Weekend

Required Reading

This week, museums as agents of generational equity, duck gifs, sequel to Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, a chilling commercial against gun violence in schools, and a prosperous African in colonial Virginia.

There is something very beautiful about this training centre in Hanoi by Vo Trong Nghia Architects. The walkable concrete roof on steel stilts is a simple touch that transforms the whole complex. More photos at Dezeen (via Dezeen)

We’re still working out how to decolonize the present (in so far as that is possible). What would it look like to decolonize the future? How do we give future generations a voice in the decisions we make today?

Many of the processes that foster short-term thinking are embedded in our political systems. Politicians operate in very short-term horizons, whether catering to the electorate or to the interests of funders and donors. But more fundamentally, “representative democracy” does not represent the interest of future generations. As Roman Krznaric, founder of the Empathy Museum, has written “the citizens of tomorrow are granted no rights.” If the problem is, in part, political, part of the solution may lie in political reform.

We could, for example, enfranchise the future citizens who already have been born. Why should activists like Greta be denied a voice in decisions that will determine the kind of world they will live in? There is some evidence of movement in this direction. In March, Representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts introduced an amendment to an electoral reform bill, HR 1, that would lower the minimum voting age in the U.S. to 16 for federal elections starting in 2020. It failed by a margin of 126 – 305, but that bill was only the latest gambit in a growing movement to lower the voting age. In 1971, the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age for federal, state, and local elections from 21 to 18. At the local level, Takoma Park, Maryland became the first city to allow 16-year-olds to vote in 2013.

And yet the rapid-fire stage-mom math I performed in curating my various Instagram accounts was likely instrumental to the presentation of my authentic self that would eventually lead to branded-content deals, acting roles, and my career as I now know it. Rather than some tamped-down impulse, my ability to control how I was seen, to know what to say (and when, and how), was maybe never switched off but an instinct like any other, dovetailing with the many conscious and unconscious decisions that made up all my acts of self-expression. After all, I had been honing my shareability lens for many years before Instagram and already received much praise for “being myself.” Somewhere along the line, I think I came to see my shareable self as the authentic one and buried any tendencies that might threaten her likability so deep down I forgot they even existed.

There’s almost as much to say about Pace’s new 75,000-square-foot space as there is about the shows in it. The massive construction project, marked by a glittering exterior veneer made of volcanic ash, cost a reported $18.2 million for the interior build out for a building the gallery doesn’t even own. Rather, they’re locked into a 20-year lease with Weinberg Properties that costs them $704,00 a month in rent (about $8.45 million per year and $169 million over the lease’s life time). This, for a property built on a known flood zone.

But, they get a museum out of it, which seems to be the goal. “The idea is that art is for everybody,” Pace CEO Marc Glimcher said, not just “intellectuals.” He was speaking of the desire to create a more inclusive organization. That sounds a lot like non-profit speak, which obsesses over inclusivity and serving the public, but without any of the responsibility that comes with it. What happens when profit-motivated galleries compete with museums for the role of cultural custodian? The answers aren’t known yet, but if the results in other sectors are any indication we should expect trouble. Many private businesses originally designed to supplement financially starved public services and infrastructure are now eroding those same public services—schools and tech buses being the most notable. So why would museums be any different?

Ducks—because ducks haven’t been subjugated or humiliated by gifs like the house pet, politicized like the eagle, or Hallmark-carded like the swan. Ducks do things dogs and cats don’t: run in herds, move with grace, follow other animals, bob and fly in hypnotic patterns. You can’t make a duck ride a Roomba while wearing a sweatshirt. Ducks can’t smile, they can’t pose with toothbrushes, they can’t open their eyes wide in sadness when you give them a bath. They can only stamp their flippers, but their reasons for doing so are ambiguous. In order to make a duck express joy, you have to provide it with a water source; if you’re going to animate a duck doing something it’s probably going to be weird (you can stick a cigarette in a beak, but not in a cool way). Nobody touches the loon. Ducks and duck gifs possess glorious autonomy. Here are my opinions on gifs through the most outstanding ducks and the unholy shit people have tried to do to them.

The Testaments reads as if Atwood wanted to exonerate her magnificently evil creation twice over: Aunt Lydia cooperated to survive and to bring down the patriarchy. But the Aunts of the world need no exculpatory rationale. The cooperation of women is essential to any society, including misogynist ones. Even ISIS has its female devotees, now busily tormenting “heretic” women in Syria. “Aryan” German women adored Hitler, even as he deprived them of their rights. The Nazis made good use of separate-sphere ideology, too, putting mothers on a pedestal, giving girls and women their own organizations with traditions and banners and uniforms.

As long as there are privileges to hand out as well as punishments, as long as basic material needs are supplied and there is enough religious or nationalistic or ideological fervor to keep things exciting, it is not that hard to get women to go along, just as men go along.

The “food computer” was the flagship technology at the Media Lab’s Open Agriculture Initiative. The purpose of the hydroponic device was to rapidly grow plants to exact specifications. Program the right amounts of water, nutrients, and light into the plastic box, and it would automatically grow plants up to four times faster than normal. The device had all the hallmarks of sugar-daddy science: It looked amazing, and nothing added up. As a crop scientist, I’d worked in room-sized versions of this back in 2001, and the equipment was already dated by then. The speed gains its creators touted—especially when the food computer wasn’t as nearly as revolutionary or sophisticated as publicity made it out to be—just didn’t smell right.

Have any of the Friends actors dined at the restaurant?
David Schwimmer came here a few years ago wearing a hat. He was sitting right by the front window — a super-visible spot to anyone passing by. I offered to move his seat and he looked at me like I was crazy. I was like, “Hey, lots of people take photos here, it might be better if you moved.” He had no idea where he was. [Laughs.] Once he saw 100 people walk to the corner, he took me up on my offer. His immediate switch from bewilderment to appreciation was amusing. I took the risk of pissing him off to protect him! He hasn’t been back since.

  • Lauren Duca is an internet-famous journalist who became very famous after the 2016 election, but all is not what it seems:

Duca also spent this past summer teaching “The Feminist Journalist,” a six-week New York University journalism course for both high school and college students. After Duca agreed to our interview, she also acquiesced to letting me sit in on the final day of the class. She asked her students to come prepared with questions for her for what would be an AMA-style session in Washington Square Park. Her students sat in a circle around her in the wet grass. It was, I imagine, exactly what Tucker Carlson would envision a liberal journalism class might be: a bunch of kids from varied backgrounds, ethnicities, orientations, and gender identities, who could each afford a $6,500 class, wearing T-shirts that said “GenderQueer” or “Kill Patriarchy.”

In the park, Duca praised her students for their ideas and pitches: “You so totally learned what I was trying to teach you.” Nearly four weeks after the course ended, however, her students sent a collective formal complaint to the heads of the NYU journalism school about Duca’s conduct. “We are disappointed at the department and NYU for hiring a professor with more interest in promoting her book than teaching a group of students eager to learn,” they wrote. In the days after the course ended, several of the students also reached out to me to share more of their concerns. “Her ability to exploit the movement is really frustrating,” one former student said.

This is important because a new and well-reviewed production is now running on Broadway. Oklahoma! has often been summarized through a lens of racial neutrality as a romantic musical about a woman named Laurey Williams trying to make a choice between two suitors: Jud Fry, a hard-working farmhand who lives in the smokehouse of a farm owned by Laurey and her Aunt Eller. And guitar-strumming Curly McClain, who is more socially adept, but doesn’t offer much beyond a pretty face. Set in the Claremore Indian Territory of Oklahoma in 1906, Oklahoma! delivers a rose-tinted view of history that centers on happy white people whose greatest concern is a town dance that will raise money to build a new school. It’s a classic example of willful erasure and ahistorical mythmaking.

Virginian Anthony Johnson was one of the first people descended from Africans who found freedom and wealth in colonial Virginia. (Watch the video at AZPBS.org)

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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