Archive for the 'Movements' Category

Shape Two

April 18, 2010

Shape Two began at at Whitechapel Art Gallery on a Sunday. There is now a second entrance to the gallery: just next to a fast food restaurant – 20 metres west of the main entrance – is a tiny gap between the buildings called Angel Alley. In 1888 a prostitute disappeared up Angel Alley and never returned alive.

From here I moved west along the Whitechapel Road and across the opening artery of Commercial Street which leads up to Hawksmoor’s famous Christchurch. I crossed over the road that forms part of a zero around the Algate East station – the island which houses St. Boltoph’s church – and then onto and along Aldgate. I took a dip down off Aldgate and onto London Street, a quiet road, particularly on a Sunday when the the City Of London is calm and business is on hold.  Down here is Fenchurch Street Station. Its an odd sight: a grand building nestled among bland, 20th century offices of glass and steel.  I’d come here for a purpose: the site sits on a leyline.

Christopher Wren’s grand designs for a post-fire London in 1666 were buried in bureaucracy and never came into fruition. However, significant evidence does remain. Presumably through Cabbalist reasoning, Wren used the Jewish distance of 2000 cubits to place significant sites. For example, the eastern city boundary from ‘the centre-point’ of St Paul’s, at a distance of 2000 cubits, is St Dunstan In The East – a church for which Wren also designed the spire. Another 2000 cubits beyond that point lies Wellclose Square, a once exclusive estate and a site of pilgrimage for many London occultists and alchemists. The significance of the 2000 cubits is that it was the distance from the walls of Jerusalem to the Mount Of Olives (roughly two thirds of a mile) and is the farthest a Jew may travel on the Sabbath.

This suggests Wren had plans for a ‘New Jerusalem’ that he never had the chance to construct and that Wellclose square is the same distance from (Wren’s) City Of London as The Mount Of Olives was from Jerusalem. On the leyline running from St Paul’s directly out to Wellclose Square, roughly three quarters of the way along, is Fenchurch Street station. Hawksmoor’s St Mary Woolnoth church also sits directly on the ley line a quarter of the way out.

Drawn out on a map, Shape Two surprised me. I had unwittingly traced the shape of a horse head in my steps.

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How Does Downloading Make You Feel?

February 3, 2009

Why is it so satisfying to get a really good quality free download from the internet? There is a genuine feeling of contentment in having received something from someone who has taken the time to produce an excellent piece of work which you are perfectly welcome and actively encouraged to take. Not only that, but you are encouraged to share it with others if you feel like it. You can download it to your computer and keep it for later or put it on your MP3 player. You can copy it to your USB stick and take it to work. Its yours now and it has affected you in such a personal way that when that someone produces their next piece of work, you want it because you like it and you like the feeling. Essentially, because you recognise the feeling of being given a gift.

The popularity of any publicly distributed RSS feed, download or podcast is determined by many things but it is the fact that it is free that will determine whether someone will treat it as a “gift” and not a “reward” (for having paid for it). This is a fundamental distinction in the online culture of feed subscription, the feelings downloads generate for people and the effect that has on their desire to subscribe to things that not only have a level of value and quality for them, but are interpreted as “gifts” from other people.

Hobbies and interests or “free time projects” which make their way online in the form of free downloads for other people – things like making music, recording spoken word, writing, photography – generate pleasure for both the creator and the (online) recipient particularly because they are not commodified; they are free and they form part of a “gift economy” where people are trading in passtimes and leisure and perhaps, in some cases, in what has traditionally been defined as “art”. People are beginning to realise the non-payment need for this “art” with its propensity to just be enjoyed without subscribing to the acquisition of anything and they are enjoying the benefits of them, and the feelings they generate. It is genuinely philanthropic.

Kate Soper has developed a theory called Alternative Hedonism which, amongst other ideas, tackles the problem of how a post-consumerist society can get as much, and more, from life as we do now by addressing our needs beyond the self-satisfaction of simply buying things for ourselves with the money we earn. How we can enjoy things in life without having to always buy them. It is a “gift-culture” which serves this theory well, and in my opinion, free downloads are an extremely good example.

Consumerism: Bernays And The Statue Of Liberty

December 14, 2008

A well crafted advert will cause many people to remember it, even if they do not remember or don’t understand what it is attempting to sell them. I have a fascination with the role adverts play in society, of the history of advertising, the evolution of adverts for consumerism, the mechanisms; psychology and semiotics. My skepticism and disillusion is with that something more austere and sinister beneath adverts, behind the thin veil of life enhancing promises and beautiful faces.

A frequent device in adverts is association; the pairing of separate concepts or ‘experiences’ to create a perceptible link between the two. Why is this so common? Why is this better than simply revealing the product and singing its praises?

It was in the 1920s that a “public relations” entrepreneur named Edward Bernays became one of the first people to use association to coerce a section of people into spending their money, and in doing so would create the groundwork for modern advertising and consumerism using that method. But the striking thing about it was his boldness in using popular theories and research from contemporary psychotherapy. The reason for his introduction to – and insight into – an emerging science was through his uncle, Sigmund Freud, who had sent Bernays a copy of his book on psychoanalysis as a gift.

Bernays began work for a cigarette company who realised they could significantly increase their sales if it were socially acceptable for women to smoke in public. Bernays took it upon himself to not only promote the cigarette brand, but to conceive a technique of doing so that indulged his uncle’s theories on the cigarette as a phallic symbol combined with the theories on crowd psychology by Gustave Le Bon.

After consulting a psychoanalyst in New York, Bernays engineered an extravagant idea in which a group of females would perform an ‘association’ during a women’s rights march in New York City. And so, at a specific point in the march, the women stopped in front of a hoard of photographers (anonymously tipped off by Bernays), pulled cigarette boxes from their undergarments and each lit up Lucky Strike cigarettes. This was the product placement. But to destroy the public perception of female smokers, Freud’s psychology was drip-fed into public consciousness by means of wordplay.

One of the women was Bernays’ secretary who, having been scripted, began to expound on their lit cigarettes representing “torches of freedom”. The cameras flashed and the sound bite and the picture were splashed across newspapers the following day. The image of women smoking was now truly public. But it was the semantics that carried the suggestion and association: the phrase “Torches of freedom” had been a deliberate plant, intended to invoke the feminine image of the Statue Of Liberty holding a torch aloft. Their “freedom” referred to Freud’s theories on the subconscious female desire for a penis which, in this case, manifested itself in their only smoking cigarettes in private. And now they were free; liberated; socially accepted. The stunt was a huge success and cigarette sales – and the number of women smoking publicly – increased exponentially. “PR” and marketing were born, and the seeds of consumerism were sewn.