The Addendum

A split in the arts

The art world is…

split right down the middle. On the left side is an ascetic world of dour dioramas and evergreen minimalism. It lives in Kunsthalles and white cubes. It is protected from the vagaries of the marketplace by a swaddling blanket of bureaucratic concern and obscurantist prose. It’s a cold place, and it makes demands. Spending too many hours in this art world, submitting oneself to its varieties of deprivation, can make you yearn for the warming embrace of the surrounding culture, guzzling corn syrup and wallowing in amateur porn.

The right side, by contrast, is all money and hype. It’s an adult playground, full of expensive toys, bright colors, and strong sensations. It’s gaudy, excessive, and honestly kind of fun. It lives in art fairs and blockbuster auctions, but also in massive installations, mostly in New York and LA. I’m sure you’ve crossed paths with this art world at some point — whether you were staring at an artificial sunset, caught beneath a giant puppy made out of flowers, kissing under fake rain, or in the audience at one of Marina Abramović’s rolling, hands-on, celebrity zoos. I bet you’ve been to the other one as well; if you haven’t, the moment you walk into an empty room with nothing in it but a broken mirror, a flickering light bulb, and a pillow woven with thread the exact color of the night sky over Berlin, you’ll know you’ve arrived.

Jacob Mikanowski. “On Pirates and Farmers: Sunshine of Absolute Neglect.” LA Review of Books, May 29, 2015. Retrieved May 30, 2015, from

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Richard Misrach on the U.S.-Mexico Border


All the photographs are about found objects — shotgun shells from a Border Patrol shooting range, a soccer ball, a boot, a Spanish translation of Doctor Zhivago — that are banal but laden with meaning. I’m always on the lookout for the anomalous…. It wasn’t until several months later… that I understood what I saw. Whenever I go to the desert, I discover things that are unusual. I may not know what they are, but I know a potent narrative will follow in the months or years ahead.

Richard Misrach. “Border Signs.” The California Sunday Magazine.

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Quotes: On Being “Off Modern”

Has Art itself become a mere outtake, a long footnote to the human history? In the United States it is technology, not culture, that is regarded to be a space for innovations. Art, it seems, has overstayed its welcome. But the amateur artists, immigrants from the disintegrated homeland, survive against all odds. Often they cross the border illegally and like the diasporic repo-men try to repossess what used to belong to them, re-conquer the space of art.

The amateur artists aspire neither for newness nor for a trendy belatedness. The prefixes “avant” and “post” appear equally outdated or irrelevant in the current media age. The same goes for the illusions of “trans.” But this doesn’t mean that one should try desperately to be in. There is another option; not to be out, but off. As in off-stage, off-key, off-beat and occasionally, off-color. One doesn’t have to be “absolutely modern,” as Rimbaud once dreamed, but off-modern. A lateral move of the knight in game of chess. A detour into some unexplored potentialities of the modern project.

Svetlana Boym. “Nostalgic Technology: Notes for an Off-modern Manifesto.”, Retrieved May 6, 2015, from

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Is this a New “City Beautiful?”

Alain de Botton believes that some cities are beautiful, and some are not, and that there are six ways to make the latter into the former:
Order and Variety
Visible Life
Orientation and Mystery

Kristin Hohenadel. “Why Do We Love Paris but Hate Frankfurt? A Swiss Author’s Six Qualities of Beautiful Cities.” Slate, March 6, 2015.

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Quotes: Outsiders vs. Authenticity of Place

Can a place be potent enough that its character can survive the influx of newcomers? Craig Damrauer thinks so:

The question, then, is whether too many people will come down to New Orleans, like me, and settle here. Enough people that New Orleans ceases to be what it is. Or was. Enough people that the attractive things (again, good and bad) seem to fall away the way they tend to when loads of new people move into the neighborhood — with their own expectations, desires and comforts — and muscle whatever was there before aside. That, essentially, was what chased the store owner from Williamsburg.

My answer to that question is: I doubt it. I think the construction of the city, its address with the land and the environment shapes time. And that’s a potent, almost undetectable force. If you find, after two years here, that you simply cannot think and act the same way you did back in L.A. or Brooklyn or Washington D.C., because something fundamental inside your head has shifted, no amount of will can change that. You’ve been shaped, in other words. Your meter is now adjusted and the streetplan, the moisture, the plantlife, the randomness have made their case.

Craig Damrauer, “Time and the City: In New Orleans, hours bend with the topography.” Medium.

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Quotes: The Tweeness of Renaming Neighborhoods

Plenty of others could see the changes in our neighborhood. To some, these changes spelled opportunity. Actually, they spelled “NOBE.” In the fall of 2012, local real estate agents attempted to brand our area “North Oakland/Berkeley/Emeryville.” One agent produced a video cataloguing the virtues of “NOBE,” interviewing beaming local residents, all relatively recent arrivals like us. It was as if the neighborhood had been a blank spot on the map prior to 2009 and had now been christened by its discoverers in the language of their aspirations.

I wasn’t the only one who found the tone (and tone-deafness) of the NOBE video off-putting. A contingent of local activists had been working to slow displacement and keep the neighborhood affordable and livable for the people who were already there, not just the café-and-cupcakes set that was growing with every “SOLD” sign. These activists saw the rapid increase in housing prices in the area not as opportunity but as oppression, a further kick to a population that was already down. The video was like cold water dropped onto their hot skillet.

Brock Winstead, “On Becoming a Historic Resident of Oakland,” Boom: A Journal of of California, Winter 2014, Vol 4, No 4.

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Quotes: Restrooms, Technology, and the Need for People

1-IGpM1Ud7pfkEgxTM9wS52AGetting here via toilet.

One of my American Studies students, Chris Grant, complains of high-tech, self-cleaning toilets in San Francisco that do not work.

In the end they’ve become poorly maintained, run-of-the-mill public restrooms — requiring city employees to maintain, clean, and repair these outhouses. We need to layoff the Toilets of the Future and aim for something less San Franciscan. We need something that seems almost contrary to the major tech focus in San Francisco. Something that conflicts with business models like Uber and Airbnb, that technically don’t produce anything but rather arrange agreements with contractors or volunteers. We need standard public bathrooms with a paid staff to actively maintain it. We need people. I write this as a techie nerd living in the Bay Area. I write this as someone that loves self-checkout and electronic doodahs. Get some multi-stalled toilets in public spaces, and let’s spend the cash to give everyone a space to relieve themselves.

Christopher Grant. “Shitty San Francisco,” Medium.

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Crisis in Levittown


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On Retronaut

Mashable calls itself “a leading source for news, information and resources for the Connected Generation. Mashable reports on the importance of digital innovation and how it empowers and inspires people around the world.” (Mashable web site, footer, retrieved January 24, 2015 from ). It’s not the sort of place you would expect to find historical materials. Yet it is also home to a feature called “Retronaut,” curated by Mashable employee Chris Wild.

According to Chris Wild’s Wikipedia page:

Chris Wild is the creator of the website Retronaut, an online archive of historic pictures. In its article on Retronaut, Fast Company wrote: “the images on Retronaut are chosen to make the viewer feel like they’re looking not at the past, but rather at a different version of the present”[1]

In July 2010, Wild was a speaker at the TEDGlobal conference.[2]

In November 2013, Retronaut was listed by The Times as one of “The 50 people you should follow on Twitter”.[3]

In December 2013, Wild was appointed Guest Curator of Woodhorn Museum and Northumberland Archives, England.[4]

The book “Retronaut: A Photographic Time Machine” was published by National Geographic in September 2014.[5] The book received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, saying “With every page comes a surprise; this terrific collection never ceases to entertain”.[6] The Daily Mail described it as “A magical tour of the past”.[7]

In August 2014, Mashable announced that Chris had joined Mashable’s editorial team and that from September 2014, Mashable would be the exclusive home of the Retronaut brand of historical photo curation.

Retrieved January 24, 2015 from

The photographs Retronaut uses are often taken from other archives, for example, the Library of Congress collections. Retronaut sometimes favors truly historic material—the kind of stuff that seems faded, stained, torn, rough, showing the patina of age. This is especially true of the monochromatic materials. With color images, however, the preference is for those that appear as if taken yesterday, even if they were taken a hundred years ago. It’s a kind of temporal jamming. For example, consider a recent post of the color photography—yes, color photography—of pre Great War Russian photographer Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky (1863–1944) (Retrieved January 24, 2015 from


Like Shorpy ( Retronaut uses photography as an attempt to gain access to a different time, but unlike Shorpy, it often approaches the matter by trying to reduce the sense of temporal distance, rather than by trying to convey detailed information. (Shorpy takes a different approach showing images in radically large resolution, so that people looking at them can dig into the background for details.)

What is more interesting, however, is the way that Retronaut frames the whole matter in its own title. This is retro, not history, not the past. According to the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of “retro’s” second case of use, (accessed January 24, 2015), retro’s etymology is:

“Probably < French rétro (adjective) that imitates or evokes a style from the relatively recent past (1974 or earlier), (noun) fashion or style of this type, person who adopts such a fashion or style (1974), shortened < rétrospectif”

It is “backwards looking,” and, more critically, “nostalgic.”

The oldest use of “retro,” according to the OED’s third case, is 1634. It is a classical Latin term, often legal, now rarely uses stand-alone, and is defined as “backwards; into the past. Also (now usually): retrospectively, with retrospective effect.” This in turn comes from “re,” a Latin prefix meaning “back or backwards,” and ‘”-tro”, a Latin adverb suffix that converts the back or backwards quality into a modification or description of an act (See OED entries for “retro-prefix” and “re- prefix.”)

As for the suffix of “-naut,” this clearly implies some form of navigation, as in nautical. Again according to the OED, (see entry “-naut suffix”,) comes from the ancient Greek for a sailor, and is often “used to form a number of words with the sense ‘voyager, traveller’, with the first element defining the nature of the travel or experience.” Retronaut offers, in its purest sense, a voyage backward, implied to me temporally backward.

Yet words change from their original sense, and it is difficult not to see the word “retronaut” in light of some of those other “travelers” that the OED identifies, especially the idea of the “Astronaut.” In this feature, the past—framed by Mashable alongside contemporary stories about, say, social media and digital-human frontiers—and becomes a territory akin to Space, a frontier of the unknown that can be explored. Retronaut makes the past a foreign country, but more so it is an entirely different element, in the way that Space is an entirely different element than the Earth’s atmosphere, or the land, or the sea. It is an othering of the past, a making of it into an exotic Terra Incognita, a world without comprehension rather than a world that was once someone’s yesterday, and in the cosmic scheme of things, still is ours.

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Quotes: Academese

…-isms are out, and –ities are in.  Words like “postcolonialism,” “modernism,” “materialism” or “feminism,” are so 20th century.  For the new millennium, we have new and improved words like “postcoloniality,” “modernity,” “materiality” and “intersectionality.”  If you must use an -ism, be sure to pluralize it.  No one will hear of a singular “feminism” or “materialism” today; there are only “feminisms” and “materialisms.”

Kristen Godse, “Ethnographers as Writers: A Light-Hearted Introduction to Academese”

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