Required Reading

This week, a museum prepares for Hurricane Harvey, a brutal architecture preservationist disaster, Melania Trump’s use of fashion, Iran’s pivot to video, and more.

Danish design firm MONSTRUM has been creating these colorful and imaginative playscapes for playgrounds around the world, and they’re quite impressive. Check out more on Colossal. (via Colossal)
  • One Texas museum, the Galveston Art Center, was devastated by Hurricane Ike in 2008 and they weren’t taking any chances with Hurricane Harvey. This is what they did:

Nance has good reason to be wary. Back in 2008, when Hurricane Ike pummeled Texas, the Galveston Arts Center sustained steep losses. According to Harvey Rice of the Houston Chronicle, art valued at more than $100,000 was ruined, and the storm caused upward of $1 million in damage to the historic, 19th-century bank building that houses the Arts Center.

RELATED: Some good photo essays on the hurricane at the New Yorker and the New York Times.

A year later, Kaufman’s plan was scrapped, leaving Clark Patterson Lee with the last proposal standing. Meanwhile, designLAB’s schematic proposal for the site ended up winning an “unbuilt architecture” award from the Boston Society of Architects. A lawsuit by local residents to block demolition was dismissed in June 2015. “This is one of Rudolph’s great buildings,” Kaufman adds. “It’s a shame. What happened in Goshen represents a tremendous diminution government plays in promoting good architecture and good development.”

Miklos says that their removal of the original corduroy blocks in the remaining 1971 buildings was unnecessary. “There was mold after the building flooded because the drywall was wet, but they determined the concrete block was the problem. In fact, we did a lot of research to determine the block was not the problem.”

As for the new building, “they did a different version of what we proposed,” says Miklos. “I’ve seen the pictures. It’s not a successful solution. It doesn’t do Rudolph’s building justice.”

Melania dresses and moves as if she were awkwardly performing a theatrical role, much as Ivanka does. Their oddly stilted presence in political settings seems to transform all occasions, no matter how “presidential,” into advertisements. This is not because they were both once models, but because they cannot stop posing like models. (Ironically, successful models learn to avoid such obvious artificiality, since it makes the unreality of fashion shoots too glaring.)

The Trump women evince a dazed blankness and anonymity that in turn cast doubt on the reality of everything around them. When you see Melania headed to Marine One, or dining with world leaders, or standing on a White House balcony, the entire scene looks like a magazine spread in which “real” people, equipment, and buildings are being used merely as dramatic backdrops for a fashion layout. On Tuesday, this meant that instead of being a supporting presence in the president’s trip to survey flood damage, Melania became the star and the trip morphed into a simulacrum, a kind of Vogue shoot “simulating” a president’s trip. In other words, the realness of everyone and everything else (including hurricane victims) faded and the evacuated blankness of the commercial overtook the scene.

  • We are talking about Civil War memorials but are there some other monuments that didn’t support a decisive and white supremacist history, like the Sphinx at Mt. Auburn Cemetery:

The Sphinx was the vision of Dr. Jacob Bigelow, a Harvard botanist and physician who was one of the founders of Mount Auburn Cemetery. In the wake of the Civil War, he wanted a monument that would honor the sacrifices of the Union army and point the way toward a more integrated America. A figure from Egyptian mythology, the sphinx represents the fusion of both “American” and “African” motifs, a perfect union between black and white.

Bigelow had dreamed up the statue and designed it entirely himself. Egyptian motifs had associated in nineteenth-century America with mourning and grief, but these had never included a sphinx. Bigelow’s monument was to be his own, ex nihilo and sui generis. Bigelow’s dreams swam with hybrid monsters. The Elgin Marbles, he noted, “to which the whole world pays homage,” consist of depictions of centaurs and other strange creatures; and the winged steed Pegasus, “on which poets in all ages have sought recreation,” was also an amalgamation of different beasts. “Even angels,” he concluded, “the accepted embodiments of beauty and loveliness, are human figures with birds’ wings attached to their shoulders.” Why, then, not revere another hybrid, why not create a new mythology?

  • Khaled A. Beydoun writes about Islam in the Antebullum South, which was more common than many Americans believe. His abstract outlines the realities:

America’s first Muslims were slaves. Social scientists estimate that 15 to 30 percent of the Africans enslaved in the Antebellum South practiced Islam. Research indicates that the Muslim slave population could have been as high as 1.2 million. Despite their considerable presence in the Antebellum South, the history of Muslim slaves has been largely neglected within legal scholarship.

The Jefferson Davis Highway was a pet project of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), an association of Confederate descendants that has been trying to preserve (and rewrite) Civil War history since 1894. Though not as well known as the Lost Cause memorials the UDC built throughout the South—objects promoting a narrative that the Confederacy fought honorably for states’ rights rather than slavery—the highway was intended to be a cross-country system of roads studded with markers memorializing Davis. And for some cities and states in its proposed path, it was simply too good a deal to pass up.

… The highway, then, did the work of white supremacy by stealthier means than those of other infamous groups. As the highways wended across the U.S., proponents of the UDC’s historical vision such as the Ku Klux Klan lynched black people, burned crosses, and enacted and supported Jim Crow laws. More broadly, the femininity that the UDC embodied provided a cover for public behavior that was unheard of for Southern women. “They would speak in public, which women were not supposed to do—not Southern women, anyway. It provided a lot of these women with a career,” says Cox.

Ultimately, the grandiosity of the UDC’s vision for the Jefferson Davis Highway did not match up with reality. Historians don’t agree on which routes were actually built and whether they lived up to the UDC’s claims. The group’s own promotional materials contradict themselves: As the historians Euan Hague and Edward H. Sebesta note, official depictions of the highway “[were] inconsistent, varied over time, and outlined often vastly differing routes.”

Things like chanting “death to America,” burning effigies of Uncle Sam and painting murals of Lady Liberty with a skull as a face lost their impact long ago, particularly among younger Iranians. Forced to adapt or fizzle out, Iran’s propaganda machine has sought to embrace the latest trends and technologies to try to tailor messages to the sensibilities of a new generation.

A number of such propaganda videos have appeared in recent years, distributed on Apparat, a local version of YouTube, as well as on the messenger app Telegram.

Here is one example (pretty over the top):

Ethanol is flammable and therefore unsuitable for large quantities to be on public display, and formalin gives off hazardous fumes.

Instead, the team tried storing the fish in a compound called glycerol, which poses no threat to visitors.

‘But a fish the size of the marlin had to be fixed in a formalin solution first,’ explains Ralf.

‘People started using formaldehyde rather than ethanol as a fixative around 1900, and it is still the fluid of choice whenever you want to preserve anything big today.’

The initial transportation and fixation of the marlin caused it to lose some of its natural shape. However, one of the perceived benefits of glycerol is that once the fish has soaked up the solution it should expand again.

‘It’s possible the dents will pop out again, and it will go back to its natural torpedo shape,’ says Ralf,

‘There is also the chance that glycerol will help the colours that are left in the skin to increase in intensity’.

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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