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

On the 25th of September 2010, artist Jeroen Werner turned fifty. Hester Alberdingk Thijm came up with a mirror dinner party; his work as an artist is often about reflection and mirroring. The table was covered with reflecting foil with a hologram effect, and on it stood many old glass items from AkzoNobel’s laboratories. Some of these lab bottles were filled with water coloured with ecoline ink. There were hundreds of silver-coloured tea lights, silver-coloured balloons, and a chandelier that all children had helped to build.

The favourite items from the birthday boy, ranging from wooden spoons to brushes, were given a silver-colour spray coating. The names of the guests were written on concave mirrors. The guests, too, were dressed in reflectors, so that everyone mirrored one another.
There was dancing and singing and everybody stayed over for the night.


oyster
a man made of cheese and ashes
Little 'Assmann' burning
Chandelier
Cake
Cake
postcard 1
Postcard 3
Postcard 2
Postcard 4
Postcard 5
Postcard 6
Postcard 7
postcard 1

Since the start of the last century, the French have known a tradition of sending one another so-called ‘poisson d’Avril’ (April Fish) messages. These are richly decorated postcards depicting a fish, often surrounded by flowers and a few lines of text.

The flowers most likely allude to the changing of seasons; after all, the 1st of April is set at the very beginning of springtime. More importantly, the vernal equinox is the ultimate metaphor for the blossoming of new love and the excitement that spring brings with it. The fish represents the hope of love requited by a (secret) object of affection, captioned by texts such as ‘Quand arrive avril, tous les fleurs en France, s’ouvrent à l’amour, pêcheur d’espérance!’ (All the flowers in France open in April for love, the fisher of hope!)

The sender hopes with all his heart that the addressee will answer his love: ‘Parce message discret / je vous envoie, ma toute belle / Mon plus cher et plus doux sécret / Mais vous ne serez pas cruelle?’ (With this secret message I send to you, my beautiful, my most precious and tender of secrets/ Please, do not be cruel.)

From the beginning of 1900, tens of thousands of April fish swam their way to an equal amount of lovers, proving to be the way to declare your love, albeit anonymously, in the form of what essentially is a Valentine’s card avant la letter.

It’s not quite clear why a fish was chosen as the symbol of springtime and love. Some believe that it has to do with the mating season of the fish, which occurs around April. During this period a fishing ban is enforced in France. To mislead illegal fishing, fake fish are thrown into the water during mating season. When a fisherman catches a pseudo-fish, men cry ‘poisson d’Avril!’ The April Fish is like the French April fool’s gag.

In this sense, the tradition of the April Fish is still alive and kicking. On the 1st of April, cut out paper fish are stuck on the back of an unsuspecting passerby who, when the fish on his back is noticed, is declared the ‘poisson d’Avril!’

Besides paper fish, edible fish are also popular. Around the 1st of April, the storefronts ofFrench patisseries and chocolatiers display an unending supply of chocolate fish and all sorts of fish-shaped pastries. Still, the fish is an object of seduction, although no longer through the mailman’s delivery, being instead served on platters in shop windows. Because in the end, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.

Postcard 5
Postcard 6
Postcard 7

The Three Princes of Serendip

Horace Walpole

The Three Princes of Serendip

In 1754, the British author Horace Walpole invented the term serendipity, describing it as "making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things not in quest of". The name Serendip refers to The Princes of Serendip, a Persian fairy-tale in which three noble Persians from Sri Lanka made all sorts of unexpected observations that all turned out to be accurate.

The Three Princes of Serendip

The modern definition of serendipity is:

1) The talent to correctly interpret an unexpected observation and 2) the fruits of this talent.

In short, serendipity is the art of finding something you weren’t looking for, or the unplanned discovery itself. These can be “coincidental” discoveries, inventions or creations from science, technology or art; as well as unanticipated thoughts. In regards to serendipity, the word coincidental doesn’t correspond to the mathematical sense of randomness. Instead, it has a psychological meaning: something “falls to you,” often while you’re looking for something different.

One of these “coincidental” observations is usually the observable result of an (at that time) unknown cause. As soon as that unknown cause becomes known, the coincidental character of the observation disappears. Practice shows that it’s useful to interpret unanticipated observations as accurately as possible, especially if they contain the possibility of uncovering something grand. These wonderful observations can be seen as enigmas, anomalies, or novelties.

An enigma comprises of a mystery that no normal theory can explain. This was the case, for example, when the ancient Greeks observed, to their surprise, that amber attracts dust. By definition, an anomaly conflicts with accepted theory. When experiments showed that uranium cores could be split, this contradicted the prevailing belief that it was impossible to divide atoms. The idea could not be understood until the previous belief was dismissed. A novelty is different and does not conflict with accepted theories. Drais’ observation that he could use the steer of his pushbike to keep his balance was well within the mechanics of his time.

The Sophists knew that it’s impossible to actively look for the unknown, because you won’t know what it is you’re looking for. After all, nothing truly new can be derived from the old, because then it wouldn’t be really new. A surprise is needed; an exceptional observer or wondrous thought is needed to find something truly unknown.

Systematic searching and coincidental finding (serendipity) do not rule one another out. They compliment and intensify each another. Unintentional discoveries tend to be by catch. Of course, as long as you’re sitting on your bottom, you won’t stumble upon anything at all.

The “coincidental discovery” is rare. More common is the “coincidental observation” that is correctly interpreted. This demands previous knowledge. After all, you have to know what to expect in order to observe the unexpected as such. And correctly interpreting this demands knowledge and experience.

So, “expect the unexpected” (freely quoted from Heraclitus). And “readiness is all!” (Shakespeare) Poe commanded: “count on the unforeseen”!