Friday, 28 October 2011

Architecture of Conflict

I attended a very interesting conference at Bradford's National Media Museum yesterday called The Architecture of Conflict. It was about the militarisation of space and focused particularly on photographic representations of the subject.

The first discussion was about the work of Donovan Wylie who photographed Belfast's infamous Maze Prison before it was torn down. Apparently he was told by the guards and the architects that the outlay of the prison was designed to confuse and disorient, and was layered with different terrains which would pose obstacles to prisoners trying to escape. This is in addition to the multiple watchtowers to try and achieve the panoptican effect. I found this interesting as an example of architectures of control; and it occurred to me that in the design, the Maze Prison was intended more as an instrument of psychological warfare and counter-insurgency than a prison for convicts. It is clear why the idea of the Maze resonates on both sides of the divide in Northern Ireland as representative of a government's reaction to a political struggle. It reminded me of the work of my old friend Susan Carruthers on counter-insurgency in Malaya ('Winning Hearts and Minds,' published in 1995) and Michael McClintock's discussion of Vietnam ('Instruments of Statecraft', 1992).   See this article in the Guardian newspaper,

Also I must add there is a must-see exhibition currently showing at the Imperial War Museum in Manchester about War Correspondents. Exhibits include the record player that Richard Dimbleby used to record his broadcasts of the D-Day landings, and the Burqa that John Simpson wore when the BBC 'liberated' Kabul. You can see more information here:

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