Sunday, August 30, 2015

Unsettled fragment of history

Yesterday I found this booklet at the Rotterdam second-hand book market. It was a difficult decision because I knew it would be a disturbing read. It's about Catholic orthodoxy clashing with Nazi ideology. That's much food for thought for just two euros. Almost too much.
Irresistible force meets immovable object. Immovable object wins but leaves behind a knot that's hard to untangle.

The book contains the Dutch translation of the Advent sermons cardinal Faulhaber gave in 1933:
The sermons were given in St. Michael's, the largest church in Munich, though crowds were so great that both the neighboring churches, the Studienkirche and Bürgersaal, had to be connected by loudspeakers. In the sermons cardinal Faulhaber declared that he could not remain silent against attacks on, "the sacred books of the Old Testament ... When racial research, in itself not a religious matter, attacks the foundations of Christianity."
A sample of contents
I have not read the book in its entirety but I scanned the contents and read about the historical context. There are clear, brave and (unintentionally humoristic) statements against Nazi ideology:

There is no reason for us to turn our back on Christianity and to start a Nordic-German religion for fear we cannot demonstrate our national identity in any other way. But we should never forget that: We have not been saved through German blood! We have been saved through the precious Blood of our Lord (1 Peter 1,9).
The sermons are moderately anti-anti-Semitic but that does not make them pro-Jewish. There are some quite disturbing statements based on Roman-Catholic orthodoxy:

After the death of Christ Israel was dismissed from the service of Revelation. They did not recognize the hour of temptation. They had repudiated and rejected the Lord's Anointed, had driven Him out of the city and nailed Him to the Cross.
And some statements could be read as prudish and slightly hypocritical, but entirely in-line with Roman-Catholic practice. But also slightly disturbing if read in historical context:

In recent months an iron broom has swept much immorality from our national public life and let's thank God for that. But still it would be Jewish phariseeism to want to thank God that we should be better than other races and that our big cities should be examples of virtue when compared with Sodom and Gomorrah.
One thing is certain: The complete bible has no place in the hands of unripe school-youth. The S. Scriptures have been written for morally ripe people.
As is to be expected opinions are mixed about cardinal Faulhaber. He took considerable personal risks by speaking out publicly against Nazi policies. But some historians argue that he did not speak clearly enough. He certainly took a stance against anti-Semitism, but some historians argue that he was held back by his Bavarian background, Roman-Catholic orthodoxy and "Realpolitik". That feels like a knot of history that will always resist untangling. For example, how should one interpret this fact:
Faulhaber supported ... the work of Amici Israël. He supported the group by ... admonishing preachers to steer clear of any statements that "might sound in any way anti-Semitic" ... its special aim was to seek changes to the Good Friday prayer and some of its Latin phrases like pro perfidis Judaeis ... 
[Amici Israël] was dissolved in March 1928 on the decree of the Vatican's Congregation of the Holy Office on the grounds that its perspectives were not in keeping with the spirit of the Church.
Interesting connections
There is also an interesting link with other German resistance figures. Cardinal Faulhaber was a supporter of the orthodox anti-Nazi publication Der Gerade Weg (The straight path) published by  Dr. Fritz Gerlich, who was arrested and later executed in a concentration camp. The history of this anti-Nazi newspaper is beautifully described in the book Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil by Ron Rosenbaum.

Kardinaal Faulhaber, Jodendom, christendom, germanendom, 113 pp. hardcover, Fidelitas Amsterdam, 1933?
Michael_von_Faulhaber (Wikipedia English version - much longer)Michael_von_Faulhaber (Wikipedia German version)
Der_gerade_Weg (Wikipedia German version) (Explaining Hitler)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Reiner Ruthenbeck - Nicely conceptual

The Rotterdam second-hand book market keeps surprising me. Yesterday I bought a thin booklet from 1972 for one euro. It's catalogue nr. 530 of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam for an exhibition of the German artist Reiner Ruthenbeck. Two artworks caught my attention. One is conceptual the other is psychogeographical.

Wohnungsobjekt II - (Living space object, 1974) A block of frozen black ink that has to be kept in the freezer. 
I find this a delightful idea. It is so horrendously impractical and economically unsustainable that it forces you to re-think your normal use of living spaces, household appliances, artworks and the art market. Imagine having to sell this object. Imagine it melting during a power outage.

Dachskulpturen - (Rooftop sculptures, 1972) Photographs of air-raid sirens atop rooftops, accompanied by a 45-rpm vinyl recording of a test air-raid alarm.


Again a delightful idea, that is impossible to replicate nowadays. All these small local sirens have disappeared and have been replaced by big centralized sirens. I can imagine how the artist read them as installations, as sculptural interventions in public space.


Friday, August 14, 2015

From a strange planet - 8

Road webcam fascination
The silent pictures of Scandinavian traffic-webcams have a strange fascination for me. I'm trying to analyze this effect. My previous analyses of the webcam obsession are here: part 7part 6part 5part 4part 3part 2part 1. I used video, fiction, literary criticism and art to think through this window on far-away worlds.

Street-view camera search
Then I went searching for the cameras on Google Street-view. This could be done in real-life. It would be fun to drive to Norway and to photograph myself in front of these cameras in far-away places. An expedition to pointlessness? Original conceptual art? Will you fund the project?
The existence of the place is confirmed. Seeing one remote place through two different media gives an enhanced sense of presence. Seeing the camera while seeing the picture shown by the camera is strangely empowering.
Same season and the same light. The camera has been mysteriously doubled by Street-view.
The camera can be seen as a shadow in its picture. But I cannot find this on Street-view. Has the bridge been re-built in the meantime?

Fv866 Skattorsund
Fv30 Rugeldalen
E10 Gimsobrua

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Rotterdam - Places of pilgrimage - 4

I'm building a mental map of meaningful places in Rotterdam. There is one rule: I have to remember the place myself. I cannot use my photo archive and I cannot use books. It has to be personal. The previous parts are here: part 1part 2part 3. The complete map can be browsed here: Google maps.
  1. The blue spheres, Hilestraat - A collection of seven strikingly blue spheres in the playground.
  2. Woman in burka, Hillelaan - Here I saw a woman in black burka pushing a black pram on two different dates. Was it always the same woman? A black madonna. Or a modern ghost.
  3. Lonely garbage bag, Hillelaan - Each time I come here there's a lonely gray garbage bag sitting in an empty shop. The emptiness and loneliness are overwhelming.
  4. Dirt triangle, Brede Hilledijk - Ancient dirt collects in a triangular (alluvial) fan shape on the concrete stairs. The rain sorts the garbage by size. Instant archaeology.
  5. The portal, Maashaven - A spray-painted black portal by Influenza. There are several of them in Rotterdam and they are all connected.
  6. Metro platform view, Maashaven - From here you have a great view of the nicely depressing industrial walls of the Maashaven Silo. There's a small illegal patch of grass growing between the concrete slabs.
  7. The out-of-place plastic seagull, Maashaven - Someone has glued a small plastic seagull on top of one electricity pylon of the streetcar. You can only see it from the metro platform. It looks like an artwork, but could be a practical joke. I have not found any information about it.
  8. The spooky birch trees, Zuiderpark - A grove of spooky white birch trees with a menhir in their midst. Birch trees are associated with amanita mushrooms and are thought to be magical in Northern cultures.
  9. Menhir, Zuiderpark - Several modern, artificial menhirs have been placed in the park.
  10. Dead poplar trunks, Zuiderpark - The grey trunks of dead poplar trees are like ghost sticking out from the neglected greenery.
  11. Geometric constructions, Zuiderpark - Beautiful but disorienting constructivist artworks. On the border between art and functionality. Difficult to interpret. They are not on any list of Rotterdam statues.
  12. The apple trees, Zuidplein - Next to gloomy concrete stairs, going from a boring sidewalk to an equally boring internal courtyard a (wild?) apple tree grows. It bears fruit but still unripe when I was there.
  13. The roof cross, Wevershoekstraat - Some ornament has fallen from the roof of this 19th century house, leaving only a cross shaped frame.
  14. The falling rider, Mijnsheerenlaan - A monument for 40 men executed during the German occupation of the Netherlands on March 12, 1945. By Marino Marini and Maarten Struys.
  15. The poplar above the rooftops, Zuidplein - From the platform of the metro station you can see (in the summertime) one dark menacing poplar looking at you above the rooftops. An enigmatic, silent personality.
  16. The poplar mountains, Zuiderpark - In the summer the dark mass of poplar trees looks like a mountain range. Imaginary mountains, trees and clouds, are the only ones we have.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Beach phenomena - Maasvlakte

Usually I encounter mysterious and frustrating phenomena on the beach. Here are examples from The Netherlands and from Spain. But today I visited the new artificial land created at the Maasvlakte and I found some mysteries that proved easily solvable.
The Maasvlakte is a fascinating moonscape at the outer edge of the Rotterdam harbor. It is far from the city and I don't come there often. But each time I visit I return inspired, enlightened and relaxed. The total strangeness and emptiness of this artificial landscape are strangely soothing.
Today I discovered a beach at the edge of the Maasvlakte. It is unexpected, in between the heavy industry and the logistic installations. A strong wind, warm sea and sunshine made for a beautiful walk. The ice-cream afterwards made it extra interesting.
I enjoyed the seascape but I looked down much too often. The beaches of the Maasvlakte have been dredged from deep sand beds dating to the ice ages. This means that you can find fossil teeth and bones there. I'm addicted to that kind of thing. There is a whole website that catalogues and identifies the finds from this beach.
I was not looking for fossils, I was looking for ventifacts. I was triggered by the sand blowing in the wind at ankle height, stinging my bare feet. And indeed I found many wind-polished stones, with a shiny top and a matte bottom. Strange stones I had never seen before. The size, colour and sheen of fresh chestnuts. The weight, feel and sound of flint.
At first I thought they might be fossilized bones, vertebra, teeth or something similar. But after breaking two specimens with a hammer I saw that they had the colour and consistency of sandstone, not of bone, and also not of flint.

Finally I got a hint from the beach find website: nodules of the mineral limonite. It fits all the criteria: it breaks in a shell-like manner and produces a yellowish mark when scratched against a rough surface. It contains a high concentration of iron. Excellent pictures can be found here. Limonites are often erroneously identified as meteorites. But not by me!


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Ephemera experiment - pre-zine

I'm thinking about publishing a one-page zine. But this raises some questions:
  1. Why would someone pick up a zine?
  2. Why would someone keep a zine?
I have no fact-based answer for question 1. But I can try to answer question 2.
Through the years I have collected two boxes of ephemera. Mostly they're brochures I picked up during my holidays. This is a good opportunity to go through them and clean out a lot of paper. These are the first results:
  • Approximately 50% of my collected ephemera will be thrown away because they have lost relevance and interestingness.
What kind of ephemera have lost interestingness? These are the first raw data:
  1. Envelopes containing other ephemera - these contain no useful information.
  2. Receipts from shops and restaurants - most of the text has disappeared from this cheap thermal paper - most of these places have been forgotten, they don't bring back any memories.
  3. Events I didn't visit - these were picked up just in case.
  4. Exhibits I didn't visit - these were picked up just in case.
  5. Hyper-local information brochures - like a list of sermons from a local church - these seemed interesting at the time because of their hyper-locality, but I don't see how I could use this information.
  6. Maps of large areas - these are less interesting because I didn't visit most of the area and they don't add interesting context. Most likely I will not return there soon.
  7. Non-informative brochures of events I visited - these are not very interesting or special - they don't bring back memories.
  8. Maps of cities I passed through - here in St.Vith I just stopped and drank coffee, I had no time to visit the Ardennes battle memorials.
  9. Local curiosities - like this reproduction of the Asterix&Obelix village, it seemed weird then, but now it feels uninterestingly commercial.
  1. Transport tickets - bus, train and even plane tickets don't bring back so many memories as they should.
Thinking economically - as a hypothesis:
  • Value of ephemera - memories, reminders, souvenirs, curiosities, useful (shareable) information.
  • Cost of ephemera - storage space, time spent looking at them.

Don DeLillo on modern surveillance

Last week I read the book "Running Dog" by Don DeLillo and I was surprised how contemporary these paragraphs sound. It's as if he's describing our current surveillance situation. And this is from 1978, long before anyone heard of smartphones or the Internet.

He describes the chilling effect of surveillance:
"When technology reaches. a certain level, people begin to feel like criminals," he said. "Someone is after you, the computers maybe, the machine-police. You can't escape investigation. The facts about you and your whole existence have been collected or are being collected. Banks, insurance companies, credit organizations, tax examiners, passport offices, reporting services, police agencies, intelligence gatherers. It's a little like what I was saying before. Devices make us pliant. If they issue a print-out saying we're guilty, then we're guilty. But it goes even deeper, doesn't it? It's the presence alone, the very fact, the superabundance of technology, that makes us feel we're committing crimes. Just the fact that these things exist at this widespread level. The processing machines, the scanners, the sorters. That's enough to make us feel like criminals. What enormous weight. What complex programs. And there's no one to explain it to us."

And the modern panopticon:
"Go into a bank, you're filmed," he said. "Go into a department store, you're filmed. Increasingly we see this. Try on a dress in the changing room, someone's watching through a one-way glass. Not only customers, mind you. Employees are watched too, spied on with hidden cameras. Drive your car anywhere. Radar, computer traffic scans. They're looking into the uterus, taking pictures. Everywhere. What circles the earth constantly? Spy satellites, weather balloons, U-Z aircraft. What are they doing? Taking pictures. Putting the whole world on film." "The camera's everywhere." "It's true."