Shared posts

25 Apr 22:41

Self-portraits drawn by David Bowie

by Jason Kottke
Sarah

for Andy

David Bowie Self Portrait

David Bowie Self Portrait

From a collection of drawings and paintings done by David Bowie, here are a couple of self-portraits…there are more if you click through.

See also every David Bowie hairstyle from 1964 to 2014.

Tags: art   David Bowie
20 Apr 22:04

The Pigeon Photographer: Aerial photographs from the turn of the century

by Tim Carmody

Pigeon Camera 01.jpg

The New Yorker has some genuinely exciting early aerial photographs, taken by birds. They’re excerpts from a new book, The Pigeon Photographer, about Dr. Julius Neubronner.

Neubronner developed the pigeon camera for practical purposes. At first, he was simply hoping to track the flights of the birds in his flock. But his invention also represented a more sublime achievement. The images his pigeons captured, featured in “The Pigeon Photographer,” a recent book from Rorhof, are among the very early photos taken of Earth from above (the earliest were captured from balloons and kites) and are distinct for having the GoPro-like quality of channelling animal movement. That perspective that is so commonplace to us now, in which the rooftops stretch out before us as though they were made of a child’s blocks, and people crawl along like ants, was a rare sight when Neubronner took his pigeon pictures. The photos offered a glimpse of the world rendered pocket-size, as it eventually would be via a hundred types of new technology—by airplanes, or skyscrapers, or Google Earth.

But there’s also something a bit wild about the photos, precisely because they were taken by birds. Their framing is random and their angles are askew; sometimes a wing feather obscures the view. Pigeons are surely the most pedestrian of birds, but, looking at these oddly graceful photographs, or at Neubronner’s pictures of the birds looking stately and upright in their photo kits, they start to seem like heavenly creatures.

These pictures remind me quite a bit of the chapters in Paul Saint-Amour’s Tense Future on the relationship between aerial photography and modernist art. (I can’t recall if he mentions the pigeons or not.)

Tags: birds   photography
19 Apr 00:08

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Potential

by tech@thehiveworks.com
Sarah

YAY



Click here to go see the bonus panel!

Hovertext:
I wonder if my kids will find these more upsetting than the weird sex comics.

New comic!
Today's News:

Signed editions now available!

18 Apr 14:46

Have Algorithms Destroyed Personal Taste?

by Kyle Chayka
Sarah

I would like to draw your attention to the person 'curating' personal Spotify playlists to beat the 'Discover Weekly' feature. Matty, I think your new side hustle beckons...

No one is original anymore, not even you.

The message of many things in America is “Like this or die.”
— George W.S. Trow, Within the Context of No Context, 1980


The Seeing Robot

The camera is a small, white, curvilinear monolith on a pedestal. Inside its smooth casing are a microphone, a speaker, and an eye-like lens. After I set it up on a shelf, it tells me to look straight at it and to be sure to smile! The light blinks and then the camera flashes. A head-to-toe picture appears on my phone of a view I’m only used to seeing in large mirrors: me, standing awkwardly in my apartment, wearing a very average weekday outfit. The background is blurred like evidence from a crime scene. It is not a flattering image.

Amazon’s Echo Look, currently available by invitation only but also on eBay, allows you to take hands-free selfies and evaluate your fashion choices. “Now Alexa helps you look your best,” the product description promises. Stand in front of the camera, take photos of two different outfits with the Echo Look, and then select the best ones on your phone’s Echo Look app. Within about a minute, Alexa will tell you which set of clothes looks better, processed by style-analyzing algorithms and some assistance from humans. So I try to find my most stylish outfit, swapping out shirts and pants and then posing stiffly for the camera. I shout, “Alexa, judge me!” but apparently that’s unnecessary.

What I discover from the Style Check™ function is as follows: All-black is better than all-gray. Rolled-up sleeves are better than buttoned at the wrist. Blue jeans are best. Popping your collar is actually good. Each outfit in the comparison receives a percentage out of 100: black clothes score 73 percent against gray clothes at 27 percent, for example. But the explanations given for the scores are indecipherable. “The way you styled those pieces looks better,” the app tells me. “Sizing is better.” How did I style them? Should they be bigger or smaller?

The Echo Look won’t tell you why it’s making its decisions. And yet it purports to show us our ideal style, just as algorithms like Netflix recommendations, Spotify Discover, and Facebook and YouTube feeds promise us an ideal version of cultural consumption tailored to our personal desires. In fact, this promise is inherent in the technology itself: Algorithms, as I’ll loosely define them, are sets of equations that work through machine learning to customize the delivery of content to individuals, prioritizing what they think we want, and evolving over time based on what we engage with.

Confronting the Echo Look’s opaque statements on my fashion sense, I realize that all of these algorithmic experiences are matters of taste: the question of what we like and why we like it, and what it means that taste is increasingly dictated by black-box robots like the camera on my shelf.

Theories of Taste

In his 2017 book Taste, the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben digs up the roots of the word. Historically, it is defined as a form of knowledge through pleasure, from perceiving the flavor of food to judging the quality of an object. Taste is an essentially human capacity, to the point that it is almost subconscious: We know whether we like something or not before we understand why. “Taste enjoys beauty, without being able to explain it,” Agamben writes. He quotes Montesquieu: “This effect is principally founded on surprise.” Algorithms are meant to provide surprise, showing us what we didn’t realize we’d always wanted, and yet we are never quite surprised because we know to expect it.

Philosophers in the 18th century defined taste as a moral capacity, an ability to recognize truth and beauty. “Natural taste is not a theoretical knowledge; it’s a quick and exquisite application of rules which we do not even know,” wrote Montesquieu in 1759. This unknowingness is important. We don’t calculate or measure if something is tasteful to us; we simply feel it. Displacing the judgment of taste partly to algorithms, as in the Amazon Echo Look, robs us of some of that humanity.

Every cultural object we aestheticize and consume — “the most everyday choices of everyday life, e.g., in cooking, clothing or decoration,” Pierre Bourdieu writes in his 1984 book Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste — is a significant part of our identities and reflects who we are. “Taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier,” Bourdieu adds. If our taste is dictated by data-fed algorithms controlled by massive tech corporations, then we must be content to classify ourselves as slavish followers of robots.

But Fashion Is Already Arbitrary

We might say that “taste” is the abstract, moralized knowledge, while “style” is its visual expression. Fashion makes taste easily visible as style, in part because its distinctions between color or cut in clothing are so specific and yet so random (“rules which we don’t even know”). In the past, a whimsical consensus among elites dictated fashion culture; a royal court or an echelon of magazine editors imposed a certain taste from the top of society, down.

Taste is an essentially human capacity, to the point that it is almost subconscious: We know whether we like something or not before we understand why.

Roland Barthes noticed this arbitrariness in his 1960 essay Blue Is in Fashion This Year. Barthes scrutinizes a fragment of text from a fashion magazine — “blue is in fashion this year” — to see where its thesis, that a particular color is particularly tasteful right now, comes from. His conclusion is that it doesn’t come from anywhere: “We are not talking about a rigorous production of meaning: the link is neither obligatory nor sufficiently motivated.” Blue is not in fashion because it is particularly functional, nor is it symbolically linked to some wider economic or political reality; the statement has no semantic logic. Style, Barthes argues, is an inexplicable equation (a faulty algorithm).

That Scene from The Devil Wears Prada

Further evidence of the artificial and hierarchical nature of style in the past can be found in that scene from the 2006 film The Devil Wears Prada, in which Meryl Streep (as magazine editor and Anna Wintour facsimile Miranda Priestly) tells her assistant played by Anne Hathaway that the chunky blue sweater she is wearing was, in essence, chosen for her. “That blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs, and it’s sort of comical how you think you made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing a sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff,” Streep says.

In other words, blue is in fashion this year because some people decided it was. You, the non-tastemaker, have no choice in the matter.

Data-Based Fashion

Is it possible that instead of this artificial fashion language, algorithms like those powering Alexa could create a more systemic, logical construction of fashion aesthetics built on data? Blue is in fashion this year because 83.7 percent of users purchased (or clicked like on) blue shirts, the Amazon Echo Look algorithm says, therefore it is in fashion, therefore businesses should manufacture more blue shirts, and you, the customer, will buy and wear them. No human editors needed.

I’m not sure if this technology-derived algorithmic facticity of taste is better or worse than Meryl Streep-Anna Wintour deciding what I wear, which might be the core concern of this essay.

“Collapsing Dominant”

When modes of tastes change, there is a certain fear: Am I in or out? Do I understand the new or am I stuck in the old? In 1980, the New Yorker published George W.S. Trow’s essay describing this feeling under the title of “Within the Context of No Context,” from which I took the epigraph and structure for this piece. Trow’s essay came out as a book in 1981 and again in 1997. In the appended introduction to the 1997 edition, he uses the phrase “collapsing dominant” to describe a situation in which an older, established mode of cultural authority, or a taste regime, is fading and being replaced by a newer one. These regimes have two parts: the subjects of taste and the way taste is communicated.

Today we are seeing the collapse of the dominant regime that Trow originally observed emerging, mass-media television, which had previously replaced the moralistic mid-century novels of New England WASPs. Now, we have Instagram likes, Twitter hashtags, and Google-distributed display advertising spreading taste values. Instead of the maximalist, celebrity-driven, intoxicant culture of ‘70s television — Nixon, Star Wars, shag rugs, cocaine, nuclear bombs — we now have the flattened, participatory, somehow salutary aesthetic of avocado toast, Outdoor Voices leggings, reclaimed wood, Sky Ting yoga classes, and succulents in ceramic planters.

That we are in the midst of this shift in taste might help explain our larger mood of instability and paranoia (or is it just me?). We can’t figure out what might be sustainable to identify with, to orient our taste on. The algorithm suggests that we trust it, but we don’t entirely want to. We crave a more “authentic,” lasting form of meaning.

The Death of Svpply

In 2009, a designer named Ben Pieratt, now living in Massachusetts, launched Svpply. It was a kind of online social network based on shopping, where invitation-only members could curate selections of products from elsewhere on the internet and users could follow their favorite tastemakers. Eventually, any user could become a curator. I remember it from the time as a calm, limpid pool in the midst of so much internet noise. The site presented only cool clothes, bags, and accessories, all chosen by individual humans, since algorithmic feeds weren’t widely deployed at the time. On Svpply you could find the melange of signifiers of a certain class of early-adopter design-bro: minimalist sneakers, fancy T-shirts, Leica cameras, and drop-crotch sweatpants.

The algorithm suggests that we trust it, but we don’t entirely want to.

In 2012, eBay acquired the company and quickly shut it down. In 2014, Pieratt launched a Kickstarter for Very Goods, a Svpply replacement that’s still active. Today he sees Svpply as a cautionary tale about the limits of human curation on the internet. Over the phone, we talk about how taste doesn’t really scale. The bigger a platform gets, the harder it is to maintain a particular sense of style. By opening the platform, Pieratt had tried to “convert from a human-driven community into a machine,” he explains. “When we lost the exclusivity, people didn’t really care anymore.” Svpply’s innate sense of uniqueness didn’t survive: “If everyone’s editing Vogue, it wouldn’t be Vogue.”

Another question: How good of a tastemaker can a machine ultimately be?

Human- v. Machine-Curation

I worry that we are moving from a time of human curation (early Svpply) to a time in which algorithms drive an increasingly large portion of what we consume (the Facebook feed). This impacts not only the artifacts we experience but also how we experience them. Think of the difference between a friend recommending a clothing brand and something showing up in targeted banner ads, chasing you around the internet. It’s more likely that your friend understands what you want and need, and you’re more likely to trust the recommendation, even if it seems challenging to you.

Maybe it’s a particularly shapeless garment or a noisy punk track. If you know the source of the suggestion, then you might give it a chance and see if it meshes with your tastes. In contrast, we know the machine doesn’t care about us, nor does it have a cultivated taste of its own; it only wants us to engage with something it calculates we might like. This is boring. “I wonder if, at the core of fashion, the reason we find it fascinating is that we know there’s a human at the end of it,” Pieratt says. “We’re learning about people. If you remove that layer of humanity from underneath, does the soul of the interest leave with it?”

Pieratt makes a further distinction between style and taste. Style is a superficial aesthetic code that is relatively simple to replicate, whereas taste is a kind of wider aesthetic intelligence, able to connect and integrate disparate experiences. Algorithms can approximate the former — telling me I should wear a blue shirt — but can’t approximate the latter because the machine can’t tell me why it thinks I should wear a blue shirt or what the blue shirt might mean to me. When a machine has taken over the exploration of taste, the possibility of suddenly feeling something from a surprising object is narrowed to only what the machine decides to expose. “I don’t think there’s such a thing as machine taste yet,” says Pieratt.

Of course, he and I might just be part of the fading regime, our “collapsing dominant.” The dystopian babies of 2018 raised on algorithmic Spiderman-slash-Frozen YouTube videos may have different appetites in the future.


Taste Optimization

The threat of banality (or the lack of surprise) implicit in full machine curation reminds me of the seemingly random vocabulary meant to improve SEO on Craigslist posts. As one chair listing I encountered put it: “Goes with herman miller eames vintage mid century modern knoll Saarinen dwr design within reach danish denmark abc carpet and home arm chair desk dining slipper bedroom living room office.”

Imagine the optimized average of all of these ideas. The linguistic melange forms a taste vernacular built not on an individual brand identity or a human curator but a freeform mass of associations meant to draw the viewer in by any means necessary. If you like this, you’ll probably like that. Or, as a T-shirt I bought in Cambodia a decade ago reads, “Same same but different.” The slogan pops into my mind constantly as I scroll past so many content modules, each unique and yet unoriginal.

Machine-Generated Content

Algorithms promise: If you like this, you will get more of it, forever. This experience is leaking from the internet of Google ads for the bag you just bought into the physical world. Look to the artist Jenny Odell’s investigation of “free watch” offers on Instagram for an example. The watches appear, at a minimum, stylish, with small variations on minimalist faces and metal bands. But they are not the result of an enlightened sense of taste, per Pieratt’s definition. The brands that sell them are thin fictions whipped up in Squarespace and the actual products are the result of Alibaba manufacturing and Amazon drop-shipping, in which a product moves directly from manufacturer to consumer having never entered a store. The phantom watches are empty fashion language, objects without content.

Other ways in which our experiences are warped by algorithmic platforms include Spotify possibly commissioning original music from “fake” artists to match the latent content desires of its audience, as Noisey noticed; delivery restaurants that are only virtual, conjuring a digital brand out of a shadowy group kitchen and serving food via Uber Eats; the surreal kids’ YouTube videos, which exist because they are rewarded with views by the feed algorithm and thus earn their creators advertising profit; and the globalized visual vernacular of Airbnb interior decorating, which approximates a certain style emerging from the platform itself. Having analyzed the data from some platform or another, these are things the machine thinks you want, and it can serve them up immediately and infinitely.

We find ourselves in a cultural uncanny valley, unable to differentiate between things created by humans and those generated by a human-trained equation run amok. In other words, what is the product of genuine taste and what is not. (This lack of discernibility also contributes to the problems of fake news, which algorithmic feeds promote like any other content, however inaccurate.)

Spotify’s fake artists aren’t fake, per se; they’re a kind of muzak created by a Swedish production company that just so happens to have the same investors as Spotify. That the simple possibility of non-genuine music fed to us by an algorithmic platform without our knowledge created a media frenzy speaks to our fundamental fear — a possibly irrational or at least abstruse 21st-century anxiety — of an algorithmic culture.

Style in the Age of Digital Reproduction

In 1935, Walter Benjamin observed that the work of art in the 20th century was undergoing a change during the advent of photography and film. The newfound reproducibility of the individual work of art through these technologies meant that art was deprived of its “aura”: “the here and now of the original” or “the abstract idea of its genuineness,” as Benjamin writes.

Photography, as Benjamin observed, could reproduce a singular work of art. Algorithmic machine learning, however, can mimic an entire stylistic mode, generating new examples at will or overlaying a pre-existing object with a new style unrelated to its origins. In 2015, researchers released a paper in which they turned a photograph of Tübingen, Germany into a van Gogh painting, then overlaid the style of Munch and Kandinsky in turn. The system “achieves a separation of image content from style,” the researchers write (a disconnect that contributes to our anxiety).

Want another Picasso, Gucci, Gehry, Glossier, Beyoncé? Just push the button.

So it’s not just an individual work which can be reproduced, but rather an artist’s entire aesthetic. The resulting lack of aura devalues unique style, or changes our experience of it, just as photography once challenged painting. “The reproduced work of art is to an ever-increasing extent the reproduction of a work of art designed for reproducibility,” Benjamin writes. Another cultural crisis is looming as we realize that “new” or popular styles will be increasingly optimized for their algorithmic reproducibility (in other words, designed to spread meme-like over digital platforms) instead of their originality.

Want another Picasso, Gucci, Gehry, Glossier, Beyoncé? Just push the button. It’ll be close enough. There’s already an Instagram influencer with over 700,000 followers, Miquela, who appears to be a 19-year-old model dressing up in clothes from Chanel, Proenza Schouler, and Supreme. Her vibe is Kylie Jenner, with her malevolent-cherub face and embrace of streetwear. Except Miquela is actually a virtual character her designers rendered by computer, as if produced by a Kardashian-fed AI. Unlike Jenner, Miquela is a style that can be reproduced cheaply and infinitely.

One Tenet of Algorithmic Culture

Every platform, canvassed by an algorithm that prioritizes some content over other content based on predicted engagement, develops a Generic Style that is optimized for the platform’s specific structure. This Generic Style evolves over time based on updates in the platform and in the incentives of the algorithm for users.

When we encounter the Generic Style in the world, we feel a shiver of fear: We have entered the realm of the not-quite-human, the not-quite-genuine. Did we make an independent decision or do the machines know us better than we know ourselves? (This anxiety might just be an iteration of the debate between free will and fate.)

Addendum I: Algorithmic Intimacy

One day, a friend of mine in New York City is on OKCupid, Bumble, or Hinge. He encounters the profile of a young woman and matches with her. He introduces himself with a joke based on the cultural signifiers in her profile, as is the habit of our time. She doesn’t respond.

Months later, I am sitting with him in a restaurant at the only two open seats left at the bar. At the end of our corner, there is a young woman sitting alone. My friend and the young woman strike up a conversation that seems to have a certain spark to it. Eventually, the realization occurs to her, or maybe she’d known all along: “Did we… match online?” She apologizes for not replying to his message and they keep chatting with increasing animation.

Would this flash of intimacy have occurred without the intervention of the algorithm that introduced them? Not so quickly, I think, if at all. The algorithm added a certain missing context through which they identified each other; it can be comforting, even helpful to feel recognized by the machine. He gets her phone number.

Addendum II: Cities

Then again, aren’t cities (and their bars, restaurants, and boutiques) really just highly attuned machines for sorting people according to their interests and desires? By being here, we have already communicated certain things about ourselves, much like checking preferences on an OKCupid account and surrendering to the equation.

Our experiences have always been algorithmic, if not previously driven by an actual algorithm. Sometimes it seems wrong to speak of some kind of lost originality or authenticity, as if life before Facebook were wholly innocent, non-formulaic, pure — tasteful. Taste has always been and always will be derivative, hierarchical, and shallow, but also vital.


Content Luddism (Ethically Sourced Culture)

What do we do, then, about this shift from human to digital taste? It’s possible to consciously resist the algorithm, like someone might buck the current fashion trend — wearing bell-bottoms and tie-dye, say, instead of trim, blank basics. I might only read books I stumble across in used bookstores, only watch TV shows on local channels, only buy vinyl, only write letters, forsake social media for print newspapers, wear only found vintage. (Etsy is already algorithmic, with its own faux-folksy Generic Style.) I could abstain from algorithmic culture like the Luddites who resisted the automation of textile factories in the 19th century by destroying machines. It would be so organic. Cool! Obscure! Authentic!

But as soon as something Cool, Obscure, and Authentic gets put back on the internet, it is factored into the equation, maybe it goes viral, and soon enough it’s as omnipresent as Millennial Pink circa 2017. In this way, algorithmic culture is not encouraging of diversity or the coexistence of multiple valid viewpoints and identities. If a stylistic quirk is effective, it is integrated into the Generic Style as quickly as possible; if it is ineffective, it is choked of public exposure. So you’d also have to keep your discoveries analog. Put an air gap between your brain and the internet.

Addendum III: One Example of Non-Algorithmic Taste

My friend is sitting across from me in a wine bar. She’s wearing a black turtleneck cashmere sweater with long ridges down the sleeves. It looks perfect and yet unplaceable; no brand logo, material texture, or discernible quirk identifies it with one source or another. “Where is that sweater from?” I ask.

“Oh, I got it from my grandma’s closet when she moved out of Manhattan,” she says.

Piracy

I grew up in the early 2000s during the beginning of the social internet, when there were no smart feeds or adaptive algorithms to sort content. The primary ways I discovered new things were through forums, where members suggested which shoes to buy or bands to listen to, and through digital piracy, which gave me a relatively unfiltered list of possible cultural artifacts to consume on Kazaa or BitTorrent, which did not come with “You May Also Like This” recommendations. (I did not live in a city and the local comprehensive bookstore was a Borders 45 minutes away.) These services were the digital equivalent of used vinyl shops: You take what you find, either you like it or not, and then you try again, constantly refining an image of what you want and (thus) who you are.

Since those were formative teenage years, I derived a good part of my identity as a cultural consumer from DIY piracy. Still, the results were neither exceptional nor original. I downloaded a lot of Dave Matthews Band concert bootlegs and sought out American Apparel in the mall after seeing it online. But at least these things felt like mine? Or at least the assemblage aggregated into something I might have called personal taste.

Now YouTube tells me which videos to watch, Netflix serves me TV shows, Amazon suggests clothes to wear, and Spotify delivers music to listen to. If content doesn’t exist to match my desires, the companies work to cultivate it. The problem is that I don’t identify as much with these choices as what I once pirated, discovered, or dug up. When I look at my Spotify Discover playlists, I wonder how many other people got the exact same lists or which artists paid for their placement. I feel nostalgic for the days of undifferentiated .rar files loading slowly in green progress bars. There was friction. It all meant something.

To be fair, this content consumption was also extremely unethical. And it’s not like I don’t like Netflix shows or Spotify playlists. Like cigarettes or McDonald’s, they were designed for me to like them, so of course I like them. It’s just that I don’t always like that I like them.

Hipster Platforms & Platform Hipsters

Yet there are an increasing number of legal alternatives to these mainstream platforms. We’re seeing a profusion of smaller platforms with different brand images, the equivalent of a Reformation instead of a J.Crew or Glossier instead of Clinique. If Gap is a mainstream platform for fashion basics, then Everlane, with its transparent manufacturing and minimalist branding, and now Scott Sternberg’s Entireworld, which purports to offer a utopian clothing system, are its more niche, though no less generic, hipster equivalents.

FilmStruck, for example, streams “critically acclaimed classic movies, hard-to-find gems, and cult favorites” like those in the Criterion Collection, while MUBI selects “cult, classic, independent and award-winning films from around the world.” The full-bleed, black-and-white stills on their websites differentiate them as far hipper than Netflix or cable — you might feel safer about identifying your taste with them (“I don’t watch TV; I only watch FilmStruck,” a platform hipster says). Instead of Spotify, there’s The Overflow, with vetted Christian worship music, or Primephonic, with high-definition classical recordings. Quincy Jones launched the “Netflix of jazz.”

Digital platforms exist for non-digital products, too. The start-up Feather will rent you a “hip bedroom” bundle of faux-mid century side tables and bed frame for $109 a month in a kind of minimally stylish pre-packaged taste kit, a thinly reproduced aesthetic lacking any aura. Similarly, fashion companies like Gustin and Taylor Stitch crowdfund their new products, counting pre-orders before manufacturing anything. These are different from traditional brands in that they are driven from the bottom-up by the actions of users rather than the diktats of auteur creative directors. And, like the drop-shipped generic watches, they are extremely boring, releasing wave after wave of artisanal fabrics turned into rustic, vaguely outdoorsy gear.

What these businesses suggest is that you can have the benefits of a digital platform and an algorithmic feed while still feeling self-satisfied, pretentious, and exclusive in the knowledge that your content has been carefully curated by humans. Or, you could hire a tastemaker of your own. As The Verge reported, a musician named Deb Oh freelances as a Spotify curator through her service Debop, making custom playlists for $125. She culls from the “the symphony of algorithms,” as she beautifully puts it, and comes back with something more manageable, more human.

Oh’s services present original curation as a luxury good. It costs money to step off the consumption rails so conveniently laid out for us by tech companies and their advertisers. In the future, taste will be built on allegiances to platforms as much as individual creators or brands. Are you more of an Amazon, Apple, WeWork, Airbnb, or Facebook person? Unless you go off-platform, there are no other choices. Not just for your technology, but for your culture: fashion, furniture, music, art, film, media.

The Style of No-Style

Platformization is something the fashion industry is already familiar with, of course: Each major brand is its own platform, expanding in a profusion of seasonal lines and accessories meant to cater to your every need within a single taste-system. LOT2046 is a smaller, independent algorithmic platform for fashion that I subscribed to last year and I haven’t looked back. Its thesis is simple: Your clothing desires can be reduced to a series of signifiers that the service automates and adapts to you. Shipments of all-black clothing and accessories arrive every month; the only customizations are a few stylistic choices — short socks or long, crew-neck or V-neck — and that the items come with your name emblazoned on them, like a black duffle bag I recently received that says KYLE CHAYKA in raised black thread.

If our decisions about what we consume don’t seem to communicate much about ourselves anymore, why not just choose to not make them?

LOT is pro-algorithm. “Any technology should know what you need and want more than you know,” its founder Vadik Marmeladov, a Russian designer who prefers to stay behind the scenes, told me. “Platforms will be telling you what you want before you want it.” He feels that machines should not just suggest things, but make decisions for us, from planning a weekend trip to a morning coffee order. In other words, they should supplant our taste entirely.

Surrendering to LOT is a kind of freedom to stop thinking about fashion, freeing the mind for loftier things — like contemplating mortality, Marmeladov suggests. Its promise is that by drastically narrowing the variables, perhaps an algorithm can actually help you achieve individuality, not just through clothing but induced existentialism. I don’t wear LOT’s clothes all the time, but I find its ethos seeping into how I think about my consumption in the algorithm age more generally. If our decisions about what we consume don’t seem to communicate much about ourselves anymore, why not just choose to not make them?

A Pledge for the Self-Aware

Say it with me: I enjoy what I enjoy regardless of its potential for receiving likes, going viral, or being found acceptable by an algorithm.

Say it with me: I also do not deny that I am implicated, inexorably, in the Generic Style of my time.

Algo-Clash

The promise of algorithms is that they will show you yourself, refining an image of your tastes that should be identical to what you would have chosen on your own. The current reality is that these feeds silo you in homogenizing platforms, calculating the best-fitting average identity. That these average identities come in increasingly minute shades does not mean that they are unique.

A better mode of resistance might be to use the algorithms’ homogenizing averageness against them, adapting their data for productive disruption. We can take advantage of the clash between multiple algorithmic ideals, or between an algorithm’s vision of the world and reality, creating a glitch-based aesthetic. What would be error could be art.

As culture has changed to accommodate every other technological innovation, so our ideas about algorithms will change. “Eventually we may opt to shift our definition of art in order to make accommodation for the creativity of artificial intelligence,” says Marian Mazzone, an art history professor at the College of Charleston who worked on a project in which AI created original styles of painting (they mostly look like mash-ups of Impressionism, Fauvism, and Cubism).

Oscar Sharp is the director of Sunspring, a short sci-fi film with a script generated by a machine-learning algorithm trained on episodes of The X-Files, Star Trek, and Futurama. The result is something spiky, mostly non-narrative — it doesn’t make much sense, but it is compelling and unique. The film doesn’t try to fool the viewer into thinking it’s 100 percent human-made. Rather, the actors strain to adapt to the aesthetics of the machine and discover something new in the process.

“It’s like you’re working on a big TV show with a very powerful showrunner who has written the episode, and the showrunner got drunk last night, passed out, and you couldn’t not make the episode,” Sharp says. “You have to do everything within your power to make the episode as it was written.” The challenge was generative: “Augmented creativity is much more interesting than a replacement of creativity,” he says.

The automated clothing service Stitch Fix, kind of a preppy version of LOT, uses algorithmic help to optimize their new original designs to increase sales and address gaps in the market, what they call “Hybrid Design”: customers like ruffles and plaid, so why not plaid ruffles? But we could instead go in the opposite direction, making clothes no one wants — yet. Algo-clash clothing would be more like the artist Philip David Stearns’s glitch textiles, unique fabrics generated from software gone intentionally awry, the discordant pattern of pixels made into a Baroque style.

Fashion is always one step ahead, though. The triple-waistband jeans recently released by ASOS already look like a glitched algorithm designed them.

The Innate Humanity of the Algorithm

It is not just that artists can collaborate with algorithms; there is always a person at the end of the machine — like the man behind the curtain in Oz — regulating what it does. The majority of these are currently Silicon Valley engineers. And we human consumers are still on the other side of the algorithm, with our freedom to decide what we consume or to opt out. Our decisions shape what is popular in the present as well as what is preserved into the future. “Let’s not forget the audience has a major role to play in determining what will matter and what will not, what is liked and what is not,” Mazzone says. In the long term, this is slightly comforting.


Taste Is Over! If You Want It

I leave the cyclopic Amazon Echo Look on a shelf in my living room, where it glares at me every time I walk past, not stopping for it to evaluate my outfit. It yearns to assign inexplicable percentages, and yet I am more comfortable judging for myself. It takes fine pictures, but like a mirror, it mostly shows me what I already know. And the device is trying to match me to some universalized average, not my individual style, whatever that might be. It doesn’t know me at all — it can’t tell what kind of clothes I’m comfortable in nor how the clothes I wear will function as symbols outside, in the place I live, in the contexts of class or gender. All-black doesn’t play the same in Kansas City as it does in New York, after all. This is the kind of social, aesthetic intelligence, the sense of taste, that our algorithms are missing, for now at least.

Amazon says the Look is for achieving your best style, but its ulterior motives aren’t hard to spot. When I asked the machine about my plaid shirt, an ad popped up on the app’s feed showing me a few other, similarly colored plaid shirts — none particularly stylish or different enough from the one I own, bereft of brand name — that I could buy on Amazon. In fact, Amazon is already using the data it collects to manufacture its own clothing lines, and the results are about what you’d expect from a robot: wan imitations of whatever is currently popular, from the “globally inspired” Ella Moon to the cool-French-girl knockoff Paris Sunday. Training on millions of users’ worth of data and images from the Look showing what we actually wear could make the in-house brands slightly less uncanny. Then again, imagine a potential leak, not of credit card data but an extensive cache of your outfits.

It’s up to us whether or not we care about the shades of distinction between human and machine choice, or indeed if we care about fashion at all. Maybe taste is the last thing separating us from the Singularity; maybe it’s the first thing we should get rid of. “I don’t think the consumer cares, as long as it works,” one Stitch Fix executive said of its algorithmically designed clothes.

But if we do want to avoid displacing or reassigning our desires and creativity to machines, we can decide to become a little more analog. I imagine a future in which our clothes, music, film, art, books come with stickers like organic farmstand produce: Algorithm Free.

Echo, Echo, Echo

“Echo” is a good name for Amazon’s device because it creates an algorithmic feedback loop in which nothing original emerges.

Alexa, how do I look?

You look derivative, Kyle.

Kyle Chayka is a writer living in Brooklyn.

Editor: Julia Rubin
Copy editor: Laura Bullard

13 Apr 21:56

Medieval Cats vs. Monday Blues

by Maika
Sarah

Than has dubbed the last one 'Grumblethump'

Whether you’ve got too much, too little, or only wibbly-wobbly things happening this week, nothing puts a brand new week into perspective like the angst-ridden, demented, confused, just plain sad, or otherwise troubled visages and misshapen bodies of medieval art cats.

I thought I knew existential angst until I saw this anguished kitty:

Many of these woeful felines can be traced back to one of my favorite websites, Discarding Images, which is simply an ever-growing collection of medieval images.

However, considering the content of these images, that description feels like an over-simplification that doesn’t do justice to the medieval art itself or the effort that doubtless goes into finding it all.

You never know who or what will appear from one day to the next (today it’s an amazing bat in their very own medieval belfry). Discarding Images provides a window into the past that fascinates, baffles, bewilders, and amuses no end.

By the way, Discarding Images can also be followed on InstagramFacebook, and Twitter, so you’ve lots of ways to choose how to receive a regular dose of wonderfully strange and very old art. We can puzzle over it together.

[via SadAndUseless]

13 Apr 03:28

Painted Lady: Kate Moss by Paolo Roversi

by Samantha
Sarah

i'm jealous of people who get to think about and make art

Kate Moss by Paolo Roversi for W Magazine, Spring 2015
Styled by Edward Enninful


11 Apr 00:57

I Made a Massive Spreadsheet of All My Clothes

by Lillian Karabaic
Sarah

Um, I kind of want to do this! I won't do the cost per wear thing, because I really don't remember.

The real numbers behind my wardrobe.

One morning in November 2016, shortly after I switched career paths from political organizing to teaching personal finance, I looked in my closet and realized I hated nearly everything inside. Looking through my clothing, I realized just how little I had chosen for myself intentionally, thanks to my punk-rock cheapskate habits.

Over the next year, I set myself a budget of $1,000 to completely redo my wardrobe. And as a devoted data geek, it was clear that the first step in loving my wardrobe was to make a spreadsheet.

A brief history of my grown-up wardrobe

I spent my first couple of years in the working world living at a forested hippie commune and working on an organic farm, and in an intentional community where we lived in voluntary poverty to serve those in need. I didn’t know anyone who spent money on their wardrobe, and I had nowhere I needed to dress up for. A new skirt was never a spending priority while living on a $100-a-month stipend. If I had some extra money, I’d stick it in savings or spend it on hot sauce. I’d never drop my hard-earned cash on new jeans when there was an abundance of discarded denim in the free box. I never thought about making a “clothing budget.”

Throughout my 20s, I started to develop a sense of “office style” and build up a wardrobe that wasn’t entirely stained overalls and public radio fund-drive T-shirts as a professional necessity. I interned at a Congress member’s office; I was appointed to city committees; I presented at fancy law firms. I needed presentable business clothing. But the anti-consumerist punk in me still hated to buy anything new or spend more than $10 on a single clothing item at the thrift shop. So over the past decade, I have acquired a wardrobe of random items with no strategy — valued at more than $3,000 altogether. What happened to the dirty hippie with only two pairs of pants from a decade ago?

The spreadsheet

My economics degree has trained me that any problem can be solved with the right data set. So as part of my great wardrobe redo, I spent 13 hours on a Saturday cataloging the entirety of my wardrobe in a massive spreadsheet. I logged a description of each item, its cost to me, where it was purchased, the year I acquired it, the condition, whether it was vintage (older than 1980), the fabric content and care, if it was new or used when I obtained it, the brand. Any items for which I couldn’t find my original purchase price (I keep good financial records, so mostly I was able to dig back to 2007) I marked “Price Unknown.”

By the end of the day, the spreadsheet had more than 4,000 cells and 28 tabs. Here’s what I found.

What does the data say about my clothing?

  • Clothing that I buy for myself, intentionally, ends up being some of the best value in my wardrobe. Even though the price per wear of clothing I get from swaps is $0, a $30 dress I sought out on Poshmark ends up getting worn so often that the price per wear approaches $0, and I rank a higher happiness rating on days I wear an item I chose for myself intentionally. Fast-fashion clothing from clothing swaps that I pick up “because it is free and kind of fits” ends up being a drain on my storage and my spreadsheet.
  • Brand names mean nothing to me personally, but the more mid-range (as opposed to fast fashion) brand names stay in my wardrobe longer despite higher use per item because their fabric content is generally higher quality. Noticing brand names that specialize in high-quality fabrics makes secondhand shopping easier. For example, I figured out that Eva Franco makes my dresses in my style in knit rayon; I now put alerts on eBay and Poshmark looking for size 4P Eva Franco.
  • Procrastination is a big barrier to my clothing choices — 25 percent of my total wardrobe (47 items) is benched due to fixable issues (stains, needs dry cleaning or steam cleaning, mending). I barely graze 5 feet; nearly all my skirts and pants need to hemmed before wearing.
  • I’m a personal finance educator, and in my niche, a common rule of thumb is that you should spend 5 percent of your take-home pay on clothing. I’m not really a fan of this rule, but let’s see how it pans out for my past five years of spending.
  • While buying nicer dresses for big occasions (graduation, my 30th birthday party, a big fundraiser) feels fun, those dresses have some of the highest costs per wear. A $300 dress purchased for $60 is a steal — but if I only wear it once, it ends up being 50 times the cost per wear of my everyday clothing. Reselling those items immediately after to recoup the cost makes the most economic sense instead of “saving them for another special event.”

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend everyone catalog their entire wardrobe in a 4,730-cell spreadsheet, but the process was useful for examining where I get real value out of my wardrobe. I now know the cost per wear of everything in my closet and have a pretty good set of strategies for figuring out how to rebuild my closet again. If you want a slightly less obsessive way to catalog your wardrobe, there are many apps such as Stylebook and Smart Closet that help you create your own closet list, à la Cher from Clueless. Meanwhile, I’m off to list some low-ranking clothing on eBay.

Lillian Karabaic is the host of the weekly radio show Oh My Dollar! Her cat-filled purrsonal finance book, Get Your Money Together, is out April 17. She posts useless pretty graphs on her Instagram.

03 Apr 12:00

David Bowie’s Verbasizer

by swissmiss

The nerd in my admits that the Verbasizer was my favorite part of David Bowie’s exhibit currently at the Brooklyn Museum.

28 Mar 22:38

Whatever You Do, Don’t.

by Jason Kottke

Scarfolk

Scarfolk is a dystopian satire site about an English town that’s stuck in a 1970s time loop.

Scarfolk is a town in North West England that did not progress beyond 1979. Instead, the entire decade of the 1970s loops ad infinitum. Here in Scarfolk, pagan rituals blend seamlessly with science; hauntology is a compulsory subject at school, and everyone must be in bed by 8pm because they are perpetually running a slight fever. “Visit Scarfolk today. Our number one priority is keeping rabies at bay.” For more information please reread.

Scarfolk

Scarfolk

Scarfolk

The slogans and advertisements the site produces are fantastic. It’s Nice That has a good overview of the some of the best pieces.

Tags: advertising   design
24 Mar 12:38

Blogging, social media, and ambient humanity

by Tim Carmody

Dan Cohen is a history professor and administrator at Northeastern University; he was also the executive director of the Digital Public Library of America, and has been a general public smartypants in the field of digital humanities.

Dan recently wrote a blog post titled “Back to the Blog,” which muses on a microtrend I’ve seen as well. Friends and writers, not thousands or probably even hundreds, but solid dozens, returning to old-fashioned weblogging as a way to get their thoughts in order, take ownership of their intellectual property, get away from the Twitter hubbub, stick it to Facebook, or any one of a dozen other reasons to write a blog.

Now, a lot of the professional infrastructure of blogging that once was is broken. The ad networks that supported people don’t exist or don’t work the same way. The distribution, via RSS and then Google Reader, was monopolized and then fractured. Some of the blogging networks take as much of a walled-garden approach to their sites as Facebook does.

But, if you just want to blog (which is different from making a living as a blogger), it’s probably easier to start and host your own blog than it ever was. What’s holding people back, Cohen writes, isn’t really technical:

It is psychological gravity, not technical inertia, however, that is the greater force against the open web. Human beings are social animals and centralized social media like Twitter and Facebook provide a powerful sense of ambient humanity—the feeling that “others are here”—that is often missing when one writes on one’s own site. Facebook has a whole team of Ph.D.s in social psychology finding ways to increase that feeling of ambient humanity and thus increase your usage of their service.

The metaphor suggests that blogging either needs its own mechanisms of ambient humanity — which it’s had, in the form of links, trackbacks, conversations, even (gulp) comments, all of which replicated at least a fraction of the buzz that social media has — or it needs a kind of escape velocity to break that gravitational pull. Gravity or speed. Or a hybrid of both.

Tags: Dan Cohen   weblogs
20 Mar 14:31

The cult of Trump and America’s increasingly authoritarian government

by Jason Kottke
Sarah

rough

I missed Andrew Sullivan’s review of Cass Sunstein’s Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide and Can It Happen Here?: Authoritarianism in America (also edited by Sunstein) but I think Sullivan’s twin conclusions are spot on: Trump is likely unimpeachable1 and America is steadily headed towards an authoritarian government.

The result is that an unimpeachable president is slowly constructing the kind of authoritarian state that America was actually founded to overthrow.

There is nothing in the Constitution’s formal operation that can prevent this. Impeachment certainly cannot. As long as one major political party endorses it, and a solid plurality of Americans support such an authoritarian slide, it is unstoppable. The founders knew that without a virtuous citizenry, the Constitution was a mere piece of paper and, in Madison’s words, “no theoretical checks — no form of government can render us secure.” Franklin was blunter in forecasting the moment we are now in: He believed that the American experiment in self-government “can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.” You can impeach a president, but you can’t, alas, impeach the people. They voted for the kind of monarchy the American republic was designed, above all else, to resist; and they have gotten one.

That is an astonishing passage, not only because of the allegation that 225+ years of American democracy is now effectively over because the Constitution does not include the necessary checks to prevent it, but also because it rings true.

  1. As I’ve said before, I don’t think Trump will resign or be impeached…or willingly leave the White House under any circumstance.

Tags: Andrew Sullivan   books   Can It Happen Here?   Cass Sunstein   Donald Trump   Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide   politics
17 Mar 16:42

The Auteur Is Alive And Well-Dressed

by Dr. Alexis Romano and Dr. Ellen Sampson
Worn blue denim jeans. Part of an exhibition on subcultural style at the Victoria & Albert museum, 1996. Courtesy of V&A.

THE MUSEUM IS A site of power, both guardian and producer of cultural capital: museums define and reproduce notions of what is worthy of our gaze. The year 2017 reified fashion’s space within the museum: though debates as to its place in the museum still sputter on, another string of blockbuster shows in New York and London1 alone, confirmed that fashion, as a craft and art form, status symbol and performative practice, draws crowds and press in a way that few other creative mediums can do.

In the context of this increasing acceptance of the validity of fashion in museums, it is interesting to delve more deeply into what these blockbuster shows say about fashion, dress and clothes. How are clothes in the museum positioned and framed, and how do these ways of ‘dressing’ the museum shape collective ideas on our relationship to fashion and the creative self? Many of the successful 2017 exhibitions might be described as ‘designer-as-artist’ shows; shows which construct a visual narrative around the creative genius and modus operandi of a single named designer(s). These monographic exhibitions use the construct of the designer as the author (or auteur) to showcase the work of famous designers in relation to wider histories of fashion and dress, often (although not always) with secondary importance placed on the social implications of the clothing on display.

Two of the biggest fashion exhibitions of the last year, the elegant Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion at the V&A and the conceptual Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, fit this model. As such viewers were treated to a reappraisal of Cristóbal Balenciaga’s technical innovation and design influence, through x-ray analysis that doubled as artistic intervention, a collaborative project with London College of Fashion students, and carefully chosen juxtapositions from the museum’s collection. The singular and spectacular innovation of Rei Kawakubo was celebrated and re-imagined, reconsidered within a conceptual framework of binaries and dualities (such as male/female, object/subject, clothes/not clothes and model/multiple) which were crossed and re-crossed as we walked around her voluptuous forms.

The monographic fashion exhibition builds upon an established exhibition-making tradition that fetishises and reifies the trope of the artist as lone genius, subtlety negating the broader creative networks and contexts in which ‘fashion’ is made. In positioning fashion as the output of a single creative mind these exhibitions often feed into the narrative so often presented by the fashion industry: where collections and brands derive from a single identifiable figurehead, rather than from collaborative studios and market decisions. Despite their extraordinary beauty and power, these exhibitions reinforce a very particular (and hierarchical) narrative of what fashion is; one, which privileges spectacle and craftsmanship over the meanings drawn from everyday dress. In presenting visual narratives that revolve around the designer-author and pristine showroom-ready garments these exhibitions present fashion as a meaningful yet glossily impenetrable surface, glamour as the implicit desired end result of our self-fashioning. As social theorist Nigel Thrift2 writing on the allure of consumer goods suggests, glamour is produced through the construction of smooth and shiny surfaces, a coalescence of technological advancement and capitalist disavowal of the untidiness of the everyday. Often this focus on fashion as a beautiful spectacle comes with the exclusion of embodied and social approaches to both fashion and dress, an exclusion that reinforces hierarchies of cultural production, leaving high fashion within the reach of a minority.

Our relationship with clothing is not only aspirational and image led, a myth that spectacular exhibitions cannot help but propagate: it is cultural, sensory and embodied, and we, as everyday dressers, are also authors of fashion. However too often fashion exhibitions centre around visual engagement with the glamorous surfaces of fashion, rather than forge connections to the real world of senses and emotions. Does this emphasis on a particular kind of visual encounter limit the viewer’s capacity to engage with the garment as a locus of multi-sensory experience, the ways we feel in and feel about our clothes?

The monographic imagining of fashion in museums sits in contrast to fashion as bodily and lived; the everyday experience of wearing clothes. We produce our clothed identities through acquiring, styling and collating clothes from multiple sources. These ideas resonate in viewing an inconspicuous closet moved from its original home in a small Greenwich Village apartment to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it comprised the entirety of the exhibition Sara Berman’s Closet on view last year. Inconspicuous yes, but enormously powerful as we related the neat piles of clothing and other personal possessions such as worn shoes, a wooden recipe box and a perfume flask, to the tastes, smells and movements of everyday life. With the knowledge of the subject’s various pasts gleaned briefly through a wall text, we understood that for Berman, dress was a process of self and re-fashioning, the confluence of multiple agents and selves. We wondered, did her dutifully ironed and folded clothing wipe away the clutter of a failed marriage, or hark back to her childhood home in Tel Aviv, for example?

The exhibition didn’t answer these questions, but it provided the impetus for us to redirect the line of questioning. How do we fashion ourselves in our own daily practice of dressing, through acts of mimicry, appropriation and subversion, for instance? Occasionally in the fashion exhibition the imperfect and changeable nature of our relationships to clothing are brought to the fore – the scuffed heels and taped hems of Isabella Blow (written about so beautifully by fashion theorist Caroline Evans) displayed in Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore! (2013-14, Somerset House) for example; which poignantly embodied a fashionable life lived. These poignant garments are an example of what museum scholar Jeffrey David Feldman3 describes as ‘contact points,’ objects, which through bodily contact have become a link or bridge between the viewer and the display. As traces of their encounters with bodies other than our own, these accruals of information are the links that allow a meaningful encounter to occur. Whereas, according to Feldman, in locating the museum encounter as primarily visual, we often disregard the haptic contexts of their previous uses, and the ‘rich sensory information accumulated in objects.’4 This information, the material ways that a garment changes through interaction with the bodies and things which surround them, are powerful reminders of our own subjective experiences and emotions. In failing to highlight these contact points do fashion curators miss opportunities for their public to make these connections?

In these contexts, how might clothing on display embody the social person who once wore them? A reframing of fashion authorship in exhibitions may be a means to spur broader definitions of dress to better reflect our lived experience. Several recent exhibitions challenged the primacy of the designer-led fashion exhibition by positioning the wearer as ‘author’; as the primary creative agent of fashion practice. In this reframing they shift the creative focus from designing dress to the collation of a wardrobe, its styling. Sitting between biographical overviews, artist’s retrospectives and social histories, two recent exhibitions exploring twentieth-century artists’ lives and identities, Gluck: Art and Identity at Brighton Museum and Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern at the Brooklyn Museum both reveal a conflation of the creative, professional and personal self through dress. Fluidly moving between the author-artists’ creative outputs and dressed identities, both these practises were presented as a means of maintaining creative personae. In these explorations of the wardrobes of a famous artist protagonist, whose creativity is already acknowledged, the garments may be everyday, but the wearer extraordinary. When the ‘wearer’ is an artist or designer, their creative capacity, and thus the validity of dressing as an aspect of their creative output, is harder to challenge and fits neatly within accept narratives of authorship within artistic production.

Beyond the designer-led fashion exhibition we see the intersections between style, biography social and personal histories more frequently. Clothing took a lead role in exploring how O’Keeffe constructed her public image, a central premise of Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern. Displays of O’Keeffe’s sewing tools alongside homemade garments allowed us to begin to grasp the embodied context of production, while photographs and texts describing her everyday life began to shape the absent social body. Conversely, we left Sara Berman’s Closet wanting to know more about the subject behind the display. The exhibition presented the psychical taxonomising and curating of a wardrobe by a relatively unknown person, as a creative act. Viewers connected to the ‘everydayness’ of the scene, simple folded garments and other personal objects in a closet, while reflecting on how their own clothing choice and organisation might also function as creative acts. By leaning on personal histories and the familiarity of the everyday, these two shows provided tools to enable visitors to apply their experiences as wearer-authors themselves. To acknowledge creative agency located not in acts of design but in the production of identity through the ready made.

In parallel, a spate of thematic shows displaying clothing belonging to anonymous wearers or made by anonymous hands brings a very different perspective on dress. In Items: Is Fashion Modern? at the Museum of Modern Art, display objects functioned variously as archetypes, stereotypes and prototypes of a design idea, encouraging viewers to consider the creative practises of both the high fashion designer and mass-manufacturer. The equalising display of a range of objects challenged hierarchies of visual culture. The wearer-author entered into the exhibition narrative through the display of garments that were ‘everyday,’ such as a red Champion sweatshirt and Levis jeans. Despite their unworn nature, these garments contain elements of Feldman’s ‘contact points,’ for in viewing them, our bodies ‘fit’ back to them through memories we possess of wearing similar garments. Although Items unpacked traditional boundaries between high and low design, it lacked tangible engagement with the experiential and bodily elements of dress, which blocks us from identifying as author of these narratives.

In contrast, bodies were materialised and made playfully present in North: Fashioning Identity at Somerset House. Despite a limited amount of clothing on display, fashion was the central focus in North, an exploration of the image and culture of the north of England. Multilayered installations shaped a picture of looking and feeling ‘northern’: garments featuring alongside diverse groupings of multimedia work, photography and film. Jeremy Deller’s interactive interiors asked viewers to sit in others’ chairs, and to contort their bodies to another’s posture, a demand which spoke to the fact that our dress is an interface between the body and space. Installations by designers John Alexander Skelton and Christopher Shannon, and Jason Evans’ photographs, showed clothing in contexts of a constantly refashioning self, which exposed a subtext of self-authorship and the embodied nature of dress.

The ways clothing is mediated to a museum audience affects collective ideas on the significance of clothing and dressing, and in turn has the potential to shape people’s realities and agency. The anxiety expressed about fashion exhibitions in museums can often be understood as a fear that, in bringing clothes into the gallery it will become a site of commerce rather than culture; a glorified designer showroom. In order to differentiate the role of cultural institutions from spaces of commerce and fashion media let us look for ways of integrating the embodied and experiential nature of our everyday relationships with clothes into the fashion exhibition. Whilst it is undoubtedly true that the increasing collaboration between big brands and big museums both alter and reinforce hierarchies of cultural capital, exclusivity and wealth, might dress in the museum also offer an opportunity to democratise and enliven these sites of power, so that they become spaces for radical affect.

Ellen Sampson and Alexis Romano are co-founders of the Fashion Research Network (London). Dr. Sampson is an artist, curator and material culture researcher, and Associate Lecturer at Chelsea College of Art. Dr. Romano, a historian of design and visual culture, is a Visiting Lecturer at Parsons, the New School for Design.


  1. A sampling of these shows include Paris Refashioned, 1957-1968; Black Fashion Designers; The World of Anna Sui; Veiled Meanings: Fashioning Jewish Dress; Present Imperfect: Disorderly Apparel Reconfigured; fashion after Fashion; Counter Couture: Handmade Fashion in an American Counterculture; Jessica Ogden: Still; and Volez, Voguez, Voyagez – Louis Vuitton

  2. N Thrift, ‘The Material Practices of Glamour.’ Journal of Cultural Economy, 2008. 

  3. JD Feldman, ‘Contact Points: Museums and the Lost Body Problem,’ in E Edwards et al, ed., Sensible Objects: Colonialism, Museums and Material Culture (Bloomsbury). 

  4. Ibid., 251. 

16 Mar 22:20

Did Nike’s ‘Frat Boy Culture’ Lead to the Departures of Two Executives?

by Chavie Lieber
Sarah

SNAP

Nike execs Trevor Edwards and Jayme Martin “protected male subordinates who engaged in behavior that was demeaning to female colleagues.”

Following a series of complaints regarding inappropriate workplace conduct, two Nike executives are leaving their positions at the sportswear giant, effective immediately.

Brand president Trevor Edwards is stepping down from Nike, but will remain as an advisor until August, while Nike vice president Jayme Martin was fired from the company, and is already gone, according to reports from The Wall Street Journal. Sources say both executives “protected male subordinates who engaged in behavior that was demeaning to female colleagues,” and bullied “women and individuals from foreign countries.”

Yesterday, in a memo obtained by the Journal, CEO Mark Parker told employees at the company that over the last few weeks, Nike has become “aware of reports occurring within our organization that do not reflect our core values of inclusivity, respect and empowerment at a time when we are accelerating our transition to the next stage of growth and advance of our culture.”

Parker also told employees that Nike was currently reviewing the company’s internal HR system, noting that “this has been a very difficult time,” according to the Journal.

An employee since 1992, Edwards was reportedly being considered to take over as CEO when Parker retires. Yesterday the company released a statement that Edwards will now retire from Nike in August, although sources tell ESPN that there was “no outward talk that the 55-year-old Edwards was ready to retire.” Martin, who reported to Edwards, has been with Nike since 1997, and most recently ran Nike’s business divisions of training, basketball, and its women’s business, according to the Journal. These departures have created a shuffle within the company: Parker is now staying on as CEO beyond 2020, and former Nike Geographies & Sales president Elliott Hill is assuming responsibilities as president of consumer and marketplace.

In his memo, Parker wrote that the situation at Nike “disturbs and saddens me.” He did not specify what exactly the complaints at Nike were about, or whether they involved Edwards or Martin personally. (Nike did not immediately respond to Racked for comment.)

The news of workplace misconduct isn’t all too surprising, though. Nike’s headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, has plenty of complaints on Glassdoor, with several employees calling Nike a company with “frat boy culture.”

“Boys club, with frat- boy type bad behavior that is ignored by mgmt,” one Glassdoor user wrote.

“I have been told multiple times to ‘sit and keep my mouth shut’ during a meeting (Female typically in all male meetings),” another Glassdoor review reads, written by a Nike Beaverton employee who holds a director position. The employee also says Nike has a “lack of promotion of female leaders: Often excuse given is that a specific female acts too aggressive and therefore is passed over for promotion (this is when a male counter-part can say the exact same thing but been seen as a strong leader). I see this occur on a weekly basis.”

One current employee, who’s worked at Nike for eight years, wrote on Glassdoor two months ago that Nike has “disrespectful, ageist, sexist, entitled, pampered and selfish upper management.”

“TimesUp on the odious frat-boy culture, dudes,” the Nike employee writes. “Many women I talk to are super sick of the boys club atmosphere. Train managers of people to actually spend time managing ALL their people, in a professional, consistent, sincere way... I don’t really want to hear about how drunk you got last night or listen to your 45 minute color commentary on last night’s game when I am trying to get my work done.”

Another former Nike employee writes about the company’s “good ‘ol boy culture,” adding, “It’ll be the downfall.”

One Nike employee who works at Beaverton describes the headquarters as a “toxic environment where employee satisfaction is at an all time low. Political. Petty. Bureaucratic. 70-80 hour work weeks. Low Compensation.” The employee also says the headquarters has “Frat Boy Mentality.”

Other reviewers describe Nike’s headquarters as a place with “high school bullying.”

“If you are a white man, or even more specifically British, White and Bald, you will love it !!!” one review reads. “Be prepared for the culture. Jocks rule the school. Its not what you know its who you know.”

“All about who you know and being politically correct is most important, it’s hard to move up if you are not included in the social circle,” another employee writes. “Basically favoritism is insane.”

Nike is the world’s leading manufacturer of sportswear and shoes, with annual revenue of $34.4 billion as of 2017. Battling slumping sales in the US, Nike recently had mass layoffs and inked an official partnership with Amazon over the summer as it attempts to hit its goal of $50 billion by 2020.

Nike joins the avalanche of companies that have seen senior leadership exit amid work culture complaints — a response to the Harvey Weinstein scandal, as well as the #MeToo movement unmasking sexual harassment across the country. In February, Guess creative director Paul Marciano stepped down after being accused of on- and off-set harassment by model Kate Upton. Just last month, Lululemon CEO Laurent Potdevin resigned from his position at the Canadian fitness apparel company. As Racked reported, Potdevin was in a relationship with a designer at Lululemon, who received preferential treatment, as well as opportunities that were not commensurate with her role. Employees also told Racked Potdevin ran a “toxic boy’s club work culture.”

Like Nike, which isn’t specifying any problematic behavior that was complained about, Lululemon also tried to keep mum about Potdevin, merely telling Racked that there was a “range of instances where he demonstrated a lack of leadership and fell short of our standards of conduct.”

Both companies’ attempts at keeping senior leadership’s actions under wraps demonstrates a pattern of corporate privilege. Parker wrote in the staff memo that he is “determined to make the necessary changes so that our culture and our company can evolve and grow,” and according to ESPN, Nike now has a confidential phone number and email address employees can call if they “feel threatened.”

But can the company fix the problem without sharing the specific allegations, or taking accountability? Either way, given the speed the #MeToo movement has given to workplace scandals, it’s only a matter of time before the story of what’s going on at Nike comes out.

Have a tip about Nike? Email me at Chavie@Racked.com.

Update: March 16, 2018, 1:40 p.m.

This article has been updated throughout.

15 Mar 01:55

The Bizarre Poetry of ASOS Product Descriptions

by Nora Whelan
Sarah

I will share most Jenny Holzer references

They’re honestly kind of moving?

The first day of my junior year poetry workshop, my professor — a Vespa-driving disciple of Frank O’Hara — asked us to write a list of whatever we enjoyed. He then assembled a string of sounds from our best lines, like a reverse-engineered “My Favorite Things,” which was also liberated from the yokes of regular cadence, or syntax, or exact rhyme. He knew the importance of play.

It is in my professor’s footsteps that I bless you with the delightfully weird verse of ASOS product descriptions. I was tooling around on the site several weeks back when I first noticed the William Shatner-slash-William Carlos Williams-esque bullet points popping up, gradated and sly, just above each product page’s fold. (The brand tells Racked that item descriptions have taken on a more poetic air over the last six months.)


 All photos from ASOS

They’re like Snapple facts with attitude, and now that I know they exist, I can’t stop trying to read them all.


Here, we find an eclectic mix of influences, including Aaliyah, Ice Cube, and Trojan brand condoms in the ’90s. Truly the “We Didn’t Start the Fire” of retail copywriting.


Care instructions, but make it Jenny Holzer truisms.


I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by pajama pants with too many amenities.


I assume this is a satirical take on the realities of beauty under capitalism.


Tell me this isn’t the kind of shit you whisper over bongos.


“It’s deliberate.”


Sure!


I can’t not hear this in the voice of Ghostface Killah.


Cheers to you, ASOS copywriters, for bucking the cacophony of adorkable portmanteaus trend, and instead burying such satisfying Easter eggs below the delicate ombre frost line of your UI team’s interface. I don’t know how many people actually read product descriptions before deciding whether or not to buy your clothes, but in this fast-fashion existence, it’s nice to take a line break once in a while.

10 Mar 02:00

Today’s Possum of the Day has been brought to you by: Sisterly...



Today’s Possum of the Day has been brought to you by: Sisterly love!

(submitted by certifiedlesbo)

08 Mar 23:44

Upcycled Textile Dissection: Sabine Feliciano’s Wild Textile World

by Maika

For her ever-growing “Wild Textile World,” Saint-Étienne, France-based designer and artist Sabine Feliciano repurposes worn fabrics and other textile remnants, assembling and sewing soft sculptures of various animals in a state of mid-dissection. They’re the softest, most colorful, least malodorous biology lessons you never attended.

“Mixing techniques to give another look at needlework,” the artist says, in a statement, “I search materials, transforming them again or using their story as a frame. Transcribing a sensation is the main driver of my work. Mixing the fibers, torturing the cup I caress the thread of life to create an emotion. A process that goes from dyeing to weaving. Fabric, crochet and embroidery will be embellished with pearls and pebbles to give birth to a unique object.”

Visit Sabine Feliciano’s website to explore more of her anatomy-inspired textile art.

[via Hi-Fructose]

05 Mar 19:34

Yellow Blob

by swissmiss

This yellow blob by Hans Hemmert won my heart.

03 Mar 03:56

Dries Van Noten Fall/Winter 2018

by The Sartorialist
Sarah

I've really been craving some more texture and prints in my wardrobe lately but I only like really expensive things. I need to widen my thriftstore haunts.

22818paris0465

 

22818dries0507

 

22818dries0472

 

 

22818dries0529

 

22818dries0534

 

22818dries0573

 

22818dries0594

 

22818dries0584

02 Mar 20:04

Fire shuts Trident Booksellers on Newbury Street

by adamg
Sarah

NOOOOOOOOO

Photo by Trident.

Trident Booksellers and Cafe reports a small fire on its second floor around midnight has shut it indefinitely. Trident reports that while the fire itself did little damage, the water used to put it out caused significant damage.

The bookstore reports, however, it is continuing to sell books online as it works to get back in business on Newbury Street.

20 Feb 02:16

Dance Those Monday Blues Away…

by Maika

Whatever the week has in store for you, this shiny, sassy Nosferatu, working their preternatural dance moves to the infectiously uplifting zyn-zyn-zyn of Q-pop, has your back:

I’m just sorry I’ve only been able to find 25 seconds of this inexplicable yet undeniably delightful video to share with you here.

UPDATE: Thanks to the ever so lovely and endlessly inspiring Darla Teagarden, I’ve just learned that our fabulous dancing Nosferatu is Arran Shurvinton. Now we may all carry on basking in their shiny, shimmying glory knowing exactly who they are!

Instagram Photo

[via Sbornik.prikolov]

20 Feb 00:21

I feel this

by swissmiss
03 Feb 13:59

Death in the Village

by Anthony Oliveira

“NO_ONE EVER REALLY DIES”

The massive letters are glued to the plywood around the construction site at 582 Church Street, near the centre of Toronto’s Church-Wellesley Village. The site used to be a bar called House-Maison. Once at a party a boy kissed me in the bathroom upstairs. He laughed, and then disappeared into the sea of people outside. It is derelict now, under perpetual construction.

The poster was hung there to promote the latest album from hip-hop/rock group N.E.R.D. (the underscore in “NO_ONE” is to make the acronym work), which was released December 15, 2017. You will have trouble reading the sign. Sometime between being affixed in late November and December 4, 2017, the company in charge of patrolling the site—O.B.N. Security and Investigative Consultants—moved its own placard, from where it hung nearby, to a few feet down and to the right, carefully obscuring the word “DIES.” There is an owl scowling on it—an image, presumably, of sleepless watchfulness. The outline of where it used to hang persists, its ghostly outline particularly obvious when it rains. Perhaps the word troubled them.

You will have trouble, too, finding out what the acronym O.B.N. stands for. It is not on the security company’s website, though there you will learn that among its executive board and founders are a number of former police officers or law enforcement personnel, and it is then that you might guess. If you haven’t, a bit more digging will lead you to a Toronto Star article from 2006, in which, amid a pitch from the firm’s vice-president for their services in divorce surveillance, it is explained as a joking reference to O.B.N.’s association with the Toronto Police. I call their offices to inquire about security work (I have been feeling unsafe lately) and they confirm: O.B.N. stands for “Old Boys Network.”

Walk past this constellation of signage and follow the plywood to where it ends. Squeeze past the cars parked there. On the building’s north-most side you will find a small alley, and stone steps down to a basement door. Next to overflowing recycling bins and garbage containers, in a spot that neither O.B.N. patrols nor police bothered to look, you will find a tall heap of dirt festooned with flowers, candles, and birthday cards.

You will find the spot where, on November 29, four days after she went missing, and one day before her birthday, Tess Richey’s mother found her daughter’s murdered body.


*

I am walking along College Street near Bay. It is raining. From an alcove entrance, over the railing of the building wheelchair ramp, a woman in a red vest shouts over to me.

“Come inside out of the rain and donate to Canadian Blood Services? It’s in you to give!”

“I’m gay,” I say.

She grimaces. “Sorry.”

*

He was a Mall Santa. This was the detail, culled from his Facebook page, that obsessed the press. We are still waiting for numbers—we are still waiting for so much—but it seems that this man who (it is, my editor wishes me to stress, alleged) had killed at least five men and probably many others would once a year put on a red suit and dandle the children of Toronto on his lap and listen to their fondest wishes. He smiled, and smiled, and still was a villain.

It seems now secondary that there are still gay bodies to be exhumed. That there was blood—gay blood—in the trunk of his car. Gay blood when it is donated is thrown out, and when it is spilt it is easy to forget, running unnoticed in the gutters.

Think instead of the children.

When I look at his Facebook page (it is now locked, but police left it up for several days) I see different angles of parties I attended—photographs taken on Church Street of the same Halloween costumes I had photographed just before him, giant candied skulls moving in a conga line through the crowd that made me tug on my friend’s coat: look, there. In his pictures I see an eye gazing where I gazed, and wonder if it gazed on me: darkly complected, stocky, bearded. Gay.

Maybe when the headlines shout “MALL SANTA!” this is the heterosexual community’s version of the same impulse: look where you were vulnerable.

*

It is mid December, 2017. We have been looking for Andrew Kinsman for seven months. His posters are still outside in the square and in the coffee shops. In all that time the police have insisted there is no connection between Andrew Kinsman and the rash of disappearances we have been seeing for years. Instead, they tell us to “be careful on the apps.” They do not explain why.

Project Marie, the 2016 police sting operation to lure gay men into sex in the park and then arrest them, is a year old.

Briefly, Tess Richey’s poster hung next to Andrew’s. “But I knew she was dead when the police came in to take down her poster,” a barista tells me. Outside the window is Crews & Tango’s, the drag club and dance space where Tess was last seen. Just a few steps north is where her body was found.

Do not congregate online; do not congregate in the park; do not congregate in the bar.

Tess’s poster has been replaced with one of the person of interest in her case: a slight, white man photographed by blurry CCTV cameras. Another predator, moving through the village.

“Did you talk to them? When they took it down?” I ask.

“Fuck no.”

*

It is mid January, 2018. I am sitting in the press conference for Andrew Kinsman’s family. We are in the 519 Community Centre; above the lobby bulletin board hangs a sign: “FAMILIES DEFINE THEMSELVES.” The conference is in the ballroom on the second floor. The last time I was here it was full of steamy bodies—the humid rain had moved the TreeHouse Party inside, and we danced in the microclimate of our sweat. I remember a friend’s hand in the small of my clammy back that made me wriggle and slap them away.

Now it is cold. Journalists and equipment personnel sparsely laugh and chat, milling near a hastily erected coffee station. One behind me loudly barks: “There’s probably a book in this!” The family is huddled, watching them. Watching us, I guess. They have just learned an arrest has been made. They have just learned, for certain, that their brother was killed. They are waiting for the body to be found.

They speak imperfectly, as all of us would. They think aloud of the child that Andrew was. Shelley Kinsman takes no questions after her statement. I watch her anxiously clutching and persistently rubbing a small black stone with both hands throughout. I never find out what it was. She looks like my mother, fretting at her rosary beads.

Andrew’s sister Karen tells a story about how her brother wanted to be a paleontologist, and how the family once hid a cow femur and convinced him there must be dinosaurs buried in the yard. He dug and dug until, ecstatic, he found the bones.

The room shifts uncomfortably and moves quickly past the infelicitous image.

“We looked for him in the heat, in the rain, and in the snow,” Patricia Kinsman says. Attend enough press conferences and you learn the strange synesthetic habit of a sudden burst of photos when the subject says something useful—as though the image captured could be made at all congruent to what striking thing was said. A sound like a group of bats taking flight as cameras go off: heat, rain, snow—that was everyone’s favourite pull-quote. A family in suffering, scouring for their prodigal brother lost in the big city.

I have yet to find an article that quoted what Kinsman said next: “We found homeless men living in tents. We met a transgender person afraid of living in a shelter as she had been assaulted and robbed. She lived under a bridge. We bought her lunch. We saw a young man sleeping under a bridge surrounded by bottles. In the forest we found needles and more. We never found Andrew.”

I wonder if the homeless woman they met was Alloura Wells, whose body was found in August in a ravine by a hiker, discovered during a coroner’s exam to be trans, and then neglected, no further identified, in a police morgue for months, until the noise from the family about organizing their own searches (as Alloura’s father put it, struggling with her pronouns: “It’s like [she’s] a nobody”) led them at last to identify her remains.

Probably not. There is after all no shortage of homeless trans people in Toronto. The moment, in any case, passes unremarked upon. (I later speak to Patricia by phone, and she confirms it of course wasn’t: “I would have known Alloura Wells.” I thank her for looking, at least, where police wouldn’t.)

The Kinsmans talk around the problem of the other victims’ families, of the troubling optics of a killer caught after possible decades of activity because he finally killed a white guy. Greg Downer, who speaks with the sisters, says the search has reached out to Selim Esen’s family in Turkey, but they have apparently long “considered the matter closed.” They implore the family to call the police, whom they thank profusely.

“Remember him in your own way,” the sisters say. For their own part, “we know that wherever he is, Andrew is looking down on us.”

*

“Andrew did not want to look down from anywhere.”

I am sitting with my friend David at the Blake House, a pub just off the village’s main drag. The last time I was here was right after the Pride parade with my then-boyfriend. My shorts were ludicrously short and sparkly, and his eyes were very, very blue.

David slept with Andrew Kinsman a handful of times, and they were friends. It is a kind of relationship every gay man recognizes, but which the media has struggled to quantify. The Andrew that David remembers is not the child his sisters recall at the press conference, but a man who knew his mind—ruthlessly unsentimental, and very kind: “If ever there was a person that didn’t deserve it, it was him.” David looks down. “He was a big man.”

It is a peculiarly terrible feeling watching someone you care about picture someone they care about being disassembled.

The police have been busily peddling a vague warning to stay away from hook-up apps for months, to the exclusion of all other information and amid strenuous denial there was any evidence of a serial killer. Their denials, to David, amount to complicity: “Andrew disappeared in June. There’s a young man on that list who disappeared in August. If he is one of the victims, that is on the police.” He remembers the case of Jane Doe, who successfully sued the Toronto Police for their part in her attack by a serial rapist.

Instead, for David, the horror is that Andrew knew his killer: “The thing that pains me most is that he might have cared for this person, and been betrayed by this person in such a cruel way.”

I ask him about Tess Richey; about the queer voices in Black Lives Matter, whose press conference for the unveiling of the mural behind Hair of the Dog I once watched police perfunctorily scuttle after BLM had questioned the force’s cosmetic image renovation; about Project Marie, and about the subsequent police uproar about being excluded from Pride. Was this laxity of their mission to serve and protect meant to be punitive?

“All of this has laid bare the fact that we are alone,” David says. “We have no superheroes. We are alone. It is the queer community that has done the most work. It is the queer community that has developed strategies.

“And now it is the queer community who mourns.”

*

I am in the Glad Day Bookshop with a Paper Plane (bourbon, amaro, Aperol, lemon juice) and a book (Midsummer Night’s Dream) when my ex-boyfriend spots me in the window and comes in to say hi. Then: “I hear they might be up to four bodies.”

We talk about how they will probably give him a name. The Mall Santa thing, probably, or something about the gardening. My ex tries the cocktail, and I feel the momentary course of a thrill at the gesture’s casual intimacy.

His eyes are still so blue.

He is late for something, squeezes me goodbye, and he is gone, and I am alone again with my book.

*

City TV posts a report about the murders. My cousin, to whose face I once denied I was gay when they cornered me at a wedding years ago (“But I saw you!” she pressed. “I just live near the village, so I’m there a lot,” I stammered, my face hot), spots me in the pre-roll, and tags me. I read the Facebook comments.

Del Core Domenico says: “You don’t like cops, now you pay the ultimate prize.” Laughing emojis.

Sandra Wieland says: “Why does the media say gay men were murdered. Do they say straight man shot last night. Stop the labels. We are the human race.”

Wayne Kennedy says: “Leave the police alone they are doing a good gob there [are] other cases to solve.”

Andrew Brown says: “So 2 makes u a serial killer?”

Tom Pearson says: “A bit much to say police won’t do a thing. Division is not helping.”

Chris Kolmel says: “They could have just not bothered looking for the killer. Just coming off as looking stupid”

Dre Khaloo says: “Let’s not forget LGBT ppl u were the 1’s who told the cops not to show up at pride wearing their uniforms catering to the demands of blm so shut ur holes An deal with it”

Richie Zina says: “Confused gays. What about aids? Why are they still so quiet in that? I’m sure aids kills thousands more than this guy did….”

I close Facebook.

*

I am sitting on the second floor of the village Starbucks, grading a student’s late paper. I become vaguely aware that behind me an older man is explaining to his companion how Grindr works.

“See, these people are all nearby! It changes every time you sign on. I had sex with this guy once. Some of these people are even in this café! Look, there’s that guy!”

To my left across the gulf of the stairs a gentleman sitting alone at a table conspicuously pretends not to hear.

Two police officers, a man and a woman in the Toronto Police yellow winter jackets, walk up the stairs holding coffees, obviously on break. The same old man behind me jeers loudly: “Uh oh, the POLICE are here! I hope nobody in here did anything WRONG!”

The police officers, also, pretend not to hear.

When one of them goes to the bathroom, the old man again heckles him: “Better check if there’s a MURDERER in that bathroom! Better get him this time!”

The officer tries the door, but does not know the code (I know it but do not volunteer it). Instead he returns to his partner, and they hastily leave.

I try to follow to ask them if the jeers are typical lately, but when I get outside they are already in their squad car, pulling away.

I wonder if this is their normal patrol, and if so, I wonder if they are the same cops who, when arresting a man at the southern-most margin of the village a year ago were caught on cellphone video tasering a man while down and insisting to an objecting observer to watch out for the suspect, “because he’ll spit in your face and you’ll get AIDS.”

I wonder if they’re still mad they didn’t get to march in their uniforms in the parade, expecting cheers from the people they’ve left for eight years to die while a murderer picked us off, while across town they arrested us in parks for having sex, and electrocuted us in the streets.

Maybe that is uncharitable.

*

Since June 12, 2016, I have not once walked into a gay bar or café or community centre without thinking, “I wonder if today is the day someone decides to kill us.”

Not once.

*

Alex is 23—the age, by five days, that Tess Richey never lived to see.

Alex is non-binary and bisexual, and came to Canada because they believed it was more welcoming and open. They want to ask for my advice about grad school (my advice is what it always is: don’t). We are talking in Glad Day, and around us the daytime coffee shop shimmers, dims, and transforms into a quiet night-time pub. This used to be a club called Byzantium, and the floor still has the tracks that split the dancefloor from the more intimate section where the music meant you had to lean in close while lights drew zigzags on the other person’s face.

When straight people imagine coming out they imagine a tearful, dramatic revelation all at once, but Alex’s story is like mine: by degrees, when it’s safe, when it’s too late for them to ruin your life. Coming out is brave not because it is vaguely “scary,” like a school play; it is brave because it is dangerous. Some people get violent; some punish you financially; some just love you a little less, forever. You let them see the little fraction of yourself that you can trust them with, because you’ve learned love is almost always conditional. Surviving is brave, too.

Bitterness is always possible. Instead, Alex’s kindness has a ferocity of its own; they are a volunteer for every LGBT cause imaginable, and I quickly learn have a distressing habit of crying out to interject “poor thing!” at the exact moment in your anecdote when you are describing the person you are trying most to vilify therein.

More than anything else, Alex loves anime. Their free time (of which their volunteering does not afford much) is devoted to “magical girls”—the genre of which Sailor Moon is the most identifiable example to Westerners. They are highly choreographed stories in which the powerless and disenfranchised are transformed into gossamer agents of justice: beauty and love triumphant, never sacrificing an ounce of vulnerability or compassion to do battle against exploitative evils.

I ask about the disappearances, about Tess Richey, and about Alloura Wells.

“The police aren’t doing anything but when have they ever?” Alex asks, sadly. “We protect each other.”

We talk some more about magical girls.

*

I leave class at 11 a.m.—a lecture on Shakespeare’s Richard II—to 14 texts from my friends. The death toll is now at five.

On the TV above the café bar I watch forensic personnel dressed all in white dragging enormous flowerpots from a property in rural Ontario. There are bodies in the soil.

Unbidden my mind flashes back to the end of the play. Full of baroque images of the horrors of power, it ends with a last one—a new king, crying crocodile tears, for the victim whose death he didn’t quite order, but tacitly condoned, even as he punishes the murder:

Lords, I protest, my soul is full of woe,
That blood should sprinkle me to make me grow. (5.6.45-6)

What is power? A beautiful flower, whose earth is soaked in blood.

In Shakespeare, eulogies are the privilege of murderers. On the TV, the police spokeswoman speaks, but the TV is set mercifully to mute.

*

It is Thursday night and the high holiest of days: the premiere of RuPaul’s Drag Race. We are upstairs at The Drink: my sisters, Joe, and David (a different David—there are a lot of gay Davids). My friend Paolo is in the crowd. The bar is packed to its rafters—sitting on the floor beneath our high-top, a gaggle of teen self-identified “bio-drag” apprentices are watching the stage, enrapt, while Ivory Towers holds court.

Ivory Towers is, by day, Geoffrey, a reserved barista whose insta-feed is replete with high-concept foam art and whose lattes are excellent despite being herself lactose intolerant (“Which is also why I can’t suck uncut dick,” she drawls mournfully to the crowd). In costume she is green-haired and in a space-age Barbarella catsuit whose rhinestones catch and scratch when you hug her. The crowd adores her.

During a commercial break I am pulled onstage, and acquit myself admirably in trivia until the lightning round, when I forget that Ru’s fictional airline is called “Glamazonian Airways.” In my defense, I am rather drunk. Smelling blood in the water, Ivory takes the opportunity to tear me apart; noticing the “A” on my shirt, and the solid three weeks since I’ve been to the gym, she cries out: “Alvin, Simon, and Theodore, and it looks like you ate all three!” Afterwards, offstage, we both down a shot of Fireball.

I am incandescently happy.

After the lip-sync and very just elimination of tacky and mean-spirited contestant Morgan McMichaels, my sisters and I spill down the steps, the air pleasantly cool after so many raucous bodies hooting and cheering upstairs. Across the street is Crews & Tangos. I remember that Ivory was almost certainly hosting there the night Tess Richey died.

I hope, before the horror, that her last night was as beautiful as this one.

*

In the heart of the village, behind the 519, in the park across from Tess Richey’s alleyway memorial, you will find a bank of roses, and among them on plates a list of names. These are Toronto’s dead, lost to AIDS, when no one in power cared to act, when the old boys’ network raided the bathhouses and the parks and the bars.

In the summer we hold a vigil, and by candlelight we recite their names, and we recite the names of those killed at the Pulse massacre, and we recite the names of anyone else who was loved and lost. This year we will recite new names.

Their names were Selim Esen. Skandaraj Navaratnam. Majeed “Hamid” Kayhan. Abdulbasir Faizi. Soroush Mahmudi. Dean Lisowick. Andrew Kinsman. Alloura Wells. Tess Richey.

There are more names. There will be more names still.

And we will forget some. And we will not know how many died in silence and in secret and alone. No one will tell those stories. No one will know how.

*

“NO_ONE EVER REALLY [THIS PREMISE IS UNDER PHYSICAL AND ELECTRONIC SURVEILLANCE BY OBN 1-866-626-5900]”

I have been staring all week at that mutilated poster: another piece of our vandalized history, another scrap pasted onto the palimpsest of this neighbourhood, another fragment forcibly overlaid atop another fragment, out of which we are expected to assemble some measure of coherence.


It is the product of crass marketers peddling positivity, and then careless old men seeking to conceal anything that might invite the discovery of their own guilt in creating the conditions for a predator to prey.

I have no sense to offer. Maybe offering sense is just another violence—another sign moved to cover something up.

But still: when you make “NO_ONE” into one word you fuse a noun to its adjective, making a new noun—a “no_one” that is nevertheless a thing.

Queer people are so often born in isolation—we have to find each other, have to excavate our history, have to build new families to replace the ones who abandoned us. To walk in the village, for me, is to walk in these overlapping histories: through my own, through memorials, through the sites of arrests and beatings and a thousand indignities and intimacies.

We are never one. Not really.

__
This story has been updated to clarify details related to the Kinsmans’ news conference.

31 Jan 23:59

A choir of strangers accompanies David Byrne singing David Bowie’s Heroes

by Jason Kottke
Sarah

i'm a sucker

A group called Choir! Choir! Choir! recently put on a show in NYC where they taught the audience to accompany them on a song, in this case, David Bowie’s Heroes sung by David Byrne. Byrne wrote up the experience in his online journal:

What happens when one sings together with a lot of other people?

A couple of things I immediately noticed. There is a transcendent feeling in being subsumed and surrendering to a group. This applies to sports, military drills, dancing… and group singing. One becomes a part of something larger than oneself, and something in our makeup rewards us when that happens. We cling to our individuality, but we experience true ecstasy when we give it up.

The second thing that happens involves the physical act of singing. I suspect the regulated breathing involved in singing, the act of producing sound and opening one’s mouth wide calls many many neural areas into play. The physical act, I suspect, releases endorphins as well. In singing, we get rewarded by both mind and body.

No one has to think about any of the above-we “know” these things instinctively. Anyone who has attended a gospel church service, for example, does not need to be told what this feels like.

So, the reward experience is part of the show.

That’s really thrilling and cool to watch. You can check out some of Choir! Choir! Choir!’s other performances on their YouTube channel, including Zombie by The Cranberries, Free Fallin’ by Tom Petty, Karma Police by Radiohead, and Passionfruit by Drake. (via ted gioia)

Tags: David Bowie   David Byrne   music   video
31 Jan 00:34

The Last “RE” of the Month

by Lyn
Sarah

I would love to be this stylish (and rich {and in a fulfilling career})

IMG_2515.JPG

Right now I am sitting in a hotel room in Tokyo. Coming to Japan has been a long deferred dream. I think the calm and order of this culture is exactly what I need at this very frenetic moment.

My “re” word for the moment is to re(flect). 2018 has started with a flood of requests and this week a posted video that has resulted in a mass of new followers (welcome!) and a flood of emails and comments. In fact I had to put down the phone and take a break to stop and breathe but also to try and understand more about the cultural moment we are living in and what I might do with this platform that has drawn a crowd, so to speak.

i had my reset and feel clear about my priorities so that is not a concern but rather how do I remain engaged with my followers personally, not by using a bot or staff, as the numbers keep growing?  Just as it is with my students, it is with and through my relationships that I grow and evolve and that in fact has been the case with my blog and my other social media. 

That being said I will try and respond to all the emails and comments but it may take me awhile at least not until next week. In the meantime any ideas about efficient ways to engage are appreciated. I look forward to sharing my adventures in Tokyo and will have a really fun announcement about something that will be happening in February.

Thank you again for being wonderful. 

26 Jan 23:31

State gaming commision to consider whether Steve Wynn worthy to own a casino here

by adamg
Sarah

omg shut it down, traffic around there is already a nightmare!

The Herald reports the commission is more than perturbed at the Wall Street Journal report that the casino mogul - whose $2.4-billion Everett casino is now rapidly rising - has been sexually abusing workers for decades, and is starting an investigation into whether Wynn still has "suitability" to own a Massachusetts gaming license.

24 Jan 14:16

Delta Haus Brings Bar Pizzas and Frat House Movie Nostalgia to Downtown Boston

by Dana Hatic
Sarah

do we really need a restaurant for this experience? gross

There will be toga parties

A movie-inspired bar and restaurant arrived in Downtown Boston last week, and it’s full of nostalgia for several cult classics. Delta Haus calls to mind movies like Animal House, Old School, and Revenge of the Nerds, and as might be expected, the folks behind it also operate Boston’s Caddyshack-themed bar, Bushwood Cocktail Club (as well as sibling spot Finn McCool’s).

Delta Haus (200 High St.) has plenty to offer in the way of food and entertainment. After the success of Bushwood, the team wanted to create something similar in the space beneath Finn’s, according to assistant general manager Keith Gleason. (Bushwood is in an adjacent space.)

“Why don’t we try to duplicate not the same idea, but something along those lines?” he said. The team considered other movies they loved to watch and “rolled it all together.”

“You want to have things to occupy people,” Gleason said, noting that Delta Haus complements Bushwood’s arcade games with its own unique selection of bar games, including pool, shuffleboard, pinball, darts, and air hockey, among others. Pulling from multiple movies gave the team flexibility with both decorations and the menu, which Gleason developed with some help and inspiration from the management team.

“I drew stuff from multiple movies and was able to hopefully get a couple chuckles from people,” Gleason said.

Look out for menu items like the “Bleu-Tarsky burger” (named for John Belushi’s Animal House character), and cocktails like the “Mrs. Dean Wormer” and “Fawn Liebowitz.” Just as Jack Daniels played a role in Animal House, the liquor is featured in two different cocktails.

Other items on the food menu include several varieties of a South Shore classic, bar pizza, plus a fried chicken sandwich, and appetizers like “pledge pretzels” and “delta nachos.”

Aiming to appeal to anyone who was ever in a fraternity, attended a fraternity party, or watched movies about them, Delta Haus serves some classic college beers, like PBR, Coors, and Rolling Rock, and it’s all “frat-style,” according to Gleason (no glassware, but plastic cups nicer than Solo cups). The bar also stocks several (less fratty) local craft beers, including Sam Adams seasonal, Harpoon IPA, Allagash, Jack’s Abby House Lager, and UFO Abracadabra.

For decorations, Delta Haus fully embraces the movie theme — there’s a mirror sporting different quotes, as well as several other design features, including some created by an employee who’s an artist.

“On the back wall by the dart area we’ve got a collage — it almost looks like a page out of a yearbook — that has all the different characters from all the different movies we drew from,” Gleason said.

There are couches on one side of the bar, and there are tables made from barrels with tops on them featuring the bar’s logo and caricatures. There are also seven televisions scattered through the space.

“It’s definitely a unique space,” Gleason said. “Every person who came down here [during the first few days in business], you saw them pointing, laughing, just having a good time.”

Delta House made its official debut on Thursday, January 18. “If the first week was any indication, it’s gonna take off just like Bushwood’s did,” Gleason said.

The bar plans to host events (think toga parties and Greek Olympics) as well, so stay tuned to social media for details.

Located in the Financial District, Delta Haus is initially operating Wednesday through Saturday from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. and may extend those hours depending on demand.

Delta Haus [Official Site]
Finn McCool’s Is Serving ‘Boston Poutine’ and Corned Beef Nachos Downtown [EBOS]
Cannonball: A Caddyshack-Themed Bar Just Opened in Downtown Boston [EBOS]

22 Jan 23:45

People plastic-wrapping their heads together, as one does

by adamg
Sarah

It's been an odd day

Snoe was waiting for the bus in Union Square in Somerville when she noticed the people connecting their heads via the magic of plastic wrap. "Public art?" she wonders.

09 Jan 00:39

Instead of Selling Objects, Build Public Trust

by noreply@blogger.com (Nina Simon)
Sarah

Nina Simon is so smart and I have nothing to look forward to


You run a regional museum. It's been struggling financially for years. Now, you have a new vision--co-created with trustees and community leaders--for a path forward. You'll transform it into an interactive science-oriented institution. And you'll build your endowment, too. How will you pay for it? By selling off artworks that no longer serve your mission.

This is the plan that plunged the Berkshire Museum into hot water. It's sparked public uproar, legal battles, and nationwide press coverage. It's cracked the crumbling, outdated rules around deaccessioning--and unearthed more serious issues of public trust.

Here's what happened. In July, the Berkshire Museum released its $60,000,000 New Vision, along with a funding mechanism: selling 40 of its most valuable artworks. Berkshire Museum officials argue that art is not core to their institution going forward and that they are therefore deaccessioning material that is no longer relevant to their mission. But it's not that simple. The 40 artworks are valued at $50 million. They include two of the most famous paintings by Norman Rockwell. Rockwell donated those paintings himself to the Berkshire Museum to be enjoyed in his home community. The Berkshire Museum has been unwilling to sell or transfer the paintings to another regional institution, presumably assuming they will get the highest price at auction.

Cue public uproar and legal action to block the auction. Cultural organizations, community members, and museum leaders have spoken out against the sale. The controversy started in July of 2017. The Attorney General of Massachusetts has put a hold on the sale and will issue a ruling at the end of January. It's taken me six months to figure out how I feel about the whole thing.

THE ANTIQUATED, FRAGILE RULE ON DEACCESSIONING

At first blush, I'm sympathetic to the Berkshire Museum. I am not a fan of the rule that restricts deaccessioning of museum artifacts for purposes other than improving the collection. I think the rule needs to be overhauled, for three reasons.
  1. The rule is simplistic. It states that museums can only sell objects to purchase or care for other objects. No other assets in a museum are restricted in this way, and this restriction can lead to lopsided priorities and bizarre practices. I once consulted with a museum that had no museum--no building, no public programs, no exhibitions. It had a collection and an endowment (funded by deaccessioning) to grow and perpetuate that collection. Their objects were locked in a private prison, protected far from the public in whose trust they purported to be held.
  2. The rule is weak. This rule is poorly enforced with few consequences--which is the very reason an issue like the Berkshire Museum's arises. The rule against wanton deaccessioning is a kind of gentleman's agreement in the museum world. Professional organizations like AAM and AAMD are against it, but their forms of censure are few. Individual museums might risk bad press, finger-shaking, and loss of funding for taking these actions, but the consequences are highly variable and often short-lived. Trustees can hold their noses and roll the dice if they want to.
  3. The rule is outdated. The deaccessioning rule (last updated in 2000) perpetuates the hegemony of artifacts as the heart of museums. While some museums have, admirably, stuck with an object-rooted mission, many have shifted to other goals. It doesn't make sense to maintain a special class of protections for one category of assets when many museums no longer base their missions on the care and stewardship of those assets. This is essentially the argument that the Berkshire Museum is making--that they will no longer BE an art museum and therefore should not be required to protect art objects uniquely.
I think the deaccessioning rule has outlived its usefulness. But that doesn't mean I support the Berkshire Museum's choice. I don't.

THE REAL ISSUE AT STAKE

To me, the issue in the Berkshires is not about deaccessioning artwork. The issue is violation of public trust.

The Berkshire Museum isn't deaccessioning artifacts of questionable public value. They are selling off forty of their top artworks on the open market. By deaccessioning the most valuable art in their collection, the Berkshire Museum is transferring valued public assets into private hands. They are making an arrogant gamble, claiming that their planned new museum will have equal or greater public value than the artworks they are selling to fund it. Maybe it will. Maybe it won't. They are selling heritage to finance progress. It's not surprising that not everyone takes their claims on faith.

It's not entirely the Berkshire Museum's fault that they are in this position. The inflexible rule on deaccessioning forces them into an all-or-nothing choice. Right now, there is no "ethical" vehicle by which a museum might sell high-value artifacts for any purpose other than to buy and protect other artifacts. An institution like the Berkshire Museum risks professional censure whether they sell a painting on the open market or to another museum--assuming they plan to use the proceeds to fund their New Vision. Why wouldn't they make the rational choice to get as much money as possible for their sins?

Because their choice has consequences beyond their own self-interest. It exposes the fragility of the rule of deaccessioning, the thin line between "treasured public asset" and "hard cold cash." The rule is built on a sleight of hand, a conceit that says that museums WON'T acknowledge the market value of objects... until they will. As Diane Ragsdale put it, "When communities become markets, citizens become consumers, and culture becomes an exploitable product."

When museums start putting price tags on their objects, other institutions do too. When Detroit was going bankrupt in 2013, the city's emergency manager fought to sell off some of the prized artworks in the Detroit Institute of Art. In 2009, Brandeis University came close to looting and liquidating its Rose Art Museum, and today, a similar controversy is raging over the museum at La Salle University. At La Salle, as in the Berkshires, university leadership argues that the deaccessioning and closure of the museum is a necessary, painful corrective to dire financial conditions. These museums and their artworks were exposed as market assets to be cashed in as needed.

Museum professionals often decry these actions because they will disincentivize future donors from giving valuable artwork to museums (and therefore, the argument goes, to the public). But I think there's a much more insidious impact of these actions: it encourages the continued slide of museums away from the public trust and into the market economy.

And once that happens, all bets are off. Two years ago, the Detroit Institute of Art won the battle to keep their treasured artwork in the museum. But other battles have been--and could be--lost. It could even happen on a national scale. If a rapacious, short-sighted federal government is willing to strip protected land for natural resources, what's to stop them from looting the Smithsonian to fund their own version of progress?

CREATIVE ALTERNATIVES TO THE MARKET ECONOMY

There are creative alternatives to traditional museum deaccessioning policies that could solve this problem. Instead of fighting to protect an imperfect and antiquated rule, we could create new rules--rules that put the public trust, not objects, first.

Other nonprofit industries have done this. Accredited American zoos, for example, have a strict policy that governs how animals move from one institution to another. If your zoo no longer plans to exhibit giraffes, those giraffes don't suddenly become fungible assets on the open market. They become tradeable assets within a controlled market--with other accredited zoos, who will care for the giraffes as well as you once did.

Food banks have an auction-based model. There's a national online auction site where food banks can bid on large lots of donated food with fake money, called shares. The auction system helps individual food banks determine what they need most, rather than a national agency guessing--and sometimes, guessing wrong.

Both zoos and food banks have gotten creative about how to manage their assets AND serve the public trust. Instead of clinging to outdated deaccessioning policies, it's time for museums to get creative as well. If we don't, we risk betraying the public trust in a venal grab for more flexible assets.

Rather than converting assets from the public trust to the private market, I'd like to see more creative ways for nonprofits to INCREASE the number of assets in the public trust. I'd like to see dividends from large endowments shared among nonprofits in their respective communities. I'd like to see more land trusts sharing their space with other organizations. I'd like to see more museums sharing their artifacts. I'd like to see more marketplaces like those of zoos or food banks, so assets in the public trust can be shared wisely and efficiently.

We shouldn't have to choose between the Norman Rockwell paintings and a great Berkshire Museum. There should be a way to expand the pie of public assets instead of swapping the heritage we have for the future we will build.

What if the Berkshire Museum could sell a fraction of their prized artworks to other museums, for a fraction of their fundraising goal, so they could test out whether their "New Vision" actually served their community better? What if they got involved in a project like Culture Bank, to invest the artworks securely to fund some aspects of their planned transformation? What if they worked out a way to accrue less and get more -- more for their community, more for the public at large?

The pressure will always be on to capitulate to the market economy, to embrace the market and live by its rules. But we can resist. Nonprofit organizations have unique opportunities to resist. If we want to embrace communities instead of markets, we have to fight for it. We have to fight for the public trust, generosity, and shared ownership. We have to be ingenious in coming up with alternative forms of economic value, accumulation, and transfer. No one is going to do it for us.

05 Jan 23:11

Presidential murder as a deterrent to nuclear war

by Jason Kottke
Sarah

fucking dark

In an article titled “Preventing nuclear war” published in the March 1981 issue of The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Roger Fisher suggested that before the President could launch nuclear weapons against another nation, they would first have to kill a person with their bare hands, as a prelude to killing perhaps tens of millions.

An early arms control proposal dealt with the problem of distancing that the President would have in the circumstances facing a decision about nuclear war. There is a young man, probably a Navy officer, who accompanies the President. This young man has a black attache case which contains the codes that are needed to fire nuclear weapons. I could see the President at a staff meeting considering nuclear war as an abstract question. He might conclude: “On SIOP Plan One, the decision is affirmative. Communicate the Alpha line XYZ.” Such jargon holds what is involved at a distance.

My suggestion was quite simple: Put that needed code number in a little capsule, and then implant that capsule right next to the heart of a volunteer. The volunteer would carry with him a big, heavy butcher knife as he accompanied the President. If the President ever wanted to fire nuclear weapons, the only way he could do so would be for him first, with his own hands, to kill one human being. The President says, “George, I’m sorry but tens of millions must die.” He has to look at someone and realize what death is — what innocent death is. Blood on the White House carpet. It’s reality brought home.

As it stands, the President can choose to use nuclear weapons pretty much on a personal whim. It would seem that the 80s are back, both in movies/TV and also in the daily existential dread of the Cold War. Yay. (via clive thompson)

Tags: atomic bomb   Roger Fisher
01 Jan 20:44

Today’s Possum of the Day has been brought to you by: The...

Sarah

eeee!



Today’s Possum of the Day has been brought to you by: The kitchen sink!