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

Have you ever wondered what goes through a dog’s mind? I know I have, especially for two particular dogs I’ve had in my life. They were my best friends and I will always remember them.

Growing up, I didn’t have any friends and my parents thought it would be a good idea to get a dog for the family. We adopted a nine year old shepherd from the animal shelter named Tosca. This old girl became my best friend. I even like to think she saw herself as my guardian and me as her pup. But seeing her age she only lived for a couple of years. And one day while I was petting her noticed that her nipples were bleeding. I ran upstairs to tell my mother, she said we had to go the veterinarian to check her out. Her voice sounded reassuring and her facial expression didn’t change, so I thought everything was going to be okay. But I cried all the way to the veterinarian anyway, I was so scared because I knew something was wrong.

My hunch proved true when we arrived. The vet told us she had breast cancer. I remember thinking “that isn’t so bad, cancer can be cured right?” But things wouldn’t be that easy, it would have meant a lot of medical attention and she was already very old. Besides, my parents didn’t have the money or time to take care of her. At that moment I couldn’t comprehend any of this, I was so angry that they were putting her to sleep.

She was my best friend! They knew that, right? She can’t leave me yet!

That night of one of my dear friends died. I held her andshe licked away my tears comforting me. It should have been the other way around.

Until this day I am still wondering what went through her mind. Did she know she was ill? Did she understand what was happening to her? I blamed myself because I was the one who discovered her bleeding nipples. I thought that if I hadn’t anything she would have lived at least one more day.. Then I would have had the chance to say goodbye to her, to give her the best day of her life.

When she passed away, Tosca left a huge gap. I felt alone again when I came home. I missed her presence. I missed talking to someone. My mom vowed to never take a pet again, she couldn’t take the emotional drain it took to see an animal die. But I just couldn’t handle the silence. The house was so empty without her. I started looking around for a new dog, a new friend. I convinced my parents and I found a program that transfers stray dogs from Spain to the Netherlands. That’s where I saw Jimmy.

Everything you can think of was arranged by the organisation, his passport, flight, vaccines, you name it. I only had to pick him up from the airport and pay of course. When the moment was there, my mom and I drove to the Airport Schiphol and awaited him. I was so anxious and nervous. “What if he doesn’t like me, of what if I don’t like him!?” I even had nightmares about it. My mom assured me it would be fine, and gave me a bag of treats that I could give to him. We went to the assigned gate and saw more people waiting for their adopted pets. I panicked and didn’t want people to take my future friend so I made sign with his name on it. Nothing could go wrong now.

I kept wondering what kind of dog he was and if we could get along well. The first thing I knew for sure was that Jim was really good at giving paws. It was the first thing he did after he got out of the cage. I gave him a treat every time he did. But he kept doing it, so I ended up giving him the whole bag of treats. For me it was love at first sight.

In the end he became my best friend, where I went he went with me. He was the first one I saw in the morning and the last one I said goodnight, we were inseparable. He was just nine months old when I got him and I taught him everything I could teach him on my own. He understood me like no one else could and I loved him. But I grew older, made friends, started dating, got a job and started studying. I still tried to take care of him the best I could, took him wherever I went if it was possible and my parents would sometimes even look after him. On top of that I started living on my own and it became impossible to take care of him, I felt immense guilt when I left him alone at home and I didn’t have enough time for him anymore.

A couple of months ago, I had to give my best friend away.

He lives with a couple on the countryside now, it sounds ideal but I wonder if he agrees. I will never know if he’s happy there or if he’ll miss me. I threw a goodbye party the day before he got picked up by his new owners. I thought that would make things easier and it would give me a chance to say goodbye. But he had no idea what was happening and just went happily along with it. How do you say goodbye to someone that doesn’t know he’s leaving? Sometimes I wonder how things would have been if I knew what he thought. Did he bother being alone, did he wanted to stay with me? Would he have said goodbye?

Back in the day, it was exciting enough to surf the Internet and just watch some porn, to send each other funny Youtube videos or to just read up on the most absurd articles about aliens. Presently, all of this is overshadowed: cats rule the Internet. Who needs porn when there are some cute cats to look at?

Youtube is overloaded with funny cats videos; Facebook is oversaturated with posts and photos of cats, as are 9gag and 4chan. Cats, cats, cats are everywhere. If you’re not into cats, you can forget about being popular on the Internet. Cat porn, or Catomania, is the newest and biggest trend in Internet culture.

I’m not the first and surely not the last to cover this topic. How is it that this viral phenomenon (or maybe even a 'viral' virus?) can attract so much attention? Around 2005 a phenomenon called LOLcats appeared on the Internet. It was all about funny cat pictures with some comically misspelled captions.

We can say it was the very beginning of an obsession with cats spanning the entire Internet. The very first website which was dedicated to LOLcats images was icanhas.cheezburger.com. It started as a joke between two friends and became viral. The hype spread so fast and so thoroughly that in 2007 projects like the LOLcat Bible appeared, in which the entire Bible is translated into LOLcat language. Why would someone find this entertaining enough to spend their time on?

Perhaps it’s because we’re always looking for easy distractions. Being an adult is one of the most difficult tasks in life: being responsible, working hard, trying to build relationships: all of this requires a lot of energy and brain work, so why we shouldn’t please ourselves and procrastinate while watching something both cute and funny, like, for example, LOLcats?

In 2008 digital thinker and MIT Center for Civic Media director, Ethan Zuckerman, raised a new theory on how cats (that were already occupying the internet) could disseminate revolutionary political content. It’s well known that all governments censor political information on the Internet, whether great or small- especially a country like China. It’s easy for them to block URL addresses, but that is not the case with keywords. This led to the idea to use cute pictures of cats as a tool for spreading revolutionary political content.Now this is where it becomes serious. Cats on the Internet no longer only serve for fun and entertainment, they have now become a powerful tool for spreading and hiding ideas from the government. It’s pure genius.

It might be the case that the cat hype spread over the Internet as fast as it did thanks to the many introverted people who spend large parts of their lives online. In 2013, research at Missouri University of Science and Technology proved that most of the people who spend the majority of their time online are introverted. This does make some sense. It can be easier to communicate online, which can make you feel more confident. And perhaps cats, too, appeal mostly to the introverted: there is no need to walk them and to enter the outside world.

So it might make sense that introverted cats owners who spend most of their time online have greatly helped to spread this cat culture over the web. Cats are our new pop stars. They have their own fan pages, twitter and Instagram accounts. Even mascots and t-shirts. It’s a new cat era. A cat with a sad facial expression named “grumpy cat” now has almost 7 million likes on Facebook. That means that 7 million people are united by going crazy over one cat that accidentally has a strange facial expression. A little shop in the center of The Hague even has a section with toys and souvenirs dedicated to this cat.

I am not afraid of spiders. In fact these, these creatures particularly remind me of my childhood and make me feel nostalgic rather than disgusted.

Spiders appear as the royal king in the kingdom of insects. They are the most mysterious and the most beautiful. We all admire their extraordinary ability to create webs: structures that could be seen as something in between tree houses and vicious traps. Our perhaps we admire them because human technology is still unable to deliver a structure equally simple and light yet powerful.

They are familiar to us both as dangerous enemies and as prey. We admire these insects because we are truly afraid of them, and it is not wise to disrespect an ominous enemy. Especially when that potentially deadly and dangerous creature can be so much smaller than us, since we tend to relate power to the size.

Maybe what is the most fascinating about these animals is that even they seem to be the closest to more developed and closer to human species like for example dogs and cats, they remain mute.

What might be the most fascinating thing about these animals is that although they resemble cats and dogs in their domestic proximity to humans, they remain mute. They accompany us in our kitchens, bathrooms, and attics; yet they emit no sounds of approval. The other animals that we have deemed intelligent and live so close to us communicate their joy or discontent, but not spiders. Are they simply aloof? Like us maybe? Or maybe they do not think at all?

Spiders not only inhabit the area located someway between intelligent animals and the grey mass of insects and lower forms of life like bacteria: dangerous but robbed of any personal traits (When we think about any other bug, we usually think about THEM, in plural, when a spider appears, it is a lonely hunter most often and this gives him more individual traits.) but also the area between what is disgusting and fascinating. What disgusts about them is their set of eyes that lack the characteristics of a personal gaze. Their hairy legs also somehow do not make them fluffy and cuddly, instead they express something more primal, a scary force of brutal nature.

Louise Bourgeouise's sculptures of giant spiders can be regarded as a homage to these little monsters. Reimagined by the artist they seem to posses all of their core traits of "character" but made more visible, more tangible. They drift above our heads, like they do in ordinary life, on their strong, scary legs. Suddenly they can encircle us, and create a shadow over us, but is it really something unusal when they live all around us in the pipes of the houses we inhabit, under-the-carpet areas that nobody has ever time and enough energy to clean or in the corner under the ceiling where the human eye, tired of the every day routine, cannot, or at least does not want to, notice them?

Bourgeois compared the spider to her mother's omnipresent way of being. My memories of them somehow send me to my grandmother because of many reasons.

First of all, she owned a beautiful necklace in the shape of a spider made of artificial emeralds. This piece of jewelry interested me a lot when I was a child, made me think up different stories of its provenance or to imagine to whom it might have had belonged before, even though it was only made of plastic.

I can also remember her room in my family home that was truly full of spider webs and spiders. She never allowed my sister and I to kill them because that brings bad luck. Instead we were taught to catch them, to let them crawl onto an old newspaper, which she kept so many of in her own quarters, and then gently place them outside the window so they could live in the garden.

The Japanese writer Yukio Mishima once wrote that he was scared of crabs. He said he could even faint just by looking at the Japanese character for crab: ‘蟹’ . The character’s form reminded him of the horrible appearance of crabs, so he could only read it in the Kana version: ‘カニ’. However, Mr. Mishima did enjoy having crab served as a delicious dish. It reminded me that I had almost exactly the same phobia, however, mine was for fish!

Whenever I tell friends for the first time that I’m scared of fish, besides the funny expression on their faces, the most frequent reaction I get is a big question mark: ‘Do you eat fish?’. For sure, I eat fish and I enjoy sashimi and sushi, I eat them raw, no kidding! I would also not go mad if I saw a dead fish floating above water, or tuna cut into pieces and frozen in the freezer. My favourite photographer Araki has a beautiful picture of a salmon head with a bunch of flowers in its mouth and I still like it. I like small goldfish, and those tiny little colourful creature like betta fish and guppies don't bother me much, in fact, I always kept them at home since I was little. Fancy male fighting fish, which are sold in separate cups, never constitute a risk to me.

Fish have cold eyes, and are covered with mirror-like silver scales which reflect fluorescent light, and they squeeze together in limited closed water spaces. They are too quiet, wandering inside the over decorated fish tanks, spinning around and around, killing their time.

There is ambivalence and ambiguity in my phobia because I am not against the whole concept of ‘fish’, I would describe it specifically as the fear of deep sea scenery and large-scale fish. The last time I had a panic attack was when I was browsing the websites of vintage hand-made botanical pictures, and I accidentally clicked on the category of ‘sea life’, each image had three fish drawn from different perspectives. Even though they were drawings for the study of ancient fish, I found it unbearable.

In Chinese supermarkets, live fish are kept in tanks to guarantee ultimate freshness. Just imagine the humming sounds from the filters and the ultraviolet lamps, the unusual blueness in the background that creates an unordinary spooky atmosphere.

Almost every supermarket has these fish tanks in the seafood aisle. And it's especially the city I spent my whole life in, Shenzhen, along the southern coast of China where seafood is a well-known specialty, that never ceases to bring me endless inspiration for my nightmare.

As I got older, my symptoms kept getting worse. After trying to analyse my phobia, I realised that instead of having an aversion to fish, I was afraid of aquatic scenes. At seventeen, I was still bothered by why I always dreamt of aquariums, so I read Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams, which said that the source of dreams lies in recent experiences and childhood memories.

Tracing this back to my childhood, I remembered I spent a whole summer vacation in which my little cousin and I were both obsessed with watching the sea life screensaver on my uncle’s computer. It was an odd situation in which we spent hours imitating the fish swimming up and down. At a certain point, while staring at the screensaver, I was suddenly overcome by a feeling of fear and isolation.

The worst of my dreams was of drowning in a closed tank filled with water, with my head stuck in the bottom of the narrow container. There were huge fish with their typical expressionless faces swimming up and down and surrounding me. They didn't even attack me, but the clock seemed to have stopped at that moment, and it felt like an eternity of desperation. When I woke up, the images overwhelmed my mind and the fear I felt lingered for the whole day!

I’ve looked my condition up on the Internet, and I was glad to find that I am not the only weirdo. There is term that is used to describe these specific symptoms, which is officially called ‘ichthyophobia’, usually caused by a traumatic past experience.

However, I never figured out what triggered my fear initially. I’ve tried to recall any severe tragedy concerning with aquatic situations, but I failed to dig up any origins. Last summer I was disappointed to find that I couldn't even take a look at a gold fish store in the distance, while two years ago I could stay inside one of these shops for ten minutes. I’ve tried to train myself to look at fish tanks when I pass the grocery store, and I keep on telling myself not to be afraid, but every time I see one I just close my eyes at once, take a long breath to slow down my racing heart and walk away to let the fear flow away.

Somewhere, high up in the mountains, there was a tiny village where only blind people lived. Although they were of a very curious sort, none of them had ever travelled, so that no one could describe what kind of an animal an elephant was. This is why they ventured into the valley to meet the mayor, an understanding and accommodating man.

Some days later, he climbed the slope, bringing with him an elephant. Moments after arriving at the city hall with his gift, the blind villagers threw themselves at the animal.One hugged its leg, a second wrestled its trunk, a third caught hold of a floppy ear and a fourth lifted the entire table in his enthusiasm.

‘The elephant is round!’ cried the first. ‘No way, he’s square!’ the last urged. None of them could come to an agreement, because their friends insisted that the elephant was long, thin, and respectively as flat as a pancake.

The Cuban artist Ricardo Brey (1955) first heard of this story when he was a child. The story of the elephant with its many forms inspired him since he, as a sculptor, is constantly trying to mold reality to his own vision, and in doing so, repeatedly runs into the blind man’s righteousness. Their completely different perceptions form a metaphor for our inability to truly know reality.

During the legendary exhibition De Rode Poort, with which exhibition maker Jan Hoet welcomed the public to the new Museum of Contemporary art in Gent, Brey brought a homage to the blind villager’s elephant. He made a sculpture from a harmonious collection of junk: the apparent remains of a mystic ritual, which through its titillating transformation of the everyday is exemplary for the many adventurous metamorphoses within art.

Brey scattered masses of inner tubing over the floor: big ones, small ones, inflated and deflated, round and stretched out flaps of matte, grey rubber, reminding one of elephant skin. Above it hung a bunch of gloves, a totem of downwards pointing fingers. They all pointed towards the centre of the installation. There, on a plinth made of tyres covered in horse blankets, stands a taxidermied elephant leg.

It’s as though Brey has convinced the beast from the story to take himself apart and turn himself inside out, in order to please our curiosity. But that doesn’t mean that this heavyweight reveals his mysteries. Instead of reducing the animal to a dismembered sacrifice in the name of art with its innards exposed to offer us a vision of the future, Brey allows him to rise from his youthful memories, into a new union of discarded and advanced functional objects. In spite of his fragmented appearance, the abstracted creature respires. A number of mini ventilators strung in the air by wire urge his environment to shiver, and thus, he blows his magical powers into the space.