8.11.2011

Why one marshmallow is sometimes enough

I am not able to keep up with Jonas' speed and quantity of writing, but I will try and at least write something meaningful in my own, more compact style...
The work continues. I have finished writing my half-hour, three thousand word performance text, and am now busy memorising it (or since we are in the USA, that should be memorizing). This is a very tedious process, although thankfully one that I am quite experienced with now.
Following my experiments last week with the bicycle wheel, I am now building an more advanced camera dolly. So far the results are great - a small test can be seen below.

video

The piece I am working on focusses on some themes related to the reason for our residency here: growth, decay, progress and success (and to what extent these are subjective concepts), and the idea of “enough” - that is to say, the state of being in which you cease to desire more.
As an example of the sort of accepted wisdom which I am attempting to be critical of can be seen in the following quote:
“In one US experiment, researchers put five-year-olds in a room with a marshmallow. The children were told that if it [sic] could wait 15 minutes without touching it, they would be offered a second marshmallow. Despite the inducement, the vast majority of the children ate it before the time limit was up.“ - www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-14412025
The point which intrigues me is: why are they assuming that two marshmallows are better than one? Why is more always better? Can they not see that these children - apart from being impatient (although who would really want to spend 15 minutes in a room staring at a marshmallow?) - were perhaps quite satisfied with only one? How strange it is that adults cannot see this.
This may seem like quite an odd thing to be mentioning in relation to this residency in Detroit - but in fact it completely gets to the heart of what has been preoccupying me the whole time here. The life which people are able to carve out here despite the odds, against the grain of what seems rational with respect to accepted values, is clear evidence of the cracks in the system which chooses to condemn Detroit.
“Detroit has to be deprived of its reality so that everyone else can feel better about theirs.” - Herron, J. - AfterCulture: Detroit and the Humiliation of History
Or in other words, it is necessary for the city to be written off as a failure so that inhabitants of more traditional, “successful” cities can go on believing that the old system is working. Recent events are beginning to show that this self-deception cannot continue for long.
No-one can deny that, by all normal measures, Detroit is a total failure as a city. There is no getting away from the fact that life is hard for a great many people here, with many practical difficulties. On a functional level, many things which are normally taken for granted as a part of city life simply do not work.
But people stay here - and new people come here - for a reason. Politicians like to use evocative words like “hope” and “opportunity” to explain the mentality of Detroit, but I would say that the reasons are more concrete and down-to-earth than that: the unique atmosphere of Detroit is proof that another life is possible which does not involve a big-name chain store on every corner, ever-increasing house prices, gentrification, superficial image makeovers (although there have been plenty attempts), or a new car (or back home, bakfiets) in front of every house. There are so many initiatives which I have seen here, and in each case I been painfully aware of the countless reasons why it could not happen back home - lack of space, regulation, real-estate prices, the wagging finger of the law. Who is really the success and who is the failure? That is the nagging question which will be, I think, the lasting reminder of my time in this city.

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