Hans Ulrich ObristManchester International Festival, 2007

Hans Ulrich Obrist: I’m so excited to have this conversation with you here in Manchester forthe world premiere of Il Tempo del Postino. As you know, Philippe Parreno and I came up withthe idea of a group show in which artists are given time rather than space. What were yourthoughts when you first heard of the work, and what is the genesis of your contribution to it?

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: My first thought was to incorporate existing works to theproject—together with music, light, performances, and objects. The idea was to bring them allon stage and build a kind of scenography. But, for me, the most interesting part was tryingto think of an ending. You see, more than ten years ago I gave a lecture on “The Endings of Films.” I’ve always been very interested in endings. In French I often say, “Tout finit mal”—everything ends badly. This is true in operas; they rarely have a happy ending. The death ofa main character always makes things more dramatic. At any rate, Philippe thought I should goback to this film idea, and so I went through a variety of film endings to see if they couldbe adapted somehow for the stage. For me, one of the crucial moments in cinema was the 1973 science fiction movie Soylent Green directed by Richard Fleischer. It’s set in 2022 and showsan overpopulated world where euthanasia has been made available to the public, and people canchoose how they want to die. So my piece also addresses the issue of euthanasia. This wouldbe an interesting theme for an opera, since it’s still very…

Hans Ulrich Obrist: …taboo?

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Exactly. And the challenge here was to translate the momentin Soylent Green where the actor Edward G. Robinson, playing the character Sol, choosesthe light and music that are going to accompany his own death, which he refers to as “going home.” It’s a theater-like situation, and a very extreme moment, in the movie. WhenI first saw the film, I was only thirteen and I cried for almost three days. My first decisionwas to avoid using an image from the film, because that would have been too easy. So thequestion remained: how could we use the stage, the area around it, the pit, and the orchestrato perform this death at the end of the whole show? My solution was to have the orchestradie away with the music—that is, to instruct the musicians to leave the pit one by one andlet the music slowly dissolve into nothingness. The music was from Beethoven’s Sixth, the Pastoral Symphony, which was used in Soylent Green to create a strong contrast between thehigh-spirited music and the moment of death.

Hans Ulrich Obrist: During the rehearsals it was unbelievably moving to see the musicians leave the pit one by one. As they left, carrying their instruments, you could see how some ofthem were also carrying a book or a bag. So you realize that they’re really going home.

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Our first inclination was to provide detailed instructions,having a violin leave first, and then a bass, etc. but we eventually realized it would bebetter to let them do it on their own and not tell them how they should behave or dress. This makes their departure much stronger. The musicians take great pleasure in performing thewhole thing.

Hans Ulrich Obrist: I’m curious about your approach to the element of time in the show. Manyartists of our generation have resisted the homogenization of time, especially that broughtabout by processes of globalization. I sometimes wonder whether this is related to the desirefor unmediated experience. Does this apply to you and the way you treat time in your work?

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Time is very connected to narrative, of course. There’s thisgreat book by Paul Ricoeur called Temps et Récit. That was an an important source when I waspondering on how to bring time into space for exhibitions. But it’s such an… [laughs] endlesssubject. I hardly know where to start. Working as a museum guard many years ago, I was alwaysfrustrated to see how visitors would stop in front of a work of art for only a few seconds.This made me think that an artwork should somehow capture the visitor in a bubble of time andspace. I had only one model to elaborate this, which was literature. You see, as soon as youhave a potential narrative, the beginning of a text, then time appears. Back then, I usedclues instead of text, creating a kind of trap that would keep the visitor contemplating theart a bit longer.
By exploring the dimension of time, I think we’ve succeeded in bringing a mutation into theexhibition. Think of Philippe’s exhibition at the Arc, where works come to life, one afterthe other, on their own [Alien seasons, Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris/AnimationRecherche Confrontation, 2002]

Hans Ulrich Obrist: Pop, pop, pop…

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Yes, this for me was already a strong signal for Il Tempo del Postino. But as an exhibition viewer and a lover of this moment when you circulate in a space with all of your mind and body, and have the possibility to go in and out, laughing and talking, I always feel trapped in a theater. I have problems with this situation. Some weeks ago I went to see a play where the viewers were slowly walking out, one after the other, and I think this mirrors the idea with the orchestra. The opera house is a fantastic laboratory, but I never forget that I want the viewer to be free. I’m not ready to enter the you-must-stay-here condition.

Hans Ulrich Obrist: My last question is about collectivity. You’ve done so many things together with other artists, and with people from other fields, like Nicolas Ghesquière or Philippe Rahm. How do you feel about this being a group show, or about collectivity as a subject?

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: For me, the powerful moment in art is one of heterogeneity. It’s not characterized by one style, one signature, or one idea. A group show or work that involves many sources is the most exciting thing that can happen. I’m always ready for an experience that involves this kind of multiplicity. There’s simply a level of art that cannot be reached if you work alone. I also feel that art is something social. In recent years, there was perhaps less excitement about working on a museum show together because this is something we’ve already done so often. But when we heard of the proposal to work in this entirely different context, this laboratory, most of us were enchanted. It’s like meeting in a new house and being given the chance to see things in an entirely different light. It’s something that Rirkrit Tiravanija’s work is trying to show, and for me the orchestra is a way to represent this idea.

Hans Ulrich Obrist: Thank you so much.
Hans Ulrich Obrist
The Invisible Ape Boy
Philippe Parreno

Free AssociationPrint

Hans Ulrich Obrist and Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster in conversation with Edgardo CozarinskyMusée d’Art moderne de la ville de Paris (ARC), 2003

Edgardo Cozarinsky : You’re filming me against a white wall—everything becomes so dramatic when it’s framed against a white wall.

Hans Ulrich Obrist: Yes, it just so happens that we’re in a museum, a “white cube.” And in fact, I find the question of the museum very interesting in relation to your work. Does the museum play an important role for you? Do you like going to museums?

Edgardo Cozarinsky: Yes, there was a time when I really liked going to museums. I go less often now because there are far too many people. You have to wait in line, and I find it a real pain to wait in line, whether it’s to go to a museum or to the movies. I prefer going to the movies at eleven in the morning: you can go right in. If you don’t go in the morning, you end up sitting wherever you can, stuck in between people who are sometimes extremely unpleasant, ladies wearing too much perfume. These are all things that get in the way of watching the film. It’s the same with museums. I’ve missed out on quite a few exhibitions because I wasn’t able to find a time when there wouldn’t be too many people and I wouldn’t have to wait in line.

Hans Ulrich Obrist: So you prefer museums that are isolated, not very well-known.

Edgardo Cozarinsky: Exactly. It’s something that’s changed a lot over the past several years, since museums have become extremely popular pilgrimage sites. I remember that during my very first visit to Europe in the late sixties, you could decide which museum you wanted to go to at the very last minute. I remember having seen a Max Beckmann exhibition at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin in the late sixties [Max Beckmann: Gemälde und Aquarelle der Sammlung Stephan Lackner, USA und Druckgraphik aus dem Besitz der Kunsthalle Bremen, 1966-67]. At the time, it was one of the most important shows of his paintings ever done. At any rate, that’s when I discovered Max Beckmann. I stayed at the Akademie der Künste for half the day, and at no point did I have to push people aside to get close to the paintings. It was possibly the first major Beckmann retrospective in Europe.

[Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster enters the room.]

Edgardo Cozarinsky: I was wondering if we should do the interview in French or English. Because I’m pretty comfortable in English. I heard you speaking in English, so I thought…

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Yes, we can speak in English. Hans Ulrich and I almost always speak in English.

[Edgardo Cozarinsky opens a bottle of champagne.]

Edgardo Cozarinsky: This is for Dominique, and this is for Hans Ulrich. And this, of course, is for me—I’ll keep the bottle next to my chair! Have you got everybody in the frame?

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Yes.

Hans Ulrich Obrist: To your fantastic new film!

Edgardo Cozarinsky: To our meeting!

Hans Ulrich Obrist: To begin at the beginning, I should say that this is part of a larger interview project involving conversations with artists, architects, writers, and scientists. This time around, I thought it would be interesting to do a trialogue rather than a dialogue. This came about because Dominique kept telling me about your books, especially about Urban Voodoo—we were quite obsessed with this book. We’re really delighted that you’ve accepted our invitation.

Edgardo Cozarinsky: For me it’s very important because I had an instant crush on Dominique when we met two years ago. I have to say, I was not very happy with Le Fresnoy. But the time I spent with Dominique there was the highlight of my stay.

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: You know, I’ve given La fiancée d’Odessa as a present to I don’t know how many people. And the great thing is that each person likes a different story the best. It always says something about the reader.

Hans Ulrich Obrist: And what’s your favorite story?

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: I think the first one, the most romantic one.

Edgardo Cozarinsky: It’s also my favorite story. But most of my friends seem to prefer “Days of 1937.”

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Oh yes.

Edgardo Cozarinsky: The book is coming out in English in January, so I’m going to be in London for a week for the presentation.

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Did you find a good translator, or did you translate it yourself?

Edgardo Cozarinsky: No, I can’t do it myself. It’s an Englishman who has translated a lot from Spanish, especially from Latin America. And I’m very pleased with the translation, though actually I think the French translation is closest to the original. It’s very good in French.

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Yes, it’s beautiful. I think that, between the film and the book, there are some...

Edgardo Cozarinsky: … close connections.

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: But it’s not a script.

Edgardo Cozarinsky: That’s right, though one story, called “Budapest,” has the same narrative material. I’m very attracted to narratives. A lot of what has been considered modern in writing and in art has been non-narrative, against the narrative. I’ve always found this seductive, but at the same time I’ve known it’s not my territory. You see, I always want to tell stories, though this doesn’t mean I tell them in a straightforward way. I want to tell about people, about places, and about what happens to them—especially in terms of their imaginary life, which I think is the real life. What we read about in the newspapers and what happens in public spaces aren’t necessarily the real thing.

In the case of the film you saw the other day, Dans le rouge du couchant [2003], I had this idea of creating characters whose life stories have absolutely nothing to do with each other and seeing if I could work out possible points of internal connection. And the point of connection is the characters’ relationship to the past. The young man, for example, doesn’t have his own past, but he wants to eradicate a past he has somehow inherited from his family. The older people, the ones who are as old as me, have a past that is too obvious, too heavy for them; they want to get rid of it, but it just keeps coming back. And so the film deals with the question of how to negotiate with a past that is either your own or one you have inherited. And, of course, it starts with one character and then goes on to a second character twenty minutes later and then a third character half an hour on, and you watch them intertwine. It’s not obvious and it’s not a very traditional, but it’s the way I like to tell a story. Now the next one I’m making takes place during twelve hours in one night.

Hans Ulrich Obrist: Your next film?

Edgardo Cozarinsky: Yes. It’s going to be something quite different.

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: And which city is it going to take place in?

Edgardo Cozarinsky: In Buenos Aires, on a summer night between the moment the sun sets and the moment it rises next day. It’s shot mostly in the street. It’s quite different from what I’ve done so far.

Hans Ulrich Obrist: Could you tell us more about your beginnings? You said that you had a late start. What do you mean by that, exactly?

Edgardo Cozarinsky: Well, I was a student of literature at Buenos Aires University. I was very timid. I didn’t trust myself. And then, at the age of twenty-seven, I decided that wasn’t the life I wanted to lead. I didn’t want to be a university professor—I didn’t want to be a writer of essays, however interesting they could be. And, most of all, I didn’t want to be an intellectual. So I left Buenos Aires and spent a year wandering around Europe.

Hans Ulrich Obrist: Which year was this?

Edgardo Cozarinsky: I was born in 1939, so this was 1966. So from September 1966 to June 1967 I went from one country to another.

Hans Ulrich Obrist: Like a wandering monk.

Edgardo Cozarinsky: Well, I had a scholarship from the Swedish Film Institute, which helped me with the plane ticket. But then the scholarship was used up and I started work as a dishwasher at a very interesting restaurant with live shows in the center of Stockholm. At some point, I went by train to Berlin, which is where I saw the Beckmann retrospective. After that, I was in Paris for a little while. I wandered around, and then when I returned to Argentina, I realized that I couldn’t go back to my old life. So I started working, spending half of my time in journalism and the other half trying to set up an independent production—my first underground film, which I only got to make three years later. But journalism was very, very useful, because I was accustomed to the secluded and protective atmosphere at the university, where you have lots of time to work on a single subject. Working for a newspaper…

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: …is the opposite!

Edgardo Cozarinsky: Exactly! They tell you: “So-and-so is dead—you’re the right person to write about him. We need three pages by seven.” So it’s two o’clock, you have five hours to write, and without doing any research you have to come up with something that’s original, straightforward, and attracts attention. This was very useful for me. And then in 1974, I left for Europe and moved to Paris. I wasn’t all that young anymore—I mean, I was thirty-five when I left. At an age where most people think life is settled, I started anew, from scratch. And what’s strange is I feel like I could go on like that, so every ten years there’s a shift in direction. Maybe I haven’t done everything I wanted to do in my life, but I’m not completely dissatisfied with what I have done.

Hans Ulrich Obrist: That leads directly to the only question I ask again and again in my interviews: about unrealized projects. Could you tell us about your unrealized projects—projects that were too big or too small to be realized, or projects that were self-censored, impossible, or utopian?

Edgardo Cozarinsky: My utopia would involve being happy and realizing it at the time, because happiness is something I always recognize afterwards, when I’m no longer happy [laughter]. I always think, “I was happy then,” “I was happy in that place,” “I was happy that year,” or “I was happy with that person.” But by then the year is no longer there, the place has vanished, and the person is gone, perhaps even more definitely than the place. But to be more to the point, I think I’d like to shoot a film at the extremes of the world: in the Arctic Ocean in Siberia, or in Tierra del Fuego, in deepest Patagonia. I’d like to be in situations where the challenge of nature, the physical challenge of nature is felt very deeply. And I think I’d like to shoot in black and white, without dialogue and only with music.

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: When you were talking about the two extreme regions where you’d like to shoot, I immediately thought of what Philippe Parreno, one of my friends, told me about the magnetic poles flipping [laughter]. It’s something nobody really talks about, but it’s apparently an important geological event. It’s something that happens to the sun every eleven years and to the earth only every 20,000 years. Sometime Philippe is a bit apocalyptic, but I checked on the internet and I found a number of articles about it. It’s not something that will happen quickly; it takes something more like 500 years.

Edgardo Cozarinsky: That’s fascinating. I wonder what you could do with it in terms of images. Is it going to be visible or is a pole just a pole is a pole?

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Well, as you know, the earth has a magnetic field that shields us from solar radiation, and when you go to the poles you can see the auroras in the night sky. If we lost the magnetic shield, we’d see this phenomenon everywhere—not just at the poles, but in Paris, too.

Edgardo Cozarinsky: But you know there’s already something curious that’s been happening in the South Atlantic for more than ten years now—the hole in the ozone layer. It means you have to be very careful with the sun when you go outside.

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Yes, I read an article about southern Argentina and how there are places where you can’t go outside anymore without wearing a hat and sunscreen. The children grow up with sun glasses and sunscreen being a permanent fixture of their lives.

Hans Ulrich Obrist: What role has science fiction played in your writing?

Edgardo Cozarinsky: None at all. I like science fiction, but I think it’s more interesting in movies.

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Have you ever thought of doing a science-fiction film?

Edgardo Cozarinsky: No, I don’t plan on doing anything like that, perhaps because I already see enough science fiction taking place around me in daily life.

Hans Ulrich Obrist: I’d like to shift gears and talk about Argentina in the mid-twentieth century. I’m interested in knowing more about the cultural, artistic, and literary scene there in the fifties and sixties, and about the bridges between science, art, and literature. I interviewed Gyula Kosice some time ago, and I’ve also interviewed Brazilians, such as Walter Zanini, who spoke a great deal about the importance of the Torcuato Di Tella Institute. And then, of course, there’s [Lucio] Fontana and [Jorge Luis] Borges—the incredible avant-garde period in Buenos Aires. Were you related to that? I’ve always had this idea that Argentina was the place to be at the time.

Edgardo Cozarinsky: What I said earlier about not recognizing something until it’s gone applies to this, as well. The Buenos Aires I was brought up in was a city of art and culture; it was full of people who spoke several languages and were more or less aware of what was happening in the rest of the world. It’s the country where Borges was brought up and made. When I left Argentina as a teenager, I didn’t realize that this was already vanishing. With the whole political movement in the late sixties, there was a return to provincialism—a paradoxical thought when you consider that Argentina is a made up of immigrants.

You know, the people you mentioned are all very different, and it’s quite extraordinary that you should mention them all together. It helps me to see in perspective what I feel about Argentina. For instance, Fontana was from an Italian family from Rosario, which is the second industrial city in the country. It’s an incredible place, on the Paraná river—four hours by bus from Buenos Aires, or two hours by car on the highway. In the twenties it was the big mafia city. It had the most luxurious and most expensive brothels in the whole country. Most of the girls arrived through international prostitution channels to Argentina. They were sent to Rosario, and if they weren’t accepted in the brothels there, they went on to Buenos Aires. At the time, Rosario was called the “Argentine Chicago.” Members of the stuffier upper class used to say it was because they had the meat-packing exports, but in truth it was because of the gangsters.

Anyway, the Di Tella Institute was the enterprise of two sons of the Italian industrialist Torcuato Di Tella, who manufactured the first home appliances and cars in Argentina. It became a bastion of the avant-garde, where you could go with any sort of project—an installation, an exhibition, or a play—and you’d find a place. You’d have the director of the music section telling you, “No, we can’t produce this, it’s too much, but perhaps if you get in touch with the theater department we can discuss it.” It was that kind of open atmosphere.

Hans Ulrich Obrist: Were you involved in any way?

Edgardo Cozarinsky: Yes, I was close to them, and I knew people who were at the institute, some of whom are still close friends. Marilú Marini, who’s an actress now in Paris, did her first dance recitals there. And when I made my first underground film, most of the people in it came from the institute. And then there was Borges, who of course was from a much older generation. He wasn’t keen on what we would now call modern art. The great paradox is that his work announces the most extraordinary developments in what we would describe as modern and post-modern art theory, but he was not aware of that.

Hans Ulrich Obrist: Did you meet Borges?

Edgardo Cozarinsky: Yes, we saw each other very often in the sixties. I met him because I became close to Adolfo Bioy Casares, one of his best friends. Adolfo’s wife was Silvina Ocampo, and I was invited rather often to have dinner at their place, together with Borges. And then I followed his classes of English literature at the university. Aside from his knowledge, his utter indifference to theory, and a kind of politically incorrectness, I remember a remarkable incident in 1967 when Che Guevara was killed in Bolivia. A group of militant left-wing students entered the university and insisted, “Everything has to stop! We should all mourn because our great hero has been killed!” Borges told them, “We can stop everything if you say so, but only after I’ve finished my class. There are still twenty minutes left.” It was at night, and they threatened to cut the electricity, but Borges simply said, “That won’t bother me—I had the sense to go blind beforehand” [laughter].

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: You just mentioned Adolfo Bioy Casares. I read his novel The Adventures of a Photographer in La Plata, which I really enjoyed because of how it approaches the city through photography. It led me to do some research on La Plata. I discovered that it’s a entirely planned city.

Edgardo Cozarinsky: And totally colorless.

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: I read that it has a miniature city with miniature buildings for children, which may have been inspired by Disney World. Did you ever hear about that? It’s like Tivoli Gardens.

Edgardo Cozarinsky: But the real city is so boring.

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Really? Because I’ve been dreaming of going there.

Edgardo Cozarinsky: Actually the title of the book is meant as a joke for Argentine readers, because La Plata would never be associated with the possibility of adventure. It’s the plainest administrative city you can imagine: all they have is an archaeology and anthropology museum with the remains of prehistoric animals. It’s the only interesting thing about the city. I’ve been there a few times, just for work purposes, and I quickly realized that I wouldn’t be able to live there. The idea of having an adventure in La Plata is out of the question.

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Is Bioy Casares still alive?

Edgardo Cozarinsky: No, he died four years ago, in 1999.

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Was he a very important writer for you?

Edgardo Cozarinsky: Yes and no. I would say he was important to me because he was a very well-known writer, and of course I was very flattered by his friendship. But he was more of a challenge for me than an influence, because he had very traditional tastes. On the other hand, he was surrounded by a kind of myth. People said he was a Don Juan, a womanizer, and that he had sex three or four times a day. I don’t know if this is true or not. But the whole legend about him was very interesting to me.

Hans Ulrich Obrist: Would it be fair to say that, in Urban Voodoo, the postcard is somehow the medium through which the book is written? Could I ask you to tell us more about the city and the postcard?

Edgardo Cozarinsky: I really like the cliché. I’m not afraid of showing the Eiffel Tower for Paris, or that terrible white obelisk in the centre of the city for Buenos Aires. Of course, anyone who professes good taste would say, “If you show Buenos Aires, you can’t show that obelisk—it’s so ghastly.” But so what? I think there’s an aesthetic truth to discovering clichés in common places, and I like to deal with them to see how they influence your imagination. When I was working on Urban Voodoo, I inserted the postcards just because I felt that there were these really strong feelings about places—a moment, a feeling, a place in Paris, a place you want to remember in Buenos Aires, seeing a movie, meeting somebody.

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Did you see that film by the oldest Portuguese filmmaker?

Edgardo Cozarinsky: By Manoel de Oliveira?

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Yes, it’s called A Talking Picture [2003]. Did you see the scene where four people—Catherine Deneuve, Irene Papas, Stefania Sandrelli, and John Malkovitch—all speak together in their own language: English, German, Italian, and Greek? They answer each other in their own language. It’s so natural. It’s a wonderful scene.

Edgardo Cozarinsky: That sounds very interesting, but I haven’t seen it yet. I’m very curious about languages, especially about things you can say in one language but not in another. It’s obvious, of course, but at the same time it’s magical. If I speak in a certain language, I’m bound to be more explicit about certain things, and in another language I’m going to be more explicit about others.

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Sometimes you feel like it’s more the language talking you than you talking the language.

Edgardo Cozarinsky: Exactly! In English, you can invent words more easily than in French. In French, the syntax and the way you organize your discourse is what’s important. You can say anything through the way you organize your speech. When I speak Spanish, I’m completely wild. And, for me, English is more of a reading language. I started reading when I was a child—things like Treasure Island. The language I love most but seldom have a chance to speak is Italian.

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: One important thing we have in common is that we all speak many languages and can move in and out of these different personalities. I think we’re very, very fortunate. It would be so fantastic if everyone could grow up with two or three languages and not to be bound to one system or one accent.

Edgardo Cozarinsky: Well, you know my native language is Spanish, but the first time I went to Spain was long before the long wave of political exiles began to arrive. Back then, people weren’t used to hearing an Argentine accent, and when I spoke people they say, “Oh, you speak very good Spanish for an Italian!" You see, the Argentine accent is very flowing; there are none of the really harsh sounds of the Spanish spoken in Spain. It’s all very, very soft. But nowadays they identify you before you can even open your mouth. At the time, though, they were very curious. One thing I’ve never tried to do is to loose an accent, because they say it’s almost impossible for someone who’s lived up to a certain age speaking only one language. And, after all, what is the advantage of speaking like someone who was born with the language and can speak it with no effort at all? I’d rather keep my barbarian accent in whichever language I’m speaking, and that’s it.

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Yes, I try to convince people that accents are charming. Whenever they feel embarrassed about speaking in a foreign language, I tell them, “But listen, when I speak, you like my accent. It’s not a problem for you, and you’ve told me it’s charming, so think of yourself as having the same charm.”

Edgardo Cozarinsky: Exactly, I don’t know why we should be bothered by this question of accent. I think the important thing is to be understood, and so we should speak as clearly and properly as possible. But an accent is like the color of your eyes; it’s something that comes with you and tells people where you’re from.

Hans Ulrich Obrist: Yes, I was thinking about that. I grew up in Switzerland and people don’t accept you if you speak quickly. But I’m unable to speak slowly, so I had to leave the country [laughter]. Anyway, aside from this joke, I was hoping you could tell me a little bit more about language and exile, which are themes you play with a lot—voluntary and involuntary exile.

Edgardo Cozarinsky: I’ve always thought of language as a place—a real place where you can see doors opening to all different kinds of experiences. When I was a child in school we were given books to read in Spanish. They were children’s books and were horrible. But in English I was given books like Treasure Island by Stevenson, so I had this feeling, however unjust, that English was the language of fiction. So even though I didn’t speak it very fluently as a child, I read a lot in English. For me it was the language of imagination, of literature, of poetry. I didn’t discover what’s best in Spanish until I was a young man. I learned to love French later. As to German, I never learned it properly, but I do read bilingual editions. It’s what professors call passive learning. I recognize German, but unlike English or French, it’s not like a reservoir waiting to be used. I can make up phrases, but generally they’re wrong. Nevertheless, I can read poetry in bilingual editions, helping myself with the translation to recognize things.

Hans Ulrich Obrist: If you look at the momentum of the avant-garde in the twentieth century, there has almost always been a link between art and literature. It was there with surrealism, and especially with Dada. Today, however, although there are a lot of links between art and architecture, between art and science, and between art and music, the collaboration between art and literature seems to be missing. Have you ever worked with together with artists?

Edgardo Cozarinsky: Unfortunately, no. I would love to work with musicians or with architects. I’d like to be able to plan imaginary buildings, buildings that aren’t practical, buildings to dream in. I’d like that very much.

Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: I can see that!

Edgardo Cozarinsky: As to musicians, I’m a music lover and I listen to a lot of music—I work with a lot of music. But it’s always me who chooses; there’s no dialogue in the sense of a traditional give and take. As far as literature goes, I think I’m satisfied with my own self [laughter]. But architecture and music are really things I’d be interested in. I’d love get a proposal from an architect who says, “Let’s work together and invent something!”—or from a musician: “I’ll give you this music. Try and invent an action, or a narrative!” The music wouldn’t illustrate the action, but vice versa.

Hans Ulrich Obrist: Perhaps we can conclude with a question about the interview itself. When I visited the German philosopher [Hans-Georg] Gadamer, he was 102 years old. He probably thought we just came to see him because he was 102. He had such a great sense of humor. Anyway, I spoke with him about the idea of the interview as way to produce knowledge. He said that the big problem with interviews is that the silence is so essential, but you can never get it transcribed. How do you feel about this?

Edgardo Cozarinsky: You’re recording the silence right now, and that’s important. That’s what the video can do and the transcription can’t. You’re recording the silence, you’re recording me as I look at you, and then at Dominique. This is very important. I don’t want to belittle the format, but I think interviews often make people feel like an object, treat them like an object. Of course, this is not the case here, because this is more like a conversation, and I feel I know Dominique rather well. I hadn’t met you before, but I knew about you and what you’ve accomplished. And our conversation is very open and fluid. I guess I think of interviews mostly from the perspective of journalism. When you’re being interviewed because of a movie or book you’ve just brought out, you can’t help but feel you should say something good about it, to promote it. It’s sad, perhaps, but that’s the society we live in. Here, I can speak about my travel, my background, or whatever comes to mind at the moment—it’s a bit like free association.
Hans Ulrich Obrist
Free Association
Hans Ulrich Obrist and Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster in conversation with Edgardo Cozarinsky
The Invisible Ape Boy
Philippe Parreno

The Question of LocationPrint

Ina Blom

“I wanted to create something in between an attraction and a work of art”. 

This is Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster speaking, on the occasion of an installation work whose first element is a poster showing one of those fenced-off ramps that function as a point of access to a so-called tourist spot, a spectacular panorama. In the genre of the tourist poster, everything is bathed in a golden sunset. In fact, the golden light promotes the bliss of the touristic “elsewhere” so convincingly that you tend to overlook that what the poster is actually presenting is not the panorama itself, not the actual view offered for consumption, only the construction that frames it. A seductive image of touristic image-production, it mainly turns around its own powers of seduction. But then this poster is actually an advertisement for a cinematic production. It marks the entry to a cinema space that itself seems to function as a tourist ramp of sorts. Yet this one does open onto a real panorama – a wide screen displaying a moment of pure sensation, an expanse of shimmering matter (skies or water), spectacularly colored by what could be either a setting sun or video effects. Across this expanse a translucent digital animation object dances a little dance to the dreamy musical soundtrack, turning and twisting as if in homage to the projective forces of synthetic images.

It’s the kind of presentation that might seem wide-open to critical attack. Guy Debord had the exact words for this tourist version of the world: it was a world turned image under the force of 20th century capital, a separate pseudo-world capturing the eye and the mind, taking over consciousness. To regain freedom, one would have to refuse this image-world, tear it apart at the seams, turn it around. But Gonzalez-Foerster, perversely, seems to return to the spectacle as if wanting to augment its original powers of fascination. Witness, for instance, her monumental walls of gold-lame fabric falling into the big outdoor pool at De Singel Kunstcentrum in Antwerpen: a veritable Niagara of gold, a moment of sheer visual force and so also a “sight” in the original sense of the word.  As it happens, this work could only be properly accessed from a small window-niche at one end of the building, a sightseeing ramp within the art centre itself.

However, the concept of the attraction, and the forces of sensation it evokes, actually has a very different definition and quality in Gonzalez-Foerster’s work. For one thing, it cannot simply be associated with the realm of the image-displays or image-commodities: if anything, her work seems to upturn the very concept of “visual presentation”. Seen as a sort of methodology, a singular approach or practice, her work then comes to evoke a rather different set of relations than the one’s informing Debord’s critique. Maurizio Lazzarato put it well when he described the essentially theatrical model informing this critique: Debord seemed to understand the spectacle as a sort of stage presentation that could be critiqued as if from the outside (presumably by minds skeptical enough to avert their eyes). From this analysis comes the notion of refusing the image, interrupting the show, making the screen go black (as in Debord’s film Hurlements en faveur de Sade). But this is also exactly where the differences start to unfurl. There are obviously image screens in Gonzalez-Foerster’s work – in fact a proliferation of screens of all kinds. But these screens only appear as part of larger media arrangements or ecologies that complicates the very notion of an “inside” and “outside” of images. To enter this work is to enter the kind of life environment generated by contemporary media, and to be sensitized to the way in which such environments condition perception, expression and agency. You are invited to follow a cinematic movement that seems more or less identified with the operations of the human perceptual apparatus - that is, with the type of loose and irregular temporal extensions and contractions that seem completely cut-off from the habitual “formatting” of cinematographic content, to the extent that it suggest some sort of direct access to a memory at work.

In this context “cinema” or “media” seems to essentially denote an assemblage of technologies and discourses that integrate the working of human perception as part of their circuits and modes of functioning. And if a late capitalist spectacular culture is evoked here – in the continual return to the spaces and frameworks of tourism, for instance - it can therefore not simply be defined in the terms “visual presentation” or “image-screens”. It could rather be understood as a kind of intimate disciplining of our senses operated by the larger productive apparatuses that draw on the technologies of film, video, computer games, TV-transmissions and all types of electronic networks. For these technologies all essentially seem to handle temporal material in ways that resemble mental operations, and it is precisely this time-processing capacity that makes it possible to see them as apparatuses designed to capture the forces at work in our affective registers. To enter the cinematic world of Gonzalez-Foerster is therefore above all to be invited to trace the open-ended temporal meandering or ambulation of a form human existence that seems to be defined at the level of pure sensation – yet a form of sensation that is continually confused with the working of media machineries, with the ticking of the video time code, the deft segueing of one image into another, the dumb, staring, stillness of the camera. A story of the mind-machine, in other words: it might sound like a paranoid scenario, a meeting of old-school sci-fi imagination and radical media critique. The result, however, is less easily definable. For the main achievement of this work is precisely its ability to explore the surprising range and scope of this type of existence. In fact, the more it closes in on the idiosyncratic details of technical frameworks, the more it seems to brings out the type of open-ended, uncontrollable, non-formatted moments that might actually be the key product of this mediatic “life of the senses”.

A particular kind of cinematic methodology opens onto this existence. It is of course not a methodology in the strictest sense of the word, only a certain set of operations that seem to recur often enough in her work to produce certain systematic effects. The first step in this methodology is an emphatic turn towards atmospherics – that is, to the type of emotions or affects associated with shared space. For the concept of atmospheres obviously evokes the idea of some sort of collective perception or experience: while always the result of a subjective perception, atmospheres are also object-like emotions that are so to speak cast into a shared space. This turn towards atmospherics is initiated the moment Gonzalez-Foerster’s work seems to suggest that the essence of cinema (or television or any luminous time-medium) is not just a specific mobilization of images, but also a type of environmental creation that is initiated as soon as the film projector directs a cone of light through dark spaces or a television screen illuminates a room with its flickering emanations. In fact, a kind of obstinate continuity in her work opens onto these perspectives: From the elliptically designed yet intensely atmospheric room-installations that come across as the physical traces of some kind of and highly subjective memory, to her notion of associating or intertwining the vast spaces of cinematic imagery and the space of the private home, to the type of perceptual/mediatic “inhabitation” that seems to inform her purely cinematic productions, the concept of perceptual/environmental creation is absolutely key. From this point of view, cinema projections and the projections of the psychic apparatus are understood to create space in analogous ways. As Hubert Damisch puts it, spaces may be seen as projections of the psychic apparatus that do not pre-exist this apparatus: what we call space is the correlative to the operation through which the psychic register opens itself towards the world by projecting itself. (The ego could be seen as the mental projection of the surface of the body at the same time as it represents the spatial extension of the psychic apparatus).  Once we see that such mechanisms of projection are the condition of what we call representation, cinema space may in fact appear as a space without limits: this is why it is also the essential escapist machine, a tourist machine par excellence. And if cinema space normally appears framed and limited within the space of a representational image-screen, it is mainly because the viewing subject has been placed at the margin of the projective dispositif – along with the apparatus of projection which is usually also hidden.

In this account of things, cinema is associated with the basic functions of a lamp:  a long romantic tradition notably associate lamps with both mental projection and spatial creation and the medium of electric light was also celebrated for its unique ability to created spaces and visibilities where previously there was nothing. But what really counts here is the specific way in which the idea of film-as-lamp informs the cinematic operations of Gonzalez-Foerster, the entirely idiosyncratic way in which it structures the artistic productions she presents as her films. The feature length work named Ipanema Theories is a point in case, and could perhaps be used as a test case for what actually seems to be a more general principle. A film without characters, action or narrative, it allows various urban spaces from around the world to unfold in sequences that continually return to the same type of objects or scenes: lobbies, crowd movements in public spaces, facades of buildings, empty outdoor restaurants and stages, club scenes, people in silhouette against luminous architecture, places of passage and travel. Where or when soon ceases to matter as the cities of Kyoto, Yokohama, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Paris and London, blend into one another: the only thing that matters is a kind of hallucinatory ambulation through spaces at once different and dizzyingly similar, and where escapism is in fact configured as a sort of open-ended, dislocated movement.

This effect is reinforced by the soundtrack – an intense Latin house beat that appears only in truncated bits and pieces throughout the film, regularly interspersed with silences:  From one moment to the next the “beat of the city”, the cliché of cinematic representations of urbanity, is supplanted by city-images that seem to float by as if without definition, according to entirely different rhythms or durations. For once, music is not used to “ground” a film, to secure its representations, but rather to open up the question of exactly what type of object this film might possibly be. And this again opens onto what is no doubt the strangest aspect of this film:  its steady return to lamps and lamp-like objects – on more than 70 distinct occasions in the course of the film. In fact, the “movement” of the film seems to continually come to a halt confronted with a lamp objects: Wherever a lamp appears there is also a sort of intent focusing and fixation, an emphasis on the object-like stillness of the light source that ultimately turns cinematic production inside out. The apparatus of projection, the light source that is film, now quite literally resides within cinematic imagery itself. But this effect is at the same time extended to the way in which Ipanema Theories is made to perform in social situations. Hardly a cinematic work in the usual sense of the term, its floating, unbounded image-durations may be screened anywhere and on any kind of surface. It may, for instance, be used as a visual backdrop in clubs, where it will function as an atmosphere producer alongside the other lighting systems. But this specific type of use is also folded into the film itself, registered as a part of its imagery and set of durations: Ipanema Theories repeatedly returns to images of an ecstatic dance floor illuminated by a screen showing parts of its own footage.

It is this emphatic staging of the film-as-lamp that reintroduces the presence of the projective spectator or viewing subject. As Ipanema Theories not only documents but also creates spaces, it quite explicitly places the mental apparatus of the spectator at the centre of cinematic space. In fact, the presence of this spectator-mind is further underscored as the focus on lamps is doubled by a focus on real-time functions and operations that recall the flexible temporalities of mental operations and seem to install a kind of human memory or thinking at the centre of the film. Lamps may be the most frequently repeated focal points in the film, but digital clocks and all kind of different time-code indicators come a close second, and often remain in focus for such long durations that the temporality of the film almost becomes identified with the technical operations of the time code function – a continual irruption of real-time within the representational sequencing of images. This is where the distinction between the temporalities of the film and the mental time of the projective spectator seems to collapse. And with this collapse, the notion of “cinema space” is, once more, turned inside out.

It could seem like a general deconstruction of cinema, but the operation has a more precise aim. It turns around the one critical feature that is shared by cinema and the capital interest of the tourism and real estate industries: the question of location. Like so many of Gonzalez-Foerster’s films, Ipanema Theories opens up the question of the very place and presence of cinematic location - the concrete and identifiable geographical locations that seem to be both the “raw material” and the “subject matter” of her films. Geographical locations often appear to be mere functions of lamps: they are outdoor and interior spaces that are either illuminated by lamps or punctuated by lamp objects. Nighttime locations are functions of the design and light quality of lamps and neon signs. And daytime cityscapes are littered by unlit lamps that speak of the imminent and always potential transformation of the sense of space itself. Shaped by lamps, defined by atmospherics, “location” mainly comes across as an effect of cinematographic projection. Or – more precisely- as the product of the space-creating activity of a mental apparatus whose capacity for unbounded ambulation and complex modes of time-travel represents precisely those forces that the tourist and real estate industries try to latch on to, to mine or to exploit as best they can. In the long catalogue of artworks handling the reality of the image world of contemporary capital, this is the crucial distinction introduced by the work of Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster:  Not to explore the images of the spectacle and the effects of those images, but rather – and more importantly - the forces that run ahead of the spectacle and that the spectacle can only capture in partial and imperfect ways.
Hans Ulrich Obrist
Free Association
Hans Ulrich Obrist and Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster in conversation with Edgardo Cozarinsky
The Invisible Ape Boy
Philippe Parreno


Jennifer Allen in conversation with Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster

"It has been raining for years now, not a day, not an hour without rain. This continual watering has had a strange effect on urban sculptures. They have started to grow like giant tropical plants and become even more monumental. To stop this growth, it has been decided to store them inside, among the hundreds of bunk beds which, night and day, receive refugees from the rain. Turbine Hall 2058 London."

So begins Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster's installation at the Tate Modern. The French artist has filled Turbine Hall with giant sculpture replicas, film clips, bunk beds, books and a sole radio transmitting Arto Lindsay singing a Bossa Nova tune from the late fifties. More a set for a disaster film than an installation, the work contemplates the effects of a flood, complete with the sound of rain (and a few drops of water actually falling from the rafters of the cavernous Turbine Hall). DGF could not have picked a more fitting scenario with world markets crashing (indeed, the cover of Time magazine last week featured an image of the towers of London's financial district sinking in a turbulent sea).

Did you know that your installation would coincide with a global crisis?

There has been something in the air since the summer. I don't think I am the only one to have that feeling, although I started this project about a year ago. But my work is not an illustration of the current crisis. I have always moved between utopia and dystopia, much like Philip K. Dick. For an older installation Chambres atomiques (1994), I visited a lot of nuclear shelters in Switzerland, where there is a place guaranteed for every Swiss citizen in case of a disaster.

Why chose a disaster scenario for London?

London is a city under permanent attack, both fictional and real. Think of the floods of 1958 or J.G. Ballard's novel The Drowned World. It's also the city where science fiction was invented. Together with New York, London has been used again and again as a movie set for futuristic and disaster films. But science fiction can also be about the present. George Orwell's 1984 was based very much on the London he experienced in 1948.

How did you link the past and the present?

The more I was trying to imagine a possible future for Turbine Hall, the more references I remembered from the past. Tate Modern used to be an electricity central before it became a public museum, so its use could change once again. Why not a shelter for public sculptures and refugees? My scenario of Turbine Hall in 2058 was partly inspired by 1958, when the European Community began, when Sputnik was launched and when Brazilia was built as a utopian city. These historic moments function as frames of reference.

How did you choose the sculptures, which are mostly reproductions, 25% larger than the originals?

First, I wanted to reference artists who had already done Turbine Hall, from Louise Bourgeois's spider to Bruce Nauman's sound work. Second, I wanted the organic dimension of a Noah's Arc, although Maurizio Cattelan's cat skeleton is large enough to double as a dinosaur. Finally, I had to include Claes Oldenburg's bitten apple, because he is the one who invented the blow-up sculpture. In my flood scenario, these public sculptures have been placed in shelter here because the continuous rain outside is making them mysteriously grow, like tropical plants. As in a real nuclear shelter, there are also bunk beds for the citizens – with a book on each bed.

How did you choose the twenty book titles, from Mike Davis's Dead Cities to Yevgeny Zamyatin's We?

The books function as a bibliography for the installation with their post-apocalyptic tales. But they are also like the characters in a film. In Francois Truffaut's version of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, each person comes to represent a book by memorising it and transmitting the tale to others. Books like W.G. Sebald's Luftkrieg und Literatur or Marguerite Duras's Hiroshima mon amour explore the possibility of representing a catastrophe and explore our relationship to the past. Sebald has been an important reference for me, along with Roberto Bolano and Enrique Vila-Matas. Looking at the destruction that WWII brought to Germany, Sebald asks what narrative might be possible. One possible relation to catastrophe is quoting the past, which we also see in the mixture of disaster and pop culture in Jean-Luc Godard's Weekend. Quotation is not about preserving heritage. A way of confronting a turbulent situation is to quote collective memory and make it work to the maximum.

You have added a projection The Last Film (2008), which is made up of clips from various movies.

There is a mixture of popular and experimental films, from Planet of the Apes to Solaris. A giant collage, the installation also works as a 3D film or a grand "editing room" where each visit makes his own assemblage, which might just inspire the present. In L'an 01 (1972) (directors Niger Jean Rouch, Jacques Doillon, Alain Resnais), the motto was: "We stop everything, we will start again, and it's not sad." That's what could happen now. We should just stop and invent something else instead of worrying about maintaining what is there. London may be drowning, but there's a collective memory, which means that things could recommence.

How do you see the current crisis?

After the crash of 1987, a whole generation of artists simply disappeared. People like Jeff Koons did continue, but what ever happened to an artist like Ashley Bickerton? In our current crisis, it wasn't clear to me that the opening at the Tate Modern was going to happen. I am still worried that I might have to go back to Paris in a sailboat.
Hans Ulrich Obrist
Free Association
Hans Ulrich Obrist and Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster in conversation with Edgardo Cozarinsky

The Invisible Ape BoyPrint

Philippe Parreno

During one of the last interviews that Philip K Dick granted a few months before his death, he recounted in detail the novel that he was planning to write. The title of this novel, which in the end he never wrote, was The Owl in Daylight. He had already been paid for this book and thus had to work overtime; he recalled during the same interview that he had written 16 novels in five years - The Owl in Daylight would have been the seventeenth. K Dick died of a haemorrhage leaving his collected words from the interview and numerous research notes. The idea for the novel was inspired partly by an entry in the Encyclopaedia Britannica where Beethoven is referred to as the most creative genius of all time, partly by traditional views of what constitutes the human heaven (visions of lights) and partly by the Faust story. But the entire plot really turned around one scientific piece of information that K Dick found about nanotechnology that constituted a breakthrough in information theory, something that had never happened before: the possibility to store on a chip one meter squared all the information contained in all the computers of the world, and more importantly all the fantastic possibilities for a fiction to be written.

The Owl in Daylight is about a planet where the atmosphere is not like ours. It is about mute and deaf aliens developing a culture based not on sound but on light. Without sound, they have to use colour for language.  Just as humans have audio frequencies, their world strictly employs vision and visual things. Our mystical vision of heaven is the light. Light is always associated with the other world. And the alien world is made of that, their world is made of heaven. So instead of the mystical vision of this civilisation being about vision of light, it is about the supernatural experience of sounds. K Dick says:  « what if their world is our heaven and our world their heaven. »

When this other species finds the human civilisation, which uses sound and has developed music, they cannot hear it because they are deaf so they build transduction equipment to transform phosphines or non-retinal images into sound, and sound into non-retinal images.

They are able to produce some kind of visual score. As we have known for a long time, sound does not occur in the atmosphere, it occurs within the body. So the aliens have to somehow create a symbiotic relationship with the human brain so they can use it to conceptualise the music. They can see the music. The assumption was that any civilisation that can build a rocket ship to come to Earth must have a knowledge of biochemestry and semiconductors on which biochips operate.
When the journalist Gwen Lee stops K Dick in his flux of words to ask him if this constitutes a real scientific fact, he responds in a panicked instant:
- I am assuming this is not a joke article, I just hope to God this guy’s not over there laughing about me writing a book on a non-existent thing. In fact I saw the friend of mine who gave me the article in a store and I said to him « I hope it‘s not a joke you gave me, I hope there wasn’t a thing at the beginning you didn’t Xerox which said  that this is something unbelievable, that might happen you know in a million years » but my friend said that no that this article was genuine «  I guarantee it » he said.

Why did Philip K Dick, one of the greatest world-makers of the last century, one of the greatest inventors and imaginers, need to justify his delirious worlds with reported concrete facts? Why did he even need to start from the real? Besides, is this really whats going there? Is it that the real is called upon to legitimize the imaginary?
Or is it that this overwelming heritage of cinema which is again prevading our thoughts. This definition of the cinema as an art form that reflects a gaze. Cinema as a recording tool of a world pre-existing us. A producer of History.
André Bazin, a French film critic in the 50s argued that cinema depicted what it saw as "objective reality" as in documentaries and films of the Italian neorealist school, but also in the work of directors who knew how to make themselves  "invisible". He advocated using the deep focus of Orson Welles, the wide shots of Renoir and the "shot-in-depth". He preferred what he referred to as "true continuity" through the mise-en-scène to experiments in editing and visual effects. He was the adversary of a film theory that chooses to emphasize how the cinema can manipulate reality. Bazin believed that the interpretation of a film or scene should be left to the spectator. Here was the idea that theatre was this unique architectural invention of a place built to see something that already happened. It was seen from the point of view of somebody else and was reported in order for you to judge it with your own eyes.

Are we confined to ways of describing whatever is described? Does our universe consist of these descriptions rather than of a world or of worlds? Does worldmaking as we know it always start from worlds already on hand? Is the making always a remaking? Worldmaking always starts with a world already in our hands.

Well I don’t know…

Reality and fiction are a pair of trees that grow together, interwoven, each sustaining and holding up the other. It suggests a kind of midair transfer of strength, contact across a void, like the tangling of cable and steel between two lonely bridge posts.  A derived sense of fruitful exchange, or reciprocal sustenance, of welcome offered, of grasp and interrelationship, of a slender envergure of bilateral attention along which things are given and received, still animating the world in its verb form.

We use metaphors that help to reveal things that are going on. We kind of live in a moment in time where we should be hysterical, but we aren't, because we are not imagining what is going on. I think we are just getting bits of data. We do have "CNN Moment," and in that moment we feel really in the present moment. But then we snap back in an instant into that position that we have always been in.

There are people. There are stories. The people think they shape the stories, but the reverse is often closer to the truth.

We can have words without a world but no world without words, all the stuff that our world is made from is made along with the worlds. So we are dealing with visions, with depictions rather than descriptions.

When I was a kid I always had this fantasy that I could open my mouth and a projector beam would come out; my imagination would just be easy and available, or I would have something on my skin like the cephalopod does.

The cuttlefish is an animal I am obsessed with and seems to be so close to the aliens of Philip K Dick’s unwritten novel. They don’t live on another planet but in our ocean. These animals can show images and animations on their skin, directly from their imagination. Their brains have a special image generating lobe. So when they imagine something, it immediately appears on the surface of their bodies. These creatures have evolved to use an animation language to communicate with one another. The reason why cephalopods aren’t running the planet instead of mammals is because they are born in eggs and just go off on their own. They don’t have any childhood and therefore don't have any culture.

We are now looking at an unremarkable rock covered in swaying algae. Suddenly, astonishingly, one-third of the rock and a tangled mass of algae morphs and reveals itself to be what it really is: the waving arms of a bright white octopus. Its cover blown, the creature squirts ink at the camera and shoots off into the distance.

The "pixels" in the skin of a cephalopod are organs called chromatophores. These can expand and contract quickly, and each is filled with a pigment of a particular colour. When a nerve signal causes a red chromatophore to expand, the "pixel" turns red. A pattern of nerve firings causes a shifting image, an animation, to appear on the cephalopod's skin. As for shapes, an octopus can quickly arrange its arms to form a wide variety of them, like a fish or a piece of coral, and can even raise welts on its skin to add texture.

As intelligent creatures go, cephalopods are perhaps the most "other" that we know; think of them as a dress rehearsal for the far-off day when we might encounter intelligent aliens.

In an immersive computer graphics environment, or in reading a great story you can "enter" and then morph yourself into various things. You can have a virtual body, or avatar, and do things like examine your hands or watch yourself in a virtual mirror. Some of the earliest experimental avatars in fact were aquatic, including one that allowed a person to inhabit a lobster's body.

Our vocal abilities are part of what enabled our species to develop spoken language. Likewise, our ability to draw pictures—along with the requisite brain structures—was pre-adaptive for written language. Suppose we had the ability to morph at will: what sort of language might that make possible? Would it be the same old conversation, just a new dictionary mapping the same old set of ideas with avatars in place of words or would it enable us to "say" fundamentally new things to one another?


Copernicus and Darwin took away our comfy place in the universe. Copernicus upset the moral order by dissolving the strict distinction between heaven and earth, Darwin did the same by blurring the strict distinction between humans and the animal realm. What trait will be taken from us next ?  It is all about breaking the limitations of the dialectic and blurring our identity.

Could we take the next step by breaking down the strict distinction between reality and fiction?

This is shocking and sounds like a secular postmodern ‘weak’ idea. This theory should draw from knowledge like quantum mechanics as opposed to collections of opinions on the level of cultural relativism. Perhaps a radical reevaluation of the character of time will do it. In everyday experience time flows and we flow with time. In classical physics time is fixed as part of a frozen space/time picture. What if a future scientific understanding of time showed all previous pictures to be wrong and demonstrated that the past, the future and even the present do not exist? We would learn that the idea of woven stories just as our individual personal history and future are just all wrong.

Julian Barbour holds the controversial view that time does not exist as anything other than an illusion, and that a number of problems in physics arise from assuming its reality. He argues that we have no evidence of the past other than our memory of it, and no evidence of the future other than our belief in it. He writes in The End of Time: The Next Revolution in Physics: "Change merely creates an illusion of time, with each individual moment existing in its own right". He calls these moments "Nows". It is all an illusion: there is no motion and no change. He argues that the illusion of time is what we interpret through what he calls "time capsules," which are "any fixed pattern that creates or encodes the appearance of motion, change or history".

In the Pixar/Disney production a young clownfish named Nemo enchanted moviegoers with his epic adventure from the ocean to a fish tank. Before “Finding Nemo” appeared, this species dwelled in relative obscurity compared to sharks and dolphins. The film sparked a booming trade in aquarium fish, endangering the wildlife of the Vanuatu archipelago in the South Pacific. Concerned about the trade, the government has set up a committee to examine the issue. Clownfish, which are also called anemone fish, are relatively small.  For protection they seek refuge amongst the tentacles of sea anemones. In a yet-to-be resolved biological mystery, clownfish have mucus on their skin that somehow protects them against the sting of their host anemone. Butterfly fish are predators of the sea anemone. Research has shown that if the clownfish are removed from the anemone, butterfly fish will move in and devour the anemone. In the movie, one of the tank’s residents, a butterfly fish named Gill, tells the newcomer Nemo that "fish aren't meant to be in a box, kid. It does things to ya."

There is an aquarium in San Francisco that you absolutely must go and see. Just as San Francisco tourists generally visit Alcatraz, going there is a bit like going to an obscure strip club in Pigalle instead of visiting the Moulin Rouge. The departure for Alcatraz takes place on the same pier. Tourist groups wait for the ferry just a few meters away from the deserted aquarium. The aquarium offers very little educational and oceanographic interest. It’s more of an amusement park than an aquarium although according to Disney standards it’s not nearly efficient enough, so that gives it a certain charm. At the end of a quick tour of the aquarium (the glass being so concave that one is obligated to rush through in order to avoid an epileptic seizure) an experience is proposed. It consists of touching a ray or a shark with two fingers, “with two fingers only,” explains a girl. You touch the silky skin of the shark, because the shark is a little silky. When you leave this encounter of the third kind, you happen upon a souvenir shop selling T-shirts that say: I TOUCHED A RAY ! Great! So there you have it, it has already been built, the first amusement park of the real.

Michael Crichton is the author of Jurassic Park, Twister and Prey. In 1973 he directed Westworld. The amusement park motif seems to be recurrent in all his films, but what is always at the center of his stories is the fear and anxiety which goes along with such places. We fear that the images of the Jurassic age dinosaurs, the robots in Westworld, the cyclone in Twister or the nanotech of Prey might be real enough to act upon us. One of the great discoveries in Jurassic Park was that a sign, no matter how beautiful, when it comes from the pre-history of representation and then enters reality, starts by defecating.

We could imagine building a park of deadly flowers, like there is a tree in India that produces beautiful flowers that are lethal. Scotland Yard listed it as a product that is totally untraceable in our organism. They call it the perfect crime tree.

A few days ago local government officials in China were criticized for spray painting a barren mountain face green. Laoshou mountain, near Fumin in Yunnan province, was left an eyesore by quarrying. But instead of re-foresting the mountainside, forestry officials hired seven workers for 45 days to spray paint it green. Some villagers guessed that officials of the surrounding county, Fumin, whose office building faces the mountain, were trying to change the area's feng shui — the ancient Chinese belief of harmonising one's physical environment for maximum health and financial benefit. Others speculated that it was an unusual attempt at "greening" the area in keeping with calls for more attention to environmental protection. Villagers have been driven from their homes by the strong smell of paint, reported the City Times. Local businessman Huang said: "At first I was glad to see the green mountain, thinking the government was paying more attention to the environment. But then I noticed the great contrast with the surrounding mountains." Another villager complained: "We thought the workers were here to spray pesticides before planting saplings".

According to UK-based British Petroleum's latest marketing campaign, BP no longer stands for British Petroleum but for Beyond Petroleum. The company has installed expensive solar panels on 200 of its 17,000 service stations and launched a barrage of news releases and newspaper, television and “wall” ads asserting its basic corporate message. A building-sized wall along Washington, DC’s New York Avenue boldly proclaims: “Solar, natural gas, hydrogen, wind. And oh yes, oil. It’s a start”. Another tries to get beyond the guffaw test with the line: “We believe in alternative energy. Like solar cappuccino”. The ads on vinyl banners made out of unsaturated hydrocarbon stretch the world’s second largest oil company identity crisis…

I like to imagine fictional characters because it’s a way to imagine others. We should call the Other Mordor like in The Lord of the Rings. The Other is the one who knows what you know, which is a dialectical problem that is kind of hard to deal with.

The Other is the one who has a nice penthouse on the Death Star.

What about Russian dolls. Baboushkas… Form within form within form within form. Every nine months a baboushka gives birth to a scaled down perfect replica of herself! The smallest child is invisible to the naked eye but very shortly it too will give birth. Some of them have to be seen with the aid of a powerful microscope. Form within form. Where will it end?

Or the astounding clockwork man! Once set in motion this cunning automaton runs for seventy-five years simulating the stages of life.

Or the invisible ape boy.

A superhero that exists only when named.

Recent studies have shown that the Earth's magnetic field is rapidly weakening. In the past 150 years, its magnetic strength has diminished by 10 to 15 percent. This deterioration could possibly lead to a reversal of the magnetic poles. Over a period of hundreds of thousands of years, its force will wither away to the point of almost complete disappearance. Today the magnetic field shields the earth from cosmic radiation, and deflects it towards the north and south poles. But as the field dissolves, its structure will change. There will no longer be just two poles, a north and a south, but several different poles all around the earth. In this case cosmic radiation will not just be focused to the north and the south, but to different places all over the world. Eventually, the field will regain its strength and its original structure, but this time the north will be south and the south will be the north. Already, scientists have tracked how the north magnetic pole is drifting from north Canada towards Siberia. During this long reversal process, the aurorae borealis will not just be seen in the low populated areas of the far north and deep south.
The northern lights will be everywhere.
As a result, all over the world people will no longer look into the night sky to see the stars, but rather will see solar wind directly hitting our atmosphere and setting the darkness ablaze with frenetic neon colors.

At that time, will fiction and reality melt and merge like two historic ice poles? 

This question will doubtlessly be our future.