Resuming communication.

Last summer I spent about one month almost completely offline, and upon coming back to the realms of connectivity and extended spatiotemporal reach I had tragically lost the habit of updating this blog. The next few posts will try to reconstruct what has been going on.

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Spaces of Production III: sketches and more sketches

I guess the easiest way to represent a piece of software as a space is to make architectural plans of it. I started to think of Ableton Live as a group of buildings and trying to represent its elements within this metaphor.

I’m not going to go into much detail here about it, I just wanted to upload some of the sketches I’ve been working on lately.

And this is what the current state of my work looks like:

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Schon wieder Zossen? pt.4

pasted posterI finally managed to get a picture of a pasted poster from Berlin.

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Reconstructing the Temporary Autonomous Zone pt.4

It took ages before I actually did the intervention because I wanted to film it and I needed my then flatmate Lily to lend me her camera and help me cut the result. A couple of months passed between the first moment I mentioned this to her until the evening in which we both had the time to do it.

Seeing my colleagues’ presentations, I was a bit skeptical about the way most of them elaborated on the reactions of by-standers. It seemed to me that mostly there would be a couple of people randomly turning up and doing or saying something about the interventions, and the students would then conclude that “the people” reacted in this or that way and draw consequences about their work’s success (or, rarely, failure). What I find questionable about this is that the very limited sample of “people” could in no way be representative of the general public (whatever that means), and that the reading of these people’s reactions didn’t consider any differences among them (such as gender, cultural or personal backgrounds, age, race etc.), which led to the construction of an undifferentiated concept of “people” that has no correspondent in reality. In my opinion, the interpretation of the reactions to the interventions mirrored more the views and expectations of the students-authors than those of their “audience”. I would even go to the extent of saying that the audience’s reactions are completely irrelevant to the success of the projects, in this context. In the rather tiny framework of such a uni-project there is no real way to assess the impact of an intervention on the space it happens into, and I found it at times on the border to mystification that students would draw allegedly solid conclusions from the interpretation of such weak reactions. I’m not saying that anyone did this in a malevolent way, but I was stunned at the naiveté with which my colleagues let this happen.

I actually wanted to try out to what length I could push this and I decided to completely falsify the documentation of my project.

So one evening I grabbed some friends and flatmates and went with them to the south side of the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. Before we started shooting I explained what the project was about and what was going to happen, and figured out with my actors what everyone of them was going to say or do. Then we realised that between me and Lily we both thought that the other would take the camera. After a first moment of despair we figured out that a few of us had mobile phones and photo cameras, all of them with hardly any battery left or some other minor problem.

Meet the cast:


(from left to right Lily, Tom, El, Aonghus and Chris. behind the camera in this shot is Val. Tom and El both completed their BA in Design at Goldsmiths last year, Val did an MA in curating at Goldsmiths as well.)

The only true and authentic reaction to my work comes from this guy who randomly cycled into our shot while we were doing something else and said “I like these signs”.

(unfortunately there’s no single frame in which you can recognise any of his features)

All in all, I wanted the resulting film to be extreme in a way that people would question its truthfulness, but surprisingly, no one did. I wonder how I am to make sense of that.

(if we want to discuss public reactions, I went to the tunnel the next day to shoot some additional footage and found that all signs but two had been removed. a few weeks later one of them was still there, and now they’re all gone. I had expected some cleaner or guard to make all the signs disappear quite quickly, but the fact that some of them stayed there makes me hope that they were swiftly stolen by people who appreciated my work!)

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Reconstructing the Temporary Autonomous Zone pt.3

After my relatively unfruitful trip to the Greenwich Heritage Centre I started concentrating on the signs again.

It would have been fairly easy to mock them, and in some ways quite predictable, so I wanted to go sort of deeper into them and make something more meaningful than that. Despite the sketches I’ve been doing on the margin of my annotations, I never really thought that my work would go in this direction. Here’s a small gallery of them, just for the sake of documentation:

The next step I took was to try to analyse existing signs: since I was going to work with them, I really wanted to understand how they are constructed. Surprisingly, I never formalised this analysis in any sort of image except for this big patchwork of the weirdest ones that I found on the internet:

patchwork of signs

Some of these signs would have been funny or disturbing in the context of the tunnel, and to some extent you could say that it would have been enough to put up one of them there to fulfil the brief. For some reason, I wasn’t satisfied with the idea, and noticing that all these signs were set in Helvetica, proceeded to do some futile “detypefacing” (i.e. trying out different typefaces on the same sign and seeing what happens), trying to expose the connection between authority and “neutrality” as embodied by such a classic typeface as Helvetica. The result was meaningless at best.

I still think it is a valid observation that authority will be expressed in a visual language understood to be neutral, but this way of pointing that out was a bit too much of a typographer’s joke, and a bit of a dead end for my work really.

I figured out that if I did want to intervene into the space I was working with, not knowing where to go after all this research and work, I might try and map the behaviours that I had experienced in the tunnel and try to find out something about the use that people were making of it.

behaviours' map

This is a sketch of what you generally go through and what type of interaction you have with others when you’re in the tunnel. The bit about interaction was sparked by this incident in which I stopped to take some pictures in the tunnel and the person walking behind me, probably not expecting anyone to stop there halfway through the subway underneath the Thames, bumped into me. As I stood there for the pictures I saw people looking at me in a really suspicious way and trying not to come too close to me (which was kind of impossible – the tunnel is only a couple of meters wide). Coming back to this made me refocus on actual issues of the tunnel, since the whole interest for the signs had taken me on a sort of tangent. I started thinking more and more of of authority in connection with a perceived issue of safety in the tunnel, and what relationship tunnel-users have to it. I found lots of instances in which these boldly stated prohibitions for the tunnel were ignored or actively trampled over, and the only ones that were kind of respected were ones that I would call unwritten rules or common sense for behaviour in public spaces (or at least in 400m-long underwater tunnels).

So I started to differentiate between types of signs and rules and make maps of their relationships to each other.

map_prohibitions_02(these sketches eventually made it into the final presentation)

At that point I started to see those signs not only as an informational device (communicating what is forbidden and what is not), but also as objects that would respond to the perceived issue of safety by asserting the very presence of authority: you can feel safe because if something is so clearly forbidden, there must be someone to enforce this prohibition. This acknowledgment gave me a wonderful target to poke fun at!

So I decided to design some signs stating an unclear or contradictory prohibition to make clear that the form of the prohibition would have a meaning of itself regardless of the rule being stated (actually, I quite doubt that this statement has come across in my final work, unless you’re some sort of critical geek that sees reality through the lens of foucauldian texts).

Searching for more signs to draw an inspiration from, I came across this (it used to be one single article on Wikipedia with vector files for all german traffic signs, but it was reorganised into different categories on wikimedia commons). At first I thought I’d tweak the graphics or add weird things to them to make them more interesting, but lacking any really good ideas or inspiration eventually I just came up with something completely different: a flash device to generate random signs.

(unfortunately seems not to accept embedded flash, so you’ll have to click your way to the last slide of the presentation if you want to see what I’m talking about)

Basically I divided all the traffic signs I found in two halves and fed them into this static frame. Technically, the device doesn’t generate the signs, but helps you combine different bits of them in a fairly quick and simple way. I put this thing together as a tool for myself to try out things and draw inspiration from chance encounters between images rather than as something to present in itself.

The result was a series of signs that actually made their way onto the tunnel’s walls.

The actual intervention and documentation are worth of a post of themselves, plus I’m running out of time so I’ll have to continue at some point in the future :-)

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So, how important is YOUR work?

Yesterday at work I was given the task to produce this image for a website I know almost nothing about. The brief was quite clear and I spent two days on it. I’m happy with the result and it was quite fun to do, and maybe precisely because of that I’m a bit uncomfortable with the idea that someone is going to review it and rework it before it gets published in its final form.

I’m not too keen on authorship and I’m happy to do somewhat collective work. For some reason, however, I have the feeling that when I let go of this work something will happen that I won’t be happy with, and that’s why I insisted to carry it to this stage although I would have been supposed to hand it over at an earlier point. This way I have a somewhat finished thing that someone else is going to base some further work on, but this intermediate stage is still complete enough for me to stick it into my portfolio or present as my own if I ever want to.

I feel a bit weird about the whole thing because my behaviour is for me in blatant contradiction with my ideas on teamwork, authorship and intellectual property, but I think this is just a sign of my general unease with my present situation at work, where if things would be different in the first place I’d be much happier with sharing my work/effort/authorship with others.

Speaking of which, according to my Internship Agreement the image above is the intellectual property of Webjam Ltd.

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The last couple of works that I uploaded on the blog made me notice once more that I use Helvetica a lot, and I’m starting to get annoyed about this. I have only attended one proper course of typography in which we did everything in Univers, so I don’t really have it from my education, but I can’t help thinking that being excited about Helvetica must be one of those things that first term graphic design students from conservative universities do (just as I was excited about LeCorbusier in my first term of architecture and couldn’t think myself past modernism). Hence this late new year’s resolution: from now on I will do my best to try out different fonts!

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rAtstar I

This week I also did this flyer for rAtstar, the newly opened social centre in Camberwell.

I started out with some random sketches as usual, trying to figure out what I understood this space to be. The first thing that came out was this crust guy, but I found him quite boring quite quickly and went on to do more sketches. I thought I could make a bunch of faces and have a series of different flyers. One thing that was quite stressed at the meetings was that we should try to get the local population involved into the space instead of alienating them with the usual radical-ist verbal jumble, and I thought that I could visually achieve this with stuff along the following lines:

(it’s kind of annoying that you can see through the stuff on the other side of the paper through the drawings, but kind of funny too)

However, I wasn’t very excited about any of the things that were coming out, and being a bit under time pressure just went for a very regular, highly neutral layout:

(the rAtstar logo is not quite my work, it comes from a sign on the front of the social centre that someone else did with big chunky helvetica letters, I’ll post a photo of it here as soon as I can)

Soon I was unpleased with this design, it looked like a business card from some “creative agency” or something like that: it bored my brain to death. Talking to someone from the project about it, they said that it was a shame that there is no rat on the flyer. I kind of agreed with that, but I couldn’t think of anything good for the flyer until it occurred to me that I had already done a painting of a mouse that I could easily adapt to rAtstar’s purposes.

So within a couple of hours I crammed the two last images into what I regard as the result of this whole thing:

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Queer Picnic I

I did this flyer for the Queer Invisible Academy (of which I am part, btw).

I started out with this random sketch, which I found kind of funny but not completely satisfying. I wanted to have some gender-ambiguous characters but I realised that even my lovely queers could have something prescriptive from that point of view, and that instead of replacing precision with blurryness they just kind of introduced another, weirder (?) set of rules. I was tight on time so instead of starting off something completely new i just redrew the two little folks in illustrator filling them out, stole the typography from my recent poster for Zossen and there it was!

(The upper-left corner of the flag was hand-coloured with a marker by me in each and every flyer – fortunaltely we didn’t do a lot of them. Is this what they call post-production?)

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Spaces of Production II

Because the brief requires me to make drawings of the space I’m working in, I thought I’d make some conceptual diagrams of musical instruments, to represent the context in which my project is happening. I wanted to represent the ways in which a guitar, a piano and a trumpet work, but ultimately (and looking back at it I can only blame it on laziness, really) I only did this wacky sketch of the set up that I used in my short lived attempt at electroacoustic music.

To me it was an interesting experience to practically try out producing sounds and music without actually playing an instrument – something that any turntablist 30 years ago was already doing, and highbrow avantgarde tape musicians even long before that.

In a futile attempt at making the functioning of the sketch above clearer, I tried to do a diagram of it. Soon enough I had to realise that there’s no point in trying to represent feedback loops through conventional visual means, and the result is more puzzling than helpful really. But that’s a good thing because feedback loops are a puzzling phenomenon (especially if you play them in your music), so this weird and factually inaccurate diagram on the right might bring you closer to (not) understanding what I’m talking about.

At this point I didn’t know where my work was going to, so I decided to draw a good old conceptual map:

On one hand this helped me to locate the outcome of my project (which is actually quite clear to me) among musical practices, and on the other it made clear to me that my theoretical framework is missing some stuff, or at least that there’s a bunch of things that I know from word-of-mouth or because I came in contact with them one way or the other but I have no structured knowledge about.

So I condensed my amazing conceptual map into this simpler one, focusing more on the outcome of the project, and then I headed off to the library to do my research.

I spent the afternoon browsing through texts about mainly Stockhausen and Cage, and checking out graphic scores from the 1960s, and came across a lot of data that wouldn’t be directly relevant to my work but helped me shape my own ideas and perceptions about what I’m doing and where it’s coming from.

Eventually I had to frame the results of the day in a way that would make sense to write into this blog, and after not being able to come up with more of a statemen than “…mmmh, interesting” I decided to freeze this post and take a deep breath before I do anything else.

Two days later I realised how much I’m missing the point of the project by concentrating so much on things that are relevant to it but in a somewhat distanced way. The brief requires me to make drawings of the space of production or comparable place (which for me is Ableton Live), so that’s exactly what I’m going to do next.

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