Sunday, February 11, 2018

Particles of deep topography - 26

Portraits from other dimensions

Text: Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality (Edward Frenkel)
Text: My Work Is Not Yet Done (Thomas Ligotti)
Text: Teatro Grottesco (Thomas Ligotti)
Pictures: Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Media museum Hilversum, Berlin, Zeeuws Museum Middelburg, 2012

It is impossible to see other dimensions (is it?). But it is possible to think, model and (maybe) sketch other dimensions. Many artist tried. And the results could be powerful and eerie. Especially when applied to portraits of people from these other dimensions. During walks we could keep this in mind: are there membranes to penetrate, portals to enter?
Duchamp was fascinated with the idea of the fourth dimension as well as non-Euclidean geometry. Reading E.P. Jouffret’s book Elementary Treatise on Four-Dimensional Geometry and Introduction to the Geometry of N Dimensions, which in particular presented the groundbreaking ideas of Poincaré, Duchamp left the following note: The shadow cast by a 4-dimensional figure on our space is a 3-dimensional shadow ...  
(See the Sierpinsky cube in the picture above and the 3-D skeleton in the picture  below.)
... by analogy with the method by which architects depict a plan of each story of a house, a 4-dimensional figure can be represented (in each one of its stories) by three-dimensional sections. These different stories will be bound to one another by the 4th dimension. Duchamp found something deliciously subversive about the new geometries with their challenge to so many long-standing ‘truths.’
("Stories" is used in the architectural sense in this quote, but imagine that "stories" in the narratological sense could be connected in higher dimesions, isn't that a cool speculation?)
At the beginning of the twentieth century, artists got interested in this idea and used it as a way to include the fourth dimension into their paintings, to render them dynamic. A milestone in this direction was Marcel Duchamp’s 1912 painting Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2. It is interesting to note that Einstein’s relativity theory, which demonstrated that space and time cannot be separated from each other, appeared around the same time.
Can we enter these dimensions and bring back artefacts? Artworks from these realms should be  weird and unsettling. They're also impossible to describe:
In the reception area where I waited to be called for my interview there hung a portrait of U G Blaine. It was a flattering-enough likeness of a middle-aged man in a business suit, but the effect of contemplating this portrait was such that I wanted to turn away and purge it from my mind before I started thinking thoughts that I did not want in my head.

It appeared to be a sculpture of some kind. However, I found it initially impossible to give this object any generic designation, either artistic or non-artistic. It might have been anything. The surface of the piece was uniformly of a shining darkness, having a glossy sheen beneath which was spread a swirling murk of shades that almost seemed to be in motion, an effect which seemed quite credibly the result of some swaying of the lightbulb dangling above.

About this series - Over the years I've collected many place descriptions. It's a waste to keep them on my harddisk. So I'll publish them from time to time. I will add some pictures when suitable.
Enhanced and amplified topographies can be found in a broad range of literature. The best ones link to metaphysics or mysticism and (pre-) load the landscape with unexpected layers, sheets, slabs and strata of meaning. We can appropriate all this work to enrich our everyday surroundings.
Previous posts are 1:The paranoid method, 2:Rooftops and sacrifices, 3:Oil and electricity, 4:Sewing machines, 5:Rooftops and apparitions, 6:Woods, 7:Mushrooms, 8:Formlessness (2d), 9:Formlessness (3d), 10:Autumn, 11:Monsters and mad scientists, 12:Empty spaces, 13:Stars and planets, 14:Addiction against emptiness, 15:Suggestive vagueness, 16: Ominous places and books, 17: Military technology, 18: Ominous telephones, 19: Observation, 20: History distortion, 21: Spy stories, 22: Dead places, 23: Mannequins, 24: Secret walks, 25: Stories, 26: Other dimensional portraits,  27: Mysterious fragments, 28a: Dino Buzzati, 28b: Mushrooms.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Urban mushroom diary - 15 - autumn 2017

Urban mushroom diary - 15 - Rotterdam, autumn 2017
I'm always looking for city mushrooms in nature and culture.
Interesting to see how fungi invade our world.

I've chosen a terrible obsession. Or maybe this wretched obsession has chosen me. The amount of urban mushrooms this autumn was unimaginable. It takes a lot of drudgery to find the names of fungi and often they're impossible to name. It stresses me out and makes me depressed at the same time. Still I can't leave it alone ... So I'll start with the easy ones and postpone the difficult ones for the next chapter.

30 September - Geastrum fimbriatum. I have speculated before that I only see the "weeds" of the fungal kingdom. And even though this mushroom is spectacular, it is quite common. I was happy to find it again in the same area as last year. Along an asphalt bicycle path trough the city park. Pushing the balloon softly releases a puff of brown spores. The fruit bodies have no distinctive taste or odor. says Wikipedia. I was not tempted to try it.
24 September - Agaricus augustus. This should be a good and edible mushroom. There was a whole group of them beside the footpath in the city park. I was skeptical at first because of the strange chemical smell, the book says: reminiscent of bitter almonds. But that only confirms the determination. I tried to make a spore print but the mushroom itself decayed and stained the paper. The deep saturation of the spore colors is always admirable, the microscopic spores penetrate the smallest crevices of the paper and create a full matte hue.
28 september - Coprinus disseminatus. English Wikipedia says edible. German Wikipedia says inedible (but not poisonous). These were found in the parking lot of a hotel, next to a train station. I have seen them before, growing between the tiles of a footpath. They appear in huge crowds and are beautifully patterned.
28 September - Coprinus atramentarius. Beside the footpath in a city park. This is the same genus as the tiny mushroom above. It seems you can make an almost indelible ink by letting the mushroom decay on a plate and then add clove oil and gum Arabic. The spores penetrate the paper so deeply that the writing is almost impossible to erase. It is poisonous when consumed with alcohol.
26 September - Lycoperdon utriforme. Found in the grassy median strip between two busy urban roads. It is called mosaic puffball because of the beautiful pattern of its skin: geometric white flowers made of tiny spikes, like a natural fractal. It is edible when young. (I should try to taste the mushrooms, but until now I was hesitant, and have only smelled them.)
28 September - Scleroderma citrinum. Found in the same hotel parking lot near the train station. The most common species of puffball. It is poisonous but Czech Wikipedia says: even though it is poisonous one or two slices can be used to add a strong mushroom aroma to meals, the slices should be removed before eating. There exists a rare parasitic bolete that grows on these puffballs: Pseudoboletus parasiticus.

Urban mushroom diary:
1:Start of the obsession, books, lawns, 2:Dreams, lawns, books and newspapers, 3:Gouda shop windows, 4:Rotterdam lawn, 5:Hoek van Holland wood, 6:Autumn newspapers, 7:Switzerland to Rotterdam, 8: Warffemius mushroom paintings, 9: Münster, documenta14 and Rotterdam, 10: Spore prints, 11: Dead man's fingers, 12: The lower Rhine, 13: Oostvoorne, 14: Rotterdam, 15: Rotterdam, the easy species.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

From a strange planet - 12

Road webcam fascination - The silent pictures of Scandinavian traffic-webcams have a strange fascination for me. My previous outpourings of webcam obsession are here: part_1, part_2, part_3, part_4, part_5, part_6, part_7, part_8, part_9, part_10 and part_11. I've used video, fiction, literary criticism, art, topography and surveillance technologies to think through this window on far-away places.
This is also: Particles of deep topography nr.28. 

While looking at the Norwegian webcams I cannot escape the accusation that I'm wasting my time. I'm just looking at a virtual reality - through the black rectangle of a webcam. I'm not participating. I'm waiting for something - something I cannot specify. Am I looking at beauty and mystery - I still think so - or am I looking at an extremely stupid landscape?

This is the atmosphere in The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati. Here a promising young officer spends his life waiting for an enemy attack that never comes. In the meantime he can only watch the empty desert from the ramparts and dream of heroic deeds. And even that view - through the black rectangle of the window - is highly regimented.

And beyond it, on the other side, what was there? What world opened up beyond that inhospitable building, beyond the ramparts, casemates and magazines which shut off the view? What did the northern kingdom look like, the stony desert no one had ever crossed?

It was at this point, as he turned his head a little to the left, that Drogo's glance fell on the window opening on to the inner courtyard. He could see the northern wall, yellowish like the others and sunbeaten like them, with here and there the black rectangle of a window.

There was a clock as well, pointing to two o'clock, and on the topmost terrace a sentry walking to and fro with his rifle at the slope. But over the ramparts, far, far away, in the glare of noon, there rose a rocky crest. Only its extreme tip could be seen and in itself it was nothing out of the ordinary. Yet for Giovanni Drogo that fragment of rock represented the first visible lure of the northern territory, the legendary kingdom whose existence hung heavily over the Fort. "What was the rest like?" he wondered. From it there came a drowsy light shining through slow-moving smoky wisps of mist.

But Drago was scarcely listening to Matti's explanations, for his attention was strangely attracted by the picture framed in the window with that tiny piece of crag showing above the wall. A vague feeling to which he did not have the key was gradually penetrating into his inmost being - a stupid and absurd feeling, a baseless fancy.

But first of all he asked: "Sir," his voice was apparently calm, "may I take a quick look to the north and see what there is beyond that wall?"
"Beyond the wall? I didn't know you were interested in views," -answered the major.
"Just a glance, sir, merely out of curiosity. I've heard there is a desert and I've never seen one."
"It isn't worth it. A monotonous landscape-no beauty in it. Take my advice-don't think about it."
"I won't insist, sir," said Drago. "I did not think there was anything against it."

Major Matti put the tips of his plump fingers together almost as if in prayer. "You have asked me.'' he said, "the one thing I can't grant you. Only personnel on duty may go on to the ramparts or into the guard rooms; you need to know the password."
"But not even as a special exception-not even for an officer?"
"Not even for an officer. Oh, I know-for you people from the city all these petty rules seem ridiculous. Besides down there the password is no great secret. But here it is different."
"Excuse me, if I keep on about it."
"Do please, do."

"I wanted to say-isn't there even a loophole, a window from which one can look?"
"Only one. Only one in the colonel's office. Unfortunately no one thought of a belvedere for the inquisitive. But it isn't worth it, I repeat, a landscape with nothing to recommend it. You will have plenty of that view if you decide to stay."
"Thank you, sir, will that be all?" And coming to attention, he saluted.
Matti made a friendly gesture with his hand. "Goodbye. Forget about it-a worthless landscape, I assure you, an extremely stupid landscape."

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Urban mushroom diary - 14 - autumn 2017

Urban mushroom diary - 14 - Rotterdam, autumn 2017
I'm always looking for city mushrooms in nature and culture. Interesting how fungi take over the world.

Around the 23 September 2017 there was a massive emergence of urban fungi. The first sighting was in a elfin shop in Dordrecht, where they sold pleasant Amanita Muscaria houses.
This clashes with fungal reality, where shapes can be fiendish, ugly and evil. I was pleasantly surprised by these monstrous mushrooms next to the bicycle lane in Rotterdam: Helvella crispa. No, they're not broken, they're intended to look like this. And they contain a spooky poison:
Some mushrooms contain a toxic chemical called gyromitrin which is converted to monomethylhydrazine after digestion. Mushroom species from this group include certain species of Gyromitra, Helvella, Sarcosphaera and Peziza. Poisoning may occur from inhaling fumes from cooking mushrooms. The amount of toxin varies amongst and within species but some are toxic enough to cause death.
On the other hand, there are edible and good mushrooms next to a parking lot. Still they look spooky when they ripen. The black ink is the ripe spore mass of this mushroom: Coprinus comatus. Recently this mushroom has become popular in alternative medicine. 
And there's also another species of Coprinus: Coprinus atramentaria in the local playground. This one is edible but becomes poisonous when combined with alcohol.
On 14 October I saw this mushroom again, now in the center of Rotterdam, between the bicycle path and the car lane. If you think of fungi as plants (they're not) then these must be the weeds of the fungal kingdom, the nettles and the thistles that thrive on fertile soil.
Finally there's the Agaricus bitorquis growing between the pavement cracks of our local shopping mall.
It grows from the tiniest cracks and reaches enormous sizes. They reached their biggest size around 3 October or in 10 days. The mushroom is edible, but I would be afraid of all the dog poo that feeds these mushrooms. I used to see this mushroom in Rotterdam in July-August but I must have missed it this year.
Finally there's the unavoidable mushroom that's impossible to determine. Most of them are and they will remain nameless. It could be Cyclocybe aegerita. It does not look like Panellus, Lyophyllum, Pholiota nor Psilocibe (Hypholoma fasciculare).

Urban mushroom diary:
1:Start of the obsession, books, lawns, 2:Dreams, lawns, books and newspapers, 3:Gouda shop windows, 4:Rotterdam lawn, 5:Hoek van Holland wood, 6:Autumn newspapers, 7:Switzerland to Rotterdam, 8: Warffemius mushroom paintings, 9: Münster, documenta14 and Rotterdam, 10: Spore prints, 11: Dead man's fingers, 12: The lower Rhine, 13: Oostvoorne, 14: Rotterdam.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

From a strange planet - 11

Road webcam fascination - The silent pictures of Scandinavian traffic-webcams have a strange fascination for me. My previous outpourings of webcam obsession are here: part_1, part_2, part_3, part_4, part_5, part_6, part_7, part_8, part_9 and part_10. I've used video, fiction, literary criticism, art, topography and surveillance technologies to think through this window on far-away places.

Several years now I've watched a streetlamp in Norway. It stands in the middle of a roundabout in Svortland. This place is fascinating. This is how it looks right now.
In the summer, with the sun high in the sky, the place is transparent. The house, high on the hill at the left is clearly visible. The Chirico-like arch structure, lower, to the right of the house draws your attention to itself and asks: "What am I?" The church steeple, in the middle of the picture shows the depth of field and draws you towards itself. The street signs are illuminated and nicely outlined.
In winter a white magic circle appears at the foot of the streetlight. It lasts through the first thin snows. Later everything turns white. In this light the house, the arches and the church all disappear and merge with the horizon.
Behind the streetlight there's the spectacle of many types of sky in different colors and patterns. Clouds appear and disappear. Storms come and go. Different directions of sunlight lead to different details in the landscape. Sometimes the water merges with the sky, at other times it merges with the land. The streetlight waits for the night.
At night the streetlight awakens. It unfolds itself carefully, first making vague copies of itself and then sending out thin feelers of light and creating ufo's. When the circumstances are good it grows and flowers. It becomes a bright supernova exploding in the night. Passers-by don't notice this mystery. The only way to see it is through the webcam of the Norwegian road institute.

Later ... I couldn't resist looking up the features I see in the background. Maybe I shouldn't have done that. Maybe I should left the mystery untouched. But the Chirico-like arch structures in the background prove to be the windows of an office building. It's clear how the optical effect arises.
The church looks exactly as I had imagined it. White, old, Lovecraftian, a bit like I imagine New England to look like.
There is no good picture of the houses. The Google car did no go that way. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Urban mushroom diary - 13 - summer 2017

Urban mushroom diary - 13 - summer 2017
Particles of deep topography - 28 - mushrooms

I'm always looking for city mushrooms in nature and culture. Interesting how fungi take over the world.
I've collected many place descriptions through the years. I publish them from time to time. I add pictures when suitable.
Links to previous chapters are listed at the end of this post.

Text: A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett
Text: Gateways to Abomination (Matthew M. Bartlett)

At first I thought I had seen a young death-cap, Amanita Phalloides, but it does not fit the description so well. Maybe Amanita vaginata. It grows under beech trees but maybe it's just growing from the wood chips. I give up on this one. It's simply too difficult.

31 July 2017 - Oostvoorne - As mentioned in the previous post, it's strange, and frustrating, that a mushroom with a definite name and species, can still be so elusive. Somewhere, someone knows its name, but that's not me:
This applied to everything. If I saw an insect I hadn’t come across, I knew that someone must have seen it before and categorised it. If I saw a shiny object in the sky I knew that it was either a rare meteorological phenomenon or a plane of some kind, perhaps a weather balloon, and if it was important it would be in the newspaper the following day. If I had forgotten something that happened in my childhood it was probably due to repression; if I became really furious about something it was probably due to projection, and the fact that I always tried to please people I met had something to do with my father and my relationship with him. There is no one who does not understand their own world.
In the old park leading up to the dunes and the seaside. Most likely an Agaricus and probably edible. All these mushrooms are pleasant and friendly, totally different from the mushrooms in horror stories:
The tree trunks were sprawled, glistening, mottled with black lichen in intricate patterns, looking for all the world like malignantly eschatological graffiti. The ground around them was thick with varicose roots twining through, around, and over soft mushrooms the size of chair cushions. Some of them were partially collapsed or split with gaping fault lines, revealing their inner craggy textures. They seemed to breathe out a pulsing fog, fetid, fusty.
14 August 2017 - Rotterdam - More of the beautiful and edible Leccinum duriusculum, both young and mature. A day later someone had picked these beautiful mushrooms. It's atypical of the Dutch to pick wild mushrooms, they have a mycophobic culture.
And, in the same spot, a mushroom that does not look like a Russula. It could be Agrocybe cylindracea.
18 August 2017 - Rotterdam - At the Rotterdam train station. I give up on this one too. But I'm happy with having caught a mushroom in such a cultural, urban space.
19 August 2017 - Rotterdam - The first signs of the cultural mushroom season. Friendly plastic mushroom, made in China. I'll never put something like this in my house, but I like to see them in shopping window displays.
27 August 2017 - Rotterdam - Armillaria mellea in the city park. A ubiquitous weed of the mushroom kingdom. I should check if they give light in the dark. Note: That's no irony, they really seem to do this.
This could be some Lactarius or Panellus or Lentinus. As always, impossible to determine for sure:
In the green light, I felt my eyes sliced open and drained, and new eyes grew like mushrooms in their place.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Particles of deep topography - 25


Text: The Man Who Collected Machen and Other Weird Tales (Mark Samuels)
Text: The White Hands and Other Weird Tales (Mark Samuels)
Text: Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality (Edward Frenkel)
Pictures: Broken glass at the metro station, January 2012

Whether we want or not we're always making stories. Being somewhere and walking around is a narrative experience. We tell this story to ourselves and we long to tell it to others.
This story is without doubt the strangest thing I’ve ever read. It is as if the text is a reflection of my own thoughts. No—that’s wrong. It is as if my thoughts are only a reflection of the story. While I read I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the page and I forgot all about the outside world. It seemed as if my mind was becoming a part of the text. It was horrible and irresistible at the same time. And the really bizarre thing is that, on the surface, it appeared only to be a confused jumble of disconnected words!’ ‘It’s an experiment,’ I told her, ‘a new technique I’m trying to perfect.’
When we succeed the sum of place and tale is more than its components:
‘You succeeded,’ she said finally. ‘The story’s like an incantation. There’s some mysterious power in it that words can’t explain.
Unfortunately, the enjoyment of topography is a very elitist pastime. Place appreciation is just as rare as enjoyment of mathematics. It needs hard work and maybe some talent and predisposition:
It has become, in the words of poet Hans Magnus Enzensberger, “a blind spot in our culture – alien territory, in which only the elite, the initiated few have managed to entrench themselves.”
This view of the world contains some postmodern thinking. And this can be irritating:
The merits of a writer’s work were of no interest to them and they viewed the existence of literary work as a proliferation of vermin, being only too willing to act as pest controllers in this regard. All texts were without a centre of meaning. Their interpretation rested with the reader, not the author. There could be no agreed purpose to a text. All was chaos. The text was an autonomous entity. In short, without the reader the text did not even exist save as a cipher.
We run the risk of saying things that are just meaningless words:
The Collective was putting tenets into action that few dared even to consider. Unlike the book-burning Nazis or the censorious communists, it was not selective. It did not destroy because it thought works corrupt or dangerous. It destroyed works because it believed none had meaning or significance, because words only mean other words and chase each other, in a linguistic game of tag, to a void.

About this series Over the years I've collected many place descriptions. It's a waste to keep them on my harddisk. So I'll publish them from time to time. I will add some pictures when suitable.
Enhanced and amplified topographies can be found in a broad range of literature. The best ones link to metaphysics or mysticism and (pre-) load the landscape with unexpected layers, sheets, slabs and strata of meaning. We can appropriate all this work to enrich our everyday surroundings.