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Archive for December, 2019

During my visit to SFMOMA on 15 Nov 2019, I was standing on the terrace of the 7th Floor looking North-East into Natoma Street, and wondering what the curved-walled building on the left was about.

SFMOMA

I did not pay much attention until I was reminded of this view in this article about floating utopias in The New-Yorker of 11 Dec 2019. Below is a view from the other side, probably taken from the Providian Financial rooftop on Beale Street, looking South-West. At the far end, you may recognize the SFMOMA building. The building in the front is Salesforce Park, a lush rooftop arcadia of rolling meadows.

Salesforce Park

Salesforce Park.Photograph by Karl Mondon / The Mercury News / Getty

The article in The New-Yorker is about the utopian, surveilled and orchestrated architecture in the middle of the astonishing inequality of homeless people in all the other streets of San Francisco:

Taxpayer-funded, corporately branded, suspended above the homeless, the park is an irresistible metaphor for the city’s socioeconomic tensions. It also feels like a bid, or a prayer, for a certain vision of its future.

Salesforce Park as a model for the rest of San Francisco—vertical, expansive, ecologically minded, expensive, sponsored, and surveilled.

“I feel totally orchestrated,” Cranz said, placing her hand on the railing separating us from the plant life. “I’m acutely aware of how managed everything is.”

Shuttle Constant

Two days later, I bumped on-line into the magical world of the Dutch artist Constant Nieuwenhuis and especially his Magnus opus “New Babylon”, another utopia, a city designed to respond to Homo Ludens’ need for playing, for adventure, and for mobility.

 

In New Babylon there are no single houses

The whole city is one immense covered collective house

A house with countless rooms, halls and corridors,

In which one can roam for days or weeks,

But where one can also find

Small spaces for privacy

New Babylon is a labyrinth

Inexhaustible in its variations

A palace with a thousand rooms

timeline art

Constant was one of the founders of Cobra, an avant-garde art movement established on 8 Nov 1948. The movement only existed for three years, but forever changed the landscape of postwar European art. Cobra was perhaps the last avant-garde movement of the twentieth century. Constant was the author and co-signee of the initial COBRA Manifesto “La Cause était entendue” – “The Case was Settled”.

Les représentants belges, danois et hollandais à la conférence du Centre Internatiopnal de Documentation sur l’Art d’Avant-Garde à Paris jugent que celle-ci n’a mené à rien.

La résolution qui a été votée à la séance de cloture ne fait qu’exprimer le manque total d’un accord suffisant pour justifier le fait même de la réunion.

Nous voyons comme le seul chemin pour continuer l’activité internationale une collaboration organique expérimentale qui évite toute théorie stérile et dogmatique.

Aussi décidons-nous de ne plus assister aux conférences dont le programme et l’atmosphère ne sont pas favorable à un développement de notre travail.

Nous avons pu constater, nous, que nos façons de vivre, de travailler, de sentir étaient communes ; nous nous entendons sur le plan pratique et nous refusons de nous embrigader dans une unité théorique artificielle. Nous travaillons ensemble, nous travaillerons ensemble.

C’est dans un esprit d’efficacité que nous ajoutons à nos expériences nationales une expérience dialectique entre nos groupes. Si, actuellement, nous ne voyons pas ailleurs qu’entre nous d’activité internationale, nous faisons appel cependant aux artistes de n’importe quel pays qui puissent travailler – qui puissent travailler dans notre sens.

Paris, le 8 novembre 48.

Cobra Manifesto page-1

Cobra Manifesto - Image from Beinecke Digital Collections

After reading “Homo Ludens – A Study of the Play-Element in Culture” by Johan Huizinga, Constant develops the idea for a futuristic city. He develops this idea by drawing maps, writing texts, building constructions, and models.

Homo Ludens

Constant worked for almost 20 years on New Babylon (1959-1974). Today, there is a foundation to preserve and promote the art collection and intellectual legacy of the artist.

From Wikipedia:

The goal was the creating of alternative life experiences, called ‘situations’

Perched above ground, Constant’s megastructures would literally leave the bourgeois metropolis below and would be populated by homo ludens–man at play.

In the New Babylon, the bourgeois shackles of work, family life, and civic responsibility would be discarded. The post-revolutionary individual would wander from one leisure environment to another in search of new sensations. Beholden to no one, he would sleep, eat, recreate, and procreate where and when he wanted. Self-fulfillment and self-satisfaction were Constant’s social goals. Deductive reasoning, goal-oriented production, the construction and betterment of a political community–all these were eschewed.

It is obvious that a person free to use his time for the whole of his life, free to go where he wants, when he wants, cannot make the greatest use of his freedom in a world ruled by the clock and the imperative of a fixed abode. As a way of life Homo Ludens will demand, firstly, that he responds to his need for playing, for adventure, for mobility, as well as all the conditions that facilitate the free creation of his own life.

Some of the constructs in Constant’s vision reminded me of the sketches and models of Buckminster Fuller’s Dimaxyon House of 30 years earlier).

Dymaxion House

Buckminster Fuller, Dimaxyon House, Chicago, USA, 1927

Constant passes away in Utrecht on August 1st, 2005, at home with his wife Trudy van der Horst. He is buried at Zorgvlied in Amstelveen on August 6th. On his grave:

In art freedom manifests itself in its highest form.
The creative imagination.
Art creates an image of the world that didn’t exist before.
No. More than that.
An image that was unthinkable before.

I’d love to see a 21st-century version of Cobra, a collective of artists, thinkers, creators, tinkerers, and experimentalists, leading into a movement of fresh thinking. Not necessarily and exclusively an art-movement, but an all-encompassing societal-movement, with more time and air and oxygen for our children to play, where they naturally can grow into what they are best at, with a renewed freshness and renaissance, a new corporate and societal spring, celebrating the power of imagination and creativity, as a response to our dull political landscape of non-zero games.

A new New Babylon, a new city to play, a new avant-garde propelling us into the highest forms of freedom.

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Byrne

Byrne, left, and fellow members of the 12-person, gray-suited cast.
Photo Credit: Bryan Derballa for The New York Times

It was Robert Fritz who pointed me at the meaninglessness of glorifying terms like “deep”, “meaningful”, “sustainable”, etc. especially in combination with corporate common blahs like “innovation”, “disruption”, “ecosystem”, and “change”

Simon

Simon Wardley's Common Blahs

Just try it: meaningful change, deep change, sustainable learning organization, etc. Utterly nonsense. But what if we would embrace another form of nonsense, another form of meaninglessness? Another form of plainness, elegance, pure joy from form?

It was this article about David Byrne’s Utopia Tour in the NYT, that lead me into the wormhole of Dada poetry, and later into the other art movement Cobra and its related Cobra Manifesto (Cobra is for a subsequent post).

“I thought plain but elegant suits would unify us and help reveal us as a tribe, a community,” 

 What was that song with the nonsense lyrics?The lyrics for “I Zimbra” were derived from “Gadji beri bimba,” a 1916 phonetic poem by Hugo Ball, the German author-poet and co-founder of Dada. More than a half-century after Ball strove to stop making sense, he got a writing credit for the opening track on the Talking Heads album “Fear of Music.”

 

Gadji beri bimba clandridi
Lauli lonni cadori gadjam
A bim beri glassala glandride
E glassala tuffm I zimbra

Bim blassa galassasa zimbrabim
Blassa glallassasa zimbrabim

A bim beri glassala grandrid
E glassala tuffm I zimbra

Gadji…

And then I found this in Peter Sloterdijk’s book “The Aesthetic Imperative”:

sloter aesthetics

I éja

Alo

Myu

Ssírio

Ssa

Schuá

Ará

Niíja

Stuáz

Brorr

Schjatt

Ui ai laéla – oía ssísialu

To trésa trésa trésa mischnumi

Ia lon schtazúmato

Ango laína la

Lu liálo lu léiula

Lu léja léja hioleíolu

A túalo mýo

Myo túalo

My ángo Ina

Ango gádse la

Schia séngu ína

Séngu ína la

My ángo séngu

Séngu ángola

Mengádse

Séngu

Iná

Leíola

Kbaó

Sagór

Kadó

Kadó? Cadeau? Maybe it’s a matter of learning to be better at the art of accepting presents or pure gifts. The text above is the last ‘movement’ of the Ango laïna by Rudolf Blümner, a kind of phonetic cantata for two voices from the year 1921. Blümner described it as an ‘absolute poem’. The Ango laïna demonstrates what poetry can be after it is emancipated from the vocabulary, grammar, rhetoric, and phonetics of the German language.

It made me think about what makes me happy and unhappy. Unhappiness caused by dullness, not making the most of it, chatter, irrelevance, not being in the moment, Being distracted from what you are supposed to be, to do,…

This is not about boredom. I can be perfectly happy in full boredom. I can be perfectly happy in full silence. I can be perfectly happy in full nothingness

Happiness is about being in the perfect “bubble” or “sphere” of belonging and relevance. This is beyond Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It is getting closer to Nitin Nohria’s four drivers of motivation (see also my 2011 post on Lipstick on Pigs):

  • The drive to acquire,
  • The drive to defend,
  • The drive to bond, and
  • The drive to learn

Without stress, fatigue, and unhappiness. These happen when:

  • You cannot decide the pace of viewing (credit to my art teacher Fiorella Stinders)
  • You cannot decide the pace of creating (credit to Geert Lovink)

Happiness, in essence, is about not being withheld. Withheld by tempo. Withheld by form. Withheld by meaning.

This form of meaningless joy is what attracts me to the Dada movement.

In my next post, we’ll get into the Cobra movement, and why their ideas of playfulness are relevant in today’s thinking about society.

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delicacies

Here is the latest version of my Delicacies newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter on the top of that page.

These are articles/posts that for some reason created a spark in my memory.

Teaser: this fantastic video by Joao Pombeiro

 

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larry and sergey

Larry and Sergey in hot tub bubbles in 2005 – picture by William Mercer McLeod

In my previous post, I played with words on Descartes’ “Je pense, donc je suis” – “I think, therefore I am”. In the background, you will notice my always-restless search for who I am. It is an everlasting search for (digital) identity. But maybe “Who” I am is a less critical investigation than “Where” I am?

I always have been intrigued by spheres. From my exposure as an youngster architecture student, through the discovery of Buckminster Fuller’s Geodesic Domes, from my thinking about digital identity being a sphere of fragments of influence that one could share with others, till my recent discoveries in exploring 3D drawing and sculpting software, where meshes of polygon meshes and NURBS primitives can be found and molded-in in abundance.

It should therefore not come as a surprise that – as mentioned in my Dec 2019 update –  I became absolutely fascinated by Sloterdijk’s “Foams”, part-3 of his trilogy on Bubbles, Spheres and Foam.

Foams book

I probably – with a probability of 100% – only understand a very small fraction of what is written and meant by Sloterdijk, or by some of the authors of essays introducing and contextualizing his work. I did some homework for this post by reading and reading again the excellent introduction by Jean Pierre Couture on the work of Sloterdijk in general, and Charlie Huenemann’s “Sloterdijk’s Spheres: Bubbles, Globes, and Foams”. And then starting the real thing by the master himself. It is not a page-turner: 900 pages of solid philosophical writing. I can do a maximum of 5 pages/day and need time to let it all sink in. That should do as far as the disclaimers are concerned.

Indeed, this is just a personal thought experiment – and maybe an art experiment or performance as well in the near future – re my evolution on thinking about (digital) identity, and daring to propose a different, radical and spherical perspective.

It’s a baby-idea, just out of the womb, waiting for parents and caregivers to be nurtured, and made alive. There is no practical application for this as far as I can think of, but it just feels I am onto something.

My latest contribution was The Cambrian Explosion of Identity from February 2019, already intended then as the start of a series on the subject, but other priorities distracted me from further development. Let’s add some “spherology” to the mix now.

„Peter Sloterdijk’s celebrated „Spheres“ trilogy is a 2,500-page „grand narrative“ retelling of the history of humanity, as related through the anthropological concept of the „Sphere”,… a lengthy meditation of Being and Space — a shifting of the question of „who we are„ to a more fundamental question of „where we are.“

Foams are masses of little bubbles, of course. As a metaphor, foams represent smaller zones of inclusion filled with the air of hope.” Huenemann, Charlie.

“And this, in essence, is what Sloterdijk sees as the project of the modernity: the business of constructing bigger and bigger shells, with more Lebensraum for the soul.Huenemann, Charlie.

I used to think of a robot as an entity that has a body, a mind, and sensors for input/output computation. A computational machine. But to me, it seems just a bit too easy to separate the mind and body, and to replace the mind with some form of artificial intelligence.

It feels like Sloterdijk describes “being” – being in the world, coming into the world, creating your own world and make it become alive, worlding – as acting as-a-foam, not as a “body”, a body with a brain on top that thinks. He is after the wholeness of foam and its integration and relationships with upper and lower levels of spheres and bubbles.

blue foam

The metaphor of foam is a very solid one: what was before foam, what happens after the foam disintegrates? Where does foam go, what caveats is it trying to fill? All interesting avenues for research and investigation.

It also made me think of this strange creature – the blob with 720 sexes – that foams over old wood trees as a monster we can all learn from?

Because of this sudden focus on foamy shapes, I see bubble-structures everywhere. I see foam in this discovery of Christian Mio Loclair’s art installations, interventions, and interpretations. His studio “Waltz Binaire” works for the biggest brands in the world.

He explores the harmonic friction of human bodies, movement, and nature colliding with digital aesthetics. Using cutting edge technology in interactive installations, audio-visual experiences, visual narratives, and dance performances, he continuously illuminates the beauty and drama of human identity.

waltz binaire foam

Enhanced Motion Design - Waltz Binaire Studio

I see foams in Spheres Journal:

“Yet the vision algorithms have of our future is built on our past. What we teach these algorithms ultimately reflects back on us and it is, therefore, no surprise when artificial intelligence starts to classify on the basis of race, class, and gender. This odd ‘hauntology’1 is at the core of what is currently discussed under the labels of algorithmic bias or pattern discrimination.”

Current identity thinking is based on past data. On graphs. On connections and relationships between “nodes”, “end-points” of a relatively fixed and static structure. With the extraction of value built on top of that past, amplified by AI. The past amplified.

But we did not notice that the nodes have become overlapping cells of belonging. The attractiveness of a “foamy” group- or individual-identity is that it is not fixed and static. It is “expansive”, not “extractive”. It adds value. It grows unpredictably into the future. Not like extrapolations of last year’s revenue growth. More like fruit maturing into a juicy ripeness.

Foam is dynamic. Made of bubbles, it lives within and across spheres of influence (both in the sense of actively influencing and passive being influenced).

Foam is not static. It is alive. In search of higher levels of aliveness. Until it dies. And only blobs of dust and air are left.

I see foam in Paul Baran’s network models:

paul baran

Centralized, decentralized and distributed network models
Paul Baran (1964)

What’s the impact of foamy logic on organizational models? How does a foamy organization look like? What’s the shape of D?

Are we moving from Graphs to Foams? From Nodes to Bubbles? What would nodes and endpoints be called in the foam-world anyway? Are we foam? It feels like I am going down a rabbit hole of foam. From fuzzy to foamy logic?

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Man on canvas

Petervan Artwork © 2019 – Little man on canvas – Acryl on Canvas – 10x10cm

 

Ik luister, dus ik ben

Ik kijk, dus ik ben

Ik teken, dus ik ben

Ik schrijf, dus ik ben

Ik componeer, dus ik ben

Ik creëer, dus ik ben

Ik loop, dus ik ben

Ik rust, dus ik ben

Ik huil, dus ik ben

Ik dans, dus ik ben

Ik schilder, dus ik ben

Ik peins, dus ik ben

Ik de-peins, dus ik ben

Meen je dat echt?

J’écoute, donc je suis

Je regarde, donc je suis

Je dessine, donc je suis

J’écris, donc je suis

Je compose, donc je suis

Je crée, donc je suis

Je cours, donc je suis

Je me repose donc je suis

Je cris, donc je suis

Je danse, donc je suis

Je peins, donc je suis

Je pense, donc je suis

Je dé-pense, donc je suis

Vraiment?

I listen, therefore I am

I look, therefore I am

I draw, therefore I am

I write, therefore I am

I compose, therefore I am

I create, therefore I am

I run, therefore I am

I chill, therefore I am

I cry, therefore I am

I dance, therefore I am

I paint, therefore I am

I pense, therefore I am

I ex-pense, therefore I am

Really?

 

Je depense

 

This post is the start of a short series of posts on who and where I am/you are, and a set of new interventions and provocations to renew aliveness and alertness in what we observe and what we hope for. Looking forward to creating spiritual, moral and aesthetical advancement together.

You can subscribe via email to these posts via the “Follow blog via email” in the upper right corner of this page. Enjoy!

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The theme for Techonomy 2019 in Half Moon Bay, California was “Reset and Restore: Governing Tech, Retrieving Ethics, and Acting on Climate.”

Keen and David

In the opening session, Founder and Host David Kirkpatrick prompted: “These are serious times” and the following interview by Andrew Keen of David was really interesting. Keen rightfully asked the question of what needs to be reset, and – if we have to restore something – is this a nostalgic going back to good old times, or what is meant here?

To make a long story short, it seemed the answer could be distilled to a resetting and restoring back to/towards more humanity.

Konstantinos Karachalios, Managing Director of IEEE’s Digital Ethics department referred to the German Jewish Viennese philosopher Gunther Anders, who wrote in 1956 “The outdatedness of the Human Species”.

Konstantinos also shared some strong opinions about the Power (in)equation – the asymmetry in power of the big tech vs. us – and summarized his thinking as “The Time of (Engineering) Innocence is Over”

Colin Parris @colin_j_paris did a session titled “Why AI has to be humble” about GE’s use of self-learning AI in the building of GE Jet Engines. Super-slick and professional presentation, almost too clinical. The last slide was about “Intimidation by Immortal Machines”.

Immortal machines

My head got spinning and got me thinking of John Markoff’s 2015 book “Machines of Loving Grace – The Quest for Common Ground between Humans and Machines

Markoff

In itself, the book’s title is a spin on Richard Brautigan’s “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace” from 1967, and of course, Adam Curtis fantastic 2011 documentary “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

 

I like to think (it has to be!) of a cybernetic ecology

where we are free of our labors

and joined back to nature,

returned to our mammal brothers and sisters,

and all watched over by machines of loving grace. 

Richard Brautigan, “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace” © 1967

Let me put all this behind the backdrop of what I saw and experienced a couple of days earlier in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA).

Moss screen

Richard Moss "INCOMING" - Picture by Petervan

On the 7th floor, there is an amazing video installation by Richard Mosse, called “INCOMING”, and it is about the horrible conditions in another Western export product: refugee camps, and related issues of sovereignty, warfare, and surveillance.  The installation forces us to confront our own complicity. Strongly recommended. Still running in SFMOMA till 17 Feb 2020. Warning: you won’t come out smiling from this installation!

See also interview with the artist in Forensic Architecture

The entrance of the installation also includes a picture of Berlin’s Tempelhof, a symbolically loaded site to house asylum seekers.

Temperhof

Tempelhof context

“…, and the airfield has been transformed into a popular public park. Some of its adjacent buildings and territory were designated as an emergency refugee shelter in 2015”

What misery! What a shame for a “modern” society! This installation made me rethink my opinion about refugees. For me, it questions the whole semantic discussion about “asylum seekers” vs. “economic” refugees. There is no difference. When people become so desperate to flee their home and take these incredible risks and withstand these inhumane circumstances, those semantics become irrelevant.

This injustice is going to explode in our face, sooner or later. A toxic mix with climate change, inequality and the 1% owning 99% of the wealth. I can only hope I will not be treated this way when I or my children have to find refuge for climate change or other disasters in the future.

All the big problems of today are crying for more compassion, more morality, less greed. The root cause is a lack of morals combined with an abundance of greed.

Putting it all together, “Immortal Machines of Loving Grace” may be better replaced by “Immoral Machines of Loving Greed”.  Just replacing two words is probably better and more adequately describing our Zeitgeist.

In that sense, some of the discussions of Techonomy 2019 should have included the refugee crisis vs. having safe conversations about the attention economy, tech supremacy or immortal machines of loving grace in a five-star luxury hotel.

See also my separate post on the key memes of Techonomy 2019.

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