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.

maandag 6 mei 2013

2013/17 Everything you do...

Everything you do will be used against you…
Small worlds mirror big ones. This old wisdom never dies. The past cannot be killed or deleted. In fact, these days people are experimenting with how to destroy their hard disc so that the information is truly gone. We saw it in Yugoslavia in the 80’s: the politicians were corrupt, the factory directors were corrupt, and the small bosses of small departments became corrupt. The ordinary guy had no other choice but to do the same, rather than being a loser, literally and figuratively.
Just a piece from the newspaper this week: “The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan, was the United States,” according to one American official. Insiders say that the CIA operations are actually undermining the work of other American government agencies, in their desperate efforts to roll up criminal networks in Afghanistan. Payments were made through the country’s office of national security. The council’s administrative chief, Mohammed Zia Salehi, was arrested in 2010 on corruption charges, but was released after just a few hours thanks to the Afghan president’s intervention. After his arrest, Salehi began telling colleagues he was “an enemy of the F.B.I., and a hero to the C.I.A.”
My Sarajevo lesson. So, I came to this city at a time when about 20,000 professional Western aid workers were working in the country and students could earn more money translating for these NGOs than their father did working as a doctor in the hospital. I went to see some friends in a bar, and this guy came up to me and asked, “So, what are you doing here?” I said I was there because I wanted to finally learn the language. “No,” he replied, “What is your job here?” I wanted to explain that my job is to stimulate global consciousness, but halfway through he said, “Ah, well, actually I do not care. I don’t care how many good things you come and do here. I do not care if you do 5 or 50 or 5,000 good things. It does not matter. What matters is if you do this much wrong (he indicates a small space between his fingers) or this much (now there is no space between his fingers).”

This week the public internet has been in existence 20 years, and it is celebrated on the First of May, the international day of labor. For us, members and friends of the old autonomous cultural garage 2B, the First of May is a day to celebrate anyway. It was the first day of the fiscal year for that club. It was also the day it got evicted and destroyed more than 10 years ago now. I am very curious how many people I know celebrated the First of May. I definitely know more people who were dancing and drinking because of the new king.
Continuing imperturbably: doing good, life is good, people are nice, we are lucky we weren’t born in Calcutta, let it happen, enjoy the gift, the work is good, it makes sense, it has fans, people are interested and appreciate what I do. And it is so easy. The audience realizes more and more that the fun is inside the content.