21 January 2007

Drafting a Third Urban Camping Motto

My friend Hikmet said,
"hey jen, like the tv series that change direction in style and content after a certain point, your blog seems no longer to be very much about urban camping or the philosophy behind it. keep it up anyway."
For me, the blog is still about urban camping. My experience this year is to host urban campers through the CouchSurfing Project.

I am working on my third urban camping motto, which has something to do with open sourcing.

Open Sourcing

Still resonating with me from last year's road trip is the memory of slipping in and out of environmental contexts and how that experience shakes me loose from old perspectives, forcing me to take a different look.

I recognize this again with the couchsurfers. My routine or life pattern is sliced open by complete strangers coming into my life (based on a reputation/recommendation interface).

The ideas we discuss under my roof stay with me long after the couchsurfers leave. These conversations are a unique mix of the foreign and the familiar.

On the one hand, a home environment has metaphorical and universal qualities of trust, safety and comfort. It is a place where thoughts on life flow easily.

On the other hand, we have no shared history together. There is no past to predict whether we are of the same 'tribe.' We do not know if we share the same 'niche.'

I have to pay a special kind of attention to a person when I have had no previous chance to make sense of him or her.

Making Sense

We make sense by forming patterns, grouping similar things together and crafting labels. But, apart from their online profiles, I have no idea where these couchsurfers are coming from, where to put them.

We find ourselves discussing all sorts of life topics such as careers, relationships, families, politics, religions, movies and music. Everything is coming from everywhere and is connected to nothing.

I think open sourcing provides solutions by cracking open perspectives. All of us are having an experience with our environment and we are all attempting to make sense of it, to mediate it.

While it is very satisfying to find 'my people,' those who mediate the experience in a similar way, my experience tells me that it is also very satisfying to browse outside my niche.

We all form patterns of sense-making. Each pattern is one attempt to fit all the pieces together into a unified theory. We operate under these models. We must.

Perspective Test

Open sourcing forces our patterns to collide, shakes them loose. We see that we are allowed to graft other variables into our theories about how the world works.

I have a new job. When I met the CEO, he asked me why I kept setting out on new study programs. I told him that I was interested in different viewpoints.

He told me to come back to him with my observations of the company within three to six months. Any longer than that and, he said, I would be engulfed in the culture, unable to notice anything.

The back of Thomas De Zengotita's book asks,
"Surrounded by an increasingly pervasive, powerful deluge of media representations, could we be losing our access to 'natural' or original thoughts, feelings, and experiences?"
At the moment, frequently changing my environmental context is the only way I know of to maintain life choices about things, issues and people that speak to me personally.

Besides this type of open sourcing experience, I know of no other way to discover the perspectives, values, delights, definitions, possessions, relationships that speak to me in an individual way.

I think I find uniquely useful and beautiful elements for my life model by the continual contrast that open sourcing provides.

Which is Which

So, I would really like to hear other people's ideas. Maybe you will leave a comment on the blog?

How do you recognize the things you chose to be in your life because they made sense to you in a unique individual way?

How satisfying is it to have fake fruit in our house? Why do presidents have speech writers? One is a representation of something desirable. The other is designing an experience for us.

How do you recognize the things that are a part of your life because you are engulfed in a context? How do you know when things are speaking to you because someone has designed them to speak to you, to represent something desirable?

This is an open source question. How do you know which things in your life are which?

12 January 2007

Is Pandora's Box Half Full or Half Empty?

Our profiles in The CouchSurfing Project ask for, "One Amazing Thing I've Seen or Done."

Mine says, "Seeing river dolphins suddenly jump out of the water in Brazil."

The profile of my seventh couchsurfer, Lokesh, says "I saw a Tiger at 10 feet distance...it was the most amazing and overwhelming experience."

He is from New Delhi and is doing his MBA in Spain.

He couchsurfed around the Netherlands when his wait-listed flight back to India did not come through.

When I asked him to type one of his favorite songs into Pandora.com, he said that nothing Hindi was coming up.

I said, "Not even Punjabi MC?" He is the only Indian musician of which I know. I learned of him when I was in India and heard him again on the radio when I was back in Europe.

"Nope," he said. "Not even Punjabi MC."

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09 January 2007

Raw Experience

Designed to Affect You Part Three

In 2001, I made a painting called "A Color and a Field."

On first glance, it looks like one canvas painted red above another canvas painted black.

But within a few seconds, most people notice the subtle string of red lip prints going across the top of the black canvas.

When they come in closer to investigate, they usually notice the large black vinyl letters on the bottom side of the red canvas that say,
"She bought lipstick for the funeral from the new Unspeakable Grief line guaranteed not to fade for up to eight hours."
I was thinking about the idea of 'decorated grief.'

The seed of the idea came from the weekend when JFK Jr. died.

The plane he was flying with his wife and sister-in-law disappeared over the ocean but no one knew for sure if they were dead or alive.
During the weekend I occasionally turned on the TV to see if they had been found.

At one point, CNN was playing dramatic music that made me feel like I was watching a film and they had the words 'unspeakable grief' on the screen.

The word 'unspeakable' was written in a fancy flowing script and the word 'grief' was written in block letters.

The sadness was not raw.

The sadness was decorated.

I was aware that people had made conscious artistic decisions.

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07 January 2007

The Effect is Effective

Designed to Affect You Part Two

In his 1988 statement Full Fathom Five, artist, Jeff Koons, describes how the advertising and entertainment industries have effectively adapted these 'design' tools:
Artists somehow develop this moral crisis where we are fearful of being effective in the world.

We set up these inside games; we develop all these aesthetics and all this formalism.

It's a totally ineffective structure which participates not at all in the outside world.

We were the great seducers, we were the great manipulators, and we have given up these intrinsic powers of art - its effectiveness.

The entertainment industry, the advertising industry have taken these tools from the art world and made themselves much more politically potent.

We are really devastated and very impotent right now.

A photographer just working for an advertising company has a platform to be much more politically effective in the world than an artist.
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05 January 2007

Footnotes Are Not Designed to Affect You

Designed to Affect You Part One

My opponents in the debate argued that adding footnotes does not 'kill the whole thing' as Steiner suggested.

I argued (and still argue) that footnoting does not destroy the artwork; it destroys the EFFECT that the artist created.

Art communicates through effect. We 'experience' artwork.

Roncevaux was a symbol that Hemmingway used to slowly create the effect of deceit and betrayal.

It would not be ART if the writer simply said, "This man, who is going to betray his friend later in the story ..."

A person achieves a certain effect by directly 'explaining' something to his audience.

BUT, there is a completely different effect generated when artists use symbols to slowly reveal the picture they are painting.

Another example:

I went to Igor Stravinsky's opera, the "Rake's Progress."

At the intermission, we were commenting on two scenes in the first half that took place on rooftops.

The first scene, between the young man and his girlfriend, took place on her home's rooftop.

A few scenes later, the young man danced around the top of a building in London.

Realizing this was probably not coincidence, we were curiously watching for rooftops in the second half.

Well, there weren't any.

So we completely forgot about the roofs and got caught up in the story which was: young foolish man gets seduced away from his 'true love' by money, power, prestige and in the end he loses everything and is insane and alone.

The story was well told, with humor and beautiful music, but it wasn't until walking home after the show that I 'got' the rooftops.

The story was about the 'fall' of a young man.

The rooftops were a sort of subconscious symbol off of which he would fall, during the second half, to his demise.

I would hesitate to say that the rooftops were the 'genius' of the story, as Steiner said of Hemmingway, but symbols are often part of the artist's craft and I would not like the 'rooftops' effect to have been 'footnoted' in my program.

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03 January 2007

Deaf to the Most Moving Literature

I once heard Wim Kayzer interview George Steiner for the Dutch TV series entitled 'Van de Schoonheid en de Troost'['Of Beauty and Consolation']).

During that time, a friend and I were debating whether or not artwork exists when there is no audience, a question that always sounds to me like, "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it still make a sound?"

Steiner said, "And one of the great passages which illustrates all my worries about people no longer recognizing great references, people becoming deaf to the most moving literature, is in one little passage from the novel: The Sun Also Rises....

Two very close friends are on a bus and they think they love each other. They think they are really, totally true to each other."

(and then he read the passage from Hemmingway):
We went through the forest and the road came out and turned along a rise of land and out ahead of us was a rolling green plane and the dark mountains beyond it.

These were not like the brown heat-baked mountains we'd left behind.

These were wooded and there were clouds coming down from them. The green planes stretched off.

It was cut by fences and the white of the road showed through the trunks of a double line of trees that crossed the plane towards the North.

As we came to the edge of the rise we saw the red roofs and white houses of Burguete ahead strung out on the plane and away off on the shoulder of the first dark mountain was the gray metal sheath roof of the monastery of Roncevaux.

'There's Roncevaux,' I said.


'Way off there where the mountains start.'

'It's cold up here,' Bill said.

'It's high,' I said, 'Must be 1200 meters.'

'It's awful cold,' Bill said."
After reading the passage, Steiner finished his commentary by explaining that Roncevaux was the place in the great medieval epic of Roland where someone within their group betrayed Roland and his friends.

They were butchered in an ambush of the Saracens.

Steiner explains, "The genius of Hemmingway is not to say so.

Only the word Roncevaux tells us that these two friends are going to betray each other.

That they are on the edge of the end of their relationship and then the repetitions, 'It's cold up here,' Bill said, 'It's awful cold.'

And of course it is the cold of the heart and only a very great artist can say everything without saying anything."

Steiner explained that no one recognizes the symbol of Roncevaux any longer, not even his students from Oxford, Cambridge or Harvard.

He said that our next editions will have to have a footnote, which "kills the whole thing."

He explained that during Hemmingway's time, he had written this 'success novel' to the 'pop' audience and he could assume that the word Roncevaux was all that was needed.

Steiner expressed dismay with the idea that soon other symbols such as 'Elsinore' and 'La Mancha' will have to be footnoted.

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01 January 2007

Speaking to Me

Oh, Missy, thank you! Pandora.com is wonderful! I now have over 25 stations.

When I typed in Cat Empire, the message said, "Searching the Music Genome Project..."

Then, "We're now creating a station that will explore songs and artists that have musical qualities similar to Cat Empire."

"To start things off, we'll play a song that exemplifies the musical style of Cat Empire which features mild rhythmic syncopation, mixed acoustic and electric instrumentation, a busy horn section, major key tonality, classical rhodes sound and many other similarities identified in the Music Genome Project."

I considered memorizing this to use as an answer the next time someone asks me, "What kind of music do you like?"

I started plugging in the musicians from the list that Ashley, my sixth couchsurfer, left me.

Ashley is a ballerina who used the CouchSurfing Project as she traveled around Europe trying out for dance companies.

Ashley wrote on my list, "Sigur Ros," saying that they were Icelandic.

She said, "If fairies could have bands, it would be like this."

I wonder how this will be represented in the Music Genome Project, if they have enough songs and artists with this quality to create a whole station.

She had let me listen to Arcade Fire's song, Bell Orchestre, on her MP3 player.

As I enter the name, I hope the typewriter they play in that song shows up as a musical gene.

Instead of busy horn section, I want them to say mellow office machines, but they don't.

I love Pandora.com. I listen to it all the time and have friends type in a favorite artist when they're here.

As I listen, I am still wondering what it is exactly that speaks to me in a song? Will I like all of the music with similar gene patterns? Or are there other unrepresented qualities that might resonate with me?

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