I cannot travel anymore – books for short trips

I cannot travel anymore – books for short trips

‘I cannot travel anymore’ would be the next book to read. I would read it within a day or two: as long as a short trip for work usually lasts, or equal to the free time saved for reading when away for longer (work/duty) trips. It is a good title; a statement that shocks in real life. People ask immediately why. What to give as main reason: the physical strain (including the recovery time that becomes longer and longer), the shattering sense of loneliness among familiar faces (never managed to beat this one), the dislike of hotel rooms with their zombie tidiness, the limiting of the vital space within the frames of a suitcase and a crummy airplane seat, the food mostly under the acceptable standard (note: I like simple food), the goodbyes to loved ones, the current readings that must stay at home because of their volume and weight.

‘I cannot travel anymore’ does not exist as book title yet. I’ve had to do with other (more imaginative) titles, this recent period.

Here is a short selection of five:
A General Theory of Oblivion (2015, in EN) by Jose Eduardo Agualusa, an Angolan writer, famous (of what I read) and really special in his writing style and story building. I bought the book at Eason in Dublin; read it that evening sitting in my dorm bed and at the airport the next day before returning home.
The last days of New Paris (2016) by China Mieville, an English writer of fantasy fiction but also of history related to Marxism and the October revolution; here dealing with Surrealism and its role in history, with artists and Nazis in exploding encounters. I bought the book at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam on my way to Athens; read it during the trip and one night in the Athenian heat of August (air-co on of course).
Swing Time (2016) by Zadie Smith, an English writer famous enough not to need introductions I think. This one is about the inevitable crashing of lives no matter what the predictions or the first indications might be. But, open as an artwork, others have read in it tales about friendship and such which is indeed the first level of the story. I bought it also at Schiphol airport on my way to Marrakech for a conference job; read it there and then in between work, dinners, talks, and through hours of sleeplessness.
Batavia’s Graveyard (2002) by Mike Dash, a Welsh writer of history. This is a scholarly publication with 100 pages of annotations and a full bibliography; yet an absolute page turner. It is the story of the Dutch ship ‘Batavia’ that left Holland in 1628 and shipwrecked a few months later onto a group of islands off the Australian west coast. The mutiny that followed, the killings, the living conditions on and off the ship(s), the scum of the earth that manned the East India ships and populated the colonies, and the retribution by the authorities: exciting by itself and told by a fantastic writer, all into it! I bought the book at the American Bookstore in The Hague and read it on my way to Kassel; a road trip this one.
The Red and the Black (1830) by Stendhal, the classic 19th century French writer, yes. Where did this come from, one would wonder. Well, apart from doing a refresh of early readings, I wanted to read through a good account of ambition and hypocrisy, together with love affairs with a purpose, horrendous (real) love entanglements, and the all-time hopelessness of those lacking social/cultural/financial capital. I bought it online and read it somewhere between Athens and Amsterdam. Though reading it in English was difficult, I found, cause the long sentences of the French language sound awkward in  English, the tone was well transferred.

Since the fall of Napoleon, all appearance of gallantry has been severely barred from provincial manners. There is fear of being deprived of one’s post. The scoundrels seek the support of the Congregation; and hypocrisy has made most wonderful progress even in the liberal ranks. Boredom redoubles itself. There remain no other pleasures but reading and agriculture. [p. 52]

P.S. Dedicated to all those who travel more than often, with admiration for their physical strength.

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‘Highways and a dream: on wet roads’, oil on canvas, 100 x 150 cm, 2015

 

 

 

 

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Dublin in lost mode

Dublin in lost mode

You know that a city is a welcoming place when you can enjoy a long walk in lost mode without much; not afraid to take the wrong turn; no (terribly) wrong street to step foot on nor too long a distance to deal with.

Dublin is such a welcoming place: in the centre, despite the hordes of tourists (with the drunkenness and whatever else that often brings in the need for paramedics), in the high neighbourhoods with the coloured Georgian doors and the classy galleries, and just the same in the working class streets where you smell and see in full: open air food markets, small eating places, basic shops of anything, people doing their thing and letting you be.

No, I am not idealizing it as it is not a harmless joyful city; the word ‘disparity’ is here again more than obvious, just like in most of our cities; soup for the poor and homeless, high art for the delicate souls. Still, Dublin manages to keep it down to earth (no lepricorns  here).

The deep green colour is beautiful and heart breaking; the soups have a distinct blunt taste as if grandma made them (delicious); the dark beer flows and the rain falls whenever it pleases, and you can count the drops one by one.

 P.S. Getting lost with a smart phone in your hand is the easiest thing, trust me!

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The authority of the button

The authority of the button

 

Introduction no 1

Being, or not, a person who doesn’t like to be told what to do is of no importance; we all succumbed at some point to the button. Being aware, or not, of when the delirium started is of no importance either. At present, the button is triumphing.

The authority of the button in practice: you do when you press it. Yet, this authority goes beyond the physical action on to the power exercised on thought and will of each one of us.

The following text was a brief comment, expressed rather as a question, that was published in a closed wiki last year (2016) as assignment in the course ‘Media Philosophy’.  It refers to text as this was the subject of the study; but the visual and the arts are in the same stream.

The comment: the authority of the button

[…] in text-related technologies, we can take as example the structure of the digital text with its multilevel linking; all with the use of the button and the necessary user’s action of clicking.

The button is a technological device that entails simultaneously the option (free choice) and the command (authoritarian behavior). In these two contradictory traits, the first lays the foundation for the second to establish itself. A technology with innate capacity for organizing power and authority seems the only option in a democratic society; seemingly, the authority is diffused to the people that use this technology.

The use of the imperative form, either friendly as in “join, share, like, etc.” or service oriented as  in “listen now, download now, go there now, etc.”, and of course more directly commanding as in “buy now”, would not be accepted otherwise; not in politics, nor in social life. Instead, because of being essential to the structure of the specific technology, and through its material carrier, the button, the command has been accepted as normal. In its turn, the authoritarian behavior exercised on individual level, shifts the limits of acceptable authority that can be imposed centrally.

The question arises: is the authoritarian tendency innate to humans so that the central power contains it as much as the technology that they produce?

Introduction no 2

The button has been a peculiar element of modern times. It has been the focus of awe and of mockery since the moment that its use left the industrial terrain and spread in to everyday life. Between Chaplin’s uncontrollable machines in his movie Modern Times (1936) and The Matrix (Wachowski brothers, 1999), buttons became an accessory in the hands of literally everyone.

One push further, the statement ‘Never send a human to do a machine’s job’ (The Matrix) moved from the sphere of the joke to the common belief.

P.S. 1 I had a hard time in the Univ when omitting the conclusion/closure bit, faithful to the inconclusiveness of art. Cause, apart from believing in this as the only possible free area, I considered all my writings as being part of my artistic practice (no conclusions, only open space). That is why this blog post has two introductions; one to start and one to finish, with the question in the middle.

P.S. 2 The front image is a detail from a textile work of mine titled ‘The memory of a nebula’; embroidery with some padded parts.

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‘Do not press’ – acrylic on canvas, 1998

 

documenta 14: this is not a love song

documenta 14: this is not a love song

No, not; this is not a love song.*

This is a multifaceted complaint/ protest in the name of the daunted, the taunted, the abused, the displaced, the endangered, the forgotten, the ignored, the misunderstood, the damaged, the unjustified, etc.

It is a sample of ideas and narrations of the named alternative view on world, life, and history; and a push to the opposition towards the forefront. The exhibition is an illustration of those ideas and narrations with the use of art, music notation, historical craft, archival pieces, etc; an approach that gives a turn-of-the-century feel to the show. But even that is inversed, as there is no look to the future and no suggestion. The statement of documenta 14 is that protest is a solution in itself.

Where this could be satisfactory for many, the presentation comes out as an ambiguous endeavor; pointing fingers to the proved guilty of history (e.g. nazis and current politicians) yet staying aloof from the bickering of whether there are politics to discuss about, or only budgets and budget-holders.

There is also a constant reference to Greece in a mixture of apologetic and criticizing spirit. For those who have no personal experience of the Greek history and society, it is a riddle with multiple interpretations of which none is correct. There is cruelty in this and harm, I find. The EMST exhibition in the Fridericianum could had better been avoided; though here I am the biased one, suffering from suffocation throughout.

Cruelty and harm come from the seemingly important but unexplained exhibits, like this one, set on a table behind glass in the Neue Galerie: a publication made in 1946 by C.A. Doxiadis and titled The sacrifices of Greece in the Second World War. The open spread shows a graph (right) and explanation (left) in four languages – Greek, French, English, and Russian – of the ‘Rise in mortality during the occupation [by the nazis]’. Only the black part on the graph says Η ΠΕΙΝΑ, meaning ‘the hunger’, while the explanation on the left says in all four languages ‘violent and accidental deaths’. One would expect that this is the point of the exhibit; missed by everyone non Greek speaking.

 

Right in the next room there is a wall size exhibit called ‘Real Nazis’ (by Piotr Uklanski):

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This venue of documenta 14, the Neue Galerie, is full of trauma, guilt, authority, and the positioning of art in this and all what it has to deal with, after all. Yet one must be aware of the faint distinction between what is real and what is fake, or just an assumption. Art is not a documented suggestion nor a proven hypothesis; no matter that words like ‘epistemology’ or ‘typology’ have entered its vocabulary.

In a more empirical set-up and more pleasant to walk about is the KulturBahnhof and its decommissioned tunnel. The works shown have an element of transition, naturally, and a widely meant use of fabric and other tangible mediums. The work ‘Drawing a line through landscape’ by Nikhil Chopra, includes paintings made during a walking travel from Greece to Kassel and a nomad tent with a video.

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Rolling down the railroad towards the Neue Neue Galerie we come across a stretched canvas with the word ΧΑΙΡΕΤΕ on it, meaning ‘Hello’ in a somehow formal way. At the background, a low volume rebetika music is playing. The work, titled ‘The Welcoming Gate’ by Zafos Zagoraris, is a highly emotional one. Yet, you still need to read the story.

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The Neue Neue Galerie shows newer newer works; it is thus more noisy and flashy than the other venues. The neighborhood is interesting as choice, as usually this is the kind of area to see the art in its making. The disparity between the documenta audience and the junkies-drunkards-homeless plus the local inhabitants could have been thought of as part of the set-up.

Tip: the Turkish restaurant on the same street uphill is all you’ll need after the art visit!

Epilogue
documenta 14, as a show based on history and stories, can provoke many thoughts and produce just as many stories. It can also produce critic; which is a positive thing.

It can also be considered a point 0, as to the fact that it is a show that could have as subtitle ‘In the mind of the curator’. The exhibits have not much meaning in themselves; they serve the ideas of the curator. The exhibits live in a pre-determined context and  are selected as a suitable illustration of it. When speaking of democracy and self-determination, the exhibits do not enjoy either. The deriving question is ‘Is a (good) curator good for art?’ The question can be asked also in plural.

It is also a point 0, as to the fact that the evils are exposed and the unsaid is said as greatly or as clumsily as it was possible. Statement clear; time for action and change.

As for the working-title ‘Learning from Greece’: How about inert colonialist tendencies? After all, Greece and the Greeks allow themselves to be prey to the ΞΕΝΟΙ (foreigners/strangers/visitors), offering them the illusion of being superior. However, touching raw history is even in this set-up a no-go.

*Yes, from the song ‘This is not a love song’ by Public Image Ltd, 1983.

P.S. 1 A last article about documenta 14 may appear on this blog about the Pubic Programs, an experiment directed by Paul B. Preciado.

P.S. 2 There are two previous articles on this blog about documenta 14; short ones: ‘Textiles in documenta 14’ and ‘documenta 14 -Kassel: in a Yes and a No’.

Photos below: In documenta Halle, Posters of performances of Iannis Xenakis in Athens in 1980’s (top), and a music score by Jani Christou (down).

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Textiles in documenta 14

Textiles in documenta 14

It is all about the story. That is the story of documenta 14. Textile is there in this frame just like all the other exhibits. The focus points immigration-democracy-disparity must be present even when talking about reindeers or indigo dye. The work is not what you see; the story is. In this sense, textile works have taken an equal place next to the other works of art: that of incidences of non-importance as such, but rather means of illustration of the general concept.

Further, the included textile works are a sample of the tolerable:
naïve with a story of meaning, high aesthetics with a story of meaning (hanged up high as well), size related with a story of meaning (size is imposing no matter what it is for the rest), memorabilia. The latter is covered in the case of textiles through the show of costumes or ordinary clothes, exhibited amongst other objects and photos. Memorabilia carry anyway a tamed sentimentalism, always attached to a story and within the agreed contextual history. Within the frame of documenta, all that is translated into conceptual folklore (because folklore as such is related to colonialism and that is not tolerable).

If you don’t understand, it is because the show is for those who recognise the structure, exhaustively repeated from one contemporary show to the next. As general rule, this is to be kept: a work can be anything as long as it is not what it is. In short, there is no work, there is only a concept containing variables (variable: a symbol that can represent different values).

P.S. 1 It goes further to the notion of art as social science or any science, and the accomplished move of institutionalisation of art (fitting in the programmes of government-fed or otherwise-fed bodies like museums and academic institutions).

P.S. 2 Putting aside how limiting that is, it is debatable whether documenta 14 is on this side or the other (because it does take sides). And, yes, there is such a thing as ‘over-institutionalisation’; this comes from a very interesting piece of writing: “‘Over-institutionalisation’ might therefore suggest that of all the countless individual activities that contribute, day by day, to this contemporary art world, the typical and predominant kind is shaped, whether we know it or not, by those policy goals based on standards, access, and the national interest. On the other hand, however, there are different kinds of activity, based on different values and interests.” By Michael Ascroft, ‘Contemporary art and over-institutionalisation’, Un Magazine 6.1, online: http://unprojects.org.au/magazine/issues/issue-6-1/contemporary-art-and-over-institutionalisation/

 

Lower photos: Right, Quipu gut by Cecilia Vicuna; Left, Fundi (meaning ‘uprising’ ) by Aboukabar Fofana.

Top photos: Historia by Britta Marakatt-Labba, see text here:

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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)?

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