How We Experience Reality

12.04,2015 –by GIJS FRIELING

It is quite a recent thought that there is an objective distinction between the visible and the invisible. Whether one were to assert either that invisible things do not exist or that there is more between heaven and earth than can be perceived with the senses, in both cases it is presupposed that the visible has a certain objective limit behind which there either is or isn’t something.

Like in so many other areas, when it comes to the boundaries of sense perception most people seem content to hold several contrary beliefs. The general conviction that the world “behind our senses” consists of electromagnetic waves and the smallest of particles (ask around to convince yourself of this) does not prevent them from claiming with emphasis that we should only believe in “that which we can see with our eyes and touch with our hands.”

It is relatively simple to ascertain that all our knowledge of the world, including the most advanced natural scientific knowledge, is a product of both our perceptions and actions. The enormous conceptual step that we take in the cradle when we realise that some of the things floating in sight are our own hands, is retaken every time we understand something for the first time- albeit at a much smaller and less awe-inspiring scale. Our belief that the existence of our hands is an objective fact is the product of a very precise fine-tuning between several perceptions and the combining force of the mind. For those who then consider their hands as the ultimate instrument to verify the world’s reality (to the extent that it is tangible), it might well be advisable to realise that there has been a moment when their minds composed their own hands from a confusing multitude of impressions.

When my daughter Julia was four years old she found a small compass in a desk drawer; she attached a string to it, wore it like a necklace and looked at it all the time. My father came to visit and complimented her on the beautiful compass. With a dignified air she said: “No grandfather, that is my alarm clock. How silly, this afternoon the shopkeeper also thought it was a compass.” I realised that for a four-year-old, for whom hours and cardinal directions are hardly well known quantities, the difference between a compass and an alarm clock is not relevant. They are both round objects with a little clocklike face behind glass. The adult who corrects such a ‘mistake’ without being willing to explain the concepts of time, the four directions of the wind, magnetism, elasticity etc., has been led astray from the path of pedagogy. (In fact, it is not a correction but instead an innocent compliment.)

For a child, concepts and words are set apart by immeasurably vast blanks in the universe of impressions. On the best television show I know, Achterwerk in de Kast (Buttocks in the Closet), once a boy appeared who explained gloomily: “I find that life becomes increasingly complex: I used to think that the wind just blows, but now it turns out that the wind always blows from a high-pressure area to a low-pressure area.” This boy is one among many individuals whose personal and adventurous relation to knowledge ends in school. The tragedy consists in the teacher’s inability to convey the immensity of he high-pressure to the student, probably because he doesn’t sense it either. The term ‘high-pressure area’ is not introduced at this point to open the door to an endless amount of new observations, but to erect a wall that effectively renders inaccessible the mysterious cause of the wind, of which every child naturally feels the global might.

Air pressure is a phenomenon for which we can educate and refine our observations. Semiconsciously, we perceive the way in which air pressure (and its connectedness to the temperature and humidity of the air) affects our bodily sensations and our general mood. If at school we would be taught, using a combination of theory and practice, how there is a direct correlation between these subtle air pressure differences on the one hand, and the pressure in the higher atmosphere causing wind to gather there amounting to hurricane force, on the other- well, this knowledge would not make us glum or disillusioned.

Our concepts form a network that, in proportion to the intricacy of its meshwork, is able to capture impressions in our consciousness; the rest slips through. But just as much as it is impossible to maintain an impression in the conscious mind without a certain degree of understanding, it is likewise impossible for a word or concept to be remembered if it does not become perceptible in one way or another. If this simple axiom of knowledge is overlooked, it leads to the erratic and depressing notion that our capacity for sense perception, or our thought, or both, are bound by an external limit. Our conceptual network has a horizon, just like our sense perceptions, and the two are interconnected. New impressions can only cling on to the fringe of our already-understood experiences; new concepts can only start off where existing ones had left off. To assert that behind these horizons, there is nothing, is about as short-sighted as the claim that what exists beyond them is the only true reality.

There is a vital connection between the fineness of our conceptual mesh and the precision of our observations. A good car mechanic can tell by the sound of a running engine what the matter is. That is not because he has better ears that the rest of us, but because his profession has provided him with a most distinguished insight in the parts, materials, movements, frictions and potential defects of a car engine. A chef is able to taste which ingredients are used in a certain dish, his “educated taste” consists of the amount of terms that during his career, he has learnt to employ to distinguish between all the nuances picked up by his nose and taste buds. Concepts cut up experience, which had at first instance seemed like a unity. Concepts bring to the surface what had been hidden in the depths of perception. Coarse concepts keep perception imprisoned in dark, dough-like creases, whereas real knowledge unfolds perception to form a great, illuminated plane.

Art can make the experimental treatment of knowledge as practised by children urgent once more. When it comes to art, the aim is not to make something that is ‘true’ but rather something that looks convincing, which means that we play a cunning game with the regularities of the perceptible that has a twofold effect on the viewer: on the one hand he must be taken in by what he sees; on the other, he must remain continuously aware of the artificiality of the situation. The tension between the surrender to the senses and the feeling of complicity in the game is the liberating and consoling power of art.

In the human consciousness, a rift emerges between the world and ourselves. In our thought, we then mend this split in an ongoing process in which new observations and new names are woven together more and more closely. The liveliness of thought is of importance. Perception and thought, or the process of truth, provide independence and liberty.

Under the Rug (everything as it should be)

24.08,2014 –by HANAE WILKE

Helene Kröller-Müller, born into a prosperous industrialist family and Anton Kröller, a shipping and mining tycoon, were one of the wealthiest couples of their era in The Netherlands. Not only was Helene Kröller-Müller one of the first European women to amass a major art collection, she was also one of the first to recognise Vincent van Gogh’s talent, ultimately purchasing 90 of his paintings. Spearheaded by Helene Kröller-Müller, the couple set out to build a hunting lodge, the Jachthuis Sint-Hubertus— an enormous villa jutting out from the centre of the vast Dutch national park, the Veluwe.

Mrs. Kröller-Müller herself, as depicted in her study room.

Between 1914 and 1920, the build of the Jachthuis became one of Helene’s main attentions. She recruited the immensely successful architect now considered one of the fathers of Dutch modern architecture, H.P. Berlage, in an exclusive contract that bound him to the Jachthuis as his sole project. It proved an unparalleled endeavour for Berlage and he was set to design both building and interior, furnishings included, to the utmost detail.

Berlage’s motto, ‘unity in diversity’, was materialised through the Jachthuis: floors, ceilings, and walls were covered in triple glazed brick in red, yellow, blue, white, crème, green, and black. True to Berlage, many of the steel I-beams were left bare, although swathed in colour. The Jachthuis, its floor plan shaped like the antlers of a deer, exemplified a world of modern splendour.

Staircase at the entry

The lodge was spared no luxury, and many of its features were a rarity in its days: electricity, a central heating system, warm water (although not in the servants’ quarters), and even a central vacuum system were installed. The tower overlooking the forests and heaths was fitted with an especially spectacular feature, the country’s first elevator. Once again, the servants were exempted from such luxury, and instead, climbed the many stairs to serve their patrons their tea.

The I-beams, visible and painted red.

Helene, being accustomed to a world of affluence, was not familiar with being denied her wishes. Inevitably, the design and build of the Jachthuis became a perpetual tug of war between Helene and Berlage. Once the foundations had been dug, she changed her mind and demanded to start over in a more favourable location on the plot. Although Berlage was presented with the extraordinary opportunity of a seemingly endless source of funds to create what was, in essence, a great gesamtkunstwerk, the strain of Helene’s fickle nature proved too much, and he walked away before the build was complete.

From each lamp, to each door made from rich, dark tropical hardwood nowadays too precious to consider, to every chair (those in the ladies room lowered to fit Helene’s petite frame) to the clocks, and even to the cigar humidifying cabinet—all were built in the vision of Berlage. Many of these objects in the Jachthuis attest to Berlage’s meticulous design, from the bronze sculptures bolted in place never to be relocated, to the legs of the furniture that fit perfectly over the square geometric floor tiles.

The legs of the cabinet fit perfectly over the tiles.

But nothing is as indicative as what one finds when lifting a corner of the dining room carpet. There, on top of the deep jade coloured glass floor tiles lies a thick red rug underneath which nothing but bare concrete is exposed. A bid to reduce costs? No, money was never an issue. The decision to keep the naked concrete, its banality dully contrasting with the luxury of its surroundings, was of a purely functional nature, a small gesture to ensure that everything stayed precisely as it should be, never straying from what Berlage envisioned. After all, you can’t quite move the rug if that’s where the tiles stop.

Lift the rug to reveal the concrete!

Abandoned Cities

08.10,2013 –by LIEUWE VOS & WILLEMIEN VAN DUIJN
abandoned settlements of Antarctica

There are few abandoned places in our crowded, fully designed and predetermined country. The Dutch, after all, are very fond of tidying up. Usually, a property will be torn down or repurposed before it even has the chance to fall into disrepair. But many large parts of The Netherlands are dealing with shrinking populations. As a result, the quality of life in many villages is under pressure because amenities such as schools, community centres, and supermarkets are disappearing.

Abandoned cities, Yangtze river

However, the emptying of villages hasn’t yet had the ultimate of extreme results: the total vacancy of villages and neighbourhoods. And although places like Delfzijl and Heerlen are dealing with a decline in population, it’s probably not an irreversible process as of yet.

Abandoned cities, Plymouth

For many places outside of The Netherlands it’s too late, they’ve been abandoned.

Like many other architects, we love to stroll around both new and familiar cities and villages, on the lookout for inspirational spots. Often, these places are deserted by people.A place that was once inhabited, but now left behind, is fascinating. You find yourself somewhere no one lives anymore, but where the presence of habitation is still to be sensed, and where the promise of what may come triggers the imagination. You’ll find yourself in the present, the past, and the future all at once.

Abandoned cities

Our interest in collecting abandoned places was sparked by seeing Spelling Dystopia, a video work by Nina Fischer and Maroan El Sani. Spelling Dystopia econmpassed that feeling of being in three time zones at once. Images of an island completely deserted, but at the same time full of buildings, are interjected with images from videogames: Hashima. This fascinating island that, surprisingly, actually exists has recently become well known as the Bond villain Roaul da Silva’s headquarters in the film Skyfall.

abandoned settlements of Antarctica

The abandoned places we collect are often photogenic, but their background stories are usually anything but pretty. At times the stories backing these desolate places are more intriguing than the visual image of their forsaken nature. For some places, human failure is why inhabitants have been forced to bid their homes farewell, for others it’s the uncontrollable hand of nature. Many times, greed and apathy are the cause. Man came, saw, used, and discarded.

Ghosts towns Eurasia

Among the abandoned cities and territories we’ve mapped are many regions where mineral resources were extracted. But after resources are spent, work opportunities decline, and inhabitants move away. Like in the Kolmanskop in the immense Namib Desert where there was an immense diamond rush in the previous century. According to the tales, those in search of fortune would scan the desert sands by moonlight. In this place the Germans built Kolmanskop, equipped with every possible comfort: luxury in the middle of the desert. But as fewer diamonds were found, fortune seekers went elsewhere to find their luck and Kolmansdorp was left behind. Those who visit the village now will find the old villas, covered in metres of sand.

While a forsaken, once inhabited place is interesting, an abandoned but never inhabited place might be even more fascinating. In China, hundreds of new cities are built to house migrants that make their way from the country to the city. The problem with this lies in the fact that these houses are usually too expensive for the migrants. The middle class buys these properties as investment pieces, without actually living in them. Everything is brand new here: new roads, buildings, a city park including a bright and shiny new museum. Traffic lights that jump colours while there’s no one to partake in traffic.

Abandoned cities, Plymouth

One of the abandoned places included in our publication is the Maunsell Forts. These forts are abandoned due to the lack of a threat of war. Not a village, not a city but a collection of platforms that housed enough troops to be considered a village. All but one of these platforms have been abandoned and delivered to the elements. To destroy them would be costly, and moreover, the platforms are part of history. It’s that one inhabited platform that, once again, fuels the imagination. Former radio pirate, the late Paddy Roy Bates and his wife, took residence on one of the platforms, declaring it the Principality of Sealand. His son, Prince Michael, now rules over the smallest, unrecognised European state presiding over no more than five souls but that nevertheless issues its own passports, stamps, coins, and even has its own football team. Adaptive reuse at its finest.

The Principality of Sealand

Abandoned Cities is the result of our archiving until now. We’ll continue by mapping the places we’ve encountered on the globe and by adding information to the places we’ve already marked. The next step is the actual research. Categorising the locations, finding similarities and differences, discerning possibilities and threats. Formulating the parameters for villages and cities full of vitality. Locating places where the tide could still turn through urban design or architectonic interventions. But also to see shrinkage and the accompanying vacancy as a serious but likewise valuable element to the constructed environment.

Chernobyl plant
San Zhi Abandoned cities

Monster In Your Closet

23.07,2014 –by Jeroen van der Hulst

I recently read a news article critical on the way social media is used by the public after disasters occur. It questioned whether sharing intimate tweets and photos originally posted by victims of a disaster on online social media platforms expresses genuine sympathy or is merely an act of voyeurism.

It was in response to the social media activity following disasters such as the Boston bombings of 2013 or the recent tragedy of flight MH17 in the Ukraine. In both cases graphic and intimate images and messages regarding victims emerged online and were shared en masse by the public without any accountability. Although the article’s main question seems to describe an activity that can be justifiably criticized, the piece ended with a disappointing conclusion, stating: “the line between sympathy and voyeurism appears to be wafer thin.”

The problem with openly sharing photos, information, assumptions, etcetera on social media platforms isn’t necessarily that others will turn out to be misinformed – although this is still a legitimate point to make. Arguably, sharing the photo of a ‘Syrian boy’ in between his ‘dead parents’ as an illustration of the horrors resulting from the civil battle in Syria could have had a benefit. Though erroneous, when that image spread it got a reaction from the West that no longer could ignore the atrocities in Syria. The fact that the boy in question was neither Syrian nor actually orphaned (it was a Saudi boy posing for a photograph by Abdul Aziz al Otaibi) didn’t take away the fact that many Syrian children are suffering. What does this newly found awareness from Western citizens really mean? It doesn’t mean anything to the Syrians – the conflict is still raging – so does it mean anything to us?

This brings me to a different side of the story; the moment that the West is hit by catastophe. After the disastrous turn of events surrounding Malaysia Air flight MH17, social media outlets flooded with horrific images of clothing, airplane parts, and bodies strewn across a flowery field. Images of the contents of ripped open luggage. Images of stuffed animals. It appears that disasters do have the effect of luring many into the realm of voyeurism. This voyeurism isn’t a pleasurable gaze into the private space of another, but its fantasmatic, internalized counterpart.

I would like to argue that so many of us in the West live in relative safety, freedom, and prosperity that it becomes increasingly difficult to identify with people affected by disasters and suffering around the world. Let me take the example of stories of monsters told to children. The older children or adults tell stories of monsters and ghosts coming to haunt you in the night. As the stories pile up you have yet to encounter your first sighting. One evening you are in bed and the pile of clothes on the chair in your room appears as a silhouette of the monster you have created in your mind. This is the type of fantasy at play. Not a yearning for the monster to be real but knowing that it, in a sense, is real without knowing what it looks like and having the need to define the monster. Seeing the monster, acknowledging it, in this way becomes a subversive duty defying the reality that there is no monster for you to see.

Sharing graphic images and messages online can express a genuine (but perhaps misplaced) feeling of sympathy. However, more likely they express a need to free oneself from the burden of living in safety and not having a real idea of what disaster and collective suffering really are. We constantly hear ghost stories so our duty becomes to seek out what our nightmares look like. In order to try and grasp the feelings of those affected by the tragedy, onlookers share intimate tweets from victims, photos of the disaster area, speculate about culprits, etc.

This digging into the world around a disaster happens immediately after the first glimmers of the news are out there. The online presence of victims or possible culprits is excavated and spread (note the circulation of false accusations directed at innocent people regarding the Boston bombings). But all of this happens in the name of sympathy for those affected. In this way the wafer thin line between sympathy and voyeurism doesn’t need to exist; sympathy requires voyeurism.

Let’s be clear; this is not a polemic engaged in a struggle to dismiss genuine grief. It is to try and show the duality in trying to remedy those suffering by freely spreading images and accounts of suffering. The harmful aspect is that this act of sharing replaces the moment of reflection immediately with a moment of activity, or rather pseudo-activity, an act that merely serves the status quo, or as Theodor Adorno put it: (..) Pseudo-activity; action that overdoes and aggravates itself for the sake of its own publicity, without admitting to itself to what extent it serves as a substitute satisfaction, elevating itself into an end in itself.

The act of sharing horrific images means, “look at these atrocities! Share if you care! I care!” Implicitly leaving anybody who doesn’t share as though they don’t care. This is the pseudo-activity within burden of collective suffering; the act overdoes itself and aggravates its intention (that of offering support to victims and affected families by ‘raising awareness’). It doesn’t show support to grieving families of victims but a need to partake in their suffering – sympathy comes from the Greek words syn meaning “together” and pathos meaning “feeling”, and pity derives from piety, which comes from the Latin pietas meaning “dutifulness.”

The burden of our position of relative safety in comparison to those in grief requires us to define suffering the moment we encounter it. This implicitly makes collective suffering a duty. However, to “feel together” becomes an impossibility almost if you are not directly affected by such a tragedy. There is no line between voyeurism and sympathy. The latter depends on the former. Perhaps instead of relentlessly confirming and repeating the stories of monsters one should silently provide a flashlight for those hiding under duvet, petrified for what might happen during the night.

The Lobster Clasp

21.09.2014 –by Jigna Umeria

The Lobster Clasp (1) – A Forgotten Mechanism (2)

Oversized fingers struggle to hold the delicate clasp hidden behind the neck. Hair strands become a forest for the fingers to fiddle through. Your cumbersome thumb repeatedly attempts to hold the tiny lever down long enough to hook the ring but always slips too soon. (3)

The clasp is as important as the pendant it holds. (4)

(5)

Taking the necklace off is always easier than putting it on. Your thumb does not slip. The ring leaves the hold of the clasp easily.

(6)

The larger forms of the lobster clasp sit comfortably in the hands. The internal mechanism plays a sound as your thumb presses down the lever for the opening to widen and then snaps closed when released.

The tactile action of repetitively pressing the lever and releasing it gives a simple sense of satisfaction until your thumb aches from this childish play.

Like clicking the end of a biro, the spring is made tired.

Your thumb is left with a little dent where the tip of the lever has rested.

Sporadically your finger is caught in the gap that the lever moves within.

The exhausted muscle in your knuckle stops you from pressing the lever again. The cheap metallic smell it leaves on your hands is sweet yet unpleasant, toxic and irritating, a reminder of the material’s industrial qualities. (7)

When the lobster clasp finds itself attached to a bag strap, there is tension along the chain the clasp has become a part of. The weight of the bag pulls the clasp to move accordingly. (8)

When the bag is not held the clasp lies lifeless. In the future the clasp will outlive the bag, yet will still be made redundant, as it is no use on its own. They rarely exist alone. (9)

A middle-sized lobster clasp can be found hidden amongst a cluster of keys at the end of a key ring.(10)

The various sized clasps form a family of differing personalities and purposes all based on the elegant shape of a lobster’s pincher claw. (11)

1

The lobster clasp is an elongated version of the classic ring clasp. The modifications were made in the late 1970s to make the new body sturdier than its predecessor. It is commonly found on western jewellery, keys rings and on bag straps.

2

Like the hinge on a door or the brass studding along the edge of a leather armchair the lobster clasp simply functions, often unnoticed or hidden.

3

The clasps are designed to exist firmly closed. Like the form of a book, it rests as a closed object but is redundant if it remains like this. The difficulty in opening the clasp is an inconvenience yet offers assurance and security.

The clasp should be at the front and made a show of.

4

The word clasp has a sense of urgency or importance about it. The clasp on a necklace can hold someone’s most sentimental belonging. The hidden clasp is as precious as what it holds.

5

If the metal hook on dangly earrings were a lobster clasp it would solve the problem of the butterfly falling and disappearing. But perhaps butterflies are better suited to sit behind the ear and a lobster, to secure, hold and protect an adornment of the neck.

The lobster clasp is shaped like an ear but an ear clasp doesn’t seem like something that would snap close or hold anything too tightly.

6

In eastern cultures the lobster clasp is not used as much. In some places an adjustable string and thread mechanism is used and in others knotting mechanisms are used to adjust necklaces over the head and tightened accordingly.

7

This elegant three-part object is the result of several perfected industrial manufacturing processes. The shell is stamped out from a strip of sheet metal and spat out by a customised dye. Leaving behind a train track like pattern along the strip, the shells fall amongst an anonymous pile. Three shells are picked by hand and placed into a mould to be folded with exact precision. They begin to take form and are welded individually. The lever is pressed into shape and the spring coiled.

The shell, lever and spring are pieced together. From a thin strip of sheet metal a three dimensional form is made.

8

The addition of a rotary base permits the clasp to function better.

9

The clasp mechanism is always attached to another form, a door hangs off the hinge like a parasite and fabric smothers the anatomy of an umbrella.

10

Again, it has company. Sharp crocodile teeth cut keys are fed on to the clasp. The rotary base joins the clasp to an assortment of keys rings and personalised objects, memorabilia, branding, collections, rubbish, the unused and the unnecessary. The surrounding objects play a sound unique to that particular organised accumulation. There appears to be competition amongst the disarray, between sentiments and functionality.

11

A moving lobster cannot be ignored but the resting lobster clasp can go unnoticed.

How to Live as Long as Possible

02.06.2014 – by Gijs Assman

Martin Gostner, After my death I would like to be a paradise for birds, 2003

How can I live as long as possible?

1. Don’t be afraid of ‘bad’ things. The body has its own defence mechanisms for outside influences like radiation, poison and heat. Your body has its own tools to prevent damage.

Nikola Tesla

2. Surround yourself with people. Married people live longer, and having a large group of friends or family also helps.

Fischli/Weiss

3. Move to a place where people grow older. Like Japan, a moderate and healthy environment.

Erwin Wurm

4. Enjoy yourself. Drink a glass of wine every day and sleep when your body wants you to. Eat chocolate – it’s good for the arteries.

5. Train your brain. Read a lot, play games, hold discussions. Especially when you’re older.

Erwin Wurm

6. Laugh and relax. Positive thinkers live longer.

Martin Kippenberger, Strong Face

7.Go to the doctor when you need to. Prevention is easier than healing. But don’t overdo it.

MARTIN KIPPENBERGER, Schlecht belegte Studentenpizza gepollockt

8. Eat well and in moderation.

9. Go out. Learning new things (like playing bridge, deep sea diving, Japanese) keeps the mind and body youthful.

Franz West, Adaptives

On Bulbs, Brains, and Better People

25.02.2015

‘I can’t make art, is this an illness?’ is the first question Trudy Dehue asks her audience. As a philosopher and sociologist of science, she specialises in our concept of truth and what reality means within the field of science. At first sight, the question and its conclusion might appear a bit strange, but through her lecture we come to understand that these strange conclusions are normal in today’s society.

Scientific research is much more a matter of shaping reality than of discovering it. By this, Dehue refers to technology and classifications as the main transformers of our perception of reality. Technology allows us to experience the world differently. For example: before the invention of light, parties as we now know them wouldn’t exist. For the simple reason that without light, it is impossible to ‘go out’. In this case, technology changes our perception of reality since we can now experience the night with the help of artificial light.

As said before, classification also plays a big role in our perception of reality. When we look at ‘homosexuality’ we can ask ourselves if homosexuality has always existed. According to Trudy Duhue, the answer is no, for the simple reason that in ancient times, homosexuality was a common phenomena that remained unnamed. It wasn’t until Saint

Saint Augustine (354-430) that same sex relationships were identified as sin.

The first DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), published in 1952, describes ‘homosexuality’ as a disease. This is the first occurrence of this terminology, and it is since then that we name persons that fall for the same gender ‘homosexual’. The reason why people agreed with this definition at the time was that – before this publication of the DSM – being gay was seen as something negative. And if the other option is to be defined as being ‘bad’, most people prefer to be termed as ill. The weird thing is that, although we are far more tolerant now, we still use the DSM definition—in essence the description of a disease. This all has to do with the fact that we have an urge to conform to society.

Harvard Psychological Laboratory Display. Circa 1892.

A next slide shows us a rat with the title: ‘’How to test depression pills?’’ Trudy tells us that scientific research for medicines for depression are done with rats. Generation after generation, the rats are put in boxes with a trap. The rat hangs by its tail and it has to find a way to free itself. When the mouse –test after test– frees itself it is seen as ‘not depressed’. But when the mouse gives up the effort to free itself, it is seen as ‘depressed’. Trudy tries to tell us that we should be more aware of conclusions that are drawn by the medical world. The rats are a great example to show how ridiculous and absurd our notion of ‘depressed’ is and that scientific research is – as said before – much more a matter of shaping reality than of discovering it.

Teenage Riot

28.09.2014 –by Devon Barthes

They may not have been called teenagers yet (this word didn’t exist until the New York Times wrote a feature on teenagers in 1945) but these youthful subcultures were still recalcitrant, anti-establishment and they dressed to their own codes. In some European cities, this resulted in the formation of youth gangs, some more violent than others:

An arrested member of the Scuttler gang

During the late 19th century, groups of young men known as the Scuttlers alleviated the tedium and smog of the industrial Manchester streets with petty crime and inter-gang battles, fighting with heavy buckled belts decorated with pictures of beasts, the names of women or hearts pierced with arrows. These buckles, swung from their arm, were not intended to kill, but to maim their opponents.

With their hair cut short at the sides but with a so-called donkey fringe (longer on the left side and plastered down over the left eye) and their hats tilted, they were a far cry from the other youths in their working class neighbourhoods. Their bell-bottomed trousers, brass-tipped pointed clogs and colourful silk scarves added to their idiosyncrasy.

Apache Gang

At the start of the 20th century, Parisian youths banded together to form the Apaches, a criminal gang known to be especially violent and ruthless.

They wandered Paris, rejecting their working class status and seduced by cars, girls, nightlife and money, preferring to spend their time at the Moulin Rouge rather than slaving away in a factory.

Apache revolver without a barrel and stabbing knife

The Apache was likewise a dandy: always well dressed in a silk scarf and cap, and with an undeniable hautain air of cool, who had a sense of honour and a taste for distinction. Part of the Apache subculture was a dance that mimicked street fighting, that at times became so violent that members were seriously hurt and even killed.

A group of Eidelweiss Pirates

Fast-forwarding to Nazi Germany, gangs of youths formed that were more politically inclined than their predecessors. The Edelweiss Pirates were a group of loosely organised youths spread all over Germany between the ages of 14 and 18 who refused to take part in the Hitler Jugend.

A group of Eidelweiss Pirates

They heavily rejected the norms of the Nazi regime through mostly small gestures: using outlawed symbols, their dress (long hair, colourful chequered shirts, bright flashy neck scarves,) camping trips (now seen as an innocent pastime that during wartime Germany could have serious consequences,) singing anti-Hitler songs; or by pestering the Hitler Youths by ambushing their patrols and beating them up or stealing their bicycles.

A group of Eidelweiss Pirates

But the Edelweiss Pirates also assisted deserters, concentration camp escapees, and helped spread Allied propaganda leaflets. Of the Ehrenfeld Group, a faction of the Pirates, twelve members were publicly hanged in 1944, including their 16 year old leader Barthel Schink, who had plans to blow up a Gestapo building in Cologne.

Whether getting caught up in bar fights or fighting fascism, these groups had one thing in common: they refused to conform to their elders and explosively resisted.

16 year old Barthel Schink

Admiring Caged Birds

21.06.2015 –by Robert Cervera

Robert Cervera, Untitled (Jelly Reservoir), 2013. Strawberry jelly, concrete dust.

There are human instances in which we get quite close to understanding the language of materials.

There’s the hoe plunging into the soil: crumbly in its first inches, then more pliable as we reach the moist underneath, then almost solid in the fresh darkness of laborious earthworms. Tchak and the worm is two.

There’s the bundle that a wood seller makes with logs or sticks; the line-like tension of the rope that seconds ago was sleeping amorphously in his pocket.

Robert Cervera, Pink Nappe, 2013. Polyvinyl, cement.

There’s the moment in which you sillily slightly slice the skin of your hand and for a second you don’t know what the physical bill will be: a momentary white line, a surge of blood, anything in between.

There is sculpture in those things. And there is a chance those things may be in a sculpture. And the sound they make – a sound in your mind – sends us back, like a sonar, an image of the world.

Materiality and human agency talk to each other. Squeeze, slice, drench, chafe, wedge, pat. Haptic marvels. How things feel, what they make us feel.

Robert Cervera, Untitled (Theatre Bundle), 2013. Concrete, adhesive tape.

(No distinction can be made between humanity and materiality, Hegel and Bordieu would say. We humans are materials which create other materials which then redefine us. The things we make, make us.)

The unbounded nature of the universe comes into the discussion. Matter flowing, going everywhere, and us chasing it, telling it to go this or that way, to stay in line, to wait in groups of four, of sixteen, of sixty-four.

We try our best to make the uncountable countable, to mark limits and give shape. We end up frustrated and beguiled at once by its unruliness, charmed by its oozing.

Robert Cervera

(Is it possible that we contain matter in the paradoxical way some cage birds, to better admire their flight?)

I am fascinated by that and also by the unexpected occurrence, the providential blunder, which I take to be one more chapter of our ongoing dialogue with materiality.

About the Real and the True

31.10.2014 –by Rozemund Uljée

In 2014 Rozemund Uljée kicks off the Studium Generale programme with a lecture on how two great thinkers have defined reality – referring to past ideas that changed the way reality is conceived.

Pierre Huyghe

Part I: Plato’s unchanging realm of the real

The starting point is situated with Plato, the father of modern western philosophy. Firstly, Rozemund will give us an idea of his vision on ‘the real’ and his legacy. Plato can be seen as the first representative of the idea that we can only access ‘the real’ through reason. Plato asked himself how we come to a universal understanding of existence, from all our sensory encounters. Plato makes a distinction between the phenomenal world- perceived with our senses – and the world of ideas.

Furthermore, the latter constitutes the underlying structure of the phenomenal world, and should be seen as the true reality. For him the phenomenal world is not reliable because it is the perception of our senses, and thus fleeting: things that come into existence, then pass away. Plato tells us that whereas with our senses we perceive elements as beautiful, justified and good, it is only through reason that we can have an idea of Beauty, Justice or the Good itself. This should be seen as the explanation of Plato’s negative attitude towards art. Since it is a mere imitation of the realm of ideas, art is a copy of a copy – and thus of secondary value.

Ribbons, Ed Atkins, 2014

Part II: Why art can’t do without Nietzsche

Since Nietzsche, the idea of the privileged place of reason in order to find ‘the real’ has been questioned most radically. Nietzsche was a pioneer, who paved the way for the end of a higher world order like Plato’s that informs our reality. Famously declaring ‘God is dead’, it is Nietzsche’s view that there is no such thing as a higher reality and that the reality we live in is the only reality that does exist. He states: ‘To recognize another world is to deny life itself’. This is the reason why Nietzsche is so interested in Nihilism – the realisation that reality doesn’t know a higher meaning and value. In this sense, in constructing a dualist worldview where objective knowledge is possible, Platonism and subsequent philosophies (including Christianity) serve as an antidote to a primal and original form of nihilism in the world – as the despair of meaninglessness of reality. This saying ‘no’ to a higher reality is an important part of what Nietzsche calls a ‘re-evaluation of all values.’

Denying a ‘higher’ reality constitutes a turn toward our physical, material, chaotic and finite world. This results in a situation in which man does not let himself be governed by a reality better than his own, but instead is granted the possibility to create it himself – to create meaning within reality itself. This liberation is regarded by Nietzsche to enable different perspectives with which we can look at the truth.

Nimbus II, 2012, Cloud in room, Berndnaut Smilde

‘’We might think of truth as of a sculpture: by looking at it from only one side, we don’t understand or appreciate the whole sculpture. Only by walking around it and looking at it from all different angles can we properly appreciate it. People like Plato, who offer an access route to reality through Reason, say: “there is only one truth and it must be looked at in this way.” Such an insistence paralyzes our understanding and makes it impossible for us to be free.’’ Nietzsche calls those who do not restrict themselves to only one specific reality perspective the ‘free spirits’ – and these are for him ‘The Artist’.

He says: ‘Art is worth more than truth. Art nothing but art! It is the great means of making life possible, the great seduction of life, the great stimulant to life. Art is the only superior counterpart to the will to life-negation.’

Transcription Afra Marciel