Updated every Thursday, DIGEST is our editorial team’s picks of the week’s most relevant and interesting articles, essays and videos from the art world and beyond. DIGEST explores topics as wide-ranging as the art market, technology, feminism, art history, the internet, politics, and economics.
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Weekly Reading from 21.03.2019
Data science. AI and data science is changing how historians approach their field. As opposed to focusing on individual historical narratives centred on a person or event, these new techniques reveal social networks and, in particular, the roles of seemingly ‘insignificant’ people who were instrumental in connecting others. In Europe, a new project called Time Machine aims to compile and digitise all of the data from European archives to produce an interactive learning experience that functions similarly to Google’s search engine and maps. For example, users will be able to virtually walk through the streets of nineteenth-century Paris.
– Wired | Time Machine
Images. Who should be allowed to control the use of images? Harvard is being sued over the use of a photograph of a slave. Tamara Lanier filed the lawsuit after discovering that a photograph of one of her descendants is owned by the university and has been used as the cover of a book, as well as in promotional material. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Unified School District haspostponed its decision to paint over a mural depicting the actress Ava Gardner, reigniting an ongoing debate. Korean individuals and groups have been fighting for its removal because the work’s backdrop resembles the Japanese rising sun flag.
– The Boston Globe | Artforum
Sackler funding. On Tuesday, London’s National Portrait Gallery announced that it would not be accepting a long-discussed $1.3 million donation from the Sackler family. The decision demonstrates changing attitudes towards the opioid crisis, as well as a questioning of sources of institutional funding. In conjunction with this announcement, we revisit Nan Goldin’s essay in Artforum in which she first spoke up about the Sackler family’s role in creating the crisis and her own battle with opioid addiction.
– The New York Times | Artforum
Biennials. Producing a large-scale international art event, such as a biennial, is no doubt a costly endeavour, so who foots the bill? According to interviews with a range of artists, curators, dealers, and art world players, funding is complicated and varies drastically between biennials. Many pay artists nothing to participate, whereas others offer meagre production fees (the highest sum mentioned was $5,000). In the US, many biennials, such as Desert X, are linked to private donors; however, in Europe, most, such as the Liverpool Biennial or documenta, receive public funding or taxpayer money. These inconsistencies raise the question: who should pay for biennials? Artsy has published a list of all of the artists who will be showing in Venice this year, from those who are included in the international exhibition to those representing countries in national pavilions.
– Artnet News | Artsy
We tend to understand the trajectory of our lives as if it were the plot of a novel, according to Lauren Berlant’s “Cruel Optimism”. However, though we may try to be our own protagonist, we ultimately get the sense that the story’s ending is out of our control—and yet we still hope and, therefore, live. In a skilled longread for the New Yorker, Hua Hsu describes how Berlant’s cultural criticism predicted the Trumping of politics, as well as the history of affect theory. It’s an anxiety-provoking, tiring world, but in the words of Berlant, “we refuse to be worn out”.
– Hua Hsu
Weekly Reading from 14.03.2019
Education. In the US’s biggest higher education admissions scandal, fifty people have been indicted for scheming to get the children of wealthy parents into top schools. The ways in which they did so are shocking: parents paid for high SAT and ACT scores, as well as faked their kids’ athletic accomplishments by bribing coaches and photoshopping images, in order to secure their admittance as sports recruits. Among those charged are celebrities and America’s wealthiest, such as Bill McGlashan, who is one of Silicon Valley’s biggest proponents for ethical and socially impactful investing.
– The New Yorker | The New York Times | Recode
Genetics. Have you considered or gotten a DNA test to identify future health risks and genetic predispositions? A recent study observed how people change their outlook and behaviour when they believe they suffer from a particular condition, suggesting that too much information can be harmful. Why do some women get pregnant while on the pill? According to a new discovery, some women carry an uncommon genetic variant that produces an enzyme capable of breaking down the hormones in birth control.
– Medium | CNN
War rugs. Although women in Afghanistan have been weaving hand-made rugs with intricate designs for thousands of years, in 1979 the images and motifs changed drastically. After the Soviet Invasion, which devastated the region and displaced more than a million citizens, flowers, birds, and knots were replaced by machine guns, grenades, helicopters, tanks, and other weapons in what are otherwise traditional weavings. Interestingly, war rugs, as they are commonly known, have become a desirable collector’s item in the Western market.
– Artsy | The Guardian
Experience. Considering the success of businesses like Uber, Spotify, and Tinder, Unit London’s co-founder Joe Kennedy points out, “engagement is the currency of the twenty-first century”, so shouldn’t galleries take note? At Tefaf Maastricht, London-based dealer Daniel Crouch has invested thousands in VR. Visitors can walk around maps of sixteenth-century Amsterdam or eighteenth-century Paris. Museums, however, are fully aware of the impact of experiential programming: Atelier des Lumières’ immersive exhibitions attract over a million visitors in less than a year.
– The Art Newspaper | Artnet News
What would the world look like if we stopped climate change? In an optimistic read on NPR, food and agricultural correspondent Dan Charles interviews three change-makers to see what plant-saving strategies they’ve implemented in their local communities: increased reliance on electricity, zero-carbon streets, multi-family homes, and sustainable farming. Together Charles and his interviewees imagine what the world could look like in 2050, if such changes were made on mass scale.
– Dan Charles
Weekly Reading from 07.03.2019
Movements. Ten years ago, according to psychologists, the general consensus among people was that climate change was an important concern but not one that needed to be acted upon urgently. However, with new evidence appearing in written and physical form almost daily, people are still slow to act, however, out of fear, rather than complacency. The question then becomes: how can fear be used to mobilise people to act? In a letter-as-essay addressing climate change movements, Mary Annaïse Heglar stresses that this moment isn’t history’s first time facing an existential threat: yes, climate change is the first truly universally impacting issue; however, many targeted groups of people have faced existential threats. She encourages readers to familiarise themselves with the civil rights movement, as well as the history of lynching, in the US.
– The New Yorker | Medium
Digitisation. It seems as if every aspect of life is susceptible to becoming reduced to data. With regard to parenting, a plethora of apps have emerged to track how a child grows, eats, sleeps, poops, and more. However, what will happen to children, who’ve been exposed to technology since birth, as well as measured in every which way possible? Perhaps making the work of art historians redundant, scientists are digitising paintings in order to determine algorithmically how the medium evolved over time. By evaluating brushstrokes and objects, computers can identify individual works and relate them to movements.
– The Guardian | Scientific American
Carolee Schneemann. Feminist artist Carolee Schneemann, known for using her body and the bodies of others as a medium, died at age 79. Although the artist may have been known for her most sensational performance Meat Joy, she made works that critically approached everything from sex and sexism to grief and war. In 2017, Schneemann won the Venice Biennale’s Golden Lion award for lifetime achievement and was recently the subject of an acclaimed retrospective, “Carolee Schneemann: Kinetic Painting”, which travelled from the Museum der Moderne Salzburg in Austria to the Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt am Main in Germany and MoMA PS1 in New York. In her memory, Spike magazine has republished a conversation between her and Hans Ulrich Obrist from 2006.
– Artnet News | Spike
Art fairs. A new art fair dedicated the works of post-MFA artists will be coming to New York this fall. Cofounded by curator James Salomon and Max Fishko of Art Market Productions, the MFA Fair aims to increase the visibility and profiles of emerging artists, by exposing their work to the greater art world, which includes prospective students. Tired of the fair circuit, the World Art Lounge operates on a membership model (think Soho house but for art galleries) and helps its members find new markets. For example, WAL might assist a mid-size Chelsea gallery find space in Paris for a pop-up show, potentially facilitating Condo-like partnerships.
– Artforum | Artnet News
How do democracies die? Such is the central question of the New York Times bestseller by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. In an excerpt published by the Guardian, Levitsky and Ziblatt describe how dictatorship begins with no longer a military coup but rather the ballot box. Elected autocrats “subvert democracy by packing and ‘weaponising’ the courts and other neutral agencies, buying off the media and the private sector (or bullying them into silence), and rewriting the rules of politics to tilt the playing field against opponents”. Historical research reveals how countries have either succumbed to authoritarianism or preserved democracy—even after the election of a demagogue.
– Steven Levitsky & Daniel Ziblatt
Weekly Reading from 28.02.2019
Robosexual. How is technology affecting romance and sex? Robots are becoming increasingly sophisticated: bionic sex toys are more customisable in terms of looks and features, and more personable as AI continues to develop—so much so, there have been instances of humans marrying their robots (not legally). These pioneers have been founding new sexuality types, such as “digisexual” or “robosexual”. However, many worry that practicing such relationships, in which humans have compete control over their robotic companions, could distort or harm notions of consent. On a non-robotic note, the sex toy start-up Lora DiCarlo is creating new devices for women that do not vibrate but rather emulate human touch. Last year the new company was awarded a Consumer Electronic Show (CES) innovation award, but the Consumer Technology Association overruled the honour, claiming that the product and its subject matter were “profane”.
– The New York Times | Recode
Health insurance. Although many worry about how their data might be used by advertisers, few consider how it could affect their insurance policies. Actuaries use algorithms to comb through “non-traditional” information sources, such as Instagram, to evaluate risk. Without realising it, a user could be paying more in premiums by posting a photo of skydiving, as opposed to running. Likewise, that out-of-character cigarette at so-and-so’s party, immortalised by a tagged photo, could be similarly costly. This week House Democrats unveiled a bill that aims to insure all Americans through Medicare. Introduced by Pramila Jayapal, the bill promises to create a single-payer, government-funded healthcare program that would not charge beneficiaries copays, premiums, or deductibles.
– The New Yorker | CNBC
Whitney Biennial. This week, the Whitney Museum of American Art announced its roster of 75 artists for the 2019 Whitney Biennial, co-organised by museum curators Jane Panetta and Rujeko Hockley. However, the Chicago-based artist Michael Rakowitz declined to participate in the show to protest the Whitney’s vice chairman, Warren Kanders, whose company manufactures tear gas canisters and other military products that have been used against asylum seekers along the US-Mexico border. Although many support his decision, some wonder whether there exists a form of resistance that doesn’t force artists to choose between their work and “doing the right thing”, given that artists are among the “most vulnerable [people] in the chain”. Others protesting include the activist organisation Decolonize This Place and the Whitney staff who penned a letter to the museum administration. Forensic Architecture, a collective that has been invited to participate in the biennial, has tweeted that they plan to respond through their contribution.
– The Art Newspaper | Hyperallergic
Social networks. In 2012, the Museum of Modern Art in New York organised the exhibition “Inventing Abstraction: 1910–1925”, which revealed how the artists influenced one another. Inspired by the show, a team of researchers conducted a study, which suggests that making friends is more important than producing art. Using machine learning to analyse the artists’ circles, as well as their creative output, they were able to determine that there is no correlation between fame and creativity for these artists; rather, they found that artists with larger and more diverse sets of contacts tended to be more famous. Do the social networks of successful men and women differ? A study published by the Harvard Business Review tackled this question, finding that successful men are often at the heart of their network. Successful women also benefit from being in the centre of their network, but they tend to additionally maintain an inner circle of close (female) contacts.
– Artsy | Harvard Business Review
In striving for equality, does feminism ignore contemporary issues that men are facing?This question was posed to a panel organised by ABC, a national public television network in Australia. The controversial author Jordon Peterson denied that the West is an oppressive patriarchy, arguing that men are harmed by this characterisation. Responding to Peterson, writer and social commentator Van Badham stated that men are neither oppressed by women nor by feminism, but rather oppressed by factors such as class, race, or religion. She concluded by explaining that both men and women experience oppression and difficulty under neoliberalism. Watch a clip from their debate here.
Weekly Reading from 21.02.2019
Tech and law. India’s new laws, which were published in December and are still under consideration, would require tech companies to screen users’ posts and messages to ensure that nothing “unlawful” is shared. For Whatsapp, India is its biggest market, and these new laws would mean that the company would have to eliminate the encryption of messages. Many wonder how tech companies would be able to monitor content (further technology would need to be built) and what content they would deem unsuitable. Additionally, emojis are appearing increasingly in court, serving as evidence for all types of cases from murder and robbery to sexual predation. Their prevalence raises questions about how emojis can and should be interpreted.
– Recode | The Verge
Back end. For those of us who aren’t immersed in the tech world, we rarely think about how information is given to us. We type something into Google and a result appears, but how? Google Translate, for instance, uses machine learning: by forming a neural network, the system is trained to learn how words relate to one another. Words are not determined by their meaning but rather by their relationships with other words, a concept that actualises Wittgenstein’s notion of language. By producing a conceptually similar knowledge graph that relates bits of information to one another, pages of search results are slimming to a single answer. Voice computing platforms like Apple Siri, Amazon Alexa, and Google Assistant are paving the way for a new mode of searching the web; however, this change will be costly for companies that rely on search engine advertising.
– Quartz | Wired
Catholic Church. Promising to take concrete actions against child abuse, the pope brought together Catholic leaders from around the world to address the scandals that have cost the Church in settlements and its credibility. Earlier this week, the Vatican acknowledged theexistence of secret guidelines for priests who break their vows of celibacy and father children. Although the exact number of children is unknown, one support group Coping International works with 50,000 children in 175 countries. Finally, a timely New York Times op-ed discusses the Church’s treatment of LGBT+ workers and their families. A 67-year-old man, who worked as a spiritual guidance counsellor at a Church-affiliated school, was fired for supporting his daughter’s marriage to another woman.
– The Guardian | The Guardian | The New York Times
Childbirth. Elephant’s Muriel Zagha asks, “is childbirth too big for the big screen?” In mainstream movies, childbirth occurs most commonly in comedies from Nine Months (1995) to What to Expect When You’re Expecting (2012) or Knocked Up (2007). Although the birth is the film’s driving plot and a vehicle for many comedic situations, the actual act is heavily sterilized or not depicted at all. In response, Zagha traces the history of cinematic births in genres from horror to documentary, including a few moments from TV. On 6 March 2019, artist Helen Benigson will give a perfomative presentation on research project and artwork Tongue-Tie at Chelsea College of Arts in London.Tongue-Tie explores research on the economies of mothers, bodies, and pain, online and in real life with particular reference to breastfeeding trauma, tongue-tie, public breastfeeding, and mastitis.
– Elephant | Iniva
How can a particle be in more than one place at a time? Quantum computing has the potential to radically change digital technology and the ways in which we solve problems, interact, and do business. In a three-part series, science writer Gemma Milne explains how quantum computers work, in layman’s terms, and how they might change our lives. Thinking to the future, she explores quantum computing in relation to encryption, as well as the possibility of a quantum computing bubble, among other concerns.
– Gemma Milne
Weekly Reading from 14.02.2019
End of reason. In an interview with The New Yorker, political scientist William Davies argues that the age of reason, which began in the seventeenth century with the scientific revolution, has come to an end. People no longer trust or believe in contemporary notions of truth and progress, public administration, and experimental evidence, privileging individual feelings instead. Exemplifying such thinking, a Twitter-based interview between Recode’s Kara Swisher and the platform’s founder Jack Dorsey unintentionally revealed how Twitter’s structure and algorithms make it impossible for two people to converse or debate. In another example, an oncologist shares her frustration with cancer patients who refuse her medical advice, by opting out of chemo in favour of essential oils or a special diet.
– The New Yorker | Recode | The Guardian
Socialism. Although a few years ago many Democrats were scared to come out as liberal, now half of the Democratic Party is beginning to embrace socialism, as it moves into the American mainstream. Proposing new entitlements and public works, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions while creating millions of jobs. Perhaps, this turn towards socialism has much to do with the environment: green is no longer a “lifestyle preference”, but a hugely determining factor of the present and future economy. On a similar note, Bhaskar Sunkara, founder of Jacobin Magazine, argues that power imbalances brought on by capitalism and neoliberalism are killing romance. Citing Scandinavia as an example, he shows how a fairer distribution of income allows women to be more in control of their relationships, as well as have better sex lives.
– The Financial Times | The Guardian
Made for non-humans. In a digital performance piece by California-based artist Gretchen Andrew, the image search results for “Frieze Los Angeles” have been manipulated so that they display images not of the fair but of a gallery showing the artist’s paintings. As a former tech worker, Andrew has been aware of Search Engine Optimisation for longer than most. Now, her practice consists of creating images and websites, the content of which is intended to be read not by humans but by machines that are tricked into placing her paintings at the top of a search result. An upcoming talk at the Royal Academy will look at the architectural impact of our increasing reliance on the digital. On Monday 4 March 2019, Ippolito Pestellini and Marina Otero will discuss architecture for non-humans, moderated by Ben Vickers.
– Artnet News | Royal Academy
Artist advocates. Over the past twenty years, Kasseem Dean (aka Swizz Beatz) and his wife Alicia Keys have quietly built one of the greatest contemporary art collections, with a focus on living African-American artists such as Nina Chanel Abney, Arthur Jafa, and Deana Lawson. Infuriated by the fact that artists receive no commission on works that are resold at auction houses with inflated prices, Dean has advocated for artist commissions, having started the No Commission art fair, in which artists receive all of the profits. Examining the state of the art world, it is common knowledge that the blue chip galleries are booming, while smaller galleries are closing in record numbers. Elizabeth Dee, co-founder of Independent New York, assesses the situation, asking questions like “what is a gallery today?” Gavin Brown and others respond in agreement: there no longer is one single model, but it is these differences, as well as a shared entrepreneurial mindset, that will keep galleries at the centre of the art world.
– The New York Times | Artnet News
What does it mean to love in the age of global warming? American poet D.A. Powell shares two of his poems on Poetry Off the Shelf, hosted by Curtis Fox. In “Continental Divide”, Powell nostalgically harkens back to romantic encounters of his youth, using the melting of a glacier to suggest the passing of time and the break down of memories, without once mentioning the word love. His second poem, entitled “Meditating upon the Meaning of the Line ‘Clams on the Halfshell and Rollerskates’ in the Song ‘Good Times’ by Chic”, begins, “even the business of dying must be set aside occasionally”. Within a world ravaged by climate change, the speaker finds beauty and love in “a dark splotch of kelp” or by curling into another’s body “hermit-crab style”.
– D.A. Powell