Elasticity

Leo, your quote from The Idiot reminds me of a man I met long ago when I was raising money for some murals I once did at the Long Street Baths in Cape Town. He was a businessman who liked going to the turkish baths on Sunday mornings, who took an interest in helping to pay for the murals. He always looked very unassuming, but he was the owner of many large and small companies, and at the time was also busy going back and forth to Angola on some mining project. I later found out that a lot of things he did were quite improper. Noseweek, the magazine which follows corrupt business activities, began to follow him. He was the type of businessman who had no qualms about buying up a longstanding business and selling off all its different parts until there was nothing left. Shareholders were left with worthless bits of paper. Nothing was ever pinned on him however and his unscrupulous behaviour had a paradoxical effect on people, inspiring both horror and admiration, that someone could stop at absolutely nothing.

Your quote from Dostoyevsky, reminded me of visits to his office (he was unreachable to me by phone and to speak of anything I had to take an appointment with his secretary and come to his office on the top floor of one of the smaller skyscrapers in the city). He has always charming, showing me the views from the roof, or some strange cigars which were in the form of a spiral due to their preparation method of being twisted together in bundles of three to hold in the flavor – a friend had found these for him in Cuba. Now and then he briefly took a phone call.  I was aware that I occupied only a small part of his attention and his brain ceaselessly moving at a calm and steady pace from one thing to the next. On one occasion, I arrived and he asked me if I minded stepping out with him to do some shopping while we talked. We descended by lift to the parking, got into his SAAB, drove to the Waterfront where he purchased a rain jacket from Cape Union Mart for a hiking trip he was doing with his daughter on the weekend, we drove back to his office, concluded our business and he said goodbye. On my way out of the building I realized that the whole meeting had lasted 25 minutes and that this short period had been effortlessly carved into a complex and purely functional form with no fluff or hesitations. I found this very refreshing. At the time I was 24 and capable of spending large amounts of time dreaming, or allowing subjective thoughts to come in the way of actions, and so I tried to hold onto his kind of energy for a while after our meetings. I found out that he generally arrived in his office at 6am and at the end of the day drank quite a lot to slow down again (or maybe blot out something from his conscience), and this led to some bad car accidents. His idea for funding the second series of murals, was that a number of the wealthy clients, including himself, at the Baths would make an equal contribution of X amount. When he found out that the other men were only willing to make much lesser donations he started slipping out of his office every time I arrived for one of the meetings I had set up with his secretary.

Lately, when teaching I’ve experimented with creating a dense sequence of activities in during the period of a day, in an effort to collide different ways of thinking and functioning together in a way which might create some kind of acceleration in the students heads.

I can see what Kianoosh is saying and I find the elastic bands and cameras an interesting analogy and I like his questioning, ‘I wonder what role coming here has and what really changes? Should I expect change or simply accept the fact that things remain the same?’

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The shifting identity of Mr Motallebi

The cameras stuck back-to-back influencing each other’s movement – gyrating ceaselessly according the faultless laws of physics – seem to answer his question very nicely. I think this is what’s happening all the time in whatever place one finds one’s self in, one is bouncing in a web of elastic connections between one’s self and one’s surroundings, one’s movements and behaviors affect what is going on around one and this affects the way we perceive and behave in this place. We’re bound in. Our movement through space and time is not just a straight line; it also involves the evolution of our sense of self. Kianoosh may have similar preoccupations to those that he had in Amsterdam a month previously, but I find it unlikely that he still has exactly the same sense of who he is now as he did a month earlier. I have no doubt that something shifted in his head when he started hanging out with Jean and his friends, for example, I think something in his sharp analytical brain softened and became receptive to strange and not completely unpleasant things. In a different way, I’m sure there was some kind of change in Jean as well. Daniel Dennet has written and interesting text called ‘The Self as a Centre of narrative gravity’, in which he describes the self as a ‘convenient fiction’ which is constantly reinventing itself in each new social context as the brain seeks to create a vague sense of coherence to both itself and those around one.

Every movement has its repercussions for us and I think its pointless to try to decide at what point one’s actions are relevant, right, good art…rather the object is to try to find a degree of confidence in this web of relations and circumstances. Finding this confidence on a human or existential level is invariably the problem we face.

Gregg Smith

Discussion at Zink, 18 April 2012

The visiting artists are all back home by now. Claire extended her stay by a week and returned to Amsterdam last night. Milena, Kianoosh and Leonid flew back on the 20th of April.  I have been thinking a lot about the last week of the residency and the ideas that came together out of the discussion held at Zink, on wednesday the 18th. I think everyone was quite relieved and uplifted after that discussion because it allowed things to be articulated in a clear way which had until then being vague existential questions and doubts about life in this city and about the dynamics of being a visitor or host here. I have begun transcribing that and will post some of that soon. In the meantime I read this morning and essay in the Sunday Times by Jeremy Cronin, which provides a useful backdrop:

http://www.timeslive.co.za/local/2012/04/29/how-history-haunts-us

Gregg Smith

View of Table Mountain from The farm, Military Road, Thamboerskloof.

Leonid, Claire, Ludwig, André.

Ludwig Gericke and André.

Ray, Milena, Claire, Cindy and Ludwig.

Kianoosh, Trasi, Milena, Cindy, Ludwig and Claire.

John Nankin, Roger van Wyk.

The discussion inside Zink.


“About twenty paces from…

“About twenty paces from the scaffold, where he had stood to hear the sentence, were three posts, fixed in the ground, to which to fasten the criminals (of whom there were several). The first three criminals were taken to the posts, dressed in long white tunics, with white caps drawn over their faces, so that they could not see the rifles pointed at them. Then a group of soldiers took their stand opposite to each post. My friend was the eighth on the list, and therefore he would have been among the third lot to go up. A priest went about among them with a cross: and there was about five minutes of time left for him to live.

“He said that those five minutes seemed to him to be a most interminable period, an enormous wealth of time; he seems to be living, in these minutes, so many lives that there was no need as yet to think of that last moment, so that he made several arrangements, diving the time into portions- one for saying farewell to his companions, two minutes for that; then a couple more for thinking over his own life and career and all about himself; and another minute for a last look around. He rememberer having divided his time like this quite well. While saying good-bye to his friends he recollected asking one of them some very usual everyday question, and being much interesting in the answer. Then having bade farewell, he embarked upon this two minutes which he had allotted to looking into himself; he knew beforehand what he was going to think about. He wished to put it to himself as quickly and clearly as possible, that here was he, a living, thinking man, and that in three minutes he would be nobody; or if somebody or something, then what and where? He thought he would decide this question once and for all in these last three minutes. A little way off there stood a church, and its gilded spire glittered in the sun. He remembered staring stubbornly at this spire, and at the rays of light sparkling from it. He could not tear his eyes from this rays of light; he got the idea that these rays were his new nature, and that in three minutes he would become one the them, amalgamated somehow with them.
“The repugnance to what must ensue almost immediately, and the uncertainty, were dreadful, he said; but worst of all was the idea, ‘What if I were to return to life again? What an eternity of days, and all mine! How I should grudge and count up every minute of it, so as to waste not a single instant!’ He said that this thought weighed so upon him and because such a terrible burden upon his brain that he could not bear it, and wished they would shoot him quickly and have done with it.”

F.D. Dostoyevsky ‘The Idiot’

Leonid Tsvetkov, 28/04/12

Going Inside Time… No Way Back

I

I remembered in the airplane coming back to Paris from Cape Town, that the first time I stepped in Gregg’s house here in Paris I destroyed his wall-clock.  I was staying overnight in the living room and the tic-tac of the clock was driving me crazy.  I had to take an airplane to Istanbul the next morning, and the mix between the stress of the travel and the tic-tac was a perfect cocktail for a night without sleeping.

Happily I could take the clock’s battery off at 1.00 a.m., so I calculated at least five hours of peaceful rest.  At the end were four; counting the one my body took to understand that I really had to sleep. The next morning I woke up and made preparations to take the metro to Charles de Gaulle airport.  The first thing I saw when awake was the clock resting silently in a chair next to the couch I slept in. I took the clock, placed the battery in its back again, adjusted the right time on it and tried to place the clock back into the wall.  The original place for the clock was above the door so I had to take a chair to reach the nail and hang the clock again.  But something went wrong, the clock slipped out from my hands and crashed against the floor.

I never saw a clock killing itself in such a manner.

After the sad end of the mechanical time counter I was confused and embarrassed to break the morning in a scandalous way. Gregg appeared at the door confused, and I promised to give him a new, well-behaved clock.  Some day, in the Future.

I never got him a new clock.  I couldn’t get a good one, I have the feeling that there is something wrong with all of them.

Now, I also remember that in the other side of my practical and political correct thoughts about taking care of other’s objects, I was thinking that such an image of a clock getting crashed was a beautiful cliché. I was thinking that it is fair that clocks kill themselves, after all, their job is pointless; they start always the day in the same way and stress everyone around them because they act as the remainder of how little time everyone has.

II

–       Little time for what?

–       Well, you know, for do what people have to do… on time

–       And what if they can’t do that, what will happen to them?

–       Mmm, lot of possibilities come to my head… they can lose their job for example.

–       But if they lose their job, then they will have plenty of time!

–       No, they will waste their time looking for another job.

–       Oh! But, what if they don’t get any job?

–       Well, then they will have a conflict.

–       a conflict…

–       Yes, they will have a conflict because not knowing what to do with all the time they have, also they will start to get debts. They will have loads of time but    nobody would buy them because maybe everyone will have plenty of time and will be trapped in the need for selling it.

–       So, the excess of time ownership generates problems?

–       Yes, quite an absurd situation, don’t you think?

–       But… if is such a pain in the ass, why people just don’t kill it

–       Kill what?

–       the Time, of course…

III

Marx, among other things, wrote about the pauperization of labor through the systematization of the work in capitalist factories. The average worker no longer had the opportunity of developing a skill, being doomed to sell his labor force –time and energy- for a rather monotonic and mechanical activity.  The worker becomes an extension of the machine, an app that will improve the production, accelerating his pace at the rhythm of the industrial progress.  No wonder the fascination about sci-fi literature on automata / artificial life developed by the time in Europe… at the end of the day, machines get old and exploited without knowing it. Ignorance is bliss as somebody says in ‘The Matrix’.

IV

I wonder if a robot would have a sense of relative time in the future, if it will get to the point to complain about its boring-eternal job of doing the same stuff once and again and again. If it will, with its colleagues, make a union of workers and demand improvements in its circuits, quality of the energy supply and time of retirement.  Maybe there are some machine conspiracies against our hunger of consumption… maybe that’s why some computers, cars, mobiles etc., don’t do their task properly, just to make us suffer because of not having our tasks made on time. Because of not consuming our time productively is considered a capital mistake.

Secretly machines like the word error, perhaps because is the only word that connect them with human beings.

V

Coming back to Paris, in the passport check in Cape Town airport, the official attending asked me something that I didn’t understand, then I asked him back:

– Sorry?

– Your destination madamme, please don’t waste my time!

– Oh! Paris…

– Thank you. Mmm, ‘’Milina’’ is your name…

– Yes

– Is an African name, you know?

– Oh! I thought it was Czech…

– No it is African, do you know what it means?

– No, tell me

– It means patience

VI

Ludwig and I were very tired of waiting for almost 24 hours for something to happen in a beautiful spot in the Karoo desert. The landscape was vast and during the day it was gently getting the entire color spectrum, consequence of the rotation of our planet around the Sun. At sunset the atmosphere was looking pink and blue, during the day a strong yellow air filtrated everything, and the next morning the sky was dramatically passing from purple and orange to blue.  We had placed in that spot of the Karoo desert a table with loads of food, four chairs, nice old fashion crockery and a white tablecloth. I thought that it was a tacit invitation for something to happen.  Maybe some animals would come during the night and eat the great piece of pork displayed on the table, maybe a group of Jackals would come and pass over everything, I was imagining a bunch of baboons drinking the wine and playing with the bell for service placed over there… when negative thoughts invaded me I thought that at least the flies will come and ruin the feast, or that some strong wind will take care of the table…

Nothing happened.

The table got trapped in a bubble of time, isolated from the normal events of the desert… the night passed and the next morning was exactly the same display of things, everything untouched, just a bit dry. Some how for the desert and its own life, that table clearly didn’t belong there and didn’t have an authorization to step in.  Or maybe the table worked as the desert wanted, as a mistake in a general understanding of time, as a clash between ‘civilization’ and survival.

VII

We left the table there.

Milena Bonilla

 

section 1:

This text is a reflection on the time spent in the course of very real time. I have found it hard to pinpoint how this time was actually spent, as it is a constant transience between the mundane and the extraordinary, the generic and specific. Therefore I will describe three instances that divide the text in three sections. This is the first section.

Section 1:

The Expansion of the Universe during A Very Real Time

On the drive back from our visit to the Karoo region in Sutherland, Leonids commitment to constant activity led him to hang his iPhone off the rear view mirror of our Volkswagen Chico. He turned on the video function of the phone, which then recorded a weird and wobbly panoramic view. At this point music was playing and there was something humorous about the shaky phone, the music (retro and cheesy at times) and the passing scenic views. Inspired by rubber bands, Leonid and road boredom, I got pretty involved. We devised a plan to attach two iPhones together with the lenses in opposing directions (back to back) and then hang them off the roof of taxis in Cape Town that would drive to a random destination. I guess there was something intriguing about the point of view of lenses that look in opposing directions, like having eyes in the back of your head. That together with the elasticity of the rubber bands that record every bump and turn in the road, makes for a spinning and shaking image, abstract and unclear, chaotic as it is in constant and unpredictable motion. The iPhones would become a part of an apparatus that captures the city from strange and otherwise impossible angles. There is perhaps some kind of romantic correlation to be made with our artistic exploration of an exotic land, but I won’t go into that. At the time it was more about engaging with people in a different way and I cannot explain why we thought we needed rubber bands and iPhones for that.

The next day we got everything we needed: rubber bands, iphones and a bungee cord. But the taxi thing never happened.

Instead, I (reluctantly) found myself on another road trip. This time the destination was Betties Bay.  Sutherland and the botanical gardens in the centre of Cape Town had inspired Milena. She wanted to make a video and Ludwig, our trusty guide, knew a location that could be perfect for her needs. And it turned out the spot was near Ludwigs family cottage where we could crash overnight.

I was somewhat grumpy and disappointed for letting herd instincts get the better of me. I wanted solitude; instead I would later find myself in a spider infested house that apparently gets broken into by macho male baboons. Luckily I didn’t have to deal with the baboons and Milena and Leonid kindly took care of the spiders (horrible flat creatures they call ‘fly catchers’). Although I was reluctant and perhaps a cynical bastard to everyone, the drive to the spot was actually a lot of fun. Leonid’s energy had again energized me.

Ludwigs Volkswagen Chico became scene to an elaborate network of hanging Iphones and digital cameras. We (Leonid and I) decided not to abandon our taxi idea and do something similar in the Volkswagen. So we hung our two iPhones back to back off the roof, using the bungee cord that was stretched between the two windows. We took it a step further. For this we needed Milena and Claires cameras, which they kindly donated. Using a web of rubber bands we then suspended all four devices (2 iPhones and 2 digital cameras). It was done in such a way that they were all interconnected. Once the setup was finished, we counted down and pressed the record button on all the devices. And there we had it, a strange vibrating, shaking thing that recorded and accompanied our journey for a brief entertaining period of time.

Some time has now passed since the visit to Betty’s Bay. Unfortunately the location Ludwig had in mind was not suitable for Milenas purposes as it was overgrown with vegetation since he was last there. As for the rubber band project, we’ve yet to download the footage onto a laptop. In fact, I’m not even that curious about the footage. I think the camera’s, or the elastic web captured something that we can’t see anyway. For me the apparatus we made represents the impossibility to truly capture or represent any point of view. I probably need to explain that in more detail, but for now, let’s go back to the cameras and the rubber bands.

Because of the way we suspended the cameras, they each influenced one another’s footage as they moved, pulling and shaking in different manners, to make for one elaborate motion, a motion that in turn was induced by our journey, or the car. For each camera, the scene constantly changed as we traversed dramatic landscapes between Cape Town and Betties Bay. On top of that, you had cars that needed overtaking, breaks and all sorts of outside factors and movements that in the end boiled down to one wobbly elastic movement. Even if we were to project the footage in a synchronized manner on a random set of surfaces, it would be impossible to recreate or capture such a motion in video. And not just because it is complicated, because I’m sure a high enough budget and something with computers and robotic arms could get close. But because the problem is in capturing the interdependent relationship between the rubber bands, the cameras and the road. This relationship is something I can just imagine. I can probably envision it more when I see the mesh of rubber bands left over from our adventure, more than when I review the collective footage off the cameras. This footage becomes something else altogether, it mutates into a visceral thing, totally abstracted away from what made it possible in the first place. I guess, in ways the mesh of rubber bands represent a past potential, an impossible image and to a degree our collective will to do something interesting in between, in waiting. You can’t get it back. We almost set it up to be this way. For me, rubber bands will never be the same again.

It might have been the heat, exhaustion or just a private moment in my head in which I was trying to make sense of it all, but I started thinking big. I was reminded of rubber bands as an analogy used in science to describe or illustrate the expansion of the universe. Apparently space is being pulled apart and the world is growing. Scientists describe this growing universe as a place with no center, origin or edges. It is just expanding. Here is the analogy. It is straight from a book:

“The rubber band universe is really homogenous: no dot occupies a special position, there is no natural central dot on the band. (The circle encapsulated by the band does have a center, but that is not part of the band. In our one-dimensional universe, only points along the band are part of the universe. Because every dot is like every other one, all dots see the same…Every observer attached to a dot sees the universe expanding away from the “home” dot”…no beginning or end in sight..

I find this all hard to grasp, but it bares semblance to my experience of Very Real Time. I wonder what role coming here has and what really changes? Should I expect change or simply accept the fact that things remain the same?

Cape Town certainly raises questions in my mind, but to what degree do these questions come from Cape Town, and not from the same mind that was in Amsterdam almost a month ago? And again, what changes? It might be just me, or the reality of this residency but it seems paradoxical and problematic to speak of projects and works (in progress) in this place. Sitting at my desk in the apartment in Long Street, working on a project or pursuing my interests, seems like denying that there in front of me lies Table Mountain.

It feels insincere to say ‘I am being influenced by this rich and alien environment, my thinking and process is being challenged by it’.  The opposite seems more accurate, certainly more sincere: ‘I am seeing this context through my work and my interests. What is being challenged or perhaps limited is my capacity to understand and distinguish where I stand and recognize what makes my journey interesting or different. In this case nothing really changes, just my work getting the flavor of a new place, getting an injection of something I probably already liked or wanted prior to coming here. Like for observers standing anywhere in the universe, things might end up looking the same everywhere, as we move away from one place to another with no real distinction in sight.

For who is to say my works would have even existed (in any form) if I had grown up here? I bet they wouldn’t have. That would have been a real influence. And perhaps that leads to some kind of a strategy. The ultimate influence for and through a project in a completely new place is perhaps for it not to exist in the first place or to not even happen.

Kianoosh Motallebi

Eland Experience

Edit

One of the first days in Capetown, in the National museum i saw this rock panting by the San people, dating a couple thousand years back.    It was the first thing I saw here that took me off my feet. Even with the obnoxious TV sounds and reflections in the glass i stood there mesmerized for quite some time.  It is still a vivid image in my mind.

The San people have always interested me.  They were traditionally an egalitarian, hunter gatherer society with the one of the highest genetic make-up diversity among human population.  They are one of 14 known population clusters from which all the modern humans have evolved.  I always admired and looked up to that culture.

For completely different reasons we took a trip to a farm in Sutherland, which is an area in the Karoo. Pretty much a desert with a vast open landscape.  There are workers at the farm and some of them were San.  In the 1950s due to the government modernization program the San have been switching to farming.  At the farm they were poor people that seemed to have made a deal with the owner for a piece of land and some pay.  Their houses were just boxes without electricity or water.  As I understood some stayed for generations. They were getting paid a salary above the minimum wage.  On the last day of our stay on Sutherland farm the San worker was skinning the same animal as in the painting.  The farmer shot him for the first time after living for 50 years on the same land.  I guess the Eland never really come to this territory.  I found it odd that it happened the same day we were there.  I guess, I never came to this place either.

I showed the picture of the painting on my iPhone and asked him if it was indeed the same animal.  He reassured me that it was and while turning back to his task he paused for a second. I don’t know what he thought about.  A moment later he went back to work.

Leonid Tsvetkov