Notes on the Terroritorium (1)

Afterword on work submitted for Territorium Tijuana July 2019
Catalogues & Archives 05/11


The word territorium, territory in Latin, recalls the territorium of Imperial Rome – from the time when all roads led to Rome. To imagine territorium today as a sort of twinning of Tijuana and London is to lay bare the reality of the contemporary “post-Imperial” territorium.

The twinning is an exercise of surrealist montage, Tijuana-London. It can be seen as a territory transversing exercise drawing from Paul Gilroy's Black Atlantic.
Gilroy was deterritorialising the nineteenth century Imperial territorium that grew with the traffic of human bodies for indentured labour from the colony to the Imperial state; “capitalism with its clothes off” as Gilroy called slavery. For his notion of a de-territorialised modernity, Gilroy “settled on the image of ships in motion across the spaces between Europe, America, Africa, and the Caribbean as a central organising symbol”. This was in the high seas far outside the centres of the Imperial state.


Against the deterritorialising modernity of black and post-colonial writers, the territorium instead now signifies a mechanism of closure. By that, it also marks the return of an Imperial territorium to its colonial root in the neoliberal version of “capitalism with its clothes off”. Why this is not surprising can be understood through Carl Schmitt, as referenced in a prior photo-essay terra nullius on the destruction of the Calais Jungle, the migrant and refugee settlement with its ten thousand people in 2016.
Schmitt states in his opus The Nomus of the Earth that the colony is “the basic spatial fact of hitherto existing European international law” and raises the coming question of Earth and territory on Earth without the colony. The challenge of the post-nomus when it is the colony that gave form to the nomus and the legal instruments of modernity, its body of rights. To take away the colony is to take away the rights of State, rights of property, of labour, of citizenship and of movement. The colony and the nomus are at the foundation of rights as constituted today; thus the old nomus endures – even so in the colonies by the so-called colonial era law.



How the territorium re-establishes the nomus can be seen in the open letter presented by the Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos in the indigenous Chiapas region of Mexico when rejecting the Free Trade Deal with the USA. Drawing a jigsaw of the new world order (for a counterterritorium), the Zapatista describe the “new, abstract power centres - megapoles of the market, which will be subject to no control except that of the logic of investment”.


The third piece of the Zapatistas' jigsaw named 'vicious cycle' is enforced migration for those who do not fit the globalisation jigsaw. In that such humans exist and do migrate, a vast evolving apparatus of control designed purely for them gets more and more advanced with each decade. That's what we see today, "a ring of terror" as put in the open letter. For them migration in the global age becomes a driver of terror that parallels the terrors of the nineteenth century human traffic.


Presenting the Zapatista letter John Berger asked, Could this 16th century vision of hell by Hieronymous Bosch be a chilling prophecy of life today?


It's one illustration of how terror now becomes the very nomus of the territorium - as terroritorium. But we can not recognise the terroritorium intrinsic to the contemporary territorium because the seeing is seen - as a function of the nomus. The territorium as nomus relentlessly extracts every means of seeing and how things can become visible in it. We are free to see but everything we see, including unbounded terror refracts through the nomus.



In the dissections of seeing, the critical distinction to draw is from Jonathan Crary on the 24/7 eye and how we became observers and not only spectators. Technology augments the nomus across the visual spectrum. Through endless screens, CCTV, thermal imaging, facial recognition software, and so on. From distant disaster zones to the metropolitan centres.


So in London, when we step onto public transport, we hear the injunction “See it. Say it. Sorted.” The watch becomes our watch - for any irregularity, any difference, anything other. The climate this instills, cultivates and reinforces is how the other or outsider and terror become fore-grounded into a narrowing trajectory.


For the territorium, the technologised eye is synced with the naked eye to progressively alter the way visual signs can work. Our seeing is the sharpening accessory for a redefining of contemporary territoriality. Consider the 'Go Home' vans that roamed certain London neighbourhoods, touring flagships that draw out the new political laylines of territory to be (at last) made clear. It is as though the ships of the Black Atlantic are being remapped, re-narrated yet again right within the metropolitan heart and inner city. There the migrant as illegal is the defining figure, the “central organising symbol” for the territorium. Only through it, territory and terror can converge in one single body as the focus for the entire arsenal of seeing.

Terror today so becomes a project of embodiment and of itself, terror essentialised for what the Zapatista call the “mental climate imposed on the world” : to maintain it as it were. The burden of its maintenance is fully democratised in the political theatres. The territorium anywhere everywhere becomes as dependent on the democratic militarisation of seeing with the naked eye as with its surveillance architecture. To be socially sustainable this twinning or marriage - of old nomus and new technology - also becomes the real reality show of our times.