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Collective Obsessive-compulsive Order

Lines express the ways in which things act upon one another and upon us; the ways in which, when objects act together, they reinforce and interfere“. John Dewey, Art as Experience.

Lignes Droites (Straight Lines) is an audio-visual series focusing on air and ground traffic. Is the pursuit of general order a real solution to all our woes? Or does it represent a “collective obsessive-compulsive order”?

Images and video created with Google slides, soundscape, pixel animations and photographic composition.

Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, “Is travel still an escape to an orderly lifestyle, or a myth? The more we try to escape, the more straight paths we are encouraged to follow. Travel also should be efficient!”

“There was a remote highway, not far from French borders. It was all dark in the Belgian countryside. This is the sound I was hearing as a child while falling asleep. I can’t stop hearing it when seeing highways from above”.

Nowadays, order is advocated in all fields: order to guarantee your security, boost your comfort, increase your savings and ensure more justice. Order, it seems, is endowed with every virtue. The more order we bring to our lives, the greater our efficiency will be during the day and our peace of mind at night. Stress, lack of time and lack of money are due to our lack of diligence, our wanderings. Social discrimination, climate change, the subprime crisis, all the problems that society faces could be resolved by the improved management of human activity.

But is the pursuit of general order a real solution to all these woes? Does it not in fact represent a “collective obsessive-compulsive order”, a fixation that hides much deeper concerns affecting our contemporary societies?

Order cannot be harmonious if not accompanied by an empty space, a space large enough for its geometry to be enjoyable. Each new rule or schedule, each new principle that must be respected should also come with a new free space; order and disorder should remain proportional. Where is the balance in terms of the security warnings and legal notices we are bombarded with on a daily basis? Where is the free space justifying intensive farming and automated production lines? Where is the space for idleness?

We can easily imagine that the lower classes were once particularly affected by disorder, unchecked urbanization, fledgling economies and the absence of the rule of law. The more people climbed the social ladder, the more, no doubt, they hoped for a well-ordered life. 

These days, orders reigns over all social classes, from impeccable supermarkets to optimized traffic flow. Nevertheless, the more order we have in our lives the more we long for chaos, unexpected encounters, fortuitous moments, mayhem, sudden crushes, impulses. To meet this need, industrial society imitates disorder through chains of bric-a-brac coffee shops and unchecked rustic-looking shops. We lose ourselves in them for several hours to escape prevailing order, we half-heartedly let ourselves be surprised by their mazes of shelves, patios and sofa spaces. We even make upmarket tourist destinations out of them, urban resorts with hotchpotch shops, vintage furniture and artfully arranged exotic touches. 

The illusion would be perfect if we did not have to plan our escapes, take trains and motorways, get through airports, queue after queue, inspection after inspection, security warning after security warning. We learn that idleness also requires a great deal of discipline.