Sunday, July 31, 2011

Cross sections of happiness

A little cross section of twelve days
of travelling happiness and melancholy
on our way to a Hungarian jazz festival,
a Swiss wedding and French friendships...

Villa Le Lac, Le Corbusier

Cascade de la Druise,

L'homme qui avait
le coeur dans la main -

Hussein Chalayan,
Musée des Arts Décoratifs

Libuše Niklová,
Musée des Arts Décoratifs

Monday, June 20, 2011

No More Art 3: Support SKOR for Art in Public Space

To all cultural practitioners who understand that ... culture needs culture to strive, bloom and evolve (i can't say it more simply) –

Follow SKOR's protest actions here
Or sign the petition here, in favor of a sustained and reflective discourse of our socio-cultural realm

& Just make some noise, and show the Dutch government that this kind of policy making will not make them cool (read: tough) abroad, as they like to believe. Dutch politics are discrediting themselves at a pace they cannot keep up with. The situation would be a great script for a satire or slapstick, but unfortunately there's nothing to laugh about.

No More Art 2: let everything go up in smoke


Please forward !

Dear art friend,

On Friday the 24th June at noon local time, we need you to join this initiative in shrouding art locations across the world in coloured smoke.  This visual act will be a sign of resistance against the growing disdain for the arts within societies and governments worldwide, and a sign of support for colleagues who face major cutbacks. Now is the time to act to show your appreciation and the necessity of the arts!

ARTBOMB is a peaceful art intervention initiated in The Netherlands. The Dutch Government is about to cut 40% of all cultural funding. This will result in the disappearance of a multitude of organizations that excel internationally in their field. This loss will be felt not only by the Dutch public but by the international community.

One signal, one moment, one act to show support.  You can contribute visual ammunition against the disproportionate cuts to the arts budget.  This visible intervention will rise up around the world where people value the arts and want to express their support for artists and cultural organizations.

Everybody who joins the ARTBOMB intervention will become part of this chain reaction and is invited to upload the photos and films of their own intervention to the website as a token of solidarity and a symbol of strength.


Information about ARTBOMB and how to join:


No More Art 1: Why intrinsic values don't seem to matter anymore

Dutch coup d'état in art and culture: Appeal for response!

Last week in a memorandum titled "More than Quality," the State Secretary for Culture, acting on behalf of the Dutch government (a minority government of liberals and Christian Democrats, whose hold on power relies on the support of Geert Wilders's anti-Islam Freedom Party (PVV)) announced his new "vision" for the field of culture, which represents nothing less than a violent and sweeping political manoeuvre aimed at the very notion of culture and art, its role in society, and its place within the democratic sphere. With the exception of but a handful of "top international institutions" that will be spared, the entire field of internationally focused and future-oriented artistic experimentation, innovation, education, and development, which has distinguished the Netherlands and given it a leading international position in the field for many decades, is to be demolished practically overnight. Instead of preserving the values of experimentation, risk, and vision, the memorandum leaves us with rhetoric about "strengthening the responsibility and resilience of citizens" and letting "the market" take its "natural" course.

To be clear: Dutch professionals in the field of art and culture are aware of the fact that some cuts in funding are necessary given today's economic situation and that a recalibration of support may be called for. Furthermore the cuts in arts funding might seem of lesser importance in light of what is happening, with the same brutality, in the fields of healthcare, social reform, education, the media and scientific research, among others. However it is in solidarity with all these realms that we raise our voices in disagreement about the sweeping, overreaching, and devastating broad cuts proposed.

Speaking from the position of our field, we find it essential to point out that what we are facing is in fact an end of an internationally valued cultural climate, which we dare say is unparalleled anywhere in the world. In and outside of the Netherlands, the art world has benefited from the existence of a cultural system of generosity towards the artistic and cultural imagination of the future, which today finds itself under threat of extinction. We must articulate our disagreement with these developments, and our resistance to them together, in order to prevent the following from happening:

In the fields of art and culture, the budget will shrink by 200 million Euros; for visual art it means going from 53,3 to 31 million on an annual basis, taking immediate effect in 2013. Amongst other things, this will lead to:
• A 50 % cut in the budget for stipends and working grants for artists;
• A 50% cut in the budget of the Mondriaan Foundation, the body e.g. responsible for supporting international projects;
• A dramatic reduction of the number of contemporary visual arts institutions receiving state support (which currently include Witte de With, De Appel, BAK, Marres, etc.) from 11 to 6;
• A total withdrawal of all support for art magazines;
• The end of government subsidies for functions now fulfilled by the Manifesta Foundation, SKOR | Foundation for Art and Public Domain, and the NiMK – Netherlands Media Art Institute;
• The end of all public financing of the post-academic education for artists offered in places such as the Ateliers, Rijksakademie voor beeldende kunsten, European Ceramic Work Centre, and the Jan van Eyck Academie.

Given this dramatic situation of the annihilation of government support for broad sectors of the internationally-recognized Dutch contemporary art field, we hope that you — our international colleagues — will respond fiercely and immediately to this extermination of our future heritage by signing this letter and returning it to us. We will hand over all letters to State Secretary Halbe Zijlstra.

Ann Demeester, Guus Beumer, Maria Hlavajova, Arno van Roosmalen, representing De Zaak Nu, various institutions and individuals in the contemporary visual arts all of whom are concerned about the future of the whole cultural field in the Netherlands. For more info see and


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Creative Company Conference

Haarlem, June 7, 2011.

Dying to connect…. Hipe or hope?

Set in the quietly located Haarlem's Philarmonie, the symposium's aim, according to its founder Rudolf van Wezel, is to connect creativity with business, with connectivity as this year's main theme. Creative Value Networks, Creative Entrepreneurship, and CCC Lunchtime Experience – as a relative outsider to the world of marketing and management, I found myself more and more puzzled by the managerial jargon and mindset of the day. Notions and words, which I have worked with for years, have apparently made it into the latest management theories (read: manuals, hypes, trends, buzz). Here's a selection of magical equations which claim to bring about change and innovation.

From Martijn Hamman's "Dominate Your Market" presentation (Van den Enden & Deitmer)

KISS: Keep It Stupidly Simple
Think BIC: Believe Innovate Collaborate
The 3 S: Sizeable Scalability Sustainability
CFIMITYM: Cash FLow Is More Important Than Your Mother

& and these are two striking ideas about today's world...

Entrepreneurship is the engine that drives the world.
Thinking becomes more important than knowing.

At regular intervals during the day, we are invited to connect to each other, the speakers, and even the (great) American bookstore in the entrance hall. By noon, I have to think of a recent article in NRC Next, which argued for a society without managers - its main claim being that most management is actually mismanagement, wasting resources, attention and time, and parasiting the creative discourse. A point in case in this respect is the book The Conversation Manager, by Steven van Belleghem. Van Belleghem rightfully points out that word-of-mouth and trust dynamics are the core incentives that drive our decisions regarding our careers and lives. His next claim is more problematic - according to him, conversations can and should be managed, hence providing a wealth of opinion-driven PR space to step into (and profit from). I would have liked to ask him about his last good conversation, and if we would have enjoyed finding out that it had been schemed from beginning till end. Or, as the day's comedian from Boomchicago neatly put it: crowd sourcing is kind of like if i invite you to dinner and I ask you what are you making me for dinner….

Uneasiness and resistance are interesting phenomena - they point to conflicting values and ethics. That I react as I did, comes as no surprise – "the room was filled with creatives wanting to go into business and business people wanting to be creative" (Boom Chicago).

"We need all need a Why" was a popular statement of the day, which could have connected the business and creative minds in the room, but strangely enough the conference itself was mainly instrumental in character. Notions that I work with as bearers of meaning, came by today as selling points: content, conversation, value, these notions have become quantifiable – hence manageable, which to me (forgive my longing for authenticity)endangers their actual (intrinsic) value.

It's all about reputation.

Can we imagine others models of success than the capitalist, profit driven one? Creativity is about intrinsic motivation, what is your incentive system? What are the consequences of embracing the network as a business model? How can design thinking help foster ecosystems?

According to Neil Robertson (, crowd sourcing is a petri dish to test new forms of motivation, which do not rely only on money; examples of these new labour models are Mechanical Turk, or 99 designs. U tester, Trada, and Kloud score are other professional rating systems that reshape the labor market. The fact that we can now quantify expertise has made us move from a meritocracy to expert based markets. However, a danger, pointed out by a member of the audience, is that skills become commodities. To which Robertson cryptically replied: (…) We are commoditising the transaction costs of being an expert.

Nonetheless, being able to measure things opens up new territories – knowing about latitude and longitude helped us position ourselves, hence enabling us to move on to other, yet unknown horizons.

"Young people are today's leaders. They are the astronauts - I take care of their safe landing, and that of our customers." Ruurd Priester (Strategy Director Lost Boys)

"The issue with creative industries is you don't know what you get. That's the point of creativity. This is uncomfortable to the rest of the market, because most of the world lacks the confidence to trust this kind of processes. The norm is delivery, not research." - Victor van der Chijs (Managing Director OMA, Chairman Creative industries)

The creative sector should re-invent itself. It should concentrate on cross-overs, so that the collective intelligence of creative industries can start to be applied to urgent issues, who up till now have been left up to technocratic institutions. Now is the time, because we can organize processes now in one tenth of the time it used to take. Such is the conclusion, which van der Chijs formulated, partly fed by the architectural practice of OMA. By expanding their activities beyond architecture and bluffing their way into other fields of strategic thinking, OMA diversified its risks as an enterprise and broadened its scope of expertise. At the core of this move is the twofold identity of OMA / AMO, where OMA is the 'regular' architecture firn while AMO  focuses on everything but architecture.

Some other of OMA's business model assets include: inventive and creative, profitable but not profit driven, no compromise in quality, talent scouting, short term work contracts. A distinct feature of OMA is its chameleon identity – in order to win the CCTV pitch, OMA became semi-Chinese in its organization, so as to understand the political context, speak the language, and be sensible to the local context. This mimicking behavior is a known entrepreneurial trait - mimicking allows us to empathize and hence develop adequate sensibilities for a given task.

At least I'm not laying bricks, or why running is considered opulent in Rwanda

According to Sarah Lacy, the day's last speaker, good entrepreneurs should be brilliant, crazy and cocky, by which she means: someone who foresees things the rest of us don't see, who is delirious enough to think he / she is the one to do something about it, and who has the courage to stick to his / her gut feeling, even when everyone will say them wrong.

"We talk about emerging economies and we only look at jaw dropping demographics – the problems the emerging world is facing today are problems that the west never had to face - we can learn from their entrepreneurial approach."

What we call innovative is not really innovative. Often what makes something innovative is its execution.
Types of cultural innovation, which Lacy encountered in her scouting research are: innovative monetization (Tencent: making money from instant messaging, China), innovative delivery (sms newsletter as a means of synchronizing supply and demand and connecting fractured communities, India), innovating the Old economy (a brick layer bluffing his way into building a house in 24 hours, ending up building a contested village near a gigantic dam amidst the Amazon region), Innovative society (rolling out fiber optic cables, which literally repair the country's social tissue, Rwanda).

What can we learn from all this? Pressing issues should (re)claim their space at the center of our discourse (Banny Bannerjee of the Standford Design Program). I couldn't agree more.

Monday, May 23, 2011

till death do us part

Bonnie & Clyde, shot by the police on may 23rd, 1934, in an ambush outside their hideout.

There's a new master in town

The campaign I designed with Erik Wong for the (new) master’s degree courses of the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam was launched last week. Guided by Jurgen Bey's ambitious take on education, the Sandberg is heading for some exiting adventures.

To all industrious and dedicated talents who might read this post: surf to the special apply page for all application details, and audio fragments of the talks I had with the course directors. Do you know any students or graduates, designers or other resourceful specialists in your network that fit the profiles? Thank your for forwarding this post to them. They can also contact the course coordinators via

Please note: the application deadline for summer admissions is July 1, for EU students. For non EU students who need a residence permit the deadline is May 1.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Unbound and Rebound

Yesterday I moderated the Book by Design session at the Unbound Book Conference, organised the Institute of Network Cultures. The setting of the session was the book as it evolves today, unbound from its traditional format, content, production and use parameters. New territories are said to emerge for book designers, or rather: designers of reading experiences, in Andrew Blauvelt's words [in: I read Where I am, a collection of statements on new reading and information cultures by Mieke Gerritzen, Geert Lovink and Minke Kampman, released today]. See all images of the conference by Sebastiaan Ter Burg  here.

The Panelists were Dirk van Weelden (author and philosopher), Otmar Hoefen (trained typesetter), Roosje Klap (graphic designer) and Femke Snelting (artist / designer). They addressed the questions of the day from a philosophical angle, from the perspective of the work floor –and the desk top– and from the experience of the act of imagining, and designing (e)books.

Here are some notes I took from the talks and the discussion. I purposely interspersed notes from other sessions of the day to add some spice to the whole notion of bookishness and readership, which by the end of the day literally made me dizzy (and angry also, for no clear reason?!). The phrases are from the four panelists, Nicholas Spice, I Read Where I Am, Henk Oosterling, and myself.

- a book is an object, a medium and an idea
- a book is a valued system that ultimately generates knowledge
- a book is accumulated, immersed attention
- every book (or object) has always had its origin in a network
- books make time; reading literally tele transports you out of here and now
- the types of things we read shape us as readers (down to the 6 point typeface): what kind of readers does the world need?

- texts and image have become interchangeable, we watch text as much as we read images
- we should start thinking about how browsing, leafing, linking and watching can become significant concepts of today's reading cultures
- reading can be informational, performative (as in sheet music), social and/or (!) solitary, to name only but a few. the future of book design is in understanding these modes of reading, and including these affordances in the entire process
- design is about designing interfaces and affordances: the nature of these is becoming more and more complex and dispersed, geographically and over time. book design for a network society needs to happen in a networked way
- how can a WORK retain its value in an information society, when every word that is made public is immediately appropriated, taken out of context, and displaced?
- taking money out of the information chain equation and replacing it with time can generate an entirely different valorization process
- we need to realize that we have the tendency to fetish openness over closure, the social over the solitude, the processual over the finished / the bound item, a hyper narrative  over 'traditional' linearity, and most of all: we fetish real time.

The question that asks to be tried out in as many ways as possible, starting from today is to me:

Can we reinvent writing and reading as a form of resistance to the dominant market driven forces that shape the world of books today?

All this took place, very appropriately, in The Theatre of the Word, on the seventh floor of the thriving, non-library like OBA (Amsterdam's renewed and very popular public library) – a sign that bookishness and readership are as valid today as they were since their invention, when they supplied us with a much needed external memory to store all our accumulated knowledge.

The proof? Books are great suppliers of humour, one of mankind's most vital survival techniques in my opinion… Here's the The 1st volume of “ How to understand women” in pocket version….. (No need to tell you who sent me that, and why ….. :)).

Monday, May 2, 2011


PPPPPPlateaux is the title of an audio piece I am working on since a few months.

It explores the different realities of Plateau Kirchberg, an area in full development just one (famous red) bridge away from the old city centre of Luxembourg city. The area was developed 60 years ago to – temporarily – accomodate the European Institutions of the yet to be formed EU. Luxembourg’s eagerness to be at the heart of the European dream is still tangible on site; the Plateau’s architectural skyline is a collection of famous signatures from wordly architects. Initially meant as a monofunctional annex to the city, Kirchberg is today being developed and densified as an urban tissue, by combining housing, recreation, and retail, and by differentiating its navigation possibilities.

What is Kirchberg like, from inside? Which myths has it accumulated? Who made Kirchberg happen? What is the flip side of the Kirchberg dream? Where is Kirchberg heading to? With these questions in mind I interviewed people in charge, people working on the floor, young and old generations of the Plateau as well as a biologist, a sociologist, and a journalist. I am now editing these conversations into an audio legend of the Parc Central, consisting of assembled fragments. A legend that ties together social, natural and economical issues at stake on the Plateaux, in an effort to understand its development from another perspective and logic.

An art manifestation in the Parc Central. With Pedro Barateiro, Hugo Canoilas, Simone Decker, Cyprien Gaillard, Renata Lucas, Wawrzyniec Tokarski, Sophie Krier.

Curator: Didier Damiani
Opening: 16th September 2011

Sound: Rico Quenrin
Physical legend (illustrations): Sonia Kneepkens


A new playground for Casablanca

Two weeks ago I had the great pleasure of being back in Casablanca, while assisting Cathelijne Montens in the last week of a workshop by designLAB  / Gerrit Rietveld Academie in collaboration with the City of Amsterdam, the Fabrique Culturelle des Abattoires and Casamemoire.

For Casamemoire, the playground on a square of the former slaughterhouse is a tactic to attract family mothers and bring them in contact with the Abattoirs growing cultural and social activities. The social tissue of the Hay Mohammadi district has been fragilized for years, due to a lack of investment in adequate infrastructure and social measures. The week spent amidst the dust, wind and scorching sun made clear that the students' designs, if well taken care of, have the potential to foster a space for trust, imagination, exchange, and play.

The research started with an inventory of Aldo van Eyck's ideas on children and play (Het kind beweegt, niet het toestel), which he formulated and refined throughout the 840 (!) playgrounds, which were installed in Amsterdam between 1950 and 1980. Another starting point was the rich 'savoir faire' of street workers, who according to Montens and her partner Krijn Christiaansen shape Casa's public space with a charming nonchalance and surreal common sense. Finally, the playground's brief included the goal for local repair, if necessary, and reproduction, as often as possible…. Hence the use of locally available materials and widespread installation techniques.

Play is about taking our imagination seriously. It's also about making things move. Let's hope this playground attracts and fosters these values.

Here's a link to the press release in French, which I wrote after interviewing Cathelijne.

Réalisation: Khadija Kabbaj, Extramuros

Intervenants et professeurs : Cathelijne Montens, Krijn Christiaansen, Bas van Beek, Anke Weiss, Sophie Krier, David van der Veldt. Phase préparatoire aux Pays-Bas: Cynthia Hathaway, Lena Shafir, Michiel Meurs, Francis Strauven, Erik Wong.

Un grand merci à Abderrahim Kassou, Aadel Essaadani, Aicha Elbeloui, Empreinte d’architectes, Bertrand Houin, Afrique études, Lamjid Rourak, CTCE, Rachid, Tarik, et les gardiens de l’abattoir. Avec la nouvelle aire de jeux, le réseau d’artisans, d’ouvriers et d’amis établi au cours du projet ICI, Casa Ville Inventive a pu se renouveler, une preuve que la continuité est essentielle pour ce genre d’efforts.

Images by Krijn Christiaansen, Cathelijne Montens, Sophie Krier, Alexander Spiliopoulos.