Letters of Subversion

November 19th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

An Introduction to the Work of Maxim Lichtenwald

Maxim LichtenwaldOne day I found an orange Robotron typewriter at a street sale in Weimar. Although 10€ seemed to me to be too much for this mechanical relic from the 80's, I really loved the GDR color and bargained the lady down to 8.50€. I bought a new ribbon at a neighborhood shop for writing supplies and installed the retro-hip machine at the Galerie Eigenheim where we used it as a guest book.

Sometimes people wrote actual messages about the exhibition at the time of their visit, but usually we ended up reading line after line of typo-strewn drunken sexual perversion. One night, however, a group of local post-reunification teenagers stormed into the gallery. Whereas they had no interest in art whatsoever, they were enthralled by the "old school laptop" we had sitting on a pedestal in the front room of the gallery. None of them claimed to know what it was, how it should be used and why we had such a thing. I made a demonstration, and one of the more adventurous in the clique asked if he could give it a "try".

I showed him how to roll in a new sheet of paper and type a few words. I slid the carriage back to the right, made a few line breaks and turned the typewriter to him so he could try. The group crowded around, the girls laughed at his line full of mistakes as the boys jeered him on. Once everyone (except the one girl who couldn't be bothered to stop texting on her mobile) had their turn and they laughingly disappeared into the night, I looked at the sheet and was amazed to find not only the l33tspeak sentence "OMG U SUXXOR LOL" among the gibberish the teens had written, but also an ASCII-like drawing of a dog.

In l33tspeak (a new pidgin-like language that has arisen from the internet, gaming and hacking scenes) this could be interpreted as meaning: "Oh my god you are a sucker. Ha ha ha." l33t originated as a kind of insider code of symbol substitution and purposeful misspelling. It is a way to write words for which the author could be censored. Much like the comic drawing of Jesus shouting "HOLY SH!T" when scooping up after his dog, l33t has developed into an auxiliary written language with its own structure of playfulness and willingness to experiment for the sake of laughs, or LULZ as l33t would put it.

ASCII art, like l33t, is a subversion of written language that recontextualizes the letter. ASCII is a technical name for the set of characters available to a computer for the display of letters, numbers and symbols. While l33t subverts the letters and spellings of common English to make continuously morphing codes that are thereby impenetrable to outsiders, ASCII artists subvert the letters by capitalizing on the variety of shapes and "densities" of various characters in order to make drawings ranging from the simple to the complex. Instead of words on a line, the ASCII drawing of the dog placed letters and symbols on line after line, building the picture in a post-pointillistic way that is very much dependant upon the structured need for lines of text.

This idea of lining up symbols in rows is not a new one, and its millenia-long progression from clay tablets to illustrated manuscripts to the Gutenberg press to the Linotype machine to typewriters to lightsetting to graphic design software is a story intricately tied to the development of social structures and industrial development. For the printsetting journeymen from the 19th century, their "line o' type" was less a kind of information content than it was a measuring stick for the payment of their wages. With the introduction of steam-powered printing presses and the hunger of the literate masses, these workers were among the first pre-Fordian humans to face the brutal paradigm shift that required them to increase their tempo to match the pumping pistons and hardened steel of the machine age. The status quo became long, sweaty hours of backbreaking work feeding the machine with content so these tradesmen could feed their families. A century later not only has the pace of modern life become faster, it has also become more fleeting. Today our line o' type is about 140 characters: the length of an SMS or tweet.

All the more refreshing is it then to witness a return to slowness as can be seen in these works of Maxim Lichtenwald. This young artist that I befriended during his studio residency above the Galerie Eigenheim constructs his images using type, he resorts neither to the degeneration and disenchantment of l33t nor the strict line and grid-based flatness of the limited ASCII palette. He uses typewriters with different letters from different languages and he inks the ribbons with tints of his own choosing. He turns the paper while typing, he types over type and he keeps a steady musical rhythm.

Instead of writing sentences and stories in a neat and common way as one "should" use a typewriter, he writes drawings that tell stories of forced smiles and dirty landscapes. It becomes a portrait of a Russian family when he chooses the Cyrillic alphabet just like using letters from the German typewriter asks us to understand the landscape as Germanic. In this sense, he has found a way of subverting letters and symbols from different languages to actually "tune" his images to the character of the respective culture as represented by the letters worn on the keys of their machines.

I believe I am justified in claiming that the sound of the letter "ч" is different from that of "ß", because the typewriter that can print the latter cannot print the former. Every machine has a different mechanical composition, and must therefore make different sounds and as a result different echoes. In the case of the typewriter, the echo is not just an acoustic one, but also a physical and visual one. Perhaps it is a stretch to imagine the sounds of the typewriter keystrokes and hammer-strikes through the ribbon as still being present in these pieces of paper, but the echo of the action of pressing the key is undeniably there.

Knowing what we do about their method of creation, we might consider these drawings to be muted soundtrack-like documents of their own genesis and their completion a tragically doomed and sentimentally narcissistic memento mori. If it is possible for artworks to have something like a memory in this age of digital reproduction, Maxim Lichtenwald has also found a way to refute Benjamin's notion of aura by glorifying the voice of the machine with the soul of the artist. In a foreshadowing of things to come, these seemingly simple works have begun a post-humanistic chant, where I start to understand myself as a mere shadow of the machine and am somehow still able to find beauty therein.

Perhaps the melancholy I feel when confronted by these small pieces of paper with thousands of marks comes from their utter acoustic silence. Those among us lucky enough to have been witness to Maxim Lichtenwald's unique typewriter concerts at his exhibitions in Weimar must surely know what I mean when I say that seeing his works haunts me with the imagined memory of the song of their creation. If only it were possible to close your eyes when looking at art...

Berlin, November 2011

Regarding Earlobes

October 17th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Of all the pre-modern archetypes of artist as madman, Vincent van Gogh is likely to be at the top of everyone's list. Insanity is a condition reflected in behavior that deviates from social norms and detachment from society. Heavy drinking, self-mutilation and even suicide can be good indicators of an insane personality. Thanks to van Gogh, simply claiming to be a painter is enough to qualify you in some circles for the ranks of the mad.

While I was studying oil painting, I started drinking because I thought that it would help me to lose my inhibitions and found that my brushstrokes were indeed more fluid when I was drunken. One day in my loft studio, I mixed a buttery chemical green color for the glazed background of the frontal nude portrait of my ex-girlfriend. I had been painting for hours (and drinking my Gin & Tonics with lime wedges) when I reached a point where I needed to take a step back and look. Doing what I had learned, I closed one eye, squinted at the painting to see the contrasts and grabbed what looked to my peripherial vision to be my glass of Gin & Tonic.

I only barely stopped myself from drinking my glass of turpentine because it burned my lips and tongue and I was neither high nor totally smashed. Although I spit out the green turps, I became flushed and my earlobes became unbearably hot. I could not get the grating taste out of my mouth and my fingertips tingled for hours. Today I know that the reason why I survived without permanent damage was because I was young and immediately went on a drinking binge.

What would I have done had I been drunk on green absinthe, angry at my only friend and living in the French countryside of the 19th century without money to pay for a doctor? I too might have accidentally swallowed the turps, and as commonplace as bloodletting was, cut off that little bit of my ear that burned so incessantly to the point of boiling. I might even have taken my severed earlobe wrapped in wax paper to my favorite prostitute and offered it to her as a way of finally proving that art and life were indeed inseperable.

Were we by today's standards to analyze this action in a body-art context, it would neccesarily have to be perceived as neither mad nor inane, but rather as an honestly brutal pseudo-private performance blending the boundaries between self-mutilation and audience involvement - perhaps indeed questioning the gerund-status of the term "painting"...

Even though we have all learned to appreciate Vincent's contribution to the arts as a relentlessly productive expressionistic vision, perhaps it is finally time to appreciate his Burenesque action of self-mutilation as a violent precursor to the body-language behind the artistic communication of the Wiener seccessionists and the like of Carolee Schneeman. At any rate, I am not convinced that he was mad, because from the perspective of an artist, he did the only sane thing an artist could do under the circumstances: turn life into performance art.

Buttermilked Windows

July 29th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

While waiting for the buttermilk to dry on the windows, I thought it was a good time to share some information with you about how (and why) to use buttermilk on glass. In the European arts scene this is a common way to turn a store-front window into a really great projection screen or temporary way to make sure people can't look into the space while you are building, watching movies or quietly changing the world.

Before we get started, here is a bit of information about buttermilk.
First and foremost, after it has dried, buttermilk will not stink up the space.
Secondly, clean up with HOT and SOAPY water. Do not use sharp tools, scrapers or organic solvents like acetone or turpentine.
Thirdly, do not paint your windows in direct sunlight or in freezing conditions.

For those painters among us, the reason why buttermilk is a great paint basis is because it is the casein in the fluid that makes it so sticky. Indeed, making casein from buttermilk is quite a bit easier than using cottage cheese - but that is another topic entirely...

There are a few things that you will need:

  • Buttermilk (1% fat content)
  • Foam paint roller (ca. 15cm wide)
  • Paint tray

Pour the buttermilk into the paint tray and let it sit for at least 6 hours. (This lets water evaporate and actually increases the fatty percentage of the buttermilk relative to volume.) This is a good time to clean the windows or update that blog!!!

Now dip the roller into the milk, and begin rolling it out onto the windows. If the buttermilk starts to drip after being on the window for several minutes, you still have too much water and need to let more evaporate. You want to watch out for areas where there is too much or too little buttermilk and rework these with your roller until you have a pretty even coating on the entire window.

At first the buttermilk will be quite translucent, but as it dries it becomes more and more opaque. Do not use a heater or other such silliness to dry it more quickly. Some things just take time!!!

How much buttermilk will you need? I have found that a good rule of thumb is to get 500ml for 10 square meters of glass. Basically, you are applying a coat of buttermilk that is less than 1/10th of a millimeter thick. And any buttermilk that is left over? Drink it - it helps remineralize your teeth! 🙂

And if plain milky white is too boring, you could try what the christians use to do: add blood to the buttermilk. Or you could make stripes in the window by using masking tape, or try your luck with stippling stencils...

Emanzipation der Ideen

April 28th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Es ist eine sehr spannende zeit gerade. Wir bekommen die anerkennung die unseres projekt zusteht, sogar ministerien und burger polen sich um und weimar hat jetzt eine große chance in der kulturgeschichte der 21. jahrhundert entscheidend mitzuwirken. Hier sehe ich die wahrheit in der gedanke das ideen unsere eigentlichen reichtum und verplichtung sind.

Reichtum, weil wir ohne neue ideen immer dasselbe bleiben und uns als spezies nicht weiterentwickeln können. Da wir durch unseren fortschritt nicht mehr 100%ig an der natürlichen evolution ausgesetzt sind, können nur wir selbst unserer lage ändern oder verbessern. Selbstverständlich geschiet dies sowohl auf persönlichen als auch auf gesellschaftlichen ebenen - aber das ist nicht genau mein worauf ich hinaus möchte.

Verpflichtung, weil in einen gesellschaft wo gedankengut währung ist, stehen ideen auch gewisse rechte und pflichten zu. Das recht auf ausgedruckt sein, weiterentwickelt werden zu können und sogar ins vergessenheit zu geraten. Wir sind die träger von ideen die in der lage sind die welt für gut und auch für schlecht zu ändern. Ähnlich der parasit welch dem host am leben hält, ist die zusammenleben zwischen menschen und ideen eine nicht mehr zu trennenende symbiose. Aber meine frage lautet: wer ist parasit? Heute wird diese sachlage der entsklavung der ideen von menschen, staaten und konzernen verwaltet. Gut so? Ich bin mir gar nicht so sicher ob die anthropozentrischen sicht hierfür das richtige ist.

Ein idee darf zum ausdruck kommen, und in zusammenhang mit anderen ideen neue ideen mitgenerieren. Ein idee kann die welt auf eine art und weise so ändern, dass menschen sich ändern. Nichts umsonst hat sich die gedanke von memetischen evolution entwickelt, und zwar als gerechtfertigung für weitere ideen. In dem moment wo ideen in der industrielle getriebe als eigentum gefangen gehalten werden, ist eine fortentwicklung eingeschränkt und womöglich absolut verhindert. Aber ohne einen marx'schen rasputin auf einen smith'schen godzilla hetzen zu wollen, fände ich es trotzdem erleuchtend an dieser stelle einen gedankenexperiment auszuführen.

Für das was folgt nehmen wir die parasitische symbiose als beipsiel an und behaupten es, dass eine idee als lebewesen klassifiziert werden könnte. Allerdings werden ich ein metaphor nutzen um dir versinnbildlichen: fisch im fluß, fisch als nährung und fisch reste.

Grundsätzlich gilt:
Das lebendige hat ab dem moment der konzeption bzw. genesis für die dauer dessen existenz einen energetischen anrecht auf leben. Dieses energie zum leben wird aus der gesamtsumme der in dem moment und raum zur verfügung stehenden energie ausgeliehen, und zwar indem mehreren energetischen komponenten zusammengesetzt werden. Diese akt der zusammensetzung ist an sich disentropisch, generativ und an geltenden gesetze der thermodynamik gebunden. Natürlich gehören die ausgeliehene energien zur summe der gesamtenergie, nur sind sie im moment dieser untersuchung im gebrauch und stehen anderen genesi nicht mehr im absolutem rohform zur verfügung. Nach dem ersten zusammensetzung gibt es zwei weitere stadien der existenz (stasis und dynamik) und eine ultimative endstadion der nicht existenz (entropie).

Was ich stasis nannte ist einen festgefrorenen zustand, wo weder energie vorloren geht noch akkumiliert wird und als urform verstanden werden kann. Als beispiel nehme ich das wort fisch als signum für eine in wasser lebendiges lebewesen. Fisch beschreibt einen theoretischen zustand von energie, welche in wässrigen energie auf der erde lebt. Egal was wir von fische halten, werden wir kein besseres wort zur beschriebung eines fisches finden. Ein fisch ist wohl ein fisch, und dieses zustand der idee "Fisch" ist statisch. Nochmal für die klarheit: ich rede hier vom fisch als idee und nicht als lebewesen.

Weiter, um dynamik zu beschreiben, hätten wir ein fisch in einer pfanne. An sich, scheint es auch einen statischen anteil zu haben, aber unter der lupe ist ein fisch in der pfanne sehr dynamisch als idee und nicht mehr das statisches fisch. Mit zugabe der idee pfanne bzw. flamme und fett hat man die ideenkonstukt der nährung auf einerdynamische art und weise generiert. Gibt man ein teller und einen leeren magen dazu, und aus einem fisch ist ein mahlzeit geworden, bzw. wird die konzeption von nährung durch konsum vollbracht. Die dynamische idee basiert auf statischen ideen oder urformen und übergeht denn zu einen anderen form.

Zum schluß ist nichts mehr vom fisch vorhanden, ausser die gewonnene lebensenergie und die erinnerung an der idee des fisches bzw. mahlzeits anhand von reste wie knochen und haut. Es ist einen thermodynamischen pflicht sich nach verfall des körpers dem eroberten energie zurück zu opfern, da es per definition nicht mehr in der lage ist, selbstständig energie zu verwalten. Für das lebenwesen fisch ist entropie eingetroffen, aber die idee fisch ist immer noch das statische und nicht wegzudenkende idee.

Ich will es nicht behaupten, dass ideen die fähigkeit besitzen, thermodynamischen gesetze zu entkommen. Aber ideen sind transhuman, indem sie sehr einfach von mensch zu mensch auf viraler art weiterleben können. Solange es menschen gibt die wissen was ein fisch ist, wird die idee des fisches weiterleben. Was man aber aus einen fisch macht ist die dokumentation der menschengeschichte, und diese erbe gehört uns allen.

Burn baby burn.

April 22nd, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

Private Bradley MANNING and Reverend Terry JONES are two American men who both followed their own ideals. Private Manning is in military jail serving a life sentence for delivering Wikileaks a thick dossier of secret communication between government officials. It is claimed that his action threatened the lives of Americans around the world and especially in conflict areas like Afghanistan and that he broke the law by revealing secret documents to the world. Reverend Jones burned a copy of the Koran as the result of a mock trial he and his followers held in Florida, which several weeks later resulted in violent protests in Afghanistan that ended in the storming of a UN compound and the killing of many members of its staff.

Today, the 22nd of April 2011, Jones is in court in Michigan trying to defend his right to hold a "peaceful" protest in front of one of the largest islamic communities in the United States. It is planned to burn an effigy of Mohammed later today. According to Jones, all of the demonstrators are carrying licensed and concealed weapons - which seems to be proven by the incident in the parking lot of the local FOX news broadcasting station where he accidentally discharged his firearm in his own car. After investigation by the police, his weapon was returned to him.

It is very clear that Jones is not trained in the usage of firearms, for were this the case, he would not have accidentally discharged his weapon. The same could be said for Jones usage of peace as a weapon. Were he trained in peace, neither would he be carrying a weapon, nor would he subjugate the holy relics of other traditions to abuse through his actions.

The crux of the matter is that so-called freedom of expression is being used in the case of Jones to defend barbarous acts of opinionated hate-speech that not only put human lives at jeopardy, but also use oppressive methods that prevent exactly that dialogue of equals for which this legislation was developed to protect.

Is it possible to consider Manning's ostensible betrayal of his government in a similar fashion? Perhaps he also put human lives at jeopardy, but in contrast to Jones, through this young officer's sharing of knowledge, one government has been forced to accountability and made more transparent. Can such a "leak" be considered an expression of free speech or even a modern-day redress of grievances?

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When we compare the sacrifice of freedom by Manning for the greater good of the world through the gift of insight into governmental machinations with the attack on freedom by Jones for personal glory and media attention it becomes very clear which of these two men has followed in the footsteps of the great prophets in the history of mankind, and furthermore the extent to which freedom has become an excuse for abuse in a modern world with more attachment to rules than to humanity.

Solitaire with an iPad

April 14th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

So I have been using dropbox for a while now, and recently had the problem that I had a file on my laptop at home and didn't have it on my iPad. Of course it wasn't uploaded to dropbox - and there I was - somewhere between stupid and forgetful.

Enter UDP and teamviewer. Teamviewer is a free (for private use) app that comes in server flavors like mac, windows and linux and viewer flavors like android and iOS. Sweet. It installed on ubuntu 10.10 in a heartbeat, there was nothing to set up other than installing the free app on the iPad, and inside of five minutes I was controlling my laptop remotely and securely. (Caveat: I was on the same LAN using WIFI. Will update this when I have tried to access from a differnt LAN.)

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As you might notice, the color depth of the image is NOT "millions", and as I noticed, video playback is stuttery at best. Furthermore, when the processor load of the host computer is high, things slow down to a great degree. Also it is quite difficult to do any kind of drawing tasks with gimp because of the way that the mouse emulation worky.

But I have to say, having the ability to chroot into a remote server from a remote desktop makes me think a little bit more about never bringing a laptop with me anywhere I go, and gives me options for using up that limited dropbox space... Now if only someone would come up with that SUDO MAKE ME A REMOTE SANDWICH app I could retire on a desert island...

This is addictive.

March 5th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

I am afraid I am going to be losing a lot of sleep. It is like four in the morning, I have spent all this time drawing and can't put the pad down. Although I have a drawing tablet for my laptop, it is a much more immersive environment to actually be pushing pixels around a surface "directly" rather than "indirectly". (And furthermore, when I unplug the tablet from ubuntu the system crashes, it is a huge device to be carrying around and if I forget the stylus - well, its just generally a hassle.)
My first computer was a commodore 64, and I have a very vivid memory of directly painting a landscape on the screen by changing the color of the space bar. I am not sure anymore how that really worked, but then, as it is now, was such a visceral experience of touching something in a delicate and transient way.
I have the feeling that this will change my working method in such a dramatic way... Yeah, well you can write with this thing too. (I am using the wordpress app, by the way.) So I think I'll get back to that other screen now.

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Give a man an apple…

March 4th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Today I got my first mac in almost a decade. It is an iPad first generation, and although the next gen should be here in a few weeks, I decided that it would be a good time to try out the multitouch waters. A friend offered to sponsor an iPad for the Künstlerhaus, and with that kind of offer it is impossible to say no, especially considering the "Infinite Resolution" exhibition that will be running this coming winter.
So we went to Saturn, bought a 16gb iPad, got it insured and picked up a protective case, a VGA adapter and a 15€ certificate for the app store. After getting it out of its box and struggling a while to put the protective sheet and case onto it (which was a 50% fail), downloading iTunes for windows [fuck], adding the credit to the account, two of the very first apps I installed were Adobe Ideas and Autodesk Sketchbook Pro. Here is one of the drawings from today.

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I have to say that it was a lot of fun getting started, and I'll be keeping a journal of what happens on this channel...

Dialect and Power (Part 4)

February 9th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Language is a mixture of vocabulary and grammar that develops out of experience and culture. These are conversations about teaching language in the digital age.

Conversation 4: Art is the modern karate.

Art is the only way to survive in post-fordian society. Artists have more power than politicians and art is above the law - even though the first thing a regime will do is to stifle the arts and students learn that political art can get them in trouble. At any rate it is the purest language we know. It has the ability to transcend time while communicating about the culture to which it belongs to in a visceral way and help us understand our human condition.

However talking about art tends to kill the momentlessness in which art lives, to ignite fury and present the inadequacy of verbal language to rise to the challenge and inform us about ourselves and our existence like art can.

If you have been reading these conversations, you might have found a common thread in my dissatisfaction of the spoken or written word and the ways in which language instigates power struggles and shapes our lives. Here is an example of what I like to call "Meta-art-speak" and it is a commonplace that goes something like "I don't know art, but I know what I like," which is often used by those who are not fluent in the language of art to describe their disdain for something art-like. One of my early teachers told us teenagers that the meaning behind this statement was "I don't know art because I like what I know." Although this is on the right track, today I feel that the TRUE meaning behind this statement is: "I don't like art because I like what I know."

Hanashiro Chōmo

Hanashiro Chōmo

Perhaps resulting from the social and financial battle in Weimar between the Neoclassical artists of the Weimar School and the Expressionists from the Bauhaus that forced the flight of the Bauhäusler to Dessau and continued with the prosecution of degenerate arts in the third reich, many artists began to see their role as one that challenged society. Fortunately or not, this ultimately alienated the audience with a type of language and discourse too difficult for the non-initiated to understand.

In order to understand this language, a type of art teaching has developed where art made in private is presented and discussed in public. Although this seems to be logical there is a very problematic issue at its core:  In many cases the context of a work of art is what determines the meaning of a work.

I am not sure if this is really a problem, however. In fact, I see it as a great chance to try and find a new way to teach art. But first I need to lay down some basic theses, which I will then use to describe this new model:

1) Artmaking is a non-verbal language.
2) Artmaking is a context in and of itself.
3) Artmaking is a community act.
4) Artmaking does not require discussion on a formalized level.
5) Artmaking can be experienced in a perpetual mode.

I would like to lead a neo-absurdist arts class composed of weekend workshops where verbal communication is forbidden, artmaking becomes the context and it will not be discussed by the participants afterwards. I do not perceive this to be "happening", "dance", "theater", or "performance art", but more of an opportunity to engage in high-level non-verbal communication between arts practitioners from all fields of practice without the interruption of the audience as a form of training and experimenting with the communicative abilities of arts. If you want to participate in an upcoming workshop send a mail with your resumé over to direktion@kuenstlerhaus-weimar.de

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EXTRO: It is not often that while writing something I have a bit of déjà vu. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I had a near-death experience yesterday while having a conversation with my friend Bernd and in the middle of it I was hit by this realization like a freight train. My fingers started cramping, my heart began racing and I was shivering. It took all the energy I had to gurgle out this statement, say goodbye to my friends at the pub and by the time I got home I couldn't feel my feet, I couldn't even remember simple thoughts - let alone type accurately. I was sure my time had come and for that case I wanted to make sure that this last thought didn't get swallowed by the darkness I felt engulfing me.

In part I owe this revelation to a late-night conversation several nights ago with Stephanie, Patrizia and Olaf in which we totally misunderstood each other and the subtexts of our various perspectives on a wonderful work of art Stephanie made. That conversation changed my life, and I am really happy to still be around to think about it. Long live the 42. Kongress!!!

Dialect and Power (Part 3)

February 9th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Language is a mixture of vocabulary and grammar that develops out of experience and culture. These are conversations about teaching language in the digital age.

Conversation 3: Graffiti and Rules

You might be asking yourself, what does Graffiti have to do with language in the digital age, but before I get there I need to build up a case - so please bear with me. Let's start with Picasso: "All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once you grow up."

In Weimar, lots of people are up in arms about the "graffiti problem", and there are all sorts of things that the city is trying to do to combat this issue. Without going into a history lesson in too much depth, a lot of this began with the "Entente Florale" fiasco in 2009, where Weimar lost the international "beauty pageant" because of the widespread presence of graffiti in the city. The day of the visit of the jury, I was invited to the gala reception at the Villa Haar and had a chance to hobknob a bit with local and regional politicians as well as the jury. One of the ministers from Thuringia (who I prefer not to name), even told me that "those criminals that do graffiti should be hunted down because n*ggers ruin beautiful cities".

One common tactic for cities facing this kind of "aesthetic crisis" is to do the first thing that comes to mind: Set up legal walls for graffiti in public places. In Weimar, of course as with most cities that try this approach, placed their walls off the beaten path and not in the city center. Here are the rules posted next to each of the walls.

Usage Regulations for Graffiti Wall on Gerberstr.

If you don't read German, you'll probably miss the last one: It is illegal to cover your face when using the wall. Although not such a bad thing for the police, considering the high probability that these walls are under surveillance, this is a big problem for the health of the painters young and old: If you don't wear a mask while painting with aerosol-based paint, you'll be inhaling high-levels of solvents and paint particles.

Which means the local government has put the health of all the youth at risk in order to potentially help catch some crooks who probably aren't stupid enough to use these walls.

So, the city of Weimar is still concerned about illegal graffiti,  so much that they will be having a conference about it tomorrow in the past. From the TLZ:

Podiumsdiskussion "Graffiti im Fokus" am Donnerstag, 27. Januar, 19 Uhr, im mon ami: Bürgermeister Christoph Schwind, Polizeichef Ralf Kirsten , Andreas Schramek, Strafverteidiger in Graffiti-Sachen, Sandro Witt , Gewerkschaftssekretär des DGBThüringen und andere. Im Vorfeld der Diskussion stehen ab 18 Uhr Graffiti-Sachbearbeiter der Polizeiinspektion sowie der Stadtverwaltung bieten umfangreiche Informationen zum Thema an.

I find it interesting that they haven't invited any artists to participate in the talk. Therefore I am reposting a revised article from my old blog. (Thanks to facebook it was archived!!!)

Here you go:

Milwaukee Journal / Sentinal arts blogger Mary Louise Schumacher shared a discussion about this irrate small-time politician initially not getting his way because of “free speech issues” regarding his intent to limit the ability of home-owners and property managers to put whatever they want on their exterior walls - in an attempt to make another hurdle to non-state-sanctioned creative expression in support of board-approved notions of aesthetics.

Alderman Zielinski is the chair of the Anti-Graffiti Task Force in Milwaukee and also manages the suburban district Bay View near the airport. He is even a member of the Bay View Historical Society! As far as rats go, he probably wouldn’t know what to do with a Banksy until you told him, but then again it’s probably a slap in the face to be FORCED to recognize that graffiti artworks are being stolen from walls and that people identify with these artworks and even use them as landmarks for navigation! It is just so illogical! Especially when you are spending 28,000 USD on 12 (yes twelve!!!) “tripwire” heat-seeking infrared cameras (less than the purchase price of a real Banksy at auction) to catch these criminals at night when they are most active.

Kiljoy Was Here - Daniel Caleb Thompson, 2009

Although forcing people to go through legal hoops is reminiscent of the barbaric zoning requirements in many German cities (compare Fassadenanstrich - brauch ich dafür eine Genehmigung?) - the issue of graffiti is something that will never go away. As a matter of fact, US Armed Forces personnel actually helped reinvigorate graffiti during the second World War - and if you can believe Wikipedia, graffiti has been around for a VERY VERY VERY long time. (In fact, it is because of graffiti that we even know for example how some Latin vulgates were pronounced and that Jesus looked like a donkey…)

That Alderman Zielinski is an adherent of the Broken Windows Theory becomes quite obvious during the staggeringly slow FOX webcast of the recorded meeting when he states that the people who make public paintings should be held responsible for their maintenance. His amazing exit from the proceedings reminded me unfortunately of Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay:

Ron Fox: Oh, you plead the 5th, huh? Beecher, get me a copy of the Bill of Rights.
Dr. Beecher
: The Bill of Rights? Why?
Ron Fox
: Just do it!
[ Beecher leaves room]
Ron Fox
: 5 right?
Rosenberg
: 5.
Goldstein
: 5, sure.
Ron Fox
: Okay.
[ Beecher comes in with the Bill of Rights]
Ron Fox
: [ undoing his pants] You want to know what I think of the 5th Amendment?[rips off paper and wipes his ass with it]
Ron Fox
: [ holding up paper with crap smeared on it] There it is. That’s what I think of the 5th Amendment.
Goldstein
: Why the hell is your ass so dirty? Don’t you wipe?
Ron Fox
: Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answer to buddy.

“Broken Windows”, or anything resembling disorder, according to authors George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson, are gateways to crime, and it is better - so the theory - to repair the windows before vagrants move into the abandoned house and set it on fire. In their original article on the topic from 1982 they cited Prof. Susan Estrich from the Harvard Law School:

“As Nathan Glazer has written, the proliferation of graffiti, even when not obscene, confronts the subway rider with the inescapable knowledge that the environment he must endure for an hour or more a day is uncontrolled and uncontrollable, and that anyone can invade it to do whatever damage and mischief the mind suggests.”

Untitled - Basquiat 1981 (Responsible for many broken windows.)

Indeed, it is precisely this “uncontrollable” youth-element that groups of teenagers are naturally able to instil in the public that is frequently cited in their article. (However, I am able to see a lot of parallels in the escapism and disregard for the law so prevalent among artists.) Ever since the youth rebellion from the mainstream in post-McCarthy America and the subsequent global peace movement, it is this “delinquency” that is really on attack: the subjugation of the status quo through culture jamming, however, is public speech protected by the US bill of rights and constitution and the Universal Charter of Human Rights. I maintain that this holds true in all artistic situations regardless of legislation that might seek to criminalize such expression.

American rights are (more often than not) property-centric rather than value-centric. I am not implying that Americans are Human Havings rather than Human Beings, however, in my opinion this whole circus looks like state-subsidized backdoor gentrification. Let the politicians decide what is important for safety, that is indeed their role - but keep them away from aesthetics.

Some British communities, in step with the New York decision to clean the subways, have declared their intent to remove works of Banksy art from public walls - which, when you think about it, is a testament to the moral poverty of a system so intent on being right and righteous that it forgets its role as the protector and nurturer of the culture it is ultimately responsible for creating.

The only people I trust absolutely when it comes to aesthetic decisions are artists working alone - groupthink is for insects, not humans. You can have your jurisdiction the way you like it, but stopping artists from expressing themselves in sketches (tags) or in paintings (pieces) is something that can be temporarily stopped but will never end. After all, we have been doing this for quite some time


Daniel Caleb Thompson
Editor in Chief - Eigenheim Journal of Culture
2009 Marseille

ENDNOTE:
It would be just plain wrong of me to not mention my industry affiliations. I am a painter and writer living in Europe who prefers whatever kind of paint he can get his hands on and the bigger the brush the better, who has often times been quite angry at some local tagger-crews.

ERRATA:
On my fact-finding journey I stumbled upon quite a few astounding things, like:

City Anti-Graffiti Squad Supports Painting Project
www.shepherd-express.comAugust 23, 2007

But in an unusual move, the Milwaukee Department of Neighborhood Services (DNS) Anti-Graffiti Task Force is helping five painters beautify a vacant building on the city’s West Side.

An intriguing difference between manufacturers of spraycans: Whereas American Krylon is running a campaign called “Graffiti Hurts“, the European company Belton celebrates the graffiti style.

Painting on walls with paintbrushes is more okay than using cans or markers.

And my final thought is about how wikipedians classify graffiti: Art genres |Culture jamming techniquesGraffiti and unauthorised signageMurals |Painting techniquesUrban decayVandalismWriting

6 of these 9 classifications are NOT even slightly illegal…