241 Things

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Studium Generale 1000things lectures, The Hague

241 Things

Still from The Brain That Wouldn't Die

During her first chemistry lesson with Professor Allio, who has a huge angioma covering much of his face in a way that made it difficult to guess which was the birth mark and which was the unblemished skin; she learnt the transition of water in different phases.

The transition takes form between solid, liquid and gaseous states of matter, and in rare cases, plasma. Those different states of matter suggest the process of creativity typical of an artist, where ideas often start as blurry images and finish with a solid body of work.

This blurry image, roughly organic, can be compared to an intangible substance almost with the consistence of plasma,in terms of a unique condition of matter, which doesn’t have a definite shape or a definitive volume unless in a container.

In the paranormal field the ectoplasmic phenomena is associated with hauntings and it is understood that it has been a slime-like substance excreted by mediums during trances.

All those transformations from one matter to another could have several affinities with the gestation of an idea until its materialization: during the process of creativity, an artist passes through several complex stalemates: she gropes, she calls herself to question, she can get obsessed, she can switch back and forth between several ideas and she can get truly confused. Exactly during those transitions, the work starts to take form, even if it’s just a rough sketch. This itinerary, which fluctuates through several states of mind, gives an essential mobility to the concept.

Nevertheless each artist has her/his own way of experimentation and unfortunately, what it is visible is always the final stage and a final body of work rather than the uncertainty and the confusion. The backstage of most of the artist’s studio is hermetic and makes it almost impossible to deduce any linear theory about the experimentation. Can we therefore say that maybe artists and mediums have something in common because neither have any rational explication that can explain their conception?

Bruce Lee says “Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

Being shapeless means for her not being stuck on a fixed point, position or protocol but rather avoiding the safest places and resisting formalisation. Bruce Lee’s words makes her pensive. As an artist, she feels that she has in her hand a double-edged sword that sometimes she doesn’t know how to handle. She feels split between a certain free form daily life and the duty to follow a strict discipline. She knows that she needs some routine to progress in her work but at the same time she is afraid of unnecessary repetitions. Nevertheless she repeats in her mind, almost as a mantra, some statement in which she wants to believe: make mistakes, make risks happen, learn in a wrong way, be convertible, don’t care about ending points, use your non-knowledge as a starting point, use raw feelings and affirm you are an artist, even if people don’t truly trust you when you say that you are an artist without being a painter.

She wonders, are they the advantage points of not belonging to any pre-packaged society category? She wants to believe in this freedom in a conscious manner by cleaning up all stereotypes, a desire which recalls the opposition repeatedly mentioned between Scientific’s rationality and artist’s irrationality. When she is falling asleep this feeling becomes almost a vertigo, especially if she is sitting in a chair trying to resist sleep. When she is in this state, between being awake and falling asleep, she experiences a certain floating sensation that is like being physically in a place, which is notcompletely a real place. From her chair, her wall looks too aseptic, almost like that greenish tone typical colour of a waiting room. She feels strange, balancing like the bubble in the tube of a spirit level that is trying to stay straight.

This uncertain condition of reverie between a state of being and state of non-being, has been a crucial stage in the history of chemistry. In the early 1860s, the German organist chemist Friedrich Kekulé awoke suddenly being able to discern the ring structure of benzene because he dreamt of a snake swallowing its own tail. Similarly, Dimitri Mendeleev, chemist and inventor who created his own version of the periodic table of elements, after three days and three nights without sleep, fell into a profound slumber, from which he awoke eventually able to see the pattern in the form of a table of regular properties.

Valentina Pini, Stick, 2014,

Liquid, equilibrium and dream are three mysterious elements indirectly connected. A transparent liquid can hide a strong invisible power, a poison, a drug or a magic fluid. Equilibrium is highly related to our consciousness or awareness consider that in medical terminology we experience and talk about as labyrinthitis, an infection that can affect our physical equilibrium, which is in turn regulated by a special liquid in our ear. It is a mechanism that can be compared to the functioning of a spirit level. Dreams are dreams and they don’t have any limits, and it is interesting to remember that for a long time, alchemists speculated about what material dreams consisted of and without any evidence, they thought, “dreams were made out of some kind of gas, cloud, or superfine fluid, subject to rapid diffusion,but also capable, as is a gas, of gathering and lingering.”

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.

“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?

Back in the day, it was exciting enough to surf the Internet and just watch some porn, to send each other funny Youtube videos or to just read up on the most absurd articles about aliens. Presently, all of this is overshadowed: cats rule the Internet. Who needs porn when there are some cute cats to look at?

Youtube is overloaded with funny cats videos; Facebook is oversaturated with posts and photos of cats, as are 9gag and 4chan. Cats, cats, cats are everywhere. If you’re not into cats, you can forget about being popular on the Internet. Cat porn, or Catomania, is the newest and biggest trend in Internet culture.

I’m not the first and surely not the last to cover this topic. How is it that this viral phenomenon (or maybe even a 'viral' virus?) can attract so much attention? Around 2005 a phenomenon called LOLcats appeared on the Internet. It was all about funny cat pictures with some comically misspelled captions.

We can say it was the very beginning of an obsession with cats spanning the entire Internet. The very first website which was dedicated to LOLcats images was icanhas.cheezburger.com. It started as a joke between two friends and became viral. The hype spread so fast and so thoroughly that in 2007 projects like the LOLcat Bible appeared, in which the entire Bible is translated into LOLcat language. Why would someone find this entertaining enough to spend their time on?

Perhaps it’s because we’re always looking for easy distractions. Being an adult is one of the most difficult tasks in life: being responsible, working hard, trying to build relationships: all of this requires a lot of energy and brain work, so why we shouldn’t please ourselves and procrastinate while watching something both cute and funny, like, for example, LOLcats?

In 2008 digital thinker and MIT Center for Civic Media director, Ethan Zuckerman, raised a new theory on how cats (that were already occupying the internet) could disseminate revolutionary political content. It’s well known that all governments censor political information on the Internet, whether great or small- especially a country like China. It’s easy for them to block URL addresses, but that is not the case with keywords. This led to the idea to use cute pictures of cats as a tool for spreading revolutionary political content.Now this is where it becomes serious. Cats on the Internet no longer only serve for fun and entertainment, they have now become a powerful tool for spreading and hiding ideas from the government. It’s pure genius.

It might be the case that the cat hype spread over the Internet as fast as it did thanks to the many introverted people who spend large parts of their lives online. In 2013, research at Missouri University of Science and Technology proved that most of the people who spend the majority of their time online are introverted. This does make some sense. It can be easier to communicate online, which can make you feel more confident. And perhaps cats, too, appeal mostly to the introverted: there is no need to walk them and to enter the outside world.

So it might make sense that introverted cats owners who spend most of their time online have greatly helped to spread this cat culture over the web. Cats are our new pop stars. They have their own fan pages, twitter and Instagram accounts. Even mascots and t-shirts. It’s a new cat era. A cat with a sad facial expression named “grumpy cat” now has almost 7 million likes on Facebook. That means that 7 million people are united by going crazy over one cat that accidentally has a strange facial expression. A little shop in the center of The Hague even has a section with toys and souvenirs dedicated to this cat.