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

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?
: 5.
: 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.
: 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

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.

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…

Dialect and Power (Part 2)

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 2: And then this happenz...

Left to my own seething devices I visited the Interwebz. I quickly found comfort in the suggestion of a friend to create a workshop: "The artist's free toolbox / Know your tools - The GNU/Linux and free software survival guide for media art & design." (My emphasis.)

Those who know Simon know that he is an open-source evangelist and distro consultant who recently got his BFA for the creation of a school-friendly flavor of ubuntu ready for educational implementation at the state level. We share the same ethos of finding ways to do things without relying on proprietary software, be it graphic design, video editing, mobile navigation or selling cars. Nevertheless, the camp quickly split into two sides:

1) Those who felt that that tools were methods and that one should be empowered to use the full spectrum of methods available through awareness of the tools and the means for creating new tools and developing new methods. This means that some member of the group should compile a list of useful tools and

Nebra Scheibe

Algorithmic Solstice Measuring Device from Nebra, ca. 2000 BCE

2) Those who felt that it was more important to teach methods that were not in and of themselves tools, but more like strategies for undertaking common tasks - an example of which would be to show someone  how to turn a stone into a hammer because hammering is the method and any appropriate object can do the job of hammering...

Graphic showing the Goseck circle. The yellow lines represent the direction the Sun rises and sets at the winter solstice, while the vertical line shows the astronomical meridian. ca 4000 BCE

Without misrepresenting the conversation, I think it is fair to say that although everyone agreed that it was important to use tools, the focus should be on the using and not the tool. However I thought it was quite interesting that it was not really a discussion about making new methods...



Dialect and Power (Part 1)

January 3rd, 2011 § 1 comment § 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 1: Peripheral Languages

This conversation was after dinner over the holidays with my sister and her husband about the languages (other than English and German) my nephew should learn in school. My sister's native language is a midwestern US American English and her husband speaks a Thueringian dialect of 2nd Reform High German. I have noticed that their son speaks pretty decent English and pretty decent German, but makes all sorts of grammatical and conjugation mistakes.  It seemed to me that his sentences were simply not well-formed. Strictly speaking he was using English or German relatively proficiently, but he would make those little mistakes that young bilingual children are prone to making, such as over infinitivizing, mispronounciation und swapping the grammar (and Wortschatz) from one language to sie other. Little things like using too many Wörter or the verb at the end of the sentence putting doing.

Anyway, in a last-ditch effort to change the subject away from the fact that my nephew speaks better German than his Mom and better English than his Dad, I decided to propose that when he gets to school they enroll him in computer language like Python as a third language. It is way better than any human languages like French or Sanskrit, because it is a structured mathematical language used for the efficient processing of information and is able to interoperate with most other dialects and flavors of processor control. So, maybe its a challenge to write poetry with computer languages, but who said German was any better? I dropped a comment about my youth and LOGO, the horrors (and joys) of BASIC and my current problems (and successes) with bashing perl and php, wishing that when I was in grade school in the 80's that there had been something like that for me. She still didn't get it though.

"He won't need to talk to his phone," my sister told me. "He'll need to talk through his phone." I could have just as well suggested my nephew learn Esperanto or Sanskrit as a third language. She just wasn't having it. She did not feel that this type of language was important for young people to learn, and I wasn't prepared to remind my sister about the fact that the human species is becoming cybernetic and that we have become utterly dependent upon our digital tools.

Of course no one outside the Interwebz gets it. The idea that computer languages are actual languages for human communication hasn't set in yet, and the notion that we should teach our children an interpreted, interactive, object-oriented, extensible programming language as an alternative to Russian or Italian is probably never going to happen in public education. (Before the singularity, that is.)

Anglo Saxon Runes

Anglo Saxon Runes

So I tried putting it to her another way. Up until several hundred years ago, the written languages belonged to the businessmen, the priests and the nobles. "Normal" people were permitted neither the education nor the time to read and write. Communication was however, universal - a slave who could not understand the commands of the master is useless to the master. In that regard, those who control the language and its meanings were also able to control the way people think, behave and communicate. Any society left long enough to its own devices will not only develop tools for communication, but after several generations hold these beliefs programmed into their languages as being self-evident truths.

Then I told her that even when she didn't care to think about it, every time she googled, tweeted, chatted or played some facebook game, she was actually using a highly transparent and technologically advanced interface for algorithm construction. She was like "Whatever." At this point I decided to drop it, even though I wanted to continue talking to her about using javascript to hack the facebook interface in order to invite all her friends to an event called "I'm with stupid."

So I turned to her husband, and made a metaphor about how impossible it is to repair any modern automobile without special computers. I reminded him about the field of industrial design, where materials are being used that have been designed to fail right after the warranty for the product is over. I almost started going into post-fordian neo-liberalism and the desire of corporations to somatize the masses, but his eyes started glazing over too. I guess the moral of the story is that I'll need get the boy hooked on programming in some other sneaky way like this or this.


Comic by XKCD.

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