Taipei to Hangzhou

Federico Bonelli
Dec 10, 2019 · 15 min read

First version of this article has been published on www.trasformatorio.net on November 29–2018

Federico Bonelli

November. Mild climate, border of the west lake in Hangzhou, China.

The lake is artificially conjured up to look like a Chinese painting of itself. I learn about it and how this has become; not in a linear way. The city is one of the oldest of China. But generation after generation, painters and architects conjured to feedback one the ideas of the other, up to the last renovation in 2002. The imagination has to be fit into reality of a incredible landscape design.

The pagodas, the walk around the lake, the scenery in the mist, all is carefully drawn and painted with human hand.

CAA is the China Academy of Art and is were the workshop has taken place. It is one of the big institutions of Hangzhou, one of the campuses is situated just in front of the lake. Close to the faculty and the conference room I am guested in a comfortable Japanese themed hotel, that borders with both the Aston Martin and the Porsche concessionary. I spotted a Lamborghini the first day, startled by the sound of its motor.

Founded in 1928 as the first art academy with complete academic programs in China. Nowadays the academy has expanded its departments and academic teams and has guaranteed tremendous achievements in the school history. The infrastructure of CAA has improved in unprecedented ways. With Nanshan Campus being finished in 2003, and Xiangshan Campus being fully functional in 2007, covering an area of 1000 hectares and total space of 300,000 square meters, the academy now has three beautiful and well equipped campuses in the cities of Hangzhou and Shanghai.

I am guest of Professor Huang Sun Quan and at SIMA, School of Intermedia Art.

Founded in September 2010, the School of Intermedia Art has, as its primary educational tenet, to accelerate the development of media technology and to promote experimentation in contemporary art. SIMA supports and expands creativity in a variety of media and through its curriculum explores the relationship between creativity and technology. The School has set its four-dimensional interactive structure around media experiments, artistic creation, cultural study, and curatorial practice. The School directly confronts the issues of modern media, technology and cultural context in its leading edge curriculum.

Professor Huang is a energetic type, with long hair and a dandy look. Has total control of many processes at the same time through a dancing cloud of students and collaborators that follow him and he directs. Is very gentle, capable of giving anyone of us his total attention, and has a very sharp eye.

My impression of China flying in from Taiwan start from the cab ride from the airport to the center of the city. Hangzhou is a 22 million city. Skyscrapers lay ordered around us endlessly 45′ ride up to the horizon. Building after building, skyscraper after skyscraper, someone empty most full of ordered activity, in the mist, filling up all the horizon. I think to my 14 years old daughter that turned vegetarian tree years ago to contribute saving the planet, and I cry.

Not that she is not right in her will — is that being this closer to the crude action of the algorithm of Anthropocene I am moved by the futility of heroism.

The workshop

As I set foot in the building were the workshop has to be given, I notice the abundance of space, and the relative absence of elevators. We climb the stairs up to the third floor. I think about what to do to “wake up” my participants of today.

The staircase has good acoustics, but the garden outside has the character of the main stage, and I will get them to the main stage.

The stage of the makeshift theater in the park is occupied by the signs of the willfull hands of the makers of the place. Off axis from the scene there is a red door with writings, probably think a tribute to revolutionary ideas; and left a huge video installation on a led panel.

Right a blazing yellow Ginkgo tree bathed in the November sun.

A Ginkgo tree in autumn, young and standing proud, yet fragile, in a walled garden where it has been planted for decoration. It is like us. Is a recent tree, that does not define the garden yet. It could if let grow.

Is like our visions, and dreams, and technology. A hopeful and wonderful monster.

This tree will grow.

And define the space, and turn to gold in the autumn for many autumns. Or not.

“Captain” Ilya, the guiding organizer in Taipei, sent me a picture of one of such trees, I like to think is the one you used for the workshop by Rob to tell the story of “pervasive computing in single identified things of the IoT scenario”. A nightmare in Rob’s brilliant recall were every tree in the forest will have a single identifier that tells us all about him…

Maybe in 100 years it will be still standing here maybe. In that case it survive the pompous media artifacts on his left, with his story written for the “pop up screen”. The ubiquitous computing nightmare/dream, of urban development, thunderstorms, and other accidents a past without traces. Or maybe it will be cut down, during a redefinition of the space, or a planned change to turn the park into a parking lot. Or get sick and die. Sure.

For now like us It stands. And is magnificent and fragile.

A Gynko tree in autumn, blazes in yellow
A Gynko tree in autumn, blazes in yellow

Photo by Shi-Shen Ilya Li

Under this tree we breathe. The fabric of life is not a sign or has a meaning, if taken alone, outside a situation. And the situation is and wants to be fluid. Ideas are like trees and our stories feel like trees planted in artificial soil. Stories and woods, made of data and networks, and bound to chaos and fragility.

I lead group of workshop participants outside in silence through the staircase. I ask them to observe and record in their minds and move in silence. I touch stuff to feel it. I try echoes in the staircases, I play with noises and sounds. People try as well. No emphasis is given to any gesture. Practical action, naked.

We reach the space, we breath, we touch, we acknowledge our capacities of perception, and for once, instead of using a maieutic tactic and pose questions i just unroll myself my own observations. Follows Rob with his story of trees in ubiquous computing conferences. Is very relevant. The group feels in sync with his words, with the magic of imagination, we conquer the space.

Observing Rob, and the participants makes me think of the end sentence in “The Name of the Rose” were the dying nihilist storyteller, the monk, Adso, remembers the sin-full love of his youth, all the life that has passed, in his voice the cold touch of old age and of his imminent death. The book ends with a solitary quote:

Stat rosa pristina nomine; nomina nuda tenemus.
Yesterday’s rose endures in its name; we grasp only the nude names

Umberto Eco had to explain that riddle sentence in the post faction and kept explaining it for years.

That sentence is bigger than him, bigger than the story. I am convinced that is that line that made the Name of the Rose a classic. When the intellectual theme of a life is touched by the color of a forgotten name bathed in the light of a sinful love.

What I search is a similar element, that like a ostrakon has the potential of reverting the whole story told so far, exchanging the ruler for the exiled. A power form that in stories is at times the riddle and the magic element. The meme. Is, in the inspired words of Rob, the “bug” we strive for, we fear and want to talk about.

Is not the “bug” that destroys a scientific theory, or crashes a machine, but the one that makes a classic.

For me is the small stone that blocks the mind for a click. This well crafted Bug unmasks the background for the real foreground. And open a space. The found book from which the story unfolds, in a network of meanings. This book stands for a man life, for its time political struggle, for meaning that burns a life on the stake or is left unknown.

The analogy unfolds as the movements and the ideas are filmed by the cameras around us. I see it; is at the same time the meme and a bug. Is the girl without name, the one that is saved in the film, her revenge, the power of the witch. The Rose that is not her name (cause it is unknown as our point of arrival) yet as we know from scholastic logic, is the name is the only thing that stands immortal. As all the rest, time and meaning, emerges from chaos, and burns and gets forgotten.

The sound of the garden we explored in Hangzhou somehow keeps re-sounding now in my room in Amsterdam. And that sound is what we should start to design into.

The forest in the night, were the ginkgo tree as fallen unheard yet, a possibility that transcend what is written in any software. A mystery even if his number has not disappeared from the “whole city dashboard” of our ubiquitous computing mambo jumbo.

To close my talk to the student I point to the stage of the makeshift theater we inhabit. After noticing the acoustic I describe a red fish standing there, floating in the middle of the stage, one meter high above the cement. We all see it.

It is this, the red fish on stage of the silenced theater of CCP in Hangzhou, that everyone seen with his own eyes, different and the same, and no one can ever cook, the matter to the end. And the end of the lesson.

So while I agree with the political sense of calling-in the cultural hegemony of Gramsci, as Rob magnificently puts it; with the urgency of the “now”; with the scheme of things to be done to re-design the space of the struggle; and the overall sense of the practical application of theory we all share, I feel the need to add something. Subtracting.

Any realist interpretation of Anthropocene fails and has to give space to my skepic pharmakon. Attention and emphasis neither have to fall here on the medicine, but on the “love” that try to move it. It is the situation were the chanting shaman fails to access the dream and has to bullshit his way out with art to satisfy his crowd.

The idea self of control is a dream, suggested by death grinning’ face.

Complex system cannot be controlled. Neither forever, nor precisely or securely. And moreover complex systems will always emerge complex patterns of behavior unexpectedly.

There is more: complex systems cannot be defined in cybernetics wit a closed way, and the latter is a stone on the grave of many of the monsters of our time.

The algorithm will always need to admit a space for the undecided. Agency will always need exception, bureaucracy corruption, justice favor and mercy. Because the flow is the only safe bet for the algorithm the virus and the bug. Determinism is a passing status of a more complex system that can range from order to chaos and is unforeseeable and creative.

The unforeseen is a powerful tool to keep in our design boxes!

The generation before the one of these young artists in Hangzhou was building very fragile high entropy systems that are impossible to make resilient.

Energy flew in the system and through the system is dissipated but as well — outside and despite- the system. Fragility is not always a bad thing, but should not be made an absolute. We shall design with it. The shaman restarted his dance.

Other principles are needed, and have to be discovered to create and be resilient, sustainable, in a multi stakeholder and transparent way, in and out the network.

Systems that self organize and self heal and, moreover, do not stand in our way when we want to think, sleep or loose time alone.

We agree smiling that there have been too many fathers in the IoT smartcity bla bla space. We need some mothers now. And I giggle and think about the Mothers of Invention caustic bravado changing completely the music the shaman has to dance to…

It was wise to include in the conference of Network Cultures I attended here a disaster relief expert. The solution to that type of complexity, in a small city struck by natural disaster evoked a dreamlike book of instructions for a fairy tale. Totally unforgivable in his way of excluding completely both self organizing patterns of behavior and human feelings from the top down strictly rational approach he presented.

Instruction books stay such, even if you write them in algorithms that are to be explored by AI and implemented by robots. Can you let an algorithm decide how much time is allowed to one soul to close forever the eyes of a loved one? Or after how much time to give up hope and stop digging?

To read the signs as shamans, reading starting from the situation, implies sometimes to create a screen of possibilities. A screen were the abyss can project back its answers back to our questions from above. Were chaos can be a teacher. It will hurt our bodies and our pride as well but it works. Is not a book of instruction alone that we need for preparing to the disaster, but as well a story. Like in Ponyo, the animation story by Gibli Studios that followed the tsunami. A bubble under the sea…

Some last words to satisfy the lust for death we all can breath in our sunny Anthropocene in 2018. This wish of self immolation that the egos of the wanna be masters of the youth preach about. It seems then (to me at least) only like a sort of totalitarian wish for hipocalypses (a apocalypse that ends anyway in a demented, delusional act of ridiculous proportions).

As the Slavoj Žižek says “we cannot imagine the end of capitalism without the categories of the apocalypse”.

In this light in that such a relief to talk about the future in places like China and Taiwan. And is a precious gift to be here now.

Hypocalypse: a fart in the wind announced by thunder and followed by embarrassed laughter. In its more grim interpretation the ridiculous demented act of some academia that keep dancing on the dead bodies of the real masters like a headless chicken. A very different dance than the one of the shaman.

Now, set aside the necessary skeptic pill, lets go back to the core of the argument (that has somehow to include the hangover grogginess in our interesting discussion after party).

A list of the things I think I understood and I want to pass over in my activities from now on:

What. A etymologically correct methodology you learn by doing, like the dangerous dance of the shaman and its drumstick. Concepts and tools presented as pieces for a multi stakeholder exercise in dialogue. The situation evolves and only gets recognized but is never framed. The flow is more important. The algorithm that is enacted by actors and at the same time represents them is the trasformator. A bridge to the external, a flow of flows, a morphic field represented in a single point. A trasformator is an art piece, that lives in a real situation. A lab to study and invent awareness and transformations: this is a trasformatorio.

When. Here and now, the space that exist and flows above and below any rational human philosophy. And were, in a way, the bacteria speaks as well as the urban planner and much better then human hubris. Above the “totalitarian state of comfort” is the “in between” that talks, and we have to stop and listen for once.

Who. Things and their inventors and maintenance mechanics, the animals, the plants and their landscape, the humans, with and without agency, those who facilitate, building streets, fixing toilets and maintaining the space of possibilities open. The enzymes of fermentation and putrefaction. Not just the bridge, the whole fucking spaceship has to talk. “Alarm Captain, maybe we can re-design a new cycle, where there is no need anymore of a bridge on planet earth spaceship”.

Why. Because I need to go out and walk like a free being and not be kept in the state of minority by an illusion. Is a tutor I have not cultivated or chose myself. Big Brother is as death as the Holy Father and his cameras and his brain police are as worthless as the inquisition and the church.

Where. In a wet space that includes the cyber and the flesh, the actuators, the design, the law. The empty space left to nature and art to feed the unconscious, to the science of the artist and the maker to explore the possible, and to the human wisdom to talk reason and chose. Or in stories to tell the next generations around the fire, when they will be learning their place in the world.

In this respect the choice of the Chinese government for the signs that forbid behaviors and promise police enforcement are made with cute drawing of friendly puppets, hello kitty like. This is truly revealing.

Ethics is Kantian while any idea of morale after him is the instinct of the flock registered every individual by the wolf…

(Ref: → Kant, “Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung?”, 1784)

Is it possible, I argue, that the only end of any ethics -were humans and non humans species interact- has to be imagined as a holy nothing, were the fear of the abyss that glance backs brings inevitably to the fratricide end of the brotherhood of the guillotine?

Georg Büchner’s “Danton’s Tod” investigates this historical spell brilliantly. You can access this best with a film. Andrzej Wajda in 1981 made a film, “Danton”, from an adaptation of a play by Stanisława Przybyszewska.

There is a scene in the film that fits perfectly with the argument I am proposing here. Danton and Robespierre meet in the prive’ of a restaurant. Danton offers to his ancient comrade a sumptuous dinner. “behind the scenes” a ritual of political “Grand Jeu” is put on scene with comic touches. Robespierre does not touch food, Danton can only drink wine. The table, that is France, and “wet-ware” at the same time, is destroyed by Danton at each refusal of food by his ancient comrade. He throws away any food the other does not want to touch. A rapid process that evolve quickly and that will destroy them both. Their factions, and the opposite idea of revolution and state will self erase after the one destroys the other. The attempt to majority of the human spirit seen by Kant ended under the guillotine. That the idea of revolution balanced with his praxis. Blood sacrifices and paranoia.

I toy with some questions here.

  • What do we have to know for the next iteration to be pure, and what will be what we don’t have to know, were will be the balance of those forces?
  • Who will be the maker that loves hopelessly its creature and can express his sad love with poetry?
  • And what does this code look like? What do we have to design for? And what will be left to us to design with?
  • And moreover what kind of situation-defining enzymes we have to design into the world with our craft? What will make it to an art?

Situations have always been designed to desired effects by wizards. Theater, play, architecture, spectacle, rite.

But we have the knowledge the real power is in the goddess, the meat, the mother earth with the molted nickel magnetic hart. Her rituals of power include all the senses, music, kinesis, intoxicants and visual stimulation. And language. Opera and Liturgy.

After the premiere of “the Rite of Spring” drunken Russian wizards wander in the Parisian night prefiguring the inevitable bloodbath of the war and the revolution. The music has been written, the sacrifice made.

We will need to unveil and design as well for similar tasks and different outcomes. And our methodology will be a transparent transformer that evolves the situation we designed in positive productive or destructive cycles. An ebb and flow of information and noise, and a short span of time to rest in between. Breathe in. stop. Breathe out. Stop. One pause on the full lounges, one on the empty ones. Both tempting, one final.

Memory, dreams, the ever changing flow of the space and time and conscience from situation to the next has to be explored again in unity of human self reflecting action.

The four winds set the wood in motion, ready to inspire the secret journey of the fool, contain all the magic of the illusionist and all the wisdom of the whole world that is female and dances naked around the fire.

All this space of design to be scavenged for opportunities and be theater for gratuitous acts of courage and beauty.

Conclusions

There is a space of unity between my design for tools for awareness, like for dowse; for tools for constructing complexity and simplicity in economic exchange of values like Le Grand Jeu, and the philosophy of some software projects in dyne. But it can branch in many directions.

This is not an ideological space; is more a word of power, used to describe a vision or compose an haiku.

At best what we try to do wishes to be a seed, at best young ginkgo tree that has in his fragile roots the possibility of becoming a giant one.

The time is now, the tools of the painter are set in front of her, the light is dim and the brush is ready to touch the paper. Again.

All your bases are belong to us (1)

thanks for the food to my thoughts…

(1) ”All your base are belong to us” is a popular Internet meme based on a broken English (“Engrish”) phrase found in the opening cut scene of the 1992 Mega Drive port of the 1989 arcade video game Zero Wing. The quote comes from the European release of the game, featuring poor English translations of the original Japanese version. Means “Hi dude, someone took total control of your system”

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