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

Robert Cervera, Untitled (Jelly Reservoir), 2013. Strawberry jelly, concrete dust.

There are human instances in which we get quite close to understanding the language of materials.

There’s the hoe plunging into the soil: crumbly in its first inches, then more pliable as we reach the moist underneath, then almost solid in the fresh darkness of laborious earthworms. Tchak and the worm is two.

There’s the bundle that a wood seller makes with logs or sticks; the line-like tension of the rope that seconds ago was sleeping amorphously in his pocket.

Robert Cervera, Pink Nappe, 2013. Polyvinyl, cement.

There’s the moment in which you sillily slightly slice the skin of your hand and for a second you don’t know what the physical bill will be: a momentary white line, a surge of blood, anything in between.

There is sculpture in those things. And there is a chance those things may be in a sculpture. And the sound they make – a sound in your mind – sends us back, like a sonar, an image of the world.

Materiality and human agency talk to each other. Squeeze, slice, drench, chafe, wedge, pat. Haptic marvels. How things feel, what they make us feel.

Robert Cervera, Untitled (Theatre Bundle), 2013. Concrete, adhesive tape.

(No distinction can be made between humanity and materiality, Hegel and Bordieu would say. We humans are materials which create other materials which then redefine us. The things we make, make us.)

The unbounded nature of the universe comes into the discussion. Matter flowing, going everywhere, and us chasing it, telling it to go this or that way, to stay in line, to wait in groups of four, of sixteen, of sixty-four.

We try our best to make the uncountable countable, to mark limits and give shape. We end up frustrated and beguiled at once by its unruliness, charmed by its oozing.

Robert Cervera

(Is it possible that we contain matter in the paradoxical way some cage birds, to better admire their flight?)

I am fascinated by that and also by the unexpected occurrence, the providential blunder, which I take to be one more chapter of our ongoing dialogue with materiality.

The purchase of my first digital camera meant the sudden end of any inhibitions I still had when it comes to taking pictures. It marked the beginning, however, of my transformation into a full-time Japanese tourist, relentlessly clicking at the sight of anything even remotely close to being interesting. It resulted in an endless amount of photos of endearing kitties in the streets, women with big butts walking ahead of you, of yourself in every setting imaginable in this world, of everybody you have talked to for longer than five minutes and of your own legs on the bed of your hotel room. Suddenly I had a picture of everything. Which, of course, seems very nice, but isn’t.

I remember only taking two 24-shot film rolls with me for a month’s vacation. Was the rice served on our plates in the shape of a little bear worth a picture or not? Now I thoughtlessly take twenty in one go, assuming that the ideal picture will surely be among them in due time. The euphoria of taking as many pictures as you like has long faded now, although I shall never again be able to go back to limited photographing with film rolls, it’s simply too late for that. What I had to figure out, then, was a new way of handling my digital camera.

My first priority was to bring some order into my picture archive, which already consisted of thousands of photos. I decided upon a Flickr account. For all of you who have been living underneath a rock: Flickr is a website on which people manage and share their photo collections, making it also the world’s biggest online photo archive. About five thousand new pictures are uploaded every second and the total amount of photos is estimated at around 300.000.000.

Putting my archive online, thereby making it freely accessible to anyone, even my potential future loved one (you never know), made me look at my pictures critically again, eventually uploading only my best photos. A collection appeared that, with regards to selectivity, equaled the one that would have resulted if I had shot on film.

But something else happened as well. Pictures that I had shot out of sheer boredom, such as the photo of my own hairy legs, on a bed with a pink flowered sheets in a sad hotel (in which I stayed all by myself since I had to attend a boring congress in Bergen op Zoom), appeared to have survived the selection process.

It was a picture I would have never shot if it had required any thought, but which I found interesting nevertheless by virtue of the immense sadness that spoke from it.

A couple of days later I received an email. On Flickr there are different groups that gather photos around a theme. I was emailed by the administrator of the group ‘Sitting in my Hotel Room’ asking me if I would add the photo to the group. I took a look first, finding almost two thousand pictures taken by people alone in their hotel rooms. Most of these were very ugly, uninteresting pictures by themselves. For example, some show only a television screen with a painting of a mountain landscape above it, or a view of a city full of skyscrapers, captured from the hotel window. Pictures that look like you have seen them a thousand times before, and many of them are of very poor quality.

Nevertheless, something magical happened when I saw all these photos together. All of a sudden I could see the thousands, millions of people before my eyes who spend every night somewhere in an anonymous hotel, alone in the world except for the company of their digital cameras. By seeing all these photos together the sadness was enormously magnified, for in this photo archive the world seems to contain lonely hotel guests solely. At the same time it consoles: all these people are not alone, but convene on this site.

I found another group that fit the same picture: ‘Bored Leg Cult’. In this group one mainly finds photos of people who took pictures of their legs everywhere in the world, sometimes standing, mostly lying down and, for obvious reasons, always without torso. Interesting was how this group completely changed the context of that same picture. In the midst of all the hotel pictures it became a sad picture, but in this group, among all those other legs severed from their bodies, it became happy and funny.

It quickly transpired that I could find groups for almost all my photos. There are groups for pictures of dogs photographed as humans; deserted shopping carts; food items eating themselves; cats with hats; the colour red; people with aids; you name it and there’s a group for it. And the strange thing is that every time I added a photo, the context changed completely. The photo is no longer autonomous, but part of a series. How else to interpret my picture of a shopping cart left behind in a field when seen among more than a thousand pictures of carts in deserts, marshy canals, gorgeous beaches or hanging from trees?

And thus a collection emerges that a sole photographer would have never been able to make, because who manages to find so many shopping carts? A collection that consists only out of pictures that might have been shot without much thought, and yet all of them together create something bigger.

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Mud - mother of all materials? Dirty and unscrutable.
Ceramicists lovingly/jokingly refer to their material as mud and admire both its ability to be formed into an object and likewise to crumble.

“Uit de klei getrokken” (translates from Dutch to: drawn from clay) is an intriguing rudimentary cup and saucer set. The designer, Lonny van Rijswijck, used various sorts of Dutch clay. Thanks to the baking process, variations in colour and texture are made visible. A pale yellow hue from Limburg, a shiny brown from Utrecht, Brabo terra cotta. It’s these differences that, according to the creator, visualise the “impressive but unpretentious similarities between origin and identity”

As an artistic concept it’s exceptionally effective. In terms of functionality and form it’s not quite as successful. In other words, the concept materialised through tableware raises a legion of issues. Not in the least by its material.

Set, Lonny van Rijswijck

A cultural and historical interpretation:
In Items 1993/2 I asked Benno Premsela, authority on design, about possible reasons for the – at that time – undervaluation of Dutch designers. Premsela had already given up hope. How could this country of “redistributors of sand and mud” match themselves to countries like Italy and Finland? Needless disdain! Clay is derived from mud that despite it’s simple image, might be the mother of all materials.

Outside of Europe, mud also has its uses: like in the bogolans, clay paintings from Mali, where imposing structures are built using clay. During Mali’s celebration of its independence in 1960, the need arised to swiftly produce festive clothing. The Malinese rediscovered the bogolon techiniqque with which mud was used to print patterns in deep black onto fabric. As a result, yearly competitions were held to determine which region made the most exquisite bogolan. In the seventies, Malinese artists and fashion designers began to seriously apply bogolan. Besides deep black, brilliant white prints were made.

Chris Seydou Mud Decoration Dress
The fashion designer Chris Seydou presented his winter collection in Paris in 1979 with bogolan shawls and headwear in Keith Haring-like motifs. The Nigerian fashion designer Alphadi broadened the bogolan spectrum with blue, green , and even pink. By the time Seydou died in 1994, bogolan had achieved the same status in Mali as batik had in Indonesia.
Chen Zhen, World in out of the World, 1991
Back to the source, mud. For his installations, the French-Chinese artist Chen Zhen (1955-2000) covered rubbish with a layer of mud. By covering these objects from our world of the disposable, Chen removes all technological glamour and in turn, deculturalises them. The mud erases the purpose of the objects and allows them to return, purified, to their origin in , to their heart and soul.

“I don’t care it’s muddy there/it is my house [...] My heart cries out for muddy water.” – Bessie Smith

Muddy Water

Bessie Smith and her Blue Boys, Muddy Water, A Mississippi Moan Parlophone 78

What does it mean to collect? And why do people collect? Is collecting a hobby, or is it a neurotic compulsion?

Instead of speaking of a neurosis, an art collector will speak of having a passion. When is a collection complete, when do you stop collecting, and when do you begin a new collection? There are a lot of things I collect, like super8 cameras, retro consoles, chairs, musical instruments and much more. Probably because I’m not good at throwing things away and I easily buy things at flea markets. I don’t collect art. I get art either through trading or being given it by friends and colleagues.

My largest collection is of wrapped scaffolding in front of the fronta of buildings. I started this collection after I installed a castle of 25 square metres for the exhibition “Het weiland dat beroemd wilde worden” (The meadow that wanted to be famous) at Dertien Hectare. This “castle” was wrapped in white “scaffolding” canvas.

It’s been years, but I still take a photo nearly every day while cycling, driving, taking the bus or the tram of canvas, often coloured, wrapped around a scaffolding in front of a building. My collection spans thousands of photos, and I find myself reaching for my phone whenever I spot a scaffold.

I’ve reached a point where my friends immediately recognise what I’m about to do, and sometimes even jokingly send me a photo they’ve made with their own phone. For me, it’s not about the photo, but about the action and the collection that ensues from it.

In my case, it truly is a neurotic compulsion and I simply can’t stop expanding my collection.

Making a snapshot of a new colour or colour combination against a facade gives me a sensation of pleasure.

Around two years ago, I started a new photo collection that I, once again, collect using my phone’s camera.

Often, when I’m standing or sitting somewhere, I’ll take out my phone, turn on the camera, and take a photo. The picture will always show my feet and possibly those of the person next to me.

Many of my shoes, trousers, and slippers have made their appearance, and the locations are greatly varied.

This collection, too, now consists of thousands of photos...

The key to being a good painter is by placing the last brushstroke on the canvas at precisely the right moment.

Will I only be able to stop collecting scaffolds if I make an artwork out of them? My wife has been telling me for years that I should make them into a publication.

I never started this collection with the intention of making an artwork, but because I simply felt the necessity to collect.

Often, neurosis, hobby, or passion will form an important part of an artist’s oeuvre. Sometimes on purpose, other times through intuition.

Untitled (Weibo), screengrab taken through untitledinternet.com. Constant Dullaart 2013
Untitled (Weibo), screengrab taken through untitledinternet.com. Constant Dullaart 2013
Untitled (Weibo), screengrab taken through untitledinternet.com. Constant Dullaart 2013
Untitled (Weibo), screengrab taken through untitledinternet.com. Constant Dullaart 2013

In China, Facebook is called Weibo and Whatsapp is named Baidu. Google is Baidu and Youtube Youku. They're all the same, but very different. As much as China seems to be a world on its own with its distinct worldview, their version of the internet also happens to be completely different. It's like looking at reality through a completely different type of window. Wikipedia doesn't function over there and you can't reach (our) Facebook either. The replacing websites work in about the same way, the differences are subtle but crucial. Weibo makes you login with your Chinese ID number. 'Dissonant' posts are not appreciated and you receive virtual medals when you report violations to the site's moderators. Since recently, a post about a politician can land you in jail once it's been shared more than five hundred times. But there's a solution. After paying a fee, you can use a 'virtual private network' that allows you to use the internet as if you are using it from a different country. That way you can enter still Facebook, because foreigners can't use many of Weibo's services.


Thanks to whistle blower Edward Snowden we know by now that American web services keep track of who posts what, just like China does. And that seems to be the best tactic, keeping an eye on people's online activity, as we've seen during the Arab spring. You can say whatever you want, but it's being monitored and it can be used against you anytime later. I created a Weibo account using an adjusted Chinese ID. After applying an auto translation I gazed at the internet through that other window. This constantly changing view on the online landscape demands for a critical eye and for new art works regarding this landscape. It's good to see as much as possible and to be on the look out for any beautiful landscapes.

http://www.bustle.com/articles/5443-china-teen-weibo-user-detained-for-post-as-communist-partys-web-censorship-cracks-down

http://www.constantdullaart.com/youkube.png

YouKu / YouTube, Constant Dullaart 2012, online video.

Untitled (Weibo), screengrab taken through untitledinternet.com. Constant Dullaart 2013