... in culture

Brussels - a Manifesto: Towards the Capital of Europe

01 Oct 2011 | 717 words | architecture brussels culture europeana


‘Towards the west, the border is sharp because of natural conditions…’ [Brussels – a manifesto, p.27]

I have mentioned before that Bruxelles is one of my favorite cities in the world and certainly in Europe. This is in spite of (or rather because) the city is a mess: European institutions reside in buildings that most of the time look as if they have been randomly dropped from the sky and fact that the city is a nightmare to cycle in but a joy to be in a taxi since it has lots of tunnels (i ❤️ tunnels!).

In my perception Bruxelles with al its unfinishedness and it’s myriad of antagonisms has always felt like a proper capital of Europe, but i can understand why people are not perceiving it as such. With the European project under intensifying attack it is probably a really bad time to propose investing heavily into making Bruxelles a proper European capital, but that is exactly what the authors of the excellent ‘Brussels – a Manifesto: Towards the Capital of Europe’ proposed in their 2007 manifesto.

The whole manifest, from the observations on the borders of Europe that contain the above quote to architectural interventions proposed, really makes a lot of sense to me and i would love to see this realized sooner rather than later.

Of all the interventions proposed by the authors, one struck a particular chord in me: The Mundaneum complex that – according to the Manifesto’s authors – would come to house the European Central Library and a number of related Institutions. The Mundaneum gets his name from a rather fascinating post WWI attempt to build an institution that would hold all the worlds knowledge (a sort of pre-google/wikipedia if you will):

This project of culture and education in the west of Brussels refers to the Project that Paul Ortlet and Henri Lafontaine started in 1919: The creation of a Munadaneum in Brussels’ Cinquantenaire Area. The Ambition was to create a centre of centers, or a worlds database of knowledge – “a temple devoted to knowledge, education and fraternity among people”, ” a representation of the world and what it contains”. To be able to archive and this knowledge, Ortlet developed a standard classification system based on referential cards. This is the Universal Decimal Classification system that would simplify scientific research by establishing links between different forms and areas of knowledge. It is the first database , which also formed the basis for hypertext. Otlet’s and Lafontaine’s initiative was not an isolated case: At the same time Jorge Luis Borges’ imagined the Library of Babel as a place that contains “all the possible combinations of the twenty-odd orthographical symbols … the translation of every book in all languages, the interpolations of every book in all books”. [Brussels – a manifesto, p.152]

As someone spending a lot of my time working with Europeana, reading the proposal for the Mundaeum/European Central Library reminds me of the relatively sorry state of the European digitization effort. Europeana – it’s flagship and closest real world equivalent of the Manifesto’s Europeana Central Library – currently consists of a website that provides information about 20M works, many of which are only accessible in low-quality to online users. This stands in sharp contrast this with the – entirely fictional – description of the European Central Library from the manifesto:

The Central Library, cooperating with national libraries, provides the links, translations and information to be elaborated and processed. Books, cinema, newspapers, music, etcetera would be digitized and saved in one place; 260.000.000 items now stored on the shelves of 25 national libraries in 43 different languages would all be organized with the UDC system that Paul Ortlet developed. [Brussels – a manifesto, p.152]

Reading the above, it strikes me that one of the things that Europeana is missing most is an offline presence like the proposed Mundaneum :

European Central Library

This is what europeana should be looking like today [Brussels – a manifesto, p.157]

bonus: The proposed location for the Mundaneum is right next to the spot where i took this picture back in 2000 or so…

update [14.3.12]: The folks at google have discovered the mundane as well. they have also produced a nice little video honoring Ortlet as ‘the man who dreamt the internet‘.

Random reading

10 Jun 2008 | 616 words | border paraguay business copyright culture piracy

The Piratbyrån’sRasmus Fleischer has a an extremely interesting essay titled ‘the future of copyright‘ in the current issue of CATO unbound (a monthly web-journal by the ‘we love limited government, individual liberty, free markets, and peace’ CATO institute). In ‘the future of copyright’ he argues that ‘neither the stabilization nor the abolition of the copyright system seems within reach’ and that instead ‘we will have to live in this landscape of gray zones for quite a while, for good and bad.’ Personally i have always found the fact that artistic and cultural practices have to deal with the realities of these grey zones is at least partially responsible for many of the qualities embodied in current cultural and artistic practices. This is something Rasmus seems to agree with:

Creative practices, with some exceptions, thrive in economies where digital abundance is connected to scarce qualities in space and time. But there can never be a question of finding one universal business model for a world without copyright. The more urgent question regards what price we will have to pay for upholding the phantasm of universal copyright.

And while we are on the topic of grey zones you might want to add the Essay ‘Blacker-than-black Market‘ in the current issue of GOOD magazine to your reading list. In ‘Blacker-than-black Market’ offers a glimpse on into the functioning of the black markets in Ciudad del Este. The markets of Ciudad del Este, conveniently located close to the borders with both Argentina and Brazil contribute an estimated 30 percent of Paraguay’s $9 billion gross domestic product:

The downtown market is dense and compact, a maze of concrete spanning a five-block-by-five-block square. Despite its size, the market is extraordinary for its diversity. There’s the upscale Monalisa shopping mall, where the nouveau riche stock up on authentic Montblanc pens and Bulgari jewelry, alongside sidewalk kiosks offering pirated copies of Die Hard 4.0 in bulk and where San Francisco 49ers fans can buy shoddily sewn “Startar” jackets. Thanks to the fact that Paraguay has lower import tariffs than either of its neighbors, Ciudad del Este essentially functions as a massive outdoor duty-free shop - a destination for anyone looking for a bargain.

Seems like i have to add Ciudad del Este to the list of places i need to visit. Also the reference to ‘pirated copies of Die Hard 4.0 in bulk’ remided me of this hilarious piece of recording insdustry propaganda that Lawrence had unearthed a couple of days ago and in which the European Commission’s tax and customs authorities are quoted to state that

From a profit point of view, the trade in fake CDs and DVDs is giving drug trafficking a run for its money. “One kilo of cannabis sold in Europe will bring in less than €2,000, a kilo of pirate or counterfeit CDs will bring in €3,000,” the report said. The average value of a disc for a games console on the European market will vary between 255 and €60. The selling price for a counterfeited version of the same disc is around half a euro each, the report continued.

which reveals some very fuzzy math: 1KG is 1000 gram and one CD with inlay and cellophane wrapper (that is how they are sold on the streets) weights about 26 gram. that is roughly 40 CDs to a kilogram which multiplied by the stated half a euro selling price results in a total revenue of €20 per kilo of pirated CDs or DVDs (even if you use €4 – the real going rate for a pirated movie – you end up with a revenue of €160 which is somehow €2840 short of the profit claimed in the piece).

STEIM needs your support!

26 May 2008 | 301 words | amsterdam culture music technology art

The fabulous electronic performance arts venue/center/place/non-place [it is hard to describe what this place really is] steim in amsterdam is in danger of loosing it’s funding. over the past years steim has received funding from both the dutch ministry of culture education and science and the city of amsterdam. for some reason (probably because they never go there or because their idea of culture is quite limited) the advisory bodies for both the ministry and for the city of amsterdam have decided that steim should not be supported under the upcoming (2009-2012) 4 year plans for culture (yes they do still have soviet style 4 year plans for culture here in the Netherlands).

Needless to say this would be quite a bad thing to happen. steim is one of the very few places in amsterdam that are unique and even if it caters to a ‘niche audience’, it manages to bring in a remarkably diverse set of artists from all over the world that have made it one of the best places in town to hang out and broaden your horizon. for steim the loss of structural support would probably be quite devastating and the steim crew is calling for support:

Things are not well at STEIM. We are in the danger of losing our structural funding from the government, based on a review from the advisor board which called us ‘closed and only appealing to a niche audience’. The outlook isn’t exactly bleak, but at the moment our future is unclear.

As we see you as an important friend and colleague of STEIM, we would like to ask you to help us present our case that we are connected to a diverse network of professionals and that our work has significant influence on both a Dutch and an international community.

Don't cry for me Adolf Hitler

18 Feb 2006 | 402 words | berlin theatre war culture

Up until now i have been pretty sure that things around me are going down. I mean since i am 15 or so, thing’s around me close down: it may be no secret that i was totally in favor of my school closing down, but for the rest it is usually bad: municipal swimming pools close, train lines disappear, bank branch offices get replaced by card-eating machines and cultural institutions get forced to shut down by budget cuts (and then i am not even talking about good ole’ fordist factories here).

So when a new theater opens around the corner from your house that is actually quite an unbelievable development. But that is what just happened around the corner from our house. A group of actors, directors and other theater people have turned an unused backyard hall on pappel allee into the ballhaus ost (beware: beautiful but stupid flash site!!) .

On top of the fact that it probably takes a lot of guts to start a theater without subsidy and all the other positive signals being given by this bold act as they have been discussed in the feulleiton of almost every German newspaper in the last two weeks it is also a nice thing to suddenly have a theater around the corner: it means you can just go out of the door to see if there are tickets left for the night’s performance if you are sitting at home being bored or depressed or both. And that is exactly what i did tonight and i ended up seeing the premiere of ‘Don’t cry for me Adolf Hitler’ (by Uwe Moritz Eichler):

I would have never expected that i would actually enjoy a performance that for a good deal consist of songs performed in german but in the end i did: the piece is situated in a end of second world war german army field hospital (think mas*h) which is run by double playing nurses trying to protect their drug addict, signal relaying, love-sick patients from an imbecile army inspector and Adolf Hitler himself while musing about love and happiness. Sounds extremely cheesy but actually it is quite insightful an entertaining (big props to the sparse contributions by the trumpet player (Steffen Schult)).

If you are in Berlin and you understand German you can see further performances on 24, 25 feb and 5,8,10,17,22 and 23 march at Ballhaus Ost, Pappelallee 15.

Living museum of youth cultures

27 Oct 2005 | 347 words | sao paulo culture consumerism

I guess the bigger a city becomes the harder the kids are forced to develop some kind of group identity. São Paulo with it’s 18 million inhabitants seems to be a pretty good example. The kids seem to be much more devoted to individual youth cultures than in most European cities. This is pretty much obvious on the streets or on the subway but the prime spot to witness this is the rock-gallery in downtown. It is a multiple story shopping gallery from the 70ties (or so) that neatly sorts youth cultures per floor:

In the basement you have shops that carter to afro /reggae clientele, the ground floor is all about hip-hop/streatwear, the 1st floor is suddenly all gothic/dark metal the 2nd floor is alternative (with the humming of tattoo needles echoing throughout the space) while the 3rd floor caters to yet some other variant of rock music (and for some reason i cant figure out the 4th floor is all occupied by silk screen printing shops).

rock gallery shopping center

Every floor covers all your youth cultural needs: there are clothing stores, shoe stores, accessories stores and record stores (plus tattoo & piercing parlors where the culture requires it) all of them exist at least in threefold and all are selling the same stuff. It is quite an experience to climb the stairs from one level to the next and travel through these different universes of style. As the whole thing has a very 90s feeling it really feels like a living museum of youth cultures. The only thing they should change is to replace the labels on the buttons in the elevator. instead of having ‘0’, ‘1’, ‘2’ …. they should have signs saying ‘hip-hop’, ‘gothic’, ‘alternative’.

One little gem from one of the shops on the ground floor is this package of nike wristbands with the word original written in clumsy handwriting by the owner. Apparently the shop is selling so much fake stuff that the fact that these are indeed originals has to be communicated to the clients.

original nike wrist bands

Wristband madness

20 Aug 2005 | 174 words | culture fashion netherlands stupidity

Yesterday the Dutch conductor was wearing an orange wristband. When he was checking my ticket i could not help to wonder why he was wearing a wristband in support of the nutters that are currently occupying the gaza strip and resist the israeli disengagement plan. a young inter-railer (probably being israeli himself) two seats down the carriage actually asked him why and as a response got to hear that this actually had nothing to do with the gaza settlers but was in support for the respect2all campaign that was started after the assassination of Theo van Gogh.

It seems that this whole wristband business is out of control. A quick google search reveals that orange wristbands exist in support of juvenile diabetes patients, responsible gambling, cultural diversity, feral cats, hunger, leukemia, lupus, melanoma, motorcycle safety, racial tolerance, reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome, and self injury. It might also be a good idea to have a wristband in support of the dutch royal family (house of orange) as they seem to struggle with their leadership role.

Star biz

12 Aug 2005 | 171 words | germany india cars culture movies review

Yesterday was the German premiere of ‘star biz’ a documentary film produced as part of the project import-export. The film uses mercedes as a tool to examine the process of cultural appropriation of western consumer and luxury goods in India. The film gives an surprisingly unfiltered insight into the corporate culture of Daimler Chrysler. The interviews with Daimler Chrysler managers among them CEO Hans-Michael Huber reveal a fair amount of arrogance and narrow mindedness among these ‘ambassadors of indo german globalisation’ (quote from the article about the film in the import export publication).

At the same time the swabian accents and the insitance on provincial german lifestyles among the ‘mercedes family’ members make these interview extremely hilarious to watch. The film contrasts the Mercedes family with the bollywood empire of star producer Ravi Chopra and features lots of footage of ‘merc’ driving Bollywood heros and villans.

Star biz is available (with German and English subtitles) on dvd as part of the publication ‘cultural transfer – import export – india, germany, austria’.

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

Other things that i have made online: