Fig. 3.2.156
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, São Paulo
Foam & Doina Kraal
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TOUCHE-À-TOUT

Introduction

The three installations that are presented on this website: In de Rarekiek, Brain-net and Touche-à-Tout, grew out of each other and developed both as lenses through which one can perceive the world, as well as archival travel companions to me and world­ly wonder boxes to the people I showed them to.

The initial idea for the installation In de Rarekiek (2011-2012) was to make a life-size peep show box or di­orama that forms a reflection of the world we live in. I looked for a form in which the spectator could become an observer as well as becoming part of the world inside the installation. One was invited to look into the box from the outside through various peepholes, or to physically enter it and thus become part of the microcosm inside, whilst being viewed by those out­side the box.

The historic rarekiek or peep show box (raree show) concept was the inspiration behind the con­struction of In de Rarekiek, which I envisioned to be a travelling installation. Historically, a rarekiek (an old Dutch word) was known as a travelling peep box carried on the back of a man, he himself also called rarekiek or luikerwaal.

Once In de Rarekiek was taken out of the project space where it was built, I realised it would be impractical to have it travel around with me: the size of In de Rarekiek was 9 ✕ 4 ✕ 2,5 meters. I began to develop an installation suitable for travel, something I could carry myself. This installation would come to be called: Touche-à-Tout (the French equivalent of the English ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’).

Before I took off travelling around the world with Touche-à-Tout, I worked on Brain-net (June, 2014). This installation came into being as a prelude to Touche-à-Tout. As I began my research for Touche-à-Tout, I realised that the Internet can be viewed as a present-day rarekiek, a box we look into, showing us a representation of the world. With Brain-net I wanted to explore how I relate to the worldwide web and how I visualise it.

After a pilot month with Touche-à-Tout during the residency URRA in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I decid­ed I should build a carrier that could house smaller works that I would make all over the world. Hence, over the course of a year – from November 2014 until November 2015 – the installation Touche-à-Tout grew and expanded during a journey around the world. A collection of writings, images and documentation was developed concurrently around the work, part of which you will find on this website. Subsequently, the information gathered here has been brought together in a book; Touche-à-Tout, some frames to the wonder of the world featuring some of the wonders of the world. This book touches upon the senses: there is audio to listen to, there are things to smell, touch and taste and of course to see and read.

Meanwhile, this website is equally a continuation of my travels and explo­rations, looking into some of the wonders of the world.

 

 

 

 

 

Fig. 3.3.87
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Doina Kraal
Touche-à-Tout, Amsterdam
Doina Kraal, T&T
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Please feel invited to be involved in the Touche-à-Tout project. Send me your ideas or suggestions, these can be in the form of written text, questions, audio, images, video or any other medium. Or just fill out your email address to receive my newsletter. 

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Fig. 3.2.108
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Xiamen
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Paulo Menezes/Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Durban
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Muriwai
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doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
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gert jan van rooij/doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
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doina kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, amsterdam
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doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Durban
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doina kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Buenos Aires
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doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
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doina kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, amsterdam
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Bogotá
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Amsterdam
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doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
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Gert Jan van Rooij/Doina Kraal
Brain-net, Amsterdam
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Sarah Engelhard/Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Brisbane
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, XIAMEN
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Brisbane
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gert jan van rooij/doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
Fig. 3.3.106
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Xiamen
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DOINA KRAAL
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, São Paulo
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gert jan van rooij/doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
Fig. 2.2.81
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gert jan van rooij/doina kraal
brain-net, amsterdam
Fig. 1.3.30
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Gert Jan van Rooij/Doina Kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
Fig. 3.3.62
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, XIAMEN
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doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
Fig. 3.2.91
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Gert Jan van Rooij/Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Amsterdam
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Gert jan van Rooij/doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Durban
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Amsterdam
Fig. 3.2.121
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Sarah Engelhard
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Brisbane
Fig. 1.3.39
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gert jan van Rooij/doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
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doina kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, São Paulo
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Doina Kraal/Véronique Desmet
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Muriwai
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doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
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Bong Antivola
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, XIAMEN
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Sarah Engelhard/Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Brisbane
Fig. 3.3.86
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doina kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, buenos aires
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gert jan van rooij/doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Muriwai
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doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Durban
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Brisbane
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Springbrook, Gold Coast
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Blairstown
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doina kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, amsterdam
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doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Gold Coast
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, São Paulo
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Muriwai
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doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
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Guido Beekman/Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Brisbane
Fig. 1.1.47
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doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
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doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
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Guido Beekman/Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Brisbane
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, São Paulo
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Muriwai
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doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
Fig. 3.2.98
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, XIAMEN
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Bogotá
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doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
Fig. 1.1.84
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doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
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doina kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, buenos aires
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gert jan van rooij/niki mens/doina kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Amsterdam
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doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
Fig. 3.3.67
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Brisbane
Fig. 1.1.80
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doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
Fig. 1.1.19
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doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
Fig. 3.3.95
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Adrienne van Driem
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Freiburg/Amsterdam
Fig. 1.3.20
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gert jan van Rooij/doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
Fig. 3.3.126
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Muriwai
Fig. 1.1.32
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doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
Fig. 2.3.45
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gert jan van rooij/doina kraal
brain-net, amsterdam
Fig. 3.3.135
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Muriwai
Fig. 1.1.40
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manoushka kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
Fig. 2.3.5
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gert jan van Rooij/doina kraal
brain-net, amsterdam
Fig. 2.2.74
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gert jan van rooij/doina kraal
brain-net, amsterdam
Fig. 3.2.152
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, São Paulo
Fig. 3.2.92
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gert jan van rooij/doina kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, amsterdam
Tobias Tiecke

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Published by Foam, 2013
In de Rarekiek – In the Wonderbox

On 6 August 2012 the Curiosity landed on Mars. After a ten-month journey through space, this vehicle the size of a small car arrived at the red planet for its two-year mission; our eyes in an unknown world. The first images show us, the layman, a seemingly boring, dusty planet, but the mountains looming on the horizon make us curious to find out what lies beyond.

Just as today's high-tech space exploration allows us to behold unknown worlds, a few centuries ago the so-called Wunderkammers or Cabinets of Curiosities gave us a glimpse into the distant worlds of their day. Where a Wunderkammer was reserved for the elite, the rarekiek or travelling raree show, gave ordinary people the opportunity to come into contact with other worlds and their curiosities. 

A rarekiek is a show-box, an old-fashioned peep show or raree show that a man travelling between fairs, cities and villages, carries on his back. Inside the box, a mixture of fact and fiction is on display visible through a set of lenses. The word rarekiek is build up out of two Dutch words, raar meaning odd but also rare and kieken or kijken, which means to watch, but kiek, or kiekje also refers to a photograph. The Wunderkammer is undoubtedly the predecessor of the museum. A rarekiek is the predecessor of the magic lantern, the stereo viewer and what would later become the slide and film projector, followed by the television. In the early 20th century a photo camera would also sometimes be called a rarekiek. Maybe the rarekiek even served as the inspiration for other lens carrying devices. At least it was a way to observe something closely and precisely, bringing something nearer to the eye just like the microscope and telescope would do later. In the installation In de Rarekiek many of the above mentioned devices appear in an extensive pastiche of the analogue and the digital. They are all means to make us look in a different way at the things around us.

In the installation In de Rarekiek Kraal gives us a peek into her world: “In de Rarekiek is a carefully picked and personal snapshot, a time capsule that represents the last two years of my own personal journey.” The life-size rarekiek Kraal designed is 9 metres long, 4 metres wide and 2,5 metres high. It has peepholes and passages through which one can access this artificial world and become part of it. Inside it is dark. Most objects, videos, film and slide projections are light sources. Other works are lit up with small spotlights.

The installation takes its inspiration in part from the question of whether there is a so-called Theory of Everything; a theory of physics that exactly and fully explains all foundations of physical phenomena. Kraal is uncomfortable with the idea that everything can be explained: “That a Theory of Everything does not exist is to me a very pleasant, consoling and welcoming thought.” the aversion to the concept of a Theory of Everything is understandable; the idea that everything is complete, that there are no more uncertainties and that everything can be predicted is quite terrifying, not in the least because it leaves no more room for curiosity.

However, what physicists call the Theory of Everything is not as uncomfortable as it sounds, and maybe it is only that the name was an unfortunate choice. The term itself refers to a theory of physics that attempts to unite the two theories which use to describe the world – the theory of quantum mechanics and the theory of general relativity – in one single theory. The consequences of quantum mechanics are only noticeable on small length scales and those of general relativity on very large length scales. Processes in which both theories are important are only to be found at extreme locations in the universe, such as black holes. It would be wonderful if it turned out to be possible to formulate a single theory that exactly describes both extremes. This would certainly have enormous implications for our understanding of the underlying principles of the universe and also lead to technological applications which would indirectly influence our daily lives. But one thing that will not happen is that the complex world on our human scale will suddenly be explained and made predictable by one single theory. Our understanding of subjects such as organic life, emotions, consciousness, social cohesion etc. will not be helped by the formulation of a Theory of Everything. And even within the realm of physics such a theory will by no means solve all the open questions, as these are far too complex to describe at the most basic level. Kraal alludes to this in In de Rarekiek:

“The collection that comes into being is a reflection of my view upon the complexity of the material world. That world is not apparent but dynamic. Distinctions between the categories fade. In de Rarekiek is not an accusation against science, but it does question her, from a deep longing for imperfection. I classify, and then break through this order in my search for imperfection and asymmetry.”

Kraal took her inspiration from an article by the theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, “Gödel and the end of Physics”, in which he discusses whether a theory of everything could in principle be possible. In this article Hawking uses arguments originally formulated by mathematician Gödel, postulating that it is not always possible to describe a system exactly if the description itself is part of the system. For example, the statement "this statement is false" leads to a paradox: if the statement is true, it is false, and vice versa. Hawking reasons that as we are ourselves part of the universe, this same philosophical argument (as) Gödel used should mean that in principle it is impossible to formulate a comprehensive theory of the universe. This is an almost explicit aspect of Kraal's work as the observer becomes a part of the raree show by walking around inside it and taking place in the niches. And while the observer observes, he is in turn observed through the peepholes on the outside of the structure.

Big questions, such as “Is there such a thing as a Theory of Everything?”, “Will the universe continue to expand indefinitely?” and “Why is the universe asymmetrical?” are problems that trigger the imagination and are comparable to questions that can be asked in the world of art. In science it may be possible to provide an exact answer to these questions, but in art it is about asking the question itself and thereby broadening our perspective. Our curiosity, and the associated fascination for the world about us is of essential importance for the development of art as well as science. The world of contemporary science tends to be interested in far smaller or larger length scales than those dealt with in the art world.

The differences between the length scales of different perceptions was wonderfully visualised by Charles and Ray Eames in their Powers of Ten commissioned by IBM. This film depicts the relative scale of the universe in powers of ten. We see a photograph of the hand of a man whereby the viewpoint zooms in and out to the limits of our knowledge: from the size of the universe to the innermost/ inner core? of an atomic nucleus. Each new type of microscope or telescope developed by scientists that enabled us to examine nature on a new dimension of length drastically changed our understanding of the world. For example, the optical microscope that taught us about the composition of cells, or the Hubble space telescope that taught us about the age of the universe and the birth of stars (a photograph of which formed the inspiration for Cumulus Castellanus, the cloud which Kraal created for In de Rarekiek). The most recent example of a new microscope is the new particle accelerator (LHC) in Geneva, which is in fact the best microscope in existence: by colliding particles with each other at extreme energies, the tiniest possible fragments can be studied. It was announced only recently that the long-awaited Higgs boson had probably been detected, bringing us one small step closer to a conclusive theory of the world.

However, a concern in all research of this kind is that nothing new will be found, that is to say, nothing unexpected, nothing that gives rise to new questions. It is as if the explorers of the Dutch East India Company only encountered sea and no new land, or the Mars explorer will not find anything other than that dusty barren landscape, and that apart from the Higgs boson no other unanticipated particles will be found. Besides the terrifying idea of understanding everything, it would also be a terrible thing for us to not understand everything but to lose hope of ever discovering anything new and so lose our curiosity. Both of these would result in total stagnation and no new development.

Doina Kraal: “I understand the tendency [of science] toward accuracy and perfectionism. I sometimes yearn for a similar semblance of order. This is also the reason why I started this work by making lists, and categorising things. I repeatedly try to deal with my urge to create order and let go again, to accept and embrace my mistakes, to even create chaos, when there isn’t any. I take my time to have constant doubts running through my mind. But my belief grows stronger that what is uncertain, that what is ‘in between’ the world of fact and the world of appearances, is what allows me to embrace all possibilities. It is what ultimately drives my deep-seated sense of curiosity and creativity—it is what makes me happy.

The piece In de Rarekiek became an exploration of chaos vs. order and a study of how sensory perceptible things appear to me.”

Fig. 3.2.14
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gert jan van rooij/doina kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, amsterdam
Fig. 1.1.54
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doina kraal
touche-a-tout, amsterdam
Fig. 1.3.23
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Gert Jan van Rooij/doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
Fig. 1.1.52
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doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
Fig. 1.3.79
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doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Springbrook, Gold Coast
Fig. 3.2.6
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doina kraal
touche-a-tout, amsterdam
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doina kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, São Paulo
Fig. 1.2.72
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doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
Fig. 3.2.13
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Amsterdam
Fig. 3.2.18
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Mumbai
Fig. 3.3.124
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Muriwai
Fig. 1.1.58
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doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
Fig. 3.3.50
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doina kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, buenos aires
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doina kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, amsterdam
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doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
Fig. 3.3.132
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Muriwai
Fig. 3.2.155
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DOINA KRAAL
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, São Paulo
Fig. 3.3.116
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Lamington
Fig. 3.3.52
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doina kraal
brain-net, buenos aires
Fig. 3.2.177
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Sarah Mei Herman/Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Paris
Fig. 3.2.88
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Ron Peperkamp/Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Amsterdam
Doina Kraal
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In de Rarekiek, Brain-net & Touche-à-Tout

From Rarekiek to Internet

My research for In de Rarekiek began in 2011. The installation was presented mid September 2012 by Foam Photography Museum and Soledad Senlle Art Foundation. The historic rarekiek or peepshow box concept was the inspiration behind the construction of In de Rarekiek, which I envisioned to be a traveling installation. But as I took In de Rarekiek out of the project space where I had built it, I realised what it would take for a work the size of In de Rarekiek, which was 9 x 4 x 2,5 metres, to travel. In 2013, with funds from the Foam 3H award, I started to develop ideas for a continuation of In de Rarekiek — I would build an installation suitable for travel, something I could carry myself. Presently, I am working on this piece, building what I call, Touche-à-Tout. Over the course of the coming year, this installation will grow and expand during a journey that I will make around the world. A collection of writings, images and documentation will be developed concurrently around the work. This piece will be a living, breathing organism. Accessible online, viewers will be able to observe real-time as the piece takes on various shapes and evolves, as my ideas morph and grow through the experience of the journey. At the end of the year, this collection of writings will be edited for a printed artist’s book and will be presented alongside the installation.

I invite anyone who so wishes to be involved in the Touche-à-Tout project, to send me their ideas; these can be in the form of written text, questions, audio, images, video or any other medium for which they feel comfortable. It is my ambition that this project be participatory and collaborative wherever possible.

In de Rarekiek – In the Wonderbox

Historically, a rarekiek was known as a traveling peepshow box carried on the back of a man, he himself called rarekiek. Inside the box was a blended display of factual or fictional scenes. The rarekiek man would describe what was inside the box and comment on it. The lighted scenes could be innocent humoristic stories, but in the Netherlands during the 18th Century, magic lanterns and peepshow box pamphlets were often used as a battleground for political satire.

The word rarekiek is build up out of two Dutch words, raar meaning odd but also rare and kieken or kijken, which means to watch; kiek, or kiekje also means a photograph. As I see it, a rarekiek was the predecessor of the magic lantern, the stereo viewer and what would later become the slide and film projector, followed by the television (kiekkast). In the early 20th Century, a photo camera would also sometimes be called a rarekiek.

The idea of representing a macrocosm (of the world around me) within the shape of a microcosm, is what most intrigued me. In the traditional Wunderkammer, or cabinet of curiosities, objects were placed in categories distinguishing the natural from the artificial. For my piece I was not interested in creating a scientific or encyclopaedic arrangement, but rather a reflection of the complexity and chaos of the material world. A world that is dynamic and interpretive. In the Rarekiek was designed to place less emphasis on categorisation so that the differences between categories fade. This was not so much an accusation against science, but a way to reflect upon and question some of the methodology of categorisation implicit in the scientific approach to understanding the world that surrounds us.

Inspirational Literature

The book A Tear at the Edge of Creation: A Radical New Vision for Life in an Imperfect Cosmos, Free Press, 2010, by Marcelo Gleiser was a significant source of inspiration for my work. The author is the Appleton Professor of Natural Philosophy and Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Dartmouth College where he runs a cosmology group. The book is about the great urge or desire of scientists to find a Theory of Everything, which will serve to provide an ultimate, fundamental truth, and the pointlessness or the fruitlessness of this idea. Gleiser claims that the universe is not as elegant as we might wish for it to be, but it is ‘gloriously messy’. He points out that life, as we know it, has come to be as it is because of imperfection, unbalance, and asymmetry. Without asymmetry and imperfection, the universe would be filled with smooth radiation and the world would never exist in all her complex variety. He states that we should keep on mapping out the world (through scientific research) but that it is useless to believe that it will ever end, that we might find one, ultimate all encompassing theory.

That a Theory of Everything does not exist is to me a very pleasant, consoling and welcoming thought. Fortunately, Gleiser is not the only person questioning the scientific approach in pursuit of truth.

In reaction to the article entitled, Gödel and the End of Physics (2009) - in which physicist Stephen Hawking voices his concern that no finite set of laws may suffice to describe the evolution of the universe - astrophysicist Adam Frank writes:

If the becoming of the universe is partially beyond natural law, the issue is deeply important: The way the world becomes may be ever creative and open.

Gödel's article to which Hawking refers, (the incompleteness theorems published in 1931 by mathematician Gödel 1906-1978) presents a meta-mathematical argument and set of proofs to demonstrate that there is no system of logic free from contradiction. In other words, there is no system of logic capable of separating all statements contained within a system, into two differentiated categories of 'true' and 'false'. There is always a third category 'undecideable'. Gödel could not help his own deep seated pursuit of perfectionism. He also had obsessions he could not control. His fear of making mistakes made him stop publishing his work and he was so scared of being poisoned, he would only eat what his wife prepared. When she was hospitalized for six months, Gödel refused to eat and eventually died of malnutrition.

Underlying my work as an artist is a strong understanding and admiration of the scientist that exists in all of us, our visceral pursuit of interpretation and arrangement and the almost inevitably related accuracy and perfectionism that seems to come with it. Like many, I too often yearn for a similar semblance of order. This is why, when I began the construction of In de Rarekiek, I began by making lists and categorising things. I repeatedly tried to deal with my urge to create order and let go again, to accept and embrace my mistakes—to even create chaos, when there wasn’t any. I took my time to revel in the doubts rummaging through my mind, allowing my beliefs to grow stronger, allowing them to over-ride any uncertainties, until I found myself immersed in a state of ‘in betweenness’— one part of my mind experiencing the world of fact; the other, the world of appearances. This blending of worlds allowed me to embrace all possibilities and it is what ultimately drives my personal sense of curiosity and creativity —it is what makes me happy.

While working on In de Rarekiek, my friend Nicole Barbery gave me The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (Yale University Press, 2009), a book by Iain McGilchrist. This book served as another great inspiration for my work. In fact, I consider this book to be one of the most wonderful and inspiring non-fiction reads I have ever come across. In it, McGilchrist, who is a practicing neuroscientist and psychiatrist, focuses on the influence of our divided brains and the perspectives each hemisphere impresses upon the world. He raises questions about the way our right and left hemisphere process information and carefully weaves a historical narrative that details the rise and fall of western societies over time through an exploration of philosophy, art, music. McGilchrist hopes that Western man will return to an equilibrium in which the wise emperor (the right cerebral hemisphere) and his formidable emissary (the left hemisphere) work synergistically. Without such synergy there is a tendency of the left hemisphere to betray its master.

Many of the described ongoings of the hemispheres were most inspiring to me, in particular:

Because the right hemisphere sees things as they are, they are constantly new for it, so it has nothing like the databank of information about categories that the left hemisphere has.

It therefore is virtually silent, relatively shifting and uncertain, where the left hemisphere, by contrast, may be unreasonably, even stubbornly, convinced of its own correctness. [1]

While reading The Master and his Emissary I started to realise that I was in fact at times trying to perceive the world through the right hemisphere. To experience the world as new, to take in things with the unprejudiced eye of a child, to whom the world exists out of pleasant chaos and wonders, without judging. It may sound dramatic to say that I try to perceive the world through the right hemisphere, for it is not an aspiration that doesn’t work out, nor is it something that can be controlled, it rather feels like a game I play; sometimes I feel desperately stuck in a system and other moments I get happily lost. But above all, I cherish moments of wonder. I believe this is the reason why I am an artist. I feel the urge to carry along any willing subject into an intense and delightful world of wonder and curiosity.

McGilchrist’s book filled me with confidence to cherish the world of uncertainty, human fallibility and wonder that tends to characterise the domain of the right hemisphere. Or perhaps his book made me appreciate the fine balance that must occur between the left and right hemispheres to work collaboratively so as to yield creativity as well as context, to balance fantasy with reality.

Illusions of Perception

In de Rarekiek contains a number of paintings and sculptures; these are pieces made with media that deform reality so that what is represented inevitably becomes autonomous. But the majority of the shown works can somehow be traced back to photography. Light, photography, film and video are the media I am most familiar with. I am constantly driven to explore how a photograph or a projection can manipulate space and how it might be sculpted. I am fascinated by the fact that these media are extraordinarily suitable to copy, imitate or represent vision, whilst simultaneously enhancing an illusion.

What we see when we look at a photograph, film or video is often a representation of something we have already known. Empirical perception has been, and still is, very important in science; we believe something when we (think we) see it. And in order to see things as thoroughly as possible, we have developed the most sophisticated microscopes and lenses. But when do we see anything clearly?

The illusion that, if we can see something clearly, we see it as it really is, is hugely seductive. Ruskin, in Modern Painters, makes the point that clarity is bought at the price of limitation: ‘We never see anything clearly... What we call seeing a thing clearly, is only seeing enough of it to make out what it is; this point of intelligibility varying in magnitudes and kinds of things...' [2]

Clarity, it seems, describes not a degree of perception, not a type of knowledge. To know something clearly is to know it partially only, and to know it, rather than to experience it, in a certain way. [3]

With In de Rarekiek, I got interested not in seeing things clearly, not in knowing things but rather in experiencing and questioning things. Knowledge and certainty of what it is you are looking at in this artwork will hopefully be replaced by raw sensations, curiosity and wonder.

According to McGilchrist, a painting is not a thing in the world, or just a representation of the world. You don’t see paintings, you see according to them. They have a reality of their own. Photography and film can of course also be enchanting and comprise a reality of their own, but I sometimes also put the medium at stake for a semi scientific purpose; I pretend to want to see something clearly, I then use photography in a very direct and non-emotional way to subsequently conclude that I have got it wrong.

Brain-net

In de Rarekiek was taken down in numbered pieces. It was stored in my new studio, partly rebuilt twice, but eventually most of the MDF and multiplex was turned into new works of art. When I had to move my studio again some months ago, I decided I could not keep taking all the wood with me. And given that I was in the process of developing Touche-à-Tout, which was to be a much smaller size piece, I needed to find a way to compress and yet maintain its integrity and essence. With Touche-à-Tout, my plan was to make my art mobile—I wanted to become the rarekiek woman, traveling the world by ship, carrying my work of art.

In the Netherlands, the 17th century was a time of great voyages of discovery; this was also the time of the Rarekiek man. Today, given the vast amount of people who have access to the Internet, the world comes to you. You no longer need to travel to find out what happens in another country. The Internet is a most wonderful source of information, but at the same time I find this virtual world restrictive and stiffening. Only part of the senses, mostly sight and hearing are stimulated, but it lacks smell, taste and tactility. I believe there is still a lot to explore physically and with Touche-à-Tout I would like to represent the world in all her sensory forms in order to experience its richness and diversity.

As I first began researching for In de Rarekiek, it was a pastiche of the analogue and the digital, inspired both by the real world around me, and the digital world, which is mostly accessible via the Internet. I later realised that a rarekiek shares a great resemblance to the Internet in terms of its informative and entertainment value and their blending of fact and fiction; they are also both boxes one looks into. So I was then able to make the connection between my ideas for the magic lantern, stereo viewer, slide and film projector to the television, computer monitor and Internet.

The concept behind Wikipedia was quite relevant for my own work, as it exists as an ever-evolving source of information, in an imperfect form. Despite claims by the medical community that it should not be trusted as a primary source of information for medical ailments (The Journal of Osteopathic Association, May 2014), most people are aware of, and welcome, the adaptable character of the information it provides. It arouses a great sense of curiosity, inviting the participant to look beyond the single reference, into a labyrinth of information sources. In contrast, printed publications, lack dynamism; they carry institutional facts and authoritative weight through their credibility, but the information is static.

Like so many others, I spend hours and hours silently staring into my computer screen box. When I speak to my loved one’s on Skype, I marvel at the technique and feel privileged to have access but I also experience pain as the longing for touch sets in, as I crave a sense of smell, the want to see and hear the subtle nuance that only exists in the absence of a digital intermediary. The Internet creates a constant sense of longing—a longing for humanness, as well as a longing for more information.

It is extraordinary how the Internet acts as a liberator, while simultaneously holding participants hostage within its parameters. This caused me to wonder what the Internet might look like beyond my screen? Or rather, what I would like the Internet to look like beyond my screen. What is it exactly that I find so inspiring and how do I deal with the dissonance between our digital selves and our analogue bodies? [4]

Perceiving the Internet as a virtual cloud of information is not dissimilar to how I visualise my brain and all the thoughts and chaos of my mind. And it is not dissimilar to how I envisage the universe either—a similarly complex and not fully observable entity. The universe, the Internet, the brain, are infinitely complex and hard to visualize or map out, so what we understand of them is only through representation.

Ideas and questions about chaos, imperfection, connections, infinity, virtual clouds, analogue versus digital, nature versus technology, expansion, shreds of imperfect knowledge, borders and pathways: This is the mystery I sought to explore. I want to consider what the Internet, brain and our microcosm of the universe feels like, looks like, I want to know how it smells. And this was the inspiration behind my installation piece called: Brain-net. Brain-net came into being as a prelude to Touche-à-Tout. With Brain-net I am suspended inside my web, suspended in the complex web of my mind, hanging, floating in space, surrounded by planets, fragments of information and memories.

In his book The future of the mind Michio Kaku writes about the unravelling of the human brain which, thanks to technology, computers and scanning devices, happens at high speed. In the book many developments and future scenarios are presented and in most of them the brain is controlled like a computer. Think of visual translations of dreams, or implanted/inserted dreams or memories, or uploading your brain in a computer, making a back up of it. I read the book as a tribute to (neuro)science and above all to technology.

Douglas Rushkoff, by contrast, warns us in his book Present Shock (and in the documentary made by Tegenlicht, vpro) of the danger in becoming ‘machinelike’:

Reality is our home turf, the actual flesh and blood reality in which we live. The internet is a beautiful thing... but on the internet we don’t have home field advantage anymore... the 93% of human communication, of non verbal communication, that the Botox women have lost their access to, as your irises get bigger or smaller, you nod or shake your head or you breath simpatico in report, you sit back, all that is the place where we actually find our power. [5]

My work embodies a searching, a yearning for a translation between the world of science and the world of the tangible, sensory and questionable reality. Brain-net is a physical translation of how I picture connections, thoughts and movements. In a digital world where everything has become reproducible I am in search of analogue images, thoughts, sounds, tastes and scents.    

Touche-à-Tout

Touche-à-Tout is a growing work that will be weathered and shaped through travel and time. The piece is transportable as luggage on an airplane or a boat and its size has been adapted accordingly. The installation can expand and unfold and its form will be alterable. Traces of the travel will become visible in the work. Every site that is going to be visited will serve as inspiration for new works. Every time the installation is presented, at different sites around the world, it will be accompanied by a visual and musical performance.

From an early age I have been drawn to many different subjects and I have wanted to keep expanding my interests throughout the years. The result was that within the arts, I never chose just one medium, but amongst others I also engaged myself with music, performance and philosophy. A predominant notion in the West, especially in the academic world, is the idea that focussing on one subject, one medium, one question or issue, concentrating on one thing, will help obtain the best results. In the book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell states that to become very successful, it is amongst other things necessary to spend 10.000 hours performing a specific act. In 2003 my Master thesis drew on the idea that divided attention should also lead to excellence or at least to convincing art. The years that followed became a personal challenge to find ways to combine my interests from a range of a variety of disciplines to strengthen my own perspective of the work. The making of In de Rarekiek convinced me that combining media and the assembly of different subjects, gives me the opportunity to shape a broad view upon the world.

I looked for a term that encompasses the irony and clumsiness of a so-called all-rounder. In English this would be a ‘Jack of all Trades’ or ‘Master of None’. In almost every language a comparable expression exists, many of which are actually the opposite of what a Renaissance Man – of which Goethe or Leonardo da Vinci set a good example – stands for. (An expression I do certainly not identify with for it presupposes geniality.) The image of someone who cannot help but reach out to touch everything possible, this is what the French ‘Touche-à-Tout’ embodies and why it serves not only as title for the installation, but as a representation of my own metamorphosis, my coming to accept my own personal identity. This is my pursuit of the whole, of wholeness, a personal celebration of the coherence of complexity over specialism.

For the last few centuries, the Cartesian project in science has been to break matter down into ever smaller bits, in the pursuit of understanding. And this works, to some extent. We can understand matter by breaking it down to atoms, then protons and electrons and neutrons, then quarks, then gluons, and so on. We can understand organisms by breaking them down into organs, then tissues, then cells, then organelles, then proteins, then DNA, and so on. But putting things back together in order to understand them is harder, and typically comes later in the development of a scientist or in the development of science. [6]

With In de Rarekiek (and in earlier works) I focussed mainly on ‘looking’ at the world, but with Touche-à-Tout all senses will be stimulated. To this end the use of media is very diverse. There are flavours to taste, scents to smell, there will be holes through which objects can only be touched with the hands. There are sounds to be heard, but also to be made. The viewer automatically becomes part of the installation, becomes part of my microcosm. Not only when he enters the work, but also when he is observing.

Touche-à-Tout will serve as a reflection upon the world as a dynamic whole, where borders fade, cultures pollinate each other and knowledge is shared. Like the Internet, many things happen simultaneously; an arbitrary collection without a filter, a web that connects the whole world.

 

[1] p.80 quote 434 - John Cutting in The Master and his Emissary, Iain McGilchrist
[2] p.181 The Master and his Emissary
[3] p.182 The Master and his Emissary
[4] Douglas Rushkoff, Present Shock, cover, Penguin group, 2013
[5] Fragment from Tegenlicht, vpro dutch television documentary, 2014. 
[6] Excerpt from the article ‘Holism’ by Physician and Social Scientist Nicholas Christakis, Harvard University http://www.edge.org

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TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Santa Marta
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TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Muriwai
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IN DE RAREKIEK & TOUCHE-À-TOUT

Archives as source and inspiration

In contemporary art the idea of the archive seems to be a well-appreciated source of inspiration for artists. Whether it is for example by creating and using archives as source for material and ideas. Two other examples are the way artists employ archival methods to record their oeuvre or work with the idea of the archive. The physical form is used as a theme as well as the act of archiving by categorizing or structuring objects. The popular image of the archive is for many a place of rows and rows of unique and historical documents and objects that are kept in a quiet and dim lit basement. Within this notion the act of archiving exists of preserving, categorizing and labelling. Instead the actual archive and the act of archiving is faced towards the future. Scholar Hugh Taylor explains that archival material is a record of an action that when seen or read produces a response. The archive is as a result an extension of ourselves. The archive is an instrument for the conduct of affairs or relationships, as are artefacts [1]. The meaning of the archive isn’t neutral or objective but becomes as a result of the interaction with a person uncertain [2] and ambiguous.

In several previous works of Kraal the archive and collections of her grandparents are used as a source and a starting point for new creations such as ‘Survival of the faintest’ (Dordrecht NL, 2009) and ‘Tussen door stop’ (Amsterdam NL, 2009). In ‘Survival of the faintest’ Kraal made use of the extensive collection of old objects that was hidden away in the cupboards of her grandmother’s house. While browsing through the objects, photographs and letters, Kraal searches for new stories to attach multiple interpretations to the objects. The objects were used and reused for different purposes and labelled with ideas for new ways to deploy the objects after some alterations. The last traces of the original use value eroded when Kraal attached strings to a selection of the object to be able to hang the collection free in space.

This way of presenting or arranging objects is related to an old form of archiving, the lias. This manner of binding together was used by city administrations such as the treasury. The word ‘file’ is related to the French ‘fil’, which means thread. Filing meant in its original meaning stringing up objects and documents. [3] Kraal arranged the collection in a three-dimensional order. Art scholar Sven Spieker has written on the subject of using archival methods by artists as part of their work. He calls the use of this method of stinging up in order to arrange the object ‘to tame the archive’. The archival structure imposes meaning on the individual objects. Kraal used in ‘Survival of the faintest’ the collection as a source of material and chooses the faintest and most unusable objects and rearranges the objects by the manner in which the individual objects are placed within the group. By using this archival method the meaning of the individual object devaluates while the object within the group obtains an eternal status [4].

For ‘Tussen door stop’ Kraal made use of the family photo collection of her grandparents. The photographs show family outings and old vacations. Kraal chooses again for the photographs that were less successful. Photographs in which passers-by are accidently caught on camera. By focusing on the unintended details in the photographs Kraal uses the archive to discover and re-discover events that are forgotten or never noticed. 

Collections and the web as a representation of the world

The more recent installation In the Wonderbox (In de Rarekiek) developed by Doina Kraal in 2011/2012, shows similarities with historical private collections such as cabinets of curiosities. These collections were formed by private collectors and existed of objects that were meant for study or wonder.

While thematic collections are popular in our time, during the sixteenth and seventeenth century encyclopaedic collections were favourite. The ambition of the private collectors was to gather items of all sorts of specimens to stimulate the curiosity of the spectators. These collections were known as cabinets of curiosities (rariteitenkabinet in Dutch). By studying the objects one could gather a broad variety of knowledge. In the eighteenth century specialized collections of art, literature or science are in fashion, and the cabinet of curiosities becomes less relevant. By the nineteenth century the collections were accommodated in national museums and categorised according to the then current scientific insights [5]. Classifications and categorising methods advanced and at the start of the twentieth century a universal language was developed by Paul Otlet and Henri La Fontaine for categorising library collections. By publishing the book ´Traité de documentation´ in 1934, Paul Otlet presented new and exciting technologies of gathering and sharing knowledge. Otlet’s big idea was to create a universal book by gathering all the knowledge present in the world. This knowledge should be transferred combined with keywords onto small index cards that could be browsed through by a special designed machinery. Otlet envisioned that the machinery combined with a telescope and a telephone line should be able to project the desired information on a projection screen. These ideas show great similarity with the current information technologies and Internet.

The objects in the sixteenth century cabinets of curiosity are labelled according to the categories of naturalia, artificialia, antiquities or exotica. The curiosities are an agglomeration of different objects but are without a predominant hierarchy. The sixteenth century collector expected that it was possible to create a comprehensive and complete collection. If In the Wonderbox was a sixteenth century cabinet, the number of objects would grow till a point off completion. Instead Kraal refuses to categorise the objects and changes the selection of objects over time. In Kraals latest work Touche-à-Tout the selection of objects on display will be altered during her travels.

The act of archiving and ambiguous categories

The sixteenth century cabinets, the nineteenth century museum and the twentieth century libraries are ways of sharing knowledge about the world. Collections of physical objects and books enabled people to gather information about the world that surrounded them. In recent times we are able to travel the world physically, but more important we have access to a vast amount of information created all over the world through Internet. Physical objects devaluate and are replaced by digital copies. The web is an expanding virtual world of information in which categorizing and imposing structure is a personal act of the user. Kraal states that her latest work resembles the Internet by being a combination of fact and fiction, information and entertainment. But the major resemblance with the Internet is that Kraal refuses in her latest works to conform to the existing categories of collection or archive. The installations as a whole are works in progress and invariably changeable. Kraal researches the very notion of archiving and categorizing. Existing categories fade and meaning becomes interchangeable. By doing this, the fluidity of the meaning of the objects becomes apparent.

 

[1] Taylor, Hugh, “Heritage” revisited: Documents as Artifacts in the Context of Museums and Material Culture, in: Archivaria, nummer 40, 1995. P9

[2] Ketelaar, Eric, "Tacit Narratives: The Meanings of Archives” http://www.nyu.edu/classes/bkg/methods/ketelaar2.pdf

[3] Spieker, Sven, The Big Archive: Art from Bureaucracy, MIT Press, 2008

[4] Website http://www.doinakraal.com/ : ‘Things are one another’s sisters, brothers or distant cousins; they improve each other or weaken the other. They look alike in shape or function or they need each other and are complementary. Thus my de-evolution of things came into being. The winners, the survivors, were the weakest, the useless, the faintest. They obtained the absolute eternal status.’ Visited november 2014.

[5] Rijnders, Mieke. Uit de geschiedenis van het verzamelen, in: Kabinetten, galerijen en musea, red. Bergvelt, Leonoor e.a., 2005

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consciousness

Consciousness

Ah yes. The brain. The beautiful—our beautiful—brain.

A brain made up of synapses of connectedness that help us to define what it is true, what is false, what of the reality around us should be stored in our memory, what of the reality around us is worthy of manipulation. We seek out truth in every direction, in desperation. As if starved of information, we continuously push the boundaries of what we see with our eyes, hear with our ears, taste with our tongue. We strive each day, even if unconsciously, to understand the world through inputs, inputs that arrive through senses we didn’t even know we had. And with every passing day we enhance our power for sensory discrimination, we find new filters for the lens with which we frame the world to our likeness.

But it is ironic. For as much as we humans cannot help but deconstruct, unwrap all that we touch, like the layers of a red onion, and then slice and dice until our eyes burn so hot we can see no more and wet with tears must lay down our knife, it is not deconstruction itself that we pursue. Deconstruction is simply the first part of the process of building up. Of connecting, of piecing together all that is fragmented. Humanity is driven, more than anything else, by a want for wholeness.

We fragment all that we understand implicitly because we are afraid. Afraid of what we cannot prove, afraid to commit confidently to what we feel but can’t easily articulate. And to combat these fears, we prove our explicit knowledge of things. Of things and of objects, tiny piece-meal representations of a universal reality we all share but which – as individuals – we want to claim as separate, as unique, as un-whole. We claim rights over moments of time and space. Take snapshots of life and with a click, click, click believe that the moment before us is ours for the taking, ours for the storing. Much as our society drives us to claim rights to property, we claim rights to our snapshot perceptions and we archive them as objects deep within the contours of our brain. We place fragmented bits of information into localized circuit boards and rely on dendritic absorption to bind this information to the surface of our mind. Just as we claim rights over our perceptions, our values, our ideals, we convert faith into religion, belief into ideology and worship the individual (in all its idolatry) over the communal, over the whole. Over that which is harder to comprehend using our linear human skill-set for it exists in a beautiful non-linear, chaotic form. And when we search our brains to retrieve those objects we think we own—when we pull from our database of fragmented understanding—we often do so solely for utilitarian purpose. To further our self-interest in accordance with the utilitarian values that permeate our modern society. And that is why we often stand confused. For as much as we know, it is only part of a whole.

It is in the fragmentation of the whole where our perception is most subjective. So when we strive for objectivity through fragmentation we fail and fail again. Like a child who takes apart a radio for the first time, eager to understand what allows for its extraordinary functioning, we dismantle each part of the whole little by little. Finally the child sits surrounded by an access panel, a chassis, a number of control knobs and screws. She holds each part in her hand and studies them with curiosity. The feel of the screw grows in its importance, it becomes clear that without the screw the radio can never be put back together. But subjective value is placed upon the screw. The more she holds it in her hand, the greater value the screw will carry. Should too much time go by, however, should the pieces of the radio lay spread upon on the floor for too long, the child may forget that the screw was once part of a unified entity, that the radio in its original form was a dynamic holomonic system.

Like the radio, consciousness is also a dynamic holomonic system, except that the radio is a human construction. Consciousness on the other hand is a construction of the mind. But which mind? One mind? Or all minds? What does it mean to share consciousness? In its fragmented form we as individuals can attempt to walk, to act, consciously. This is, of course, a subjective experience. But what of universal consciousness? Does universal consciousness exist? Are we of one mind, but presently flailing in our desperate attempt to fit the pieces of our deconstructed understanding of ourselves and our place in society within one dynamic conscious whole?

It is but a mystery—a beautiful mystery—of mind, body and spirit. One which we carry upon our shoulders like a wonderbox.

 

 
Fig. 1.3.38
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doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
Fig. 3.3.110
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Lamington, Queensland
Fig. 3.1.158
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Nina Yuen/Maggie Nelson
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Blairstown
Fig. 3.2.89
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gert jan van rooij/doina kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Amsterdam
Fig. 3.2.163
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, São Paulo
Fig. 3.2.176
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Durban
Fig. 3.1.94
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Xiamen
Fig. 1.1.77
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doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
Fig. 3.3.47
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Gert Jan van Rooij/Doina Kraal
Touche-à-Tout, Amsterdam
Fig. 1.1.16
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doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
Fig. 3.3.96
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Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Mumbai
Fig. 3.2.107
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Wang Kai/Doina Kraal
TOUCHE-À-TOUT, Xiamen
Fig. 1.1.53
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doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam
Fig. 1.1.44
File under: image, research
doina kraal
in de rarekiek, amsterdam