(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘art

“Anonymity is the fame of the future”*…

So… late last spring, a strange, beguiling novel began arriving, in installments, in the mail, addressed to writer Adam Dalva at his parents’ apartment. Who had written it?…

It arrived at the height of the pandemic, in a brown envelope with no return address and too many stamps, none of which had been marked by the post office. It was addressed to me at my parents’ New York City apartment, where I haven’t lived in more than a decade. My mother used the envelope as a notepad for a few weeks, then handed it off to me in July; it was the first time I’d seen her after months of quarantine. Inside the envelope was a small, stapled book—a pamphlet, really—titled “Foodie or The Capitalist Monsoon that is Mississippi,” by a writer named Stokes Prickett. On the cover, there was a photograph of a burrito truck and a notice that read “Advance Promotional Copy: Do Not Read.” The book began with a Cide Hamete Benengeli-style introduction attributed to a Professor Sherbert Taylor. Then a fifty-five-page bildungsroman written in short sections with boldface titles. The prose reminded me a bit of Richard Brautigan.

Because I write book reviews, dozens of unsolicited books are sent to my house every month. Many of them, I confess, barely catch my attention before they’re added to a stack on the floor. But I sat down and read this one all the way through. The narrator of “Foodie” is Rusty, who thinks back on his days in high school, when he worked as a thumbtack-maker’s apprentice, then in a floor-mat factory. Rusty meets another kid from school, an idealist called Foodie whose real name is Gourmand, and whom Rusty describes as “a tetherball champ, a king of the taco stands,” in a town “at the edge of the 8-track suburbs.” Foodie, Rusty says, “was the kindest werewolf on the warfront, and I was his hairdresser.” They start spending time with a hulking, ruthless classmate named Dale, who is “right-handed and immoral as parchment,” and fated to die young because he has a white-collar job that causes him to move through time more quickly than his friends do. After Dale’s death, Foodie and Rusty part ways.

The book was good. But who was Stokes Prickett, and how did this person get my parents’ address?…

A most marvelous mystery, solved by @adalva: “On the Trail of a Mysterious, Pseudonymous Author.”

John Boyle O’Reilly

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As we get to the bottom of it, we might recall that it was on this date in 1901 that William Sydney Porter was released (on good behavior) after serving three years in the Ohio Penitentiary for bank fraud and embezzlement; a licensed pharmacist, he had worked in the prison’s infirmary.  But on his release, he turned to what had been a pastime, writing.  Over the next several years he wrote 381 short stories under the pen name by which we know him, “O. Henry,” including a story a week for over a year for the New York World Sunday Magazine.

His wit, characterization, and plot twists– as evidenced in stories like “The Gift of the Magi” and “The Ransom of Red Chief”– were adored by his readers but often panned by critics… though academic opinion has since come around: O. Henry is now considered by many to be America’s answer to Guy de Maupassant.

220px-William_Sydney_Porter_by_doubleday

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

July 24, 2021 at 1:00 am

“No great artist ever sees things as they really are”*…

Tom Miller in front of his 2016 artwork, Nothing

Indeed, sometimes they see nothing at all…

Earlier this month, an Italian artist named Salvatore Garau went viral when his “immaterial sculpture”—that is, a work of art made of literally nothing—sold for €15,000 ($18,300) at auction.

Articles about the sale was shared widely, often accompanied by captions of the “I could have done that” variety. Users posted pictures of blank spaces—their own invisible sculptures which could surely be had for a fraction of Garau’s price. Many bemoaned the fact that they didn’t think of it first. 

Then there was Tom Miller, a performance artist from Gainesville, Florida, who says he actually did do it first—and now he’s filing a lawsuit against Garau to prove it.

The Florida artist says that, in 2016, he installed his own invisible sculpture in Gainesville’s Bo Diddley Community Plaza, an outdoor event space. He titled it Nothing and erected it over the course of five days with a team of workers who moved blocks of air like mimes building the Great Pyramid of Giza. Tens of people were on hand to see the opus unveiled that June. 

Miller even made a short film about the work, a mockumentary that features fake artists and curators as talking heads. He compares his respective take on nothingness to John Cage’s “4′33″ and Seinfeld

“All I can say personally is that Nothing is very important to me,” Miller told Artnet News in an email. “I should be credited with Nothing (specifically the idea of Nothing fashioned into sculpture form), and Gainesville, Florida—not Italy—is where Nothing happened first.”

It’s worth pointing out, of course, that immaterial art has a long history stretching back to the 20th century. Yves Klein exhibited an empty gallery space in 1958 and envisioned an “architecture of air” a couple of years later. Tom Friedman installed an invisible object atop a plinth in 1992—and it sold for £22,325 nine years later.

Miller may have even more competition than he realizes. Since Artnet News first published an article about Garau’s work, numerous other artists have written to me about their own invisible sculpture practices. It turns out it’s hard to get noticed when you’re an artist who makes… nothing.

Tom Miller, who says he made an invisible sculpture in 2016, is demanding visibility: “A Florida Man Is Threatening to Sue an Artist Whose Invisible Sculpture Sold for $18,000, Saying He Came Up With the Idea First”; from Taylor Dafoe (@tddafoe) in @artnet

* Oscar Wilde

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As we muse on the missing, we might might recall that it was on this date in 1989 that Northrop Grumman did its best to make something all-too-tangible disappear: it first flew what became the B-2 Spirit— better known as the Stealth Bomber.

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“Everything is in motion. Everything flows.”*…

(Roughly) Daily has looked at the related theories of plate tectonics and continental drift before (e.g., here and here). They are relatively young: proposed in the early twentieth century by Alfred Wegener, they weren’t widely accepted until 1960 or so. Now they’re fundamental– and allowing scientists to reconstruct the earth’s past. To wit, this animation looking at the Earth’s tectonic plate movement from 1 ga (geological time for 1 billion years ago) to the present-day (the video starts at time 1,000 ma [1,000 million years ago], and moves at the rate of about 25 million years every second)…

From Earthbyte

Here’s a even more ambitious project, looking back 3.3 billion years:

More on plate tectonics and the supercontinents that it formed (and unformed) at Visual Capitalist.

* William Hazlitt

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As we buckle up, we might recall that in the very late 50s, the Ohio Art Company– which had been pursuing a pair of business: toys (e.g., windmills and a climbing monkey) and custom metal lithography products for food container and specialty premium markets– found a way to merge the two.  It acquired the rights to French electrician André Cassagnes‘ L’Écran Magique (The Magic Screen)– a drawing toy that allowed users to spin knobs to create line drawings, which could be erased by by turning the device upside down and shaking it. Ohio Art renamed it the Etch A Sketch, and introduced it in this date in 1960.

At its launch, which was near the peak of the Baby Boom, the Etch A Sketch was priced at $2.99 (equivalent to $26 in 2020); the company sold 600,000 units that year … and went on to sell over 100 million units and to earn a place in the National Toy Hall of Fame.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

July 12, 2021 at 1:00 am

“A bookshelf is as particular to its owner as are his or her clothes; a personality is stamped on a library just as a shoe is shaped by the foot.”*…

As Anthony Powell once said, “Books do furnish a room.” But how to arrange that furniture?

The late French essayist and novelist Georges Perec understood the anxiety of shelving. In his 1978 essay “Brief Notes on the Art and Manner of Arranging One’s Books,” the title work of a newly issued collection, Perec’s discussion of the many schemes for handling your personal library only shows how utterly impossible the task is. You could, for instance, agree only to keep 361 books in your library — buy one book, get rid of one. But then, he writes, you’d have to decide what a “book” is. Is a three-volume series one book or three? Maybe it’s better to stick with 361 authors instead of books. But then some books are anonymous, and some books don’t make sense without others in the same genre, and . ..

Perec died in 1982. His home library contained more than 1,800 books.

Perec’s essay is somewhat tongue-in-cheek — he was an Oulipian, a tribe of literary gamesmen who found creativity in extreme restraint. (He’s probably most famous for his 1969 novel, translated into English as “A Void,” in which he avoided using the letter E.) But however deep the joke runs, he knew he was writing about a legitimate crisis — not so much one of shelving as of personal identity. How much mess will we accept in our lives? How much order? Shelving, he notes, exemplifies “two tensions, one which sets a premium on letting things be, on a good-natured anarchy, the other that exalts the virtues of the tabula rasa, the cold efficiency of the great arranging, one always ends by trying to set one’s books in order.”…

Why bother organizing your books? A messy personal library is proof of life.” From Mark Athitakis (@mathitak)

[Image above: source]

* Alan Bennett

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As we stack ’em high, we might send pointed birthday greetings to Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce; he was born on this date in 1842. His book The Devil’s Dictionary was named as one of “The 100 Greatest Masterpieces of American Literature” by the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration.  His story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” has been described as “one of the most famous and frequently anthologized stories in American literature”; and his book Tales of Soldiers and Civilians (also published as In the Midst of Life) was named by the Grolier Club as one of the 100 most influential American books printed before 1900.

A prolific and versatile writer, Bierce was regarded as one of the most influential journalists in the United States, and as a pioneering writer of realist fiction.  For his horror writing, Michael Dirda ranked him alongside Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft.  S. T. Joshi speculates that he may well be the greatest satirist America has ever produced, and can take his place with such figures as Juvenal, Swift, and Voltaire. His war stories influenced Stephen Crane, Ernest Hemingway, and others, and he was an influential and feared literary critic.  In recent decades Bierce has gained wider respect as a fabulist and for his poetry.

In 1913, Bierce told reporters that he was travelling to Mexico to gain first-hand experience of the Mexican Revolution. He disappeared and was never seen again. 

Conservative (noun): A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.

The Devil’s Dictionary

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 24, 2021 at 1:00 am

“If you fall in love with a machine there is something wrong with your love-life. If you worship a machine there is something wrong with your religion.”*…

In trying times, a positive attitude is more important– and harder to muster– than ever. But as the always-provocative LibrarianShipwreck observes, certain forms of optimism can, if they become pervasive, all-too-easily turn into problems in their own rights. Consider, for example, the flavor of the moment, techno-optimism…

There are moments in which it is difficult to feel particularly positive about how things are going in the world. Social cohesion frays. Politicians fail to respond to the crises of the moment. Social movements for justice are met with violent repression. History is suppressed. Xenophobic authoritarianism crawls out from the swamp to claim new victims. Looming environmental hazards grow closer. Pandemics are catastrophically mismanaged. The rich keep getting richer. The list goes on. It can be difficult to find a place in which to place your hopes for the future when the present seems so dire. After all, many no longer believe that god(s), or charismatic politicians, or social movements will save us. Granted, this has not given rise to widespread despair or nihilism (even if such sentiments can be detected at society’s edges), for there still exist certain forces that capture and channel people’s hopes and longings. And prominent amongst these is technology.

What follows is an attempt to consider some of the aspects and implications of techno-optimism. It is an attitude that has become somewhat taken for granted, which is precisely why it is important to consider what it is and how it functions.

It is hard to escape techno-optimism. For it is the attitude that one encounters nearly everywhere. This is not the just attitude of the press release, the advertisement, and the carefully produced launch event—it is the ambient music that plays in the background of daily life. Techno-optimism is the basic stance of a society in which people enjoy the fruits of high-technology, and though they may have some quibbles about specifics, are basically happy with the gadgets that surround them and resistant to the idea that any of these devices should be (or could be) turned off. It is an attitude that comes to be when a significant portion of a population have interwoven their faith in future progress with the idea of future technological advancements. Techno-optimism is a vision of tomorrow that sees only a choice between a high-tech metropolis and a desolate wasteland, and so (naturally) opts for the high-tech metropolis. To be taken in by techno-optimism one need not hang on a Silicon Valley CEO’s every word, it is sufficient to be impressed by the latest smartphone iteration. To partake in techno-optimism one need not dream of the singularity, it is sufficient to believe that since there is no alternative to all of these gadgets and platforms that one might as well be comfortable with them.

Techno-optimism has less to do with the individuals who hold the belief, and more to do with a broader societal stance that most individuals accept. And this stance—that societal progress is incumbent upon technological progress and that one should therefore be optimistic about technological progress—is fairly common.

In certain academic fields, scholars caution their students against falling for technological determinism. That being the overly simplistic belief that “technology drives history.” Granted, many of those same scholars, are quick to emphasize that technology matters, and can still be an important factor, but that social/political/historic/economic changes are driven by a lot more than just machines. Thus such academics work hard to show the ways in which history does not look like [Cause: new technology X] = [Result: social change Y], by emphasizing all of the things that take place in that “=” sign. What social conditions made it possible for that new technology to be taken up? Which groups pushed for the new technology because they saw it as a way of increasing their own power, and which groups resisted? What older technological systems were necessary for this new one to come into being? What economic forces made this new technology feasible? What were the various forms that this new technology originally appeared in before one particular model of it began to dominate? In short, those who study technology (at least in some disciplines), work hard to make it clear that technology doesn’t drive history. Indeed, in some academic circles, the charge of technological determinism is still an insult.

Alas, techno-optimism is to a large extent a belief that “technology drives history.” What’s more it’s a belief that technology has driven history in a good direction and that therefore technology can be trusted to keep driving history in that good direction. It is a straight line narrative of a world of improvement in which the abacus eventually leads to the smartphone, without getting overly bogged down in a story of Cold War military funding. It provides a worldview which is all highways with only passing attention being paid to the crashes that smolder on the side of the road (and with those being treated merely as stumbling blocks). Academics may bristle at the idea that “technology drives history,” but they find themselves trying to counter a belief that is fairly commonly accepted by the broader society. In fairness, it may be out of style for a person to declare that they think technology is driving history, but it is not at all out of style for a person to state that they consider themselves to be technologically optimistic—which is another way of saying that they feel cheerful when they consider the direction in which they think technology is driving history. 

At moments when social progress seems stuck, technology can provide an appealing alternative. After all, real progress on serious social issues can be slow and filled with backsliding, but over the last ten years the Playstation really has gotten better. To a large extent we find ourselves treading water, but the flashy gadgets affixed to our life preserver keep getting more impressive…even if we still find ourselves in this cold water. Techno-optimism keeps us waiting: waiting for the next iteration of a device, waiting for the next “big” gadget, waiting for the next update, waiting for the download, waiting for the tech company that will finally get it right, waiting for the technology that will finally fix the problems that have (up to now) proven impervious to easy technological fixes. We wait, and we wait, and we wait. But as long as we get to partake in technologies moving through their iterations, we get to feel as if we are moving as well. If our smartphone has moved ahead, than surely this means that we have moved ahead with it, because it is our smartphone, right? And that new smartphone might be a bit faster, it might have a better camera, it might work as an appealing status symbol, but where you were (where we were) with this new smartphone model is not particularly different from where we were with the previous smartphone model. 

The history of technology certainly demonstrates that there have been moments throughout history when technological shifts have made large significant changes. Though careful historians have worked diligently to emphasize that, contrary to popular narratives, those shifts were rarely immediate and usually interwoven with a host of social/political/economic changes. Nevertheless, techno-optimism keeps people waiting for that next big technological leap forward. The hopeful confidence in that big technological jump, which is surely just around the corner, keeps us sitting patiently as things remain largely the same (or steadily get worse). Faced with serious challenges that our politics seem incapable of addressing, and which technological change have so far been able to miraculously solve, techno-optimism keeps the focus centered on the idea of an eventual technological solution. And most importantly this is a change that will mean that we do not need to do much, we do not need to act, we do not need to be willing to change, we just need to wait and eventually the technology will come along that will do it all for us.

And so we wait. And so we keep waiting, for technology to come along and save us from ourselves.

Theses on Techno-Optimism,” from @libshipwreck. Eminently worth reading in full, even if– especially if, like your correspondent– you are a techno-optimist.

[Image above: source]

* Lewis Mumford

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As we interrogate our enthusiasm, we might spare a thought for Don Featherstone; he died on this date in 2015.  An artist, he is surely best remembered for his creation of the plastic pink flamingo lawn ornament in 1957, while working for Union Products.  It went on sale the following year– and now adorns lawns nationwide.

In 1996, Featherstone was awarded the 1996 Ig Nobel Art Prize for his creation; that same year, he began his tenure as president of Union Products, a position he held until he retired in 2000.

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 A Featherstone flock

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