About Harold Rhenisch

www.haroldrhenisch.com

The Human Book

Like all men and women, I am the creation of the intersection of a child with an environment. My environment was an industrial farm in the grassland mountains of the west. At the age of two, I played with a rattlesnake one afternoon. That kind of thing. It shapes one, you know. Most humans today are not the creation of such an environment, but of the intersection of human life with a city. They have, in other words, been raised within books. Here’s an example of a man in Prague living in a book.

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For a man like that, nature is a force from outside of his world which becomes, within his world, decorative. For me, the city is standing within nature, and rather cluttering it up until such time as someone can figure out how to reunite it with nature. There’s no changing any of this. Here’s a man in Manchester, confronting art in an urban representation of the human body or, actually, the human book.

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Man meets man in North Manchester. Well, OK, Man meets woman, yes. Now that the age of the book is over, all of this territory is as new as Trinidad was when Columbus sailed into town in 1492. We are no longer in a human book but in the world after the book. Here’s an image of existentially uprooted birds in Prague, living on past the end of time. I think it’s a pretty clear image of the human situation as well.

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This work of building a new nature and a new city begins with walking, and with eyes. Currently, the eyes are mutating, such as this eye, which I found in a city wall below Prague Castle:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Eye, Nose, Mouth and What-Have-You All in One

Such crossover technology is inspiring. It speaks of an inventive artfulness not trapped within the idea of a book or in antiquated communication technologies like this, in North Manchester:

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This is something we have to do on a human scale. The age of irony is past.

The Lesson of the 17th Century

The 1600s gave us two powerful technologies. The first was a refinement of book technology, which replaced the human body with a manufactured and portable form. We’re all, I think, rather familiar with that. The other was this:
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Ceiling, Strahov Monastery Library, Prague

In terms of book culture, this ceiling is decorative and symbolic. In terms of its time, however, it represents the highest achievement of the same power that led to book production but which became manifest within a completely different language. It too is the book of the world and the book of God’s Creation, and reveals, as did the new technologies of science, the hidden world and its forces, expressed through a language of poetry, not as a textual artifact but as a means of being in the world and reading it. What we are left with are textual interpretations of such readings, but not exclusively. This knowledge can still be regained.

To Understand the World, Understand Prague

A people that lives in the natural world channels the natural world through the patterns of the will and in the image of human consciousness and perception (and divine will). A people that lives in a world of artifice reshapes the natural world with machines and in the image of machines.

pigeons

A people that defines artfulness as the grace by which one integrates the natural world into the industrial processes as a living contributor is a spiritual people living in the earth as a sacred body. A people that defines artfulness and the patterns by which the natural world, including humans, bends to the will of machinery as creativity is not a human people. Such a people are like the no-longer-employed fire-warning pigeons of Prague, seen gone feral above, still living in cities once built to the glory of God. They are free, but existentially bound to emptiness.

Christ and the Seagulls

Even in the Disneyfied tourist district of Prague, the honesty of the Czech’s deep experience with history shines through.
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Christ, Crowned by Seagull Shit, Charles Bridge, Prague

Some other peoples might have cleaned their Christ up, or have put something other than a statue of two men pissing into their own pool as one of their main, contemporary civic statues.

 

 

 

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Scrounging Dinner at the Kafka Museum, Prague

Some other people might have left the coins cast by travelling children lying there, or have removed them under the cover of the dark. People like that would not be at the crossroads of spirit and history.

The Green Man Goes Red

My old friend the Green Man is the primary human ancestor in the forests of central Europe. We are family.

 

The Green Man, Schönefeld, Saxony

I found his cousin in Prague, not the Green Man but the Red Man:

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The Red Man of Prague

 

Note that his leaves cup his face rather than rise from it, and how he is so much more a fruit or a blossom than the ancestral human, the tree. Fascinating! (Before photography, this was photography, Before evolution, this was evolution.)

The Resistance in Prague

In communist Prague, resistance meant to plant an apricot tree, like the yellow one in the foreground below. The resistance was a denial of borders, prisons and proletarian culture.
apricot

Here’s how to resist capitalist Prague:

twocansThe resistance is a denial of property ownership within public space. What these two visions of resistance share is a denial of Prague, written within the city. Kafka, who was from Prague, tried to tell us all of this trap long ago. Here’s another form of resistance in Prague:

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Resistance? Why yes, one is not supposed to feed the swans. Just across the river, there is a tiny nature reserve, of no value to bird life, with a sign forbidding the feeding of these creatures. And the resistance? Look again above those swans…

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 Bread for the Swans

The city is an artwork. It has appearances. The people who live within it exert their humanity by resisting those boundaries, and it is those boundaries, in turn, and the resistance to them, that lead to the image of the city, such as this image of the nature preserve:

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An iconic image, for sure, and a perfect illustration of the principles of classical art, but the swans are actually begging for bread. And so, in a city proud of its regained independence from soviet control, the revolution continues, just under the surface. It is the revolution that is created by the city, and within its walls. As for art…

 

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It’s a lure, as obsolete as these baroque statues…

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Superseded by the practicalities of building waterworks and good stone paths for tourists, nonetheless they remain, even as they originally were: icons pointing to a past that never existed and yet which generates one often-overlooked thing that takes two identical forms: resistance and bondage. As Kafka knew, you cannot escape Prague. Literature was his way of standing solidly in this paradox. Now that literature is the past and cities are even more ubiquitous, what is resistance? This?

wallIs resistance the tagging? Is it the ivy, left to eat at the wall? Is it the eye that sees, stops, and is present in this moment of paradox? Is it here?

canal

Does art, in other words, still have its old power, but within the city rather than in its galleries? If so, what aesthetic training is necessary to help this resistance flourish?

 

Street Art Masterpieces

This has been a week for talk about food security. As I leave for some of the travels that come upon me from time to time and find their way back into the Okanagan Okanogan, I would like to leave you with a thought: artistic security is as valuable as food security. In a society based on exchanging labour for monetary capital, artistic work gains monetary value and can be traded, shipped, packaged and displayed in special vaults and stock market trading floors called art galleries. Despite the suggestion that art is a specialized project, to be produced by specialists and appreciated by the educated, I offer you the street art of Vernon.

P1550286 Note the intricate line work in the lower middle span of the image, an the exquisite sphere around the iron sewer grate. First class. The concept has many variations. Here’s one where the concrete has been jackhammered away to reveal the glacial river gravel it is made from.P1550287

Note the exquisitely placed cigarette butt. Another great motif is the leaf drift. Motion and stillness, organic line and industrial line meet and merge.P1550306

The energy can get quite intense.

P1550308 And quite spare.P1550311

Note how two triangles and a rectangle just barely manage to balance one dark snowplow gouge starting to grow some good weeds. This is not just art made by the earth. Humans can take part in this art as well, as hundreds of their footsteps have done below.

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A society can exist without an art gallery, but it cannot exist without the eyes to find art in every moment. Note that the art I have showed you here exists outside the capitalization of artistic labour and, in fact, outside of labour itself. This might make it nearly invisible to contemporary culture. It is no less valuable for that.

Food Culture in Crisis in Kelowna

Yesterday and the day before I spoke about a farming crisis in Vernon. I’d like to extend that into its context, as part of a food crisis in the Okanagan. First, to be fair, I’ll set the picture, as you’re probably not from this place. Although it might seem I’m talking about local issues, they’re pretty universal. Sometimes working up from the ground is the way to go. So, I live in a city called Vernon. Just down the road is a farmer who sells tomatoes to people who would like to save some money picking their own, as a patched-together substitute for the legitimate tomato-growing industry we used to have, but which we don’t have anymore for ideological reasons. You can read my post about him from a year ago, here, to see my thoughts about this a year ago: We Do Not Have A Food Problem. For those of you who didn’t click through, here’s a photo from that post, to hold the thought.

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Aging Farmer Tearing Up the Unsold Tomatoes at the End of the Year

Nest step: plowing them under.

So, I guess you get the picture. Forty minutes down the road is a city that I know as the administrative centre for Canadian fruit growing culture but which most people know as a series of condos on the lake, for the purposes of speculation, time-sharing and skiing holidays that condos serve. Notice I didn’t say “housing”, because too often condos aren’t really for housing. They often offer only the potential of housing sometime in the future, once speculation has run its course. This is a common problem in cities across Canada, and it’s no different here. Two weeks for a skiing holiday in the winter, and you can write the rest of it off against income, while waiting for prices to rise so you can sell it to the next investor. The city is Kelowna. You can see some some of its condo towers on an insert in the Kelowna newspaper last week.
excel

Notice the excellent 1980s style graphic design. This from the city that claims to be the cultural heart of the Okanagan Valley, and claims, as the title of the pamphlet shows, excellence. Sadly, the burnt hills to the far left, the smog hovering over the ridge, the bridge cutting the lake in two, the low photographic values and the amateurish graphics take away from the lustre of that excellence. But, hey, Canada found Kelowna tucked in its far west back in the 1980s, with its clean air, its farms, and its clean water, and has remade it in its own image. I didn’t know what excellence I would find inside the brochure, but what I found, the very first page, the first thing I saw when I opened the brochure, was this:

food2

There’s a lot of amazing effort and dedication going into this project, but I have to ask: where is the excellence, really, in a town that is a playground for the top 1% of Canada, when all of this social effort has to go to sustain the people displaced by that playground and that wealth, people without adequate food, housing or work picking (or, say, canning) tomatoes, like we used to do here proudly, not to mention producing apples and applesauce and apple juice for the world? What is wealth when it doesn’t belong to the people or the community? Well, a little of it is here, with the dedicated, hard-working and gifted director of the food bank, with no name brand tomato sauce, chicken broth, boxed macaroni and cheese and Heinz Alphaghetti from factories far away. This is not food. It’s money. Someone else’s money. Someone else’s work. Someone else’s assembly-line culture. food1

 

I in no way mean to take away from the essential work the food bank does in Kelowna. What I want to bring to mind is that the structure of Canadian society, which the Kelowna newspaper appears to call excellent, has created food banks. A society that can build condominiums by the hundreds and little (if any) housing for working people, condominiums which are often not lived in, is a society that can replace a food culture with an industrial supply-chain culture, in which food, if available at all, must be purchased with capital, not labour, or with an appeal to charity and good works. In a food culture, the boxes above would hold tomatoes, onions, chickens, beans, flour and eggs, not just the industrialized promise of them, however it is softened by dedicated creative energy. Here’s a sobering thought: when the fruit and vegetable industries thrived in this valley they were not based on a capitalist model. Neither were they based on a free enterprise model. Sixty years ago, the Okanagan, and Kelowna, were excellent. We didn’t have a food movement. We didn’t have the smoke screens of ideology.  We had work.

Land Crisis in Vernon

Yesterday I showed you an image of an apple crisis. Here it is again, from a different angle.

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People are so hungry to connect with a farmer over a supermarket that they will pay an industrial farmer as much for his cull apples as they would pay for his good ones at a produce store, and half what they’d pay in a supermarket itself. The only thing is, he’s an industrial farmer, and not, perhaps, the thing they wish to support. For instance, that fence? It prevents deer from migrating up and down the hills, as they need to do, and forces them to wander through neighbourhoods, where they get labelled “problem deer” and get shot. As for the land itself, look:

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Yes, mud. A tractor made that, hauling those apples out. This is what has been created out of this grassland soil after a hundred years: hard-packed, water repelling mud. 10,000 years of soil creation has been negated in 100 years. I don’t think that’s what people wish to pay for either. I think that an adjustment will come: either farmers will get the idea, or people will. That it all has to happen within an industrial metaphor makes it harder. Those are, however, only human issues. For the land, the issue is clear: stop this or the land will die.

Apple Crisis in Vernon

Apples for sale by the bag.P1550110 Looks nice, huh! Look more closely. Here are some Ambrosias.

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See all that marking? These apples are worth zero. In a modern world of cosmetic fruit, these can’t be sold, so they’re being sold off the back of a 5-ton truck for $8 per10 pound bag — as if this were a family farm and not an agribusiness.

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That’s more than the farmer would get if they were cosmetically perfect. This situation won’t last. I saw this before in the 1970s. Troubled times are back.