November 6, 2013
November 3, 2013
Tunku Varadarajan on India’s big statue and what it means:
Narendra Modi is the chief minister of the western Indian state of Gujarat, and he believes that his beloved India is a land of political pygmies. India’s current prime minister, whose job Modi covets to distraction, is an effete old technocrat who takes his orders from the bossy Italian widow of a former prime minister (who was himself the son of a prime minister, and the grandson of another). The old technocrat’s days in office are numbered, and his replacement as prime ministerial candidate for the ruling Congress party is Rahul Gandhi, the son of the Italian widow (she who must be obeyed), a clumsy “crown prince” of threadbare intellect who would inspire little confidence as the manager of a New Delhi pasta joint, let alone as prime minister of India.
India is a land of political midgets, damn it, and Narendra Modi is going to do something about it. To compensate for the meager stature of those with whom he must rub shoulders, he is going to give his country a giant statue — the tallest the world has ever seen. At 597 feet, this “Statue of Unity” will dwarf a 502-feet tall Buddha built in China in 2002, giving India — which suffers from a desperate form of penis-envy of China — something bigger at last than its massive northern neighbor. The statue, to be situated in Gujarat and made of bronze, iron and cement, will cost a scarcely trivial $340 million, much of which will come, in spite of Modi’s free-market protestations, directly from taxpayers who earn no more than $1,400 per annum. Do the moral math. (The official boast is that it will take only 42 months to build, although you’ve got to believe that the Chinese could complete the task in half the time.) When fully erect, it will be twice the height of the Statue of Liberty and four times that of Christ the Redeemer in Rio. “The world will be forced to look at India when this statue stands tall,” Modi has said. Indeed: But with what kind of gaze?
September 22, 2013
Wired‘s Douglas Wolk looks at the Station to Station train tour:
Adam Auxier is Station to Station’s train producer – an energetic, affable guy who just happens to know pretty much everything there is to know about trains and their history. He put together the assortment of gorgeous old train cars that make up the vehicle for Doug Aitken’s coast-to-coast art-and-music tour (and helped Aitken to select the stations where it’s stopping), and he’s been overseeing the train and telling fascinating tales about its provenance and its route.
The cars on the Station to Station train were built between 1916 and 1953; Auxier arranged for them to be chartered from private owners who maintain them as a labor of love and rent them out to offset the cost of keeping them railworthy. (He has contact with all of them through his tour company, Altiplano Rail.) “A car like this seems wonderful,” Auxier says, pointing up at the skylights of the double-decker “Superdome” that serves as the train’s dining car and kitchen, “but it’s 65 years old. Imagine taking a 65-year-old car at 90 miles an hour across Missouri!”
The train’s individual cars all have stories of their own, all of which are at Auxier’s fingertips. “The Mojave, which is the Levi’s car, actually ran on this route, between Chicago and L.A.,” he says. “The Santa Fe Railway was a big promoter of the Southwest as a place for tourism – they did up the interiors of their cars with beautiful Southwestern art and carpet patterns. The lounge car up at the front was built for the president of the Norfolk & Western railroad in 1916, and it’s basically the private jet of its era. It was a mobile office, so an executive of that time would put it on a scheduled passenger train and take along a chef – he’d have a bedroom, an office and a kitchen for himself. It allowed him to go to any point on the railroad and conduct business.”
August 23, 2013
In Salon, Tracy Clark-Flory talks to Camille Paglia about themes in her new book Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art From Egypt to Star Wars:
In Glittering Images, you argue that the avant-garde is dead. Are there any artists — be they painters or pop stars — who are making innovative work right now?
The avant-garde was a magnificent and revolutionary phase in the history of art, but it’s completely over. Artists and galleries must (in Ann Landers’ immortal words) wake up and smell the coffee! The avant-garde, whose roots were in late-18th-century Romanticism, was a reaction against a strong but suffocating classical tradition. The great modernist artists, from Picasso to James Joyce, were trained in that tradition, which gave audacity and power to their subversion of it.
But then modernism began to feed on itself, and it became weaker and weaker. As I argue in “Glittering Images,” there has been nothing genuinely avant-garde since Andy Warhol except for Robert Mapplethorpe’s luminous homoerotic images of the sadomasochistic underground. Everything that calls itself avant-garde today is just a tedious imitation of earlier and far superior modernist art. The art world has become an echo chamber of commercially inflated rhetoric, shallow ironies and monolithic political ideology.
In the past year, the only things that sparked my enthusiasm and gave me hope for an artistic revival were in pop music: Rihanna’s eerie “Pour It Up,” which uses a strip club as a hallucinatory metaphor for an identity crisis about sex and materialism, and the Savages’ slam-bang “City’s Full,” which channels the Velvet Underground and Patti Smith to attack (with gorgeously distorted, strafing guitars) the urban parade of faux-female fashion clones. The visual arts, in contrast, are being swamped by virtual reality.
Video games and YouTube.com are creatively booming, even though Web design, as demonstrated by the ugly clutter of most major news sites, is in the pits.
Earlier this year, you wrote a highly critical article about recent academic books on the world of kink. What do you wish that these academics would say about BDSM?
My principal complaint about those three books, all from university presses, was that their intriguing firsthand documentation of the BDSM community was pointlessly shot through with turgid, pretentious theorizing, drawn from the slavishly idolized but hopelessly inaccurate and unreliable Michel Foucault.
In this tight job market, young scholars are in a terrible bind. They have to cater to and flatter the academic establishment if they hope to survive. Furthermore, they have not been taught basic skills in historical investigation, weighing of evidence, and argumentation. There has been a collapse in basic academic standards during the theory era that will take universities decades to recover from. I was incensed that none of those three authors had read a page of the Marquis de Sade, one of the most original and influential writers of the past three centuries. Sade had a major impact on Nietzsche, whom Foucault vainly tried to model himself on. Nor had the three authors read The Story of O or explored a host of other crucial landmarks in modern sadomasochism. No, it was Foucault, Foucault, Foucault — a con artist who will one day be a mere footnote in the bulging chronicle of academic follies.
You’re such a beloved and divisive figure, I had to solicit questions from folks on Twitter. Here’s a funny one: “Why do you come down so hard on skinny white girls? Your views on sexuality leave so much room for individuality, so why is it so bad if I am attracted to Meg Ryan or Gwyneth Paltrow?”
When have I ever criticized anyone’s fetish? I am a libertarian. Go right ahead — set up plastic figurines of 1950s-era moppets to bow down to in the privacy of your boudoir. No one will scold! Then whip down to the kitchen to heat up those foil-wrapped TV dinners. I still gaze back fondly at Swanson’s fried-chicken entree. The twinkly green peas! The moist apple fritter! Meg Ryan — the spitting image of all those perky counselors at my Girl Scout camp in the Adirondacks. Gwyneth Paltrow — a simpering sorority queen with field-hockey-stick legs. I will leave you to your retro pursuits while I dash off to moon over multiracial Brazilian divas.
August 15, 2013
Techdirt‘s Glyn Moody on the Getty’s recent innovation in allowing (relatively) unfettered access to public domain artwork in their collection:
Techdirt has published a number of posts that explore the issue of whether art organizations can stop people sharing images of works in their collections when the latter are indisputably in the public domain. Even if museums might be able to claim copyright in their “official” photographic images, the more important question is whether they ought to. The good news is that some institutions are beginning to realize that using copyright monopolies in this way contradicts their basic reason for existing — to share the joy of art. Here, for example, is a wonderful statement of that principle from the Getty Museum entitled “Open Content, An Idea Whose Time Has Come“:
Today the Getty becomes an even more engaged digital citizen, one that shares its collections, research, and knowledge more openly than ever before. We’ve launched the Open Content Program to share, freely and without restriction, as many of the Getty’s digital resources as possible.
The initial focus of the Open Content Program is to make available all images of public domain artworks in the Getty’s collections. Today we’ve taken a first step toward this goal by making roughly 4,600 high-resolution images of the Museum’s collection free to use, modify, and publish for any purpose.
These are high-resolution, reproduction-quality images with embedded metadata, some over 100 megabytes in size. You can browse all available images here, or look for individual “download” links on the Getty Museum’s collection pages. As part of the download, we’ll ask for a very brief description of how you’re planning to use the image. We hope to learn that the images will serve a broad range of needs and projects.
As that makes clear, the scheme is not strictly “freely and without restriction” since you are asked for a description of what you plan to do with the image; there’s also a request that attribution be given. However, these are minor restrictions.
For example, the full-sized version of this photograph of the construction of the Forth bridge in Scotland is available for download:
This image is available for download, without charge, under the Getty’s Open Content Program.
Scottish, July 9, 1889
Scotland’s Forth Bridge bridge was built to carry the two tracks of the North British Railway one and a half miles over the Firth of Forth between South Queensferry and North Queensferry, a hundred and fifty feet above high tide. This photograph shows the gargantuan structure’s recently completed cantilevers reaching across the firth like outstretched arms. The presence of this mighty bridge drastically altered both the landscape and the lives of nearby residents.
Requiring 55,000 tons of steel, 640,000 cubic feet of granite, and 8,000,000 rivets, the Forth Bridge remains one of the safest bridges in use today. Having witnessed the worst train disaster up to that time in the late 1800s, the Scottish public demanded an exceptionally sound structure. An earlier bridge had swayed and collapsed in the wind, killing seventy-five passengers and crew members on a passing night train. As a result the frightened public needed-and got-a bridge that looked as though it could never tumble down.
August 10, 2013
At TechHive, Kevin Lee reports on a different kind of 3D printing effort:
I sat on a 3D-printed bench.
“Durability” and “strength” are about the last words I would ever associate with 3D printing. But I’m not talking about the small, plastic trinkets you would print out with your MakerBot. This is Emerging Objects, a small fabrication studio in Oakland, CA that’s researching how to 3D-print using materials like wood, ceramic, newspaper, concrete, and salt.
“Everyone is focusing on machines, and we’re interested in what machines can make,” Emerging Objects co-founder Ronald Rael explained to TechHive. “We saw a limitation in what a machine can make because of the medium, and so we wondered if we could reformulate that media to suit our own architectural agendas to print big.”
As with the report last week about the chap 3D-printing his own Aston Martin replica, the small size of the individual printed units is a bottleneck for producing larger objects. Using a 3D printer to produce key components while using ordinary production methods for larger pieces is the economical way to work right now. That is bound to change as the technology improves, but practical limits on size and cost will continue at the “consumer” end of the 3D printer market.
According to Rael, powder-based 3D printing was one of the very first 3D printing technologies to come into being. It hasn’t really caught on, however, because the machines are so much more expensive than other types of 3D printers. On the other hand, the fused deposition modeling (FDM) method, which lays down thin layers of hot extruded plastic to create objects, has become popular among makers thanks to its accessibility and relative affordability.
All that said, Rael still sees a promising future for powder-based 3D printing.
“We have a [powder] printing technology that I think is very open-ended in terms of the kind of materials that can be in it. Then we have [a FDM] one that’s very closed and that’s the much more popular version,” he explained. “While I like those kinds of printers, [...] I think the big future is in store for powder printing.”
August 1, 2013
Better still is Banksy’s satirical picture, this one on a wall in London’s Essex Road, of two small children pledging allegiance, with hand on heart, to a Tesco plastic bag on a flagpole — actually an electric cable — being run up like a flag by a third child. Tesco is Britain’s largest supermarket chain, and its plastic bags, white with blue stripes and red lettering, litter the countryside, often flapping from trees or disfiguring hedgerows.
Of course, Banksy, as a spoiled child of a consumer society in which real shortage is unthinkable, has all the unexamined anticapitalist prejudices of the lumpenintelligentsia to whom he appeals. But it would be wrong to dismiss the satire of this image out of hand. Tesco, after all, issues a “loyalty card” called a Clubcard; every customer is asked at the checkout, now sometimes by machine, whether he has such a card. The card’s name implies that shopping repeatedly in the stores of one giant corporation rather than in those of another, in the hope of a small price rebate, constitutes membership in a club. You don’t have to be anticapitalist to think that such an idea debases the concept of human clubbability. (In the same way, the word “solidarity” is degraded in France by its association with the payment of high taxes extracted from citizens by force of law.) It is no new thought — but not therefore a false one — that at the heart of consumer society is often a spiritual vacuum, at least for many people. They fill the vacuum with meaningless gestures, such as loyalty to brands almost indistinguishable from one another. I have known murder committed over brands of footwear. Banksy’s image captures, both succinctly and wittily, the vacuum and what fills it.
You also don’t have to be anticapitalist to acknowledge that the power of corporations like Tesco is not altogether benign. The small and beautiful town in which I live when I am in England illustrates this. When my next-door neighbor decided to restore and redecorate his house, which dated from 1709, the local council’s conservation department demanded that the new lead flashing on his roof, invisible from the street, be stamped with a design of bees, presumably because it had been so stamped at some time in history. Certainly conservation is important and cannot be left entirely to individuals. But why was my neighbor bullied in this fashion when Tesco was permitted to open a store not 100 yards away with a frontage completely out of keeping with the town — an eyesore that affects the town’s aesthetic fabric infinitely more than the absence of bees on my neighbor’s invisible lead does? The great majority of British towns have been ruined aesthetically in a similar way, their main streets becoming dispiritingly uniform and ugly, no doubt through some combination of corporate power, bribery, and administrative incompetence. Bullying people like my neighbor is perhaps the officials’ overcompensation for their cowardice or dishonesty in the face of corporations. Banksy’s image therefore has some satirical depth to it.
Banksy’s attitude toward authority and property rights is the standard hostility of the lumpenintelligentsia. Here he is particularly hypocritical because, while maintaining that pose of hostility, he employs lawyers, owns private companies, and is reputed to be highly authoritarian in his dealings with his associates. Inside every rebel, goes the saying, there’s a dictator trying to get out.
Theodore Dalrymple, “The Discriminating Philistine: Banksy’s wit and talent don’t excuse his vandalism and juvenility”, City Journal, 2013-06
June 24, 2013
H/T to Roger Henry for the link.
H/T to Lois McMaster Bujold, who sent this link to her mailing list.
April 16, 2013
Techdirt‘s Mike Masnick explains:
Andy Baio has an absolutely fantastic video presentation that he did recently for Creative Mornings/Portland on what he’s calling The New Prohibition. It’s half an hour long, but absolutely worth watching.
[. . .]
This video lets him talk a bit about the aftermath — to explain the true chilling effects of the threat and the eventual settlement. Baio is a creator. It’s in his blood. It’s what he’s always done, but after this he was afraid to create. Being threatened with a lawsuit, even if you believe you’re right, is a scary and possibly life-altering moment. Lots of people who have not been in those shoes think it’s nothing and that they could handle it. You don’t know.
As he notes in the talk, copyright law is probably the most violated law in the US after speeding and jaywalking (and I’m not even sure copyright infringement is really in third place in that list). But getting rung up for one of those gives you a “bad day” situation, not a ruined life. Copyright, on the other hand, can ruin your life. And chill your speech and creativity.
And this is the worst part: so many people, especially kids, are at risk. Baio also famously highlighted the prevalence of the phrase “no copyright intended” on YouTube. Tons of kids uploading videos use clips of music and videos with a phrase like that. Or with statements about fair use. Or with copyright law quotes. All, as he notes, to try to find that magic voodoo that wards off a possible lawsuit. Most of those people aren’t being sued.
But they could be.
January 17, 2013
At Massively, Justin Olivetti has a quiet little rant about how ridiculous most MMO game armour really is:
This is probably a rant best saved for another day, but I want to know when it became completely acceptable not to demand that MMO studios explain the building blocks of their game universes. The devs know that we’ll just draw on tropes (usually fantasy) to fill in the gap, so most of the explanations they give for in-game reasoning have to do with a weak backstory of a class instead of why, say, a liquid potion binds together bones and allows you resurrect completely after being chopped into 60 pieces.
I get why tropes are depended on so much, but in my opinion, they rob these games of the potential to be more immersive and lifelike. Pretty much most elements of MMO games break down even when you apply the game’s own internal logic (what little has been revealed) to it. Chief among these borked elements? Armor.
MMO armor just doesn’t make sense, nor does it hold up to even a light level of scrutiny. Today we’re going to cast aside the “it’s just fantasy, go with it” excuses to investigate why your gear is completely ridiculous from a common sense standpoint. Heck, I wasn’t even breathing hard by the time I counted to 10 on this one.
December 17, 2012
Camille Paglia on “the shallow derivativeness of so much contemporary art, which has no big ideas left”
Emily Esfahani Smith talks to Camille Paglia about her latest book, Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art From Egypt to Star Wars:
For Paglia, the spiritual quest defines all great art — all art that lasts. But in our secular age, the liberal crusade against religion has also taken a toll on art. “Sneering at religion is juvenile, symptomatic of a stunted imagination,” Paglia writes. “Yet that cynical posture has become de rigueur in the art world — simply another reason for the shallow derivativeness of so much contemporary art, which has no big ideas left.” Historically the great art of the West has had religious themes, either explicit or implicit. “The Bible, the basis for so much great art, moves deeper than anything coming out of the culture today,” Paglia says. As a result of its spiritual bankruptcy, art is losing its prominence in our culture. “Art makes news today,” she writes, “only when a painting is stolen or auctioned at a record price.”
[. . .]
More than 20 years ago, Paglia took another journey through art in her breakout book Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson. It launched her career as an irrepressible and politically incorrect cultural critic who was suddenly everywhere on the media circuit, speaking on topics ranging from Madonna and Elizabeth Taylor to date rape and educational reform. In the book, Paglia argued that Western culture has been a succession of shifting sexual personae (Mona Lisa is the original dominatrix; Dickinson was Amherst’s Madame de Sade). The book contained all the Paglia hallmarks: an infatuation with sex and beauty, strong prose, and an evisceration of feminism. Needless to say, Sexual Personae raised hackles and branded Paglia as the enfant terrible of academia and feminism.
That was then. While she is still more than willing to dig into what is left of the feminist movement — “feminism today is anti-intellectual” and “defined by paranoia,” she says — these days, she directs the venom of her sharp tongue to the dogmatic champions of secularism, liberals who narrow-mindedly dismiss religion and God. There is one, in particular, whom she cannot stand: the late Christopher Hitchens — like her, a libertarian-minded atheist. The key difference between the two is that he despised religion and God while Paglia respects both and thinks they are fundamental to Western culture and art. Paglia calls Hitchens “a sybaritic narcissist committed to no real ideas outside his personal advancement.”
H/T to Nick Packwood for the link.
December 3, 2012
The Register is always willing to go the extra parsec to get the NSFW story. Here’s Simon Sharwood on a burlesque show with a Star Wars theme being performed in Australia this month:
The show’s creator says the performance doesn’t necessarily involve nudity, as he dislikes notions that burlesque always has to end up with a pile of smalls on the floor.
As the NSFW video below shows, the production will certainly leave you feeling rather more kindly disposed to storm troopers. You may also find out whether Jabba the Hutt bought Princess Leia just the one bikini.
The show is billed as a parody and is definitely not in canon. It’s also proving hard to suppress: since debuting late last year, it has enjoyed several seasons around Australia. A new run of shows kicks off in early December at Sydney’s Vanguard Theatre, just in time for Vulture South’s Christmas party.
October 8, 2012
Camille Paglia in the Wall Street Journal:
Today’s blasé liberal secularism also departs from the respectful exploration of world religions that characterized the 1960s. Artists can now win attention by imitating once-risky shock gestures of sexual exhibitionism or sacrilege. This trend began over two decades ago with Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ,” a photograph of a plastic crucifix in a jar of the artist’s urine, and was typified more recently by Cosimo Cavallaro’s “My Sweet Lord,” a life-size nude statue of the crucified Christ sculpted from chocolate, intended for a street-level gallery window in Manhattan during Holy Week. However, museums and galleries would never tolerate equally satirical treatment of Judaism or Islam.
It’s high time for the art world to admit that the avant-garde is dead. It was killed by my hero, Andy Warhol, who incorporated into his art all the gaudy commercial imagery of capitalism (like Campbell’s soup cans) that most artists had stubbornly scorned.
The vulnerability of students and faculty alike to factitious theory about the arts is in large part due to the bourgeois drift of the last half century. Our woefully shrunken industrial base means that today’s college-bound young people rarely have direct contact any longer with the manual trades, which share skills, methods and materials with artistic workmanship.
[. . .]
Capitalism has its weaknesses. But it is capitalism that ended the stranglehold of the hereditary aristocracies, raised the standard of living for most of the world and enabled the emancipation of women. The routine defamation of capitalism by armchair leftists in academe and the mainstream media has cut young artists and thinkers off from the authentic cultural energies of our time.