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

I am not afraid of spiders. In fact these, these creatures particularly remind me of my childhood and make me feel nostalgic rather than disgusted.

Spiders appear as the royal king in the kingdom of insects. They are the most mysterious and the most beautiful. We all admire their extraordinary ability to create webs: structures that could be seen as something in between tree houses and vicious traps. Our perhaps we admire them because human technology is still unable to deliver a structure equally simple and light yet powerful.

They are familiar to us both as dangerous enemies and as prey. We admire these insects because we are truly afraid of them, and it is not wise to disrespect an ominous enemy. Especially when that potentially deadly and dangerous creature can be so much smaller than us, since we tend to relate power to the size.

Maybe what is the most fascinating about these animals is that even they seem to be the closest to more developed and closer to human species like for example dogs and cats, they remain mute.

What might be the most fascinating thing about these animals is that although they resemble cats and dogs in their domestic proximity to humans, they remain mute. They accompany us in our kitchens, bathrooms, and attics; yet they emit no sounds of approval. The other animals that we have deemed intelligent and live so close to us communicate their joy or discontent, but not spiders. Are they simply aloof? Like us maybe? Or maybe they do not think at all?

Spiders not only inhabit the area located someway between intelligent animals and the grey mass of insects and lower forms of life like bacteria: dangerous but robbed of any personal traits (When we think about any other bug, we usually think about THEM, in plural, when a spider appears, it is a lonely hunter most often and this gives him more individual traits.) but also the area between what is disgusting and fascinating. What disgusts about them is their set of eyes that lack the characteristics of a personal gaze. Their hairy legs also somehow do not make them fluffy and cuddly, instead they express something more primal, a scary force of brutal nature.

Louise Bourgeouise's sculptures of giant spiders can be regarded as a homage to these little monsters. Reimagined by the artist they seem to posses all of their core traits of "character" but made more visible, more tangible. They drift above our heads, like they do in ordinary life, on their strong, scary legs. Suddenly they can encircle us, and create a shadow over us, but is it really something unusal when they live all around us in the pipes of the houses we inhabit, under-the-carpet areas that nobody has ever time and enough energy to clean or in the corner under the ceiling where the human eye, tired of the every day routine, cannot, or at least does not want to, notice them?

Bourgeois compared the spider to her mother's omnipresent way of being. My memories of them somehow send me to my grandmother because of many reasons.

First of all, she owned a beautiful necklace in the shape of a spider made of artificial emeralds. This piece of jewelry interested me a lot when I was a child, made me think up different stories of its provenance or to imagine to whom it might have had belonged before, even though it was only made of plastic.

I can also remember her room in my family home that was truly full of spider webs and spiders. She never allowed my sister and I to kill them because that brings bad luck. Instead we were taught to catch them, to let them crawl onto an old newspaper, which she kept so many of in her own quarters, and then gently place them outside the window so they could live in the garden.

Istanbul Moving Museum

Tropes: a significant or recurrent theme; a motif.

The moment is inevitable. You’re in your studio, you’re working on a piece and a certain uneasy feeling creeps over you: you’ve seen this before. Or otherwise, you’ve felt happily contented with a completed work, satiated in state of smug recline... until you scroll through that blog or walk into that exhibition space and come across another artist’s work that undermines any sense of originality you ever hoped to have.

But fear not! You are not alone.

Perhaps we should be grateful for our ability to tap into the ‘cloud’ and make amends with fears of falling into the derivative. After all, one could argue that art making is essentially a social act (what is the artwork without the other?) so we might feel comforted by our inclusion into a world of like-minded colleagues, rather than feel the paralysing fear of appropriating one of the many art world tropes.

See, you might almost find it's unavoidable:

1. Plants

Melani Bonajo, Gabriele Beveridge
Alejandro Almanza Pereda

2. Digital Material Goods

Mikkel Carl
Yves Scherer
David Jablonowski
Yuri Pattison

3. Foam

Folkert de Jong and Stacy Fisher
David Bade

4. The Neons

Sarkis and Cerith Wyn Evans
Claire Fontaine

5. Forever Gradients

Nicolas Deshayes and Alex da Corte
Adam Faramawy

6. Cool Steel

Alice Khalilova, Brian Dooley
Anne de Vries
7. Nonchalant Leaving of Clothing on Art
Tom Burr and Marie Lund

8. The Revival of the Classics

Oliver Laric and Charlie Billingham
Jamie Sneider

9. Marble Mania

Gabriele Beverdige and George Henry Longly
Pierre Clement

10. Home Decor

Ola Vasiljeva
Nairy Baghramian
marc camille chaimowicz

Once upon a time, in 1913, Kandinsky predicted an art of pure consciousness, where we would find ourselves dematerialised and, in a state of telepathy, exhibit our artworks spirit to spirit. We might not be there yet, but it seems our spirits often end up sourcing from the same fountain.

There you have it. Now don't worry, go out, make stuff.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres: When people ask me, “Who is your public?” I say honestly, without skipping a beat, “Ross.” The public was Ross. The rest of the people just come to the work.

Ross Lalock was Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ partner. When the doctor diagnosed Ross with HIV, he assessed his ideal weight to be at175 pounds. Portrait of Ross is precisely that: 175 pounds of candy collected into a mound. By the invitation to take one of the candies, the viewer becomes part of the work and becomes more than simply a viewer. Every morning, the mound is replenished until it’s back at its ideal weight.

These candies are not only a representation of Ross’s weight, but also one of his struggle against the illness. HIV emaciates its patient, but the weight of the soul remains the same and allows for the patient to carry on, day after day.

Each day, the work risks being reduced to absence as the mound dwindles to nothing and no candies are left, in which case the viewer would be responsible for the lack of an artwork. And every day, Gonzalez-Torres plays this game with his audience, allowing them to decide the form of his work. With his work, art becomes fluid and in movement, but also in constant risk of disappearing.

A black and white photo of an empty bed with two pillows. A slept in bed. This is the artist’s own bed. The image was exhibited at the Projects Gallery at the MOMA, as well as on twenty-four billboards around the city of New York: Second Avenue and East 97th Street in Manhattan and Third Avenue and East 137th Street in the Bronx. None of these places were related to the art world of museums, galleries, and collectors. The number, twenty-four, relates to the date on which Ross died.

With Gonzalez-Torres’ sparse and tranquil photograph, the barrage of images that overwhelm New York pedestrians was temporarily paused. No text was supplied to explain the text. And there was no intention, as other billboards typically have, to lure the passerby into buying something. It was nothing more than a photograph of an empty bed with two pillows and a crumpled sheet. An image of private space manifesting itself within public space.

Gonzalez-Torres’ decision to refrain from showing Ross’ image can be seen as a political act. Typically for that time, depictions of AIDS denoted a discerning breach between the homosexuals and the heterosexuals. The sick homosexuals and the healthy heterosexuals. Gonzalez-Torres refuses to depict Ross. With his billboard, Untitled, he depicts the invisibility of the gay community. But he refuses to place himself in opposition to the dominant population, as Robert Mapplethorpe was doing. Gonzalez-Torres invites the viewer, regardless of their sexual preference.

Gonzalez-Torres: Go to a meeting and infiltrate and then once you are inside, try to have an effect. I want to be a spy, too. I do want to be the one who resem­bles something else [….] We have to restructure our strategies [….] I don’t want to be the enemy anymore. The enemy is too easy to dismiss and to attack.

But Gonzalez-Torres also uses other strategies to include absence in his work. By allowing the viewer to take a part of his work, he plays with the role of the artist and the role of art. The role of the artist as designer, the role of the artwork as form. His work displays and art that is not static, but susceptible to constant change.

Gonzalez-Torres: Go to a meeting and infiltrate and then once you are inside, try to have an effect. I want to be a spy, too. I do want to be the one who resem­bles something else [….] We have to restructure our strategies [….] I don’t want to be the enemy anymore. The enemy is too easy to dismiss and to attack.

To what extent is it his work?

Gonzalez-Torres:Perhaps between public and private, between personal and social, between fear of loss and the joy loving, of growing, changing, of always becoming more, of losing oneself slowly and the being replenished all over again from scratch. I need the viewer, I need the public interaction. Without the public these works are nothing. I need the public to complete the work. I ask the public to help me, to take responsibility, to become part of my work.

The Japanese writer Yukio Mishima once wrote that he was scared of crabs. He said he could even faint just by looking at the Japanese character for crab: ‘蟹’ . The character’s form reminded him of the horrible appearance of crabs, so he could only read it in the Kana version: ‘カニ’. However, Mr. Mishima did enjoy having crab served as a delicious dish. It reminded me that I had almost exactly the same phobia, however, mine was for fish!

Whenever I tell friends for the first time that I’m scared of fish, besides the funny expression on their faces, the most frequent reaction I get is a big question mark: ‘Do you eat fish?’. For sure, I eat fish and I enjoy sashimi and sushi, I eat them raw, no kidding! I would also not go mad if I saw a dead fish floating above water, or tuna cut into pieces and frozen in the freezer. My favourite photographer Araki has a beautiful picture of a salmon head with a bunch of flowers in its mouth and I still like it. I like small goldfish, and those tiny little colourful creature like betta fish and guppies don't bother me much, in fact, I always kept them at home since I was little. Fancy male fighting fish, which are sold in separate cups, never constitute a risk to me.

Fish have cold eyes, and are covered with mirror-like silver scales which reflect fluorescent light, and they squeeze together in limited closed water spaces. They are too quiet, wandering inside the over decorated fish tanks, spinning around and around, killing their time.

There is ambivalence and ambiguity in my phobia because I am not against the whole concept of ‘fish’, I would describe it specifically as the fear of deep sea scenery and large-scale fish. The last time I had a panic attack was when I was browsing the websites of vintage hand-made botanical pictures, and I accidentally clicked on the category of ‘sea life’, each image had three fish drawn from different perspectives. Even though they were drawings for the study of ancient fish, I found it unbearable.

In Chinese supermarkets, live fish are kept in tanks to guarantee ultimate freshness. Just imagine the humming sounds from the filters and the ultraviolet lamps, the unusual blueness in the background that creates an unordinary spooky atmosphere.

Almost every supermarket has these fish tanks in the seafood aisle. And it's especially the city I spent my whole life in, Shenzhen, along the southern coast of China where seafood is a well-known specialty, that never ceases to bring me endless inspiration for my nightmare.

As I got older, my symptoms kept getting worse. After trying to analyse my phobia, I realised that instead of having an aversion to fish, I was afraid of aquatic scenes. At seventeen, I was still bothered by why I always dreamt of aquariums, so I read Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams, which said that the source of dreams lies in recent experiences and childhood memories.

Tracing this back to my childhood, I remembered I spent a whole summer vacation in which my little cousin and I were both obsessed with watching the sea life screensaver on my uncle’s computer. It was an odd situation in which we spent hours imitating the fish swimming up and down. At a certain point, while staring at the screensaver, I was suddenly overcome by a feeling of fear and isolation.

The worst of my dreams was of drowning in a closed tank filled with water, with my head stuck in the bottom of the narrow container. There were huge fish with their typical expressionless faces swimming up and down and surrounding me. They didn't even attack me, but the clock seemed to have stopped at that moment, and it felt like an eternity of desperation. When I woke up, the images overwhelmed my mind and the fear I felt lingered for the whole day!

I’ve looked my condition up on the Internet, and I was glad to find that I am not the only weirdo. There is term that is used to describe these specific symptoms, which is officially called ‘ichthyophobia’, usually caused by a traumatic past experience.

However, I never figured out what triggered my fear initially. I’ve tried to recall any severe tragedy concerning with aquatic situations, but I failed to dig up any origins. Last summer I was disappointed to find that I couldn't even take a look at a gold fish store in the distance, while two years ago I could stay inside one of these shops for ten minutes. I’ve tried to train myself to look at fish tanks when I pass the grocery store, and I keep on telling myself not to be afraid, but every time I see one I just close my eyes at once, take a long breath to slow down my racing heart and walk away to let the fear flow away.

Somewhere, high up in the mountains, there was a tiny village where only blind people lived. Although they were of a very curious sort, none of them had ever travelled, so that no one could describe what kind of an animal an elephant was. This is why they ventured into the valley to meet the mayor, an understanding and accommodating man.

Some days later, he climbed the slope, bringing with him an elephant. Moments after arriving at the city hall with his gift, the blind villagers threw themselves at the animal.One hugged its leg, a second wrestled its trunk, a third caught hold of a floppy ear and a fourth lifted the entire table in his enthusiasm.

‘The elephant is round!’ cried the first. ‘No way, he’s square!’ the last urged. None of them could come to an agreement, because their friends insisted that the elephant was long, thin, and respectively as flat as a pancake.

The Cuban artist Ricardo Brey (1955) first heard of this story when he was a child. The story of the elephant with its many forms inspired him since he, as a sculptor, is constantly trying to mold reality to his own vision, and in doing so, repeatedly runs into the blind man’s righteousness. Their completely different perceptions form a metaphor for our inability to truly know reality.

During the legendary exhibition De Rode Poort, with which exhibition maker Jan Hoet welcomed the public to the new Museum of Contemporary art in Gent, Brey brought a homage to the blind villager’s elephant. He made a sculpture from a harmonious collection of junk: the apparent remains of a mystic ritual, which through its titillating transformation of the everyday is exemplary for the many adventurous metamorphoses within art.

Brey scattered masses of inner tubing over the floor: big ones, small ones, inflated and deflated, round and stretched out flaps of matte, grey rubber, reminding one of elephant skin. Above it hung a bunch of gloves, a totem of downwards pointing fingers. They all pointed towards the centre of the installation. There, on a plinth made of tyres covered in horse blankets, stands a taxidermied elephant leg.

It’s as though Brey has convinced the beast from the story to take himself apart and turn himself inside out, in order to please our curiosity. But that doesn’t mean that this heavyweight reveals his mysteries. Instead of reducing the animal to a dismembered sacrifice in the name of art with its innards exposed to offer us a vision of the future, Brey allows him to rise from his youthful memories, into a new union of discarded and advanced functional objects. In spite of his fragmented appearance, the abstracted creature respires. A number of mini ventilators strung in the air by wire urge his environment to shiver, and thus, he blows his magical powers into the space.