241 Things

1000 Things is a subjective encyclopedia of inspirational ideas, things, people, and events.

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Studium Generale 1000things lectures, The Hague

241 Things

“Squat down with both feet pressed together so that the current will not be able to travel up one leg and down the other,” Frank Lane, who I’ve just encountered within the vast terrain of Google, a landscape in which I often gladly immerse myself. He continues, “the deadliest lightning bolt enters through the head and finds its way to the ground via the heart.” I look at the image of a man holding flag a pole struck by lightning and see a star shaped scorch mark. The imprint on the grassy lawn looks like a jagged chalk drawing of veins branching out. Lane compiled the book, The Elements of Rage, and like me, is fascinated with nature’s violence. I read about cloud formations, turbulent dust storms, and whirlwinds: when a tornado is at the brink of settling down, it will often form a long, slender, thread-like cloud travelling horizontally, writhing onwards until it eventually dissipates.”

Was it W.G. Sebald who advised the budding writer to observe the weather and describe it in detail, preferably every day, as an exercise in perception? As a means to get a grip on the atmosphere of a narrative? I glide into the next page describing the processes that create lightning, "perhaps the most peculiar is ball lightning, a fiery sphere of light outlined by a hazy contour, that follows an erratic and slow path through the skies. It typically causes no damage, not by electric shock nor through heat. But it is typically unpredictable and can disappear as swiftly as it appears.”

The forces of nature as the fierce creator of volatile, elusive sculptures that leave no one untouched. Her works disturb, seduce, are never vain, lazy, or frightened. When necessary she will destroy everything, including her own oeuvre, to make way for a rigorous transformation that will changes the status quo.

In the meantime, I move through unfamiliar territory. In the corner of my eye, I catch sight of a video titled Mother Earth Network, Mysterious Holes. When I open the fragment, I see a woman seated at a rickety kitchen table in Guatemala city. She introduces herself as Inocenta Hernandez. Two TV journalists lean against her refrigerator. They ask her what exactly happened that night, there, under her bed. And did she knew she was living on the brink of a precipice?

Inocenta begins to tell her story: ‘There was a loud bang that awoke the whole street. People were walking around in their pyjamas in shock. Street dogs were growling. A boy was crying, he was naked. We thought it was a gas explosion at my place. I looked around my entire house but could find nothing unusual. When it was almost morning, I fell asleep feeling exhausted. The sun had already passed over the living room when I woke up. I stood up and spotted a shadow I’d never seen before, creeping out from underneath the bed. When I pushed the dresser aside, I thought my heart would stop: there it was! Oh, mother, mother! You nearly had me, you nearly swallowed me whole!”

Slowly, the camera pans away from her, and I follow the reporter to the bedroom where he’s confronted by a hole of approximately one metre wide and twelve metres deep. The man casts an intense gaze towards me and assures me that the inhabitant is incredibly lucky to not have tumbled into the gash torn into the ground. The fathomless hole is filmed. I see nothing, he continues to speak. “The city is plagued by spontaneous depressions in the landscape. These geological phenomena, also known as sinkholes, black holes, and disappearance holes result from natural erosion, which can occur gradually but can also happen abruptly and out of nowhere. Guatemala City, built on volcanic deposits, suffers from leaking sewers and heavy rainfall, making it prone to ruptures. During a short period of time, three-story buildings, homes, trucks, flower stalls, and people have disappeared from our streets without warning swallowed by the shuddering earth.”

I now stumble upon sink hole stories everywhere and examine them:

Swallowing houses, cars and people

Drama as bus sinks into crater

America’s most notorious sinkholes

Seoul couple disappears in freak hole

Sinking fast

Horse vanished down under
Ticking time bomb under N.M. Town

Girls fall into sidewalk

The house just fell through

It’s a dangerous world out there, and I just can’t get enough. Another one, then. In the swamps of the Bayou Corne in Louisiana I’m witness to a number of scraggly old cypress trees being swallowed by an underground lake at Peigneur. I follow them until I see their tree tops slowly disappear into the water. These slowly falling trees move me. The destructive power of the sink hole elicits a surreal sense of delight. They remind me of the possibility of spontaneously falling into darkness. That the ground that I walk upon is of a capricious nature. ’There’s no solid ground’, artist Louwrien Wijers told me recently when I asked her about the importance of mobility: “We have to learn to live with groundlessness.” Stay dangerous, elements, keeping hitting your head and find your way to the ground via the heart.

Have you ever wondered what goes through a dog’s mind? I know I have, especially for two particular dogs I’ve had in my life. They were my best friends and I will always remember them.

Growing up, I didn’t have any friends and my parents thought it would be a good idea to get a dog for the family. We adopted a nine year old shepherd from the animal shelter named Tosca. This old girl became my best friend. I even like to think she saw herself as my guardian and me as her pup. But seeing her age she only lived for a couple of years. And one day while I was petting her noticed that her nipples were bleeding. I ran upstairs to tell my mother, she said we had to go the veterinarian to check her out. Her voice sounded reassuring and her facial expression didn’t change, so I thought everything was going to be okay. But I cried all the way to the veterinarian anyway, I was so scared because I knew something was wrong.

My hunch proved true when we arrived. The vet told us she had breast cancer. I remember thinking “that isn’t so bad, cancer can be cured right?” But things wouldn’t be that easy, it would have meant a lot of medical attention and she was already very old. Besides, my parents didn’t have the money or time to take care of her. At that moment I couldn’t comprehend any of this, I was so angry that they were putting her to sleep.

She was my best friend! They knew that, right? She can’t leave me yet!

That night of one of my dear friends died. I held her andshe licked away my tears comforting me. It should have been the other way around.

Until this day I am still wondering what went through her mind. Did she know she was ill? Did she understand what was happening to her? I blamed myself because I was the one who discovered her bleeding nipples. I thought that if I hadn’t anything she would have lived at least one more day.. Then I would have had the chance to say goodbye to her, to give her the best day of her life.

When she passed away, Tosca left a huge gap. I felt alone again when I came home. I missed her presence. I missed talking to someone. My mom vowed to never take a pet again, she couldn’t take the emotional drain it took to see an animal die. But I just couldn’t handle the silence. The house was so empty without her. I started looking around for a new dog, a new friend. I convinced my parents and I found a program that transfers stray dogs from Spain to the Netherlands. That’s where I saw Jimmy.

Everything you can think of was arranged by the organisation, his passport, flight, vaccines, you name it. I only had to pick him up from the airport and pay of course. When the moment was there, my mom and I drove to the Airport Schiphol and awaited him. I was so anxious and nervous. “What if he doesn’t like me, of what if I don’t like him!?” I even had nightmares about it. My mom assured me it would be fine, and gave me a bag of treats that I could give to him. We went to the assigned gate and saw more people waiting for their adopted pets. I panicked and didn’t want people to take my future friend so I made sign with his name on it. Nothing could go wrong now.

I kept wondering what kind of dog he was and if we could get along well. The first thing I knew for sure was that Jim was really good at giving paws. It was the first thing he did after he got out of the cage. I gave him a treat every time he did. But he kept doing it, so I ended up giving him the whole bag of treats. For me it was love at first sight.

In the end he became my best friend, where I went he went with me. He was the first one I saw in the morning and the last one I said goodnight, we were inseparable. He was just nine months old when I got him and I taught him everything I could teach him on my own. He understood me like no one else could and I loved him. But I grew older, made friends, started dating, got a job and started studying. I still tried to take care of him the best I could, took him wherever I went if it was possible and my parents would sometimes even look after him. On top of that I started living on my own and it became impossible to take care of him, I felt immense guilt when I left him alone at home and I didn’t have enough time for him anymore.

A couple of months ago, I had to give my best friend away.

He lives with a couple on the countryside now, it sounds ideal but I wonder if he agrees. I will never know if he’s happy there or if he’ll miss me. I threw a goodbye party the day before he got picked up by his new owners. I thought that would make things easier and it would give me a chance to say goodbye. But he had no idea what was happening and just went happily along with it. How do you say goodbye to someone that doesn’t know he’s leaving? Sometimes I wonder how things would have been if I knew what he thought. Did he bother being alone, did he wanted to stay with me? Would he have said goodbye?

All of our digital media leaves behind traces. But these are hidden traces that are present as invisible abstractions. These traces exist as digital binary structures of code that represent digital pictures, video, texts, three dimensional objects and more.

We leave behind cookies on our computers, we store most of our data in a cloud, but we also leave traces on each device that contains digital memory on its hard disk or flash memory. But these traces are invisible: we cannot perceive them as they are, we cannot perceive them directly.

The code’s structure does not readily yield the subject of what it represents. We can’t even perceive the structure unmediated, because we need a visualisation device. We might be able to directly perceive the physical presence of a small disc or a chip from our digital media device. But in the end the digital empire is only about what it represents: the functionalities, the images, the characters and combinations that form a coded language that, in turn, create the language we are able to understand.

Once I had the problem that I deleted the majority of my pictures, in a state of fatigue, from my hard drive. The first thing I did was google if I could somehow recover this data from my hard disk, despite having deleted it. I learned that a hard disk doesn’t actually physically delete your data, but reassigns the specific space that was used for the data, to be free to be overwritten.

This meant that the data was still there, but that the doors that lead to the used space on my hard disk where the images were housed had a little note on them saying that they were free to be taken up by new data. So, there’s a time between the reassignment of the digital space and the replacement with new data, which is a kind of no man’s land.


We are living in a less direct material world and a more digitalised one, where traces themselves seem to be a disappearing thing. Where we easily replace the old in order to maintain the clean and the new. The moment we throw something away, we also throw its trace away.

Maybe it’s time to become more materialised again. To be attuned to a greater sense of the things around us that we like to touch, feel and smell, in addition to the digital form of matter we indulge ourselves in. This must not be seen as a critique on our contemporary digital information- and imagery systems, but more as an essay to think about the value of the things we can see with our naked eyes, with our bare hands, our open nostrils, and our own ears.

We hadn’t even finished our desserts when he asked it. It was a question that seemed to have come out of thin air. I couldn’t believe that this sentence rolled from his lips like any other sentence. I didn’t know what to reply. Instead, I posed my date the same question. ‘What is your top three of favourite animals?’ Without hesitation, he summed up his favourite animals. For me, it was clear. There would not be a second date.

Even though the proverbial spark between the man in question and I didn’t occur, he continued to resurface in my mind now and then because of this peculiar question. I was bothered that he so readily answered this question to which I had no reply. I started to bother others with the same question. Many reacted like I did, in exactly the same order: first surprise, then disbelief, and at last frustration because of their inability to answer. Do none of us have favourite animals in life?

Even if I look at it more generally, I hardly have favourites. No favourite band, colour, food or film. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I go through a phase of immense appreciation for a dish or musician, but for a while now I have been very careful in using the word ‘favourite’ in this context. The realisation that my preferences are temporary prevails.

The whole idea of a favourite seems to have disappeared out of sight. The word ‘disappeared’ is not randomly chosen, because as a child I seemed to know exactly what I found cool and what I found dumb. Exactly.

How could it be that I was formerly so apt at listing my top faves and am now so hesitant to call something ‘my favourite’? This probably has to do with the limited information that you have at your disposal as a kid, in comparison to what you learn and know about later in life. As a child, the world seems to be encompassed within everything you know – your reality is the only reality. At a young age, you’re unaware of the limitations of your knowledge. Precisely the limited knowledge and information enable everything that you know to be simply divided into good or bad. The world is still black and white. As you get older, newer colours are added. Knowledge is accumulated and slowly you learn that there are countless elements in the world that are preferred or despised. There is so much information available that it is hard to distil favourites. Moreover, you find out that preferences also change quickly.

Maybe I should not have written my date off as a weirdo, but seen him as someone who is closer to his inner child than I am.

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.