Weekend

Required Reading

This week, treehouses as starter homes, Amy Sherald on fame, photography’s role in ending slavery, autism and literary studies, stolen ruby slippers, and more.

Matthew Chamberlain’s proposed designs for a “sustainable treehouse” to provide starter homes on London’s streets may not solve the housing crisis, but I love the imagination of these “Street Tree Pods” and the way they introduce something very attractive to the streetscape while solving a serious problem. More images and information at Dezeen (via Dezeen)

On becoming famous, and what’s changed:
The one thing I’ve had to do since everything has gotten crazy is just let go of my Virgo-ness, which means that everything has to be in order and happen in order, because it’s like a shit show. And you just have to let it be a shit show. Before, I would eat dinner, and have time to cook dinner and wash my dishes. Now if I cook dinner, then I’m crashing right afterward. It’s just, there’s no time for anything. I get it now. I was listening to the news last year, and they were talking about how wealthy people spend their money. They say they don’t buy things, they pay for things to give them more time, because they don’t have time. I totally get that now. And all of a sudden, I have a gala life now. Being honored at a gala, for me, is just all kinds of super weird. I want to say no but then I’m scared of offending people. This month [December 2018] I have … one, two, three, four.

Photographs circulated within the movement, knitting it together. Perhaps no one’s image spread more than John Brown’s. After Brown’s failed 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry, Va. — a raid he hoped would prompt a revolt among enslaved people — activists feverishly sold and consumed his likeness. One of the most popular photographs depicted Brown with a long beard and hands in his pockets, rendering him as much an old sage of the movement as he was the firebrand who aimed for violent upheaval.

Such photographs were displayed at public memorials and in abolitionist homes after Brown’s execution. Lydia Maria Child wanted “to have every form of his likeness that can be devised, and have no corner of my dwelling without a memorial of him. The brave, self-sacrificing noble old man.” Images of Brown and others forged a new type of social movement glue, generating admiration and solidarity.

The current exhibition, “Czech Routes”—the fourth in a series, following shows of émigré artists from Germany, Poland, and Austria—contains works by twenty-one painters, printmakers, and sculptors who left Czechoslovakia at different times in the past century. The earliest of these, the lithographer and portraitist Emil Orlík (1870–1932), came to London in 1898. Orlík’s family belonged to the Prague circle that included Kafka and Rilke, and that intense, questioning culture is part of the identity that later artists cherish. One fine bronze by Irena Sedlecká (b. 1928), who stayed in Britain after the USSR crushed the Prague Spring in 1968, is a sculpture of Kafka she made in 1967. “Reading The Trial,” Sedlecká said, “I understood for the first time what it means to be Czech. He made sense of those terrible times when the authorities would simply pull you in for questioning, without your ever knowing the reason. That experience has shaped our national psyche.”

The opening of the show coincided with the eightieth anniversary of Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia on March 15, 1939, six months after Sudetenland was ceded to Germany under the Munich Agreement. Britain became the center of the Czech Resistance, the home of the country’s government-in-exile, and of the Czechoslovak Institute, which exhibited several of the artists shown here. Several found help through the Oskar-Kokoschka-Bund, a group formed by expatriate artists who openly shunned Nazi ideas. Kokoschka (1886–1980) had left Vienna for Prague, where he spoke and wrote on behalf of the Union for Rights and Freedom, joining the Czechoslovak delegation at the Brussels Peace Congress in 1936. Two years later—the year after he gained Czech citizenship— Kokoschka fled to England. His lively Still-Life Studio Exercise (circa 1950) is dedicated to the generous patrons of émigré artists Charles and Regina Aukin, themselves immigrants, from Belarus and from Germany.

Within academic disability studies, the developing interdisciplinary subfield of critical autism studies puts into practice the disability activist commitment of “nothing about us without us” by forwarding language and ideas about neurodiversity originating from disability communities themselves. Most recently, two books of scholarship have focused on the interrelationship between autism and language: Melanie Yergeau’s Authoring Autism: On Rhetoric and Neurological Queerness, and Julia Miele Rodas’s Autistic Disturbances: Theorizing Autism Poetics from the DSM to Robinson Crusoe. Published within a few months of one another, these two books together make a powerful case for recognizing autism as an identity with its own forms of language. Yergeau and Rodas embrace these autistic forms for their narrative richness, but also for their resistance to ableist assumptions about what gets to count as language and by proxy who gets to count as human. The autistic subject imagined in these projects is powerfully expressive in the face of enduring stereotypes about autistic people as inarticulate, passive, and non-verbal.

In their books, both Yergeau and Rodas counter reductive clinical assumptions about autism. One such assumption is about autism’s supposed rhetorical incapacity. The “non-verbal” autistic’s discursive lack is framed as involuntary, like other behaviors coded as autistic from body rocking to the meticulous arrangement of objects. For Melanie Yergeau, these essentialist assumptions about autistic involuntarity dehumanize autistic people to the extent that they are understood both by medical professionals and by the wider public as incapable of credibly narrating their own life experiences. All autistic speech becomes symptomatic of a totalizing condition that eclipses the individual entirely. Furthermore, when autistic identity is defined as antithetical to language, autistic people are denied selfhood on the grounds that they are disconnected from a fundamental human activity.

In another gallery, Holzer has created paintings out of redacted U.S. government documents relating to interrogation of terrorist detainees at Guantanamo Bay and in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some canvasses show intelligence documents with the black redaction lines in gold and silver leaf, while others are blowups of handwritten statements by detainees alleging all kinds of horrific abuses at the hands of Americans.

Nowhere is it noted that terrorists were trained to lie about abuses in custody, that multiple government investigations found that no torture took place at Guantanamo Bay or that when abuses did take place, as they did in Abu Ghraib, abusers were investigated and punished. The vast majority of U.S. personnel responsible for detaining and questioning terrorists served with honor to prevent another attack such as the one we suffered on September 11, 2001. But if you came through the exhibit, you would think that the American military was the modern-day equivalent of the Spanish Inquisition.

Unconscious bias is running for president again. Unconscious bias has always been in the race, and Unconscious Bias’s best buddy, Institutional Discrimination, has always helped him along, and as a result all of our presidents have been men and all but one white, and that was not even questionable until lately.

Uber — and to a lesser extent, its competitor Lyft — has indeed turned out to be a poster child for Silicon Valley’s messianic vision, but not in a way that should make anyone in this industry proud. Uber’s is likely to be the biggest tech I.P.O. since Facebook’s. It will turn a handful of people into millionaires and billionaires. But the gains for everyone else — for drivers, for the environment, for the world — remain in doubt. There’s a lesson here: If Uber is really the best that Silicon Valley can do, America desperately needs to find a better way to fund groundbreaking new ideas.

But now they had been found. The staff watched as Sanborn removed the cover to reveal a clear case with the slippers inside. The red shoes were cushioned on a bed of blue velvet with the American flag strategically placed to appear in any photo. Photographers swelled in for their shots, and an FBI press agent could be heard saying, “Folks, this is valuable evidence. If you could keep some distance here.”

Jody Hane, a writer and researcher at the historical society, says her colleagues were impressed — at first. But as the event unfolded, another sentiment soon seeped in. “They didn’t say who took them,” Hane marveled.

Joining Sanford that day was Christopher Myers, a U.S. attorney who was introduced as the federal prosecutor in charge of the case. “This is an ongoing investigation, so we will not talk about the facts,” he told the reporters.

“A press conference without facts,” Hane thought. “Well, that’s odd.” The event ended with the FBI calling upon the public to help identify those involved in the theft. “We were left with a lot of questions,” Hane says. Such as: Where had the shoes been all these years, and who had been caught with them during the FBI sting?

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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