On valdas ozarinskas and stalker architecture

I am going to Vilnius next week and this reminds me of my last visit… in which I told myself that it’s critical to get my unpublished 2019 essay on Valdas Ozarkinskas, the most brilliant architect I ever met out there.
Well, here it is: Stalker Architecture: Design and (Private) Ideology.

Imagery is the stumbling block for this essay, as I don’t have access to an archive, so I have mainly borrowed images from other sites. I’m doing this under the principle of academic fair use since all I want to do is get Valdas’s work exposure outside Lithuania, if you own any of them and want me to take them down, by all means, get in touch!

The Witching Cats of New Jersey

The history of the European settlement of North America goes hand in hand with the history of occult practices—particularly witchcraft—on the continent. A large and unfamiliar land with an indigenous population that had recently died out under mysterious circumstances (now of course known to be largely due to disease brought by contact with Europeans) and in which esoteric movements were tolerated was fertile territory for individuals and groups with practices of worship at the edges of Christianity and even beyond. While at the archives at the Germantown College Archives in New Germantown, New Jersey, I recently had an opportunity to visit the noted Witchcraft Collection. Visually, the record is dominated by a peculiar obsession with cats reputedly engaged in witchcraft in the “Mosquito State.”

Silas “Grim” Cole, Cat owned by Hattie Simpson of Cape May, 1782, courtesy the Witchcraft Collection of the Germantown College Archives, New Germantown, New Jersey

A wealth of paintings and photographs document the obsession with these animals and their connection to the occult in the state and I am delighted to share them with you on this Hallowe’en since so many of you have reacted positively to the ones I have posted on my Instagram account.

Cats are the most popular pets in the world, and certainly on the Internet, but the history of domestic felines is inevitably linked to the idea of the witch’s familiar. Cats are mysterious creatures (I suppose) that are active at night (not mine) and often, especially when in heat, make otherworldly sounds (Roxy is guilty as charged). Given their further association with femininity, they wound up historically linked with witchcraft.

The Witch and her Familiar, American Primitivist Painting, Artist Unknown, Morristown, New Jersey c. 1824. 
DALL·E 2022-07-30 22.15.22 - A thomas cole painting of __ “a black cat with white belly and white paws” dressed like an evil witch
DALL·E 2022-07-30 22.15.33
DALL·E 2022-07-30 22.24.33 - A thomas cole photorealistic oil painting of __ “a black cat with white belly and white paws” dressed like an evil witch, 1810
DALL·E 2022-08-01 11.07.19 - A thomas cole painting of __ “a black cat with white belly and white paws” dressed like an evil witch, 1810 (2)
DALL·E 2022-08-01 11.08.18 - A thomas cole folk horror painting of __ “a black cat with white belly and white paws” dressed like an evil witch, 1810
DALL·E 2022-08-01 11.08.18 - A thomas cole folk horror painting of __ “a black cat with white belly and white paws” dressed like an evil witch, 1810 (1)
DALL·E 2022-08-01 11.08.19 - A thomas cole folk horror painting of __ “a black cat with white belly and white paws” dressed like an evil witch, 1810
DALL·E 2022-08-02 20.38.44 - primitivist painting of a “a black cat with white belly and seven white paws” 1610 Blair witch carcosa wicca thomas cole (3)
Exit full screenEnter Full screen
previous arrow
next arrow

New Jersey, unlike Massachusetts, was not settled by a single, religious community, thus diverse faiths were tolerated here. Moreover, the colony was not originally British but originally was composed of New Sweden (by the Delaware river) and New Netherlands (by the Hudson), becoming a colony only in 1664. A land for free-thinkers, the colony embraced Huguenots fleeing from France, as well as Baptists and Presbyterians from Ireland and Scotland, as well as other faiths while Quakers crossed the Delaware from Pennsylvania and brought their beliefs here as well. The Presbyterian leader of the First Great Awakening, Gilbert Tennant (1703-1764) came “to blow up the divine fire lately kindled there.” Thus began the colony’s early affliction with the supernatural, something made vividly clear in a young Benjamin Franklin’s accounts of the Mount Holly Witch Trials in 1730. If witches were a source of pre-revolutionary terror, by the late eighteenth century, archivist Alistair Cailleach-Crone told me, the burgeoning New Jersey merchant class in New Jersey began to commission portraits of their cats as witch’s familiars or “witching cats.” There is little documentation left of this fashion, save for this text by one Pieter Heks, 1783:

There are, and ever have been, cats and other felines, who converse Familiarly with the Spirit Realm and while some say they thus receive Power to both hurt and deceive, others claim them as happy mediums who, by their very being, keep a home free from plague, louse, and the lyke. Others, particularly, the wives of merchants in our land, keep these animals dear and hold them the pride of their house even, as the fashion holds, having portraits made of them.

Odd as it may seem, the best artists of New Jersey’s first decades as a state were involved in this work, as well as artists from the neighboring states of Pennsylvania and New York. After scolding sermons and threats from Presbyterian ministers, the fashion of Witching Cats fell out of favor among the wealthy, who soon went back to commissioning portraits of themselves, their children, their families, and noted racehorses. More than one artist was relieved. Famed painter Benjamin West, whose paintings of the subject have been lost, wrote unaffectionately in his notebook: “Damned cats and their owners. To the devil with them! These Jersey brutes love their animals but to have them sit for you would try any man’s patience. And half do seem to be possessed by the devil. I will never lose the scars from these accursed creatures, all claw and fang.”

DALL·E 2022-08-02 20.38.44 - primitivist painting of a “a black cat with white belly and seven white paws” 1610 Blair witch carcosa wicca thomas cole
DALL·E 2022-08-02 20.38.36 - primitivist painting of a “a black cat with white belly and seven white paws” 1610 Blair witch carcosa wicca thomas cole (4)
DALL·E 2022-08-02 20.38.44 - primitivist painting of a “a black cat with white belly and seven white paws” 1610 Blair witch carcosa wicca thomas cole (3)
DALL·E 2022-08-12 18.51.00 - american primitivist painting of a witching cat, 1780
DALL·E 2022-08-01 11.15.20 - American primitivist folk horror painting of __ “a drunken black cat with white belly and white paws at a table in an old pub” dressed like an evil wi (1)
DALL·E 2022-08-12 17.59.48 - american primitivist painting of drunken cat 1840
DALL·E 2022-10-31 12.42.25 - American primitivist folk horror painting of a drunken black cat with white belly and white paws dressed like an evil witch wicca thomas cole
DALL·E 2022-10-31 13.20.51 - american primitivist painting of black cat white belly white paws witching cat of jersey witch magick foul
DALL·E 2022-08-13 13.22.45 - american primitivist painting of a drunken witching cat of new jersey 1830 (3)
DALL·E 2022-08-13 13.22.45 - american primitivist painting of a drunken witching cat of new jersey 1830 (2)
Exit full screenEnter Full screen
previous arrow
next arrow

By the 1820s, however, the Witching Cats found a resurgence in the vogue for alternately amusing and frightening paintings made by self-schooled Primitivist (or Naïve) painters in rural areas, notably the Pine Barrens. Whereas the previous paintings had largely been portrait-like in nature, memorializing specific favored pets, new paintings were often sold by itinerant painters as well as peddlers who purchased them elsewhere to sell from the back of their carts and wagons. This work—of varying quality, sometimes remarkably comical—comprises the bulk of the collection at Germantown College. More than one observer has noted that the cats in the paintings of both periods are dominated by tuxedo (or piebald) cats, which were a common “breed” in New Jersey at the time. As Benjamin Franklin (who owned an angora) wrote in 1745, “In the dark, all cats are gray, but in the light, only the cats of New Jersey are piebald.”

DALL·E 2022-08-11 18.51.04 - american primitivist painting by joseph whiting witching cat black cat with white paws, 1840, Carcosa, in taxidermy surrounded by unclean ritual obje
DALL·E 2022-08-11 18.51.03 - american primitivist painting by joseph whiting witching cat black cat with white paws, 1840, Carcosa, in taxidermy surrounded by unclean ritual obje (1)
DALL·E 2022-08-12 15.00.46 - thomas cole painting of a witching cat black cat with white paws, 1840, Carcosa, in taxidermy surrounded by unclean ritual objects in a witch's room (3)
DALL·E 2022-08-12 15.00.46 - thomas cole painting of a witching cat black cat with white paws, 1840, Carcosa, in taxidermy surrounded by unclean ritual objects in a witch's room
DALL·E 2022-08-12 12.03.24 - Sepia print of a witching cat black cat with white paws eating scary meat, 1840, Carcosa, in taxidermy surrounded by unclean ritual objects “hand of (3)
DALL·E 2022-08-12 12.03.26 - Matthew Brady Sepia print of a witching cat black cat with white paws eating scary meat, 1840, Carcosa, in taxidermy surrounded by unclean ritual obj (1)
DALL·E 2022-08-12 12.03.28 - Matthew Brady Sepia print of a witching cat black cat with white paws, 1840, Carcosa, surrounded by unclean ritual objects “hand of glory” “stick figu
DALL·E 2022-08-12 15.00.46 - thomas cole painting of a witching cat black cat with white paws, 1840, Carcosa, in taxidermy surrounded by unclean ritual objects in a witch's room
DALL·E 2022-08-13 13.15.13 - thomas cole painting of a witching cat black cat with white paws, 1840, Carcosa, in taxidermy surrounded by unclean ritual objects in a witch's room (2)
DALL·E 2022-08-13 13.15.13 - thomas cole painting of a witching cat black cat with white paws, 1840, Carcosa, in taxidermy surrounded by unclean ritual objects in a witch's room (6)
Exit full screenEnter Full screen
previous arrow
next arrow

The fashion again lasted about a decade, and toward the end of the period, a young painter from Speertown, in northern New Jersey named Theodore “Red” Baudrons (1810-1910) began a curious series of paintings in which cats were depicted in environments with strange objects that hinted more directly at witchcraft. This series, called “Cats in the Garrett” soon became controversial and he wound up leaving for New London, Ohio where he lived and worked on a farm owned by the Townsend family and depicted the wealthy farmers of the area instead.

If primitive, compositionally Baudrons’s art evidences an interest in the phenomenon of “the Cabinet of Curiosities.” Precisely where Baudrons learned about the artifacts and symbolism used in witchcraft is unclear, although there have been suggestions it may have been from his sister Hattie Cunnan or perhaps his mother Diana both of whom were spoken of as “cunning women” who could cure many aliments. Baudron, about whom little more is known, also left a few drawings behind at the Townsend farm, which are mixed with the paintings in the gallery above.

DALL·E 2022-08-03 19.03.36 - american primitivist silver albumen print of black cat white belly white paws witching cat of jersey witch unclean carcosa foul (2)
DALL·E 2022-08-11 17.38.46 - Sepia print of a witching cat black cat with white paws, 1840, Carcosa, in taxidermy surrounded by unclean ritual objects “hand of glory” “stick figu (1)
DALL·E 2022-08-03 19.03.36 - american primitivist silver albumen print of black cat white belly white paws witching cat of jersey witch unclean carcosa foul
DALL·E 2022-08-08 18.24.33 - american primitivist silver albumen print of black cat white belly white paws witching cat of jersey witch “ritually unclean” carcosa foul (2)
DALL·E 2022-08-11 17.34.57 - Silver albumen print of a witch’s familiar black cat with white paws, 1840, Blair witch carcosa
DALL·E 2022-08-11 17.34.58 - Silver albumen print of a witch’s familiar black cat with white paws, 1840, Blair witch carcosa
DALL·E 2022-08-11 17.35.01 - Silver albumen print of a witching cat black cat with white paws, 1840, Carcosa
DALL·E 2022-08-11 17.35.09 - Silver albumen print of a witching cat black cat with white paws, 1840, Carcosa, witch trial dock taxidermy
DALL·E 2022-08-03 19.03.31 - american primitivist silver albumen print of black cat white belly white paws witching cat of jersey witch unclean carcosa foul (3)
DALL·E 2022-08-11 17.35.12 - Silver albumen print of a witching cat black cat with white paws, 1840, Carcosa, in taxidermy surrounded by unclean ritual objects in a witche's room (1)
DALL·E 2022-08-11 17.35.39 - Silver albumen print of a witching cat black cat with white paws, 1840, Carcosa, in taxidermy surrounded by unclean ritual objects in a witch's room (3)
DALL·E 2022-08-11 17.37.19 - Silver albumen print of a witching cat black cat with white paws, 1840, Carcosa, in taxidermy surrounded by unclean ritual objects in a witch's room (1)
DALL·E 2022-08-11 17.37.30 - Silver albumen print of a New Jersey witching cat black cat with white paws, 1840, Carcosa, in taxidermy surrounded by unclean ritual objects in a wit
DALL·E 2022-08-11 17.38.46 - Sepia print of a witching cat black cat with white paws, 1840, Carcosa, in taxidermy surrounded by unclean ritual objects “hand of glory” “stick figu (3)
DALL·E 2022-08-12 12.03.24 - Sepia print of a witching cat black cat with white paws eating scary meat, 1840, Carcosa, in taxidermy surrounded by unclean ritual objects “hand of (3)
DALL·E 2022-08-13 14.08.27 - a silver albumen 1865 photograph of “a maine coon cat” , 1810 Blair witch carcosa unclean ritual objects stick figures (2)
Exit full screenEnter Full screen
previous arrow
next arrow

Again, the fashion for Witching Cats died only to re-emerge in the years immediately after the Civil War, this time in photography. One Thomas “Namir” Bastet (he claimed Persian ancestry) set up a photographic studio in West Bloomfield, where—along with the usual photos of widows and their errant children—he took an extensive series of photographs of cats that are clearly within the Jersey Witching Cat tradition although in fairness, some appear to be just ordinary housecats. Bastet, it seems, was both a student and friend of photographer William H. Mumler, noted for his notorious 1869 photograph of well-known cat-lover Mary Todd Lincoln and the ghost of her husband Abraham Lincoln—there are suggestions that Bastet actually pioneered the practice—but also was a friend of Swedenborgian Spiritualist painter George Inness who once told Bastet of his photographs, “Namir, you really have something there.” Inness wrote that Bastet—alone among photographers—understood the vital forces in his subject matter and the first image in the slider above is of his cat, Roxelana.

Bastet’s photos often seem influenced by the compositional strategy of Baudrons’s paintings: a cat perched on a shallow ledge populated by strange artifacts, but Cailleach-Crone suggested to me that this may have to do with deeper folkways and practices now lost to time. Compounding the supernatural nature of these images quality, the photographs of the day had long exposures, requiring a stillness an awake cat could hardly be expected to meet, resulting in a blurred image that gives many of them an especially otherworldly quality.

Together, these three eras of art reveal to us the nature of the most haunted state in the Union and the peculiar genetic misfits (by this, of course I mean the piebald cats, not the citizens) that have inhabited it to the present day. Long before the Internet, our fascination with cats—as well as with folk horror—was already common. Please visit the Germantown archives, or perhaps visit the Dall-E 2 site to learn more about these images and how they were made.

A New Career in a New Town

I moved Varnelis.net to Kinsta yesterday, widely seen as the best WordPress host around. I also updated the site theme to GeneratePress which I first used at the Native Plant Society of New Jersey where I am the head of advocacy and, to help out, brought the Web site to WordPress. The site struggled after I had serious security issues earlier in the year. Not only was that a crummy experience for you, the backend that I write posts with glitched constantly and it was frustrating for me to enter new content. The new site is a delight for me and, I hope, is interesting for you as well. The theme is ultimately based on Indexhibit, which was admirably minimalist in a way a Lithuanian artist could love but never worked for me as a content management system.

I have lost count of how many times I have said that I will be posting more on this site, so I won’t make promises I can’t keep, but at least the site won’t be an excuse anymore. So what about blogs? Aren’t they dead? Archinect’s blog, aggregat:456, archidose, ballardian, javierist, m.ammoth.us, markasaurus, sit down man you’re a bloody tragedy, strange harvest, subtopia all gone, lgnlgn a record of an aborted restart ten years back. Even bldgblog barely posts more than I do now. But I refuse to go. Loos titled his first collection of essays “Spoken into the Void.” Being untimely may be the strongest position of all.

Now, there’s not that much to say about architecture anymore, but that’s ok. Times change. Architecture is at its lowest point in my lifetime. There is no excitement. When is the last new building that interested you, I ask my friends? Nobody knows. Maybe the Casa da Música, one said. That’s like saying the Ford Foundation building was the last great building in 1981. Not one great building on this list of top ten buildings in the 2010s, not even one good building. The scandal isn’t that there is a scandal, the scandal is that nobody cares and nobody talks about it. Conceptual architecture is dead in the water. Architecture fiction was the last burst of a shooting star deep in the atmosphere before it disappeared. In fairness, I don’t know if either AUDC or the Netlab will do anything again, although I continue my own work in earnest (more on that work another day).

But there is plenty to talk about; we can talk about late network culture and the sorry state it has brought us to, the failure of networked publics. we can talk about art, and we can talk about the environment and the importance of native plants in the landscape. We can even talk about architecture since art forms that seem to be things of the past have an uncanny way of coming back to life. I have a lot to say about these things and, with the end of (native) planting season upon me this week, I may be doing just that. But I won’t be doing that on social media. Sure, you may see these posts on Facebook or Twitter, but I’m not really there much anymore. After logging off Facebook for a year, I found I didn’t want to use it anymore. Facebook doesn’t create a feeling of belonging, it creates anxiety and depression. No wonder young people don’t want to use it anymore. Facebook’s troubles are deepening and it’s ridiculous foray into virtual reality will, we all hope cause its utter demise. Twitter stayed relevant for longer, but I am noticing many fewer posts from my friends there these days. Growth at both of these platforms has ceased, even reversed. So Elon Musk is buying Twitter. That’s the equivalent of buying a new gasoline car today, a dying platform terrible for the environment. Twitter is dying. If Elon brings back the seditious, short-fingered vulgarian now suffering through mid-stage dementia, it will just bring end Twitter to an end and wipe out his ludicrous $44 billion investment. Young people increasingly hate these platforms, regardless of what money-chasing analysts want you to believe. Yes, there are podcasts. I love them, but I worry about the effect of constant voices in my head, perhaps because I read Julian Jaynes many decades ago. There are Medium and Substack, but the endless demand for money is tiresome. You may read this on Substack. Great. But you don’t have to. Read it here instead.

The social media era is over. Long live the blog. My posts may be few and far between, they may be late, they may be bad, you may not read them but they are still something I own. I can say what I want, unbeholden to anyone else and I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.

On the Destruction of Doggerland

Image of the Doggerbank
source: wikipedia

In 1422, the long decline of the Kingdom of Doggerland came to an end with the drowning of the vast island once found in the North Sea between England, Denmark, Norway, and the Low Countries. Roughly 40,000 km2 (15,500 sq mi) in size, for over a thousand years, Doggerland remained a European Kingdom even as rising sea levels led to large areas being abandoned and depopulated in the later Middle Ages.

With the island destroyed by the tsunami (“the Great Drowning”) caused when an earthquake dislodged vast portions of the undersea continental shelf off Norway, the extinguishing of an entire European kingdom was a critical event, perhaps the critical event, in the history of Early Modern Europe, demonstrating the frailty of mere mortals and the insufficiency of human faith against the wrath of nature.

The island was first referred to in the 4th century BC by the Greek geographer Pythaes of Massalia as “the Kingdom of the Fishes,” and would be dubbed “Ictis” by Diodorus Siculus during the 1st century BC:

The inhabitants of that part of Britain which is called Belerion are very fond of strangers and from their intercourse with foreign merchants are civilized in their manner of life. They prepare the tin, working very carefully the earth in which it is produced. The ground is rocky but it contains earthy veins, the produce of which is ground down, smelted and purified. They beat the metal into masses shaped like knuckle-bones and carry it off to a certain island off Britain called Iktis. During the ebb of the tide the intervening space is left dry and they carry over to the island the tin in abundance in their wagons … Here then the merchants buy the tin from the natives and carry it over to Gaul, and after travelling overland for about thirty days, they finally bring their loads on horses to the mouth of the Rhone.

Pliny referred to Doggerland as “Mictis,” describing it as “lying inwards six days’ sail from Britain, where tin is found, and to which the Britons cross in boats of wickerwork covered with stitched hides.” A century later, Doggerland became the northernmost land conquered by Caesar during the Gallic Wars of 54 and 55AD and remained under Roman rule until the Attacotti tribes threw out the Romans in the Dogger Risings of the 364-365 and, in 367, crossed the Dogger Channel to Britain to participate in the widespread risings called the Great Conspiracy.

7th century gold Dogger mask, discovered on the seabed, 1984.
British Museum.
Seal of the United Kingdoms of Denmark and FIskeland, c. 1025.

In the early 10th century, the semi-legendary Harthacnut I became the first King of both Denmark and Fiskeland (Doggerland). Cnut the Great (c. 990-1035) united Denmark and Fiskeland with England and Norway in the brief but effective North Sea Empire. Even so, the Medieval Climatic Anomaly, which began in 950 and lasted until 1250, wreaked havoc with Fiskeland as water levels rose and some of the more low-lying farmland and the fish farms (vivaria) that the Fiske peoples had pioneered were inundated.

King Cnut on his throne as the waters rise, Unknown artist from Doggerland, c 1365

No matter how mighty he was in politics and war, Cnut himself understood the futility of the rising of the waters (the Stigendevand) and, as Henry of Huntingdon later recounted in his Historia Anglorum:

When he was at the height of his ascendancy, he ordered his chair to be placed on the sea-shore as the tide was coming in. Then he said to the rising tide, “You are subject to me, as the land on which I am sitting is mine, and no one has resisted my overlordship with impunity. I command you, therefore, not to rise on to my land, nor to presume to wet the clothing or limbs of your master.” But the sea came up as usual, and disrespectfully drenched the king’s feet and shins. So jumping back, the king cried, “Let all the world know that the power of kings is empty and worthless, and there is no king worthy of the name save Him by whose will heaven, earth and the sea obey eternal laws.”

Fishing Monks, a painting on a wood panel from Fiskeland, mid 14th century.

Inhabitants slowly began to drift away, to Britain, Denmark and Norway, but also Iceland, Greenland, and other points west. By the thirteenth century, the country was dominated by a court whose strength was primarily nautical—the powerful Dogger ships that controlled the North Sea—and by the monastic orders that alternately served, and competed with, the court. Although Doggerland (the new common name of the country after 1360) had been largely spared the Plague, by the time of Cnut VI, also known as Saint Cnut the Drowned (1394-1422), the stigendevand had become acute and a sizable portion of the remaining population inhabited floating vessels at all times.

Still, Doggerland’s Court was widely known for its accomplishments in art, music, and literature. Clockworks and complicated mechanisms were a noted specialty. With the end of Doggerland long prophesied, time-keeping had been an obsession in Doggerland—a common Doggerish saying is “Hours are a greater treasure than gold”—and spring driven clocks were developed in the first years of the fourteenth century. The precursor to the piano—the clavichord—was invented in Doggerland in the early 14th century and primitive forms of printing with carved plates had begun to be employed.

Idesbald of Drounen, Cnut VI’s Lament, 1424

On 21 April 1422, Ugo, Abbot of Drounen wrote,

Late in the morning, when the markets were full, a shudder came upon the land and the sea retreated. The waves rolled back over the horizon and the Dogger ships were left on dry land, revealing monstrous creatures that normally dwelt under the water. The good monks of the Abbey prayed for salvation from this horror, but to no avail as the sea came rushing back and we were forced to climb into the row boats I had commanded the monks to build in the case of the Flood, which God had now thrust upon us again. Thousands were swept past us and those we could haul aboard were saved, but most were drowned under the waves. To our dismay, we saw the King sitting on the rocks but the waves rose and covered him.

Exodus from Doggerland, Painting by the “Master of Doggerland,” c. 1425
Drowning of Doggerland, Unknown Painter, 1520

The exodus from Doggerland led to an influx of refugees to the continent precisely at a point in which post-plague Europe itself lay in wait for a stimulus that would trigger the Renaissance. Although chiefly seen today as a Flemish painter, Jan van Eyck was Doggerish and brought the previously closely-held secrets of oil painting to the rest of Europe while Rogier van der Weyden apprenticed there in his youth. Exiled scholars helped found the Universitas Lovaniensis (Old University of Leuven) while other experts in Latin, astronomy, alchemy, and the culinary sciences became teachers throughout Europe. For example, Henry of Drouen, a tutor for Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici. Francesco Colonna was the son of Dogger refugees in Venice—a natural destination for many—and in his famed Hypnerotomachia Poliphili conjures a dreamscape that scholars see as a description of his parents’ lost homeland.

Jan van Eyck, the Royal Court of Doggerland in Exile, 1433

The first extant spring-wound clock wound up in the court of Burgundy after the Drowning. As is well known by now, Johannes Gutenberg worked with survivors from Doggerland to develop the printing press, a fact that the famed printer Aldus Manutius would memorialize in his logo for the Aldine press.

A picture of a dolphin wrapped around an anchor, which was Manutius's imprint.

Laments for Doggerland were common in the Low Countries for centuries after. The Drowning of Doggerland or “de Doyer Overstroming” was a cautionary tale memorialized and returned to again and again by poets, painters, and musicians. A pastoral land of sheep and fish that escaped the ravages of Plague and war but was lost forever due to the vengeance of the sea could hardly be far from the imagination of the creative mind. In the late 17th century, in particular, there was a revival of interest in the Dogger pastoral as Flemish artists rejected the excesses of the Spanish Baroque and their wealthy mercantilist clients sought to surrounded themselves with visible reminders of their—often imagined—past as descendants of the Court of Doggerland.

Jan van Goyen, the Cathedral city of Aleyen, Doggerland, c. 1640
Jan Vermeer van Haarlem the Elder, Doggerland Landscape, c. 1689
Pieter Bout, Dogger Fisherman returning from the Sea, c. 1705

Such laments would dissipate over the course of the eighteenth century as a modernizing Europe increasingly abandoned the lost pastoral land for a eudaemonic narrative of growth and newfound wealth. With the colonization of North America by Europeans, a new and much larger land was—they thought—given to them by God to replace the lost land under the sea. In particular, early settlers to Newfoundland initially called it “New Dagger Land” or “Nieuwe Doyer Land” and Governor William de Doyer had pronounced “It a free land, to be inhabited by all brothers of the land beneath the sea, be they English, French, or Dutch,” a dream wiped out after his death in a storm at sea in 1686 and the subsequent events of King William’s War (1688-1697) even though the ideal was referred to, somewhat cynically, during the British development of the Canadian colonies after the seizure of New France less than a century later.

Light blue indicates areas of Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Denmark that will flood with 1.7C of global warming, salmon color indicates flooding with 4.0C of temperature rise.
Credit:Climate Central

For us, the drowning of Doggerland has a different meaning. Rather than a lost past to lament, it is a cautionary tale of the Anthropocene near future. The impact of climate change on the environment forces us to consider that rising seas will likely drown substantial areas of the world, including the coasts of Denmark, eastern Britain, Belgium, and much of the Netherlands (and of course, much, much more of the world). Unlike the inhabitants of Doggerland, we have a choice, but will we take it?

On the Lost Canals of Vilnius


DALL·E 2022-07-21 17.39.32 - Detailed 1780 oil Painting of Vilnius street on Venetian canals with boats and bridge, Gediminas Hill in the background” by Bernardo Bellotto dutc
DALL·E 2022-07-19 15.02.59 - “Detailed oil Painting of Šventos Onos brick gothic church in 17th century Vilnius with Venetian canals” by Caneletto ultrarealistic 8k detailed prec
DALL·E 2022-07-19 15.05.31 - “Detailed oil Painting of 18th century Vilnius with Venetian canals” by Caneletto ultrarealistic 8k detailed precise museum quality
DALL·E 2022-07-19 15.04.58 - “Detailed oil Painting of 18th century Vilnius city center with Venetian canals” by Caneletto ultrarealistic 8k detailed precise museum quality
DALL·E 2022-07-19 15.02.05 - Detailed oil Painting of capriccio of street with brick gothic buildings lining both sides of a Venetian canal in 17th century Vilnius ” byCanaletto
DALL·E 2022-07-19 14.49.07 - Detailed oil Painting of the canals of 18th century Vilnius by caneletto
DALL·E 2022-07-19 15.08.20 - “Detailed oil Painting of 18th century baroque Vilnius church on Venetian canals with boatns” by Caneletto ultrarealistic 8k detailed precise museum q
DALL·E 2022-07-19 15.02.34 - Detailed oil Painting of capriccio of street with brick gothic buildings lining both sides of a Venetian canal in 17th century Vilnius ” byCanaletto
DALL·E 2022-07-19 14.48.55 - Detailed oil Painting of the canals of 18th century Vilnius by caneletto
DALL·E 2022-07-21 17.40.14 - Didžioji gatve Detailed 1740 oil Painting of 14th century brick gothic Vilnius street on Venetian canals with boats, Gediminas Hill in the backgroun
DALL·E-2022-07-28-16.14.59-Thomas-Cole-painting-of-17th-century-vilnius-street-with-brick-gothic-buildings-lining-both-sides-of-a-canal-in-1780-Vilnius-2
DALL·E 2022-07-19 14.49.02 - Detailed oil Painting of the canals of 18th century Vilnius by caneletto
DALL·E 2022-07-19 15.04.12 - “Detailed oil Painting of 18th century Vilnius cathedral with Venetian canals” by Caneletto ultrarealistic 8k detailed precise museum quality
DALL·E 2022-07-19 15.04.02 - Capriccio “Detailed oil Painting of 17th century Vilnius cathedral with Venetian canals” by Caneletto ultrarealistic 8k detailed precise museum qualit
DALL·E 2022-07-19 13.12.18 - Detailed oil Painting of the canals of 18th century Vilnius by caneletto
previous arrow
next arrow

Vilniaus Dinge Kanalai ​​​​​​​​
​​​​​​​​
Jau mes senai užmiršome kad XVI-XVIII amžiam, Vilnius buvo vadintas „Šiaures Venecija“ ne tik dėl to kad miestu architektūra būvu panaši bet gi ir Vilnius buvo kanalų miestas lyg kaip Venecija. Po Didžiojo Vilniaus gaisro 1610 metais, Kristupas Radvila Jaunasis liepė rekonstruoti miestą su Venecijos-tipo kanalais kad vėl tokio įvykio nebūtu. Vanduo buvo paimtas iš Vilneles upes. Šitas etapas baigėsi kai Rusai užėmė Vilnių ir bijant choleros, reikalavo gatves atgal atstatyti. Praėjusia savaite buvo malonu užtikti senus paveikslus senai užmirštame muziejaus fonde. ​​​​​​​​Žinoma, tas viskas užtruko daug laiko ir užmirštose kampose kanalai dar egzistavo iki pat pirmojo pasaulinio karo.

The Lost Canals of Vilnius

We have already forgotten that in the XVI-XVIII centuries, Vilnius was called “Venice of the North” not only because the architecture was similar but also because Vilnius was a city of canals, just like Venice. After the Great Fire of 1610, Prince Krzysztof Radziwiłł ordered the city be rebuilt with canals like Venice so that such an event would never happen again. Water was taken from the Vilnele river. This phase of the city’s history ended when Russia took over the city and, fearing cholera, demanded that the streets be put back. Of course, this took quite some time and the infill was not complete until the eve of World War I. The previous week in Vilnius, it was nice to run across old paintings from long-ago forgotten museum storage spaces.


DALL·E 2022-07-21 17.40.01 - Didžioji gatve Detailed 1780 oil Painting of 14th century brick gothic Vilnius street on Venetian canals with boats, Gediminas Hill in the backgroun
DALL·E 2022-07-21 17.40.22 - Didžioji gatve Detailed 1740 oil Painting of 14th century brick gothic Vilnius street on Venetian canals with boats, Gediminas Hill in the backgroun
DALL·E-2022-07-24-19.32.38-Detailed-oil-Painting-by-Canaletto-of-capriccio-of-17th-century-vilnius-street-with-old-buildings-lining-both-sides-of-an-iced-over-canal-in-17th-cent
DALL·E-2022-07-24-19.32.49-hyperDetailed-oil-Painting-by-Canaletto-golden-hour-lacquered-of-capriccio-of-17th-century-vilnius-street-with-old-buildings-lining-both-sides-of-an-i
DALL·E-2022-07-24-19.35.59-A-painting-of-a-street-of-old-brick-gothic-buildings-in-Vilnius-of-1720-with-a-working-Venetian-style-canal-running-down-the-middle.-2
DALL·E-2022-07-24-19.36.04-A-painting-by-Thomas-Cole-of-a-street-of-old-brick-gothic-buildings-in-Vilnius-of-1720-with-a-working-Venetian-style-canal-running-down-the-middle.-1
DALL·E-2022-07-28-16.14.55-Thomas-Cole-painting-of-17th-century-vilnius-street-with-brick-gothic-buildings-lining-both-sides-of-a-canal-in-1780-Vilnius-
DALL·E-2022-07-28-16.14.59-Thomas-Cole-painting-of-17th-century-vilnius-street-with-brick-gothic-buildings-lining-both-sides-of-a-canal-in-1780-Vilnius-
DALL·E-2022-07-28-16.14.59-Thomas-Cole-painting-of-17th-century-vilnius-street-with-brick-gothic-buildings-lining-both-sides-of-a-canal-in-1780-Vilnius-1
DALL·E-2022-07-28-16.14.59-Thomas-Cole-painting-of-17th-century-vilnius-street-with-brick-gothic-buildings-lining-both-sides-of-a-canal-in-1780-Vilnius-2
DALL·E-2022-07-28-16.17.19-Thomas-Cole-painting-of-17th-century-vilnius-street-with-brick-gothic-buildings-lining-both-sides-of-a-canal-in-1780-Vilnius-1
previous arrow
next arrow

Or so the story goes.

I’ve spent a bit of time this spring exploring Artificial Intelligence-driven image generators like Nightcafe Studio, Midjourney, and most recently Dall-E 2. These engines allow anyone to produce remarkably complicated and realistic (or surrealistic) images easily. These are the early days of image generators and the developments have been rapid. Clearly, the handwriting is on the wall for a variety of practices. Why use stock photography if any image you can want can be yours, royalty free, for a few dollars? Will we ever trust an image again? What will happen to pornography when physical bodies aren’t necessary anymore? Will video game environments be produced by Artificial Intelligences, based on prompts from developers, or will they be dynamically created on the fly? Figurative painting, in particular, seems all too easy to simulate and simulate well, but then I haven’t really understood the purpose of figurative painting for some time now. The sort of fan art and sci-fi fantasy scenes commonly found on DeviantArt and in Hot Topic stores are easily made by Dall-E 2 and its ilk. But quite obviously art, in its highest form—for example, conceptual art—can’t be made by such applications. Or can it?

If we see art as a constant research process exploring the boundaries of the human condition (and I am likely to argue such a thing in the second part of my post on Art and the Universal), we might begin with the observation that although image generators can’t purposefully do anything new conceptually, we can use them in conceptual ways. Returning from a week in Vilnius, I saw a friend tweet an image of London by Canaletto. This got me thinking about Canaletto’s famed capricci, fantastic images of Venice in which many of Andrea Palladio’s works from Vicenza (a town considerably inland from Venice) mysteriously appeared in Venice. Canaletto spent ten years in London, but his student and nephew, Bernardo Bellotto, who was also a painter and—confusingly enough—was also known as Canaletto, was even more itinerant, spending time painting in Dresden, Vienna, Turin, and Warsaw where he was appointed court painter to Stanislaw August Poniatowski, the last King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania. After the massive destruction visited upon Warsaw by the Luftwaffe, Bellotto’s 26 panoramic vedute of the old city were used to help reconstruct the city center as a matter of “national honour.” The socialist government of the Polish People’s Republic argued that by turning back to the eighteenth century, they were reconstructing a pre-capitalist state, hence the reconstruction was not a bourgeois project and could proceed under the regime. By the 1960s, the city historian would claim that “the old town now looks as it used to long ago.” But, like his uncle, the second Canaletto enjoyed taking significant artistic license with his paintings and, compounding this, the authorities made decisions to depart from any previous epoch in Warsaw’s history. The resulting Warsaw center has itself become a built capriccio, a city that never was. In enshrining it in its World Heritage list in 1980, UNESCO called it an “outstanding example of a near-total reconstruction of a span of history covering the 13th to the 20th century.” (see more on Warsaw’s reconstruction here).

Over the thirty years that I have been visiting Vilnius, I have observed the city doing the same thing, albeit in a more piecemeal fashion. One day there is a ruin, a few years later a baroque building appears to have risen on the spot, although behind the façade is a hotel or an Internet startup. Most notable of these is the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania which had been demolished in 1801 but was rebuilt out of reinforced concrete from 2002 to 2018. In fact, Vilnius—like virtually all cities—is hardly static, but rather exists in a constant state of flux. Even now, there are threats to incorporate the city’s main icon—the Gediminas Tower—into a reconstruction of the long gone upper castle. The architect involved claims that since the original tower was only there stories tall, the current structure—rebuilt in 1933—is so inauthentic as to demand the long-gone structure be rebuilt.

Having often heard Vilnius compared to an Italian city and thinking of the nature of the Canalettian capriccio, I decided to produce the lost canals of Vilnius (perhaps also referring to the filled-in canals of Venice, California, or the missing canals of the planet Mars) in Dall-E 2. Hundreds of image generations later, I have a small selection of images for you of a city that only exists in the imagination, but that, given the propensity of cities to be remade to look like images, may yet one day come to pass.

Modernism in Montclair

I will be speaking about the modern architecture in Montclair, New Jersey and the surrounding areas tonight for the Montclair History Center, 2 June at 7pm. The talk will be recorded and shown on Youtube a few weeks from now at the Montclair History Center’s channel. I will be covering the period from 1900 to 1985, including “the Hollywood Hills of New Jersey” (Highland Avenue) and will briefly talk about the Deck House corporation.

https://us06web.zoom.us/j/92938168537?pwd=T0pGbVgxVUMwVjV0WDBMZlFkbUI0Zz09
Meeting ID: 929 3816 8537
Passcode: 818319

On the Wastelands of Northern New Jersey

My photographic essay, Wastelands: An Analysis of the Early Anthropocene Swamps of Glacial Lake Passaic is now up on this site. The photographs were exhibited at El Palacio de la Madraza in Granada, Spain as part of the show Vernacular. Diálogos entre micropolíticas del paisaje, curated by Carlos Gor Gómez. A brief abstract below:

In his 1961 book, Megalopolis: the Urbanized Northeastern Seaboard of the United States, geographer Jean Gottman adopted the Greek term “megalopolis” to refer to vast conurbations such as the northeastern seaboard of the United States, from Washington DC to Boston. This megalopolis, he observed, would not have a uniform population density but rather would be composed of multiple urban centers and the interstitial spaces between them.

Even as megalopolitan territories have developed across the globe and the price of land in their boundaries has skyrocketed, interstitial spaces within them persist in terms of what Ignasi de Sola-Morarles called terrain vague, leftover spaces that have been abandoned for some reason. Understanding the potential of such sites—not to develop them, as is the vogue for too many architects, but to leave them as is or to allow damaged ecological systems to be restored—is a critical task for urban researchers today.

In this photo essay, I look at a group of such areas in Essex County, New Jersey, the densest and most urbanized county of the densest and most urbanist state in the United States, specifically at huge swamps remaining from the draining of Glacial Lake Passaic that comprise roughly ¼ of the county’s acreage. My interest is in both the history and conflicts over these areas and the tenuous relationship individuals have with the borders of such areas, especially now that extreme weather events have become annual occurrences.

Lecture in Granada, Spain

I am excited to be speaking tonight at 19.30 in Granada, Spain about my project Wastelands: An Analysis of the Early Anthropocene Swamps of Glacial Lake Passaic as part of the exhibit: «Vernacular. Diálogos Entre Micropolíticas Del Paisaje» by architect Carlos Gor. The lecture takes place at the School of Architecture at the University of Granada, ETSAG and also features Tomás García Píriz and Carlos Gor.

 

 

Wastelands on Exhibit

 

I have put up a gallery of images from a photographic project that I did this spring and summer: Wastelands: An Analysis of the Early Anthropocene Swamps of Glacial Lake Passaic

 

Photographs from this project are on display in Carlos Gor’s exhibit “Vernacular. Diálogos Entre Micropolíticas Del Paisaje” at La Madraza, Centro de Cultura Contemporanea in Granada, Spain. There are many more images at the gallery above and I will eventually put up the full text of the essay as it going into the accompanying catalog.

 

In his 1961 book, Megalopolis: the Urbanized Northeastern Seaboard of the United States, geographer Jean Gottman adopted the Greek term “megalopolis” to refer to vast conurbations such as the northeastern seaboard of the United States, from Washington DC to Boston. This megalopolis, he observed, would not have a uniform population density but rather would be composed of multiple urban centers and the interstitial spaces between them.

Even as megalopolitan territories have developed across the globe and the price of land in their boundaries has skyrocketed, interstitial spaces within them persist in terms of what Ignasi de Sola-Morarles called terrain vague, leftover spaces that have been abandoned for some reason. Understanding the potential of such sites—not to develop them, as is the vogue for too many architects, but to leave them as is or to allow damaged ecological systems to be restored—is a critical task for urban researchers today.

In this photo essay, I look at a group of such areas in Essex County, New Jersey, the densest and most urbanized county of the densest and most urbanist state in the United States, specifically at huge swamps remaining from the draining of Glacial Lake Passaic that comprise roughly ¼ of the county’s acreage. My interest is in both the history and conflicts over these areas and the tenuous relationship individuals have with the borders of such areas, especially now that extreme weather events have become annual occurrences.

Against Facebook

Perhaps you are here because Facebook is down. Good. This site isn’t. Stay here, then visit some other web sites and don’t go back.

This is going to be an unpopular post. If this makes you upset or hurts your feelings, sorry, it’s said with love and concern for my dearest friends and family. If you aren’t on Facebook, good for you!  Pat yourself on the back and convince anyone you can to follow your example.

Facebook is a terrible company and awful thing for democracy. It pretends to offer belonging when all it really is out to do is to exploit it’s members. I am thoroughly disappointed by my friends who use it all the time and should know better (ahem, if you are an academic, this means YOU… ). By 2016, the average Facebook user spent a staggering fifty minutes a day on that site chock full ‘o nuts. Want to find out how crazy it is? Go visit r/hermancainaward on Reddit and ask yourself what site are the contributors posting excerpts from? No, it’s not Twitter. Facebook is toxic. Get off it.

I’ve spent about the same time on Facebook over the last few years as off and I periodically shut down my account. The only two reasons I’m still on Facebook are that (most of you) people are too lazy to visit this site without it being spoon fed to you via a post on Facebook. I can see this clearly in my logs and, frankly, it’s pathetic. Facebook is not ok. Have we not learned anything yet? Just yesterday, Frances Haughen the brave Facebook whistleblower on 60 Minutes revealed just how bad things were. An internal Facebook document baldly stated: “We have evidence from a variety of sources that hate speech, divisive political speech and misinformation on Facebook and the family of apps are affecting societies around the world.” The company, Haughen explains, is hiding this information from the public. Facebook is like Purdue Pharma, which heavily marketed its opiods even though they knew how addictive they are. Facebook is no different. Walk away from it. If you can’t visit people in real life, get an RSS reader, visit Reddit, go to Twitter. Stay away from Facebook, it’s evil.

Facebook was created by wealthy Harvard undergraduates whose goal was to find young women to sexually exploit, as the film the Social Network makes amply clear. If that wasn’t enough, Russian oligarchs with close ties to Vladimir Putin (as well as Jared Kushner) have invested heavily in Facebook (I have heard rumors that Putin himself heavily invested in it)and speaking of Kushner, Facebook was happy to work with Cambridge Analytica to get the most divisive and incompetent President in US history elected. The January 6 insurrection was organized, in large part, on Facebook. Facebook livestreamed a massacre in New Zealand. A recent study identified over 20 million cases of “child sexual abuse material” on Facebook. According to an undercover investigation by the BBC, women are sold on Facebook as slaves. Lynchings in Sri Lanka, Mexico, and Indonesia have all been traced directly back to Facebook. Perhaps worst of all, genocide in Myanmar was organized onFacebook.

People claim that Facebook brings people closer together. No, it does not. It replaces lived relationships with relationships mediated by clicks and likes. Facebook’s algorithms choose what you see. Facebook monitors your communications for keywords so that it can market to you. People over 40 may remember the days when we used to call each other for an hour on the phone or write letters to each other, even emails. What happened to that? There was genuine communication there. Think of all of the books of letters that have been published over the years. Nobody wants to see their shitty Facebook posts.

Over the last fifteen years, I’ve watched as social interaction has died out and formerly lively internet forums have died while Facebook has taken over their purposes. If you maintain a forum on Facebook, shut it down. It’s bad for everyone involved. Read a book or a magazine, listen to some music, visit the Internet if you must, don’t visit Facebook. When Facebook is back (I hope never), I will be reducing my presence there still further. Do your part. Don’t promote Facebook, fight it tooth and nail.