Léopold Lambert: Archipelago, the pod­cast project of The Funambulist. I’m Léopold Lambert Today, State of Exception: Architectures of Quarantine and Containment with David Garcia.


Today I receive David Garcia to talk about quar­an­tine. And David is a founder of MAP Architect and also the edi­tor of their pub­li­ca­tion of the same name, MAP, Manual of Architectural Possibilities. He’s also teach­ing at Bartlett in London and Lund in Sweden. He’s based in Copenhagen and he’s a future ahead of the com­ing Institute of Architecture and Technology of the Royal Danish Academy. Hello David.

David Garcia: Hello, Léopold.

Lambert: So, we’re gonna talk about quar­an­tine, which is one of the top­ics of the sec­ond issue of MAP. But as you were say­ing a lit­tle bit ear­li­er, in the oth­er MAPs about Greenland, about Chernobyl, about floods, about Antarctica, about archive, you would be able to also find this top­ic. So I sup­pose that it is a recur­rent theme of yours.

Garcia: In a way if we look at quar­an­tine as sys­tems of con­tain­ment, then in a way one could also look at many oth­er fields through that per­spec­tive. And when I was sug­gest­ed to do a MAP on quar­an­tine, I had a very nar­row per­cep­tion of what quar­an­tine actu­al­ly was. And it was through the months of research for MAP that one could see that the con­cept per­me­at­ed many oth­er fields which the pub­li­ca­tion already takes on in a way, with regards to immi­gra­tion or forced migra­tion pol­i­cy, even plan­e­tary issues.

So cer­tain­ly the tag or the bub­ble of archi­tec­ture or space viewed as a sys­tem of con­tain­ment has hov­ered around me, and in a way it’s a lens that I always flip on and it always reveals some lay­ers of that real­i­ty in almost any­thing that I do, espe­cial­ly in a soci­ety like ours.

Lambert: So yeah, let’s talk about con­tain­ment because I would def­i­nite­ly be eager to say that it is almost in the essence of archi­tec­ture to have this func­tion of con­tain­ment. And obvi­ous­ly we find we invent­ed some lit­tle devices that we call doors, that we call win­dows, to cre­ate a poros­i­ty with­in this con­tain­ment. But one of the rea­sons that I’m inter­est­ed in quar­an­tine is that all of a sud­den if a quar­an­tine is declared, your own house that you thought was like, pro­tect­ing you from the out­side is basi­cal­ly impris­on­ing And noth­ing changes phys­i­cal­ly, right. Like things are just at their…at the legal lev­el, archi­tec­ture was con­tain­ing in itself the pos­si­bil­i­ty that this could hap­pen and there­fore you becom­ing trap with­in your own house. But I sup­pose it is a rather a polit­i­cal approach to the ques­tion when your MAP has maybe a broad­er approach to it which obvi­ous­ly approach­es it through like through all the dis­eases that can pos­si­bly trig­ger the state of quar­an­tine. So we will have a few of the MAPs on the web site so that peo­ple can see what we’re talk­ing about. But can you maybe tell us a lit­tle bit more about that?

Garcia: Well in a way we went through a very clas­sic approach with the pub­li­ca­tion and we start­ed to look at its region­al impli­ca­tions which were, direct­ly, disease-related, and how espe­cial­ly when the world start­ed to be a small­er place through nav­i­ga­tion in 151600, that start­ed to be a much wider issue. New dis­eases sud­den­ly arrived more and more often. So the lazaret­tos and the con­cept of quar­an­tine from the iso­la­tion of forty days—sometimes it was twen­ty, some­times it was forty. All this—

Lambert: It might be actu­al­ly inter­est­ing to tell the non-Latin speak­ers that quar­an­tine” comes from forty—

Garcia: From forty yeah, exact­ly.

Lambert: —which would be the amount of days to stay iso­lat­ed, right?

Garcia: Yeah. I mean, the prob­lem was very much…it was very par­al­lel to today’s air­ports, which is one of the great­est chal­lenges if we look at spread of seri­ous dis­eases through­out the globe today. The same type of para­noia per­me­at­ed the urban con­text of the 15/1600s. And at the very begin­ning, the boats were lit­er­al­ly left at bay for thir­ty days and then forty days lat­er on, because it was a cycle of fevers. If you sur­vived forty days with a fever, it prob­a­bly was­n’t very seri­ous. Or you will die and then that ship would still be its own iso­la­tion. So the idea of the archi­tec­tur­al ele­ment that one com­pos­es and that you can become trapped by, was already a real­i­ty in the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of a ship. So the ship which allowed you to nav­i­gate and com­mu­ni­cate and spread was also an island, and that was kept at bay.

Later on when there were too many ships they thought well this is a bit of a prob­lem. We need car­goes to come in and so forth. So they created—normally arti­fi­cial islands, or derelict structures—Venice still has their own lazaret­tos which you can vis­it, lat­er on being used as oth­er func­tions. But in essence they were islands for­ti­fied where the indi­vid­u­als would then be removed from the boat if there was the sus­pi­cion of any dis­ease, and it would stay there. Or if there was a dis­ease, then that ship could also be emp­tied and placed in a lazaret­to.

So these [indis­tinct] struc­tures— And Ellis Island actu­al­ly is a direct impli­ca­tion and trans­la­tion of that many hun­dreds of years after. It was­n’t only a way of sur­vey­ing, con­trol­ling, and chart­ing indi­vid­u­als, it was also a way of screen­ing and peo­ple were often iso­lat­ed if there was a sus­pi­cion of any dis­ease.

And the same hap­pens today with the air­port. The air­port has exact­ly the same char­ac­ter­is­tics. And I would even say it has char­ac­ter­is­tics of pre-lazaret­to. Because today the air­plane can eas­i­ly become your con­tained sphere, when we expe­ri­ence being sprayed upon when we per­haps go to South America, where we expe­ri­ence an hour pause when we land in China if there’s a SARS scare and every sin­gle indi­vid­ual is laser scan­ning to mea­sure their tem­per­a­tures. If some­one has a fever, that plane is locked until a con­trolled mobile sys­tem can lit­er­al­ly take every sin­gle indi­vid­ual in that plane to anoth­er iso­lat­ed zone for thir­ty or forty days.

So that sto­ry has not changed. In the indi­vid­ual lev­el, the fear of con­t­a­m­i­na­tion reach­es such heights in the research plat­forms. For exam­ple the CDC has a very strict pro­to­col of what to do with an indi­vid­ual that through the research is feared to have come in con­tact with a dead­ly virus. And there’s media shut­down, iso­la­tion, no con­tact. And you are lit­er­al­ly deposed of any sin­gle artifact—brush, necktie—maybe for fear of tak­ing your own life because you might be scared of hav­ing ebo­la, but most of the peo­ple have actu­al­ly tried to com­mit sui­cide even though they weren’t con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed by any dis­ease. Just by the fact that they had to be iso­lat­ed, on their own, for forty days or so. So there’s also this extrap­o­la­tion of the indi­vid­ual in iso­la­tion and the risk that pow­er thinks impos­es or might have on a soci­ety, but also the risk that you actu­al­ly have upon your­self just by the fact that you’re iso­lat­ed as an indi­vid­ual. Psychologically that is a bur­den.

Lambert: And you actu­al­ly desig— So to explain a lit­tle bit of the MAP pub­li­ca­tion, you you have one side of the MAP that is very fac­tu­al, very objec­tive, very ana­lyt­i­cal. But you have anoth­er side of the MAP that is dis­play­ing a few projects that you’ve been work­ing on with your office. And the sound we can hear is you turn­ing the MAP the oth­er way, and one of the projects you’ve been design­ing for this MAP quar­an­tine is I sup­pose extreme­ly relat­ed to what you just described, which is this lit­tle mobile bub­ble that one per­son that is in the state of quar­an­tine can con­tin­ue to lead his social life while still being with­in a protected…well, while being in a bub­ble that pro­tects oth­er peo­ple from their sus­pect­ed dis­ease that this per­son might have, right?

Garcia: It’s true, yeah. We called it the Domestic Isolation Unit, and that was a com­ment on pre­cise­ly that phe­nom­e­non. That if some­one at home in a domes­tic sit­u­a­tion comes or starts to show symp­toms of some seri­ous or pseudo-serious dis­ease, nor­mal­ly what hap­pens is that indi­vid­ual is removed to a con­trolled unit, nor­mal­ly part of hos­pi­tal. And that has a huge impact and it’s described by many physi­cians that the state of the indi­vid­ual becomes some­times dan­ger­ous even though lat­er it shows that they had no dis­ease just by the psy­cho­log­i­cal effect of not being able to see their fam­i­ly, almost luck­i­ly they can get to speak to them.

So our com­ment was how can that still be con­tained but take part in a domes­tic sit­u­a­tion. So this unit is a unit that one could have at home and it’s plugged in. You actu­al­ly imme­di­ate­ly inhab­it it and it kind of devel­ops and grows. And there’s a series of vignettes of plans as well in the pub­li­ca­tion that show dif­fer­ent days of iso­la­tion. So you can spend a cou­ple of days in your bed. We’ve all done that. We can more or less sur­vive. But if you have to spend more days you would like your ter­ri­to­ry to expand. You would like…in this case he’s able to—the bubble—to go out of the win­dow and actu­al­ly look out, almost sit out, of the win­dow and per­ceive the envi­ron­ment beyond the res­i­dence. And at an extreme sit­u­a­tion, this allows him to go all the way to the kitchen, play chess with his kids or what­ev­er, sit and watch TV with his or her part­ner. So there was the idea of domes­tic­i­ty being an intri­cate part of the pro­pos­al, with a very thin lay­er of sep­a­ra­tion, this thin trans­par­ent latex bub­ble.

But we added a com­ment to that. There’s extend­ed rub­ber hands and arms that you can kind of get very close to anoth­er indi­vid­ual with. So hug, play, caress…

Lambert: A lit­tle bit what you see in a lab­o­ra­to­ry, right?

Garcia: Yes. Yeah. It’s the same things that you have been in a con­tained unit, some­times for new­borns, that you can actu­al­ly reach in— In this case this is from in to out. Also zip­pers with dou­ble cham­bers so you can ster­il­ize food or—literally deliv­er the domes­tic food to the per­son who’s sick.

But I think more inter­est­ing for us was the addi­tion of I don’t give a damn” zip­per. Which is that at the end of the day the fam­i­ly might think, This is sil­ly. I don’t care. If it’s not dead­ly I’d rather just get sick with you and we’ll just go through it togeth­er even though it’s hor­ri­ble than hav­ing you sep­a­rat­ed from the fam­i­ly.” So we thought that this…or we know that this is actu­al­ly an option that is desired by many indi­vid­u­als on both ends of the spec­trum. The iso­lat­ed and non-isolated video both think this is ridicu­lous, I don’t care. You know, yeah it’s a bit painful, yeah it’s going to last long, but I don’t feel I’m alive. So the zip­per is lit­er­al­ly only acces­si­ble from the out­side. And the inside. So the two indi­vid­u­als have to pull the zip­per at the same time and in accord decide to break that local quar­an­tine.

Lambert: I see. Well the I guess that’s a very inter­est­ing aspect of this project because there… I sup­pose what quar­an­tine is par­a­digm of is a soci­ety which at least sup­pos­ed­ly acts for your own good with­out ask­ing for your per­mis­sion for it.

Garcia: Exactly.

Lambert: We can talk about Michel Foucault a lit­tle bit lat­er, but it’s inter­est­ing to see that at some point you include the option of hav­ing at least the free­dom to say no, I don’t want the soci­ety to take care of me, I need to agree with it.

Garcia: Yeah. I mean obvi­ous­ly the con­se­quences would be very inter­est­ing, right. If this was a prod­uct it prob­a­bly could not exist as such, that zip­per. But I think when you spec­u­late I think that’s when you can bring in these com­ments as phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tions that have a rea­son, that have a desire, and cir­cum­nav­i­gates obvi­ous­ly the rules of man­u­fac­ture but also prob­a­bly the med­ical code. But there’s a long his­to­ry of kind of sac­ri­fice in both direc­tions. The indi­vid­u­als around some­one who’s sick who say, I don’t care, you need help. So I help even though I might get sick.” There’s a huge lit­er­a­ture and his­to­ry of that.

But there’s also the self-iso­la­tion… During the Black Plague there’s a descrip­tion of a small vil­lage in Ireland, if I remem­ber cor­rect­ly. The vil­lage real­ized that some­one had come down with the plague. So they built a wall around their own vil­lage and very clear­ly stip­u­lat­ed Do not come here. There is the plague and know we want to just iso­late our­selves to see what hap­pens.” And food was tak­en from oth­er vil­lages and left at the perime­ter. But this was a self-inflicted deci­sion. Which prob­a­bly was a more ratio­nal deci­sion in the way that they man­u­fac­tured their con­tain­ment than the deci­sions tak­en by pow­er struc­tures when they were forc­ing how to act with regards to the spread of plague in a vil­lage.

So I think for me that was a very inter­est­ing… We’re talk­ing about medieval times, but some­times a group can ratio­nal­ize a prob­lem and react per­haps in a much more bal­anced man­ner, and per­haps even a much more effi­cient man­ner, than when all the prob­lems that one might encounter are engulfed by one sin­gle pro­to­col. So, the fact you know, if all of Manhattan was in a very seri­ous epi­dem­ic, prob­a­bly the bridges would be cut down and it would become an iso­lat­ed island… By decree, prob­a­bly. I don’t know. That’s a sce­nario that could hap­pen. Whereas the dif­fer­ence of maybe a whole build­ing, if indi­vid­u­als find this out, they might actu­al­ly cre­ate oth­er forms of con­tain­ment which are less…I would say dras­tic, but maybe even more effi­cient.

So what I’m try­ing to argue for is that some­times self-control instead of top-down con­trol, because it’s very spe­cif­ic to the con­text, can be much more effi­cient than the drap­ing of one sin­gle ges­ture from a top-down struc­ture.

Lambert: And I sup­pose that it’s…beyond quar­an­tine that’s some­thing that’s valid also for design­ing archi­tec­ture in gen­er­al. And in addi­tion of that, it’s as I was say­ing a lit­tle bit ear­li­er, it’s inter­est­ing to see that archi­tec­ture and the cities that we live in seem to have a ready embod­i­ment of such a cri­sis con­di­tion. I mean, you were talk about Manhattan, which obvi­ous­ly is an island so that def­i­nite­ly helps. But any archi­tec­ture already has the pro­to­cols that you were evok­ing of being able to be…sealed.

Garcia: Yeah. Yeah, and some archi­tec­tures more than oth­ers. I mean if you vis­it new hous­ing com­plex­es in Tel Aviv, they all have a core. Which is a bomb-proof core that every­body can run into. So you have an ele­va­tor shaft core, but there’s also cores that run through all the flats, which are nor­mal­ly on the order of a meter and a half by a meter and a half, and they already house gas masks ready to survive—if one could call it that—an X type of chem­i­cal threat or oth­er type of threat. And I think that you can find many exam­ples of that cat­e­go­ry in a wide spec­trum of ver­sions. But we are design­ing sys­tems of con­tain­ment in our con­tem­po­rary cities and hous­ing units which are relat­ed to present or local threats.

One very inter­est­ing addi­tion to the pub­lic space is how we are con­di­tion­ing and defin­ing the pub­lic space with regards to even­tu­al attacks. And it’s chang­ing the land­scape rad­i­cal­ly. And the very first knee-jerk reac­tion was con­crete blocks in front of many insti­tu­tions. Now they’re try­ing to design these con­crete blocks so they seem some­thing which is part of the land­scape but the pres­ence and the robust­ness is still so vio­lent that it’s hard to hide the inten­tion. That’s a type of con­tain­ment, you know. You’re try­ing to con­tain heavy machin­ery run­ning into an insti­tu­tion’s facade. As late as today I vis­it­ed the new kind of con­tain­ment cen­ter build­ing in front of the UN. And they’re masked, they’re cov­ered. And you see how this cylin­der of steel is con­nect­ed to a branch, and under­ground branch which obvi­ous­ly is going to be sub­merged under­ground to be able to con­tain pres­sures. And it’s—it’s hu—it’s very aggres­sive. I mean, how can you land­scape your­self out of that?

Lambert: Yeah. I think it’s part of like US is build­ing a new embassy there’s a require­ment for the archi­tects and engi­neers to resist to a very spe­cif­ic dose of explo­sive.

Garcia: Yeah.

Lambert: It’s inter­est­ing. But I sup­pose what I was get­ting at was not as much the lit­er­al pro­tec­tion of some­thing that comes from the out­side, whether it is virus­es or bombs or any form of direct antag­o­nist—[indis­tinct] let’s say—but more in gen­er­al of like there is a…and it’s not a new thing but there is Something latent in the con­struc­tion of archi­tec­ture which is that there is this sus­pi­cion? I would say towards the out­side, toward the oth­er­ness, and that makes us build our build­ings the way we build them. And that seems to embody already this actu­al, lit­er­al, sit­u­a­tion where there would be indeed like, a very mate­r­i­al antag­o­nist all around. So it…

Garcia: It makes it eas­i­er.

Lambert: Yeah.

Garcia: Especially in the West I think, any con­struc­tion is about iso­la­tion. A hous­ing unit.

Lambert: And a crys­tal­liza­tion of pri­vate prop­er­ty.

Garcia: Of pri­vate prop­er­ty, yeah. And a dis­tanc­ing. And in oth­er cul­tures that is much more blurred. You can hear, you can almost go in… I remem­ber in the tiny islands of [Taiyo?] out­side of Hong Kong, there’s a fish­ing vil­lage. And that fish­ing vil­lage, due to the tide, has built most of the hous­ing units on stilts. And they were very tiny so they’ve had to grow. So these stilts hold piers which are the small streets, and they put units along these streets. But very often they had not enough space, so they start­ed to build on the oth­er side of this pier—this pier’s about two meters wide. And there’s no wall, there’s no blur. So you’re walk­ing through this path, and you’re walk­ing through the bed­room. So there’s you know, a gen­tle­man sleep­ing next to you and the kitchen with a TV is open.

So they’ve appro­pri­at­ed those extra square meters which is a pub­lic street. We would under­stand it clear­ly as a pub­lic street because peo­ple are lit­er­al­ly walk­ing up and down. But they have no prob­lem in that open facade, on that pri­va­cy. Where I think the West obvi­ous­ly is char­ac­ter­ized with iso­la­tion and con­tain­ment, which is some­times due to clim—or excused a cli­mat­ic effi­cien­cy. But I think it is an under­ly­ing desire of iso­la­tion. You would rather not hear absolute­ly any­body around you. That’s kind of like a gen­er­al­ized desire. [crosstalk] And no smells.

Lambert: It’s good to record pod­casts.

Garcia: Yes, exact­ly. And yeah. So I think you’re absolute­ly right. It is a pre­scrip­tion of almost any hous­ing unit, and you can extend that prob­a­bly to many oth­er typolo­gies of iso­la­tion. That here you are in anoth­er space that tries to put almost every oth­er space out­side. And per­haps the only one that some­times we like to break is the visu­al. Mainly because we would like to see out, not so much because we would like peo­ple to see in.

Lambert: Well, talk­ing about the West and stay­ing with this notion of quar­an­tine, maybe one of the most illus­tra­tive exam­ples that you already evoked is Ellis Island. And I would like to maybe draw the atten­tion to the way their unwant­ed bod­ies were being des­ig­nat­ed there, which was with this lit­tle piece of chalk, right. And all of sud­den there’s no more indi­vid­u­als, there’s only bod­ies that are being scanned. Which obvi­ous­ly in this era means to scan peo­ple, which is not the same nowa­days but the prin­ci­ples are the same. And there’s a des­ig­na­tion that is extreme­ly phys­i­cal and rec­og­niz­able through this let­ter in chalk on the back of peo­ple that would then bring them to whichev­er depart­ment they had to go to deal with what it was that made unwant­ed on the American ter­ri­to­ry. There is a clear mate­r­i­al des­ig­na­tion, I think that’s what I’m get­ting at.

Garcia: I think at those lev­els one is absolute­ly not treat­ed as a human. You’re treat­ed as an arti­fact. As an import. So you’re approved or not approved, or you have a cat­e­go­ry. And that is some­thing we expe­ri­ence at many oth­er lev­els in the world of course today, where under the name of effi­cien­cy, and if you can add to that under the name of safety—or goal of safety—then you can get away with much more. And the indi­vid­ual obvi­ous­ly los­es their char­ac­ter and becomes an object that can be accept­ed or not accept­ed.

What’s inter­est­ing is that the ele­ments of con­tain­ment also go through these cat­e­gories. But some­times they’re res­cued through time and become even more human­ized than the humans which were inhab­it­ing it were at their own time. So if we look at Ellis Island has become today, it is almost the expres­sion of this col­lec­tive. It’s try­ing to human­ize as much as pos­si­ble to kind of…make you under­stand how dehu­man­iz­ing it actu­al­ly was. So sud­den­ly there’s nobody, there’s only tourists. But the decor, the nar­ra­tive, is about the sin­gle indi­vid­ual, how they looked and how they were treat­ed. And in a way it impreg­nates a space with human­ness which at the time, actu­al­ly, when it was full with humans, every sin­gle human was­n’t, it was des­ig­nat­ed almost as an object. So there’s a strange par­o­dy of how the build­ings have sur­vived and now have this pseu­do…

Lambert: Have sur­vived thanks to the accept­ed bod­ies—

Garcia: Exactly yeah, yeah.

Lambert: —not by the non-accepted.

Yeah, because this des­ig­na­tion is a very, once again, lit­er­al ostra­ciza­tion of some­thing we could see a lit­tle a bit less lit­er­al­ly through the idea that there’s a norm, and each indi­vid­ual is being judged through these behav­ioral or this appear­ance norm. And obvi­ous­ly in the case of Ellis Island it becomes incred­i­bly lit­er­al. Like there is lit­er­al­ly peo­ple that are in and peo­ple that are out. And let’s recall that like, quar­an­tine is involv­ing peo­ple who were sus­pect­ed to have maybe a dis­ease, not nec­es­sar­i­ly peo­ple who actu­al­ly have a dis­ease. So there is an incred­i­ble process of, again, ostra­ciza­tion that is work­ing here.

Garcia: And then there’s lev­els which actu­al­ly have dif­fer­ent con­tain­ment para­me­ters which are not phys­i­cal struc­tures but just fron­tiers. And some­times with­in their own coun­try. So inter­nal­ly dis­placed peo­ple, IDP is what they’re called—are a very curi­ous kind of real­i­ty, I would say, where indi­vid­u­als are pushed out of their own coun­try due to per­se­cu­tion.

Lambert: Maybe you can give us an exam­ple.

Garcia: Well, I sup­pose we can look at Africa, as many in Angola have expe­ri­enced that. Niger has inter­nal­ly dis­placed about 6,000 peo­ple. And what hap­pens is that they’re per­se­cut­ed, but the dif­fer­ence to many of the real­i­ties where they can flee and seek refuge in anoth­er nation, they’re not allowed to flee. And there are no neigh­bor nations that would actu­al­ly take them on board. So they become unwant­ed island with­in a body. So it’s almost a dis­ease that you can expel. That’s how it’s seen by the pow­er struc­ture.

The prob­lem is that nobody takes respon­si­bil­i­ty. So if a neigh­bor takes a refugee on board, they also take the respon­si­bil­i­ty of car­ing for that indi­vid­ual. But because they are not allowed to leave, and the gov­ern­ment is per­se­cut­ing them, they actu­al­ly have no kind of aid, or struc­ture to sup­port them. These are very inter­est­ing kind of con­texts. It’s a bub­ble that you…you start to think how small is it going to get. What often hap­pens is that the per­se­cu­tion ends up as an exter­mi­na­tion. But very often, they won’t exter­mi­nate them, they just don’t want them in any urban con­text so they end up out in more or less nat­ur­al land­scapes to try and [sur­vive?] on their own.

But there’s also oth­er spec­trums which are very inter­est­ing about iso­la­tion or quar­an­tine. They can also be demys­ti­fied and glo­ri­fied. And almost treat­ed as a glo­ri­ous event. So when the Apollo astro­nauts came down back to Earth, they were in masks from the minute they left their cap­sule which was in the sea. They went into haz­mat suits. They left their cap­sule in the sea and they were res­cued by heli­copters, and they were wear­ing haz­mat suits. So the rit­u­al of the astro­naut com­ing down from the heli­copter into the air­craft car­ri­er and greet­ing the cap­tains, which we had at pre-Apollo missions…all the mis­sions that went into orbit, that sud­den­ly dis­ap­pears and it’s nev­er in cam­eras. So there’s a gap in the nar­ra­tive because these indi­vid­u­als were only seen when they came down to Johnson Space Center and they were in an Airstream trail­er until they came down to a larg­er facil­i­ty. And that’s where they were kind of greet­ed by Nixon and so forth.

But this was all cer­e­mo­ni­ous, you know. It was the same idea of con­tain­ment, the same idea of quar­an­tine. Let’s see if these guys drop dead from the moon or not. But it was…all these lay­ers of stigma­ti­za­tion were peeled off by a rit­u­al­iza­tion of the hero com­ing back from Earth, and you know…

Lambert: Coming back to Earth.

Garcia: Exactly, com­ing back to Earth. I think for me that was a very curi­ous… I think prob­a­bly, it was prob­a­bly the first time in history—I’m not sure about this—probably the first time in his­to­ry where a rit­u­al of quar­an­tine was seen glob­al­ly, accept­ed glob­al­ly, and the only ones com­plain­ing were actu­al­ly the astro­nauts them­selves but they weren’t real­ly allowed to com­plain because they had the world’s micro­phones in their noses. And the action was kind of peeled off. And there was only the shell of the place with­out the stig­ma of quar­an­tine. I haven’t worked out what it actu­al­ly implied lat­er on, but I think it would [get?] a very curi­ous event, a very excep­tion­al event.

Lambert: I’m afraid there won’t be much of tran­si­tion here, but as I said a lit­tle bit ear­li­er, it’d be a shame not to talk about Michel Foucault when we talk about quar­an­tine, because in his sem­i­nar at the Collège de France that’s called The Abnormal,” from the 1974, he’s been describ­ing a city that is under quar­an­tine because there’s a plague, a sus­pi­cion of plague cas­es, in this city. And not only his descrip­tion is extreme­ly inter­est­ing in terms of for his­tor­i­cal val­ue but obvi­ous­ly because it’s because it’s Foucault it won’t stop at the sim­ple histor…already com­plex, but—historical descrip­tion but it’s telling us some­thing about the mech­a­nisms of pow­ers that are at work in this par­tic­u­lar event. So Foucault describes, on the absolute oppo­site of anoth­er very large dis­ease that was more present dur­ing the Medieval era, which was lep­rosy, which as soon as you got it you were declared as dead, social­ly speak­ing and you were expelled from the city. So here it’s actu­al­ly a lit­tle bit more com­plex and it can relate to what Foucault lat­er has been call­ing biopol­i­tics, a pol­i­tics that is tak­ing his sub­ject and mak­ing each indi­vid­ual a sub­ject through his or her very life and the admin­is­tra­tion of this life.

So, any­way I’m get­ting a lit­tle bit long here but the descrip­tion of Foucault is based on some­thing called quar­il­lage in French that’s pret­ty hard to trans­late. But a sort of administrative…so vir­tu­al­ly admin­is­tra­tive, and phys­i­cal­ly in terms of polic­ing and exam­i­na­tion of every sin­gle part of the city, with every sin­gle inhab­i­tant being in their house for a giv­en time. And every day some­body com­ing by and ask­ing to see every sin­gle per­son in the fam­i­ly to see if there is any case of the plague.

And so Foucault described that at length, obvi­ous­ly. But he’s also say­ing that this mode of sov­er­eign­ty that is being expressed through the state of quar­an­tine is very much the pow­er of admin­is­tra­tion of life. And there’s no more bod­ies being expelled from the city. The bod­ies are being kept very much so with­in the city, and their lives are being admin­is­trat­ed by tran­scen­den­tal enti­ty some­how.

I’m talking…too much. But David, maybe you have some­thing to say…that maybe it res­onates for you in some ways.

Garcia: Well there’s the obvi­ous pow­er struc­ture that with more or less argu­ment estab­lish­es a series of pro­to­cols to try and kind of pro­tect soci­ety. And it’s inter­est­ing to actu­al­ly look clos­er to oth­er soci­eties have self-reg­u­lat­ed these instances. And there’s mech­a­nisms for exam­ple in Greenland in in their tra­di­tion­al cul­ture until not so many years ago, where indi­vid­u­als in these very small vil­lages would self-decide in an autonomous way, Well, I think my fam­i­ly is one fam­i­ly too many,” and there is a poten­tial of incest and some inbred dis­eases that could cost that microso­ci­ety to col­lapse. So it meant that they would migrate. And take the risk of find­ing anoth­er site far away that could allow for [liv­ery?] and fish­ing. But this was a sys­tem of being able to sur­vive, in a way, with­in a very small enclave.

And it is described not as the elder­ly say­ing you’re gonna have to leave, it was kind of…nobody was forced to, it was kind of obvi­ous, appar­ent­ly. Someone sud­den­ly clicked and said, Okay, I’m just gonna start a fam­i­ly. I think it’s us. I think we’re gonna go on.” Whether that was obvi­ous­ly true or not it’s hard to know, but there was­n’t the evi­dence of a very direct impo­si­tion.

That also result­ed in the lack of stigma­ti­za­tion of adopt­ing chil­dren. Something that still hap­pens today and there’s no stig­ma. You know, many of the politi­cians are from adop­tive fam­i­lies because if you had too many chil­dren your neigh­bor would say you know, we can take care of one of yours because you don’t have enough resources. So these ideas of self-regulation in some soci­eties are very inter­est­ing. And they per­me­ate on the con­trol, on the con­tain­ment, but also on the release of con­trol and con­tain­ment in areas as the infant and late­ly your def­i­n­i­tion of a fam­i­ly through the infants.

And I think that those are very inter­est­ing to com­pare, because obvi­ous­ly in the West we have dif­fi­cul­ty in accepting…or maybe…you could call it self-sacrifice of self-regulation, I don’t know. But I think that there are reflec­tions in soci­eties of pow­er struc­tures that are not impos­ing. I think per­haps it feeds the seri­ous­ness of…the lack of some of these actions feeds into the society—the way they grow up and the val­ues that they acquire.

Which brings me to some­thing very inter­est­ing, you know. When is this ever taught in any school sys­tem or edu­ca­tion­al process? The idea of con­tain­ment, the idea of iso­la­tion, the idea of how you as an indi­vid­ual are treat­ed and rec­og­nized in your soci­ety. I think this is some­thing that comes very very late. And you can see how chil­dren have a very dif­fer­ent way of relat­ing as well to those pow­er struc­tures when sud­den­ly they fall upon you or the fam­i­ly. And I think some soci­eties are much more stronger in kind of chan­nel­ing and visu­al­iz­ing that pow­er than oth­ers are.

Lambert: If I hear you cor­rect­ly, fam­i­ly as a form of social struc­ture will be a form of con­tain­ment as well?

Garcia: Well I think you… There is a con­tain­ment. There’s a pro­tec­tion instinct that defines some dis­tanc­ing. So there’s a very spe­cif­ic type of bub­ble that extends to your chil­dren, and that you are becom­ing a reflec­tion of what the social struc­ture is with you in a very silent and maybe uncon­scious way. So there is a con­stant con­trol of the child’s move­ments. Don’t touch this, don’t touch that per­son, right. So there’s already an edu­ca­tion of containment…which is most of the time for the best. You don’t want your chil­dren to get sick. But that fear over­takes some­times the lib­er­ty of that indi­vid­ual, and I think in the nuclear def­i­n­i­tion of a fam­i­ly it often is a very direct reflec­tion of how we are treat­ed by oth­er pow­er struc­tures, and it just lit­er­al­ly seeps through.

Being the fact that safe­ty is just one of these para­me­ters that can break down almost any ratio­nale. If you say that is not safe” it becomes sud­den­ly para­mount, and every­thing else is put into ques­tion at best. At worst it’s lit­er­al­ly put at the end of the line. And we expe­ri­ence it as a soci­ety but I think you expe­ri­ence it in the nucle­us of the domes­tic enclave as well.

Lambert: So one of the oth­er MAP pub­li­ca­tion was based on a trip you did in Chernobyl. And in a few weeks you will also go to Fukushima, which con­sti­tute for both of them anoth­er type of quar­an­tine land­scape. Can you maybe tell us a bit more about that?

Garcia: Yeah. I think works what’s inter­est­ing is that it is a quar­an­tine land­scape. It’s not the indi­vid­ual that becomes quar­an­tined, because radi­a­tion is per se not some­thing which is con­ta­gious. But the land­scape, the dust, and the lay­er of earth that’s been irra­di­at­ed, that becomes sud­den­ly quar­an­tined. A land­scape becomes trapped on its own fron­tier, which is inter­est­ing. Individuals nor­mal­ly are removed. Although, there are fam­i­lies that have decid­ed to stay and inhab­it with­in that land­scape, maybe bring­ing us back to the first exam­ple that we talked about, how the indi­vid­ual decides to meet its land­scape, be with its family—in this case the fam­i­ly being the land­scape and not being…lit­er­al­ly decid­ing I don’t care if I die, this is my place.

So the com­ment that I start­ed this dis­cus­sion with of a fam­i­ly mem­ber reunit­ing them­selves with dis­ease or with some­one they love and engag­ing in the dis­ease also can hap­pen in how you will per­haps decide to engage with your land­scape. And I think that’s very inter­est­ing.

But when you quar­an­tine a land­scape the results are also curi­ous. The largest nat­ur­al reserve in Europe is actu­al­ly the Exclusion zone in Chernobyl. And it’s the only place which has wild hors­es in all of Europe. So because humans have been kept away, sud­den­ly nature has been allowed to thrive, kind of tak­ing the idea of dis­ease into anoth­er per­spec­tive and kind of throw­ing it back into us, you know. How are we engag­ing with the nat­ur­al land­scape. Is there a sim­i­lar­i­ty to a dis­ease when that land­scape is iso­lat­ed from us and sud­den­ly it thrives? I think that’s an inter­est­ing dis­course as well.

There are oth­er ele­ments which become quar­an­tined or iso­lat­ed. I mean those spaces, because there is no pres­ence of humans, almost become also time bub­bles, almost time cap­sules on their own. And the lack of pres­ence of indi­vid­u­als makes it even more eerie when sud­den­ly the invis­i­ble dan­ger of radi­a­tion is revealed through an inter­face, a Geiger counter. So, sit­u­a­tion normal—literally we have a SNAFU con­text. Everything looks okay, but it’s actu­al­ly in very bad shape.

But there are break­ers. And I think this brings to how a land­scape can be inoc­u­lat­ed, or pseudo-innoculated. In one of the projects, we could see the ter­ri­to­ries used by migra­to­ry birds. And they eat the seeds which are irra­di­at­ed, and lots of these birds die, or one of the imme­di­ate effects is that their brains actu­al­ly shrink in size. And that means imped­i­ments in many lev­els, which researchers are look­ing into. But we’ve curi­ous­ly found by talk­ing to researchers that flax, a quite com­mon plant, when plant­ed on irra­di­at­ed soil their seeds are not irra­di­at­ed.

So sud­den­ly you can intro­duce this ele­ment that can sur­vive and thrive, and its fruit tak­en by the birds does not car­ry radi­a­tion. And it’s not an inoc­u­la­tion but you’re cre­at­ing an oasis with­in a con­tain­ment. Which plays again on what we’ve been talk­ing about, how ele­ments with­in a con­text can be pock­ets of vio­lence. Within your body, with­in a land­scape, with­in a soci­ety. Pockets of dis­ease with­in the non-disease, or pock­ets of health with­in the dis­ease. And that flip back and forth—it’s lit­er­al­ly the his­to­ry of con­tain­ment and quar­an­tine. You’ve always had the ship becom­ing an island, becom­ing a quar­an­tine, becom­ing the oppo­site, which is free move­ment. So it becomes quite blurred often, how these pock­ets are almost like…Klein bot­tles.

Lambert: And I sup­pose so far we’ve been talk­ing about it in a very anthro­pocen­tric way. But the very fact that Chernobyl has this rich­ness of plants and ani­mals… It may be linked to the fact that we are think­ing of it with­in a cer­tain almost moral­is­tic, I would like to say, point of view because—obvi­ous­ly, because as the humans that we are are endan­gered by…whether we’re talk­ing about virus­es or radi­a­tion. But that’s not a uni­ver­sal truth. Obviously for some plants it’s actually…it may be a ben­e­fi­cial thing. So it’s inter­est­ing maybe to think of it as well in a bit less of an anthro­pocen­tric sus­tain­abil­i­ty, maybe, and stop won­der­ing what the Earth wants but maybe more like how is that all work­ing togeth­er, right?

Garcia: Yeah. I think what’s inter­est­ing about the Exclusion Zone is that the indi­vid­ual is removed. The anthro­pocen­tric per­spec­tive is still there, but you’re not par­tic­i­pat­ing. And you kind of have this strange test tube where nature is try­ing to deal with our own dis­as­ter.

But what’s inter­est­ing is that we have treat­ed the con­text and the land­scape as we would treat a per­son. It’s exact­ly the same way. We still have 3,000 sci­en­tists that go into that land­scape and try to under­stand it. But that under­stand­ing is also a desire to sal­vage it, and to cure it. We have one of the world’s largest engi­neer­ing projects being built right now to cov­er the reac­tor. Mainly because that reac­tor is so unsta­ble that if it gets a lot of water anoth­er explo­sion could hap­pen. So the core of Chernobyl is still heav­i­ly unsta­ble. There’s about a ton of ura­ni­um. So sud­den­ly, it’s the inoc­u­la­tion, right. We still inter­cede, but for our own good not for the land­scape. Or not for the species that live in the land­scape. So the per­spec­tive is still very pos­i­tivis­tic. It’s still a very ana­lyt­i­cal and pos­i­tivis­tic take on sci­ence and our pres­ence on a con­text. Which makes you think, you know, if there are oth­er alter­na­tives to that.

Lambert: Well, David thank you very much. I invite every­body to con­sult your MAP as well as your own stu­dio projects and your stu­dent projects that are extreme­ly unique. And that was for today. Thank you.

Garcia: Thank you.


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