Monthly Archives: August 2011

WikiSpace&WikiTime

According to alter modernism, time and space have lost their meaning through increased communication and the internet. Devices allow us to talk to each other when say, waiting for the train. Sounds obvious? Yes, I guess, but I don’t think most of us pause to consider the extent to which time and place have become obsolete.  Just take a breath and dive deeper into a situation at a train  platform. Say a hundred people are waiting for the train, out of which 30 are engaged in an activity with a portable gadget or gimmick, 35 daydream or read the free papers and the rest chat. Perhaps one person on the platform plays the peruvian panflute. How many people are actually “present” in the moment at the station? How many people are seizing the day? Perhaps the flute player, perhaps a few people here and there. The main thing is, many people live in the net or otherwise connected to other places while physically at the station. Time and space at the station are not self-evident. People have always been able to daydream while the physical body is doing something else, but there is a difference between drifting away in your thoughts and actually working, having conferences, replying to emails.

Another way to see how time and space are deconstructed and reconstructed is by considering the station as a Wikipedia entry. Somebody describes the physical dimensions of the station, another the history. Perhaps in the discussion field, there is even a controversy or two. People are discussing the station, out of which some may have been in the station at the time of writing, others not. The wikipedia page becomes a metaplace, with characteristics known to many people (who have visited the station, or seen pictures of it). In the metaplace, the presence at the station is no longer required.

David Horwitz’ artwork Public Access can be seen as an alter modern obliteration of time and space. Horwitz (physically) drove a car down the West Coast of the U.S. taking photographs of several nameless beach, with himself in them. Not in the dead center or in any way as the subject, but there nonetheless, in the background. He then added these pictures in the Wikipedia entries of these beaches. (see the link for images.) Within two weeks, they were taken down following a controversy from the wiki community. The argument was that wikipedia should not be used for self-promotion or artwork. The booklet in which Horwitz describes the artwork, he includes the wiki controversy, which is fascinating to read. So many people have so much time to discuss desolate beaches in the West Coast! How many of them have even been to these places? Does it matter that most people cannot possibly have been to the places they talk about? There are the numerous physical beaches, as lonesome and desolate as ever, and then there are the meta-beaches, little internet hotspots of small-scale controversy.

I tried to find a wikipedia entry for David Horwitz, but failed… Maybe there has never been one, or maybe there has been a page, but it’s been deleted too?

Another thought: The road trip as a phenomenon was originally a very modern rite of passage. I’m thinking Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson. Through Robert Pirsig the concept was postmodernized. Also, the architects Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi made a trip on the Route 66 before going on to becoming renowned postmodernists. David Horvitz is continuing on the tradition of the American Road Trip – but taking it to an alter modern level.

Being unique

I, like many of us, have always liked to think I’m very unique and not just a product of my times. Not a synthesis of subcurrents in the common narrative of my culture, age, gender. Sure I’d be subjected to the surrounding environment, but would find a combination of interests, habits, thoughts, dreams unique to me.

I recently discovered a coworker who has the same food interests, hobby interests, and we happen to live in the same neighbourhood. This may sound like a non-issue, as it is normal for there to be matching trends in different aspects of life. Also, it is not strange to find somebody with similar food interests also having similar ideas about where to go camping in the weekend. Or that it is camping we’d want to do on the weekend in the first place. This is all true, but we have similar interests down to the same blender brand, campsites as well as grocery stores on- and offline.

Are we really that unique, or is it that we’re typecast? Marketing experts like to divide people into subgroups based on our consumer habits. Have I internalized my target group, so much so that I am more a member of this group than a sum of my individual peculiarities? Am I actually that predictable and categorizable?

Somehow the thought is horrifying – at least for the ego.

Return of the Crafts – the art of causa efficieus

The V&A museum in London is ever so hot right now. In the fall we’ll see not only the exhibition about postmodernism hanba’s been so pumped about, but also one about what’s coming afterwards. Maybe post-postmodernism is about a return of the crafts? Parallel to the postmodern exhibition, the V&A museum focuses on craftmanship. Art made with care, with tools, with effort put into it. Is this just a lone random exhibition at V&A, or are the current trends actually going towards a revival of skill? Revival of McGuyverism – examining objects, seeing how they can be worked on to produce something else, and then applying the skill? Also, the exhibition encourages people to obtain skills – perhaps as a carryover from postmodern idea that ‘everyone’s an artist’.

Pål Rodenius: "2440x1220 Saw, Assemble" (Photo: Pål Rodenius)

Looking around  you may see more examples of this kind, not just in the V&A. For example, Pål Rodenius with his 2440x 1220 Saw, Assemble, where the whole artwork is a sheet of plywood with instructions how to cut seven different pieces of furniture out of it. Or take Christoph Thetards R2B2 kitchen appliance unit, where only three different appliances are to do all the tasks in the kitchen. This unit is human-powered by pedaling instead of electricity. This makes the user perform something themselves instead of just pushing a button. And, according to the artist, it actually works.

Both artworks are beautiful, simple, inspiring. They make me think of Aristotle’s four causes describing how objects undergo change. There is causa materialis, the raw material and causa formalis, the object’s form. These are then, through a transformation process called causa efficieus, made into causa finalis, the final product. The postmodern times were all about the causa finalis. The product mattered, not the process of getting there. Cheap things made in China, no matter if they last or not, just as long as they look nice when you buy them. The materials weren’t particularly valued, nor the form, nor the process of producing it.

In contrast, Pal Rodenius’ work can be seen as a tribute to causa formalis and efficieus. One sheet of plywood is there, constituting the causa materialis, and while you certainly can appreciate it as such, most of us do not find plywood so special. The focus is not in the final product either; when you look at the final cause, the finished product, it has a certain crudeness and simplicity over it. While it also may be considered aesthetically pleasing, you just might not use the word “spectacular”, or “breathtaking”. However, all the criss-crossing lines make you see the potential in it, the potential of causa formalis.  What’s special about this plywood plank is that around it is a nimbus of all the potential it can turn into. There is excitement and thrill about “rolling your sleeves” upon examining this artwork. This is the causa efficieus, the moving cause. Dynamics of creation.

Similarly, considering Thetards R2B2, the object makes you think about using it, how it’ll be in action. This artwork’s causa efficieus is in the idea of grinding beans by pressing the pedal. Even here is a nimbus of movement, work, creation.

(Inspiration for this article: iconeye.com)

Post-postmodern self-reflection

Here’s how hanba is post-postmodern, as defined in the previous article.

-Nurses a belief in local food, good food. Trying to reduce the grocery shopping, because it’s depressing and the food has low quality. Ordering organic vegetable boxes delivered to the door.

-Bought a really expensive blender instead of a cheaper one, because after reading hundreds of customer reviews, we realized that we just cannot afford a mid-level priced blender, since they only come with a 6 months warranty and a user base complaining about the poor quality.

-Prefer “proper” beers.

-Took up carpentry for three weeks ago.

And for those of you thinking, oh hanba you’re such a snob, I’d like to add that Hanba doesn’t believe in wasting money on things like housing, transportation or clothes.

Post-postmodern stuff

Postmodernism is over, at least according to V&A museum in London. On 24th september a new exhibition is opened, titled postmodernism.It’s really interesting to see what’s coming after. A few posts back I covered “Alter modernism” as  a suggestion to what might come after. Now I came across an article in Prospect magazine’s, where Edward Docx describes what he believes is on the rise. He believes what’ll come after can be defined as specificity, authenticity and values. He exemplifies it as the rise of the local food movement, of the bar menus that use the word “proper” to describe beers. A revival for craftmanship, in short, something “real”.

My favourite blog Partial Objects refers to this article. The article in Prospect magazine made the blogpost author Pastabagel think of Arcade Fire’s lyrics:

Now the kids are all standing with their arms folded tight
Kids are all standing with their arms folded tight
Well, some things are pure and some things are right
But the kids are still standing with their arms folded tight
I said some things are pure, and some things are right
But the kids are still standing with their arms folded tight

So young, so young
So much pain for someone so young
Well, I know it’s heavy, I know it ain’t light
But how you gonna lift it with your arms folded tight?

-”Month of May” by Arcade Fire

In this article, a future with the end of “cool” and “I couldn’t care less” – type of trend is proposed. According to the article and its comment thread, there are people who expect the future to be a bit optimistic, naive even, featuring things “pure and right”. Commentators suggest for instance, that new idealism related to environmentalism or optimistic absurd existentialism may be on the rise.

The discussion inspired hanba to find a few artworks to illustrate the comments.
Here is an artwork by an Alter Modernist Pascal Marthine Tayou exemplifying environmental idealism. Erin Hanson can serve as an example of optimistic absurd existentialism. A comment about not keeping the arms folded, doing something pure and right suggests idealism, which makes me think of the Alter Modern artist Bob and Roberta Smith. (of course you can see it as irony that the artist is charging for the postcards portraying “things pure and right”)

The comment thread also lifts up a question about all the people who don’t “fit in” the alter modern world. Who don’t subscribe to the creolization and are anti-immigration. The question is if this “flip side of multiculturalism” is also post-postmodern? The author of the blogpost, Pastabagel, describes that the last line in the Arcade Fire excerpt sounds like a grandfatherly advice. Perhaps the next generation will look up to the grandparents’ generation for “things pure and real.” Well, the grandfathers fought wars affiliating with a national state. Borders and fronts were in vogue. Perhaps the rise of neo-nationalism and anti-immigration can be seen as an undesired effect of being inspired by the grandparents’ generation?

Can post-postmodernism mean both alter modern and the negation thereof? Sure this “creolization” is going on, but the anti-immigration narrative is also on the rise (speaking with an European perspective here.) For example, a nationalist anti-immigration party in Finland had a very long art manifesto in its party program, suggesting state funded art grants be given to artists that portray Finnish national values and the Finnish experience.

Postmodernism started in architecture, and in architecture it has ended for a long time ago. Can we use architecture as a crystal ball to see how the post-postmodern narrative will turn out? Let’s see what’s the fashion in architecture today. The answer is white, plastered, simple lines. Only a few ornaments, lots of light. Bauhaus is as cool as ever. In other words, neo-modernism is in vogue. Neo-Bauhaus is here, suggesting we may well see more influences from the grandparents’ generation.

Is the rise of the “pure and right” a form of good old modernism rising its head again? Back to idealism, back to the modern project, man on his way to the moon? Can post-postmodernism be a form of neomodernism? Environmentalism, for instance, can be considered an idealistic project. (I guess one difference between modernism and post-postmodernism is that the latter seems to have risen from the grassroots rather than top-down.)

Time will tell what will happen. I think we’ll see the rise of things “good and pure”, but that it means quite different things to different people.

Enter urban jungle

In the art/architecture scene there was a period with green hype around 2009. The cities were to become green again; balconies, windowsills, rooftops were to become local farms – to connect us with the food supply, the nature, all the things good and green. (See for instance here or here).

However, nature is not just home made tomato chutney. Greenization comes with issues. Enter nature, enter the battle between man and nature. How about having insects and/or pesticides all over our cities? I can see the rats loving the new urban farms. Some places have recently suffered from an increase in “city rabbits”, and after them, “city foxes”. What’s next, “city wolves?” How about bugs? The bed bugs, that basically disappeared in the 50s (as a result of DDT), are back, having invaded thousands of hotels, camping sites, malls, movie theaters. They’ve even taken over the ladies’ clothes section of Macy’s in New York. Nature making a comeback.

Recent years have brought forth huge rising numbers of youth unemployment. In the west, there are huge numbers of unemployed young people without a sense of belonging to society. This is a threat to the social contract altogether. Take the riots in England, for example, where the laws appear to be out of the window. Ask any 20-year old from England or elsewhere, if he or she identifies with society. Even if they aren’t out on the streets wreaking havoc, the answer might be no. Maybe they say something about everybody looking out for their own interests, or refer to “the law of the jungle”.

Architecture has at times been notoriously naive about the human nature. Take all the housing projects in the 60s and 70s, that were supposed to be all about the good for the people. Well, many of them have become slums now. So, be careful what you ask for when you make visions of an urban jungle. We might get exactly that.