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Posts Tagged ‘Black

“In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate”*…

 

From electricity, giant telescopes, escalators, diesel turbines, and talking movies, the 1900 World’s Fair promised dazzling technology for the 50 million visitors who flocked to Paris. But among the expo’s 80,000 exhibitions, one comparatively low-tech production from the American contingent demonstrated perhaps the most consequential achievement of that time.

The Exhibit of American Negroes” enshrined the contributions of African Americans to the US economy, just 35 years after slavery was abolished in the US. The showcase within the fair’s Palace of Social Economy featured a gallery of photographs, 350 patents awarded to black inventors, a small statue of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, 200 books and periodicals by black scholars including an illustrated study by the noted sociologist and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois…

The extraordinary works that Du Bois had his students (at [Clark] Atlanta University) create are riveting both for their account of Africa-American life at the turn of the last century and for their remarkable power as infographics.  See them at “Hand-drawn infographics commissioned by W.E.B. Du Bois illuminate how Black Americans lived in the 1900s.”

* Toni Morrison

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As we agree with Ali,** we might send utilitarian birthday greetings to Jeremy Bentham; the author, jurist, philosopher, and legal and social reformer was born on this date in 1748.  Bentham is considered a founder of modern Utilitarianism (via his own work, and that of students including James Mill and his son, John Stuart Mill); he actively advocated individual and economic freedom, the separation of church and state, freedom of expression, equal rights for women, the right to divorce, and the decriminalizing of homosexual acts. He argued for the abolition of slavery and the death penalty, and for the abolition of physical punishment, including that of children.

Bentham was involved in the founding of University College (then, the University of London), the first in England to admit all, regardless of race, creed, or political belief.  On his death, he was dissected as part of a public anatomy lecture– as he specified in his will.  Afterward– again, as Bentham’s will specified– the skeleton and head were preserved and stored in a wooden cabinet called the “Auto-icon”, with the skeleton stuffed out with hay and dressed in Bentham’s clothes.  Bentham had intended the Auto-icon to incorporate his actual head, preserved to resemble its appearance in life.  But experimental efforts at mummification, though technically successful, left the head looking alarmingly macabre, with dried and darkened skin stretched tautly over the skull.  So the Auto-icon was given a wax head, fitted with some of Bentham’s own hair.

It is normally kept on public display at the end of the South Cloisters in the main building of University College.  The real head was displayed in the same case as the Auto-icon for many years, but became the target of repeated student pranks, so is now locked away.

 see a virtual, 360-degree rotatable version here

** “Hating people because of their color is wrong. And it doesn’t matter which color does the hating. It’s just plain wrong.”  – Muhammad Ali

“‘Tis not alone my inky cloak… Nor customary suits of solemn black”*…

 

Michelangelo Merisi
da Caravaggio used ivory black to convey asceticism, piety, and inspiration in his 1605-6 painting, St Jerome Writing.

Suddenly, black was everywhere. It caked the flesh of miners and ironworkers; it streaked the walls and windows of industrial towns; it thickened the smoky air above. Proprietors donned black clothing to indicate their status and respectability. New black dyes and pigments created in factories and chemical laboratories entered painters’ studios, enabling a new expression for the new themes of the industrial age: factory work and revolt, technology and warfare, urbanity and pollution, and a rejection of the old status quo. A new class of citizen, later to be dubbed the “proletariat,” began to appear in illustrations under darkened smokestacks. The industrial revolution had found its color.

Black is technically an absence: the visual experience of a lack of light. A perfect black dye absorbs all of the light that impinges on it, leaving nothing behind. This ideal is remarkably difficult to manufacture. The industrialization of the 18th and 19th centuries made it easier, providing chemists and paint-makers with a growing palette of black—and altering the subjects that the color would come to represent. “These things are intimately connected,” says science writer Philip Ball, author of Bright Earth: The Invention of Color. The reinvention of black, in other words, went far beyond the color…

As the means of producing the color black changed, so did the subjects that it was used to evoke/represent. Get the basics at “The Reinvention of Black.”

* Shakespeare, Hamlet

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As we paint it black, we might we might retreat to the colorful, remembering that it was on this date in 1969 that “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music” opened in the Catskills in New York State.  The organizers of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair– or Woodstock, as it is remembered– had hoped to sell 50,000 tickets; but by the week before the event, had moved 186,000.  A last-minute change of venue presented them with a hard choice: hastily erect more/stronger fences and install additional security on the new site (the now-famous Yasgur’s Farm) or offer the event for free.  The night before the event, with attendees already arriving in huge numbers, the promoters cut the fence.  Ultimately an estimated 400,000 people enjoyed a (somewhat rainy) weekend of performances from 32 acts.  It was, as Rolling Stone opined, a defining moment in Rock and Roll.

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Written by LW

August 15, 2015 at 1:01 am

“I see black light”*…

 

Robert Fludd’s black square representing the nothingness that was prior to the universe, from his Utriusque Cosmi (1617) – Source: Wellcome Library

 

Is black a color, the absence of color  or a suspension of vision produced by a deprivation of light?  Beginning with Robert Fludd’s attempt to picture nothingness, Eugene Thacker reflects on some of the ways in which blackness has been employed through the history of art and philosophical thought.  Head for the dark side at “Black on Black.”

* Victor Hugo’s last words

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As we paint it black, we might spare a thought for Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes; he died on this date in 1828.  A painter and printmaker who was Court Painter to the Spanish Crown, Goya is regarded both as the last of the Old Masters (for “La Maja Denuda,” among many, many others) and the first of the Moderns. Indeed, in the words of art historian Sir Kenneth Clark, “El tres de mayo de 1808 en Madrid” is “the first great picture which can be called ‘revolutionary’ in every sense of the word, in style, in subject, and in intention.”

Goya’s “Black Paintings,” created late in his life, are anguished, haunted works, reflective both of his fear of dementia and of his dystopian outlook on humanity.

“Saturn Devouring His Son” (detail), probably the most famous of the Black Paintings

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Portrait of Francisco Goya by Vicente López y Portaña (1826)

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Written by LW

April 16, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Any color– so long as it is black”*…

 

A British company has produced a “strange, alien” material so black that it absorbs all but 0.035 per cent of visual light, setting a new world record. To stare at the “super black” coating made of carbon nanotubes – each 10,000 times thinner than a human hair – is an odd experience. It is so dark that the human eye cannot understand what it is seeing. Shapes and contours are lost, leaving nothing but an apparent abyss.

If it was used to make one of Chanel’s little black dresses, the wearer’s head and limbs might appear to float incorporeally around a dress-shaped hole.

Actual applications are more serious, enabling astronomical cameras, telescopes and infrared scanning systems to function more effectively. Then there are the military uses that the material’s maker, Surrey NanoSystems, is not allowed to discuss.

The nanotube material, named Vantablack, has been grown on sheets of aluminum foil by the Newhaven-based company. While the sheets may be crumpled into miniature hills and valleys, this landscape disappears on areas covered by it [as seen in the photo above]…

Read more about the new material– “pretty much as black as we can get, almost as close to a black hole as we could imagine”– in “Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can’t see it.”

* Henry Ford, describing the choices in purchasing a Model T

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As we reach for our torches, we might recall that it was on this date in 622 that the Islamic prophet Muhammad, who’d been warned of a pending assassination attempt, and his followers began their migration from Mecca to Medina– an event known as “Hijra” (Arabic: هِجْرَة‎ hijrah, or Hijrat or Hegira).  The Hijra was later declared the beginning of the Muslim calendar, so that any subsequent date is known. a la “AD” or “CE,” as “AH” (Anno Hijra).

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Written by LW

July 16, 2014 at 1:01 am

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