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Elvia Wilk
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I was first enamoured by Elvia’s “My Girl” charm when we met amongst the nicotine vignettes at the basement of Times, or was it within the mix of the social cocktail of the Schinkel?  Perhaps most likely over a communal wine bottle adjacent to the Spree, I think we both feel most at home there. Whichever the truth, no matter as our friendship began seamlessly as though it was willed into existence. Elvia offers an effervescence that, whether it be a familiar face amongst the crowd or her diplomacy during a Knödel crisis, never ceases to amaze me. I am always in awe of her productivity, bouncing through one professional field to the next, all the while with the ability to squeeze in creativity and to start back at it again when Monday rolls around. We both hate Mondays and we both have a knack for anxiety during the best of times. From organizing panel discussions, composing digital literature and criticizing architecture to rom-coms and chicken wings, Elvia is still able to make the distinction between pussy drama and pussy logic while swapping dick picks over a pinot grigio. There was this one time when Elvia hosted an impromptu pre-game birthday celebration for me in her white cube apartment (seriously a cube), and in the height and heat of our boogie woogies, at the strike of midnight, a bottle of champagne on the table popped all on its own, ushering in a new year for me as me, and as a sign for one of many more with Elvia.  This summer Elvia will be participating in a two-month residency on a secluded island where there is no internet, she will be greatly missed, R.I.P.

www.elviapw.com

Photo by Clemens Jahn

KLM Takes Care so We Don't Have To :)

KLM Takes Care

10.05.14
5 min
Post

A friend of mine recently told me that he hasn’t taken a plane flight since 1997. “It’s literally the worst thing you can do for the environment,” he said. I’m aware of that fact, but I couldn’t believe that he had reached this level of commitment. The possibility of not taking an airplane ever, despite norms and convenience and in-flight movies and the future and business class and technology and _____, had literally never occurred to me. What kind of conformist automaton must I be? When he told me this I got a similar feeling to when my coworker told me she was going on the Master Cleanse (a ten-day diet of only a honey/lemon/cayenne pepper) – total awe and then deep guilt and then seething jealousy. There is no way I could spend ten days not eating, much less not drinking beer and whiskey. Or could I? And why did the no-plane announcement inspire exactly the same emotional reaction?

I’m sitting in Tegel airport on my way to Amsterdam. I spent an hour or two agonizing over the train and plane schedules last week before booking the flight. I’m telling myself I chose the plane because the company I work for is paying for this trip, and the only train ticket under budget would have required traveling all night on Saturday and arriving in Berlin at 4am. I told myself this was impossible because it will take a toll on my Sunday productivity, plus I have sleeping problems already due to this endless “stress” situation, which has become so constant and grating that I can barely see my hands in front of my face. How many hours of lost sleep are worth ___ tons of fossil fuel? How important is my company’s money? How bad would it be for me to over-spend? Couldn’t I pay the extra travel fees, a paltry 20 euros?

This is the kind of moral balancing act that makes daily decisions so bewildering. You’re in the grocery store and you have a mission: buy healthy (less carbs, less meat, less peanut butter, less beer), buy cheaply (no bio-laden, no fancy produce, no refined granola), and buy responsibly (no meat, no imported products, no canned tuna). But you don’t know the authority who can guarantee, 100%, which items qualify for any of these categories, you left your iPhone at home and you don’t remember the most recent scare-article you read, and you don’t know what you are left with if you avoid all three categories of bad stuff.

Lately I go shopping and I fuck up on purpose out of frustration, buying loads of pasta and bacon. (Kudos to the old guy drinking a beer at 11am in the airport right now next to me.) The more I indulge and disregard the Categories of Responsibility, the more I’m like fuck it, gonna shop at H&M now, gonna spend 50euros on a taxi, gonna use a ton of toilet paper for no reason – or as the case may be, gonna buy this plane ticket to Amsterdam for a two-day conference on the critical/political potential of design. The press materials of the conference announce a running theme of sustainability in various forms. I got a welcome email yesterday listing the speakers coming from around the world to participate. I wonder if any of them took a boat instead of an airliner.

I’ve come to associate responsibility with dogma and lifestyle politics to the extent that they almost disgust me. Tino Seghal bringing whole troups of performers on week-long boat trips to avoid transatlantic flights, Jonathan Safran Foer’s book about raising his kids vegetarian – these cases incite such a nasty guilt in me that I mock them as fanatics. Wrong Response. Going through security I realized that the few hours I’m saving and convenience I’m gaining are most certainly not balance-able with the guilt. The problem is that a long time ago I decided to categorically refuse to make decisions in my daily life based solely on guilt. Otherwise I end up doing a ton of jobs for free, stretching myself too thin between my friends, showing up at 30 art openings a week, and ending up hating everyone. And since the guilt I feel for fucking up the environment is the exact same type of guilt I feel for not going to your theater play, because jet fuel = master cleanse, I have no idea how to differentiate or to prioritize between my actions. It also allows me to perform a game of checks and balances: If you don’t eat any sugar this week, you can take taxis on the weekend. If you leave work early, you can’t watch TV later. And so on.

Why should excessive partying on the weekend, water usage, procrastination, hamburgers, and plane travel all be leveled to the same playing field of moral decisions? How could one draw up a scale or a ranking system for most repugnant to most commendable? If somebody can send me a graph I will be very grateful.

But with or without the numbers, these responsibilities are so abstract: I will never be able to tangibly understand how much my expenditure of resources contributes to global decline. Plus nobody seems to care if I gain a few kilos or blow too much cash or zoom around in an SUV – not even my impressively responsible non-flying, vegetarian friend, who is thankfully undogmatic about his belief system. Guilt is all I have to cling to in order to incite me to action, or stifle me into non-action. Guilt, guide me.

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*I wrote this four days ago. The design conference is now over and my mind has been blown way out of the guilt stratosphere. More to come on that somewhere soon.

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⁝⁞⁝⁞ʕु•̫͡•ʔु☂⁝⁞⁝⁝ *

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FailCon, or the cult of failure

23.04.14
7 min
Post

Lately I’ve been watching Huffington Post Live in the evenings while I’m cooking stir fry or folding my laundry. Like watching The Bachelorette or going to art fairs, I think of watching HPL as an anthropological activity, in this case one that belies an awkward homesickness for the vulgarities of American culture. HPL is the media company’s live-streaming web-tv site, an endless string of four- to ten-minute chunks of “the biggest, hottest, and most engaging stories of the moment” – a three-ring circus of inane debates between whoever is on hand and can get sufficiently outraged/”huffed up” at that moment (remember, it’s endless, and it’s LIVE), feel-good stories about dogs and/or Google’s latest charity venture, and interviews with entrepreneurs and tech gurus about apps, apps, apppppppssssss.

(Last week while frying Chinese cabbage I watched a phone-in interview with a lady protester in Ukraine who manages to be hot while political, a Buddhist monk meditating LIVE, a re-stream of a Ted Talk with a (female but old) geneticist who Google just hired for its AIDS-stopping task force, and a black guy tirading against racism in American culture – who, amazingly, was interrupted in the middle of his rant by call-ins from two black women accusing him of sexism. Trump card!)

One of the most feeling-good stories I’ve seen recently was an interview with Sarah Lewis, author of The Gift of Failure. During the interview the breathless segment host(ess) brought in another guest via Google Hangout: Diane Loviglio, the San Francisco producer of FailCon, which is “a conference for startup founders to study their own and others’ failures and prepare for success.” At FailCons around the world, famous and/or rich (=successful) people meet up and tell stories about the miserable failures they have endured throughout their lives, which, remarkably, and through sheer will, THEY OVERCAME. These survivors testify the the importance of the “taboo topic” of failure before a rapt audience of soon-to-be-successes, with what I imagine to be uplifting slide shows and not a tinge of self-righteousness, each speaker driven simply by the charitable impulse to inspire others.

If you are looking for evidence of late-stage capitalism’s ability to extract value from every single waking moment (and possibly sleeping moments too), FailCon is pure gold. Can you imagine a more brilliant maneuver for wringing value out of every moment of personal non-productivity than wringing money out of those who haven’t produced enough value yet? FYI, the woman who started FailCon managed to capitalize upon her entire failed life by starting FailCon.

FailCon is the next level self-help book. And by capitalizing upon what it deems to be failure, it clearly demonstrates how failure – by which we mean unproductivity, inability to produce value within the system – is, contrary to the conference’s explicit message, completely unacceptable and incompatible with the logic of the global economy.

Jonathan Crary writes: “when people have nothing further that can be taken from them, whether resources or labor power, they are quite simply disposable.” To be economically non-valuable is to be completely disenfranchised. But, if you are committed to actively contributing to the economy, failure is ok, as long as you can recycle it into a story to inspire others one day. Just like your start-up company recycles old coffee cups and cell phone batteries to produce the surplus value of environmental responsibility as a key priority on your company homepage.

Thought experiment: invite a bunch of migrant workers, disenfranchised immigrants, sex-slaves, and homeless people to a FailCon to inspire them with the message that if they work hard enough and exercise positive thinking every day they will one day achieve the startup dream, just like speaker Geoff Wilson, founder and president of the digital agency 352, which he started unsuccessfully 15 years ago out of a dorm room but was able to get past some “bumps in the road” to eventually, um, almost recoup the million dollars it initially blew. (You guys all have dorm rooms, right?) The lucky audience could even… one day… perhaps… be completely assured they have finally achieved success by being invited to speak at a FailCon! Or better, start a FailCon franchise themselves!

In John Gertner’s recent article about Google X on FastCompany, the awestruck, pandering tone of which makes me feel very uncomfortable, we get a glimpse of the secret behind the world’s most cutting-edge and well-funded think tank. The big secret: FAILURE. One leading team member says: “Why put off failing until tomorrow or next week if you can fail now?” Another tells the writer that he sometimes gives a hug to people who admit mistakes or defeat in group meetings. Gertner goes so far as to call the organization “a cult of failure.”

The cult at Google X, like the fetishizers over at FailCon, have created the opposite of what they propose: a situation in which you literally cannot fail. First, because the lady doth protest way too much, and putting such an obsessive emphasis on the word implies profound terror of real defeat, whatever you think defeat would look like. (Re: terror, can you imagine getting a billion dollars and being told by Google to invent something to change world?) Second, because if failure equals success, failure is not failure. It’s, uh, success.

And if failure can be instantly converted into success, there is proof that the system must be working. Burnout, misery, depression, grief; these may be personal failures that you are responsible for, but they are minor setbacks that you can overcome with determination. The system forces you to fail, and then feel redeemed and grateful when you succeed. Thank you benevolent system for allowing me to afford an iPhone after I had a Motorola for so long; now I can wake up in the middle of the night to check my three email accounts. #FAIL.

(Why exactly are the lucky few chosen to work at Google X considered successes and not miserable instruments/storefronts for a self-perpetuating corporation who is causing the very world problems it purports to solve by inventing hovercrafts? I might propose a majorly-funded think-tank or convention to re-evaluate our basic measures of success and failure. OH WAIT, Arianna Huffington has already begun a movement speaking out against productivity. Working 24/7 can no longer be the #HuffPostWoman’s mark of success!)

Resilience is the implicit word underlying the cult of failure. You will fail, and then you will bounce back to become a contributing member of society again, driven by your hardships to succeed even harder. Whether or not you read self-help books, and whether or not you are an entrepreneur or an artist or a talkshow host on HuffPost Live, you have been told since birth that failure is the key to success, and you know that cultivating the illusion (self-delusion) of breakdown is absolutely integral to the cycle of productivity that we are all locked into.

In an essay called Resisting Resilience, Mark Neocleous likens the rhetoric of resilience surrounding self-help-healed burnout with the language of militaries and governments – resilience after terrorist attacks, resilience from economic depression. It’s very worth reading. It convinced me that I should absolutely not attempt to better myself. I should stay a slob. Resist resilience. PRO BURNOUT. elviapw.com / 3LVVIA

KLM Takes Care

10.05.14
5 min

FailCon, or the cult of failure

23.04.14
7 min