Thank you xkcd. When I am alienated behind my computer screen, cut off from my fellow humanity, plugged into a soulless machine that shortens my attention span and alters the natural (sic.) way my mind and my body are supposed to work, you never fail to give me solace.
- Francesca, Facebook, 2013

Thank you xkcd. When I am alienated behind my computer screen, cut off from my fellow humanity, plugged into a soulless machine that shortens my attention span and alters the natural (sic.) way my mind and my body are supposed to work, you never fail to give me solace.

- Francesca, Facebook, 2013


Excerpts from Aaron Swartz’s series Raw Nerve, post “Lean into the pain”

Most people treat psychological pain like the hot stove — if starting to think about something scares them or stresses them out, they quickly stop thinking about it and change the subject.

The problem is that the topics that are most painful also tend to be the topics that are most important for us: they’re the projects we most want to do, the relationships we care most about, the decisions that have the biggest consequences for our future, the most dangerous risks that we run. We’re scared of them because we know the stakes are so high. But if we never think about them, then we can never do anything about them.

Yes it’s painful, but the trick is to make that mental shift. To realize that the pain isn’t something awful to be postponed and avoided, but a signal that you’re getting stronger — something to savor and enjoy.

Pretty soon, when you start noticing something that causes you psychic pain, you’ll get excited about it, not afraid.

You’ll seek out things you’re scared of and intentionally confront them, because it’s an easy way to get the great rewards of self-improvement. Dalio suggests thinking of each one as a puzzle, inside of which is embedded a beautiful gem. If you fight through the pain to solve the puzzle, you unlock it and get to keep the gem.

The trick is: when you start feeling that psychological pain coming on, don’t draw back from it and cower — lean into it. Lean into the pain.

In agile software development, there’s a phrase: If it hurts, do it more often.

For example, imagine Jane and Joan are working on a software project together. They both have a copy of the code; Jane is making the error messages friendlier while Joan is adding a new feature. They both work on their task for days and days until it’s finally done. Now they face a problem: they need to merge their different changes back together.

It’s incredibly annoying — and doing it with software is way worse. So people put it off. Jane thinks “you know, let me just make the thank you messages a little nicer before we merge” and Joan thinks “you know, let me add just one more feature before we merge”.

They keep putting the merge off, and every time they do the task gets bigger and more painful. But they have to do it eventually. By then, the merge is so big that it takes days of painstaking work just to piece together the already-written code. It’s an arduous, painful process — which makes Joan and Jane just want to put it off even longer next time.

The agile approach, however, is to do the opposite: merging hurts, so we’ll do it more often. Instead of merging every couple weeks, or every couple months, we’ll merge every single day, or every couple hours. Even if Jane and Joan aren’t even close to finished with their work, they’ll check in what they have so far (maybe with some special code deactivating it until it’s finished) so they don’t end up in merge hell later on. These very small merges tend not to be painful at all, they’re so easy that you hardly even notice.

And I don’t think it’s limited to software. I think the same principle would work even if, for some odd reason, you were required to touch a hot stove for an hour. Procrastinating and putting it off until you had no choice but to hold your hand to the stove for a full hour would end up being very painful. But if you did it in small frequent bits, just quick taps of the stove with your finger that eventually added up to an hour, it wouldn’t be so bad at all. Again, the trick is not to run from the pain.

it’s not that the pain is so bad that it makes me flee, it’s that the importance of the topic triggers a fight-or-flight reaction deep in my reptile brain. If instead of thinking of it as a scary subject to avoid, I think of it as an exciting opportunity to get better, then it’s no longer a cost-benefit tradeoff at all: both sides are a benefit — I get the benefits of being good at selling and the fun of getting better at something.

Do this enough times and your whole outlook on life begins to change.

Next time you start feeling that feeling, that sense of pain from deep in your head that tells you to avoid a subject — ignore it. Lean into the pain instead. You’ll be glad you did.

Death in Catalunya

Walter Benjamin killed himself in Catalunya fleeing from the nazis. Before that, he spent a lot of his time thinking about the dynamics of perception, media and technology in industrial times. Through his way of writing he conceived the concept and philosophy of the dialectical image.

In a dialectical image multiple perspectives condensate into a shared space, creating a new ever-emerging entity, a fusion through resonance. This resonating fusion is not the ‘meaning’ of the image, as the meaning is continuously fleeting. Likewise, categories and borders are but some of the fluid elements of the dialectical image, they do not define it’s structure. The fusion is the simultaneous extension and contraction generated by the resonating multiplicity in the experiencing body encountering a dialectical image. An image becomes, expresses itself with and within a body.

For Benjamin the dialectical image was more than a mere concept, also a way of thinking and writing based on showing, rather than telling. First and formost a method for/of thought, bringing together pieces from which new images can be perceived.

There’s a park at the landing of Montjuïc that carries his name. I encountered a strange looking tree there, called palo borracho blanco or white drunken pole. Like a big spiky branched pear. No leaves did it have then in January, just yellow flowers.

The day before I found that park, Aaron Swartz had killed himself. Soon after, a newly formed new media artists group called Chinos International CC constructed an interactive installation as a tribute to his ideas and actions.

Interactive installation connected to the Web that allows users to control a robotic arm through Twitter that pays a tribute to Aaron Swartz – Web developer and activist of open knowledge and Internet freedom that has suicided in 2013. Every time the user activate the piece by using the hashtag #OpenTeaching the robot sends an email to teachers inviting them to post their classroom lectures on Web.

Philosopher Alva Noë pondering on the importance of the environment for the workings of the mind.

I think that human beings are in a very interesting way a tool-using creature. People sometimes think “we use tools, that’s part of culture, then there’s biology…”but actually I think we are tool users by nature, we are biological designers, we are designers by nature. And tools extend our bodies and extend our minds, language extends our mind, the stick I use to get the apple down the tree extends my body.

Full lecture:

Funambulista is a playful installation but has the intention to question the daily nature of our lives in western world society, and to raise awareness of the number of commercial and political intrusions we experience daily in our lives. The piece invites the user to be a tight rope walker traveling unstably over the world. A bar is placed above a Google Earth projection on the floor. The user walks on the bar controlling the map with her movements. If she falls down, the map is zoomed in to the coordinates where she is standing and receives audiovisual representations of legal terms and conditions.

Chinos worked hard, day and night, to prepare the installation for this years’ Sónar. You remake it every time you are going to mount it somewhere anew, calibrate the technology to take into consideration the height and movement of the bodies balancing on the pole. Work on the content.

And displaying it in Sónar, well… they ask you to sign another set of terms and conditions, for they take no responsibility if someone injures themselves trying the installation. No matter they provide the alcohol. They don’t pay you either. They give you tickets for you and your friends, which is great to enjoy the party and explore the art but does not quite pay your rent of your next meal.

A part of making Funambulista involves hacking Google Earth. Google was at Sónar too. Came to have a look at it, said nothing, and left.

Excerpt from an article in El País on Sónar 2013

En Market Lab destaca la presencia de Funambulista, una instalación interactiva de Eva Domènech, producida en el Master Universitario de Artes Digitales de IDEC (Universidad Pompeu Fabra). La pieza invita el usuario a convertirse en un funambulista, caminando sobre una barra de equilibrio que atraviesa las regiones inestables del mundo, reproducidas en el suelo a través de mapas extrapolados de Google Earth. Funambulista es a la vez una exploración de la inestabilidad social, económica, política y moral del mundo y una llamada para despertar la conciencia del visitante sobre lo que la autora llama terms and conditions, entendidos como cualquier tipo de imposición de condiciones e obligaciones que acatamos diariamente en nuestra vida cotidiana, aunque ni siquiera podemos acordarnos de cuándo los hemos aceptados.

At six o’clock on a Saturday morning in the Parc de la Ciutadella, we were running from the sudden heavy downpour of rain, finding shelter under that typical octagonal park building where you would have an orchestra playing if there’d be an event. As we got up the stairs, we saw - smack in the center of it, curled up in a sleeping bag like a caterpillar, no-one else but Luther Blissett himself.

Our steps woke him up as the sounds of our feet echoed in the acoustical structure we had entered. He recognised us and invited us to take a seat on the floor. He cleared his throat and said “Glad you could drop by, just the people I wanted to see. I heard you guys organised an Art Strike recently, during the Night of Museums. An Art Strike, is that so?” We nodded while sitting down next to him. He looked at us with an expression of total indifference. “Hmmm yeah. How original. This has happened before. Done and done. As you well know. Still, you repeated it”, he blurred out with no emotion. But then his face changed, lit up with a smile we had never seen before in our lives. “By the way, do you have any tobacco to spare?” he asked, with sparkling eyes big as plates. We handed him a tobacco pouch, and he continued talking while rolling a cigarette.

“So, guys, our ability to imagine makes us social beings, it’s the basis of art, language, science, religion, all that stuff we start doing and learning about from the moment we are born into this world. Each and every one of us have their our reality in a sense, the contexts we are born into, pass through, bring with us, create and so on. And yet we are part of the same social and artistic texture. We do not stand separate from the continuous process of sociocultural weaving, the forming of realities. For we are both the weavers and the threads, forming textures, patterns and uncontrollable bolts of colour. And this has nothing to do with the idea, role, concept, identity of the “artist”, this is how the world works. If I may be so presumptuous to say that I know how the world works,” he paused, taking a long in-breath lighting the cigarette.

“What we find in our hands,” he continued, blowing smoke straight into our faces, as if wanting to share it with us, “Where we find ourselves entangled in might not always be pretty, but there is no stepping out. To say we share some sort of collective imagination as social beings in nothing pretty,” he continued, waving his cigarette towards us. “Then again, this collective imaginary could be approached poetically, I guess”, leaning back and taking another drag.

”But can we change the images we are projecting, and those being projected onto us? How this collective imagination is created, is it created by museums, cultural and social institutions in general, or by the crisis, or is it created by artists, or the people going to a free night at the museum? We should be all part of the same artistic and cultural texture… right?” He fell silent and raised his head, looking at the octagonal roof above us. A mysterious grin appeared on his lips, his finger pointing up, signalling us to raise our eyes as well. We looked up, and there it was, written in fat black maker “Looking at the ceiling you won’t see the solution”.

“Well,” he said, lowering his eyes,“one thing is for sure – Art Strike is now part of your reality. Going out together to the streets, to the people waiting in the endless waiting lines of the Night of the Museums, and saying “We are a bunch of confused artists, we are not quite sure what we could do for society at this moment of precariousness, would you tell me what you think, while you are standing and waiting here? And why are you here in this endless line tonight? Am I supposed to be producing art so you could stand in such a line once a year? Or if I choose not to produce, will this strike last forever?”. Reflexion starts by asking ourselves and the person next to us what we are doing here. Are we actually a community, and could we be a multitude?

You gave your uncertainties a form of inaction in action. Stop producing does not mean stop doing or creating, but stop following the “set” ways of capitalistic production/consumption cycles without thinking. And of course thinking does not “happen” in our heads, thinking emerges from action, when our bodies are involved with the environment, in activity with other bodies and materials. Honestly admitting that the effects of our actions are unpredictable, and most likely with little impact on the large scheme of things, does not need to bring about a sense of despair. It brings about the focus on the affective potential and social value of poetic inaction. In action. Are you following me?” he asked, noticing our pensive looks. While he was talking, every one of us had gone down the road of internal pondering, where we all encountered the same issue. Luther knew what it was, as the doubts we were having had been voiced before in the multitude. “You are worried if you can actually listen and communicate with the context you find yourself in… what was the first thing I said – imagination makes us social beings. Feed the imagination. When something changes within, everything changes without.

Well, the rain has stopped and it is almost day now,” he finished suddenly in a loud voice, and we felt like we had waken from a dream. “You should be off your way now, art does not strike by itself, more inactivities are to be done, right? Continuity is the key, you said, continue then,” he reminded us. “Thanks for dropping by and thanks for the cigarette,” Luther Blissett finished by flipping the cigarette butt with his fingers into the morning light and pulling the sleeping bag over his head again, as if shapeshifting from caterpillar to cocoon.

Documentary about street art in Barcelona by Aleix Gordo Hostau and Gustavo López Lacalle.

"From 2000 -2004, Barcelona enjoyed a Golden Age of street art and muralism, which spawned the careers of many famous Spanish artists. In 2006, the local government began to enforce strict laws and penalise artists for illustrating their urban environments. Today, Spain is in the midst of a deep economic crisis and unemployment has the highest rate of all history. Cultural spending across the board has been slashed, and yet the local Barcelona Government spends 8 million euros a year on cleaning up the city from street art. It also does not mind collecting vast sums of money from advertisers who choose to drape their corporate branding all over Barcelona’s many beautiful old buildings but they don’t view that as urban visual pollution.”

The film that enveloped me in visual anthropology, Jean Rouch’s and Edgar Morin’s Chronique d’un eté. Asking one question among the people living in Paris in 1961 - “Are you happy?”, questioning what is truth. 

It’s not a surprise that the core issues are still very much relevant in 2013. 

Rouch was on of the most active anthropologists working with a visual medium at the time, thinking along lines like these:

"What are these films? What barbarian name can distinguish them from any others? Do they really exist as a separate form? I still don’t know, but I do know that there are few rare moments when the filmgoer suddenly understands an unknown language without the help of subtitles, when he participates in strange ceremonies, when he finds himself walking in towns or across terrain that he has never seen before but that he recognizes perfectly… A miracle such as this could only be produced by cinema (…) a mysterious contact is established. Perhaps it is a close-up of an African smile, a Mexican winking at the camera, the gesture of a European which is so everyday that no one would dream of filming it. All these force the crystallization of a bewildering facet of reality."

More info on Jean Rouch

Video link to film in French with Spanish subtitles.