February 6, 2011 § 1 Comment
Ei Wada (和田 永様, *1987), a Japanese media-musician, is becoming a regular appearance at new media festivals outside of Japan. He appeared in Linz (Austria) and performed at the 2010 ISEA Ruhrgebiet, where he won the Nam Jun Paik Award. Wada exhibits a keen interest in the physical workings of outdated technology and how it can be turned into a creative tool. A prototype for a proactive media archaeology.
The”Braun Tube Jazz Band“, presented during the recent Transmediale Media Festival in Berlin this February, is an assembly of several classic Braun tubes (short for: Television), which are short-circuited by Wada through his body. All tubes are connected to his body, his feet serving as a grounding for the circuit to function. Probably everyone knows the sizzling feeling at the fingertips, when you approach a classical TV screen. Wada exploits this everyday phenomenon for his music. The electric/magnetic field is the source to produce sounds by using two screens as antennas and interfering with his hand in the field of the other tubes. Each tube is variously tuned to a different timbre or octave, related to a umber of effects panels and the usual audio-distortion equipment. For anyone sitting in front of the speakers during the second part, this resulted in quite unpleasant low-pitched noise, while for others further in the auditorium the spectrum was much wider. Image became Sound and vice versa.
Before closing his performance, Wada advised the audience on the proper uses of television. Like McLuhan once philosophized that a TV screen could also be used as a light source for someone reading a book, Wada said that it’s better to hit the screen than watch it. We agree: Hit it. Here. Now. Every day. がんばって、ね。新音楽を見つけるよう。
December 4, 2010 § 1 Comment
Some two and a half years ago, I posted an introductory musing on abrasion as a category and concept in cultural analysis. My basic assumption was that abrasion is a physical process which is simultaneously a means of achieving perfection (e.g. polishing surfaces) and a destructive force (e.g. erosion). The fascination grew into a random hobby of finding traces of abrasion in the material world and relating these traces back to a thick (or thin) description of their cultural significance. As a side-note to studies of material culture, abrasion can offer unique inroads to understanding processes of interaction.
In his small introduction to tribology – the science of studying abrasive phenomena, Mathew Mate starts out with enumerating lots of examples from everyday life. Starting from childhood, friction, abrasion and wear are part of our life as much as eating, playing, and sleeping. “Crawling as infants, we mastered the frictional forces needed to get us where we wanted to go.” Mate goes on to wonder:
Considering how much we encounter the tribological phenomena of friction, lubrication, adhesion, and wear in our daily lives and the wide extent of these phenomena in technology, one might be puzzled why these topics are only marginally covered in our current education system. (Tribology on the Small Scale, A Bottom Up Approach to Friction, Lubrication, and Wear. Oxford UP, 2007. p.1.)
Tribology is an applied science especially relevant for engineering, where extensive tests are run on different combinations of steels with varying degrees of toughness and density. The aim is to reduce wear on surfaces and hence to extend the life range of tools, materials and machines. Lubrication has become important in this respect to either cool down machinery or reduce the amount of abrasive waste. Improving the abrasive qualities of car tires makes it safer to drive at higher speeds, but increases the load of run-off rubber on streets as well. In Germany alone, 42,000 tons of rubber go down the drain simply from cars driving on the streets. Without worn-off rubber the street would lack grip, but too much waste on the surface in combination with water will inevitably create a slippery course.
Art, Abrasion and Interaction
Those temping toes … (@ Orangerie, Potsdam) Photo: Miala via Flickr
Besides this framework, abrasion is especially interesting where it relates to audience behavior and interaction with artworks. I have always wondered about this angel on the top level of Potsdam’s Orangerie, where no visitor seems to pass by without touching the shiny, protruding toe. Is it a good omen to touch the toe? Are they involved in a conservationist effort to retain the bronze underneath the tainted, aged surface? The toe is on a child’s eye level and practically the only thing within reach. Located next to a long flight of stairs, the toe is probably the first thing a child sees upon reaching the landing – or the last hand(y)rail, before the descent.
Abrasion and Desire
In October, the New York Times reported on a similar curiosity in the Time Warner Center. Two sculptures by Fernando Botero called “Adam and Eve” were exhibited in the lobby, but Adam outgrew Eve in getting more than affectionate attention from art lovers. This time, the point of attraction is on the level of an adult’s eye and the protrusion has attracted many shy glances and frequent photo op’s for the family album.
“Adam” by Fernando Botero (Photo: Bridget Crawford)
Artists have little control over the ways in which an artwork should touch the spectator, but vice versa certain physical traits make haptic contact more likely. When art collectors and exhibition designers prohibit physical contact with the artwork, the effort of often enough thwarted by an audience too curious to get more than an intellectual grip. Abrasion changes the look of the piece but isn’t it also a sign that art becomes embedded in a social web of interactions, that it matters beyond the learned discourse tightly wrapped around the statue? In this example from one of the many Jain-Temple in Jaisalmer (India), generations of salvation seekers have left their inevitable mark on two of the statues.
We should add, though, that the female statue apparently drew more attention …
Is not the fascination here similar in its religiosity, need for contact, or even an urge to leave a mark – a collective urge of presence? Abrasion does not explain this but can serve as an indicator of collective forms of interaction. Carl Andre made sculptures of lead, steel and copper plates spread out on exhibition floors. Usually visitors should walk on these plates to hear and feel the different material qualities. But once the space is barred by red plastic tape, how is the graphic impression of lead plates supposed to substitute for the material experience? Certainly, curators like to minimize abrasion to preserve their fortunes but if an artwork can be embedded in social practice beyond letters, abrasion seems a worthy price to pay.
Carl Andre “Copper Magnesium Plain” (1969) (via: The Opposite of Tomato)
Addendum May 2012: The curators of the permanent exhibition at Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof Art Museum seem to have been more courageous with respect to Carl Andre’s work. Visitors can actually walk on the steel plates of “Eight Reversed Steel Corner” (1978) and hear the sudden clonking sound of the few plates which are slightly irregular. Be surprised.
May 27, 2010 § 1 Comment
So, you think, there is much more to be gained? This message is not everything? For me, the first question would be: Why is there no fun at home, compared to “more fun” by the xbox?
The ad can only work on the assumption that the everyday world of home, almost used in a derogatory sense, is to be rejected. Where does this assumption come from? My intuitive sense to the placing of this ad would be: at first, conditions beyond your reach and influence put you in a situation of income generation, where your choice of leisure activities becomes extremely limited (time?). Then, they (and we are not talking about anyone in particular) are offering a ready escape from this limited time. Thereby, less time is even available for any other activity, other than … playing DVD’s or the XBOX. A pattern of activity, infinitely repeatable, asocially or in full conscience of the others around.
My day started at 4.30 with a dedicated reading of some disciplinary theory in literature (Fish, White, Hegel, Snow, Habermas, Marx). Why are you irritated, that I don’t get the fascination you exhibit in your infatuation with repetitive digital media of the consumer universe? What is your disciplinary theory?
February 7, 2010 § Leave a comment
Heute is nicht mehr, was es einmal war. Statt sich in die Reihe mit “Gestern” und “Morgen” einzureihen, steht “Heute” heute auf der ersten Seite einer kleinen Boulevardzeitung aus Österreich. Wer gewohnt ist, sich mit philosophischen Kategorien den Zugriff auf den Alltag zu erleichtern, dem steht der Slogan dieses Blattes quer im Mund, denn die Ankündigung “Kein Morgen ohne Heute” läßt für einen kurzen Moment das Apokalyptische und Fragile der Gegenwart aufscheinen. In dieser doppelten Verkehrung der Terme, ist mit “Heute” nicht nur der heutige Tag gemeint, sondern auch die Zeitung selbst, die man in Händen hält. Der oder das “Morgen” bringt den nächsten Tag ins Spiel, bleibt hier aber ambivalent. Es könnte ja auch, der Nutzungsgewohnheit eines Boulevardblattes geschuldet, der Beginn des heutigen Tages gemeint sein. Waren sich die Schöpfer dieser kurzen, einprägsamen Zeile darüber bewusst; haben sie, nach zu vielen Semestern Philosophie, die gezielte Anrufung so alltäglicher (!) Begriffe in doppeldeutiger Absicht und Selbstüberschätzung zur Versöhnung mit ihrer Arbeit wissentlich in Kauf genommen, sogar provoziert? Im scheinbar Alltäglichen ist nichts selbstverständlich, geschweige denn selbst erklärend. Und auch der übliche Mix aus Star News, Wetter und Verkehr, Konsumberatung und doppelbödiger Empörung ist kein so einfacher Weg, den Alltag mit Verständnis anzureichern – weder im Heute noch am Morgen.
Kategorien erleichtern den Zugriff auf die Umwelt. “Wer nicht in Kategorien denkt, denkt überhaupt nicht”, sagte schon Plato. Dem steht der freie Gedanke gegenüber, der sich (meist) nach der Technik der Assoziation und (zuweilen) auch Logik aufbaut. Auch das Gespräch setzt eine Denkart der Assoziation im Austausch voraus, wenn es versucht, einem Thema durch Eingrenzung und Abwägung näher zu kommen. Schon Heinrich von Kleist pries die besondere Qualität des Gesprächs in seiner Schrift “Über die allmähliche Verfertigung der Gedanken beim Reden” (1805). Für den Erfolg des Gesprächs ist die Begrenzung des Themas nötig, gleichtzeitig aber auch die Offenheit gegenüber weiteren Kategorien der Betrachtung. Was eine Datenbank nicht leisten kann, ist einzuschätzen, welche Begriffe oder Kategorien in einem Gespräch von Bedeutung sind, und welche eben nicht. In jener Ignoranz liegt ihre größte Stärke gegenüber dem Neuen, und gleichzeitig ihre größte Schwäche gegenüber der Kontinuität des Gedachten. Ein Begriff allein macht noch keine Kategorie.
February 6, 2008 § 1 Comment
It has been a hobby of mine to collect traces of abrasion all around me. In shops like H&M or department stores, the floor shows traces of abrasion always at certain main routes that people take to get to the elevator, the newsstand or other main points of interest. Initially I became aware of abrasion in Japan, where the art of wood work has a long standing tradition and temples are made to exist for many hundreds of years.
A particular aspect of wood as a material is that it can get wet and dry easily, especially very hard woods, like the Japanese cedar. Abrasion makes the surface smooth and flat, allowing water to roll of and keep the surface from deteriorating. In all kinds of arts, abrasion smooths out uneven levels, makes shine surfaces and heightens the appeal and durability of certain materials. The quality of an even surface, that is the microscopic density of molecules, is largely determined by the degree of abrasion. A very fine polishing stone for metal (3000+) lets you create very sharp knives which don’t wear off easily, because the distance between particles is very low. For any process of abrasion, an abrasive tool is applied to a surface of a lower density under pressure.
“Abrasion resistance refers to resistance to being worn away by rubbing or friction. Abrasion resistance is a matter of toughness, rather than hardness. It is a necessary quality for floor finishes, enamels and varnishes.”
To my eyes, processes of natural and man-made abrasion mark counter-acting forces: For artifacts and handicrafts to develop abrasion stands at the beginning of culture and goes down to industrialization by continuously scrap off coal from the mountain or dig it from the landscape. At the same time, natural abrasion is the counter force to man-made culture, as we see in winds and water which causes erosion of coastlines and deterioration of concrete and stone surfaces. Applied over a long term, even small particles like sand can force denser structures to crumble. The keyword here is continuous.
What is abrasion studies?
So far abrasion studies (German: Abrieb) is more a hobby than a field of study. To give you an idea, I collected some pictures of abrasion and my free interpretation of them in relation to social processes. Inevitable, traces on the material floor of a station or a department store tell us something about the social dynamics, since the traces of abrasion have been brought about by a continuous, repetitive movement of large numbers of people that interact with a given material in an identical fashion. Thus traces of social movements are inscribed in the material world. Lets decipher some of them.
This a brass handrail in a museum. It is located in the left side of the stairs, so that people who descend approach it once they reach the first step on the top. However, they seem to let loose once they are on the stairs. What does that tell us? The frightening length and height of the stairs prompts you (me too) to seek safety. But once you discover that the stairs are wide enough and not steep at all, the handrail is no longer needed (for most of us).
My favorite example that should be familiar from many cities. Apparently the “Orange Line” is a popular way to travel the center of Berlin, as it connects East and West. As people look for their way they scratch on the map. The more people come to Berlin, the more they wipe out the center. In a very Barthesian twist (“L’Empire des Signes”), I would extend that interpretation to the city, not just the map. They more the center is designed for easy consumption and mega shopping malls, the more flows of tourists wipe out the historical center of the city. In Berlin, this center was empty anyway due to the Berlin Wall. After 1989 there have been attempts to artificially re-erect it as an island called “Potsdamer Platz”, which does not offer much of an urban experience after 10 p.m.
This is a listening station in a department store. Apparently, PLAY, FF, SKIP, and VOL UP seem to be the most popular buttons. Does it mean that no one takes the time to listen to music attentively any more? Or is the capacity of hearing deteriorating? Does it say something about the CD as a fast-forward medium, when parts of electronica sound like a fast-forward rush? I wonder what the players in the classical music department look like? Maybe the same?
More to come…
August 30, 2007 § 2 Comments
We have to start somewhere with my musings on approaching forms of interaction. Taken from my experience at German retailers let me ask the question: What is the matter with German “Einzelhandel”. As people are complaining about rising prices for butter and milk(-products), the more pressing question is why people are so shocked by price changes for such a rudimentary product as butter at all.
I recently came back from the land of plenty – Japan- where the habit of eating butter and drinking milk is more of a recent development. The average price for a piece of butter is about 2 EURO (250 g) mostly salted, coming from Hokkaido region. Butter is a marginal food item in a country that has excelled at producing an enormous quantity of local goods – from all kinds of sweet bean paste candy to seaweed and buckwheat noodles, soba, udon… The fact is that many of these regional products are distributed on a national scale in any average supermarket. Choosing from more than 20 different kinds of fish, meat, cold cuts, chicken, ham and the like makes shopping for food a real experience. And I am only talking about “Life”-supermarket and not a fashionable luxury department store like Takashimaya. When you come back to German warehouse style retailers where boxes of goods are just piled up in the hallways, you ask yourself: What does it have to do with food?
German supermarket retailing seems to be focussed on the idea of “provision” or “supply”. Shopping is organized around a quick and low-stimulation procurement of goods that are heaved into shopping carts in the most efficient way. Even a tiny supermarket like the one around the corner, does little else than to provide packaged goods in two rows of shelves. Pick it up, put it in, pay, leave. The whole idea of shopping there is based on the assumption that your time is limited and if you can not choose from 3 kinds of butter, you are in the wrong shop. Obviously, people stick with what they know. Butter is such a sensitive issue because the classical German dinner consists of bread, butter, cold cuts and cheese. Only very liberal people would allow a tomato on their plate for the supposed health benefit. Consumer spending on food remains low in Germany as compared to other developed nations. And a brief glance at an average retailer explains, why a majority treats eating and food as a necessary evil that you better get done with before it becomes a pleasure.
Likewise, interaction with a shop clerk is limited to a brief “Guten Tag, Danke, Auf Wiedersehen” (Hello, Thanks, Good bye) as consumer and retailer are equally estranged – if not alienated – from the produce they handle.