Asphalt is the black sky under the tires. the tires – provided they are intact – hover above that sky as if there were no end, no contact, no collision or no subsiding of the energy, the driving force. asphalt is the industrial compromise and the price we have to pay for newton’s principle of inertia in this world of earthly gravitation. In our automotive fantasies we dream of how wonderful it would be if the vehicle were able to pause in a state of uniform motion while beneath us infinitely numerous particles were being flung every which way.
Philosophy: The myth of everyday life.
Asphalt is a myth of daily life. It is made of a very special material. Not in that characterless quality with which Roland Barthes characterized plastic as the ultimate and undefinable material, possible in any shape, on the threshold of the electronic and digital age. No, our time of the industrial age is most thoroughly materialized in asphalt. This surface, with its sticky, black impenetrable combination of pitch and granulation, puts the finishing touches on every street, especially the freeways and highways. It is that springy floor, that vibrating pad which so deftly hugs the tire treads with the bounce and resilience of a dancefloor. So sensitive to changes in temperature, it heats up in the sun to the point of almost liquifying, creating the most remarkable illusions, only to tighten up once again in the cold, or to absorb at least some of the wetness. a surface originating from the industry of bitumen, coal and oil – a universal material that creates a standardized, uniform floor and ground covering for spaces, places, squares, paths, roads and streets. a covering that functions differently from that of the steel of tracks or the concrete of bridges and building structures.
Aasphalt quickly becomes worn out, used up and consumed by the constant flow of traffic – wheels and tires always in motion. its surface needs to be renewed time and time again. asphalt is a paradoxical material, a porous basis that makes transportation and mobility possible, and yet does not remain a purely motionless mover in heavenly peace (as with aristoteles), but rather is swept along, again and again, and initially set in motion in small and inconspicuous portions. When driving over a freshly resurfaced street it is easy to overlook the quality of virginity – it is taken for granted that all will run well, just like the first unwinding of the fresh celluloid at a film premiere. Our attention is only then drawn to the processes of natural erosion and deterioration caused by traffic once it is almost too late. The absence of asphalt becomes incredibly clear with the miserable state of a pothole.
the even, finely coarse coating of the modern street makes both actions possible simultaneously: steering and driving, staying in lane and swiftly changing lanes, the elegant maneuverability of the automotive vehicle. that dual phenomenon of quick freedom and versatility that is lacking in the airplane at take off, the rocket at lift off, the ship sailing off or the train bound to its tracks. in an instant a damaged street adversely affects the ideal concept of precision and ingenuity.
The power of traffic
Asphalt is the substance, and yet metaphysical surface of the industrial age of traffic. The truth about its infinity, invisibility and anonymity is etched in its forms. Asphalt and traffic continue to grow out of control and at the same time seem to be starving, threatening to completely take over, covering and suffocating the planet, so that the phenomenon of the mobility of the masses can pour forth enveloping the entire globe.
Tthe view from an individual vehicle may be defined by a specific point of interest, the arrival, the stopover and the destination. atogether however, the thousandfold view of traffic is like that of a hydra – total and absolute in a timeless time and a spaceless space. it is guided purely and simply by the present and yet deferred distance, in the planetary telemetry of an endless and spiralling orbit.
Tthe flow of traffic adheres itself to the systematical depth of space and fills itself with the increasing progression of civilizational acceleration. The radical suctional effect of the perpetually faster is only slowed at junctions and urban densities by a maze of turning points and decisions. The scene of endless, linear or cyclical instant-progression is interrupted and blocked by entries, crossings and multiple lanes. traffic, as an anonymous and statistical event, is focused only on itself, on the drama of acceleration, on the tragic and comic jolting understatement of speed, on the flow of just barely bearable or already unbearable haste, on the dynamic of megalomania and panic, in the ever shrinking elbow room of those vehicles competing for common space and style, on abrupt fits and starts, lurking, and vehement driving off.
Only at a second glance does traffic become socialized – finding itself in its inexhaustible Darwinism of traffic, lights, signs and signals, announcements and expectations, gestures and their refusals. these should indicate the chances and risks of traffic flow– that officially estimate, contain and steer – for the individual or for all participants. flow, interruption and standstill of traffic never occur without asphalt, but are quite possible without signals and symbols. this idea is not necessarily German, but rather Belgian, french or even mediterranean. traffic rolls over the socially oriented symbols when they are on asphalt; when bordered by signs it rolls past without noticing. Only occassionally is its martial approach mellowed by slight hesitation when flanked by monitoring supervision.
Text :: Peter v. Brinkemper