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

Echo + Seashell consists of artists Henna Hyvärinen and Susan Kooi Together they write and perform songs about their problematic art- and love life, based upon what is going on at the moment. The music is produced by and in collaboration with different musicians, resulting in variations in both style and genre.

The lyrics form the core, the “baby soul” of Echo + Seashell. Their collaboration consists out of live performances, videos and exhibitions. After having received many rejections on both a personal and a professional level, they recently produced a musical on the theme of rejection. For this project they held an open call, inviting people to send in an instrumental song. Striving for 0% rejection, they used all the 18 songs that were sent. For some they wrote lyrics, for others they made videos or found another platform. The musical consists of four parts: In the Game but Losing It, Hard and Soft, Project Runaway and Coldplay.

Play
Stone Shelter
Play
Stone Shelter remix (2014)

Music by echo+seashell and Islaja
Remix by Molly Waters

Play

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?”

I cross the Thames; silver under a grey sky, and watch the throngs of pedestrians pass the bridge and make their way to the museum. There’s something magical to being one of the newest additions to this city, feeling myself immersed in a great crowd with the realisation that this is home now. Here, solitude lends itself to becoming a welcome spectator seat.

The path is lined with buskers where they compete with one another for air space. A man points his camera to the Rastafarian with matted dreads reaching past his knees – No woman no cry! – he hoarsely wails, while pointing at the colourful hat splayed open, awaiting the clink of change. Further yet, two indie boys croon and strum, a bongo player meditatively strikes his drums, and all coalesce into an arrhythmic cacophony.

As Tate Modern comes into view, I’m surprised to see a group of large, furry animals standing in front of the museum. There must be at least fifteen of them, donned in intricately detailed costumes of cartoon versions of cats, bears, foxes, and wolves. These are not your run-of-the-mill dress up shop costumes, their muscles are defined, sturdy, their masks are eerily realistic, and their jaws open and close at will. I watch as they interact with the spectators, and see the timber wolf taking on his role as the alpha dog, bending his knees and flexing his arms as the tourists snap away. On the other side of the crowd, the silver fox with her big blue eyes walks demurely, somewhat timidly past, and leans her head against the onlookers, allowing them to stroke her, pet her nose, and bury their faces into her furry shoulder.

I was aware that what I was seeing was a group belonging to the Furry Fandom culture. These Furries, as they’re referred to, have an unusual interest in cartoon-like animal characters. In fact, some even believe they’re more like their specific animal of interest than human. They find each other on Internet forums and websites where they write fan fiction, and make fan art; they congregate at Furry Fandom conventions, and as it seems, in public spaces too. It’s a way of life, an identity, a subculture that creates a sense of belonging. Theirs is a tight-knit community where escapism from the every day lends itself in the form of a very expensive and very heavy fursuit, fitted with battery-powered fans to keep the user from overheating.
While watching them strut around the Tate’s bustling yard, I realise there’s no collection box. And what I’m seeing isn’t an artistic performance, either. It’s the simple act of the Furries taking on their role and engaging with the world as their alternate identities. The fur costumes disarm the plain clothed man and convince him of the wearer’s zoomorphic nature. By doing so, the Furries capitalise on our reaction to cute, cuddly animals and in a moment of instant adoration, they’re embraced, loved, and admired by complete strangers. I can’t help but wonder if these costumes are disguising the most deplorable, unattractive, acne-ridden and repulsive members of society imaginable. And, the assumption immediately arises that these people must suffer a certain social deficiency in order to resort to this inverted exhibitionism to find affection.
At the end of the day, I exit the museum. The sky has fallen dark and the masses have dissipated. My steps towards the tube station sound hollow in the absence of the buskers and I think of my new London room awaiting my return: dark and silent and empty. For a moment I think of these Furries, in this big city, and catch a glimmer of understanding.

The extraordinary life of James Tiptree and Alice B. Sheldon (1915 – 1986.)

The author Julie Philips, residing in Amsterdam, won a prestigious American prize with her biography of sci-fi legend James Tiptree. His life story is hard to believe.

At the start of the seventies, the sci-fi world was mesmerised by a mysterious author. James Tiptree Jr. supposedly worked for the CIA and could therefore only communicate via an anonymous postal box. He had travelled sinister territories and knew how to use a weapon. His energetic, possessed stories of sex and death were extremely masculine while always remaining attentive to the ‘unseen’ woman. A feminist jock? A sensitive macho?

No, it turned out in 1976, when the write was at the peak of fame: James Tiptree was a woman.

In Julie Philips’ National Book Critics Circle Award-winning book, James Tiptree Jr., the Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, the mystery of Tiptree’s hidden life is unravelled. The Dutch-American biographer Philips reveals an unlikely history. Born a child to rich travellers in 1915, Sheldon travelled the darkest reaches of Africa as a young child. As a teenager, Alice ran away with a violent drunk whom she left after six years to join the newly formed female division of the army. She struggled with homosexual feelings, but all her greatest love turned out to be femme fatales, who all either went insane or died young. She became a photo analyst at the CIA, where she met her husband, Huntington (Ting) Sheldon. Together, they bought a chicken farm, upon which she decided to study psychology (bipolar career planning!) As a researcher, she was a failure. Falling into a depression, she swallowed every upper and downer she could lay her hands on. Never did she feel like she could be her true self. This idea had much to do with the dominating presence of her mother, who wrote travel stories and was a prominent member of Chicago’s high society.

From a young age, Sheldon read science fiction, a guilty pleasure for which she often felt she needed to be apologetic. However, since the war, her pulp sci-fi had undergone a great transformation. No longer were the stories about green men and scarcely clothed women undoing their bras, but they had becoming reflections on nuclear war and overpopulation. The ambitious young hounds of the New Wave added a literary sensibility to the genre. Science fiction would not only be a literature of ideas, but come to fruition both stylistically and psychologically.

It’s this climate in 1967 in which Alice Sheldon began writing science fiction under the pseudonym James Tiptree. Leading editors like Frederik Pohl and Harry Harrison saw potential in her early work. Her stories would soon start becoming more personal and grim: the expression of frustrations that Alice could not ventilate in her every day life. The joke started becoming serious. Tiptree gave meaning to Sheldon’s meaningless existence.

A number of Tiptree’s novels became classics. In “The Last Flight of Doctor Ain” (1969) the protagonist flies around the world to save his love – and this becomes gradually clarified: the Earth itself – from demise. To do so, he releases a deadly disease to eradicate the whole of mankind. “The Women Men Don’t See” (1972) is a satirical story in which federal agent Don crashes into the bush with two women. He constantly wondered about their motives, until they chose alien abduction over being “cared for” by him. And in the gripping “Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death” (1971) we follow the sexual awakening and the progressive dying of an insect. Under a second pseudonym, Raccoona Sheldon, she wrote “The Screwfly Solution” (1976,) in which alien abuse the aggression inherent in male urges, which results in the men annihilating all women in a frightening, all-natural way. Tiptree’s stories nearly always end in death and usually relate to sex in some way. Between man and woman, and between man and the “other.”

The very personal charge to Tiptree’s stories and columns would end up destroying him. It happened when Sheldon’s mother died in 1976. Someone compared a column by Tiptree describing his mother’s death next to the recent obituaries. A rumour started, claiming Tiptree was actually Alice Sheldon and lived in McLean, Virginia.

This revelation shook the small sci-fi like an earthquake. How could a woman be so well versed in the mechanics of sci-fi? Sheldon had thwarted all role patterns and through doing so, might have made a more radical feminist statement than a militant colleague like Joanna Russ ever could.

For Sheldon, the discovery was the beginning of a nightmare. She began to grow paranoid, and feared that her work was criticised more heavily because she was “just a woman.” In actuality, her work was becoming weaker because she “lost” the voice of Triptree. She saw herself as an empty shell, a failed human, a half-hearted version of the man she could be on paper. And she was growing old – unforgivably and unbearably old. This ended in a violent conclusion. On the 18th of May 1986, Sheldon first shot her husband before shooting herself. Seeing as suicide was constantly in her thoughts, she had chosen life for a long while. Now she chose death, so prominently present in her stories.

Sheldon’s life was a succession of supernovas. Philips has retold her life story with compassion and understanding. The feminist debate becomes tangible and gives us a glimpse into different worlds, poles apart: the adventurers who made the unspoiled earth their playground, the CIA’s subculture, the female division of the Second World War. But most of all: science fiction, a warm haven for “aliens” like Alice Sheldon was at the core of her being.
James Tiptree Jr. is a poignant analysis of a woman torn in tow. Her self hatred, both her love and aversion for women; her mother’s omnipresent shadow, the conflicting powers of the expectations forced upon her and her desired self-realisation, her hidden desire to be a man; Sharon spent many years wrestling “herself.” The fact that she could only be herself through Tiptree is cruel and all telling. Still, Sheldon’s story is not only a dark one. It’s also a celebration of literature’s ability to liberate. These layers combined give this biography an emotional punch. In a sense, Sheldon’s remarkable life is a gift to the biographer. Phillips recognised the value of this gift and wrote a fascinating book that makes you hope it will attract a much greater audience that the usual lovers of sci-fi.