I saw a red thing under Aarhus


The red thing that I saw

Last spring I visited Denmark. One day in Aarhus, I spent hours in the ARoS art museum, and in its basement I found and photographed a very strange red thing. I have shown this photograph to several people to whom I have subjected my Denmark vacation snaps, and every time I find myself utterly unable to properly describe or even explain this red thing. Let me see if I can do a better job in writing.

Further background: On this day I found myself alone, Aarhus mine to explore, as I had elected not to join my travel-companions on a trip to nearby Legoland. Plodding, then, without particular direction up a hill through the city’s gray downtown, I startled to see the strange rainbow donut on the museum’s roof. The building has prominent “ARoS” signage all over, but that meant nothing to me and I couldn’t read the accompanying Danish. Feeling more than usual like a true foreigner, I could not determine the nature or purpose of the building until I worked up enough courage to walk into its lobby. At first I thought maybe it was an office building or an industrial plant and gave it a pass, then turned back, aching with curiosity. One of the most rewardingly videogame-like experiences of my life.

To my delight, I discovered the exhibits within ARoS to focus on installations, unique and location-dependent, always my single favorite sort of artwork to visit.* The colorful rooftop toroid, Olafur Eliasson’s Your Rainbow Panorama, is the most visible and permanent of the museum’s installed artwork. Inside, I found a number of strange and beautiful works that you’ll have to ask me directly to hear more about, because now I want to take you into the basement.

ARoS had divided its lowest level into nine compartments with sizes ranging down from small theaters to broom closets. Each dimly lit room or space held a single work. A surreal film played in a loop across three side-by-side projectors; a tiny, empty dance club, littered with trash, invited pawing through fictional album sleeves in its DJ booth; and the red thing lurked in a recessed alcove.

I didn’t note the name of this sculpture, or its artist, and I can’t easily find it online. (If you happen to know, please tell me. But see the update below.) It wasn’t my favorite work during my visit to ARoS; just the one I find most consistently challenging to put into words.

The art took the form of an oblong cutout in a wall that slanted physically away from the viewer, the right side more distant than the left. (A rope barrier enforced this relationship with the work.) The cutout held a light, the only light in the alcove, placed so that one could not directly see the source.

One could see how the light reflected through and around the work, though, and this defined it. Somehow, through some expertly uncanny combination and positioning of materials, the space inside the cutout seemed misty. This extended outwards, bulging from the cutout to an uncertain distance. But the thick-seeming air held no motion, no moisture to feel or smell. I cannot recall whether or not I gave into the temptation to wave my hand through the empty space.

Such a strange thing to encounter, in the dim basement of a modern art museum while by myself in a non-Anglophonic country for the first time. I took a couple of pictures of it, and they totally fail to convey any of this. And that is the best I can do at describing the red thing I saw under Aarhus.

Update: Robert Serocki identified the artist as James Turrell, and the work as part of his “Wedgework” sculpture series. Thank you!

* Barbetween represents my attempt to replicate the experience of visiting a physical art installation in a purely online space, somewhat after the fashion of Paul Matisse’s Kendall Band — a work I feel fortunate to have lived over and even occasionally interacted with during what may have been the last few years of its functional life.

Introducing Alisio


I just published Alisio, a free and open-source tool that allows bloggers such as myself to easily tweet text-as-image previews of recent posts. The results look like this:

Screenshot of an alisio-generated tweet

It takes a bit of nerdish skill and resources to set up; it has requirements about as complex as those of Jeremy Bernard’s twitch-to-slack, which I wrote about last month*. My adventures with that simple, discoverable, narrow-focused tool helped inspire the creation of this one, which I hope will possess the same positive attributes.

I haven’t performed a rigorous investigation of incoming traffic sources to Fogknife, not since discovering that counting RSS-based users is hard. But I can tell from server logs that I get plenty of hits from social media, including but not limited to the Twitter posts I make after publishing something new here. I’ve long struggled with how to word those tweets — Should I just post the title and a link? Add a word-count? Write a separate micro-summary? — but in the end I am a very lazy person who gets dumb project ideas in the shower. This was my dumb idea yesterday! I hope it pans out, one way or another.

As Alisio’s README notes, it’s very alpha, with all the fragility and inflexibility that implies. I expect that to shake itself out if I find it useful enough to improve. It therefore joins Starble and Plerd as open-source, modestly scoped blogging tools that I created as share-worthy utilities but which I ultimately maintain for my own regular use. Not bad!

* I can add, as a proud aside, that I have contributed to twitch-to-slack since then, cleaning up its documentation in a way that makes my own blog post a bit obsolete…

More about last Night


Mae, rat-queen.

The morning after, I feel I wrote too harshly about poor Mae, the protagonist of Night in the Woods. While I stand by my calling her naive, I also implied that she showed cowardice, what with the whole story kicking off by her bailing out of college, trying to recapture her sweet teenage doldrums from her parents’ attic bedroom. I want to walk that back.

Without spoiling the specific things about herself or her hometown that Mae discovers in Night in the Woods, I can still say that by the end of the story she makes it clear that her motivation for coming back home was larger than any basic fear of growing up. She wasn’t ready to leave yet, a year before the story begins, but she did so anyway, carried forward by the enormous pressure behind any first-of-her-name college freshman following her parents’ 18-year plan. In an inverted but real way, her dropping out represented an act of courage, a recognition that she had drifted off-track and needed a reset.

Of course she has no idea how to stick the follow-through; for the first time in her life, she finds herself without a script. And the story of Night in the Woods picks up from this point. And the story is this: look to your family, and find your friends. The story is front-to-back how Mae reconnects with the people she loves of Possum Springs, at first as an overgrown kid, but by the end as a young adult with a basic idea of where she is, who supports her, what problems she faces, and where she can go next. She left her friends too soon, on someone else’s schedule, and you and she spend your time together mending this tear. What she does afterwards is Mae’s business alone. I like to think that she finds her way back to school, on her own terms. But Mae was right to come home and fix the damage first, even if she had no idea why at the time.

One other, unrelated observation (and this contains a very minor spoiler): the sole note I wrote down while playing was “Jesus has baggage”. By this I referred to the slow dawning I experienced that the characters of Night in the Woods, while absolutely living in an analogue of a dim Pennsylvanian ex-mining town and possessing all the cultural referents so implied, don’t practice Christianity per se but a sort of alternate-history-American monotheism. The game stays very deliberate in the distinction. In both the church and the graveyard, one encounters a sun-shaped symbol where one would expect to find a cross, and the people celebrate not Christmas but “Longest Night”, a holiday that clearly serves the same winter-solstice purpose. But the big building in the middle of town is still called a church, its quiet pastor guiding her flock as best she can in ways I found achingly familiar.

Mae, practicing the same lazy-lapsed religion of all her peers as well as most everyone I grew up around in real life, has conversations about God with the pastor and others, especially after events in the story take a stranger turn. But nobody mentions Jesus per se, or any other more specific divine figure. I’d love to ask the game’s writers about this sometime, but for now I appreciate how they went to lengths to make faith present but abstract, to keep a story ultimately about the importance of human relationships grounded by avoiding the distraction of implicating any capital-C Church through invoking any proper-named aspect — other than the Big G at its largest, and most vague.