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

Echo + Seashell consists of artists Henna Hyvärinen and Susan Kooi Together they write and perform songs about their problematic art- and love life, based upon what is going on at the moment. The music is produced by and in collaboration with different musicians, resulting in variations in both style and genre.

The lyrics form the core, the “baby soul” of Echo + Seashell. Their collaboration consists out of live performances, videos and exhibitions. After having received many rejections on both a personal and a professional level, they recently produced a musical on the theme of rejection. For this project they held an open call, inviting people to send in an instrumental song. Striving for 0% rejection, they used all the 18 songs that were sent. For some they wrote lyrics, for others they made videos or found another platform. The musical consists of four parts: In the Game but Losing It, Hard and Soft, Project Runaway and Coldplay.

Play
Stone Shelter
Play
Stone Shelter remix (2014)

Music by echo+seashell and Islaja
Remix by Molly Waters

Play

I tried diligently to keep a straight face as I looked at the plate of sausages and strawberries in front of me. One of the sausages had cracked open, causing its dubious contents to ooze out right onto the fresh strawberry underneath it. The whole sad scene was covered in a filthy grey blanket of thick smoke and I wish I had dared to take a picture then and there for memory’s sake. The smoke was coming from the cigarette weged between the scrawny fingers of the woman next to me. She topped it off by harshly coughing all over the sausages, then said in all sincerity: ‘Why don’t you take a sausage, girl?’ ‘No thanks,’ I said, meanwhile heavily reconsidering my recent career decision.

Until recently, I had worked in an office where I enjoyed the company of my co-workers immensely and had thought optimistically that at each working place, there were top-notch people, in whom I would always be able to find inspiration for better days. I would continue working at this new place and keep my newly found gems with care. I would furthermore elaborate on these opportunities in texts, projects and future plans to-be-determined. Aside from indulging in this endearing optimism, I subjected myself to an experiment. How far could I go in selling my soul when it came to side jobs while managing to regularly do artistically legitimate things? When would I be an artist working in a hotel on the side, and at what point was I working in that same hotel with merely an artistically inclined hobby? Where is the balance and how far could I go?

Meanwhile, I was well underway indeed, and I felt the black void eyeing me. ‘Oh dear”, I thought, while rethinking my motives to work in this hotel. The cigarette had by then gone out, and the sausages and strawberries had been eagerly devoured by my company at the table. I scrutinised them one by one and considered their potential as part of my next project (or perhaps Sunday art session). The lady next to me was a fine specimen at any rate, and likewise the other ladies at the table wouldn’t be out of place in my collection of remarkable colleagues.

Rita, for one, had tobacco-coloured hair, ditto trousers, and chewed her sandwich in silence; Belinda entrusted me with hotel secrets, such as that it is endlessly preferable to not clean the rooms of cyclists or the Chinese; Denise told me proudly that she had left her junkie past behind her and had worked a solid thirty years for the hotel. She smiled baring her few remaining teeth and I smiled back. I was glad for her, but I’m always slightly creeped out when people at very unpleasant working places tell me that they’ve been working there for a very long time. I break out in sweat as I see my life flash before me, seeing the my future self as that person who, after art school, has begun ‘temporary’ employment, only to get stuck in it forever. People at an academy reunion will say something along the lines of: ‘Have you heard the news on Gerda? Been working in a hotel for thirty years.’ ‘The Volkshotel?’ ‘No, just some hotel. One of those along the highway whose name nobody really knows.’ ‘Oh.’

The roar of the radiators next to the room where we have our break saved me from the nightmare. My colleagues had stood up to get back to work and I considered for a moment to run off and never come back. I would like to emphasise, though, that I have no problem whatsoever with cleaning and similar jobs, as long as I manage to get some satisfaction from it. I have cleaned the houses of elderly people with great love, I have worked serving breakfast in hospitals, I’ve delivered mail for an entire summer (in my rain suit) and I have been personally responsible for planting roughly a thousand little plants in excruciatingly small pots on an assembly line. After this series of quite specific trades, I could go all out in my year long period as a teacher at an art centre, I worked in a fantastic shop (which has unfortunately closed), and, via the office, finally reached the hotel. The plan was to work there just enough to be able to pay my rent, and to otherwise get a good look at all the colourful visitors and their rooms in the name of art, and to then profit from it. As you will have surmised by now, my disappointment was considerable.

It was a characterless hotel where my job description consisted of getting the rooms to look as clean as possible. Until recently, I had enjoyed being in hotels, but those days were behind me for good. I pulled hair that belonged to strangers from shower drains and was instructed to dry toilets with towels (really) as well as to clean used cups by rinsing them with cold water before putting them back on the shelf (really). Not only was my Theory of Employment of before severely threatened, but I also began to worry about my karma as I carried out orders that turned the hotel into one big death trap of bacteria, diseases and other disgusting pests. Therefore, I decided to throw in the (filthy) towel and to look for a different side job. The risk seemed just too big to stay and find out where I would end up then.

From the one strange working environment I rolled straight into the other, where I planned truck routes throughout the whole country from a kind of control centre. As far as art school graduates go, I am pretty good at focussing, coordinating and organising things so it seemed no harder to do the same thing applied to truck drivers. I worked hard and eventually bit myself in the butt by planning everything so efficiently that I had finished the job three weeks before the intended date. But maybe that was for the best, since my colleagues knew that I was employed on a temporary basis and decided for the sake of convenience to act as if I had already left. It was a strange experience that I wouldn’t wish upon anybody.

Meanwhile, my projects grew like cabbage and I was asked for the most splendid things. I participated in a documentary on creativity, founded a meeting place that drew a lot of visitors, interviewed artists and was told by everyone that I was doing so well for myself. It was true that during my free days I worked passionately on my projects and saw them grow, but it was still bothering me that I could not earn a living with what I did best. In this way, I dug for both dream jobs within the cultural sphere as sad job offers within the other one.

Hooked on the employment version of Russian roulette, I kept on playing. Was it going to be another miserable side job or would it be something else? The gods proved benevolent in my favour, for instead of the next grey work spot, I was granted the chance to tag along with the editors of the magazine Kunstbeeld. Not only did I discover that my heroes behind Kunstbeeld were very sociable, but also that there is paid work in this world that challenges your talents. I immersed myself in it completely; I emailed back and forth with artists and their assistants, interviewed Marlene Dumas while I was quivering like a leaf, and travelled the entire country in the name of art. I wrote my reports passionately, took in every possible experience and prepared for what would come next.

I hoped with all my heart and soul that I could do something in which I could work with both my brains and my pen, where I could coordinate and work together with people that make me happy, and so that, like the cherry on the cake, I could earn the roof above my head. After being rejected by email at least every day, all of a sudden there was the message on Saturday night that said: ‘What line of work are in you nowadays? Are you good at organising?’ I looked at my screen and up again, thinking for a second that the universe was surely playing a cruel game with me. ‘I am very good at organising.’ I replied. After many messages back and forth and one conversation, I have suddenly been equipped with a real job with all kinds of things I like and am good at; I work for two very nice people, who even invited me along to Cape Town to do even more wonderful things.

Trying to comprehend this turn of the plot, I think back to last year. The office, the trucks, Kunstbeeld and even the sausages and strawberries on a plate in that hotel. I remember the smoke blowing over them and realise I have escaped a certain destiny. A smile curls slowly upwards on my face. For now.

The Lobster Clasp (1) – A Forgotten Mechanism (2)

Oversized fingers struggle to hold the delicate clasp hidden behind the neck. Hair strands become a forest for the fingers to fiddle through. Your cumbersome thumb repeatedly attempts to hold the tiny lever down long enough to hook the ring but always slips too soon. (3)

The clasp is as important as the pendant it holds. (4)

(5)

Taking the necklace off is always easier than putting it on. Your thumb does not slip. The ring leaves the hold of the clasp easily.

(6)

The larger forms of the lobster clasp sit comfortably in the hands. The internal mechanism plays a sound as your thumb presses down the lever for the opening to widen and then snaps closed when released.

The tactile action of repetitively pressing the lever and releasing it gives a simple sense of satisfaction until your thumb aches from this childish play.

Like clicking the end of a biro, the spring is made tired.

Your thumb is left with a little dent where the tip of the lever has rested.

Sporadically your finger is caught in the gap that the lever moves within.

The exhausted muscle in your knuckle stops you from pressing the lever again. The cheap metallic smell it leaves on your hands is sweet yet unpleasant, toxic and irritating, a reminder of the material’s industrial qualities. (7)

When the lobster clasp finds itself attached to a bag strap, there is tension along the chain the clasp has become a part of. The weight of the bag pulls the clasp to move accordingly. (8)

When the bag is not held the clasp lies lifeless. In the future the clasp will outlive the bag, yet will still be made redundant, as it is no use on its own. They rarely exist alone. (9)

A middle-sized lobster clasp can be found hidden amongst a cluster of keys at the end of a key ring.(10)

The various sized clasps form a family of differing personalities and purposes all based on the elegant shape of a lobster’s pincher claw. (11)

1

The lobster clasp is an elongated version of the classic ring clasp. The modifications were made in the late 1970s to make the new body sturdier than its predecessor. It is commonly found on western jewellery, keys rings and on bag straps.

2

Like the hinge on a door or the brass studding along the edge of a leather armchair the lobster clasp simply functions, often unnoticed or hidden.

3

The clasps are designed to exist firmly closed. Like the form of a book, it rests as a closed object but is redundant if it remains like this. The difficulty in opening the clasp is an inconvenience yet offers assurance and security.

The clasp should be at the front and made a show of.

4

The word clasp has a sense of urgency or importance about it. The clasp on a necklace can hold someone’s most sentimental belonging. The hidden clasp is as precious as what it holds.

5

If the metal hook on dangly earrings were a lobster clasp it would solve the problem of the butterfly falling and disappearing. But perhaps butterflies are better suited to sit behind the ear and a lobster, to secure, hold and protect an adornment of the neck.

The lobster clasp is shaped like an ear but an ear clasp doesn’t seem like something that would snap close or hold anything too tightly.

6

In eastern cultures the lobster clasp is not used as much. In some places an adjustable string and thread mechanism is used and in others knotting mechanisms are used to adjust necklaces over the head and tightened accordingly.

7

This elegant three-part object is the result of several perfected industrial manufacturing processes. The shell is stamped out from a strip of sheet metal and spat out by a customised dye. Leaving behind a train track like pattern along the strip, the shells fall amongst an anonymous pile. Three shells are picked by hand and placed into a mould to be folded with exact precision. They begin to take form and are welded individually. The lever is pressed into shape and the spring coiled.

The shell, lever and spring are pieced together. From a thin strip of sheet metal a three dimensional form is made.

8

The addition of a rotary base permits the clasp to function better.

9

The clasp mechanism is always attached to another form, a door hangs off the hinge like a parasite and fabric smothers the anatomy of an umbrella.

10

Again, it has company. Sharp crocodile teeth cut keys are fed on to the clasp. The rotary base joins the clasp to an assortment of keys rings and personalised objects, memorabilia, branding, collections, rubbish, the unused and the unnecessary. The surrounding objects play a sound unique to that particular organised accumulation. There appears to be competition amongst the disarray, between sentiments and functionality.

11

A moving lobster cannot be ignored but the resting lobster clasp can go unnoticed.

As entries, strike-throughs, spelling mistakes, re-entries, question marks, lists within lists, bullet-points, dashes, personalised bullet-points, squares, asterisks, circled entries, bold entries, ambitious entries and already-done entries are scattered across the page, the mind moves quicker than the pen to create this masterpiece in its initial form. Margins, the bottom of the list or the space in between the lines are an opportunity to add information that could not keep up with the mind or that were simply forgotten. At times, these secondary entries will appear in a different colour where an alternative writing tool has had to be used.

The creator of a list has no intention to design their thoughts but merely to order them visually in tangible form. The back of a card, an old envelope, some scrap paper, a notebook, a smart phone, a saved email draft, a train ticket or a post-it note provide the canvas for this mind montage to be drawn out.

The activity of list-making is both common to all yet entirely individualistic.There is a sense of urgency attached to something that is created on-the-go or in between activities and maybe it is the extent of this pressure that when making a list, normal writing conventions are ignored. Baselines are misused, words are written across them rather than on them; the ascenders on letters become muted; the descenders have added flamboyancy and the margins are no longer a no-go area for words but a place to fill with words, additional thoughts, numbers, sketches and question marks.

In a moment’s pause, a second thought is given to putting these thoughts into better order or form, perhaps in order of priority or alphabetically.This can be done at a later date. Sometimes, a complete re-draft of the list might be necessary. If it is a list of that type it can be prepared to make sense to others. It is at this point a design element might be added: colour coding, font selection, margin widths and line lengths.

There is an unspoken hierarchy to the various forms of lists that surround us in our daily lives.Train times, shopping lists, gift lists, hate lists, wish lists, to-do lists, today’s food specials, contents pages, registers, stock lists, missing lists, menus and guest lists. The different forms of lists are matched and paired with a tried and tested format. Registers are done alphabetically; shopping lists by memory, train times chronologically etc.

When a list finds itself in the hands of someone other than its author, different aspects of it might be scrutinised. The graphologist looks at the space between the lines and the curves or flicks of the letters, the size of the capital letters, the margins around the texts and the slant of the handwriting. The artist dreams up the story that precedes the list and what might follow. The curious looks around to find its owner. And others disregard it.

When an individual has shown extraordinary qualities or talents, the contents of a list they have made might become valuable to others. The lives of great scientists, musicians, actors, writers or designers are retraced and dissected by making their diaries or notebooks public. Whilst the content of their home is on show so is the content of their minds. Private information, messily scrawled across the page with changes and errors, supposedly give insight into a frame of mind. A laundry list suddenly reveals secrets of their lifestyle, an unseen side to their character.

Michelangelo's menu list

This information, analysis, format, or story is irrelevant to the author; the content is what is of interest to them. Their document is plagued with encryptions of coding, different methods of ‘crossing off’, ticks, strike-throughs and circles around ticks. Only some entries have numbers, where clearly an attempt at prioritising has been made. Some have dates next to them, for deadlines and finales, giving an added importance, a ticking reminder. These juxtapositions need not make sense to others.

Having been created, a list triumphantly sits at the top of important papers. It is versatile and can be used as a bookmark, a coaster or a space to sketch; it is embellished with important things, mustn’t forgets and mental notes. It ages well. Every mark on this creation is part of its existence. Folds in the page create creases across the unused printed lines; they battle with the thoughts sprawled across them. A new dimension is added to the form where the author has rolled the corners back and forth between their fingers.

A list by Charles Darwin

At the height of its usability, the list holds authority over its creator; unchecked items glare at you and make you feel guilty for the things you have not yet accomplished. A mutual resistance grows and other lists arise. Before the list has peaked it finds itself at the bottom of a bag, on a supermarket floor, wedged in a shopping basket, slotted in the corner of a sofa stuck to some crumbs, at the end of a book that was being read, in the shredder, at the back of another list, propping up a table, underneath a doodle, fallen on the pavement or sitting helplessly in the recycling bin, sitting next to the envelope that wasn’t chosen and another list that has efficient strikes through most entries.

On the off chance that a list may be revisited or found again by its creator, they might experience the sense of satisfaction that comes with being able to cross off multiple items from the list. The single action of drawing a line, or the flicking of a tick enhances the achievement of completion.

I know an elderly gentleman, a thrifty man who made a habit of saving every receipt he had ever received. Nothing was spent from the household treasury without the gaze of his vigilant eye. I imagined his house to be full of those flimsy yellowing papers archived neatly into black ring binders by date, shelf after shelf. Decades detailing the ever-rising price of a loaf of bread, his daily purchases, once in a while an exuberant expense here and there. How is a man’s life read through the records of his expenditures?

Since 1937, the Mass Observation team has been creating a record of the British people by asking volunteers to document the every day: "We shall collaborate in building up museums of sound, smell, foods, clothes, domestic objects, advertisements, newspapers, etc.”

Directives, or instructions, are given to the voluntary Mass Observers to report on specific matters like conversations overheard in the pub, what one saw on their daily route to work, the steps in their housekeeping routine, the contents of their mantelpiece:

Write down in order from left to right, all the objects on your mantelpiece, mentioning what is in the middle. Then make further lists of mantelpieces in other people’s houses, giving details of the people themselves whether they are old, middle aged, or young. Whether they are well off or otherwise. What class, roughly, they belong to. Send these lists in. If possible, also take photographs of mantelpieces.
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The Back Garden
This is the area directly outside the kitchen and dining room windows. The patio area is done with crazy paving and there are flower beds round these sides with bushes and a Buddhleia tree climbing the fence side at the left side of this photograph. This photograph shows the corner area underneath the dining room window where the cat likes to sit out during the warm weather – you can just see its black shape at the back.

Others kept diaries that detailed their ordinary and often entirely uneventful existence:

19.11.81

Dear Sir,

Since writing to you last year, yet another high street shop has closed. These strangely enough have all been ladies dress shops. The first one closed in August and was destined to become yet another Building Society. However, the council sensibly stopped that happening, since the High Street already has four. At the moment, this shop is being used as an Oxfam store and people are obliging dump all the their “jumble sale”…

The documentation of a day's house work:

A detailed drawing of one’s living room:

And written descriptions, too:

Through this collective social project, the Mass Observation team has created an immense archive of the ordinary, the boring, and the mundane through which a nation is chronicled.

I’ll never see the elderly gentleman’s collection for myself. A few years ago, he threw out his entire archive when he convinced his wife that they should move from their beloved home into an overpriced apartment on the third floor. He’s miserable in that boxy apartment and longs for the flowering green gardens of the old house. But the apartment was bought for more than it was worth and he has no choice but to stay put and sit out his old age.