documenta 14 – Kassel: in a Yes and a No

documenta 14 – Kassel: in a Yes and a No

In case you don’t belong to that tribe that goes to Kassel every five years [and to Venice every two] no matter what, here come a few questions about documenta 14 – Kassel answered with a yes or a no. They might be helpful for making a decision about visiting; there is still some time left till 17 September when the event wraps it up.

– Is it a contemporary art exhibition?
– No.
– Does it contain contemporary art?
– Yes.
– Does it contain art?
– Yes.

– Does it show spectacular art?
– No.
– Does it have big names?
– No.
– Is it a sample of something?
– Yes.
– Is it provocative?
– No.
– Is it political?
– Yes.

– Is it for everyone?
– No.
– Is it sophisticated?
– No.
– Is it sentimental?
– Yes.
– Is it conclusive?
– No.

– Does it deal with innovation and the trend of Art & Science?
– No.
– Does it show:
textile, painting, installations, audio-video works, craft, memorabilia, archival pieces, texts, sculptures, etc.?
– Yes.
– Is this all avant-garde?
– No.

– Is it worth visiting?
– Yes.

P.S. More articles about documenta 14 to come: one about textile art and one more general, at least.

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Hedonism and the rest

Hedonism and the rest

Away with hedonism and the rest.

The problem with being against everything is that you slide down the whirlpool of being against yourself; and there you often find the start of your whirlpool too. I have a mind trained to make unusual connections, the ones that art permits and reveals to its disciples. This kind of mind is pleased whenever the web of links shows anomalies, like clots, stretches, or a hiatus.

The book ‘Against Everything: On Dishonest Times‘ by Mark Greif (London-New York: Verso, 2016) is a collection of essays that present in a cool minded way an array of protests. With the voice of a young man and a scholar, the author carefully unfolds on the dissecting table the passions of age groups, style groups, class groups, and the philosophies whereupon our world of today is lingering.

I had to show how every commonplace thing might be a compromise. [p. xi]

Why is it that I thought that this is also a common place, a common knowledge? Is it because of a nearly compulsory critical thinking or because of catching a big shift (or rather its final twist) at its start? Didn’t we see the aesthetic hedonism (the idea that aesthetic value resides solely in a thing’s ability to give us pleasure) taking over within the establishment of consumerism (triumphant for everyone’s consent); these two together eliminating life as we knew it, to the extent that things must be explained as before and after? The author searches the origins of today’s hurtful structures in a depth of more than a century when putting forth the authors Thoreau and Flaubert, and the derailment of the notions of aestheticism and perfectionism.

In the nineteenth century, Flaubert and Thoreau foresaw mud where others saw a perfectly rewarding way of life. Today we’re up to our eyes in it. [p. 88]

This is included in one of the interim chapters sharing a common by-title ‘The meaning of life’. There are four such chapters. Here is where the specific leads to the general, a contemplative step back is taken for viewing the structure with the aim to word it.

Part III of this series is titled ‘Anaesthetic ideology’. Within a few pages, Plato and Aristotle are put on the table, in connection to experience and non-experience, or restriction of it, with mentioning of Socrates and Diogenes the Cynic and the concluding presence of Epicurus. The Epicurean bliss is then connected to the apatheia (no passion, or better not responding to the world’s mud) of Epictetus, in the quest for absolute freedom, in which case self-ending is an option. Both sides of anesthesia (non feeling) are referring to pain. They are like the operas of Richard Strauss where the happy parts are the same hysterical scream as the tragic parts (an amazing thing). That is because despite all, you want to be here.

The sad truth is that you still want to live in their world. It just somehow seems this world has changed to exile you. [p. 227]

Philosophy does help us find a position, see what we do and maybe why; see also why we feel guilty and whether there is anything we can do to improve all that.

The essays look at subjects partly of our lived youth and further, carrying a question mark (with a kind of sympathy or inevitable association?). Radiohead, punk, rap, a good historical account of the hipsters (had no idea), teenage bodies of grown-up women, the fitness (have tried and failed; my body is a stoic philosopher on this), reality tv, and some sides of American reality which we can read only with the cognition (I’m afraid).

Decomposing things in present tense and in writing is interesting indeed, and wise. Surely wiser than counting the number of ‘NOs’ you’ve said in practice.

P.S.1 Epictetus was a presence in my youth, through the writings of Jason Xenakis who followed the path of self-determination to the end. I recently came across this essay: The post-existentialist neo-stoicism of Jason Xenakis and the stoic theory of suicide. 

P.S.2 Whatever happened to aesthetic beauty as the condition where the content falls into the form without flaw (in the same way that the soul falls into the body in/through martial arts and such)?


Digital analysis of a blog

Digital analysis of a blog

What can distant reading say about a blog, when we know its theme and we follow it either from the author’s side or that of the reader? What is expected from a digital analysis of a non-commercial blog?

There are numbers and ratios retrieved, and lists of words (the most commonly used) as well as links between them. There is a web revealed and a mapping done. The analysis is both quantitative and qualitative, the two tightly correlated.

A good number of digital analysis tools for texts have been developed and are in use the last 10-15 years. Those who have more understanding of such tools set themselves the terms of the analysis, to some extent; for ex. which common words (a, the, and, etc.) to exclude when composing the word frequency lists. This is not an impossible task, it takes however a lot of work and a brave brain squeeze. Though I find something intriguing to it, I don’t feel that brave to meddle with commands, expressions, and you name it. I have done it, and even got some result. But, the ratio (!) of success towards failure is a negative figure. A simple job can be done with the ready-to-use free online tools, like the Voyant tools, and such (with thanks).

Summary of the five most recent posts (here seen as a ‘corpus’):
This corpus has 1 document with 5,077 total words and 1,541 unique word formsVocabulary Density (ratio found by dividing the Total Words by the Unique Words): 3,30 (not too bad) [see literary examples: Vocabulary Analysis of Project Gutenberg].
Average Words Per Sentence: 22.3
Most frequent words in the corpus: art (49); artists (33); artist (23); like (22); work (20); blog (15); authority (13); time (13); words (13); life (10); sea (10); book (9); march (9); music (9); way (9); world (9); april (8); arts (8); comment (8); january (8); p.s (8); people (8); read (8); status (8); books (7); don’t (7); end (7); essay (7); facebook(7); film (7); google (7); irony (7); kapnissi (7); kind (7); leave (7); linkedin (7); loading (7); market (7); order (7); pinterest (7); poetry (7); posts (7); reddit (7); september (7); share (7)

By this, the theme of the blog is already set, with a little surprise in the mention of the ‘sea’. The social media presence was inevitable, as they make part of each blog post (that is why I did not remove these words/ names) even though not in the actual text. While here we see about 50 words, in the visualization with the name cirrus we can view many more words in one look; I set it up to retrieve 150, so this is what this cloud-like word list shows:


Quite interestingly but not a real surprise, the word ‘depression’ pops-up as a prominent one, yet not as prominent as the ‘sea’, or ‘music’. And it is possible to go even further and expand the viewing of the words used in this part of the blog, in this beautiful arch, which works itself linking word for word in a rhythmical progression:


As artists, we find and we make links between whatever lies in this world of ours. Words are more specific in this, that is why they are regarded as more appropriate for conveying meaning and for transferring knowledge (make a note for another post, though just one will not be enough for this topic). Digital analysis tools also find links between words in the analysed text. The result of such a search can be presented for ex. like this:


In a very quick viewing of this visualization, the word ‘status’ is linked to the word ‘artists’, the ‘artist’ is linked to ‘authority’, and ‘art’ is linked to the ‘artists’, to ‘history’, and to the ‘market’.

Reversing the findings, what is not there also says something about the analysed text. In this case, what is absent are the names of people, and specifically of (famous) artists.

Text analysis tools give a variety of options for breaking down the text into its components and re-composing it in an untangled form. The new forms, rather in plural, are untangled from whatever we have in our mind regarding the text(s). However, these tools also entail to some extent the choice for manipulation (of input and result). This makes the analysis a game, which seriousness lies upon you. A lot of responsibility again; here is a knot representing the vicinity or correlation (not clear) of the words ‘art’, ‘artists’, ‘work’, ‘authority’, and ‘time’:


I must say, that the first time I saw a visualization of a data set (or of a text, not sure) I was so impressed that since then I look for such things, mostly with the artist’s hat on. There are sophisticated people out there that can make real use of the analysis tools, systems, methods, etc. I am happy I managed to take a glimpse (and, I have some fun ideas…).

P.S. Text analysis and visualization are not necessarily connected. They can also live apart. Visualization lives in science and in art, and relevant studies can be done in either field. Here is someone who combines both; have a look, there are interesting things in here:





When the artist departs

When the artist departs

Away from the institutional art scene.

I was preparing myself for a light new article, as too much darkness had weighed on my writings this last period. Let me be a blasphema (I always wanted to use this word as hilariously pronounced by the English speaking crowds in biblical movies), but well, art is not worth dying for. I had planned to put this blog through a digital analyses, something in the line of digital humanities, where words are retrieved and counted and you get a graph, or even a more elaborate image, of what your blog is about, its atmosphere too; a fun way to see what we are talking about here.

But, the devil has it, that I received as present the book ‘Tell them I said No’ by Martin Herbert (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2016) which, in ten documented essays, talks about artists who took a distance from the art-world or dropped it completely; with enough variations to fit the cases of ten artists. The content of the book is well described in this article/ interview with the author: ‘Goodbye to All That: Why Do Artists Reject the Art World?

The departed artist is a critic of the field where in he/she is asked to work. With the exception of the painter Albert York (essay title ‘The Next Hill’, pp. 29-38),  and the anarchist/ activist Christopher D’Archangelo (essay title ‘Forever Incomplete’, pp. 83-94), the presented artists have operated within the main stream art-world and the accepted game of status-acknowledgment-trend (of institution and artist equally). They departed after having ‘earned the right’ to retrieve themselves from all this; once the safety valve was secured.

What kind of virtue is silence if your stand is forgotten by art history, […]? (p. 44)

When the artist departs without having secured the safety valve he/she commits professional suicide. Yet, this may be the only decent act to do. Because professionalism in the arts presupposes reduction. Nevertheless, we hang our wares out in the light; nowadays our head too, more and more.

A big part of the artist’s role now, in a massively professionalized art world, is showing up to self-market, being present. (p. 11)

The notion of ‘professional artist’ is a dubious one. We never know whether it is there to help the artists or to dig their grave. When it helps, for ex. in claims to be paid (like, with money) for work done, or to request a societal status from the authorities, which in principle resumes in to being allowed to actually do their work and not any other work in order to exist, the word ‘professional’ has a value as in any other work field. Artists, in the course of time, have been professionals, meaning that they were getting paid for their work, unless they were monks or tribe craftsmen. The crafts aspect of the art is more than anything prominent in this deal. There was a demand, a kind of need, for the artwork, and the artists offered their work as a service. We’ve been told that this deal has faded away (or was deliberately broken), yet what was annihilated was the status of the artist in society; the authority, monetary or political, still gives out the cards: prestige-money-presence (in art history). Plus, in countries solely ‘success oriented’ like the Netherlands, art projects are not welcomed (not even by fellow-artists) if not carrying the stamp (or the aspiration) of institutional approval, most often translated into a state subsidy; thus, usually such projects are not attempted.

Within this, the artist-celebrity blurs the situation even more. Is it a joke, a blaspheme, or an exposure of the art world as it is, the artists-stars (think for ex. Hirst, Koons, etc) show in their egocentric extremity that art can be a reality show and thus not only is not worth dying for, but it is not even a field for decent people. Vanity is the opposite of the holy grail. You can not claim to set off for both.

[…] artists don’t have to have long careers. A starburst can be enough. (p. 110)

The artists’ course (career included) is not linear, as there is no given path, and it certainly does not have to be public in its entirety. Plus, the more private the less compromised.

“It is painful for me to face the fact that art cannot contribute to the solution of urgent social problems” (p. 42)

The poetical, although seen as not engaged, can be more subversive because it does not fit the ‘narrative’ of any institutional authority. It is usually appreciated in out of time-bound context and when the official history (of art) is revised. Nothing useful for the artist here either.

The book provokes a plethora of thoughts about the reviewed artists, about the dominance of conceptualism, and indeed about the self-destructive aspiration for becoming an artist. It is written with lucidity, and with sympathy for the departed artists. For artists, it is good to know that there are other options than what the art school proposes and what the institutions suggest one should be busy with (brand yourself?). Whatever this is, don’t do it.

P.S. 1 No endnotes, though this piece could have them.

P.S. 2 The images are from the exhibition ‘De geborgen kamers van Transvaal’ (the secured rooms of Transvaal), set up in 2006 by Stichting Gaidaro in the closing-down part of the street Brandtstraat in the neighborhood Transvaal in The Hague (NL), a few months before demolition started. It was a composition of aesthetic rubble and sound, that no one saw, except of the artists and one or two close friends.

P.S. 3 A list of key-words should come in a future article on this blog. The language manufactured by all those working (and earning) around the artists gets probably the highest score among art impact factors. Brains have been shaped upon them. Art works have been pronounced as such through them. Key-words put the work into recognizable and measurable context; if the work cannot be worded, it cannot exist. Mambo jumbo it is; and yes, the world is turned upside down (these do not belong to the key-words list).




Authority and the Artist, with irony as safety belt

Authority and the Artist, with irony as safety belt

The noise of time, by Julian Barnes
Vintage, 2016

I read the book twice; at first reading I could not hear the voice of the author, otherwise clear and solemn. The narration is in third person going through the life of the composer Dmitri Shostakovich. It is a fictional biography where while the facts may be deriving from research, the thoughts can belong either to the hero or to the narrator; the latter as most probable. It is a difficult book to enter. It seems fragmented and the time and place give away the drama. Yet, we don’t realize the volume of the drama unless we read through to the end. The noise of time talks about two themes: the artist in front of the authority, and irony in the life and work of the artist. For those who go through life as artists, or see artistic expression as an essential human trait, these are painful matters and unsolvable. Barnes has a remarkable sensitivity for the fate of artists, expressed often along the way; here, he turns the knife in the wound, masterly.

Life was the cat that dragged the parrot downstairs by its tail; his head banged against every step. J.B.

Wherever there is a monopoly established for art matters, the same motif is repeated. The monopoly draws a line of rules and separates those included from the excluded. And whenever there is state control to art matters there is artists’ persecution. Physical bodies may not be imprisoned (when not) but emotional worlds are destroyed, identities are annihilated, intellectual dreams are crushed. Totalitarianism disguised as a liberal state’s policy is in many aspects worse than totalitarian regimes. Because here any sense of solidarity is evaporated onto a surface of freedom. The artist is alone in front, or within, the ‘creative industry’ and guilty towards everyone and everything. ‘Independent committees’ follow similar patterns. There are keywords to be checked, like ‘political’, ‘dialogue’, ‘message’, etc., and a style to be detected as (currently) ‘innovative’, ‘interactive’ and most of all uplifting (and consequently successful in societal terms). Authority knows how to entrench what is acceptable and present it as the boundary-breaking art of today.

Khrennikov had an average ear for music, but perfect pitch when it came to power. J.B.

The three times that the authority talks to the artist, position him towards his work and his colleagues whether he likes it or not.

First, the artist is a victim. Tortured in real, living his precarious life (some stop or are stopped here).
Then he is a traitor. This is the phase when solidarity is dangerous because the artist may lose the crumbs that the authority feeds him. So, either he does not speak up for his colleagues (and his ideas), either he denounces them (even with some guilt).
In the end, he is an accomplice, and still a pawn (pawn-king, pawn-horse, …). This last phase is combined with the authority’s honours and tangible benefits (stardom, professorships, chairmanships, and financial comforts).

If the intention of the author was to defend Shostakovich and even more his music, he does give thumbs up on his wish to have his music be heard when the noise of time will have been drowned. We, are grateful that it does. For, music (and art for that matters) has a value in itself. No matter what authorities want us to believe, that it must reflect socio-political issues and relevant ideas (always to a certain direction of course). Music made on these prerequisites is mainly marches and guerrilla songs, or the non-poetical song of the authority. Shostakovich’s music was accused by the authority as ‘non-political and confusing’, addressed to the bourgeoisie and to the intellectual elite.

Then irony comes in, as the means for preserving one’s self and what you love, a disguise used ‘to smuggle things past the wrong ears’.  Irony is when you say something meaning something else; those who can listen understand. And in the same time, you save your life and you protect whatever precious. It is a way of cheating preserved for poetry and the arts, and for a specific kind of intellect. Not for the kind that grows close to authority. But, ‘there are limits to irony’. In which what you do in the end becomes what you are. The defendable joke becomes a degraded identity. Either way, in the end, you lose.

He wrote music for the ears that could hear. And he knew, therefore, that all true definitions of art are circular, and all untrue definitions of art ascribe to it a specific function. J.B.

P.S. We may have more to it if we transpose the story to present time (take it as an irony); check the art world, the creative industry, the authority full of itself as it is.

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The art market as comfort food

The art market as comfort food

Imagine, you set off to become an artist. You do your studies one way or the other and then get to work to do your x hours of practice, the given minimum standard for achieving a basic level of professionalism on anything. There you are, an artist, and like all those before you, your fellows ancestors, you work to find the something more, the beyond, that special area that includes the divine as part or head of the total. Whether the divine element is placed in the work or on you, as the observer/ creator ‘above all’, it makes no difference. The truth, God in a sense, is the quest.

The thought is not about religions nor of God-fearing people or dubious beliefs about our positioning towards the unknown. However, don’t we all do that; take parts in the question of the existence or not of God? Atheists, agnostics, materialists, believers or non-believers worldwide have looked for and some made a decision about the something more than what our eyes see and any relative authority.

For some professional fields, this quest is homonym or runs parallel to the object of the profession, even if only in periods. Whoever does a research in unknown paths or strives to break limits has already positioned themselves toward this question. It happens even in fields that would not come first to mind, where the boundary breaking strive is expressed as competition.

Think of the free divers and the most known among them, the pioneer Jacques Mayol. In the filming of his story and the rivalry with Enzo Maiorca, in Luc Besson’s Big Blue (1988), he as co-screenwriter narrates his own death: fished out from the depths of the sea; a heroic end for the visionary of Homo Delphinus (Homo Delphinus: The Dolphin Within Man). Here, art acts as buffer of reality; the film takes over the implicit feel of failure and gives it back in haunting aesthetics. Mayol’s underlying suggestion was real though. Competition won, fame secured, yet something screamed of failure. Mayol committed suicide at older age being depressed, feeling alone and not understood and most of all having not found the something more down in the deep.

Make a list of people that have touched the extreme, or should I say the edge of the probable, be it scientists, astronauts, athletes, thinkers or artists, and have fallen in depression after their achievements; or shortened their lives. And then balance it with the other list, of those that have relativized successes and failures and by decision have turned to the comfort of predictable returns.

Indeed, this is a story of compromise. For, how can you indefinitely live within a quest for God? Call it infinity too, the beyond, or that thing that justifies our existence; you dissolve in it or you touch it for a moment and then you retreat. To let yourself dissolve in it translates to slipping into insanity, giving away your individual identity, losing contact with the daily life. To let go of the quest and carry on in a normality, means that you accept the compromise; with full awareness of it. That calls for comfort food; a huge amount of it. In the arts, comfort food is to be found in the market; it is called the art market.

Along the way, we come across judgments about successful artists for or against them, that bluntly suggest that there are people that become artists with sole aim to get to this success. It is true that a specific ambition, a good pitch, and the way to go with people of power has a lot to do with an artist’s success, yet the first and most weighs on work. Much more work than any other professional field demands for it is work done in solitude, in no social status what so ever, and mostly often in poverty. To say that any individual sets off to become an artist with only goal to become rich and famous is as absurd as wanting to become an astronaut so that you can send a Skype message to your local radio station.

Further on, satisfaction brought by the acknowledgement of your peers and then maybe of an audience, may be a useful filling to your practice and a soother of your social self, but in the end it is irrelevant. The purpose of art is to make visible those links that cannot be seen or explained in any other way. If that cannot be acknowledged and embraced as what it is, then the market takes the lead and uses art as a commodity.

And this is what happened: the art world annihilated itself by wanting to be part of the trivial.

And this is what we have now: the arts have fallen under a ‘creative industry’ scheme, which feeds the market and the careers built within and around it.


The artist is alive

The artist is alive

‘To stay alive – a method’ 
Documentary film by Erik Lieshout, Arno Hagers, Reinier van Brummelen
Netherlands, 2016

Some things are so outspoken that any commentary becomes superfluous. Some people too. Suicidal actions even more, they spread an intractable distress like a blast. Here, in the film ‘To stay alive – a method’, the blast expands in slow motion and through a painful serenity. Based on Houellebecq’s essay ‘To stay alive’ (Rester vivant, 1991), revolving on the idea of suffering as the source of poetry, the film is a visualization of the essay in free synthesis. The order of the text is reshuffled, some parts are repeated, the narrations of the four characters interlace with the reading done by Iggy Pop. The narrations are subjective, the reading sounds objective; this is what you should do, because ‘a dead poet does not write’: First, suffering; To articulate; Strike where it counts.

The film focuses on clinical depression plus other sufferings of the psyche, by presenting the life stories that inspired the essay. However, Houellebecq’s text applies to all poets, and artists of course. And we the spectators/ readers, we must keep in mind that depression and the rest do not necessarily lead to poetry (mostly not).

Creation is not a cheerful action. As for poets, there is nothing pleasant in not belonging but still having to wear the armor of normality. This applies to those with an institution certificate as much to those who will never be officially diagnosed (with more variations possible, as those that are diagnosed but prefer to live with their condition than abolishing it together with poetry).

“Most people come to terms with life, or else they die. You are living suicides.”

“Structure is the sole means of escaping suicide.”

“Emotion abolishes the causal chain.”

“Life has become administrative and medical” says Vincent to his guest, Iggy Pop. Vincent, played by Houellebecq himself, is a sculptor who has had success, now living alone in his parental house. He is busy with an artwork hidden from the eyes of the world; his guest gets to see it, we don’t, and there is no comment made on it. This reference to Balzac’s short story ‘The Unknown Masterpiece‘ (Le Chef-d’œuvre inconnu, 1831), links the essay’s text to this basic read for artists. Whether it is a sign of awe or a joke it doesn’t matter.

What matters is that Houellebecq’s essay is a passionate text that can well serve people on the verge of burning. It entails a sense of truth that saves lives. This sense of truth is also the reason why his writings are exceptional in the whole meaning of the word. Sometimes they seem incomplete, arrhythmical, shapeless as form, and unpleasant, appalling, unacceptable as point of view. They are indeed the opposite of creative writing products and of political correctness. They are outside of what is expected from an intellectual; not left, not right, and more on the defensive. Perhaps you must have a feel for poetry to appreciate these writings, a kind of hunch that there is something to it behind the words as such. I think that it’s a call to be awake as in front of a work of art; this is the real interactiveness, buttons and effects can not do the trick.

Iggy Pop reads beautifully, his voice coming from equal depth as the words he reads; and yet, with a sense of humor. When sitting together with Michel Houellebecq, they don’t try to keep up appearances of anything successful, or anything at all. To me, this is the only point I recognize the ‘feelgood’ tag of the film, otherwise be prepared to look at the other side. The film is beautiful and there is poetry recited.

P.S. An unedited translation of the essay into English can be read here: TO STAY ALIVE (translation Richard Davis), 1999