20181031-1101: JFK | Gatwick

Sutphin Blvd-Archer Ave-Jamaica station is the collision site of suitcase-wielding global travelers and hyperlocal homeless folks who are begging for unused metro cards, spare change and delivering threats to anyone who touches them. The travelers, who are mostly white, try to ignore the vagrants, who are mostly black, although it’s clear that not only does everyone see and flinch for a moment in fear, but they take a final note on their way out of New York; the former treat this area like a purgatory through which to pass before reaching a promised land; the latter treat the area as an fishing hole to try to lure those sympathetic tourists one last time.

The station architecture must be the identical twin of the Port Authority, separated at birth: similarly it houses the visual repository of every suburban mothers’ worst dreams, Time Square circa 1980. Jockeying through the crowd and defunct escalator, one gasps for air outside the station entrance, where one sees Europa Bar, a gentleman’s club which may or may not be open for business, but still has a 2.5-star rating on Google maps. Options.

Norwegian air is considered an economy airline but I made amends with my overweight luggage costs by considering the costs simply part of my flight fee, which, although would not have been the cheapest, it would have still been cheaper than some airlines and with the luggage costs would have been part of other airlines’ fees also. The flight was on a 787 Boeing Dreamliner. Gorgeous plane; this was the first time I've ridden one. They didn't overlook any opportunity to remind the passengers of the features of the plane, which include blue LED lighting to be more relaxing, improved air circulation to reduce jet lag, and nine toilets, asymmetrically distributed through the cabin. The nearest to me was adjacent to the mast of the central seating row, on the starboard side. The most expedient way to get to the bathroom was to pass in front of the central row, between a wall and three passengers' feet. A British couple seated there had been complaining about another couple who sat in my row–who appeared to be a mid-50s gym-junky and his busty, exotic wife 15 years his junior. The gym-junkies kept accessing their luggage, which was stowed above the Brits. I had overheard the gym-junky apologizing at one point, and earlier I had suggested the husband go to the bathroom across the aisle when I saw him waiting to pass someone in my aisle who was waiting for the bathroom. About an hour into the flight I went to the bathroom, also passing in front of them. On my return, I found the woman slouching down, almost lying in her seat, with her toe against the wall, in what I would learn as an attempt to inhibit my passage. When I excused myself to pass, her husband said, "I'm sorry but you're not supposed to pass through here," and extended his foot also. Without pausing I simply stepped over both to of them and then asked of him, "Oh really?"

Being over international waters, and neither of them wearing a Norwegian airlines uniform, I wondered about their expectations in dictating my behavior, or expressing their disfavor in having people passing in front of them. I wonder if their tickets were more expensive and advertised greater leg room.

The notion that there is some set of international etiquette as best understood by the British is a lingering sentiment from the Age of the British empire. The sense that one is entitled firstly to free space in a (pseudo) public forum and second that one has the right to try to enforce it is a disposition that has a specific point in the matrices of self-value and self-righteousness. Another, different point, is feeling that one doesn't want to impede, doesn't belong, or prefers to accommodate. The element of assertion and attraction to confrontation is unique. Of course, the disposition to face opposition, look it in the face and step over it, is unique also.

I’ve been anticipating this trip for over a year and what I recall of the positive excitement has evaporated. Now I’m just tired and stressed, trying to recall how to get back to creativity. Is creativity the way to positivity or the other way around?

The mental image of this trip has shifted from being solo to Vanesa accompanying me to being single but her being in Spain to a few couple trips while in residence. Mental images–creating them, befriending them, carrying them, spending time with them takes energy; recreating one, or aborting one is exhausting. Most recently, I've been looking at this trip as a chance to escape the daily horror that is the United States since Trump has taken office. The last week was particularly intense. It began with my patron-saint, George Soros, receiving a bomb in the mail. On Wednesday, CNN, located two blocks from my office received a bomb. The whole week was tense. When the finally caught the guy and some repose was in order, a psychopath attacked and killed 11 people worshipping in a Pittsburgh synagogue, in the neighborhood of a coworker. So my escape to Graz is a much-needed pause from the calamity that is the United States.

In the last months, my preparations have shifted from familiarizing myself with basic A1.1 German to reading about colonial era waste management. Most of the literature is academic and dry, with the exception of Daniel DeFoe’s Journal of a Plague Year. What’s remarkable about DeFoe is that his book is both about the utopian idea of a city and the description of calamity. In addition to being a proponent of the narrative form, DeFoe’s work is distinct from the canon of European plague literature that is ripe with existential and religious skepticism.

Technically my preparation has included buying more filming equipment, as I'm imagining two forms of production: studio interviews and ambulatory footage. It seems a shame to travel across the world and not walk around a city. But certainly, I've overpacked, or perhaps I should have brought a bigger crew.

The last time I was in London Gatwick was following the inside advice of Bob Limbocker who told me it would be cheaper to get to Barcelona by first laying over in London and then taking a cheaper regional airline. That was my introduction to Ryanair and easyjet. I had not recalled any details from that leg of that journey but visiting it now, I recall the place.

London Gatwick doesn't seem to have a distinctly planned shape but rather extensions that mutated off of various passageways as a necessity arose. Labyrinthian would describe it if there were only one possible exit or entrance, instead all passages seem to egress.

The area for special needs–blind, aged, or immobile–is especially humane and impressive. Immediately upon seeing it I noticed how many people were in the airport who were coming from or going to the area, or who were relying on the signage and symbols that emanated from it. It was awe-inspiring and beautiful to see some types of persons that my city doesn't accommodate traveling internationally.

I will say only this of JFK airport: TSA is a terrorist disorganization. Pure chaos. Pure stress, served with an appetizer of boredom. Ocasio-Cortez talks about ICE needing to be abolished, but I vote for abolishing TSA first. Since 2002, this theater has been diligently seeking out the rudest, least friendly, least intelligent members of American society and given them a position of encumbrance. The systematic security passage and friendliness of London Gatwick makes JFK look like FEMA in an emergency situation. In the 17 years since 9/11, the English have created rolling, hand-powered conveyor belts that carry empty trays below a doubled-wide table that allows six people to undress or unpack their bags while a person waits behind them. Whichever person finishes first, can pass his tray behind the tray of the anterior person via a second rolling table, through the x-ray screening. I would estimate that are 20 of such stations, which are fed by a complex web of stanchion paths, which are administered by a team of five individuals, one who sends travelers down a pathway of 1 of 5 pathways, which terminate at a junction of four possible paths which are administered by another individual.

Vueling didn't charge me extra for my overweight luggage. Nor did they weigh my carry-on bag. The flight itself was about 10% occupied, although my row was fully occupied by two medium-sized, rotund Austrians. Of the 11 rows in front of me, four people were seated. But the two men who sat next to me were very courteous and well mannered, as one expects from Austrians.

Arriving to Vienna I picked up my luggage and noticed the City Express train selling tickets throughout the airport. Many airports offer this sort of privately operated transportation services targeted at tourists. They remind me of the children who beg for money from tourists in many city centers of poorer countries. Local travelers and those familiar with the city prefer to take the local transport; in Vienna that's OBB. I bought my ticket to Graz at the same time, for 39 euros.

We passed a cemetery with high, rock walls. I wondered if they are walling people in or out. A group of military men were getting into their cars, parked outside the cemetery gates.

There is a lot of graffiti along the train line corridors.

I got off at Rennweg and rolled my suitcase to my airbnb on Landstraßer Hauptstraße. My host sent me the combination for the key outside the door and I entered into the darkening passageway, not thinking to look for a light switch. The instructions were for apartment 10 on the first floor, but I forgot that the ground floor is zero in Europe, until a neighbor pointed me up to the first floor. The apartment is palatial but sparse. Every door hinge cried for oil. The toilet, a typical German style, ventilated to the hallway entrance to the apartment. I presume if one forgets his keys he could wiggle through this window. There are three bedrooms in the apartment, each with a number over the door. There are three hundred reviews for this place, and I presume that all three rooms appear like mine: two single beds with red sheets, and lumpy pillow, a gray comforter, folded to fit, a green recliner with matching footrest, table and two chairs. Curtains.

I dropped my things, showered and walked out to see the neighborhood. I learned that there was an U Bahn station only three blocks from the apartment, while my OBB station was almost 15 minutes walking. I found a T Mobile store, which was closed prior to termination of business hours, at which point I learned today was a holiday, All Saints Day.

The streets were quiet. No business was playing music. Only restaurants and bars were open. People whispered on the sidewalk. No honking. It was tranquil. A horse and carriage passed down the street; above it were Christmas lights hanging, waiting to turned on. My hunger hadn't caught up to the new schedule, so I decided to go to bed at 8 pm.

20181102: Wein | Schaumbad

I woke at 6 am and texted Vanesa, who was still awake partying with the Telenovela that was sleeping on our couch. With only the morning in Vienna, I made haste into the crisp air, before the businesses opened, before the workers started their commute, before crowds formed.

My first stop was Stephensplatz. I wanted to film the Graben public bathrooms, which claim to be the oldest functioning public toilets in the world. Outside of the Herren bathroom were men working PVC piping into the ground. They were part of the many municipal workers out today; everyone awake at 7 am drove trucks or vans. The garbage men work in teams of four. One driver, one man hanging the garbage bings onto hooks at the rear of the truck and flipping the bins empty into the truck, one man bringing bins from the sidewalk to the truck, and one man bringing bins from businesses to the curb. The whole endeavor is fast and almost without litter. The garbage trucks are much smaller than in New York, having to fit into more narrow passageways and make tighter turns.

The toilets’ operating hours are 8 am to 8 pm. One descends into a marble-lined Art Nouveau room with antique urinals encased in glass display, opposing modern, low-flow urinals. One passes through a door to enter the room for toilets where the sliding doors are locked open until one pays the attendant, who removes the lock. The stall has a fogged glass doors that slide on wooden frames. A sink fits in one corner, and the toilet in another, with a wooden seat and wood back–where I presume the pipes or water tank is hidden inside; it stands about five feet tall. At the top is a brass knob that one pulls up to activate the flush. All of this is within a four foot-square area.

I ate breakfast at Anker, a chain of bakeries founded in 1891. I watched the steady flow of people come in and order and their manner of placing an order. Afterward I headed to T-mobile to get a European sim card with faster data. I stumbled over my bad German at the store, and the employee switched to fluent English and quickly sold me a an 8GB plan for 20€ and handed me the SIM card, but didn't give me a paperclip to pop out my old sim, so I spent the next few hours passively glancing everywhere I was going to spy something small. I finally ended up nicking a sliver of a chopstick off, which I saved in my phone case for any future sim swap.

I seemed to have lost my sense of direction in Vienna. I blame this in part due to the winding streets, the German names, which I tend to forget easily, the frequency of paths to change names, and the existence of smaller, sort of entrances (hof?) that look like driveways but area actually streets. In the course of trying to find my bearing, I noticed the strange reoccurrence of the word 'Vienna' inscribed in some buildings. Not signs, but inscriptions, or bas reliefs. Why would the English name for this city be here? In other places, sure enough, 'Wien' can be found. There didn't seem to be an order of age or style or function of building that carried the English name of this city.

I’m not convinced that people are paying for the Vienna U Bahn. I saw couples pass through the open gates at the entrance to the station, holding hands, and raised them in glee over the ticket validation station, without breaking hold. Only tourists from Spain, whom I saw trying to figure out the automated machine, paid, as I had. On the trains I have not seen anyone enforcing the tickets.

Entering from the U Bahn into the Hauptbahnhof is strangely similar to the Jamaica station and JFK airport in New York. At first, there's a sense that the architecture is functional but outdated. A long corridor opens into atriums with narrow stairways leaning against the wall, extending up to train terminals. A series of monitors states the departing and arriving train destinations, time and platform above a series of printed daily schedules of routes. The brick interior could be an old exterior, and feels like a child of the 1970s. And, like the vagrancy of Jamaica station, a young man asked me for a Euro at Hauptbahnhof! But very soon, the old caste of transit centers as a machine for movement dissolves aways and the contemporary transit center as a place to shop, eat, drink and hang out unfolds.

I bought a pair of Nike shoes for the gym at a sports equipment store in Hauptbahnhof for 49 euros. Black. The public bathrooms are turnstile operated with a small fee, which seemed out of place, given the socialist tendency and advocation of the public sphere. Though this is in keeping with the old toilets at Graber. Going up to the platform is impressive. The diamond-shaped apertures in the roof accentuate the waving undulations overhead. The platforms are only one story off the ground, but the designer, Swiss architect, Theo Hotz, made the space feel incredibly expansive and elevated.

In good Austrian manner, the train arrived and left precisely on time.

The train ride from Wien to Graz is gorgeous. After a few stops in Vienna, the train begins passing small villages with farming plots in rotation. Dairy cows grazing the hills. In almost every village we pass I saw someone jogging. The land becomes more mountainous and the patchwork of alpine trees becomes visible. By Payerbauch-Reichenou the full gamut of autumn colors had painted the hills. The train hugs one mountainside until finally shoring up the courage to cross a bridge over a canyon, the view opens up through a valley until the train can hug another hillside. Yellows. Burnt Sienna. The green fir trees. Lime undergrowth.

The silence of the Austrians is a national treasure. The trains are so well engineered and maintained that it’s hard to tell that they’re moving. Even in the winding hills, the rails barely growl. I thought of the trains in the US–Amtrak, MetroNorth, and of course the MTA subways. At one point, we passed over a bridge and a light whir sound began. I waited until we were no longer on the bridge and when the whir didn’t stop, I realized it was actually the sound of forced air inside the train car.

No one is on the phone. I realized I was in the Quiet car when someone started to softly snore.

Breitenfeld metal recycling.

Mürzverbrand water treatment.

The train finally arrived to Graz and I stepped off, looked in both directions for which of the two exits made the most sense to try locate Franz, the receptionist from Schaumbad who was tasked to pick me up. On the third glance right I saw him emerge from the crowd and casually walked toward me as if I had seen him before and we exited together. Franz's English was minimal, perhaps as little as my German. We drove in silence, with the exception of his pointing out the Schlossberg.

Iris met us at 2 Bürgergasse, Priesterseminar in front of the Dom. Franz helped unload my things and Iris showed me to my room, #339. The marble floors in the hallway recall the ancient past of this building, which has been well preserved, encased in modern windows and glass partitions that control movement, temperature and health. It was built in the 16th Century for priests. One can best see the eons past while descending the stairs, noting the worn porous stones, sloping in the center, which darkly contrast light gray marble in the hallway. On the ground floor an entire different stonework is present. Rough, aged, waxed.

Opposite my room was the town cathedral. I looked directly into a vertical stained-glass window protected by an aftermarket metal mesh. A pattern of three columns of circles, about the size of the bottom of beer bottles, run vertically down three columns of glass, which tapers at the top into three triangles divided by three leaf-shapes created by the sandstone framing. The translucent trinity.

My room was a one-bedroom with private bathroom. One enters through a solid wood door with an overlapping lip that seals the door frame. The entrance has wood panels and a low ceiling, so it feels like entering a ship. Two closets in the entrance and two bookcases inside the room, a single mattress, nightstand with lamp, two wooden Ikea chairs and matching coffee table, and a third white Ikea chair. All appeared new or close to new. A large writing desk sat in the corner near the double-pane windows, drapes and electric heater. The room colors were yellow birch wood, pale blue and white. I had a little anxiety about this living space; New Yorkers always do. We're so accustomed to being shafted and jammed into sardine cans that our trauma becomes part of our quirky outlook on life; that dignity may be independent of how one feels at home, or that adapting to an extreme isn't really adapting at all, but compromising with your own financial limitations. This room could be a luxury apartment in Manhattan. The bathroom has an English style toilet, with water in the rear, no platform. The shower has magnetic strips that seal the doors shut, perfectly flush.

Iris showed me the building's administrative office on our way out, instructing me to introduce myself on Monday when it opened. We headed down Bürgergasse to Jakominiplatz to take the 5 tram to the studio on Puchstraße. On the way, Iris pointed out the construction site of the city's combined sewage overflow system, which iss what had attracted me to Graz in the first place. In comparison to New York’s perpetually failing system, the Austrian claim that all overflow of untreated sewage during heavy precipitation can be diverted, stored and treated, was impressive. As part of the Illinois River Project, the conjecture of doing a project about a sewage system had seemed fitting, but I had imagined little more than a thematic outline. The need to renovate CSOs, including New York's, comes from the increased levels of concentrated precipitation due to climate change. Transitions between seasons are shorter but the amount of precipitation is the same or greater, but during that shortened period. The result is flooding, and rainwater flooding sewer systems, causing untreated brown water to escape into the waterways, causing infection and disease or algae blooms.[1]

How does one visualize a city-wide system? Sewage has been represented as messy mass, tubes, shown either in cross section or from within looking out, or bulky jointed pipes. But how can this be better understood? Intestines? Through the video of a colonoscopy?

We arrived to Schaumbad and Iris introduced me to Eva Ursprung, a founder of Schaumbad. She was exhibiting her work in the gallery space. Her collaboration with Doris Jauk-Hinz traced the water in the Mür and the Drava river. The project looks at the water quality, sensitive sites of the two rivers, and the appearance around the rivers.

The Schaumbad is an artist studio, cooperative, exhibition space and video production organization. It's about ten years old. The space reminds me of my graduate school studios, only with more developed people and interiors, and more wealth of resources–a cyc wall, green screen studio, audio recording studio, wood shop, risograph, gallery, two kitchens, and a friendly cat named Baba. The program includes artists in residence, Sunday artist discussions, exhibitions and performances.

Returning to my room, I plugged in my power adapter and a surge protector, plugged in my computer and phone for charging, then saw the charge indicator wasn't working; I flicked the switch on the surge protector and killed the power; wifi, lamps, everything but overhead lights, out. It was Saturday night, and the maintenance guy wouldn't be back until Monday.

[1] Climate change impact on infection risks during bathing downstream of sewage emissions from CSOs or WWTPs, Ankie Sterk, Heleen de Man, Jack. F Schijven, Ton de Nijs, Ana Maria de Roda Husman, Water Research, August 2016

20181103: Graz | Priesterseminar

No functional electrical outlets meant no wifi in my room and the need to hunt down a power source to recharge my techno-trash: laptop, phone, computer. I camped out in the floor Clubraum from 9 am until noon.

From the size of Priesterseminar, the impressive repetition of windows and doors, the density of rooms per floor, I expected that several dozen people were inhabiting each floor and shared the kitchen. The first person I met was Daniel, an electrical engineering student. I introduced myself to him. We chatted a few moments; he went about making his breakfast and left. A little while later Emilia entered; a physics student, first year. I introduced myself and she ate and chatted with me and then left. In the afternoon a Zihua entered with the gaze of a person either lost or exploring his surroundings, I introduced myself. He was also an artist in residence, based in Canada. He left to further explore. An hour later Abraham entered; I introduced myself. He was eager for conversation and we chatted at length before he went about preparing his food, at which point I wondered how much of this introductory exchange was motivated by myself and whether the students would take the initiative to introduce themselves if I did not make a motion. So for the next three hours I worked at the table and simply said 'Hallo' when people entered, if they said 'hallo' to me, but none, not one, made took the initiative to introduce him or herself. I was curious of how the inhabitants of this shared space behaved by default. Not only did the students not converse much with me, but the commingling between those who were in the kitchen at the same time was very limited. It's hard to determine how much of this seemingly reserved disposition is due to the individuals who live here, the nature of Priesterseminar–it being architecturally and scholastically emphasized solitude–being culturally stereotypical, or a function of kids nowadays preferring to eat their food in front of youtube rather than hangout in a shared kitchen together. But in the end, very few–less than a dozen–students came into the clubraum, which confused me. Where was everyone else?

Abraham offered to give a tour of Priesterseminar. He showed me the laundry room, translated the operating instructions, and etiquette which directed the separation of the students who lived in one part of the building and the seminary students who lived in the other, and what parts of the drying room were reserved for which students, a large area was reserved exclusively for seminary students’ bedsheets. He showed me the fitnessstudio, which was a disappointment for me, since I had arrived to Graz with the knowledge that Arnold Schwarzenegger had grown up in the area. Most of equipment appeared to be from the 1990s, or even 1980s, and much of it was in pretty bad shaped. The room disorganized, with several machines inaccessible and/or obstructing the use of other equipment. I had no idea how to operate several of the machines nor what benefit was to be extracted from using them. The bright side was that it was free of charge and seldom used.

The bike storage was profoundly well organized. Each bike has a given parking spot, marked with a number, and vertically maintained with a wheel brace. Notably, the bikes were quite dated and also appeared in bad shape, but I've since learned most are functionally sufficient.

The last stop of the tour was the Gemeinschaftraum, or socializing/party-room. As Abraham explained it, it's where people can come or reserve a time to let loose. At first glance it looked like the basement den of a fraternity house: aged leather couches slumping from use; multiple coffee tables aligned for the purpose of stowing beer between swigs but almost impossible to circumambulate; a foosball table; dart board; a bar separated a drink-staging/kitchenette area, though not intended to seat guests; a refrigerator stocked with beer; a piggy bank to receive the suggested donation of €1/beer; and a room with a television, another couch, shopping cart believed to be used for beer runs, and a tree stump that looked as if some hand-sawing competition had been performed on it.

I'm a horrible foosball player, but my suggestion to play was to terminate the idling conversation with Abraham, and we began a longer debate about free will, politics, and the culture of Austrians. Abraham works as a math researcher; he's from Mexico and speaks perfect English with a German accent. He has an interesting perspective not only because being from Mexico at a time when Trump and US relations are particularly bad, but also because he shares a distrust for the media and American society. Specifically, he mentioned that he had the opportunity to study in the US but made the decision to come to Europe because he didn't want to be part of “that kind of society." Specifically he disliked the absence of a social safety net, the excessive environmental degradation and vapid consumerism.

Abraham's selection of topics personally resonated with me because they were so closely echoing things I had heard and thought about when I lived in Spain 15 years ago. Under the Bush administration, European criticism of the US was at an all time high, particularly a critique of unilateral war in Iraq. But the conversation with Abraham was different than the discussions I had with Catalans over a decade ago, in part because I now felt compelled to dispel some of the myths that people have about the United States. For example, his claim that there is no social safety net in the U.S. is simply not true: I was happy to concede that many European countries may have more, and that the benefits in the U.S. vary by state, but there are programs, which included subsidized housing and free healthcare for low income and elderly people. Not only did Abraham have misinformation about American unemployment benefits, but he had misinformation about European or Austrian unemployment benefits. He believed the benefits for the unemployed were perpetual, limitless. In fact, in NYS, a person is entitled to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits; in Austria 20 weeks.[1][2] I assume there are more nuances and limitations between each system, and I'm not certain that NYS offers better benefits overall (I'd be surprised if that's the case), but the fact there is such a prevalent misconception is curious. It may be that benefits are less stigmatized, or more easily accessible in many European countries than in many American states. But what's most interesting to me is that the European perception is still focused toward America, and not preoccupied with China, Russia, Brazil, Australia or even Canada.

Abraham stated that between Hillary and Trump he would have chosen Trump because he thought that Trump would cause the system to collapse more quickly. I wondered if he meant this as pure provocation, or if he simply does not understand the level of irresponsibility in his preference. I responded to his comment with a long-winded, historical romp from the fall of the Hapsburg empire, American imperialism, the White Man's burden, the shift in post-colonial studies to the One Belt initiative in China. I probably should have asked whether he was comfortable with people dying in order to collapse the system that he despises.

[1] "Amount and Duration of Benefits," NOLO
[2] "Unemployment Benefits in Austria," A-Kasser

20181104: Innere Stadt | Schaumbad

I committed a cardinal Austrian sin: I was late. Really late. An hour late. And for no good reason. I'm sure there's a word in German for this situation (arschlochspäter?)

The feeling of Sunday (because it was Sunday) took over my whole being today. I leisurely went downstairs and photographed the Priesterseminar building. I reviewed the images; I edited them; I wrote. I leisurely did some exercise in the gym. I felt my body; I got my mind inside the muscle, the movement. I leisurely prepared to film the footpath along the Mur. I set up the gimbal, I set up Magic Lantern. I leisurely ate lunch, departed and, transversing Hauptplatz, I suddenly remembered that there was something, only one thing, on my calendar for the next weeks: I had a meeting at Schaumbad at 2pm. I looked at my clock and it was already 2:38pm. Fuck. I needed a tram ASAP, but first I needed a ticket, but before that I needed exact change first. I dug in my pocket: Luck. Tram ticket, tram, I confirmed the route several times, considered an alibi or excuse, but tossed them all out. Thinking of all my friends, mostly artists, who, while traveling, had arrived an hour or more late. Considering the perspective of the artists at Schaumbad who were waiting, my heart slumped. Would they be as impatient as I have been with my tardy colleagues? Coming to terms with the reality that there was nothing I could do to not be late today, I had only to seek their forgiveness; I would be at their mercy.

But the artists were all very courteous and didn't even seem to care about my late arrival, although after my apologies, the formal introduction promptly began, so it was clear that they were waiting for me. I told the group about my project on the Speicherkanal and how it related to my larger interest in urban ecology and solid waste management; I shared the anecdote about the journey of the Mobro 4000 to dump its waste in different states and several countries, before finally returning to Long Island; I noted how New York City declares a state of emergency each time it rains due to the flooding on the impermeable concrete, and combined rainwater in the sewer system. Water management and movement have a symbiotic relationship in the city, since the surface creates a firm path for walking in a wet environment, but the water has to go somewhere and how and where it moves has often been a collision with our biological dependence on water that is hygienic.

When my introduction was over, each present artist introduced him/herself and what he had been working on. Everyone's interests were clear and appealing. I was surprised by the number of artists at Schaumbad who were working with trash, recycled materials, or environmental topics. But the exchange was rather short because the organization was in the middle of their annual programming meeting, and many people needed to leave soon. I made my exit and watched a documentary about the Mur that was on exhibit downstairs. The film structure followed the Mur from its glacial runoff to its confluence with the Drava.

20181105: Afro-Asiatische | Mur

Monday meant the building administration could fix my room's electricity.

Zihua and I went to the Afro-Asiatische Institut to collect our 850€ monthly stipend, transportation pass and cultural passes. The residency demonstrates the exceptional intra-institutional cooperation. A jury from das Land Steiermark chooses the artists and then institutions within Graz–Schaumbad, or a film, music or literary organization–bid for the selected artists. The selected artists are then given a plethora of resources and support from multiple organizations. The housing is offered within Priesterseminar owned by the Katholische Kirche, includes a museum on the ground floor, and residences for priests and seminary students but also engineering students; the financial stipend comes from the Afro-Asiatische (because both Zihua and I are both Asian?), which is an organization that started in the 1960s following the Austria's decolonization period of Africa; and the cultural passes and transport were given to us by the Katholische Hochschulegemeinde Graz located across the lobby from the Afro-Asiatische. Upon receipt of our last paperwork, we were instructed to register our presence with the city government, which was obligatory for anyone living in Graz for more than a tourist duration.

The process of registration included writing one’s name, educational title, religion, home address, nationality, residential address and whether we were immigrating or not, on a form and submit it to the authorities. Who lives where and what is their status–socially and geographically–is expected, though little corroboration is required: No return plane ticket, no license with address, no bank statement–only a signature from our host and a passport.

Reading the form, I wondered how many steps into extreme politics–right or left–would be necessary to activate this seemingly objective information to become an instruments of horrific ends. Maybe that's my American distrust for government, though I realized how a similar process exists in the U.S.: transferring one's residency is legally obligated within 30 days of moving to a state, but there is an element of class and conformity explicit in this Austrian process, a conformity that is both impressive and frightening. The utility to the notion of state, inside and outside is clear. This is for non-citizens; in terms of migration, I am a tourist, not a permanent resident or citizen.

This paperwork was submitted to the Servicestelle der Stadt Graz, which itself was a journey into the administration of administration. The address of the office on the paper is actually police headquarters, wherein an officer directs people around the corner to a door–one of many municipal offices–where one takes a number in a waiting room. Was the direction toward the police intentional? If so, for what? The correct office is situated behind a waiting room that is walled with brochures of city initiatives, more brochures than I have ever seen in my life.

Programs for recycling, electronic waste, registering your pets, senior programs, health, parking, cycling, et al. Implicit in the presence of these brochures are the jobs of graphic designers, who produce the informatics; printers; proof-readers; legislators and many others. This is an important way that the government communicates with its citizens. The information infrastructure and the expectations that people will take these brochures and read them, even keep them for reference, ultimately dispose of them; the infrastructure of recycling waste of material.

When my number came up, I met with a functionary who translated the data on the form to a computer. Almost no conversation took place, simply a "Hallo" and then he started pecking away at the keyboard. Zihua was served by the functionary beside me. He was given a welcome swag bag, I was not.

Outside of the bureau, we ran into Keyvin, an artist from Schaumbad, who runs an exhibition space on Schmiedgasse. This gave me the feeling of living in a small town where everyone knew everyone. He invited us to an upcoming exhibition opening.

In the evening I had to remind myself that one of the advantages of being in Graz is the level of public safety. Even areas that Iris felt obligated to mention were considered "bad areas" at night–the Stadtpark–I had already walked through alone and it felt very safe, quiet but with pedestrian traffic. I went down to the Mur to photograph the river at night. The Mur is an existential resource for the city of Graz. It forms the two sides of the city–the "good" and the "bad"–and a source of water for drinking, mills, and hydropower. Vito Acconci's Murinsel is the dominant visual element on the river, with changing LEDs like a UFO fishing; an outsider to whom the citizens have become accustomed.

20181106: Mur | Kunsthaus Graz

20181106 Mur to Kunsthaus Graz

The light in Graz is diffuse, slightly foggy, the humidity coming up from the Mur, or densifying as the air moves up and against the mountains, is perfect for filming. It's not too bright or contrasted; it's not too dim. When the sun is blocked by clouds, a timeless, directionless state exists.

In the morning I went down to the bank of the Mur and followed a footpath to create a long shot. I had put my 5D3 on a gimbal to smooth out my ambulation. Travel videography is confronted with two problems. First, when traveling one isn't familiar with the landscape and not certain of the exact location one wants to capture. In a sense, it's this uncertainty that creates the need to travel in the first place, but logistically speaking, it makes it difficult to know what gear one should travel with, and within the trip, when one needs what gear and where. It's not always practical to carry a tripod with the open ended possibility of shooting a panning shot. And it's even less practical to carry all the gear everywhere, always.

Alternatively, it's not always possible to return to places one sees while traveling. But one wants to bring a camera along to capture the experience of discovery. The downside is that a camera without support creates video footage that is too unstable to use in most cases. A gimbal is supposed to complement a camera, and be less obtrusive for travel.

The footage that gimbal produces is something like a floating an eye. It's smooth enough to not reference a first person perspective, but has enough movement to not feel like a tableau, or omniscient god perspective. The gimbal allows for the disembodied eye.

In the afternoon Zihua and I stopped by the Künstlerhaus Graz, to see the exhibition "Artificial Paradise?" about virtual reality. The exhibition began or ended downstairs, with a landscape painting of Johann Kniep, "Ideale Landscaft mit untergehender Sonne," 1806. The painting depicts a Roman soldiers watching the setting sun while a young man talks with an older man and young woman reclines on a hill. The landscape has typical elements of the Romantic period: dramatic colors, vegetation, classical architecture in ruins, waterfalls, hills and atmospheric desaturation to suggest depth. The catalogue essay on the work explains how Arcadian scenes functioned as a mode of escapism for the Renaissance aristocracy, and parallels it to contemporary modes of immersion, a period when artists of Western Europe were imagining the ruins of Greece and Rome as portals into an epoch when landscape existed in a harmonious relationship to ruinous cityscape.

I spent time in all of the works, but those with headsets made strong reference to video games, while the works that were simply video recalled cinema. The nuances between these two types of entertainment become more evident when both media attempt to create an aesthetic experience.

In video games, there is always an initial comparative assessment: how "good" (real, better) does this look compared to other prior technologies. The march toward re-creating a realistic world within the context of a closed game scenario has been the success of the video game industry, while it seems that making life into a game would be the shorter, more elegant technology to adapt to the already-realistic world in which we live. But that territory is occupied by sports, athletes, and the physical.

Cinema is mistakenly thought of as moving images that convey information. But the appeal of cinema is widely the conveyance of emotions. Cinema has images, but we don't want them exclusively. Very few people want to just watch the moving images of a place. That would be like watching a security camera. Even after solving the variable of where to place the camera–in a paradise beach, gorgeous landscape, or girls locker room–we quickly bore of a representation of a place. It’s the job of narrative through which we frequently see personalities and desires, power dynamics and situations, and this is usually told through humans who play the characters. We vicariously put ourselves in situations; we see in stories, and we garner a liking or disliking to personalities, just as we do in real life; and we dislike movies that have characters that we feel neither liking nor disliking for, often more than performed personalities that we hate. In virtual reality, there may not be a character, just a disembodied camera that is located where your own embodied eyes are. The landscape is supposed to be a place you inhabit.

In the case of both forms at Künstlerhaus, these works are "interesting" but not engaging; they feel systematic and once the pattern becomes clear, we are left only to appreciate the accuracy of the representation of the objects in this virtual realm, which fall short. The element of immersion was the supposed innovative and decisive characteristic of the artworks, and the technology used, which encompassed a greater visual field, often by putting on a headpiece that obstructs seeing anything except the video content.

Paul Chan's video in this exhibition notably references video games through pixelated characters who are fucking and killing in loops. The curatorial statement refers to Chan’s borrowing from Charles Fourier and Henry Darger, but Salò came to mind, though without the reverberation to anything cautionary; again lacking narrative or evoking any connection to character. The power of Salò is not the graphic content, but the power structure exposed through the narrative, which makes the graphic content not only visceral but suggests its possibility. 

The absence of narrative has been a defining element of video art. The blanket rejection of the toolset that facilitates the emotional experience that is central to cinema. It's why people, like Emilia, describe video art as something that people don't really "like" or want to watch, but appreciate it on the grounds that it is an art form. For many, intentionally watching a movie has become synonymous with the cinema. Yet the lack of an obligation to the audience to connect to the content on an emotional level has afforded artists a wider variety of video content, but also relegated the content to a smaller audience compared to cinema, and made video artists impoverished, compared to their cinematic counterparts. The audience's eye, if looking through a camera lens, is even more disembodied if no body is in the audience.

Steve R. McQueen is a rare example of a visual artist who made a transition from video art to the world of narrative cinema. His adaptation of “12 Years a Slave” can be used as a rebuttal to the claim of immersive video: we inhabited the horror and pain of Patsey being whipped for going to get soap not because a headset inhibits us looking away, but because Edwin makes Solomon punish her, because Mistress Epps is overflowing with jealousy. Our esophagus shortens, our stomach twists around our heart at the sound of each popping whip because the injustice is palpable; we want to look away but we know we would see only our own world, a sphere of injustice in which we are not only immersed, but also complicit and collateral damage.

The element of immersion was the supposed to be innovative and a decisive characteristic of the artworks, and the technology used. Frequently the commonality of encompassing a greater visual field by putting on a headpiece that obstructs seeing anything except the video content obstructed the most common thread in the show, which was the use of consumer technology to make art. Many works were not immersive in the visual sense–Addie Wagenknecht’s Data and Dragons refers to the physical complexity of everyday data infrastructure around us. 

Manuel Roßner’s VR work Du musst dien Leben ändern reveals large line sculptures that exist in the space. His project Float Gallery, an online virtual gallery space, is more interesting than the low-level AR piece in the show, but both explore the misnomer of virtual space, which was originally referencing storage capacity, not the ‘sculptural space’ that preoccupied modernist sculptures.

The most out-of-place award in the show goes to Ivana Bašić Belay My Light, the Ground is Gone, courtesy the artist and Marlborough Contemporary, which doesn’t represent the artist but is likely trying to include the work in shows in order to increase its historical and economic value. It’s a stunning piece, but the curatorial decision to include it is questionable.

Marc Lee’s 10.000 Moving Cities–Same but Different is an app that’s for sale for $349.99, recreates cities with images about them. I didn’t see this in the show, maybe it was over?

Harun Farocki’s works, Serious Gamer I-III, were the most interesting and critical, although I’ve seen them at MoMA years ago. Farocki focused on the US military’s training through virtual reality games.

The exhibition missed an important lesson from the Romantic period, which was the movement away from then modern life–industrialization and urbanization–and toward a past life that were never really lived by Europeans, i.e. the Classical Age in Greece. Greek Civilization functioned as an imaginary of eternal truths, distant, aged but also a connection to the permanence of European values. The perspective of the viewer in those works is objective, what becomes the fourth wall in theatre. The eye is disembodied. We are on-lookers, but from a distance that is separated by time and space. Kniep’s figure were not 19th Century Romantics, but white Middle-Eastern time travelers from almost 2000 years before. The Romantics imagined backwards, depicting a world that could be observed. The works in Artificial Paradise locate the eye of the viewer within a loaded context–within the headset, within an understood social context–and all of them, even Farocki through cinema, recapitulate the dogma of consumer technologies: that transcendence is possible.

20181107: ESC | Kork Cafe

Iris invited me to an event at ESC Median Kunst Labor that was guided by the director, Reni. ESC had commissioned British artist Kathy Hinde to create "Distant Skies: Pressure Waves," a series of large-scale origami birds, whose wings were animated by crude pistons, all hung in front of Hubble telescope images of the galaxy. Simplistically beautiful, the location in the windows provoked a window-display aesthetic one might find on Fifth Avenue. Hypnotized, I liked them.

In the front exhibition space, the collaborative work "Palimpsest" (with Daniel Skoglund) explored the different transliteration of data from drawings on the floor into sound, which are in turn used to manipulate video footage. What the visitor saw were machines that look like land-borne drones on the floor scribbling abstract designs on paper, a projection onto the machine and some nearby monitors. It reminded me of the drawings made by machines that that were popular a decade ago, back when that documentary of an elephant that could paint and whose paintings were selling made plebeians continue to ask the question "What is art?" These works don't ask this question, and for that, I'm thankful.

In the main exhibition space Hinde showed "Phase Transition," a series of three sculptures that converted data about global warming to heated lamps over ice, which, while melting dropped into a steel trough. Inadvertently, these created beautiful rust patterns in the bottom of the pan. Some audio was connected to these. As a trio of three or four of these systems, I'm not sure what the point of having more than one was, but the trend of visualizing data and reproducing it in different media is vaguely similar to the fascination of synaesthesia in the 19th Century, only the myth of the artist as neurologically unique and appreciating sensorial perception differently than most people is replaced with the myth that the artist is a mild genius who can send data that would be interpreted by one sense to a different medium to be interpreted by another sense.[1]

At ESC I met Vera, the new resident artist at Schaumbad.

Iris and the ESC gallery assistant, Fay, shortly debated the merits of artwork about climate change. During the discussion I sensed a history between these two young ladies. Later I learned that they had been students in an art history class together. Another nod toward small town dynamics.

Zihua and I went to the opening of Keyvin and saw only the closing of the event but he showed me the downstairs of the space, which functioned as a workshop or storage. The building was very old, and the basement, which required descending several narrow stone passageways, was unfinished, densely packed although the ceiling must have been 12 feet high.

We met Iris and Vera at Kork cafe near the University to see a performance by the Graz artist Stefan Schmitzer. His performance consisted of a drummer and keyboardist playing disjointed songs while Stefan read from publications by the right-leaning Austrian government. Although I didn't understand the reading because it was in German, I was impressed because by the space, which was a lively cafe with patrons enjoying beers and hanging out, while this avant gard performance occupied the place of what would be a bad open-mic (tucked into a corner, no cover fee, and people really being at the cafe to socialize, not to be entertained or see a performance) in a U.S. cafe. [2]

For the size of the population, Graz has a lot of cultural activities operating at an impressive level. While San Francisco has about 700,000 inhabitants (a few million if the greater San Francisco Area is included), at short of 300,000 people Graz and has many many more events, and higher quality of work, both on grounds of content and production value. The cultural institutions of Graz–Künstlerhaus KM, Grazer Kunstverein, and Kunsthaus Graz for contemporary art, mirror the role of San Francisco's Yerba Buena, or Berkeley's Pacific Art Museum. The Kunsthaus includes Camera Austria’s exhibition space; Camera Austria also produces a printed magazine. Graz has a plethora of smaller spaces, like Kunsthalle Graz and of course Schaumbad.

The Universalmuseum Joanneum is a massive complex of regional institutions that include natural history, artifacts, zoology, mineralogy, paleontology, folk culture and art. It actually includes Kunsthaus Graz within its network. Besides contemporary art, there are numerous religious museums and historic museums: GrazMuseum, Tramway Museum, Schloss Eggenberg (another Joanneum), Museum Der Wahrenmung, Schell Collection, Naturkundemuseum, Haus Der Arkitektur, Styrian Armoury, Palais Herberstein, a sculpture park and numerous historic and architectural sites. There are galleries, some high-end commercial, others more experimental with a non-profit model. The Diagonale film festival is an addition to the local, smaller cinemas that will screen Cannes and Berlinale programming.

By population, Graz is more appropriately compared to either Seattle or Portland, but by this metric, even the two American cities combined, there is no comparison with the cultural activity and level to Graz. The Henry Art Gallery, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Asian Art Museum, and the Frye inadvertently collaborate toward fulfilling the void of institutional contemporary art in Seattle. However, their collections aren’t orientated to complement this mission and much of the floorpan is dedicated to landscape painters or German Romanticists, which influence your experience seeing newer works in adjacent galleries. As the relevance of art to the Millennial audience increasingly equates to revisioned histories of truth, power, sexuality, gender and representation–across media–institutions face the reality of evolving or closing their doors. And in the last 10 years there have been occasional, and thankfully an increasing frequency of shows of international repute in Seattle–Harun Farocki at the SAM and Carrie Mae Weems at the Henry to name a few–but every time I visit I'm reminded of the tremendous wealth of the city–the numerous corporations and billionaires (Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates)–and sorely surprised that only Paul Allen has seriously supported arts and culture. (Can the public visit Microsoft’s art collection?) Architecturally speaking, I prefer the facade of Experience Museum Project to Peter Cook's Kunsthaus Graz, but I've never seen an important or interesting show at the EMP, and the interior space is a tropical wine cellar: too warm to keep anything of value. Seattle has had some fledgling organizations that were promising–Western Bridge, 911 Media–but they couldn't gain the traction, years, and support needed to grow into a world class stature. The exception to this is the Seattle Sculpture Park. As a city that was the mythical center of 1990s music, Seattle could have positioned itself as a world destination for contemporary culture. Yet Seattle’s best cultural activities are found in house-show scene, cafes and restaurants.

Graz institutions achieve an international scope through introducing local and international practitioners in residencies, special exhibitions and programming with budgets. Notably, the majority of cultural institutions in Graz are headed by accomplished females. At least four of these institutional leaders were feminists artists involved in the magazine Eva & Co.

The Steirischer Herbst [1] is an important annual arts festival that been staged for over forty years. With an emphasis on new and avant-garde art, most media are included–music, films, installations, radio programs, theater, exhibitions–as well as programming for discussions and lectures. Seattle’s Bumbershoot would be a similar scale, though Bumbershoot emphasizes music and lasts only for Labor Day Weekend; Steirischer Herbst lasts for about a month.

CMRK is an evening of coordinated openings in Graz in which four institutions that support contemporary art–Camera Austria, Künstlerhaus KM, <roto> and Grazer Kunstverein–each have a reception for one hour, each occurring in succession. The event aims to connect the contemporary arts community of Graz s well as draws crowds from Vienna by offering a free shuttle bus between the two cities. [4]

The sector that I see missing most in Graz is a strong contemporary gallery district. There isn't a large, distinct arts neighborhood. And the few galleries that I visited were spread out around the city; the works were unimpressive. Here, Graz could learn from the model that Seattle developed with the Tashiro Kaplan Artist Lofts that function as anchor of the Seattle's gallery area or 49 Geary in San Francisco. [5]

In the context of connectivity to international producer, Steiermark has attracted international artists, writers, musicians, regularly through their residencies and commissions, exhibitions and talks. San Francisco's Headlands, nearby Djerassi, or Montalvo lack the exposure of residency that is located within a city and open to the public. Seattle's residency scene is small; local niche organization like, Jack Straw, mostly support local talent.

[1] ESC Medien Kunst Labor
[2] Stefan Schmitzer
[3] CMRK
[4] Steirischer Herbst - Festival of New Art
[5] Tashiro Kaplan Artist Lofts

20181108: Schaumbad | Künstlerhaus

Iris offered to lead a tour through the Districts of Puntigam, Graz-Neuhart and Gries. Schaumbad was located on Puchstraße, named after Johann Puch's manufacturing company, most well-known in the U.S. for the 49.cc Puch Maxi mopeds that were popular for existing in a legal gray zone between human-powered and motor-powered conveyances, which required different licenses and road usage. The southern neighborhood was the original industrial center, it should be noted that pollution generated from this area and disposed into the Mur was known to impact towns downstream in southern Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, etc., on the tribulation to the Drava and Danube.

The industrial past and present were evident. Near Schaumbad were distributors of industrial material, landscaping supplies, kitchen decoration, but also a few recycling companies, which could be thought of as the next industrial revolution: once it was less expensive to repurpose refuse than manufacture from raw material.

Walking up Puchstraße we saw the monuments to an industrial past: the towers of concrete about ten stories high, with windows broken and doors missing. The towers were covered in solar panels, which were hung so well that they appeared to be part of the original building design. On the ground floor a modest revival was underway in the form of a rock climbing gym, Crossfit studio and squash court. Around the back was a literary space and a new building to house artists. Graffiti and murals filled in where there weren't solar panels

We saw Caritas Ressidorf, a men's homeless shelter before turning down Auf der Tändelwiese to see Dr. Schlossar-Park where the Grazer artist Hartmut Skerbisch had built a garden labyrinth. The garden was not in the best shape; autumn had not treated it well and most of the phytowalls were in decay. But a gesture of the city's support for local artists, as well as a sign that it had changing its mind.

The buildings in this area, many of which were social housing projects from the beginning of the 20th Century, formed walls along the street and guarded the green space within the block. Other developments were rows of two and three story homes with spacious backyards.

We continued down Kapellenstraße and saw the Urnenfriedhof Graz, one of the older cemeteries in the city. Iris told us that it was very expensive to be buried there and that, unlike plots in the U.S., in Graz they were leased and not permanently owned. When one's descendants no longer paid the lease to the plot, the body was exhumed and the plot leased to a newly dead. Cemeteries were more for the living to remember the dead, than for the dead to have company.

Turning up Payer-Weyprecht-Straße we came to Kunstgarten, a familiar cultural institution in the backyard of Irmi and Reinfrid Horn. They programed film screenings, concerts, exhibitions and residencies, and maintain a botany library. Pure generosity and endurance. Reinfrid was in his overalls, toiling away at the computer, and Irmi welcomed us over tea and Früchtebrot. We chatted for a few hours but the highlight of the conversation was learning of the 23 years of tension that had existed between their institution and their missionary next-door neighbors. Reinfrid portrayed them as rural conservatives who moved to the city, treated their pets like farm animals and didn't appreciate culture nor community. The called the police in response to concerts, and their dogs barked at guests. The long game.

The next stop was the Graz-Karlau Prison, seated on archduke Karl II's summer hunting grounds. From the street we could see the silhouette of two people, whom I presumed were inmates watching the evening traffic. The complex had a central tower with four radial arms, and an adjacent structure running parallel to the street. The grounds are walled off and decorated by public art projects on the side bordering Triester Straße. As one of the larger prisons in Austria, it was the holding cell of the mass-murder Jack Unterweger, who became the icon of prison rehabilitation after he became a writer and journalist. Having used his imprisonment to craft short stories, poems, plays and an autobiography, he gained the respect and admiration of Viennese cafe intellectuals.[1] He recanted his psycho-sexual homicides; his signature works were strangulation of sex workers with their own bras. After serving his first sentence, he became a minor celebrity, international journalist, but soon resumed killing, was re-imprisoned and committed suicide. Terrorists and nationalist terrorist were also held, together, at Graz-Karlau.

The tour brought us past a slaughterhouse, just across the street from a Tierkorper Sammelstelle, or dead pet depository. It was not clear which site was the origin of the foul smell.

We continued across the river over Karlaugürtel, past Peepshow, a laufhaus, and up Neuholdaugasse, when I looked up Leitnergasse and saw a large tree in the sidewalk, seemingly oversized and out of place. I realized that, due to the narrow width of the sidewalks, there were not many sidewalk trees. Instead, the green areas were set behind buildings in the center of the block. Since many sidewalk trees have short, difficult lives due to soil compaction, pet excrement and urban activity, perhaps it was better that trees were centralized on blocks.

[1] "Killer Prose," Rick Atkinson, Washington Post, August 3, 1994.


20181109: Stone Age | Water Age Travel

Cities are a technology of the Stone Age.

The management of rainwater runoff is becoming a central concern for many cities; climate change is shortening the duration of transitional seasons, but increasing the amount of precipitation. In one sense, stone material in cities are central to this problem, since they prevent both percolation and soil hydration. Coincidentally, they are chosen, in part, for these characteristics, in effort to secure other urban value assets–infrastructure like transportation, piping, electricity, et al. But stones are also chosen because when exposed to moisture, they erode more slowly than human life or a government. If our life span wer only 24 hours, leaves would suffice as a city floor.

While homes may be made of wood or steel, cities are made of stone. Some places have dirt or sand roads, and structures made of sticks, or just a roof, but they are limited in dimension. They may be inhabited, they may be massive conglomerations of tin roofs, or mud huts, but are they cities? (Some countries have different legal taxonomy for village, town, or city, but does the legal status change the experience or activity of the place?) And does the weather, and subsequently the materials we lay in response to the environmental conditions, change our experience or activity? If we become a globe of water, and our cities are floating consortia of boats, will they be our cities?

Austria is considered a water-rich country with mountain springs, run off, rivers and lakes. It is also stone rich. The streets of Graz show evidence of the ongoing relationship to the hallowed ground on which the city sits. Different stones connote different eras of construction–spanning centuries–for different uses and different masonry technologies. Currently, we are in the asphalt era. A black, impermeable sheet shaped to the geolocation's demands: curved, flat, roughed, smoothed. (Some new forms of concrete facilitate percolation.)

In a city the pedestrian, cyclist, and motorist all require a solid surface. In Graz, these superficies are wrought in different stone. Some stones connote a bike lane. Some a path for the blind. The Belgian blocks of the entrances to many hofs, including into the center of Priesterseminar, connote an interior public space that borders on private; the stones are laid in intersecting arcs, connoting strength. The sidewalks, streets, and curbs are all different stones.

At the first Soil Symposium, I learned that almost 80% of the city of New York is covered in an impermeable material, concrete or roofing. Looking at the aerial map of Graz, I see the pattern of terra cotta bordered blocks with a green center in the old city. Outside the old city, where smaller structures become the norm, greenery blends with concrete and homes to average a gray area. In the surrounding hills, forest green dominates. I would estimate that 50% of the surface of Graz is impermeable.

20181110 Schloßberg to Freiheitsplatz

Abraham invited me to scale the Schloßberg. The day was clear, the air was crisp but not yet cold. The topic of our discussions always slips into the gutter of geopolitics and economics, two themes we are both unqualified to discuss. He's a smart guy but I was curious to know where he got his information and what formed his perspective. As if in response and affront to our last conversation about the influence of media outlets on social perception, and alternative ways to learn about current events, he told me that he has no choice but to get his information from news media; he has no time to become an expert on the topics. That was his phrasing. He wouldn’t disclose the exact media names, which I noted in absentia. Still, he feels strongly about his perspective on geopolitics. It was a time when we all were expected to have a perspective.

Abraham recounted an anecdote about one of his colleagues gloating about being possibly hired by an American startup. Ultimately nothing ever formalized for her, but I got the impression that there is implicit prestige or explicit high-earnings in Silicon Valley were something that was both attractive to and disdained by him. As a mathematician, statistician and tri-lingual Mexican, Abraham could be a competitive candidate for many Silicon Valley startups. I suggested that he looked into jobs in the U.S. He retorted with the textbook answer of young men: “I never really think about making money. That’s not what interests me.”

I didn’t flinch at the answer because I’ve said the same thing, and still believed the same thing. I still gravitate toward the belief. But isn’t having a moonlight career the inherent excuse for not caring about money? But he isn’t moonlighting as a mathematician, he works as a mathematician. I mean, if you don’t have a passion that you’re pursuing while you gig and you’re just working, isn’t money exactly what you’re interested in, given the tasks being the same? Having walked away from my job, I demonstrated my belief. But I can’t lie to myself and say that money is not a high-priority in my life, not only in the lifestyle to which I’ve grown accustomed but the fact that, once I’d acquired some money, my perspective has shifted on many topics. (The latter is as predictable as Abraham’s and my answer.) But returning to the answer I wondered if he, or I, really could “not think about money.” As if, not having it excused him or I from the world around us.

Equally, I wondered, as Abraham had admitted, how much a luxury it was to not have to prioritize money. I contemplated this not only on an individual level–since both he and I are part of a small part of the world’s population that has completed post-secondary education–but also on a national level. The existence of some infrastructure–social, medical, environmental, criminal–allows us to not to seek out life-saving financial support. And if the capricious variable of where you are born offers this luxury, are there constituents to the geopolitical world that are requisite for this condition? More succinctly: What is wealth?

A siren sounds at 12 noon every Saturday, which dates back to the war days, as a test of the emergency communication program. The rooftop horn was at eye level as we descended the Schlossberg. The tone reminded me of the fire siren that sounded in Goldendale summers as a child. One long scream meant a fire in town; two long screams meant a fire out of town, and the volunteer firefighters would report for duty. I would always look out the sliding glassdoor to the porch, cast yellow by the corrugated plastic roof, to the backyard grass brown by summer sun, to the hedges and Rhet’s backyard, through the fence to the horizon for a distant signal. Sometimes I saw smoke.

The European Balcony project was scheduled at 16h at Freiheitsplatz in Graz. It is an international project intending to make European countries more united, the Freiheitsplatz was chosen in Graz due to its historical significance. Allegedly, a politician made the announcement from the balcony of the Schauspiele that the country of Austria was born, 100 years before, on November the 12, 1918. [1]

At the event I saw a few familiar faces: Marleen and Michael from Studio Asynchrome, Heidrun from Forum Stadtpark, and Stefan Schmitzer from Kork cafe. About forty people congregated and read from a page-length statement in German. For posterity, I filmed a few people who didn’t seem self-conscious of being recorded. After the short reading, Stefan generously explained the project and calculated its value and relevance in the larger European political context. The ensuing exchange, or rather expression of Stefan’s anxieties, about the future of Austria, the political right was entertaining. Some of his accusations were expected: the right-wing’s ignorant, anti-immigrant perspective; their cutting of social welfare programs; ethno-nationalist fervor. But his anxiety for his daughter’s future equality was unexpected and he explained it to me as part of the political right’s journey back to a traditional social arrangement with women pregnant in the kitchen, barefoot.

[1] "Zur Erinnerung an die Proklamation der Republik vor 100 Jahren," Tag Des Denkmal


20181111: Puntigamer | Dom im Berg

I went out to explore the city. Exploring an area that is already inhabited is essentially getting lost and locating oneself. Seeing things that many people have seen before, but vibrate with novelty to your eyes.

The southeast side of the city of Graz becomes Euro-suburban very fast: houses, some farm plots, automotive-dependent with islands of megastructures, inconsistent sidewalks, fences and driveways. It's quaint in size and aesthetic. It's tidy. It's sparsely populated by structures and I saw just enough people to not notice that it was abandoned.

I visited the Puch Museum, which is essentially a large garage of the myriad of the Puch products–mopeds, trucks, cars, bicycles–jammed into the center of the space, with little narrative consideration of how visitors actually see the works. This was a collector's museum, not a curator's museum. When Hitler annexed Austria, industry such as Puch was his primary target. That may explain the absence of the pedagogic narrative in this garage. Just imagine the third wall sign: "And here is when we made Nazi trucks." Not exactly a heart warmer. I was the only visitor, so maybe I was over-thinking the institution's rationale to obscure their past. The sole attendant occupied himself by spray painting something at the far north end of the garage. The fumes made their way to the middle of the garage around the time I decided to leave.

I stopped by Schaumbad to look at Eva's studio as a possible site for interviewing Steve Weiss or Martin Regelsberger and Romana Ull. The studio was filled with epochs of art projects, research, production and life. It was hard to believe that Eva had been there less than a decade. A large light fixture with the word "over" sat perfectly in the corner. From what I'd gathered about the protest against the Murkraftwerk, "over" continued to bitterly loom over Romana and Martin. The space would do.

I made haste to another art event. The event in the Schlossberg was described to me as an artist who was going to bring together a descendant of the Archduke Ferdinand and the descendant of the Archduke's assassin, Gavrilo Princip, for a handshake. The location was a room in the Dom im Berg, a space that was hollowed out of the hill; it had to served as a bomb shelter during World War II. It was too fitting, too perfect to not attend.

The event began with a trio playing Serbian music followed by other musicians playing a royal Habsburg melody.The stage was set with the Austrian musicians stage left and the Serbian musicians stage right. In the center were two black leather, Scandi-chic couches. Igor F. Petković, the artist, sat in the center. After the music conclude he gave a long, contextualizing speech, of which I could only understand him mentioning the two songs, and made several references to "Kultur." It felt almost like he was giving a benediction for the music. He then invited two interlocutors on stage to discuss Kultur, immigration and how Central Europe is a mixing pot of cultures. By the time the third person had answered a question, it began to feel like a talk show. There was so much talking and lecturing that I wondered how this would be different as an "art event" in the U.S., or even if this was billed as an art event. Was this the performance? What introduction did such a symbolically-loaded gesture need? Austrian art events, I would learn, are usually predicated with a long, verbal introductions.

Part of the event included the ceremonial recognition of winners of the Alfred Fried Photography Award 2018, which had a theme of "What does peace look like?" The presenter, Lois Lammherhuber expounded on the topic of photography and peace at length, before a ceremonial lecturer, spot lit, reading from a clear acrylic podium, announced the winner with pomp. The ceremony went on and on and I was running out of abstract footage to film; I had thought the event may be visually interesting so I had brought my camera, but nothing visually interesting was happening on stage. I was shooting the ceiling lights, the wall, hands of people. Ultimately, I couldn't take it anymore. I had to leave before seeing what I thought would be money shot–the descendants shaking hands.

More interesting than the symbolic act was the intentional production of history-making, as opposed to placemaking, or (thing)making, which may be indicative of the kulturzeitgeist. There is so much talk about "Europe" here, which I'd taken as a juxtaposition or affront to what is "Austrian," given the Chancellor Kurz's politicking. Compounded with Brexit, Hungary, Poland, the perpetual and near concern of Russia, Crimea, and the Ukraine, striving for a critical distance, a point from which this whole mess–in its wholeness and messiness–can be seen, was comforting. As the liberal left–artists–contend against the populist (mostly non-creatives)–the importance of holding onto the production of history increases. The creation or recreation of historical events, the mode of producing history–texts, online archives, photos, video and social media can be a strategy to not only moralize about a historical past, but situate a historical present and predict a historic future. History is written by hands trembling to be shaken by the infirm memory of an Alzheimer future.

20181112: Desk | Kitchen

I resumed my work for OSF today and Murphy's law ruled the morning. All of the most recent Premiere and After Effects files were not uploaded to the cloud, nor copied to my hard drive. To recreate all of the work necessary to be in a position to complete what I was intended to finish this week, would itself require a week of work. I searched everywhere three times before contacting my supervisor and inquiring about the possibility of him logging into my laptop and copying all the .aep and .pproj to box. Afterward, I changed my Okta password.

The time difference meant that the morning was spent researching exactly what was left outstanding and the evening, after I had received the files, were conforming the tasks to the current files. I worked 16 hours Monday.

Later in the evening Dr. Steven Weiss, a marine biologist from Uni Graz, met me at Preisterseminar to talk about the Murkraftwerk and the Zentraler Speicherkanal. Since my project was an extension of the Illinois River Project, I started by asking him about carp. Native to Central Europe, carp were part of the local sport fishing as well as holiday carp recipes. Weiss didn't have a recipe that he personally enjoyed; the recipes he did enjoy consisted of heavily disguising the flavor of the fish with something else. As bottom feeders that can thrive in toxic waters, the carp topic framed the following question about the condition of the Mur.

Historically river had been very polluted, even to the point that some people avoided it, or warned others to stay away from it. But an aggressive clean up had started in the 1980s, in part by ecological movements that have gotten hold after the postwar period when food, subsistence and class were at the forefront of sociopolitics in Austria. But the river was still heavily polluted, although huge improvements had been made.

There was already a chain of hydropower plants on the Mur, so the ecology had already been greatly altered. But the little life that persisted was going to be squeezed out. Each accumulation of life that formed behind the dam would be washed away each time the locks were opened. Steve’s concern was for life, biodiversity and he was open about his indifference to wastewater entering the river through overflowing sewer pipes; that was where the biggest fish were. When a river is polluted, it can be cleaned up and life will return, if the headwaters are still functional. But once a river is dammed, its amputated until that structure is removed.

In the minds of most Austrians hydropower was considered a clean, renewable energy. Although late getting out the door, when the information about the Murkraftwerk was publicized it was sold as cleaning up the river. Weiss saw this as a deliberate misrepresentation, contesting that the amount of organic matter that would diverted from the Mur was less than 2% of what was already in the river when the waters were in Graz.

The term “water rich” doesn’t just describe having water as a natural resource. If that were the case, every coastal city would be water rich. When Austria is referred to as ‘water rich’ it more accurately describes the value that pure water has to the people but also the wealth that has been extracted from water ways, such as through hydropower. Weiss stated that hydropower has a long history in Austria: since the beginning of the 20th century, not a single year has passed without the construction of a hydropower plant. At one point most of the electrical power used in Austria came from hydropower. In 2018, it produced about 60% of the electricity consumed. And, as wealth grows in Austria, consumption is expected to grow.

In Steve’s opinion the biggest environmental problem in Graz was not the management of the Mur river, but he air quality. The fine particulate matter in the air collected in the city center with wind stagnating due to the surround hills. And as the city population grew due to Austria urbanization and immigration initiatives, traffic would increase and the condition would become worse. The fact that the Murkraftwerk felled thousands of trees pinpointed his opposition to the project.

The representation that Austria is green is, by Weiss’ metrics dishonest or at least misleading. The image was really about being tidy or clean, but not environmental. He noted a number of regressive practices that included very poor encouragement for organic farming from the central government, and outdated management techniques of fisheries and wildlife, and a general disregard for biodiversity. Local protections were flawed and companies held considerable influence over their regulations that should have governed them. The Murkraftwerk summarized these poorly order priorities.

Steve joined the protest by accident and was reticent to get involved in a small country in which everyone knew everyone. But he became one of the faces of the protest, due to his scientific background as a marine biologist. But when the trees were finally downed, and the Speicherkanal and hydropower plant moved forward, he was devastated. The city had been ripped apart, governmental coalitions broke up, people’s lives were smothered. He had to come to terms with the mantra of never giving up while being prepared to lose.

What was amazing about talking with Steve was that his perspective was at once informed both from the very local, the very specific case study, but also by the larger cycle. He thoughts flowed fluidly between the technologies that were yet to be adapted and the very old. He used the notion of the swamp as the core of medieval fear to demonstrate how our perceptions of nature and cities have changed. He framed the pursuit of modernity in terms of how Mur had been straightened, motivated by normalization property lines, but the example gave a visual reference to how this pursuit had played out: When a river is channelized, the riverbed deepens because the currents move more quickly, the water digs at the earth. The water table sinks. Erosion at banks occurs, sometimes destabilizing bridges and roads. The Banks towered over the surface of the Mur by at least four meters. But his general point was why should the city be concerned about a small improvement in the water quality of a polluted river if the entire ecosystem in the water would be destroyed?

20181113: 3rd Floor | 2nd Floor

After editing all day for OSF, Vera invited Zihua and I to show each other our work in the Gemeinshaftraum. The proposition reminded me of graduate school critiques, of which I was not and still am not very fond. Vera began by showing us her abstract videos, the first, “Panoramic Panic Body” (2014, 10 minutes), was comprised of several botanical elements, some macro and some at recognizable scale, trading places in the center of the screen, woven between negative shots of trees. An unpredictable looping pattern of the elements brought the attention to the mid and background texture elements, while asynchronous sound stitched the video together.

I watched Vera's work from the perspective of the celluloid film art work that was popular in the Bay Area scene. I asked her outright where the inspiration and historical relationship to that style of film making had come from and she said that Freiburg had had a strong experimental film period in the 1970s, those film makers were now professor where she had studied. In relation to the Bay Area movement (of which still held some parts of SF in a experimental stranglehold), experimental cinema's materiality, fascination with Eastern ideology, e.g. Youngblood's attempt at framing video art as a transcendental tool:

"When we say expanded cinema we actually mean expanded consciousness." [1]

I was a little confused and surprised of how or why German film makers would propagate abstract film art. Why would German experimental film makers be theoretically inclined to scratch celluloid if they weren't reading Marshall McLuhan or permafried hippies? What use are hypnotic moving images if mental numbing toward escaping one’s consciousness isn’t the point?

Practically, I wondered how these artists in Germany got their hands on film equipment and whether there were industries there that sold off old gear to locals, in the way the television industry in NYC inadvertently equipped the art filmmakers who founded Anthology Film Archives, the Film-makers Cooperative and influenced upstate New York areas like Binghamton and later Alfred, NY. [2][3]

Getting at the genealogy of thought, with the discursive distinction of German theory on moving images, e.g. the Frankfurt School, more preoccupied with representation and social construction through images, i.e. Cultural Studies, than focusing on the medium of film, light and visual perception, i.e. what would become Media Studies, why would there be a Brakhage-esqe scene in Freiburg? The most logical answer is that art, art styles, art practices and artists travel, even if the theory that shaped it is left in its country of origin. Prior to the globalized world, or the networked world of the Internet, art existed in the routes of transit and it's for this reason that one encounters local artists in remote regions who are working in a style that may have never had any roots in that place.

Zihua showed us a video of a performance of his composition "remnants present," performed by the percussionist Noam Bierstone. [4][5] During the 13 minute piece, three objects–a large gong, a pan and a wooden board–hang in front of Bierstone, who is making scratching and tapping sounds using a metal wire whisk, and scratching a magnetic across the metal, which is attracting a magnetic on the other side, which could be seen moving while the scratching sound was being made. The percussionist and scenery were darkly lit by a side light. I looked at Zihua during this video and he had his eyes closed. My first thought was the composition could be perfect for a film score.

I attempted to show my SGT STAR work, but the wifi didn’t work in the Gemeinshaftraum, so it was assigned as homework. [5]

[1] "Expanded Cinema," Gene Youngblood, P. Dutton & Co., Inc., New York 1970
[2] Film-makers' Cooperative
[3] "Binghamton Babylon: Voices from the Cinema Department, 1967-1977," Scott M. MacDonald, SUNY Press, 2015
[4] Zihua Tan, remnants present / Noam Bierstone


20181114: Innere Stadt | Puchstraße

Martin arrived punctually, wearing lederhosen, a black suede sports jacket, fashionable pointed-toed leather shoes, and long, thick socks. I didn’t notice the entire outfit until he was behind the lens; my attention was on his frizzled white beard; each hair seemed to be dislodged, present only by a range of knots that kept it from falling to the floor. His spirit was a brisk as a walk over the hills to a neighbors house for dinner. He exudes positivity; he glowed. Romana arrived shortly after; reserved and concise, she counter-balanced Martin perfectly. I had positioned a light fixture comprised of the letters "over" next to the futon on which they sat.

The Zentraler Speicherkanal (ZSK) along with the powerplant and other secondary constructions are collectively part of what’s referred to as the Murkraftwerk. My operating knowledge of the ZSK was primarily taken from my discussion with Steven Weiss. Martin and Romana were selected by Eva as representatives of the "activist" side of the ZSK story. Steven too had worked with them, and I was cognizant that the project so far was being propelled into a domain of political utility. Whom I was supplied as interlocutors would invariably bend the project into a realm of instrumentality from which I’m characteristically opposed.

The questions that I formulated in advanced were: When did their participation begin? What's the issue for Rettet die Mur? What's the goal of Rettet die Mur? Talk about tiny particulate matter. How did you feel when the hydropower plant was finally pushed through? What are the primary urban ecological issues facing Graz? Does sewage leaking into the Mur bother them? Is conservation or remediation occurring in Graz? What is the relation between industry and environmentalism in Graz? I was prepared but too ambitious.

With these question at hand I simply asked: What was Rettet die Mur trying to save? That is, what is the Mur to them? A river? Water? An ecosystem? A location? An entity frozen in time?

Romana recounted the deal protesters made with the hydropower plant. The power plant would replace 1.5 trees for each felled tree. But there was disagreement between the protesters and the power plant company as to what constituted a tree. The final decision was only trees larger than a certain diameter would be counted and replaced; understandably, the protesters felt cheated. 20,000 trees were cut, but only 6,000 old trees were counted.

The other problem was where the new trees would be planted. In order to filter air particulates and fulfill some of the function of the felled trees, the new trees must be near to where the pollution occurs, or where the polluted air is being inhaled by people. Since the Mur runs through the city, the area where the original trees were was ideal, for want of change: central, accessible and useful. It's expected that the new trees will be planted at the periphery of the city where they would be less instrumental for cleaning air.

The importance of "cleaner" water, i.e. less untreated sewer and storm water entering the Mur was unimportant to them in light of the trade offs. To them, the fact that the Mur had quite high organic matter in the water upstream of Graz didn’t rationalize a program for improving water quality. Paper mills, industry, and sedimentation from other dams meant that the untreated sewage water contributed only 2-3% of the organic load of the water. Nor were they convinced that the European Water Directive encouraged Graz to improve the Mur. On this point, I wondered again what it was that was trying to be saved.

The hydropower plant would also change the run of the river, dam up the water 6 meters. The habitat of the huchen salmon would be impacted, or destroyed. A snake that is near extinction may be quelled. So while the profit of the energy would be private; the destruction would be collective. Because the introduction of a hydropower plant would make the current sewer overflows non-functional as they would be below the raised level of the water, a suspicion of dependency arose: was the hydropower solving a problem of the sewer by partially paying for the Speicherkanal, or was the Speicherkanal necessary to solve the problem caused by the hydropower plant? The total cost of the Speicherkanal was 160 million euro, half of which was paid by the hydropower plant and half was paid by tax dollars. So this logistical order of operations was congruent to the financial suspicion of dependency: were tax payers bailing out a corporation or was a corporation paying for civil infrastructure? 

Martin opposed “end of pipe” solutions for collecting and treating water and believed that the amount of water that was to be collected by the ZSK could be percolated around the city. Historically, this is true for much of the time, but centennial floods, including the 1860 flood that took lives and motivated the covering of the Graz rivers, contests his calculations. Essentially, Martin and Romana thought of rainwater as a resource, not a problem. And it’s hard to argue with his main critique of urban life: Cities operate on linear relations to energy, food, water, and people, taking it all in and spewing it out. In contrast to the cycles with which nature works, which are local, the city itself sounds like a bad citizen, a dated machine or an insatiable digestive tract. “The city is a parasite on the landscape,” Romana told us.

Collectively, the characteristic of the Murkraftwerk gave everyone something to which to be opposed; concomitantly the storage sewer became a target of the activists as well. In a divergent strategy of divide and conquer, the activists multiplied their opponents from one, the hydropower plant, to four: Holding Graz, which was the city-owned private company that manages waste and sewage, Technische Universität Graz, which designed the Speicherkanal, Verbund, the electrical company who will operate the hydropower plant, and the Mayor Siegfried Nagl, who supported the projects.

There were four big demonstration of the opposition to the power plant and the Speicherkanal, in which 2-4,000 people participated. A public surveyed was conducted and revealed that the majority of the signatories were not in favor of the power plant. People protested the tree cutting by climbing the trees, building tree houses and gathering support. The mental image of people in trees reminded me of 1980s protest in USA (was this when and where the expression 'tree hugger' was developed?). But the day after a special election in which the Green Party separated from the reigning party, the Social Democrats, and another party joined them, the trees were cut in a militant manner. The protests were over.

But there were severe legal hurdles that plagued both sides of the project. The water rights of the river exist in a problematic juridical gray zone, having been passed from days of monarchic oversight directly into private hands without a presumption of public good, public use, or public access. They are bought and sold by hydropower companies who can only compensate fishing clubs whose river will be forever changed. The fisherman have no legal standing. Another regulation requires that a hydropower plant make use of the entire breadth of the river, rather than just half of the river. The interface of what’s legal and what’s political meant that Rettet die Mur could not find a law office that would take their case in Graz, so the protesters went all the way to Vienna for legal aid. For the powerplant, the local laws being bent by the Mayor could be corrected by Austrian or EU regulators. The evacuation of the tree protesters was subsequently determined to have been illegal.

Amidst the ecological questions in which both Romana and Martin were experts, and under the banner against which they had fought the project, they returned again and again to the political element: suspected corruption and blatant undermining of democratic processes. Later I learned that Romana was in the midst of a legal battle that could have a toll on her personal finances.

The tree cutting made timber of the public trust. The city’s own future planning had not included a power plant and the plan had been believed by its citizens. The communication of the Murkraftwerk was tardy, and when information was finally released, it was perceived as propagandistic and one-sided. Indeed, even the exhibition and informational space in Holding Graz was opened to the public, my first observation was that there was no mention of anything detrimental to the environment, as if the entire project had existed without serious opposition. The news media – Kleine Zeitung – television and radio is suspected of being an extension of city hall, ruled by money and personal interests.

Although the hydropower plant is, as of 2019, almost finished and expected to open in the spring, and that the Speicherkanal is nearly completed, Romana and Martin do not believe the fight is over. They hope to win in court and force the hydropower plant to pay for the entire storage sewer, and/or get Mayor Nagel pushed out of office. Even such a partial victory would be a smoke signal against future endeavors and a pivot toward the green and blue future that Romana hope to see grow.


Graz has the Stadtentwicklung-Konzept


2018115: Manhattan | Graz

An arts atelier may not be the best indicator of technological inclination, but I couldn't help but notice the technology that people were using. iPhone 4, which was eight years old, PCs instead of Macs, or old Macs, instead of new Macs, cabled headphones and websites that look old enough to vote. So when Iris wanted to have a conference about my project and I proposed a Bluejeans® conference or Skype® because I needed to be editing for George, her aversion to connect to VoIP just reiterated my observation: Austrias aren't at the cutting edge of consumer technology. Ultimately she acquiesced and allowed me to be her first bluejeans meeting host. The art of existing two places at once is made possible by voice over Internet protocol.

Within this question of tech is at least a highly sophisticated manner of restraining the members of an affluent country from consuming techno-trash at the rate of New Yorkers, including myself, and generating techno-waste. At most a question of what exactly does “affluent country” mean. The trend of higher standards of living being synonymous with rates of consumption/waste production seems to not be true in the case of Graz (I noticed a similar de-teched presence outside of Schaumbad). The most obvious answer is that higher taxes have curbed a rate of consumption by lowering expendable incomes. This is social welfare society in which desires are suspended by a prescribed way of living that offer social and urban infrastructure instead. If this is the case, then the Murkraftwerk is even more dubious, using tax money for a prescription that is not only reprehensible to the paying citizens, but aimed to cheapen electrical consumption, which is already a decade behind consumer levels.

But it's not as simple as the Grazers just keeping up with the Joneses. Graz has a parallel technosphere. In some ways its boldly local. For example, everyone has a @mur.at email address, which was described to me as a company that supported the arts but was today an actual business. Later I learned that it was founded by a group of net artists during the 1990s who now rely on annual donations in order to offer this exclusive (isolated?) service.

In another aspect, the tech world hadn't fully reached Graz. Google maps failed to give accurate directions in Graz, outside of walking and biking routes. Qando was an alternative maps app that encompassed the extensive public transportation system, but it was wonky. Uber didn't operate in Graz. One had to call 878 taxi to get picked up. Lime, Bird and Tier scooters, which were extensive in Vienna were absent in Graz. There was no Apple store in Graz.

20181116: Hellweg | European Livingroom

Zihua and I set off at 9 in the morning to pick up supplies. The top of my list was an AC cable to replace the adapter. We first stopped at Hellweg, a domestic hardware store. While there were electronics, I didn't find the cable. I had stopped in several computer stores around the city, including Hartlauer, and home supply stores, like XXX Lutz and Möbelix, and even Libro. No success. All had some amount of techno-trash but none offered the low-level trash I needed. In fact, the tech they had was too sophisticated. We gave up and went to Boesners for art supplies.

In preparation for the Triple V Trip – Vienna, Venice & Vanesa – I picked up a second T Mobile data card for her. What I didn't know was that the network response and speed was functional only in Austria, not Italy, nor Germany, nor Spain. This is very strange since even the US TMobile card has some concurrence in Europe, albeit slower.

In the evening I went to a performance of European Working Title, which was 99% in German and I understood about 0.5% of the dialogue. The visual scenario included an artist who was be creating an artwork using string wrapped around a bookcase and other junk while a woman was soliciting something to/from him. Adjacent was woman dressed as a rabbit sitting at a writing desk. In the middle of the floor was a big blue plastic tarp that was later used for three of the characters to change costume. Two actors drank gallons of water. A man climbed a set of stairs and exposed his anus to both side of the audience, and later that same man interjected with the performance and started to engage the crowd, including asking me if I understood any of the performance. I denied knowing anything, which was 99% true, and he demanded that the entire play be translated into English for me. He then led me around the stage, which had been mostly demolished by performers prior to this segment and said I could do literally anything I wanted to do. It’s amazing how few desires one has when the mind is preoccupied with misdirection.

Later Iris told me that the crying during the performance pertained to someone learning about what happened in a television show and being deeply disturbed by what she had learned. It sounded interesting. Allegedly later performances adjusted to the audience’s reaction and walkouts and toned down some of the aggressiveness and intimidation on behalf of the Slovak, whose anus most spectators could likely identify in a police lineup. That is unfortunate because I saw this as a dramatic, PG-13 version of a Viennese Actionist performance and thought they should have gone in the other direction – even more extreme. I don't think the Actionists even reached the level of necrophilia, network hacking or national debt lending. What I mean to say is that there is room to grow.

2018117: Graz | Vienna

On the bus ride from Murpark, Graz Ostbahnhof, a commercial shopping center to Flughaven Wein, the hub of local, regional and international transportation, I reviewed the video of Steven Weiss and Martin and Romana. Of the three interviewees, Romana was the most open, vulnerable and honest about her knowledge, experience in protest and proximity of emotional consequences. The topic of the film is ultra-specific: the ZSK. Between the workflow of logging talking points on the timeline, I realized that, topically, the content was only interesting when an emotion came onto a face, when the camera sat in that moment and when I stopped talking or asking questions. I had been too busy managing the crass logistics of focus, lighting, sound and intelligent questions in response to Martin and Romana's intelligent answers that I had tread over these nascent emotions as they related to the information they were disclosing; I had rushed and by doing so erased what could have been very fascinating footage. The connection between an event and viewer is an expression.

At the Vienna airport I tried to study my Deutsch als fremdsprache grammar book but mostly just imagined the series of facial expressions that Vanesa would give me when she came out of the arrivals gate. Annoyance by Norwegian air; a huff through a few disheveled hairs; rolling eyes at the weight of her luggage; tossing hands up as another exiting passenger loses his way in front of her; a mouth forced ajar by the fatigue of an international red-eye flight. But she just melted with happiness when we found each other in the crowd. The Triple V began.

The OBB to Mitte then to the airbnb in Neubaugasse.

We didn’t care that the host was 15 minutes late to meet us. Or the cold. The apartment had a German toilet, complete with a fecal platform. High ceilings, modernist furniture and malfunctioning thermostat that had been set to "night" during the day and essentially off because of that. Scandi-chic decor and hints of culture.

We went to Backerstrasse to try to see Russell Maltz's exhibition during the opening hours, but the gallery was closed. Next door was the tourist trap restaurant advertised all over the Internet as the best place for Austrian schnitzel: Figlmüller. We had schnitzel, tafelspitz and bier; all of the portions which were too large for a normal person to consume. The horseradish was mild; the schnitzel was dry but we were too happy to see each other to really notice the cuisine was actually the worst in Austria.

Although Vienna has amazing public transportation, we walked home, past Saint Stephen's Cathedral.

20181118: Altlerchenfeld | Stammersdorf

It was too cold to kill time outside before our breakfast with Russell and Diane so we rode the tram out to Stammersdorf. Signs of mid-century urban development projects: modernist complexes big enough to form and house a community. I saw an advertisement for a new Lakeside Smartcity development near Donaustadt.[1] How soon will these Smartcity projects look as dated as these modernist blobs?

Russell and Diana were on the way back to NYC after his show opening at Bäckerstraße. Seeing friends outside of your city creates the illusion of a time-driven deepening. Compounded with the extra 20 minutes of looking for a cafe that was open, we did indeed bond in the cold.

In Austria, everything is closed on Sunday. Legally, many stores are obligated to be closed on Sunday. Establishments for food, drinks, gifts, bookstores, and museums are the exception. However, even stores that sell items outside of these categories have to obstruct sale of certain items by pulling a curtain over those products on Sunday. The Counter-reformation.

If you work at a job you don't like, everything being closed on Sunday is a blessing. I recall two decades ago, loving the idea of less work hours, of free Sundays, of some non-consumerism, non-productivity ideal. But if you enjoy your occupation, i.e. if you are part of a class of people who are pursuing their passion, the limited hours are a hindrance to self-actualization. The theory of competency in something requiring a certain number of hours – 10,000 or more – requires these evening and weekend contributions. Does Sunday necessarily obstruct this? No. One may be able to adequately plan their Sunday in advance by buying materials on Saturday, but an unforeseen hindrance may arise; Saturday may be a day of travel; or you may be obligated to work on Saturday. The limit to business hours on Sunday is not just to prohibit buying, it may also be to prohibit one’s productivity or self-development.

Limits to Sunday aren't the only variable in this quest of self-development; limited weekly work hours also play a role. And whether it is legally mandated that work stop, or simply socially encouraged, the pursuit of extra hours is impeded. The reverse is also true: I’ve feel compelled to work even during vacations, at the beach, at the spa. I have a sense of enjoyment and pride from this incessant toil.

From the perspective of an aspiring artist, actor, writer or even start up company, the culture of aggrandized free-time should be seen with suspicion. In the context of a world in which one is, or aspiring to become, their own boss, pursue a passion, the 35-hour work week something to be avoided. The distinction is whether the limitation is on working hours, or hours of vocation. Are you a subordinate, escaping orders on Sunday, or are you an entrepreneur – or realistically have a potential of transitioning to be an entrepreneur – and Sundays are slowing your progress?

It's no coincidence that my perspective on this question has reversed in the last decade. At age 25, I relished in the idea of more free-time; the European approach to labor and quality of life seemed ideal. At 35, I'm trying to get the last hours of production, while a mid-life gate is closing and quality of life is not as important as lifestyle. That is, my perspective isn't useful for people at every stage in life. I’m talking about an hour of ambition, an hour before sunset, an hour after the zeal of relaxation has worn away, an hour when play has become tiresome. And yet I have to admit why, even at age 25, I left Spain to return to the U.S.: the pace. Barcelona is an amazing city, but I found that I simply could not work, produce, create and pursue my art in Barcelona at the pace that I could in Seattle. And now being accustomed to the pace of New York, Seattle nor Europe are simply not an options.

Another question is for whom are shuttered Sundays benefit? The most obvious is the institution that mandated the closure in the first place – the Catholic Church – but today it's divided on socioeconomic grounds as well. Even non-believers defend Sundays as a day-off. After institutions, one has to look at the classes that benefit from days off. The few things that stay open – entertainment, fitness, cafes, restaurants, museums – are places frequented by the class of people with disposable income. Parks are free, but what about in winter? By requiring that all social classes take a day of leisure, a leisure-class maintains a custom of leisure, while those outside the leisure-class have one day without work and maybe leisure. (It should be noted that countries with higher income inequality have been found to have lower intergenerational social mobility; I.e. the U.S. has less intergenerational social mobility that Denmark, although the U.S. is "open for business" more days that Denmark.)

Another group that is benefitting from shortened work hours are those whose productivity is connected to technology. As technological advances occur, white collar workers are becoming more productive in shorter amounts of time, garnering higher wages, while blue collar workers whose time away from the table equates to greater losses of productivity and stagnating wages.

The variable of competition between countries is also important. Rather than seeing this simply as “if your neighbor is working seven days a week, and therefore you must also, in order to keep up with the Jones,” we have to ask if your distant cousin, on another continent is working. And while many developing countries are shortening their work week, I wonder how much of the progress that was made in the late 20th century in China and India was due to overworking; i.e. is "catching up" possible, if work equates to productivity and productivity equates to wealth. In the four decades, China brought 500 million people out of poverty, which is the greatest wealth generation in human history. That wasn’t due to a 35 hour work week. And, when the standard of living and wealth of China surpasses that of Europeans, will people really believe that going to the park on Sunday was worth trading economic dominance?

Conversely, does leisure necessarily equate to non-productivity? If a developed country transitions from production, i.e. blue collar jobs, to white-collar society, does the productivity goes down or just move to the service sector? [2]

Thankfully I like museums and Vienna is abundant with great institutions and more importantly great collections.

The first show I saw was at a Kunsthalle, which by definition don’t have a collection, but I had thought "Antarktika Eine Austellung über Entfremdung" at Kunstahalle Wien was about climate change and the resulting alienation. I read the pamphlet for insight as to why the exhibition was about everything other than climate change:

"In the 1960s the director Michelangelo Antonioni described Antartica in a sketch for a potential film as a condensed image for ongoing social glaciation. It metaphorically refers to the paradoxical experience of inclusion and, at the same time, isolation: recalling theories of alienation. The exhibition "Antarctica" gathers art that probes the ramifications of this cold vision of society with particular emphasis on recent positions in contemporary art. The participating artists portray insightful relations between the subject and contemporary modes of being, bringing the eroded boundaries between labor and leisure into focus with photo and video works that oscillate between documentation and performance. Other works in the exhibition illustrate the hallmarks of contemporary consumer culture in perfectly composed imagery."

What could be a better example of the world as societé? Taking a quadragenerian metaphor, which today can't even be contemplated without the broad knowledge and acceptance of Antarctica as an indicator of our melting existence as a species and overriding the metaphor, that reduces the physical and natural world into a preoccupation of social interactions? I hated the show title, but there were works that I found interesting. Maybe the artworld has already grown tired of shows about our pending doom; maybe giving it a break will give space to reconceive of it, or reconcile our fate.

It was surprising to see a show that was touted for videos and photographs to still have a large number (~30%) of paintings. Jana Schulz’s documentary of the social interaction between of young boys was interesting. It was reminiscent of Fredrick Wiseman style: no narration, no narrative. Burak Delier's video, “The Bells,” with a theater group performing corporate trust building exercises was almost as interesting as his "Crisis & Control.” [3] Isabella Fürnkäs's video comparing machine fabrication to dance culture was visually interesting for exactly 120 seconds. I liked the hypothesis. Many of the other works in the show were sophomorish obsessions with the unimportant, which was refreshing for me to be reminded that there are European artists who make completely meaningless artworks that get exhibited in the same nepotistic style as that which occurs in New York. Maybe that is the “positions in contemporary art” that the curators were referencing.

[1] https://smartcity.wien.gv.at/site/en/aspern-viennas-urban-lakeside
[2] "White Collar Productivity: Not Necessarily a Contradiction in Terms" http://thecfoconnection.com/white-collar-productivity-not-necessarily-a-contradiction-in-terms-2/
[3] Burak Delier home page

20181119: Buxbaum | Nguyễn's Phở

We succumbed to the cold and headed to the shopping center in Neubaugasse to stock up on gloves, hats and under-shirts. By the time we decided what to buy it we had to head to our reservation at Buxbaum. The intention was to short circuit our lazy food/tourist experience by going to a Michelin-rated restaurant that would give us a positive impression of the local cuisine. We ordered one of everything off of the lunch menu. It was fine; the trend of small plates, daring mixtures of flavors, unexpected parings of sweet in salty or vice versa, there are fashionable flavors, cooking techniques and although the cuisine is different, I was reminded that upscale dining basically tastes the same in every country. And we agreed, as we always do, not to go to expensive restaurants anymore. The only other patrons were businessmen visiting from the UK.

Even with our new winter apparel, it was so cold and unpleasantly wet outside that after lunch we inadvertently became Viennese by taking a long coffee break, reading the news and snacking on cakes at Cafe Diglas.

The Bruegul show at the Kunsthistorisches Museum was impossible to get tickets to, but we saw a collections show curated by Wes Anderson and his wife. The show looked like a Wes Anderson movie. Visually very appealing, completely corrosive of the historic and artistic importance of the works in the collection. But I liked to see it just the same, perhaps because so often visual art exhibitions are aesthetically destitute and can be experienced by someone with 20/20 vision just as well as someone with 0/20 vision and a text-to-voice program reading the curatorial statement.

The top floor temporary space showed photographs of "The Last Days" by Helmut Wimmer, who had photoshopped scenes of nature into the museum galleries as if humanity had gone extinct and nature was taking back possession of the world.[1] I liked the idea, which was basically a site-specific recreation of the book “The World Without Us.” The execution could have been pushed further; some of the photoshopped works did not take into account basic things like the direction of a spotlight on the gallery of heads, which would have cast a shadow on the photoshopped forest floor, or even the color space of the superimpositions and the background. The artist paid attention to the glossy floor reflections, but could have used a few more youtube tutorials on digital collage.

The highlight of the day was using a Lime scooter to go home, which was a lot of fun and somewhat dangerous. I can see these as the future of transportation. Much faster than walking, not the lifestyle/danger commitment of biking, especially since bikes in the US are required to use the streets, but scooters could use sidewalks, and no worries about parking them.

We ate Nguyễn's Phổ, which was packed and appropriate cuisine for a cold, wet day. The broth was good, with a strong meat flavor, but they didn't serve the fresh lime or sauces that you're supposed to get with phổ.

[1] helmutwimmer.net

20181120: Vienna Art Week | Nachmarkt

Vienna Art Week was a primary reason why we decided to come to Vienna, and when we came. For me, it was an excuse to see the city while working in residence in Graz. Susan Hapgood had highly recommended it and the only question was balancing time with Vanesa and time "working." I was particularly interested in seeing what was happening at the alternative spaces.[1] I would have liked to have time to visit the Artist in Residence of Krinzinger Projekte, kunsthalle Exnergasse, Q21/MuseumsQuartier or studio das weiss haus but they all would begin after our scheduled departure or were closed because it was Sunday.

The first event we tried to visit was in a furniture store. I liked the idea of art art occupying the space of decorative art. Unfortunately the information of the opening time posted online was not right and the place was locked and no one was inside. The photos of cities weren't that interesting anyway and I got more from the description than I would have from some time mingling with strangers:

Fifty percent of the world population today dwells in cities. By 2025, 500 million more people will live in the 600 largest cities in the world. Apparently cities remain “the most promising paradises.” Luca Faccio has captured the centers and peripheries of metropolises such as Tokyo, Seoul, New York, Pyongyang, Beijing, Mexico City and Vienna. He presents his travel photographs in the ambience of a vintage furniture store under liquidation in order to trace the visions of international (post-)modernism “in retrovisionary fashion” (Paolo Bianchi). [2]

The second event we tried to visit was an artist talk at Loft8 by the realist painters Richard Jurtitsch and Marianne Lang. I presumed the talk would be in English because many of the events on the website specified that the event would be in German, and this event did not. But when we entered the gallery the attendant immediately approached us and asked if we understood German and told us it would be entirely in German but that we were welcome to stay and enjoy the nuances of the German language. Very nice, but we left after looking at the paintings of photorealistic water on glass or metal and buildings made of green, plant-like cells.

We decide to play it safe by going to a big institution that had no talk, just a show: "VER _VER _VER“ at the Sigmund Freud Museum. Outside was the video installation of Katharina Heinrich. We spent about 30 seconds watching the text on screen.[3] Inside was a show of mostly conceptual art works, which seemed fitting in the Freud Museum. Conceptual art may be the bastard grandchild of psychoanalysis. A few big names and a few new works I hadn't seen. But the real prize was at the wine table. At first only people over 50 were there; a younger graffiti artist came later. I think in total, including Vanesa and I, there were 11 people at this "opening." I spoke with one lady who seemed on the autistic spectrum. The man who was talking to her quickly disappeared when we introduced ourselves. It did not feel like a healthy art "scene" but maybe "If you build it they will come" ?

The art that I most enjoyed in Vienna was at Ed Ruscha's exhibition at Secession in which he showed used drum heads skins with double negative phrases painted on them. "Ruscha's show at Secession marks the public debut of a new series of linguistic paintings informed by his memories of Oklahoma City, where he spent his teenage years, and the city's distinctive slang: used parchment drumheads are inscribed with locution whose shared feature is the use of a double negation–"I ain't telling you no lie," for example, and "I can't find my keys nowhere."[4] Ruscha's artist books were gorgeous, holding ground against his 2 meter paintings of an American flag weathering in front of a series of sky conditions.

Philipp Timischl's show, Artworks for All Age Groups, was an unconvincing attempt at blasé, undermined by repetition of the ordinary. The artist dressed in drag-hyper-glam-gold, high heels, color-coordinated with the Beethoven murals, was photographed moving through the museum, accompanied by a shirtless male companion. The photos were stylistically fashion-magazine, ca. 1990s. The gender/identity element distracted from the teetering plinths and corporate paint-ball arena, obstacle-course layout of the show, safely mixed with unrewarding looping videos, coyly comprised of a counting down clock that endured longer than the content itself. The show was basically four artworks–the photos, the video, the tilting plinths, and the performance of the photos–re-iterated again and again, in subtle variation through a series of rooms. Timischl has figured out how to monetize video art by tacking a 2D work above the display and placing the monitor on the floor, as if they two works interact like a diptych. But in the company of Ruscha, whose unique, idiosyncratic, dry body of work was foundational for the banal art trends of the 1990s (Koons, et al), Timischl's regurgitation at claim to "the everyday" is clumsy, insecure and confused. But this was a curatorial shortcoming; the work would have been more engaging in one large room, rather than a several small rooms, which would have drawn more attention to the nuances in the chains and photos.

The night markets were in season swing. Glühwein and sweets in the crowd and the ineradicable memory of the headline of a terrorist van driving through the splendor.

[1] The participating alternative spaces were: Apartment Draschan & Draschan; Blickle Raum Spiegelglas; Dimensions Variable; fAN Kunstverein; Favorites in Favoriten; flatI; fluc; hinterland galerie; k48 - Offensive fur zeitgenössische Wahrnehmung Projektraum Oliver Hangl; Kunstraum Super; Neuer Kunstverein Wien; PFERD - Forum zur Forderung Zeitgenössischer Kunst; Salon 4; and sehsaal.
[2] Exhibition: “Luca Faccio – Metro:snoisiV” Lagerhaus 1900–1950, Große Neugasse.
[3] The material on which Katharina Heinrich’s new video work is based consists of three words, each with the prefix “VER.” The individual letters run in horizontal shifts, elongations and overlappings to form a bright horizon on a dark background. This continuously flowing rhythm gives rise to a mass of character combinations whose meaning cannot be figured out for some time. It is only after the first five minutes of this 10-minute piece have passed that one of the nouns starts to emerge more clearly, while the other two vanish. For a moment, it is only the suffix of one (“UNG”) together with the prefix of the other (“VER”) that flank the “leitmotif” remaining in the middle.

The vanished terms linger in the memory for a while like afterimages, and yet their semantics hold more than just a simple reference to the rules of grammar. The attempt to establish significant links between the words enriches the kaleidoscopic moving script with complex levels of meaning. “The work refers to the current global sociopolitical situation, the suggestive use of language in elections. The words are an allusion in particular to 2018 as an anniversary year in Austria,” says the artist, who also utilizes modes of “delusion and disillusion” and of “construction and deconstruction” as tools for gaining insight.
[4] Ed Ruscha, Philip Timischl, Kris Lemsalu: 16.11.2018-20.1.2019" Secession museum booklet, Vienna, Austria 2018.