Posts Tagged 'New York'

Time is a loop

Martijn van Berkum, Rotterdam – – Within every moment unfolds another moment. Sometimes it seems like all events have always existed and are being stored in a giant collective archive of images. The advertisement underneath, of the Pakistan International Airline, was published in 1979, the same year Bin Laden took up arms against the USA. 

Sure, the prophetic value of the picture is baffling, but another thing that intrigues me – without taking in account the events that lead to the destruction of the twin towers – is the uncanny feeling of this illustration. It reminds me of the apocalyptic drawings of Hugh Ferris (underneath) which cast dark clouds over the pinnacles of Americas economic achievements. They seemed to predict the great financial crisis of the 1930’s. Another event in history that seems to repeat itself every now and then; I guess time really does go around in a loop…





Empire: a reconstruction

Empire State Building […] It’s the nearest thing to heaven
Deborah Kerr in “An affair to remember”

Martijn van Berkum, Rotterdam — A couple of months ago the City Art Museum in Amsterdam showed an overview of Andy Warhol’s work. I was thrilled to see my favourite Warhol for the first time: Empire. It reminded me of a haunting story the Swedish artist Christian Andersson once told me.

Andy Warhol filmed the Empire State Building on a summer night in 1964 from the 41st floor of the Rockefeller Foundation, which is just a couple of blocks away. The film is an 8-hour static shot of the building. Nothing happens and after 7 hours foreplay, Empire rises to a climax when the building’s floodlights, which highlight the top, are switched on.

According to Andersson the original view had been blocked for several decades by, yes, the World Trade Center. Therefore, the destruction of the Twin Towers not only re-established the Empire State Building as tallest building in New York, it also re-enabled the original view of Warhol’s Empire.

I’ve never been to New York, so my suspicious mind needed proof. Unfortunately, in reality it seems to be the other way around and the Empire State Building was blocking the view on the former World Trade Centre instead. The Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building and the World Trade Centre are exactly aligned, kind of like the ‘voie triomphale’ (the triumphant view) of Paris, the axis of the Louvre, the Arche de Triomphe and the Arche de la Défence.

Nevertheless, the comparison between the 9-11 attacks and Warhol’s Empire kept following me and remains interesting I think. Both deal with the symbolic power of a New York / American monument. Al Quaeda attacked it; Warhol celebrated it. Or does he not? It’s always difficult to say what Warhol’s intensions were, for any of his works for that matter. His inscrutable character and incomprehensive statements completely obscure any reading of his work, at least with regards to his own intentions. Of course, we can draw some conclusions from the title. ‘Empire’ tentatively points out the imperial nature of global economy, ‘a universal order that excepts no boundaries or limits’ (from ‘Empire’ by Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt).

An earlier version of Empire provides some more clues about the intentions of Warhol. It included a voice recording of a conversation between Warhol and Henry Romney, owner of the Rockefeller Foundation, who is complaining about the use of marihuana by Warhol’s associates and is utterly displeased and riddled by the film. The conversation holds one charming and poetic statement by Warhol (about the floodlights going on at night):
It’s so beautiful. The lights come on and the stars come out […] It’s like Flash Gordon riding into space.
Yet, the one that went into history is a description that leaves no doubt about Warhol’s true feelings towards the building:
It’s an 8-hour hard-on

When I started to dig further into the histories of the Empire State Building and the World Trade Centre it turned out that they share more similarities. Oddly enough, the Empire State Building has also suffered a plane crash. In the early morning of July 28th 1945 an army B25 bomber got lost in the thick morning fog and pierced into the 70th floor of the building, which, ironically, housed the Catholic War Relief Office. The pilots and 11 employees of the War Relief Office were killed. But there was also one survivor. A woman, trapped in the elevator, fell down 75 floors and survived. And that’s not the only miracle the building has witnessed. It accounts for 34 suicides, two of which failed when these unhappy ‘happy few’ were blown back on the building by strong wind.

Empire’s notorious reputation has also reached the virtual world. When I was mapping out the World Trade Centre, the Empire State Building and the Rockefeller Center, I discovered that Empire doesn’t only reign in the sky over New York, it has also conquered the cities’ cyber ‘space’ in Google Earth. The 3D feature in the program enables you to construct a 3-dimensional image of the city and I was able to re-enact Warhol’s masterpiece in today’s cyber space. Underneath you see the view that Warhol had approximately from the Rockefeller Center. ‘Empire’ was filmed with a telelens and unfortunately Google Earth isn’t advanced enough to recreate that view, yet… I would guess that pretty soon we won’t need the real world anymore to make such great art.
I have a gut feeling that Andy would have loved it.

I continue my search for the stars.

Conversation with Ray, an amateaur astronomer in New York City

This conversation was initiated as part of the research for one of my art projects.

K: You are an amateur astronomer, an observer of the stars, and as I understand it, to get an optimal observing situation you have to leave Manhattan?
R: Yeah, light pollution is one of the reasons why I have to find an open space further from the city lights. The other reason is that we live in sort of a canyon here, built with tall buildings. And for most of the interesting stuff you really have to have a clear view of the southeastern horizon. A view like that, you can get in the south shore of Long Island for example. Yeah, you need to get away from the tall buildings so you can have an unobstructed view, and at some place which is reasonable dark where you can pick out some of the fainter objects in the sky.
K: What do you have to say about light pollution?
R: Well, it’s a concept that I really didn’t think about too much before, but lately there has been a lot of talk about it and of course I’ve noticed it. I always have trouble when I take my telescope out with the street lamps and the neighbors lights and stuff like that. You know I was hoping there would be [another] black out so you get a good view once in a while. Unfortunately the last black out we had it was cloudy the whole week. So it was totally useless…
And another thing with light pollution; I feel that the younger kids, are never gonna really have the same kind of interest in something so basic as the sky, because they’re really not getting a good look at it. They can’t see it. I don’t think my kids have ever seen the Milky Way, something that I noticed at a very young age you know. My son is 19 and my daughter is 13 and don’t think they have ever looked up and really noticed anything in the sky. And I think mainly because it’s just…the view is just so uninteresting now.
K: How do you think that affects them?
R: Well I think a lot of things nowadays keep them from appreciating the natural world you now. I think they are perfectly happy spending all their time staring at a computer screen. They are not really interested in looking around seeing…the vastness of the universe. I think their world is very small now.
K: Clear nights I have noticed a star or two above Manhattan, but of course nothing like the Milky Way, did you see it here in NYC as a kid, was that possible?
R: Years ago you used to be able to see more stars. I can remember as a kid in Queens you know, looking up and seeing the Milky Way. Yeah it was visible, it was.
K: What kinds of lights were there in the public then?
R: Street lamps, but there wasn’t as many commercial lights [as today]. When factories closed for the night, the lights went off. There was no 24-hour super drive ins 7/Eleven´s, which were shining their lights into the sky, having these giant neon lights or whatever. There were no all night gas stations. You know, when it got dark it got dark. People turned their lights off. And very few people had security lights outdoors. I don’t think people felt the need for them then. I guess they felt also it would be a waste of energy having these lights on all night. I mean we never kept lights on all night! It was like a concept that was such a waste.
K: It’s a strange development that we stopped caring about waste of energy.
R: It is, it is. I saw a picture on the Internet the other day of Los Angeles in 1926, an aero view of it. And it was lights, you know, city lights. And then it was another one of Los Angeles in 2007 and that splotch of light was enormous, it was 10 times bigger than it was in the photograph from the late 1920´s! Not only are the lights spreading, they are brighter! It’s brighter! Times Square for instance…I think already when I first started to work in the city back in the 70´s, Times Square was bright with neon signs, but it’s nothing like it is now. I mean it’s blindingly bright!
K: So what about your local situation where you have problems with too much light in your own backyard?
R: I am planning on telling all my neighbors to shut their lights off. I told my neighbor across the way the other day: You know that light you got on all night, why do you have that for? He goes: Ahhh, my wife you know, my daughter, they think it’s people lurking in the darkness around their home, you know. People are so paranoid. They think that this light will actually keep people away; I think it does the opposite. If you are staring at a glaring light someone could be right next to you and you wouldn’t be able to see him. You probably would be better off with the lights out. You could probably be much more aware of what is in your yard. I think the light actually makes you blind.
K: And maybe, since we are so exposed to light, the modern human eye, might be bad in seeing in the dark?
R: You really don’t need a lot of light to see…we don’t realize that nowadays. I think we all just take for granted that everything has to be lit up to see it. I think if you just give yourself a chance, you’ll be amazed after 15-20 minutes or so, of just how much you can see. I think your eyes could see an amazing amount of things in the dark, cause they’re acclimated to it.
K: I am curious about the reason for being fascinated about the world up there in the sky… to me to look out there it’s almost a symbol of how little we know.
R: Or how small we are, or how insignificant in many ways, we are. Well, the astronomy thing is more about picking out very very small parts of that big thing and be able to observe them closely, see in detail that you can’t see with your naked eyed or even with binoculars.
K: That knowledge, or the satisfaction you get from that…how do you profit from that in life in general?
R: I like learning things, I like having this, what some people might call useless knowledge. But it gives me pleasure to now that kind of stuff.
K: To me that kind of practice is almost a resistance against the rest of everything that we do that has to be so purposeful and efficient…
R: Yeah, there’s a certain amount of that.
K: You know to have a hobby, or to do something that really is only a pleasure for ones own sake…
R: It really takes you outside of this human experience here, which can sometimes be very frustrating and very non-sensical with so much trivial stuff going on. And to look up into the sky like that beyond, beyond, beyond all of that, gives me a way of separating from that. Leaving all that worldly stuff behind me, I’m actually traveling through the telescope, you know outside this realm of human nonsense. Things that you worry about or are concerned about; when you’re in a situation like that an you’re observing these things that are millions and billions years old and change very slowly, if at all. It gives you a sense that ”this is really not that important”.
K: To me it makes a difference to look up in the night sky when I think about that I might not be able to see the stars much longer.
R: Right, we start to worry about things that we really didn’t pay too much attention of, when the threat of them disappearing is coming on. It’s very strange this whole idea of light pollution and loosing the darkness of the sky, it has been so over shadowed with water- and air pollution that nobody really even thought about it.. All of a sudden it is a problem, and it is a big problem. It’s just that it didn’t happen gradually, it seem like it just: BOOM!, you know. ”OH NO! THE SKY IS GONE! How did that happen?

From Be Kind Rewind in Soho, to Sweding online.

A very nice thing about living temporary somewhere is that you have time. Time to stand in line for example, and enjoy it. As a Swede this is extra nice, since we don´t stand in lines very much in our country. We more often have the alternative of the cue number machines, which make it possible to neatly spread out so we don´t need to encounter each other.

Today I went to the opening of the show Be Kind Rewind by Michel Gondry at the Deitch Projects located in Soho, New York. About the same time the opening opened, I turned around the corner of Wooster Street, and walked down the block a little embarresed since I imagined I would be one of the first people to enter (and that is, as we all know, never pleasant). As I got closer I started to realize the scale of the surprize I was about to get. From the entrance down the whole block, all the way to – and round the corner on Canal street, there was a line of hundreds of people waiting to get in – to the same opening as me. It was like going to a concert! It took me almost a minute to get to the end of the “worm” of people, where I positioned myself and prepared for a long wait.

In the line everybody around me comments on “how crazy this is”, and happily continue to wait. A police car passes slowly and the driver turns the window down and ask us what is going on. When he finds out he laughs and turn on the lights at the roof top, as a little cheering performane. The atmosphere is very high with lots of conversations and laughs. A girl approaches a man beside me and asks:
– Is it only open tonight?
– No, it´s on untill march!
– Then why is everybody standing in the line?
– Well, it´s the opening night! She shakes her head and leave.

After almost an hour I am inside. Someone hands me a flyer with the headline: MAKE YOUR OWN MOVIE. The whole scenario in the gallery is like a film setting with different settings like a forest, a car with a moving landscape behind, a livingroom, a street, an escalator etc. They are all from the film Be Kind Rewind which will be out soon. The concept at Deitch is that one can request for a suitable time to come and use any of the settings, or all of them and shoot your own film. In the press release Gondry states, “I don’t intend nor have the pretension to teach how to make films. Quite the contrary. I intend to prove that people can enjoy their time without being part of the commercial system and serving it. Ultimately, I am hoping to create a network of creativity and communication that is guaranteed to be free and independent from any commercial institution.”
At the very crowded opening people are acting and playing around like crazy in the different settings with full outfit and in different role plays. It´s like a gigantic rehersal with included audience. I leave Deitch with a happy face.

Back at home I enter to watch trailers. I will not say too much about it cause I don´t want to spoil the pleasure of entering the site…I highly recommend a visit! Both online and in the gallery world of Be Kind Rewind. I look forward to the final ”level”, the film! And one thing is certain, I realize a Swede like myself has her lucky day today; Michel Gondry made it official – the verb Sweding – thanks Michel!

Twinkle, twinkle, little star, How I wonder where you are?

Imagine a future generation who has never seen a star in real life. It’s a future when the night sky has transformed into a thick layer of artificial light and micro particles that doesn’t let through the sight of any stars or planets, not even the moon is visible. What effect would that have on us and other life forms on earth?

– – –
”If you see something, say something”. The words are in black on the back of my train card. My first thought is that it is critical statement or a public art piece by someone like the artist Jenny Holzer or Barbara Kruger. I continue reading: ”If you see a suspicious package or activity on the bus, platform or train, don’t keep it to yourself. Tell a police officer or an MTA employee. Or call the toll-free Terrorism Hotline at 1-888-NYC-SAFE”. I am on the train, on my way to Times Square. The first thing I spot when I arrive and exit the train station, is a gigantic film screen right in the middle of everything. It shows a commercial loop that promotes people to join the American Army. I wonder if I should report it as a suspicious object in favor of terror?

Times Square on the whole reminds me of 24/7 summer time twilight in the very far north of Sweden. I look up in the sky. It’s a clear night but no stars at sight in this particular spot. The lights at Times Square reflects the sky so that it looks bright and varies in grayish-pink, grayish-yellow, grayish-blue and grayish-green. To watch this sky is like looking down in a pot of boiling chemicals. I continue my walk a couple of blocks to the northeast and end up at the Top of The Rock to watch the night view from above. The sky glow is massive, a rainbow shaped orange shade that gradually turns to grey in the upper parts of the sky. An amateur astronomer born in Queens tell me that when he was a child he used to watch the Milky Way from his back yard. It’s now about 30 years since I saw it from Manhattan or Queens, he says. His children have never ever seen it.

– – –
The next day in the darkness at the Hayden Planetarium the lecturer shows us a stunning 3D-animation of the earth at night, rotating in space. Here the nighttime on earth is all over the globe simultaneously, which transforms it to a dark ball with lighter parts spread over the surface, that reminds me of stars constellations. In my mind, the idea we have about earth as something very unique, this vivid blue planet in the eternal universe, suddenly is put into question. All of the artificial lighting on our planet makes the earth blend in surprisingly well in the star packed cosmos. I am thinking that maybe, ever since industrialization, we more or less consciously, light by light, created a safety package for earth itself, as camouflage during night hours, from whoever might want to surprise us from space some dark night? My thoughts get interrupted by the lecturer happily announcing:
– there it is, the brightest spot on earth; NYC – our home!

– – –
Light pollution is excess light created by humans, a side effect of industrial civilization. Among other consequences, it disrupts ecosystems, can cause adverse health effects, obscures the stars for city dwellers, and interferes with astronomical observatories. Its sources include building exterior and interior lighting, advertising, commercial properties, offices, factories, streetlights, and illuminated sporting venues. The entire area consisting of southern England, Netherlands, Belgium, West Germany, and northern France have a sky brightness of at least 2 to 4 times above normal. The only place in continental Europe where the sky can attain its natural darkness is in northern Scandinavia. In North America the situation is comparable. From the east coast to west Texas up to the Canadian border there is very significant global light pollution.

– – –
In the 1800- and early 1900 century it was possible to observe stars from the Stockholm Observatory in the very city center in the capital of Sweden. To secure the possibility to continue observation of space from Stockholm at large another observatory was built in mid 19th century ”far” outside the city in a rural area, which today is a suburb 15 minutes away with the train. This observatory is of course, as well as the one in the city center not in use anymore. Nowadays, if we want to make proper observations of cosmos from Sweden, we need to go far north (about 1237 km/769 miles from Stockholm) to Esrange Space Center where they facilitate a huge light pollution safe area.

Obviously we can grasp the importance to observe cosmos for astronomers, but why would it nowadays be considered of importance to be able to see the stars for everyday people? Some, like for instance Tom Callen who is an astronomer and producer at Cosmonova in Stockholm, points out the important not to loose connection to the night sky, since it’s in some aspects related to our origin of the universe. I ask amongst some friends what their connection to the stars is. One says that to her its important to be able to watch the stars to get that scale of perspective as it reminds of the greatness of life and what it means to exist. She points out it is not possible to get that scale of perspective anywhere else on earth, unless you’re standing on the top of for example Mount Everest.

The author Arthur C.Clarke who collaborated with filmmaker Stanley Kubrik on the film 2001 – a space Oddysee, said this about the stars: “Behind everyone alive today stand 30 ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living since the dawn of this planet. Now, a hundred billion is about the number of the stars in our Milky Way Galaxy. So this means that for everyone who has ever lived, there could be a star. And of course, stars are suns, with planets circling around them. So isn´t it an interesting thought that there is enough land in the sky for everyone to have a whole world?”

– – –
Since the early 1980s, a global dark-sky movement has emerged, with concerned people campaigning to reduce the amount of light pollution. The International Dark-Sky Association is a US-based non-profit organisation incorporated in 1988 by a group of astronomers in order to encourage darker skies (through lighting that creates less skyglow) in the USA, and, eventually, throughout the world. Another initiative for the purpose of darker skies is National Dark Sky Week which is a week during which people all over the United States are encouraged to turn out their outdoor lights in order to observe the beauty of the night sky. This event was started by Jennifer Barlow of Midlothian, Virginia in 2002 and through a mail correspondance with her I understand her ambition to also spread the idea with the NDSW internationally. The next time it happens is in 2008 April 6-12. Wherever you are, maybe you should give it a try?

New York / Revs / Subway tubes

Even though I love street art I never really was one for graffiti. Public art is at best when it puts ideas directly into public discussion, and that’s exactly where graffiti fails – in particular name tagging. I very recently discovered the work of Revs though. A graffiti artist who uses, in his own way, the possibilities that public domain has to offer.

For those more familiar with graffiti Revs name must have legendary properties. Nonetheless his tags aren’t at all of my interest. What I did find inspiring are the diary entries he made for a period of time in the New York subway. They tell of autobiographical feverish stories that are appropriately painted in the dark underground of the city. It amounts to a body of work that is personal, raw and tells of the street: everything graffiti pretends to be, usually without succeeding.
Unfortunately there is very little to find about these works on the Internet (information nor pictures). I’d be very happy if anyone could tell me more about it! You can find out little about him here and here.

Recent articles

“Veiling the unveiled truth”: the conceptual art of Silvio Berlusconi
Published August 3, 2008 by Antonio Scarponi

We all know that the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is a man of talents. First of all he is a man of spectacle, a perfect actor from the old school. He is able to dance, sing and his practical jokes are famous world wide [...] We all know these skills, but recently in two occasion he demonstrated also to have great talent as conceptual artist.
Made in Sweden
Published July 9, 2008 by Trial and error

On a recent journey we visited two well-known Asian landmarks: The Chinese Dragon Gate and the Royal Thai Pavilion, both located in remote places in Sweden.
From motorcycles to 3,5 million pieces of art
Published July 3, 2008, 2008 by Marja Salaspuro and Sergio Davila

Can classical conservative museum structure keep its historically layered architecture, rooms, collections and objects – and still attract the interest of the modern visitors, mainstream tourists and experience seeking travelers? A philosophical reconsideration around the purpose of museums in our era and the architect’s role as a curator.

Popular articles

My Sweden: Clean spaces, Clean information
Published June 12, 2007 by Trial and Error

”I dont understand what you mean by street art. If it has no permission, it is regular destruction and should be punished. I think it is equal to destroying someones car.”
Mikael Söderlund, vice mayor Stockholm ...
Twinkle, twinkle, little star, How I wonder where you are?
Published January 3, 2008 by Katja Aglert

Imagine a future generation who has never seen a star in real life. It’s a future when the night sky has transformed into a thick layer of artificial light and micro particles that doesn’t let through the sight of any stars or planets, not even the moon is visible. What effect would that have on us and other life forms on earth? ...