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

Compared to nightsticks, Kalasjnikovs and bats, whips don’t come across as very intimidating. Who ever heard of a war won by an army armed with whips? Or of bank robbers using whips as their method of coercion?

The whip’s power to induce fear is as good as lost in the Western world. Slaves were whipped to death. Children were covered in welts after educational beatings. Now, the whip has become a decorative attribute, a prop. From being an instrument of power, it’s transitioned into a representation of an instrument of power, a symbol.

In other parts of the world, the whip is still used as an instrument of punishment. For example, two Saudi Arabian men were recently convicted to two thousand whiplashes and ten years of imprisonment. They had uploaded a video on which they were dancing on a car naked.

The other day, a smart looking older gentleman lifted his cane towards me and yelled: “Would you like a free slap?” I politely declined his offer. Later I regretted it. Why hadn’t I enquired further? Maybe the gentleman could have provided me with some convincing arguments regarding the free slap. What I know for sure is that I would have interpreted his offer much differently had he offered me a knife wound, or a gunshot wound. I would have been scared, now I was merely surprised.

Why does the whip no longer strike fear into the hearts of Westerners? Has the whip been overtaken by large scaled, advanced weaponry, that in comparison transform the whip into an old fashioned, primitive, and nearly innocent object? Are we so inexperienced with the force of the whip that even our imagination falters?

Erotica thrives on taboo. It comes as no surprise, then, that the whip is a staple item in every sex shop. Like the penis, the whip seems to possess a certain level of autonomy, although both remain dependent on a body in order to come to life and to discharge.

One particularly commanding whip is the metal chain whip, made of two metal rods joined together by metal rods. Because of the many chain links between the rods, it takes endless practice in order to comprehend how movement courses its way through, and furthermore how to use it without injuring yourself.

The chain whip is popular with the Taoist and Buddhist monks of China. Into the air they endlessly crack their formidable whips, breaking through the sound barrier in their search for salvation.

Dutch theatre maker Boukje Schweigman and dancer Ibelisse Guardia Ferragutti trained with these fighting monks, and in 2011 made the performance Zweep (Whip.) In a making of the film, Guardia Ferragutti says: “A whip has no master. The master is the whip itself.”

Raymond Talis, author of Michelangelo’s Finger (2010,) explores why humans, in contrast to animals, point using their fingers. According to Talis, we point thanks to our consciousness. We experience ourselves as separate individuals, and thus do not become one with our surroundings. But in our fellow humans, we recognise isolated peers, we can see each other looking. We’re able to guide the gaze of the other by drawing invisible lines using our eyes or our index finger. Is the whip an extension of the index finger, with which we can impose our will onto the bodies of others? Still, no one will ever have complete control over a whip. The first flick of the whip may be under your control, but you’ll never know exactly what path you’ve set into motion. Before you know it, the whip you’ve cracked will rebound and hit you with twice as much power and take you down. The real force of the whip remains impossible to truly fathom.

Giotto’s painting is praised for many different reasons. For its simplicity and realism, its clear narratives and compositions, its imaginative landscapes and architectures, its drama and use of colour. One of the Giotto’s most interesting innovations was his use of the isocephaly, or “levelled heads”: grouping figures on a horizontal plane, on level ground.

Giotto makes ingenious use of the isocephaly in his masterpiece, the murals at the Arena chapel of Padua.

In his monumental rendition of the Last Judgement, Giotto expands dimensions both horizontally and vertically. It’s plausible since the scene doesn’t take place on earth but in the kingdom of heaven. Moreover, he needed to find a solution for arranging the halos around the choirs of saints and angels.

The Assumption of Mary in Berlin shows an interesting take on the isocephaly. The play between head and halo of partial overlap and complete visibility are taken to extremes.

Once fascinated by Giotto’s isocephaly, more and more details will start standing out. Like how within a large group, the exception sets the rule, by the individual figure looking backwards at someone standing behind him. Or the variation in how the crowns of heads arise above the halos in front of them. Or how subtle variations break the monotony of the group.

Giotto’s isocephaly is addictive. Gitto or Cimabue, painting or photography, football team or choir, you can’t stop looking. Once you’ve acquired an eye for it, the arrangement of the figures goes from being secondary to the most important aspect of his work.

Giotto, The Last Judgment, Arena Kapel, Padua
Giotto, The passing away of Maria, Berlin

The “High School Shooter movement” comprises a number of students who at some point decided to shoot their classmates, teacher, and other personnel at their high schools and colleges, before committing suicide. A key element in defining the movement is that all of them have left a significant amount of written, photographed, videotaped, or otherwise recorded material contextualizing and commenting on their actions. This material can take the form of photographs, movies, diary entries, manifestoes, poems, etc. The list of former high school shooters, which is by no means complete, includes Eric Harris (1981-1999) and Dylan Klebold (1981-1999), Jeff Weise (1988-2005), Cho Seung-Hui (1984-2007), Pekka-Eric Auvinen (1989-2007) and Matti Juhani Saari (1986-2008).

Harris and Klebold are generally considered to be the founding members of the movement, killing 13 and injuring 24 on April 20, 1999 at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado USA. This event has sparked a number of artistic reflexes and reflections, such as Michael Moore’s documentary Bowling for Columbine (2002), Dennis Cooper’s novel My Loose Threat (Canongate, 2002), and Gus Van Sant’s movie Elephant (2003) which is stylistically based Alan Clarke’s Elephant (1989), depicting a series of anonymous murders in Northern Ireland.

More recently, writer Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei and artist Jonas Staal have contextualized the High School Shooter movement within the history of (artistic) resistance, arguing for a reading through the work of French Situationist Guy Debord. In the same way that Debord included and refuted all criticism beforehand in his work Réfutation de tous les jugements… (1975), while at the same moment targeting the “society of the spectacle,” the high school shooters claim their actions as fully their own, as an ultimate and inappropriable possibility of resistance.Van Gerven Oei and Staal’s publication Follow Us or Die (Atropos Press, 2009) offers a survey of the writings, movies, and pictures produced by the high school shooters, contextualized within their own work.

The movement of Vehicles 2a and 2b in relation to a stimulus.

Vehicles 2 and 3

Tissue Type B-01 print, 2002

MicroImage A-05 print, 2005

The movement of Vehicles 2a and 2b in relation to a stimulus.

The neuroanatomist Valentino Braitenberg published Vehicles: Experiments in Synthetic Psychology (MIT Press) in 1984.In this short, delightful book he presents conceptual schematics for fourteen unique synthetic creatures he called Vehicles. I became obsessed with these diagrams in 2000 while taking an artificial intelligence class at MIT. My Tissue and MicroImage projects were created entirely from software interpretations of Braitenberg's Vehicles 2 and 3.

The movement of Vehicles 2a and 2b in relation to a stimulus.

Vehicle 2 has two sensors, each connected to a motors. They are connected so that a strong stimulus will make the motors turn quickly and a weak stimulus will make the motors turn slowly. (If a sensor has no stimulus, the motor doesn't turn.) In Vehicle 2a, the left sensor is connected to the left motors and Vehicle 2b has crossed connections. If the sensor is attracted to light, for example, and there is a light in the room, Vehicle 2a will turn away from the light and Vehicle 2b will approach the light. Braitenberg characterizes these machines as correspondingly cowardly and aggressive to feature the anthropomorphic qualities we assign to moving objects.

Vehicle 3a and 3b are identical to Vehicle 2a and 2b, but the correlation between the sensor and the motor is reversed – a weak sensor stimulus will cause the motor to turn quickly and a strong sensor stimulus causes the motors to stop. Vehicle 3a moves toward the light and stops when it gets too close, and 3b approaches the light but turns and leaves when it gets too close.

If more than one stimulus is placed in the environment, these simple configurations can yield intricate paths of movement as they negotiate their attention between the competing stimuli. The Tissue images were created with three stimuli and the MicroImage images used five.

Miniscule soldiers on a massive quest.