Weekend

Required Reading

This week, viral photo of the SpaceX launch, art and tech’s complicity, Thomas Heatherwick’s “The Vessel,” travel in the age of Instagram, drone fashion models, the Las Vegas painting with a cult following, and more.

22-year-old professional photographer Brady Kenniston took some incredible photographs of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launch. And they went viral, particularly after Elon Musk himself would be retweeting his photographs. They are from February 6, 2018. See more images of the SpaceX launch at My Modern Met. (via My Modern Met)
  • How is art mimicking the established power relationships of tech companies? Jer Thorp, who is an artist and educator, considers the realities of art’s complicity:

Five years ago, artist Allison Burtch coined the term ‘cop art’ to describe tech-based works that abuse the same unbalanced power structures they are criticizing. Specifically, she pointed to artworks that surveil the viewer, and asked the question: How is the artist any different from the police?

As Facebook, Twitter and Google face a long-awaited moral reckoning, artists using technology must also be examining ourselves and our methods critically. How are we different from these corporations? How are we complicit?

According to Cross, Liz Diller was “aghast” when she first saw Heatherwick’s design, finding it “too big, and too close” to the Shed. (Diller denies this.) The Vessel was twenty-five feet taller than the Shed; it was as if the Statue of Liberty stood in front of the Metropolitan Opera. “She lobbied against it,” Cross said. “I think she’ll forever be somewhat bothered by it.” Cross was sympathetic to this concern. He recalled, “I would have conversations with Thomas: ‘Are you sure you got the scale right?’ ” Cross asked Heatherwick to consider the difference between “a beautiful ocean liner” of the mid-twentieth century and the behemoth cruise ships of today. He told Heatherwick, “In my view, it’s a wine goblet. Are you sure you don’t want it to look like a champagne flute?”

“The whole painting, it’s a question,” says Vickie Kelesis, the owner of this beguiling artwork and of the Las Vegas establishment, Vickie’s Diner, where it hangs like a beacon for devoted followers. The painting isn’t by anyone famous, but its inscrutability has earned it a kind of cult status: fans have their own Facebook group, and there are “self-appointed guardians who will go in and make sure it’s OK,” explains Allison Hayward, a Las Vegas–born lawyer who created the group on social media.

When the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei dropped a 2,000-year-old ceramic vase and filmed the act of destruction (Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, 1995), he was making an analogous claim: that when your liberties and your survival are endangered by state oppression, there are higher values than respecting centuries-old heritage. Privileging an artefact over the liberty of the human spirit is tantamount to worshipping false gods, to which the only riposte is an act of irreversible profanation.

Look, of course Google and Facebook and Twitter can’t monitor all of the content on their platforms posted by their billions of users. Nor does anyone really expect them to. But policing what’s taking off and trending as it relates to the news of the day is another matter. Clearly, it can be done because people are already doing it.

So why then can’t these platforms do what an unaffiliated group of journalists, researchers, and concerned citizens manage to find with a laptop and a few visits to 4chan? Perhaps it’s because the problem is more complicated than nonemployees can understand — and that’s often the line the companies use. Reached for comment, Facebook reiterated that it relies on human and machine moderation as well as user reporting, and noted that moderation is nuanced and judging context is difficult. Twitter explained that it too relies on user reports and technology to enforce its rules, noting that because of its scale “context is crucial” and it errs on the side of protecting people’s voices. And YouTube also noted that it uses machine learning to flag possibly violative content for human review; It said it doesn’t hire humans to “find” such content because they aren’t effective at scale.

Shortly after, I went on strike. After signing the #J20 Art Strike letter, I used a combination of social media, (limited, but meaningful) cultural capital, and optimism to encourage others to do the same: “Continuing the great disruption: artists and critics, even if you don’t know what the place of your work is in relation to contemporary politics, here’s a place to start. On January 20th, we’re on strike. Proud to be a signatory.” Despite those strong words, I’m not sure what I hoped the strike would bring. However, I know what it shouldn’t have been: the thing I actually did. Rather than no work, no school, no business, on January 20, 2017, I found myself in absolutely the wrong place: the restaurant of the Whitney Museum.

Everyone was drinking with lunch. I wasn’t drinking or eating—less than 24 hours back from California, I was jet-lagged and blurry with rage, baffled by being in a building that prominently features Steve Mnuchin’s name on its front-door donor list. I was seated next to a friend who passed me, under the table like a secret note, a piece of writing by Black gay poet Brad Johnson: “On Subjugation,” a haunting, angry, square of text that pulls no punches. The last line lodged in my throat: “Love and freedom will happily keep their mouths shut, and their children will hand you their heads on a platter—no questions asked.”

 

In the age of documentation and distribution of our lives, it’s hard not to imagine our instatravels as nothing more than a way to create what theorist Tom Vanderbilt terms “cheaply acquired tokens of identity.” In the so-called “attention economy,” these tokens of identity are valuable currency for the act of building personal “brands” and acquiring like-minded followers—both things money can’t buy directly.

Our interactions with the environments we travel through become exchanges, then. Glorified mining expeditions for valuable content. A visual colonization of the unseen world (or in the hands of lesser minds, a less valuable imitation). In this exchange, not even the possibility of living in the moment is afford to us argues Vanderbilt. “We can try to ‘live for the moment,’ but how long is that ‘moment,’ before we are already shuttling it off into our memory, encoding it with the gauzy Instagram filters of our minds?” he asks. In exchange for social currency, these ‘moments’ are no longer assigned to the safe corridors of our memories, but now, instead, the distant servers of the world’s largest tech companies.

A Washington Post review of thousands of posts on sites such as 8chan, 4chan and Reddit showed how people on online forums worked aggressively to undermine news reports about a troubled teen accused of killing 17 people, most of them students.

Former YouTube engineer Guillaume Chaslot referred to coordinated campaigns across online platforms to spread a video as “4chan attacks” because such anonymous forums often served as staging grounds for these efforts. YouTube and Facebook have policies against harassment that served as the basis for removing some of the conspiracy theories. But Chaslot said the companies have not done enough to weed out deceptive content.

The revelation of D’Souza’s role paints a clearer picture of Thiel’s plan to finance litigation against Gawker following its 2007 publication of articles he considered invasive and hurtful. Thiel, however, only proceeded with his plan three years later when he met Mr. A, following a period in which he met with current and former Gawker staffers to understand why he drew the scrutiny of their coverage.

The huge numbers of Adélie penguins were found on the Danger Islands in the Weddell Sea, on the east side of the Antarctic Peninsula. It is a difficult place to reach and has seldom been visited. But scientists, prompted by satellite images, mounted an expedition and used on-the-ground counts and aerial photography from drones to reveal 751,527 pairs of penguins.

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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