By Deb A.
You've seen the poster: a familiar blue-red-beige stencil style that shows a Muslim woman wearing an American flag as her hijab. It, along with two others by Shepard Fairey and one each by Jessica Sabogal and Ernesto Yerena, is part of the We The People campaign, which was launched to "ignite a national dialogue about American identity and values through public art and story sharing." Behind the effort is an organisation that calls itself an "art machine for social change": The Amplifier Foundation.
Headed by photographer Aaron Huey, The Amplifier Foundation funds collaborations between grassroots movements and contemporary artists in order to amplify their voices. Its stated goal is "to flip artists into activists and observers into participants." Alongside the We The People campaign, it has funded efforts to liberate Native American activist Leonard Peltier, to collect art for the Women's March on Washington, to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, and to protest the high incarceration rate of black men in the United States.
The Amplifier Foundation's images are available free for download, but if you want the stickers--or simply to support social justice through art--get ready to donate.
All images via The Amplifier Foundation.
By Deb A.
The latest report on the state of the Great Barrier Reef has emerged (despite having been deleted), and the prognosis is alarming. Images of bleached coral practically devoid of life have become a stark, painful reminder of the impact of climate change on the world's largest living structure.
In contrast to the near-monochrome imagery of dying underwater ecosystems are the vibrant sculptures created by Washed Ashore artists and volunteers. Focused on bringing the maritime impact of our love affair with plastics into full view, each artwork is built from the a fraction of the billions of pounds of plastic pollution that float in our seas.
The non-profit organisation was founded by Angela Haseltine Pozzi, an artist who was profoundly affected by the amount of plastic she found on the beaches of Oregon. So far the plastic debris collected from over 300 miles of beaches has been used to create 65 sculptures of ocean life that are exhibited around the U.S.A., mostly in zoos and aquariums. Currently, the Smithsonian's National Zoo boasts a turtle in a coral reef and a nine-foot penguin named Gertrude is presiding over the Georgia Aquarium.
Washed Ashore hopes that its art will save the sea by encouraging its audience to think twice before purchasing plastics, and to reuse and recycle the products they do own. Viewers may be surprised to identify disposable lighters and children's toys in the fins of a giant fish; while these have been removed from the water, millions of similar pieces are finding their way into a real fish's digestive tract instead.
By Deb A.
Most reports about centenarians focus on their longevity: what they did or didn't eat, drink or smoke; what words of advice they have to offer for readers who wish to blow out 100 candles one day. The sheer fact of having reached a century's worth of existence is deemed fascinating, possibly even educational, in and of itself. But when recounting Tsuen-Hsuin Tsien's life, there is an even more remarkable figure than his 105 years: 30,000, the number of rare Chinese books he risked his life to rescue from obliteration during World War II.
T.H. Tsien, a librarian and renowned scholar of Chinese writing and printing, was tasked with finding a safe haven for around 60,000 rare volumes during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai. Had these cultural artifacts been discovered, they would have been destroyed. Had his plans been discovered, he would have suffered a similar fate. However, he saw the work as his duty, and never looked back.
The Library of Congress in Washington had agreed to take around half of the precious inventory, but customs was under Japanese control, and it took Tsien several years to work out how to get the books across the border. Upon the advice of a sympathetic customs agent, he crated the goods and labeled them as new books purchased by the Library of Congress, posing as a bookseller and including bogus invoices. The treasures were shipped out throughout 1941, a few crates at a time, until all 102 had reached their destination. In Washington, they were copied onto microfilm and made available to scholars around the world.
When Tsien was sent to bring the books back home in 1947, a civil war in China left him unable to return. He joined the University of Chicago, earning two degrees there and becoming a professor emeritus of Chinese Studies and curator emeritus of the university's East Asian Library. He died at his home in Chicago on April 9th.
Thousands of books from T.H. Tsien's personal collection are held in a library bearing his name in Nanjing University. Tsien's own writing includes Written on Bamboo and Silk: The Beginnings of Chinese Books and Inscriptions, and Paper and Printing.
By Deb A.
"A forest in Norway is growing. In 100 years it will become an anthology of books."
This is how Scottish artist Katie Paterson introduces her latest work, Future Library. The concept is both poetically simple and breathtakingly ambitious, with its final form only being made available one century into the future.
The project begins with a thousand trees that were recently planted in a forest outside of Oslo. Their hundred-year destiny is to be turned into an anthology of one hundred contributions that will be written, one per year, specifically for Future Library; the manuscripts will remain unread and wholly unknown by all but their respective authors until they are printed in 2114.
A panel consisting of literary experts and Katie Paterson (for as long as she lives) will invite one outstanding author per year to contribute a text, which will be stored in the New Deichmanske Public Library, in a room specially designed by the artist and lined with wood from the forest. The first manuscript, by Margaret Atwood, is currently underway and will be handed over for storage next year.
It is unlikely that many of those who contribute an early piece to this artistic time capsule will live to see the reaction of readers in 2114, but this doesn't bother Ms. Atwood, who quipped to The Guardian that "you don't have to be around for the part when if it's a good review the publisher takes credit for it and if it's a bad review it's all your fault."
Nonetheless, there are challenges for everyone involved: the authors, in particular those at the start of the process, will be writing for an utterly unpredictable readership, and will have no way of knowing how their work will be interpreted, or whether it will be appreciated, let alone understood. Nor will Ms. Paterson be able to experience her work's culmination. But for both authors and artist, Future Library transcends the demands of its timeline, which also include logistical challenges such as the potential need for a cultural and linguistic translator, as well as an actual printing press (the latter will be stored with the manuscripts in order to ensure that creating actual physical paper books will still be possible in 2114).
Future Library, according to Ms. Paterson, is nothing less than a melding of nature, art and literature that involves "the interconnectedness of things, those living now and still to come."
Don't forget to leave a note for your grandchildren.
By Deb A.
London's Science Museum is entering the art scene this season with a load of rubbish.
Years after 'The Rubbish Library/Library Rubbish', a 2008 Japanese installation featuring the reading material thrown out by citizens of Moriya in a day and a week's worth of the local library's garbage, artist Joshua Sofaer is bringing trash into his work once again for The Rubbish Collection.
In the project's first phase, which lasts until July 15th, the public is invited to collect, sort, photograph and archive all the garbage produced by the Science Museum's staff and visitors - a task that directly engages participants in the way we dispose of waste. (In a true demonstration of the depth of human curiosity, people seem to be enjoying the discovery process.) The second phase is the exhibition itself: an installation of all the garbage produced by the institution over 30 days. Containing everything from paper to spare change to the remnants of lunch, the mountains of trash are destined to shine a spotlight on the fact that throwing garbage away may remove it from our consciousness, but not from our environment. This is, after all, a part of the museum's Climate Changing programme.
While the thought of perusing piles of putrefying banana peels might not be tempting to everyone, the idea itself is undeniably beautiful: says Sofaer, "The Rubbish Collection ... inverts the idea of the museum preserving what is sacred or unique, asking us to consider what we choose to keep, what we discard, and why."
Feel like getting your hands dirty? Visit the Science Museum by July 15th and dig in! For those who would really, truly, love to sift through trash but... won't... the museum's Tumblr might whet your appetite for a visit during Phase Two.
By Deb A.
Somewhere deep in the Amazon rainforest lurks a hulking white elephant.
Once the newly built stadium in Manaus has fulfilled its purpose of hosting four World Cup football matches, it will inevitably be more of a burden than a blessing, with a seating capacity over 40 times the usual 1000 fans who show up to the local team's matches. It cost nearly $300 million. A much-needed overhaul of Manaus's public transport system was originally part of the package, but never materialised.
The stadium is a striking symbol of the tensions surrounding the record $11 billion price tag of the 2014 World Cup, government corruption, and the country's underfinanced social services – tensions that for the past year have been bringing Brazilians out onto the street armed with placards, indignation, a newly found voice... and cans upon cans of spray paint.
For many, the colours of Brazil are now no longer the yellow, green and blue of its flag, nor the glittering rainbow spectrum of its legendary carnival celebrations. Instead, Brazil's true colours are increasingly being found on the streets.
By Deb A.
This week saw the Prix Pictet, a prestigious prize honouring photography that addresses issues surrounding sustainability, awarded to German photographer Michael Schmidt for his series Lebensmittel (foodstuffs, or groceries). The work consists of 60 photographs in a grid that each show a part of our food chain: a perfect green apple, an empty egg carton, a slaughterhouse, pigs packed tightly together, hamburgers... it is a stark, uncompromising confrontation of the realities of what we eat, where it comes from, and what it means (or doesn't mean) to us.
The theme of this year's Prix Pictet is 'Consumption', and all eleven of the shortlisted works offer an arresting glimpse into how well-being and affluence are linked to ownership, appearance and waste, in a world that has created "demand for essentials that we didn't know we needed": Laurie Simmons examines materialism through a Love Doll, Adam Bartos documents yard sales, and Rineke Dijkstra follows a Bosnian asylum seeker's acclimatisation into Dutch culture. Kofi Annan, who presented the award, rightly noted that "the shortlisted artists have made powerful images that ought to persuade governments, businesses, and each of us as individual consumers of the need for a fundamental rethink of the principles on which present-day affluence is founded."
If you find you're in need of a rethink, the shortlisted works will be on display at the Victoria &Albert Museum in London until June 14th.
By Deb A.
“There's an elegiac quality in watching [American wilderness] go, because it's our own myth, the American frontier,
It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.
Award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction. Environmentalist. World traveler. Political activist. Zen Buddhist. Spy. Very few individuals can lay claim to even half of these titles; Peter Matthiessen held them all.
The author of over 30 books, including "The Snow Leopard" and "At Play in the Fields of the Lord", died yesterday of leukemia at the age of 86. His literary legacy is a winding one that includes The Paris Review – he co-founded the legendary literature review as a cover during his brief stint with the CIA – and National Book Awards in both fiction (for "Shadow Country") and nonfiction ("The Snow Leopard").
Fiction remained Matthiessen's true love, yet, despite his rejection of the title of 'nature writer', he was just as widely celebrated for his lyrical nonfiction, which was firmly anchored in the theme of nature and the havoc wreaked upon it by human beings.
Peter Matthiessen's final novel, "In Paradise", will be published April 8th.
“The secret of the mountain is that the mountains simply exist, as I do myself: the mountains exist simply, which I do not.
By Deb A.
The Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) marked International Women's Day with a report entitled "The Gender Gap in Art Museum Directorships", and the results are as disappointing as Georg Baselitz's view on female artists.
The statistics start out with a certain amount of promise: a relatively respectable 42.6 per cent of art museum directors across North America are women. The promise quickly turns out to be hollow, however: on average, female directors are paid less than 80 per cent of what their male counterparts earn. While women hold 48 per cent of the directorships in art museums with budgets under $15 million (and are paid $1.02 for every dollar earned by male directors), once we reach the largest art museums, the numbers plummet. Women are at the helm of only 24 per cent of museums with budgets surpassing $15 million, and they can expect to earn 71 per cent of a male director's salary there.
There is no lack of theories from the individuals interviewed for the report as to why so few women head up the continent's biggest art museums; hypotheses range from the gender composition of museum boards to how women present themselves in interviews to a lack of interest on the part of women in running the largest museums. And yet the only references the report makes to the importance of gender equity are fleeting and broad:
"By opening opportunities to a larger and more diverse set of potential leaders, art museums will realise the benefits of drawing upon a larger number of exceptional leaders with diverse experience and perspectives."
The absence of anything more specific on the benefits of bringing women into leading positions in museums is perhaps the most interesting part of the study. One on hand, sweeping statements about the need for diversity neatly sidestep the trap of perpetuating stereotypes of women. On the other, a stronger understanding of what a woman could be expected to add to the conversation would shed light on the actual biases and issues that museums, in particular the most influential institutions, face.
The study opens by stating: "The art within our great museums reflects and shapes our culture. As the directors of the leading visual arts institutions in North America, AAMD members have an unrivalled platform to influence the role that art plays in our society."
If bringing more women on board would improve how museums reflect and shape us, how skewed is the view that is currently on display?
By Deb A.
On a pretty, bustling corner of Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg, one can sip a coffee and pluck at a three-tiered brunch and watch people browse the local trees for a new read.
The Bücherwald (Book Forest) consists of several tree trunks with hollowed out shelf spaces sporting plastic flaps that do a decent job of protecting the books stacked inside from the city's notoriously unpleasant weather. The concept, from BAUFACHFRAU, is not unique; the organisation credits similar initiatives in Bonn and around the world (like this one) as inspiration. This public booksharing site is particularly charming. It's a delight to tourists who stumble upon it and a perfect spot for locals to give their dusty titles the chance at a new life.
A more famous but equally subtle landmark is just one neighbourhood over. Near invisible in the centre of Bebelplatz (and, somewhat oddly, surrounded by an underground parking lot) is a pane of glass that looks down onto enough white bookcases to hold 20,000 books -- the number of titles that were destroyed on the site in a Nazi book-burning ceremony in 1933. The shelves stand starkly empty, and a plaque by the glass quotes Heinrich Heine: "Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn people."
And so, through no fault of its own, a delightful booksharing site reaches beyond friendly gesture and becomes a quietly poignant statement.
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