Cultural Criticism Without Borders

When I just got into Germany we managed to pin point something I had noticed before. It is striking how conservative people in Germany are when it comes to the internet and especially people who work in cultural positions. Compared to that, the Netherlands of the past five years has gone through a rather tumultuous revolution.

This was prompted a bit by responses are to the new play “Edward II” directed by Ivo van Hove at the Schaubühne here. I am yet to see the play, but I hear it’s pretty good. Judging from the set pictures and the trailer it is one of the more modern pieces at this particular theater. It seems to have been rather poorly received in the papers, which have treated it not really on merit, but with thinly veneered hatchet jobs where critics employed their position to jab at this or that enemy in the German cultural landscape. One particular critic even projected his own frustrations and personal perversions onto the play in a national daily. Germany still seems to be that place where personal gripes are written down and nailed to a door somewhere.

The modern look of the play seemed to draw particular ire and especially the liberal use of video projections on the stage (a staple at Toneelgroep Amsterdam). It seems that German theater viewers cannot deal with mixed media and are either confused on where to look or too closed minded to accept projected images alongside the action happening live on the stage. This is one symptom of a lack in media literacy.

Ivory towered gentlemen with a strangle hold on culture may be one extreme, in the Netherlands we suffer from the other. Reviews of works of culture in the papers are oftentimes as thin as the paper they are printed on. Usually they superficially treat a work and tack on a bit of buyer’s advice. It is painfully obvious that they are written by people who have to write twenty such pieces a day lest they are fired. I write video game reviews in Dutch periodical myself, but looking for my piece in the paper one day, I read a review for a movie I’d been to that was so bad, it brought tears to my eyes. Theater reviews have held their own, but they are hit and miss and you’re better off reading only those written by Simon van den Berg.

As I see it a piece in a newspaper treating a work of culture should be some parts of either a review or a critique and probably a bit of both. A review is a brief summary of a piece without giving much away, explaining how it will fulfill the expectations of a prospective audience so they can decide whether to go/buy/use it or not. A critique should be a deep diving treatment of that piece, how it compares to all other works and how it is relevant to society in any subset that the critic deems relevant. Such a critique should contain judicious amounts of post-modern literary theory, internet savvy remix, unit operational analysis and it should bridge clefts of continuity, medium, style and social stratum. Above all both reviews and critiques must be entertaining to read and they must bring something new to the table.

I get to write 80 words or so for the paper and in that little space I try to do the above because we want to further discourse around video games in the Netherlands. As we see it procedural media are busy upending the entire traditional cultural landscape and strict divisions of any kind in culture and art will not be tenable in the future. The institutions are crumbling and that is a good thing. This is unfortunately a radical notion even in the Netherlands, I have no clue how it will hold up in Germany where institutions are even more conservative and society is much more stratified.

In any case we cannot fill the entire newspaper by ourselves, nor should we want to. We can only strive to educate and elucidate by writing and talking about media in this particular way and hope that it catches on. I’m interested to see if my notions are at all true and if the German or Dutch discourse can be inched forward in the coming year with some choice interventions. Help to achieve that or explanations in how I am completely wrong are always welcome.

Working theory for Germany

I have been in Berlin for a couple of hectic days now and I’m trying to come to terms with my surroundings. I have got a new working theory to use for the foreseeable future. Let’s see how well this holds up:

Germany has not quite recovered from their catastrophical experiment with modernism in the ’30s-’40s. This caused them to fall back and get stuck in a sort of classical romanticism. This stuckness has caused them to skip post-modernism and the developments that came after and is the main reason why its cultural velocity is slow. Some individuals have modernized to a greater or lesser extent and the developments of ’68 have had an effect, but the institutional parts of the country remain firmly entrenched in the past.

As I said, I’m new here and this is two days’ worth of rumination thinly sliced. Comments for amending it are very welcome.

Cameratoezicht conclusie

Ik zou nog schrijven wat de conclusie was van het cameratoezicht op mijn gestolen fiets uit het vorige bericht. Daar stond al hoe je voor dit soort zaken van het kastje naar de muur gestuurd wordt. Ik had nagelaten dit op te schrijven door drukte en frustratie met hoe het gaat in de stad, maar gelukkig herinnerde Rejo Zenger van Bits of Freedom me eraan.

Bijkomend voordeel is dat ik met behulp van ThinkUp mijn tweets van toen kon terugvinden en het verhaal weer aan elkaar kon puzzelen.

Ik had het een beetje opgegeven. Ik moest mijn aangifte afmelden bij een hulpzame agent van het lokale bureau. Toen ik hem vertelde dat er een camera op het plaats delict stond stuurde hij even een patrouille langs die ‘eyes on the scene’ deden en navroegen bij Stadgenoot.

Kort daarna wist hij me te vertellen dat de camera wél van Stadgenoot is ondanks dat Stadgenoot dat ontkende. Alleen volgens Stadgenoot was de camera niet aangesloten en hadden ze dus ook geen beelden van de diefstal.

Daardoor konden we niet anders dan mijn aangifte onverrichter zake sluiten. Als je ergens een fixie ziet met een doorgeroeste Paddy Wagon wielset en eventueel twee spoke cards van de Pariah alley cat, dan is die van mij.

Vragen die blijven naar aanleiding van dit incident:

  • Waarom vertelt Stadgenoot in eerste instantie onwaarheid over hun camera (tweet)? Is dat omdat ze niet beter weten? Hebben ze geen zin in gedoe? Of is het kwade opzet?
  • Kan iedereen een camera plaatsen die gericht is op de openbare weg en dan erbij zeggen dat deze niet functioneert? Wie controleert dat de camera echt niet aangesloten is en blijft (tweet)?

Wat blijft:

Er is geen register van camera’s in de openbare weg en wie ze beheert. Dit maakt het makkelijk voor instanties om je van het kastje naar de muur te sturen zoals Stadgenoot deed.

Elke camera die op de openbare weg gericht is zou een vergunning en registratie moeten hebben of deze nu werkt of niet. Aangezien de functionaliteit van een niet door het normale publiek te controleren is.

Week 247

Another week and another change at the office. One thing that does define the Open Coop is that everything is in a constant state of flux adding jitter so none of us remain stuck in a local optimum. The global optimum we are shooting for in and around our location in North is rather ridiculous but best not shared in public.
Yet another new desk

I flew into Amsterdam on Monday morning (takeoff Schönefeld at 07:20) to a rather broken working day. My locative transgressions leaving at least Peter Robinett confused enough to do something about it. He built me a personal glanceable: Where’s Alper? (write up). That is the best reason to build software: because you need it.

Attended to it by my speaking agent Tessa, I submitted a talk brief to NEXT12 about Love in Time of Gamification. And I registered at Hybrid Plattform in Berlin, looking to see what kind of collaborations come from that.

Waveform (beautiful overpass, no signage)

The rest of Monday and Tuesday were spent preparing a workshop for the Dutch broadcasting corporation the NOS on the topic of data visualization using off the shelf tools. The course was mainly focused on Google’s tools such as Motion Charts, other charts APIs and Fusion Tables but we also managed to touch on some theoretical and ethical questions during the workshop.

Gerrit Hiemstra preparing to tape the weather (sorta amazing to see)

For me it was great to see how far Google’s Fusion Tables offering has come since last I looked at it, becoming a proper tool for big data analysis and visualization for those with the right skills and inclination. Though the data import/export as well as the ties to Google are problematic for corporate customers. It is also very promising how a web savvy group of people as those at the NOS can use the data they have at their disposal to create public facing interactive products. That is the aim and I am very curious what comes out of the NOS during the next year when it comes to data.

After the course I got the obligatory television studio tour and despite having foresworn television some years ago, I could not help but be awed by the studios, the proceedings and the massive disconnect between what happens in physical space in Hilversum and how it is experienced throughout the country. The process of media power at play is an impressive thing to behold.

Amber Case starting off with a literal #50cyborgs lecture

I met with Erik Kroesto talk about the intersection of photography and the internet. And then I went to a lecture in the Facing Forward series by Amber Case and Manuel DeLanda. I had read this piece about Case before and the talk contained not much new and DeLanda who I had got pointed to by Matt Jones very recently took his time to introduce us to genetic algorithms as form finding functions. A laypersons introduction to genetic algorithms for me does not contain anything novel either, but DeLanda delivered it with intelligence and wit, which made it still immensely bearable.

Most surprised I was still at the relative novelty the audience experienced for material that has been old hat in my social sphere for the last couple of years. Tellingly in a room of hundreds there were only a handful of people who had even mentioned the event on Twitter let alone who participated in any kind of discursive backchannel.

Manuel Delanda talking about simulation

I was and still am more interested in DeLanda’s book on simulation. The next day I participated in a workshop in W139 where DeLanda gave me and a bunch of art students an introduction into Realist philosophy as opposed to the other branches.

After work beers in the bus

We ended the week with talking about the communications plan and the merger for Open State (the future foundation into which all of Hack de Overheid and het Nieuwe Stemmen are to be combined).

Hack de Overheid board meeting

This was accompanied with a bunch of festivities among which a Coop party on Thursday, constitutionary drinks on Friday and then off to Utrecht for the Hubbub studio warming. Kars Alfrink has crafted himself an ultra fine place of work and I count myself lucky to be allowed to work there from time to time.

Total chaos playing The Resistance

Occupy hoger onderwijs

Kevin Slavin klaagt op onnavolgbare wijze het bestuur van zijn universiteit de Cooper Union aan waar hij tegenwoordig ook les geeft.

De Cooper Union is een topuniversiteit in de Verenigde Staten waar het onderwijs altijd gratis is geweest (zie Wikipedia). Dit gratis onderwijs werd gefinancierd door donaties en rendement op het eigen vastgoed. Nu is door schimmige beleggingspraktijken en een intransparant en waarschijnlijk corrupt bestuur de voortzetting van dat gratis onderwijs niet meer zeker.

“So as an investor, I challenge you, President Bharucha, the Board, I challenge you to find the real and sustainable resources — transparency, communication, trust, and integrity — resources that can be renewed endlessly. I’ll break my back to build on those and I know that’s true of everyone here.

Do not allow our investment to fail.” —Kevin Slavin

Het lijkt er nu op dat vastgoed-hobbyisme niet alleen in Amerika een nevenactiviteit van universiteitsbesturen is geweest. Bij mijn oude universiteit, de Technische Universiteit van Delft is iets soortgelijks aan de hand. Het NRC bericht dat het goed mis is met de integriteit, de beloningen en de vastgoedportefeuille. De universiteit antwoord met ontkenning en spin (én slechte PR).

Het verbaast ondertussen niemand meer. Het gebrek aan integriteit en transparantie bij mensen die aan de top van grote instituties staan lijkt zich door de gehele samenleving te hebben uitgezaaid. Ik ben afgestudeerd en niet meer persoonlijk betrokken bij mijn alma mater. Maar jammer is het wel.