Saturday, November 26, 2011

Iain Sinclair lecture

"Any kind of structure I make is like a walk. I don't know quite where this talk will resolve itself. It is like a journey, it detours, it comes back on itself. There are some key things, lizards are waiting over us. It all interconnects in interesting ways, or it falls apart."

iain sinclair - stroom den haag - 25012011
Iain Sinclair at Stroom, Den Haag, Netherlands, 25/01/2011
I made a recording of the talk and you can find it here on

A few points I wrote down from the talk:

  • Does not use powerpoint. Artificial reality is already too much taking over. People believe that computer generated images of “grand projects” really exist. Writers have to create countermyths against this poisonous imagery. Graffiti artists put up counter-images against the Olympic blue fences.
  • The Olympic toxic dispersal cell mishap. Poisonous soil mixed with Japanese knot-weed. Will create triffids.
  • Holds expeditions to investigate topographies under sentence of death. Memory traces. Landscapes invaded by the machinery of global capitalism. Unnecessarily destroying the local while putting up signs like : “ improving the image of construction” and “we are creating a legacy”.
  • A columnist goes into prisons and asks what the inmates are reading. They are all reading David Icke. The wold is controlled by lizards. Looking at Rupert Murdoch you might think he is one of the lizard people.
  • William Burroughs might also be one of the lizards. He became so rarefied from his years of drug use. He went to a sweat lodge and the evil spirit of American capitalism left his body in the shape of a helmet. He made painting by shooting a canvases.
iain sinclair + wilfried houjebek - stroom den haag - 25012011
Iain Sinclair and Wilfried Houjebek at Stroom, Den Haag, Netherlands, 25/01/2011
Report of a visit to William Burroughs:
  • Late afternoon, strong October shadows, goldfish flick across the surface of a pond. A cat watches from the windows of a red clapboard bungalow. The writer William Burroughs is at home, sitting near a table, a drink at his elbow. Lawrence Kansas, nowhere. The locations and accidents and that’s what he says: “Property prices are favorable”. He does some pistol practice and he takes his aches and pains to the sweat-lodge, otherwise he doesn't go out more than he has to. There are helpers for that. There is nothing to say that hasn't been said before. “ This is when they’ll come” Burroughs thought “one endless American afternoon”. Waiting for the sun to sink, waiting for the moon, his hand closing around the glass. An unidentified car making a right turn. He'll notice them, quiet enough for that. Hear what they say, the absence of a convenience store, hear the banalities they say. The rustling of a map coming out of its plastic holder. The electric window, the heavy click of a secret camera. He always knew it would arrive like something out of Hemingway. The killers. Hemingway is good on death. The men in the car would have a cover story that stood up, they would have proper documentation. They would be fixed up for an interview. An that's why these days Burroughs preferred to talk on a telephone. Do it that way, keep chance out of the equation. How it was at the beginning, two nondescript Caucasians. The one in a black coat and the other with a snake tattoo on his left arm “Your name?” Burroughs said. [...]
The lecture includes many other themes: London - council politics - Christopher Wren - change - Rodinsky's room - a dream hospital - conceptual architecture - Will Alsop's mega-city vision - his free bus tour across the whole country - how magically different small parts on England are - the demise of real libraries with real books - the damage done by the London Olympic projects - prohibition of photography - future ruins - mausoleum plan for Winston Churchill - predictive fiction of J.G. Ballard - archaeology in reverse - ghost bicycles.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Plants in a random corner

Last August I walked through the art-college quarter of Rotterdam and I walked onto this building site. The building was almost finished but the sidewalk was a work in progress. Some tough plants had gained a foothold in this inhospitable and fleeting refuge. I decided to do a Wilfried Houjebek and exercise my urban botany skillz.
It is easiest to do botany in situ - with the plant guide next to the plant. But it is November now so had to use the photographs. Still I found 10 species - all very comon pioneer/roadside plants. Isn't nature wonderful? All this vitality for free.
Koolzaad - Rapeseed - Brassica Napus
Heermoes - Field Horsetail - Equisetum Arvense 
Engels raaigras - Perennial Ryegrass - Lolium Perenne
Melganzenvoet - White Goosefoot - Chenopodium Album
Grote zandkool - Wild rocket - Diplotaxis tenuifolia
Canadese fijnstraal - Canadian Horseweed - Conyza canadensis
Gewone Veldbies - Field Wood-rush - Luzula Campestris
Varkensgras - Common Knotgrass - Polygonum aviculare


Friday, November 11, 2011

Noise or message?

I admire the work of William Burroughs and how he describes his work processes:
There is a very definite aura that precedes the emergence of a clear image, a feeling of concentration at a certain point in the painting, then the images come into focus. Often there is a feeling of a three-dimensional vista with depth, cliffs and openings. (William S. Burroughs 1992)
But sometimes I'm puzzled by his work. Should we really value all of it? Does it all have some deeper meaning? Or is it just the famous name that transforms it into "high art"? Take for example the folders:

Burroughs began painting file folders “by accident:” The folders were always at hand, because of his writing profession and constant use of folders to organize his papers. In his painting studio, he began using file folders as pigment-mixing stations and palettes. 
Burroughs soon observed that the folders could be seen as art in themselves. He quotes Paul Klee saying that the way in which a picture is created may be more interesting than the picture itself. Then Burroughs went on, intentionally creating file-folder paintings. In these works, clusters of images rise out of the vigorously automatic, highly gestural brushstrokes. Faces emerge. Animals scream out. (Steven Lowe 1992)

Maybe a Turing test could make things clearer. How easy is it to separate the art from the non-art? The good from the bad?
The results of the [sociological] experiment suggest that in other worlds, with different path-dependent histories of cumulative advantage, our own world’s celebrities might now be languishing in obscurity.
Below are six panels. Two are art and four are non-art. One is Burroughs. Do you see a huge difference in meaning? In aesthetics? Which one would you hang on your wall? How much would you pay for each panel?

If all your friends told you that panel nr. 4 was great and that you should admire it ... would you be able to resist?
Imagine, for example, trying to convince a Harry Potter–obsessed friend that the book’s success was the results of a cumulative advantage process and that the book could have just as easily been a flop (as was predicted by the eight publishers who passed on it). That fan could easily counter that the success of Harry Potter had nothing to do with luck, but stemmed directly from its attributes, which although not what experts in children’s book publishing had anticipated, must have been ‘‘what people wanted’’.
If we replay our world-tape and enter a different path-dependent history then maybe we wouldn't know William Burroughs and we would admire different - now forgotten - artists. The more we try to predict success and the more we try to measure quality the less predictable our world becomes:
Overall, the results provided strong support for the argument that social influence at the individual level is simultaneously responsible for increased inequality and unpredictability in collective outcomes—in this case, the distribution of market share.
Although simple to state, this finding nevertheless exhibits a curious paradox: On the one hand, by revealing the existing popularity of songs to individuals, the market provides them with real, and often useful, information; but on the other hand, if they actually use this information, the market inevitably aggregates less useful information. This result, which is analogous to ‘‘information cascades’’ in economics, suggests, in turn, that social institutions that make us aware of the behavior of others — the New York Times bestseller list, the Billboard album charts, and lists of top-grossing movies — do provide a useful service to individuals, but only at the cost of increasing the overall inequality and unpredictability of the markets themselves.

  • ArT Random - William S. Burroughs - Paper Cloud | Thick Pages - First published in Japan 1992 by KYOTO SHOIN INTERNATIONAL CO., Ltd. - ISBN 4-7636-8603-8
  • The Matthew Effect: How Advantage Begets Further Advantage, Daniel Rigney
  • Web-Based Experiments for the Study of Collective Social Dynamics in Cultural Markets - Matthew J. Salganik, Duncan J. Watts - Department of Sociology and Office of Population Research, Princeton University, Yahoo! Research, May 2009