241 Things

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Studium Generale 1000things lectures, The Hague

241 Things

The idea for Orto Parisi took root from the fact that he who partially inspired me, my grandfather Vincenzo Parisi, would use buckets to collect both his needs that ultimately ended up fertilising the garden.

In his garden hovered an air of the infinite.

I was struck by repulsion as well as attraction.

MANIFESTO

The parts of the body that carry more smell are those where more soul is collected. The strong smells have become unpleasant to us, because the excess of soul is intolerable to the extent that our innate animalism is repressed and broken from civilisation.

This project is my garden I have planted, fertilised, cultivated, and harvested.

Orto Parisi states that our body is experienced like a garden, and its smells are a true mirror of our soul.

Orto Parisi is for those that seize the time in experiencing and diffusing the perfume of life.

BERGAMASK

‘Bergamot is a very fresh citrus fruit.

‘Mask’ to capture the musky odour expelled by a fresh kill.

VIRIDE

Viride comes from Latin meaning ‘green’.

GREEN/VIRILITY

STERCUS

From latin meaning ‘feces’.

BRUTUS

In reference to the Roman senator Marcus Junius Brutus, who was known for his lack of eloquence.

BOCCANERA

Boccanera means ‘dark mouth’ in Italian.

Nature offers dark holes that express sensuality in an erotic dark way.

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.

There are countless bus and tram fanatics in the world: those who know everything there is to know about busses and trams. This is nothing exceptional. However, Robert E. Jowitt’s hobby of photographing these vehicles is an exceptional case thanks to one additional element: woman. Over thirty years ago, the English Robert E. Jowitt chose to completely dedicate himself to his childhood passion of documenting busses, trams, and trolleys. Instead of restricting himself to practicing his beloved hobby during holidays, he decided to chase these vehicles throughout the entire year.

Miniatures like Dinky Toys were of no interest to him and were simply childish reproductions that could never compare to the real thing. He wanted to experience each vehicle in its natural habitat, surrounded by pedestrians, houses, and traffic.

As to be expected, he started taking photos. From Heidelberg to Marseille, from Geneva to Rotterdam, from Munchen to Lissabon. Travelling through Europe, he came across all sorts of old fashioned models still in use. A Carris with wrought iron doors from 1930, a Renault with a curved open balcony from 1935, a Daimler with its small hood from 1950. He not only photographed the busses, but also took notes about their appearance and capacity, the amount of seats and standing places, altered routes, a line whose number was changed—nothing escaped his attention.

Jowitt became the idiot savant of the buses and trams. He wasn’t the only one, and was very aware that he belonged to the legion of bus and tram fanatics. Some of them even knew entire bus schedules by heart. But not one of them created as thorough a documentation of European government vehicles as Jowitt.

In some photos the bus is little more than a speck in the distance. Other times the glass and metal is shot from close up, like a lover trying to bridge the distance between them. In most photos, the bus is at the heart of the city. No matter how small the bus is depicted, its image is always central within the houses, the buildings, the other traffic, and the pedestrians.

Had he not ventured beyond simply taking endless photos of buses, Jowitt’s collection would have remained typical. The atypical image slowly crept in. Nothing to immediately draw attention. It’s very likely that Jowitt initially didn’t even notice. Had he noticed, the unintentional subject would have gained as much importance as the bus. It becomes clear in the title of the last bus book compiled by the photographer: The Girl in the Street or the Bedside Bus Book. Three hundred and fifty photos lend us an enormous amount of images: sidewalks, street lanterns, shop windows, traffic signs, lawns, terraces, shadows, puddles, and all else you might expect to encounter in the city. But however much the photos differ from one another, there’s one constant: a woman or a girl. She might be sitting in the bus or standing a hundred metres away, she might be walking to the bus, she might not even notice him. Sometimes she takes up the greater part of the photo while the bus is a mere speck, sometimes all we see is her leg peeking out from behind the bus.

Jowitt never strays from this point of departure. The cityscape is only complete when there is a bus and a woaman to be seen. These conditions are so exceptional that the viewer must try his best not to laugh. After all, what logic would decree these conditions to be determining for the completed image of a street or a square?

Jowitt’s answer is simple. While studying a bus in a foreign town, he’d often also be studying the girls passing him by. This made it logical that he gave them, too, a defining place in his photographs.

How did Jowitt decide to arrange the photos in his book? He could have placed them in chronological order. Another way would be to arrange them by country or city. But these both seemed too simple. He was especially interested in how time altered designs, and so he placed images from different areas next to one another.

He begins with hair. Short, long, pony tail, plait, henna, tight curls, punk, and of course, the hat. Then clothing, the petticoat, miniskirt, long skirt, and then the more unique varieties. Shoes, bags, piece by piece they appear. He tries to be equally thorough in his descriptions of the girls as with his buses and trams. What was it that caught Jowitt’s attention? An interesting photo, naturally. He also must have thought that his meticulous detailing of the facts would create an exact representation. But it’s exactly this precision that creates a chasm between his words and the image.

Where Jowitt focuses on the hair, the viewer’s eye is drawn to the shoe. In the series where handbags are the focal point, the skirts demand an equal amount of attention. And when it comes to the sleeveless dress it’s the shoes that, once again, lure the eye. As usual, there’s a bus in need of description. Jowitt understands the extent of categorisation his models are subject to. He rarely refers the photographs to one another, but will write “see handbag” or “see bare back” in case it doesn’t fall under one of the carefully chosen categories.

The Girl in the Street will make you smile. It almost seems like an unwitting parody on interpreting photos.

Robert E. Jowitt: The Girl in the Street or the Bedside Bus Book, Peter Wooller, Transport Beaux Arts & Belles Lettres, Walford. Sometimes available on Internet.

This text was published in the NRC Handelsblad on 26-6-1992 and has been re-pubished with permission of the author.

Vibration Mirror
Water sculpture
chromed polyurethan or polished aluminium
60 x 40 cm

Studio Fredrik Skåtar


This text concluded a lecture by Maartje Wortel in which she examines the concept of the autobiography and questions its existence.

In 1926, Luigi Pirandello wrote the novel One, No One & One Hundred Thousand. The first page of the story tells of the protagonist whose wife lets him know that his nose is slightly crooked. This fact, a characteristic of his physical appearance, is completely new to the protagonist. He was never aware of his nose being slightly crooked. From this day forwards, everything is completely different because it he realised that the way he saw himself is very different from the way that others saw him.

Scene from Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas

The protagonist, Moscarda, says:

The idea that the others saw me as one who was not I as I knew myself, one whom they could only know through watching me from outside with eyes that weren't mine, giving me an appearance fated to remain always an outsider’s to me, though for them it was inside me, mine, (a “mine” therefore that didn’t exist for me!); a life which, though for them it was mine, I couldn’t penetrate: this idea allowed me no peace.

How could I bear this outsider inside me? This outside that I was for myself? How could I remain forever doomed to carrying him with me, inside me, visible to others and beyond my vision?

What Pirandello is saying is that we attempt to give form to ourselves. Even though this might be very ambiguous, and maybe it’s not even very important. Through Pirandello, we could also conclude that the autobiography can’t possibly exist because the other always sees things differently. In one of Barbara Visser’s works, she introduces herself during a lecture as Barbara Visser, after which another woman enters the stage and also claims to be Barbara Visser. She says the first woman is an actress. When the third Barbara Visser makes her entrance, she too claims the other Barbaras to be actresses. It’s impossible to know who the real Barbara is and her very existence is brought into question. In the 2001, the Dutch newspaper NRC wrote that she not only wants to create confusion and to trump the viewers, but also to make use of reality, switching back and forth between different truths in order to question clichés, and to jolt the frameworks that we have accepted as truth.

The wonderful thing about art is that it allows you to escape from your very self. By making it, by looking at it, or by reading it. And I would gladly recommend it to all of you. And by that, I mean to assume as many faces all at once and to explore as much as you can. Especially in this day and age, where the Internet makes it more difficult to escape from yourself and to assume another identity.

Scene from Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas

We tend to think that it’s getting easier. But all your details are in the open. Thanks to platforms like Facebook, we’re increasingly profiling ourselves, a development that governments and corporations are all too eager to make use of. This is why I make my case for fantasy and imagination. You can be whoever you want to be, you can cross borders, you can play around with your identity. Seeing who you are? Someone else can do that for you. Even if you’d prefer not to be looked at.

Of course you all have to decide for yourselves who you are and which way of working is best suited to you. Because even if you’re making autobiographical work, you probably won’t see things as they really are. As we’ve just seen, we don’t all see ourselves with the same eyes as the other.

This is why I’d like to close with a quote from the writer David Foster Wallace, from a lecture published in book form: This is Water.

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

The Dutch term ambacht originates from the Latin words ambio for ‘around’ and the verb agere for ‘to lead, to bring’, meaning craft or craftsmanship. Originally, it carried the meaning of messenger, herald or servant. Much later, it was no longer used to mean the person who carries out the service, but the service or handwork itself. Craft thereby reveals itself to be primordially related to the execution of practical functions. That is why nowadays, craft is often given the label ‘applied art’, as opposed to free art.

What we can learn from other cultures is that a radical separation between art and craft does not exist everywhere. When a craftsman of the Dogon Tribe in Mali carves a mask out of wood, it is not about whether it turns out to be beautiful or ugly. More important is if the resulting image aligns itself to tradition.

Charioteer of Delphi

The correctness of a representation is thus superior to the aesthetic experience thereof. Finished masks are kept in places we find irreverent, in dark corners of houses or deserted caves. The masks are reserved for ceremonies and festivities, and are only art objects insofar they are used. Afterwards, they devolve into an insignificant object.

Craft, then, entails animation. An item that has cost hours of work to make becomes valuable by the function that is assigned to it. In the Western context, however, the beauty of craft lies in the many hours invested in the making. But what a man can make, can basically also be made by machine. It differs from the mechanically fabricated object in that the human hand bestows it with a soul. Islamic carpet weavers are most aware of this. They attach major importance to the small errors in their carpets – as only God does things perfectly.

‘God’ can here be read as the concept of perfection, as it is also manifest in mass production. Instead of the detachment caused by a lack of understanding as to the origin of a given object, a human glitch draws a thing closer to us. The reverence for products that are perfect in their sameness, makes way for the urge for proximity. We want to grasp objects in their uniqueness.

What I believe to be most important about craftsmanship is that it makes us aware of this animation. Like a mask receives a spirit during a dance, so does spiritedness form the basis of each craftwork. The idea of this primordial leading around is not far away here, namely circumventing the mass production and technical progress and being led to the spirited and more humane world that has slumbered for so long. Leaving aside specific crafts and techniques, understanding this fundamental idea is paramount.

In these simple, handmade objects lies a humanity that has been little visible for a long time. It is this humanity that has been transformed into an aesthetic. Opposed to that is the icy detachment of the machine-made.

I can understand the carpet weavers. Something entirely flawless, made with or without the help of computers and machines, is very hard for me to personally relate to. When I do things by hand and small mistakes occur, (because a colour does not turn out the way I had hoped, for instance) only then does something become real. It is the peculiar fact that something that you’ve made with your own hands can be more magical than something that shows inhuman perfection.