Antwerpen Sampler #1

As I write this, my official stay here in Antwerpen has come to a close. So it is a time as good as any to air some old pictures. There will be more at some point, and they might have a perceptibly different look to them, since I through an unfortunate series of events, have recently parted ways with trusty old G9. Now go out with Lumix LX3, who fits the bill rather nicely too.

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The first of may, the communists are marching. Multatuli is the pen name of one Eduard Douwes Dekker,  The Dutch writer was an satirist and an early critic of the colonial abuse by Holland. The fair-trade brand Max Havelaar takes it’s name from his literary breakthrough novel. The pseudonym comes from latin:  “I have suffered much”, or, more literally “I have borne much”.

Some flea-market finds:

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It is beautiful, but what is it?

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“Wij zijn NIET te koop” – we are NOT for sale. So, what the heck are you doing there?

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I thought it said “God sees me, here one cannot escape” but it simply forbids you to swear in his sight. Pleasant in any case.

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I should’ve bought it, but puerile army marching band music is not my favourite.

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The local launderette even has retro washing powder. I wonder if they are using up some stash from the seventies…

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A view along the kaai.

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Sitting on the kaai, what mostly functions as the park here in Antwerpen. Photo by Caroline.

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There was a mother of a thunderstorm one night, and I sat up trying to catch a lightning hitting that antenna. It never did. Strangely, most of the discharges stayed in the clouds.

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Venice

If there’s a single thing that will stay with me from Venice, it is certainly the arrival. Suddently a misty sea in sunrise appears between the tobacco-yellow curtains of the night train from Ljubljana. Small boats speed alongside the train as we approach the city. Only few seem to arrive here by train, in my carriage only two other passengers go all the way to Venice proper. When I step out of the station, it is around 8.30 in the morning.

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The invading hordes of tourists are still mostly asleep, and the inhabitants proper are walking to work along the cramped pathways.  In a small cafe, two policemen are drinking espressos, having parked their boat in the channel outside. I follow their example, sans boat, then continue walking in a general direction of the attractions.

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It is strange to find a city so silent, since the morning rush is all by foot. It is never a crowd, but still the streets are filled with smartly dressed locals walking in complete silence. It seems there is a Venice where people live, working in lawyers’ offices, architecture agencies, real estate agencies… and for the tourism industry.

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In the morning you also see how the upkeep of the city is arranged. Heavy transporting is done by the waterways, small boats carry supplies for restaurants, building equipment, the like. Heavy things are pushed on small carts along the alleys. Fascinatingly, Venice is something as rare as a city for all practical purposes completely devoid of cars.

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Different goods for different customers.

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Outside a closed kiosk.

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Small head –big nose, big head – small nose.

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Venetian laundry.

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Some peculiar wooden dolls with felt details. I wonder whether they are undressed or supposed to look like that.

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Still life with trophies.

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“The Pooh” is still going strong.

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The pope has a job to do here.

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The skew tower skews the picture.

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The common italian “pericolo di morte” skull is quite awesome. Nice type, too.

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Someone had been hacking the street signs, although it remained unclear if the purpose is to show alternate routes or to distract tourists. I found my way to the Rialto rather well by wandering at random and following a sign when I felt like it. Venice has a strange circular-labyrinthine structure to it, which surprisingly makes it quite intuitive to orient in.

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Clever and pretty.

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A massive pidgeon perch.

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Morning rush under the Rialto.

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Wow, a Real Gondolier. I heard one of these guys make a complete monkey of himself to his american passengers “Wanna a-takea pitture? “Say-a cheese! Fromaggio! Pizza! Pasta!” The americans giggle. What a job, to turn into a ridiculous national stereotype for a living.

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I took a break in the shade of the Rialto. The “Union” was a souvenir from Slovenia.

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Everyone wants a ride.

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Decorations of the season.

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Piazza San Marco.

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I swear, I didn’t hit it. Although, the San Marco pidgeons are the most fearless flying rats on the planet.

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And another little girl was shouting: “Oma! Ich hat ein Taube auf mein Kopf!”

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Some famous house.

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There’s something growing in the water.

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It’s Fido Dido!

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Fear and Loathing in Venice.

All in all I spent around ten hours strolling about the city. By five in the afternoon I was quite full of it, and found it hard to muster much more interest for crooked channels and picturesque vistas. It being monday, no art museums were open either. Otherwise the local Guggenheim might have been a worthwhile distraction. But apart from the Biennale and the film festival, there isn’t that much of cultural interest after the novelty starts to fade, perhaps unless you are packed with money of course. One could imagine that there might be all sorts of fun to be had here with a well-fed bank account.

I was happy to get on with the journey towards Antwerpen, with a stop in Bologna, where I had a great pizza and an annoying one-and-a-half hour wait for a delayed night train to Paris. Bologna had these odd arcades covering the sidewalks over a large area in the center. Eventually I got to Paris, had to re-book my ticket to Antwerpen, and finally the excellent Thalys high-speed train. That is in my book by far the best way of travelling. Build that tunnel from Helsinki to Tallin!

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The city seemed lived in and rather pleasant, and might warrant a re-visit sometime.

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Air raid sirens (?) on a house in Bologna.

It never changes to stop

Ljubljana then, the reason to travel there being the Poster Festival Ljubljana ’09. The event itself consisted of an international poster competition on the theme of climate change with entries submitted in march, and a four-day workshop around the same subject, for students from the partner universities of the festival. For us in the finnish group the theme was familiar, since we had already made posters for the competition, as the part of a course in poster design under the tutelage of our professor Marjatta Itkonen.

All our works can be seen in the online gallery;  Team Finland did rather well when it comes to results, and even some official recognition was to be had.

Additionally there was an exhibition of posters on social issues by acclaimed designers, “masterpieces”, and a smaller exhibition of posters on “coexistence” by Polish designers.

Especially as the tourist season had not started yet, Ljubljana turned out a very pleasant town to visit, with pretty vistas and a relaxed atmosphere. It’s compact size also allowed for walking as the preferred mode of transport.

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A Blade Runner -like view in the center of Ljubljana. The tower is a bank head office.

The workshop took place at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design at the University of Ljubljana, some two kilometres from the center. We were divided into six groups, and as it turned out our group was especially lucky with regards to our tutor, australian Jason Grant of the design agency Inkahoots. Jason has worked on Eye magazine, amongst other things, and his engaged approach to social and enviromental issues was very suitable to the theme at hand. 090512_0944

Jason ponders. Instead of diving into our sketchbooks, Jason saw it more productive to start by discussing the subject, so that everyone in the group would be on the same chart. It turned out that the organizers of the event had geared the workshops into a competition as well. This was something which Jason strongly disliked, as it harms cooperation, after all something closely related to the theme of the entire workshop. He has previously written an article on the subject of the “awards madness” that makes working together in the context of design a challenge.

The deeper point of this is that competition seldom leads to ideal results, even though we might have been brought up to imagine otherwise. Competition is proffed as a goal in itself on many levels of society, although in most real-life interactions mutual benefit is the prevailing theme. This follows from the fact that situations where the involved parties have directly opposit or conflicting interests are rare indeed. For cooperation to arise we need not even assume altruism or mutual warm feelings, as co-operation can happen even between enemies. In light of this, it is absurd to think of, say, a design agency, as having interests diametrally opposed to those of another. So why arrange artificial battles of excellency where only one emerges victorious?

For an interesting and concise discussion on this very acute issue of co-operation, I can recommend the book “The Evolution of Cooperation” by Robert Axelrod. There is no reason to leave it unread.

Jasons sentiments were eventually shared by many in our group. When he brought up the suggestion to make the posters, but refrain from participating in the competition,  most of us sided with it. As could be expected, this was met with some surprise and protest by the arrangers.

Eventually we also started on the actual work, after discussing at length about climate change, social issues and design politics.

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I had cheated a bit and brought along a computer, which was forbidden. Eventually it was used more actively by a few fellow workshoppers than by me. Cockta is the slovenian local cola, with headstrong levels of coffeine and an agreeable flavour.

During my travel to Ljubljana I decided that I was going to make a poster that involves the trace of a process. I wanted to make the poster an index, rather than an image; putting the actual poster in the realization of what process lay behind it’s creation. This approach can also be seen as being informed by conceptual art, something which I’ve been following more closely than before during the last few months.

To achieve this I started out by counting carbon emissions. It turns out that the average emissions of a finn is as much as 1.5 kg of CO₂. I turned this knowledge into a sort of penitence for  emissions, attempting to put as much graphite as possible on the poster. Graphite, of course, is an allotrope of carbon.

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Some experiments on the technical aspects of the poster. I decided on using a letterpress that luckily happened to be available, to emboss the letters into the paper, which I then colored with the graphite.

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Thirty minutes of drawing: It turned out to be surprisingly hard to put enough graphite on the paper to come close to the carbon in the emissions over a significant time, so the finished poster wasn’t exactly accurate regarding the facts, thereby betraying the Tuftean approach of convincing with information. However, the visual impact of the carbon was rather pleasing. Of course one can not avoid creating an image also, but I feel that the tombstone-like appearance is rather appropriate. In the end, the image might well be stronger than the rather obscure message.

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Somewhat ironically, one from our group who didn’t want take part in the agreement not to compete with the workshop posters, eventually won the first price.

A big thanks to Jason Grant and the rest of you in the group. The change was from the discussions.