Sunday, December 25, 2016

Milton Rakove on politics - 2

Recently I found this wonderful book from 1975: Don't make no waves ... don't back no losers by Milton Rakove. It was mentioned in another wonderful book from 2012: The Wrong Answer Faster: The Inside Story of Making the Machine that Trades Trillions by Michael Goodkin.

It does not give answers about our current situation, but it puts some things in perspective. I like its musings on political philosophy. Something resonates with our times. See the quotes below:

Practical politics

They [the city officials] have little concept of broad social problems and social movements. They deal with each other, and with the problems of the community, on a person-to-person, individual basis. They shrink from striking out in new directions, have no interest in blazing new trails, abhor radical solutions to problems, and, in general, resist activism of any sort about anything.

"I got two rules," 29th Ward Committeeman Bernard Neistein confided when asked how he had operated so successfully in politics in Chicago for most of his adult life.
  • The first one is: Don't make no waves.
  • The second one is: Don't back no losers.
[...] Behind those principles is a profound understanding of the relationship between those who hold political power in a society and who operate on a professional level, and those for whom politics is an avocation and a means to a different end.

Those who hold power - those who seek power

[...] Those who hold political power are primarily interested in keeping it, while those professionals who are out of office and interested in office are primarily concerned with taking power from those who hold it. Outside these two groups of activists stands the great mass of the population, which has neither the interest, the ability, nor the intestinal fortitude to engage in what Frank Kent called "the great game of politics." But in a democracy they must be wooed by those who seek political power.

The two groups of activists, those who hold power and those who seek it, traditionally employ different tactics in dealing with the electorate.

Those who seek power must make waves, must raise issues, and must arouse the electorate in order to remove from office those who hold political power. Those in office must keep the electorate quiescent, passive, and disinterested, since an aroused, interested electorate will usually react unfavorably toward those in office. How to keep the electorate quiet? Don't make no waves.

When power seekers get power - they become power holders

[...] when wavemakers and nonprofessionals become officeholders, they soon discover the elemental truth that the best and surest way to stay in office is to adopt the behavior patterns and philosophies of the non-wavemakers and professionals. For they, too, soon discover the truth that the professionals and non-wavemakers always knew - that there is no such thing as the public interest insofar as the electorate is concerned; that the private, self-interests of the various groups that compose the electorate must be appeased; and that this can best be done by appealing to those groups on a personal basis and by concerning oneself with those private interests rather than with broad social problems.

They also discover, after assuming office, that there is no such thing as "new politics" or "old politics," that if they want to stay in office there is something called "politics," a game that has been played since time immemorial by men called "politicians," and that it behooves them to join the ranks and play the game if they wish to survive.

The book
Milton Rakove obituary
Milton Rakove obituary

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Enigmatic books by Adriana Ramić - 3

Enigmatic books - previous posts in this series are here (2011), here (2011), here (2011), here (2013)here (2014), and here (2015).

Still life - Yesterday I visited the third floor of the Witte de With gallery in Rotterdam and I saw this still life:
Archive warning - A heap of thick books is irresistible for me. So I sat down on one of the stools and started exploring the thick volumes. I was alert for heavy lifting because the shape, size and colour of the books said: ARCHIVE! - ENCYCLOPEDIA! - LOGBOOK! Just like the yellow-black warning colours of the  wasp.
This was volume 10 of "Serious elements", pages 7165-7950. Another alert: THIS BOOK IS NOT FOR READING!
Opaque - Upon opening the book I was confronted with seemingly innocuous chapters and paragraphs of English and Dutch text.
 But upon close reading the text yielded no meaning at all. It had the look and feel of normal language but it was totally opaque. Babble, automatic speech, bullshit text from some artistic source.
In all the pages I tried there was not one normal sentence.
I had no idea how the monumental text had been generated: was it a dump of a database? Was it scraped from the website of the gallery? Were these the raw contents of a harddisk? 
Parody and seduction - The long paragraphs of nonsense characters suggested some raw data dump or a misconfigured printer. But what was most striking:
  • The texts were a perfect parody of current art speech. Complicated, theoretical, jargon-laden and content free. Is this all there is? Must it be like this?
  • Even though I knew the books were meaningless, there was a powerful seduction to sit and search the books for any meaning, for some revelation. To come and sit here every day, searching this monumental text. In something so enigmatic something of value must be hidden! *
First explanation - Finally I picked a brochure from the stack and it was - of course - as I had expected. But it was more technological than I had expected:
Please browse through the collection of books on the ground. They present you with a text. It was written by an artificial neural network trained by Adriana Ramić. She decided that the neural network should learn to write texts from the digital archive of Witte de With, which it then taught itself to do.
On the other hand, I couldn't see the difference between the text of a neural network and a text generated by a Markov process, like here and here. Now I'm inspired to experiment with automatic text generation.
Second explanation - I had also noted this postcard-sized photograph hidden in a corner. I'm irresistibly drawn to these nondescript photographs of "something" - "somewhere". And the enigmatic caption made it even better: "i armoric terre lives are a human forms were time." *
The brochure gave the solution for this mini-mystery:
The selection of works forms a cryptic arrangement. It is Adriana Ramić's interpretation of the neural network's text. Is it possible to order an archive in a way so that it tells the same to everyone?

* There must be a pony somewhere:
** Typing this text in a search engine yields: Hepatitis B, Schlumberger Global Stewardship, Jobs at Kroger, United States Army, Terre des Hommes, Mobile Forms Software, The Day the Earth Stood Still and Population Clock.


Christof Mascher at Galerie Rianne Groen

I'm a fan of the Gallery Rianne Groen. The gallery is located in a quiet side street (Schietbaanstraat 21) of the Nieuwe Binnenweg in Rotterdam. The art is always interesting and surprising. The works are of museum quality, are moderately priced (in the 1000 - 5000 euro range) and totally worth the money. Unfortunately still far above my pay grade.

A few weeks ago I saw the exhibition by Christof Mascher (it closed on 3 december). I like the pictures very much.
Guppy 13, 25x18,5 cm, watercolour, indian ink and pencil on paper
They use classic technique and materials. Nothing much happens in them. But they have a magic quality for me. They show the surface of the world together with things below that surface. Innocuous landscapes with hidden mysteries. In them I recognize  my feelings about the city.
Blurry car, 25x19cm, watercolour, indian ink and pencil on paper
There are strong moods in these landscapes and vistas. Seasons are changing, weather patterns are changing. Something is patiently waiting and brooding. I would like to enter the landscapes, sit on a bench and watch, listen and feel. It would be peacefully melancholic.
Novel, 95x70cm, oil on canvas
Many the pictures feel like illustrations for a novel. They are introductory paragraphs, the stories are just beginning to take shape. For now everything looks normal, but discoveries will be made, mysteries will be revealed.