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robertogreco : anti-anxietydevices   6

Edmund de Waal and the Strange Alchemy of Porcelain - The New York Times
"The sculptor and writer wants us to rediscover our sense of touch by working with our hands."



"Within a few minutes of my meeting Edmund de Waal, he was putting things in my hands. He handed me, for instance, a 1,000-year-old Chinese porcelain plate — the kind of object you would expect to see in a climate-controlled glass case in a museum, protected, at great expense, from clumsy, meaty, oily, inexpert hands like mine. De Waal just passed it to me as if it were nothing. To understand an object, he believes, you have to touch it.

In my fingers, the plate felt both fragile and indestructible. It was older than printed books, older than every traceable generation of my family. I could have snapped it in half or thrown it on the floor. Instead, I just stood there, probing its edges with my finger pads, weighing it in my palms, tracing the precise volume of space that it was displacing in the world. If all went well, this delicate thing would outlive us all by many more generations. My fingers felt this as they felt the plate. I was touching not only space but time.

De Waal kept handing me objects: perfect things, ruined things, priceless things, worthless things. We were standing in the room where he writes, in his studio in London, and he was pulling these specimens off a shelf near his desk. He is 51 and very tall, with short slate-gray hair and round glasses that rest on large, protrusive ears: ears that are somehow childish, ears to be grown into. He has unusually big hands, too; all the objects looked relaxed and at home in them, like young birds in the grasp of an animal handler. He passed me an imperial stem cup, many hundreds of years old, the rim of which seemed to be wilting. ‘‘It’s collapsed in on itself,’’ he said, ‘‘but look at the fineness of it.’’

He handed me a rough lump of Cherokee clay: a clod of petrified dirt, a meatball from outer space. He handed me shard after shard after shard of ancient porcelain dishes. He seemed delighted by all the ruination. ‘‘Part of the DNA of porcelain is getting messed up,’’ he said. One of the shards was a big, chunky encrustation that looked like a particularly ugly seashell. It was, de Waal said, an odd overlapping of worlds: porcelain that had been cooked too hot, so that its delicate white layers had fused, permanently, with their rough outer molds; perfection and failure welded together into something more interesting than either on its own.

De Waal is himself multiple things fused together, an odd overlapping of worlds. He is, first of all, one of the most celebrated living potters. His stark white porcelain vessels, painstakingly arranged in groups on shelves, can be found in private collections throughout Europe and North America, as well as in the permanent collections of such august institutions as the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. He is also one of the most adventurous nonfiction writers at work today. His 2010 book, ‘‘The Hare With Amber Eyes,’’ was a surprise best seller and is now being turned into a film. It is a memoir told through objects: a collection of 264 small Japanese carvings called netsuke, whimsical and intricate depictions, in ivory or wood, of hungry wolves or ripe fruit or sleeping servants or couples making love. Netsuke are roughly the size of a walnut shell. They are designed to be handled: carried in pockets, compulsively tumbled around in your fingers.

In the book, de Waal traces the history of these intricate little sculptures, which he inherited from his great-uncle Iggie, from 18th-century Japan to 19th-century Paris to Holocaust-era Vienna, where they were hidden in a mattress by the family’s maid to protect them from the Nazis. Through meticulous research, he tried to resurrect all of the many hands that have tumbled them over the centuries. The tiny netsuke become great repositories of human experience; they contain generations of Jewish aspiration, delusion, exile and loss."



"In 2009, the museum invited de Waal to contribute a major piece to its collection. He grew up visiting the museum, so he knew its porcelain collection well. He knew its loneliness, its isolation. He came up with an ingenious solution. De Waal designed a huge red aluminum ring, 120 feet in diameter, to nest inside the museum’s dome. The red ring is actually an elegant circular shelf: inside of it, all the way around, are pieces of porcelain by de Waal, large and extremely white, inspired by the museum’s collection. There are 425 of them, flashing against the red like teeth in a violent mouth. When visitors enter the museum, on their way to the better-known galleries closer to the street, their eyes are almost inevitably drawn up to this colorful ring hanging, very distantly, over the grand lobby. It’s like the hint of a scandal up in the attic, a sudden reason to make that long trip.

‘‘The White Road,’’ de Waal’s new book, performs an analogous trick. It rescues porcelain from the cultural attic — makes the subject feel vital, modern, interactive. In the book, de Waal refers to ‘‘Moby-Dick’’ several times (the whiteness of the whale, etc.), and he writes about porcelain as Melville writes about cetaceans: as one of the central elements of the universe. Porcelain is not just porcelain, it’s the essence of displacement. Touch a piece of it, and you travel through time, place, states of being, from ancient Chinese peasants harvesting clay to German alchemists suffocating in castle basements to emperors bankrupting their kingdoms in order to feed their collections. ‘‘Porzellankrankheit,’’ Germans called it — ‘‘porcelain sickness.’’ It is a delicate subject with a feverish history.

De Waal has his own special case of porcelain sickness, of course, and in ‘‘The White Road,’’ he follows it around the world. He visits primordial white hills in China, France, Germany and England. For 500 years, de Waal writes, the West had no idea how porcelain was made: People speculated that it was the crushed-up umbilical cords of fish that had been buried underground for decades. In fact, it is only clay. But it is clay of a very special kind: an extremely smooth combination of two minerals, petunse and kaolin, mined separately and mixed together in exactly the right proportions. When fired at extremely high temperatures, porcelain clay fuses into a kind of glass, hard and white but still slightly translucent. It is this paradoxical combination of qualities — hardness, softness, solidity, translucence — that has made people throughout history go so bananas.

‘‘The White Road’’ is a book of excess. It goes too far. It gets lost. It repeats itself. De Waal takes us all over the world, all over history: Jesuit priests, Spinoza, Constantinople, manhunts, self-immolation, Hitler, Cherokees, Quakers, modern Chinese street vendors selling ‘‘sixteenth-century porcelains from last week.’’ His prose style is like his pot style: He gets drunk on simplicity, on repetition. ‘‘The car turns off the new highway on to the old road and off the old road on to the old track rising between two farmers’ houses.’’ It could have been an easier book, more linear and contained. But then ‘‘Moby-Dick’’ could have been easier, too. One of de Waal’s core beliefs is that messes are interesting. There’s so much to feel inside of them."



"De Waal is an evangelist of touch. As he wrote in ‘‘The Hare With Amber Eyes’’: ‘‘Touch tells you what you need to know: it tells you about yourself.’’ As he writes in ‘‘The White Road’’: ‘‘Thinking is through the hands as well as the head.’’ Hands are the great universal human fact. Our opposable thumbs are the tools that helped launch us out of the forests and into the world we know now. Some of the earliest art is simply handprints on cave walls — a high-five across 30,000 years. Even in our postmodern, postindustrial, increasingly virtual digital world, we depend on our fingertips to decode for us, instantly, the crucial outlines of our environment: whether an object is hot or cold, whether it’s something to drink or peel or squeeze, something your teeth will be able to penetrate, a volume button or a power switch. We are still affectionate animals who greet each other with hands: handshakes, fist bumps, high-fives, hugs.

De Waal’s hands are rapturously attentive to the weight, grain, proportions and personalities of objects. For years, he says, he could remember every single pot he ever touched. In the same way that Bobby Fischer could run into someone at a tournament and say, about a game they had played 15 years earlier, ‘‘You should have moved your bishop to e7,’’ de Waal can recall exactly the way a particular vase swelled or tapered toward its rim, or if the heft of a teakettle was particularly well-balanced. Recently, he says, his memory has filled up, and old pots have started to drop out of it.

De Waal worries that modern humans are beginning to lose our fluency in touch. He thinks that we live in a world impoverished by a lack of attention to tactility. Our culture has a deeply embedded shame of the body, shame of skin, shame of ‘‘mere’’ sensation — a desire to transcend the animal coarseness of nerves, hair, blood flow. To live in clean, noble abstractions: things that we think will last. All of our digital technology, all of these portable virtual worlds, only make it easier to live in touchlessness. If you put on virtual-reality goggles, there will be plenty to look at and pretend to touch, but nothing to actually feel. But touch, de Waal insists, is fundamental to the human experience. If we can’t fully inhabit and value the world of touchable objects, de Waal told me, then we can’t fully value other human beings.

Despite our culture’s squeamishness, there is no escape from touch, and there is no escape from time, and these two facts are intimately related. All of the hands that exist … [more]
edmunddewaal  samanderson  senses  porcelain  touch  touchlessness  messes  messiness  netsuke  objects  worrybeads  fidgettools  anti-anxietydevices 
november 2015 by robertogreco
Rev Dan Catt: The Pen
"I've been asked about my pen (for reals) a couple of times, so I thought I'd write a blog post about it. It's a Tombow Zoom 707 Ballpoint Pen (amazon UK/US), it cost £28 and I bought it for myself as a Christmas present.

I keep two Field Notes notebooks in my pocket, at night I take them out and put them on the bedside table. My life is dense, not hectic, not crazy busy, just every moment is filled. We have three kids, we home educate, the start-up I'm involved in is blowing up, I try to swim, I try to run, I'm learning the bass, I try and put together a podcast that takes an age, sometimes I even try to write a blog post or two. In all of that there's hardly any time to do other stuff, although that doesn't stop me thinking about other stuff. That other stuff goes down in one of the two notebooks.

When I think of something I often can't get to a laptop or my phone in time, I tried, the thoughts don't stay in my head long enough to survive the gauntlet of children asking me things on the way upstairs. If you've watched the film Memento it's like that scene where he's looking around for a pen to write the thing down before he forgets it. I decided I needed notebooks and a pen with me at all times.

I think it's the most I've ever spent on a pen.

Before this I used the Field Notes pen that came with the notebooks. It's a good pen, feels nice to hold, flows well but the clip doesn't clip it in my pocket properly. I can't slide it into my jeans without having to put a fingernail round the back of the clip to make sure it clips properly. When I sit down the pen didn't stay in the same place.

It was all kinds of wrong.

The Zoom 707 slides into the pocket right next to the seam, and better still it stays there, after all I didn't want to lose a £28 pen. For the next few days I'd reach down and feel for the red ball on the clip, to know it was still there.

Now it's a reflex action, I'll brush my hand past the side seam of my jeans and feel if the pen's clip is still there. When I feel it I know I can't forget anything, life is speeding on but in that one moment I know I haven't left anything behind. If I need to remember something it's in the notebook, if it's in the notebook I don't need to remember it. I can clear my mind and move onto the next thing.

When I stop to take a moment, I can touch the red ball feel it against my fingertips and the memory of the last thing I wrote comes back to me. It's a shortcut to having to open the notebook and read it back.

It's a memory machine, a meditation device and an anchor."
worrybeads  fidgettools  anxiety  anti-anxietydevices  2015  pens  revdancatt  notetaking  memory  notes  notebooks  outboardboardmemory  ideas  kombolói  cv 
february 2015 by robertogreco
Fidget Tools: Anti-Anxiety Technology and Magic — In Real Life
"I was playing Twitter with @rogre the other night, and we made a conceptual leap that led me to recognize one of my favorite forms of technology. I was asking around for opinions on the best Qur’an translation (I ended up going with this one), and @rogre suggested some apps I could use for text search and audio while I read. He then added this, which I found inscrutable for only half a second:

@ablaze No substitute for beads, though. http://t.co/DVE93ngqYx + http://t.co/c5SDdvEC87 Maybe in a jam, I suppose.

— Roberto Greco (@rogre) November 2, 2014
His post showed this beautiful contrast between the car key remote he’d used for 11 years and the other key, which had never been used. The amount of wear on the object in 11 years was amazing, and @rogre reported missing the comforting texture of the old one after it was replaced with the immaculate copy. It “served not only as the key to the car,” @rogre said, “but also as my fidget tool or Kombolói-like Anti-Anxiety Device.”

If his point was that reading scripture is no substitute for fidgeting with a sacred object, I agreed wholeheartedly. I love tumbling sacred verses in my mind as much as the next religious person, but I need my fidget tools.

[image]

I did not have to look up what “kombolói” meant, because I was already intimately familiar with the idea. Since I was a kid, I’ve kept rocks and crystals I use as my “fidget tools.” I certainly think of them as anti-anxiety devices, although their significance to me is really on the level of magic or spiritual power. My latest one is a tektite, a rock-like glass formed from terrestrial debris by the impact of a meteorite. It means a great deal to me — it’s even implicated in the completion of In Real Life — and I roll it in my hands constantly to absorb its good vibes and release my bad ones.

As I told @rogre, I think I learned the practice from my mother’s father, who had a set of Baoding balls that mystified me. He gave me his tefillin, another kind of fidgety sacred object that I get plenty of use out of, but I think he took the Baoding balls with him to Heaven.

Sure enough, kombolói are a long-standing technology for passing time and defraying anxiety. They look like prayer beads, but they need not have explicitly religious meanings. Such objects can definitely serve as powerful totems — and mine do, as I said — but I’m particularly interested right now in just that more basic, immediate way of using them as “anti-anxiety devices.”

@rogre opened a vast wormhole of links to read here (his ongoing catalog of sacred objects and theories thereof can be found on Pinboard), but I think the treasure at the bottom is this post from Julian at Near Future Laboratory. He designed a high-tech, light-emitting kombolói with lots of craft and care.

There’s a category of technology here that I care deeply about. I’m still seeking a name for it that will suffice for me. “Totem” only covers the magic part, “worry bead” only the anxiety part. Neither name conveys the critical role of the tactile sensations by which this technology works. I could just go with “kombolói” precisely because of its enchanting lack of precise meaning for me. For the purposes of coming up with a tag for this blog, though, I’ll call them fidget tools like @rogre did.

I hope it’s clear that fidget tools are a technology, and that their technology-ness does not reside in components or engineering. Whether they’re painstakingly wired and programmed or fused in the blast of a meteorite impact, all fidget tools operate in the exact same way: by fitting reassuringly in a human hand."

[Referenced here: http://robertogreco.tumblr.com/post/101657563708/november-begins-with ]
worrybeads  jonmitchell  2014  comments  fidgeting  fidgettools  tefillin  baodingballs  kombolói  religion  anxiety  ritual  technology  tektite  anti-anxietydevices  rituals 
january 2015 by robertogreco
The noPhone: A fake phone to help you talk to people - CNET
"Your phone is like your teddy bear, isn't it?

You like to talk to it occasionally. The real pleasure, though, lies in just being able to clutch it. Somehow, it makes you feel more secure.

Unlike your teddy bear, however, your phone is an active distraction. It wants to notify you all the time. It flashes at you at the most inappropriate times.

Which is why there now exists the noPhone.

This looks like a piece of plastic that looks like a phone. In fact, it is exactly a piece of plastic that looks like a phone. On its Web site, its creators boast that the noPhone has no camera, isn't Bluetooth compatible, and doesn't make calls.

It is, however, "toilet resistant."

Its purpose is, you see, to act as your phone surrogate. It enables you, the makers say, "to always have a rectangle of smooth, cold plastic to clutch without forgoing any potential engagement with your direct environment."

This is a joke, right? Yes it is. One of its creators, Ingmar Larsen, told ABC News: "We wanted to make people aware of their addiction by creating a product that can be used for their addiction. It works as a placebo."

The best jokes, though, have their core in truth. How funny, then, that the noPhone might become a real product.

Co. Exist was told by its creators that they'd received an "overwhelming" number of begging messages, saying that people really, really need this non-device to combat their non-sanity.

I can imagine that, soon, there will be noPhones of many colors. You'll be able to match them to your outfit.

People will sit at bars, squeezing them tightly, while actually looking another human in the eyes.

How difficult it will be, though, for the other human -- if they are noPhone-less -- to return the gaze, as they desperately look away to see if they have an urgent Twitter notification."

[See also: http://www.citylab.com/design/2014/09/maybe-you-should-get-a-nophone-instead/379881/ ]
nophone  antiobjects  objects  placebos  2014  via:ablerism  mobile  phones  technology  worrybeads  securityobjects  kombolói  securityblankets  fidgettools  anti-anxietydevices 
august 2014 by robertogreco
Worry Beads | Tricycle
"We are not called upon as Buddhists to deny the world, and certainly not to escape from it. We are called to live with it, and to make our peace with all that is. In Buddhist terms, that peace is called Tathagata. The Thus Come One is enlightened as he is, not as he would wish himself to be. There is no escaping this. The world of worries we wish to escape from in the beginning of Buddhist practice is found to be enlightenment itself in the end. We don't understand this, of course, and so we keep striving for a distant, idealized kind of Buddhahood, only to reach its threshold and be turned back the way we came. In this way, we receive the teaching of the Buddha with every mala we say."
buddhism  religion  beads  worrybeads  rosaries  2014  clarkstrand  kombolói  acceptance  mala  glvo  tomake  fidgettools  anti-anxietydevices 
april 2014 by robertogreco
Near Future Laboratory » Kombolói: An Anti-Anxiety Device
"This is a quick, quick sketch for an idea I had for a intimate personable device that is best described as a digital worry bead or Kombolói — not so much a worry bead as something to capture and diffuse your anxiety."

[See also: https://web.archive.org/web/20120113034550/http://nearfuturelaboratory.com/projects/worry-wand/ ]
julianbleecker  touch  kombolói  electronics  continuouspartialattention  anxiety  interaction  emotive  anti-anxietydevices  worrybeads  fidgettools 
february 2008 by robertogreco

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