Cool online presentations with free software

It has been a while since I wrote a tutorial to Share The Wealth, so it’s about time I shared some practical (if basic) knowledge beyond reposting a link.

For years I have had a pet project in the backburner: I wanted to create presentations without the need of dedicated software, commercial (like PowerPoint or Keynote), or free (like LibreOffice or OpenOffice). That way I could avoid bringing my computer to a lecture, and not worry about what computer system would be available in the auditorium. As long as there is internet connectivity or a USB port, I can bring a URL and a USB as a backup, and it will work.

I also wanted some minimum functionality like:

  • Being able to print the presentation or export it into PDF
  • Keyboard controls (including overview)
  • Accesible from any device
  • Progress bar
  • Transitions and effects
  • Reproducible in any browser without the need of any plug-in or additional software
  • Presenter window with next slide, notes and countdown
  • All in a file format that is easy to use, like HTML or Markdown

Of course, your wishes shall be granted by the gods of Free Software. Behold the no-dependencies JavaScript Reveal.js.

But to make the presentation truly awesome, there were a few more things I needed to do, like incorporating it into my Git workflow (for branches, versions, and all those Git goodies) and hosting it.

Let me walk you through the process, so you can also be up and running with Presentation Awesomeness in no time:

First, create a new repository on GitHub or GitLab (if you don’t know what that is, you need to read other tutorials first). For this tutorial, I’ll use GitHub, although in the office we use Gitlab.

Give your presentation a name, like “MyPresentation”.

Clone it to your local machine. You can use the GUI application (I like the new Electron-based beta), or use the CLI (“Terminal” for Apple OSX users):

git clone git@github.com:yourusername/MyPresentation.git
[Obvious note: substitute “yourusername” for your user name]

Clone reveal.js onto your local machine. This time:
git clone git@github.com:hakimel/reveal.js.git

Go to the File System (“Finder” in OSX), locate your Git working directory (“Folder” in OSX), and move (or copy) the content of the directory “reveal.js” to the “MyPresentation” folder.

Modify the index.html file. This is where your presentation content and format goes. Take a look at the detailed tutorial here.

Once done, “push” the project to your Git. If using the CLI:
git push

Feel free to use Grunt for local dynamic serving. Some people even use generator-reveal, a Yeoman generator, to have each slide as an individual HTML or Markdown file.

If you are using GitHub, now, “automagically”, your slides are published at yourusername.github.io/MyPresentation

One more detail: if you want to access the slides themselves (for a hosted presentation) instead of the “repo” (repository of all the files you just “pushed”), you need to go to GitHub and enable “GitHub pages” in this particular repository. Just go to the repository index.html page in GitHub, and select the down-arrow menu icon on the upper right (nexto to “insights”) “settings>pages” and activate GitHub pages for that repo.

Additionally, there are many plugins you can use with reveal.js, like kreator. Enjoy!

A meeting in Chile and 5 days in Paraguay

Tuesday, March 28 I took a nice flight from London to Santiago de Chile. Nice not because the constant turbulence, which made it feel like I was flying in a food mixer with wings, but because laying down completely stretched, I slept almost throughout the entire flight. The fact that the cabin crew were unusually nice also helped.

After a quick meeting in Santiago de Chile, I took another flight, this time to Asuncion (Paraguay), where I stayed until Sunday, April 2nd.

Right after landing I was picked up by my local distributor and friend, who took me to their offices to have a long meeting preparing next morning’s 8:00 am presentation to a customer. Which meant little sleep.

For the next four nights, I stayed in the new Esplendor Wyndham Grand hotel. A very new and nice hotel. The breakfast buffet was quite weak, but the rooftop swimming pool (which had a DJ and bar at night) was sweet.

The hotel, along with many other luxury hotels in Asuncion, was completely full due to the Inter-American Development Bank’s annual meeting.

The business trip was going as expected, meeting high-level officials like the Secretary of Commerce, the Secretary of Health, the Secretary of Science, the President of the Social Security Administration, and the Director of the National Cancer Institute. Even the party at my distributor’s mansion was awesome, with the best beef grill I have ever had.

But on Tuesday, March 28, something happened that sparked a political storm. As The Guardian describes it:

On Tuesday, riot police and elite troops sealed off the small South American country’s congress. Inside, legislators traded punches and fierce insults, and – after the speaker of the house delayed a vote until Thursday – a pro-Cartes senator seized a microphone, proclaimed himself senate president, and steam-rolled through the changes with a show of hands.

Paraguay, like many other countries, has a collection of “unique Presidents” in its history (something that the USA now knows all too well), from dictators like Alfredo Stroessner to a Catholic Bishop that became president, and was involved in a big scandal when it was discovered that he had secretly fathered many children with different women, who constantly threw parties in his yacht, well attended by foreign models.

So the fears of a dictatorship looming, after the fiasco in the Senate, did not seem too extreme, regardless of what you think of its current President. What was extreme is the reaction of some rioters, who set the Paraguayan Parliament on fire Friday night, March 31st.

source

One of the rioters was shot and killed by the police:

source

In an ironic coincidence, the “Superviaducto” (three-level elevated highway) was inaugurated that same night. And I saw, from my hotel’s window, both the fireworks celebrating the new infrastructure investment, as well as the smoke coming out of Congress.

Although my sources at National Security (not long ago I would have thought impossible to say something like that) assured me everything was going to be OK, I did not want to find out for myself if things were about to take a turn for the violent, if martial law would restrict free movement, or if a mob would storm the hotel to give the bankers meeting there a piece of their mind. So I decided to leave for the airport 16 hours before my flight our of Paraguay was due to depart. Better safe than sorry.

Since I was so early, once in the airport I had to use my persuasion powers to gain access to the safe restricted area past passport control. But my Paraguayan distributor insisted in meeting me to have a final conversation and invite me to dinner, so I had to go through immigration and customs again (and again upon my return).

A few hours later the Secretary of the Interior was deposed, and the police officer that shot the rioter was arrested.

That swift action defending the empire of the law, and the united voice of all political parties calling for peace and calm, made everything return to normality very quickly.

I really hope that the beautiful country of Paraguay and its charming people can enjoy a very long period of peace, democracy, and prosperity.

But that was not the end of my trip. After the endless 16 hours went by, and a 2-hour flight to Buenos Aires, I had a 7-hour layover, followed by a 12-hour transatlantic red-eye flight to London.

Truth be told, the Admirals’ Club VIP lounge at EZE Airport made the layover bearable, since I was able to take a shower, eat (very decent for a lounge) food, read the newspaper, connect to the internet, and work with my laptop.

Who says the life of an international CEO is boring (or comfortable)? 😀

Cambodia

Sunday, March 12, we arrived in Sihanoukville (Cambodia). We were greeted by our driver, “Mr. Temple” and our guide, “Mr. Lucky”.

Mr. Lucky was a sweet guy who told us a great deal about Cambodia’s history, present, and his life. The kind of guide you always hope to get, but seldom do.

Mr. Lucky was the youngest of 4 brothers. His other 3 brothers died during the Khmer Rouge regime. Fortunately he survived (hence his nickname). He taught himself English and became a travel guide. Now he supports his mother, and he’s engaged.

Mr. Lucky’s story is like a metaphor for Cambodia’s own recent history: without asking for it, it became entangled in the so called (by us) “Vietnam War” when the North Vietnamese used Cambodia’s jungle to smuggle into the South, to attack the South’s regime and later America’s troops. So the USA decided, without declaring war or any warning, to bomb the hell out of Cambodia, throwing the country and its people into chaos, which was seized by the shrewd and criminal Pol Pot, who enlisted young boys and teenagers from the countryside, many of them orphans after the American bombings, to create an army of violent children who were ordered to take people our of cities and into forced labor in the rice fields. The book and movie “The Killing Fields” does a great job telling the story, and there is a new one coming out this year.

[Tears run down my cheeks as I write these lines. Too many people have suffered too much because delusional egomaniacs decided to put themselves and their “cause” ahead of human lives and common good. Until when? When will we learn?]

That “experiment” cost the lives of over 2 million people. Those who were seen as part of the “ruling elite” (including doctors, teachers, lawyers, etc) were shot on the spot. Others followed: anyone who wore glasses, anyone who could read… But three years later Pol Pot realized the plan was unsustainable and people, those who did not starve, died of disease, or of overworking, were allowed to return to their cities and their previous lives.

Like Spain after Franco’s coup and the Civil War, Cambodia was sent back in time by the murderous campaign of a psychopath. And it’s still lagging behind Thailand or Vietnam, although the Cambodian people are resilient, and with over 50% of the population under 25 years of age, it has a good future ahead… if politics permits (more about that later).

We drove into Ream National Park: 210 Km2 (81 sq mi) with mangrove forest, freshwater wetlands, sea-grass beds, evergreen forest, beaches, rivers, and islands.

First we stopped at the Golden Silver Gulf and Bathing Beach. A beautiful beach that was full of trash. Which is what happens when your people are hungry and your priority is “survival”, rather than “conservation”.

After the walk on the beach we went to the rice fields, where women carried large baskets of cashews on their head, and men plowed the fields with the help of water buffalos, while tourists walked in a line, in the distance.

With a little effort and investment, that could be a paradise. But here is where politics get in the way: the Prime Minister of Cambodia since 1998, Hun Sen, is a very corrupt former Khmer Rouge member.

By controlling the media and violently suppressing the opposition, he has been in power for decades.
International aid and investment has been offered to Cambodia from many countries, but while almost all of them require the Cambodian government to agree to certain measures in return (advancement of democracy, openness, fight against corruption, etc), the Chinese offer their aid and investment without any requirement. So obviously the corrupt Cambodian government takes the Chinese money and pockets it without any qualms. Which means the Chinese influence is growing uncontrollably. For example: they just bought a beach in the Ream National Park to build a hotel and casino.

I was there to document the deforestation in the Ream National Park. It’s occurring in the “second row”, behind a first row of trees that hides the view of what’s happening behind it. You can’t see it from the roads, which are blocked by Chinese security guards. So we took a boat through the mangroves, from where I captured images (DSC_1271 and DSC_1274) of the deforestation.

When the international community denounced the deforestation, the Prime Minister denied it as “lies”. Then the UK ambassador obtained aerial pictures proving it, and met with the Prime Minister, who said: “we will look into it”. But as my pictures prove, nothing short of international sanctions will stop the corrupt Cambodian government and the Chinese from spoiling a beautiful natural treasure.

It’s a very common and sad story: poor countries, led by corrupt politicians, sell the only things they have, for short-term personal gains, leaving the country and its people stranded back in time and creating more long-term poverty that only leads to more instability and violence… Here’s one example: Cambodia’s land is very fertile. Vietnam’s was too, but the war savaged the country so much, that they need to make it fertile again. So Vietnam, with money made from rapid industrialization helped by both Chinese and Western countries, has bought land worms from Cambodia to make its land fertile… which is leaving Cambodia’s land less and less fertile.

Of course, the fauna is also suffering this deforestation. In order to document it, we went with the boat through the jungle into a wooden watchtower to look for endangered bird species from above.

The long and narrow boardwalk, with several boards broken, and others about to, leads to the most precarious man-made structure I have ever climbed. A slight wind breeze made the four-story tower sway quite noticeably. With every step the wood screeched letting you know that its days are counted and you could be the last one climbing it. Obviously, it was all worth it and the views from above were amazing. But also sad. We could only find a few endangered birds and nests when not long ago there were many.

After our visit to Ream National Park, we drove to Psar Ler market, where we saw many “exotic” (to us) fruits and foods. Some old ladies were cooking different dishes in the middle of the corridors, and following the suggestion of our guide, we had very interesting “cooked in shell” eggs, but could not stomach trying the 14-week gestated egg. He did.

We said goodbye to Cambodia by having late lunch on the beach: delicious vegetable “crepes” and glass noodles with king crab.

The beach was a big, public beach, frequented by both locals and increasingly low-budget tourist from China, Korea, and Europe. I could not help but notice the many “sexual predators” lurking. Middle aged Europeans walking up and down the beach, taking very young Cambodian girls (or boys) to dinner… it reminded me the case of the Russian oligarch who bought an island and was recently arrested for having 20 minors locked up in his room. His luxury yacht can still be seen in the Sihanoukville port, and access to his island by land bridge has been closed down, the crime being so horrific nobody knows what to do with that island.

We left Cambodia happy to have met wonderful people and visited amazing places… but sad that their past and current circumstances are so terrible, with a future that does not look too promising. Unless the international community does something about it. Which it won’t (as it won’t in Syria, Congo… and too many other places with even more tragic realities).

Back onboard luxury and safety, we attended a traditional music and dance performance by members of the Cambodian Fine Arts School, went out on deck to see Cambodia’s serene sunset one last time, while many colorful fishing boats and ferries kept the waters busy, and had a succulent dinner at Prego, the Italian specialty restaurant.

Hypocrisy? Not caring? Hardly. We have become aware. We already were, from books and movies, from TV and the news. But nothing like first-hand accounts to plant a seed of conscience that one day will turn into action. Even if remotely. As so many things are done today.
Thank you, Mr. Lucky. We will not forget.

Avoiding government intrusion in my latest trip to the USA

February 18 to 23 I traveled to Orlando, Florida (USA) for the HIMSS trade show. As much as I have enjoyed the magic of Orlando parks in the past, this was a pure business trip. I am an EU citizen (Spain) living in the UK, and I took a direct flight from London to Orlando. I had recently renewed my passport and ESTA, so I should be able to enter the USA without a problem right? Well, that has been the case dozens of times in the past. But the present is different.

When I applied for the renewal of my ESTA, I noticed a new field in the application form: social media. It was an optional field, so obviously, consistent with my fierce belief and defense of privacy, I refused to disclose such information. But took notice: government intrusiveness is on the rise, and in the era of Trump, it can only get worse.

This has been a challenge for years (border search, dispute over forced password disclosure…), but the atmosphere has gotten completely toxic in the past few weeks. Besides the infamous “travel ban”, a few days before my departure, the following news pointed to an increase in this government abuse:

So taking some advice I read online (How to legally cross a US (or other) border without surrendering your data and passwords) I decided to play it safe:

  • Even though my laptop is encrypted (as are my backups), for the first time in years, I traveled without a laptop. While it was quite a liberating experience, it also made my work a lot harder and less productive.
  • I took a “burner phone”, completely erased, reset to factory default, and with an empty SIM. The plan was to purchase a new phone once I went through the border (which I did), and re-install all my apps and get access to all my usual services. But I did need to take that SIM with me because my business colleagues were counting on contacting me via that number.

Even after all those precautions, and with “nothing to loose”, I was determined to not give my SIM PIN away if requested. Even if it meant refusal of entry, deportation or detention. Why? Because there really is something to loose: my privacy, your privacy. As citizens (even visitors) and individuals, we owe it to ourselves and our fellow citizens and visitors to draw a line, a line most of us agree on (and is expressed in the Constitution and common practice), and defend it above and beyond our personal circumstances.

When it comes to “values”, I do not accept a simplistic utilitarian and individualistic approach. We are a society, we shape and are shaped by culture, and we should aim to advance a civilization. Our society, culture, and civilization. Our beliefs.

Who is “we”? What is “our”? I identify with free thinkers, science, freedom, justice, equality… and those are values shared by a majority of people in the world. The USA has made them “banner words”, and has proudly displayed them everywhere, from anthems to posters, from flags to excuses to invade countries and kill people without even a trial. The say they are ready to die for it, and they surely have killed for it…

So, what happened at the border?

The DHS agent asked me the usual, and legit, questions (length of stay, reason for visit, etc), and then told me: Let me see your laptop.

It was the moment I was both fearing and looking forward to. I replied: I left it at home, so you could not get your hands on it.

His reply was an indication that my precautions were becoming widespread: And you erased your phone to factory default, am I right?

With a grin on my face I could (and did not want to) disguise, I replied: Of course.

With a silent nod, he let me through.

At the tradeshow I was reminded how did we get to that point. For those who do not know it, I work in the healthcare IT industry. Healthcare, in the USA, is an extreme example of the damage that can be caused by wild capitalism and lack of government oversight to protect those in need. The telltale signs were everywhere: extremely rich executives, lobbyists and politicians giving keynote speeches about “healthcare”, while their country has a shameful record of health outcomes vs expenditure; lack of diversity (for example, at a “business breakfast” with over 200 attendees, the only people of color in the room were those serving the food); an absolute focus on short-term profits and legalese, and an appalling absence of focus on real healthcare benefits…

I’ve always believed that the right technology in the hands of people focused on doing good, can change the world. But I must admit I underestimated the colossal reactionary forces of short-sighted economic interest groups.

The struggle continues.

Very interesting insights from the UBS Forum 2017

Yesterday Giles and Magda invited me to attend the annual UBS Forum at the beautiful Rosewood Hotel, one of those hotels in a renovated palace in the heart of London, with a resident dog.

Held in major financial cities across Europe, the UBS Forum is presented under the banner “sharper opinions – smarter decisions”, where UBS specialists and external experts provide insights on key topics. This years’ speakers and topics were:

  • Jamie Broderick, CEO, UBS Wealth Management UK; and David Rowe, Managing Director, UBS Wealth Management: “Global and UK economic outlook for 2017 and beyond”
  • Paul Donovan, Chief Global Economist, UBS Wealth Management; and Caroline Simmons, Deputy-head, Investment Office, UK, UBS Wealth Management: “where the investment opportunities lie in 2017 and beyond”
  • Paul Craven, former Goldman turned behavioral economist: “the Status Quo bias and why people default to doing nothing and/or not changing” and “the loser’s game”
  • Tim Kent-Robinson, Head of Client Investment Specialists, UBS Wealth Management: “Implementing the House View”

There was also a Panel discussion and Audience Q&A, facilitated by a “clicker” with which the audience voted on several issues. Surprisingly enough the majority of the audience was in agreement with Theresa May’s handling of Brexit, even though they said it would damage the UK’s interests. Talk about Status Quo bias!! Definitely, the UK is the land of unquestioned Status Quo.

Here are some of the most interesting takeaway points and quotes I wrote down:

  • UBS has a cool simulator: “The end game? You have just been appointed as all-commanding leader of a major country. You have control over the monetary, fiscal, and foreign policy of your country.”

  • The “Risks” (last) slide in the presentations was choke full of tiny print and was displayed for 3 seconds

  • A Mexican car exported to the USA has crossed the border over 20 times before ever reaching the end-consumer

  • The 2008 financial crisis took away credit -> Without credit income inequality rises and consumption drops -> creating a shift from “economics of aspiration” to “economics of envy” (“your neighbor buys a car, you buy a car… it does not matter if your neighbor paid cash and you took a loan”, but what if you can’t get a loan?) -> leading to resentment which leads to populism

  • Domestic investors understand local politics better, therefore reacting more calmly to political uncertainty

  • “If you give money to an American, they will spend it”

  • “China will grow 6.25% to 6.5%. Why? Because President Jinping wants that”

  • The FTSE return last year was 17%, BUT if you take out the best performing 5 days, then it was only 1%

  • “Nationalism, prejudice and discrimination leads to inefficient markets and the waste of perfectly good human capital which leads to less growth and economic damage” (SIC, but wake up: that’s how they see you)

  • The Loser’s Game is an old research paper, but completely worth reading it

  • Prospect Theory: Potential gains encourage risk aversion, potential losses encourage DOUBLE risk taking

  • An amazing Status Quo bias example is the reason behind Europe’s “two levels” of organ donations

  • An amazing example of the Decoy Effect or Anchoring Effect is The Economist subscriptions options (number 6 in this list)

  • If you think you are in control (the “driver of the elephant”), check out the Jastrow Illusion

Two days in Brussels

Tuesday, March 31 and Wednesday, February 1 I went to Brussels by train. It is sad to see the permanent heavy military presence around Brussels main train station.

Microsoft had invited me to participate in the ‘Health Digital Transformation’ at the Microsoft Executive Briefing Center, because my company is a founding member of the ‘AI in Health Partner Alliance’ (along with Microsoft and 20 other tech companies) which was launched at the event. The event was attended by executives from tech companies, researchers, journalist, and policy makers.

I was also in Brussels to meet some people from the European Parliament to discuss official business.

“Fun” fact: did you know that 1/4 of the whole EU Parliament budget goes to translation services?

This Revolution needs a Revolution

Yesterday I went with my wife and son to visit the Victoria & Albert’s Museum exhibition You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970. The aim of the exhibition was quite clear:

How have the finished and unfinished revolutions of the late 1960s changed the way we live today and think about the future?

I was very much looking forward to visiting the exhibition. It is SO timely, and SO needed, I thought.

After visiting it, I left enraged. Why? After all, it was very well “put together”, full of artifacts and information, with a fancy sound system, and beautifully arranged and orchestrated.

ORGANIZED

More importantly, it was not a nostalgic attempt at regurgitating old revolutionary slogans.

What enraged me is how co-opted the whole collection felt. How all those efforts and sacrifices, how all that energy and suffering from past revolutionaries, has been assimilated by the system.

From the ® Registered slogans to the “no photographs” signs at the entrance (to which I, OF COURSE, paid no attention to whatsoever):

® slogan!

To the texts denouncing powerful corporations and states controlling Western media making it difficult to broadcast alternative opinions. You don’t say??!! How about adding “even museums”?

You don't say??!!

Of course, the whole thing had a watered down flavor, “ready for the masses to consume it” (at over£17 or over $20 per ticket). Not just because of the large dedicated-store (“Exit through the gift store” as Banksy brilliantly highlighted), where many appealing objects were for sale for nostalgics and revolutionary wannabes.

Interesting mash up poster

But also for the paternalistic tone of the whole exhibition, surgically isolating issues (identity, sexuality, peace, music, fashion…), even (correctly) including the new contemporary totemic theological substitute: technology.

Origins of Personal Computers

I was very happy and proud to tell my son that his grandmother was in Paris throwing cobblestones to the police in the student revolts of 1969; that his grandfather took me, when I was a little kid, to see a forbidden theater play during Spain’s democratic transition, fearing the secret police repression; that I participated as a kid in discussions with adults about anarchism and communism, when both were outlawed in Spain; and that I have participated in some of the revolutions and protests that came in the decades after that.

I’m not angry because they took “my” revolutions and repackaged them for easy digestion by accommodating masses. That was foreseeable, and an obvious result of the reigning empire of consumerist capitalism.

I’m not even nostalgically refusing to accept that times have changed.

What really annoyed me and made me angry was the lack of reference to a combative present, to the continuation of the struggle.

The fact that they showed, at the end of the exhibition “How have the finished and unfinished revolutions of the late 1960s changed the way we live today” but completely left out “and think about the future” is what enraged me. Particularly as Trump is president in the USA, May PM in GB, the PP rule Spain, the far right advances in France…

We need to remember that the fight is not over, that fascism is not only back, but stronger and more powerful than ever. We, all of us, and the institutions that serve us, including museums, have a duty to promote thoughtful debate around ethics and values, and fiercely protest and fight through self-organisation, unity, and collaboration. We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to those who fought for us in the past, we owe it to those who will come after us.

If the urban bourgeoisie wants to be the first to fall under the boot of the oppressors again, so be it. If proto and pseudo-intellectuals endlessly self-delude themselves into thinking that our democracies and institutions will save us from authoritarian demagogues, fascist megalomaniacs, and our own blind pursuit of endless consumerism, so be it. In the meantime, I will be teaching my children about the struggle and participating in the smartest and most effective way I can.

My EU policy recommendation published: “Hacking Policy. Exploring Innovative Ways to Advance Policy Reform”

Under the title “Hacking Policy. Exploring Innovative Ways to Advance Policy ReformStartupEurope has published a report listing the Policy Recommendations that came out of the Policy Hackathon in San Francisco, where my team won the competition.

Download it here.

Valencia (Spain) VC flows

Adam Gilfix, Brian de Luna, and Luke Heine, with the help of Dealroom.co, have created a very interesting data visualization tool for Venture Capital (VC) flows.

I know for a fact and from experience that VC activity in places like Silicon Valley, NY, Boston, or London is big. But even when I go back home (Valencia – Spain) for the holidays, there are all kinds of “VC” events, news, meetings, spaces… which, given the conservative and provincial nature of the “Valencian Investors” I have met, surprises me.

So I decided to check out Valencia (Spain) VC flows. Unsurprisingly, those “flows” (both inbound and outbound) are quite recent, very very small, extremely limited in geographical reach, and conservative in industries. See for yourself:

View post on imgur.com

View post on imgur.com

View post on imgur.com

Several caveats, though:

  • The data may not cover ALL VC activity in the region
  • Some activity may be wrongly identified (for example, there is a transaction coming from “Valencia – Venezuela”, which could be a coincidence, or most likely a data collection error)

My artwork “God bless #Amurika”, on display at the Ludwig Museum (Cologne), explained

I have often criticized artists who hide behind “my work speaks for itself” or “it’s up to the viewer to interpret my work”. Nice try, but that’s bullshit.

Of course, anyone can interpret anything when exposed to an artwork! But the artist should at least make an attempt to explain the meaning behind a piece. No matter how self-explanatory (or obscure) it might be. It’s not “restricting the viewer”, it’s guiding; suggesting is not imposing.

I don’t buy “that’s not my job” or “I’m not good with words” either. Because if you can’t eloquently and intelligently express your thoughts and actions, I may enjoy your work under that framework (Art Brut, Outsider, or whatever), but I want to know. And no, I don’t want your dealer, curator, or critic to speak for you. Don’t let the establishment sequester your voice, your genius, your creativity, with the promise to make it shine and propel it to heights you can’t reach yourself: anything you do yourself is genuine, and therefore it has the maximum value… unless you are talking about money, of course. But that’s a whole different story. We are talking art here, expression, not market or money.

So back to my own work.

Like David Shrigley, an artist whose work I really like, I often find myself using hand written words all over my pieces.

I created “God bless #Amurika” on the invitation of Ludwig Contemporary Art Museum’s Art Lab in Cologne (Germany), November 9, 2016. Of course, I woke up with the nightmare news of Donald Trump being elected President of the USA. I could not think about anything else, I had to let the thoughts, feelings, fears and anxieties that the news provoked in me, out. I needed to fix them down, to exorcise them out of me, and to share them with a world that for the most part does not seem to be listening, and does not seem to care.

First I took the silhouette of a flying dove, symbol of peace and freedom, and added a cardboard cutout of spectacles pencil-painted green over it.

Notice that the spectacles do not have lenses (in the form of a different color, reflection, or any other hint suggesting their presence), so they are an intention, a symbol, rather than an actual mechanism that may be manipulated or become a restrictive thought framework.

But the spectacles themselves are the key: they are commonly associated in most cultures with science, education, knowledge, and culture.

That’s what the “dove” desperately needs, in order to fly high and above, to soar to the clouds. In order to remain free.

Inside the dove silhouette I wrote:

  • God bless #Amurika: “God”, in its broadest sense, not as much as spirituality, but as an undefined deity. That to which the irrational mind appeals (“bless”) to try to participate in a development over which it feels it has no control, but it wishes it did. Note the use of the “hashtag symbol” to denote current communication affected by social media, particularly the 140 character restriction imposed by Twitter, and the “subject ontology tagging” brought by the hashtag, which both focuses and narrows our conversations messages. “Amurika” is another reference to current departures from traditional communications, where proper form is superseded by intentional (or not) spelling mistakes and phonetizations.
  • #WhiteLash: the main real reason for Trumps’ Electoral College (not popular vote) victory. The extreme and irrational Republican Party opposition to Barack Obama’s presidency, amplified by ultra-conservative media, received by millions of latent (and even open) racist Americans has generated the perfect environment for a “WhiteLash” reaction.
  • #Trumpf: in reference to John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight show covering Trump’s family name and how it changed upon entering the U.S. from Drumpf to Trump, so #Trumpf became a calling for further inquiry into Trump’s (and his family’s) past. More info here.
  • Misogyny votes / Fear votes / Racism votes / Ignorance votes / Short sightedness votes / Selfishness votes: all those negative states of mind, personality traits, ways of thinking, ways of life… however you want to characterise it, is nothing else than, in the end, people. People fear. People are weak and vulnerable. People have fear. People are irrational and aggressive. And people vote.
  • But don’t attack voting, invest in education: and as the last line says, it is not necessarily voting that represents the problem. Voting is just an expression and tally of a choice (albeit a limited one in the case of a two-party election). Representation IS the real problem: when the vote goes to an intermediary. When your choice, your individuality, is aggregated, reduced, limited, and kidnapped by those who, enshrined in the “representative role they have been chosen to play”, amass power to abuse those whom they are supposed to represent, which again produces fear, anger and… here we go again. How to break that vicious cycle? Education. Educate people, and once they are educated, they can inform, debate, and choose freely, and directly, without the need of any intermediary. Direct Democracy. True Democracy.

Where is that dove, the embodiment of our aspirations, a quasi-spiritual figure, is trying to fly to?

In Cloud 1 I wrote:

  • Philosophy: the highest achievement of human self-consciousness. So lacking in political or scientific debate. So necessary as guiding light and principle of our social contracts and personal aspirations.
  • “Beliefs”: in brackets because it is a double-edged sword of a concept. On the one hand, beliefs are what hold us together through the gaps in knowledge. It’s what completes our rational structures to make a polished whole of each one of us. It’s nothing short of our identities. But at the same time, any gregarious movement of organized abuse (call it religion or politics) has often referred to “beliefs” as the reason and driving force behind their actions.
  • Pursuit: because no cloud is a destination, and there is no destiny other than to pursue. Or like the Zen koan puts it: the journey is the reward.
  • Improve: it is what should happen in that journey, constant improvement, aspiring to go higher. Not to trump anyone, but to gain perspective and understanding.
  • Aspire: what will drive that improvement. Not “ambition”.
  • Pride: not the kind that gives us a wrong and rotten feeling of superiority in an artificially stratified society, but the kind that we feel inside, when we overcome challenges, when we improve compared to our previous self. As “we” are always changing, for we are what we want and mean to be.
    Inspire: because, in the end, we are a group (society, species, family, ‘hood… however you look at it). And our well-being can only come from the well-being of all the members in the group. We should and must take care of each other, helping propel each other higher and higher.

In Cloud 2:

  • Happyness (I always thought it should be spelled that way, so I wrote it the way I like it): so personal, so clearly recognizable, so important, that it should drive all our actions. But not only our individual “happyness”, but ensuring the “happyness” of all.
  • Facts / “Truth”  / Data / “Reality”: we could go on and on about Epistemology, but at the end of the day, if we do not share a common illusion, we can not work together.
  • Debate / Science: to me, both are the same. To science needs debate, and there is no debate without science. But that is the only way for us to coordinate and move forward.
  • Equality / Share: Didn’t they tell you as a kid? Share. When did we stop thinking that was a good idea? When did “the other” become someone to be worried about, or even scared of? When will we realize that there is no “other”, that we are all “we”?

At the bottom, inside a “speech balloon”, I wrote:
Thank you Obama, but it was not enough
#MichelleForPresident2020
Because if we are to remain in a representative democracy, Michelle Obama might make a great president.

I added my signature, and for the date I wrote:

The day the USA woke up to reality: Nov. 9, 2016

Notice how in the picture I wrote all that in ALL CAPS to reflect the common online practice of using all caps convey a scream. A scream because this election has been more about shouting than it has been about reasoning. And because I want to shout, to scream in a different way: to reach the world, to spread the message. Finally a scream as a primal instinct. A shout because it hurts, because I’m angry, because I need to shout.

That’s, in a nutshell, what I meant, what I wanted to say.
Good luck and good night.