The above is a picture of a piece by Niklaus Rüegg, set in a village on the border between France and Belgium.
I want to make a game with this idea, handing out the same 16 frames to teams with cameras and imagination and seeing what they bring back. Everyone gets a “Suddenly..!”, a “POW!” explosion, a “Meanwhile, back at base..”, and a “But – “, and maybe a few dry-erase speech balloons, and an afternoon to go and use the city as their source. Maybe commuters crowding onto a train could be recast as henchmen rushing to their stations. Or a flock of pigeons could be accompanied by a single “Fly, my pretties!”. Or a frame could be strapped to a bike for authentic speed lines.
I’ve got no idea how you’d judge it. Perhaps you’d get credit for smuggling in certain locations, or for particular themes, or for managing to subvert comic convention, or just for running around town in spandex dressed as Captain Super. Perhaps the best one would be from the team of film students who make a comic out of other people making comics, though that could just as likely be the worst. Maybe the most popular one would be a collaboration between a six-year-old and their grandpa.
Anyway, I’d like to see it, and if I make it back to Bristol in time for the next Igfest I might see if I can do something about it.
Berg and Dentsu have made Suwappu, toy animals imprisoned in tiny digital pens that follow them wherever they go, tolerant and understanding of the dark inner lives each lead and the destructive impulses that follow bad dreams, dreams made of unbalanced psyches and snippets of the commercial fog surrounding them. At the mercy of promotional messages from car manufacturers and record companies, they struggle to connect their debilitated and half-formed consciousnesses, trying to assert basic values of trust and dependence as best they can with their stunted minds.
Their situation reminds me of the sort of existential struggles Russell Hoban’s toy characters live with, the drummer and the clock in the Mouse and his Child, the wind-up tin frog in love with La Gioconda, with their personalities crushed almost into nothingness by the constraints of their form and experience, tiny glimmers of self trapped in a hallucinatory interdimensional timelessness. I don’t think Badger will ever stop having bad dreams.
Update: Rodcorp adds what I want to call suwappu fanfic – love the Riddley Walker/primal tone, brilliant – very We3
Watching will.i.am, Nicki Minaj – Check It Out (from Simon Reynold’s Blissblog). The hyperreal turfing/locking moves and cartoon facial gestures blurred in front of me until I couldn’t tell whether a performer or an editor was responsible for each movement.
Not being able to tell the difference between reality and manipulated experiences isn’t just about being able to spot photoshop tricks or video manipulation, it’s when people start to ape the facial tics and artificial physical gestures of people – models, actors, people who need to fake enthusiasm and engagement – in the same media that are edited so inhumanly. Not just realistic light and hair textures from graphics packages, but convincing mimes of limbs moving in a non-human way, with the arrested momentum and weightless control of a Pixar film. I’d always thought that there were two classes of behaviour to think about, when thinking about real or virtual behaviour: people behaving like humans and computers behaving like things, But now I think there are two more classes: people behaving like things and computers behaving like people. The digital and the human standing either side of the uncanny valley – they’re not looking for a bridge, they’re making their way down the side to meet halfway.
Perhaps in popular culture we’re already negotiating the sort of collision between human and machine intelligences that’s struck mebefore: in the linked pieces I (and in the second, me and Keri Facer) mention the possible need for a curriculum that helps us learn about and develop collaboration and cooperation between human and machine intelligences. But maybe putting it like this betrays my limited perspective: maybe by the time that kind of curriculum comes around the gap it’s bridging won’t be apparent to anyone.
Singapore recently celebrated its National Day: every residents’ association spent July providing decorations and bunting and exhorting residents to deck their parapets with ordered rows of red-and-white flags. There was a parade, rehearsed for weeks beforehand, and by the time it took place the novelty of the aircraft and the fireworks must have worn off, though you wouldn’t have known it from the applause. I really enjoyed it. Here’s a video:
(A week later they hosted the Youth Olympic Games opening ceremony. Watch the last three minutes or so: amazing set, Speer-like, shades of Metropolis, drifting in the half-shadow of Marina Bay, a place that’s no less artificial or considered than a stage)
This sort of thing is a reminder that in lots of ways Singapore is a made-up country, one created suddenly and with a sense of urgency only a generation or so ago. The patriotism that is encouraged here is genuine, of course, and there are very real threats to the island’s security which demand a sense of loyalty, but there’s an untested quality to it that draws your attention to the way it’s been made up, in schools and workplaces and televised events.
They make up other countries as well. These pictures were taken in the IKEA cafeteria, after eating meatballs and boiled potatoes.
“Dalarna. It is mythical. It is summer. Midsummer. An enchanting hilly landscape. A picture painted by famous artists. The sound of a happy violin. Folklore. Culture. Traditions. Bright nights. Breath-taking light. It is the most Swedish in Sweden. It is Dalarna.”
Sweden, mystical home of sensible interior planning and refreshing attitudes to public bathing. Of course, we do the same thing, and not just to Sweden: there’s a distance of a couple of thousand miles at which any country is more easily understood through the ways it’s made up than through any actual experience. People in the UK did it with various countries now in the Commonwealth, Americans did it with Japan, and now Singaporeans romanticise Northern European countries and the parts of the culture they like. The Swiss are used in a similar way: the highest quality butchers, embroiderers, dry cleaners and health food suppliers all have “Swiss” in their name. The British aren’t treated the same way, being a much more real part of recent history here.
None of this is a criticism. But all this making up other countries has made it more obvious to me how I choose the parts of England that I miss, how I make up my own country to be nostalgic about. Since I arrived I’ve been listening to Dave Swarbrick and Alistair Anderson, and to groups that imagine their own village more obviously: the Moon Wiring Club, Belbury Poly, the Focus Group and others on the Ghost Box label. When I miss home now, after watching other people construct their own ideas of countries, I feel much more aware that I’m missing somewhere I made up, and take more pleasure in populating it on purpose: old Children’s Film Foundation programmes, Greater London Council lettering on country roadsigns, AA badges, muted, textured countryside, Puffin books and Alan Garner countrysides, morris dancing, public works in rollling hills from Dacorum and Milton Keynes borough councils, long barrows and neolithic landscapes, greaseproof paper and boxes of orange juice, whimsical acts of principled civil disobedience, well-spoken male voices in children’s radio programmes, village flotsam from the Festival of Britain, electronic engineering, and further away the Channel and the North Sea and stories of smuggling and secrecy.
I met a spiritualist tonight. We were in a busy pub, camping a table, and he sat down as we did: of course, at the time he was just a person we didn’t know. Later, though, we got talking, and it turned out he’d come down from Ayrshire, via the Wirral, to join around 500 people, in a place I’ve been impolite enough to forget, in order to watch a noted mediun — “you’ve not heard of him?”: no, nor remembered his name a few hours later — and, hopefully, hear from his mother, dead these past eight years; he and his mother were close, he said, holding up his crossed fingers. When there’s someone ready to speak from the other side, there’s a kind of light bulb appears above their head: the people speaking don’t get older or change their views because time doesn’t really mean the same thing on the other side.. On his wrist he wore a copper bracelet with a Greek repeating design, to help his arthritis.
He impressed me, this man who believed things I’m used to hearing mocked, and although I didn’t feel impelled to join him, nor alter my belief that harking after people who have left isn’t healthy, for them or you, I still couldn’t articulate my own beliefs with a confidence equal to his: when asked if I believe in eternity, I could only muster a mealy-mouthed sophistry to the effect that I believed in infinity. I was impressed not by his ontological views but by his lack of evangelical zeal, and his quiet but firm belief in the importance of being master of your own mind and subject to no group’s insistence on a particular way of thinking. “I believe in freedom of mind”, he said, and so, I thought, do I, but only one of us has the courage to test it.
Of course, freedom of mind is a flag under which a motley crew might fly, and I excused myself once he began to explain that Darwin was wrong, not wanting to hear anything which might temper my fine opinion of his polite and cogent way of talking. But he lacked the shine and sparkle of the zealot: his grey hair was neat but not strict, his manner assured, his whole demeanour lacking the excessive normality of someone trying to convert. I don’t know what he’ll experience tomorrow, but if he hears that his mum’s doing ok, then I don’t see how that can be censured, and I hope he hears she’s well.
Earlier today I met a man who has venture capital for colonising the moon. My references may be a little adrift.