Weekend

Required Reading

This week, a mirrored house in the Swiss Alps, California’s obsession with health, the Trump wall’s debt to Minimalism, Berlin’s Arab intellectual community, rain drama in LA, and more.

US artist Doug Aitken has installed a mirrored house in the snow-covered mountains of über-tony Gstaad, Switzerland. The effect is lovely. More images at Dezeen (via Dezeen)

Paradoxically, our tendency to dehumanize robots comes from the instinct to anthropomorphize them. William Santana Li, the chief executive of Knightscope, the largest provider of security robots in the United States (two of which were battered in San Francisco), said that while he avoids treating his products as if they were sentient beings, his clients seem unable to help themselves. “Our clients, a significant majority, end up naming the machines themselves,” he said. “There’s Holmes and Watson, there’s Rosie, there’s Steve, there’s CB2, there’s CX3PO.”

But what Büchel did recalled a tradition of what many artists who come from the East Coast and Europe have done with and to the Western regions of the U.S. Declaring the desert landscape a “nothingness,” ready to be swept into grander aesthetic visions is not a new practice. Maybe Büchel recognized something familiar in the prototypes. He saw the artistic history that informed the way each prototype sat situated between two countries.

That February, I read art critic Carolina Miranda’s article in the LA Times recounting her ride in the Mercedes-Benz van that took her—along with curious spectators, journalists, and one art historian—to witness Büchel’s “intervention.” Donald Trump is a conceptual artist. I’m not surprised to learn that Hauser & Wirth (annual revenues: $225 million) would champion this work.

Against those historical precedents, the Arab intellectual community in Berlin needs to understand itself better, moving away from an auto-pilot arrangement, and become actively engaged with political questions that face it. In effect, there is a dire necessity for this community to acquire a name, shape, form and a mandate of sorts. With a vigorous eye to a possible long-term outcome, this may include a school of thought, a political philosophy or even an ideational movement – all cross-fertilized through a deeper engagement with the Arab world.

This is certainly not about beckoning revolutions and uprisings, nor to relapse into the stale talk of institutional reforms. If anything, there needs to be a move away from these tired tropes of transformation – away from quantifiable power dynamics that do not address matters that go deeper, into the existential level that shores up the transnational Arab sphere. This is the very area where the stream of human life animates a language of awareness and the recurring initiative helps to expand the spaces of dignity for fellow beings. Yet, this area is currently ravaged in a torrent of moral misery and spiritual crisis.

  • New evidence suggests that the colonization of the Americas cooled the world’s climate and caused the “Little Ice Age.” Really incredible:

It’s the UCL group’s estimate that 60 million people were living across the Americas at the end of the 15th Century (about 10% of the world’s total population), and that this was reduced to just five or six million within a hundred years.

The scientists calculated how much land previously cultivated by indigenous civilisations would have fallen into disuse, and what the impact would be if this ground was then repossessed by forest and savannah.

The area is in the order of 56 million hectares, close in size to a modern country like France.

Sometime after 1906, a strange figure arrived in the desert east of Los Angeles. Seeking an isolated place to settle, he found a lush canyon hidden within the folds of bare, reddish-brown mountains, where a natural spring formed a long winding band of green. Hundreds of palm trees grew along the reed-lined stream, sheathed in thick blond beards of fronds that cascaded to the damp ground. The man set to work gathering palm wood and fronds to build a small hut. Lean, long-haired, and richly bearded himself, this pale-eyed stranger wore homemade sandals and often nothing else. The canyon was home to coyotes, mule deer, quail, and lizards, but he ate no meat. Eventually known as the “Hermit of Palm Canyon,” William Pester had fled civilization to cultivate a solitary Eden. He had come a very long way.

Other than the sound of dry winds in the fronds and the thrumming and chirping of birds, the canyon was enveloped in a profound silence. Away from the muddy banks and cool canopy of shade, a harsh, crystalline sunlight pounded every surface. The jagged horizon of the brown San Jacinto Mountains vibrated against blue sky. At night a million stars blazed. For more than 2,000 years, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians lived in or traveled to such oases to escape the summer heat, which can hit 120 degrees. They gathered water and harvested clusters of black, bead-like fruits from the palms. When Pester arrived on their reservation, he was the only white man among them.

In September 2018, the second location of Roberta’s opened in the center of Platform, a succulent-lush open air mall in west Los Angeles. The Platform bills itself as the future of retail, and maybe it is. In an interview, co-owner Joseph Miller explains his goal is to create a space where LA culture hounds can find a precisely curated collection of stores, both national brands and local one-offs. Instead of having to drive from modernist coffee shop to seasonal California restaurant to minimalist boutique, at Platform they all reside in one place. And by owning the whole complex, Miller and his co-owner David Fishbein can control the mix over time, and avoid the runaway rents that turn trendy streets into blighted, brand-saturated stretches.

Is their approach basically the benevolent philosopher king model of real estate? “If it’s us, yeah,” Miller says. “We’ve struck a good balance between commercial viability and interesting stores and being good for the neighborhood.”

Why? Green said it has to do with bandwidth.

Since fact-checkers have to manually enter each false post they flag into a dashboard on the platform, it takes a lot of time for an operation that only employs 16 people and has no physical headquarters.

“With a manual system and a closed system — it’s impossible to keep on top of that stuff,” Green told Poynter in a phone interview. “Do you need fact-checkers to stop and do all this manual work? Or should fake websites just be reported through other means and supply a body of evidence that these people shouldn’t be on your platform because of their nefarious activity?”

Snopes had been contributing to Facebook’s fact-checking partnership since December 2016, when the company announced that it was teaming up with independent fact-checking organizations to limit the reach of fake news following the 2016 U.S. election. Since then, the program has become a staple of Facebook’s anti-misinformation efforts — to the point of being cited by CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg in Congressional testimony.

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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