Can you hear the violence? Between chaos and order

The exhibition “60dB / 16kHz. BCN. Can you hear the violence?”, held at Arts Santa Mònica in the last quarter of 2016, invited visitors to redefine violence from a new perspective.

Photo: Rober Astorgano / Fotomovimiento

An image from the Arts Santa Mònica exhibition highlighting different forms of violence – such as obvious, invisible, direct or structural violence.
Photo: Rober Astorgano / Fotomovimiento

Behind the official statistics and the news stories in the media, there are many forms of direct violence punishable by law. But there are also other forms of violence, symbolic and structural assaults, so ubiquitous that they’re invisible, that conceal intimidation, abuse, mockery, imposition, threats and all kinds of offenses and unspeakable injustices that take place around us.

The exhibition “60dB / 16kHz. BCN. Can you hear the violence?”, held at the Arts Santa Mònica centre in Barcelona in the last quarter of 2016, invited visitors to redefine violence from a new perspective on the phenomenon. Violence was looked at as an inherent part of any relationship that arises from an act of communication, manifested as various forms of aggression that flare up from the frictions that exist in any community. The organisers addressed visitors with the question in the title, “sents la violència?”, which has the double meaning of hearing and feeling in Catalan. Violence was presented as a skin or membrane that permanently encases us in the background noise of the city. The 60 dB of incessant noise pollution that we endure in Barcelona is a reality that we are so accustomed to that we practically ignore it. The only things we perceive if we prick up our ears in this chaotic hum are the invasions of everyday noises that we might define as examples of microviolence.

To investigate this and other hidden forms of violence, the curators of the exhibition went out on the street with Francesca Romana (OTOXO Productions) to sound out residents. Our field work led us to discover and map an area of humiliation in which we all move. The different forms of humiliating violence that people wanted to share with us made us realise how surreptitious symbolic violence is.

We saw the discomfort of girls who feel that they’re treated like “a body” when they’re on the street or when they go into a bar. Many members of the public also told us about violence in the workplace, where almost everyone struggles with arrogance, moral hierarchies, silences, looks and gestures that upset them and that could be seen as assaults. Young people talked to us about violence in schools, where they often feel pigeon-holed as “good” or “bad” students and some kind of moral judgement is made on their them, which, in the context of compulsory education, leads both teachers and peers to treat them in a particular way.

It’s worth saying that in every sphere we found people saying that they had felt violence, with admissions of having both suffered and inflicted violence on family members, classmates and colleagues, and on the street. We are, then, surrounded by countless incidents of symbolic microviolence in every relationship that are not only received but also perpetrated. Whether we suffer them, commit them or support them, hearing them is a difficult exercise that requires a lot of attention.

Photo: Fotomovimiento

Another picture from the Arts Santa Mònica exhibition, where some legal documentation is displayed.
Photo: Fotomovimiento

Deaf to structural violence

Our city, Barcelona, constantly lives with this noise buzzing in its ears. And we, who live in it, are also deaf to the violence that we could term structural, such as the cleaning away of whatever doesn’t fit into the city model, in an act of sanitisation; when often we are stopped in our tracks by the intermittent beeping of a rubbish truck or a digger. The helicopters that fly over us at every demonstration tell us that we are in the hands of trained experts who are authorised to exercise power for our safety.

Even in protected areas like playgrounds, where children play inside a fence with a closed gate, we can feel how we are subject to rules that govern activity in the public space because, without realising it, our children are restricted to moving within this kind of security enclosure. When we pass a group of tourists looking for Park Güell on a Sunday morning, we never see these moneyed foreigners as immigrants. And when we then get into the metro station, we pass the blanket-top sellers and a whole load of people who are subject to countless administrative pressures and not even given the opportunity to survive in the city if they don’t obtain a stamp that tells them who they are and what they have a right to.

Structural violence can be heard all the time, like when they rule that the street is a thoroughfare and not a meeting place, with single-seat benches situated strategically in opposite directions. Structural violence is also heard loud and clear when the redevelopment of a neighbourhood drives out the people who live there.

In his book La ciutat horitzontal. Urbanisme i resistència en un barri de cases barates de Barcelona (The Horizontal City. Urbanism and Resistance in a Neighbourhood of Cheap Houses in Barcelona), Stefano Portelli reports on a number of lawsuits between Council representatives and residents, unable to agree on the refurbishment of a group of single storey cottages that have now been partially demolished.

The feeling of having been thrown out of your own house lingers on among the inhabitants of the Bon Pastor neighbourhood. The book Repensar Bon Pastor (Rethinking Bon Pastor) is a compilation of proposals put forward for a competition of ideas by a community action group with a view to deciding on the future of the neighbourhood, a future without demolitions and redevelopments designed in a Council office. The Bon Pastor action group is still waiting for the Council’s response. Government silence is also a form of violence.

The violence of urban planning in El Raval

The Raval neighbourhood is exceptional in that it has suffered an enormous amount of structural violence in its urban development, as described in the book Matar al Chino (Killing Chinatown) by Miquel Fernández and in the documentary of the same name that he produced for the exhibition L’Observatori de la Vida Quotidiana (The Observatory of Everyday Life). The authors reveal how the interventions in the Raval have given rise to the most patent contradictions between official city planning ambitions (to transform the layout of the area to improve the living conditions of its inhabitants) and the actual consequences for the resident population, such as expulsion or expropriation of their homes. Livia Motterle gives voice to different hubs of resistance on four streets of the Raval, in her ethnographic study Cartografia carnal de la resistència (Corporal map of resistance), giving examples of the life that is beating away to fight the loss of visibility being imposed on this space by structural violence.

Society is therefore made up of relationships that will never be completely well-adjusted and under which we must understand that this oppressive and chaotic buzzing expresses the central idea that violence is not an exception or an accident: it is dissolved into the daily lives of all of us. The chaotic movements of violence that occur in our everyday normality go unnoticed by most of us and that is why the exhibition represented them as a high-pitched 16 kHz sound, inaudible to many of us. This normality should not be seen as a problem, but as a solution, if violence is the source that adjusts imbalances.

Nevertheless, it is symptomatic of our times that the incidents of direct violence, the ones that the media generally picks up, are more visible than the symbolic or structural violence. Direct violence is that which is perpetrated by social actors, by the mechanisms of repression and by the multitudes of fanatics that, faced with an uncertainty that may be inherently painful and tragic, cling to a certain world of meaning. So they prioritise security instead of accepting a reality that might endanger their own existence.

Contrary to the strategies of security and control, the dialectic between chaos and order leads us to conclude that the best likelihood of order (as found in normality) lies in the presence of chaotic movements and uncertainty, resistance and disobedience.

Montse Pijoan

Curator of the exhibition “60dB / 16kHz. BCN. Can you hear the violence?”

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