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the papal palace

Le Palais des Papes, Avignon - 1

Le Palais des Papes, Avignon - 2

Le Palais des Papes, Avignon - 3

Le Palais des Papes, Avignon - 4

Le Palais des Papes, Avignon - 5

The papal palace in Avignon, the Palais des Papes, in winter is a rather bleak and draughty place, with only glimpses of its onetime splendor. The curious mix of fortress, palace and church testifies to the wordly power of the Avignon Papacy, while the vast empty halls today tell of its demise. But in the 14th century, from 1309 to 1378 to be precise, this was the administrative centre of a great temporal realm, in an uneasy power balance with the French and other monarchies but not above collecting papal taxes from all corners of Europe.

Next door, the other palace, the Musée du Petit Palais, houses an impressive collection of primitive art from southern Europe, with paintings - with one or two exceptions all religious - ranging from the iconic and naive to the graphic and ghoulish.

post-digital print

An inspiring book for those who like to do their reading on paper, Alessandro Ludovico's 'Post-Digital Print' (2012) offers much-needed nuance in the 'print is dead' debate by presenting 'The Mutation of Publishing since 1894'.

The hype surrounding electronic reading devices has been relentless over the past years, driven by the self-amplifying logic of hype about technology, where the technology itself facilitates its rapid spread through the network, which in turn is seen as proof of its own inevitability, to the point where printed magazines and newspapers feel obliged to report on their own obsolescence.

But despite all this, as Nicholas Carr has been documenting on his blog, the sales of ebooks show clear signs of stagnation. Apparently print is proving more tenacious than many techno-believers would have thought - and this tenacity, our centuries old and cherished habit of reading on paper, is exactly what Ludovico sets out to put into context.

After all, books still offer "the very best 'interface' ever designed".

Ludovico is founder and editor of Neural, which has long been an independent source for digital culture and media arts. Clearly no Luddite, Ludovico shows how the death of print has been announced many times before, in fact with the introduction of every new medium since the second half of the 19th century. Starting with the invention of the telegraph and then the telephone, Ludovico traces seven historical moments when print looked poised to disappear, supplanted by exciting new electric and electronic media.

In each case, however, print didn't disappear. Even today, what he calls "one of the most unfortunate and embarrassing prophecies of the information age" has simply not materialized (or rather, dematerialized). Instead, as in each previous instance and in the same way as has happened to other media (music, film, tv), print has evolved and been transformed by the new media, forced to rediscover its own unique qualities.

From this perspective, what is happening today can be seen as another crisis/opportunity for printed media to redefine their role in a post-digital landscape.

The traditional role of print is unmistakeably being threatened by the new digital world; but it is also, paradoxically, being revitalised. Both media share a certain number of characteristics, and yet they are fundamentally different - and they also fulfil different needs (for example, digital is built for speed, while print ensures stability).

These different characteristics are summarized in a fascinating appendix, which lists "100 differences and similarities between paper and pixel". By that point, the book has already given many examples of the continual revitalization of print through the years, first in a history of avant-garde publishing and then in a survey of contemporary projects and publications that explore the new post-digital role of print.

Looking to the future, Ludovico envisions hybrid publications that take advantage of the strengths of both paper and web - marrying paper's physicality, permanence and superior user experience with the digital realm's updateability, searchability and, most of all, its networked nature. Discussing such networked publications, which one day will likely be an uncategorizable hybrid of print and e-publication, Ludovico concludes that:

...as it currently stands, [post-digital print] still lacks one crucial aspect (besides production and sharing): it does not include mechanisms able to initiate social or media processes which could potentially bring the printed content to another level - what I would call the 'processual' level. In the past, print activism (using pamphlets, avant-garde magazines, Punk zines, etc) was deployed for spreading new ideas meant to induce new creative, technological and - by implication - social and political processes. The future of post-digital print may also involve new processes, such as remote printing, networked real-time distribution, and on-demand customisation of printed materials - all processes with (as of yet) unexplored social and political potential.

Naturally, 'Post-Digital Print' is available in print and in digital form (free pdf).

The book did leave me with one question: where is the companion website? Why does Ludovico not practice more of the networked publication he preaches? (Or would Neural be the answer?) The great wealth of publications, artworks and web projects he discusses in the book are linked (sort of) from the endnotes in the pdf version of the book, but surely this is not the ideal interface for further exploration.

So to make these somewhat more accessible, below the fold is an overview of web-based / web-present art projects discussed in the book...

Continue reading the full post ยป

the child is not dead

On May 25, 1994, president Nelson Mandela addressed the newly formed democratic parliament of South Africa, and read a poem by Ingrid Jonker, 'The child who was shot dead by soldiers in Nyanga' (1960).

Here is the historical footage (in an excerpt from the documentary 'Korreltjie niks is my dood'), and the full text of the poem...

The child is not dead
the child raises his fists against his mother
who screams Africa screams the smell
of freedom and heather
in the locations of the heart under siege

The child raises his fists against his father
in the march of the generations
who scream Africa scream the smell
of justice and blood
in the streets of his armed pride

The child is not dead
neither at Langa nor at Nyanga
nor at Orlando nor at Sharpeville
nor at the police station in Philippi
where he lies with a bullet in his head

The child is the shadow of the soldiers
on guard with guns saracens and batons
the child is present at all meetings and legislations
the child peeps through the windows of houses and into the hearts of mothers
the child who just wanted to play in the sun at Nyanga is everywhere
the child who became a man treks through all of Africa
the child who became a giant travels through the whole world

Without a pass

the mistake of the machine

In an age when techno-utopian visions seem to have become America's most successful export product, we might do well to turn to Father Brown for a sanity check. Always one to modestly and benignly debunk his fellow man's delusions, G.K. Chesterton's endearing, rational priest-detective is here confronted with a man who believes in something called a Psychometric Machine - an early lie detector - to discover a murderer.

The story, titled 'The Mistake of the Machine' (1914), is almost a century old.

"I reckon you'll be shocked," replied Greywood Usher, "as I know you don't cotton to the march of science in these matters. I am given a good deal of discretion here, and perhaps take a little more than I'm given; and I thought it was an excellent opportunity to test that Psychometric Machine I told you about. Now, in my opinion, that machine can't lie."

"No machine can lie," said Father Brown; "nor can it tell the truth."

"It did in this case, as I'll show you," went on Usher positively. "I sat the man in the ill-fitting clothes in a comfortable chair, and simply wrote words on a blackboard; and the machine simply recorded the variations of his pulse; and I simply observed his manner. (...) Isn't that better evidence than a lot of gabble from witnesses -- the evidence of a reliable machine?"

"You always forget," observed his companion, "that the reliable machine always has to be worked by an unreliable machine."

"Why, what do you mean?" asked the detective.

"I mean Man," said Father Brown, "the most unreliable machine I know of. I don't want to be rude; and I don't think you will consider Man to be an offensive or inaccurate description of yourself. You say you observed his manner; but how do you know you observed it right? You say the words have to come in a natural way; but how do you know that you did it naturally? How do you know, if you come to that, that he did not observe your manner? Who is to prove that you were not tremendously agitated? There was no machine tied on to your pulse."

"I tell you," cried the American in the utmost excitement, "I was as cool as a cucumber."

"Criminals also can be as cool as cucumbers," said Brown with a smile. "And almost as cool as you."

Read the whole story: 'The Mistake of the Machine'.