zondag 30 juni 2013

2013/22 Telling Truth

Telling Truth

Last week I saw a friend and at one point I said, “I am more engaged than someone who isn’t.” He laughed his butt off, but I said, “Let’s be clear. It is not hard to tell the truth. Maybe that’s why it is not that popular. It seems more fun for those who have tried all their lives to get to the top and have now conquered the throne to investigate how many lies they need to continue as before, not realizing they have changed.”
It has become logical and not really surprising that in many different parts of the world, people are raising their voices because of very simple things. Like in Istanbul, with a protest for a park; in Brazil, because of the price of a bus ticket; and in Bulgaria, because of a convicted criminal who was supposed to get a government throne for himself (plus immunity). Berlusconi made trouble, but he might possibly have made even more copycats who also make trouble…. Anyway. In each of these situations, a few people started up a particular protest, but many more felt it was a good occasion to raise their voices. In the face of massive violence by the authorities (whether ordered by ruling politicians or some police chief), many feel uncomfortable with the situation and soon all of the frustration comes out. It does not take much time before the most elementary of demands become a palette of wishes, desire and hope. It was marvelous to see the people on the streets in all three of these countries speaking with similar dignity. They are peaceful, and they do not want the collective wealth to be spent on the few elite. From that perspective, it was a relief to see Dilma Rousseff, president of Brazil, compared to Erdogan in Turkey.

On the site of a “philosophical cafĂ©” I found this text that intrigued me:
Identity is a construct that originates in the interaction between a person and his environment, with society playing a pivotal role. That identity consists not only in the image we have of ourselves in relation to others, but also in our ethics. A changing society thus engenders a changing identity, instantly bringing with it other standards and values. This is what we have been experiencing in the last twenty-five years. We are living in a neo-liberal society, in which success is the criterion for normalcy and failure is indicative of a disorder. The new norm is efficiency; the goal is material profit; and the attendant virtue is greed. And none of that makes us happy.

Churchill said that democracy was terrible but the best system available. Being an evolutionist, I do not believe that revolution will make real change, even though it is obvious we must change the system. I guess we better vote people we know better or just wait until destruction takes so much away that we get tired.

zondag 9 juni 2013

2013/21 Turkish Spring

Turkish Spring

Summer has arrived in our country and all week I have been hearing about the Turkish Spring. Once again, it seems we want to sum up complicated events in a particular part of the world in a one-liner. I therefore decided this blog might provide some useful links. Here is the first one. (see below)
I was wondering if my American friends were getting information about what was happening in Turkey, since I think what is taking place there is very relevant. But they were not really getting much. I know in Belgium there have been some demonstrations, but I’m not sure if those concerned Belgium Turks or Turks from all around Europe. Maybe there were more demonstrations around Europe: several million Turks live in Germany, and who knows if they are still going on? One of the reasons the demonstrations in Istanbul got such a boost from the public was the fact that Turkish media, under pressure from the government, hardly reported about the events that were taking place. So, what do people do? Use the channels that are available. Water always finds its way. So these days, we all have gimmicks and tools to spread the word through social media and things like Twitter, the most overvalued information source, became very useful. Maybe we are not so different at all from the Turks. The only difference is the content of the trending topics. In Holland, it was mainly football, summer, Amsterdam, X-Factor, and Justin Bieber. Another difference is that in Turkey, twitter was closed down for a few hours, while in Holland many news items are supported by the opinion of those few twittering people among us. It seems always much too little or much too much.
How much uselessness can be said in short messages? 99%? Better relax. Saber. Saber is pronounced as “sabur,” and has many meanings. It means “patience” but also “reconsider.” It means “take a deep breath” and “add more perspectives to the overview you have.” It means “question yourself again, but differently than before.” Just the sound of the word itself… Sabur.
And I try not to forget what I know, because I have no power over the choice of what gets forgotten. The only influence in terms of choice in that sense is what to learn. Most of the events in the Arab world of the past several years were triggered by poverty, conservatism, dictatorship, hopelessness, and a desire of a new era, of new times. Religion was mainly used to give oneself an identity. Therefore, what is happening in Turkey is highly remarkable. It is a clash between secular people and religious people -- not really between generations, but more between morality and rationale. In Turkey, the secular opinion might stand, or it might be crushed by a combination of religion and politics.

Also, therefore, it is impossible to compare the events in the Arab world with those now taking place in Turkey. One of my teachers in life once told me, “Look, my friend, I think religion is the art of interpretation and politics is the art of lying. Now what do you prefer?” One another day I replied, “I’m not a democrat, but I will defend democracy if threatened by something worse.” So, he said, “If you are not a democrat, what are you?” I replied, “Gnostic.”
“Naten e mire,” as they say in Kosovo every day. “Good night and peace.”

vrijdag 31 mei 2013

2013/20 When deleting history is more important than making it.

When deleting history is more important than making it.

That was how I planned to start the new update, but then I realized there are other things on my mind. I have this collection of painted stories on small 25x35 board panels, and I would like to share this one, about how the artist became an artist.

For most artists, the panel is a small one, but not for Miklos. It is like this: You have rings, with a little stone or piece of glass. Usually, there is a little hole in the back of the ring. He takes a little scratching pen and scratches your portrait in the glass. If you stick around long enough, you will recognize it, and you can buy it. “So,” he says, “on this enormous panel, I can paint my complete life story.” And he did. It is called “Storm in a land of Fire,” and it is about the talents and anti-talents. You know what talents are, don’t you? People who have nothing and can make something out of that. And anti-talents are people who do not like those people.

“How do artists start to paint? They started just like everybody, as kids: You take a pencil and start scratching. I loved that. Later, others tried to draw trees, houses, or the sun, but I did not do this. I took three pencils of different colors and continued scratching. You get lovely structures. My mother didn’t like it, because I painted the table and the walls and so on. Once, I made the gate for the annual village celebration. With my father, we made these boxes together, and I took three brushes with three colours. That was great. Anyway, by then, some of my friends found work and others got girlfriends, and they thought I was still scratching like a child. That is how, slowly, I became the fool of the village. Nobody wants to be the fool of the village, so as soon as possible, I left my village and went to the city, to Budapest, to the academy of fine arts.

“At the end of the year, there was a holiday, and I went back to the village to see my parents, but before I had fully entered the village, I met some people who immediately shouted, ‘The fool of the village is back in town! Let’s have a beer!!!’ I hated this. So, I went inside to see my parents and left on the first bus the next day – away from this village. But – it was 1986, 1987 – luck was finally on my side. Times were changing in Eastern Europe. The Iron Curtain still existed, but it was opening slowly. The Hungarian government, the Department of Arts in particular, wanted young Hungarian artists to show themselves in Western Europe. So, by the end of the year, not only did I get my diploma, but also an exit visa, which was required at that time to leave the country. I could go anywhere!!!

“Some of my friends went to party in Amsterdam or London, right away. But I did not do this. I prepared well and after several month, I had my first exhibition in Stockholm – with my little jewelry and paintings. That was pretty good, and I sold well, and within a year, I went to Denmark and to Hamburg and Berlin. I was working as I wanted and doing what I had studied for. Nothing unusual, actually. A musician or artist should not stay at home. Then, one day, I came back to my village, and the people did not talk about the fool of the village anymore but said, to the people in other villages: ‘See, this is our internationally recognized artist. He is ours. He’s from this village.”

“And in this way,” the artist said, “I finally overcame with my talents the anti-talents in my society. And I hope every artist succeeds in this. It is good for the art. It is good for the artist. And it is good for society.”

maandag 20 mei 2013

2013/19 King Missile in the Air

Last week a friend digitalized some of the old music cassettes we used to share at the beginning of the home copy era. Some American avant-garde punk rock band called King Missile. They made such a great record. The music is pretty wild, but actually the guys play tight and straight. They tried to make themselves sound more dirty than they were, both in composition and in sound. They have a remarkable singer, John Hall, who is, in fact, a great poet. And the music perfectly adjusts itself to what he says and tries to say. That is the reason the avant-garde band became a rock band and not the other way around!
The only real soul will be left when all the skins are peeled off. That is always the case, and that is what makes this band such a great band. It talks about the hunger of the mind, love in general and more specifically, satirical perception, humor, one’s own insecurities, imagination, confusion… The complete musical structure is built according to the spirits of the words – very carefully built, in order to be able to spread that knowledge and emotions to the audience – to me, for example. I think they made a few more records in the late 80’s, early 90’s, and then drowned somewhere in the impossibility of the music industry.
The only real soul will be left when all the skins are peeled off. For remember, we live in a world where the architects of the financial crisis regularly dine at the White House and people like Aaron Swartz hang themselves, years after his initial arrest, exhausted and broke.
On January 6, 2011, Swartz was arrested by MIT police on breaking-and-entering charges, in connection with the systematic downloading of academic journal articles from JSTOR. (JSTOR is a not-for-profit organization, founded to help academic libraries and publishers.) Federal prosecutors eventually charged him with two counts of wire fraud and 11 violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), charges carrying a cumulative maximum penalty of $1 million in fines, plus 35 years in prison, asset forfeiture, restitution, and supervised release. We are talking here about academic journals, knowledge of the world, discovered and described by academics, working for universities and public institutes… Or, as someone recently said: the only two crimes left are being poor and trying to tell the truth.
King Missile made this great song called “Wind-up Toys”: “If most of us were wind-up toys, could we trust the few of us that weren’t to wind us up when necessary? I think not. We would be a separate oppressed minority, even if we were in the majority. It would still be that way. The ones who weren’t wind-up toys would have the upper hand, and we would have to look out for each other, because they wouldn’t. They would only wind up those that they saw fit, those that conformed to their ways. If most of us were wind-up toys, it would be in our interest to learn how to wind ourselves up or wind each other up. That is reality, that’s the way it is.”
Somehow, we need to get beyond the “I’m right, so I’m right to nuke you” ethics that dominate our time. That begins with one word: Shame. People are defined by their context: personal moral convictions only play a role in the rarest of cases.
And the good thing about old memories is that they can help you enjoy today even a bit better.

maandag 13 mei 2013

2013/18 False Hope

False Hope

It was the beginning of the project. The late Bert Hermans introduced me around in Turkey. Art funding from the major banks is the main motor behind artist development in Turkey, and I was invited to look around in the archives of the Garanti Platform. With a little help from my friends, I selected a few artists and contacted them to explain my mission. And this guy says, “Well… I will not accept any invitation if I cannot look you in the eyes. I live 130 kilometers away. You are welcome.” So, I went there the next day. I met him in his house, and he introduced me at the university. We sat down and the television was showing news about bomb explosions that had occurred in Istanbul – very near to where my truck had been parked that night. I mean: very near. He was shocked, as well – not about my truck and that coincidence, but about the fact that people use such horrific means to achieve their self-interests. “The authorities will respond with more Big Brother methods. Everybody is going to fight his own war,” he said.
Meanwhile, I had to ask him to make a little painting about hope. “But listen, my friend,” he replied, “I do not know if you understand the situation, but if this continues, the situation is hopeless. Everybody in this country knows you have one hand for politics and another for religion. You cannot mix them. And now there is a minority, a very small number of people, who do not respect this and start throwing religious bombs. Since humankind is very capable of making mistake after mistake, and so many splinter groups want to respond, it is a very dangerous situation.” He became a kind of very relaxed sort of desperate, realizing he is big enough to understand, but too small to do something about it. “What to paint?” he asked me. But after he accepted the little white board measuring 25x35 cm and pointed out the dangerous geopolitical situation to me, that was really not my problem anymore. So, he wished me good luck and safe journey, and he asked me to wish him luck, because the painting about hope needed to be ready in six weeks and the situation was more or less hopeless. What will happen in this country?
I came back several weeks later. His friends and colleagues at the faculty had also made some great paintings, and when we finally had some time, he sat there, with a little modest smile on his face. He shows me a painting of a man with a telescope and a bunch of other people looking at this man. He starts talking: “The painting is called Mars. You see this man? He’s the center of the painting. He is also the center of my attention because he is looking for something. I like people who are looking for something. But he is looking for something pretty far away. Not that Mars is not interesting, but still… He does not seem to be interested in the society that surrounds him. All the others are looking for nothing. They are just waiting, waiting to see what happens. Maybe the man with the telescope finds something, and all will be happy because their friend found something. But maybe the man with the telescope must admit after a few days there is nothing out there, and quite a few of the people will laugh, ‘We told you there was nothing out there.’” And this painter keeps on talking this way and suddenly he says, “Hey, did you notice? I have a great painting. My story is not too bad, and I did not give you any little piece of false hope.”
Years later, I was present at a terrorist attack in Apeldoorn, when a hideous, freaked out person drove his car through the crowd to attack the Queen on her special holiday, live on TV, killing and wounding dozens. I was there telling stories about paintings, and obviously the party was over. But I could not leave because the flea market was still going and our truck was parked behind everything. And all those people, especially the couples, who did not want to go home and watch TV wandered around in a city with this strange atmosphere. They desperately needed to reflect, socially. Many visited the exhibition, and I told them this story, just in order to give people some space for incomprehensible things.
It was one of the most beautiful days I had, but I could not tell anybody. Until now.