Kicking Sandcastles and Burning Effigies
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What is destruction? One definition I found is: the state or fact of being destroyed. However, this is an incomplete definition, not giving any explanation on what the act of destroying something actually means or what the purpose is.
Destruction is not limited to the physical or the mental. It can occur in things like culture or politics. It is not limited to negative outcomes and destroying something can be euphoric, or a form of celebration. Destruction is a manifestation of freedom, of frustration and of curiosity. But in the core, destruction is transformative in nature. When you destroy something, that thing looses it's original function. It becomes an unrecognisable mess, far from it's original shape.
Destruction suggests action, it happens fast and it's spectacular or happens with a lot of force. This makes it different from, for instance, decay, which is more passive, but may result in a similar outcome. For destruction to take place, there needs to be power present. A force that causes this destruction. This force causes spectacle that can cause strong emotions ranging from excitement to relaxation.
Destruction is a one way street. What is done is done, destruction is definitive. It's the end of existence as you know it, leaving a pile of rubble. I have learned that, even though destruction is an end of one thing, it creates opportunity for new beginnings.
Google suggests an alternative definition: 'a group of wild cats'. I will not, however, talk about this definition of the word destruction.
Destruction has always fascinated me even though I'm not a very destructive person, quite the opposite actually. The sense of excitement surrounds it, some curiosity but also some guilt if you destroy something yourself. Even though it's mostly about inanimate objects, you are the witness of something definitive. There is no way back from destruction. The morbid curiosity gives me a double sided feeling of guilt. Destroying a sandcastle feels really good, but bad at the same time. All the time and effort you put in building this strange pile of sand is gone in the blink of an eye. As a child this is very innocent, and I'm happy that I don't have the same urge to destroy something I just created because this would become an expensive hobby. Nowadays, I can fulfil the same urges through the internet and TV by watching other people destroy stuff. Childhood is full of this innocent form of destruction like kicking sandcastles. Even though this urge weakens when you age, this fascination stays and destruction remains an important part of life. Destruction can offer you peace of mind, or it can be a tool to achieve great things. Ofcourse I had to relive this feeling, so I destroyed things once again.
Destruction has 4 phases, each of them I experienced during my experiment. It starts with MEANING, the phase the destruction gains a conceptual meaning to it. Phase two is excitement. During this phase, adrenaline will kick in and the fun begins. You have to be carefull not to get carried away at this point. The third phase is POWER. This is the point that the destruction will show it's potential and it's danger. If used properly, this power can change the world. Lastly, the fourth phase is RELAXATION. Your muscles start to relax, your brain is at ease and you feel relieved. A weight has been lifted off your shoulders.
Before I started smashing things there were a couple of things I wanted to put in place. I wanted to make sure that the objects I destroyed where in functioning order and were worth something (even if it's only a little bit) to create the sense of guilt. So I bought some things from a thriftstore. I bought a nice clock and an ugly vase. Now, buying the things was a bit weird, because in the back of my mind I had the idea that some people might really like the objects I'm about to destroy, instantly giving me a sense of guilt. The fact that these objects were cheap didn't make this less, in fact, the opposite effect arrised. I also wanted a tool that has some power, so I rented a sledgehammer. (...)
Destruction with a concept or an deeper meaning is something quiete common. A example of this is the sand mandala. The sand mandala is a Tibetan buddhist ritual that goes as follows . The monks spend days laying out coloured sand. The sand comes together as geometric shapes and has many colours. It’s really detailed work and requires a lot of attention and time. They use particularly dense sand so that the wind does not blow it away. Now, they could have used coloured pencils to draw out the same thing, but they chose sand for a particular reason. The impermanence of the sand makes the art ever so beautiful. After the artwork is created, the sand is ritually collected, forming a brown mess of sand. This sand is then thrown into the river. I’ve come across different examples of the ritualistic destruction, some seemed more organic, others more scripted. The scripted ones are done in a very particular manner, step by step (the sand mandala being one of them), while with the organic form it is more about coincidences and spontaneity. The ritual is supposed to symbolise the ephemerality of life. The ever evolving world around us is in constant flow. Things are constructed and destructed constantly, on an intergalactic scale, but also on a smaller scale, with animals, plants and of course, us humans.
Do we get comfort through knowing that everything around us is in a constant state of decay? Can we relate this destruction to our own life in some way? We might find comfort in knowing the end is inevitable. This makes a lot of sense if I look at youtube videos of people shooting iPhones. It makes people realise things break, and it makes it easier to deal with your own things breaking. We start to realise all the things around us are temporary and don’t really matter. Life becomes less serious and we can start to live in the moment if we allow destruction to be a natural part of our lives.
To use destruction in a way that comforts us might be a good way of dealing with the struggles of life. Viewing destruction as some sort of preparation for the hard parts of life is interesting, especially considering these controlled enviroments like the tibetan ritual. Seeing life as something temporary and finite can help dealing with, for example, loss of a loved one. We get used to the emotions surrounding the ending of things, while apreciating the life surrounding us more.
Another important aspect of destruction is making space for something new. In the litteral sense, buildings have to be deconstructed in order to put a new building in that spot. This metaphore can be applied to a bigger scale aswell. For instance, to make way for a new political influence, current system needs to make space for that. For democracy to take shape, the previous political system has to be removed, often through protest and revolutions or even war.
The destruction of something you have just created can be saying goodbye to the past. Leaving your past behind, 'burning your bridges', becoming a new you. Now, as a child, you are constantly changing, and redefining yourself. To come back to the sandcastles, children destroy their sandcastles when they are about to leave the bridge, saying goodbye to their beautifull creation, determining that they are ready for a new adventure.
The photographer Nagoya Hatakeyama is a photographer that is also fascinated by destruction, just as I am. In his pictures you see the frozen image of dirt and rocks flying through the air, with little to no context of what is the cause of this and what the effects of this explosion may be. Through this de-contextualising he captures the pure visual attraction of destruction.
Naoya Hatakeyama. Blast #15 from a series of 17 chromogenic prints
However, he has other work aswell, that shows a tragic side of destruction. A form of destruction that has more meaning to him and his audience. In a documentary on the photographer, they follow him through Japan, to his hometown and specifically the house he grew up in . This house was no longer there, it was wiped away by the same tsunami that caused the nuclear disaster in Fukushima in 2011. In the photo series he purely focusses on the aftermath of the tsunami. He photographed the foundation of his childhood house, where his mother spent the last moments of her life. This kind of work is the complete opposite of the other work he made in the past, and seems like a more complete image of the reality of destruction. In this case, the destruction we see here is a memory of a terrible event, like a scar. It carries a lot of meaning and memories, good and bad.
Picture by Naoya Hatakeyama
When I first picked up the sledgehammer and put down some old electronics, I was very hessitant. Something was holding me back, I was very carefull with this 4kg hammer. Ofcourse, I missed the first couple hits, but I got used to it, and started to get more into it. I moved through some more old electronics which were hard to fully destroy. They took a couple of hits which made me less and less carefull and it made me hit harder and harder. Then I smashed the clock, which shattered so violently that it surprised me. It felt really statisfying to destroy something in one strike, as opposed to the old electronics, that took multiple hits. At this point, I broke the base plank I used to prop the objects on, twice. I was starting to feel the power of this hammer, I felt that nothing was going to stop this thing and anything could be shattered with minimal effort. The vase I did afterwards was the perfect example. When hitting it, the thing exploded, filling the entire shed with glass sharts. With every hit I put in I got more excited for the next one, untill there was nothing left to smash. I felt alive, I had energy. (...)
Destroying something and watching someone destroy something can give an adrenaline boost. It's exciting because it seems forbidden. This is why vandalism is still a big thing, people get a huge kick out of destroying objects. Crossing the border between socially acceptable and the not-so-acceptable is exciting and is especially common with children. Refering back to destroying sandcastles, this applies with that too. As a kid, you know that destroying it is a waste and if the castle is someone elses, there is the possibility of hurting someones feelings. This makes it more exciting, doing something you're not supposed to do. It's like a button that has a sign that says 'don't press'. Of course you want to press that button. Building a sandcastle with the end goal of destroying it, makes the building of the castle the buildup to the climax of the destruction. While building the castle, there is a tension building towards the moment that you have to leave the beach and go home. You work towards the climax of destruction.
Some people even go as far as sexualizing destruction. I understand the comparison, the idea of climax is very much visualized in destruction. Climaxing during sex is for a lot of people the end goal, working towards it with much anticipation. The movie 'Crash' is a good example of how the comparison is made. In the movie, there is a group of people that have a specific kink, which is witnessing carcrashes. The link between adrenaline and sexual stimuli is very close. It also makes the characters look at life differently, as something fragile that is worth cherishing and celebrating. The main character gets adicted to carcrashes, constantly craving more crashes and more spectacle, which results in his death. The movie outlines the two sides of the fascination with destruction, ending with a very sad note, meaning to show the danger and harm involved with destruction.
The most famous example on social media is the youtube account Hydraulic Press Channel . They get the climax right. With 2.28 million subscribers and loads of copycats, the youtube channel shows you can become famous purely through the act of destructing things. What makes these videos interesting is the same buildup that you see in more forms of destruction. The subject is introduced by the creator of the videos and he talks a bit about what he thinks will happen. The buildup makes you wonder and expect a certain outcome, but the nice thing about these videos is that you are almost always surprised. The unexpected nature of destruction makes it so much more exciting. The only thing is that, this excitement gets less the more videos you watch. It becomes an addiction. You want to see more destruction, more violence, more spectacle. And youtube supports this addiction.
Research shows that vandalism is a typical form of destruction driven by excitement. I came across a report written by the Task Force on Vandalism in Ontario . The report goes over causes and plans to reduce vandalism in the city. In the report they are looking at the causes of vandalism, which can be linked to the fascination with destruction. The taskforce has a short list of causes of vandalism. The list goes as follows:
- Social Decay
- Inadequate Parenting
- Lenient Courts
- Peer Pressure
- Developmental Factors
The different causes they bring to the table all suggest some form of bad intention, which probably differentiates vandalism from other kinds of destruction. One cause stands out to me, which is boredom. According to the task force, 52% of people that where asked about reasons of vandalising something, answered they were simply bored or thought it was fun. The task force suggests that an important prevention method is to offer plenty other recreational activities. If no other recreational activities are around, destroying public property is the only remedy for a boring childhood.
While reading the report, I noticed that the task-force often assumes vandals are teens or young adolescents. This is interesting because I always assumed that this fascination was something of all ages, and I still believe this is true. However, maybe controlling these urges comes with age. From a personal standpoint this makes sense, I rarely destroy something nowadays. The taskforce mentions something about the circumstances that stimulate vandalism:
"Vandalism is seen as the not unexpected expression of certain developmental needs of young children and adolescents who are being brought up under current norms of parental supervision which allow children considerable freedom of movement and self-determination of leisure pursuits and under the conditions which prevail in our cities of high density living and the 'public' ownership of large categories of property."
So what they are saying is that the surroundings and upbringing have a huge influence on whether children and young adults become vandals. They talk about vandalism as some form of act of freedom. If you give a child enough freedom, the child will start to destroy stuff.
However, like I previously claimed, the urge to destroy is not limited by age. Recently the Netherlands has been dealing with some new discussions regarding the celebration of the New Years. The Dutch see it as a tradition to celebrate NYE with firework and other destructive rituals . The people taking part in this are often (young) adults. The news even mentioned 30 to 40 year olds being part of the group of people that are causing problems.
Another interesting source on vandalism is the book ‘Vandalism, behaviour and motivations’ . Early on in the book, the writer sums up a couple of definitions and types of definitions. Actually, there are 23 different definitions of vandalism listed, which shows the many different takes on destruction/vandalism. One that jumps at me most (because most of the others involve some sort of perpetrator/victim relation) is a definition by Cohen. He names six different motivations for vandalism, one of them is ‘play’.
“Form of institutionalised rule breaking without malicious intent, inspired by curiosity and a spirit of competition and skill.”
This spirit of competition refers to the exciting aspect of destruction. Competition is also exciting and so is curiosity. Destruction can fuel our lives in this exciting manner, making us feel more alive and through that, fueling our minds. It can rejuvenate a person.
When smashing objects with the sledgehammer I felt an overwelming sensation of power. Not only by the fact that I had the physical force to do what I wanted, I also had this deterministic power that allows you to control the future in a way. Using the tool I had to destroy objects I could determine the outcome of a situation or put a definitive end to something. I've experienced this sensation and it gives an instant rush of adrenaline and definitely contributes to the addiction it can have on people. This power feels great. It gives you the sense that you have control over your life, which is a very empowering feeling. (...)
Destruction is not only personally empowering. Destruction can be a tool to demand change. A reoccurring form of protest around the world is the burning of a effigy of an political leader or celebrity. The burning is obviously representing some disagreement, there is no doubt about that. But I think, more importantly, it’s a sign of hopelessness. People become so desperate for change that threats through burning are the only action they can take. In the Philippines in 2014, protestors burned an effigy of Obama in order to protest a military exercise in the Phillipines by the US. The burning of the effigy was the only thing they could do to try to influence foreign policy of another country. The images that come from these types of burning are very strong, they show the unrest in a violent form, directing specifically towards one person. It’s a desperate grasp for power by people that feel powerless. As Vice describes in an article about the effigy , it’s very unlikely this protest will have any actual effect but it can be empowering for the people involved. The burning of the effigy is something the group does together, bonding the people as their strive for change continues.
Demonstrators burned president Obama in effigy during a protest on April 28 2014 (PHOTO VIA AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Similar to this is the burning of flags. The burning of a flag is a form of protest. A popular flag to burn, especially in some Middle-Eastern countries has proven to be the American flag. Burning a flag result in powerful images that send a clear message to the rest of the world, your country is not welcome here and we don’t agree with your government’s actions. However, if you try to burn a flag and fail at it somehow, it’s not looking great. There was a man who tried to burn the European flag, but failed due to fire hazard regulations of, you guessed it, European law .
The destruction of political statues is a clear act with a clear message. The people destroying the statues are taking control over the country, claiming power. It’s a form of rebellion and a indicator of a revolution. A well documented example of this is the statue of Saddam Hussein dating back to 2003. In some images you see American troops also strapping a flag to the head of the statue, covering it’s face. It’s a display of dominance, strength and victory (depending on which side you were on of course, Saddam probably thought different about this.). This destruction of an existing culture is as old as time itself, which shows how important it is for society to progress. The fact that people try to hold on to their believes and traditions as strongly as they do show that sometimes force and destruction are the only powers that can enable change. Accelerationism is a form of this type of destruction. The concept of degrading objects and concepts faster than natural (destroying) in order to invoke change. Urgency is key in this philosophy. Something needs to happen quickly in order for people to realize what is happening. Change that is slow can go unnoticed and can be dangerous. Change that is slow can hide the consequenses due to them being so slow. The display of power is esseintial in this case, to trigger this sudden change. This does not only assure that the right effect is achieved, it also makes it so that changes are made when necessary. So this means that if change is urgent, destruction is needed to achieve the goal. Through this reasoning, destruction is essential for change, for destruction being puts pressure where needed.
I can see a certain power-relation in some youtube videos. For example, I found this video of a guy shooting a perfectly working iPhone. Not only is the guy shooting the phone involved in his personal empowerment, he is also showing his wealth to the rest of the world. To emphasise his wealth he does not just shoot one phone, he shoots multiple. The phones are so expensive that a lot of people cannot even affort them. So, by shooting al these phones, the shooter is showing the enormous amounts of wealth he has gathered. The comments on these videos are often filled with people complaining that they could have used the phone, or don't even have enough money for one to begin with. This creates more tension for the viewer and more motivation for the creator of the videos. The viewer gets placed on the edge of his chair, seeing something he would love to have, being destroyed in front of his eyes. It feels unfair, belitteling even.
John R Boyd wrote about the destruction of concepts of meaning. His paper, called Destruction and Creation , claims that we have to destroy things to survive. He claims that all of our actions are closely related to survival, specifically surviving in a way that suits us. We want to have control over our lives. Now, John claims that, to keep control over one's life, one has to leave behind or destroy that, that is limiting one's capacity to take their own actions.
Now, this points back to something I've discussed before. The concept of the phoenix rising from the ash. The destruction of something makes space for a new, maybe even better things. Boyd talks mostly about the forming of groups and societies that reform, break up, and come into existence. We see this kind of destruction all the time. A revolution is this very form of destruction. A revolution aims to reform a society by destroying the existing system. Protest are the physical manifestation of this, it's the process of an revolution. You could say that the revolution is the purpose of the destruction we call protest. The group of people protesting form such a powerfull entity that nothing can stop them on their destructive path.
Destruction in the realm of culture and politics is a way of demanding something better. It's a search for a better solution for something that doesn't work as intended, or doesn't work for a group of people. The goal of the destruction is sometimes driven by frustration, sometimes fear, and even anger. Frustration and anger can also manifest into physical forms of destruction.
Overall, the powerfull thing about destruction is the fact that you can take back control, whether that is regarding your own life, or society in general. In this sense, destruction is a important tool to enrich life, and may even be essential to life itself.
That was it. I destroyed everything I had planned to destroy. Suddenly I had a familiar feeling. The feeling of relief. My muscles relaxed and I felt exhausted. I would compare it to the feeling that you have when you just finished a important presentation. This surprised me because I didn't notice any muscle strain while smashing all these things. It felt like a great stress relief. Destroying stuff is a great stressrelief.
The sense of relaxation. The sensation everyone is hunkering for, but seems so hard to come by in this age of running and jumping around in order to somehow become happy. I can relate to the stress, rushing through life as if it's a race. We look for a way out of the drudgery of life. The way our economic system work, the rule of supply and demand starts to fill this gap in our life. This is why the concept of a 'smashroom' was introduced. The idea of a smashroom (also called rageroom) is that the participant enters a room, alone or with others, and has a variety of tools available. Besides the tools, there are some objects stationed. The objects vary from old electronics to plates and vases. Destruction ensues. Afterwards the participant is supposed to feel more relaxed than before, it should function as a stress relieve. This concept is super interesting. It lets people relive a certain sensation they might not have felt in a long time. Maybe even since childhood, when they were kicking down their own sandcastles, or their brother's/sisters's for extra statisfaction and mischief.
I have found that, to get the same sense of relaxation, you don't even need to leave your house anymore. I have come across a video series by an animator that is simulating destruction in 3D . In the beginning of the video, he shows a tower of small blocks, like dominos and, in 3D, he throws a ball at the tower, causing it to crash down. Seeing the blocks fall is really satisfying, at least for me, and probably a lot of others. What is nice about these videos is knowing that there are no real world consequences to what you are witnessing. The videos are stripped of any context that add meaning to the event or the action. This way there is no sense of guilt involved in watching these videos, completely emercing you, stripping the experience from any negative sensations. I get hypnotised by these kinds of videos. The chaotic nature of the physics of these blocks is truly fascinating and make me curious to what makes them fall in such ways. This unpredictability is called entropy and is one of those things that are almost impossible to predict in real world senarios. There will forever be a mystery surrounding the concept of entropy. What makes a specific atom move a certain direction instead of another.
From a video by Moby Motion, ‘Realistic Tower Destruction’
Similarly, there was a trend on instagram a while back, where people cut up bars of soap in very small pieces. It's a pointless action but somehow this became a trend. There are more examples of this, like people making things with kinetic sand' and then destroying it, people building sculptures with matches and then lighting them on fire and there even is an account that posts videos of a car slowly driving over objects.
The videos of kinetic sand don't have a strong build-up or release. The videos are made to have a calming effect. They are often slow paced, the sound is quiet and the total image is very stylised. This is where destruction is all about the aesthetics. The colours are purposely chosen to match, or have a certain contrast with the background, and the shapes are perfectly smooth. The entire surrounding is extremely clean and the beginning of the videos seems almost fake. Within the first seconds of the video, the destructor comes in with a fork. There is no build-up in any way, apart from the thumbnail suggesting what is going to happen. We only see the fork, no sign of the person holding it, so these videos might as well be made by a robot. A big part of of these videos is the sound. You hear the subtle crunching of the sand, making the video fall in the category of ASMR (Autonomous sensory meridian response). ASMR is often described as a relaxing form of entertainment that often has the purpose to help people go to sleep. The videos often have people whispering or making other soft sounds. It's a genre that, in hindsight, is as far from destruction as it gets, but in fact is very related to it. This gives me the impression that a big part of the fascination towards destruction is a sense of release. The release can be relaxing and give a sensation of satisfaction, or as the ASMR world would describe it, 'Tingles'. The calming effect of destruction is something I did not expect to find, but it starts to make more and more sense. At the beginning you can almost feel your muscles tense up up untill the point of release. Destruction being partly natural instinct, explains why it could calm us down and make us more comfortable. Through destruction, we can finally be ourselves, our natural selves. You can relate it to being in nature, which is also calming. You get closer to your true selve, letting go of restrictions of daily life. Through the lens of the creator we are far from consequences of the actual destruction, stripping the experience of any sense of guilt.
Instagram post by @sand.tagious, https://www.instagram.com
I see a lot of similarities between the sand mandalas of the tibetan monks and the ASMR videos on instagram. Visually it's quite obvious. Both consist of people making something beautifull and colorfull with sand, and afterwards destroying this creation. This makes me wonder whether the conceptual side of destruction is related to the relaxing effect it can have. we might feel this sense of relaxation because we are confronted with the inevitable end of all things. Nothing lasts forever, but seeing things end makes the fear less and gets us to put our fears to rest. This in and of itself is a relaxing proces, like achieving something great. There is weight lifted from your shoulders. The fact that this form of destruction is so detached from any real-world consequences helps in the relaxation. There is no reason to feel guilt for enjoying what you are witnessing.
The sense of guilt is put upon you by society, to restrict people from doing things that are bad for the people around you. Breaking these barriers can, for a lot of people, feel freeing, and in turn, be relaxing. The feeling is hard to describe, but like I mentioned before, it's close to the feeling you have after doing something you were nervous for.
Even though the purpose of destruction is not always clear from the beginning, it is almost always there. No destruction in vein. There is always a purpose in some way shape or form. Whether the purpose was clear from the beginning, before it actually ocured, or not, there are benefits to destruction.
The traditional idea that destruction is pure evil is an outdated idea. Destruction brings us so much good in our lives, both personal and on a bigger scale, in society. We should embrace the power of destruction, the power to change, to create and to remove. Embracing it would make us all happier people. The world will be a better place if we allow destruction in our lives. Progress will be faster, humanity is holding itself back because it's holding on to the current state of affairs and current materialistic objects. We should learn to let go. We should learn to destroy.