Saturday, 17 July 2010

Recent social trends in West Germany, 1960-1990

Glatzer, W., Hondrich, K.O., Noll, H.-H., Stiehr, K., & Wörndl, B. (1992) Recent social trends in West Germany, 1960-1990. [Online] [17/07/2010]

Social structure in divided Germany

Krejčí, J. (1976) Social structure in divided Germany. [Online] [17/07/2010]

Belonging in the Two Berlins

Borneman, J. (1992) Belonging in the two Berlins: kin, state, nation. [Online]

Germany: still divided after all these years

Another article about the division of German society, which could be translated into failure of the unification policies.

Sabine Reul
12 November 2009

The fall of the Berlin Wall, far from heralding a unified future, ushered in a new period of discord between west and east.
Twenty years ago, the implosion of Stalinism in Europe and the end of German partition were celebrated as a triumph for democracy and freedom. The Iron Curtain fell, the East German party dictatorship and shortage economy were vanquished and, as in the rest of Eastern Europe, pluralist party democracy and market economies prevailed. In what was the German Democratic Republic, the enthusiasm was especially marked. The spectacular uprising of eastern Germans had dealt the final blow to the Stalinist order across Eastern Europe,  seemingly ending the division not just of Germany, but of the continent, too.
But this enthusiasm was shortlived. The mood of renewal in 1989/90 soon gave way to disappointment and new insecurities. This applied not only in Germany, but across Eastern Europe, where market and multi-party systems were established at different speeds during the 1990s. Everywhere, a short period of euphoria was followed by long-term disillusionment. And everywhere, the transformation was soon characterised, at least temporarily, by the growth of right-wing and nationalist trends that cast a shadow over the newly won freedoms.
In Germany, the turning point came in 1991 with the pogroms in the former East German city of Hoyerswerda that sent disconcerting images of violence against immigrants around the world. Anti-foreigner violence had been an almost daily occurrence in West Germany throughout the 1980s, and the Hoyerswerda pogroms were followed by similar events in the western German cities of Solingen and Mölln. However, it was Hoyerswerda that acquired special importance. For western Germans they became a symbol of a new sense of estrangement from, if not disdain for, their eastern fellow Germans and a reference point for therapeutically oriented discussions about the ‘problems’ of German unification that continue to this day.
The big difference between the transformation in eastern Germany and the rest of the former Warsaw Pact countries is that, in Germany, the confrontation between the western market and eastern state socialist life worlds was politicised in a form specific to Germany. Put simply, during the Cold War, Germans were politically divided, but did not feel estranged in human terms. That only happened once the country was reunited, ironically. And this sense of difference was promoted and institutionalised by the way western German politicians and opinion-formers soon began to rationalise the economic and social dislocation brought about by the process of market transformation in the east.
The notion that eastern Germans were somehow ‘different’ gained momentum only a few months after the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989. The western German left played a particularly sorry role in this regard. Otto Schily, later minister of the interior in the Social Democratic (SPD)/Green coalition government under Gerhard Schröder from 1998-2005, quit the Greens to joint the SPD in November 1989. He recommended himself to his new party colleagues by a remarkable television performance. When asked, after the last elections to the GDR parliament in March 1990, why so many people in the east had voted for the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), he silently held a banana into the camera. And in preparation for the first national elections of the united country in December the same year, Oskar Lafontaine, then SPD candidate for the chancellery, banked on mobilising western fears of the economic consequences of German unity in his fight against the then-incumbent chancellor Helmut Kohl (CDU).
While Schily expressed unabashed contempt for eastern German desires for a modest share in western prosperity, Lafontaine played the other side of the same card, stoking fears that economic transformation in the east and labour migration from there would put a big dent into accustomed western living standards. This was the welcome given to the people who had just overthrown the Honecker regime by the SPD – along with the groupings on the radical left who more or less unanimously misconstrued the fall of the Berlin Wall as an expansionist capitalist conspiracy to conquer the east and disparaged eastern ‘consumerism’. That Helmut Kohl and the CDU/CSU in turn tried to recharge the stuttering batteries of German conservatism with the images of the popular pro-market uprising in the GDR was a comparatively harmless political manoeuvre. Nonetheless, taken together, the effect from the start was to saddle the process of unification with the degenerate political impulses of the decaying western party system.
The Democratic Awakening (Demokratischer Aufbruch) party, east German proponents of unification, quite sensibly wanted to prevent eastern opposition groupings being lost amidst the western political parties. Commenting on the left-right divide in the western German parliamentary system, the DA leadership declared in January 1990: ‘We regard this distinction as a myth, as an ideological illusion.’ (1) But despite such rhetoric, the December 1990 elections saw the different strands of the GDR opposition dissolve themselves virtually without trace into the western German parties. Inevitable as that was, since none of them presented an alternative strategic vision, it nonetheless meant that the experience of 40 years of GDR history and the popular uprising in which it had just culminated found no place in the political universe of the united Germany. Eastern Germans had to make do with the imported western party machines, themselves clearly showing signs of political exhaustion. Given their decrepit state it is perhaps unsurprising that the old GDR state party, renamed first the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), and then, since 2005, Die Linke, soon made a stunning recovery. And it is equally unsurprising that opinion surveys show that eastern Germans doggedly express high regard for democracy in the abstract, but not for its currently practiced form.
The political unification of Germany, consummated on 3 October 1990, entailed a certain institutional imbalance from the start. This encouraged eastern Germans, who had just enjoyed the liberating experience of collective political action, to regard themselves as passive objects of economic and social transformation. To make things worse, Chancellor Kohl’s government proved incapable of giving the concept of unification a positive meaning beyond stilted phrases. Eastern Germans joined a tired republic. As a result, the great historical moment that could have sparked a real sense of social renewal remained strangely flat. Without lasting power, this exceptional moment was soon lost to the machinery of administrative restructuring and adjustment processes. This highlights a truth generally ignored in debates about the problems of German unification: the progress of German unity could only be as politically and culturally dynamic as the society – and the political order – in which the eastern Germans found themselves 20 years ago.
The trouble was that the intellectual, political exhaustion of western party politics, both left and right, meant that the difference in life experience between eastern and western Germans became politicised. Hostility to materialism among the western left, which had long exchanged its former affinity with working-class politics for ‘post-conventional values’, inevitably struck the eastern ‘workerly society’, as the sociologist Wolfgang Engler described the GDR, as exceedingly odd. In a society that, as Engler wrote, ‘attributed exceptional importance to work, whether loved or unloved, for people’s personal lives’, people had been accustomed to ‘clothe their critique of social conditions in the silent demonstration of workerly virtues’ (2). The productively employed Werktätige were the sole moral authority of GDR society. That some western parties viewed their eastern compatriots’ aspiration for modest prosperity and functioning factories with at best incomprehension, and at worst derision, further undermined understanding between east and west.
The same applied to the other side of the political spectrum. For the best part of the past 20 years, the Christian Democratic CDU/CSU made up for their lack of a future-oriented politics by indulging in a more or less incessant rant against the loathsome features of the long defunct GDR. This was partly an ill-conceived attempt to draw dividends from Cold War anti-communism, and partly a reaction to discontent with ‘really existing’ eastern German capitalism, which proved rather less dynamic and prosperous than originally expected once the shortlived unification boom was over. Here, too, a defensive political reflex generated east-west discord. The simplistic formula of anti-socialist rhetoric, according to which life in the GDR had consisted of nothing but the oppression of ‘victims’ by ‘perpetrators’, simply did not square with the real life experience of eastern Germans before 1989. That experience naturally also included other things like a sense of shared destiny, a partly ironical distance from the GDR regime, and certain opportunities for self-assertion that a western-style market economy does not always provide workers with.
As the Bulgarian sociologist Ivan Krastev notes in a recent article, even members of the state elite in Eastern European countries had to befriend their greengrocer, because he decided who got what. The greengrocer may have been formally powerless, but still had a certain informal power (3). At exactly the same time as the market destroyed social networks that had once provided people with at least a certain sense of orientation and self-esteem, eastern Germans were being accused of being mentally contaminated by their totalitarian past. That, too, could only promote anger and a sense of estrangement. And it is therefore not surprising to learn that eastern Germans now often say things had not really been ‘quite that bad’.
The handwringing with which experts in academia and social research often respond to utterances of this kind betrays a lack of understanding of the forces at play. It was because of the ideological vacuum at the heart of western politics at the turn of the century that simple differences in life experience in east and west acquired the form of politicised misunderstanding. In the process, the debate about German unity has taken the form of a rather degraded obsession with the eastern German ‘mentality’. The focus on eastern ‘difference’ has given rise to an entire research industry that has probed the souls of the new German citizens. It did occasionally bring forth comedic moments of pseudo-Freudian insight such as the famous ‘potty thesis’ of the criminologist Christian Pfeiffer. He argued that anti-foreigner sentiment among eastern German youth was a late consequence of socialist kindergarten education.
During the past 15 years, innumerable studies have diagnosed a high level of dissatisfaction with economic and political development as well as an increased tendency among eastern Germans to view certain features of the GDR favourably. Given the situation described, these findings are not at all surprising. But what is notable is that more recent studies have shown that the difference between east and west as regards the level of dissatisfaction with social and political trends has narrowed considerably – without this having so far had any noticeable impact on the firmly established notion that eastern Germans are somehow ‘different’. As the sociologist Claus Leggewie recently noted, survey data presents ‘a rather undramatic picture of the situation between east and west which, in view of current discourse, is the real sensation’ (4). Nonetheless, the media continue propagating the image of the easterner as the ‘other’ with derogatory neologisms like Ostalgie (eastalgia) and Jammerossi (moan-easterner), thereby attributing to the eastern psyche responsibility for all the real and imagined ills in the united Germany. A kind of ethnisation has taken hold of the German political imagination – with the doubly unfortunate effect that reality becomes progressively even less comprehensible than it already appears, and that understanding between eastern and western Germans is undermined.
However, 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, this period of construed difference may hopefully be drawing to a close. The new generation of young Germans now starting out on their training or working lives have no living memory of the divided Germany. The high level of cross-migration between both parts of the country ensures that personal contact mitigates the impact of prejudice and politicised misunderstanding. And, last but not least, the now shared experience of economic crisis and political stagnation might become the source of a new sense of common identity and purpose. Yet this is only likely to happen to the extent that a sense of otherness gives way to a focus on real life experience.
(1) Unsere Revolution. Die Geschichte der Jahre 1989/90, Erhart Neubert, Piper München 2009
(2) Die Ostdeutschen als Avantgarde, Wolfgang Engler, Aufbau Verlag Berlin 2002
(3) The Greengrocer’s Revenge, Ivan Krastev, Prospect, Oktober 2009
(4) ‘Veröstlichung oder: Vom Zäsur- zum Differenzbewusstsei’, Claus Leggewie, included in Neues Deutschland. Eine Bilanz der deutschen Wiedervereinigung, Eckart Jesse and Eberhard Sandschneider (eds), Nomos Freiburg 2008

Reul, S. (2009) Germany: still divided after all these years. [Online] [17/07/2010]

Marxism Today by Phil Collins

A British artist Phil Collins, documented "the upheavals of the past 20 years in Germany" in his film Marxism Today, being screened at this year's Berlin Biennale. He has interviewed Marxism-Leninism teachers who taught in the former East Germany, "a profession that died with the fall of the Berlin Wall" (Reinhardt, 2010). He speaks English "peppered with German words", Reinhardt (2010) notes, such as Wende*, ML-Lehrer** and Neue Bundesländer***.

*Wende: the term used to refer to the changes after German unification, which means "turning point".
**ML-Lehrer: Marxism-Leninism teacher.
***Neue Bundesländer: the states of the former East Germany which joined the Federal Republic in 1990, thus being called "New German states".

Reinhardt, N. (trans. Sultan, C.) (2010) Where Are They Now? British Artist Documents Fate of East German Marxism-Leninism Instructors. [Online],1518,702680,00.html#ref=nlint [17/07/2010]

Friday, 16 July 2010

Image Fugurator at Checkpoint Charlie

Here the name says it all: disruptive tactics are put in the service of political action. This is the dominant purpose of Image Fugurator. The project has been used by its creator to convey disturbing political messages at popular tourist attractions, for instance by projecting a text protesting the building of a wall to prevent illegal immigration into the US at Checkpoint Charlie, a remnant of the Berlin wall which should stand as a witness to the infamy of separating people with walls... The destructive character of Image Fugurator is rather mild - the project affects only occasional photos, without damaging the functioning of cameras - compared to the program of the most radical form of political dysfunctionality: the sabotage of computer systems associated with oppressive forms of power. In the early part of the twentieth century, artists were drawn to abstractionism, Dadaism and Surrealism as a reaction against realism, which was seen as an artform reflecting the values of bourgeois society - values we would attribute today to consumer capitalism. Political dysfunctionality continues this trend, by using the computer to undermine the infrastructure of the social and economic system that was build in a large part through digital technology. (Ryan, 2008) 
Ryan, M.-L. (2008) Between Play and Politics: Dysfunctionality in Digital Art. [Online] [16/07/2010]

from Microsoft Art Collection

Douglas Coupland
Reunification. East meets West. The 1940s meet the 1990s. As Germans begin to stitch their country back together, there’s a 50-year gap of shared experience in the fabric. Author Douglas Coupland visited the former East Berlin in 1994 and wrote this account, an excerpt from his 1996 book, Polaroids From the Dead.     
Berlin, Monday, October 3, 1994: five years after the Wall Thing happened. Shopping is a joke; consumption has not nourished. Five years later the marketplace is a bore. And the Walled landscape - once overwhelmingly tragic and melancholic - is now overwhelmingly ironic and frantic and just plain sad. But then does this come as news?
A free Elton John concert is scheduled for the Brandenburg Gate on October 3. The Gypsy Kings, Paul Young and the Leningrad Cowboys will also be there. Karl Marx Allee is peppered with posters for Barry Manilow and liberal SPD candidate Rudolf Scharping. Wordless Helmut Kohl posters feature a beaming Kohl as Santa-Claus-minus-the-beard flanked by smiling young people. A local artist has placed UNITED COLORS OF BENNETON stickers atop the Kohl posters, and there is no sense of incongruity or any seeming alteration of meaning.
The Saturday afternoon before October 3, I was at a MusicCity in the Alexanderplatz, a former ideological showplace where isotopes of Socialist Modernism compete for Miss Uncongeniality, where plaza sculptures of almost-indescribable dreariness make one ache for the whimsical frivolity of a Richard Serra or a Donald Judd. I asked a sales clerk politely enough, "Hello, do you have the new R.E.M. album?" and was rebuffed with a bored, contemptuous, "Nein." Okayyyyyy. Meanwhile, sitting beside this clerk stood a stack of the same aforementioned R.E.M. album, Monster. So I said to the gentleman, "Hmmm. Well, in that case, I'll have one of those instead." With a gesture blending loathing, ennui, disgust and patronization, the album was hurled onto the counter, the clerk then bracing his arms across his chest in a listless, disengaged challenge. I handed over my VISA card, only to be rewarded with a withering, "VISA? Nein." Cash was proffered and the Monster album and the mingiest of plastic bags thrown into my face. Back in the ex-DDR, the retail concept is still, five years later, something that might need just the smallest splash of Total Quality Management. When I mention this incident to Western Berlin friends, they roll their eyes and say "DDR." As an adjective describing service, "DDR" combines Fawlty Towers with Stalinism.
A mile west, at the corner of Unter den Linden begins the Friedrichstrasse reconstruction - a dead showcase neighborhood transformed once again into a newer showcase neighborhood for a new regime: six square blocks made over with untold billions of deutschemarks. Signs EIN LUXURY HOTEL; French superstar architect Jean Nouvel has designed a new Galleries Lafayette, nearly completed and hemmed at the bottom with strips of marigold, navy and aubergine fabric. In a continent that seems at best hesitant to generate new skylines, the thin chopstick-like forms of the construction cranes over Friedrichstrasse become what skyline there will be in this decade, at least. It is a post-national architecturescape that contrasts vividly with what filled the neighborhood before. The streets are rife with the lawnmower rumbles of Trabants and Wartburgs compete with the thrums of South Beach aqua colored Toyota Supras.
In this epicenter of irony, Havana-caliber consumer time-technology collisions occur every three feet. Along nearby Unter den Linden, ex-Stasi members driving Korean-built taxis gaze longingly at the ex-Stasi disco which is now a T.G.I. Fridays and a Radisson Hotel Plaza. One can only imagine earnest midwestern Radisson executives refitting the hotel and discovering cobwebbed Soviet Beta recording cameras behind cobwebbed bedroom mirrors. The nearby Palast der Republik, resembling a failed entry for an LBJ library design competition and where Erich Honnecker pursued his private realms, is quarantined because of asbestos poisoning and is locally named "der Asbesthaus." Friedrichstrasse's newly constructed landscape is one of infrastructural pornography. Above-ground water pipes punctuate the landscape like the Mad Mouse at the local fun world; pools of silicon resin drip into the sandy Prussian soil like a thousand breast implants fallen off the back of a truck. An Apple computer training school overlooks workers in orange and blue overalls who weld I-beams while Saran-wrap'ing dead socialist architecture in green net veils like the scarves around Grace Kelly's neck. Furukawa backhoes excavate piles of soil of varying historical molarity. There are stacks of gas cylinders and cable spools; on Franzozischestrasse, black telecom cables coil beneath one's feet as they descend into the earth. Stacks of Crisco-smooth Kalksandstein bricks, like Joseph Beuys sculptures, rest beside hexagon-shaped dumpsters filled with dead rusty rebar and sandy, asbestos-choked Eastern bloc cement. Modular pre-assembled window components are lifted into the air by cranes with names like Liebherr. Fresh black pavement is stained with splashes of lime. There are Dixi portable toilets and random sewage odors. Jackhammers drill away at statist architecture; polyurethane foam extrudes from underneath wood planks above the U-bahn.
Back at the hotel, like any good pop-music enthusiast, I listened to my new album several dozen times while reading the wrapper notes, in this case a special 48-page mini-book. My favorite song on the tape is one called "Circus Envy," a roaring, secret-agent-feeling number describing jealousy - a monster whose symbol is a headless bear that appears on the mini-book's cover. The title song contains the line, Here comes that awful feeling again, which resonates for me the rest of my stay, reinforced by the image of the bear cub which is the civic emblem of the city of Berlin.
The citizens of former East Berlin have had to make the leap from 1945 to 1995. They never had a 1960s, 70s, 80s or even a 90s. They want what the West has, and they think that they are slowly, grudgingly and surely joining the West every day. Acid-wash denim clothing is seen as a symbol of shooting too far too quickly and has been banished from the landscape, due, no doubt for a revival in ten minutes or so. But there is no language in the East to make sense of Friedrichstrasse's Deutsche Interhotel GmbH, minibars, non-smoking attitudes, baby vegetables or movie-studio-style politics. The people of the East think they are entering the West, but they are actually entering the era of the transnational. It is a mistake to confuse the amoral forces of transnationalism with the West. The instantaneous transfer of capital from one node to another is not what the West was ever about.
The Ossis, the ex-Easterners, greet you, a Wessi, almost invariably with "Hello, I'm confused." The Ossis recognize their own crisis, but explain to them that the West is in crisis as well - a crisis more sublime because the West has already seen a world of desire based purely on consumption - and they know the hollowness lying at its core.
Ossis want what the Wessis have - that's obvious. But try and tell Ossis that what they now think they desire is something pointless, and they will accuse you of trying to deny them the plunder of consumption sheerly out of spite. Try to tell people that they can't have what they think they really want - that just won't work. A big political question currently facing Germany, if not the entire West, is What is it we can now desire now that things, objects - stuff - has failed us? The engineering of sustaining, nourishing new models of desire: that is the new issue. Even the East Germans express fear about the Chinese manufacturing a people's car - a current event that like no other pinpoints the unsustainability of the dream of consumption.
Does the ghost of post-WWII-reconstructionist Konrad Adenauer walk amid this Friedrichstrasse landscape - a landscape more reminiscent of Orange County than that of Frederick the Great? Has the emblematic bear cub of Berlin turned into the bear of the California Republic? No, Konrad Adenauer would not walk here. A spectating ghost would have to be the ghost of somebody transnational, somebody as yet undefined - a Beast whose aesthetic is one of absolute function and absolute function only. A creature of Facadism, of instantaneous transglobal currency transfers - a creature who is hostile to culture and who gives us entry into the realms of surrealism without providing any underlying subconscious. A headless bear of jealousy that slouches through the Brandenburg gate, not knowing what it wants, only that it wants more.
Here comes that awful feeling again.
Coupland, D. (1996) "Postcard from the Former East Berlin (Circus Envy)" by Douglas Coupland. [Online] [16/07/2010]

Ilse Nethercutt
Ilse Heidi Nethercutt is a Microsoft employee and native of Hann. Münden, in the former West Germany. Her story about the effect of the Wall and the Iron Curtain is one of both joy and sorrow, deeply felt and personal, with a note of tragic irony.
For as long as I live, November 1989 will stay etched into my memory. I was in Germany, visiting my mother who was terminally ill. I left there on November 9th, knowing that it was unlikely I would see her again. In my emotional state, "What do you say? Isn’t it great?!" was not the greeting I had expected from my husband when he picked me up at the airport. I learned with disbelief that while I was en route to Seattle, the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain had opened. One of the worst days of my life became also one of unbelievable joy.
Growing up in the 50’s, Germany’s division, the Iron Curtain, and later the Berlin Wall were issues discussed passionately in school and at home. Our teachers, representing the war generation, did their best to keep the dream of reunification and the passion for these issues alive. I remember my geography teacher who started every class by yelling "Dreigeteilt: niemals!" ("Divided in three: Never!") three times, whereby we kids had to chime in on the "Niemals" part. As anti-complacency measures, there were countless class outings to the border where we looked across the desolate "no-man’s" land, waved to the people on the other side and cast scornful looks upon the border guards. At Christmas time, there were the rituals of sending gifts and burning blue candles in the windows to demonstrate our resolve. And we learned of and mourned those who had given their lives in the quest for freedom in the West. Like a young man who had made it to the top of the wall and was brutally shot down by the border guards and left to die on the other side.
For my family, the issue of Germany’s division was very personal since we had relatives and family friends on the other side. We wrote letters and sent packages, and by the late sixties, limited travel was possible. A beloved aunt, now over 70 years old, and whom I only knew through letters and pictures, was able to visit us several times. By the mid eighties, even younger people could travel to the West under special circumstances. So, things were slowly getting easier, and we thought that this was the most we could hope for -- while still desirable, reunification seemed only an unreal dream of the past.
Following my return to Seattle, I watched from my chosen vantage point across the ocean as the historical events were unfolding: I called daily to inquire about my mother's condition and to get the latest developments straight from the "horse's mouth."
While the eyes of the world were turned to Berlin, everywhere along the Iron Curtain a mass visitation had began immediately, and people from East Germany were coming over by the thousands. Trabant cars packed the freeways and dominated the traffic scene. In the early morning hours on the day after my departure, a cousin arrived with his entire family at my sister’s house. They had joined in the excitement and euphoria and made the 2-hour trip in 7 hours. (Previously, family members could only come to visit one at a time to ensure people would not defect.)
Being able to buy unlimited Western goods for the first time, "Easterners" went on shopping sprees, and store shelves were soon empty in the Western border towns. (For over a year after the border opened, there were no used cars available as they were snatched up as soon as they were put up for sale.) Soon, people were streaming in both directions. My sister, traveling East, was greeted in almost every town or village by people who expressed their joy by welcoming West German visitors with street-side coffee and cake.
As channels of communication and information opened, we learned more about what it was like to live behind the Iron Curtain. One of those discoveries was that that unfortunate young man who was shot off the Wall so many years earlier had been a mason who had straddled the Wall to repair it.
I am very grateful that my mother, who had always been politically active, lived long enough to know of these momentous events. Alert and curious about all the news until almost the very end, she passed away that December 5th.

Nethercutt, I. [2010] Joy, Sorrow and a Curtain of Irony by Ilse Nethercutt. [Online] [16/07/2010]

Leland Rice
In the afterword of his 1991 book, Up Against It: Photographs of the Berlin Wall, Leland Rice discusses the role that the Berlin Wall played as a forum for visual communications. The Wall held such a compelling fascination for him that he made five visits to photograph it.
"The wall gives its voice to that part of man which, without it, would be condemned to silence... the remainder of a primitive existence of which the wall may be one of our most faithful mirrors. Graffiti is our state of civilization, our primitive art..." 
—Brassai, The Language of the Wall: Parisian Graffiti Photographed by Brassai (London: Institute of Contemporary Arts, 1958)
My first encounter with the Berlin Wall occurred at about 10,000 feet (in the air) in the fall of 1983 during a weekend adventure that was hastily planned. Coming in by airplane to West Berlin, I had three opportunities for aerial views of the Wall. At first the brightly illuminated corridor along the Wall appeared to this night traveler like a long snake encircling a large homogeneous settlement. But by the third pass over the barrier I readjusted my quizzical gaze to observe the buildings as massed like a group of captives inside a fortress surrounded by the threatening beams from the floodlights on the east side of the Wall. Upon landing, I concluded that such a dramatic introduction to this city only partially prepared me for the immense physical reality of its definitive border, the Wall.
Early the next morning I ventured out to take a walk along the Wall. While strolling along a well-traveled dirt path I began to observe the many spontaneous messages and markings scribbled on its flat pitted concrete surface. Accumulated over many years, countless graffiti had turned the Wall into a semantic playground full of forceful messages. I gradually realized that I no longer could relate to the Wall as just a physically tangible medieval barrier symbolizing the ideological division of Europe. Certainly the Wall did exist for divisive reasons, but it now took on another purpose for me - that of creative catalyst. And, since walls had long been a primary subject of my work as an artist, I felt deeply compelled to photograph it.
Although the vast majority of the graffiti on the Wall was anonymous, we became the audience propelled into the same perspective as the unknown persons who provided the graffiti. We were also outside observers to the constantly changing imagery. The Wall was not a blackboard that gets erased regularly. Rather, the graffiti built to a crescendo of ever-elusive confusion. A rich pastiche of language and universal symbols coalesced to form a self-contained world. The essence of the writing on the Wall was best revealed by the energy that characterized the marks themselves. And, the essence of what I wanted to photograph was the profusion of images that spanned both popular culture derived from movies, television, and comic books, and abstracted figurative art forms.
The Wall also become a forum for wit and satire, and political sensibilities were often attacked through humorous graffiti on various levels of social critique. Most political messages I encountered were oversimplified metaphors playing upon an already awakened consciousness. They lacked visual profundity. However, the political significance of satire is pictorially evident in the image - where spread across the back of partially clenched fingers are the words, "Have you ever seen an antifascism protection wall? All that I want to know is on which side the Fascists are on so that I can be on the other side." The incongruity between the text (the graffiti) and the context (the Wall) addresses the nature of this satirical and poignant communication. For the East German government, the Wall was a "protection" wall constructed to defend the socialist state from the imperialists of the capitalist West.
Now, some eight years later, and after five photographic pilgrimages since I began this project, the Wall has been dismantled. Graffiti has become an authentic signature of our urban centers. Drawing and inscribing on public walls are universal impulses in human nature. My approach to how I photographed the Wall was, in a broad sense, much like that of an archaeologist. I visually excavated fragments of layered subject matter to penetrate these "pentimento" surfaces and unearth the potential meanings of what I feel are contemporary pictographs reflecting our time.
Rice, L. (1991) "Afterword" from Up Against It: Photographs of the Berlin Wall. [Online] [16/07/2010]

Norbert Sorg
A Microsoft employee, Norbert Sorg grew up in the Southwestern part of Germany and lived in Berlin from 1984-1993, during the time that the Berlin Wall came down and the reunification of Germany took place. While indicating that life without the Wall is "a thousand times better" than life with the Wall, he nevertheless contends that Germany missed a golden opportunity to truly redefine itself.    
The week before the Wall came down I moved within West-Berlin from Schöneberg to Kreuzberg. The first weekend afterwards I needed to meet with my former landlord to return the keys to my old apartment. Normally I would take a bus, but now buses were so full that they simply wouldn’t stop to let anyone on. The subway wasn’t of any use either, because it was so overcrowded that some stations were temporarily closed. Finally, I walked for nearly an hour from Kreuzberg to Schöneberg, returned the keys and walked back to Kreuzberg. This permanent traffic jam lasted for a few weekends but it was different from any other I’ve seen because people were consistently polite and accommodating, and truly friendly!
While the Wall existed, it added a surreal dimension to life in West-Berlin. When you traveled by car or train between West Germany and West-Berlin, you had to pass through the GDR. This "Transit" had an eerie quality, especially when you took the train. After stopping every 10 to 15 minutes at stations in the West, the train would roll uninterruptedly for more than three hours, through a world to which it had no connection. The first few weeks after the opening of the Wall there was the same surreal quality to life, only now it was there every day. The controlling powers of the GDR that had been perceived as all-encompassing were powerless all of a sudden. During a transition period they tried to keep up a facade of control. For example at one point, after the old visa was no longer required to enter East-Berlin, they made us fill out new forms with our personal data, including passport number and address. Little did we know that these forms were literally stuffed into bags and stashed away, never to be evaluated by anyone. Only in hindsight does it become evident how pathetic these attempts were.
For a short while, we lived in tolerance. Bumptious rules of etiquette were no longer valid. (Emily Post would have been mortified.) People in West-Berlin put tables on the sidewalk and offered drinks and food to perfect strangers from the East who actually accepted it. The same was true in the reverse direction, when you drove from West Germany into the GDR. But if you did the same thing today, people would look at you very suspiciously. I think that for a moment people were set free from the many artificial restraints that are normally imposed on us by society. The most striking examples I witnessed were entire families from the East lined up patiently to gain access to a sex shop in West-Berlin. No one was embarrassed, they were simply curious.
Unfortunately, we seemed to lose the initial open-mindedness when the East was too eager to sell out to the West. We ignored what we had learned in the transition period, that nearly anything can be changed. Thereby we also lost the opportunity to build something fundamentally new, integrating the cultures of both East and West into one democratic German state. We betrayed our Basic Law, the preliminary constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany, where the founding fathers stipulated that we have to design a constitution once Germany is united in liberty. Instead of taking the best from the East and the best from the West, we kept West-Germany just like it was before and we turned the lives of the former citizens of the East upside-down.
It was not Ronald Reagan who brought down the Wall. It was a large number of citizens of the former GDR who did it with a courage based on the most elementary understanding of democracy. If only we had been able to capture this spirit we could have achieved a grand task. But we have failed and our task is only half done. Yet this is still a thousand times better than having to live with the Wall.
Sorg, N. [2010] We Should Have Done Better. [Online] [16/07/2010]

Jens Wazel
Also a Microsoft employee, Jens Wazel is a native of Leipzig, in the former East Germany. His is an important perspective, not often heard or understood in the West. At the time the Wall opened, he was involved in an intense grass-roots reform movement whose goal was to weave some democratic processes into the taut fabric of East German Socialism. The movement had made significant gains, and there was reason to be optimistic about further gains, but when the Wall fell it changed everything.
"There was no history in the GDR, only stories - his story and his and his and his story - we’ll tell them a while longer, until the young ones, for whom the Wall means as little as the war experience of our fathers means to us, start doing the talking and explaining." From "Der Schnee von gestern" by Christoph Dieckmann, 1993
So, the Wall has caught up to me once again after all. Came suddenly into my life on this side of the Atlantic, far away so close. It never really went away anyway. I still say "I am from EAST Germany", part explanation, part pride. Have my boilerplate answers ready to questions like "How was it?" and "What has changed".
I felt like shouting "This is my Wall!" when I heard that my past was once again at my heels. What do you want with it? Art? Miles of white concrete, which I passed without so much as a glance then, on my way to work, only wondering if I would see this woman again who had smiled at me the night before. Unlike some well-known foreigners, I was not a Berliner, and the Wall was, well - there.
The other side, the West Wall: colorful, covered with graffiti. The Art side. Bulletin board for the frame of mind of a fortified frontier city. An icon in the glorious battle for freedom and democracy. And finally...
The Wall must go. I still hear them shouting against the stone. And suddenly, the Wall was gone. Now, construction pits on Potsdamer Platz, after Roger Waters quickly buried "The Wall" in no-man’s land. The "Love Parade" marches through the Brandenburg Gate with techno-noise. And now: the Wall must come back?
Mars: We kind of knew what it was like on the far planet. A belly full of longing and the dream of visiting unknown worlds. How many times did we lie awake at night and could hardly stand that we could not get together, Mars and we. The West and I.
"It wasn’t an uncontrollable desire that burnt inside him, no all-consuming fire - no, a small flame sustained a hint of curiousity, mixed with wanderlust and a taste for adventure, a child’s desire to look through keyholes and to climb over the fence to see the neighbor’s flowers and his garbage. And Mother calls us in for lunch..." From "Die S-Bahn fährt weiter" by Jens Wazel, February 1989.
Born four years after the building of the Wall, and 24 years before its fall. Typical resume: Kindergarten, grade school, child and youth organizations, high school, army, university. Happy. Sheltered. In a small and self-contained world, safe, cozy, warm and full of time. Time for books, music, friends. The annual vacation trip east. The "West package" from relatives in the other Germany at Christmas time, with jeans and chewing gum. Lip service to the glory of socialism, dealing with "the circumstances", plans, hopes, jokes, dreams. And they lived happily..
We’ve had enough of it / this mush of uniformity / which is running over / but is not as sweet / as promised / which fills your stomach / but stuffs your head / till it comes out of your ears. "Satt" by Jens Wazel, February 1989.
A dead end. Getting narrower, like a funnel. And the pressure was building, and the impatience, and the longing, and the rage. Concrete in the heads of the government. While the once faithful partner Soviet Union shifted gears, they didn’t want to "change the wallpaper just because the neighbor’s remodeling". "Voting with feet", and thousands were sitting on their packed suitcases, ran across open borders in Hungary and Czechoslovakia.
"Christiane writes from Aschau (Bavaria). Postmarked 9-24-89. She had to return on Sunday... I don’t understand why she did it, especially with the current situation... What were the nightlong discussions of the last few years for. I mean, we had ideals, wanted to change things... Is it right that I’ve now lost Chris as a friend? Or am I afraid that in a short while her thinking will be so different from mine. I hope she'll resist for a while the urge to consume, stays human, stays Chris... What bothers me the most is that I’m sure she wouldn’t have done it, if she had any hope left for our society. Of course, she wants to live, this one and only life we have. Yet, I don’t believe we had thought the purpose of our lives to be so self-centered.. I hope, I hope, and stay here!" Excerpt from the letter from a friend, September 27th, 1989.
Demonstrations. Discussions. Departure. Starting a "dialog" with the government. Building a "democratic socialism". "These were my sixties," I’ll later hear myself say. Full of ideals. Taking the "third road", combining the best of capitalism and socialism. A "peaceful revolution. The beauty, the "dignity of walking upright."
Then, suddenly, it was all over. The 40 year old state on its knees. Just like that. A last desperate effort, a hollow cracking sound, and it sank into the waves of history. Today, the opening of the Wall still seems like an accident. Suddenly she was gone, the GDR. Or not?
"People are people and like to be. They move - that’s their nature - always towards the central mass: towards themselves, the way they are, not the way they could be. It was that way when the Wall stood. It was that way when the Wall fell... A good half year later the "heroic people" smudged its newly obtained honor and buried the revolution under the bargain tables at Hertie, wrote a bitter Stefan Heym. And Nietzsche: The love of one’s country diminishes when the country stops being unhappy. The brave Baerbel Bohley, since ridiculed in the East, called the 9th of November 1989 a consumption-coup. What a true, merciless word!" From "Meines Kanzlers Land" by Christoph Dieckmann, 1994.
While we were busy practicing democracy and founded student governments and newspapers at the university in Karl-Marx-Stadt, the Wall came down. I went to bed. The next morning I laughed at anyone who tried to convince me that the concrete was cracked, but then found myself going strangely numb as the radio reported the same in intense euphoria. 12 hours later I was on the train to Berlin, and on November 11th, 1989 at 10 o’clock in the morning, I arrived. Over there.
I waited. Waited for this uplifting feeling to set in. For the revelation. For the jubilant scream. Nothing. The stillness within me a sharp contrast to the bustle in the streets, which looked the same as on the other side. The same houses. More color on the billboards which I knew well from watching Western TV for years. To stay with the ritual, we opened a bottle of Rotkaeppchen-Champagne, purchased on the East side in anticipation of the euphoria. It tasted stale.
The masses moved through the new world, became entangled in lines waiting for plastic bags full of coffee and chocolate, lines in which the new type of "Eastler" was born. Finally, I did have my "historic moment". At Potsdamer Platz, there was a hole in the Wall, on the colorful side, through which you could see the no-man’s land and the TV tower of East Berlin. Why? it pounded through my head. But then I was pushed aside, and my historic moment was over.
The rest is - as they say - history. "We are the people" was turned into "We are one people". The D-Mark with its West German government watchdogs became the symbol of unity. The dance around the golden calf on the burial grounds of ideals. By rushing into unification, East Germans were spared the confrontation with their own past (and, yes, we’ve seen that in Germany before). The "Ossies" changed into new clothes or emigrated, to the inside or far away.
"I have consciously lived through two systems and must now adjust to the third. They all want the same - to develop one's personal opinion in such a way that it is useful to the regime. I outlived two dictatorships. The one we are blessed with now is also a dictatorship (that of money) under the disguise of liberal democracy..." Excerpt from a letter from my grandmother, October 29th, 1991.
"Curse and hope. The curse is the hope for ourselves. And we are that from which we came. So we’re nothing special, we all bear the curse of our births and the hope for ourselves. The problem probably is that the ideals with which we grew up were too good and too simple. It was great, so easy, to only think in terms of good and evil. There was no in-between, no compromise. This is the issue we have to deal with. You have got to come to terms with this shitty "big world", and you’ve got to feel good about it. That means you must earn money and do good deeds." Excerpt from a letter from a friend, December 2nd, 1991.
The Wall is here. I’ll take a look at it on my way to work. I’ll hang out for a while, and then say Good-bye again. The Wall is yours. I don’t need it anymore.
Jens Wazel, Seattle, August 1996
Christoph Dieckmann quotes from "Time is on my side - Ein deutsches Heimatbuch". Ch.Links Verlag. Also recommended: Christoph Dieckmann - "Die Zeit stand still, die Lebensuhren liefen - Geschichten aus der deutschen Murkelei" - Ch.Links Verlag. Michael Schneider - "Die abgetriebene Revolution" - Elefanten Press. Hans-Joachim Maaz - "Der Gefuehlsstau - Ein Psychogramm der DDR" - Knaur. Michael Lukas Moeller & Hans-Joachim Maaz - "Die Einheit beginnt zu zweit - Ein deutsch-deutsches Zwiegespraech" - rororo. Thomas Brussig - "Helden wie wir" - Verlag Volk & Welt.
Wazel, J. (1996) Until the end of the Wall. [Online] [16/07/2010]

Individual Perspectives: The effects of the Wall run deep. [Online] [16/07/2010]

Despite Privacy Inquiries, Germans Flock to Google, Facebook and Apple

Perhaps it's a trend that people have less concern about private information being shared publically.

Kevin O'Brien
11 July 2010
New York Times

American technology companies are under close scrutiny in Germany. Google is being investigated for having errantly collected personal Internet information like e-mail passwords while doing research for its Street View mapping service.

Facebook is being investigated for collecting data on non-Facebook users from the mailing lists of active users. And Apple has been asked to explain what kind of information its latest iPhone 4 is storing on users and for how long.

Johannes Caspar, a data protection supervisor in Hamburg who is conducting the investigations into Google and Facebook, said his agency was trying to protect consumers from themselves. “The problem is that many people are unaware what is being done with their data,” he said.

Strict privacy laws are a product of the post-World War II reconstruction, when German lawmakers restricted the use of personal information to prevent the government from singling out citizens and persecuting them.

It is illegal, for example, to publish the image or name of any private person without permission. This includes felons, who are usually identified in the media by the initial of their last name only, like Klaus P.

That has not stopped Germans from flocking to a social networking site or downloading the latest smartphone applications.

As of May, Googe controlled 92 percent of the online search market in Germany, compared with 65 percent in the United States, according to comScore, a research firm in Reston, Va.

Facebook has about 7.7 million users in Germany (which has a population of about 82 million), according to Inside Network, a research group in Palo Alto, Calif. All versions of the iPhone, including the iPhone 4, which went on sale in Germany in June, have sold out within days. Apple does not provide specific sales figures in Germany.


The American practice of selling customer names and details, Mr. Haas said, is legal in Germany but almost never used because “it would erode the trust we have built up.”

Yet more and more Germans are disclosing personal details if they can save money doing so. A retail bonus card, called Payback, has 19.4 million subscribers. In exchange for discounts at retailers, cardholders give Payback’s operator, Loyalty Partner of Munich, permission to send them offers.

The company scored a legal victory in August 2008 when the German supreme court, the Bundesgerichtshof, rejected a complaint from consumer protection officials who had claimed that Payback did not tell consumers enough about how it used their personal information in marketing efforts.

Dieter Weng, the president of the German Dialogue Marketing Association, a group of 800 businesses that includes online marketers, said Germany was unlikely to loosen its privacy restrictions.

But the need to encourage the growth of the Internet economy, Mr. Weng said, could help lower barriers for online marketing.

“I think Germans are concerned about personal data being misused by government or law enforcement,” Mr. Weng said. “But for behavioral or attitudinal data about customer preferences, people are more willing to share if they see an advantage in it for them.”

O'Brien, K. (2010) Despite Privacy Inquiries, Germans Flock to Google, Facebook and Apple. [Online] [14/07/2010]

Villa Schöningen: A Cold War Museum

The permanent display galleries house a historical exhibition on the story of the Glienicke Bridge during the Cold War. In the exhibition the horror of totalitarian regimes is made perceptible... In addition to the permanent exhibition on German history in the Cold War, Villa Schöningen will host temporary exhibitions of contemporary art. The idea is to show art, which deals with issues related to the place, such as the Cold War, German division and reunification, 1989, totalitarianism, democracy and freedom [Villa Schöningen: A Cold War Museum, 2010].

Thursday and Friday 11:00 - 18:00
Saturday and Sunday 10:00 - 18:00

Tuesday to Sunday 11:00 - 21:00

Berliner Str. 86 14467 Potsdam
From Potsdam train station: Tram 93
From Berlin: S-Bahn S1 or S7 to Wannsee Bhf, Bus 316 to Glienicker Brücke

Villa Schöningen: A Cold War Museum [2010]

Moore, M. (2009) Germany Celebrates Memory of Berlin Wall Falling with Museum Opening and Memorials [14/07/2010]

Bunker Museum, near Bonn,,3157806,00.html [16/07/2010]

Sunday, 11 July 2010

data visualising projects

Visualisation of tweets between Twitter employees.
Yau, N. (2010) Connections among Twitter Employees. [Online] [11/07/2010]

Various projects using live data to visualise. [2010] Real-Time Art. [Online] [11/07/2010]

Coblin, A. (2009) CaT 2009: The Wizard of Data Art, Aaron Koblin. [Online]

Thorp, J. (2010) Visualizing Pressible: EdLab Artist-in-Residency in NYC. [Online] [11/07/2010]

A news detecting device, programmed to activate under given tolerance level and tagged keywords. This is the code that will only activate when 25% of the wire stories are about Stephen Harper, the Canadian prime minister.

NYTNewsWire wire = new NYTNewsWire();
wire.addFilter(“person”, “HARPER, STEPHEN”, 0.25);

Jer (2009) NewsAlarm – wiring in to the NYT NewsWire API. [Online] [11/07/2010]

A visualisation, which in sequence of images, highlights the organisational connections and its actions of the U.S. government. Data is collected from the NYTimes Developer Netwerk site.

NYTimes: 365/360. [Online] [11/07/2010]

Social Data Browsing: Dumpster

12 February 2006
Lev Manovich
Consider the following paradox. The same few decades of the nineteenth century that gave us the most detailed artistic representations of human emotions and inner feelings, including romantic love, also saw the rise of statistical and sociological imagination. While Flaubert and Tolstoy were putting the emotions of their heroines under the artistic microscope of their prose, a different paradigm was emerging in which the individuals were nothing but dots contributing to a social law, a pattern, or a distribution. In 1838 August Compte coined the term ‘sociology’ for the new discipline that was to study the laws governing the life of society. (He also proposed the term ‘social physics'). According to another founder of the discipline, Emile Durkheim, sociology is the science concerned with ‘social facts’ – phenomena that have an independent and objective existence separate from the actions of the individuals. In his major work Suicide (1897) Durkheim set out to demonstrate how such seemingly individual acts as suicides in fact follow general statistical patterns and can be explained in terms of structural forces that operate in society at large. Compare this to Anna Karenina (1877) where Tolstoy meticulously follows the last hours and minutes of Anna’s life with a kind of anti-sociological gaze – looking at her not from the outside as a social scientist, but on the contrary, depicting how the outside world appears as seen by her.
In general, representational art has depicted individuals rather than social groups, classes, and institutions. Even in the case of modern realist literature and painting, including socialist realism, which consciously aimed to represent social types and classes, what the writers and painters actually show us are individual human beings. In other words, regardless of whether a painting or a sculpture is named ‘worker’, ‘farmer’, ‘miner’ etc, it shows a single concrete individual. And when artists have tried visually to represent really big groups, the typical result has been a crowd in which individual differences are hard to read. The same relationships between the zoom function and the level of detail holds today – consider the individual figures in Mathew Barney’s The Cremaster Cycle versus the groups of veiled women in the films by Shirin Neshat, or the panoramic views of Andreas Gursky which reduce individuals to swirling dots.
It appears that we may be dealing with some essential characteristic of art. Or maybe this limitation is simply a general characteristic of all images in general – their inability to represent abstract concepts and logical relationships. After all, if in the course of evolution human species developed two different representations systems – one linguistic and one image-based – it would make sense that they should complement each other, and that images would not do what language does best.
But what if this limitation is simply a result of the representational techniques that artists had at their disposal? Consider, for instance, how the techniques of films invented in the first two decades of the twentieth century – editing and different types of shots – have allowed film directors to alternate between close-ups showing individuals and long shots showing the groups to which these individuals belong. Given this example, what can we expect from computers? Can computer media be used to create artistic representations that link the individual and the social without subsuming one in the other, i.e. the particular in the general? If we consider the range of computer techniques available for organising and viewing data, things look quite encouraging. We can switch between multiple views of the same data, traverse the data at different scales, and move between multiple media linked together. And we can do this in near or close to real time. We can also instruct software to search through and mine very large amounts of data – such as the data produced by the millions of real people who engage in online chat, write blogs, send emails, upload their photos on Flickr and so on. What types of representation can be created if we combine these computer techniques and new ways of gathering data as well as of structuring and displaying it?
Although The Dumpster by Golan Levin (working with Kamal Nigam and Jonathan Feinberg) can be related to traditional genres such as portraiture or documentary, as well as established new-media genres such as visualisation and database art, it is something new and different. I would like to call it a ‘social data browser’. It allows you to navigate between the intimate details of people’s experiences and the larger social groupings. The particular and the general are presented simultaneously, without one being sacrificed to the other.
The Dumpster application window shows a large ‘crowd’ of circles at the same time. While in a typical painting individual differences would be lost at this scale, here you can click on any circle and read the corresponding blog fragment. And this is just a beginning. Consider the way in which Levin structures the navigation. In typical hypermedia you move horizontally between pages or scenes connected by links. In typical information visualisation you ‘move upward’, so to speak – from the level of individual data to larger patterns that become visible when the numerous data points are turned into a single image or a shape. But in Levin’s group portrait, you are encouraged to navigate both horizontally, vertically, and diagonally between the particular and the general. You can, for example, simply click on different circles, jumping from one breakup case to another and randomly explore the overall data space. Or you can explore the circles that are similar in colour – which means that the corresponding postings are similar in some ways. Or you can explore the circles that have an opposite color and thus belong to a different grouping. In short, the seemingly incompatible points of view of Tolstoy and Durkheim – the subjective experience and the social facts – are brought together via the particular information architecture and navigation design of The Dumpster.
But if we simply limit ourselves to describing the work as it appears visually, we will miss the crucial characteristics of the social data browser constructed by Levin. We need to consider how the data presented in The Dumpster was obtained and processed before it was presented to us. Using a variety of methods, Levin and his collaborators have filtered the huge data space of online blogs isolating the postings from 2005 where teenagers narrated their breakups. The result was 20,000 postings describing ‘confirmed’ breakups. These postings were subjected to further analysis in order to derive various metadata about them: reasons for the break-up, who broke up with whom, the age and sex of the author, as well as their emotional state. Most of this metadata was not explicitly contained in the postings but is inferred with a high degree of probability by the project’s authors.
The result is a group portrait appropriate for the age of data mining, large databases, and global surveillance programs such as Echelon. The group ‘painted’ by The Dumpster did not commission this portrait itself but rather was created by the artist by searching though the digital traces that people leave online. The ordering of individual members within this very large group of 20,000 people is the result of mathematical analysis. As a result, each individual breakup experience becomes a point in a multi-dimensional space that we are invited to explore. In short, we are invited to mine the data prepared by the project’s authors who used sophisticated computer methods.
More than two decades ago, William Gibson accurately predicted the cyberculture of the 1990s with its idea of virtual navigation through data. By naming his recent novel Pattern Recognition, Gibson points to the new period we are living in now. It is a period when more prosaic but ultimately more consequential ways of exploring data have come to the forefront, including search engines available to the masses and data mining as used by companies and government agencies. The Dumpster uses industrial strength data gathering and data analysis strategies that normally are not easily accessible for single individuals to show how they result in new kinds of social representations.
Manovich, L. (2006) Social Data Browsing. [Online] [11/07/2010]

Where did the breakup data come from?
The Dumpster visualizes a fixed collection of 20,000 romantic breakups that occurred during 2005. These breakups were obtained from web logs ("blogs") posted by people on the Internet. At least half of the authors of these breakups were American teenagers between the ages of 13 and 19. Approxmately seventy percent of the breakup authors were identified as female, while roughly fifteen percent were identified as male.
The breakup data for the Dumpster was kindly provided by Intelliseek, the company behind BlogPulse. Blog posts were collected by issuing queries to BlogPulse's search engine using words and phrases indicative of breakups. For example, posts containing phrases such as "broke up" or "dumped me" were considered likely initial candidates. The resulting several hundred thousand posts were scored by a machine learning classifier trained to recognize posts about specifically romantic breakups, in an effort to eliminate (for example) posts about rock bands breaking up. From the remainder, the twenty thousand posts with the highest classification scores were selected for inclusion in the interactive visualization.
Using custom language-analysis software, the text of each post was computationally evaluated in order to determine many different characteristics of the breakup and the just-ended relationship. These included factual characteristics (e.g. was someone in the relationship cheating? Did the author instigate the breakup, or did the author's partner?), emotional characteristics (e.g. does the author appear to be angry, depressed, or relieved?), and other common features of romantic breakups (e.g. was this a "repeat breakup"? Have the former partners decided to remain friends?). Where possible, the age and gender of the author of the post were extracted and/or determined. All of these characteristics are then used as a means for computing and indicating the "similarity" of breakups within the interactive interface.
The Dumpster: A Portrait of Romantic Breakups Collected from Blogs in 2005. [11/07/2010]