Sunday, December 25, 2016

Milton Rakove on politics - 2

Recently I found this wonderful book from 1975: Don't make no waves ... don't back no losers by Milton Rakove. It was mentioned in another wonderful book from 2012: The Wrong Answer Faster: The Inside Story of Making the Machine that Trades Trillions by Michael Goodkin.

It does not give answers about our current situation, but it puts some things in perspective. I like its musings on political philosophy. Something resonates with our times. See the quotes below:

Practical politics

They [the city officials] have little concept of broad social problems and social movements. They deal with each other, and with the problems of the community, on a person-to-person, individual basis. They shrink from striking out in new directions, have no interest in blazing new trails, abhor radical solutions to problems, and, in general, resist activism of any sort about anything.

"I got two rules," 29th Ward Committeeman Bernard Neistein confided when asked how he had operated so successfully in politics in Chicago for most of his adult life.
  • The first one is: Don't make no waves.
  • The second one is: Don't back no losers.
[...] Behind those principles is a profound understanding of the relationship between those who hold political power in a society and who operate on a professional level, and those for whom politics is an avocation and a means to a different end.

Those who hold power - those who seek power

[...] Those who hold political power are primarily interested in keeping it, while those professionals who are out of office and interested in office are primarily concerned with taking power from those who hold it. Outside these two groups of activists stands the great mass of the population, which has neither the interest, the ability, nor the intestinal fortitude to engage in what Frank Kent called "the great game of politics." But in a democracy they must be wooed by those who seek political power.

The two groups of activists, those who hold power and those who seek it, traditionally employ different tactics in dealing with the electorate.

Those who seek power must make waves, must raise issues, and must arouse the electorate in order to remove from office those who hold political power. Those in office must keep the electorate quiescent, passive, and disinterested, since an aroused, interested electorate will usually react unfavorably toward those in office. How to keep the electorate quiet? Don't make no waves.

When power seekers get power - they become power holders

[...] when wavemakers and nonprofessionals become officeholders, they soon discover the elemental truth that the best and surest way to stay in office is to adopt the behavior patterns and philosophies of the non-wavemakers and professionals. For they, too, soon discover the truth that the professionals and non-wavemakers always knew - that there is no such thing as the public interest insofar as the electorate is concerned; that the private, self-interests of the various groups that compose the electorate must be appeased; and that this can best be done by appealing to those groups on a personal basis and by concerning oneself with those private interests rather than with broad social problems.

They also discover, after assuming office, that there is no such thing as "new politics" or "old politics," that if they want to stay in office there is something called "politics," a game that has been played since time immemorial by men called "politicians," and that it behooves them to join the ranks and play the game if they wish to survive.

The book
Milton Rakove obituary
Milton Rakove obituary

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Enigmatic books by Adriana Ramić - 3

Enigmatic books - previous posts in this series are here (2011), here (2011), here (2011), here (2013)here (2014), and here (2015).

Still life - Yesterday I visited the third floor of the Witte de With gallery in Rotterdam and I saw this still life:
Archive warning - A heap of thick books is irresistible for me. So I sat down on one of the stools and started exploring the thick volumes. I was alert for heavy lifting because the shape, size and colour of the books said: ARCHIVE! - ENCYCLOPEDIA! - LOGBOOK! Just like the yellow-black warning colours of the  wasp.
This was volume 10 of "Serious elements", pages 7165-7950. Another alert: THIS BOOK IS NOT FOR READING!
Opaque - Upon opening the book I was confronted with seemingly innocuous chapters and paragraphs of English and Dutch text.
 But upon close reading the text yielded no meaning at all. It had the look and feel of normal language but it was totally opaque. Babble, automatic speech, bullshit text from some artistic source.
In all the pages I tried there was not one normal sentence.
I had no idea how the monumental text had been generated: was it a dump of a database? Was it scraped from the website of the gallery? Were these the raw contents of a harddisk? 
Parody and seduction - The long paragraphs of nonsense characters suggested some raw data dump or a misconfigured printer. But what was most striking:
  • The texts were a perfect parody of current art speech. Complicated, theoretical, jargon-laden and content free. Is this all there is? Must it be like this?
  • Even though I knew the books were meaningless, there was a powerful seduction to sit and search the books for any meaning, for some revelation. To come and sit here every day, searching this monumental text. In something so enigmatic something of value must be hidden! *
First explanation - Finally I picked a brochure from the stack and it was - of course - as I had expected. But it was more technological than I had expected:
Please browse through the collection of books on the ground. They present you with a text. It was written by an artificial neural network trained by Adriana Ramić. She decided that the neural network should learn to write texts from the digital archive of Witte de With, which it then taught itself to do.
On the other hand, I couldn't see the difference between the text of a neural network and a text generated by a Markov process, like here and here. Now I'm inspired to experiment with automatic text generation.
Second explanation - I had also noted this postcard-sized photograph hidden in a corner. I'm irresistibly drawn to these nondescript photographs of "something" - "somewhere". And the enigmatic caption made it even better: "i armoric terre lives are a human forms were time." *
The brochure gave the solution for this mini-mystery:
The selection of works forms a cryptic arrangement. It is Adriana Ramić's interpretation of the neural network's text. Is it possible to order an archive in a way so that it tells the same to everyone?

* There must be a pony somewhere:
** Typing this text in a search engine yields: Hepatitis B, Schlumberger Global Stewardship, Jobs at Kroger, United States Army, Terre des Hommes, Mobile Forms Software, The Day the Earth Stood Still and Population Clock.


Christof Mascher at Galerie Rianne Groen

I'm a fan of the Gallery Rianne Groen. The gallery is located in a quiet side street (Schietbaanstraat 21) of the Nieuwe Binnenweg in Rotterdam. The art is always interesting and surprising. The works are of museum quality, are moderately priced (in the 1000 - 5000 euro range) and totally worth the money. Unfortunately still far above my pay grade.

A few weeks ago I saw the exhibition by Christof Mascher (it closed on 3 december). I like the pictures very much.
Guppy 13, 25x18,5 cm, watercolour, indian ink and pencil on paper
They use classic technique and materials. Nothing much happens in them. But they have a magic quality for me. They show the surface of the world together with things below that surface. Innocuous landscapes with hidden mysteries. In them I recognize  my feelings about the city.
Blurry car, 25x19cm, watercolour, indian ink and pencil on paper
There are strong moods in these landscapes and vistas. Seasons are changing, weather patterns are changing. Something is patiently waiting and brooding. I would like to enter the landscapes, sit on a bench and watch, listen and feel. It would be peacefully melancholic.
Novel, 95x70cm, oil on canvas
Many the pictures feel like illustrations for a novel. They are introductory paragraphs, the stories are just beginning to take shape. For now everything looks normal, but discoveries will be made, mysteries will be revealed.


Saturday, November 19, 2016

Milton Rakove on politics

Recently I found this wonderful book from 1975: Don't make no waves ... don't back no losers by Milton Rakove. It was mentioned in another wonderful book from 2012: The Wrong Answer Faster: The Inside Story of Making the Machine that Trades Trillions by Michael Goodkin.

It does not give answers about our current situation, but it puts some things in perspective. I like its musings on political philosophy. Something resonates with our times. See the example below.

He [the officeholder] knows that all these selfish individuals and groups within the electorate are pursuing their own self-interests. He knows, too, that their support for him in the future will be incumbent upon his support for those private, selfish, self-interests. 
[...] And he knows, finally, that the sovereign voters are ungrateful, that while they will forget the things he has done for them, they will never forget the things he has done to them. How to resolve this dilemma? 
[...] Do as little as you can about emotional political issues. For every time you make a political decision on such issues, somebody wins, somebody loses. Those who win are forgetful. On election day they are out of town, they forget to vote, or they have acquired new concerns about which you have done nothing as yet. But those who lose will remember you. They will mush through five feet of snow to get to the polling place, they will get an absentee ballot to vote against you, if they have to leave town, and they will publicize your dereliction of duty to all who will listen.
Above all, do not raise issues of ideology or philosophy if you want to remain in public office for very long. Those are the things which excite and incite the electorate the most. Instead, concern yourself with materialistic matters. Trim the trees, repair the curbs, get the children a summer job, lower the taxes on the property, and avoid broad social issues and questions, for while the sovereign voters will demand that you take public positions on such issues, they will not vote for you or against you on election day on the basis of your stand. Instead, they will return you to public office or reject you for public office on the basis of how well you have served their private interests.
There are several interesting YouTube videos about mayor Daley:
I will post more quotes from this book. It should not be forgotten.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Nature near home - 3

In two two older  posts  I cited John Burroughs (1918):
  • The birds about his own door are his birds, the flowers in his own fields and wood are his, the rainbow springs its magic arch across his valley, even the everlasting stars to which one lifts his eye, night after night, and year after year, from his own doorstep, have something private and personal about them.

This year we have a small crow family living on our back lawn. They are easily identifiable because their only young is half-white. This is a case of leucism, a melanin deficiency not uncommon in corvids.

In the first days of June this young had tumbled from the nest and just hung around on the grass, flightless. We feared for its survival but fortunately the local cats ignored it. Then on 9-6-2016 it started trying out its wings. It could fly clumsily but just a few meters.
On 11-06-2016 it was still being fed by its parents. It still tries that even now on 21-07-2016. But now the parents (try to) ignore it. But the family still walks and flies together.
And on 26-06-2016 it could already fly nicely. Now on 21-07-2016 it still looks funnily unfinished, just like all immature corvids. But most likely it will survive. I'm curious if it will stay in the neighborhood.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Janneke van der Putten at Tent

In August last year I was enthralled by the Rotterdam artist Janneke van der Putten and her exhibit All begins with A, in Tent gallery. This artwork made a very strong impression and it had an unexpected emotional impact. I was filled with intense longing for a place, for a time, for an activity. It was a powerful, melancholy experience. I still cannot put it into words.
Note - All quotes below are taken from the video All Begins With A: inspired by the SUNRISE and the Listening Journal of Janneke van der Putten, The quotes and pictures are presented here not in their original order, but in the order in which I recorded them during my visits of the artwork. For the original material see the links below.
I visited the exhibit several times and made photographs, recordings and notes. Below are my personal notes. This is an incomplete and jumbled version of the artwork as I recorded and reconstructed it. (The original and full version is here.) Below is my struggle to capture a feeling that refuses to be captured. Even a year later I cannot put it into words.
Note: In her collaborative work Invisible Architecture  with Christian Galarreta the artists describe this feeling in a poem accompanying the sound recording:  you can't grasp.
I see a vague shape in the dark. Slowly I realize that this is the prow of a canoe that makes its way across the water. I see hills and woods at sunrise. I'm floored by the beauty of calm exploration. Of getting to know a place. I make my first disjointed  notes:
The clouds and shades ...
the duration of a spot of light ...
aller dans un lieu inconnu ...
It is winter right now ...
and I perceive not only the presence of animals ...
I see the mountain on the left. ...
stronger waves throw themselves onto the sand. ...
I come back. The fascination of those tiny spots of light in the background. Not knowing - yet - what they hide, what they promise. Slowly discovering their relation with the topography. Mountains, hills, how I miss them here in the flatlands. More disjointed, incomplete notes:
19 December
We are getting there.
dressed in the white frost ...
Where does time stop? In the transition between night and day?
It is an enlarged moment.
The differences between day and night become audible also.
The shimmer of the mist. ... is a time that has to be lived:
... a time that becomes my interior. ...
Just a fish is heard beyond the confines of its water.
Or, the fish stretches its space lifting out of the water ...
The beauty of the ancient talks in the stone - dressed in the white frost
of the morning.
The beauty of the conifers on the hillsides, the jagged line of the dark horizon against the morning colours. Rising early, circumnavigating an island, getting to know an unknown place intimately. Experiencing the light, the sound, the temperature. How I would like to do that! But it's useless to copy this artwork, I will have to find my own, personal version. More disjointed notes:
The dry cracking of the hardened sand is always the witness of the traces of winter. For now aurora scatters in the intense tranquility of a world in spontaneous parallel actions. 
8 December 10th station
There were white sheep. One white sheep wore a bell, around the neck.
Also we can't hear the wind beating the flag. The motor of the pump is silent.
... stronger waves throw themselves onto the sand. They are echoing also.
... Again a light breeze at daybreak, ...
I wonder if I could understand the lake.
Its form is not that of a circle as one would imagine.
It is a labyrinth of adventurous walks. ...
... with the wind and ... faraway airplane ...
The crows appear and engage in their trees.
Behind me the microphone listens and records.
In front of me, the duration of a spot of light ...
crossing the mountain ... and my breath; ... my voice stops suddenly.
On one of the walls is a long row of photographs. I recognize the lake and the mountain. It is early morning. I get another view of the landscape. I try puzzle the pieces together. Is this the walk from the artist's workplace to the lake? Is this how the video was made? How I would love to explore a place so intimately. More notes, by hand, just like the artist did it:
14 décembre
Aller dans le silence, aller dans un lieu inconnu autour de nous.
La voix est partie et des cercles s'étendent se rencontrent se croisent.
Ils l'emportent.

More photographs. I recognize the lake, the boat, the trees, the hills. How I would like to sit at such a place at such a moment. I'm reminded of Bas Jan Ader and his Farewell to faraway friends. More notes.

I am reminded of the "stations of the cross", like this is a ritual, a pilgrimage. More notes:
Everything awakens into motion during the dawn. ...
It is winter right now and I perceive not only the presence of animals but humans too, going to work at this time of day.
It must be almost eight o'clock. ...
I arrive at the sixth station, and I ask myself how many places I will visit in total to encircle the whole island. ...
From here, I see the mountain on the left. It is always my point of reference. ...
The cars make themselves heard more, here upon the outskirts. ...
Those beautiful trees against the morning sky. That jagged line between earth and sky. More notes:
19 December
We are getting there.
Listening, I am waiting for time and all its unexpectedness;
it as if one cannot be another.
... could not be any other.
The fascinating, mysterious points of light in the background. Where are they? How far are they? What are they? Getting to know their place and meaning in the landscape. But are the points of light more or less mysterious than the sun shining through the mist? Do we really know the lake? Can we ever know a place?
Note: The artist has told me that the points of lights are lamps hung in the trees, working on solar energy that form the artwork Graines de lumière by Erik Samakh, 2003.
More notes. The notes are getting better and more coherent, I've brought a camera for this visit. Still it's impossible to catch every line of text. The video is as impressive as ever, knowing it better has not diminished its effect.
6 December
The shimmer of the mist is a time that has to be lived:
The beauty of the ancient talks in the stone
dressed in the white frost of the morning.
The dry cracking of the hardened sand
is always the witness of the traces ...
For now aurora scatters in the intense tranquility
of a world in spontaneous parallel actions.
The road at the end of the video. Also at the beginning, when it is dark still? Where the nature of the lake meets civilization, the final station? What a wonderful place to explore! But we should be able to explore everywhere like this, with the same result.

Just as the artist explored a place and kept a diary I've tried to explore the artwork. I also kept a diary. More notes:
10th station
There were white sheep.
One of the white sheep wore a bell, around the neck.
Now, they are not there anymore.
Also we can't hear the wind beating the flag.
The motor of the pump is silent.
After the passage of the boats,
stronger waves throw themselves onto the sand.
They are echoing also.
I hear the bird on the other side of the lake.
And the resonance of the callings.
Again, a light breeze at daybreak.


Saturday, July 9, 2016

Kerstin Ergenzinger at Tale of a Tub

Also on view will be Raumtaster by Kerstin Ergenzinger, a subtle perceptual machine that creates constantly changing fields of light that wander across the walls, ceiling and floor taking possession of the exhibition space.
Raumtaster means: space-feeler, space-scanner. You enter a dark concrete underground cellar. At one end there is a light projector. An invisible mechanism makes humming drone sounds as the light moves, brightens and dims. As always I'm reminded of the metaphysical horror of Thomas Ligotti:
As soon as I was standing by the doctor's side he removed a flashlight from the pocket of his overcoat, shining a path into the dark interior of the house. Once inside, that yellowish swatch of illumination began flitting around in the blackness. It settled briefly in a cobwebbed corner of the ceiling, then ran down a blank battered wall and jittered along warped floor moldings. For a moment it revealed two suitcases, quite well used, at the bottom of a stairway. It slid smoothly up the stairway banister and flew straight to the floors above, where we heard some scraping sounds, as if an animal with long-nailed paws was moving about.
An ingenious mechanism of computer controlled motors produces an ever-changing beam of light. With each small variation of light the experience of the space changes dramatically. A fascinating experience.
The strange underground location transforms a conceptual artwork into a mysterious ritual. What is really happening here? Again Thomas Ligotti:
But I soon realized that this was a silent film, a cinematic document that in every aspect of its production was thoroughly primitive, from its harsh light and coarse photographic texture to its nearly unintelligible scenario.  It seemed to serve as a visual record of scientific experiment, a laboratory demonstration in fact. The setting, nevertheless, was anything but clinical-a bare wall in a cellar which in some ways resembled, yet was not identical to, the one where I was viewing this film.
Even the entrance to the installation is full of meaning. Just a lamp on a cupboard and a sign: "Exhibition continues". But this is eerily reminiscent of a Mark Samuels horror story:
It was not obvious where I should be going, so I looked in through a half-opened door to my left. It was an abandoned gents toilet, thick with dirt. The cubicle doors hung ajar and the toilet bowls and urinals were broken, with fragments of porcelain scattered on the floor. 
I returned to the corridor and after a few more paces finally noticed a sign with an arrow, indicating the direction I was to follow. I turned right. This corridor seemed to be exactly the same as the first. 
I was beginning to feel a sense of emptiness creep over me, deadening my spirits, replacing the tension I’d previously felt. And then I realised what should have been obvious: this was the installation! The sense of isolation and dislocation was complete. I felt utterly alone as I walked through the confines of the artificial void.
The White Hands and Other Weird Tales (Mark Samuels)
Grimscribe (Thomas Ligotti)

Monday, July 4, 2016

Outsider art at Rotterdam Kunsthal - 4

The Museum of Everything at the Rotterdam Kunsthal is a mind-blowing experience. There is too much to see, too many worlds to experience. I must ingest and digest in very small bites. The previous exhibits are herehere and here.

It's fascinating and irritating that this wonderful topographic artist is not better known and that there is nothing about him on the internet. He deserves much better. It's so inspiring that I'm tempted to take up a pencil myself. But I know I don't have the talent.
Viktor Kulikov - b 1937 (Nizhny Novgorod, Russia)
Every day, 9am on the dot, the strict 15-year practice of this former historical educator forms an eternal encyclopedia, capturing not only nature’s daily shifts, but the developing metaphorical landscape of Nizhny Novgorod and beyond.

If I go out in the evening, the day is gone. In the morning everything is just beginning. So I spend an hour at 9am every day. It takes me two days to make each picture. One day isn’t enough to capture the natural surroundings, sometimes I expand on what I see in nature. It’s not like being a photographer, I try to go deeper.

I loved to draw as a child. Then just like Pushkin’s rebirth in Boldino, it hit me: I was on the banks of the Oka, where the pine forest is, I looked around and saw how amazing the shades and colours were. I drew a sketch, then thought to myself, why not return tomorrow? That’s how it started.


Saturday, June 18, 2016

Outsider art at Rotterdam Kunsthal - 3

The Museum of Everything at the Rotterdam Kunsthal is a mind-blowing experience. There is too much to see, too many worlds to experience. I must ingest and digest in very small bites. The previous exhibits are here and here.
Clive Collender c 1950 (Perth, Australia)
Seemingly random dates document the fifty-year practice of this freeform visual diarist, yet they belie the complexity of a pictorial life-catalogue, whose code is known only to its gentle silent maker.
I am so totally jealous about these crisp, clear and endearing artworks. How I wish I could draw like that! But I wouldn't know where to begin. This is charming but also thought provoking. The wold looks simple, but only at first sight. At second sight it's full of mysteries.

Clive and his brother, Ian, were both born with hearing and sight impairments and from the age of 4 and 4 ½ years-of-age they attended a specialist boarding school in Cape Town which supported children with disability.

It was at Boarding School that he commenced his lifetime of art, inspired by letters sent to him by his father. As the brothers couldn’t read, Fred would draw pictures which told the story of what their older brother, Richard, their mother, Ellie, and he were doing. Clive would then respond with his own letters filled with drawings.