Category Archives: culture

A Brief History of John Baldessari

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Landmarks: A Deschutes Brewery Film

Sometimes a little film beautifully captures a mood, a place, an idea. The following film does that.

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Jean Renoir parle de son art

“…the arrival of perfect realism coincided with perfect decadence.”

“…whether man’s gift for beauty isn’t in spite of himself.”

“I don’t believe we create our lives. Our lives create us.”

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Contrarian Criticism in the Round

“What distinguishes modern art from the art of other ages is criticism.”

~ Octavio Paz

What is the role or the function of the film critic today? At the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) several film critics discussed the roll of film criticism and, in particular, the contrarian roll (or possibilities) that can be a kind of stance one takes, or might take, as a critic. The most important topic in this discussion, however, is on authority. It is an old topic and it is just as relevant as it has always been. If this discussion suffers, which it does, it is from the problem that always arises in rountable discussions: lack of focus combined with insufficient time allotted to any one thought. Still, it is an interesting look into the interests and ideas which motivate some film critics today.

In this roundtable the idea of authority is most closely linked to expertise. Film critics should be experts in film; they should know the obvious and the arcane, the new and the historical, the depth and the breadth. However, there are other ways that one can be an authority. For example, I would rather a film critic be wise, knowing philosophical (yea even theological) issues that trouble humanity, than merely a fanatical film goer who has seen everything three times. I would rather a critic be able to draw connections between cinema, the other arts, politics, sociology, and home economics than give me tantalizing gossip or merely personal reflections. I thing these critics would agree. Still, authority is ultimately something given rather than taken, and film critics these days tend to live in a tenuous state of existence as our society continues the march away from the idea that cinema is truly important or that critiquing a film is anything more than gossip or personal reflections. In other words, one has to truly love being a professional film critic to be a professional film critic.

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>considering cycling utopias

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I have been showing a lot of cycling related videos from or about the Netherlands and Denmark. Amsterdam and Copenhagen may be the most bike friendly cities in the world or, at least, in the Western Hemisphere. And since I have never been to either city they function as Utopian cycling destinations for me, which probably means I have a false picture of their realities. False or not, here is another great look at Copenhagen from the Little Known Travel site:

There is some value in considering these kinds of cycling utopia scenarios if only to highlight the gap with our own scenarios. I say “our own” because if you are not living in Copenhagen or Amsterdam it is likely you are not living in a city designed nearly so well for cyclists. So, wherever you are you probably noticed some gaps with your own city and that of the video. Raising consciousness, as it were, is a good thing. It can lead to positive change over the long run.

What I find interesting is how cycling enthusiasts and, to some degree, just plain old commuters, speak of cycling in such glowing terms. They talk as if they have reached the shores of Valhalla or some kind of Nirvana. I imagine it was the same way for motorists decades ago. At one time a car was just about the most exciting thing a person could buy. Then came the personal computer and the Internet. But now people are acting like bicycling is this new, exciting, even transformative thing, even though bicycles have been around longer than cars. If anything it demonstrates that the car never fully replaced nor completely improved upon the bicycle. 

This rediscovery of the bicycle, if that is what it is, may end up being something akin to the Renaissance when those of the (then) modern world rediscovered and enthusiastically appropriated the great thinkers of the ancient world. This is not to say that the bicycle ranks with the brilliance of Plato or Aristotle, but one could say that the invention of the bicycle ranks as one of the best in all of history, a perfectly balanced and beautiful combination of form and function. What the movers and shakers of the Renaissance sought was harmony in thought, design, polity, business, and art. May we do so well.

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>cycling infrastructure and urban planning

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We all face dangerous situations from time to time. Cyclists will occasionally come across structural traffic creations that actually offer (guide, one might say) pathways into danger. Here is an example:
But it does not have to be.
I find urban planning fascinating, particularly when it comes to traffic, congestion, and bicycles. I recently came across two videos from the Netherlands that look at different aspects/results of urban planning. The first shows us how a busy intersection incorporates the needs of cyclists and legally allows right turns without stopping for cyclists at red lights. The second looks at the transformation of a city when it is turned over to pedestrians and cyclists rather to automobiles.
Years ago the city of Eugene, Oregon closed off several downtown streets and made a kind of walking mall. At the time the goal was to revitalize a dying downtown. Many downtowns were dying as the suburbanization of America bloomed. “Create a European style environment,” some said and it will attract more people. It did not work. I give two reasons:

  1. They blocked off streets and filled them in with brick but they did not change the overall configuration of the space which was originally created around the needs of cars and trucks and still had that feeling. Thus walkers felt somewhat undersized in the space. It was obvious that the space was made so that cars and trucks could get within twenty feet of any store front. It was obvious that the new mall design was only a temporary experiment. This is the kind of “solution” one gets when the goal is to see how to improve business through schemes rather than make structural changes that are first about people.
  2. No bike riding was allowed on the mall. If they had encouraged cyclists, added bike lanes, added more bike parking (made it covered as well), and created better bike paths/lanes to and from the mall, it might have worked. In short they only went so far and not far enough in their commitment, and it showed. For all the so-called bike friendliness of Eugene there is still a strong undercurrent of fear; fear that cyclists will hurt pedestrians, fear that cyclists will interfere with motorists, fear that cycling is really just another form of anarchy.

Then a few years ago the city reopened the streets to cars and trucks, again to revitalize a still dying downtown. It didn’t work. Now, in another scheme to help businesses, they are offering free parking to motorists. I predict it also will not work. Plus it is going in the wrong direction that the city needs to go. They should be encouraging more cyclists and pedestrians, not more cars. Eugene is a rather bike friendly city compared with much of the U.S., but it is far from where it could be.

As a bonus, and just a freely delivered as the previous three videos, here is a look at bike parking infrastructure in the same magical bikeland as the two previous videos:
Of course, to create a similar magical bikeland here requires the desires of a lot more people to want to ride their bikes year round to work, school, and play. Building infrastructure is also necessary, but I would not want to see miles of empty bike racks paid for with my taxes. It takes more than bike racks and bike lanes. It takes better laws, more intelligent policing, and structural designs that make it easier to get around by bike than by car. Fortunately, and a sign of a better-than-average social sensibility, the City of Eugene is better than most cities in the U.S. for bicycle friendliness, ranked #5 from Bicycling Magazine. But it is still a ways from Copenhagen.

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>There is nothing new under the sun, or how bicycling behavior has always been worthy of satire

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What is new is old. Some advice from 1934:
As there has recently been a rather tactless criticism directed towards us cyclists, it must be permitted for me to bring some modest, if not harmful, proposals for a new traffic etiquette for cyclists and other wheeled persons.

Let us begin at the beginning. You set yourself up on the bicycle, have a good look around – first up and down and then from side to side – wherefter you rest for a moment whilst regarding the road ahead and behind. Do this several times and take your time doing it. Therefter you push down on one pedal and up with the other. The bicycle is then propelled into motion. You can, of course, repeat this process, but experienced cyclists rarely need to.

You will now find yourself in the so-called traffic, unless you are riding on the island of Saltholm, but we’ll assume you’re on a busy street.

As soon as you’ve run over the first person you come across you immediately accelerate and try to dash across the intersection while the yellow light is lit. If the light turns red in the process, pretend like nothing happend and continue on – there is nothing easier than pretending like nothing happened. Those who are approaching from the side – whether in a car or on foot – will no doubt let you pass. They will think that it is them who has made a mistake. So ingrained is the bad conscience in all of us.

Never cross an intersection when the light is green, as you risk being knocked over by someone running a red light from the other direction. This is very important as it can still cause misunderstandings, court cases and outbursts of anger.

Now you continue riding. Let’s say you have to turn to the left. Extend your hand – please be careful it can’t be seen – to the right. This means that you won’t be turning that way. There has been some discussion about this question but as a cyclist you must never doubt. Your entire focus must be on your riding.

The use of a bicycle bell is absolutely out-of-date and simply unecessary. The bell can’t be heard above the noise and you should therefore only use your bell after midnight – or after you’ve arrived home.

During the day, instead of a bell, you should use different verbal expressions, shouted with a loud, high-pitched voice. It is recommended to acquire a copy of J.F. Braldrelunds ”Dictionary of Danish Swear Words”. It contains more than enough content for this purpose.

On corners you attempt, wherever possible, to brush the person or persons who dare to stand there. It is best if you’re travelling fast enough that you manage to knock one of them over. Then you can confirm beyond a doubt that the person in question was in your way or, in other words, ”That taught them a lesson!”

If you’re going from the street into a port leading to a courtyard or similar, always weave through the pedestrians as dramatically as possible. The bell must NOT be used here – remember that! If you use your bell you’ll make people jumpy and it will be much more difficult to weave past them.

In the courtyard you discard the bicycle as carelessly as possible, in order to give any potential bystanders the impression that you’re cool (superior in intelligence).

Ensure that the bicycle is placed so that anyone and everyone can trip over it. You’ll quickly discover that the person who trips over it will pick it up and place it politely against the wall – usually under a sign that reads: ”Bicycles will be removed”.

Regarding bicycle lights, you need not take this question too seriously. Bicycle lights are simply no longer used and are only rarely seen on bicycles.

This is generally because the police aren’t bothered much if you cycle without lights, as the statistics show. In 1932-1933, on the stretch between Here and There, only one bicycle light was observed. According to the police report it wasn’t possible to identify the cyclist – he was riding like a madman.

An absurd idea has popped up in the minds of some so-called people who are believed to live inside unexcavated bronze-age burial mounds. Putting a licence plate on bicycles, as well as a hook under the saddle on which to hang a telephone book and a pair of eyeglasses.

The thought is incredibly impossible – a licence plate that must host a number like seven million three hundred and thirty thousand, six hundred and forty three would be wide enough to fill City Hall Square, and if you placed the digits vertically the licence plate would rip down the electricity wires.

Yes, well, those were my modest proposals for a new traffic etiquette for cyclists. We have, for far too long, been viewed in a negative manner by Mr Motorist and pedestrians – or rather sleepestrians – and I feel that these proposals will please every motorist and sleepestrian – we apparently haven’t evolved any further than this in our sorry old world.

I found this on the blog, Copenhagenize. From Copenhagenize: “The above was translated, modernised and edited for clarity from the original text by one of Denmark’s most loved satirists and cartoonists, Robert Storm Petersen. Better known at Storm P.. It was first published way back in 1934 (in ‘Snak om en ting’) and again in 1993 (in ‘Udvalgte historier’)” 

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