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

As entries, strike-throughs, spelling mistakes, re-entries, question marks, lists within lists, bullet-points, dashes, personalised bullet-points, squares, asterisks, circled entries, bold entries, ambitious entries and already-done entries are scattered across the page, the mind moves quicker than the pen to create this masterpiece in its initial form. Margins, the bottom of the list or the space in between the lines are an opportunity to add information that could not keep up with the mind or that were simply forgotten. At times, these secondary entries will appear in a different colour where an alternative writing tool has had to be used.

The creator of a list has no intention to design their thoughts but merely to order them visually in tangible form. The back of a card, an old envelope, some scrap paper, a notebook, a smart phone, a saved email draft, a train ticket or a post-it note provide the canvas for this mind montage to be drawn out.

The activity of list-making is both common to all yet entirely individualistic.There is a sense of urgency attached to something that is created on-the-go or in between activities and maybe it is the extent of this pressure that when making a list, normal writing conventions are ignored. Baselines are misused, words are written across them rather than on them; the ascenders on letters become muted; the descenders have added flamboyancy and the margins are no longer a no-go area for words but a place to fill with words, additional thoughts, numbers, sketches and question marks.

In a moment’s pause, a second thought is given to putting these thoughts into better order or form, perhaps in order of priority or alphabetically.This can be done at a later date. Sometimes, a complete re-draft of the list might be necessary. If it is a list of that type it can be prepared to make sense to others. It is at this point a design element might be added: colour coding, font selection, margin widths and line lengths.

There is an unspoken hierarchy to the various forms of lists that surround us in our daily lives.Train times, shopping lists, gift lists, hate lists, wish lists, to-do lists, today’s food specials, contents pages, registers, stock lists, missing lists, menus and guest lists. The different forms of lists are matched and paired with a tried and tested format. Registers are done alphabetically; shopping lists by memory, train times chronologically etc.

When a list finds itself in the hands of someone other than its author, different aspects of it might be scrutinised. The graphologist looks at the space between the lines and the curves or flicks of the letters, the size of the capital letters, the margins around the texts and the slant of the handwriting. The artist dreams up the story that precedes the list and what might follow. The curious looks around to find its owner. And others disregard it.

When an individual has shown extraordinary qualities or talents, the contents of a list they have made might become valuable to others. The lives of great scientists, musicians, actors, writers or designers are retraced and dissected by making their diaries or notebooks public. Whilst the content of their home is on show so is the content of their minds. Private information, messily scrawled across the page with changes and errors, supposedly give insight into a frame of mind. A laundry list suddenly reveals secrets of their lifestyle, an unseen side to their character.

Michelangelo's menu list

This information, analysis, format, or story is irrelevant to the author; the content is what is of interest to them. Their document is plagued with encryptions of coding, different methods of ‘crossing off’, ticks, strike-throughs and circles around ticks. Only some entries have numbers, where clearly an attempt at prioritising has been made. Some have dates next to them, for deadlines and finales, giving an added importance, a ticking reminder. These juxtapositions need not make sense to others.

Having been created, a list triumphantly sits at the top of important papers. It is versatile and can be used as a bookmark, a coaster or a space to sketch; it is embellished with important things, mustn’t forgets and mental notes. It ages well. Every mark on this creation is part of its existence. Folds in the page create creases across the unused printed lines; they battle with the thoughts sprawled across them. A new dimension is added to the form where the author has rolled the corners back and forth between their fingers.

A list by Charles Darwin

At the height of its usability, the list holds authority over its creator; unchecked items glare at you and make you feel guilty for the things you have not yet accomplished. A mutual resistance grows and other lists arise. Before the list has peaked it finds itself at the bottom of a bag, on a supermarket floor, wedged in a shopping basket, slotted in the corner of a sofa stuck to some crumbs, at the end of a book that was being read, in the shredder, at the back of another list, propping up a table, underneath a doodle, fallen on the pavement or sitting helplessly in the recycling bin, sitting next to the envelope that wasn’t chosen and another list that has efficient strikes through most entries.

On the off chance that a list may be revisited or found again by its creator, they might experience the sense of satisfaction that comes with being able to cross off multiple items from the list. The single action of drawing a line, or the flicking of a tick enhances the achievement of completion.

I know an elderly gentleman, a thrifty man who made a habit of saving every receipt he had ever received. Nothing was spent from the household treasury without the gaze of his vigilant eye. I imagined his house to be full of those flimsy yellowing papers archived neatly into black ring binders by date, shelf after shelf. Decades detailing the ever-rising price of a loaf of bread, his daily purchases, once in a while an exuberant expense here and there. How is a man’s life read through the records of his expenditures?

Since 1937, the Mass Observation team has been creating a record of the British people by asking volunteers to document the every day: "We shall collaborate in building up museums of sound, smell, foods, clothes, domestic objects, advertisements, newspapers, etc.”

Directives, or instructions, are given to the voluntary Mass Observers to report on specific matters like conversations overheard in the pub, what one saw on their daily route to work, the steps in their housekeeping routine, the contents of their mantelpiece:

Write down in order from left to right, all the objects on your mantelpiece, mentioning what is in the middle. Then make further lists of mantelpieces in other people’s houses, giving details of the people themselves whether they are old, middle aged, or young. Whether they are well off or otherwise. What class, roughly, they belong to. Send these lists in. If possible, also take photographs of mantelpieces.
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The Back Garden
This is the area directly outside the kitchen and dining room windows. The patio area is done with crazy paving and there are flower beds round these sides with bushes and a Buddhleia tree climbing the fence side at the left side of this photograph. This photograph shows the corner area underneath the dining room window where the cat likes to sit out during the warm weather – you can just see its black shape at the back.

Others kept diaries that detailed their ordinary and often entirely uneventful existence:

19.11.81

Dear Sir,

Since writing to you last year, yet another high street shop has closed. These strangely enough have all been ladies dress shops. The first one closed in August and was destined to become yet another Building Society. However, the council sensibly stopped that happening, since the High Street already has four. At the moment, this shop is being used as an Oxfam store and people are obliging dump all the their “jumble sale”…

The documentation of a day's house work:

A detailed drawing of one’s living room:

And written descriptions, too:

Through this collective social project, the Mass Observation team has created an immense archive of the ordinary, the boring, and the mundane through which a nation is chronicled.

I’ll never see the elderly gentleman’s collection for myself. A few years ago, he threw out his entire archive when he convinced his wife that they should move from their beloved home into an overpriced apartment on the third floor. He’s miserable in that boxy apartment and longs for the flowering green gardens of the old house. But the apartment was bought for more than it was worth and he has no choice but to stay put and sit out his old age.

Since I began working on my project The Neighbours (2006) every sound started to have an impact. At first I couldn’t work properly as I was constantly irritated by the sound of the upstairs neighbours. I was cross with myself that something so trifling could loom so large in my head. I lay on the bed. I tried for a while not to hear anything; it forced itself on the periphery of my consciousness, like a hum, like a dripping tap. I was quite astonished when I realised that this could lead to my making a work. Precisely because it is so trifling. Precisely because it is on the edge of my conscious perception.

The more I became preoccupied with my neighbours, the more sounds I’ve begun to notice. My ears have become more sensitive to detail since listening to my neighbours even for the subtlest of sounds. When visiting someone, I hear more. It is amazing how often you hear someone coughing in the house next door.

This applies even more to hearing the neighbours above me. In the six months they’ve lived here, my home has changed. They have taken over my space. I went mad with irritation lying awake on my bed and so I decided to reverse the roles by taking the noise they made as a starting point for this project . Ironically, I now miss them if I don’t hear them for a minute and I am glad of any strange new sound they start to make. Listening to them gives me a feeling of being busy with something (acute and exciting). I was devastated when they insulated their floor with new underlay flooring. I think it is new but I can’t be sure as I only hear their sounds and I have never met them.

Imperceptibly, the process of being aware of the upstairs neighbours in my daily routines reached the point where one Friday night I realised I was waiting for their shoes to fall next to the bed. I knew how this would sound. I knew that this would be followed by the dreary hum of the satellite dish above my window. I was, I realised, constantly preoccupied with them: people I once briefly spoke to over the phone but with whom I never actually met. I know their bedroom habits down to the most intimate (acoustic) details.

I try to imagine them, but the image remains vague. I imagine them as people who often go to the local gym (on the corner), with something inflated about them, as if they’ve been carefully pumped up to a critical point. But what am I actually basing this on? Also, it isn’t their physical appearance that keeps me awake. It is the space they take up in my home with their sound, since this makes me always aware of them.

Because I hear my neighbours, they’ve actually infiltrated my space: not with their bodies but with their sound. They disturb what my home is for me – a place where I can do what I want and others can’t.

The silence of my home is my home. My private space. But what is this silence in fact? It is not what I would term real silence. There are the birds, my fridge hums, and cars drive past. However, that is the background noise to my home, I am used to it.

There is a prodigious link between sound, space and awareness.

The notion of background sound, already has something spatial about it like a kind of environment, a private room you can always – when it is quiet – take with you. Certain people might feel exactly like this about a lot of sound, which is then their ‘background’ and perhaps they feel uneasy when it is missing. Unexpected noise is saying that this private space doesn’t exist, especially noise from which you can’t escape and about which you can’t do anything. A dripping tap is less frustrating as I know I can also switch it off, but the neighbour’s noise is uncontrollable. The only thing I can do is adjust to it, or phone them up and hear my phone upstairs, or have the music very loud, which gives a kind of temporary satisfaction.

If my upstairs neighbours are unexpectedly quiet, something strange happens. The quietness drives me mad. It is like a story I read about a man who every night was resigned to hearing his upstairs neighbour throwing off his shoes one by one. One night, the upstairs neighbour, in a sudden fit of awareness after having taken off one shoe, thinks the sound is antisocial. He is overcome with guilt. With the precision of a moon landing, he then places the right-hand shoe next to the other. After fifteen minutes he wakes up with a start. He hears a voice crying: ‘For goodness sake, take the other shoe off, then I can get some sleep!’ I am now so used to my neighbours’ routine sounds that they’ve become almost my background noise and indeed I now notice when they’re missing.

November 1927

1.Do something useful every day.

2.Study and practice karman and hatha yoga.

3.Don’t go to bed later than two, and don’t wake up later than 12, except in exceptional cases.

4.Stretch your body every morning and evening and massage yourself with warm cloths.

5.P.R.

6.Get out of bed upon waking up, do not give into slumber or the urge to smoke.

7.When you get up alone, you must immediately perform a concrete task.

8.Limit your amount of sleepover guests, and try to sleep in your own house as much as possible.

9.Only develop ideas that are realistic, but once conceived: carry them out!

10.Use your time wisely.

K(reutz) U(nd) M(arie), K. en M., K.enM. N(ikolaj) W(onderdoer) h(elp)m(e).

Martin Gostner, After my death I would like to be a paradise for birds, 2003

How can I live as long as possible?

1. Don’t be afraid of ‘bad’ things. The body has its own defence mechanisms for outside influences like radiation, poison and heat. Your body has its own tools to prevent damage.

Nikola Tesla

2. Surround yourself with people. Married people live longer, and having a large group of friends or family also helps.

Fischli/Weiss

3. Move to a place where people grow older. Like Japan, a moderate and healthy environment.

Erwin Wurm


4. Enjoy yourself. Drink a glass of wine every day and sleep when your body wants you to. Eat chocolate – it’s good for the arteries.

5. Train your brain. Read a lot, play games, hold discussions. Especially when you’re older.

Erwin Wurm

6. Laugh and relax. Positive thinkers live longer.

Martin Kippenberger, Strong Face

7.Go to the doctor when you need to. Prevention is easier than healing. But don’t overdo it.

MARTIN KIPPENBERGER, Schlecht belegte Studentenpizza gepollockt

8. Eat well and in moderation.

9. Go out. Learning new things (like playing bridge, deep sea diving, Japanese) keeps the mind and body youthful.

Franz West, Adaptives