Alejandra de Argos by Elena Cué

Does science distance us from God? Professor of Economic Structure and member of the Royal Academy of Moral and Political Sciences Ramón Tamames (Madrid, 1933) delves into the cosmology between scientists and philosophers in the already longstanding quest for the Primary Cause or Higher Intelligence as origin of the universe. The title of his latest book 'Searching For God In The Universe. A worldview on the meaning of life' (Erasmus) gives a clue as to its contents.

 Author: Elena Cué

 

  Ramón Tamames foto Elena Cue 

Ramón Tamames. Photo: Elena Cué

 

Does science distance us from God? Professor of Economic Structure and member of the Royal Academy of Moral and Political Sciences Ramón Tamames (Madrid, 1933) delves into the cosmology between scientists and philosophers in the already longstanding quest for the Primary Cause or Higher Intelligence as origin of the universe. The title of his latest book 'Searching For God In The Universe. A worldview on the meaning of life' (Erasmus) gives a clue as to its contents.

Are you searching because you don't have faith or because you do and you want to back it up with science?

Essentially, it's just a case of my keen interest in cosmology and how little I may or may not understand of advanced physics. I'm also interested in the origin of everything and the meaning of life. And it's not actually that I don't have faith. In fact, I don't really get involved with revelation or mysticism, the usual channels that lead to faith. I respect it, though. Actually, I had a Christian upbringing and I've never stopped experiencing "moments" in that regard. I'm not a practitioning Christian but there's always "that certain something".

Have you arrived at any conclusions? 

Yes, in that physics doesn't have all the answers or that it does but in a somewhat fantastical way. For example, Hawking told us that the universe was born by chance from a quantum fluctuation that produced the Big Bang. Naturally, that explanation leaves us cold, because ... what's behind all that? Where's the sense to it? That's what I've always wanted to research because, at the end of the day, the notion I have happens to very closely match that of one of my heroes, Isaac Asimov, who says that we're a staged planet: we're here and we're being observed by someone seeing how we manage, what evolution we follow and how we behave.

Would you say that was the crux of your search?

Alongside the meaning of life, there's someone at work behind it all, a superior intelligence that ushered in the Big Bang, gave rise to the computer and set material and biological evolution in motion. 

What would this God have to do with the Christian God? 

The act of creation. Essentially, the 'fiat lux' of the Vulgate, or the Latin version of the Bible, means "Let there be light". Many scientists say they don't like the Big Bang Theory because they think it's got a theological context. They say it's like God from the Book of Genesis. But that's just them arguing for argument's sake because the universe has to have had an origin and the most logical one would seem to be that one. I think the Christian God is a Judeo-Christian revelation belief. I respect that and I don't judge it. That's the Christian God and the Son of God. But it's a revelation. I come from a scientific viewpoint and I understand that God, as a superior intelligent being, might have many human manifestations, one of them being that of Christianity but, personally speaking, I think that's the most exalted of all the manifestations – because we're very influenced by that whole culture.

Have you encountered God yet in this quest?

No, I haven't. In any case, what I don't claim is that a God will reveal itself via a voiceover going "Here I am". Everything to do with creation is so absolutely left-field that I've ended up agreeing with the Seven Wise Men, as reflected at the end of my book. Not by reason of a criterion of mere authority but because they were brilliant people who've spent a lot of time thinking all this through. But in any case, I sense there's a higher intelligence that governs everything.

To sense God through science is possible. But do you think it's also possible for there to be a scientific basis for God?

That's the exact struggle between deism – although I don't much like that term – and militant atheism, such as that esposed by Richard Dawkins, the biologist. In any case, there's no solid path of 'basis' via science because if there were, we'd all be living in unanimity. Show me that DNA contains four bases and how that's what all living things are formed from. And tell me that's God's alphabet. But it's a parable, not a reality. If there were any proof, there wouldn't be any controversy.

You say that, in the 1980s, many scientists adhered to the belief that evolution didn't happen by chance or necessity, but by way of a teleological principle, namely, that it has a finality.

That's something that's been argued since at least pre-Socratic times, for over 2,500 years. Suffice it to say the discussion is a permanent one. Aristotle was already saying of Leucippus and Democritus that they had to have been drunk as skunks because they were going around saying it made no sense, when everyone knew, including Aristotle, that it did make sense and that there was bound to be a teleology.

And what do you think?

I think it's an ongoing discussion that, in a way, opens up into the philosophy of the meaning of life. Kant himself, around 1790, wondered what the point of it all was, giving rise to these four famous questions: What can I know?; What should I do?; What can I expect?; What is Man? And that way of thinking is typical of the Enlightenment. And what is the Enlightenment? Well, according to Kant, it's reaching the age of maturity.

That's where we're at. If I could offer any definitive examples, I'd give them and be over the moon! Actually, I sent my book to the Pope and his Secretary of State replied to me with an autographed photo of him. Saying nothing at all.

Do you think there's less respect for institutuions, governments, beliefs, etc nowadays?


I think that's always happened. In the Century of Reason, Baron d'Holbach stopped believing in God and laughed at Christians. The thing is, sometimes it's been more tolerated and permissable than others. Nobody can doubt that in 16th and 17th Century Spain, anyone agitating too much in that regard got what was coming to them. In that sense, there's always been unrest. What's happening now is that people demonstrate more via social media, they're bolder, knowing full well that public freedoms and guarantees allow them to do so. The media are very much to blame for hypertrophy. They induce changes in the general mindset, no doubt about it, and things that were unacceptable in formal societies a hundred years ago are acceptable now.

How do you see the Spanish economy right now?

I'll say something that may seem like an exaggeration but it isn't. The economy is doing quite well and comparatively better than the rest of the European economy, despite the politics, because political instability is having quite an effect on it right now and despite the Administration, which I would call a great lumping monstrosity of a thing and an absolute disgrace. I'm not talking about the doctors, I'm not talking about the police, I'm talking about the Administration itself, the change in policies, in the fundamentals, and also, obviously, the bureaucracy because the problem with bureaucrats is not only that they cost us more and more money every day, but, as they have to prove they're useful, they delay and complicate everything.

So Spain is doing well ...

This country is doing well despite its Administration, which is a great lumbering monstrosity of a thing. There's the answer. And why is it doing well? Because we have the best entrepreneurs in our entire history. And our stock market, Ibex 35, is symbolic of this entrepreneurship we have. There'll be some doing better than others but that a group of companies does almost 70% of their business outside Spain means that they are competitive. That's what you have to recognize.

Which economic proposals do you think would be needed for improvement?

There’s no lack of proposals. And fortunately we have proposals that are very positive indeed, that come to us from outside the country. My opinion is that "Super Mario", aka Mario Draghi, has an impressive policy for European economic recovery and he hasn't allowed the Euro to go under. And I think there are many other recipes for success but they're being obstructed by the 18 ministers we have, the corresponding secretaries of state, the thousands of director generals, and so on.

You write that skepticism is growing about whether CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions are causing global warming. And you speak at length, warning of the danger we face in the short term in your book 'Facing the Climate Apocalypse' (Profit Editorial).

That's where most of the uncertainty lies, actually: the fact we don't know if we'll be in time or not. Someone well-versed in this, James Lovelock – who worked at NASA and is the author of the Gaia thesis – argues that Earth is a self-regulating organism and that at any moment Gaia's revenge might come, namely, to expel man and let evolution continue on, but without the human species. Perhaps that's a scientific exaggeration to make people wake up, just as the young Swedish girl Greta Thunberg has done, saying that climate change is humanity's worst and foremost problem.

The problem is whether we get there in time or not ...

I have my doubts, serious doubts. Not exceeding 2°C above the temperature benchmark set before the beginning of the Industrial Revolution as the main objective of the whole 2015 Paris Agreement is a pipe dream. What's clear is that we're continuing to accumulate greenhouse gases and that the symptoms are fatal not only in the Arctic and the Antarctic, but also in glaciers and droughts, etc. The problem is to get them under control before it's too late and Lovelock says we won't.

Why is it a pipe dream?

Because China will continue to emit greenhouse gases without curbing them until 2038. And the U.S. has also, theoretically though not legally, withdrawn from the Agreement. It's true that many of the states over there, especially on the West Coast, are doing an impressive job of reducing carbon emissions. But the point is that we haven't taken the problem seriously enough yet and the deniers are still out there. The Paris Agreement needs to be revised.

How can we decarbonize society and take care of the biosphere, without doing economic damage?

There's no problem there. The Paris Agreement, and all of its members meeting every year, more or less foresaw and saw to that. The last summit was in Katowice and, if nothing else, they agreed on accepted methods by which to measure emission reduction, which is no small thing.
I think the Climate Act, a good plan in the making, is a great start and we'll be opening some plants and closing others. And renewable energy is moving very fast. But we're still without a coherent plan. Teresa Ribera, the Minister for Ecological Transition, said to expect it by Christmas. I think the European Union is doing a good job. It has set some objectives that are attainable but the problem is whether or not they alone will suffice.

 

 Ramon Tamames Foto Elena Cue 

Ramón Tamames. Photo: Elena Cué

(Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)

 

 

 

 - Interview with Ramón Tamames -                                  - Alejandra de Argos -

Sidi, the latest novel by writer and Royal Spanish Academy member Arturo Pérez Reverte (Cartagena, 1951), has just been published. Sidi is the story of Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, Cid the Champion, and where his legend begins: his leadership, his sense of honour, his courage, loyalty and dignity  but also of pride, pillaging, blood and swords. A journey through time to that Spain of hard knock men with other ideals; men of courage and strategy in warfare, in waiting, in uncertainties ...

 Autor: Elena Cué

 

 Arturo Perez Reverte foto por Elena Cue 

Arturo Pérez Reverte. Photo: Elena Cué

 

Sidi, the latest novel by writer and Royal Spanish Academy member Arturo Pérez Reverte (Cartagena, 1951), has just been published. Sidi is the story of Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, Cid the Champion, and where his legend begins: his leadership, his sense of honour, his courage, loyalty and dignity  but also of pride, pillaging, blood and swords. A journey through time to that Spain of hard knock men with other ideals; men of courage and strategy in warfare, in waiting, in uncertainties ...

With the echo of the battle of Pinar de Tébar still sounding in my head, I talk to the author.


The 11th century, at the height of the Middle Ages, in a Spain of Moors and Christians. Sidi makes his living in exile. What is this novel about?

There are two fundamental narratives: the first is what our border was like in the 11th century, our Wild West. It was a very dangerous and unstable border, full of equally dangerous people. The second is a reflection on leadership: how a person is able to wield control, with the respect and command of an armed retinue of tough, dangerous men in a place that was no less dangerous. In other words, how someone is able to get others to follow him, even to die for him.

You  say that there are many Cids in the history of Spain, some moreso than others.

But this one is mine. I wanted to tell the story of a Cid that hadn't been told yet, especially at the moment he took shape. I came to it with all the documentation and also with all of my own personal biography. I've poured everything I know about human beings into this kind of subject. The Cid looks at the world as I look at it: I have given him my eyes. When I speak of violence, death and blood, to a certain extent I have lived them all myself.

As a war correspondent and photographer, you've covered various conflicts such as those of Libya, the Sudan, Bosnia .... And as a writer, wars are present in many of your novels. Why this fascination with war?

It isn't fascination. I left home very young, with a rucksack and a few books, and went to a war. I learnt things in a single day that might otherwise have taken me ten years to learn. I was twenty years old and had a vision of culture that allowed me to interpret war as something more than a mere spectacle of barbarism. It was nurturing in an intellectual sense. I learnt about human beings, their behaviours, the value of things. War is horrific. I was rather more fascinated by the feeling of being close to the truth of what a human being is.  

Behind the legend or the romance of the character lies the most terrible violence. In The Painter of Battles, you make a profound reflection on cruelty as an irresistible impulse. Is cruelty inherent to Man?  

Human beings are a very dangerous animal, and yes, cruel. The point is that we want the world to be a certain way: that there be rules and behavioural norms as well as moral principles, an Enlightenment that made us change the way we look at the world, or a Renaissance. But the thing is that the world isn't like that. That is a tiny part of the world. As soon as you leave its confines, you add war. That's the real world. We think everything is stable but, when you have been to Beirut or Sarajevo, you realize that all it takes is a political, economic or social crisis for everything to fall apart.

What did war give you?

War gives you consciousness, a lucidity like that of a sailor who must always be mindful of the sea. And that certainty of disaster as something possible, that the Westerner has lost, our grandparents still had it. There was at that time a greater proximity to the reality of things. I've seen violence: I've seen killing, I've seen torture, and I've been friends, too, with people who did those things. And those same people who did horrible things also did, the very same day, great things. That gives you a very different measure of things. That's what I make my novels out of.

And this novel takes place at a violent time of terrible insecurity when survival was difficult. What do you think is the price we human beings have paid for the security we enjoy today?

We're more vulnerable. There's one thing in this novel that I've tried to make stand out and that's the fact that everyone spends a lot of time on the lookout because being watchful means living or dying. Nowadays, the only thing we humans stare at is our mobiles or the television. We don't see reality. The world is a hostile place often populated by sons of ******* and that is a very fair definition of what the world is. We pay a very high price for the false security we get from not looking at reality. 

Now that you no longer take photos when dealing with war, what do you look at?

I look backwards. I have a rucksack full of memories that help me to live in a much more suspicious, much more lucid way, in the sense that you know what a dangerous place is, that even here we are in a dangerous place. That is why we can never relax and why we Westerners, instead, live lives of real deception. 

You've been a man of action. What comparison would you make between the power of experience and the mental journey from your writing desk?

There are three ways to nurture and flesh out a novel: with what you've read, what you've lived and what you imagine. When you've lived a complex life like mine, with intense doses of extreme situations, that works for writing novels too. For example, if I am describing torturing someone in Falco, a trilogy of novels about a Francoist spy who is handsome and elegant but also a son of a ***** , when Falco tortures someone, I am drawing on my memories of Angola, on my own experience.

Swapping war for your writing desk ~ was that a radical change?

It wasn't radical. I left journalism in 1994 but I went through a period of adaptation. There were a few years that were difficult, more or less until The Painter of Battles, with which I brought that period to a close. I go sailing. And my substitute for war is the sea, the real one. On a sailboat in the Gulf of Leon in winter, I can assure you there's lots of action. I've changed, of course. There are things I can no longer do like walking 40 kilometers every day, in the blistering sun with no more shade than my hat. I'm 68 and my body wouldn't accept it.

Why did you close that period?

I once met a guy in Asia, in Bangkok, who'd been a correspondent for a Spanish newspaper in the 70's and he was an old alcoholic, frequenting prostitutes, etc. He was telling me about his life and I was thinking: one day I'm going to be like this guy. And I told myself I didn't want to end up like that. From the very beginning, I tried to create another parallel part of my life to retreat to when the time came. I always knew I'd leave, that one day all that would come to an end. We're usually told that human beings are good and that the world makes them bad. I think it's the other way round. Human beings are born with instincts that aren't bad, but very primal: keeping warm, eating, procreating, sheltering, protecting ourselves. That's what we sacrifice everything else to. It is society that, by creating a series of rules, civilizes us. But put us in extreme situations and the human being becomes very dangerous.

Sidi is a charismatic warrior who gets his supporters to follow him blindly into battle and brings about cohesion and understanding among very diverse people. For example, Moors and Christians united under him. What qualities do you think a leader should have? .

In a way, this book is also a kind of self-help manual on leadership. My idea was: why does a member of the lowest rank of the nobility who has fallen from grace into disgrace, a nobody to all intents and purposes, manage to become a legend who eclipses the names of the kings of his day? How does a man, at that time, get others to follow him and die for him? How does he achieve such loyalty, loyalty being the hardest thing to achieve in life? And I wasn't interested in him as the finished article but rather in when he began to become the Cid: the years of evolution, of exile; in short, when the legend begins.

Are there leaders today?

Yes, possibly. There always have been. But the problem, in my opinion, is that our times don't deserve these men. When we speak of virtue in the Roman sense, namely, of nobility of spirit and an elegant attitude towards life, of personal dignity and courage, you realize that today's world is not interested in that, doesn't want it and even rejects it. What's more, when the people of today come face to face with virtue, they mock it. Up against noble people who can't be matched, they ridicule them. The mediocre person tries to bring them down. And since they can't, they try mockery. Anyone can do it over the Internet, in 140 characters, on TV...

Laughter is a powerful weapon ...

The Cids, the personalities are there. Human beings constantly produce geniuses, artists and creators, heroes and firefighters, wonderful people willing to die for many reasons. They're people willing to sacrifice themselves for what they believe in. That bothers some people.

Do you think there's anyone left now who's willing to die for their country or an ideal?

Actually, I don't think the Cid dies for an ideal. He had a code of allegiances and dignity. I mean, what I was interested in highlighting about the Cid is that it's not about a person who sets out to fight for an ideal. He was doing it to put food on the table. He is not fighting first and foremost for the Reconquest  (which didn't as yet exist in Spain) but rather because these were kingdoms where there was fighting between Moors and Christians. Besides that, he has no providential mission. All of that comes later. He had no religious or patriotic ideas, which is to say, he wasn't fighting for God or country.

But despite his banishment, he continued to pledge allegiance and respect to King Alfonso VI.

Do you know why? Because when you have nothing, when you are an outcast, expelled from the bosom of society – whether you are a criminal or a mercenary – and the general codes with which society protects itself stop working, you need to have something to respect: you need a loyalty code between your people and something else. Even marginalised people, even people who are moderately decent seek some kind of justification in order not to feel wretched.

In your book The History of Spain, you wrote your version of it. For many people, it’s a cliche to say that Spain is different. Do you think so?

Yes, of course, Spain is a very rough and rugged country divided up into plots and land parcels where, when a valley meets its neighbouring valley, they suspect each other. We've always had that kind of geographical fragmentation. To that we have to add the Muslim invasion, religions, bad governments, etc. So Spain has a long history of discord, lack of unity, villainy and Cainism. I've always said that Cain had a Spanish ID card. And when you analyze the history of Spain, it becomes clear that, with that lack of solidarity, it is difficult for us to do anything in unison. As soon as the pressure gives way, everything disintegrates. So, the best thing for a Spanish child is to make them travel, because if you leave them in their valley, in their village, they will never leave. In Spain, any control over education has been lost. It's chaos. There are gaping holes in culture, the arts, etc. There are seventeen different systems ... and that doesn't leave much hope as regards future generations.

 

 

  Arturo Perez Reverte entrevistado por Elena Cue 

 

(Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)

 

 

 - Interview with Arturo Pérez-Reverte  -                                  - Alejandra de Argos -

Stephen Schwarzman (Pennsylvania, 1947), CEO and co-founder of Blackstone, one of the world's leading investment firms, is an active philanthropist in areas such as education, culture and the arts. He recently published his memoir: "What it Takes". Since his youth, Schwarzman has been a courageous, self-confident man with a spirit of leadership and ambition whilst being careful not to be reckless. With a BA from Yale University and an MBA from Harvard Business School, he is a tireless worker who barely sleeps, knows how to select the best people, listens to and asks for advice and always finds time for a kind word.

 Author: Elena Cué

 

 Steve Schwarzman 4 HiRes 

 Stephen Schwarzman. 

 

Stephen Schwarzman (Pennsylvania, 1947), CEO and co-founder of Blackstone, one of the world's leading investment firms, is an active philanthropist in areas such as education, culture and the arts. He recently published his memoir: "What it Takes". Since his youth, Schwarzman has been a courageous, self-confident man with a spirit of leadership and ambition whilst being careful not to be reckless. With a BA from Yale University and an MBA from Harvard Business School, he is a tireless worker who barely sleeps, knows how to select the best people, listens to and asks for advice and always finds time for a kind word.

Blackstone, the world’s largest alternative assets management firm, which you co-founded with Peter Peterson in 1985 with $400.000 start-up capital, is now worth $55 billion with $500 billion turnover. What do you think is the key to its success?

To begin, we had a really good strategic plan. One thing I have learned in life is that you need to know where you want to go and you need to have a good plan. You need to do something that nobody else is doing, something you think will become very popular and develop very big ideas. Our strategic plan had three parts. The first was to go into the Merge and Acquisitions Advisory business (M&A). The good thing about this business is you do not need any capital. Large corporations pay you millions of dollars to think and advise them. If they pay you, it is because you are doing it well.

The second part to our strategy was to go into the private equity business which basically consists of buying companies, improving them and making them grow faster, which in turn will make them sell better or go public. They will have more income and therefore double the profit. That way you have transformed the company into a much faster growing business and you will hire more people. It is very beneficial. You can end up making double the profit by investing in the stock market averages. If you double it, a lot of people will want to give you money so they can make double too.

Where does the capital come from?

Generally, we get our money from very big pension funds around the world, but we also receive investments from other institutional or individual investors. We thought this type of business would have explosive growth and it has. The key was finding people with talent in that area, a great investment potential. That was the third part to our strategy.

And how did you become the biggest Real “Landlord” in the world?

At that stage, we could not foresee what the areas of interest would be. Therefore, we had to wait and that is precisely how we ended up in real estate in 1991. We saw an opportunity in the real estate sector during the second US government auction in which a lot of bankrupt savings and loan types from banks were on sale. Now, we are the largest real estate owner in the world. We specialize in buying in places which have had difficulties so the price drops significantly and then with the normal economic recovery comes a large profit.

So they began to grow...

We invested in improving those assets in order to make them more attractive. That is the basis of how we built the firm. In 1986, we started by raising our first fund and now, instead of one, we have 50 funds in 50 different areas. We began in the United States, then expanded to Europe and Asia. We started with the highest returning products and now we have realized that products with less return and less leverage are also attractive.

In the last few years, you have invested €23 billion in our country. What lead you to invest in Spain?

Spain played an important role in Blackstone’s development. Our team discovered Spain was building so many apartment units they could have housed most of Germany and still had units left over. It was easy to predict that the construction sector would end up collapsing. At the same time our team in India informed us that land prices had multiplied by 10 in 18 months. The same was happening in the United States. Therefore, I told my team we had to sell all the assets tied up in residential housing around the world. It was clear what was going to happen.

It seemed like not everyone was aware of it...

Our business consists of gathering information and objectively assessing it. When Spain, as expected, went through a very difficult economic time and nobody in the country was buying real estate, we thought if we could buy properties at a low enough price and invest in improving them, we would achieve excellent results, as was the case in the United States. Indeed, that is what happened. Spain is a strong country despite having gone through a terrible time with the crisis. We believed in Spain and its ability to recover.

How would you evaluate the current economic climate in Spain and in Europe?

Spain has recovered very well. It has a good economy. Europe is experiencing a deceleration in terms of economic growth, as is every country in the world.

Some say another recession is on the horizon.

I am not sure we are going to have a recession in the United States, it is more likely to happen in Europe. The United States is doing better. There is full employment, the best rates since 1969. The American consumer is very strong. Wages are increasing faster than inflation so consumers have more money and they are spending it. That represents 70% of the US economy. That is the base. Even though manufacturing all over the world is decreasing, including in the United States, it only represents 11% of our economy, in comparison to 70% made up by the consumer, which is a vast difference.

 Stephen Schwarzman. Photo by Elena Cue

Stephen Schwarzman. Photo by Elena Cué 

 

In your book “What it takes” you talk about the mentors who shaped you as a person, such as, your father. Which values laid down the foundation of your career as an entrepreneur?

In the United States it is quite common to help others in their professional career. Most entrepreneurs are not completely alone, they often have partners, particularly in the field of technology, where most of the great companies were formed by various people. I was going to drop out of my MBA program at Harvard. I wrote a letter to the manager of the company I had previously worked for and he responded with six pages about his life. After reading it, I said to myself: “OK, I will continue studying”. That one decision changed the course of my life. There are many times when there is a point of inflection. You talk to other people and if they are intelligent, you listen to what they say and act accordingly. This helped me so now it is my duty to help others.

What are the most relevant attributes a person must have in order to join the Blackstone team?

Blackstone has always been what we call a meritocracy. It means that the people with the best values win; we are looking for born competitors. We keep producing new business lines so everyone can be in charge of something if they are qualified to do so. We are looking for people who are very intelligent, hard-working, non-political and good communicators. People who have a good understanding of what is happening around them and also possess solid analytic skills. Another attribute is they must be good people. When I was at Lehman, there were a lot of employees who left a lot to be desired in that aspect which lead to a very talented group of people suffering.

What would you advise someone who wants to start a business?

You should try to do something that no one else is doing, imagine something that does not yet exist but you think the market will want. If you limit yourself to opening the exact same type of business as others, there is no real reason why anyone should come to you. It becomes much less likely you will be successful, it is not bad, but it is not ideal. You have to time it right, without deviating much from what people want. When Walt Disney created his first theme park, he knew exactly what he wanted to do. No one else had done anything similar until then. There is always a myriad of setbacks, but moving forward and overcoming those problems is not as important as having a clear vision of what you want to do. The creative process is initially abstract; it is just a thought. Then you need to assemble as many financial resources as possible. If you have big dreams, the chance of them coming true is a lot greater.

In the book you explain how President Donald Trump asked you to form and manage a group of talented and knowledgeable individuals, no politics, who could tell him the truth. The Forum was later disbanded. It seemed to be a very good idea for any government…

Everyone who runs an organization should aspire to have as much objective input as possible. When you are the head of something, particularly in politics, you are quite isolated because when people around you criticize you, you usually stop listening to them. Forming a group of people, who are not political, who tell you what you are doing right and wrong, is a great concept. In a democracy, most people are not necessarily experts in everything, yet they are responsible for everything. Would it not be useful to have experts to guide you in the areas you are not familiar with?

You have served your country in many ways, including acting as the intermediate in trade talks between the United States and China. What is your opinion after the United Nations’ last General Assembly?

It is complicated because the Chinese have adopted an emerging market approach to their economy, much like the United States did in the 19th century when it was a developing country. At the time, we relied on significant tariff barriers that allowed us to develop our economy protected by those restrictions. China is experiencing the same process. Forty years ago, the average income in China was only a few hundred US dollars per person, whereas currently it is around $10,000 per person. Today, China is the second biggest economy in the world, after the United States. There is a big gap between China and other countries. Together the United States and China represent somewhere between 35% and 40% of the whole world’s economy, depending on the scale you apply. The United States and the developed world want China to remove some of these restrictions that confers them certain advantages over other developed countries. It is difficult for China because if you have always had an advantage, why would you change? In which case, they haven’t. It is not a coincidence that we have not signed an agreement with them in about 70 years. Now we are taking that very seriously.

The lack of trade agreements for such a long time is surprising. Could you explain some of the causes behind the lack of understanding between the United States and China?

There are two groups in Chinese politics: the reformists who believe China should adjust and change, and the intransigent people who are satisfied with what the country has done and do not want to change it. The reason why trade agreements are so difficult is because it is hard to know which part of China is going to control the country’s demands. At different points of the negotiations, the power shifts back and forth between the reformists and the intransigents. Negotiations between the two countries were about 90% complete in May this year but the Chinese then eliminated about a third of what was agreed and the negotiations collapsed. I think both China and the United States realize that decoupling the two largest economies on the planet is going to slow the world down and not just in the short term. It is probably in the best interest of both economies to establish their objectives.

How did China become important to you?

Actually, it all happened by chance. In 2007, when we went public, the Chinese government approached us to request to buy 3 billion dollars worth of stock, which represented 9.9% of the company. We offered them non-voting stock which meant they would not have a member on the board of directors. It was the first time since 1949, when modern China was founded, that China as a country, had bought a major amount of shares in a foreign company. Blackstone was the first. This had global repercussions because it was a sign that China had started to recycle its huge financial reserves and wanted to participate in the rest of the world. For us it was a complete surprise.

In 2016, you founded and built the Schwarzman Scholars College at Tsinghua University in Beijing, which offers a master’s program helping to build a stronger relationship between China and the rest of the world. What was your motivation?

Current president Xi Jinping and his predecessor studied at Tsinghua University, the biggest politically connected university in China. It has an international advisory board formed by a group of CEOs from different countries, including a lot of prominent Chinese figures such as Jack Ma from Alibaba, Robin Li from Baidu, Pony Ma from Tencent and people from around the world such as Tim Cook from Apple and Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook, amongst others. There are also many senior members of the Chinese government. I could see that things were not going to remain the same between China and the rest of the world after the financial crisis because China continued to grow, whereas European countries and the United States went into a terrible recession and unemployment in Europe is still very high. That situation would lead people in the developed world to feel unhappy, particularly those who earnt between 40% and 50% of the average income and generally, that triggers what is known as “populism”. People in lower income brackets get angry with the wealthy and with business and financial people. Normally, as shown in history, they project their anger onto a foreign devil and I knew, in this case, it would be China because it was very important. China was doing so well both economically and financially. Therefore, I decided I wanted to address this problem of the Western world’s friction with China.

In June, your record donation of £150,000,000 given to the University of Oxford was announced and featured on the front page of all the major media sources. Can you explain the main reason for such a generous donation to the field of ethics in Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial Intelligence is a new technology which will explode all over the world as it can do some incredible things. It can help enormously in the medical sector, in education and in the workplace. It is a revolution. On the other hand, AI can create problems. One area is employment. Machines will replace people, as they already did at the start of the industrial revolution but that took about 100 to 125 years, whereas AI will happen in the next 10 to 20 years. The idea that everything always works out is right but if it happens very quickly, you can have huge dislocations and much larger unemployment than society can absorb. Therefore, Artificial Intelligence ethics is just a code word for trying to figure out how to allow this technology to be introduced to society so we can reap the benefits, whilst maintaining enough control to ensure the disadvantages are reduced. This requires the involvement of governments, companies, research universities and the media so that you can introduce these regulations without eliminating the benefits of the technology which will enormously help all kinds of people. That is why I am supporting this. I chose Oxford which is a unique university in the study of humanities.

With a donation of $350.000.000 you have created a new space in Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) dedicated to the study of Artificial Intelligence and Computing which will be opened this year.

The reason for creating the Schwarzman College of Computing at MIT is to advance in the field of science but also to analyze AI ethics. Oxford is number 1 in humanities in the world, whereas MIT, depending on whose ranking, is number 1 or 2 in technology in the world. I dedicated a lot of time and financial resources into this because I think it is very important for humanity.

What does it mean to you to be the chairman of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C.?

During President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech in 1961, he said: “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” In my generation, we were expected to help our country. When I was asked to take on the Kennedy Center job, I thought it would be a good thing, because I could help. I did not want to go into government full time. I had been asked to do that before but I did not want to.

In addition to the previously mentioned, you have also made other significant donations to the New York Public Library ($150m), Metropolitan Museum and Yale University ($150m), a football stadium... What is your understanding of philanthropy?

I am involved in different types of philanthropy. I like creating very large-scale projects that have never been done before, consistent with my book. I do the same with philanthropy. I ask myself if there is something I can create to help resolve a big problem. Actually, I do not really consider it philanthropy. I start by asking: “What is good for society?” before backing into important financial commitments. Together with my wife, Christine, we have ended up being the largest donors to Catholic schools in the United States. I am not Catholic but the schools are great. Only about 50% of the children who go to these schools are Catholic: 90% are minorities, 70% are on the poverty line or below and 98% of them graduate.

 

 Stephen Schwarzman during the interview with Elena Cué 

 Stephen Schwarzman during the interview with Elena Cué

 

 

- Interview with Stephen Schwarzman -                              - Alejandra de Argos -

Let me start by highlighting what makes the 'Lorenzo Lotto. Portraits' exhibition such an exceptional project. Firstly, because never before has this subject been featured in a monographic exhibition; secondly, because this is the first ever time an exhibition of the great Venetian artist's work has been organised in Spain, which has only one of his paintings on display, here at the Prado; thirdly, because it comprises almost fifty works, some of them among his best; fourthly, because, although Lotto's main focus was, as the exhibit title would suggest, the genre at which he excelled ~ portraiture, a substantial complementary space has been added to showcase his uniquely personal and beautifully rendered religious painting; and finally, for its splendid presentation and staging at the reputable hands of Jesus Moreno. And as if all that were not enough, it is also worth mentioning with regards to the venue that this inauguration coincides with two other first-rate exhibitions, namely 'Rubens. Painter of Sketches' and 'In lapide depictum. Italian painting on stone 1530-1550", constituting a trio of internationally unmatchable calibre at the Prado.

Dr. Francisco Calvo Serraller, writing exclusively for Alejandra de Argos 
Professor of the History of Contemporary Art
Complutense University of Madrid 

Francisco Calvo Serraller 

 

 

 

 

 

 Lorenzo Lotto  

Portrait of a Woman inspired by Lucretia (1530 - 1533). Oil on canvas, 96.5 x 110.6 cm. The National Gallery, London 

 

Let me start by highlighting what makes the 'Lorenzo Lotto. Portraits' exhibition such an exceptional project. Firstly, because never before has this subject been featured in a monographic exhibition; secondly, because this is the first ever time an exhibition of the great Venetian artist's work has been organised in Spain, which has only one of his paintings on display, here at the Prado; thirdly, because it comprises almost fifty works, some of them among his best; fourthly, because, although Lotto's main focus was, as the exhibit title would suggest, the genre at which he excelled ~ portraiture, a substantial complementary space has been added to showcase his uniquely personal and beautifully rendered religious painting; and finally, for its splendid presentation and staging at the reputable hands of Jesus Moreno. And as if all that were not enough, it is also worth mentioning with regards to the venue that this inauguration coincides with two other first-rate exhibitions, namely 'Rubens. Painter of Sketches' and 'In lapide depictum. Italian painting on stone 1530-1550", constituting a trio of internationally unmatchable calibre at the Prado. 

 

 Lorenzo Lotto 3 

Portrait of Andrea Odoni (1527). The Royal Collection Trust, London


Moreover, Lorenzo Lotto's biography and subsequent destiny of critical acclaim are a constant source of interest. A native of Venice itself whose exact date of birth is unknown but is estimated by experts to be around 1580, our grand master's training and career start could not have been more brilliant, having as he did rolemodels such as Giovanni Bellini, of whom he was reputedly a direct disciple, along with Giorgione and Titian but he was also influenced by Antonello da Messina and Albrecht Durer, a manifestation of the great significance and variety in the configuration of his own particular style.

His early days as a professional in Venice were met with notable success and the promise of great things to come but the stiff competition with other local masters such as Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese, all of whom were endowed with a more pugnacious and business-minded temperament than his, left him with no other alternative than to seek his fortune outside the closeted enclave of the Republic's capital, in the comparatively minor cities of Veneto and neighbouring areas. In this way, Lotto managed to make ends meet with varying degrees of success and, as can often happen in the course of anyone's life, with the passage of time his star waned, only for him to end up as an oblate in Loreto, not knowing where else to live out his last days.  

 

 

 Lorenzo Lotto 2 

Portrait of a Young Man (1530 - 1532). Oil on canvas, 98 x 111 cm. Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

 

Then and now, the reality is that very few artists are able to make a living from their work alone and fewer still if we look back at the past because, until recently, neither were there many other options if luck wasn't on your side. In this sense, Lotto's own personal frustrations cannot be taken as exceptional and neither can the fact that at the time of his death he had not received the recognition he deserved. In actual fact, recognition of his memory and work had to wait until the 20th century when Berenson revised and raised the profile of the hitherto disdained painting of 15th century Italy but, ultimately, he didn't receive proper public acclaim until the latter stages of the 1900s. And in some ways, this widespread recognition of his oeuvre is very recent indeed, as demonstrated by this exhibition which, as previously mentioned, is only the first ever in Spain as well as being the first in the world to monographically showcase his portraiture, a genre to which Lotto made outstanding contributions. These are evidenced in the only painting of his owned by the Prado, a novelty at the time in Italy for depicting a newly-wed couple, as can be seen in the various heraldic elements. Obliged on this occasion to use a landscape format, Lotto continued to do so with individual portraits which gave the subject much greater spacial freedom and the possibility of encompassing a wider horizon. In any case, what is so extraordinary about the quality of Lotto's portraits is not limited just to their format. There is also an effect on composition, psychological aspects, his astute judgement as to the symbolic use of circumstantial details to identify the personality, rank and office of the sitter, the beautiful way he paints hands, among many others. Whatever the case, the result is that Lotto's portraits seem so modern that their impact is perhaps greater now than when they were painted because they give us the impression that their physiognomies and expressions are the same as ours. Whilst true that during the first half of the 16th century, at the height of Mannerism, this type of painting that we are so fond of today proliferated, and notwithstanding other brilliant portraitists of the time, Lotto stands out. There are a selection of his best and most well-known here at the exhibition, for instance Portrait of a Young man with a Lamp (c. 1506), Andrea Odoni (1527), Portrait of a Woman inspired by Lucretia (c. 1530-33) and Portrait of a Young Man (c. 1530-32) but there are also others of equally high quality albeit not as popular as the aforementioned, from the very early Portrait of a Young Man (c. 1498-1500), still heavily influenced by Bellini but with eyes and mouth that show a profound psychological insight, up to and including Bishop Bernardo de Rossi (1505), Portrait of a Young Man (c.1512-13), Lucina Brembati (1520-23), Portrait of a Young Man with a Book (c.1525), Portrait of a Gentleman (1535?), Portrait of a Man with a Beard (c. 1540), Portrait of a Man with a Felt Hat (h. 1541) or Portrait of an Architect (c.1540-42), to mention but a few of many outstanding pieces. 

 

 Lorenzo Lotto 4 

Portrait of a Married Couple (1523 - 1524). Oil on canvas, 96 x 116 cm. The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

 

But in addition to this magnificent display of portraits, the exhibition also includes other genres in Lotto's repertoire and, in particular, his religious painting where delicate, stylised figures writhe in space as in a harmonious ballet, their body language dramatized in studiously-arranged twists and turns and the scene as a whole is wrapped in a chromatic sheen of glossy satin where colours contrast with each other in original and imaginative ways. This added bonus is an essential complement in a country like ours where the work of this Venetian painter is only being exhibited monographically for the very first time.  

 

Lastly, and in another contribution to the ensemble, there are display cases containing various textile and gold or silver objects that don't just illustrate the dress and jewelery of those memorialised in the portraits but also explain their function within the narrative, thereby demonstrating that we are not just viewing a presentation of Lotto's paintings, but rather we are seeing an interpretation of them, and in many cases a novel one at that.  It is interesting that, in this regard, the focus is on portraits where the subject is represented as an incarnation of the ideal of holiness, a burning issue at the precise moment in history when the ideological battle to control and censor images was at its peak.   

 

 Lorenzo Lotto 5 

The Assumption of the Virgin with Saints Anthony Abbot and Louis of Toulouse (1506). Oil on panel, 175 x 165 cm. Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, Asolo

 

This exhibition, which after its run at the Prado will move on to the National Gallery in London, has been curated by Enrico Maria dal Pozzolo y Miguel Falomir, in collaboration with Mathias Wivel. All of them deserve to be congratulated on their splendid work, along with the layout and arrangement of the pieces, not forgetting the beautiful and informative catalogue which, in this case, is an indispensable complement to the exhibition.

 

                                                                                                (Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)  

 

 

- The wonderful rediscovery of Lorenzo Lotto -                                   - Alejandra de Argos -

The Swedish philosopher is one of the most influential in the field of superintelligence. He is the director of the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford. Transhumanism explores the possibility of improving physical, emotional and cognitive human condition through scientific and technological progress. I speak about this intellectual, scientific and cultural movement with philosopher Nick Bostrom (Sweden, 1973), founder of the World Transhumanist Association together with David Pearce and one of the most influential thinkers in the field of superintelligence. He is also the director of the Future of Humanity Institute and the Governance of Artificial Intelligence Program at the University of Oxford. He is the author of more than 200 publications, "Human Enhancement" and "Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies", bestseller of the “New York Times” and strongly recommended by Bill Gates and Elon Musk.

 Author: Elena Cué

 

 Nick Bostrom. Montreal 

Nick Bostrom. Photo: Allen McEachern

 

The Swedish philosopher is one of the most influential in the field of superintelligence. He is the director of the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford.


Transhumanism explores the possibility of improving physical, emotional and cognitive human condition through scientific and technological progress. I speak about this intellectual, scientific and cultural movement with philosopher Nick Bostrom (Sweden, 1973), founder of the World Transhumanist Association together with David Pearce and one of the most influential thinkers in the field of superintelligence. He is also the director of the Future of Humanity Institute and the Governance of Artificial Intelligence Program at the University of Oxford. He is the author of more than 200 publications, "Human Enhancement" and "Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies", bestseller of the “New York Times” and strongly recommended by Bill Gates and Elon Musk.


What led you to create the World Transhumanist Association?

Well, it happened in the 90s. At that time, it seemed to me that there was no adequate forum to discuss the impacts of the emergence of future technologies and how they may affect the human condition. Back then, the emphasis was mainly on the negative. Most of the relevant topics were not discussed at all and the few discussions on academic bioethics always focused on the inconveniences, such as possible dehumanization by using technology to enhance human capacities. There needed to be another voice. The association was an attempt to create a platform which fulfills this demand.

And what about today?

I have not been involved for many years. In the early 2000s, these problems found a voice and were developed in the academic field. Thus, the organization was no longer a necessity.

There is talk about artificial intelligence attempting to develop a conscious intelligence in order to learn in the same way humans do. What can you tell us about this?

I think that a lot of the excitement over the last eight years is due to advances in deep learning; which is a particular focus of AI. This way of processing information is, in many ways, similar to how our human mind works. Excitement is created because it seems to be a more "general" way of structuring intelligence, a type of algorithm that has the general ability to learn from data (big data), learn from experience, and build representations from a pattern present in such data that has not been explicitly pre-programmed by humans. This new concept points to Artificial General Intelligence (AGI).

Can you give an example?

The same algorithm that can learn to play one Atari game can learn to play other Atari games. With small modifications, it can learn to play chess, Go, how to recognize cats in images and to recognize speech. Although there are limits to what can be done today, there are indications that we might be reaching the type of mechanism that provides similar flexibility to that of human intelligence, a type of general learning capacity.

Some voices are more skeptical.

If you look at the systems that are used in the industry, they are still a kind of hybrid. In some cases, these modern deep learning systems are specifically used for image and voice recognition, but many other systems employed by companies continue to be mainly expert systems with a domain specific purpose while following the old school model. This contributes to the confusion.

When do you think molecular nanotechnology will exist, making it possible to manufacture tiny machines that could be inserted into our organisms and thus eradicate many diseases and prolong life?


It's a good question... I believe that nanotechnology will probably be viable after the development of artificial superintelligence. The same goes for many other advanced technologies, which could be developed by using superintelligence for research and development. However, there could be a scenario in which molecular nanotechnology is developed before artificial intelligence takes off. In that case, the first applications would present risks that we would have to survive and if we succeed, we would have to survive the risks associated with superintelligence, once it is developed. Therefore, if we were to be able to influence the order of the development of both technologies, the ideal goal would be to obtain superintelligence before molecular nanotechnology.

Another way to prolong life would be through cryonics. More than 300 people have their bodies cryogenically frozen or their brains preserved in nitrogen. You registered for this service, what prompted you to do so?

Actually, in the interactions I have had with the media, I have never confirmed I did. My stance has always been that my funeral arrangements are a private matter. I know there have been speculations in a newspaper two years ago... It is also true that some of my colleagues are cryonics clients, and they have made it public, like Dr. Anders Sandberg, who is one of our researchers here.

With cultural diversity and different moral codes worldwide, how can we reach a global consensus on ethical limits in genetic research?

For the moment, humanity does not really have a single coordinated plan for the future. There are many different countries and groups, each one pursuing its own initiatives.

From what you say, foresight is essential.

If you think about the development of nuclear weapons 70 years ago, it turned out it was hard to make a nuclear bomb. You need highly enriched uranium or plutonium, which are very difficult to get as you would need industrial sized power plants in order to make them. In addition to that, a huge amount of electricity is needed, so much so that you could see it from space. It is a hard process. It is not just something you could do in your garage. However, let us suppose that they had discovered an easy way to unleash the energy of the atom; that might then have been the end of human civilization as it would have been impossible to control.

It is worrying to think.

Yes, it would be in these cases that perhaps humanity would have to take steps to have a greater capacity for global coordination in case such vulnerability arises or a new arms race emerges. The more powerful our technologies are, the greater the amount of damage we can cause if we use them in a hostile or reckless manner. At this point, I think this is a great weakness for humanity and we just hope that the technologies we discover do not lend themselves to easy, destructive applications.

Recent studies have shown that graphene can effectively interact with neurons. What do you think about the advances in the development of brain-machine interfaces (communication zones) that use graphene?

It is something exciting from the point of view of medicine and people with disabilities. For patients with spinal cord damage, it has several promising applications such as the neuro-prosthesis. However, I am slightly skeptical that it enhances the functionality of a healthy person sufficiently to make it worth the risks, pains and problems of a surgical intervention.

Do you think it is not worth it for a healthy person?

It is quite hard to add functionality to a healthy human mind that you could not get, in a similar way, by interacting with a computer outside of your body, simply typing things on a keyboard or receiving inputs through your eyeballs by looking at a screen. We already have high bandwidth input and output channels to the human brain, for instance, through our fingers or through speech. It is much more relevant to find a solution to how to access, organize and process the vast amount of information available with the limitations of the human brain. That is the bottleneck of the problem and it is where the focus of the development should lie.

In your book Superintelligence you comment that the artificial intelligence research project begins at Dartmouth College in 1956. Since then there have been periods of enthusiasm and regression. At present, it seems that the biggest advocate for the creation of a post-human AI is Ray Kurzweil, founder of Singularity University and financed by Google. Do you think they will achieve their objective this time?

I do not think Ray Kurzweil is the leader in research of AI. There is a big global research community with many important people making significant contributions and I do not think he plays a significant part in most of them.

Would such research be aimed at replicating the human brain including consciousness?

Artificial intelligence is mainly about finding ways to make machines solve difficult problems. Whether they do so by emulating, assimilating, or drawing inspiration from the human brain or not, is more of a tactical decision. If there are useful insights that can be extracted from neuroscience, they will be taken advantage of, but the main objective is not to try to replicate the human mind.

I thought a posthuman project already existed…

If you are referring to the Human Brain Project, then yes. It might be a little bit closer to trying to emulate various details and levels of the human condition. I have the impression that it initially began with a very ambitious vision and probably excessive expectations, with very detailed models of a cortical column. However, after several dissonant voices, it has become a funding channel for several neuroscience projects.

You mentioned that with superintelligence (on a human level) we can obtain great results but at the risk of human extinction.

I think superintelligence would be a kind of general-purpose technology, because it would make it possible to invent other technologies. If you are super intelligent, you can do scientific or engineering work much faster and more effectively than human scientists and engineers can. So imagine all the things that humans could achieve if we had 40,000 years to work on them; perhaps we would have space colonies, upgrades in our organism, cures for aging and perfect virtual realities. I think all of these technologies, and others we have not thought of yet, could be developed by machines of superintelligence and perhaps within a relatively short amount of time after its arrival. It gives us an idea of the vast amount of potential benefits.

What would be the “existential risks” we would face with artificial intelligence?

I see two types of threats. The first one arises from a failure to align objectives. You are creating something that would be very intelligent and powerful at the same time. If we are not capable of finding a way to control it, we could give rise to the existence of a super intelligent system that might prioritize attaining its own values to the detriment of ours. The other risk is that humans use this powerful technology in a malicious or irresponsible way, as we have done with many other technologies throughout our history. We use them not only to help each other or for productive purposes, but also to wage wars or to oppress each other. This would be the other big threat with such advanced technology.

Stephen Hawking called for “expansion to space” and Elon Musk’s company Space X expects to send people to Mars in the near future. What do you think are the reasons we will be forced to migrate to other planets? Could humans live on Mars?

At this moment in time, Mars is not a good place to live. A meaningful space colonization will happen after superintelligence. In the short term, it seems very unattractive; it will be easier to create a habitat at the bottom of the sea or on top of the Himalayas than to do it on the Moon or Mars. Until we have exhausted this type of places, it is difficult to see the practical benefit of doing so on Mars. However, in the long term, space is definitely a goal; Earth is a small crumb floating in an almost infinite expanse of resources.

 

 Nick Bostrom 92 

 Nick Bostrom 

 

 

- Interview with Nick Bostrom -                              - Alejandra de Argos -

With twilight beginning to fall on the little French village of Barjac, I began my tour of La Ribaute ~ 40 hectares of the German artist Anselm Kiefer's making ~ which would conclude at sunset the following day without me having managed to visit all the towers, over and underground tunnels, crypts in a permanent state of transformation, an amphitheatre and pathways planted with sculptures that make up this extraordinary place, a place that is emotive for its grandeur, for its limitless space and for its eerie mystery.

 Author: Elena Cué

 

  IMG 9032 

Photograph: Waltraud Forelli

 

With twilight beginning to fall on the little French village of Barjac, I began my tour of La Ribaute ~ 40 hectares of the German artist Anselm Kiefer's making ~ which would conclude at sunset the following day without me having managed to visit all the towers, over and underground tunnels, crypts in a permanent state of transformation, an amphitheatre and pathways planted with sculptures that make up this extraordinary place, a place that is emotive for its grandeur, for its limitless space and for its eerie mystery.    

Anselm Kiefer is one of the most relevant artists of today.

 

I come back from the amphitheater extremely impressed. In fact, I am overwhelmed by everything. I will need a lot of time to assimilate it all. 

The amphitheater developed in the same way a painting does. I had a big wall where all the big paintings are, and I thought, why not have a little grotto inside. So, we made some containers, we put them together to form a niche, we continued one floor after another and it worked just like a drawing, step by step.

 Anselm Kiefer Elena Cue anfiteatro 

Amphitheatre. Photo: Elena Cué

 

You were born in 1945 in the twilight of World War II.

I was born in the cellar of a hospital. That is where my mother gave birth to me and that same night our house was bombed.

Your toys were ruins and bricks, which you have gone on to use in your work, both as materials and as concepts. Are you still playing with those ruins?

Ruins are the most beautiful thing and because children do not judge, they just take them and play with them. They are for me not an end but a beginning. Sometimes, I knock down a tower by dismantling a piece just to watch how it falls. It is beautiful to see a tower, from which the keystone has been removed, reflecting if it wants to fall, how it hesitates; then everything goes very quick and with great noise to the ground. The feeling is comparable to that of starting an airplane. Full throttle is engaged. The airplane quivers with the power that wants to bring it forwards while the brakes still hold it in place, the machine, getting faster and faster, finally lifts itself into the sky. 

At a time when Germany was spiritually and materially devastated, what were the values you grew up with?

I had a very authoritarian education because my father was an officer. On one side there was the authoritarianism of the Catholic Church and on the other, that of my father who was also my teacher. But my father also showed me the painters that were ostracized during the Third Reich and, in the earliest years of my childhood, lead me to painting and drawing.

You said that  building Barjac  was something that rebelled in retrospective. First was the experience and then the concept...

If you mean whether my work follows a thought out concept then the answer is: of course. I always have a concept, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to start. However, during the work and over the course of days, weeks or years, the concept changes. The concept is necessary but not important.


What do you feel when you look at La Ribaute?

I feel it is unfinished. 

 Anselm Kiefer Elena Cue La Ribotte 

La Ribaute, Barjac. Anselm Kiefer. Photo: Elena Cué

 

What particular need led you to build something so unique in Barjac?

When I moved to France, my idea was to no longer have assistance from anybody. I didn’t want an office, I wanted to simplify my practice and to do everything on my own. I wanted to make very light paintings that I could roll and take anywhere. I wanted to work by myself, without any assistance. It was like a cultural revolution. Leave everything behind you, stop painting and start over again!

Here architecture, paintings, sculptures, and even music concerts come together. Are you trying to recreate Wagner’s concept of Total Work of Art?

I do not use the word “gesamtkunstwerk”. It has an uncomfortable connotation. I would rather speak of a work in progress. The most important is not the result but the ephemeral, the ever flowing, that which does not come to an end.

In 2011, you designed the scenography for the opera Elektra at the Teatro Real in Madrid. Do you intent to collaborate on another opera?

Yes, when the right piece, and a director with whom I share an aesthetic, come together. Klaus Michael Grüber, with whom I collaborated on Oedipus at Colonus at the Burgtheater in Vienna and Elektra in Naples, was for me a great match. He, unfortunately, passed away during pre-production.

You have said that in your childhood boredom helped you become a philosopher. Do you think that a state of boredom could be really creative?

Boredom is the beginning of philosophy. If you are active, you do not reflect. Heidegger has a lecture series on boredom. He says when you are invited to an event and it is a little bit boring, you become aware of the fact you are. It becomes clear what it is to be.

Which philosophers do you identify with?

Roland Barthes, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Martin Heidegger, Leibniz, Carl Schmitt, Gustav Radbruch, Feuerbach…

What is it that normally forces you to think and create?

I do not paint because the canvas is empty or because I have nothing else to do. I start painting when I have a shock. When I am overwhelmed by something that moves me, something that is greater than me. It can be a real experience with a person, a landscape, a music piece or with a poem. Critics say that I aim to overwhelm but in reality, I am the one who is constantly overwhelmed. That is what happens when I start to work. If you are not feeling overwhelmed, why are you alive? We are here to be overwhelmed otherwise, there is no reason to be.

Where does your inspiration come from?
If you ask writers, they will tell you that all the material they have comes from their childhood. The same is true for me.

You said that you have always been drawn to the impossible. How many times have you tried to achieve the impossible?

You cannot achieve the impossible. You can only dream of it and try it. The word achievement is difficult because it is always a process. I could never say something is an achievement; it is only in our heads.

Your work is full of mythological references from Germany, Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt and Kábbalah, among others. Have you found an element of unity between them?

Yes, all mythology is connected. For example, the Norse legend of Wayland the Smith, who was captured by the king and could not escape. That same legend exists in Egypt and Northern Germany. You can find connections in all of mythology.

You have been labeled as one of the biggest representatives of neo-expressionism. What does this artistic style provide that others do not?

I am fundamentally against style.

 Anselm Kiefer La Ribotte Foto Elena Cue  

La Ribaute. Barjac. Anselm Kiefer. Photo: Elena Cué

 

What motivated you to include figurative objects such as submarines, sunflowers, tulips, etc, in your work? Why did you begin to combine painting and sculpture?

It is a question of reality. When I introduce an object, I do not create any additional illusion. What I make is what it is. Sometimes I want to be direct. Objects have their own spirituality.

Why did you choose painting instead of writing?

I cannot say that it was a conscious decision. It came to me this way. Throughout my career I have always had moments when I thought about writing a book. I have a lot of book concepts in my diary but I cannot say I have decided on one.

Then, is it a balance between writing and painting?

Yes, but it is not writing, it is rather experimenting with oneself. I do not write fiction or poetry. Poetry is something different; you arrange the words in a certain combination that has never been seen before.

What about painting?

It is recreation as well.

Do you reflect yourself better through painting than through writing?

Writing helps us analyze what we have done. Besides, it is a form of self-assessment.

Do you ask yourself if you are satisfied?

All the time.

How do you feel when you read your own work?

My writings are for me a way to remember. The new arises from memory.


And when you look at your paintings in retrospect?

Exactly like Paul Valery, sometimes I think they are marvelous, at other times they make me feel desperate. 

 La Ribotte. Barjac Anselm Kiefer Foto Elena Cue 

La Ribaute. Barjac. Anselm Kiefer. Photo: Elena Cué

You have said that art is closest to the truth. Could you explain this concept?

Art is even closer to the truth. It is truth.

Do you think that through art you are able to express who you really are?

I am not important. I am sometimes me and then many others.

The Holocaust is very significant in your work. It is depicted through a wide range of symbolism. What is your objective with the representation of the darkest moment in your country’s history?

When I was growing up, the Holocaust did not exist. No one spoke about it in the 60s. I felt that there was something hidden. By accident, I got a disc with the voices of Hitler, Goebbels and Goering. It was made by Americans in order to educate Germans. I was so fascinated by Hitler that I began to study. I wanted to know what it was all about.

Was it necessity or curiosity that prompted you to investigate it further?

It was curiosity. When you begin to study what happened during those times it is so horrible that it is hard to imagine. Only in 1975 in Germany did they finally start showing exactly what had happened during the Holocaust. Ever since then the Germans have been quite good at revealing it. The French are still hiding a lot of it. At the time, Austrians wanted no relation with anything German. An Austrian journalist complained to me that I put Austrians and Germans in the same category. Back then Hitler was surprised as he thought he would have to fight Austria in order get an unification. It turned out they all wanted it already. They were even more efficient and accurate with their Jewish lists than the Germans. The French forcefully sent about 100,000 people to work in the German weapon industry. I never believed that there was a point zero. Democracy was first brought by the Americans.

During the keynote address of your lecture series at the Collège de France, you said that you learned most about art through reading The Thief's Journal by Jean Genet. Could you explain why?

I was so overwhelmed by his writing. He literally turned everything upside down. He would take the most honorable thing you could do and stick it deep in the swamp, whilst the most horrible thing, for example, to kill someone, he considered a piece of art. He turned everything upside down and this was fantastic to me.

You said: “The alchemy of transforming the abject into art is the true magic”. Why are you so attracted to alchemy?

Alchemy is the first step to science, chemistry and physics. It is the teaching of transmutation. It is also a spiritual movement. People always say that alchemists try to turn lead into gold but the real alchemists do not want to do that. It is a picture to transform yourself on another level. Alchemists are the first natural scientists.

 Anselm Kiefer la Ribotte Elena Cue 

La Ribaute. Barjac. Anselm Kiefer. Photo: Elena Cué

 

You were photographed dressed as a woman for the work Jean Genet. You depicted women in  Les Femmes de la Révolution, Les Reines de France, Les Femmes de L'Antiquitié, en Margarethe y Shulamith. What do women represent in your work?

I am always overwhelmed by women and I think they are more connected with the roots of earth. They are more powerful than men.

You say that art should be subversive and disturbing. What do you think about the relationship between art and society?

I am going to refer to Jean Genet again. He is subversive because he preaches that stealing and killing are the best things; that you have to become a traitor. Art can never be moralistic. Art cannot be a judgement of society because morals are connected to the times. Let us go back to the times of Greek democracy. In those days you could have slaves. Even Aristotle said that in order to be a good philosopher you have to be rich and have slaves. It is all connected with certain times. Artists should not be connected with a specific moral behavior.

You have spoken extensively about the artist being a destroyer and a creator. It is key in your work. Could you elaborate on this concept?

The artist is an iconoclast, he or she destroys all the time. There is art and anti-art. If the artist is not an iconoclast then he is not really an artist. You can see it through the history of art. I destroy what I do all the time. Then I put the destroyed parts in containers and wait for the resurrection. 

The idea of infinity is implicit in your work and provokes a sense of the sublime. Do you intend to do so?

Eichendorff in his poem, sends his soul out in the world and then it comes back to him. It is a never-ending circle. I follow the philosophical system which includes emotion, will and reflection. Eichendorff describes a globe as a sphere; a kind of a sphere that gives immunity. Before you are born, you share a sphere with your mother, you are connected in the womb. This is the first sphere. Then the sphere gets wider as you meet more and more people. The romantic sphere is endless. It goes to the infinite and comes back.

 Anselm Kiefer. Elena Cue las mujeres de la revolucionjpg 

The Women Of The Revolution. Anselm Kiefer. Photo: Elena Cué

 

The landscape with your figure in the middle of the Les Femmes de la Révolution room reminds me of Friedrich's landscape and the concept of the sublime. Do you look for the sublime?

It is not really my world. Who invented the word sublime?

The first to use that term was a Greek from the Hellenistic era, but it became popular at the beginning of our time, and among others Kant who wrote a book about the beauty and the sublime.

There is a wonderful quote by Kant: “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.”

Are there things that have come to the surface through your work that you would have preferred to keep hidden?

No. There is so much that is hidden. You can reveal as much as you want and still never get to the center.

What is your opinion of the first Documenta and Nazi Degenerate art.

I looked through all the Nazi paintings and architecture and did not find a decent painting. I studied them all. I thought that there might be something hidden but they were all nonsense. However, architecture was different. It was not Nazi architecture per se, it was the architecture of the time because it was connected to tradition. You can see the same type of architecture in Paris and Rome. People wrongfully view that type of architecture as Nazi. For example, they say architecture should not overwhelm people. But why not? We are overwhelmed all the time, look at the stars, for instance. An architect must show this. I like Karl Marx Allee in Berlin.

 

 Anselm Kiefer elena cue LIBRERIA 

Library. Anselm Kiefer. Photo: Elena Cué

 

What is your relationship to books? What significance do books have in your life and work?

Books I have made represent sixty percent of my work. I still have most of my earlier books as they were never really for sale.

And in relation to painting?

A painting is different from a book because you can stand in front of it and see an impression of something. When reading a book, you turn the pages; it is connected to time. I like to write books because I can show the process. When I do a painting, I always have a war in my head. At each stage of the painting I have a hundred different possibilities to choose from. For instance, when Picasso was stuck during the creative process he used to tell his wife, Francoise Gilot, to copy his painting so he can come up with a different outcome. When you are painting you always have to make decisions. As you make a choice to go a certain way, you give up a hundred other possibilities.

 

 

 Elena Cue entrevista a Anselm Kiefer 

 Anselm Kiefer with Elena Cué. Photo: Waltraud Forelli

 

                                                                                                                                                          (Introduction translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)

 

 

 

- Interview with Anselm Kiefer -                                    - Alejandra de Argos -

Coliseum director Dr Rosella Rea accompanies ABC Cultural on an exceptional visit through some of the recently restored, but as yet unopen to the public, areas of this prodigious monument . Back in Madrid, we consult with Pritzker prize-winning Spanish architect Rafael Moneo. “You need to close your eyes to imagine this gallery ... Archaeologists have found coloured, stuccoed areas and many frescoes. We know now that the interior of the Coliseum was red. Only the exterior was light, the colour of limestone travertine. Ancient architecture was always painted in bright colours and to forget this is to veer from reality", says Dr Rea, as we walk through a gallery whose restoration began in 2012 - thanks to a €25 million funding grant from luxury brand Tod's – and, although now completed, is still absolutely out of bounds to the public.

Author: Marina Valcárcel
Art Historian
 Marina

 

 

 

 

 Coliseo 1 

 

The Colosseum's Archaeological  director Dr Rosella Rea accompanies ABC Cultural on an exceptional visit through some of the recently restored, but as yet unopen to the public, areas of this prodigious monument. Back in Madrid, we consult with the Spanish architect Rafael Moneo.


“You need to close your eyes to imagine this gallery ... Archaeologists have found coloured, stuccoed areas and many, many frescoes. We know now that the interior of the Colosseum was red. Only the exterior was light, the colour of limestone travertine. Ancient architecture was always painted in bright colours and to forget this is to ignore reality", says Dr Rea, as we walk through a gallery whose restoration began in 2012 - thanks to a €25 million funding grant from luxury brand Tod's – and, although now completed, is still absolutely out of bounds to the public. "We are in the highest reaches of the building, in an intermediate gallery that connects the third tier with the fourth and fifth. It was meant for the commoner. It is the only covered gallery preserved in its original state, with its frescoes, graffiti and ancient inscriptions."

 

 coliseo 2 

 Intermediate gallery connecting the third tier with the fourth and fifth. Colosseum (Rome). Photo: Marina Valcárcel


In this low-ceilinged, curved, narrow gallery the crowds would throng between lit torches or small windows of daylight, with shouting and screaming and the smell of food, dirt and latrines injecting the pure adrenaline of blood and death into the 100-day spectacle of festivals inaugurated by the Emperor Titus in 82 A.D. in his new Colosseum of Rome.


Robert Hughes insists we abandon the virtual images of TV series and video games portraying an "all-white Rome": white marble, white columns, men dressed in white togas looking very grave. "The real Rome was actually the Calcutta of the Mediterranean: crowded, chaotic and filthy," he writes in his book “Rome”.

 

 

  Coliseo 3 

View from the fourth tier. Photo: Marina Valcárcel

 

From this vantage point you have, by virtue of its height, the most impressive view of the Colosseum. We have a bird’s eye view of the huge skeleton of this stone beast with its open channels, its ribs of subterranean passageways, its arches jutting into the sky, the dark empty eyes of its vomitoriums, the rough skin of its concrete and its dark travertine covered in black scars, a wasp’s nest of square-shaped holes where metal clamps used to hold the stone blocks together before they were ultimately torn out and melted down.


From up here the Colosseum comes back to life in all its old colour, power and glory as it returns to the 1st century and 50,000 spectators enter the stands. Eighty arched entrances topped with 150 bronze statues and 40 golden shields at the attic level commemorate military conquests; senators and magistrates sit nearest to the arena, the commoner man on wooden benches in the top tier and the women and slaves in the "gods"; the roar of the amphitheatre becomes deafening, the grandstand is festooned again with marble and garlands of flowers. Above the windows of the highest level, the decorated beams hold the velarium that unfolds, manoeuvred by a special unit of sailors from the Miseno fleet to cover the amphitheatre with tarpaulin sails that protect spectators from the sun and shower them with water, steam, perfume and rose petals. The emperor, his family, the Vestal Virgins and the Roman priestesses sit on the podium while, through the Porta Triumphalis, the entourage of gladiators, musicians and hunters makes its entrance; opposite, through the Porta Libitinaria, their mutilated bodies will exit the arena ...


The words of the Dr Rea make perfect sense: "What impresses the visitor is not so much the visit itself as the fact of being here and living this experience."

 

 

 Coliseo 

View from the fifth tier and the buttress. Photo: Marina Valcárcel


So how are we to understand the secret to this feat of architectural engineering? The Flavio Amphitheatre, completed in the year 80 AD, reaches a total height of 52 metres; the major axis measures 188 metres and the smallest 156 metres. The total area covered by sand is 3,357 square meters. The Romans used slave labour, without which many of Antiquity's megalithic constructions, from the Egyptians to the Assyrian empire and Rome itself, would not have been viable. But how was it possible to build a monument capable of accommodating 73,000 people in eight years and without mechanical compactors, rotary mixers or any of today's motorized tools? Who invented the system of ramps and passageways that allowed the ingress and egress of the public in just 15 minutes? This system of mathematical accuracy is one that endures today in most of the football stadiums of the world and, of course, in all the bullrings that dot the geography of Spain in small amphitheatres. The Romans took so much from Greek art that they are sometimes considered mere continuators. As regards art, however, as important as the one who creates it is the one who passes it on. The Romans did indeed absorb Greek architecture and sculpture but they also endowed it with the gift of utility, multiplying it in terms of engineering and technical capabilities and, above all, political capacity. Roman art is understood better than ever from this high point of the Colosseum and it is an indescribable propaganda machine of imperial power. And the machinery’s cogs were activated by two generating factors - innovation in architectural materials and the very nature of the shows themselves.


Unrepeatable arquitecture


"The Colosseum, the Pantheon and even some Gothic cathedrals are examples of our architectural past that no modern architect would dare to build today. In the same way it would be difficult to reproduce the tempering of some Renaissance swords today, even though modern steel has great properties," Rafael Moneo points out in our conversation about the Colosseum back in his Madrid studio. "Roman architecture, and the Colosseum in particular, has that complete strength of definition that at times demands an architecture with a resounding constitution and huge dimensions. In this respect, the Colosseum, unlike the Pantheon, simultaneously resolves something very beautifully: the problem of form and use. It is an architecture that comes from Greek theatre; Greek theatres not Greek temples, because it’s understood that the problems of form are linked almost directly to the use that things are put to. In the case of the Colosseum it goes further still, with that slightly oval-shaped level, those specific measurements and that double focus of the ellipse set against the stricter, tougher condition of the circle", adds Moneo.

 

  IMG 0453 

Interior view of the Colosseum, access gallery to the stands. Photo: Marina Valcárcel


Roman architecture was first and foremost practical. It fulfilled its propaganda function - to spread mini Romes throughout the empire - with military rigour. They would all have their forum, their basilica, their aqueduct, their amphitheatre... "The history of civilization is not understood without Rome, without the empire and without the Church. All of that has become architecture. Culture is deposited in architecture and that is the lesson of that city," concludes Moneo.


To this end, Rome relied on two revolutionary discoveries: concrete and the spread of brick. Greek architecture was based on the straight line: pillars and straight lintels. The genius of Roman architecture was that it built curved structures. This could not be done, at least not on any magnitude, in carved stone. A plastic, malleable substance was needed, and the Romans found it in concrete. With it they erected aqueducts, arches, domes and roads. It was the material of power and discipline. It was strong and inexpensive, allowing very large structures to be built. And size had a special appeal to the Romans when it came to building their empire. But also, with the production of bricks, the Romans came to generate a material at an almost pre-industrial level. Each colony of the empire had its brick factory, each with its own local peculiarity. "It was like amphorae in that each city had its own typology: those of Bética were big-bellied and narrow-mouthed, and so the oil that arrived from Andalusia was distinguishable from the rest that arrived at the port of Ostia from elsewhere in the empire", explains Dr. Rea.

 

No known author


It is not known who the architect of the Colosseum was. We can only imagine him through Alma Tadema's painting in which he is depicted as a mature, thoughtful man stroking his chin with his left hand while drawing a rough sketch of a very large building in the sand with his right. It is as if the Dutch painter had wanted to honour Architecture through the drawing that this imagined artist presented to Vespasian and which would seem to hold all later architecture within it: from St. Petersburg to the Capitol in Washington; from one  magnificence to another.


"The overlapping of classical styles on the facade of the Colosseum became an inspiration for the constructive art of the Renaissance. All later palaces have their origins here," concludes Dr. Rea.

 

 Coliseo 4 
"The architect of the Coliseum", Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912)

 

Subterranean Hell


Barbara Nazzaro, the Colosseum's Technical Director, now joins Dr. Rea and both suggest we end this visit with a "descent into hell". The basements, about six meters down, are a humid-smelling web of blackened stone tunnels with water underfoot and here we recall the dark legend of the Emperor Nero whose spectre seems to inhabit these dungeons. Nero had the artificial pool of his Domus Aurea built here in the Colosseum's valley. His suicide in 68 AD and posthumous damnatio memoriae - a kind of historical anti-memory law - only served to bury the imperial residence but the emperor ended up giving his name to the beast. Colosseum does not mean 'gigantic building' but 'place of a statue', in this case of him, 35 metres high and cast in bronze that presided over the esplanade of that folly of extravagance that was Nero's residence.                                

 

 Coliseo 5 
Artist's impression of the bronze statue of Nero for the esplanade of the Domus Aurea


The basement was the secret machinery powering the spectacles taking place above in homage to the glory of the emperor: full-scale re-enactments and performances with lavish scenery, artificial forests and special effects. They housed everything from the dock where the ships anchored for mock seafights to the hunting extravaganzas. Exotic animals dazzled the crowds awed by the greatness of their empire: lions, panthers, leopards, tigers and elephants brought from Africa; wild boars, bears and deer from Germany. From  the tunnels crammed with cages and by means of freight elevators, the beasts ascended to the arena in a matter of minutes. Down in this labyrinth, the stench of animals mixed with the smell of slaves and smoke from the torches. Metal supports and beams that reinforced the service lifts were operated by a system of winches operated by slaves. At first there were 28 elevators. "We are talking here about it taking more than 200 people to get them up and running," says Dr Rea. Later, 32 more lifts were built. Trapdoors would be raised for the animals to enter the arena. About one million wild animals were killed in the Colosseum during the time it served as a place of entertainment for the masses, according to Dion Casio. The different plants that grow today between the stones of the Colosseum ruins constitute a legacy from these animals. They were the ones who brought the seeds from distant lands, populating the Colosseum with plant species left in peace to bloom throughout the building. 

                    

 

 Coliseo 6 

Replica of one of the lifts from the basements of the Colosseum. Photo: Marina Valcárcel

 

 Coliseo 7 

Dock in the interior of the Colosseum. Photo: Marina Valcárcel

 

From the first centuries after Antiquity and during the Middle Ages, the amphitheatre belonged somewhat to whoever appropriated it: monks from nearby country and vineyard monasteries settled there, as did aristocratic families - like the Frangipani - who fortified it, ordinary people who made it their refuge, their business, their home in which they ate, slept and cooked. The Colosseum is  unlike any other known building typology: it is not a temple, nor a palace, nor a church. As the centuries passed, this indeterminacy took on myriad contours: it would serve as a quarry for the construction of other churches - the travertine of its facade would become the stairs of St. Peter's in Vatican City, it would be filled with aedicules for the Via Crucis and it would be incorporated into the architectural projects of Bernini and Fontana who dreamed of building churches out of its sand and bringing its stories of martyrdom back to life.

“Quamdiu stat Colysaeus stat et Roma, quando cadet Colysaeum cadet et Roma, quando cadet et Roma cadet et mundus” ("As long as the Colossus stands, so shall Rome; when the Colossus falls, Rome shall fall; when Rome falls, so falls the world."). This epigram, attributed to the Venerable Bede (672-735), would now seem to have been a prophecy endowing the monument with a fundamental responsibility and centering it as a testimony to the survival of history, as the mirror of Rome and, in turn, the mirror of the world.

 

 Coliseo 8 

Entrance gate to the Colosseum. Photo: Marina Valcárcel

 

 (Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)

 

- The Colosseum, the engine of Roman power -                      - Alejandra de Argos -

 
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