance Market’, The Times (London), 9 January 1907, 13; ‘The Marine Insurance Market’, The Times (London), 10 January 1907, 13; ‘The Marine Insurance Market’, The Times (London), 14 January 1907, 15; ‘The Marine Insurance Market’, The Times (London), 15 January 1907, 15; ‘Shipping Disasters’, The Times (London), 21 January 1907, 9; ‘Wrecks, Casualties, &c.’, The Times (London), 24 January 1907, 10; ‘The Marine Insurance Market’, The Times (London), 4 March 1907, 14. [4] John Fowles, Shipwreck, repr. ed. (London: Jonathan Cape, 1979). [5] Gibson & Sons of Scilly, A View Directly into the Hull of the Cargo Steamer Highland Fling (1890), c. 1907, Photograph, G14155, National Maritime Museum Greenwich, London, Gibson’s of Scilly Shipwreck Collection, https://www.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/rmgc-object-1113560. [6] S. J. P. Thearle, ‘The Ballasting of Steamers for North Atlantic Voyages’, Transactions of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects 45 (1903): 118–33. [7] Mats Burström, Ballast. Laden with History, trans. Charlotte Merton (Lund: Nordic Academic Press, 2017), 51–59. [8] James T. Carlton, ‘Attack of the Invasive Species!’, in The Ocean Reader. History, Culture, Politics, ed. Eric Paul Roorda (Durham: Duke University Press, 2020), 473–82. [9] B. Martell, ‘On Water Ballast’, Transactions of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects 18 (1877): 336–48.  
Burström, Mats. Ballast. Laden with History. Translated by Charlotte Merton. Lund: Nordic Academic Press, 2017. Carlton, James T. ‘Attack of the Invasive Species!’ In The Ocean Reader. History, Culture, Politics, edited by Eric Paul Roorda, 473–82. Durham: Duke University Press, 2020. Fowles, John. Shipwreck. Repr. ed. London: Jonathan Cape, 1979. Gibson & Sons of Scilly. A View Directly into the Hull of the Cargo Steamer Highland Fling (1890). c. 1907. Photograph. G14155. National Maritime Museum Greenwich, London, Gibson’s of Scilly Shipwreck Collection. https://www.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/rmgc-object-1113560. ———. A View of the Stern Section at the Break in the Hull, of the Cargo Steamer Highland Fling (1890) in Drydock at Falmouth. c. 1907. Photograph. G14156. National Maritime Museum Greenwich, London, Gibson’s of Scilly Shipwreck Collection. https://www.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/rmgc-object-1113561. Lloyd’s Register of British and Foreign Shipping. From 1st July, 1906, to the 30th June, 1907. Volume 1 – Steamers. London, 1906. Martell, B. ‘On Water Ballast’. Transactions of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects 18 (1877): 336–48. The Times (London). ‘Shipping Disasters’, 21 January 1907: 9. The Times (London). ‘The Marine Insurance Market’, 9 January 1907: 13. The Times (London). ‘The Marine Insurance Market’, 10 January 1907: 13. The Times (London). ‘The Marine Insurance Market’, 14 January 1907: 15. The Times (London). ‘The Marine Insurance Market’, 15 January 1907: 15. The Times (London). ‘The Marine Insurance Market’, 4 March 1907: 14. Thearle, S. J. P. ‘The Ballasting of Steamers for North Atlantic Voyages’. Transactions of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects 45 (1903): 118–33. The Times (London). ‘Wrecks, Casualties, &c.’, 24 January 1907: 10.  
citation information
Blickle, Paul. ‘The Wreck of the Highland Fling: Tragedy and Ballast at Sea’. Institute Website. Blog, Global Dis:Connect (blog), 7 May 2022. https://www.globaldisconnect.org/07/05/the-wreck-of-the-highland-fling-tragedy-and-ballast-at-sea/?lang=en.
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