Feature

Klaus Pichler: The Septic Familiar

By Brad Feuerhelm on July 7, 2016

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“but I can tell you that I would much rather spend a Saturday to Sunday morning stretch with one of the patrons in this book than listen to some cracker talk to me about the new Drake album over a pumpkin spice latte on some high street while football moms huddle around the sticky table before traipsing over to the Zara sale and then back to the confines of their safe homes, spawn in tow”

In his book “Non-Places; An Introduction to Supermodernity”, Marc Auge outlines a prescient passage, hinting at the difference between the transformation of the local familiar anthropological place for that of the superfamiliar global homogenous place, which is defined by a postmodern and capitalist environment, in which the individual place/space of former collective local  memory/anthropology is negated by the speed in which capitalism changes the local from a “zone of relative identity” into the adversarial role of the “superfamiliar”. The local/unclean and formerly relatively familiar space becomes therefore caught in the widening chasm between passing cultural place of relative familiarity to that of the other/abject, pushed out by the contemporary trope of capital clean space and the superfamiliar; the flat and anti-septic, if you will. He cites in the following passage a warning for which the velocity of homogeneity under the hubris of technocracy desires to transform the former individualized place for that of the globally understood anti-septic and newly superfamiliar structure of global non-place.

“Beyond the heavy emphasis placed today on the individual reference (or, if you prefer, the individualization of references), attention should really be given to the factors of singularity: singularity of objects, of groups or memberships, the reconstruction of places, the singularities of all sorts that constitute a paradoxical counterpoint to the procedures of interrelation, acceleration and de-localization sometimes carelessly reduced and summarized in expressions like “homogenization of culture or “world culture”. Auge, pg. 32

Though Auge does not directly call the former individualized or singular spaces unclean or dirty, there is a hierarchical dispensation of space that does not fit into the new global paradigm where our knowledge of the “new/clean” and therefore anti-septic space precludes a conformity of flattening comfortability as it relates to commercially understood environments of economic transference of the new and superfamiliar from the former old/relative/local. These new spaces are the anti-theses of what had become before geographically speaking and in the larger pan-national understanding of European culture, we are transitioning from the previous knowledge of space that contributed to singular cultural identities- The Parisian café, the Spanish tapas bar, the “old world” marketplace and the pan-Germanic pub. These places have all begun the slow act of disappearance under the global flattening by commercialized non-individual spaces making way for “progress”. In doing so, each enclave or space that defines a particular culture or locality is in metaphorical reality, paved over for the global new/clean space and with it, the understood superfamiliarity of the commercial “newspace”-Starbucks, McDonalds, Panos, etc become the defining common place of new capital urbanity.

These clean spaces are comforting in the twenty-first century mindset with their identikit lighting, pre-packaged food stuffs- grim reminders of the great cultural flattening that is under way. These spaces, with their congruent mix of speculative will towards the flattening commonplace, seek to ease the conformity of the individual within a space over the isolating principle of enforced individualism often found in a septic space. Within the septic space, the abject, inconvenient or possibly dangerous, shapes the individuality of one who enters the space with immediacy and unknown expectations. What characterizes the septic/abject in terms of space is unfamiliarity and singularity of place. Each of these spaces, whether a pub or a market, retains the capacity for its inhabitants to “be” within the space, project their own self, opposed to the flattening affect that a space like Starbucks or a multi-national streamlined commercial architectural venue represents. Within the anti-septic, the individual is contained within the space as non-entity; one of the herd passing uniform through the turnstiles and it is designed to never allow the individual a proxy space for which he or she can inhabit by themselves within. Through the design of seating arrangements, flat overhead lighting, lack of architectural obfuscation such as dark booths and corners, the anti-septic space transcends the need for individuality opting instead towards that of mass comfort, speed and streamlined identity within its doors.

“These physical spaces are often characterized by their patrons-the exact opposite of the anti-septic space, which is characterized by their multi-national brand or “look”. This is what makes the anxiety of the septic space; the dive, that much more alien in a flattened capital society. It is a reversal of function”

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The septic space is also conditioned towards not only the hierarchical (from a position of bottom-ness), but to that of hereditary. Many family restaurants, pubs, and market stall operators use their space as a form of commercial genealogy. Often, these businesses and spaces are passed on to the younger generation within one family and may exist in the public sphere for decades in a localized community where its operation anchors the community for generations. Under the anti-septic architectural and commercial position, family and genealogical space is cast out for the pursuing of capital and the multi-national non-entity, non-familial. In transferring from a septic space to that of anti-septic space/façade, the negotiation of the local is pushed towards the global, rendering its genealogical position obsolete and renders a local community at odds with the unknown, yet uniform global. The archaic, the mythic and the cult of identity that often surrounds the septic space are built on tradition, oral histories and singular experiences within a place. This is the enemy of the global one-world family caught in the velocity of change. To obliterate the familiar local is but one function of the global capitalist agenda. Its use of space makes homogeneity routine and governs the transactional economic potential of each individual within the space with fluid engagement that can be made bankable. To quantify and expediate a return is the very goal.

Within the septic space, often times a “hole in the wall”, dive or speakeasy, the challenge to the system of being accountable falls largely on the shoulders of the owner and the patrons. Pubs in particular offer a largely unaccountable potential to promote accountability outside of their doors. These physical spaces are often characterized by their patrons-the exact opposite of the anti-septic space, which is characterized by multi-national brand or “look”. This is what makes the anxiety of the septic space; the dive, that much more alien in a flattened capital society.  It is a reversal of function. The true will of capitalism is to con its followers into believing their individualism, while also flattening its potential by offering comfortability of money, superfamiliar space and the acceptance of transactional value. The anti-septic place therefore becomes a place that speaks of the “anxious uncomfortable” for the patron of the new. It is no longer identifiable on the global stage and its space is designed with poor lighting and patrons that no longer look familiar or part of the global-they are local…”the locals”. By and large and under the will of capital’s need for ascension, the possibility of the septic space is in decline. Rents go up, supermarkets go in and the septic patron is asked to die or move further away from the city. These spaces now hide, move, dwindle or extinguish themselves from the aim of progressive rule. There is not an alternative.

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To the newly “superfamiliar progressive” these septic spaces represent anxiety, neurosis, decay and regression. It is like a limb for them, which needs amputation before the collective body becomes infected by the sepsis. They fail to see the viral effect of the new and its aggressive takeover and uniformity. These local spaces, once familiar and genealogical, now represent a cancer to the progressive. The oral stories, the traditions and the cultural markers can no longer exist under the tyranny of capitalism and progress that we have bought into. We must praise a lifestyle of flattening excess over that of simple need and truly erase cultural identity of space in favor of globalism’s austere touch and tradtion in order to fit the paradigm of progress towards the anti-septic place and what it calls for. Exoticism is the enemy and steel and glass must replace wood and carpet in the new age.

Klaus Pichler’s astounding “Golden Days Before They End” for Edition Patrick Frey is a book of prescient aptitude for recognizing the agony of cultural disappearance. I met Klaus in 2012 at a book review in Vienna where I was shown what would later become this book. I have the same feeling about it now as I did then, which is to say it has a bit of the bittersweet to it and a lot of yellow. Knowing that many of these places have already shut their doors (see the poor palm-damaged woman), you feel a sense that whatever has gone on to replace them will never have the individuality that these former local places had. That is not to say all look enticing. The bittersweet simply comes from the decay of the genealogical to the progress of the anti-septic.

Pichler has investigated many of the “dive” pubs of his home in Vienna and recorded their fading familiarities. The work is fairly documentary standard-illustrations of intimacy from a position of the unobserved and trusted, a focus on the ephemeral detail and the bevy of candid illuminations that one would suspect from the concept. The images go from the blatantly humorous to the sometimes edgy-all fitting the tradition. As a book, there are a few components to the publication that make it more than a “slice of life” as it were. There are pages of anecdotal oral history offerings from the pub owners and design itself- the cover boards, make the book feel as though it were meant to be a prop in one of the pubs. The book is produced by Edition Patrick Frey and attention to detail has been championed. The local familiar, for all their teeth falling out, their cackling Brueghelian mouths and there extreme stories of knife fights, staying in the pubs over weekends and pissing themselves, remind the reader of different ways of simply “being” in a place. It is not in my interest to judge or stress the people within the pictures as anything other than human, but I can tell you that I would much rather spend a Saturday to Sunday morning stretch with one of the patrons in this book than listen to some cracker talk to me about the new Drake album over a pumpkin spice latte on some high street while football moms huddle around the sticky table before traipsing over to the Zara sale and then back to the confines of their safe homes, spawn in tow. Their genealogical aspiration died the minute they were given a credit card and overdraft. The last moment of an endearing but dying culture of diversity can be seen in Klaus’ book. The bittersweet feeling that I have mentioned is about being able to recognize that even within this world, I am no exception to its list of executioners as I TYPE this. HIGHEST Recommendation.

Klaus Pichler

“Golden Days Before They End”

Edition Patrick Frey

(All rights reserved. Text @ Brad Feuerhelm. Images @ Klaus Pichler.)