Weekend

Required Reading

This week, the 1619 project, personal book curators, corporate America’s ‘Elite Charade,’ Epstein’s intellectual enabler, hand embroidered animation, and more.

Ronnie van Hout’s “Quasi” has been hoisted onto the roof of the City Gallery Wellington, where it will stay for up to three years, and it’s causing a stir. Check out the museum’s description. (image via City Gallery Wellington)
  • If you missed the New York Times‘s 1619 project, which appeared in a special edition of the New York Times Magazine, you should definitely check out the PDF, which is available for free online. Here is a passage from Linda Villarosa’s essay on how physical differences were used to reinforce slavery:

Over the centuries, the two most persistent physiological myths — that black people were impervious to pain and had weak lungs that could be strengthened through hard work — wormed their way into scientific consensus, and they remain rooted in modern-day medical education and practice. In the 1787 manual “A Treatise on Tropical Diseases; and on The Climate of the West-Indies,” a British doctor, Benjamin Moseley, claimed that black people could bear surgical operations much more than white people, noting that “what would be the cause of insupportable pain to a white man, a Negro would almost disregard.” To drive home his point, he added, “I have amputated the legs of many Negroes who have held the upper part of the limb themselves.”

These misconceptions about pain tolerance, seized upon by pro-slavery advocates, also allowed the physician J. Marion Sims — long celebrated as the father of modern gynecology — to use black women as subjects in experiments that would be unconscionable today, practicing painful operations (at a time before anesthesia was in use) on enslaved women in Montgomery, Ala., between 1845 and 1849. In his autobiography, “The Story of My Life,” Sims described the agony the women suffered as he cut their genitals again and again in an attempt to perfect a surgical technique to repair vesico-vaginal fistula, which can be an extreme complication of childbirth.

The Whitney’s intransigence on Kanders’s position, despite the fervour of the protests, demonstrates the sway that the wealthy continue to hold in the art world. Decolonize This Place wrote in a recent statement that “Kanders is but a symptom of a fundamental structural crisis for the art system”, and that his removal “must be understood as but one step in a broader process of decolonization.”

The furore surrounding the Biennial reflects a broader discourse of accountability and transparency that is gradually gaining momentum in the art world, as many of its institutions find themselves facing scrutiny over their ties to morally dubious funding.

In supplying these institutions with their art, artists risk complicity in legitimising power shored up through the perpetuation of injustice. More than ever before, artists face difficult questions over whether it is their moral obligation to renounce institutions and patrons with links to ethically questionable sources of money.

  • Ananda Cohen-Aponte and Elena Fitzpatrick Sifford writes about diversity and inclusion in Latin American and Latinx Art History for the Latin American and Latinx Visual Culture journal, and they have been kind enough to make it open source:

The survey was sent to 238 US-based scholars. Of those, 111 responded, giving us a response rate of approximately 47 percent. We will first provide some basic demographic statistics, followed by our analysis of the most relevant data points within our sample. It came as no surprise that 72 percent of our sample was US born. The majority of the remaining group (23 percent) were Latin American foreign nationals, with South America in particular having a strong showing, with scholars from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Peru. Mexico and Cuba had three each, but the rest of the Caribbean and Central America were lacking representation, with only one Central American country represented. Keeping in mind that almost two-thirds of the sample was US born, we were pleasantly surprised to find that 50 percent of our sample identified as Hispanic or Latinx.

Of those 50 percent, almost a quarter identified racially as white, revealing that only 38 percent of our Latinx respondents identify as people of color. A consideration of whiteness within the paradigm of Latinx identity may strike some as paradoxical, but we acknowledge the colonial and national legacies of whitening campaigns that have stripped Latin Americans and Latinxs of their Black and Indigenous ancestry, as well as the historical racialization of Latinxs in the United States as “other” or “nonwhite” regardless of phenotype. Indeed, scholars such as Arlene Dávila have used the term “ethnorace” to account for the nuances of Latinidad, in which factors beyond skin color such as language and culture contribute to this racialization. Keeping in mind these nuances, we feel that it is important to consider difference within the category of Hispanic/Latinx, since ignoring race within Latinx populations flattens out the experiences of Black and Brown Latinxs and perpetuates the myth that we are all the same. A survey respondent who self-identified as Latinx, Black, and multiethnic aptly described this issue: “Part of my commitment [to the field] has come from a frustration at the misrepresentation of my cultures [and] refusal to address race in Latinx contexts.” This Dialogue addresses that refusal head-on using the micro data of our contributor essays alongside the macro data from our survey.

Lately, John has been in the news for other reasons, namely because of his troubling connections to Jeffrey Epstein, the so-called financier who reportedly hanged himself earlier this month while facing federal charges of sex-trafficking. Epstein participated in the Edge Foundation’s annual questions, and attended its “billionaires’ dinners.” Brockman may also be the reason why so many prominent academics—from Steven Pinker to Daniel Dennett—have found themselves answering awkward questions about their associations with Epstein; they are clients of Brockman’s. Marvin Minsky, the prominent MIT scientist who surfaced as one of Epstein’s island buddies? A client of Brockman’s. Joi Ito, the director of the elite research facility MIT Media Lab, who has recently acknowledged extensive ties to Epstein? Also, a client of Brockman’s.

Should we just write it off as natural collateral damage for someone with a network as extensive as Brockman’s? He is, after all, a networker’s networker. Based on my observations over the last decade, his whole operation runs on two simple but powerful principles. First, the total value of the network (and thus his own value) goes up if the nodes start connecting to each other independently of him. Second, the more diverse the network, the more attractive it is to newcomers as well as to all the existing members. Billionaires are rich, but they might harbor an insecurity complex related to not being very well-read (looking at you, Bill Gates!). Scientists, in contrast, are usually well-read but might aspire to fancier cars and luxuries and funding for their pet projects. And so on: There’s something for everyone—and, in the case of Epstein, someone seems to have done the matchmaking.

Giridharadas knows his subject because he’s a full-fledged member of the club. Indeed, the 37-year-old journalist is that most dangerous form of critic, the insider who bites the hand that feeds him. An Ohio native with a vertical shock of salt-and-pepper hair, Giridharadas checks all the boxes of the global elite. Educated at Harvard and launched into the working world as a consultant at McKinsey, he has given two TED Talks, was a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute, and is now an editor-at-large for Time magazine. He gives paid speeches and attends swell parties, rubbing shoulders with the one percent. He is prolific on Twitter, naturally, and is quick with substantive rants as well as pithy put-downs like “Plutes be pluting.” His arguments resonate with other idealistic insiders (some of whose crises of conscience he recounts in Winners Take All), even if those arguments aren’t changing the practices of those insiders’ employers.

He’s got no issue per se with well-heeled do-gooders trying to change the world. His beef is with how rich and influential people and corporations bestow their gifts and the implications for governmental organizations that could otherwise have far greater impact. Elites, he says, are happy to help so long as the results are a “win-win”—provided that the benefactors themselves don’t suffer, whether from higher taxes or from policies that would restrain rapacious behavior. But Giridharadas argues that the only way to solve society’s biggest problems is for “some people to do worse”—a solution for which the privileged have little or no appetite.

My invention for the book jacket means that someone can have the complete works of Jane Austen, but in a certain Pantone chip color that matches the rest of the room or with a custom image. People have invested in how their home looks: They chose the cabinets, the carpets, the paint, and the window coverings. Why settle for books that a publisher designed? Books can have as much style as anything else in the room.

  • Matt Mullenweg, the CEO of Automattic, talked to the New York Times about his plans for Tumblr, which they are in the process of purchasing from Verizon:

Who would you like to get using Tumblr who’s not already using it?

I want to get the most creative people in the world, who have something to say and share, on Tumblr. Just full stop. And it’s so easy to use. The mobile app is so good. The community is so strong. It’s an incredible platform for artists, for writers, for musicians. It’s true that Tumblr, even in its state where it’s smaller than it has been in the past, still defines the culture in so many ways. The things that start there spread out to the news, to the radio, to BuzzFeed. It really is a source of a lot of this. So for people who want to be close to the source, it’s the place to be.

The only way to succeed in that culture is to work like a cyborg. In S,M,L,XL Koolhaas quotes a memo from Toyo Ito, the dean of Japanese late-20th-century architecture, which compares Koolhaas to a “mechanical baseball pitching machine.” “Only from a Japanese / such a compliment / would not be an / insult.”

Unpaid internships, underpaid competitions, overtime, not to mention labor conditions on construction sites have all chipped away at the image of architecture as somehow more civilized, more artistic, and more fulfilling than other professions. The first point in the 10-point manifesto of The Architecture Lobby, an organizing group dedicated to improving working conditions in the profession, is “Enforce labor laws that prohibit unpaid internships, unpaid overtime; refuse unpaid competitions.”

The first few pages of S,M,L,XL include charts showing the size of OMA’s workforce, the firm’s income and expenditures, employee turnover, employee travel. Project credits for the work inside are rendered as a two-column list, people and projects, with crisscrossing lines. Correct but illegible. It’s easy to flip past most of these, as the graphics float over grainy and unfluffed photos of the office (piles of paper, leftover takeout). It is a statement, as the cover is a statement, as naming your firm Office for Metropolitan Architecture is a statement, that the work, like the book, is a collective project.

  • No English PhDs at Columbia University have been placed in tenure-track jobs this year, while 19 new doctoral students were admitted. The Chronicle of Higher Education has the story:

These issues are broader than just one department, the letter acknowledges. But the current agreement with the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences regarding cohort size “forces graduate students to compete with one another for opportunities that should be guaranteed.” As it stands, the department culture is “unacceptably hands-off and competitive,” the letter says. (Stewart said there’s nothing unusual about admitting 19 doctoral students. And the claim that the department is hands-off and competitive “surprised and slightly dismayed” him.) Carlos J. Alonso, the Arts and Sciences dean, did not respond to an interview request.

The letter, signed by more than 80 people, demanded active mentorship from all faculty members. Students must feel comfortable discussing a range of employment options with their advisers, it says, and Ph.D. candidates should be familiar with things like job-market terminology, dossier formats, databases, and job listings well before the placement seminar begins. Students also want a policy that bans discrimination against Ph.D. candidates who decide not to continue in academe. Among other things, they also want the department to publish “transparent and accurate” placement information, including the total number of current Ph.D. candidates on the market. (Currently it publishes yearly data on which students landed academic positions, including at high schools. Last year, four candidates landed tenure-track positions at colleges.)

Though overseas missions might seem a relic of the British Empire, America dispatches a significant number of missionaries abroad each year—approximately 127,000 in 2010, for example, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity. This number grew for decades because of American Protestantism’s emphasis on every believer’s responsibility to proselytize and the increasing ease of air travel, which has meant that spreading the Word internationally can be done over spring break. These factors have contributed to an explosion of self-regulated missionary groups that can seem practically freelance compared with the bureaucratized Catholic missionary orders of old. Chau would have likely believed missionary work “to be a divine obligation,” said Joshua Chen, a friend raised in a household with similar beliefs.

Among some evangelicals, few missionaries are as celebrated as those who work with remote tribes. After returning from his high school trip to Mexico, Chau was surfing JoshuaProject.net, a website that catalogs unconverted peoples, and stumbled upon an entry for the Sentinelese. Today the site describes them as a “hostile” tribe that “need to know the Creator God exists.” Before long he was conjuring the islet on Google Maps, promising that he was going to bring the Sentinelese the Good News. His father, Patrick Chau, overheard him telling others this was his “calling,” but Patrick later wrote, “I hoped that he would be matured enough to rectify the fantasy before too late.”

RELATED, missionary work is also playing a dangerous role among indigenous groups in the Amazon:

  • The NYCLU (New York Civil Liberties Union) has released a useful document that outlines how to safely film public arrests by ICE and keep them accountable (while keeping yourself safe). It’s called “You Have the Right to Film ICE” and here’s an example:

Can I film ICE agents making an arrest?

Yes, as long as you don’t interfere with officers’ or agents’ law enforcement activities. While you may film ICE agents from a reasonable distance with handheld phones and cameras, the First Amendment right to record doesn’t protect filming that impedes officers in the performance of their duties.

Courts have not clearly spelled out what it means to impede or interfere with law enforcement activities. However, some more recent federal court decisions suggest that the right to record may be subject to limitations if a person gets too close to officers when filming, does not comply with an officer’s reasonable request to back up from the scene of an incident or steers a drone with a filming device too close to the site of an active police investigation.

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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