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Kosmopolis 08: Switching stations

Author: • Oct 25th, 2008 •

Category: alternate worlds, architecture, Australia, Barcelona, body horror, Chris Marker, deep time, features, flying, posthumanism, psychopathology


Thermonuclear noon at Sydney airport (photo: Simon Sellars).

Further to this….

You cannot claim to be truly versed in international travel until you have taken a flight from Australia to Europe. Flying to Spain took me the better part of 24 hours and shunted me through no less than five airports: Melbourne, Sydney, Singapore, London, Barcelona. I have travelled to Europe before, but never, as far as I can recall, through so many terminals.

It was absurd. Little parts of my brain leaked at every stop. In Sydney I thought I was in Melbourne; in Melbourne I thought I was home. I was reading Irvine Welsh’s Porno
on the flight and I began to think wholly in the flourescent Leith dialect that peppers the book. Welsh manages this narrative technique so well, and combined with the cognitive sponge-wipe that is a 24-hour plane flight, immersion was complete. From Sydney to Singapore I sat next to a guy whose nose was constantly running, and himself constantly sniffling. He just would not blow it. I was so very tired and borderline hallucinating. The noise of his honker was destroying me, some kind of water torture. I dozed off and dreamt that I actually turned to him and screamed, ‘Blow yer f****** nose, ya radge, yis nipping ma heid, so ye are!’ When I awoke, although he still did not blow his nose, he refused to look at me for the rest of the way to Singapore and seemed visibly nervous. Even now, I am just a little paranoid that I may have actually spoken (Irvine) Welsh to this poor man in my sleep.

Ballard has said that his work, Crash in particular, is not meant to evoke specific examples of place (in the case of that book, reacting to reports that it is a ‘London’ work). Instead he says he is interested in an international zone of the type that you find around motorways and airports, areas geographically distant but interchangeable and, essentially, eventless. Thus, the experience of passing through five international terminals in 24 hours — none more Ballardian. I had the sense of progression through a giant airlocked tube connecting every country on the planet, the outside world a geodesic dome perhaps, or as an irradiated landscape sealed off out of harm’s way. Time folded in on itself. I forgot to change the time on my phone with each stop. It didn’t matter. The physiological morning was encased in an environmental night. Stumbling through Singapore Airport’s dutyfree shopping zone, I had the sixth sense that I might bump into a version of myself from one year ago, passing through on the way home from London to Melbourne. Maybe I had always been here. I have lost a serious amount of weight in the space of the past year and to people who have not seen me for a while, there is often considerable surprise expressed at the extent of the transformation. I imagine that I, too, would be shocked to run into this past version of myself, itself casually strolling through Singaporean non-space, perhaps even as shocked as the man at the end of La Jetée confronting his younger self. In these circumstances, in transit, in-between, freefloating in interstitial space, it is just so hard to keep one’s molecules oscillating wildly enough to form a coherent body and therefore avoid complete disintegration, but one does the best one can.


Sydney airport … or so it would seem (photo: Simon Sellars).

From Heathrow, I caught the British Airways redeye special to Barcelona at 7am on Wednesday morning. The jet was suit city; in jeans and a t-shirt, I felt like a zoo exhibit, a savage allowed to sit up the front. Onboard, the papers were all British. I picked one up and began to read of feverish intrigue about businessmen and society elite conspiring on Greek islands about something shadowy and unavailable to the rest of us. The last front-page story I read in the local paper before leaving home was about a sportsman who had lost his pants while drunk. Truly I am out of place as well as time. Almost as soon as the plane touched down at Barcelona, virtually every businessman and woman on the jet reached for their Blackberries and began tapping away furiously. The man next to me, in a slick charcoal grey suit with gleaming black Crackberry dancing to the tune of his fingers, was intent on beaming himself into the future. I cannot sleep much on planes. I was tired, I’m telling you. Jellied, floating crabs danced in my field of vision. They evaporated and I looked up and there was an identical man in the aisle as the one sitting next to me, with exact same hairstyle, suit and Blackberry, similarly tripping on subwire desire. And I mean an exact double, or so it seemed. Once inside the terminal I went to a mirror to check if I, too, had similarly transformed — would Barcelona for me prove to be the final stage in the globally linked Switching Station for the New Man? But no — oozing back at me was still the same doughy, jetlagged face with the same rudimentary stubble and also there was the same shabby t-shirt and jeans.

I have now been in Barcelona for three days. Later, I will write to you about my impressions of Kosmopolis 08, of the city itself, of the virtual reality of the Ballard exhibition and of my encounters with the ghosts of Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed. But first, at 5pm today, there is the panel I am appearing on with Jordi Costa, Bruce Sterling and V. Vale. I will wait until after that to record these further thoughts as I would like to spend today prepping myself.

Until later then,
Simon in Barcelona for Kosmopolis 08

Soundtracks to inner space: Roxy Music — ‘Out of the Blue’, ‘Mother of Pearl’, ‘Prairie Rose’; Fleetwood Mac — ‘Big Love’, ‘Landslide’, ‘Tusk’ [USC intro mix], ‘You Make Loving Fun’; Future Engineers — ‘Future Engineered’ mix; Temple Records — ‘Wax Label Showcase’

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5 Responses »

  1. You still alive then?

    The stretch between Barcelona airport and the city was a deeply Ballardian space, even more so than most other airport interzones I’ve seen – all shiny retail boxes and decayed factories, with the high mountains beyond. I’m sure I recognised parts from ‘The Machinist’.

  2. Another strange thing : on our way from the airport to the city I remembered instantly the “Atrocity Exhibition” sample (“the suburbs of Hell”), but on the opposite route (from Barcelona to the airport) it just reminded of the same route from Athens airport to the center of Athens… Hope you’re enjoying the rest of the spain travel. Cheers!

  3. May the road rise up to meet you on the way back Simon!

  4. Excellent report. I’m looking forward to hearing all about the panel and the meeting with the brilliant V. Vale, and of course your impressions of the exhibition.

  5. Congrats! You continue to achieve stupendously! Thanks for all the GREAT reporting!
    In some photos I have seen Bruce Sterling looking a bit under the weather at the conference, what did he have to say about Da Man? I know him personally and perhaps it was only a trick of the photo or our aging process, but am interested in your interaction w/ him, if any…. and of course your take on what he said! I understand he is living in Poland now, but with Bruce “now” is an irrelevant passing concept…
    Beaming good thoughts Sheppertonward….

    – Crashman


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