241 Things

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Studium Generale 1000things lectures, The Hague

241 Things

The idea for Orto Parisi took root from the fact that he who partially inspired me, my grandfather Vincenzo Parisi, would use buckets to collect both his needs that ultimately ended up fertilising the garden.

In his garden hovered an air of the infinite.

I was struck by repulsion as well as attraction.

MANIFESTO

The parts of the body that carry more smell are those where more soul is collected. The strong smells have become unpleasant to us, because the excess of soul is intolerable to the extent that our innate animalism is repressed and broken from civilisation.

This project is my garden I have planted, fertilised, cultivated, and harvested.

Orto Parisi states that our body is experienced like a garden, and its smells are a true mirror of our soul.

Orto Parisi is for those that seize the time in experiencing and diffusing the perfume of life.

BERGAMASK

‘Bergamot is a very fresh citrus fruit.

‘Mask’ to capture the musky odour expelled by a fresh kill.

VIRIDE

Viride comes from Latin meaning ‘green’.

GREEN/VIRILITY

STERCUS

From latin meaning ‘feces’.

BRUTUS

In reference to the Roman senator Marcus Junius Brutus, who was known for his lack of eloquence.

BOCCANERA

Boccanera means ‘dark mouth’ in Italian.

Nature offers dark holes that express sensuality in an erotic dark way.

There are countless bus and tram fanatics in the world: those who know everything there is to know about busses and trams. This is nothing exceptional. However, Robert E. Jowitt’s hobby of photographing these vehicles is an exceptional case thanks to one additional element: woman. Over thirty years ago, the English Robert E. Jowitt chose to completely dedicate himself to his childhood passion of documenting busses, trams, and trolleys. Instead of restricting himself to practicing his beloved hobby during holidays, he decided to chase these vehicles throughout the entire year.

Miniatures like Dinky Toys were of no interest to him and were simply childish reproductions that could never compare to the real thing. He wanted to experience each vehicle in its natural habitat, surrounded by pedestrians, houses, and traffic.

As to be expected, he started taking photos. From Heidelberg to Marseille, from Geneva to Rotterdam, from Munchen to Lissabon. Travelling through Europe, he came across all sorts of old fashioned models still in use. A Carris with wrought iron doors from 1930, a Renault with a curved open balcony from 1935, a Daimler with its small hood from 1950. He not only photographed the busses, but also took notes about their appearance and capacity, the amount of seats and standing places, altered routes, a line whose number was changed—nothing escaped his attention.

Jowitt became the idiot savant of the buses and trams. He wasn’t the only one, and was very aware that he belonged to the legion of bus and tram fanatics. Some of them even knew entire bus schedules by heart. But not one of them created as thorough a documentation of European government vehicles as Jowitt.

In some photos the bus is little more than a speck in the distance. Other times the glass and metal is shot from close up, like a lover trying to bridge the distance between them. In most photos, the bus is at the heart of the city. No matter how small the bus is depicted, its image is always central within the houses, the buildings, the other traffic, and the pedestrians.

Had he not ventured beyond simply taking endless photos of buses, Jowitt’s collection would have remained typical. The atypical image slowly crept in. Nothing to immediately draw attention. It’s very likely that Jowitt initially didn’t even notice. Had he noticed, the unintentional subject would have gained as much importance as the bus. It becomes clear in the title of the last bus book compiled by the photographer: The Girl in the Street or the Bedside Bus Book. Three hundred and fifty photos lend us an enormous amount of images: sidewalks, street lanterns, shop windows, traffic signs, lawns, terraces, shadows, puddles, and all else you might expect to encounter in the city. But however much the photos differ from one another, there’s one constant: a woman or a girl. She might be sitting in the bus or standing a hundred metres away, she might be walking to the bus, she might not even notice him. Sometimes she takes up the greater part of the photo while the bus is a mere speck, sometimes all we see is her leg peeking out from behind the bus.

Jowitt never strays from this point of departure. The cityscape is only complete when there is a bus and a woaman to be seen. These conditions are so exceptional that the viewer must try his best not to laugh. After all, what logic would decree these conditions to be determining for the completed image of a street or a square?

Jowitt’s answer is simple. While studying a bus in a foreign town, he’d often also be studying the girls passing him by. This made it logical that he gave them, too, a defining place in his photographs.

How did Jowitt decide to arrange the photos in his book? He could have placed them in chronological order. Another way would be to arrange them by country or city. But these both seemed too simple. He was especially interested in how time altered designs, and so he placed images from different areas next to one another.

He begins with hair. Short, long, pony tail, plait, henna, tight curls, punk, and of course, the hat. Then clothing, the petticoat, miniskirt, long skirt, and then the more unique varieties. Shoes, bags, piece by piece they appear. He tries to be equally thorough in his descriptions of the girls as with his buses and trams. What was it that caught Jowitt’s attention? An interesting photo, naturally. He also must have thought that his meticulous detailing of the facts would create an exact representation. But it’s exactly this precision that creates a chasm between his words and the image.

Where Jowitt focuses on the hair, the viewer’s eye is drawn to the shoe. In the series where handbags are the focal point, the skirts demand an equal amount of attention. And when it comes to the sleeveless dress it’s the shoes that, once again, lure the eye. As usual, there’s a bus in need of description. Jowitt understands the extent of categorisation his models are subject to. He rarely refers the photographs to one another, but will write “see handbag” or “see bare back” in case it doesn’t fall under one of the carefully chosen categories.

The Girl in the Street will make you smile. It almost seems like an unwitting parody on interpreting photos.

Robert E. Jowitt: The Girl in the Street or the Bedside Bus Book, Peter Wooller, Transport Beaux Arts & Belles Lettres, Walford. Sometimes available on Internet.

This text was published in the NRC Handelsblad on 26-6-1992 and has been re-pubished with permission of the author.

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.

Dining with presidents

That every good artist has a theme, a recurrent motif, I was taught at the academy. Series, concepts, preferably a recognisable style. After the academy it was no different. As people look at your work the inevitable question arises: what is it about?

Try and find a satisfactory answer if recognisability and archetypes aren't quite your cup of tea. I never conceive of something in theory first to then realise it. I have to live what I make. My development is brought about by making work. The work demands. A dialogue between the work and me emerges. Some things are abandoned only to come back later, some things disappear for good, other things stay. If no more questions arise, the work is finished. The work teaches me, not the other way around. The work is a narrative that manifests itself in different ways. The theme is the narrative that you tell in different ways every time. They are already there, just as you are already there. It only has to be discovered.

I allow myself to be led by what catches my eye. By where my love resides, my grief, my wonder, my fears. Without wondering if it fits the theme. As long as you stay true to yourself, everything you touch will be included in the theme. I am the theme. This is my world. One of the things I do is collecting. What I start a collection for, I can never say beforehand. I collect without worrying whether what I collect belongs to my work. That does not come until later. If at all. Either way goes.

This is my collection ‘Dining with Presidents’. Thirty plates from crockery sets that American presidents, their families and guests have eaten from. It began with a photograph of a set table at the White House at the time of the Clintons. Glasses, candles, an extravagant bouquet, and a plate. A plate that quickly turned out not to be just an ordinary plate.

At the founding of the United States on the 4th of July 1776, a leader had to come forward. How much power would be given to this leader? The only thing the Founding Fathers knew for certain was that the polity after the Independence War could not resemble the English aristocracy even in the smallest degree. However, all too libertarian was no possibility either, as the European monarchies would not acknowledge the US as a nation. There was not a single democratic country in the world for the US to emulate. How to proceed?

If guests came, from within the country or from abroad, how was the leader to welcome them, at home? How was he to be addressed? Certainly not like kings, as ‘sire’ or ‘majesty’. After numerous debates, the decision was made that the leader was to be addressed as still happens today: as ‘Mr President’. The title of the president’s wife was also wrangled about. ‘Mrs. Presidentress’ was even considered, before the eventual decision fell on First Lady.

The rest was left to the president and his wife themselves, with an especially big role for the First Lady. In the furnishing of the presidential residence as well as in the design of the presidential tableware, she was the one to express the aspirations of the new country and its ideas on leadership. That has not changed to this day.

When I found out I knew why the plates appealed to me so. I am always on the lookout for tangible, personal stories behind political and historical processes. These plates are exactly that. They are the embodiment of what First Ladies throughout the centuries thought were the political ideals of the US. Plus, you can eat from them.

Widower Thomas Jefferson, third president and Founding Father, kept it simple and personal with the presidential monogram in the centre. Elizabeth Monroe emphasised the pillars of American Society: Strength, the Arts, Commerce, the Sciences and Agriculture.
from 1845 onwards, a more nationalistic period in American History dawns. Mrs. Lucy Hayes chooses crockery that was produced in the US. Therefore, they bear American flora and fauna. Mrs. Caroline Harrison chooses the corn cob and goldenrod as symbols of American’s plenitude and beauty.
Then, in 1893, the desire for grandeur crops up. The royal air of European palace decoration is no longer rejected. Stars emerge, on the basis of the following: "The star is a symbol of the heavens and the divine goal to which man has aspired from time immemorial.” *)1

The postwar welfare is embodied in the plate of Eisenhower with its edge of pure gold. From that moment onwards, everything has to make way for gold. For Truman, Reagan, and even the Clintons, everything that glitters is literally gold. The time of the dominance of the financial world arises.

*)1 From the book "Our Flag" published in 1977 by the House of Representatives; about The Flag Act passed by the Continental Congress since June 14, 1777.

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.