KH Künstler:innenhaus Bremen


Wu De

Nouria Behloul

Most of us stop at a red pedestrian light. Because that’s one of the rules we learn from an early age: red means stop! And the rule above all other rules is to stick to the rules, because otherwise the rules serve no purpose.

Many of us like rules. Rules convey a sense of security. And safety seems particularly important to us in the context of road traffic. But there is a clear difference between actual and perceived safety. That is why terms such as residual riskexist. This is intended to convey the belief that the unpredictable can be avoided through the right combination of data, technology, and science. At the same time, various prophecies of impending danger generated by data, technology, and science are studiously ignored. As a result, we can easily identify the so-called safety we are generally promised through compliance with the rules as nothing more than an illusion. An illusion of the highest caliber, certainly, which is why we like to believe in it, even when we are actually aware of something better. Admittedly, it is much more pleasant to go about everyday life with a comfortable If I do everything right, nothing can happen to me than with the knowledge that every square millimeter of floor space might be a trapdoor.
So it’s not just about the feeling of security; convenience also seems to play a role.

We are on a busy street. On any given weekday evening, the majority of not unemployed individuals are in transit. This means that the already busy street is even busier. We call this phenomenon rush hour traffic. We live in conditions in which we spend most of our lives doing so-called wage labor. We perform work and receive money for it. We need this money to pay for the mode of transport that we use to get to work, among other things. This might be in the form of a season ticket for public transport or the acquisition of fossil fuels, which are indispensable for running a car. Due to a combination of perfectly avoidable circumstances, many of us are not able to live in the immediate vicinity of our place of work as the wages earned there are in most cases relatively low, and because housing is often disproportionately expensive, not only in individual neighborhoods, but in the city as a whole.
Be that as it may, we are on a busy street. It is early evening, the days are slowly getting longer, or rather the number of daylight hours is increasing. So, it is not dark yet. And this pleases us, because even if our overall planetary behavior suggests otherwise, we exist in an undeniable state of connection with others and with other living things, such as plants, for example. We have similar needs, requiring water, air, and light in particular, and nutrient-rich soil and love can help us to flourish beautifully. 
We are on foot. For the duration of this text, we are in a state of observation, so we are not in a hurry. Since we are on foot, we are walking on the designated sidewalk. The street is buzzing and smoking and squealing and flashing and ringing and not flashing and honking and meandering. Since we want to get to the other side of the road, we have to cross the busy street. It is not impossible, but a bit risky, if not dangerous, so there are rules for how to go about it: it is forbidden to simply cross the road just like that. That is, to wait for a favorable moment to cross the road. Waiting for a favorable moment, however, does not consist of merely waiting for an interlude in the traffic. Waiting for a favorable moment also consists of weighing situations and their circumstances, including, for example, the speed of our own gait in relation to the distance of the next approaching vehicle. Waiting for a favorable moment is a precise evaluation of several complexly interrelated factors. Nonetheless, we are capable of accomplishing this task within seconds. But it is not permitted. And in view of the increased traffic volume due to the time of day and the potential fatigue of all road users, which is also due to the time of day, and the general unwillingness to engage in mental acrobatics of any kind, which is not related to the time of day, it is all too understandable that instead of waiting for a favorable moment, we wait for the pedestrian light to turn green.
This waiting is of a completely different nature. No evaluation of several complexly interconnected factors, no potentially stressful thoughts about our own speed or general physical condition, the complete absence of the need for any kind of mental acrobatics. This waiting holds the possibility of an actual pause. In these times of ultimate productivity, however, it can be difficult for us to let our minds, which have been hardwired for extreme efficiency, rest—to stop thinking about the tasks of that day, week, month, year, or our lives that have not been done and those that are yet to be done. There is a meditative potential inherent in this waiting. Not in the sense of mindfulness and the hype surrounding it, but in the sense of kung fu. We can look at the sky and rejoice in the pink hues of an early spring evening, or give a complicit smile to those waiting across the street, or close our eyes and admire the light plankton swimming in our waters. The meditative potential of this pause also has something revolutionary about it. Because of legal regulations, society as a whole has come to consider it perfectly natural for people to stand around doing nothing in the immediate vicinity of pedestrian traffic lights. We can take advantage of this naturalness and stand still for longer than the duration of one red light, thus eluding the general imperative of the optimal use of time for a few minutes. An act of contemplative micro-resistance.
So we wait for a green light, not necessarily the first one that comes along, we take our time, because in order to have time we have to take it, and that’s what we’re doing today. Then we cross the street and things take their course. 

A few hours have passed and once again we find ourselves in the situation where our path, along which we are still walking, is intersected by a road. It is the same road as before, but it is hardly recognizable: no buzzing, no smoking, no squealing, no flashing, no ringing, no non-flashing, no honking, no meandering. It is already so late that it is still very early and the vast majority of both those who are employed and those who are not in a work-related dependent relationship are asleep. Maybe not all of them are asleep, maybe some are lying awake for reasons unknown to them, or they are just watching another season of an insanely exciting series, or they are comforting a teething child, or they are cuddling in the first throes of love. In any case, there is no one on the street or on the sidewalk. The otherwise busy street is empty. It lies in the city like a sleeping river in the forest.
We are approaching a crosswalk, which we—conditioned as we are—have automatically aimed for, despite the absence of traffic. The pedestrian light is red. 

Most of us stop at a red pedestrian light. Because that’s one of the rules we learn from an early age: red means stop! And the rule above all other rules is to stick to the rules, because otherwise the rules serve no purpose.
Many of us like rules. Rules convey a sense of security. And safety seems particularly important to us in the context of road traffic. But there is a clear difference between actual and perceived safety.
In common parlance, we understand a rule to be a legal regulation. Violation of it constitutes a criminal offense. And a criminal offense can have legal consequences—in other words, it can lead to criminal prosecution. Prosecution is a legitimate threat of force and/or its legitimate execution. Fear management is by far the most important administrative task in our solar system.

Bureaucratic knowledge is always about schematization. In practice, this is exclusively theoretical. Bureaucratic structures are always based on an ignorance of all the subtleties of real social existence. Everything is reduced to preconceived, prewritten, mechanical, statistical formulas. And all the forms, statistics, questionnaires, and laws seem so terribly and unnecessarily complicated to us, precisely because the aim is simplification. It’s always about simplification. For the sake of efficiency. So that things are easily scalable. That’s the link between colonial monoplantations and traffic in central Europe. In other words, not much has changed. We are not talking about structural violence, but about a structure of violence that determines the conditions of our existence. 

There are some among us who do not wait for the green light, even on a busy road, despite the real danger posed by traffic and in deliberate disregard of the rules that apply to pedestrians. There may be various reasons for this: impatience or color blindness or the desire to take full responsibility for their own physical welfare and, consequently, for the avoidance of potential threats to it, or because, in their opinion, it does not make sense to not take advantage of a favorable moment if one occurs, nor to continue waiting until the red pedestrian traffic light turns green.
The precise evaluation of several complexly interconnected factors is therefore also about the relationship between the legislation at that given moment and reality, in other words, whether it makes sense.

Where is the sense in being legally obliged to stop at a red pedestrian traffic light on a street without any traffic?
The main reason for using traffic signals is to regulate the flow of traffic and to prevent dangerous and hazardous situations. However, since we are in the city at an ungodly hour, there are no other road users out and about that need to be protected from each other or whose flow needs to be regulated. At a red pedestrian traffic light on a street without any traffic, there is little sense in being legally obliged to stop.
So, we simply walk across the road, just like that. Some of us don’t want to. Not out of any love for the rules, but out of a fear of the possible consequences. Not just legal consequences, but societal ones, too. Because if we examine existing legislation in terms of how appropriate it is to a particular situation, then the basic rule above all other rules, namely that we abide by them, is broken, and then, well, that can only lead to chaos, and chaos is bad, which is why there are rules, so that order prevails. That’s why among those who don’t want to disobey the rules there are also those who don’t want others to do so either, because that makes them feel as if their efforts to maintain the system are pointless, and meaningless behavior is repugnant to us. Unless it is for the preservation of order—a terribly simple term to describe a system based on the exploitation of a large proportion of the global population and the destruction of the livelihood of the entire global population for the financial profit of a few individuals.
This is a matter of life and death. Perhaps this is not obvious at first glance. But if I can be guilty of an offense as a result of providing assistance in the event of an accident or an emergency or a threat to the public, it becomes clear that unlawful conduct is a duty. Despite possible legal consequences. Despite the general unwillingness to perform mental acrobatics. Our fear of violence must never justify violence against others. Since we are conditioned to do no wrong, we will have to practice. Lesson one in the basics of autonomy: We are crossing a street.

From 20.11.2022 to 8.1.2023 [...] les murs se sont mis à parler (the walls have begun to speak) by Nouria Behloul was on display in the poster frames in the tunnel in front of the GAK as part of the Re-Framing series. Nouria Behloul views collage and poetry as tools at the intersection of collective knowledge and public space. Through spoken text and sound, she explores the possibilities of resistance in society, politics, and culture.

Nouria Behloul (b. 1989, lives in Marseille/Frankfurt) studied transmedia art in Vienna. Her most recent readings and lecture performances were at Über Brücken—Bridging, Cologne; abc Projektraum, Hamburg; Hopscotch Reading Room, Berlin (2022); Mousonturm, Frankfurt (2021); and in public spaces in cities such as Frankfurt, Vienna, Los Angeles, and Berlin. She is part of various collective research projects, including one with Catharina Szonn on the conditions of cultural production and another with andpartnersincrime on art as a space for the exchange of knowledge. She has made several research trips to California and Mexico to study oral storytelling in Indigenous cultures and spoken word in pop culture.

Editing English version: Good & Cheap Art Translators

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