Damien Roach – Deep Pan-Global

Damien Roach

 Deep Pan-Global: Pizza, Multitudinous Influence, Mutation, and Trans-cultural Exchange

Day 2, Saturday, September 17, 2011, 10:00 – 11:30

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Damien Roach: Good morning to everyone. I hope you are all doing very well. It’s great to see you and fantastic to have this opportunity to do this presentation for the seminar.

I’m an artist and lecturer researching a few different strands of ideas at the moment. The presentation today I’m using as an opportunity to create some kind of dialogue between us, to kind of inject something into the existing scale that’s taken place in Brissago with some kind of interesting questions potentially about how we can learn something from these forms that appear to travel well, if you like. So I’m kind of looking at this idea of some cultural artifacts, methods of production, of communication that enable ideas to kind of shift into being spaces and assimilate with qualities with ease whilst remaining themselves. So looking at customization, hacking, and ideas of blankness, embodying blankness. So this will become clearer over the course of the next few minutes.

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When I first spoke to Daniel about the seminar—I don’t know what the experience was like for all of the rest of you—I kind of considered to myself what’s the best way to approach the very interesting questions which are being raised here. I had been thinking for some time about the specifics of pizza as a form and the strange flexibility of this foodstuff. So to consider the idea, this is a platform to begin thinking about some other concepts, the idea that pizza manages to have this flexibility where it can take in influences from anything thing you throw at it, any kind of culinary specific flavor, any specific nuance of some food or local cuisine, pizza will assimilate it and make it part of its own language somehow. There is something very specific about that, without it actually becoming another food. So for example you have developments where you have fusion food, you take this with a little bit of that and you mix food A plus food B and you arrive at food C, a completely different entity. One of the things that I think is fascinating about the way pizza functions specifically is this ability to assimilate these different qualities, but still remain pizza. What is it about this form that allows this flexibility and what can we take from this form to enable us to work globally in a kind of flexible and productive way.

This is a strange situation I think to begin to think about this platform. I’m not going to talk about the history of pizza or anything like this as that’s not really interesting, there’s no reason to go into that…

(Showing the first video clip) I don’t know if any of you remember the teenage mutant ninja turtles?

This was something I remembered from my childhood. An interesting point is that when it was shown in the UK they replaced the word “ninja” with “heroes”- Teenage mutant hero turtles, I think they changed the name because of some idea of the violent connotations. They had this one characteristic where they were really obsessed with pizza. And one of the characters—Michelangelo I think—would make these very strange pizzas. So there is this dialogue going through the whole series where occasionally in the episode there would be a kind of description of this odd concoction of pizza with this and that on it, this very strange cocktail of tastes and foods. So I wanted to show a compendium of some of these clips.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=54au0Ve5I50

So what you see here is a few kinds of moments of customization. You have one idea of taste—of how when one customizes existing form—so you have the pizza as the blank platform and an approach to customization with choices that are really disgusting to most people—anchovies and marshmallows, and so on, there is a kind of interesting parallel that is drawn out here with taste, local taste. So, for example, for one group of people it kind of produces an ideal culinary artifact, while for another it is absolutely disgusting. There is another mode here which is a kind of seasonal idea, ok, so there are a couple of things where there was a seasonal moment, specific to a moment or time. So there was an oatmeal pizza in the morning, the guy was sick with the tea and toast pizza. Another example that I can pull out from those clips would be when one of the guys is interacting with some kind of specific cultural background, saying something along the lines of, “Maybe we could share a pizza that contains the specifics of the local taste.” Within this pop culture thing you can see a few different modes and methods of customization of form that enables itself to be shifted in this way, which is really fascinating. So, remaining with the kind of food idea for now, what is possible for us to think about is how powerful really the idea of what different needs are, the specifics of everyone needing their own foods. When you move through a specific specificity, you have the feeling of people that have moved through, even foods from the past. That is one of the things you will notice. People who travel for a necessity for work, I’m in this situation right now sharing this kind of space across a virtual thing, you are in the future for me, you are in a time that I can’t reach just now, yet we inhabit some kind of simultaneous time enabled by technology, which is fascinating.

Anyway, just to move back to this idea of the foodstuffs, when you move through a city, especially as a traveler, tourist, or a visitor, one of the things that is particularly striking is what kind of foodstuffs are available. You can look at the restaurants and see who has moved through and stayed. So, maybe it takes a generation. Some people move through and they decide to stay and start a family, and there you have the cultural remnants, the relics of cultural movements that have taken place. One gets a snapshot of the movements, who has stayed and who has taken root. Tea is an interesting example in terms of trade: tea has always been a big deal around the globe.

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The next image is of Chinatown in London, related to ideas of tradition, and related to this idea of tuning specifically. This kind of appearance of specific places where you can go and buy your spices, you can go and buy your special vegetables. In this you joint provinces you occasionally have your China and you have your Italian Quarter. These places, you would be surprised to think that you are in New York or in London, because of the intensity and the features of these microcosms of another locality.

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Just to take this idea a bit further: when you are a traveler and when you have taken route in another locality, part of feeling at home is to bring home with you. It’s again thinking very quickly about telecommunications.

And again using this current situation, which is an example of that. One of the examples—occasionally you’ve heard about the amount time of time that people spend on mobile phones talking to each other. I don’t know if you’ve had this experience before where you’ve been at a restaurant or at a bar and see people who are sharing a table and they are on their telephones texting other people. You’ve seen this before? Anyone?

(The audience replies “Yes.”)

It’s a common experience. It all seems so strange. You see two people standing together talking to other people somewhere else. It always seems kind of a crazy situation. To remove the two people together, I think there’s something quite kind of humanizing about that there are technologies that can be used to kind of humanize this decentralized kind of experience of space. So if you’re at the train station full of people surrounded by other humans, the telephone can enable one to bring your world with you—its kind of sweet in a way to think about it—you have portable locality which is enabled by the use of technologies. This image with the world with trade routes and the one with spices show the movement of materials across space and is related to communication lines and so on as well.

I don’t know if any of you are familiar with the story of Hansel and Grethel?

(The audience responds affirmatively.)

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You can see here the characters of Hansel and Grethel dropping some materials. In this story you have a food trail, a kind of an edible trail. It’s the mistake that they made; they moved through the woods and in order to find their way back the path that they leave is a trail of bread crumbs which they drop. Of course we know that this does not work out, the bread gets eaten and they end up getting stuck and lost in the forest. Putting to view this idea of these edible trails, marked across the globe, in tea and spices of tea, in kind of local tastes.

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One thing that is kind of interesting about the premise that Burger King is working on. I don’t know if you’re hungry? Because this is going to horrible. I’ve been talking about food the whole way through, I hope you’ve had breakfast. One of the interesting premises that Burger King functions on in comparison to Mc Donald’s.

Burger King has responded to the idea of the costumer being in control of what they would receive. So it’s about the fact that you could go in there and say, “I want the Whopper, but I kind of want the whopper to have no lettuce and maybe extra ketchup or without ketchup,” the idea that you were kind of able to customize your burger and to make it something of your own was pretty kind of specific, quite unusual actually for a fast food restaurant.

Because of course for the fast food restaurant everything is about having specifically designed units which can then be just quickly churned out to people. You have a certain set of variations on a theme so you have the cheeseburger, the chicken burger the fish burger, double all things up and the smaller one for kids and so on, but really you work on a variation of a theme.

They can have a double cheeseburger if they want. So one of the fascinating things about the way that Burger King presents itself, wants to kind of bring in this idea of customisation to the fast food situation, which is kind of unusual.

Now just to move to the next slide, we have the image of a Subway sandwich restaurant. Just move on to the next slide again. We are all aware of the kind of conflict between the way that these companies have presented them and reality. The fresh kind of idea of you going and buying your sandwich and you seeing it being produced in front of you is part of the Subway thing. If you just move on to the next slide:

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I have experienced just last week actually, I was visiting an old friend and I had to eat something quickly, don’t judge me, don’t judge me, I was in the Subway buying a sandwich and the guy was like: ok, you could get a sandwich and a free drink or something, and I thought OK, I’m kind of thirsty so I decided to take this bid and went with it. And for the drink you could get a cup self-service, self-service. I was presented with the situation, with the cup you know, where you could choose this machine, the machine with the different drinks—you can just move to the next slide—

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was just around the corner from the main thing, so you could do whatever you liked, so it was watching what you did with the drinks. I realized actually the possibility to kind of hack the drinks machine someway. So you didn’t have to fill the cup entirely with coke, you could make a mixture, you could have a half coke half sprite, you could make like orange-coke if you want to, so you have this kind of possibility of actually again customizing something.  It’s got a pattern, a system, by being available as a user, ok, so just by kind of being given the cup and the possibility to produce this kind of drink myself, when of course there is this possibility to mix these things up. I really like the idea actually of producing like a kind of a 50 percent Coke, 50 percent Pepsi thing. It’s a kind of treat, it’s a kind of, say, OK, white flag, we just mix Coke, it’s a resolution or something. Obviously no one sells Coke and Pepsi so. In this case it’s kind of interesting, so I took like a half Sprite, half. It was great, it was really good. So I think this idea of kind of hacking of systems is interesting.

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This slide you’re looking at the moment shows similar things to the machine you saw before, but then translated into another kind of locale, so it’s interesting how the specifics are still possible to refute the coke by me, it’s possible for me to still understand, “Ok this is the Coke, this is Sprite, Fanta without any of the regular script on its back I’m used to seeing, so again this idea of kind of resilience produced by making the culture artefacts flexible, which can kind of assimilate specifics and hacking and stuff. If you make your material—so if you could move on to the next slide please—

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So for example obviously one of the most in jury, one the most well recognized brands across the world is Coca Cola, if you just move on to the next slide again, Coca Cola has this kind of amazing ability to pave routes globally. You know it’s not even such a great drink, I mean it’s a strange drink, I don’t know what it is about it, but for some reason it works, for so many different people in so many different places, it’s kind of crazy. And again you have this idea—just move to the next slide—

in order for this kind of solution you need to key into specific… If your product if you like, remember you can replace the product with an idea, OK, I’m not talking about how to run a kind of multinational corporation, what I’m interested in is what we can learn from the way these corporations function as producers of ideas which are not towards those same ends, so we’re not talking about shifting units, we’re talking about shifting ideas, you know, replace the idea of like, if you replace the unit of the Coca Cola can or a bottle of Coca Cola or the Burger King burger with the kind of a concept and we’re dealing with concepts which we’re kind of shifting around and throwing these things all over the place, then the effect of this with which we do this, I’m interested in learning something essentially from the methodology of these companies. So, there’s something really that seems to be pretty crucial about using local information and tailoring your information to a certain, to certain circumstances which shift, depending on where the final location of the information is, so if you could just move to the next slide again:

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Ok, so here you have again the same thing, but repurposed in some. I might suggest showing you again another video clip quickly, and this one is, again going back to some idea of hacking, you remember us talking about the soft drink, using the drinks, the drinks machines producing new things, the drinks machines designed just to disorder. The drinks machine is about shifting labor thoughts. For instead of someone else, a personal servant being paid to kind of give me the drink, I get to give, pay for myself. So I guess there’s this illusion of freedom, it’s like, ok I can do my one drink, in fact I’m kind of working for free, I’m working for myself to make my own drink. So it’s a way short-circuiting this thing by kind of mixing these drinks up. Now, the next I’m going to show you, still considering this idea of hacking and the kind you liked, the idea of being a coward user, so the user who is able to kind of manipulate these kind of systems of tuning actually, towards some glitch of being able to like rewire those systems to some other end. So they’re supposedly, there are a number of the fast food restaurants, there are a number of items, which are kind of secret items, which you wouldn’t be aware of being able to order normally, they’re not listed on any, then in fact if you know what to say, then this kind of whole idea of there being under counter food that you can order.

So there is just a quick thing I want to show you of this the legendary Mc Gang Bang exists clip. So these guys ordering this favourite food from Mc GangBang, which is a double cheeseburger with a chickenburger in the middle, so a double cheeseburger with a chickenburger inside. So if you go to Mc Donald’s and you ask for this maybe you get this food. You’re spending like 3 dollars for this huge burger.

So you can see here this kind of interesting interaction with a very restricted system and how the flexibility of that system, or its openness to a kind of customization or hacking allows for its kind of mutation, and thus it’s able to kind of grow and to sustain itself. Of course we relate this idea of mutation back to the way an organism works. An organism that isn’t able to develop will die out. There’s no other option for it, because circumstances change. Small changes in temperature, changes in weather will completely destroy a certain type of organism. But the flexibility, you can talk about with the human race and our ability to improve ourselves with technology. Technology being like a shirt, or a watch or a pair of socks, some shoes. We are able to make our bodies able to work with all sorts of situations given our technologies, what we produce to adjust ourselves. We are all cyborgs, of course. We are all kind of better than, we are kind of like altered humans. As soon as we get on our shirt we are kind of altering our bodies, and preparing are bodies to work these circumstances that they not designed to work necessarily.

Next slide:

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Of course when you think of the flexibility of a sign or of a form, think about Coca Cola as almost completely the current sponsor of Christmas, which is kind of an interesting thing. So people who celebrate Christmas, are kind of involved in this advertisement, either a way or it remains a kind of enduring relationship to Coca Cola. Because this advertising campaign is partly responsible for the characters setup of Father Christmas having his kind of red and white situations. This kind of came from Coca Cola, or became heavily rooted to the Coca Cola advertising campaign.

Next slide:

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Just a side note about the fact, I mean it’s slightly a myth that there is a saying made by a one of the heads of PR of Coca Cola many years ago, “OK” and “Coca Cola” being two of the most recognized words across the world. You know, what is it that allows to this strength of this idea for it to become this easily assimilated endlessly reproduced idea?

There are certain forms, even subcultural forms that function with the same rapid and effective mutability as Coca Cola or some of these multi national corporations cannot only be mimicked and reproduced. This is not so interesting in itself but rather to think of a form, the point is really this idea of though that can take through; it has really become “home” away from home. This is a really important point, it is just not about mimicking or replication, but it’s more about customization, hacking, repurposing.

So, continuing this idea of design, flexibility, signs that move between different spaces and different artifacts, here we have an image of a Mondrian’s pattern.

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Here we have a bag and we have a strong brand, it is kind of a strong set of signs moving, leaping from platform to platform.

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And we move one more time. We have a Nike shoe, which again seems to take on the board; it is kind of a camouflage, it moves between those different spaces. This Mondrian kind of aesthetic, finding its place in lots of different spaces. This flexibility again, a kind of blankness or an injuring kind of simplicity which can move between different spaces and still retain its quality, it still remains… that’s very much the kind of Mondrian is there in the shoe and Mondrian is there in the bag. But of course it becomes also very different at the same time, so this is a kind of double life taking place here.

Here is an image of lots of people wearing American Apparel clothing.

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I am interested again in taking this idea of open objects and how this kind of open object allows itself to be so manipulated in interesting ways. Here we have the situation where the clothing can even accommodate a dog.  It can go beyond humans and somehow the clothing itself can accommodate the particularity of a canine user. It goes to people of different sexes, different styles, children and even a dog can wear American Apparel, and it still makes sense.

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With the brand Muji we have this kind of sense again of another kind of blankness, openness that is on offer there. Looking at a comparison between American Apparel and Muji, I would say that there is an important point we can draw out. Both of the brands offer some kind of blank minimal canvas. They offer something but the methodology; the way that this blankness is used is very different according to me. For American Apparel, the way I understand it, it is that the blankness is a kind of a way of enabling the individuality of the user to shine trough. The t-shirt or jeans or whatever else is blank so it goes not in the way of your individuality so your crazy haircut or whatever it is.

The blankness of the brand is like a background for your very individual nature. Contrary to this it seems that with Muji, the same kind of products makes it in the opposite direction. So what you see here is part of a blankness that is a naturalized blankness. This actually becomes styles of individuality. So rather than the blankness being a kind of background, it is the full ground with Muji. With Muji it is about a presentation of blankness somehow.

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Now we have a pair of Converse. With the Converse again you have this product that in a way is so blank, so open and able to be customized. It was a kind of take on the flexibility. Again, one thing I would like to point out is I would like to ask the question, of what is classic? Something that has just occurred to me right now is thinking about Converse, thinking about Coca-Cola, I am thinking about this idea of a kind of classic. What is it that produces this sense of something being a classic in terms of design, an archetype? What is this? This Converse here on the image is a platform for customization again, a kind of hacking from an individual user.

We see further manipulations and mutations remembering again, still the important point being, the Converse shoe can be pushed in numerous directions but it is still very much a Converse shoe.

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I have been thinking about this idea of blankness that is inhabited by the idea of cool. The idea of being cool which is something that was initially brought in to being in the fifties. With the time a sort of affluence of younger people and there is money, they drive around in cars hearing music and smoke cigarette, drink soft drinks and strong drinks together. I am interested in what is actually inhabited by that idea of cool. What is it what we are thinking about when we describe something as being cool?

And you see here some kind of enduring facets, sunglasses. What is it about sunglasses that gives this sense of cool? You have this idea of coolness embodied by those shades.

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Lots of people are wearing this kind of Ray Ban. I think about the idea of classics. What is it about this kind of wearing the shades that we have the impression of cool. I would argue that there is something about an emotional distance, again this idea of blankness. If you can’t see my eyes but I can see your eyes, there is a kind of power obviously, a kind of strange power relationship which is actually very nice. So when you think about these archetypes of being cool you think of things shiny, again going back to the building and architecture, you think about something with shiny surfaces, opacity, black, the leather jacket which is a mixture of the two things as well as the opacity and reflectivity. You have this idea again of a kind of object which moves, that is a kind of shadowy. This ability to flex and define itself in any space and it function somehow, because of its blankness.

Next slide: we have the Terminator who embodied this kind of post-human emotionless kind of human, like the cyborg, a robot, who has no emotional response to anything like this.

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Next slide: we have a clip of an Audi advert with this “Vorsprung durch Technik,” advance through technology and again this idea of a technologized person and how that kind enables to manipulate their world in different way.

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This is a learning, an educational device called Speak and Spell which is produced by a company called Texas Instruments. And at the time it was very ground breaking. It was way before, now kids use laptops and iPhones and stuff. You have the one machine do, one goal. This began with the interest that it has the possibility to do with lots of different things. You have maths and you can have speak and spell. So it has all these different things so it has a bit this dual function. We take this for granted now with all these telephones and computers that can fulfill lots of functions, what is actually quiet a new idea. A washing machine does one thing, the iron does one thing, the toaster does one thing. This idea now that we expect all the devices to do three, four, five, a hundred different things is actually a really important point.

The idea of a watch, for example, what does it do? Does it just tell the time? It seems kind of odd now.

Anyway the Speak and Spell has an interesting history.

It has this ability to be circuit bent, there is this mode of activity.

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So now we see the device opened. The Speak and Spell is really good for hacking. There is a practice called circuit bending, which is basically opening up these sonic devices that make sound, changing the wiring and enable it to do different functions like strange sounds. A lot of the methodology of a circuit bending community is trial and error. Try to do this and that and see what kind of crazy sounds it can make. Also adding extra kind of switches to make different things possible.

Thinking again about this idea of hacking, about this idea of a device or idea thinking again about the nightclub, the gallery space, about the reflexive buildings, this kind of container which is able to move flexibly and assimilate different choices so again thinking about the empowered user, but also how a flexible device or idea can move from space to space and retain itself.

Clip of http://youtu.be/OGYbvE2GH7I

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Here you have the mp3 called iPod nano. One thing that you will recognize from the present and the way of how technologies are marketed. I don’t know if you remember the Swatch watch. The Swatch watch was a really interesting device in a similar way. Because it is kind of a very specific design, which can take anything. There has to be around ten Mondrian Swatch watches that have been made over the time. You have this platform where you can assimilate these things, influences from all over but it is still a Swatch watch, but it can become anything. We are used to this idea of a product being sold or a product being given its identity, actually the idea of actualizing our identity through choices. If you like purple, you can have the purple iPod nano, because it can suit your personality. You can somehow customize your use of, your choices are given a sort of primacy. Of course there are eight choices. Is there any difference? Obviously there is this kind of subtext. It is interesting to think about that movement towards the users, towards the choices, their individuality being enacted by these products. Again there is a whole other story about the problematic of actualizing one’s identity through purchases. What I’m trying to point out here is how it is possible to learn from this to repurpose these motions in the kind of communication that is being used.

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We have the peace sign and again thinking about the flexibility of these signs and how they can be manipulated to different ends. Of course when you turn around the peace sign you have a very different sign. It is very important the way that these specific forms are being repurposed and hacked to tell a very different story and will produce a minimal shift.

A very small misunderstanding can be complete chaos and in this sign, both symbols can destroy the combination; it’s like a short circuit, a dissonance which is irresolvable.

That’s the conclusion of my presentation so far.