Required Reading

This week, considering Etel Adnan, MVRDV’s “fake” Binhai library, the aesthetics of Empire, the end of Twitter’s utopian ideals, mapmakers and horror vacui, and more.

Illustrator and animator Nicolas Monterrat makes vintage images come alive, like this mid-20th-century photograph. The effect is quite dazzling. Colossal has more by Monterrat. (via Colossal)

Etel started drawing in Arabic through calligraphy, inciting a revival in this classical Arabic art with her minimalist and “extremely imperfect” handwriting. She found inspiration in the “imagery” of Chinese and Japanese to recreate her Arabic, to step closer to modern Arabic poetry. In “The Unfolding of an Artist’s Book”, Etel talks about the Arabic script as artistic material to mediate thought with. She is most amused by the elasticity of the Arabic script that reflects the “the inherent possibilities of Arabic writing.” It helped her arrive at the realization that “drawing and writing were one.”

SARGENT: With the politics being what they are in Zim, what do you mean by the title?

CHIURAI: The title of the show, “We Need New Names,” is taken from the incredible book by NoViolet Bulawayo, a female author, that examines that same kind of colonial futures experience [seen in “We Live in Silence”]. I think one of the central issues in Zim is that we’ve had the same person [in power] for the past 37 years. For a dominant part of our history there’s only been, I think a single narrative or one particular individual on either side of  of our independence that came in 1980. So, that is a starting point for “We Need New Names,” but then also by needing new names, we need new myths. I think by only doing that you then start to correct the post-colony.

  • Weeks ago I post an image of MVRDV’s Binhai library in China on Required Reading. It is a stunning looking building (in images, anyway), but now someone is asking why it’s full of fake bookshelves with fake books. Jonathan Hilburg writes:

Slotting the building into an existing 393,000-square-foot master plan by German architects GMP, MVRDV rolled the required auditorium into a multi-use cavity that leads to reading rooms, lounge areas, offices, meeting rooms and computer labs. The building itself is only 6 stories tall, so every programmatic element is accessible directly from the atrium.

MVRDV acknowledged that their original plans for accessing the top bookshelves through upper-level rooms had to be scrapped because of the tight construction schedule, with “perforated aluminum plates printed to represent books” filling the inaccessible spaces.

It is no surprise, then, that when founding the United States, the educated and moneyed white men who formed the first government looked to neoclassical art and architecture to shape the nation’s identity. Thomas Jefferson, a self-taught architect and inventor of “Jeffersonian” neoclassical architecture said that buildings “should be more than things of beauty and convenience, above all they should state a creed.” The architecture of the nation’s capitol directly references the architecture of ancient Greek temples and is filled with frescos, paintings, and sculptures in the neoclassical style. Throughout the country, we see this style repeated in State capitols, government buildings, public parks, banks, universities, and more. Neoclassicism is the style of authority, of power, of money, of the mythology of white dominance over this land. It is also the aesthetics that presides over our public lives. The aesthetics that protects some while carefully alienating others. Who feels proud looking at their statues? Who feels proud walking into their buildings? Who describes them as beautiful: who works to replicate them?

  • There are plans to redesign a Nazi Germany-era designed resort. Architect Magazine reports:

Today, Prora is the second-largest architectural remnant of the Third Reich, after Albert Speer’s rally grounds at Nuremberg. Abandoned for decades, the mile-long oceanfront ruins have slowly been carved up, sold off to investors and, during the last five years, redeveloped for sale as vacation apartments and rentals. So far, architects have renovated or rebuilt the concrete and brick skeletons of three of the original buildings, with two of those projects opening in stages over the last two years. Drebing Ehmke Architekten, a Greifswald, Germany–based firm, oversaw the conversion of one section into apartments and a hotel; a fourth building was turned into a youth hostel.

Critics have argued that developers are using Prora’s historic status—the site was given a preservation designation in 1992—as a tax dodge, and ignoring or suppressing efforts to remember its dark past in order to sell apartments. A “ghetto on the beach only fascists could have come up with,” is how the German newsweekly Stern described the project in May. Locals have complained that the site is being sold off to rich investors, gentrifying a sleepy part of what is a popular summer vacation destination.

  • Many people often complain about the replacement of “he” or “she” as “they” in our culture, well, the Merriam-Webster dictionary people blog about the fact that “they” has been used by historical writers:

In an 1881 letter, Emily Dickinson wrote “Almost anyone under the circumstances would have doubted if [the letter] were theirs, or indeed if they were themself.” People have used singular ‘they’ to describe someone whose gender is unknown for a long time, but the nonbinary use of ‘they’ is relatively new.

… Van Duzer argues that horror vacui was widespread among cartographers, especially during the 16th and 17th centuries. Vopel’s map, for example, includes not only sea monsters and ships but also boxes of text describing features of the land. Vopel could have put this information around the margins of the map, but he chose instead to use them to fill in the oceans. All together these elements take up at least as much space as the part of the world that’s actually being mapped (the second image in the gallery above shows them all highlighted).

  • For all those sexual predators out there (we’re watching you), this apology generator might be useful for all the times you’re going to be called out — it’s going to happen. Here’s one as a sample:

  • Watch the moment a North Korean defects to South Korea (via Reddit):

North Koren Soldier defects to South Korea

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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