Sunday, June 28, 2015

Formless non-shapes in 2D

Joanne Lee has published a wonderful meditation on chewing gum, artistic creation and aesthetics. You can read the PDF here or listen to the essay on Soundcloud. One of her subjects caught and focused my attention on shapes and especially on formless shapes. My earlier post is here: part 1.
One obvious observation is that natural irregular shapes - no matter how they were created - are usually quite harmless and even aesthetically pleasing. This irregular fossil in limestone could have dark associations of bats and night-monsters. But its cloud shape is aesthetically pleasing and harmless. It's even an unfathomable shape - at least for an amateur - because it's not immediately obvious how it was created.
 And while Joanne Lee (see the previous post) postulated that the shape of dog shit is aesthetically irredeemable - and I agree - these bird droppings still have some fractal appeal. The characteristic splash outline is forgettable, but it's not disgusting nor unfathomable.
To get real ugly shapes we have to look at man-made shapes. And not at new shapes but at decayed shapes. The moment when human design meets entropy. When an artificial object shows its real Frankenstein face. When paint starts peeling and objects finally confess: "We really hate you, humans!" This is the secret language of objects. These shapes are aggressive and uncanny. They are not forgettable, they are infectious graphic prions:
As the geometry continues to become more intense, vivid and bright it now completely blocks out or replaces the external world and one's sense of normal sight becomes completely impaired. This creates the sensation that one is no longer within the external environment but has "broken through" into another reality.

Some shapes really can be hatful in their ugliness. But could they be really be harmful? This idea has been postulated by the Scandinavian artist Leif Elggren:
 "Virulent Images-Virulent Sound" (2003) includes health warnings on biohazard due to its highly aurally and visually contagious sounds and images taken from HIV, Rabies, Influenza, Ebola and Smallpox among others biologically lethal agents.

Of course the idea is interesting and artistically stimulating. But I fear that evolution would prevent organisms from being this fragile - if shapes could harm an organism then this species would be quickly eliminated:
 Daoloth's indescribable shape causes viewers to go mad at the sight of him; thus, he must be summoned in pitch-black darkness. ... Those enveloped by the god are transported to utterly bizarre and remote worlds, usually perishing as a result. ... One request that can be made to Daoloth, ... is to view things as they really are, not as our veiled senses perceive them. The sight is more than one can bear.
 You could model the mathematical space of all possible two-dimensional shapes. It would be a large, but finite and countable set. Then you could search this space for ugly and evil shapes. And maybe you would find some shapes that no one has seen before and that no one has ever imagined. This would be an interesting and doable exercise.
Mathematics directs the flow of the universe, lurks behind its shapes and curves, holds the reins of everything from tiny atoms to the biggest stars.

But I would speculate that any emotion caused by shapes is based upon some meaning that we attach to them. Like in a Rorschach test we do not see abstract shapes but we see actors with intent. We are programmed this way by evolution. Shapes are evil because we see evil monstrosities in them. And sometimes the monstrosity resonates with some of our fears:
For had he not written that "personal well-being serves solely to excavate within your soul a chasm which waits to be filled by a landslide of dread, an empty mold whose peculiar dimensions will one day manufacture the shape of your unique terror?" 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Not-found alienated garbage bins

While searching for artworks in Rotterdam I found these alienated garbage bins in The Hague. Artworks by the Japanese artist Yumiko Yoneda.
Things become more interesting when they're made useless. Things that refuse to act normally and don't blend into the background.
What would Heidegger say about this: Zuhandenheit or Vorhandenheit? An object that looks ready-to-hand at first sight but then forces you into a present-at-hand mood?
Strange that there are no more pictures on the Internet. One would expect that more people were intrigued. Or are the bins too perfectly camouflaged as utility objects? And what happened to the second garbage bin?
Yesterday I went looking for the garbage bin in it's natural habitat in the Westbroekpark in The Hague. There are nice roses and many bronze sculptures. And many garbage bins. But I couldn't find this specific one.
And I noticed that the design of the bins has changed since. There are new ones and this shape is not in use anymore. The bin has lost its camouflage but it still evaded detection.
I asked several people if they knew about the modified garbage bin. I asked the owner of the local teahouse. I asked one of the gardeners. No one knew of its existence. Maybe it's just a dream the city is dreaming.
Finally I understood what the problem was ... I had been looking in the wrong park. The bin stands in the Zuiderpark not in the Westbroekpark. Knowing about the sculpture collection in the Westbroekpark, I had automatically assumed that the bronze bin must belong there.


Sunday, June 7, 2015

The triple sun

Drei Sonnen sah ich am Himmel steh'n / Hab' lang und fest sie angeseh'n;
Und sie auch standen da so stier / Als könnten sie nicht weg von mir.

I was reminded of this song  from the Winterreise by Schubert when I discovered a set of pseudo-sundogs in the city. Real sundogs are caused by ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sundogs were caused by well-positioned glass.
I am an enthusiastic sky watcher and I like to discover new interactions of nature and city. Last week I was doing a delivery in the evening. Beautiful weather, beautiful sunset. As I stood still on the crossing of the Hoge Filterweg and the Nessedijk I noticed reflections of the setting sun from two different buildings. One apartment building where students live:
And another one with luxury apartments and a view of the river: 
I could also still see the sun through the trees:
After plotting the geometry on Google Maps all the angles seemed to match with my observations:
This was serendipity in action. How large was the chance of me being at the right place at the right time in a sufficiently receptive mood? How hard would it be to find another situation like this? A similar arrangement of buildings?
Would this be a bigger or smaller chance than randomly buying four objects in a supermarket and getting a sum of exactly 10 euro? This also happened this week:
Actually this chance could be 1% if one ignores the combinatorial complexities. Which is relatively large. Is the chance of finding more multiple reflections larger or smaller? And could one find triple and quadruple reflections?

Flickr sundog photo by Prof. Bizzarro

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Formless non-shapes in 3D

Joanne Lee has published a wonderful meditation on chewing gum. Not just chewing gum but also artistic creation, project management and aesthetics. You can order the booklet, read the PDF or listen to the essay on Soundcloud. One of her subjects caught and focused my attention on shapes and especially on formless shapes.
She writes:
... I’ve found myself increasingly preoccupied with the conceptual category of the ‘lump’. The OED tells us that it designates, ‘a compact mass, especially one without a definite or regular shape.’
And I cannot resist thinking of H.P. Lovecraft:
There were geometrical forms for which an Euclid could scarcely find a name—cones of all degrees of irregularity and truncation; terraces of every sort of provocative disproportion; shafts with odd bulbous enlargements; broken columns in curious groups; and five-pointed or five-ridged arrangements of mad grotesqueness.

In more detail:
I explored its synonyms: there is of course the idea of a piece of material, communicated through words like block, wedge, slab, cake, nugget, ball, brick, cube, pat, knob, clod, wad and hunk; wetter stuff is suggested in dollop, glob, gobbet and gob; and then there’s the sense too in which it refers to a swelling, bump, bulge, protuberance, protrusion, growth, outgrowth, nodule or hump…  
And again H.P. Lovecraft:
Never were things of such size seen before, and they held strange colours that could not be put into any words. ... and began to weave itself into fantastic suggestions of shape which each spectator later described differently ...
 How to get a grip on shapelessness? And could it be even worse? Let us speculate:
  • In The Violet Death Gustav Meyrink speculates about a word that cannot be uttered without turning the listeners into violet cones.
  • In The funniest joke in the world the Monty Python team speculates about a joke so funny that it kills its listeners.
  • In Snow Crash Neal Stephenson describes a viral graphic pattern that wipes a human brain.
Could such noxious shapes exist? I'm afraid not, because they would have been weaponized and we would have been wiped out. Our evolutionary existence disproves the hypothesis.
More speculation:
  • Want about invisible shapes? Shapes designed to leave no trace in memory? Shapes that force you to forget or repress their existence?
  • Or shapes of such extreme ugliness that you turn away in disgust?
Joanne Lee has already noticed this effect:
In fact, excrement is probably the lumpiest stuff I can think of ... surely the most definitively lumpy is the dog log that fractures into nodular sections as it is expelled ... the dismembered chunks we find in parks and pavements remain pretty irredeemable ... dog shit, deposited onto a perfect lawn (and against a backdrop of orange nasturtium flowers) perfectly catches the true aesthetic horror. 
But here it's not the shape itself, it's the other sensations that cause disgust that are associated with the shape. It's unclear if a shape - all by itself, without additional layers of meaning - could cause any significant effect.

Let me postulate one more speculative shape, one that really could exist and that I'm currently looking for. See the pictures on this page:
  • The unfathomable shape - A shape so shape-less that it erases the memory of its own creation. A shape created by some unfathomably complex series of actions, by conscious creation combined with random accretion and erosion. A shape that combines artificiality and naturalness in an irritating manner.
  • The indescribable shape - A shape that cannot be summarized into a simple description. A shape that fits no simple mathematical function or set (circles, squares), that cannot be summarized by deterministic fractal mathematics (Menger sponge) nor by stochastic fractal mathematics (clouds). A shape that inhabits some in-between world of Kolmogorov complexity.
I believe that such a shape could be found in geology, detritus or art. I'm looking for it right now.


Monday, May 25, 2015

The fringes of the wood-experience

 The woods around Kleve (Germany) have a mysterious atmosphere. They are old, having been named first on medieval maps. In those times they were part of a huge oak and beech forest running from Nijmegen to Xanten. The woods grow on a loamy, gravelly, glacial ridge containing "southern gravels" (to be explained another time, but a beautiful name anyway). We always get lost in them, no matter which walk we take.
The wonderful spring day and my healing foot should have inspired positive thoughts and an "awakening of cheerful feelings upon arrival in the countryside". Which they did, because we had a very pleasant walk. But somehow the observer in me was not looking for spring poetry like:
the green of the grass / then the green of the trees
slowly, but early showing / the small but budding leaves
It's a fresh Spring day / The muddy trails are soft
with the fresh scent of greenery / whizzing by... life in the moment
It was looking for the hidden part of the forest. The invisible, silent inhabitants: watching, waiting, decaying, dying. The "verso" side of the forest, its ruins. Something - maybe - revealed in the poetry of Peter Larkin:
Flown snag of an oak stump /  bitten now to the slights,
to the punctured kiosk /  in unvagrant slicing.
Awake cleared forest and /  enfuture a field for stump!
Curvate what stilts within root /  by knotting it swarms
of sprout below /  any wrangle in the height.
The stumps of a spring forest as pictured by David Lynch. Solar spotlights enhancing menacing details. Underground structures exposed, breeding dry silent monsters.
The hours. The places . . . All the pieces scattered with the dead bird wings on the ground under The Winter Tree.
But was this the right and proper way of looking? Was I missing a point? Was it a sinful way of looking? The way of looking discovered by Lovecraft, that reveals the swirling chaos underneath.
And the travellers gave no reason for their nervousness except vague tales of something unpleasantly large glimpsed moving beyond the most distant trees. But surely distance must have formed the trees into a solid wall; how could anyone have seen beyond?
This sense of the invisible often exerted itself in moments when he witnessed nothing more than a patch of pink sky above leafless trees in twilight ... within these imagined or divined spheres there existed a certain ... confusion, a swirling, fluttering motion that was belied by the relative order of the seen. Only on rare occasions could he enter these unseen spaces, and always unexpectedly.
But Eliezer Yudkowski would certainly criticize my attempt to explore the fringes of the wood-experience, while neglecting the main-body of the wood-experience. He warns that neglecting the mainstream and the settled is harmful:
Facts do not need to be unexplainable to be beautiful; truths do not become less worth learning if someone else knows them; beliefs do not become less worthwhile if many others share them ... and if you only care about scientific issues that are controversial, you will end up with a head stuffed full of garbage. ... Just don’t go thinking that science has to be controversial to be interesting. Or, for that matter, that science has to be recent to be interesting. ... You are what you eat, and if you eat only science reporting on fluid situations, without a solid textbook now and then, your brain will turn to liquid. 
But somehow this wood really has this strange atmosphere. It's ancient, there are burial mounds, there are war memorials, there is the always getting lost in it. There is a charged beauty, more intense than any normal wood. It's very enjoyable, a relief from the normal urban surroundings. I should investigate this more thoroughly.
What you must avoid is skipping over the mysterious part; you must linger at the mystery to confront it directly. There are many words that can skip over mysteries, and some of them would be legitimate in other contexts—“complexity,” for example. But the essential mistake is that skip-over, regardless of what causal node goes behind it. The skip-over is not a thought, but a microthought. You have to pay close attention to catch yourself at it. And when you train yourself to avoid skipping, it will become a matter of instinct, not verbal reasoning. You have to feel which parts of your map are still blank, and more importantly, pay attention to that feeling.
Then maybe I could finally understand the uncanny qualities of this wood and it's strange attractors.
Soon the moon became entangled in the branches of the trees, it hung for a moment on a branch, dangled like the head of a man from the gallows, and sank to the bottom of an abyss of black stormy clouds.
Klever Reichswald
Symphony No. 6 Beethoven
Petr Larkin - Poems
A Season in Carcosa (Laird Barron, Gemma  Files, Michael Kelly, Robin Spriggs, John Langan, Cody Goodfellow, Allyson Bird and Simon Stranzas)
New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (Ramsey Campbell)
Noctuary (Thomas Ligotti)
Rationality: From AI to Zombies (Eliezer Yudkowsky)
Kaputt (Curzio Malaparte)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Zine Camp 2015 at Worm - 3

Once again a Zine Camp at Worm in Rotterdam. Here I post the zines from the "Zine Forest" that caught my attention. The Zine Forest was put up by ReKult from Amsterdam. The strange colors are caused by the experimental LED-lights of Worm. It's not a camera glitch. This is part-3, here are part-2 and part-1.

Femme & Oddities. A sympathetic feminist zine with many interesting pictures. Probably this is a one-off edition:  "they already announced that this first issue will not be followed by a second one".

Never date dudes from the Internet by Amy Burek. "In 2005, I was in need of dates. So I posted an ad on the F4M page of Craigslist. This book includes my original ad as well as every response I received from the men of CL." There exists a review-video of this zine!

Storm, microrama 001. A microscopic world in which it always rains. A beautiful, charming microbook. Beautiful production values.
It is quite possible that I've got the information about this zine all wrong. Or that I'm combining two unrelated pictures above. But a nice young zine with a lot of road-trip like "mystery pictures".

Wonderful Japanese zine. These have a quality of their own. PaP by (I think) Tomoko Takamatsu and Ai Ezaki. See if I can get one of those.

Mixed business. A zine made at the previous zine camp (2014) by (I think) Florian Cramer. Dubious scam advertisements by African wonder workers like "Mr. Hamza".

 Separate nr.2. Another nice Japanese zine. It took me some time to understand the underlying theme. I like these themed picture collections. Especially if they're Japanese.

DSC03850. What you get if you enter that search phrase into Google. And then select some of the output and make a zine from it. By Albert Foolmoon Éditions, Lézard Actif. This idea gave me endless pleasure, trying out different combinations like P5090123 and DSC07633.