241 Things

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

Read the most recent articles, or mail the editorial team to contribute.

Studium Generale 1000things lectures, The Hague

241 Things

I met an art critic, a man well into his seventies, who told me of New York in the late sixties and of Max’s Kansas City: an unreal sort of meeting place where you could glance over the Velvets, William S. Burroughs, Stanley Kubrick, Janis Joplin, Dan Flavin, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, Dennis Hopper… the list is mind boggling and seemingly endless.

Max’s was a collision point for many of the most creative minds of their times. With some luck, you would have seen early incarnations of Blondie, Lou Reed, or David Bowie perform. Or you might have caught Bob Marley and the Wailers' New York debut with Bruce Springsteen as their opening act.

Critical art writers typically deal with resistance along the way and this critic, too, at times met with the steely glances of slightly scorned artists. But walking into the bar with the bulky Robert Smithson would make him feel a little bit safer from the evil eyes cast by the glamorous Warholians at the back, and from the sneers thrown his way by the Abstract Expressionists between their heavy discussions.

"I met Iggy Pop at Max's Kansas City in 1970 or 1971," recalled David Bowie. "Me, Iggy and Lou Reed at one table with absolutely nothing to say to each other, just looking at each other's eye makeup."

Myra Friedman, visitor to the bar explains:

Max's was a lot more than a magnet for sex, games, and drugs. It was an earthy, invigorating hangout, and the people who Mickey let stay there for hours and hours were definitely a breed apart, when being "apart" had real meaning in the world. I remember it for lots of conversation with lots of people who had lots and lots to say, and looking back on it now, the hum of the place strikes me as sort of the last hurrah of a genuine American bohemia. Like a great piece of writing, it was airborne from the minute it opened. It had beautiful wings; it soared.

It won’t come as a surprise that many of Max’s visitors had trouble paying their tabs. And in the typical artist’s tradition, they often paid their debts with artworks. Mickey was so eager to surround himself with artists, musicians, and writers, that he would allow them to spend thousands of dollars worth of food and drinks. A few beers in exchange for a Carl Andre? Doesn’t sound like a bad deal at all for Mickey.

But the exchanges wouldn’t suffice. “Artists do drink, but they don’t pay,” Mickey said. Indeed, Mickey went bankrupt in 1974.

The purchase of my first digital camera meant the sudden end of any inhibitions I still had when it comes to taking pictures. It marked the beginning, however, of my transformation into a full-time Japanese tourist, relentlessly clicking at the sight of anything even remotely close to being interesting. It resulted in an endless amount of photos of endearing kitties in the streets, women with big butts walking ahead of you, of yourself in every setting imaginable in this world, of everybody you have talked to for longer than five minutes and of your own legs on the bed of your hotel room. Suddenly I had a picture of everything. Which, of course, seems very nice, but isn’t.

I remember only taking two 24-shot film rolls with me for a month’s vacation. Was the rice served on our plates in the shape of a little bear worth a picture or not? Now I thoughtlessly take twenty in one go, assuming that the ideal picture will surely be among them in due time. The euphoria of taking as many pictures as you like has long faded now, although I shall never again be able to go back to limited photographing with film rolls, it’s simply too late for that. What I had to figure out, then, was a new way of handling my digital camera.

My first priority was to bring some order into my picture archive, which already consisted of thousands of photos. I decided upon a Flickr account. For all of you who have been living underneath a rock: Flickr is a website on which people manage and share their photo collections, making it also the world’s biggest online photo archive. About five thousand new pictures are uploaded every second and the total amount of photos is estimated at around 300.000.000.

Putting my archive online, thereby making it freely accessible to anyone, even my potential future loved one (you never know), made me look at my pictures critically again, eventually uploading only my best photos. A collection appeared that, with regards to selectivity, equaled the one that would have resulted if I had shot on film.

But something else happened as well. Pictures that I had shot out of sheer boredom, such as the photo of my own hairy legs, on a bed with a pink flowered sheets in a sad hotel (in which I stayed all by myself since I had to attend a boring congress in Bergen op Zoom), appeared to have survived the selection process.

It was a picture I would have never shot if it had required any thought, but which I found interesting nevertheless by virtue of the immense sadness that spoke from it.

A couple of days later I received an email. On Flickr there are different groups that gather photos around a theme. I was emailed by the administrator of the group ‘Sitting in my Hotel Room’ asking me if I would add the photo to the group. I took a look first, finding almost two thousand pictures taken by people alone in their hotel rooms. Most of these were very ugly, uninteresting pictures by themselves. For example, some show only a television screen with a painting of a mountain landscape above it, or a view of a city full of skyscrapers, captured from the hotel window. Pictures that look like you have seen them a thousand times before, and many of them are of very poor quality.

Nevertheless, something magical happened when I saw all these photos together. All of a sudden I could see the thousands, millions of people before my eyes who spend every night somewhere in an anonymous hotel, alone in the world except for the company of their digital cameras. By seeing all these photos together the sadness was enormously magnified, for in this photo archive the world seems to contain lonely hotel guests solely. At the same time it consoles: all these people are not alone, but convene on this site.

I found another group that fit the same picture: ‘Bored Leg Cult’. In this group one mainly finds photos of people who took pictures of their legs everywhere in the world, sometimes standing, mostly lying down and, for obvious reasons, always without torso. Interesting was how this group completely changed the context of that same picture. In the midst of all the hotel pictures it became a sad picture, but in this group, among all those other legs severed from their bodies, it became happy and funny.

It quickly transpired that I could find groups for almost all my photos. There are groups for pictures of dogs photographed as humans; deserted shopping carts; food items eating themselves; cats with hats; the colour red; people with aids; you name it and there’s a group for it. And the strange thing is that every time I added a photo, the context changed completely. The photo is no longer autonomous, but part of a series. How else to interpret my picture of a shopping cart left behind in a field when seen among more than a thousand pictures of carts in deserts, marshy canals, gorgeous beaches or hanging from trees?

And thus a collection emerges that a sole photographer would have never been able to make, because who manages to find so many shopping carts? A collection that consists only out of pictures that might have been shot without much thought, and yet all of them together create something bigger.

Monkey's Feast

Ferdinand van Kessel

Roland Barthes
Monkey's Feast

Ferdinand van Kessel

I was standing in a corridor when a tall, young man walked briskly passed me. Moments later he was chased by a small brunette whose every step seemed to fall into the spaces left behind him. He marched on in anger and as she furiously followed, she hissed, ‘This will be the last time, it’s over, I swear to god I will just disappear.’

Watching them rush down the corridor, I thought about how many times I had seen this exact process of emotions in others, and of course experienced it myself. We all know this story, it is constantly repeated, or at least we are all familiar with this interpretation of the story: one threatening to cut the other off whilst running after them in bewildered warning, angrily and frantically begging them to stay whilst they move away. The strange and stylised emotional language we use in situations that we cannot or do not want to express, the reformations of our true purpose in order to avoid vulnerability, and yet through all our fictions and theatricalities, our intentions, although unpronounced, are understood.

If already just in this superficial layer, in all these given understandings of this situation we can see the magnitude and effect of our interpretation on the “reality” of things, at what point do we stop interpreting, what is the actual, the non-fictional?

So many aspects of my self were suddenly laid bare before me as stories I had told myself, interpretations of people’s actions in designed sequences. The way I saw, the way I was seen and in whatever light anything is shown, are all characteristics that are open to interpretation. If we dissect this situation to all its separate parts, we see that everything occurring only exists as one thing after another, events and actions in meaningless succession; it is we who give it meaning and chronology.

I stood in a corridor. Through this same corridor, a tall, young man walked, he moved quickly and dropped his feet heavily as he did so. A small brunette also walked through this corridor. As the small brunette walked, she spoke, her words were fast and rhythmic.

“Narrative is present at all times, in all places, in all societies; indeed narrative starts with the very history of mankind; there is not, there has never been anywhere, any people without narrative … Narrative is international, trans-historical, trans-cultural; it is there, like life.”- Roland Barthes”[1]

Seven of wands

Scènes de la vie privée et publique des animaux

Used in the design of tarot cards

J. Grandville


R. Barthes, ‘On Narrative and Narratives’, in: R. Barthes and L. Duisit, New Literary History, Vol. 6, No. 2, Baltimore, US: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975, pp. 237 -272

Last December, I went to Düsseldorf for my annual visit to the artist I wrote my thesis about more than 20 years ago.

In the early nineties I discovered, through an article in the art magazine Metropolis M and an internship at Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, the work of a relatively unknown German artist. He made small, grey, paper books with series of fuzzy black-and-white photos of small airplanes in the sky, women’s knees and swimmers doing their laps in a pool.
At the Boijmans I was stimulated to further study this –in my eyes- somewhat obscure artist. As I grew increasingly enthusiastic and found out that very little had been written about the man, I went to my thesis tutor, feeling both excited and reluctant, in order to inform him of my choice of subject. He suggested that I should meet the German artist in the flesh for an in-depth conversation about his work. Oops! It was not that common for an art history student to have a real rendezvous with an artist. But it was the only possibility to gather lots of information and I felt like adventure. After some dawdling, I took up the phone and called the artist for an appointment. As I was not impervious to some romantic notions surrounding ‘the essence of the artist’, I was surprised how quickly he agreed to a visit with a completely unknown student from Groningen (if only it had been Amsterdam). I took to Düsseldorf, tape recorder in my bag, and, timidly, rang the bell at a nice-looking apartment building from the early 20th century. Astonishment yet again! The man stood before me as awkwardly as I to him. He was around 50 years old and I was somewhere in my twenties. He wondered what on earth could be my business here with him, as an art history student from Die Niederlände. He also told me that he in fact had a dislike for words and that he had nothing to say about his, indeed, decisively visual work. Well, imagine: there we were then, the two of us, sitting in his study at a large desk on which there were many folders full of images! Out of shyness I took out my home-prepared sandwiches and began to nibble at them. In hindsight, this proved to be the magical moment in which the artist started to believe that this student could actually write an excellent story on him. In a later letter, he let me know that my taking my own sandwiches had brought us to the same wavelength.

the artist

The thesis was written and approved by both university and artist. And indeed, last December I paid him a visit for the umpteenth time. He as a much more famous man than back then, and I, after roaming about in the art world somewhat, as a teacher at the Art Academy in Groningen. This artist (now in his early 70s) has also come to win a prestigious prize for, note, young artists (the jury praised the work for its freshness). Not to mention a large retrospective in Hamburg.

Shadow Play (2002-2012)

And, surprisingly: the last time I visited him I felt again this tension of twenty years ago, when we met. An appointment between a now-famous artist and someone who wrote a thesis on him in his early stages: does that have validity? It is confronting how as an adult, you still relapse into old thought patterns. Immediately after my arrival in his town he takes me to a cafeteria in a shopping street in Düsseldorf and tells me how the regularity of our meetings is dear to him. I have been in this coffeehouse with him before and he is a daily customer who likes to sit here reading and, especially, watching life on the street. There is little noteworthy or sophisticated stuff that is said during our meetings and yet every time I see him, he manages to provide me with a few new perspectives on the world around us. However small they might be, I leave these meetings every time with extra air in my lungs. The late Dutch curator Gosse Oosterhof has once called him a “professional voyeur”. And indeed, this man accomplishes the feat of rendering the everyday world special for a while with his visual and, despite himself, verbal frameworks. A great gift, I find, and I am glad that I had prepared those sandwiches back then. The name of the artist, by the way, is Hans Peter Feldmann.

see the documentary on http://www.cobra.be

Hans-Peter Feldmann at gallery and bookshop Wien Lukatsch

http://www.ingemarleenbooks.com/blog/wienlukatsch/

Hans-Peter Feldmann, Ursula + Hans-Peter.
Gardner
Dining with presidents

That every good artist has a theme, a recurrent motif, I was taught at the academy. Series, concepts, preferably a recognisable style. After the academy it was no different. As people look at your work the inevitable question arises: what is it about?

Try and find a satisfactory answer if recognisability and archetypes aren't quite your cup of tea. I never conceive of something in theory first to then realise it. I have to live what I make. My development is brought about by making work. The work demands. A dialogue between the work and me emerges. Some things are abandoned only to come back later, some things disappear for good, other things stay. If no more questions arise, the work is finished. The work teaches me, not the other way around. The work is a narrative that manifests itself in different ways. The theme is the narrative that you tell in different ways every time. They are already there, just as you are already there. It only has to be discovered.

I allow myself to be led by what catches my eye. By where my love resides, my grief, my wonder, my fears. Without wondering if it fits the theme. As long as you stay true to yourself, everything you touch will be included in the theme. I am the theme. This is my world. One of the things I do is collecting. What I start a collection for, I can never say beforehand. I collect without worrying whether what I collect belongs to my work. That does not come until later. If at all. Either way goes.

This is my collection ‘Dining with Presidents’. Thirty plates from crockery sets that American presidents, their families and guests have eaten from. It began with a photograph of a set table at the White House at the time of the Clintons. Glasses, candles, an extravagant bouquet, and a plate. A plate that quickly turned out not to be just an ordinary plate.

At the founding of the United States on the 4th of July 1776, a leader had to come forward. How much power would be given to this leader? The only thing the Founding Fathers knew for certain was that the polity after the Independence War could not resemble the English aristocracy even in the smallest degree. However, all too libertarian was no possibility either, as the European monarchies would not acknowledge the US as a nation. There was not a single democratic country in the world for the US to emulate. How to proceed?

If guests came, from within the country or from abroad, how was the leader to welcome them, at home? How was he to be addressed? Certainly not like kings, as ‘sire’ or ‘majesty’. After numerous debates, the decision was made that the leader was to be addressed as still happens today: as ‘Mr President’. The title of the president’s wife was also wrangled about. ‘Mrs. Presidentress’ was even considered, before the eventual decision fell on First Lady.

The rest was left to the president and his wife themselves, with an especially big role for the First Lady. In the furnishing of the presidential residence as well as in the design of the presidential tableware, she was the one to express the aspirations of the new country and its ideas on leadership. That has not changed to this day.

When I found out I knew why the plates appealed to me so. I am always on the lookout for tangible, personal stories behind political and historical processes. These plates are exactly that. They are the embodiment of what First Ladies throughout the centuries thought were the political ideals of the US. Plus, you can eat from them.

Widower Thomas Jefferson, third president and Founding Father, kept it simple and personal with the presidential monogram in the centre. Elizabeth Monroe emphasised the pillars of American Society: Strength, the Arts, Commerce, the Sciences and Agriculture.
from 1845 onwards, a more nationalistic period in American History dawns. Mrs. Lucy Hayes chooses crockery that was produced in the US. Therefore, they bear American flora and fauna. Mrs. Caroline Harrison chooses the corn cob and goldenrod as symbols of American’s plenitude and beauty.
Then, in 1893, the desire for grandeur crops up. The royal air of European palace decoration is no longer rejected. Stars emerge, on the basis of the following: "The star is a symbol of the heavens and the divine goal to which man has aspired from time immemorial.” *)1

The postwar welfare is embodied in the plate of Eisenhower with its edge of pure gold. From that moment onwards, everything has to make way for gold. For Truman, Reagan, and even the Clintons, everything that glitters is literally gold. The time of the dominance of the financial world arises.

*)1 From the book "Our Flag" published in 1977 by the House of Representatives; about The Flag Act passed by the Continental Congress since June 14, 1777.