Luoghi/ Places, Talks

Taipei to Hangzhou

November. Mild climate, border of the west lake in Hangzhou, China. The lake is artificially conjured up to look like a chinese painting of itself. Not in a linear way. The city is one of the oldest of China. But generation after generation, up to the renovation in 2002 of the space along the lake, the imagination has to be fit into reality of a incredible landscape design.

The pagodas, the walk around the lake, the scenery in the mist, all is carefully drawn and painted with human hand.

CAA is the China Academy of Art. It is one of the big institutions of Hangzhou, one of the campuses situated just in front of the lake. Close to the faculty and the conference room I am guested in a comfortable japanese themed hotel, that borders with the Aston Martin and the local Porshe concessionary. I spotted a Lamborghini the first day, startled by the sound of its motor.

Founded in 1928 as the first art academy with complete academic programs in China. Nowadays the academy has expanded its departments and academic teams and has garnered tremendous achievements in the school history. The infrastructure of CAA has improved in unprecedented ways. With Nanshan Campus being finished in 2003, and Xiangshan Campus being fully functional in 2007, covering an area of 1000 hectares and total space of 300,000 square meters, the academy now has three beautiful and well equipped campuses in the cities of Hangzhou and Shanghai.

I am guest of Professor Huang Sun Quan and at SIMA, School of Intermedia Art.

Founded in September 2010, the School of Intermedia Art has, as its primary educational tenet, to accelerate the development of media technology and to promote experimentation in contemporary art. SIMA supports and expands creativity in a variety of media and through its curriculum explores the relationship between creativity and technology. The School has set its four-dimensional interactive structure around media experiments, artistic creation, cultural study, and curatorial practice. The School directly confronts the issues of modern media, technology and cultural context in its leading edge curriculum.

Professor Huang is a energetic type, with long hair and a dandy look. Has total control of many processes at the same time through a dancng cloud of students and collaborators that follow him. Is very gentle, capable of giving anyone his total attention, and very sharp eye.

My impression of China start from the cab ride from the airport to the center of the city. Hangzhou is a 22 million city, laying ordered around the 45′ ride up to the horizon. Building after building, skyscraper after skyscrper, someone empty most full of ordered activity, in the mist, filling up all the horizon. I think to my 14years old dughter turned vegetarian tree years ago to contribute saving the planet and I cry. Not that she is not right in her will, is that being closer to the crude action of the algorithm of antropocene I am moved by the futility of heroism.

The workshop

As I set foot in the building I notice the abundance of space and the relative absence of elevators. We climb the stairs. I think about what to do to “wake up” my students of today. The staircase has good acoustics, but the garden is the main stage, and I will get to the main stage. We arrive, early enough to check that it is possible, and the choice is made. The stage of the makeshift theater is occupied by the signs of the hands of the makers of the place. Off axis there is a red door with writings, probably a tribute to revolutionary ideas, and left a huge video installation on a led panel.
Right a blazing yellow Gynko tree in the november sun.

A Gynco tree in autumn, young and growing fragile, in a walled garden where it has been planted for decoration. It is like us. Is a recent tree, that does not define the garden yet. It could if let grow.
Like our visions.
“Captain” Ilya, the guiding organiser in Taipei, sent me a picture of one of such trees, I like to think is the one you used for the workshop by Rob to tell the story of “pervasive computing in sigle identified things of the IoT scenario”.

This tree will grow. And define the space, and turn to gold in the autumn. For many autuns. Or not. Maybe in 100 years will be still standing and enormous, maybe it will. It will survive the story written on the “pop up screen” of the ubiquitous computing nightmare/dream, of urban development, thunderstorms, accidents. For sure it will survive the video screen on the other side. Or maybe will be cut down out during a redefinition of the space, a planned change to turn the park into a parking lot. Or get sick and die. Sure. It stands. Is magnificent and fragile.

Photo by Shi-Shen Ilya Li

Life fabric is not a sign or a sense alone outside a situation, and the situation is fluid. Ideas like trees, stories like trees planted in artificial soil. Stories.

The group is lead outside in silence through the staircase, I ask them to observe and record in their minds. I touch stuff to feel it. I try ecoes with noises or sounds. No emphasis is given. Practical action. We reach the space, we breath, we touch, we acknowledge our capacities of perception, and instead of using a maieutic tactic i just unroll myself my own observations. Falls in Rob with his story of trees in ubiquous computing conferences. Is very relevant. The group is in synch with his words.

He makes me think of the end sentence in “The Name of the Rose” were the dying nihilist storyteller, the monk, Adso from Melk, remembers the sin-full love of his youth, all the life that has passed, the cold touch of old age and and his imminent death and ends with a solitary quote:

Stat rosa pristina nomine; nomina nuda tenemus.
Yesterday’s rose endures in its name; we grasp only the nude names

Umberto Eco had to explain that riddle sentence in the “postille” and kept explaining and be asked about till the end of his life. Up to changing the postille in the last reviewed editon of the book he curated.
That sentence he thinks he has taken from a XII century monk (a real one that wrote in that time) is bigger than him. I am convinced that is that line that made the Name of the Rose a classic.

Is the ostrakon that has the potential of reverting the whole story told so far, and is a riddle. Is, in the inspired words of Rob, the “bug” we strive for and talk about.

Not the “bug” that destroys a theory, or crashes a machine, but the one that makes a classic. A small stone that blocks the mind for a click. The Bug unmasks the background for the real foreground. The found book from wich the story unfolds, in a network of meanings, stands for a man life, for its time political struggle, for meaning of unknown, for flash to be burn.
It is at the same time a meme and a bug. The girl without name, her revenge. The Rose that is not her name (cause it is unknown) yet the name is the only thing that stands.
As all the rest, time and meaning emerges and gets forgotten, the sound of the garden we explored somehow keep re-sounding now in my room in Amsterdam. And that sound is what we should start to design into.
The forest in the night, were the tree as fallen unheard yet, even if his number disappeared from the “whole city dashboard”.
To close my talk to the student I point to the stage of the makeshift teather and after noticing the acoustic I describe a red fish standing there. We all see it.
It is this, the red fish on stage of the silenced theatre of CCP in Hangzou, that everyone seen with his own eyes, different and the same, and no one can ever cook, the matter to the end.

So while I agree with the political sense of calling in the cultural egemony of Gramsci, As Rob magnificently puts it, with the urgency of the “now”, with the scheme of things to be done to re-design the space of the struggle, and the overall sense of the practical application of theory we all share. I feel the need to add something. Subtracting.

Any realist interpretation of antropocene fails to give space to my beloved skepic pharmakon. Attention and enphasis neither have to fall here on the medicine, but on the “love”.
It is the situation were the chanting shaman fails to access the dream and has to bullshit his way out with art.

The idea self of control is a dream, suggested by death grinning’ face. Complex system cannot be controlled forever, precisely or securely. And moreover complex systems will always emerge complex patterns of behaviour unexpectedly. There is more: complex systems cannot be defined cybernetically in a closed way, and the latter is a stone on the grave of many of the monsters of our time. The algorithm will always need to admit undecision. Agency will always need exception, bureaucracy corruption, favour and mercy, the algorithm the virus and the bug. Determinism is a status of a more complex system that can range from order to chaos unforeseeably.

Unforseen is a powerful tool for design!

The generation before the one of these kids in Hangzhou was building very fragile high entropy systems that are impossible to make resilient. Energy flew in the system and through the system but as well outside and despite the system. Fragility is not always a bad thing, but should not made an absolute. They shall design with it.

Other principles are needed, to be resilient, sustainable, multi stakeholder and transparent. Systems that self organise and self heal and more over do not stand in our way when we like to think, sleep or loose time.

Too much fathers in the IoT smartcity bla bla space. We need some mothers. And I giggle and think about the mothers of invention caustic bravado…

I think it was wise to include in the conference a disaster relief expert, even if his solution to that type of complexity he was describing, ina small city struck by disaster, seamed a dreamlike book of instructions fairytale to me. Totally unforgivable in its way of excluding completely both self organising patterns of behaviour and human feelings from the top down approach he presented. And instruction books stay such, even if you write them in algorithms that are to be explored by AI and implemented by robots. Can you let an algorithm decide how much time is allowed to one soul to close forever the eyes of a loved one?

To read the signs as shamans, as sometimes we manage to do, implies to create a screen of possibilities. A screen were the abyss can project its answers back to our questions from above. Were chaos can be a teacher. It will hurt our bodies and our pride as well but it works.

Our lust for death, the wish of self immolation of the egos of the wanna be masters of the youth, seems then (to me at least) only like a sort of totalitarian wish for hipocalypses (a apocalypse that ends anyway in a demented, delusionional act of ridiculous proportions). As the Slavoj Žižek says “we cannot imagine the end of capitalism without the cathegories of the apocalypse”. Is in that such a relief to talk about the future in places like China and Taiwan.
A precious gift to be here now.

Hypocalypse: a fart in the wind announced by thunder and followed by embarassed laughters. In its more grim interpretation the ridiculous demented act of academia that keep dancing on the dead bodies of the real masters like a headless chicken.

Now, set aside the necessary skeptic pill, lets go back to the core of the argument (that has somehow to include the hangover grogginess in our interesting discussion afterparty).

A list of the things I think I understood and I want to pass over in my activities:

What. A epistemologically correct methodology you learn by doing, like the dangerous dance of the shaman and its drumstick. Concepts and tools presented as pieces for a multistakeholder unvealing exercise in dialogue. The situation evolves and only gets recognised but never framed. The algorithm that is enhacted by actors and at teh same time represents them. A trasformator as a art piece, that lives in a real situation and might be bugged. And a lab to study and invent situational awareness and transformations: this is a trasformatorio.

When. Here and now, the space that exist and flows above and below any rational human philosophy. And were, in a way, the bacteria speacks as well as the urban planner and much better then human hubris. Above the “totalitarian state of comfort” is the in between that talks and we have to stop and listen for once.

Who. Things and their inventors and maintenance mechanics, Animals, plants and landscape, the humans with and without agency, those who facilitate, building streets, fixing toilets and maintaining the space of possibilities open. The enxymes of fermentation and putrefaction. The whole fucking spaceship has to talk. “Alarm Captain, maybe we can re-design a new cycle, there is no need anymore of a bridge on planet earth spaceship”.

Why. Because we need to go out and walk like beings and not be kept in the state of minority by an illusion. Is a tutor we have not cultivated and chose ourselve. Big Brother is as death as the Holy Father and its cameras and he’s brain police.

Where. In a wet space that includes the cyber and the flesh, the actuators, the design, the law. The empty space left to nature and art to feed the uncoscious, to the science of the artist and the maker to explore the possible and to the human wisdom to talk reason and chose. Or in stories to tell the next generations around the fire, when they will be learning their place in the world.

In this respect the choice of the chinese government for the signs that fobid behaviours and promise police enforcement of those are made with drawing of friendly puppets is truly revealing.
Ethics is Kantian, morale is the istinct of the flock in every individual…

(Ref:—> Kant, “Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung?”, 1784)

Is it possible, I argue, that the only end of any ethics -were humans and non humans species interact- has to be imagined as a holy nothing, were the fear of the abyss glance brings inevitably to the fratricide brotherhood of the guillotine?

Georg Büchner’s “Danton’s Tod” investigates this paradox brilliantly. Andrzej Wajda in 1981 made a film, “Danton”, from an adaptation of a play by Stanisława Przybyszewska, were there is a scene that fits with the argument I am proposing here. Danton and Roberspierre meet in the prive’ of a restaurant. Danton offers to his ancient comrade a sumptuous dinner. “behind the scenes” a rytual of political “Grand Jeu” is put on scene. Robespierre does not touch food, Danton can only drink wine. The table, that is France, and “wetware” at the same time, is destroyed by Danton that throws away any food the other does not want to touch. A rapid process that evolve quickly and that will destroy them both. Their factions, and the opposite idea of revolution and state will self erase. The attempt to majority of the human spirit ended under the guillotine.

I toy with some questions.
What do we have to know and what will be what we don’t have to know, were will be the balance of those forces?
Who will be the maker that loves hopelessly its creature and can express his sad love with poetry? And what does this code look like? What do we have to design for? And what will be left us to design with?

And moreover what kind of situation-defining enzymes we have to design into the world with our craft? What will make it to an art?

Situation have always been designed to desired effects by wizards. But the real power is in the goddess.
Rituals of power that include all the senses, music, chinesis, intoxicans and visual stimulation and language. Opera and Liturgy.

We will need to unveal and design those as well. And our methodology will be a transparent transformer that evolves the situation in positive productive or destructive cycles. An ebb and flow of information and noise and a short span of time to rest in between.

Memory, dreams, the ever changing flow of the space and time and conscience from situation to the next has to be explored again in unity of human self reflecting action. The four winds set the wood in motion, ready to inspire the secret journey of the fool, contain all the magic of the illusionist and all the wisdom of the whole world that is female and dances naked on the fire.

All this space of design to be scavenged for opportunities and be teathre for gratuitous acts of courage and beauty.

Collage of moments of Huangzou CAA Workshop 2018; photo courtesy of
Shih-Chieh Ilya Li


There is a space of unity between tools for awareness, like dowse; tools for constructing complexity and simplicity in economic exchange of values like the SWAPI, and other software projects in dyne.
This is not an ideological space more than a world, a vision or an haiku.
At best it wishes to be a seed, or a young gynco tree that has in his fragile roots the possibility of becoming a giant one.
The time is now, the tools of the painter are set in front of her, the light is dim and the brush is ready to touch the paper. Again.

All your bases are belong to us (1)

thanks for the food to my thoughts…

(1)”All your base are belong to us” is a popular Internet meme based on a broken English (“Engrish”) phrase found in the opening cutscene of the 1992 Mega Drive port of the 1989 arcade video game Zero Wing. The quote comes from the European release of the game, featuring poor English translations of the original Japanese version. Means “Hi dude, someone took total control of your system”

(2) Le Grand Jeu by Federico Bonelli e Raffaella Rovida, 2016 (
About the game see as well the article on Medium by Raffaella Rovida.

In the mean time our workshop has been featured on the website of the chinese academy of arts: .