The internet was A LOT this week. Highlights: Voyeurism is increasing, the morality of art is complicated, a bigot by any other name is just dangerous, Solange has fully arrived, art is a siren that actually loves you, there is a mixed-race baby phenomenon on Instagram, the history of philosophy is beautiful, Harvard is being sued, Elizabeth Warren is not Native American, and freedom of the press is under attack.
1. Toronto Life: Inside the Mind of a Voyeur
I have very low expectations of privacy. I was 5 when 9/11 happened and have lived under surveillance for most of my life. I expect that Google, or Amazon, or the NSA is listening to my conversations and, sometimes, recording videos. Acquesting to life under surveillance has, for the most part, been easy because It has been to a faceless entity. I assume algorithms are sorting through most of my data, and that I’m not important enough for human eyes. I also assume that I do not, and will never, know anyone that looks through my information.
Pete Forde, a virtual reality developer, appeared to be a good landlord and boss, and a kind and caring friend. Forde was “eccentric but also confident and curious, sweet and slightly shy.” It turns out, Forde was a voyeur, with” about 150 folders, each labelled with a different woman’s first and last names.” One of his employees, with whom he shared a digital storage service, found the folders, and when “he saw the name of his own ex-girlfriend and clicked. There were nude selfies—photos he had seen before but had no idea how Forde had acquired.”
One of his victims, and roommates at the time of his discovery recalled that sometimes Forde would curl up next to her, making her uncomfortable enough to move away. She realized that
“He can get a sex worker… He can watch porn. He can have online relationships. The one thing he can’t have is the part of the relationship where you see someone in the shower or without their makeup on—where they’re just walking around the house, being regular people. That’s what he doesn’t have.” For a man that spent his life in virtual reality, “perhaps he saw his gross violation as merely a natural extension of that fake existence. Or perhaps he justified it another way in his mind: he had given his friends money, career advice and connections; in return, he was collecting tokens of intimacy.”
In September, American artists Hank Willis Thomas was accused of using a photography by Graeme Williams without his permission. The work was displayed at the Johannesburg Art Fair. At the time, Thomas removed the work from the fair, and a statement from Goodman Gallery, which represents the artist, said the piece in the fair has “only one edition has been produced of the work. At the moment, there is a conversation between Thomas and Williams regarding what will happen to the work.”
Thomas left the decision of what to do with the work to the artist, saying that “you could destroy it, you could sell it, I can send it your other gallery… It’s not about the commercial side of it…. [It is the] conversation that I actually care about…. Who has the right to represent the historic document of a public event and in what way?”
I went to a lecture by this artist, Hank Willis Thomas, at MICA the day this segment aired. To say that he was distracted and concerned about this interview would be an understatement. South Africans are concerned that Thomas is not being sensitive enough to their country’s history, and that “debate must also include an understanding of South Africa’s history, which includes black South Africans being dispossessed of their land, right to vote and artwork.” But Thomas is still interested in the moral aspects of the conversation and that “literally, if we can’t revisit history, then we are stuck with the universal narrative of what’s happened. And most of that is someone else’s narrative.”
3. Electric Literature: A Bigot by Any Other Name is Just as Dangerous
I usually hate reading the introductions to things. But whenever I’m reading a translation, I force myself to read any remarks from the translator before I begin. I fell in love with this story before I read it.
The introduction from Julia Sanches, the narrator, in part, reads:
When I first read Natalia Borges Polesso’s story ‘Flor’ — or in Portuguese, ‘Flor, flores, ferro retorcido’ — I’d never heard the word machorra before. The unfamiliarity of the word lent me an innocence similar to that of our eleven- or twelve-year-old unnamed protagonist. I considered finding an English equivalent for machorra, discussed it at length with my roommate at the time — after all, every language has its bigots. But in the end, I decided to preserve that first, fleeting sense of connection with narrator’s perplexity, trusting readers would read between the lines.
Amora, the title of the collection from which this piece is taken, contains narratives that remain mostly absent from Brazilian literature. Stories of women loving women, wanting women, having their hearts broken by women, getting into confusing amorous entanglements with women. There is a single definition for amora in the Portuguese dictionary: the fruit of a blackberry or mulberry bush. A berry in other words. But here, amora appears rather as the female form of amor, or love, in all its multiple manifestations.
Sanches perfectly captures the narrator’s perplexity and my imagination.
4. New York Times Style Magazine: Solange, the Polymathic Cultural Force
I had a teacher in undergrad that always said: “Artworks work, so how does your artwork work?” She would have us stare at our work for hours, while we asked ourselves that question. We would watch all sorts of media in her class. She was obsessed with layers, with all of the ways a piece could explore the same idea. All of our class materials were uploaded on a 2000s-esque Wiki, and we each had our own pages — or visual-verbal journeys as she would call them — where we were supposed to upload our own content and comment on hers. It was something that I was never good at. She talked quickly, and with the most overstated New York accent imaginable. But everything she said was a slow burn, and a semester was too fast for me to understand any of it.
I have been following Solange longer than I’ve known who she is. It started with Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams and progressed from there. Each time Solange releases a new album, or does a new project, she adds a new layer on which her artworks work. Solange grew up with dreams of being a dancer, but when she hurt her knee and could no longer dance, writing songs “came out of a need to express another facet that my body couldn’t.” With Solange, “limitation leads her to discovery. So much of the artist she is now resulted from ‘feeling limited in how to tell my story,’ she adds. This is how a polymathic artist is born: When one mode of expression proves itself insufficient, she looks to others.” Her “performance art, digital work and sculpture have been exhibited at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, the Menil Collection in Houston, the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and the Tate Modern in London.”
A new album by the artist is imminent sometime this fall, although a release date has not been announced. “The record will likely arrive into the world fully formed at some mysterious and unexpected moment, like a meteor cratering into the culture.”
I look at, listen to, and read about Solange’s work repeating to myself “artworks work, so how does her artwork work?” Seemingly, her artwork works on ever-expanding ways.
5. Vulture: How Does the Art World Live With Itself?
I have a friend that graduated from the same private art high school as me. We were not there at the same time, but met working at our school’s camp this summer. When we met, she had just finished her first year of undergrad, and, for the most part, was no longer engaged in the arts or artmaking, but most of our colleagues were practicing artists. I didn’t introduce myself as an artist, but as a writer and someone interested in visual culture. One day my friend looked at me and said, “You keep saying that you’re not an artist and that you are not interested in art, but it is the way you look at the entire world. You see everything through that lens.”
This article is about The Price of Everything, new art world documentary, directed by Nathaniel Kahn, about a “system so waist-deep in hypermarketing and excess that it’s hard to look at art without being overcome by money, prices, auctions, art fairs, celebrities, well-known artists, and mega-collectors who fancy themselves conquistadors.” More than that, it is about the author, Jerry Saltz, and his relationship to the art-world which he describes with, “I love art and the art world. I hate the portrait of that world contained in this movie, but I also recognize in it what I love.”
I have not seen the film, nor am I particularly keen to, but I love Saltz’s descriptions of the art-world throughout the movie. He describes an auction as “a modern danse macabre where the superrich buy their art in public — a performance of power, clout, social status, sublimated sexuality, and price manipulation,” the Aspen Ideas Festival as a “rich persons’ self-help summer camp,” and today’s art-world as “a place of cravenness and tropospheric wealth, yet a world that still provides comfort, safe spaces for people to do their work, take chances, assert themselves, step outside themselves, act, and maybe do ‘something meaningful.’”
Saltz is a divisive figure in the art-world, to say the least, but he is always a champion of artists. Art and the art-world are different things, and “with or without money, [artists] still can’t not do what they do and will always do it.”
There is something enticing, magical, and profound about art, like a siren that actually loves you. I might be more interested in visual culture than art. And I might not call myself an artist, at least right now, but my friend is probably right in that art has perfumed my world.
6. BuzzFeed: Meet The Parents Of The Instagram-Famous Mixed-Race Babies
This article made me cringe so hard I almost couldn’t finish it.
Mixed-baby Instagram accounts, as with mixed-babies, are on the rise. The names of popular accounts “usually include some variation of ‘mixed kids,’ ‘mixed babies,’ or ‘swirl.’ Each photo typically lists the baby’s name, their ethnic mix, and a tag for their personal page if they have one. And then, below the photo, hundreds of comments usually praise the child’s looks and ethnic makeup.”
There are very few things that can turn me off of a person as quickly as someone saying that they want to have mixed kids. This is distinctly different from an interracial couple, formed by people who just happened to fall in love, wanting to start a family. It fetishizing, and weird, and kinda gross.
As a mixed kid, people tell me that they want mixed kids or that “mixed babies are the cutest” rather frequently, sometimes in full awareness of my background, and it exhausting and unbelievably annoying. Part of the reason I also hate it is that raising mixed kids can be harder than it seems, especially if the parents’ cultural histories are at odds with each other (such as white/African American or white/Native American). I have a friend who is not only mixed, but come from an interfaith background. Her mom is Jewish and her dad is Muslim and from Mali. We were talking about this once and she turned to me, recalling that people sometimes expect her to chose, or even hate, half of herself. Being mixed can mean living in a state of constant hybridity.
Not all mixed people identify as being mixed, and not all mixed people are allowed to— this can be both a generational and color thing. After all, we know that Barack Obama is half white, and grew up in a white household, but the media still calls him black. But as Elaine Welteroth points out, with Meghan Markle, on the other hand, “who could arguably pass as ‘white,’ we are forced to see the nuance of racial identity, and to finally embrace the pronounced existence of mixed-race families.” As there will inevitably more interracial families, we must get better at understanding the nuances of racial identity.
7. Deniz Cem Önduygu: The History of Philosophy
I am very skeptical of graphic design. A prominent designer I know, who is a formalist focusing on typography and branding, described her process as getting to the “itness” of something. At first, I was entranced by her proposition, but I soon became skeptical. In order to get to the itness, or essence, of something a lot of information, and most of the thing’s context, must be done away with.
Sometimes I only want to know the essence of something, and there are other times when wading through copious amounts of information, where most of it is irrelevant, is glorious. In today’s hyper-designed world, we don’t often get to chose the latter.
I don’t know how long this has been on the Internet, but it is quickly becoming one of my favorite things. In this infographic of the history of philosophy, the itness of each philosopher is their context. The infographic takes each philosophers’ most influential arguments and connects them through green lines, indicating that an argument agreed with/built upon another argument or has been agreed with/expanded upon, and red lines, showing the inverse.
It is not a comprehensive list, but it is very full, and somehow captures the cyclical nature of human thought in a linear format.
8. Vox: The lawsuit against Harvard that could change affirmative action in college admissions, explained
This case is complex and well timed. A group of anonymous Asian American students is suing Harvard for discriminatory admission processes under Students for Fair Admission v. Harvard. The case focuses on whether or not Harvard violates the Civil Rights Act.
The plaintiffs, represented by Edward Blum, concentrate their argument on test scores, GPAs and other quantitative measures of performance. Harvard uses a “holistic” admissions process that “individually assesses each applicant and considers a number of factors, including academics, extracurriculars, and personal factors, with the goal of making each class diverse.” The personal factors, or “personal rating,” is compiled from “things like teacher recommendations, alumni interviews, and personal statements,” and is a place where Asian American candidates score lower in comparison to their academic merits. The case argues that the only way for the admissions process to be fair to Asian American students is for race to not be considered at all. However, “a 2017 New York Times analysis found that even with race-conscious admissions policies in place, black and Hispanic students are actually less represented at America’s top colleges now than they were 35 years ago. The analysis notes that the largest growing demographic at many of these top universities has been among Asian-American students.”
This case is still early on in its hearing, and is largely expected to make it to the Supreme Court. Blum has tried cases like these before, although on behalf of white plaintiffs, and is “is perhaps best known for his work with Abigail Fisher, a white woman who argued in a pair of Supreme Court Cases in 2013 and 2016 that she was denied a spot at the University of Texas Austin due to her race.”
For the past few years, Trump and other members of the Republican Party have been calling for DNA proof of Sen Elizabeth Warren’s claim to native herratiget. This week, Warren offered that proof, and by so doing created “a perfect storm of public ignorance, racist stereotypes, and governmental and scientific exploitation of our identities that plays into a non-Native agenda to define and control the parameters of who counts as ‘Native American.’” The science behind DNA testing is fraught, and “ Warren’s specific DNA test used examples of Indigenous people from Mexico, Peru, and Colombia, and included no sample from anyone who is Cherokee or even another Native American tribe from the Southeast (Cherokee traditional homelands). The test only shows that Warren may have an ancestor who was from North, Central, or South America.” Having a Native identity is not about DNA, but having “a relationship to a tribe. Native Americans are not a pan-Indian racial group, but rather citizens of sovereign Nations. DNA tests have no way to determine tribal heritage and it’s a gross misinterpretation of both the science and tribal sovereignty to claim that they do.”
Warren fell into Trump’s trap, and her rhetoric and claims are supporting his agenda.
10. Washington Post: ‘The Saudis still aren’t coming clean’: Doubt expressed on explanation of Khashoggi’s death
The death of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has captivated the world. Khashoggi went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 2nd and was never seen again. Yesterday, the Saudi government acknowledged that Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate during a fist fight. Previously the Saudi government claimed that he lift the consulate alive. The Saudi explanation contrasts “Turkish investigators, who believe that Khashoggi was deliberately killed by Saudi agents who had been dispatched to Istanbul for the purpose.” Khashoggi’s body has yet to be located, and “Turkish authorities are said to possess evidence, including audio recordings, that could reveal exactly how Khashoggi died.”
We may never know the full story. But Khashoggi’s death, and Trump’s reluctance to sanction Saudi Arabia due to business dealings, represents a threat to journalist around the world.
*All images taken from reference articles*
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