Weekend

Required Reading

This week, the world’s most beautiful libraries, what art can do that journalism can’t, the future of surveillance, leaving Instagram, and more.

Italian photographer Massimo Listri has spent decades photographing some of the most spectacular libraries in the world, like this one in Metten, Germany. More images on Colossal (via Colossal)

The other issue I’m always conscious of is the anesthetization of violence itself. Again Sontag writes about this issue in Regarding the Pain of Others: “For the photography of atrocity, people want the weight of witnessing without the taint of artistry, which is equated with insincerity or mere contrivance.” I believe that she is accurate in her assessment, and yet, as an artist, I believe that it is through our formal decisions that we convey meaning. To me it is through beauty that I hope to elicit compassion. It is through beauty that I hope to honor and respect whomever I am filming. So the challenge is how to make work that feels both artistic and sincere. I believe the answer lies in slowness. The films I’ve made are all meant to be reflections, meditations, a slowing down from the fast-paced media that allows us to hear our thoughts and have our feelings.

Surveillance is “Orwellian when accurate, Kafkaesque when inaccurate,” Privacy International’s Frederike Kaltheuner told me. These systems are probabilistic, and “by definition, get things wrong sometimes,“ Kaltheuner elaborated. “There is no 100 percent. Definitely not when it comes to subjective things.” As a target of surveillance and data collection, whether you are a Winston Smith or Josef K is a matter of spectrum and a dual-condition: depending on the tool, you’re either tilting one way or both, not in the least because even data recorded with precision can get gummed up in automated clusters and categories. In other words, even when the tech works, the data gathered can be opaque and prone to misinterpretation.

It also slipped into the dark side, for me and others I know. Stalkers and predators abound, but I gave up reporting misuse ages ago. It’s clear there’s no management or oversight. It’s a mess. The algorithm that supposedly favors shots you “might like” is broken or willfully manipulated for commercial gain. I received so much spam from third-party scraping tools that I wanted to block comments, but that felt weird and against what I loved most about Instagram at the start.

No, he’s not. Not, at least, in my various encounters with him over nearly two decades — including recently — in which he has been alternately funny, rude, compelling, obnoxious, accessible, easy to deal with, hard to deal with, always on, outspoken to a fault even when he might be at fault, angry, charming, intense and also strikingly confident. Which is a long way of saying deeply human, with all the positive and negative characteristics that suggests.

And that is why, to me, Elon Musk has become the id of tech. But his desires and needs are never unconscious or hidden; they are all out there in the brightest Technicolor for all to see.

When you read about Mary Pratt’s painting, you’ll often hear terms like viscerality and sensuality, the mundane drudgery of the domestic realm transformed by her close observation into something spiritual, something almost holy. All of that is true — no one seized the world at hand quite like she did, and saw the sublime in a moment nearly all of us would simply overlook. She could make the world slow down to an almost impossible stillness.

Audiences love watching “wealth porn.” It’s not only voyeuristic, but it also provides us with the much-relished opportunity to judge (and sometimes root for) the rich. Set in Singapore, the movie presents a spectacle of wealth that’s exotic for Western audiences, who may only be familiar with Asian stories portraying us as hardscrabble immigrants or heroes in sweeping historical dramas. The Asians in Kevin Kwan’s best-selling book are neither: They’re extremely wealthy in the 21st century.

On the one hand, it’s refreshing to see the Chinese diaspora portrayed as something other than a monolith. But as if to overcompensate for the stereotypical images of Chinese immigrants — either as dirty, poor, huddled masses or hard-working, middle-class, model minorities — Crazy Rich Asians seemingly yearns for this new label to become a desirable and transcendent alternative. What’s missing is exactly how these rich Asians came to be. This information matters because generational wealth is often the result of an unequal society: Who is allowed to own land and property determines the power dynamics. Who gets to be in this new narrative of Asians, and who’s still being ignored?
  • Arsène Tchakarian was the last surviving member of an infamous Communist military unit in the French Resistance, and he passed away this month. Jacobin tells some of his story:

Indeed, already in the early postwar period there was recognition of Tchakarian personally (who became a French citizen in 1958) and the Manouchian group more widely. In 1947 a medal of the Resistance was conferred on its members; in 1950 Paul Éluard devoted a poem to the “twenty-three foreign terrorists tortured and shot by the Germans,” and this was followed by a 1955 work by Louis Aragon (in 1959 becoming a Léo Ferry ballad), published on the front page of the Communist Party’s daily L’Humanité.

A member of the historical group devoted to the killings at the Forteresse du Mont-Valérian, Tchakarian also upheld this memory in a series of historical works. He explained that as long as he lived, he would be a living witness to his comrades’ extraordinary contribution to the anti-Nazi Resistance. As he put it, “It’s part of the history of France — the history of how in a capital city like Paris, riffraff like us could shoot down Germans in broad daylight. And if I hadn’t been there, I could hardly believe it either.”

  • This week, many people mourned the passing of Aretha Franklin, and if you need to be reminded why she was a diva, well:

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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