Required Reading

This week, the Venice Biennale’s photo problem, the importance of Jimmie Durham’s claim to Cherokee heritage, the politics of fire, the state of queerness, dissecting Munch’s “The Scream,” and more.

Deborah Kass’s “OY/YO” (2015) was placed on the Williamsburg, Brooklyn waterfront this week by the North Williamsburg ferry terminal. It is planned to be there for roughly a year. (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Almost every time photography appears in the Venice Biennale, especially in the marquee exhibition, VIVA ARTE VIVA, it’s either in service of something else—performance, collage, film, books—or it’s one element of a larger, multimedia project. Out of eighty-seven national pavilions, only three exhibitions are dedicated solely to a photographer: Australia, Belgium, and Poland. Perhaps this dearth of photography is a reflection of a contemporary art market that favors painting and sculpture. But the argument for photography as art was made, and won, a long time ago. At the Biennale, with its multistory sculptures and flashy installations, photographs alone can’t compete with the spectacle. Which isn’t to say that photography doesn’t work well in conjunction with other modes of art making, such as with Hajas’s performances. But, too often, it gets lost in the fray. Genre-bending multimedia work—where most new art seems to be headed—can be timely and powerful, and at the Biennale, there is painting and sculpture aplenty. Why is photography still denied the same consideration?

Ultimately, Anne Ellegood has done Native art communities a favor by digging in and forcing this public discussion through her exhibition catalogue and her persistent framing of Durham as an American Indian. The catalogue showed that Durham still claimed to be Cherokee and still used our culture in his art and writing. Native people told Ellegood that Durham wasn’t Cherokee or Native for years, but she dismissed them and dismissed the tribes’ sovereign rights to define their own membership criteria. By doing so, she made apparent that this conversation could no longer be postponed.

  • The politics of fire from Ancient Rome and modern San Francisco to the recent Grenfell Tower fire in London:

The political context of any fire starts with the systems put in place to prevent it, and the decisions regarding who, or what, is in most need of protection. The first large-scale fire-fighting force recorded was the Vigiles Urbani (city watchmen) of Ancient Rome, who were pressed into action during the Great Fire of 64AD – a disaster laden with political implications, from speculation over its cause (the Emperor Nero was widely rumoured to have ordered the torching of the capital himself) to debates over reconstruction in the city, two-thirds of which was destroyed by the blaze.

Over the centuries, different strategies aimed at avoiding urban fires have been used to entrench the autocratic nature of some regimes, or to showcase the supposedly enlightened and modernist credentials of others. In addition, the social background of those injured or displaced by fires has helped show the degree to which class, race and religion play a part in determining urban vulnerability.

Queerness, unlike heterosexuality or whiteness or being able-bodied, is not a neutral state, and as such seems to command some contextualizing energy in order to justify its presence within narrative spaces. One must do work in order to explain why a character is queer or else it is seen as an extraneous fact, a superfluous detail, a distraction. I have been in many workshops where I have been asked to provide background information to explain how it is possible for a person to be attracted to both men and women, that if a character has only slept with women but finds themselves involved with a man, that there has been some mistake in the writing of this, that their sexuality has come as a sudden and startling surprise. The underlying assumption is that any deviation from the experience of a presumed white, cis, heterosexual, neurotypical person of some means is seen as an undue tax upon the reader’s empathy and worse still, some kind of indulgent idiosyncratic quirk on the part of the writer—avarice.

  • Digital photo accidents can turn out funny, and in this case (posted on Reddit this week) the woman on the right sneezed in the middle of a panoramic shot:

Talking to Your Friends About Italian Delis 426

In this soft-skills class, students will learn how to help friends who have never visited a deli choose items on the menu. Students will learn how to gently correct friends when they pronounce “mozzarella” with the “a” sound at the end, when the right time is to explain that tomatoes were actually not native to Europe so marinara sauce is actually not traditionally Italian, and the right way to introduce that pizza is actually very different in Italy. Three lectures weekly. Includes unannounced quizzes/sandwich runs.

Required Reading is published every Sunday morning ET, and is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.

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