In the December 2016 issue of the Brooklyn Rail, Jarrett Earnest talks with queer writer and activist Sarah Schulman about her latest book, Conflict is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility and the Duty of Repair. She says that interpersonal and intra-community conflict—especially in the feminist and queer movements—has gone from being an accepted and necessary reality to something that's deferred to outside authorities, like the police, or avoided via passive-aggressive social media activity. A strong community, suggests Schulman, is not one that avoids conflict, but one that anticipates and constructively resolves it. Here's an excerpt from the interview:
Rail: One of the things I thought was the most important about Conflict is Not Abuse connects to our contemporary moment, where people displace conflict through various means. One is through media where you don’t have direct personal interaction, or by deffering to institutional structures that intervene, whether that is a school administration or on up to the state. How you see conflict working differently now than twenty years ago?
Schulman: In the book I give the history of the transformation of the feminist movement against male violence and I really try and show that it is post-Reagan where we start seeing the constant message that police should be the arbiters of human relationships. That began the bureaucratizing and professionalizing of social services so that they become part of the government, eliminating the grassroots sector the community was providing. You also get the emergence of corporate television shows like Law and Order showing us that there is one perpetrator who is evil, there is one victim who is innocent, and the answer is the police. It’s now been thirty-six years that we’ve been told that police are the appropriate arbiters of relationship conflict and that is not true—it’s true for abuse, perhaps, but for conflict it is absolutely not true.
Rail: I’m wondering if it’s more common to avoid having actual conflicts in person, which makes the conversation urgent and immediate. What does it mean, then, to disagree as human beings.
Schulman: We’ve conflated taking responsibility with having something be your fault. So, for example, if someone wants their partner to leave and they won’t, it now escalates to if you don’t do it right now then I’m calling the police, then they call the police. What if the community around those people, friends, neighbors, and families, instead said we’re going to come over and find out what’s going on. What would be revealed if they stayed? What do you think the problem is? What are the alternatives to calling the police? To me, that intervention is what loyalty really is. That means we allow people to say I overreacted without being punished.
Rail: How do you understand the construction of community in this context?
Schulman: It’s whatever groups you belong to. I’ve lived in this apartment building since 1979 and there are a few people I’ve lived with this entire time. We have seen each other through all kinds of shit—horrible breakups; overdoses—and there’s a sense of community that you live in. So that’s one kind of community. For some people it’s their family, or friends, or religious categories; a lot of us are in cliques; some of us have work colleagues. There are all kinds of witnesses to our lives.
Image of Sarah Schulman via Gay City News.
At the Bookforum website, Joshua Alvarez reviews Toussaint Louverture: A Revolutionary Life, a new biography of the Haitian rebel leader by history professor Philippe Girard. Louverture is best known for leading the only successful slave revolt in history, which culminated in Haiti's independence from France in 1804. But as Girard's biography adroitly shows, Louverture was a more complex and contradictory figure than history has made him out to be. He was a brilliant general who fought doggedly for black independence, but he was also a former slave owner who didn't hesitate to collaborate with the white establishment when it benefited him. Girard suggests that Louverture was ultimately a pragmatist whose person pursuit of power served revolutionary ends. Read an excerpt of the review below, or the full text here.
These incidents raise one of the most challenging questions about Louverture: What inspired him to take up revolutionary politics? Girard doesn't provide any easy answers—rather, he retains a subtle touch that's unafraid of ambiguity. This approach honors his subject's complexity: He traces a number of fascinating strands, but all of them end in knots of contradiction. Louverture was strongly Catholic but abandoned his faith as his power collapsed. He was a slave, but only became pro-abolitionist after the revolutionary government in France made it law, and even tried to reestablish the slave trade as governor general. He was black, but to a sanctimonious, liberal white governor, Louverture declared that he had "the soul of a white man." As a military commander and head of government, Louverture demonstrated no compunction about betraying, or even murdering, his black allies, particularly the more radical ones who were eager to kill or exile white planters. Louverture may have marched under the French revolutionary tricolor but, according Girard's account, most of his actions favored the white ruling class. His words and deeds do not betray any particular motive outside securing his own power (which has often been the case with revolutionary leaders). With most "Great Man" biographies, we get a grand vision and then the (often unseemly) politicking that brought it to fruition. With Louverture, we get only the politicking. His vision is, for the time being, concealed.
In the end, his political maneuvering caught up with him: Having betrayed the loyalty of too many, too few answered his recruitments to fight Napoleon's armada. Although the soldiers that did show up were able to hold the French navy back, they were unable to win a decisive victory. In a final twist, Louverture's most loyal, most ruthless subordinate, Jean-Jacques Dessalines—his former slave—betrayed Louverture to the French, who deported him to France in June 1802. Nonetheless, Louverture's strategy had inflicted enough damage to French forces that, by the time he died in 1803, the expedition "had become an utter fiasco" and it was easily expelled by Dessalines.
Image of Toussaint Louverture via Caribbean National Weekly.
Writing for Calvert Journal, Owen Hatherly asks how and why spomeniks, war monuments from the former Yugoslavia, have become stuff of internet clickbait and Tumblr fodder. Read Hatherly in partial below, in full via Calvert Journal.
Put the Serbo-Croatian word spomenik into Google Images, and you'll find dozens of photos of large, seemingly abstract sculptures, of architectural scale, placed in fields, on mountains, and in woods. These are photographs – each of them numbered, thusly – “Spomenik #1”, “Spomenik #2”, and so forth, with locations, but nothing else – by the Belgian photographer Jan Kempenaers. They have been published in a book – of course, called Spomenik – and exhibited around the world.
Recently, in the Guardian, Joshua Surtees described them as follows. “Erected in tranquil fields in the middle of nowhere, Spomeniks – which means monuments in Serbo-Croatian – look like alien landings, crop circles or Pink Floyd album covers.” He continues: “Commissioned by Tito to commemorate Second World War battle sites, they tear down traditional ideas of what a war memorial should be. Tito asked leading architects of the Yugoslav cultural movement, such as Dušan Džamonja, to design them – the British equivalent would be Harold Wilson commissioning Henry Moore to create war memorials and dotting them all over Britain in the least-visited places.” Spomeniks have become a successful brand. However, almost none of the statements made above are true. And in several exhibitions, publications and actions, architects, artists and activists in the countries that once made up the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia have started to answer back.
There was no specific call or commission by Tito or the Yugoslav government for monumental sculptures, nor for abstract ones, nor were they all Second World War memorials as such. The sculptures that Kempenaers photographed – and which have since gone into circulation as abstracted images – commemorate a variety of different events. “Spomenik #2 (Petrova Gora)”, of a curved, metal sculpture with several pieces missing, is the “Monument to the uprising of the people of Kordun and Banija”, designed by Vojin Bakic and finished in 1981. It stands on the site where 300 barely armed local peasants were killed fighting against the ferociously violent fascist Ustaše militia in 1942. “Spomenik #5 (Kruševo)”, a bulbous white concrete structure with a walkway through the middle, is the Ilinden Monument in Macedonia, which is dedicated both to the Ilinden Uprising of 1903 against the Ottoman Empire (it contains the remains of one of its leaders) and to local partisan battles in 1941-44; it was designed by Iskra Grabuloska and Jordan Grabuloski in 1974. “Spomenik #6 (Kozara)”, a twisting, tubular concrete sculpture designed by Dusan Džamonja in 1969, is the Monument to the Revolution in Mrakovica, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and is specifically dedicated to the Partisans and civilians – around 70,000 – killed or deported to concentration camps in the area in June and July 1942.
One could continue. “Spomenik #11 (Niš)”, identifiable as three angular raised fists, is the Bubanj Memorial Park in Niš, Serbia, and was designed by Ivan Sabolic, in 1963. It is on the site where over 10,000 Serbs, Jews and Romani were killed by German execution squads. “Spomenik #8 (Jasenovac)”, is “Stone Flower”, by Bogdan Bogdanovic, designed in 1966. It is the central memorial at the largest Ustaše death camp, and was intended as an abstracted, sculptural flower of remembrance. Recently, some of these monuments featured in a project called Totally Lost, which invited contributions of photographs of monuments built by “20th century totalitarian regimes”. Monuments built by the Nazis stand alongside those built by and for their victims. It is comparable to placing a photo of Yad Vashem alongside images of Albert Speer's Zeppelinfeld, as if they were the same thing.
How have these places managed to transform from monuments to atrocity and resistance into concrete clickbait? The story told by Spomenik is that these strange structures must have just been dropped onto these rural areas, most likely by the Big Man, the dictator, Tito himself. According to Gal Kirn, who has written several articles on “partisan art” and whose book Partisan Ruptures was recently published in Slovenia, the opposite is true. “For these, let's call them modernist monuments, you would be surprised to see that the financing many times came as a combination of republican (Yugoslavia was heavily decentralised into its six constituent Republics) and regional funds, and also self-managed funding, meaning also that enterprises and factories contributed — while much less was given from the federal-state level.” There were competitions and “some public calls which had juries — but the existence of these progressive sculptural objects tells us that more conventional representations-resolutions were not favoured.” That is, in many cases these “UFOs” were commissioned, funded and chosen locally.
Douglas Turner Ward's play "Day of Absence," premiering in 1965, fantasizes about the chaos that ensues in a small Southern town after all of the people of color mysteriously vanish. Described as a "satirical fantasy" and "reverse minstrel play," "Day of Absence" has been revived by the company and is currently on view at Theater 80 St. Marks. While the play's premise seems a little on the overt side, the post-election trauma timing seems impeccable. Read Alexis Soloski's review in partial below, in full via New York Times.
What would the world look like if everyone that Donald J. Trump had ever disdained — the Mexicans and the Muslims, the nasty women and the failing journalists — vanished? How would a morning unfold if Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” suddenly turned up empty? If those we look down on disappeared overnight, how would we go on?
That’s the question posed by Douglas Turner Ward’s “Day of Absence,” a “satirical fantasy” that kicked off the pioneering Negro Ensemble Company in 1965. Fifty-one years later, the company has revived it in a feisty, slapdash production at Theater 80 St. Marks, featuring several cast members who starred in the original version.
In “Day of Absence,” the white residents of a Southern town wake to find all the black people gone. As shoes go unshined and babies unfed, the municipality devolves into chaos. It isn’t long before even the segregationist mayor is begging: “I’ll be kneeling in the middle of Dixie Avenue to kiss the first shoe of the first one ’a you to show up. I’ll smooch any other spot you request. Erase this nightmare ’n’ we’ll concede any demand you make, just come on back — please?”
*Image: From left, Cecilia Antoinette, Jay Ward, Charles Weldon and Chauncey DeLeon Gilbert in “Day of Absence.” Credit Jonathan Slaff via New York Times
At the n+1 website, Daniel Brook examines the work of the progressive-minded, Singapore-based architecture firm WOHA (aka Wong Mun Summ and Richard Hassell), along with their building philosophy as expressed in their manifesto Garden City Mega City: Rethinking Cities for the Age of Global Warming. Whereas most Western architects have a superficial concept of "sustainable" architecture, treating it as nothing more than a trendy label, WOHA thinks deeply about the kinds of buildings and cities that can withstand and even mitigate the coming climate chaos. Here's an excerpt from Brooks' piece:
Western architects’ blindness to these problems appears to be inversely related to the number of times they proclaim themselves to be forging a golden age of green architecture, producing one LEED-certified monolith after another. But with sustainability reduced to the level of a single building rather than an entire city, one begins to wonder: who exactly are they “demonstrating” these features for? Most likely, other high-end pet projects in other rich, small, cold, stagnant Western cities. In Europe, these projects often channel a thinly veiled moral superiority that does little beyond taunting impoverished developing countries. In America, the demonstration projects are often “green” mansions for West Coast billionaires broadcasting their “mindfulness.”
A truly sustainable city, Wong and Hassell write, “will require much more than the insertion of sustainable components.” It will require a reengagement with citywide environmental thinking and planning that grew out of the energy crisis in the 1970s but got waylaid, as they put it, during the “‘greed is good’ comfort zone of the late 1980s.” Rather than take seriously the high-end projects in the West’s “precincts of affluence” that brand themselves “sustainable”—a term the authors condemn for being “used so often and so lazily” that it has become “a tiresome cliché”—WOHA suggests replacing the word with the more severe, but appropriate, “survivability.” The stakes, then, are clearer: How should we build and plan in order to make it out alive?
Image: The Met, Bangkok. Via n+1.
Writing for the New Inquiry, Trevor Paglen examines the far-reaching implications of the fact that "the overwhelming majority of images are now made by machines for other machines, with humans rarely in the loop." This is a new and radical development in the history of visual culture, writes Paglen, and among other things, it "allows for the automation of vision on an enormous scale and, along with it, the exercise of power on dramatically larger and smaller scales than have ever been possible." Here's an excerpt from the piece:
But over the last decade or so, something dramatic has happened. Visual culture has changed form. It has become detached from human eyes and has largely become invisible. Human visual culture has become a special case of vision, an exception to the rule. The overwhelming majority of images are now made by machines for other machines, with humans rarely in the loop. The advent of machine-to-machine seeing has been barely noticed at large, and poorly understood by those of us who’ve begun to notice the tectonic shift invisibly taking place before our very eyes.
The landscape of invisible images and machine vision is becoming evermore active. Its continued expansion is starting to have profound effects on human life, eclipsing even the rise of mass culture in the mid 20th century. Images have begun to intervene in everyday life, their functions changing from representation and mediation, to activations, operations, and enforcement. Invisible images are actively watching us, poking and prodding, guiding our movements, inflicting pain and inducing pleasure. But all of this is hard to see.
Cultural theorists have long suspected there was something different about digital images than the visual media of yesteryear, but have had trouble putting their finger on it. In the 1990s, for example, there was much to do about the fact that digital images lack an “original.” More recently, the proliferation of images on social media and its implications for inter-subjectivity has been a topic of much discussion among cultural theorists and critics. But these concerns still fail to articulate exactly what’s at stake.
One problem is that these concerns still assume that humans are looking at images, and that the relationship between human viewers and images is the most important moment to analyze–but it’s exactly this assumption of a human subject that I want to question.
Image: Trevor Paglen, Lake Tenaya, Maximally Stable External Regions; Hough Transform, 2016. Via the New Inquiry.
At Real Life, Rachel Giese writes about the affinities and infrastructures that gay communities in cities like New York and Toronto had to build to survive the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and '90s. From AIDS clinics to gay community spaces, this infrastructure of survival was built by grassroots activist at a time when governments were denying the crisis and refusing to help. Giese suggests that the same kind of DIY community building can help us resist and survive the period of xenophobia and right-wing backlash we are entering.
We didn’t have traditions to draw on: Our families of origin in far too many cases disowned us, and pop culture and media ignored or mocked us. Many of us hadn’t met anyone else like us until we were adults, believing as children and teenagers that we were all alone. We had to imagine ourselves, and our tools, into being. This time of fear and threat pushed us out of the closet, instigating a massive political and cultural revolution.
Networks of support dreamed up in living rooms and on dance floors evolved into hospices, high schools for queer teenagers, health clinics, film festivals, churches and synagogues, Pride marches, party circuits, and advocacy groups. Within the span of a few decades, institutions were built from scratch, funded from the proceeds of drag shows and club nights. Spontaneous vigils and rallies advertised by leaflets and phone trees grew into sophisticated political lobbying efforts that now have staff and offices. Ad hoc volunteer campaigns to pass out condoms in bars and parks evolved into safer sex education programs. New York and Chicago’s Black and Latinx underground drag balls created alternate family units and developed a uniquely queer art form. Gay and lesbian writers penned a canon of novels, poems and plays.
Lots of our efforts failed and rarely did we all — gay and lesbian, bi and trans, white folks and people of color, women and men, radicals and moderates, provocateurs and assimilationists — agree. And yet, collectively, we secured a slate of civil rights protections and anti-discrimination laws more rapidly than anyone would have thought possible.
Image: Untitled Memory (Slide projection of Axel H.), 1998, by Shimon Attie. Via Real Life.
Hot off the presses, the December 2016 issue of the Brooklyn Rail includes an interview with Noam Chomsky about the US election and the larger rightward tilt of many Western governments. In the face of many grim political developments, Chomsky nonetheless sees opportunities for progressive change—including a revived labor movement—provided that ordinary people are willing to put in the work. Here's an excerpt:
Rail: Indeed, the rise of far-right, nationalistic parties and politicians is an international phenomenon—one could include Israel and Russia along with Germany, Austria, Holland, and France, and now Trump in the U.S. Why do you think this is happening now?
Chomsky: I think that what’s actually happening is the collapse of the Center—the centrist semi-coalitions, mildly social-democrat, mildly conservative, that have been running the countries for years. They are severely declining. You can see it in voting; you can see it also in popular attitudes: contempt for what are called “the élites,” the experts, the people in charge. The reasons for that are showing up in the rise of the far-right political organizations but also the rise of left popular organizations like Podemos in Spain and the victory of the social-democratic mayor in Barcelona, and the Jeremy Corbyn thing, and the pretty remarkable Bernie Sanders phenomenon in the United States, and the DiEM25 Movement in Europe and other movements to reverse the sharp attack on democracy under the European variety of neoliberal policy and austerity programs.
The neoliberal programs of the last generation have in fact been, and were intended to be, a pretty serious attack on democracy, but also they’ve led to stagnation or decline for large parts of the population—the working class, the lower middle class, these people have essentially been cast aside. Real wages for male workers in the United States are about what they were in the ’60s. At the peak of the so-called great success of neoliberal economics, in 2007, right before the crash, non-supervisory workers were at wages considerably lower than in 1979, when the neoliberal assault was taking off. That perfectly naturally causes resentment and fear, and combines with a tendency to blame the most vulnerable. That’s unfortunately common—to blame immigrants, to blame the African-Americans who are being helped by federal programs, to blame anyone available, to direct attention away from the roots of the distress which you’re suffering. This combines with xenophobia, white supremacy, racism, misogyny, and other quite unpleasant phenomena which are far from being eradicated. All of this makes for a pretty dangerous brew. But economic issues are right in the center of it. And you can see this in the fact that so many former Obama voters now voted for Trump, or just didn’t bother voting.
Rail: What kinds of activities and actions do you think would make for a meaningful response to this new situation that Trump’s victory has brought?
Chomsky: Well, I think there are lots of opportunities right now. Just take a look at the vote again. Of younger people, 18 to 25, a large majority were pro-Clinton, and a much larger majority were pro-Sanders. It was a very high percentage. That tells you something about the prospects for the future. I think there are real possibilities of reaching out to many of the Trump voters, those who voted for Obama believing his rhetoric. Trump’s principal policies make clear what’s going to happen. This gives an opportunity. Right now it’s going to take hard work, but it’s possible that there could be a real revival of the labor movement. Labor has been severely undermined, but that’s happened before. In the 1920s, the labor movement was virtually crushed, in large part by Wilson’s Red Scare, but it dramatically revived in the 1930s. It spearheaded the social-democratic New-Deal style changes which were beneficial to the country—not sufficient, but beneficial. That could happen again. There could be an independent labor-based party, which might over time become an important force the way the Labor Party did in England. To all of these things there are plenty of barriers, in the culture and in the social and political institutions, the concentration of economic power. But these are not insuperable barriers, I think. They can be overcome. And it is urgent that this be done, because there are really incredible problems that are simply not being addressed.
At The Baffler website, Megan Carpentier takes the occasion of Trump's election to point out the folly of the Great Man theory of history. The horrific crimes of the Nazi party, she says, were the work not of only one maniacal leader and his ilk, but of a population largely willing to go along with them, even if they didn't actively participate. To think that history is made otherwise is to absolve ourselves of shared responsibility—and to deprive ourselves of the agency to put history on a different course. Here's an excerpt:
We like to think of Hitler and the Nazis as uniquely evil, but the Holocaust wasn’t just committed by Hitler and the 10 percent or so of Germans who joined the Nazi party: it was committed by tens—if not hundreds—of thousands of people throughout Europe and even the Soviet Union, many of whom said they were “just following orders,” and abetted by men and women across the continent who, at best, simply looked away as atrocities were committed in their names.
That infamous Nuremburg defense, of course, takes on new meaning when a President Elect has suggested that he will order members of the military to torture prisoners, create (or resurrect) a Muslim registry and encouraged his supporters to engage in acts of violence against protesters. We all like to think that we’d stand up to wholesale abrogations of our fellow Americans’ constitutional rights (or, at least, for the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness). But a large body of psychological research suggests that once we’re ordered to do something atrocious, we feel relieved of the burden of feeling guilty about doing it. As matters stand, we have to train college kids to intervene when they witness sexual assaults, because the most common psychological reaction to being a bystander to an atrocity is . . . to stand by.
We’ve already instructed generations of Americans to believe that history is made by Great Men who carry the rest of us along, rather than millions of individuals’ decisions (in and out of the voting booth). The scariest question to consider in 2017 and beyond isn’t whether President Trump will use the power of the federal government to commit acts that many of us, under other circumstances, might consider at least travesties and at worst atrocities. It is, rather, the question of whether Americans will shrug their shoulders, cheer him on as long as the economy improves, or participate.
Image: A sticker on a signpost in Belgium. Via The Baffler.
The German newspaper taz reports that Katarzyna Wielga-Skolimowska, director of the Polish Cultural Institute of Berlin, or Polnisches Institut Berlin, has been fired without warning, allegedly for programming too much Jewish content. Poland's conservative government seems to have a new direction in its cultural policy, favoring historical over contemporary works, and has fired 13 of its 24 cultural institute directors since this summer, reports taz.
In partial below are two taz articles translated to English by Janto Schwitters for e-flux. Uwe Rada broke the story of Katarzyna Wielga-Skolimowska's firing in his December 2nd article, "Warsaw Purges in Berlin."
Although her contract was running out in Summer 2017, Warsaw’s foreign ministry did not want to wait. On Wednesday Katarzyna Wielga-Skolimowska, the director of the Polnisches Institut Berlin, was dismissed without notice. taz confirmed this with the institute’s representative, Marcin Zastrożny, on Friday.
Wielga-Skolimowska took charge of the institution in 2013 and has since organized a sophisticated cultural program.
It has been known for some time that the internationally well-connected Wielga-Skolimowska didn’t fit in with the Polish national-conservative government’s new direction in cultural policy. In spring Warsaw appointed conservative Małgorzata Bochwic-Ivanovska as vice director of the institute due to the foreign ministry’s negative evaluation of the institute’s work. It was accused of giving too much attention to Jewish themes.
At the beginning of the year, Polish culture minister Piotr Gliński of the PiS party called for an end of a “culture of shame.” The Polnisches Institut Berlin had, amongst others, shown the movie “Ida,” which in 2015 was awarded the Oscar for best foreign movie. It is about a young woman who, in the 60’s, learns that she is Jewish and that her parents were murdered by their Polish neighbors.
In contrast the new vice director wanted to show a very different movie. Bochwic-Ivanovska was ordered by Polish ambassador Andrzej Przyłębski to organize the premiere of the propaganda movie “Smolensk.” But it had to be called off when she was unable to find a cinema in Berlin willing to show the film, which asserts the crash of the Polish president’s airplane in 2010 was not an accident but a Russian plot. Bochwic-Ivanovska now serves as the interim director.
The Polnisches Institut Berlin is not the only institute to undergo a forcible staff reorganization. According to liberal newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, 13 directors out of the 24 Polish institutes have been dismissed this summer.
Rada followed up with the reactions to Wielga-Skolimowska's dissimal with the December 5th text "Protests Against Dismissal."
Katarzyna Wielga-Skolimowska’s dismissal from the post of director of the Polnisches Institut Berlin is creating a stir. In an open letter, the Jewish Museum expresses “bewilderment” and “irritation.”
“We are saddened and bewildered by this sudden and incomprehensible decision,” says the letter, which is written by Cilly Kugelman, the museum’s vice director and program manager, and addressed to the Polish ambassador in Berlin, Andrzej Przyłębski, and Polish foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski.
The letter has been co-signed, among others, by the director of the Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Berlinische Galerie, the director of the Berliner Festspiele and the director of the New Synagogue – Centrum Judaicum Foundation.
Meanwhile, there are increasing indications that the Polish embassy played a part in contributing to the dismissal of the Polish institute’s director. In an internal evaluation acquired by taz, ambassador Przyłębski harshly criticized the institute’s work. “Blind imitation of nihilistic and hedonistic trends does not lead to anything good, in terms of civilization,” he writes. “Poland has to oppose this, also through the culture presented in the Polish institute.”
Also the Polnisches Institut Berlin should not go overboard with Polish-Jewish topics, the ambassador wrote, “especially not in Germany, which should not take the role of a mediator.”
Criticism also was directed at the selection of guests the institute invited from Poland. “Especially now it is important to invite guests, who understand the situation (in Poland) and are able to convincingly talk about it,” writes Przyłębski. Such guests were generally not fine artists or avant-garde musicians, though. Przyłębski suggests to instead invite authors and publishers who concern themselves with “historical prose.”
*Image of Katarzyna Wielga-Skolimowska via Deutsche Welle
The year 2016 seems to grow more awful by the day, but in the Boston Review, Ronald Aronson reminds us that it has also been the year of the revival of social hope, primarily in the form of the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign in the US. Aronson explains what he means by "social hope" and distinguishes the kind of progressive hope that fueled the Sanders campaign from the narrow-minded hope that fueled the Trump campaign. Although Sanders lost the primary to Hillary Clinton, Aronson suggests that the hope he revived will not soon dissipate.
Though it has now been overshadowed by the stunning victory of bigoted nativism—whether loudly supported or quietly overlooked by most Republicans as well as particular members of the working class—we must not forget that this year we have witnessed the groundwork being laid for a genuine revival of social hope in the United States. I do not mean a renewed faith in grand narratives or a vague and misty-eyed optimism but the tough-minded and inspired disposition to act collectively to make the world more equal, more democratic, more peaceful, more secure, and more just. Despite the defeat of the Sanders campaign, and despite Trump’s victory, we must understand this hope and work to keep it alive.
Social hope is not merely a personal attitude, a mood, a feeling: that dismissive way of characterizing it makes it difficult to pin down, even embarrassing. (This, along with the disappointing accommodations made by Obama’s administration after campaigning on hope and the affirmation that “Yes We Can,” may explain in part why the idea is so widely ignored and often belittled on the left.) Social hope is, instead, a substantive yoking together of the personal and the public, the emotional and the material: it stands for feelings, yes, but also values, actions, analyses, and expectations. It is potency and possibility and vision, yet always linked to what we do. Underpinning the hard labor of social organizing is an animating force that brings and keeps people together, inspires them to keep going, and creates a sense of fellowship. It is the experience of belonging both to specific movements and to the larger arc of history which, in small ways and large, have made the world freer, more equal, and more just. Social hope is that shared understanding that emerges in organized action and makes it possible, that links itself to other movements and their demands, both past and present. Those of us who have had the experience of social organizing know all the labor that goes into it, but underneath the activity is a wider and deeper spirit that sustains it all.
Image of Bernie Sanders via the New Yorker.
The San Francisco-based Internet Archive, creator of the Wayback Machine, has announced that the organization aims to create a copy of its archive in another country. Due to the election of Donald Trump and his militant (if uninformed) views on controlling the internet, the Internet Archives aims to build an Internet Archive of Canada--no doubt welcomed by the liberal Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Read Lucas Mearian's report in partial below, in full via Computer World.
"This year, we have set a new goal: to create a copy of Internet Archive’s digital collections in another country. We are building the Internet Archive of Canada because, to quote our friends at LOCKSS, 'lots of copies keep stuff safe,'" Internet Archive Founder Brewster Kahle said in a blog today. LOCKSS is an open-source, peer-to-peer network that allows libraries to collect and share Web-based data.
As an organization, the Internet Archive has been a proponent of a free and open Internet, which it believes may be in jeopardy.
Kahle said an Internet Archive of Canada would help keep its cultural materials safe, private and perpetually accessible.
"It means preparing for a Web that may face greater restrictions. It means serving patrons in a world in which government surveillance is not going away; indeed it looks like it will increase," Kahle wrote. "Throughout history, libraries have fought against terrible violations of privacy—where people have been rounded up simply for what they read. At the Internet Archive, we are fighting to protect our readers' privacy in the digital world."
The Internet Archive, which also houses the Wayback Machine web-page repository, is home to more than 15 petabytes (15 million gigabytes) of online data. It is asking the public for donations to build the Internet Archive of Canada, which it said will cost millions of dollars.
"On November 9th in America, we woke up to a new administration promising radical change. It was a firm reminder that institutions like ours, built for the long-term, need to design for change," Kahle stated. "For us, it means keeping our cultural materials safe, private and perpetually accessible. It means preparing for a Web that may face greater restrictions."
The Internet Archive's Wayback Machine, which went live in 2009, is a digital time capsule that stores more than 150 billion archived versions of Web pages - 750 million a week -- dating back to 1996.
Based in the Presidio in San Francisco, the Internet Archive and its Wayback Machine use an algorithm that repeats a Web crawl every two months in order add new Web page images its database. The algorithm first performs a broad crawl that starts with a few "seed sites," such as Yahoo's directory. After snapping a shot of the home page, it then moves to any referable pages within the site until there are no more pages to capture. If there are any links on those pages, the algorithm automatically opens them and archives that content as well.
*Image of the Internet Archive building via Mental Floss
Yesterday, Gabe Meline wrote a response to the media about their characterization of the Oakland Ghost Ship fire as being an inevitable disaster at the hands of irresponsible, drug-dealing techno-type lowlives. He blames the lack of affordable housing, especially for the creative community, for forcing artists into precarious living situations like the Ghost Ship. While Meline writes that so often these communities act as a safe space for marginalized people, commenters on his article have been challenging the assumption that these safe spaces can't also have a fire exit and/or pay heed to fire code. Read Meline in partial below, or in full (with comments) via KQED Arts.
There are no words to convey the excruciating heartbreak felt by those closest to the Oakland Ghost Ship warehouse fire. At the moment, 33 are confirmed dead, with search crews still sorting through the ashes of the site. As stories and details of the fire are shared, and while thousands await news of missing loved ones, a phrase keeps coming up: “It could have been any one of us.”
For those of us involved in artist spaces one way or another, the tragedy is impossible to process. I, too, have been inside a warehouse like that, we think, living, working, dancing into the night. According to the Oakland Fire Department, this fire has taken more lives than any in the city’s history.
And yet for many of us, these spaces are what have kept us alive. In a world that demands its inhabitants to be a certain way, think a certain way, or live a certain way, we gravitate to the spaces that say: Welcome. Be yourself. For the tormented queer, the bullied punk, the beaten trans, the spat-upon white trash, the disenfranchised immigrants and young people of color, these spaces are a haven of understanding in a world that doesn’t understand — or can’t, or doesn’t seem to want to try.
The first such space in Oakland I came across, in 1994, was Phoenix Ironworks, a giant former foundry in West Oakland cluttered with furniture, mannequins, makeshift structures, and large-scale, incredible art around every corner. A skate ramp owned by the editor of Thrasher took up part of the space; most of it was a labyrinth of over 50 pianos forming walls and hallways. Parties at Phoenix Ironworks were the stuff of legend: bands played, and, if the mood was right, a giant Tesla coil would be wheeled out into 8th and Pine Streets to create loud, bright lightning across the sky on the furthest forgotten edge of the city.
I spent long hours inside Phoenix Ironworks, rehearsing with my band and getting to know its residents. And in the years since, I’ve lived in, been to, helped build, or performed at dozens if not hundreds of similarly unsanctioned DIY artist spaces, warehouses and punkhouses in the Bay Area and around the country — and the world. There are thousands like me who are a product of such environments. Chances are that you are, too.
We know the risks. We know that police and landlords can shut us down at any time. We know our creative alterations to these living spaces are not one-size-fits-all. And we are all too aware of the clashes in piling personalities of divergent backgrounds in close proximity.
The bigger risks, the more unlikely ones — that such a treasured place could become an inferno in mere minutes — those don’t always cross our minds.
Today, I know two people on the missing list. As I scroll through news and social media for updates, hoping to see the word “SAFE” next to their names, I also see words like “death trap” and “unpermitted.” Outsiders reporting on the tragedy inevitably get it all wrong: they mischaracterize the party as a rave, the music as EDM, and implicitly criminalize the victims as attendees of an illegal event. Hours after the fire, the tragedy is politicized.
How can we explain?
They don’t understand why we don’t just live in a $3,000/mo. apartment where everything is safe and sterile and clean; why we live in a warehouse, or a garage, or an attic or shed or laundry room; why there is a mattress on the floor with a space heater where there normally would be a Queen size bed with a duvet and a nightstand and central heating.
They don’t understand why we congregate here at night, pushing salvaged furnishings out of the way to make room for the drum set and amps, packing our friends’ bodies in like sardines, moving as one to music that never gets played on the radio. Why we play music here for each other when we could be trying to get booked at “real” clubs. Why we avoid conventional nightclubs and their bookers, bouncers, security, soundmen.
*Image of Ghost Ship via Tumblr
The reports coming in from the Francis Picabia exhibition at MoMA makes it seem like museum's unpopularity problems are a thing of yesteryear. So glowingly reviewed is the Picabia exhibition that even Roberta Smith, the hard-to-impress New York Times art critic, is singing its praises. Smith writes about Picabia's background, notably his extreme wealth and lifestyle as a playboy. He sounds utterly unlikeable in person. Read Smith in partial below, in full via New York Times.
Make way for Francis Picabia, one of the grandest, most mordant exemplars of early modernism, and perhaps the least familiar. The Museum of Modern Art — having for decades drummed the artistic feats of Picasso, Matisse, Mondrian and Duchamp into cultural consciousness — has finally rolled out the red carpet for this capricious, prolific, subversive fellow traveler.
The Modern didn’t even acquire a Picabia painting until 1954, and this is its first substantial exhibition devoted to him. One imagines that the artist was too slippery or contradictory for the museum, too much of a prankster and publicity hound. Born to wealth, he never struggled as an artist and had a reputation, partly intended, as a playboy. He made important contributions to both Cubist painting and its nemesis, Dada, with its art-barbed hijinks, and refused to cultivate a personal style that deepened with time. Instead he toyed with kitsch and calendar art, and based paintings on found photographs. When he returned to abstraction at the end of his life, he tried several styles. But lately — when multiple mediums and styles are increasingly the artistic norm — Picabia’s stature has grown. His work seems more alive today than that of any artist of his cohort, even Duchamp.
“Francis Picabia: Our Heads Are Round So Our Thoughts Can Change Direction,” which opens on Monday, amasses some 241 works into a full-dress retrospective that thoroughly examines the artist’s contributions to Cubism and Dada. It includes “Entr’acte,” the avant-garde film he made in 1924 with René Clair, and his contentious series of figurative paintings from the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s. Borrowing from art history, soft-core pornography and commercial art, they presage Pop Art, appropriation art and Neo-Expressionism.
Born in Paris in 1879, Picabia was the only child of a French mother and a Cuban-born Spanish father whose combined fortunes (French mercantile; Cuban sugar) meant that he never had to do anything but make art, which they encouraged. He worked as a painter, poet, graphic designer, filmmaker, set designer, publisher, editor and orchestrator of exhibitions, events and performances — some of which he helped pay for — and was also known as a lover of gambling, yachts, fast cars and speed in general, as well as women. He even seems to have painted and drawn fast, with a kind of impatient, unfussy glee. Though eminently physical as a painter, he had little time for masterly, recognizable brushwork. The exhibition includes a partial re-creation of a solo show he had in Barcelona in 1922, centering on a series of works on paper whose daunting variety makes explicit his refusal to commit.
As promiscuous in life as in art, Picabia almost always had a wife and a mistress, or two mistresses, who tended to get along. He traveled widely, spending long periods living and working in New York, Switzerland and the South of France as well as Paris, where he died, in 1953, in the house he was born in.
*Francis Picabia’s “Comic Wedlock” at the Museum of Modern Art. Credit 2016 Francis Picabia/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, via ADAGP, Paris; Agaton Strom for The New York Times
Macushla Robinson writes about feminized labor, notably emotional labor and care work, and how these have been traditionally unpaid and thus sidelined and unimportant. This unpaid labor, generally performed by women, extends even to the art world, she writes. Read Robinson in partial below, in full via Runway.
Contemporary artist and essayist Hito Steyerl says ‘apart from domestic and care work—art is the industry with the most unpaid labour around. It sustains itself on the time and energy of unpaid interns and self-exploiting actors on pretty much every level and in almost every function. Free labour and rampant exploitation are the invisible dark matter that keeps the culture sector going’. This labour, as Steyerl points out, is largely performed by women.
There are two ways in which women’s labour is undervalued in the creative industries: the visible, calculable pay gap, and the invisible, unaccounted for labour that keeps this luxury market afloat.
That women are paid less for their work than men is well documented: many outspoken advocates for women in the arts, most famously the Guerrilla Girls but more recently Pussy Galore and CoUNTess, have pilloried museums and galleries for their lack of representation of women artists. It is not simply that museums are biased, but that they are part of a biased ecosystem.
Where price tags and inclusion in major exhibitions are quantifiable, the free labour and rampant exploitation that Steyerl speaks of is, by its very nature, undocumented: it happens in the realm of interpersonal relationships; in the studio, the gallery or late at night on a laptop in bed; in long, unaccounted for hours and work brought home from the office on maternity leave. It happens in conversations and meetings where women must appear subtly more humble, more efficient, more dedicated than any of their male counterparts. Such labour cannot be accounted for by statistics alone.
In the past three decades, housework, care work and other forms of gendered labour have become the focus of first-world feminist attention. The economic unit of the family is the site of the accumulation of capital. Dividing labour along gender lines within filial structures, this evolving system has nurtured a situation in which men do (or did) wage-work and provided financial support for woman, whose biological capacity to bear children coupled with the social pressure to rear them precluded them from such work. This does not mean that women do not perform labour, but that their labour is unpaid.
In his recent book Capitalism in the Web of Life, David W. Moore draws on an old distinction between capitalism’s ‘exploitation’ of paid labour and ‘appropriation’ of unpaid labour. The capitalist system appropriates various forms of unpaid labour and energy that support the employed workforce and make capitalist exploitation possible. Women’s work is appropriated by capitalism to first give birth to, then feed, clothe and otherwise care for the waged workforce. Borrowing from feminist critiques of capitalism, Moore invokes the phrase ‘social reproduction’ and then extends it to the natural world, asking ‘where does the ‘social’ moment of raising children end and the ‘biological’ moment begin?’ Just as capitalism relies on appropriating the socially reproductive capacities of women, it also relies on appropriating the biologically reproductive capacities of non-human agents such as rivers, minerals, oil mined from the earth.
Where men have historically been associated with intellect, logic and technology, women have been associated with nature. Western history is filled with images of women as the producers of life, with biological cycles are likened to seasons. This association is double-edged. On the one hand, as Simone de Beauvoir so powerfully argued in her 1954 book The Second Sex, the idea that women are closer to nature has been instrumental in their subordination. Sociologist Sherry Ornter summarises this elegantly in Is female to male as nature to culture?  Women’s pan-cultural second-class status could be accounted for, quite simply, by postulating that women are being identified or symbolically associated with nature, as opposed to men, who are identified with culture. Since it is always culture’s project to subsume and transcend nature, if women were considered part of nature, then culture would find it ‘natural’ to subordinate, not to say oppress, them.
This association is both well established and widely critiqued. In the time since de Beauvoir’s text was published, two distinct positions emerged: broadly the anti-essentialist feminism that follows de Beauvoir’s insistence that ‘One is not born but becomes a woman’ and a counter-position that endorses the understanding of men and women as fundamentally different and frames this difference as a source of potential power. The goal of essentialist feminism is not to elide the difference between men and women and thus to establish equality, but rather to maintain the difference and to invert our culture’s focus on the traditionally male qualities of logic and intellect.
The affiliation of women with nature has found its supporters among many late 20th century forms of feminism, and has crept into what is now termed ‘eco-feminism’, which sees ecological degradation and the oppression of women as linked. Ecofeminism often attempts to invert a hierarchy, asserting the importance of nature over humankind and our dependence on it, and mobilising the traditional alignment of women with nature as a feminist project. As Sarah Milner-Barry writes, the ubiquitous phrase Mother Nature ‘has come to represent the twinned exploitation of all that patriarchal society considers to be inferior to men. As such, both are expected to be perpetually available to them, and to be accepting and accommodating of their desires’.  The understanding of women as close to nature is behind the fact that women’s work is undervalued.
Feminist activist and scholar Maria Mies gives an account of the oppression of women within the capitalist system, subscribing to a gender-essentialism that aligns women (and oppressed colonies) with nature. Peppered with the phrase ‘mother nature’, this text essentialises capitalism as male and that which it feeds off—nature—as female, arguing that ‘women’s labour is considered a natural resource, freely available like air and water’.
In her essay Love and Gold, feminist theorist Arlie Hochschild conceptualises love as a resource that the first world currently ‘mines’ from third world women. Elsewhere she details that while first world women have moved into the paid labour force, first world men have been notoriously reluctant to take on the unwaged work previously performed by housewives. To fill in the gaps, first world capitalism has turned to third world, migrant labour forces. ‘It is as if the wealthy parts of the world are running short on precious emotional and sexual resources and have had to turn to poorer regions for fresh supplies’. Her description of the flow of care workers from third world countries to first world countries reveals how widespread assumptions about women’s capacity for love are. She says, ‘we can speak about love as an unfairly distributed resource—extracted from one place and enjoyed somewhere else’. She calls this situation, poetically, a ‘global heart transplant’.
When women performed this labour as part of their married duties, it was justified as an act of love. Caring first for her husband and children, then later for the elderly within extended family groups, the work that women have traditionally performed is bound up with assumptions about their biological predisposition to loving. As Silvia Federici phrased in her 1975 manifesto Wages Against Housework, ‘They say it is love. We say it is unwaged work’. Having been culturally constructed as an act of love and nurture inherent to the female gender, housework (and similarly care work) has not been considered ‘real’ work. The logic behind this is that love is its own reward—the fulfilment of a ‘natural’ drive, which is inherently pleasurable and therefore does not require monetary compensation.
That terrain is shifting away from the closed unit of the family and ever more into the market. However, this work is radically undervalued against other kinds of wage work. I do not want to conflate the forms of exploitation enacted against third world and first world women – their circumstances are not equivalent—but rather, draw attention to the fact that the mistreatment of third world women is motivated by the same set of beliefs that are still operational, though in covert forms, in the lives of first world women. Women as a whole are subject to these beliefs in the capitalist system.
We justify paying domestic labourers so little because care work is a female dominated industry, and we still think of women as biologically predisposed to love. As Hochschild says, first world employers believe immigrant women ‘to be especially gifted as caregivers: they are thought to embody the traditional feminine qualities of nurturance, docility, and eagerness to please’. The capacity for love, it seems, is cheap.
Capitalism’s tacit positioning of women’s work as a natural resource implies that those who perform the labour associated with femininity are fundamentally passive—vessels from whom energy is extracted rather than agents involved in a complex cultural process. The love that capitalism feeds upon is undervalued because it is seen as naturally occurring and therefore not labour. This ignores the ways in which women are trained (often by their own mothers) to volunteer labour of this kind and to meet the expectations that arise out of cultural constructions of femininity.
Much has been written on this capitalist sleight of hand and its consequences for women. However, it is only by looking beyond the care industries, which can be linked to biological understandings of women, that we can understand capitalism’s broader exploitation of the gender divide. Where the logic behind care work hinges on a set of beliefs about women’s biological tendencies and capacities, the disparity in the cultural sector is not so obvious. Yet this imbalance is, I believe, driven by the same logic as that of care work.
*Image of white cube via Tokyo Wonder Site
At Public Books, James Livingston, a professor of history at Rutgers University, reviews three very different books that nonetheless all speculate on what might come after capitalism as we know it today: the novel The Mandibles: A Family, 2029–2047 by Lionel Shriver; The End of Alchemy: Money, Banking, and the Future of the Global Economy by Mervyn King, former governor of the Bank of England; and Yanis Varoufakis's And the Weak Suffer What They Must?: Europe's Crisis and America's Economic Future. Livingston writes that each book's image of our possible future looks curiously like our past—more specifically, like the nineteenth century. Livingston argues that this retrospective view, however, is not so much a sign of historical astuteness, but rather of a failure of imagination. Here's an excerpt from the review:
I have said that Keynes is the “old mole” who burrows beneath the belabored arguments of Shriver and King—like Hamlet’s dead father, he haunts their thinking. He comes to life in Varoufakis’s strange book, And the Weak Suffer What They Must?, as if Hamlet had been able to address the ghost directly, to say something like: “I know what is to be done, take my revenge now, but I just don’t know how to do it, because I live in a time when this debt to you has become irredeemable except by recourse to ancient savagery—the Orestian cycle I want to escape. Tell me, father, what would you do?”
I admit that Varoufakis borrows more from Thucydides than Shakespeare in making his case against the EU, but the Oedipal sources and connotations of his accounting are no less poignant. The miracle at the heart of this book is his accidental discovery, in Keynes’s library (by now a museum in King’s College, Cambridge), of a copy of The History of the Peloponnesian War in ancient Greek, where the young Maynard had marked the passage that informed his polemics of the 1920s, and that, these days, inspire Yanis’s arguments against austerity. The Athenians have conquered Melos, and, instead of offering a diplomatic compromise or concession, they reiterate the common sense of antiquity: “the strong actually do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must.”
Keynes knew that this posture, updated at Versailles for the purpose of punishing the Germans, would lead directly to disaster, but he didn’t advertise his alternative as morally superior. Neither does Varoufakis in arguing against austerity as now enforced by the Germans. For both men it was, and is, a practical question, a matter of consequences, not a moral problem.
The uncanny premise of Varoufakis’s book is that the actual beginnings and the possible endings of Western civilization—or rather, Europe—have narrowed down to Attica, this place now called Greece, where the EU has foundered on the shoals of economic crisis and the question of debt forgiveness. But the author is reversing every available narrative vector. He claims, rightly I think, that only recovery in Europe can salvage what is left of America’s leading role in the world economy, and that austerity for everyone under German auspices cancels any chance of recovery. In making this claim, he’s channeling not only the Keynes of 1944, at Bretton Woods, but also the planners at the US State Department who devised the Marshall Plan in 1948.
The palpable sense of an ending determines the form and the content of all three books. They are, accordingly, exhausting, even debilitating, because they reach backward, always farther backward, for answers to questions about the future. I threw one off my fifth-floor balcony into the poison ivy that covers the roof of the building behind me, hoping to never see it again. It was an empty gesture.
Image: A policeman during riots in Athens, 2010. Via Public Books.
In the US, the book Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance has been burning up best-seller lists this year—even before it got an unexpected bump from the rise of Donald Trump. The book examines the white working-class culture from which the author hails, suggesting that this culture is beset by a host problems, from deindustrialization to drug abuse and a lack of stable families. During the US presidential campaign, Vance became the de-facto mouthpiece for this demographic, which was instrumental in Trump's electoral victory.
In The New Inquiry, John Thomason takes a scalpel to Hillbilly Elegy, which has even been praised by some liberals for supposedly shedding light on Trump's surprising ascendence. Thomason argues that behind the book's portrayal of whites as a maligned silent majority hides a belief in "white innocence"—that is, a belief that whites do not, in fact, enjoy any inherent advantages or privileges because of their race. This belief, writes Thomason, is central to conservative efforts to push back against social and economic gains made by people of color in recent decades. Read an excerpt of Thomason's piece below, or the full text here.
But Charles Murray’s ideas about racial determinism are not the only ones still lying around. Another racial ideology is “lurking” in the background of Hillbilly Elegy, one so central to contemporary conservative thought that it doesn’t register as ideology at all. Call it racial innocence: Even as Vance wags his finger at the vices of his fellow hillbillies, he cannot help but insist on the innocence of their whiteness.
For decades, the explicit invocation of white supremacy has been anathema to American public life. If this was a welcome development, it was foolish to assume it would be a permanent one. Racial determinism was the Trump campaign’s center of gravity, from the candidate’s rise to prominence as a champion of the “birther” movement to his insistence that a Mexican-American judge would necessarily be biased against him. People like Murray have been peddling racial determinism for a long time, but Trump’s victory has made it a central tenet of the American right, rather than a fringe view it entertains with the occasional National Review article or think tank fellowship.
With its “ethnic component lurking in the background,” and with well-meaning liberals tacitly accepting its dubious racial claims, Hillbilly Elegy helps to normalize this thinking across the political spectrum. But while reactionary racial determinism spent decades in exile before its recent, triumphant return, an insistence on racial innocence never left the conservative mainstream. This ideology, too, is implicit in the book’s opening pages. Hillbilly Elegy asks us to accept that the Scots-Irish are fiercely loyal, quick to anger, and suspicious of outsiders. It’s just their culture. If the white working class is reacting badly to deindustrialization, as Vance argues, it is because of these innate characteristics.
18 Rugby Street, what a history you have! The London townhouse that kindled the ill-fated romance between Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes is now up for rent 60 years later. Hughes even wrote a poem about the the locale, titled "18 Rugby Street," in which he describes the townhouse, "It's possessed! / Whoever comes into it never gets properly out! / Whoever enters it enters a labyrinth - A Knossos of coincidence."
Read Ella Jessel's full report on the letting of 18 Rugby Street via the Camden New Journal, or in partial below.
IT is the grade-II listed townhouse in Bloomsbury where two giants of the literary world, poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, began their romance amidst “Victorian torpor and squalor”.
Now, the setting for their first dates, 18 Rugby Street – the title of Hughes’ poem about the couple’s first night together – is up for rent.
Sixty years on, prospective tenants will no doubt find something more attractive than the pale grey flat with no running water described by Hughes.
Plath, best known for her semi-autobiographical novel The Bell Jar, first visited Hughes at the house in 1956 and has long been associated with the borough of Camden.
She lived with Hughes in Chalcot Square, in Primrose Hill, and died at her house in Fitzroy Road, where she committed suicide aged 30.
But Judith Palmer, director of the Poetry Society, a Bloomsbury-based organisation which represents British poetry across the world, said 18 Rugby Street is a reminder that not all of the couple’s connections to the area are “sad ones”.
“People focus most immediately on the home in Fitzroy Road, Primrose Hill, where Plath took her own life”, said Ms Palmer, adding: “It would be good to think that number 18 might attract another literary tenant, who’ll enjoy a happy and creative life there.
“There’s still plenty of poetry on the doorstep, with The Poetry Society only minutes away at the heart of a thriving community of readers and writers.”
Stephen Hawking writes about the dangers of nationalism, populism, job automation and climate change, the four of which have colluded to produce the apocalyptic cocktail known as the year 2016. Hawking's approach is a little weird as his intro laments his isolated "elite" (his words) ivory tower, saying verbatim, "What matters now, far more than the choices made by these two electorates, is how the elites react." While I'm not on board with the reactions of the elite are now of utmost importance--especially considering that liberal celebrities, the current government, and the entire discipline of science wasn't able to stop Trump from being elected or the UK from Brexiting--Hawking has some incredibly empathetic things to say about the way things are, and the way forward. Hawking is in partial below, in full via the Guardian.
The concerns underlying these votes about the economic consequences of globalisation and accelerating technological change are absolutely understandable. The automation of factories has already decimated jobs in traditional manufacturing, and the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining.
This in turn will accelerate the already widening economic inequality around the world. The internet and the platforms that it makes possible allow very small groups of individuals to make enormous profits while employing very few people. This is inevitable, it is progress, but it is also socially destructive.
We need to put this alongside the financial crash, which brought home to people that a very few individuals working in the financial sector can accrue huge rewards and that the rest of us underwrite that success and pick up the bill when their greed leads us astray. So taken together we are living in a world of widening, not diminishing, financial inequality, in which many people can see not just their standard of living, but their ability to earn a living at all, disappearing. It is no wonder then that they are searching for a new deal, which Trump and Brexit might have appeared to represent.
It is also the case that another unintended consequence of the global spread of the internet and social media is that the stark nature of these inequalities is far more apparent than it has been in the past. For me, the ability to use technology to communicate has been a liberating and positive experience. Without it, I would not have been able to continue working these many years past.
But it also means that the lives of the richest people in the most prosperous parts of the world are agonisingly visible to anyone, however poor, who has access to a phone. And since there are now more people with a telephone than access to clean water in sub-Saharan Africa, this will shortly mean nearly everyone on our increasingly crowded planet will not be able to escape the inequality.
The consequences of this are plain to see: the rural poor flock to cities, to shanty towns, driven by hope. And then often, finding that the Instagram nirvana is not available there, they seek it overseas, joining the ever greater numbers of economic migrants in search of a better life. These migrants in turn place new demands on the infrastructures and economies of the countries in which they arrive, undermining tolerance and further fuelling political populism.
*Image via ejcc.org
A german citizens' initiative has developed a charter for digital rights in the EU. It will be presented to the European Parliament on Monday December 5th which is aimed at sparking discourse across Europe and advocating for extending existing laws.
People are invited to participate in the discussion and sign a petition over at https://digitalcharta.eu/sprachen/. The charter has been translated into spanish, french and english.
When city development booms at exhaustive rates, can we rely on art to slow society back down into a digestible time-scale? In recent years, the Norwegian capital of Oslo has consistently topped the charts as one of the fastest growing cities in Europe and the rapid changes citizens face are only starting to emerge. Bearing this in mind, the concept of time is the focus of Oslo Pilot, a two-year research project (2015-2016), investigating art in public space and in the public realm with a particular focus on durational work, performance, and video art.
Led by curators Eva González-Sancho and Per Gunnar Eeg-Tverbakk, and funded by the City of Oslo, the Agency for Cultural Affairs, Norsk kulturråd and KORO, Oslo Pilot has introduced public art commissions, research programs, talks, events, and a series of publications with the goal of establishing foundations for a potential biennial in the city. The most recent symposium, “The Giver, The Guest & The Ghost: The Presence of Art in Public Realms,” featured four case studies of artworks by Thomas Hirschhorn (Gramsci Monument, 2013), Dora Garcia (Second Time Around, *forthcoming), Mette Edvardsen (Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine, 2010–ongoing), and Rahraw Omarzad (Every Tiger needs a horse, 2016). Respectively, concepts of social engagement and activism, authorship and repetition, historicity and exchange, and local vs. global politics were built into broader, cross-platform discussions about the responsibility of the artist or artwork as a visiting guest, roles performed by the artist and audience as giver and receiver, and the impressions or spectres left behind by a work or the experience of it.
Over the course of three days, each artwork was presented in three formats: as keynote presentations by the artist, panel discussions with associated curators, theorists, or past participants, and in one-on-one sessions with related experts. The repetitive configuration was overkill at times, but then again, repetition was a theme of discussion. In practice, the configuration provided platforms for analyzing each work from multiple perspectives through video screenings, readings of research papers, live performances, and anecdotal stories from personal experiences or panelist presentations of their own creative work as tangential offshoots from the artist’s work being discussed.
Curator González-Sancho mentioned in conversation with me her interest in ‘90s video art as a guiding influence. However, from a broader perspective on ‘90s theoretical frameworks, many panelists revisited the continued legacy of post-structuralist philosophers such as Jacques Derrida and Gilles Deleuze, the politics of mediated experiences, rise of Relational Aesthetics, and decentralized engagement between the artist and spectator. The reasoning for reviving the ‘90s wasn’t clearly articulated. Perhaps it’s related to generational interests, or maybe a product of a relatively conservative environment accustomed to thinking of public art as static objects. Either way, the convening of academics, artists, and creative practitioners all pouring over theories about art effecting changes in the human psyche from before the era of social media and networks was refreshing: a time when mediated experiences were critically analyzed, and not the normalized baseline.
During a panel on Hirschhorn’s Gramsci Monument, a temporary community space built at the Forrest Houses public housing complex in the Bronx, NY, American artist and artwork participant Lex Brown offered a tender speech about understanding roles of privilege, and the affects of othering and exchange across racial, economic, and cultural divides. As a quieter counterpoint to an intensive group experience, Mette Edvardsen presented her living library performance in which select individuals become a ‘book’, each memorizing an entire book to recite to another person in an intimate, one-on-one experience. In her presentation, Edvardsen, who has a background in dance, discussed “liberating the text from the author” as the experience of the body becomes invisible in the process of ‘becoming’ and ‘reading’ a book. Garcia on the other hand, was stuck trying to explain an artwork that doesn’t exist yet with a series of non sequitur keywords like ‘protocol’ and ‘repetition’, but made up for the lack of content by cleverly inviting artist Michelangelo Miccolis to enact her performance The Artist Without Works (a guided tour around nothing), 2008, about the inherent radicalism in a refusal of the artist to deliver content, or even make sense. Rounding out the symposium, Rahraw Omarzad offered an earnest and sentimental story about his experience trying to create a peaceful bronze horse sculpture to complement the aggressive bronze tiger (in accordance with the fabled Norwegian poem Sidste Sang (the Last Song), 1870) that already stands in front of the central train station. Omarzad aims to install sister copies of his horse in Oslo and in his hometown, Kabul, Afghanistan, as a message of peace, honouring democracy and hospitality. Afterwards, immigrants from conflict zones in Afghanistan, Iranian Kurdistan, Palestine and Syria were invited to tell their stories of finding safe haven in Norway, as the city is currently experiencing an influx of refugees. Bringing in issues of global conflict launched discussions from micro to macro contexts, proving that recourses of symbolic gestures in public art still bear meaningful weight beyond local manifestations.
While wandering across the city center, crisp Nordic light gleamed between the rippling waters of the bay and the new steel and glass Barcode Project—a hotly contested luxury high-rise development on the edge of the city center, where construction cranes practically outnumber road signs. Importantly, for every new government building erected, 0.5–1.5 percent of the budget is automatically earmarked for art, thanks to regulations set in place by City of Oslo, Agency for Cultural Affairs, in 2013, and a portion goes directly to Oslo Pilot. Although numerous public art projects regularly materialize, Oslo Pilot is funnelling attention and funding to lesser-supported, time-based, and ephemeral artworks in an attempt to activate the city’s incredibly rich scene. As the city itself grows and accelerates, long-standing support for the arts is trying to keep up. Established grants issued by the government for working artists have been shrinking in number, and lagging behind the inflation of average incomes, and the future of such programs feels uncertain to many involved. Do we need more biennials, or even more art? Art doesn't exist in isolation. It takes makers, thinkers, and audiences to activate and re-activate its relevance over time. In the best-case scenario, realizing projects like Oslo Pilot, and the potential biennial in the works, spotlights the continued significance of supporting arts across the city, securing it’s future.
*Dora Garcia’s Second Time Around (Segunda Vez) will be included in a larger exhibition about her work at the Trondheim Kunstmuseum in 2018, curated by director Johan Börjesson.
In a lengthy a fascinating article written for the online journal Blind Field, Jose Rosales examines the historical and methodological relationships between surrealism and Marxism. In one of the most compelling sections of the piece, Rosales argues that Aimé Césaire and other participants in the Negritude movement extended surrealism to an arena that Breton and other tried but failed to reach—namely, anti-colonial politics. Here's an excerpt from the article:
Regarding Césaire, two things merit our attention. First, Césaire’s theoretical and political development owes much to his encounter with surrealism and the inspiration found therein – the idea that the imagination cannot be beholden to the requirements and obligations of necessity, practical activity, what Marx would call ‘the working day,’ or the idea that the imagination must be liberated from the colonization of both one’s social and psychic reality. More importantly, however, Césaire’s work remains irreducible to the view that would understand his accomplishments as offering nothing new in terms of theoretical or practical insight due to the fact that these were simply a correct, or corrected, application of everything that can be found in Breton’s writings. It is against this view that we aim to demonstrate the following thesis: whereas Breton only provided us with a vague and hypothetical description of revolutionary subjectivity as defined by the simple act of randomly firing into a crowd, it is the likes of Césaire, Léon-Gontran Damas, and Léopold Sédar Senghor who were capable of articulating a concept of a revolutionary agent who would be adequate to the task of abolishing the present state of affairs.
Reflecting on his relationship to surrealism in the 1967 interview with Rene Depestres at the Cultural Congress of Havana, Césaire makes the following remark:
A.C.: Surrealism interested me to the extent that it was a liberating factor.R.D.: So you were very sensitive to the concept of liberation that surrealism contained. Surrealism called forth deep and unconscious forces.A.C.: Exactly. And my thinking followed these lines: Well then, if I apply the surrealist approach to my particular situation, I can summon up these unconscious forces. This, for me, was a call to Africa. I said to myself: it’s true that superficially we are French, we bear the marks of French customs; we have been branded by Cartesian philosophy, by French rhetoric; but if we break with all that, if we plumb the depths, then what we will find is fundamentally black.R.D.: In other words, it was a process of disalienation.A.C.: Yes, a process of disalienation; that’s how I interpreted surrealism.
From this exchange we see how Césaire came to appreciate something specific to surrealism as a whole: namely, the aspiration of finally doing away with the modern condition of social/individual alienation that is produced by socio-economic inequalities. In the face of France’s ongoing colonial violence, Césaire found in surrealism the desire and search for a new kind of subjectivity, a desire and search that ultimately confirmed his own ideas regarding what must be done in the face of colonial violence. However, and more important for our purposes, it is precisely in this moment when Césaire turned to surrealism as a resource for abolishing the colonial situation where we begin to see the break between Breton’s and Césaire’s surrealist infused politics.
While Césaire worked with and drew from the surrealist tradition, his use of surrealism brought all the tools of the movement into explicit contact with the question of colonialism and colonized subjectivity. Despite what some might say regarding Breton’s early manifestoes expressing solidarity with colonized peoples, Césaire’s thematization of the relationship between Africa and Europe as similar to the relationship between those aspects of unconscious life consciousness seeks to repress, provides one with the historical conditions on which a theory of revolutionary subjectivity adequate to the communist project is simultaneously a theory of subjectivity that seeks to address the way in which colonialism and its effects remain inextricably linked to capital’s self-valorization and self-reproduction.
Image: Man Ray, Centrale Surréaliste (1924). Via Blind Field.
The corporations that own leading social media platforms including Facebook, Reddit and Twitter are considered by the alt-right to be liberal Stalinists that "purge" any user who doesn't conform to the web 2.0 titans' liberal ideology. They've found refuge in a platform called Gab, founded by a 25-year-old conservative Christian. Read Amanda Hess on Gab and the alt-right in partial below, in full via New York Times.
When the white nationalist leader Richard B. Spencer was suspended from Twitter recently, he hopped over to YouTube to address his supporters. “Digitally speaking,” he said, Twitter had sent “execution squads across the alt-right.” He accused Twitter of “purging people on the basis of their views,” calling it “corporate Stalinism.” Then he mapped out a path forward. “There’s obviously Gab, which is an interesting medium,” he said. “I think that will be the place where we go next.”
Gab is a new social network built like a hybrid of Twitter and Reddit — posts are capped at 300 characters, and the crowd votes to boost or demote posts in the feed. But Gab’s defining feature is its user guidelines, or rather, its lack thereof. Gab bans illegal activities — child pornography, threats of violence, terrorism — and not much else. “Facebook, Twitter and Reddit are taking the path of censorship,” Utsav Sanduja, Gab’s chief communications officer, told me via email. “Gab does not.”
Think of Gab as the Make America Great Again of social sites: It’s a throwback to the freewheeling norms of the old internet, before Twitter started cracking down on harassment and Reddit cleaned out its darkest corners. And since its debut in August, it has emerged as a digital safe space for the far right, where white nationalists, conspiracy-theorist YouTubers, and minivan majority moms can gather without liberal interference.
This election laid bare the ideological divide on social media, and since the election, the rift has deepened. Just as dejected Hillary Clinton supporters have come together in Pantsuit Nation — a “secret” Facebook group of nearly four million members — some on the right have found their postelection online oasis in the invitation-only Gab.
Gab’s 25-year-old founder, Andrew Torba, dreamed up the site after reading reports that Facebook employees suppress conservative articles on the site. Mr. Torba — who previously created Kuhcoon, a system for running automated Facebook ad campaigns (it’s now called Automate Ads) — is a rare conservative Christian tech C.E.O. Gab is a corrective to what he dubs “Big Social,” and it’s based on what the company calls “a pluralistic ethos of mutual respect and toleration of dissonant views.”
When other social sites push out disruptive users, Gab opens its arms. Recently, Twitter beefed up abuse rules to police not only threats but also hate speech “against a race, religion, gender, or orientation.” (The move presaged the purge that swept up Mr. Spencer.) And Reddit erased a community called #Pizzagate, where conspiracy theorists had gathered to spin lies about Democratic pedophiles operating out of a D.C. pizzeria. On Gab, the topic is always trending.
All the big-name Twitter castaways have resurfaced here: In addition to Mr. Spencer, there is Milo Yiannopoulos, the Breitbart editor who was barred from Twitter for siccing trolls on the “Ghostbusters” actress Leslie Jones; Pax Dickinson, the former Business Insider chief technology officer who rebranded himself as a victim of P.C. culture when he was sacked for posting sexist tweets; and Tila Tequila, the reality TV star who was booted from Twitter after posting racial slurs and pro-Nazi stuff. Gab has also attracted the cutting conservative commentator Ann Coulter; the right-wing media guerrilla Mike Cernovich; and the disinformation king Alex Jones, founder of Infowars. Gab now hosts 98,000 accounts, with tens of thousands more hopeful members on a wait list.
*Image of Milo Yiannopoulos via depauliaonline
Grayson Perry (CBE)*, is a celebrity pantomime dame signed to an exclusive contract with British 'public-service' broadcaster Channel 4. Back in the '80s Channel 4 blazed a trail of diversity, alt comedy and innovative drama 'distinct from the mainstream', but now it exploits and misrepresents the working class and laughs at travellers.
However, Grayson Perry (CBE) does things differently. His uniquely intersectional identity as a cross-dresser, a father/dad, a straight man, a married man, a working class man, a rich man, and a man with 77K Twitter followers has allowed Channel 4 to commission many 'socially conscious' and 'challenging' documentaries with Grayson Perry (CBE) at the helm. Here he is receiving his royal honour from Prince Charles.
Grayson Perry (CBE) is also a very successful, celebrity contemporary artist who shows at top-tier museums, art fairs and commercial spaces in the UKUS/EU. He makes tapestries and ceramic pots with a contemporary, sometimes rude and sometimes irreverent twist. Rich people buy them for large and secretive amounts of money, even though rich people are sometimes the 'critical targets' explored in them.
Last week (following a report by the free UK gutter rag the Evening Standard) Grayson Perry (CBE) shocked the (art) world with a weirdly indirect rant-praise of BrexTrump at a private event, and we have all been reeling since. Here he is:
'Voting Brexit and for Trump is a big cry, it's a big fuck you to us lot. Everyone talks about 2016 as an annus horribilis, but I think it's been fantastic as an artist. For me as an artist I love it when something comes along and makes me think 'wow that's a bit shocking'. That's what creativity is. We can't keep on peddling our same old comfortable ideas and preaching to the converted. No, lets go out there and genuinly engage with the majority of the population.'
Maybe Slavoj Zizek would know the right Lacanian psychoanalytical term for this confused thinking, because surely there must be one. Is creativity loving it when the right wing are on the move? Is creativity loving it because the alt-right are at least alt so maybe they'll probably like other alt stuff like art, American Apparel and Coldplay?
Perhaps Grayson Perry (CBE) was just giving the room of 'black clad media types' a wake up call. But is the 'I'm glad BrexTrump happened' angle ever a good idea? Does it scream 'I've lost all perspective' in the cold light of day? How about this other statement:
"If you have a gallery who are the people who never come? Blue-collar working class Conservatives. You could throw a brick at the opening of the Tate and you wouldn't hit anyone that voted Conservative."
But hang on a minute, aren't there loads of Conservatives at the exclusive, invite only openings at Tates Britain/Modern? Even if you left out all the moneyed elites and high net worth individuals you'd still hit some prominent and easy targets. For example:
If you threw a brick during the opening of the current exhibition of photographs loaned to the Tate by Conservative voter, and previous dinner host to UKIP's Nigel Farage, Sir Elton Hercules John (CBE) you'd have surely hit him.
If not you'd have probably hit Conservative voter and tax-shy artist Tracy 'Tories are the only hope" Emin (CBE).
And who knows, maybe old friend and fellow 'eccentric pop star' Kate Bush (CBE) would have been in attendance too. She's a Conservative supporter, in fact she thinks current Prime Minster Theresa May is 'the best thing that's happened to [the UK] in a long time'.
I don't know anything anymore. I'm totally confused, I thought all creatives were liberals. But, maybe I've been blinded by my own 'social media echo chamber'. Maybe Grayson Perry (CBE) is just the latest celebrity artist to speak a wacky, right-positive truth to power. Maybe there has been a sea change. WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Is Grayson Perry (CBE) another example (see Marina and Weiwei) of art celebrities gone wild, or is he speaking 'the truth'?
Are celebrity artists the best political commentators?
Do we NEED to hear Ai Weiwei and Marina Abramovic on BrexTrump too?
If BrexTrump is a wake up call, what's the appointment we had to keep?
Does the Tate need more or less Conservatives?
Are royal honours to blame?
Do you have 77K Twitter followers?
A CBE is a royal honour given to an individual by the queen in the form of a medal presented by her or another member of the British Royal Family. The deifinition of the acronym CBE is Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
In Real Life, music writer Rob Arcand bemoans the feeble unoriginality of what passes for protest music today, and instead suggests that the emerging genre of "noise-sound” is more adequate to our political moment. Read an excerpt of the piece below, or the full text here.
But what are the implications of weaponized sound as a scalable tool for dissent? How could the dynamic capacities of noise be better harnessed and mobilized to create more effective tools for conscious action? Over the last few years, electronic music has reclaimed its political roots: From across the globe, artists like Lotic, Arca, and Elysia Crampton have made strides toward dance-driven destruction. With the explosive sounds of gunshots and breaking glass, tracks like Lotic’s “Damsel in Distress” ripple with a noisy chaos, an entropic overload of generations of diaspora and colonialism, now reified in sound. His more recent remix of Beyoncé’s “Formation” presents the scorched portrait of a crisis front, as skittered sounds blur a song already draped in ties to Malcolm X and the “black power salutes” of Tommie Smith, John Carlos, and generations associated with the Black Panther movement, into a high-pitched, fast-paced oblivion.
Even at its wildest and most political, contemporary music has long been dependent on a tricky relationship with the gatekeeping outlets behind streaming platforms and media channels that not only constrict the speculative potential of what a music can be, but also limit the sound’s vast potential for political engagement. At the end of last year, Berlin-based musician and software developer Mat Dryhurst wrote that contemporary musicians need new tools to help shape their productive capacity for change. He notes,
I’m bored of handing control of my work to centralized platforms that have no interest in representing the community of artists I identify with. An independent music industry was built by artists, for artists decades ago, and I think that we need to devise an equivalent infrastructure for online media. That doesn’t mean SoundCloud with a different name and font, but an entirely different logic that is as nuanced and distinguished as the independent communities that use it.
Through his work with Saga, a software plugin that allows artists to host their own work and track its distribution throughout the web; and the Blockchain initiative, which turns Bitcoin’s properties as decentralized currency into an evolving exchange of time-stamped digital objects with the potential to be monetized by play count, Dryhurst and others have realized that on some level, progressive music isn’t compatible with the current paradigms of corporate oversight guiding media ventures like streaming platforms and the networks of social media.
NON Records, the collective behind music from Angel-Ho, Nkisi, Elysia Crampton, and Chino Amobi, among others, pairs elements of noise music with the shock-and-awe spectacle of the political state at war. With a digital-first, non-hierarchical structure spreading across the African diaspora, NON Records “resides in villages, towns, and cities across the globe,” committed to the “militant realities” of the global front, merging the weaponized potential of sound with explicit aims for political reform. In an exchange with the Fader, a spokesperson from the label notes that “NON uses sound as a weapon to destabilize and deterritorialize our audience,” working toward a level of political and economic independence seemingly only achievable on the scale of a new nation-state. With the sound and iconography of a crisis zone, the collective — whose involvement with grassroots work can’t be understated — has set their sights on scale, establishing a network of resistance through which citizens of the diaspora and beyond can unite to coordinate action.
Image: Musician Chino Amobi. Via Fact Magazine.
In the London Review of Books, T. J. Clark writes about the strange and strangely political work of James Ensor, on the occasion of a major exhibition of the painter's work at the Royal Academy in London. Clark draws a connection between Ensor's work and his anarchist politics, as well as his abiding admiration for Edgar Allen Poe, whose fiction he explored in many of his painting. Here's an excerpt:
Ensor is one of the strangest artists to have emerged from a socialist and anarchist milieu – stranger even than Platonov or Pasolini. That socialism of some sort was the context that mattered in his case is clear. The first serious piece of writing about him appeared in 1891 in the socialist journal La Société nouvelle, published in Paris and Brussels: it was written by a novelist friend, Eugène Demolder. When Demolder followed up with a short book a few months later it was titled James Ensor, la mort mystique d’un théologien. (The great Verhaeren, poet of the revolutionary crowd, lent his name to a second monograph in 1908.) You have to work hard to find Demolder’s 1892 subtitle acknowledged in the art-historical literature, but it is important, and only half ironical. In Belgian socialism at fin de siècle, Christ and La Sociale (the anarchists’ codeword for the coming social revolution) were inseparable. Demolder in La Société nouvelle has Ensor’s Christ ‘step down into the crowd and slap the ridiculous bishop with his stigmatised hands’. There is a ferocious Man of Sorrows in the show, painted the same year as Demolder’s essay, whose Christ seems fully capable of doing the job. He is best looked at in tandem with a panel hung nearby, also dated 1891, titled Skeletons Fighting over a Pickled Herring. No doubt the panel’s strip-cartoon pessimism is all-encompassing – ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do’ – but at the same time it resonates specifically with Ostend and class struggle. Ostend in the late 19th century (it was Ensor’s home, and he rarely stirred far from the place) shared its bathing beaches with a hard-scrabble fishing industry – it was Bognor with a large dash of Grimsby. In August 1887 fish packers set on three English boats trying to undersell the locals, and gendarmes shot dead six or more of the rioters, wounding scores of others (the numbers are disputed) before order returned. There is a drawing at the Academy called The Strike, but its first title seems to have been Le Massacre des pêcheurs ostendais. Notice that one of the skeletons in the Pickled Herring picture is sporting a busby. Ensor did a painting in 1892 of fishermen’s wives warming themselves over individual braziers shoved under their skirts, in a room as wintry and miserable as the room in Skeletons Fighting for the Body of a Hanged Man; naturally, skull people peer in through a window. One of them carries a heartless placard: ‘A Mort! – Elles ont mangé trop de poisson.’
Image: James Ensor, Skeletons Fighting for the Body of a Hanged Man, (1891). Via LRB.
For LARB, Bonnie Johnson writs about the long, rich history that Los Angeles bears to intentional community making. The liberal city, she writes, has invented its own real-life versions of hippie utopias, though many have collapsed due to various external forces (environment or state-related). Read Johnson in partial below, in full via LARB.
Today in Los Angeles, we have cooperative facilities for students and seniors, and smaller group houses of gamers and nudists. But the only open, age-diverse intentional community of 10 or more is the Eco-Village in Koreatown. This wasn’t always the case. A century ago, long before the 1980s Hollywood punk flophouse Disgraceland and the earlier Westside clean-living cult Synanon, the city had three thriving communes. They were the Theosophist community of Krotona in Beachwood Canyon, the socialist Llano del Rio in Palmdale, and the broadly anarchist Edendale farm in Silver Lake. Like many such settlements, they collapsed not due to infighting, but to outside forces — in these cases development, drought, and the LAPD.
In a perfectly Californian confluence, Edendale’s early movie studios shared turf with a posse of Mexican revolutionaries and sympathetic Wobblies. Outfits like Mack Sennett’s, which filmed slapstick shorts on the streets of Silver Lake and Echo Park, attracted famously unorthodox stars like Charlie Chaplin, Roscoe Arbuckle, and Gloria Swanson. The last advocated macrobiotic vegetarianism long before its time. Not far from Sennett’s headquarters, celebrity evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson would soon set up her mega-church, Angelus Temple, which stands to this day. Meanwhile, radicals agitated at the Plaza de Los Angeles and convened at the nearby Italian Hall. Emma Goldman often visited on trips from New York’s East Village, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman had earlier moved to Pasadena, where she got involved in the Ebell Society and suffrage work while theorizing concepts for feminist housing.
In 1911, exiled Ricardo Flores Magón, of the Partido Liberal Mexicano, had led a seizure of Tijuana, after which the US federal government jailed him at McNeil Island for violating national neutrality. Newly sprung in 1914, Magón formed a contingent that rented a five-acre plot at the northwest tip of Ivanhoe Reservoir. For about a year, the communards lived in wooden shacks, raising chickens and growing produce they sold on Olvera Street downtown. They ran a paper called Regeneración, and Magón penned the polemic ensemble drama Tierra y Libertad. But he had an influential enemy in Los Angeles Times publisher Harrison Gray Otis, whose sizeable assets in Baja had come under threat from the Magonistas’s earlier occupation. In 1916, the LAPD raided the farm and arrested Magón. He died at Leavenworth, serving a 20-year sentence for sedition.
Job Harriman, a lawyer, former clergyman, and one-time running mate to socialist Eugene V. Debs on the national ticket, narrowly lost the LA mayoral election in 1911. Setting out to demonstrate a socialist alternative, he leveraged local friends to buy 9,000 acres with water rights at the site of a former temperance colony about 45 miles north. He appointed a board and began selling stock for Llano del Rio. Applicants had to buy into the colony in equal shares, though they could do so on credit. They needed references attesting to their work ethic and commitment to the ideology. Shamefully, they also had to be white, because racial mixing was, according to their paper, “not deemed expedient.”
Six months after its opening in 1914, the colony had grown to 150 people, in addition to many farm animals, and had a post office, dairy, and laundry. Using local materials, the colonists built a meeting hall and hotel, as well as an aqueduct and water tank connected to nearby Big Rock Creek. At first, members lived in tents and dormitories, then in small adobe houses. Like Gilman and other feminist thinkers, site planner Alice Constance Austin envisioned kitchen-free homes with communal daycare, though Llano ultimately fell short of her designs. Largely populated by western farmers and businessmen and their families, the development grew to 1,100 and produced almost all of its own food, planting orchards, alfalfa, corn, and grain. The colonists also wove textiles and ran a print shop for their paper. The schools were Montessori-style, hands-on, and encouraged self-rule. The group held picnics, shows, and ball games; its twice-weekly dances were a legendary highlight.
*Image of Los Angeles via Lonely Planet
by Mohammad Salemy and Stefan Heidenreich
In October 2015, after the signing of an agreement between Hermann Parzinger, the president of the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, and Majid Mollanoroozi,the director of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art (TMoCA), a select group of artworks from the museum’s collection were to be exhibited internationally for the first time in Berlin followed by an additional exhibition at Maxii Museum in Rome. The Berlin exhibition was supposed to include 60 paintings, amongst them works of artists like Rothko and Pollock. It was set to open on December 4, 2016. Full-scale preparations had been made, and even tickets were already on sale. However, after a series of protests and social media campaigns by Iranian artists and cultural activists, the show has been delayed and no new dates set for the opening. The official reason given by the Germans for the delay was the stepping down of the Iranian minister of culture Ali Jannati. However, little has been reported in the western art press about the real issues involved; nor have they addressed the protests by the Iranian art and culture community.
The controversy inside Iran regarding the exhibition revolves around the deal made between the Iranian and European museum officials. Those opposing the exhibition allege that the secret agreement has intentionally left the lending of artworks to Europe prone to lawsuits and property claims by the pre-revolution owners and buyers of the works. Recently, collectors from around the world have flocked to Tehran in order to visit the collection. It remains unclear if they were assessing the works and/or striking preemptive deals. The widespread rumors of shady dealings regarding the collection have prompted Farah Diba, the wife of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi and the main patron of TMOCA before the revolution, to deny the existence of such plans. In a well-publicized interview on November 25 with Kayhan-London, she denied having any plans to claim the artworks designated for exhibition in Europe.
The most outspoken character in the TMOCA affair has been Afshin Parvaresh, a journalist and cultural activist who resides in the US. His social media publicity about the issue has slowly gained momentum during the last 6 months and has helped turn the lending of TMOCA artworks and the fate of the larger collection into a crucial political issue inside Iran. Parvaresh, along with anonymous TMOCA staff, and several independent Tehran-based artists who wish to remain anonymous insist on the existence of secret deals to transfer artworks from TMOCA to western collectors. The opposition on the issue, which includes the Association of Iranian Painters (http://www.iranpainters.com/?m_id=793&id=397) as well as Lili Golestan the owner and operator of the Golestan Gallery (http://www.iranpainters.com/?m_id=793&id=461) all agree that general comments and secrecy surrounding the details of the proposed exhibitions in Europe are signs of bad deals made between the TMOCA management and the European museums. Parvaresh, however, goes as far as to claim that lawyers in Europe have already begun preparation to sue the TMOCA and the German museums and will try to return the works to original owners who will flip them for large sums of money to western collectors. Parvaresh suggests that it is very likely that those who made the original purchases for TMOCA in the 1970s, including the Royal Family itself, may have already made lucrative deals with corrupt TMOCA officials and collectors in the west, and perhaps this is why the agreements between European officials and their Iranian counterparts have been kept secret and never publicly released. Adding to the suspicions, on November 20th, the incoming Iranian Minister of Culture Reza Salehi announced that the lending of works to Europe has been halted.
BACKGROUNDBuilt by the architect Kamran Diba, the cousin of the Queen Farah Diba, opened in 1977. The Queen had also played an active role in assembling the museum’s immense collection. She was lucky because the 1970s was the right time for buying western modern art. The economic crisis had suppressed the prices, and for a comparatively small budget of 100 Million USD she was able to assemble one the richest collections of Western modernist art, which in addition to Pollock and de Kooning includes works by David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenburg, Andy Warhol, Max Ernst and Francis Bacon. The collection also includes thirty works by Picasso. Less than two years after TMOCA’s opening, the Monarchy was overthrown by Islamic revolutionaries. The museum’s collection, along with whatever art was salvaged from the royal palaces, was brought together and kept in the TMOCA vaults where they have spent most of the last 40 years. As of now, the combined collection is regarded as one of the richest collections of not only Western, but also Iranian modern art, valued at a price of 3 to 5 Billion USD. In 2010, one single painting, Jackson Pollock's Mural on Indian Red Ground was valued at 250 Million Dollars by the auction house Christie's.
In the last forty years, only a small percentage of the artworks have ever been on display. Some which have erotic and/or sexual content, like Renoir's Gabrielle https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gabrielle_with_Open_Blouse (1907), a painting of a woman with open blouse and naked breasts, have never been seen. Only on very rare occasions were single artworks allowed to be loaned abroad. Through a rare loan by TMOCA, a Max Ernst painting titled Histoire Naturelle (1925) was shown in Germany in 2012.
Distinguishing between public and private cultural initiatives carried out by the Iranian Royal family in the 1970s was blurry at best and the establishment of TMOCA was no exception. Even after its opening, the museum remains a semi-private enterprise of which Farah Diba was personally in charge with curators David Galloway and Donna Stein acting on her behalf. In addition, there are works in the TMOCA vaults which were originally purchased by the Queen for the Royal Collection. Officials now confirm earlier allegations by Parvaresh that it remains unclear who nominally owns many works at the museum since there are no detailed list of the paintings belonging to the collection. Parvaresh believes that the paperwork from the pre-revolution era has mysteriously gone missing from TMOCA archives since they initially began thinking about the museum’s privatization.
In fact, the recent controversy is not the first time Iran’s art community has protested the government plans for the future of TMOCA. Plans to privatize TMOCA date back to 2001, during the reign of the reformist president Khatami who faced fierce opposition by the Iranian art community. The protests included the well-publicized parliament sit-in of Mrs. Masoomeh Seyhoun, owner of the prestigious Seyhoun Gallery in Tehran, which helped to prevent TMOCA’s privatization. The plan was eventually shelved by the conservative Guardian Council but not rejected. With the return of the reformists to power in 2013, the management began proposing other schemes for the museum’s privatization and the eventual sales of some of its holdings. In April of 2016, a new attempt was made to designate the Rudaki Institute, a private foundation named after a Persian poet of the 9th century, as the caretaker of TMOCA. Roudaki is already in charge of two Iranian orchestras and several provincial museums. When the privatization plans were announced again in April 2016, the Tehran art crowd took to the streets and protested. Once more, the plans were shelved. Instead, the management began entertaining the idea of exhibiting parts of the collection in the West.
Does TMOCA hold all the property rights for the works in its collection? Can Farah Diba and others around the Royal Family who in the 1970s purchased works for the museum make property claims once these artworks are in international jurisdictions? In rare instances in the past, European state guarantees have been effective, but the relationship between the state and the investors has changed during recent years. Mutual trade agreements give private investors an increasingly strong hand over state legislation. Nobody knows what avenues lawyers might find in order to contest ministerial guarantees, favor private property claims, and block the return of the works to Iran.
The collection so far has survived, albeit in terrible conditions, thanks to the foreign and self-imposed isolation of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The end of sanctions and the atomic deal with the US means the opening of Iran. Economic relations are bound to return to the new normal. This is supposed to include the transformation of the regime into a “normal” states, with all the strings and requirements attached. Privatization of cultural assets is a mandatory part of this process. TMOCA’s management even thinks that profits from exhibiting the works in the West, including sales of some of the work, may pay for the restoration and storage of the collection as a whole.
Official proclamations, promises, and guarantees are met with mistrust, particularly in Tehran where it is feared that another part of the country's cultural heritage, unlike Persian antiquities which also include Western cultural artifacts, is being transferred from one bunker, that just opened after 40 years, to the international art market and its private storage houses.
Four days after the death of Fidel Castro at the improbable age of ninety, Nikil Saval of n+1 praises his tenacious resistance to US imperialism (not to mention his miraculous ability to avoid assassination) and suggests that this tenacity is a model for a fragmented and demoralized left today. Read an excerpt from the piece below, or the full text here.
The death of Fidel Castro brought to a close an entire era, in which a single figure on a small Caribbean island could dictate whole arenas of American emotional life. Since the Cuban revolution in 1959, the United States has been obsessed not with Cuba, not with communism, but with Fidel. It was only his ceding of power to Raúl that permitted Obama, a longtime opponent of the embargo, to initiate the opening. Until then Fidel had remained, even after the fall of the Soviet Union, an overarching nightmare for the US. He had put a dent in the Monroe Doctrine, a traumatic experience for a country unused to having its advances checked in its own hemisphere. His advance to power was, in the words of Kennedy administration officials, a “humiliation” of the United States. As the scholar Louis A. Perez Jr. has argued, Castro remained a bogeyman because he was an undying embodiment of the limits of US power.
The obsession with Castro following the Cuban Revolution was total and virtually unyielding. In 1962, a White House task force had asserted that “a solution to the Cuban problem today carries the top priority of the United States Government—all else is secondary—no time, money, effort, or manpower is to be spared.” Later administrations would partake in the pathology. “Cuba was a neuralgic problem for Nixon,” Henry Kissinger would later recall. “There’ll be no change toward that bastard while I’m President,” one of Nixon’s aides reported him as saying. Even after the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of Comecon cratered the Cuban economy, the US passed legislation—Torricelli in 1992 and Helms-Burton in 1996—that sought to deliver the coup de grâce to Castro by punishing the already suffering Cuban people.
Insofar as the United States is a country eminently deserving of constant humiliation, Castro was a hero. And, gratifyingly, he humiliated the US everywhere: by supporting insurgency in Angola, by supporting Mandela, by sending doctors to independent South Africa and Chavez’s Venezuela. The wave of guerrilla activity that swept Latin America in the 1960s and ’70s owed its source to Cuba and to Castro; so, too, did the more recent wave of democratically elected leftist governments in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, and elsewhere. If the foundational novelists of the Latin American “boom”—Rulfo and Carpentier—preceded the revolution, its high noon—García Marquez, Cortázar, Fuentes, Vargas Llosa—postdated it and owed significant vitality to that central, political earthquake.
Image of Fidel Castro via Politico.