Sunday, March 27, 2011

Charlie Hailey on "camps" -- all kinds

I picked up Charlie Hailey's book Camps in the new Green Arcade bookstore on Market Street. Good place, run by Patrick Marks, former buyer for the late great Cody's Books in Berkeley.

This interview (continued here) tells just little of why the Hailey book is interesting. It's about all the kinds of camps, many not necessarily grim, from children's camps and experimental or artistic communities and sites of protest vigils to emergency housing to refugee housing to military installations to displaced persons' long-term homes to sites of detention and worse. Hailey looks at the differences in organization and geography among them that go with the differences in intent and durability.

What's astonishing is the number of sites familiar from the headlines that Hailey brings together under this one label.

Choices include Cindy Sheehan's "Camp Casey," outside the Texas home of George W. Bush; the Burning Man desert encampment (cleanup volunteers are shown picking debris out of the desert playa surface by hand); the whole institution of summer and scout camps for children; a worldwide sampling of sites housing and/or detaining immigrants (good phrase: "...The camp at Sangatte was a threshold for a life without papers..."); the Mathieu Gallois art installation, "Containment," consisting wholly of fences and gates; FEMA trailer camps post-Katrina; migrant labor camps; camps set up by Americans who lack other housing, from retirees in state-of-the-art RVs to destitute people with bedrolls; simulated refugee camps set up for study purposes; the Japanese American internment, which gets a few well-informed if oddly placed paragraphs and footnotes; the U.S. Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo; Guantanamo; ... and on and on. The worst category -- the European death sites -- is represented by a slightly off-center entry on present-day curatorial decisions at Au*chwit*-Bi*ken*u.

Hailey's purpose isn't to catalogue comprehensively or to make moral comparisons. I think -- not sure -- that he avoids suggesting equivalence between discomforts and horrors because he describes a huge range of "camp" categories that are very obviously different from each other. If anything he skimps on the sites that would also be definable as prisons or as sites of total control. What seems to interest him is congruences and differences and levels of voluntariness at sites where people more and less consent to live -- and the idea that in a highly populated world, many of us are going to be permanently temporary residents of one temporary site or another.

No comments:

Post a Comment