In the latest issue of e-flux journal, Natascha Sadr Haghighian connects light, color, and traffic signals with national ideology in her essay “Disco Parallax.” For anyone who was in Berlin this summer, you might remember the stand-off between police and refugees at an abandoned school in Kreuzberg, which Haghighian uses as a point of departure:
Democratic law has been suspended for five days in this part of Kreuzberg; all sides struggle to define what is inside and what is outside and flip the order of the stack. The police line defends German interests from the demands of the refugees and effectively declares the besieged school as “outside.” The supporters declare the siege illegal and stand in solidarity with the people inside the school, averting the state’s proposed exclusion, instead turning around and redefining the cornered police line as being outside. The people inside the school wait in limbo between deportation and captivity with nothing much too lose and everything to fight for. Nobody can make a move—the government shows no propensity for genuine negotiation that doesn’t involve tricking the activists with empty promises.
So at this moment nothing budges on the crossing of Ohlauer and Reichenberger Strasse. Supporters sit on the pavement, drinking and chatting. Behind the barrier the men and women in riot gear shift their body weight from left to right while leaning onto their shields. Their backs are turned to the school, hardly visible in the dusk. The only things that move perpetually are the traffic lights, diligently turning from red to yellow to green and back as if they were operating invisible traffic, or just stoically insisting on normality.
But now, as night is falling, the red, yellow, and green lights shine on the scene rather like disco lights, changing the mood every thirty seconds or so by illuminating the faces of police and protesters alike, the cordons, the pavement, and the idle police vans behind the police line, immersing all in a detached glow and rhythm. And like disco lights, the colorful flashes suspend, fictionalize, and breach agendas, dress codes, movement, spatial layout, and power relations. But the vision flickers and other readings recrudesce. The sequential shine appears to signal the algorithmic cluelessness of a system that does not know how to respond to the complexity of a globalized world where the claim over freedom of movement means more than just jaywalking.