Weekend

Required Reading

This week, surrealist photography, the new anti-semitism, fighting the corporatization of Burning Man, the monotony of contemporary architecture, Lagos’s art scene, and more.

The surreal image making of Brooke DiDonato is worth a close look. More photographs at Colossal (via Colossal)

The ‘new anti-Semitism’, we are told, takes the form of criticism of Zionism and of the actions and policies of Israel, and is often manifested in campaigns holding the Israeli government accountable to international law, a recent instance being the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. In this it is different from ‘traditional’ anti-Semitism, understood as hatred of Jews per se, the idea that Jews are naturally inferior, belief in a worldwide Jewish conspiracy or in the Jewish control of capitalism etc. The ‘new anti-Semitism’ also differs from the traditional form in the political affinities of its alleged culprits: where we are used to thinking that anti-Semites come from the political right, the new anti-Semites are, in the eyes of the accusers, primarily on the political left.

The logic of the ‘new anti-Semitism’ can be formulated as a syllogism: i) anti-Semitism is hatred of Jews; ii) to be Jewish is to be Zionist; iii) therefore anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic. The error has to do with the second proposition. The claims that Zionism is identical to Jewishness, or that a seamless equation can be made between the State of Israel and the Jewish people, are false. Many Jews are not Zionists. And Zionism has numerous traits that are in no way embedded in or characteristic of Jewishness, but rather emerged from nationalist and settler colonial ideologies over the last three hundred years. Criticism of Zionism or of Israel is not necessarily the product of an animus towards Jews; conversely, hatred of Jews does not necessarily entail anti-Zionism.

In writing to you we wanted to connect the histories of anti-fascist writers and artists across the globe, who existed in “a moment without future” (Poole). The history of you is a history where collaboration was no longer a possibility. Where it wasn’t a matter of, how to work with, to work against the state. Perhaps in writing to you we can think about the tension between who is allotted the space of collaboration, infiltration even—and for how long?

In thinking about fascist aesthetics, and foreclosing the anathematic debate, Poole defines that “fascist culture refer not only to culture under fascism but also to a culture that actively espouses fascism.” Which Poole states is the condition of “Capitalism without Capitalism” where subjects and communities deemed useless or worthless through capitalism (though they are necessary to capitalism) are sought to be destroyed. We turn to Nicole Fleetwood who discusses “carceral aesthetics” —the form that incarcerated persons may take up in order to witness and revise—a term we wish we learned about earlier to imagine and study you, and all those held in your conditions.

  • Burning Man thinks the commercialization of their event has gone too far, so its CEO penned this blog post about their attempt to return it to its anticapitalist roots:

This past November I attended an academic symposium in Switzerland on the spread of Burning Man culture. A presenter from Finland shared several dozen observations and quotes from his participant interviews. The following really struck me:

“I am disappointed with the attitudes of the mutant vehicle and art car folks. Their gatekeepers are very discriminatory on who they let ride. I was actually told, ‘No, it’s too late for old people to be out, anyway,’ ‘you’re not pretty enough,’ and ‘we’re only picking up hot girls right now.’ I asked other camp members and heard similar stories. One gay couple said they had tried for 3 years to get on a vehicle and they were denied every time.” -Retired Artist, Male, 70 [1]

That just broke my heart. How did we get here? Who thinks saying this is okay on or off the playa? This isn’t Burning Man.

After Black Rock City 2018, our Communications Team compiled examples of commodification and exploitation of Black Rock City and Burning Man culture. The report is 55 pages long. We’ve been observing some troubling trends for a few years, but this report stunned me.

  • Do you wonder why monotonous five-floor apartment buildings have conquered the United States? Justin Fox writes:

Yes, the result can be a little repetitive, but repetition has been characteristic of every big new urban or suburban housing trend in the U.S. over the past century or two. There’s lots to like about stumpy buildings that provide new housing in places where it’s sorely needed and enliven neighborhoods in the process. A four-story Texas doughnut can get 50 or 60 apartments onto an acre of land, while the most aggressively engineered West Coast stick-and-concrete hybrid (two-story podiums are allowed now, along with other variations) can get almost 200. That’s not far from the range that the renowned urbanist Jane Jacobs deemed optimal for vital street life.

The Lagos scene, however, joins homegrown artists with those who lived or studied abroad but moved back, inspired to create amid the energy of the city. “You have more people who know they can actually survive as artists,” said Victor Ehikhamenor, a painter and sculptor who returned here from the United States in 2008, somewhat ahead of the curve.

Gerald Chukwuma, a Nigerian sculptor in his 40s, showed new work at the fair with the Ghana-based Gallery 1957, which has a Pan-African roster. His theme was Igbo Landing — the story of enslaved people from what is now Nigeria, who, upon disembarking from the Middle Passage in the Sea Islands of Georgia in 1803, walked back into the ocean in their chains rather than submit. Mr. Chukwuma said few Igbo in Nigeria know the story. “We have to retrieve this culture,” he said.

  • Now that Amazon isn’t building a HQ in Queens, Jeremiah Moss (one of my favorite anti-gentrification commentators) offers us hope that this represents a turning of the tide:

Since the 1970s, the tide in New York City has moved in one direction—rising to lift the fortunes and freedoms of the rich, while ushering in hyper-gentrification and displacement for the working-class. Leveraging the fiscal crisis of the time, New York’s leaders abruptly turned away from the city’s burgeoning social democracy toward the radical capitalist ideology of neoliberalism, a model of governance that focuses on privatization, deregulation, fiscal austerity, small government, and trickle-down economics. New York was re-organized into a competitive city, fighting a Darwinian battle with other cities around the globe for world-class businesses, mega-developments, and tourist dollars.

The new strategy required giving large tax breaks and other incentives to big businesses and real-estate developers, especially those who promised something shiny in return. One of the first and biggest recipients of New York’s corporate welfare program was Donald Trump, the ultimate developer of glitz in the greed-is-good, over-the-top era of the 1980s. Without the multi-million-dollar giveaways he reaped for the Grand Hyatt Hotel and Trump Tower, would he have built his fortune and celebrity to such powerful heights? It is perhaps cosmic justice that, four decades later, the movement to turn back the neoliberal model is fueled by righteous anger unleashed by Trump’s election to the presidency.

More than 120 million Hindu pilgrims are expected to descend on Uttar Pradesh’s Prayagraj, formerly Allahabad, for this year’s Kumbh Mela, the largest gathering of humanity. For Hindus, Prayagraj sits at the confluence of three sacred rivers – the Ganga, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. Among the major rituals at the Kumbh is the shahi snan, or “royal bath”. It is done on specific days when bathing in the rivers is considered especially holy. This year, the first shahi snan took place on January 15 and the main bath on February 4. The third bath is on February 10.

It may seem surprising that a central ritual of a major Hindu festival is described with a Persian word – “shahi”, derived from “shah”, or king. In contemporary South Asia, vocabulary derived from Sanskrit is often seen as “Hindu” while words rooted in Urdu or Persian are branded as “Muslim”. The example of shahi snan, however, is less strange than one may expect. From early medieval times to the present day, Hindus and Muslims have borrowed from each other’s religious vocabularies, with sometimes surprising results.

  • Here’s a fascinating idea. Perhaps the Christian monks who took shelter in the deserts of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Syria, and Palestine between the 3rd and 7th centuries, often living as hermits in huts, caves, in trees, or even on top of a stone pillar, may have been engaging in a type of meditation we see as very contemporary. They called it “guarding the heart”:

Guarding the heart, in Greek nepsis (vigilance), is being attentive to everything that happens in our heart. It is a spiritual method which aims to free man of bad or passionate thoughts. It invites us to observe the thoughts which penetrate our soul, and to discern between the good and the bad. Evagrius said: “Take care of yourself, be the gatekeeper to your heart and don’t let any thought enter without questioning it.” As Xerri points out: “The elders noticed that holy thoughts led to a peaceful state, the others to a troubled state.”

The indispensable means of guarding the heart is paying close attention to thoughts and discerning between those which are good and healing, and those which are a source of distraction or obsession. The aim is to gain freedom, and to reach indifference, the ability to not be dominated by our thoughts.

Survivors in Mosul and across Iraq and Syria have greeted with outrage the obsessive western media coverage on a handful of “ISIS brides” who have fled to IDP camps in Syria. They wonder why no one cared about their suffering. Why do ISIS members get so much attention, those who travelled so far to Syria to abuse locals, while the victims are not named?

  • There’s been a frenzy of commentary around the Oscar-nominated Green Book movie, but this tidbit offers us a taste of what was cut from the final film:

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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