Some thoughts on vases and cups

A short article on the important role cups and vases played in human culture, technology, economy and understanding.

A cup is an universal object. Something ancient with qualities to be found in almost every living thing. As a form it resembles the cell. The body. It’s opening is facing up to the sky . Always. Often when filled with fluids it mirrors images of the sky.

The size of a cup is related to the hand. When held together two hands can hold almost the same amount of fluid.

Bottles have a mouth . Drinking is like kissing. As kissing is a form of ritualised feeding through the mothers mouth. Their is a sexual aspect to touching something with your lips. In history cups and grails took on functions in rituals.

They combine three important aspects of life : they hold food or water, they face up to the sun , the light , they create order through membranes and resist entropy.

Cups and time

When cups came into existence time began for humans . A cup proposes a standard , a measure. The world becomes measurable. A cup connects visually time with space. It hands time to people away from the sky where it had been for millennia. Only the Sun and the Moon made time visible before. Now pouring out a cup is a measure for time, that works independently of the sky.

The cup as aggressive metaphor

In recent times the dominant economic structure has been the consumer society economy. Here the cup has become the metaphor that is applied on to everything. This happens on the background of trying to make everything measurable, consumable and therefore tradable. The qualities of the cup/vase have become an aggressive doctrine.

Human culture, technology and civilisation would be impossible without the existence of cups or vases, but we have to be careful not to fall under the dictatorship of the cup.

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Grave robbers

 

feat_grave-matters-5-cases-of-body-snatching-from-the-victorian-eraThe relative rise in living standards in the world overall since the end of the 19th century is due to the discovery and exploitation of different carbon energy sources. Specifically oil and gas.

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Artwork by Richard Wilson (Installation at the Hayward gallery London)

The available energy surplus created wealth and stability after some of the greatest conflicts history has seen. Vast advances in technology, reduction in hunger, safer and longer lives for the majority of people are all the result of this surplus. The benefits were foremost noticed in countries with colonial power and subsequently in some of the former dependent colonies. The sustained exploitation of  some former dependent countries or small economy countries is in this context a cruel fact, that still has not been addressed and rectified enough.

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Our carbon fuel economies created carbon based products like plastics. They are used to create the containers and units as well as the metaphorical idea of the consumer product. Our economies have the tendency to apply the model of the containable and consumable unit into every area. To make everything countable , consumable and tradable. So the metaphor of the vase, jar or cup on the market stool filled with something is applied to everything possible.

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The ultimative metaphor for everything

The relativ abundance of fossil fuels created  prosperity , less hunger and more peace, but also pollution of the oceans and the prospect of a catastrophical change to the climate.

It is now absolutely necessary to replace our fossil fuelled economies on all levels with alternative sources of energy and raw materials.

The problem is that the large fossil fuel dependent industries ( like the petrochemical industry and the car industry) are not ready to seriously change their focus. Through 130 years of accumulating socio political and financial power as well as a deep entanglement with almost every level of the world economies and societies , it almost seems impossible to implement the necessary change.

It is clear that if these changes are not introduced fairly soon , we are looking at a century of unrest, death ,wars and struggle to survive.

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The human race will probably survive the coming catastrophe and the powerful leaders of our states and multinational cooperations probably count on the old historical reality that it will only hit the weak and underprivileged.

There can’t be any other explanation for the resistance to meaningful commitment by the leaders of the world. It is based on greed and egoistic ethics: “…it won’t effect me” . I know this stance well, as it is part of once behavioural repertoire and choice making criteria present in former colonial countries. In a way Ayn Rands neoliberal ego-centered philosophy could be seen as an answer to a psychological need to cope with the guilt we accumulate. Christian values are not able anymore to successfully console and help the souls of the guilty. Especially the New Testament stands in opposition to the lack of empathy existing in the decision making of captains of industry and states. Without this deep ethical change in their worldview it would be hard to live with oneself.

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When the bible was a book to help farmers to cope with the guilt to manipulate and exploit plants and animals through taking away the gods that inhabited all these entities, then our new neoliberal ethics of profit making, help to cope with the exploitation of thy neighbour.

I have lived in relative wealth and could make fairly self determined and satisfying life choices. But I realise that my freedom and wealth is based on structures of exploitation that root in colonial history. If we would be more honest we should openly remember the murderers and thieves that made our lifes possible : A murder and thief bankholiday.

To return to the obvious observation at the beginning : Our blessing and our demise are fossil fuels.

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We are grave robbers feasting now for a little more than a hundred years on the rotten corpses of  plants and animals,that have lived millions of years ago over periods of millions of years. We are releasing time itself. It will be subtracted from our own time if we are not careful.

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Photo by Luka Siemionov

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Hands everywhere

During my first swift survey walk through the last years degree show (2016) of the Royal College of Art in London I noticed a curious repetition of a specific motif : The hand . But it wasn’t just a hand that exhibits itself, but a hand that acts, that touches, holds, performs. A hand that encourages empathetic identification.

The hand is one of the the most ancient representational motifs existing in art . Negative and positive handprints have been found in caves and on rocks dating back up to 39 000 years.

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But it has been relatively absent in the art of recent years.  What the hands formed , the  result of their work has been subject of exhibitions, but less the hands themselves.

My thesis now is that there is a renaissance of the representation of hands happening and I see two  contributing factors. 

1. The hand in the viewfinder of our eyes

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The most important factor is the relatively new but omnipresent everyday connection of the hand with the image. Through touchscreen technology the hand is now often and directly physically connected to the image. Today through the use of smartphones and tablets the hand  has become part of  a very large and growing number of images. During our interaction with digital images the hand is often in the foreground or center of the image. One might argue that the hand was also present when in the past we were looking through pages of  museum catalogues or photo books . The difference might be subtle, but then the hand was only active at the edge of the image. Now it is active in its centre. It swipes over, it pinches and double taps. The hand is right in there. Physically. Overall the hand has become a larger part of our daily optical view finder. The heightened frequency of the hands presence is reflected in its taking stage in artworks of recent contemporary artists. And this doesn’t just effect art school graduates.

At the last Turner Prize exhibition at  Tate Britain in London every shortlisted artist had to a larger or smaller degree images or representation of hands present in their work.

2. The making of objects vs the end product

A second factor for the appearance of the hand as a motif is more speculative and more subtle in its arguments: There seems to be a shift of focus in the arts towards “the making”  and away from the “end product”. Artworks now often reflect the way they are made in some way. This is connected to Bertold Brechts ideas about theatre and the importance to show its construction and context within the play. The revival of the collage , of art and crafts and  the return of performance art are all signifier of this trend. In painting abstract process based painting has been all the rage during the last ten years. Marks, material and process have been playing Ping Pong at all the art fairs. It has been young artists that are pushing these interests. My suspicion is that therefore the hand as a central instrument for making art has  become more prominent in artworks.

 

The net as a new model for the world

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I am not too interested in fashion trends in art ,but more in the question why this shift is happening now?

I sense that the world has become more fluid through information technology and social media. Everything is connected with everything it seems. At least it all is caught in the same net.

Water is a better representation of this condition than stone. The fluid closer to it then the solid. Every object is viewed now as more or less part of this net.

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Information in all directions is attached to the object and it is itself information for other connected objects. Its only logical, that objects including artworks are now viewed in this way. So “the making of it”  is the information we want ,we are used to, we want to convey, as it has become the way we see the world.

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On Doors  into other worlds

A hidden floor, an office door, a wardrobe, a rainbow, a hurricane, a train, a rabbithole, a train platform wall, a bedroom wall, a pill, a tunnel.

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Since childhood my world has been populated by membrans into other worlds. Their reality is  fading away the older I get and only the screen ( cinema , computer or television) is staying with some continuity. Our culture has many examples for stories that include these transitional spaces , transporting us into another world.  I asked myself : What is the reason for these phantastical doorways . Where do they come from and what role do they play in our lives.

Sociological

We are living in a world that is held together by shared imaginations. Myth we all believe in and trust ,so our societies are stable. Shared imaginations like money , law, hirachy, art, capitalism or religion. These shared imagined realities we are taught from childhood onwards .  They have an extremely important function and they form our cultures. Without them humanity would have never evolved into large empires and a global societies. They help us to cooperate with large amounts of strangers and trust them. But they are imagined.

Maybe the stories and imaginations about membrans and doorways are hinting to the fragile character of these shared imaginations. For most people it would be a unthinkable to  say their religion or belief system is purely imagined. For them they form solid realities. Historically if you seize to belief or doubt a god , law or a leader there are truly very real consequences. The solidity of the shared beliefs is important to sustain our societies, but at the same time there is always the suspicion in some that they are purely imagined and that there is no true solidity, just an imagined one. Stories about world membrane might reflect these ideas, give relief to suspicion, include these stories in cultures and so ultimately help stability.

Suppressed ideas, especially if they have truth in them will not go away , but erupt in a uncontrolled way. The acceptance and inclusion of membrane stories in a culture are psychologically disarming.

They give room to possibilities of other orders, other possibilities, other worlds. They create momentum for change, if it is necessary. They help motoring our culture through this dynamic battle between belief and disbelief.

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The Flammarion engraving is a wood engraving by an unknown artist that first appeared in Camille Flammarion’s L’atmosphère: météorologie populaire (1888) (source: wikipedia)

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Dorothe’s house in “The wizard of Oz” . A film from 1939.

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From ” Where the wild things are” by Maurice Sendak

Individual

If we look at the individual instead of the sociological , one could argue  our cognitive ability to form ideas about the world is nothing else then opening the door to another world. The process of “Thinking” itself finds representation in these metaphors of doorways and membranes. When I think about something a form appears outside of myself, somewhere. I can close my eyes and develop the idea in front of my inner eye. A new place appears as I have self consciousness.

From the movie "Being John Malkovitch"

From the movie “Being John Malkovitch”

from the movie "Being John Malkovitch"

from the movie “Being John Malkovitch”

Neurological

As I do notice that I had many more doorways and membranes populating my mind ,when I was younger I wonder if the developmental stages of the brain might have also something to do with the presence of these metaphors. Almost like  an outward projected fluency that points to neural networks that are still open and possible to form unexpected connections.

Drugs

Drugs that are influencing our brain processes and change our perception and actions are also part of  this complex of stories. Taking a pill can transport your mind and some of your body into another world.

From "The Matrix" movie 1999

From “The Matrix” movie 1999

In “The Matrix” Neo the main character is given a pill that can transport him out of a controlled purely imagined reality into a reality where he inhibits his body consciously again.  The chemical pill is his doorway.  “The Matrix” is an essay on control through shared reality. Doorways and Membranes are everywhere in the movie.

"The Matrix" 1999

“The Matrix” 1999

Other examples of Movies with Doorway or Membrane Stories

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will expand its three-month celebration of anime with a screening of the 2002 Oscar¨-winning animated feature ÒSpirited AwayÓ on Friday, July 17, at 7:30 p.m., and ÒA Tribute to Animation Master Hayao MiyazakiÓ on Tuesday, July 28, at 7:30 p.m.  Both events will take place at the AcademyÕs Samuel Goldwyn Theater and will include extended gallery hours for the AcademyÕs ongoing exhibition ÒANIME! High Art Ð Pop Culture.Ó Pictured here: SPIRITED AWAY, 2002.

 SPIRITED AWAY, 2002.

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Harry Potters Platform 9 3/4 at Kingscross Station

Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

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The Wardrobe in ” The Lion the Witch and the wardrobe”

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How artists want to be seen

Some Artist are interested in their self image. They make specific choices how they want to appear. Here are two different sets of collections: Artists referring to the motive of the hand or the mouth or both and Artists with different animals. I find both revealing and engaging.

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Everybody I met

An ongoing project where I draw Everybody I met from memory.

………………….Marcel Vater ,Anne Duffau, Signore Burmeister, anonymous, Karina Schmitt, Herr Reifers, Graham Crowley, Mark Dickenson, Petra Vater, Martin Sullivan, anonymous, anonymous, Sandra Burk, Frau Phillippi, Friederike Clever, Peter, Steve, anonymous, Frau Breil, anonymous, Sandra, Girolamo, Nigel Rolfe, Alexandra, anonymous, Frau Balkenhol, Wolfgang Tilmans, anonymous, Dan Fox, Allessandro Raho,Valentina Bin, Matthias Dettmann, attempts Anne, Christoph Wedding, Orla Kiely, Attempt Andrew, Marvin Gay Chetwyn, Nasim Weiler, Raphy Tailor, Dorothe Nett, Geelke Gayken, Emma Sullivan, Anthea Sullivan, Heather, Sebastian Burkner, Joe Scotland, Michele Rowbotham, Andrew Parker, Andy, Babette, Sven Sachsalber, Dave Hanger, Tim Braden, Saskia, Hans Vater, Nathaniel Mellor, Michael Zoellner, Patrizia Cristaldi, Jemima Montague, Faye, Paul O’Neill, anonymous, Wiebke Loseries, Lou, Anthony Taylor, Achim Hoops, Harriet, Mick Jagger, anonymous, Miranda Symonds , Andreas Oennerfors, Jemima Montague, anonymous , Clea Sullivan , Nick Laessing, Timothy Taylor, Herr Saftig, Andreas Gursky ,anonymous, Gavin Houghton, Thomas Knaps, Bjoern Bicker, Nike, Steve, Alfonso, Sam, anonymous, Sophie von Hellermann………………

EVERYBODYEVERYBODY2 EVERYBODY29 EVERYBODY28 EVERYBODY27 EVERYBODY26 EVERYBODY25 EVERYBODY24

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EVERYBODY23 EVERYBODY22 EVERYBODY20 EVERYBODY8 EVERYBODY7 EVERYBODY6 EVERYBODY5 EVERYBODY4 EVERYBODY3

EVERYBODY45 EVERYBODY44 EVERYBODY43 EVERYBODY42 EVERYBODY41 EVERYBODY40 EVERYBODY39 EVERYBODY38 EVERYBODY37 EVERYBODY36 EVERYBODY35 EVERYBODY34 EVERYBODY33 EVERYBODY32 EVERYBODY19 EVERYBODY18 EVERYBODY17 EVERYBODY16 EVERYBODY15 EVERYBODY14 EVERYBODY13 EVERYBODY12 EVERYBODY11 EVERYBODY10 EVERYBODY9

EVERYBODY30 EVERYBODY31

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Infinity

 

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“Infinity is just not what it used to be” , Acrylic on Canvas, 2010

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