Week 265: Tatort debate, presentations, writing about theater, reading

The week before last (I’m running one week behind), was a good weak. Easter Monday was spent cleaning up the house which is now finally fully operational and fit to live in.

Return to normalcy (= bike + awesome coffee)

Tuesday was spent getting back on top of work.

Letting the poster hang out overnight

In the evening I got tipped of by Mathias Schindler that there would be a talk in St. Oberholz about the value of free knowledge. I visited it but it was more of a free for all with the writer spouting their well trodden arguments (and quite a bit of gibberish) and Mathias doing much of the same.

I have written before about how copyright in Germany is locked up in a fierce protectionist policy that benefits only those that have something to lose and not those with something to gain. Germany’s cultural production is not even that interesting for the world at large, but the biggest reason to maintain it: it employs a lot of people. The debate right now is strangely being dominated by ‘Tatort-autoren’ which is odd since the show is on public television and quite dull.


The transition to more dynamic (i.e. not as strictly regulated) copyright is underway and the more the powers try to protect copyright, the more they expedite its demise. It still must be painful for the Tatort man and all those in his camp to be so very much on the wrong side of history.

Also, I’m going to talk about our agency working model —the “Heist” model— at an upcoming Hybrid Talks.

Talking about copyright, on Wednesday the Pirate Party hit 13% in a national poll. I’m also going to present about open transit data in the Abgeordnetehaus Berlin alongside Stefan Wehrmeyer and other notables on an invitation by the Greens.

At the end of the week I went to DAM to see the Blind Sequence Trust exposition by Joan Leandre. I wrote about my impressions of that exposition which is very much recommended seeing.

Joan Leandre - Blind Sequence Trust

I also wrote quite a bit about theater that week it seems. A piece about what you should see in the Schaubühne and a piece about the German/Dutch theater debate I attended at the Deutsches Theater some time ago.

I also fixedbetter Tijs’s version of the Anobii to GoodReads exporter and moved my books over there where you can find my reading. And I wrote a bit about how Jan Chipchase’s experiment pertains to the design of withdrawn objects.

The end of the week was marked by an impromptu visit by prof. Scheiber to Berlin which was celebrated with pints of Augustiner and Korean food.

Shrimp Flavored Twist Snack

Designing in the Face of Defeat

Jan Chipchase’s ‘Red Mat’ design experiment is brilliant by itself, but is goes much further than being just a design experiment.

The opening of the essay that sets the contextual framework for the project is for me the most interesting part:

By now there are very few people left on the planet that aren’t in some way impacted by globalisation – as producers and consumers – those few who make a decision to opt-out must do so consciously. Yet our touch points to this interconnected system that churns out ever more, ever faster inherently limits our understanding of the whole. We can talk about globalisation, buy into it, buy from it, demonstrate against it, but for most of us its scale and complexity defies comprehension. Part of the machine is dedicated to designing, prototyping, testing and pushing to market connected products and services that know more about us, than we ever will about them.

It’s as if we were standing on the top of a hill and are now running at full pelt into the fog below – not quite knowing what lies ahead, letting gravity and momentum carry us, and doing our best to avoid the silhouettes of objects as they loom into view, chased by the fear of stopping.

We are living in an increasingly interconnected, and increasingly automated world. The consequences of our actions may be road-mapped, extrapolated, scenarioed, but ultimately, at best it is smart guesswork.

Chipchase posits products and services as withdrawn objects that are unknowable to us by their scale and complexity but both of those are just symptoms of the unknowability of objects in general. This is in line with most of the current thinking on objects in speculative realism.

For us designers, makers the question then is: given such a bleak view of knowability in the world at large and of objects in particular, what are successful strategies for creating these products and services. More succinctly: How do we design in the face of defeat?

The writing about the new aesthetic that has reached a tipping point in the last week is one way of dealing with —or at least cataloging— the algorithmic complexity in the world around us, but as Chipchase’s welcome mat shows, all objects carry with them so much weight that even the simplest ones become unfathomably complex.

I’m mulling over how to proceed. One preliminary idea: we should do away with all strategic design and business theory and just make things. But then again, we were already doing that.

Blind Sequence Trust

De serie video’s Blind Sequence Trust van kunstenaar Joan Leandre speelt in DAM nog tot en met 5 mei.

Joan Leandre - Blind Sequence Trust

Leandre is een kunstenaar die al decennia lang bezig is met het gebruiken van computer 3D engines van allerlei vormen om verhalen te vertellen en emoties op te roepen. Het werk zoals dat in DAM te zien is, is lastig te plaatsen, maar zowel de beelden als de muziek zijn bijzonder goed uitgevoerd waardoor dingen die niets met elkaar te maken lijken te hebben, toch weten te boeien.

De geavanceerde 3D engines die nu beschikbaar zijn maken het ogenschijnlijk makkelijk om complete werelden te schetsen en te manipuleren. Werelden die zich alleen niet houden aan de regels van de werkelijkheid maar er zelf eentje creëeren waarin alles kan. Leandre put uit science-fiction en de natuur voor zijn werk en maakt daar uitgebreide bewegende collages van.

Het hergebruiken van deze 3D engines zorgt voor een verwarrend resultaat. De artefacten van 3D engines zijn terug te zien net zoals de billboards waarmee bomen worden gerendered en de particle systems die normaal gesproken zorgen voor explosies, rook en vuur. Buiten de game-logica geplaatst krijgen deze effecten een totaal andere lading.

De artiest zelf geeft in dit Rhizome-interview allerhande verklaringen voor zijn werk maar zoals zo vaak bij dit soort dingen, klinkt het naar wartaal. Beter is het om zelf naar het werk te kijken en je te laten meevoeren.

What the Schaubühne is about

Yesterday night I went to see Maß für Maß (Measure for Measure by Shakespeare) at die Schaubühne here in Berlin and it marked the first occasion where I saw a play directed by the intendant of that theater Thomas Ostermeier himself (see this Guardian piece for a bit of background).

Picture by Arno Declair

Up until that moment I had seen lots of pieces by other directors at the same house which were —I’m afraid to say— quite boring, almost all except for this one: Die Macht der Finsternis by Michael Thalheimer. The dance pieces that Falk Richter makes together with Anouk van Dijk are also very much worth watching, but not theater really.

Maß für Maß has its issues of course but as said it is astonishingly better than the other plays at the same venue. It is one of Shakespeare’s predictable problem plays. So predictable in fact, that you could remove the final half hour and you would not want for closure in the story. At times this performance is too much aimed at the aged and distinguished Schaubühne audience whose tastes and sense of humor diverge somewhat from ours, but that is to be expected. What was most refreshing was the uncompromising physical brutality of several scenes. A welcome breath of fresh air, not to mention the splashes of water, in a local theater climate that prides itself on stuffiness.

A Dutch theater debate in Berlin

A week or two ago I attended a discussion at the Deutsches Theater ‘Holland in Not’ that was organized because of a recently published book “Der Kulturinfarkt, vom Allem zu viel und überall das Gleiche” that proposed to close half of all theaters in Germany.

That prompted quite a bit of debate in the German cultural scene as well as the discussion at the DT. The event hosted by the Deutsches Theater brought together notables from the German theater scene and invited Alize Zandwijk (head of the Ro Theater) and Johan Simons (intendant of the Münchner Kammerspiele) to explain the Dutch situation to the gathered Germans.

Bizarrely posh environment, here for a debate about theater cuts

What had to be laid out again for the audience is that German and Dutch theater are organized very differently. In Germany the theaters have their own ensembles that play a broad range of repertoire in their own house but seldom or never visit other houses in Germany. That means that in a certain area you know what you will get, but you will also never get anything else. In the Dutch situation, groups are separate from theaters (though some have their home venues) and each play is performed on tour through the Netherlands. Theaters are free to program whatever they want. When it comes to funding and entrepreneurship, the Dutch systems is already operating quite lean with a lot of free groups and experiments creating a lively theater scene (most of which is going to disappear). In Germany theater is concentrated in monolithic houses that are endowed lavish budgets.

Explaining just those differences, which some panelists also had to come to terms with, took a lot of time. The rest was filled with rallying the known entities against the barbarians outside of the gates. No amount of misrepresentation or reassurance was spared to achieve that goal. Alize Zandwijk and Johan Simons played their role of cultural asylums seekers well supported by the Germans proclaiming loudly that they will never let it go so far.

What happened in the Netherlands (the Times has also picked it up) was inevitable in retrospect. I wonder if none of our artists have ever read The Art of War. It stands to reason that if you neglect your allies, let your supply lines wither and do not maintain your fortresses, you open yourself up to attack from any rag-tag band of marauders that happen to be in the area (or in government). That is what has happened to an arts sector that had become utterly complacent and lax thinking that they were beyond dispute. Such arrogance will and should be punished.

Things move much more slowly in Germany and abrupt cuts will probably not happen. Some budgetary restrictions and reorganizations might well benefit the theater landscape here if employed with vision but even that seems unlikely. The Dutch example is useful to scare off critical discussion of the scene here.

Alize Zandwijk made a defeated impression and was quite incoherent. Simons remarked that as an intendant he enters into a dialogue with the city, develops a discourse and as such has a lot of authority but if he has to leave, his institution will not be diminished. The intendant of the Deutsches Theater showed that he is on the ball and wants to nip sentiments such as the ones in the book in the bud.

However well intentioned the debate was, it did at no point leave the realm of cliché and touch the real issue at hand: the devaluation of authority everywhere in society. Authority that intendants in Germany are used to having and will probably have for decades to come because of inflexibilities built into German society. In the Netherlands that same authority has evaporated and none of our culture heads know what to do without it.

One panelists said the audience based grants that are planned in the Netherlands will be the purest form of commercialization of the arts. You could call it that, but you may just as well call it a democratization that has been long overdue. Not trusting people to be able to make the right choices is rarely a good idea. Telling them that you know what is best for them based on an authority that is no longer justified in this day and age is a sure fire recipe for disaster.

As if to emphasize that notion, the gathered audience —having listened to over an hour of turgid debate— was not allowed to interject afterwards. With such an attitude the fortresses of high culture in Germany may be stormed as well.

Post Scriptum

The last couple of years I have seen an insane amount of theater compared to everybody I know. I should be one of theater’s staunchest defenders but having seen so much with so little change, risk and openness I find myself being their biggest detractor. Simons mentioned that the Brandhaarden they played in Amsterdam had been fully booked. If anywhere in the Netherlands there is still a market for the arts and left liberal politics it is indeed there.

From that same festival I had recommended the Kane trilogy to a friend but given it’s rather high ticket price and the fact that theater is a hit and miss affair, I found myself advising spending that time and money playing Mass Effect 3 (at the price of two theater tickets) as a better investment overall.

It is no secret that I think games are the most important cultural carrier of our age but my issues run deeper. A sector that says it creates culture of societal importance, but that cannot mount a viable defense for itself refutes the premise. It shows that what you pay for as a spectator and a tax payer is not much more than self-importance.

Week 264: playable prototypes and Open State

Last week was crazy hectic, notwithstanding the fact that I was ill at the same time. Sickness and deadlines are not fun, but thankfully both were survived.

Today's office

What had to be done was the prototype iPhone app for the first playtest of saba. Which was finished in the nick of time with programming sprints that ended later and later into the night.

Today's office

Then it was a train on Friday to Amsterdam for the Open State board meeting followed by the more general strategy day on Saturday. A lot of fun was had and important things were discussed during the weekend (see this write-up by Natasja Trifkovic), which makes it all worthwhile, but some downtime would be welcome at this point.

Open State Foundation Strategy

Week 263: short trip to the Netherlands

Last week commenced with preparing my presentation for the CrossLab event in Rotterdam. On Tuesday I took the train from Berlin and got there nicely in time.

Nice design

The face of Rotterdam is changing massively and visibly right now with the construction of a new central station that is going to be architecturally impressive:
Rotterdam, it has been a while.

Glad to see so many friends out for the event it was great to present a new aesthetic, algorithmic design (& peril) presentation to the audience of Rotterdam designers.

Wednesday it was off to meet a client in the Bijlmer and then a workday at the Coop.
Today's Office

Thursday I called at Utrecht among other things to celebrate the first anniversary of The Village Coffee and Music. Their continued presence makes working in Utrecht more than bearable.

Happy first birthday Village

The other pleasure is hanging out all day at Hubbub base where a lot of things are on the burner waiting to get shipped.
Today's office

I got to play Hokra at Tweetakt which is one of the social games that are programmed there. The other Joust is pictured below and got a lot of play time:
Joust at Tweetakt

[unnamed] is the best kept secret of Berlin

We live in perhaps one of the nicest parts of Berlin I am finding out. It has every thinkable amenity: highly specialized stores, a diverse assortment of restaurants and cafés with some real gems. Our house is smack in the center of this in walking distance of three major U lines. If you talked to me recently you probably know where this is at, but for the purpose of this blogpost I’m going to play mum.

Tourists are few and far between and those that make it out here seem to have a purpose about them. It was noticeable when I took some Dutch friends for breakfast around here that the proprietors’ reactions bordered on the annoyed. Rightly so. The part of Berlin where I’m living has been doing fine and does not need to become a tourist/expat infested over-gentrified hipster slum.

We invite new arrivals to go to the same places everybody else is settling in —I hear Wedding is going to be the next big thing— and please don’t bother us. We may hold out another comfortable ten years over here.