Public Art & the *whistle* factor

Reading this piece in frieze magazine about the process whereby Boris Johnson decided London’s Olympics needed something of a centrepiece for it’s architectural, political and economic gratuity:

The process by which the Orbit has become a reality is a perfect snapshot of just how vulgar monumental culture can be. Boris Johnson, the bumbling yet ruthless mayor of London, decided that the worthy collection of rather cheap-looking Olympic architecture needed some kind of monumental public art work to give it a bit of oomph.

Which reminded me almost explicitly of a scene from the ABC’s The Hollowmen in which the (fictional) Central Policy Unit (a group of spin doctors) is directed by Rob Stitch’s character to come up with “a centrepiece” for the budget, and to splash around some big cash numbers to achieve the desired effect. Their criteria for success? Whether the listener whistles impressively at the number cited for X or Y new initiative, the centrepiece of the budget (seen in the follow clip at ~30secs… and again at ~3:39 as the number continues to inflate). Suffice to say, the policy unit spends more time coming up with the figure than the actual policy.

The author of the frieze piece continues, inventing (perhaps?) a great new term for this kind of expansive, expensive works of public art that the Orbit is a part of:

Despite their separate fields of expertise, both [Orbit architects] Kapoor and Balmond have become equally trapped in a mode of expression that could be termed ‘fireworks art’: simply symbolic, highly affective works of art on a massive scale, whose only purpose seems to be the inducement of an awed ‘wow’ from the audience.

You can almost hear the whistle, can’t you.

Another major blog goes comment-free

It’s getting to the point where it’s worth wondering if there is a new type of blog-like-site which just doesn’t have comments. It’s been a long journey, but we’re coming full circle to the early days of the internet where there… just weren’t comments. What next – the return of the guest book?!

Anyway, Letters of Note has disabled all commenting, and it’s worth quoting for the ferocity and effectiveness of the language:

In a move which thankfully won’t affect the vast majority of you, I have today disabled comments on Letters of Note. Permanently.

All complaints should be directed towards a section of society to whom the concept of even vaguely civil discussion means nothing. This collective waste of flesh, bone, and dangerously limited brain function have caused me to dread opening each and every “New Comment” notification I’ve received over the past twelve months or so, to the point where I now cannot continue justifying the moderation of these imbecilic, repugnant grunts when it takes up such an inordinate amount of my willpower and, more importantly, time. I’d rather spend my hours happily expanding the archives of Letters of Note than clean up after a keyboard-wielding gaggle of cowardly, dim-witted, knuckle-dragging reprobates who have nothing better to do than gleefully splash their fetid saliva all over my efforts and then roll around in the puddle until I’m able to press “Delete Comment.” I refuse to waste another minute.

You and me both, Jack. And I never even got that much hate!

Hunter S. Thompson could write

From an essay in The Great Shark Hunt (p.201), titled ‘PRESENTING: THE RICHARD NIXON DOLL (OVERHAULED 1968 MODEL)’, originally published in Pageant, 1968:

“At one point I was making notes near the studio door when it suddenly flew open and two of Nixon’s staffers came at me in a very menacing way. ‘What are you writing?’ snapped one.

‘Notes,’ I said.

‘Well, write them on the other side of the room,’ said the other. ‘Don’t stand around this door.’

So I went to the other side of the room and made some more notes about the strange, paranoid behaviour that had puzzled me for the past few days. And then I went back to the Holiday Inn and waited…”

Ageism & the cult of youth/beauty

Two things I saw this week that are worth connecting: the first was this video of Sean Micallef on Channel 10’s obnoxious new breakfast television program, running amok in a kind of protest of the stupidly loaded framing of the segment (Really? “Generation (wh)Y and Generation Wise?” Thank christ Micallef refused to even engage with it, which sadly can’t be said of his Gen-Y counterpart).

And then a day or two later  I read this piece in Crikey, about a Channel 9 traffic reporter allegedly getting the sack because of his age. A text message allegedly sent by the boss said “Tell me, what are you doing about getting that f-cking fat old c-nt off Channel 9?” after which the 40-year old (male) presenter was sacked and replaced with a younger, prettier female presenter.

The cult of Youth and Beauty is evident in both, and it is the obverse of the same ageism coin – young people are dumb and pretty, old people are wise. It’s a false dichotomy that doesn’t exist in the real world. Young wise people don’t exist, according to this paradigm. Neither are there beautiful middle-aged or older persons (nevermind the fact that there’s plenty of terribly unwise older persons out there – that’s a whole other post by itself, but see THIS POST about the entitlement of the ‘baby boomer’ generation which is now talking up austerity measures across the globe).


Data scrobbling and identity/mystery

Back in about 08 or 09 I joined and at the time music scrobbling very much appealed to me. The idea that an algorithm could take my data, crunch it, then tell me something about myself that I couldn’t see; in the vague hope that something would emerge from the Big Data and the algorithm.

At some point I gave up on the not insignificant commitment to perfect scrobbling – catching everything I listened to. About the same time I gave up on the idea of data crunching algorithms telling me anything about myself worth knowing.

Zadie Smith:

“I am dreaming of a Web that caters to a kind of person who no longer exists. A private person, a person who is a mystery, to the world and—which is more important—to herself. Person as mystery…”

Sometime between then and now that idea – being a mystery, even to myself (I certainly don’t know precisely who I am) really took hold.

There’s a great line in an episode of Mad Men where Don Draper tells his daughter Sally, who is going through a period of older sibling anxiety over her brother Eugene:

“He’s only a baby, and we don’ t know who he is yet, or who he’s going to be.”

In that sense, we are all babies – always babies.

“Mainstream poetry”

Kasey Silem Mohammad:

So what would it mean for poetry to be truly mainstream? It would have to be aggressively public, perhaps–distributed via mass mailing or spam messages, say. It would have to be as shameless as television in its bid to engage new readers, and even, potentially, make money. Imagine that: poetry that made money. Do you feel a bristling in your blood at the hint of sacrilege? What shall I do with all the money my new, Mainstream poetry is going to make…? After I pay off my student loans and credit card debts, maybe I’ll finance a series of poetry billboards that respond electronically to the radio signals from passing cars and compose digital aleatory compositions designed to influence the way people shop for fabric. Maybe I’ll fund a political party whose platform involves the legalization of plagiarism. Maybe I’ll pay some high school kids to translate the Iliad homophonically and have homeless people read the results on cable access TV. Although it would make more sense to pay the homeless people, wouldn’t it? You see how anarchically irrational and unfair poetry in the real world would be!



Words and Pictures


The trouble is — whatever it is about pictures, photographs

it’s just about impossible to follow up

with words

They don’t have anything to do with each other.

Art — or what we call that

You can love it and appreciate it,

But you can’t really talk about it.

Doesn’t make any sense.

Latour & Woolgar on Philosophy vs Epistemology

From the post-script to the 1986 version of ‘Laboratory Life’ by Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar:

One good reason for not dismissing philosophy is that the positions of most authors both within and beyond the social study of science are based on deep-seated ontological commitments rather than upon any empirical account of science. This is why empirical evidence (of the sort provided by Laboratory Life) is unlikely to change any minds. And this is why those who read the book through realist spectacles will see error (for example, Bazerman, 1980: 17). It is instead necessary to examine the very roots of these ontologies and to attempt to develop an alternative (Latour, 1984, 1986a). However, the particular branch of philosophy—epistemology— which holds that the only source of knowledge are ideas of reason intrinsic to the mind, is an area whose total extinction is overdue. The redundancy of epistemology is well established by flourishing sociological, historical and (other) philosophical analyses of knowledge, despite its constant assertion (directed in particular at the work of Bachelard and his French followers) of the impossibility of these disciplines. It is not that we need to apportion subject matter between epistemology and naturalistic studies of science and technology; the work of the latter is a dissipation of the former. So Laboratory Life is neither an attempt to develop an alternative epistemology nor is it an attack on philosophy. Perhaps the best way to express our position is by proposing a ten-year moratorium on cognitive explanations of science. If our French epistemologist colleagues are sufficiently confident in the paramount importance of cognitive phenomena for understanding science, they will accept the challenge. We hereby promise that if anything remains to be explained at the end of this period, we too will turn to the mind!

The ontology of Carpentry, or; The Carpentry of Carpentry

Darius Kazemi posted the first reaction to Ian Bogost’s Alien Phenomenology that I noted (we happen to have a fantastic book club together, open for anyone to join and we’re reading AP at the moment). One of Darius’ main questions for Ian was what separates ‘Carpentry’ (loosely defined as an object that ‘does’ philosophy) from the more general term we usually give to stuff that illuminates philosophically, namely ‘Art’. Darius finds Bogost’s answer to be “an unsatisfying distinction” because, for Bogost: “unlike tools and art, philosophical carpentry is built with philosophy in mind. […] Carpentry is philosophical lab equipment.” (p.100)

Darius makes a reasonable point, saying the following:

That’s an unsatisfying distinction. I find intent-based arguments wearisome, and it’s somewhat ironic to hear an intent-based argument come from an object-oriented philosopher.

But back on up a second – if we’re doing OOO then ‘carpentry’ is itself an object, and we can look at what that object does.

As it just so happens, the object that is the Bogost-coined-term ‘carpentry’ does carpentry itself, by (philosophically) reminding us of the limitations of the human position and our reliance upon words and language. Remember that OOO (at least, OOO as found in Bogost’s book) is not about denying the correlation, but rather it’s aim is to unseat the human-world correlate from it’s throne and cast it into the messy parliament of all correlations –  just one amongst a universe of object relations.

What does this do to the ‘intent-based argument’? Well, frankly I’m not certain. But one interpretation could be that it reminds us that carpentry is not (and in fact, no word possibly can be!) a ‘universal’ object (Cf. Levi Bryant quoted on p.12: “The world does not exist…“there is no ‘super-object’ . . . that would gather all objects together in a harmonious unity.”). Instead the carpentry object points back to us as already-in-the-world, as objects in our own right.

No ‘carpentry quality’ could exist out there in ‘real’ objects… because to think in this manner is already to betray the OOO insight – there is no single “world” collective-standard to which can apply a measure of whether-or-not carpentry really exists in the object at hand. Anything we say (“It’s carpentry!”, “It’s not!”) is going to be already linguistic, it’s going to already be human. Our only method of access to The Great Outdoors is via speculation.

Carpentry does exist, but perhaps one of it’s (intended? unintended? does that matter to the object itself? to us?) most important functions will be to remind us of the carpentry of carpentry, and the carpentry of words. (A different scholar might poo-poo this notion and just say that “we’re back at the linguistic turn!” but I suspect others would disagree – we also retain speculation…)

As an addendum – perhaps I am mis-using carpentry here, but… perhaps that in itself is an act of carpentry? Maybe I’m doing philosophy with someone else’s tool and I’m holding it all wrong. Or perhaps I’ve just been infected by the meme of “going meta“. It certainly is catching.