Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Wishing Sites: Rotterdam Central Library

Many of us like to make wishes. I have to read up on the sociology of this stuff, I don't know if it's some universally intuitive human practice or the product of our culture. If I can speak for myself, though, I think it is intuitive for me to want things to happen in a certain way. Land-locked in this causal universe, individuals usually have very limited influence on what takes place around them, but I believe all people are capable of imagining some different possibilities of how things(outside of their control) can be, and people are prone to having preferences between these different imagined scenarios. If I prefer for the weather to be sunny next Tuesday rather than cloudy, should my very preference be identified as a wish?

I'd say so. I wish for the weather to be sunny. I don't expect for my wish to have any causal influence on the weather, but wouldn't it be nice if it does? I think this is a healthy longing and it helps people deal with the fact that they're pretty ineffective on a grand scale. More importantly, I think my conscious wishes are a mechanism that I use to program my subconscious priorities. When the time comes and I have to make decisions in a context where I do have an influence, the wishes of yesterday and yesteryears come back to take effect and help me decide. Of course, wishes are supposed to expire when they're no longer relevant, and we try to replace them with new wishes all the time, it's an ongoing process. It has its lags and glitches and we can end up wishing for things that stopped being relevant years ago, but I guess that's just something we gotta live with.

We can also consider the parrarealities and the metaphysics of wishes, the models in which they DO have an direct influence in the material world.  Some try to scientifically measure how intentions can affect otherwise random events in an experimental setting. Others pay big money to shamans and gods that supposingly micro-manage and execute our wishes for a fee. I take the myths and religious wishing models as metaphors for a mental process, but some people take them very literally and very seriously.

I love the idea of paying actual money for a wish. I don't love to do it, but I love how it celebrates the beautiful traditional myth of money can buy you anything because money is basically magic. The cheapest way to practice this ritual is dropping a penny into a wishing well or a wishing fountain. This affordance of small enclosed bodies of water had gotten so default in our consciousness, that in almost any sort of constructed puddle or pond near a tourist destination you can find coins laying at the bottom. There doesn't even need to be the legend of a wishing well. Any well can be a wishing well if the tourists BELIEVE hard enough. Or even if they pretend to believe hard enough for laughs.
There's another money-charging wish practice that has been gaining some exposure: sky lanterns. In the Taiwanese town of PingXi, sky lanterns are a big tourist attraction, and on highschool graduation weekend or any such wishful occasion tourists go there to buy them, write wishes on them and send them skyward.  I wish to complete my studies successfully and become a lawyer. I wish to stay with my cute short-haired girlfriend forever. Whatever. I gotta say, though, sending your wishes to some secret high-up place to take effect do correspond with my understanding of how magic works, and I have a particular soft-spot for this one on the grounds of how amazing it looks.  If it looks this stunning then we must be onto something, right?

Actually sky lanterns are banned in many countries including Germany, Austria, Spain and Brazil. They can be a fire hazard (it's a flying burning paper thing what the fuck) and when they land they become widespread litter that are a hassle to clean up. The good news for us in Rotterdam, as you might have guessed by now, is that we get to make wishes to the fixated visuals of a big scale lantern-release-party without having to deal with actual lanterns or paying for them. The setting to do that is at the Rotterdam Central Library in Blaak, at night, as illustrated in the opening picture.

Sure, these lampshades don't look EXACTLY like rising sky lanterns, but with an associative visual imagination and a level of desperation they can fulfill the same function in a wish-making process. After all, aren't all wishes imaginative desperate attempts? Aren't all ritualistic procedures just metaphoric tools that help us to make the wishes meaningful? Maybe yes, maybe no, but it is something worth thinking about, and when I do, I'd like to think about it here. The library is a hub of information and many had come to this location to seek answers. When we make a wish, we also seek an answering, and perhaps this request is fit to be housed in the city's symbolic source of all answers.

A mythical narrative can add some extra flavour to the experience: imagine that every night countless people of Rotterdam would walk pass by this perpetual lantern ceremony, and whoever that has a wish would mentally attach it to one of the "lanterns", knowingly or otherwise. Each lantern, although not physically, carry a Rotterdamer's wish, and a batch of Rotterdam's wishes are collected here every single night. Now imagine an entity who inhabits the building, or who is the personification of the building, who takes the form of an old professor, or a janitor, or a little girl, depending on its mood: an entity that is sometimes named The Librarian.  Imagine that before the library's each daily shut-down, the Librarian would wander through the static lanterns and examine the wishes. As he finished examine a wish, he shuts down that specific light. Eventually all the lights will be down, and the Librarian had taken in all the wishes of that day, and until the Library opens next morning, the Librarian spends the night going through all the books in the building, trying to come up with the perfect way to fulfill every one of our wishes. Each night the Librarian collects and examines and read and analyse and research. When the same people walk by the library the next day, the Librarian eagerly presents the results of its hard work by placing them into the people's unconscious minds. One day they will solve all of their own problems, they will find ways to accomplish all the things they've wished for, and they will believe that it's entirely their own idea. The Librarian takes great pride in this work.

How did you like that? I'm pretty egoistic when it comes to this kind of things and I love that story so fucking much. I'd be swooned if you use this model to make your wish at the location. Or, alternatively, make your own story about the library lanterns and be your own sorcerer, it's more empowering for you that way. If you like to, explain to me how your wish model works for this spot and I might go live it too.

I am certainly not the first to imagine a modern component as a functional ritualistic replacement for a traditional one. For a quick example, you might have heard about these proxy astral phenomenon: Can we pretend that airplanes in night sky are like shooting stars? I wished on two shooting stars last night, but they were only satellites. Is it wrong to wish on space hardware? I wish, I wish, I wish you'd care. 

My point is this. We have proxy moving sky things for shooting stars, and we have an associated imagery for sky lanterns here, and there must be dozens of other modern contexts in which we can make use of for ritualistic wishful purposes. This project is called Wishing Sites, I want to find these contexts in Rotterdam and document the coming-together of my magic city. I have some places in mind and I'm always looking, but I only want to do a blogpost if I have some sort of constructed idea. I'm always constructing ideas. Before they were wishing sites, they were construction sites.

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