Give Me, A Performance Artist, One Million Dollars, and You May End Up With One Billion Dollars Back 

Let me introduce myself. I am the artist BB, also known as Pony Isaacsohn or Ben Shepard.  In late 2013, I created a website called Kanye4mayor.org. This website proposed that Kanye West run for Mayor of Chicago on a municipal libertarian communist platform.   The proposal “went” viral, articles about it can be found on MTV, Ebony, and the Chicago Tribune.  Instead of running for mayor of Chicago on a municipal libertarian communist platform, Kanye West married into America’s leading reality television show family and took his own strange political journey into, and out of, Trumpland.   

My experiences developing unsolicited strategies West lead to the formation of Pityless Consulancy.  Pityless Consulting is also performance art, specifically a kind of performance art called “institutional performance.”   Institutional performance is when artists use institutions as media.  My teacher Tania Bruguera, for instance, performed an experimental art school called  “Cátedra Arte de Conduct”  (Behavior Art School) between 2002 and 2009, and then, a political movement called the “Immigrant Movement International” and a related political party called  “Migrant People Party” between 2010 and 2015.  Pityless Consulting has offered unsolicited consulting to the Communist Parties of China, Vietnam, Japan,  the King of Thailand, Elizabeth Warren,  Cheng Guangbiao,  Johnny Depp, and Ezra Miller. 

In addition to this performance, I make collaborative paintings and works on paper with Drew Beattie under the name DBBS.  If you look in his website, drewbeattiestudio.com you will find many examples of our work together, which pioneers the methodology of ‘ambient figuration’ – essentially,  ever-evolving chains of figure/background shifts which allow a constantly evolving image. 

Currently I study at the Institute for Art in Context (IfKiK) at the University of Art (Udk) in Berlin, primarily with Claudia Hummel and Ahmet Öğüt  With a group of other students, we have formed the “Small Green Leaf” curation collective, which is dedicated to using contemporary art to bring about collective human spring. 

Collective human spring means the end of the collective global winter we are all ‘enjoying” now.   The institutional performance described in this email, an app/company called Castalia, is an example of how contemporary art can bring about global collective spring. 

The problem Castalia solves is language learning.  

The idea has two sources: the first is my own experience learning German, and the second is “Input Hypothesis” for language learning developed by the linguist Stephen Krashen.   I started learning German in 2003, in the introductory German course at the University of Chicago, and continued studying the language for the next year and a half.  It was a painful experience.  It would take me many years to learn why this hurt, but I didn’t stop trying to learn German. In 2006 my lover and I moved to Berlin, sublet a 90 square meter  apartment in Prenzlauer Berg for 300 euros a month and took German at the Goethe Institute. The classes were expensive, but more pleasureable than at the University of Chicago. I moved back to the United States to finish my degree,  kept moving west until I ended up in Shanghai and didn’t return to Germany until 2018, when DBBS had a show at the Lachenmann Gallery in Konstanz. After our show, my husband Job Zheng and I went to Berlin. Even though it was February we decided to move to Berlin. Job soon discovered the Institut für  Kunst im Kontext (IfKiK) at the Universität der Künste (UdK.)  

In order to apply, Job – a Chinese national – first needed to pass through an initial vetting process.  By the time this was done, it was 2020, the world was locked, and we were in Bangkok.   In order to apply, we needed B1 German status.   We took superintensives at the Goethe Institute In Bangkok. These were pleasureable; we passed, applied, got accepted, moved to Germany, and have studied halb Deutsch, halb English for the last ten months.  Now I can read Hannah Arendt in German without the drowning feeling and spontaneously shout German in the streets of Berlin without any trepadition. 

What’s the point of the story? How did I finally learn German?  What does it have to do with a billion dollars? 

Now enters need the aforementioned “Input Hypothesis.” This is actually a set of five hypotheses developed by UCLA linguist Stepen Karshen and the 1970s and eighties.   Here’s Wikipedia’s summary of the hypotheses: 

  • The input hypothesis. This states that learners progress in their knowledge of the language when they comprehend language input that is slightly more advanced than their current level. Krashen called this level of input “i+1”, where “i” is the learner’s interlanguage and “+1” is the next stage of language acquisition.
  • The acquisition–learning hypothesis claims that there is a strict separation between acquisition and learning; Krashen saw acquisition as a purely subconscious process and learning as a conscious process, and claimed that improvement in language ability was only dependent upon acquisition and never on learning.
  • The monitor hypothesis states that consciously learned language can only be used to monitor language output; it can never be the source of spontaneous speech.
  • The natural order hypothesis states that language is acquired in a particular order, and that this order does not change between learners, and is not affected by explicit instruction.
  • The affective filter hypothesis. This states that learners’ ability to acquire language is constrained if they are experiencing negative emotions such as fear or embarrassment. At such times the affective filter is said to be “up.

My University of Chicago German studies demonstrates the “affective filter.”   . I was afraid of bad grades,  embarassed by my poor understanding of the seemingly intricate and intractabile rules of German.  My affective filter was “up” and so my ability to learn German was constrained. By contrast, the studies at the Goethe Institute in Bangkok, while intense, were enjoyable. It is hard not to have fun in Bangkok studying German from a Klaus Kinski lookalike with a friendly group of mostly Thai students, many of them learning German to speak with their boyfriends or husbands.  My affective filter was down. 

The Goethe Institute helped, but I really learned German over the last ten months as a student at the University of Art. During this period, I created a auditory tour tour of the Hemp Museum in Berlin,  curated an art show in a fridge, and studied the history of so-called Children’s Republics in Weimar Germany. I did not take any German classes.  The story illustrates the acuqisition/learning hypothesis.   My studies and projects exposed me to a lot of German, this lead to acquisition, the “a purely unconscious” process. 

But if you are reading this still and you are a rich person, you may also be an impatient person too, and you may be wanting to know what the point is. What does this have to do with an app called Castalia that could solve language learning? 

Now that I know how to learn languages, I want to keep learning languages: to finish Spanish, to learn French,  Italian, Korean, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese.  But I  want to learn language in right way, through unconscious acquisition in a pleasurable context: and that’s what Castalia would be.

Castalia starts as an app with one user: me.  On my phone and desktop Castalia gives me a stream of wonderful Spanish text and pictures and videos with an optional english overlay.   Here’s a story of me getting addicted to this app:

I start with reading short text from .   Parábola del palacio* – Parable of the Palacio. The Spanish text is big and in high contrast text, beneath the text there’s low contrast English translation.  It’s my first time reading Spanish in years, and I’m a little tentative, and spend a fair amount of time looking at the English subtitles.  

The app asks me to rate the text, I give it five stars, and gives me another text with English overlay.  Next comes up the following text. 

Yo me quedé pensando en el verbo desaparecer. Ellos dijeron: Tadeo no aparece y yo pensé en el mago que iba a nuestra primaria. En Tadeo tras la celosía mirando a hurtadillas porque a nuestra madre no le alcanzaba para darnos los cinco pesos de la función. Desaparecer siempre fue para mí un acto de prestidi- gitadores. Alguien desaparecía algo y luego lo volvía a aparecer.

Overlaid, again, in the grey writing is this: 

I kept thinking about the verb to disappear. They said: Tadeo does not appear and I thought of the magician who went to our elementary school. In Tadeo behind the lattice peeking on the sly because our mother couldn’t afford to give us the five pesos for the show. Disappearing was always an act of conjuring for me. Someone would disappear something and then it would appear again.

This time, I can get through the reading more easily.  All those years of trying to learn Spanish weren’t completely useless, after all, the words sunk in. Next — as if to reward me – the app gives me a scene from the greatest film ever made, Pedro Almodovar’s Gloria Y Dolor. There’s big Spanish and  little English Subtitles. 

By now you might get the idea of Castalia, and want to know how it becomes a billion dollar idea. This way: I use the app to keep learning languages and share it with all the people I meet, and they come to use it, and share it with another group of people. Between me, the people I know, and the people they know who use the app there is sufficient social brownian motion to build an expanding social network of language learners.  Put in another way: once people hear about an app that can really help them learn a foreign language, they will want to use it, and their desire will be mimetic. 

Now we can clearly state the objective of Castalia: to create a high status social network for people who want to learn languages. The business model here is similar to the New York Time: subscription plus advertising. If this happens, I will be able to give you back a billion dollars. If it doesn’t happens, but the network still develops,  I may still be able to pay back your million dollar.  If it doesn’t work, you will lose your million dollars. 

This is already almost 2000 words. If you want to hear more, in perhaps excruciating detail, about the strategy you can add me on what’s app and talk there like a real European: +49 15228124307