The Slave Ship: An Operative Architecture Responsible for the Atlantic Crossing

A concentration on a micro-argument in the context of a greater argument some subjects of which include German citizens during WWII, non-black South African citizens during Apartheid, American citizens during slavery or their encounters with native Americans, soldiers carrying out illegal orders, Israeli citizens about the Palestinians, Japanese citizens during WWII, and the list goes on seemingly forever. Here it is:

The argument of these articles in the broader context of the research exposed on this platform is simple: although architecture and design (and through them, architects and designers) cannot be held responsible for the founding logic of the genocide that constitutes the slave trade, the latter could simply have never existed without their active contribution and, as such, architecture is fundamentally responsible for the operativity of slavery. (THE FUNAMBULIST)


La Marie-Séraphine (1770) / Excerpt from Bertrand Guillet, La Marie-Séraphine: Navire négrier, Nantes: Editions MeMo, 2009

[… Here, more than ever, we need to forget any dissociation between the various scales of design: the plantation cabin is architecture, of course (see Clifton Ellis and Rebecca Ginsburg (eds), Cabin, Quarter, Plantation, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010) but more broadly, any materialized form of whatever size or nature implementing the organization of bodies in space is also architecture. This includes the slave ship and its inherent tension between the fundamental cruelty of its design and the economization of life that its function requires vis-a-vis its “human cargo.”

What the example of slave ship allows, because of the world in itself it constitutes, is a representation of the holistic dimension of the weaponization of its architecture. In other words, every component of the slave ship is designed to contribute to the organization of bodies in a spatial configuration optimizing its function, as the illustrations (above and below) of the French slave ship La Marie-Séraphine (1769-1776), show well. This includes the bodies themselves: the sailors’ bodies, in their choreographed accomplishment of navigating this “vast machine” (see Rediker, 2007), the daily ‘care’ of the hundreds of bodies living under the deck, as well as the individualized or collective deadly suppression of potential forms of revolt. In The Slave Ship: A Human History (Penguin, 2007), Marcus Rediker describes the frequent deaths of these bodies during the triangular crossings, which we can interpret through a logic that shares some similarities with slavery itself: not considering bodies individually but rather, through their muscular operativity as a whole by the ship’s captain and owners. Nevertheless, the sailors’ bodies are not the only one engaged in the holistic optimization of the slave ship through its design. The imprisoned African bodies themselves, through the deliberate overpopulation of their space (see past article), were involuntarily acting as as much walls for each other — the illustrations presented here was drawn by the ship’s officer, not an abolitionist and, as such, is very likely to have minimized the amount of bodies present — in particular when these bodies were handcuffed by two, as Rediker describes in his book.]


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