An interview with Tali Hatuka originally published in Hebrew at http://urbanologia.tau.ac.il/human-animal-territories/
TH. So, Andre, can you tell me about your project, about territories and what are the key ideas? I mean how do you address the whole concept of territories? Let’s…you know what, what is “territory” for you?
AMB. Well, it’s a tough question, very interesting. I sort of became involved with this notion probably due to my interest in fiction and literature, especially reading authors like Franz Kafka. I’m particularly captived by Kafka’s idea that we are kind of ‘hooked’ to each other in ways that are not always comfortable. So, humans create strange spaces, like The Den, the famous short story by Kafka, where there are multiple routes and no centre, and it’s difficult to predict what’s going to happen when you meet someone else inside such a den. The territory is a complex creature which is a made up of a space that is articulated in a specific way. But at the same time, a territory presupposes an imagination of a relationship to the other. A relation to a neighbour, someone who is a bit like us, but not really like us… In fact, we never know if it’s like us or not – and that’s pure Kafka. I start from this idea that you are always related to someone and, actually, this someone in the social science jargon is called the socius, the meaningful other, the comrade – the term from which the word society comes from. So, I’m exploring this idea and currently, and I’m slowly pulling together a book which is I provisionally call The Art of Territories. First of all, because I thought after a while that it’s better to think of ‘territory’ in the plural. Territories exist, and thrive, rather than a single unified concept. Territorial production is ongoing, so that in the same place you can find more than one territory. Territories mirror the complexity of ideas, projects, imaginations, relationships, norms, expectations, laws, desires, all of these things can be stuffed in them. Second, the notion of art is also very relevant here because art is at least, I think, three very different things. In Greek art is ‘techne,’ so in the first place there is this very technical-technological idea. Each territorial project is kept together by a series of technologies. There are technologies, materials, ways of arranging and setting up the materials. Second, I would say that art is craft. There is this artisanal dimension of territories, that’s why I prefer to speak of The Art of Territory instead of The Science of Territories. People have these projects but they also requires a lot of adjustments, ongoing adjustments. It’s not rocket science, there are always little patches here and there. A craft is also what is required in a workshop, the original idea of a workshop is a place where you are with your teacher, with your master of arts, and you learn by imitating, learn by doing, learn by looking at someone else who does the same thing better than you.
TH. But I think for me, the attachment of the word “art” to “territory” makes it very nice and beautiful, and like with very good and positive association whereas for example if I’m going to Israeli context, “territory” is something very much loaded with political meaning and with struggles and with so uh don’t you think for example talking about “Art Territories” or the artistic dimension of territories making it a little bit naïve?
AMB. I see what you mean. I know there is certainly this risk of sounding naïve, especially today when we see so many territorial conflicts around. I share your understanding that there is a lot at stake in territories, and that people get fixated with their territories, they even get obsessed about them, and they are ready to fight, and to shoot at each other, and to kill each other in order to conquer and occupy and defend a stretch of land. So far we have downplayed this other dimension. That is to say, there are always two sides to every territorial production. On the one hand, there is a cold side, that is really the technological enterprise I was talking about before. You have a set-up of a space in a territorial way so you really shape a relation. On the other hand, there is the hot side of territories, and this speaks the language of belonging and attachment and desire. This expressive dimension of territories explains why we want territories— there is a desire for territories, and that of course ultimately creates many of the troubles that are associated with them. We could not understand contemporary contentious politics without taking into account that there is this deep territorial longing, this need for territories. The progressive gaze on this lies in seeing that territories are not necessarily exclusive, they are not necessarily “either me or you”. Indeed, we can multiply territories on the space and we can think about them in the plural really rather than in the singular. This last point leads us to the third understanding of territory, that is territories as art in the proper sense of the word. You have a territory not simply when you have arranged space, when you govern space, you control space; on the contrary a territory happens only when you can turn this space into something expressive that really says something about a mode of existence, a mode of being with the others.
TH. So, do you use case studies, I mean, what do you do?
AMB. Yes, there are various case studies involved, some of them are in my joint work with the Swedish architect Mattias Kärrholm, with whom I’m working on a volume provisionally titled Studies in territoriology. There we have very different things, ranging from house-museums through urban playgrounds to private home spaces. For instance, in the anthropological literature we find very interesting stuff concerning domestic territories. We usually think about ‘home’ as a micro-territory, which is in a way controlled usually by a patriarchal authority, and even if that authority is challenged we accept that home is at bottom an organized space. In fact, however, anthropology shows that in most folktales around the world the home is inhabited by presences, by the little humans, so there are these other populations that live in the same home as we do, and which are invisible, which are there side by side the official inhabitants. They are messy creatures, they change the place where we put our stuff and in many cultures it’s common to put a ritual offering of food to this invisible tiny creatures. So, we realize that, incredibly, the ‘home’ which we usually think in terms of organization and economy, is a very spiritual territory – even, if you want, an animistic territory. Home territories are not about power, rules and organization, but rather about the coming to terms with the limits of control – again, with associative processes that are in many cases strange, and in some cases unsettling.
TH. So, on the scale of, so the case studies are focusing on the home?
AMB. We are also looking at the larger urban context. In practice, the aim to probe the urban space and its constitution, but starting from premises that are different from those of classical urban theory. Today, we know that cities are ecologies and that the city is not only about humans. In a piece with my other co-author, dr Andrea Pavoni, we analyse the territoriality of urban stray and wild animal. You could also tell the history of cities as the history of pests – cities are always being full of rats and cockroaches. So, there is this idea that humans and animals are an ecology, a single ecology, but at the same time there is a complex relationship. Sometimes it becomes a war – with the cockroaches for instance it’s certainly a war, yes, there is this extermination program. That’s why it’s again Kafka, The metamorphosis. But there are also endless negotiations with urban animals, they also become our companion animals, our doubles, our complement. The city of Delhi for instance might belong more to the monkeys than to humans. We see here the complexity of territorial production, in a way that is not meant to reduce humans to animal behaviour (turf territoriality, alpha males etc.). Our claim is not reductionist, we want to emphasise the diversity of territorial geometries. It is wrong to think that humans have history while animals are fixed by nature; today we know that humans and animals have co-evolved in complex compositions. The city is not an abstraction that could exist without animals; cities are and have always been multi-species territories, and the discourse of control is here again pivotal – whenever we deal with territories we deal with the limits of control.