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God's Singing Quartet

Jonah Go Down to Mosul

Jamal Ghosn about Iraq
10.06.14
2 min
Post

News is breaking today that the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS)–an al-Qaeda affiliate funded by allies of the Democratic West–took full control of the Tigris river city of Mosul. Mosul has its own rich history, but the ruins on the edge of the city go further back. There sits what was once the city of Nineveh. Some 2700 years ago, the capital of Assyria was the largest city on earth.

Even back then, cosmopolitan areas proved elusive to God. There’s something about people mixing that makes them less prone to having imaginary friends. Jonah was handpicked by God for the mission of reining in the big city debauchery of Nineveh. God sent Jonah his message via a singing quartet. Unfortunately, the original message was recorded on Betamax and thus forever lost. But God learned his lesson–turning Jonah into a whale of a lesson in the process. From then on God would only use Youtube.

The audio is a bit choppy, but the message is clear. Jonah shoulda obeyed the Lord.

The question is if Jonah was asked again today to go “save” Nineveh, would he volunteer to swim in the gastric juice of the big fish? Because sure as hell it beats whatever ISIS might have in store for the man who disobeyed God.

Queen Victoria's Public Secret: Chapter 6, Part 3

09.06.14
2 min
Post

Golden Jubilee: 21 June 1887, at Buckingham Palace
Part III

Ekstasis: at the door of Westminster Abbey, a hole in my wall, you cause me to stand. I was received by the clergy, with the Archbishop of Canterbury and Dean at their head, their swollen capitation, in the copes of rich velvet and gold, which had been worn at the Coronation. My bloated pronoun leaks privately. The crowds from the Palace gates up to the Abbey were enormous, and there was such an extraordinary outburst of enthusiasm as I had hardly ever seen in London before; all the people seemed to be in such good humour. (She aches internally clawing for not enough): scanning a set of words for who’s inflected conditional; scanning pics for a future past infidelity like whose? The old Chelsea Pensioners were in a stand near the Arch (of my aching back). The decorations along Piccadilly were quite beautiful, and there were most touching inscriptions (in lower case). Seats and platforms were arranged up to the tops of the houses, the scaffolding of face and threshold, and such waving of hands, those who could not find a face, a wild groping. I offer mine, sore and picked on, apparently open. Many schools out, and many well-known faces were seen and unheard, notorious.

Just Beg For It

Jamal Ghosn about Slavery in NCAA
07.06.14
3 min
Post

One of the defining moments of transition into adulthood is when a person stops asking parents for money. Some sense of pride kicks in and makes it difficult to ask for compensation for the mere fact of being an offspring.

Of course, shit happens and circumstances may force the once proud to swallow that pride and ask for money, and even beg for it. A genuine beggar, who does it out of need, is a defeated human. I am not going into the reasons behind it, which could be individual or societal, but the sympathy a “defeated human” generates makes the act of begging possible as it tends to pay off in cash.

Naturally, where there’s an opportunity to make money there are opportunists willing to make it. It starts at an individual or a small business level with “defeated human” acts that prey on genuine sympathy or hypocritical piety. Those going after the latter tend to congregate outside houses of worship.

Then there is institutionalized tax-deductible begging. My alma mater masters that type of begging. Since I graduated from the University of Miami 15 years ago, not a week goes by where I don’t receive at least one email from “the U” in which they ask me for money.

This past week the begging cycle was peaking with the end of the school year, so the University resorted to using multiple senders in order to bypass spam filters.

Unlike the “defeated human” model, the University doesn’t swallow its pride when begging. It flaunts it. “Hell yeah I spent all the money you gave me and I want more!”

It uses the image and accomplishments of alumni as well as those of exploited athletes as motivators for U to dish out cash to “the U”.

Three decades ago the U’s football team invented school pride. Actually, it went beyond the school’s fancy campus to involve an entire marginalized community in the ghettos of Miami. Pride evolved into swagger.

The U’s football players didn’t beg for acceptance by the racist culture dominant in the US back then. They ran, rapped and tackled their way onto the scene.

Over the past 3 decades, and partly due to the U’s swagger, US college athletics became very popular. Since it’s the US we’re talking about, popular means it’s also automatically big business…big corrupt business that exploits star athletes.

Universities used unpaid athletes to create school pride and then banked on monetizing it. The University of Miami trademarked swagger, and alumni–desperate for pride–paid up.

In one email received during the end-of-school-year blitz I am informed that the sum collected by the Momentum 2 campaign has surpassed $1.3 billion from 137,000 donors.

Nasser Al Rashid, a Saudi billionaire, contributed $10 million of that sum. A century ago, the Rashids used to rule the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula before they were ousted by the Sauds, who were backed by a British Captain that goes by the name of William Shakespear…without the e…but that’s a different exploitation story.

Let’s get back to the U.

The University of Miami, just like all the other universities, does not pay its sports stars. The creators of swagger get compensated with shitty cafeteria food and free higher education. Free higher education? Hmmmm…What a novel concept?

I guess if you didn’t see anything wrong with paying exorbitant amounts of cash for university education in the first place, then there’s no reason to think that you wouldn’t continue to pay forever just to purchase pride.

Cans and Rockets, Part 1

05.06.14
4 min
Post

This series of posts, based on an artist talk delivered in April 2014 at LEAP Berlin, will focus on the role of scale models and simulation models, the former making something large or complex, past or not yet existing tangible, the latter constituting a computational abstraction which through its predictive qualities may end up having an influence on the world itself. Two projects will serve as examples, both collaborations with New York City-based Chris Woebken, created during a joint residency at Eyebeam Art & Technology Center: The Society for Speculative Rocketry and Elsewheres.

In its larger scope, the discussion also relates to another artistic research project, The Supertask, a collaboration with Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg initiated by the University of Southampton – an investigation into whether it would be possible to create a model of the whole world, or a world from models.

Scale models entered my world in 2009 when working on a piece titled The Golden Institute, a counterfactual history scenario set in the United States of a parallel universe. Here, Ronald Reagan has lost the presidential election of 1980 and Jimmy Carter remained in office. History tells us that Reagan swiftly abandoned Carter’s tender efforts at research and development of alternative sources of energy (perfectly embodied in the de-installation of a solar heating unit on the roof of the White House). In my narrative, Carter goes-all out on such technologies, turning the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, CO into The Golden Institute.

Carter, channeling his inner JFK, publicly states his ambition to make the United States independent from foreign oil before the end of the 1980s and endows the Institute with funds comparable to an Apollo-age NASA. Granted such powers, it pursues all kinds of projects, ranging from planetary scale weather-engineering in order to harness the power of thunderstorms in Nevada’s new ‘Weather Experimentation Zone’, all the way down to subsidizing individual Americans’ efforts to draw electricity from the artificial skies, an entrepreneurial vision of the mythical experiment that founding father Benjamin Franklin performed with his kite in 1752.

I chose to partially materialize parts of this narrative through objects for Douglas Arnd’s office, the fictional chief strategist, who is modeled after the likes of RAND Corporation’s notorious Herman Kahn. Scale models that are in fact trophies of the projects that make the Institute the most proud. One of them, a 1985 Chevrolet El Camino roughly at a scale of 1:20, is fitted with a huge lightning rod and towing a trailer full of supercapacitors to hold the electricity. It is everybody’s older cousin’s car, but modified to go lightning harvesting for profit, at approximately $400 per strike. The perfect demonstration of the way in which the Institute’s work has affected the lives of ordinary people.

Looking at the model’s 3D-printed parts, just moments before they were sent for chrome coating by the same London company that gilded C-3PO for Star Wars in 1977, I realized that I had created not a trophy but a toy – in fact one that very much resembles the ones I had been assembling as a child, mostly of American fighter planes.

Scale models do occupy a curious space between both past, present, future and in terms of our personal and collective imagination. My American fighter planes, often manufactured by Revell Plastics GmbH, a German subsidiary of a Californian company, are for instance in essence an iconic manifestation of real technologies. They were, gleefully appreciated, projecting American air power right into my kinderzimmer, billion-dollar projects distilled into a few grams of cast grey plastic. And, after successful assembly and decoration they may advance to being toys, elevated by imagination, and thus gain a performative function. But they rarely do fly.

When Syrian Men Dance

Jamal Ghosn about Syria
29.05.14
3 min
Post

The “History repeats itself” saying comes in dozens of variations attributed to a lot of smart people. A lot of not so smart people will hang on to that principle and fish for historic parallels to try to prove a point. Here’s such an attempt. Baabda, Fayyadiyeh, and Yarzeh are a troika of towns just outside Beirut on the mountainous road to Damascus. Baabda houses Lebanon’s presidential palace, Yarzeh its Ministry of Defense, and Fayyadiyeh a large military base. There are also a bunch of bakeries, gas stations, and trees that double as urinals since many travelers use that stretch of the highway as a first pit stop on what could be a longish road trip. Technically, the eastbound lane can take you all the way to the Pacific coast of China, but realistically the longest trips undertaken by casual travelers end in Amman, Jordan. Truckers and religious pilgrimage buses reach the shores of the Persian Gulf. Of course, here I’m talking about in times of Peace. In times of war, most sane people tend to stay off the road. The 1975-1990 version of the Lebanese civil war ended after General Michel Aoun, head of one of the multiple Lebanese Armies and Governments at the time, lost his last stand in these 3 towns. Thousands of Syrian men armed with tanks and fighter jets took control of Baabda, Fayyadiyeh and Yarzeh, and danced in victory celebrations while carrying portraits of Hafez al-Assad. The General left the presidential palace in Baabda and sought refuge at the nearby French Embassy. He would later be exiled to France. Today, twenty five years later, the smog that hovers in this area just above Beirut is thicker, but that same dude is back from France and is a leading candidate to fill the top vacancy at the presidential palace in Baabda. Also today, and also twenty five years later, tens of thousands of unarmed Syrians–mostly men–filled the streets of Baabda, Fayyadiyeh, and Yarzeh, and danced while carrying posters of Bashar al-Assad, Hafez’s son. They went to cast their vote in the Presidential elections at the Syrian Embassy there. The crowd was called the largest Syrian gathering outside Syria. Ever. Unlike twenty five years ago, the tanks and fighter jets today are doing their thing on the other side of the border. It’s not exactly history repeating itself. It’s more of a bizarro universe remake of events. But hey, it’s desperate times. If this image ended a war once, it can do it again. With any luck, 25 years from now the Syrians– just like the Lebanese today–will be without a President.

Coup Denial on the Nile

Jamal Ghosn about Egypt
22.05.14
2 min
Post

A Second Presidential election in two years will take place this week in Egypt. For the sake of drama, let’s pretend the winner of this battle–with 95% of the vote no less–was not decided long before the removal of President Mohammad Morsi from office a year ago. The currently jailed Morsi was the Muslim Brotherhood candidate whose election a year earlier capped the popular uprising of January 25, 2011 with a democratic victory for the long-persecuted Islamic movement. The Muslim Brotherhood were always a challenge to Egypt’s ruling military establishment. While Gamal Abdel Nasser used to mock the movement in the 1960s, his successors saw the rise of the religiously-themed political phenomenon as a threat. They saw it threatening enough for them to feel obliged to feign devoutness and strut religious cred. Anwar Sadat marketed himself as the Pious President and took on the name Mohammad upon ascending to the presidency. Hosni Mubarak followed suit becoming Mohammad Hosni Mubarak after inheriting the throne from the assassinated Sadat. They needed to prove they were as Muslim as the Brotherhood and nothing proves devotion like tagging a Mohammad onto your name. Rumor has it that the founder of Islam himself had little success launching the religion under different aliases until Mohammad, finally, got the ball rolling. Mohammad Morsi did not have to change his name. That presidential feature came built-in with him. Also, Morsi was not threatened by the Muslim Brotherhood. He was their crème de la crème. It was with him that the Muslim Brotherhood was going to vindicate their 80+ years struggle to reach power. Well… It didn’t quite work out. The military couped its way back to the helm, massacring hundreds of Brothers along the way. On Monday, the military’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is running against coup legitimizing stooge Hamdeen Sabbahi. With Mohammad no longer en vogue, the winner will take on the name Mubarak.

Victoria's Public Secret: Chapter 1.2, Part 10

19.05.14
3 min
Post

Coronation: Thursday, 28 June 1838, finale Part X

After dinner, before we sat down, we undid our slipper, we lit fires in outlying neighbourhoods, we lit the flood lights on the lawn, we spoke of the numbers of Peers at the Coronation, which Lord Melbourne said was unprecedented. I observed that there were very few Viscounts; he said “there are very few Viscounts”; that they were an odd sort of title, and not really English; that they came from Vice-Comités; that Dukes and Barons were the only real English titles; that Marquises were likewise not English; and that they made people Marquises when they did not wish to make them Dukes. The titles excited my appetite, I asked him to repeat them on my tongue – Viscounts: my tongue on your labia minora; Duke: my tongue at the entrance of your cunt; Baron: my tongue sweeping the head of your cock; Marquise: my tongue circling your ear. I then sat on the sofa for a little while, my hands beneath an elaborate bouquet of crinolines, fingers like spiders pulling at my little black hairs. Mamma remained to see the Illuminations, but only came later, as she lives a delayed fantasy. I envy her patience. I said to Lord Melbourne when I first sat down I felt a little tired on my feet, and I teetered my slipper thus (impatiently). I spoke of the weight of the robes etc., and he turned round to me and said “the weight of the civic architecture is your bondage, and Queeniepoo you wear it regally, as in, with model indifference.” He said so kindly, “And you did it beautifully, – every part of it, with so much taste; it’s a thing that you can’t give a person advice upon; it must be left to a person.” To hear this from this kind impartial friend, gave me great and real pleasure – my fingers squirmed between the lips of my regal and indifferent cunt, but I bore no smile for the Lord. Instead I spoke of my intending to go to bed; he said, “You may depend upon it, you are more tired than you think you are.” I said I had slept badly the night before; I dreamed he lay dead beside Mamma, sunlight pouring in through the condominium window upon their blue faces, cigarettes in their eye sockets, his cock a mucus-sheathed weathervane I had to suck dry in order to live another day (according to the burglar who had murdered them, who was my father), and I wore sunglasses so as to appear as though I took pleasure in the deed. He said that was my mind, and that nothing kept people more awake than any consciousness of a great event going to take place and being agitated by impending celebration. Stayed in the drawing-room till 20 minutes past 11, but remained till 12 o’clock on Mamma’s balcony looking at the fireworks in Green Park, which were quite beautiful.  I thought about smoking 18 cigarettes, one for each of my long years. I thought in time each pull and each exhale, treasuring each billow of smoke in my lungs, and the sensation of each cloud caressing my throat as I exhaled. I wanted every drag to last another lifetime, to achieve 18 coronations in one night. I thought in time of you.

Wilhelm Opatz
People

1998 – Frankfurt am Main, Rundgang in the Städelschule. A tall, boyish man stands in front of my T-shirt stall at the art college. Thoughtfully he asks a question, looking at a T-shirt from my own edition and reads the text. Silence. Affectionately he smiles towards me, and expresses his goodwill, softly, subtly, pays and leaves.
Years later my first gallery exhibition in this city. We meet again, speak a lot, honestly, directly, Wilhelm tells about his family, his wife Natalie with whom he runs an enterprise, his son Julius, whose birthday is on the same day as mine. And Wilhelm is and will be my first collector. He buys a large painting of a contour of Kate Moss.
His incredible affection, closeness, his questions about art, move me. I move to Berlin without saying goodbye, hit an artistic crisis – my first. I’m part of the system, but I hate it. He understands. Returning from the therapist completely shattered, cried out, I find a letter of which I can be certain, wherever I am, here with his postcards.
His words accompany me in my constant travel, my life in transit. No matter where I am, I return to Berlin, my place of residence in the sometimes – each line from him testifies to genuine interest, the love of art.
Reading older messages so much springs to mind. I see him sitting next to me in the Fichtekränzi, an apfelwein tavern in Frankfurt. He tells me about Natalie and how Julius is growing bigger, stronger and it seems as if we see each other all the time. Wilhelm – a wonderful man.
A book in my mailbox. I unwrap it. He had told me about it, and in contrast to the Berlin Republic, on the Main they don´t just do things, Wilhelm lives his true passion. Churches built after 1945 in Germany. How is life – and are we – treating them?
I have been travelling again for a long time and am reluctant to return to the city of my record collection, but here in my Charlottenburg apartment as well as these wonderful lines there is a bowl and the fixed idea, the belief that such unshakeable persons exist who live for art, the genuine and their confidence therein. Thank you, William.

(Photo: Hazki; Translation: Veronica Özbakir)

Shit happens ( in Soma and elsewhere)

16.05.14
7 min
Post

Reading the news all day in Istanbul today about the tragic coal mine incident in Soma which happened on Wednesday is nothing but disturbing all the way. Almost 300 coalminers lost their lives after a fire broke out in the mine. More than 100 are still missing and are most likely to be dead as it is impossible to survive under the circumstances which are supposed to be prevailing in the mine. It is not the first incident to happen and not the last but the most severe so far in the history of Turkey. The term “Shit happens” ran through my mind as I was reading the news today about the political perceptions of the incident by some. It is a term I would usually use in other circumstances. Like when a party is more dull than expected, the guy you fancied doesn’t reciprocate, the million in the lottery didn’t make you rich and so forth. Nothing severe nothing important. The term is brilliant to express that you were somehow involved and eager in the matter but are able to except the disappointing ( yet common) fact that life is not always playing in your favor. Wikipedia says: “Shit happens” is a common slang phrase, used as a simple existential observation that life is full of imperfections and unpredictable events, … The phrase is an acknowledgment that bad things happen to people for no particular reason.” According to some political opinions in Turkey working in a coalmine seems to be one set of circumstances where unpredictable events can happen for no particular reason, simply because work and accidents are inextricably tied together (Of course they are. Like my hand can fall off whilst writing my way to sarcasm heaven right now because the gods want to punish me…) I regularly use the term in a larmoyant yet self-determined way when I’m somehow aware of the set of circumstances in which “Shit happens” incidents are happening to me and am somehow prepared for the outcome. Working in a coal mine in Turkey in order to earn your living and providing your family with food and shelter is not the set of circumstances you choose in a self-determined way just because you think it is safe and sound to work there. Miners in Turkey are not choosing this because it is great to go down 2000meters into the earth and make a living from hard-knock work where you know you are tied to this set of circumstances: – Miners who are working in privatized coal mines throughout Turkey are working there because in some regions it is one of the few to sole sectors in which to earn money, – The labor is poorly paid ( daily workfare is 40TL equals 13€, you do the math for the month), – extremely dangerous because labor protection measures are poorly granted and safety regulations are not obeyed, – due to privatization the mines are working with subcontractors who are not tied to the already weak unions. Coalmining has a long history in its usage to generate electricity since the 19th century. In Turkey, due to the fact that coal is still “Turkey’s most exploited indigenous source of energy” ( cited from this brilliant article in THE NEW YORKER) and the cheapest one because of cheap labor, the linkage between bad set of circumstances and “unpredictable events” become apparent. Work and life is cheap in coal mining business in Turkey. One could compare it to the textile business in Bangladesh. The collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in 2013 cost more than 1.000 textile workers their lives and left more than 2.5000 severely injured. It is one of many “unpredictable events” aka accidents while working in the textile business. Again people don’t choose to work in the textile business in Bangladesh because they think it is a decent way to earn a living (minimum wage is 68$, raised after Rana Plaza collapse). Most likely they do it because they don’t have another chance of earning money in some regions or cities and are aware of the fact that it is poorly paid and labor protection measures are apparently not followed when working in a desolate building crammed with companies working for the big clothing corporations. The Soma accident and the Rana Plaza accident weren’t unpredictable. They were predictable and are marked of pure grief and unbelievable horror. Grief about the lives lost and horror about the political and medial slaughter which takes place afterwards right now in Turkey and back then in Bangladesh. The horror of the political and media coverage right now lies in the fact that everybody is throwing stones at the other. The ruling party at the opposition parties, them at the ruling party, the corporations at the media and the media again at each other. The public opposing the ruling party wants to use the incident for enlightening the blinded followers of the ruling party by showing the merciless approach of the headmaster and its arrogant remarks. The public of supposedly blinded followers are praying to god and blaming the unfaithful for being unfaithful…. simply hilarious if it wouldn’t be so tragic. Political agendas are carried out on dead bodies and sarcasm and opportunism is sky-rocketing. I am not citing names because the names are replaceable in the coverage succeeding events like this. I also wanted to blame some political and media corporation fuckups but realized something else whilst writing this. While everybody else is throwing shit like there’s no tomorrow everybody keeps forgetting that by doing what we are doing and this is consuming cheap coals aka cheap electricity (and heating) and cheap fabrics, we are mostly responsible for what’s happening: Cheap electricity we all like because we consume it increasingly and are neither willing to pay high prices nor lower our consumption. Consumers of cheap fabrics are most likely we and by we I mean consumers of the western world who are shopping at Zara, Mango, H&M, Primark yada yada yada. Cheap fabric is not so cheap anymore once it made its way to the shelves on the high streets of Berlin, London, Paris, Kopenhagen etc. The retail price becomes absolutely expensive because of a mark-up up to 300-400% compared to its production price. Cheap coals are cheap because of cheap labour. The big mining companies keep raising the production rates, are selling more coals for cheaper prices, are lowering the incomes and raising their profit margins. Cheap fabrics are also cheap because of cheap labour but we are paying high prices in order to make Zara&Co.’s billions the more the merrier ( in a nutshell and simplified). Of course we don’t  think of us being also responsible for tragedies like these at first thought but once you start thinking one should realize that it is not negotiable that we are not. We are most definitely and as long as we keep doing what we are doing predictable events like this will continue to happen. I don’t want to be defeatist but on a day like this after watching and reading the coverage of this event I want to pound my head against the wall and keep screaming that CAPITALISM KILLS! and SMASH CAPITALISM! and WORKERS UNITE! and YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE BUT YOUR CHAINS! and many other popular leftist chants. Not because I am a blinded leftist but truly believe that making profit of off peoples lives is something that shouldn’t be done, plain and simple. We are and will be living in capitalist society anytime soon but the extent of social justice applicable to capitalism should be increasing than decreasing. Maybe I am a blinded leftist I don’t care but I will have to rethink what I can do on my terms in order to support this. (Photo: Courtesy of Hurriyet Daily News)

Miriam Laura Leonardi
People

Miriam worked for a company that produces mirrored bathroom cabinets, when I first met her in Basel already some months ago. Miriam is somebody who likes these breaks and the experience to dive into corporate worlds for a couple of days. During these days as a hostess presenting mirrors, scanning tickets at a packaging and innovation fair or representing an insurance, she gathers the nicest and weirdest stories. People cry because their boyfriend wasn’t nice to them, construction people make the cheapest jokes when the try to bring you and the bathroom mirror together or she finds a company printing your name on a flash light. I was lucky to receive one of them. These temporary jobs are not the only things that change on an almost regular basis. Before she moved to Zurich she resided in Paris, Mexico-City, L.A. for a couple of months and again is planning to move away to see other things, eat other food – she loves food by the way – and also to engage with other languages, which is a key element in her artistic work. Writing, filming or recording audio, Miriam is always concerned about these little details you can catch by watching, simply watching what happens around you.

Jonah Go Down to Mosul

Jamal Ghosn about Iraq
10.06.14
2 min

Queen Victoria's Public Secret: Chapter 6, Part 3

09.06.14
2 min

Just Beg For It

Jamal Ghosn about Slavery in NCAA
07.06.14
3 min

Cans and Rockets, Part 1

05.06.14
4 min

When Syrian Men Dance

Jamal Ghosn about Syria
29.05.14
3 min

Coup Denial on the Nile

Jamal Ghosn about Egypt
22.05.14
2 min

Victoria's Public Secret: Chapter 1.2, Part 10

19.05.14
3 min

Shit happens ( in Soma and elsewhere)

16.05.14
7 min