The following article was published in N-SPHERE September 2011 issue.


A passer-by once told me, in the applause of unknown spectators, that he thought the idea obsolete, and that my efforts will do little good to help those around me with their own burdens.

I was told that not all want to be saved, even if from my childish point of view I see myself as some sort of out of date knight in not so shiny armor, version 1.5, with some bugs fixed and others self generated, not yet the laughing stock of the modern “hero of the day” archetype but somehow close by.

I was told that the man in me is crippled, broken and puny, specialized in mopping up ruins and dealing with currencies long excluded from the trade, and it was shown to me the hilariousness of every sunrise, true kiss, and meaningful smile.

It was shown to me how the magic of the mirrors twists and distorts even the simplest of perceptions, turning it into a haze out of which undoubtedly one always comes out darker than one was. It was shown to me the cold and heartless behind the mirror of their dishonest eyes.

Finally an angry flashback reminded me I’m not as invincible as I thought I was, and so, in the fading of the clouds up above, the grasshopper’s relentless piercing noise keeps me almost sane, not so sane however as to fully and completely deny the use and opportunity of a complete makeover. Such will be the circumstances of the future, and, whatever the end they will bring, one must understand and grasp the grand scheme of things to some extent.

My brain just went into “safe mode”.



text & artwork by Bahak B


Full article here.



The following article was published in N-SPHERE September 2011 issue.


Batman is undoubtedly one of the most recognized icons in 20th century pop culture. The impact & influence of the entire Batman universe & the cult status it has rendered over the decades since its inception in the late 1930s is noticeable in the huge success of different medias in which the Dark Knight has appeared over the years, from extensive series of comic books to movie series, films & animated series to a myriad of merchandise, toys, collectibles & Batmania paraphernalia.

Our classic image of Batman as the lonely vigilante with a hidden identity & shrouded in mystery who swears to avenge his parents’ death by constantly fighting against a never ending list of villains & foes & trying to protect Gotham City from crime has evolved through the years. Not everyone is familiar with the Caped Crusader‘s initial 1939 image filled with dark, gloomy & grim overtones. In the next lines I will try to outline this dark imagery of The Bat-Man (as he was known in the early comic books) by focusing on his first appearances in Detective Comics, starting with his debut in Detective Comics #27 (May 1939) up until Detective Comics #37 (March 1940) which marks Batman‘s last adventure as a lonely hero, paving the way for the introduction of his young sidekick Robin, the Boy Wonder‘s a month later in the April issue of Detective Comics. The Batman‘s debut in Detective Comics #27 featured a short story of 6 pages, The Case of the Chemical Syndicate, in which the comic book hero is introduced as “a mysterious and adventurous figure fighting for righteousness and apprehending the wrong doer, in his battle against the evil forces of society”. The major influences in creating and shaping the Batman figure came from different 1930s pieces of American pop culture – movies (like the swashbuckler classic The Mark of Zorro & the obscure mystery film, The Bat Whispers), pulp stories (their alert style is present throughout the late 1930s & early 1940s Batman comics with The Shadow character as a major influence), comic strips (heroes like Dick Tracy). The Dark Knight was envisioned as a mysterious & menacing figure for New York City’s (Gotham City was first used in late 1940) villains, displaying both brutal & elaborate skills at fighting his enemies by kicking, punching & throwing them in the air & a keen sense of sleuthing & analyzing every detail using deductive reasoning in order to track down “the evil forces of society”. Both of these qualities were fully expressed in Batman‘s first appearance, as he is seen giving fist after fist & sending his opponents hurdling though the air & in the end revealing himself as a master of whodunit. The most strikingly uncomfortable moment of this first story is near the end when Stryker, the leader of the chemical syndicate, tries to shoot Batman but thanks to an agile move, the Dark Knight stops him & with a punch sends him down in an acid tank to meet his doom. The Caped Crusader then replies that this was “a fitting ending for his kind”, thus emphasizing Batman‘s mission at maintaining social order no matter the costs or ways. Whereas the debut of the story stated the unknown identity of Batman, the end reveals his secret identity, that of wealthy industrialist & playboy millionaire Bruce Wayne, who constantly tries to hide his alter-ego persona of crime fighter by wearing a bat costume. As Bob Kane originally envisioned him, Batman is by definition the “obsessed loner”, a creature of the night lurking in the dark foggy streets & buildings of Gotham’s gothic scenery, a figure immersed in a shadowy & mysterious aura, attributes which define him as a grim presence which causes states of uneasiness & anxiety in the hearts & minds of wrong doers.

In Detective Comics #28 (June 1939), Batman‘s attitude lightens up a bit & there are even some hints at sarcasm & witty humour from the Dark Knight, especially in his short peer-to-peer dialogues with the thugs, mobsters & gangsters who are up to no good breaking the law, essentially the typical foe image which was explored in 1930s Hollywood gangster movies. An interesting moment is when Batman captures the jewel syndicate’s boss, Frenchy, ties an end of a rope to a bed & the other to the gangsters waist, tosses him off the window & threatens to cut the rope which would send Frenchy to sheer death, if he doesn’t get a full confession from the boss. The foe cooperates & in the end Batman manages to bring him to justice by dumping Frenchy in front of the police headquarters, also leaving a letter for commissioner Gordon explaining the events. Earlier in the plot, Batman was mistaken by the police as a member of the jewel syndicate & there are some similar recurring events in later issues of Detective Comics, partly due to Batman‘s eerie presence & specific, individual modus operandi.

The next issues of Detective Comics, #29 (July 1939) & #30 (August 1939) introduced the first major villain in Batman‘s universe, Doctor Death & marked yet another interesting moment, when Batman holds some of Death‘s men at gunpoint & threatens to shoot them if he doesn’t get some information from them (“your choice, gentlemen! Tell me! Or I’ll kill you!”). This is when Death‘s assistant, Jabah enters the room & shoots Batman who manages to escape only thanks to the deadly gas from one of his utility belt glass pellets. This moment clearly marks the difference between the extraordinary yet supernatural powers of the other major hero of the Golden Age of Comic Books, Superman, & the limitations of simple human abilities, skills & power. Batman manages to surpass & defeat his enemies only by using physical & intellectual power. The whole Batman universe is about exploring the inner substance of ourselves, the human psyche, the way we deal & cope with our deepest fears & existential traumas; this limited yet natural, real, tangible pattern is used in creating Batman‘s world, including his arch-nemesis. The end of issue #28 illustrates a similar point of view as that in the early line “a fitting ending for his kind”, when after seeing Doctor Death succumbing in a powerful fire in his laboratory, Batman concludes by saying “Death… to Doctor Death” or, in other words, you reap what you sow, in the end everybody gets what they deserve, especially the wrong doers.

Starting with another set of two issues, Detective Comics #31 (September 1939) & #32 (October 1939) which introduce another villain, The Monk, the plot tends to incorporate supernatural motifs. The Monk is a vampire who can also morph into a werewolf, has a female ally named Dala, makes Batman face a giant gorilla & “has uncanny powers”, like being able to hypnotize; The Monk uses his hypnotic powers on Batman & Julie Madison, Bruce Wayne‘s fiancée. This is the first time we learn of the presence of a woman in Bruce Wayne/Batman‘s life & after many perils, like fighting with a huge gorilla & escaping the bloodthrust of a pack of werewolves, The Dark Knight finds a way of defeating The Monk & Dala & breaking the spell that was set upon his beloved one by shooting the two vampires with two silver bullets while they are asleep during the daytime. “Never again will you harm any mortal being” proclaims Batman as he shoots The Monk who was resting in his coffin & yet again Batman is seen holding a gun & this time pulling the trigger proving that he can go to any limits in order to save his loved one. Following these issues, DC editors considered it would be wise to leave out the lethal weapons such as guns as far as Batman was concerned & to focus more on realistic events instead of adding a supernatural flavour to the plot.

Detective Comics #33 (November 1939) marks the first appearance of the origin story of “the Batman and how he came to be!”, showing in no more than 2 pages the childhood trauma of seeing one’s parents getting shot & dying on the streets in a gloomy night. We then are witnesses to a personal oath declaring eternal war to the nemesis of crime & almost 15 years of intense training from physical perfection & athletic feats to mastering the sciences & detective skills with the help of which Bruce Wayne is ready to become that “weird figure of the dark” & “avenger of evil”, The Batman. The story then follows the actions of a minor villain named Kruger, a lunatic with a Napoleon complex who, in the end, dies when his plane hits the water. Nearly all the early villans end up dying whether it takes one issue or two for the plot to unfold its tragic dénouement for Batman‘s enemies. The same pattern is applied in some of the next issues [Detective Comics #34 (December 1939), Detective Comics #35 (January 1940) & Detective Comics #37 (March 1940)], in which the villains, a mad scientist called Duc D’Orterre, criminal mastermind Sin Fang (whose real identity of Sheldon Lenox is revealed in the end by Batman through Holmesian deduction) & foreign agent Count Grutt (who is also Elias Turg), each meet their doom in different ways: D’Orterre dying in a car accident, Sin Fang/Sheldon Lenox falling through an open window & hurdling to death, while foreign agent Count Grutt/Elias Turg who ends up being impaled upon his own sword.

Detective Comics #36 (February 1940) introduces Batman as “already an almost legendary figure” and 1940 clearly marks a departure from the rigid nature of the hero’s character to a more lightened up vigilante, one who constantly makes funny & witty remarks & has a way with words (like “let’s pretend I’m the ball and you’re the pins!”) as he does with fists thrown in every direction thus ridiculing his thug adversaries (“you boys are a better workout than the gym!”). He even makes fun (“so you wanna play cops ‘n’ robbers, eh?”) of some slow policemen who mistake him for a murderer just because he happened to be near the scene of the crime & he can even be seen smiling in some strips. In this Detective Comics issue, Batman faces an arch enemy that will prove his match, Professor Hugo Strange, a scientist & criminal mastermind who is the first in a long line of villains that doesn’t get killed at the end of the story. Although he is imprisoned at the state penitentiary, there are clear signs of his vile intentions of escaping & revenging himself upon the Batman. This is the first time when citizens of New York City (future Gotham City) express their gratitude towards Batman and signal a direct appreciation & recognition of his noble mission when a little boy is shown asking his father “who is The Batman, daddy?”, and the parent replies “a great man, son, a great man!” while a nearby radio broadcast announces “and so we citizens of this city owe our thanks to one man, The Batman! Because of him an arch-criminal is at last captured!”.

In the last issue of Detective Comics upon which I focus, namely Detective Comics #37 (March 1940), after managing to foil & stop the wicked plans of foreign agents who try to sabotage an American ship in order to generate an international crisis which might lead to armed conflict, Batman displays a cold & pragmatic judgment by reasoning that the bitter & tragic end of the head of the operation would have always been the first choice (“Dead! It is better that he should die!”), instead of a situation in which armed conflict between states might have had terrible costs on the lives of many Americans (“He might have sent thousands of others to their death on a battlefield if his plans had been successful!”).

This emphasizes Batman‘s key role in providing security & hope not just for a city’s citizens, but for an entire nation.

Further reading: * Les Daniels, Batman: The Complete History, Chronicle Books, 2004 * Bill Finger & Bob Kane, Batman Chronicles, Volume One, DC Comics, 2005 * Robert Greenberger, The Essential Batman Encyclopedia, Del Rey, 2008 * Robert Greenberger & Matthew Manning, The Batman Vault: A Museum-ina- Book with Rare Collectibles from the Batcave, Running Press, 2009 * Roberta E. Pearson (editor) & William Uricchio (editor), The Many Lives of the Batman: Critical Approaches to a Superhero and His Media, Routledge, 1991 * Mark D. White (editor), Robert Arp (editor) & William Erwin (series editor), Batman and Philosophy: The Dark Knight of the Soul (The Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series), Wiley, 2008

Photo | Detective Comics #29. DC, 1939.

by Adrien Seelebruder

Full article here.




The following article was published in N-SPHERE September 2011 issue.


Midnight. You’re heading home after watching this 3D version of a film they’ve released recently. You’re thinking it was not shit all in all, but they definitely haven’t got too far technically. All those commercials for nothing. Partly waste of money, partly waste of time, partly staring at this guy in front of you driving you back home. And you’re thinking that you haven’t even seen his face when you stepped in the cab 5 min. ago. You’re staring now and you can only catch a fragment of his eyes through the rear-view mirror. At this point, it could be fucking anyone, an erased face whom could make up for all the lack of excitement at the cinema and drive you to a deadend. Ten minutes later you could be facing the ground with no money, twenty minutes later you could be back in red light district, why waste the time… in 5 minutes time even, the car could crash with you in it. But this is not going to happen. The film was still crap though. And this man in front is just another taxi driver.

1976, the year when Columbia Studios released Taxi Driver, did not mark a new juncture in the history of the U.S. in terms of political alignment or cultural change. A large number of social processes were already in full progress. Just to name a few: the civil rights movement impregnated with the stains of race riots, countercultural manifestations and radical student movements, protests against the war in Vietnam and its aftermath. Add to this the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, which had taken place prior to 1976. All of this still weighed down in the American conscience, questioning notions of national safety and independence, and let’s be honest, to a certain extent, the American dream myth itself. This period was thus dominated by angry and lonely men, violence, crime, and a deadly cocktail of drugs and alcohol. America was already writing its history of violence, national anxieties beginning to surface whilst shadowing the optimistic façade of the Promised Land that populated the cultural imaginary of the previous decades.

This ongoing process of demythologization and national destabilization was also taking place under the close scrutiny of the camera lens, as directors of the time more or less translated in their films the government’s failure to ensure a stable future for its citizens. This deconstruction of national myths of self-improvement were explored by a new generation of film directors who were later coalesced under the term New Hollywood. There was no indifference: they analyzed the spectrum of pessimism and doubt that the former Hollywood consensus tried to cover. Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader’s Taxi Driver was located precisely within this developmental narrative of violence, as a response to the malaise that was infusing the 1970s setting. The issues addressed in the film did not appear out of a vacuum: the increasing pessimism and alienation were already embedded within the American society. What the film did was only to render them visible, thus reflecting the morally deficient societal sphere of its time and becoming at the same time symptomatic of future developments.

Taxi Driver illustrates the story of a common man named Travis Bickle who embarks on a personal crusade to restore political and moral order in America. As a Vietnam veteran and nighttime taxi-driver, Bickle (Robert de Niro) internalizes the social anxiety that surrounds him, by witnessing the dystopian scenery that governed the streets of New York during the night. While deceiving his parents into thinking that he is an employee working for the American government, the insomniac taxi-driver becomes more and more apprehensive about the slums of the city populated by beggars, pimps and prostitutes. In this pessimistic landscape, he finds a 12-year-old child prostitute, Iris (Jodie Foster) whom he tries to rescue from her pimp (Harvey Keitel) and convince her to quit prostitution in order to return to her family. In parallel, Travis develops a relationship with Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) whom “appeared like an angel out of this open sewer”, a campaign volunteer for Senator Charles Palantine (Leonard Harris).

Having lived there during childhood and youth, Scorsese considered New York to be the best setting for the film. One could argue that he employed it as a metaphor for hell, as something that goes on and on while nobody can get out of it. As a Vietnam veteran living in post-war America, Travis’ main scope was to “clean up the whole mess” there, thus becoming an embodiment of isolation followed by violent intervention. His anger was not directed to a distant frontier, but located within the very core of the metropolis. A straightforward example in this case: even the taxi he is driving in and out of the sewers functions as a boundary between his inner thoughts and the exterior world. It doesn’t stop there: Travis’ individualism gradually becomes alienation. As a creator of cultural commotion by disrupting the social and political spheres, he is also a creation and a reflector of this environment. Torn by his inner anxieties and the determination to change his surroundings, he is portrayed as a fragmented man living in a fragmented society. The close-ups and brief cuts of slices of windshields and rearview windows also reflect, to a certain extent, the fragmentation of the protagonist

Gradually, the film exposes his failed attempts to connect with the ones around him: starting from his relationships with women and workmates and continuing with his estrangement within the American society itself. He is depicted in terms of Other-ness, psychologically outside the societal borders, even if he is paradoxically living right at the core of the metropolis. Although the link between the war experience and Travis’ personality is only implicit in the film, he could be regarded as Other because of his Vietnam background as well. As a war veteran, he becomes a signifier of psychological impairment and trauma, thus risking turning into a stereotype that incorporates mental instability and violence. What is interesting is that he somehow fails to assimilate a “coming home” feeling that the Vietnam experience more or less implied. For him, home is no place, it is associated instead with “a photograph on a wall and a letter aloud on a sound track”. He mimics the social behaviour that surrounds him, but does not directly participate to real actions. Through this process of staging what is considered to be familiar, he exposes a farce concerning both notions of home and romance. Travis’ portrayal in terms of Other-ness is also linked to his status of potential criminal and social outsider with a Mohawk haircut. To make it even more complicated: the protagonist was apparently constructed using as inspiration real life sources. According to Schrader, the journal diatribes of real life assassin Arthur Bremer who shot the presidential candidate Wallace in 1972 served as a primary source. Scorsese claims that the motivation also came from an earlier event, namely the 1966 mass murder case – in which Charles Whitman opened fire on the campus
of University of Texas and killed 14 people.

In the film, Travis decides to undergo a cleansing treatment similar to a Spartan purification ritual, considering that purgation could only be done through destruction and that catharsis assumes self-sacrifice. His passage from regeneration to violence, also symbolized by the marching military music heard when he purchases guns, is directly linked to the image of New York as Sodom & Gomorrah that needs to be cleaned and washed away by a flood (yes, some Christian symbolism right there). Fire is also used as purifier for his divine mission (an example: he burns away the flowers that he had bought for Betsy, thus freeing himself from any emotional attachment).

One step further: the taxi driver job also turns Travis into a social Other, thus becoming a faceless person whose individuality is gradually erased. For him, reality is always mediated through a physical boundary, be it either the rear-view mirror of his taxi or the cinema screen. One good scene – displaying an Alka Seltzer tablet dissolving, depicts this very condition: the camera shifts the focus on the glass with water, zooms in, thus creating an enormous close-up showing the enlarged medicine bubble. This close-up, maybe paradoxically, does not seem to suggest that Travis is on a gradual route to explosion, but vice versa – his anxieties are internalized growing into implosion. This might all seem metalevel talk, but this is real life as well: before shooting the film, de Niro and Scorsese tried driving a real taxi on the streets of New York to see if passengers would recognize the actor. Afterwards, Scorsese concluded that de Niro “was totally anonymous. People would say anything, do anything in the backseat – it was like he didn’t exist.”

Being depraved of individuality also turned Travis into a mask that could articulate both fear and alienation, which were experienced by the population at large. Both Scorsese and Schrader projected their own feelings of desolation and rejection on Travis. Scorsese asserted that he knows the feelings of being really angry that Bickle has, which “have to be explored, taken out and examined”. Drawing a line, Travis’ apparent portrayal as a singular Other seems to point out more towards his commonality, loneliness being central to human existence in general. His condition as an alienated person living in New York seems to reveal the estrangement of a whole generation. When he claims, while staring at his reflection in the mirror, that he is the only one there, Bickle does not only distinguish an Other staring back from the mirror (i.e.: one might immediately think of Lacan’s mirror stage).

In other words: Taxi Driver is not about a man who is fucked, it goes further and claims that we are all more or less fucked. And how could one counterargue that?

photo | Screenshot. Taxi Driver. 1967

by Diana Daia

Full article here.



The following article was published in N-SPHERE September 2011 issue.


Name: Quadreria Romantico Seriale is an alias, an impersonal project. This choice is an homage to the premodern art, when the Idea, the Structure and the Act were relevant, not an individualistic name.

Location: QRS was generated in Italy, on an ancient pilgrimage road named Via Francigena.

Occupation: QRS works as an instrument, a uniform, a function referring to a metaphysical order.

Definition of personal sphere: QRS is a pictorial project for a “born posthumously” ecclesia. A style for tactile gazes. The “Quadreria” is Romantic because it believes in the Mith’s action. It’s Serial because it lives (and reacts) in this “serial age”, among digital skins and reproducible souls.

Artwork in 4 words: Will. Mask. Rank. Rule.

What is inspirational for you: The courage. The ritualistic and cultural art. The monumental and the fragmentary. Gottfried Benn’s Doric world.

Currently favourite artists: QRS attends the ancient flemish painters, a group of viveurs and one situationnist. It’s opposed to the contemporary creativity, which is “so updated”, “so informed” and consumed by civilization. There is
an anthropological incompatibility between these aspects and the “serial romantic” attitudes.

Tools of trade: Everything that can be used to make a sign, to define a shape. Not only for an artwork.

Current obsessions: Obsessionally against the invasive presence of the “nice and friendly” vacuity. QRS is looking for a spiritual, affirming and sober form of beauty.

Personal temptation: QRS has desires and fears, but, for its nature, it hasn’t any kind of temptation. At the moment it has this deep desire: an Art actualized in the daily life. For a new Beginning, and for the End.

Artwork: Quadreria Romantico Seriale. Non Est. 2010. Oil and silver acrylic on board 29,7×21 cm. Courtesy of the artist.


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