Weekend

Required Reading

This week, a lizard’s sunny “Kusama Room,” artists who choose isolation, some leading thinkers ponder the quarantine, saving the mail, rats during the pandemic, and more.

Valeran Lothaniel’s lizard is the latest pet to get its own art room or museum. After the Gerbil Museum opened in London and the Gecko Museum opened in Dallas, it was only natural that a lizard would get their own Yayoi Kusama room. The owner explained to Hyperallergic that there’s a more practical purpose to the “Kusama Room,” too. “My lizard has mild metabolic bone disease so the Kusama room serves as a basking box to make sure he gets his required UVB light therapy,” Lothaniel said. (photo courtesy Valeran Lothaniel)

Yet there has always existed a small but powerful shadow world of creators who have managed to outfox public expectation to varying degrees, evading de rigueur press and book tours while making their impact resonantly felt. Some have pulled this off with pseudonyms, among them Banksy and Elena Ferrante, who has written copiously on the liberation she found in detaching her public face from her work. Others have employed alter egos to convey their message, like David Bowie, who adopted the persona of Ziggy Stardust, an alien rock star who comes to Earth with a message of hope only to be destroyed by his fans and his own excesses. It is one of music’s great commentaries on fame, created at a time when Bowie himself was self-destructing in celebrity’s glare. As a critic whose work hinges on the notion that there’s a great deal of value to be learned from the particular contexts, personal and otherwise, in which art is made, I find myself shuttling between two impulses: the desire to get closer to those difficult truths and to understand the very real costs to exposure. I want to protect inspiration’s riverbank, those Romantic “thoughts of more deep seclusion,” as Wordsworth put it, while also making space for the kind of powerful storytelling possible in art, stories that, so often these days, seek to fill a historical void.

  • Is this in our future too? If the internet went down during the pandemic, I can imagine something like this being necessary:

In the days before antibiotics, rest, sunlight and fresh air served as the best treatments for respiratory illnesses like tuberculosis and influenza. This was the idea behind the sanatoria where tuberculosis sufferers were isolated and treated. In his 2008 book, Light, Air and Openness, architectural historian Paul Overy lays out how many features of modern design originated in hospitals and sanatoria — structures that were purpose-built to combat the spread of infectious disease. This also included all-white patient rooms, which, he writes, “were designed not only to be easy to clean but to appear to be spotlessly clean — potent visual symbols of hygiene and health.”

Homeowners soon adopted these design principles — particularly in the kitchen and bathroom. Fussy, stuffy Victorian bathrooms were the past; hygiene and sanitation were the future. This meant getting rid of anything that wasn’t easily wiped-down, washed, or swept that could potentially harbor dirt, dust and germs. Wooden floors were torn out in favor of tiles, or better yet, a relatively new material made from cotton scrim with oxidized linseed oil and cork dust called “linoleum.” Lighter textiles like linen supplanted heavy drapery because they were not only easier to wash, but also let in more air and sunlight, design historian Alessandra Wood says. “If you were putting up drapery, linen is something that’s better to choose than the heavier textiles — so ventilation is key here too,” she says.

Writing for The Nation, Mike Davis comes to the same conclusion by a different route. The U.S. should nationalize Amazon to strip it from its founder, Jeff Bezos, whose reach is growing under the global emergency. Davis’s piece is much more focused on preventing Amazon from taking over the world than on saving the local post office, but he also sees a road to solvency through measures aimed at stopping profiteering. “Here’s a revenue stream that could not only save the Postal Service but rebuild it after years of budget cuts and unfair competition with FedEx and UPS,” Davis writes.

The damage done to women by the Trump administration has been incalculable, the disempowerment immense. In office, he has set women back decades both politically and through policies aimed at limiting their rights and autonomy. He has promoted hundreds of anti-choice judges, mostly male and white, including two to the Supreme Court. He has encouraged toxic masculinity in his supporters, and pushed for anti-woman policies at every level of government, from the Department of Education to Health and Human Services. And Trump’s election, after the most openly misogynistic campaign in modern history, convinced most Democratic Party regulars that American women were unelectable to the highest office in the land for at least another cycle.

Required Reading is published every Saturday, and it 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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