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

Just over twelve months ago I was in my last year of the art academy when we moved into the new building. This transition came with some resistance, seeing as the existing one was fantastic. It was the kind of place where students could muck around with paint, brushes, and all sort of crazy things on sticks for four years without interference. A place that encouraged you to dive into your studio and explode in a flurry of all the materials that you could find and afford. A place with countless colourful corners where every so often you’d find someone napping, or maybe even living secretly for months, where you’d have to take a great deal of effort to find a bare spot without paint splatters or some artistic statement. It was a building we all were extremely proud of.

Now, you might not expect this from an art student, but it turns out that of all the sorts of students, they’re the last that should be taken out of their natural habitat. The students shuffled hesitatingly through the halls of the new building. Disapprovingly, they glared at the clean classrooms, the new canteen, searching for a point of recognition that could only be found in their familiar brightly painted lockers—the only furniture to make it from the old building, and the only splash of colour within their sterile new habitat. The quiet mumbling soon evolved into loud commentary: the lamps were hung too low, the electric sockets were at precisely the wrong height, the walls were gray and every nail and speck of paint had to be deliberated, and goddamnit! the place was just like an office! How on earth could an academy student develop inside the confines of the office space?

It’s a great question that I’ve had plenty of time to think about this last year. As it turns out, it’s been nearly a year since I’ve graduated, of which I’ve spent five months working at an office. Despite this cruel and ironic twist of fate, I figured I’d take the opportunity to test the theory that I’d devised during that move. I’m convinced that you should be able throw an academy student anywhere and that they should be able to come up with fantastic works.

In fact, I believe that the academy goer can sometimes flourish best in places where you might not expect it. His skills and slightly odd views could offer him those pearls of perspectives to transform that place into a more beautiful and more entertaining place. Those who have been there for years often have lost the ability to come to these new perspectives. It’s comparable to seeing an ordinary word for the first time, repeating the word tenfold and feeling amazed at the queerness of that word. It seems to me that the academy student often approaches the ordinary in this fashion, which gives him a sort of super power, like an artistic night vision goggle constantly strapped around his head, allowing him to solve problems quicker, expose structures, and come up with interesting observations that others don’t seem to notice. Like an artistic spy on the work floor.

Of course, this is not a test that I had wilfully subjected myself to. I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t wished for a flying start, exhibiting my work all over the world. I must admit, I was early to suspect that I might not be in for such a golden start. Luckily, I had been trained for this moment by years of birthday gatherings where uncles, aunts, neighbours and acquaintances would pose that all telling question: “So what can you do with your degree once you’ve graduated?” I always said I’d just find a job somewhere and continue making and creating because I simply could not do otherwise. And so it went. I had worked very hard at devising a safety net for myself in a wonderfully ethical shop that was forced out of business and my safety net was relentlessly torn to bits. It was pretty shit, but there’s not much to do about it. Once I’d crawled back up, I began to apply to the jobs for which my Bachelor of Fine Art held absolutely no relevance (in other words: every job.)

As if that wasn’t confronting enough, it got worse. Dancing around the black hole, I was accosted from all angles by people with expectations of me that couldn’t be further from the truth. For example, during my first job interview I was told that being an art student I should have made an artwork of my CV. Because my CV was so neat and normal, I could have at least tried a little harder as a certified artist. Distracted, I suggested I send a CV in collage form, or as super experimental film via WeTransfer, after which everyone would herald me and hire me directly. Or that I would work for nights on end on an enormous and lavish sculpture that would testify my skills and characteristics that I could roll into the job agency. “Screw your artistic CV! No one would ever buy that,” I thought. That being said, this experience did, however, inspire me to make a book full of ideas for an artistic curriculum vitae.

Meanwhile, despite my lack of creativity, the job agency hired me to work at an office and gave me a very smart title that only confused my CV even further. My life at the office was set to begin. I worked in a hugely enormous tower with sixteen floors that I could only enter with entry card 2198. This is something that I know because I tried and failed. Each day I’d greet every man and woman in suit (apart from casual Friday, of course,) chatted at the coffee machine, and made many copies. Life at the office was frighteningly simple: pulled a few thousand staples of out dossiers, opened the envelopes, entered and printed out long lists of data, stacked them on top of each other, bundled them with rubber bands, laid them in the cupboard, only to start on the next stack. I did this from 8 am to 4.30 pm, all the while listening to a radio that was hardly audible. Friends and family soon began their many probing questions. Was I holding up alright, was it not killing my soul, was I not ripped from my safe habitat, how was I dealing with it?

But I actually quite enjoyed my time at the office. From the first time I cycled to work, I had begun observing. I observed those who took the same route to the office. This meant that I crossed paths with the same cyclists, for a while the sun came up at the exact moment that I cycled over the bridge, a giant flock of birds would fly from the roof of the stadium, from the top of a dyke I could look into a sweet little house where (if I was on time) I could see a gentleman eating his breakfast (if I was running late, he’d be gone.) Entering the office,, I’d step over the vacuum cleaner’s orange cable and greet the cleaning lady. Once in my workspace, those patterns and systems I adored would continue on.

I observed and probed my colleagues, often asking what they would do in devilish dilemmas, what their dream jobs were, and what their worries were while working at their desks. What I discovered is that I found myself among the most interesting and varied group of people I had ever encountered. Sharon the make up artist gave me tips on make up, Monica from Spain and I would talk about literature, and I once accompanied the very Dutch Anne and Samantha to their weekly McDonalds lunch trip and ate our hamburgers while the pounding of hardcore through speakers and subwoofers violently rammed my sensitive artists’ heart from all sides. I spoke about the use of art and why it shouldn’t be free to Karim, who also worked at his father’s pita bread factory on the side so that he could afford his outfit that cost as much as a whole week of my pay. I found out that the animal caretaker is getting married this year, that the musician’s dreams of making music have died, and tried to understand the conversation between the biologist and the accountant but couldn’t follow it due to my own background. As Gerda the artist I naturally delivered my own contribution to this colourful group. In the hours that we spoke I was exposed to an enormous amount of input, and in the hours that we were silent, my mind ran with the most fantastic and ridiculous ideas, most of which I executed the minute I got out of work. In the meanwhile, I collected my staples in a glass jar to remind myself, in some glorious future, of this period of my life.

The jar has since been filled and the project at the office is over. I’ve been at home with many ideas for works and projects, both running and on the drawing board. Once again, I’ve been diligently typing up job applications for every position you could think of, and sometimes find myself nostalgically thinking back to my academy days. It was a fantastic place, buzzing with possibilities, colourful exuberance, and colourful people. But if there’s one thing I learned in the last year, it’s that the world outside of the academy is just as colourful and that ideas don’t stop—no matter where you are. So I might just go for office-plant-caretaker, furniture tester, chauffeur of a karaoke taxi, bartender at a swimming pool, hotel room cleaner, or find myself some other fascinating occupation. And then, make work or write texts about it. I think that would be fantastic.

The Japanese shoe umbrella

The Japanese shoe umbrella

Driven by the pleasure derived from useless erudition, I’ve been collecting research studies that, due to their complete and utter idiosyncratic nature, have never been linked to any tradition whatsoever. Grouped together, these unsung theories comprise a new field of epistemology: morosophy. Morosophy literally means foolish wisdom or wise foolishness. The morosopher’s wisdom is delusional, creating obviously absurd theories on existence. Unlike mediocre theories constructed by New Age gurus, ufologists, creationists, etcetera; morophist studies are so unusual that they’re ricocheted into the realm of the literary, granting them the title Fous Littéraires in France.

Morosophists deliver outrageous answers to burning questions. Is the earth flat? Was Dutch spoken in paradise? Are atoms spaceships? Is the world entering the Lilac phase?

The Morosophist is always someone whose world has fallen to pieces by a shocking event. With his theory, he manages to rebuild a new universe out of the ruins through which he can, once again, find control over his surroundings. His theories are not fuelled by a search for a higher truth, but by the desire to cope with existence. They are not patients, but are instead held sane by the belief in their delusion. Nor do they live in a world of dreams, but lead a normal life thanks to their fantastical belief in the idiotic.

At this point do we arrive at the most important characteristic of the morosophist: his ability to lead a normal life while being absolutely committed to an absurd theory. The originality of the morosopher stems from a life lived in two worlds, each with its own system of thought. With surprising ease, they alternate between the world of magic and the world of the every day.

A.E. Ing. Panamerenko

AE. Ing. Panamarenko

The Belgian theoriest and artist Panamarenko designs enormous flying machines with magical names such as General Spinaxis, U-Kontrol III, and Meganeudon.

General Spinaxis

Steel, 1978

Like Leonardo da Vinci, he can be categorized in the tradition of those who unsuccessfully attempt flying. Da Vinci’s projects retain their poetic value up until today, despite their total lack of scientific value.

Sketches of Da Vincis helicopter
While Leonardo was searching for something that did not yet exist, namely, the technique of flying, Panamarenko desperately attempts to lift off the ground in the age of space travel. He disregards history and sides with Leonardo as if time has stood still.

The catalogues paint Panamarenko’s primitivism as a poetic protest against the “coldness” of modern technology and the inability for the everyman to grasp it. Or that he’s motivated by the nostalgia for a mythical era in which science was still a personal adventure.

But all this is nonsense, as is evidenced by the thousands of pages scrawled full of Panamerenko’s quasi-scientific calculations.

The morosophist explores areas that are uncharted by the delineations of science. Their work grants us a glimpse of a universe that runs parallel to the official, recognised truths. Morosophy releases us from the acceptance of a world vision that we often see as the only correct and possible one.

Alexander Pope, smallest poet ever

English poet and satirist, never grew beyond 4 ft 6 in (137 cm)

Wilhelm Reich, sex therapist
Alexander Pope, smallest poet ever

English poet and satirist, never grew beyond 4 ft 6 in (137 cm)

Ladies and gentlemen, little artists!

When I was asked to speak to little artists today, I immediately thought of Wilhelm Reich. Rede an den Kleine Mann (Listen, Little Man!) leapt from the deep recesses of my memory. It had been years since I’d thought of this text, the heart-cry of a Polish-Austrian sex therapist. It wasn’t so much the starting point of the text (the little man suffering under the big man,) that made an impression on mebut rather its approach. By speaking directly, man-to-man, Reich ingrains into the little man that his trivial life of servitude is wholly self-inflicted.

Wilhelm Reich, sex therapist
Wilhelm Reich, sex therapist

Little man! Reich calls out, you close your eyes because you’re frightened to death of how small you are, you despise yourself and are most at ease in the role of the beloved slave. You’ll take what you’re given, but you, you only give what is demanded of you. The truth irritates you, and you dislike those who strive for freedom. Instead, you spend all day practicing life tactics. You don’t believe that anyone sat at your table could ever be capable of achieving greatness, yet you’ll believe what you read in the paper without scruples. If you were given the choice between a visit to the library or witnessing a fight, you’d choose to see the fight. And of the big men, you don’t see the truly big men, just the quasi-big who surround themselves a lot of little ones. “Rede an den Kleine Mann” continues on this tangent throughout the whole text. Reich empathises with the addressees because within him, too, resides the little man. However, he sees no worth in half-hearted methods and so he positions himself as a severe yet just father. And that’s just as well, because Rede an den Kleinen Mann thanks its quality to this strictness, despite it hardly being read anymore now that the little man is near extinction.

How different the situation is for the little artist is! The little artist truly is alive, and speeds himself to the auditorium when he hears of a talk especially for little artists.

Alexander Pope, smallest poet ever

English poet and satirist, never grew beyond 4 ft 6 in (137 cm)

Little artist! I call out, every dream of a becoming a grand artist will be met with a hundred cold showers! It’s far easier to rid yourself of the little man in you than the little artist. The little woman in you can be made into a hundred big ones, but the little artist in you won’t ever even be made into one big artist.

Do you remember, little artist what you said at that party, on the boat, after your graduation? “Now I’m an artist,” you said, with that strange combination of self-ridicule and pride. The relativity of your words was obvious, the realisation that this was only just the beginning, that the word artist was still too pretentious and that you only meant it in the sense of the comedian, the singer of songs, the actor in the cabaret. At the same time, you sounded so sure of yourself, as though you’d already moved on and only spoke in literally translated English sentences like “Now I’m an artist.” As if you’d mentally crossed the borders of this puny Dutch city-state, and were already well on your way to becoming a global artist.

This conflict you showed there, dear little artist, is not coincidental or only applicable to you; it seeps through all that is art. There’s the little art, the drudgeries that are mocked, cursed and hushed; and then there’s the big art, declared holy to the extent that it’s beyond reach. The no man’s land between the two is vast as an ocean and impossible to oversee in its totality. The one art is seen as absolutely worthless, and any investment in it seen as money wasted. And the other art is so costly that the even the largest fortune pales in comparison.

You, little artist, might try to cross that ocean in a rowboat. But even if paradise descends on Earth, you’ll still have to make do with what you have as a little artist. You’ll always be kept little with an iron fist without mercy, without sympathy. Herein lies the difference between the little artist and the little man. The little man stayed little because he was poor and powerless. He was able to climb up the ladder, pull himself together, and expand his power and market value. In this way, he could overcome the little man in him.

Alexander Pope, smallest poet ever

English poet and satirist, never grew beyond 4 ft 6 in (137 cm)

Little artists, on the other hand, will never be able to overpower the little artist in them. They'll stay little forever, because they have to start all over again with every new artwork.

True art is invented artwork by artwork. Art refuses to climb, is indifferent towards power, and refuses to pull itself together. Those little artists who think themselves capable of influencing their own market value are victims of the Great Postmodern Misunderstanding that claims artists to be tradesmen.

Not a hundred workshops in art management, nor a hundred networks, oh little arts, can exceed your market value past the size of a lottery ticket; only the lottery owner and the notary could influence it. Little artists who can't understand this haven't overcome the little man in them yet. The little man did useful things, these useful things could be magnified and used in transactions.Art, however, is of no use. Useful art is not art.

Nevertheless, from time to time, a little artist in his rowboat will unexpectedly arrive at the shores of the big art. After all, the prize money has to fall at some point on one out of every hundred thousand lottery tickets. But generally speaking, the little artist will have to rack himself just like the little man: he'll have to slave away, to sweat, and to toil. For eternity, because the little artist will never disappear. That's just the way it is, the little artist will suffer forever and ever. And all this suffering is no guarantee for great achievements, however much a pity this may be for the Tenacious Romantic Misunderstanding. The one that says that blood, sweat, and tears suffice to make an artwork regardless if no one sees it, understands it, or buys it.

Little artist! No life is more frustrating, thankless, yes, inhumane than yours! You're at the very bottom rung, holding on to the top and there's absolutely nothing in the space between. All that keeps you going is hope, "hope, the wings of all time," as the little poet says. But hope for what? Don't say you hope for greatness, dear little artist; or worse yet, that you hope for fame. You cannot strive to be great, greatness emerges all on its own. Instead of trying to defeat the little artist in you, you're probably better off dispelling the great, famous artist stuck inside your head.

All you can really want is to live for art, to work, to make something, then make something better, invent an artwork, and then invent another artwork. The only thing you have to want, is to want to know. Wanting to know, knowledge, the rest is irrelevant. The nature of that knowledge or where it comes from is irrelevant. There's as much to learn from a good fistfight as there is from the library.

The legendary world champion boxer, Muhammed Ali, once delivered a speech to the students of Harvard University. He said: 'In my own way, I've studied a whole lot. But that's not what people pay for, people pay for follies. The wise man can play a fool, but the fool can't play a wise man. I play a whole lot."

Please understand little artist, Muhammed Ali, he’s a great artist,..


Grand Tour souvenir: painting of vulcano
Grand Tour souvenir, small items
Grand Tour souvenir: painting of vulcano

The Grand Tour, a journey to discover the classics, the arts, and social conduct, was exceptionally popular with the British upper class. When in the 18th century, Oxford and Cambridge lost much of their esteem many aristocrats decided to send their post-Eton sons off to explore the world instead. Their accrued knowledge and life experience would prepare young men – and from the 19th century onwards, women too – for key positions in society. Most travellers were younger than twenty, no more than boys for whom sowing their wild oats was implicit on their journey: the first lessons in love and gambling learnt.

Paris, and especially Italy, were the most important destinations on the Grand Tour. Travelling was time consuming and programmes were filled to the brim. Usually, the Grand Tourist’s voyage would last anywhere from six months to two years. The Venice carnival, Easter in Rome, an erupting Vesuvius had all to be seen and taken in.

To ensure the Tour’s success, the young traveller was assigned a bear leader (chaperone.) This would often be a man who knew their destination well and would show the little lord his way. Depending on the budget and the duration of the voyage, the Tourist might have been escorted by one or more chamberlains and a coachman. Many travellers hired a local to make sure that there would be at least one member of the party who could make himself understandable. The family’s foreign relations, local guides, or antiques dealers provided tours and introductions.

The Grand Tourist found himself in an endless stream of site seeing; too much, perhaps, to remember upon his return home. For this reason, most travellers wrote letters home or kept a travel log.

Of course, souvenirs that served as tangible memories of the trip were acquired along the way. Sometimes these would be original antiquities, other times the Grand Tourist would buy (scale) models of artworks, architectural structures, monuments, sculptures in bronze or marble, prints, drawings, paintings, and so-called dactyliothecae, made especially for this purpose.

The souvenirs gave status to their owners, acted as ‘conversation pieces’ during dinners with relations, friends, family members, and illustrated the Tourist’s gained knowledge and experience. Ultimately, they were used in art education and had a great deal of influence on the development of art and architecture. Every important art academy in the 19th century owned a collection of plaster sculptures, cast from famous sculptures from antiquity.

Grand Tour Souvenir: Hercules Farnese
Grand Tour Souvenir: sculpture
Grand Tour Souvenir: model of a temple
Robert Klatser, circa1967

Robert Klatser, circa 1967

Robert Klatser, circa1963

Robert Klatser, circa 1963

Robert Klatser, circa1967

Robert Klatser, circa 1967

“That which is creative, creates itself” – John Keats

Nothing remains unsaid at schools; everything is up for discussion. The child’s right to cherish his secrets is denied him. There doesn’t seem to be a place for daydreams, fantasies, or repression. Every minute of a child’s life must be meaningful. But children want to play and experiment without pretension. They should be allowed to form images and thoughts that manifest themselves within the hidden corners of the mind, far away and out of sight from others.

I live by the grace of the countless images that impose themselves upon me every three hundredth millisecond. The distance between the conscious and the unconscious seems minimal. Useless thoughts dominate my brain and link together to create a chain of countless, fleeting thoughts. Every action and all behaviour are preceded by fictional plans and fantastic imaginations.

My ability to make exceptional drawings was recognized early at kindergarten. Were parents and teachers competent to recognize ability? On the grounds of what criteria were my drawings assessed? When I analyse them, I notice realism, detail, and intensity. The sense of imagination is not strikingly idiosyncratic or expressive. The use of colours seems realistic. The images were related to trips and outings I’d made, as well as creatures like garden gnomes and fantastical animals. Goblins. The challenge was to portray these imaginary images as perfectly as possible. Kids don’t strive for expressionism. Only adults appreciate the visible struggle of creation or the painter’s movements coagulated in paint upon the canvas.

My talent had little to do with the characteristics that would be important for a future artistic practice.

At primary school I endlessly drew mice with human features, top secret flying, driving, and diving survival cars; and even historical events made their appearance, like the beheading of van Oldebarneveld. Many artists say that they’ve felt like an outsider and an observer since childhood, and to have a greater sensitivity to their surroundings.

Teachers interpreted the bloody drawings as expressions of mental illness or family issues. By doing so, they made an implicit connection between artistic quality and mental abnormality. I had an undeniable urge to shock. Bloody, scary scenes lent themselves well for this. It isn’t only admiration that stimulates the need to create, a negative response likewise stimulates this need; I’ll show them! The feeling of being an outcast energised me.

When I was twelve, I had a teacher sporting a bow tie who presented himself as an artist. He created an inspiring environment by being a role model, observer, dreamer and rebel. The point of departure is what formed the student’s ideas, while constantly referring to art and artistry. He had faith in the idea of the student. It was this attitude that also drew students to him who had little to no interest in art. He was very conscientious, delayed his judgement and was constantly alert. The students believed in his honesty. Without being aware of it, he was a forerunner in what now would be called authentic teaching.

Still, I was seen as a talented student. That implies a promise that had simply to be fulfilled. At this point, heading to the academy seemed self-evident.

The promise remains. But the longer it stands, the less likely it is that it will be realized. As time goes by, personal identity becomes entwined with the identity of the artist. This makes quitting impossible. With Bourdieu in mind, being an artist is like a coat that I can’t take off, for if I do, I’d be naked.