At the New Yorker website, Mark Gimein makes a startling and contrarian claim about the US economy: job security is actually greater now than it was ten or twenty years ago. This flies in the face of the received wisdom—articulated by the likes of Hilary Clinton, Donald Trump, and everyone in between—that the rise of the "gig economy" has introduced widespread insecurity into the job market. Gimein's evidence for his claim is somewhat thin: he cites data showing that the average worker today stays at a job longer than they did ten years ago. But as he himself concedes, the reason for this may be that workers are clinging desperately to their jobs—no matter how low-paying or unfulfilling they are—because they cannot find better ones. Still, while Gimein may not convince everyone that the labor market is thriving today, he does usefully undermine nostalgia for the job market of the past, which we too easily assume was universally more secure and humane than our job market. Rather, Gimein's data demonstrates that in the capitalist job market, then as now, insecurity is the order of the day:
It’s commonplace to say that the sepia-toned America of those better days never really existed. Still, it bears saying: it never existed. Clinton gives voice to a nostalgia that misrepresents how eager the young people of the past were to start “stable” jobs.
Moreover, our collective nostalgia misrepresents historical job security so completely that it gets it close to backward. We imagine a past where everyone had thirty-year careers (or, less pretentiously, jobs), tapering off into a work twilight and then retirement. This memory is surprisingly at odds with the data: the typical worker now stays at a job six months longer than the average worker did a decade ago. Taking an even longer-term view, the typical worker has stayed at the same job for more than four and a half years, versus just three and a half years in 1983.
Whether that increase in stability is wholly positive is arguable. In roaring economies, workers switch jobs more often, looking for higher pay or better bosses. The length of time spent at one job goes up in times of economic stress (such as the mid-aughts), when workers hang on for dear life. But whatever the cause, it’s clear that younger workers switch jobs less often than in the past. For women, also, the length of time at the average job has gone up markedly. (It’s now almost the same as for men.) To the extent that there was security in the past, it didn’t apply to women.
Image via the New Yorker.
Lydia Davis is not only a revered writer of short, peculiar fiction, but also a distinguished translator from French. She has translated Swann's Way by Proust and Madame Bovary by Flaubert, among other works. The online literary magazine Words Without Borders interviewed Davis about the challenges of translating canonical novels that have already been translated into English several times. Here's an excerpt:
Would you correct errors that you find in the original?
LD: Some translators do this. There are errors in Proust—I forget the specifics now, but he refers in one spot to four friends on a trip to Italy together and in another spot specifies three. But I believe it is very important not to tamper with the content of the original in that way, much as one might be tempted. One of the obligations of a translator is to try to reproduce something like the way the text is experienced by a native reader. Mistakes and all . . . I would, though, want to say something about the mistake in an endnote . . .
Does a translator need to dominate the culture of both the language she is translating to and the culture of the language she is translating from?
LD: By “dominate,” do you mean “master”? Or, even better: “have a deep and thorough understanding of it”? I want to clarify, because the attitude of a writer, including a translator, toward his or her own culture, as well as the culture of the original text, should be that of a seeker rather than a dominator. One is always seeking to understand. One gains some understanding, but one never understands completely—true of any culture in which one is working or living.
But to answer more simply: let’s assume that the translator has a good, deep understanding of her own culture. Then the question is how deep does her understanding of the other culture need to be? I found, in translating Madame Bovary, that a good deal of the text was understandable, and translatable, without that deeper knowledge of nineteenth-century French culture in a provincial town. Certain human behavior seems to be fairly universal, or at least common, to Western civilizations of the last couple of centuries. (I should beware of generalizations—there are always exceptions!) Other habits, customs, expressions are not as familiar to us in the twenty-first century. Still, translating the way I do, staying close to the original—even when it comes to expressions such as “to put straw in one’s boots” or “other dogs to beat” (yes? is that what Homais says to the beggar?)—rather than seeking equivalent expressions in English, the customs, habits, even modes of thinking of Flaubert’s time come through quite well. But I may translate accurately what is on Emma’s mantelpiece without knowing what her taste in decor “means”—and it would be good to know, even though that wouldn’t change my translation, in this case. For Flaubert, of course, what she had on her mantelpiece indicated her slavish following of current fashion, her striving for bourgeois gentility. His readers at the time would have known that. I use many reference books, learn what I can, write endnotes to help readers of the translation, but I do not feel I have to become a scholar of the culture Flaubert was writing about, or within. (Long answer! Third cup of coffee!)
Image: Lydia Davis at the University of Georgia Chapel. Via Words Without Borders.
Kat Herriman for T Magazine writes about galleries whose operations have been passed down through generations, focusing on big names such as Lisson's Logsdails, Pace's Glimchers, and the Zwirners. Read Herriman in partial below, or the full version via T Magazine.
Last week, the Parisian gallerist Almine Rech announced that her son, Paul de Froment, will be the director of her forthcoming New York outpost. The news brought to mind another recent opening: Lisson’s New York gallery, where the second-generation dealer Alex Logsdail serves as the international director. His father, the British art dealer Nicholas Logsdail, co-founded Lisson in 1967, brought Alex into the business in 2009 and made him director in 2011. Logsdail and Rech are not alone: many major players, including David Zwirner, Arne Glimcher and Sean Kelly, have made room for their children in their businesses.
As the son of Arne Glimcher — the dealer who nurtured the careers of Robert Rauschenberg and Jean Dubuffet — Pace president Marc Glimcher now effectively runs his father’s international gallery. Schooled in molecular biology and immunology, Marc initially stayed away from the gallery at his father’s request, but found himself habitually returning. “At some point, if your parent is Arne Glimcher or Paula Cooper or Rudolf Zwirner, you have to confront two things. You have to come to peace with the idea that you’re going to do the same thing that your father did, and your father was pretty great at it,” Marc says. “You also have to come to grips with the fact that he started it from scratch and you are never going to do that. It’s an internal struggle that took me 20 years to untangle.”
Marc had to call in his longtime friend, Matthew Marks, to vouch for him, but eventually convinced Arne. “When my children were little, I said I’d support them with anything but coming into Pace,” Arne says. “If anything, Marc did this in spite of me. He has very much his own identity, and I feel at this point that I work for Marc more than he works for me. I’m very privileged.” Marc’s first assignment, a book on Picasso’s sketchbooks, eventually led him to start a publishing house of his own, called Second Sons.
*Image: The gallerist Paula Cooper, right, with her son Lucas when he was a child. Lucas now handles communications for his mother’s gallery — and is one of many art-world offspring who elected to join the family business. Credit Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York
For New York Review of Books, Simon Critchley writes about England's two exits over the last week: from both the European Union and from the European Football Championship. While I'm probably the last person in the world to read Critchley on football, his take on England losing to Iceland, a country with a population of 330,000, is worth the read. Check out Critchley in partial below, or in full via New York Review of Books.
England has now left Europe twice in four days, with the second departure allowing this writer some small sentiment of retributive justice for the stupidity of the first. After the unmitigated and unfolding disaster of Brexit, the English national football team was defeated 2-1 by Iceland yesterday in the European Football Championship. Iceland! That’s right. With a population of around 330,000, with a fair scattering of part-time players and a coach who also works as a dentist and a goalkeeper who is also a filmmaker, Iceland defeated England, the country who first formulated the game of association football in the nineteenth century and has the richest league in the world and most of the game’s best-paid players.
On both occasions, leaders resigned without taking questions from the press. A puffy-looking David Cameron announced, using quaint shipping metaphors, that he would be leaving office just as soon as anyone foolhardy enough could be found to take his job. And the hapless England coach, Roy Hodgson, read out a prepared statement immediately after the Iceland game (when was it prepared, one asks?) stating that he was quitting as coach. Shipping metaphors are appropriate in this instance, as the last confrontations between England and Iceland were the so-called “Cod Wars” that stretched from the 1950s to the 1970s, which Iceland also handily won.
What connection is there between these two European departures? At a superficial, factual level, absolutely none at all. But, probing more deeply, there is a felt link. The referendum for Brexit was not about national sovereignty against the allegedly faceless bureaucracy of Brussels and the EU, nor was it some triumph for democracy where the people take their country back, as Donald Trump declared. No, this was a referendum on immigration. Pure and simple. The campaign was ugly and watered with lies and racist scaremongering from the “leave” camp. Promises were made to end immigration and defend the values of nation, from the cynical Tory Boris Johnson and the truly awful Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP. The majority of the people of England (but not of Scotland or Northern Ireland) voted against immigration because, to put it brutally, they simply don’t like foreigners and very many of them seem to be simply racist.
Click above to watch Offline is The New Luxury, a documentary directed by Bregtje van der Haak for Dutch television (English-language voiceover has been substituted in the above version). The documentary explores the sometimes startling extent to which governments and tech companies are going to get every corner of the globe "connected," i.e., reachable by wifi or wireless data signals. The show also explores "unwired landscapes"—those remote places that are as yet inaccessible to the web.
*Editorial note: this interview was originally commissioned by ICA at MECA on the occasion of the exhibition "Ann Hirsch: Sharing Love." It is reproduced with permission here.
Moira Weigel: The Scandalishious Project (2008-09) was not only about you performing for the webcam, but also how your performances created a community of responses around your work. How do you think of the responses you received from viewers online in relation to your work? I remember watching some Scandalishious fan videos in 2013, and in one of them there was a guy who talked about how much he loved your character—he was dark, backlit and kind of creepy. And then he had a dramatic stutter. This somehow humanized him to me and changed how I felt about him as your fan. Have there been reactions that are especially interesting, striking, surprising, or disturbing that have changed how you viewed the work you were making? Were there any especially notable instances of harassment or abuse—which I'm sure you must get a lot?
Ann Hirsch: When I started The Scandalishious Project in January of 2008, I did not expect for anyone to watch my videos or pay attention to them. I felt I was performing into a void of sorts. But after a few months, my videos were posted to forums such as 4chan, and they started getting more attention. I was intrigued by the people who followed and responded to my videos, whether it was out of lust, admiration, or hatred. I came across many people and the ones who I connected with were the people who had stories and real lives that they wanted to share with me. Men would message me and send me videos expressing their sexuality but also telling me about their lives—including stories about their wives and kids, their jobs, their deepest sexual perversions. Young girls would send me heartfelt letters telling me they wanted to be like me. I got loads of hate mail and hate videos from people telling me how ugly I was and how what I was doing was stupid. In the end, it made me realize that I was part of a community of people trying to figure out their identities in an age where your image, body, and story can be disseminated more widely than ever, and what that meant for who you are in terms of your sexuality, gender and looks. Simultaneously, it was interesting to witness how this community was responding to seeing other types of people that they might not normally encounter in the bubbles of their lives. I felt I was an amateur social scientist at the time, navigating a new world through personal anthropological fieldwork. I view the videos and comments I collected as my “data” and the artwork I have made from this experience as my “findings.”
You often used the term "attention" or "attention-seeking" to describe what you're interested in exploring. You use terms like "camwhore" or "famewhore." Even if you use them in scare-quotes, these are self-critical words. You are also reflective about the ways we socialize young women to constantly seek attention and affirmation and approval and then punish them for the same.
It strikes me how brave you are about exposing yourself, how vulnerable you allow yourself to be. Your work is also very funny—you're very skilled at using wit to deflect uncomfortable moments. I think it's the realness of your vulnerability that makes your critiques, pastiches, parodies so compelling. Even the producers of Frank the Entertainer seemed to be compelled by your "realness" or "authenticity," [Here For You (Or my Brief Love Affair with Frank Maresca) (2011)] perhaps due to how incredibly direct, crude or funny you could be, in addition to your willingness to take risks.
What does vulnerability have to do with attention or fame-seeking? If our culture constantly encourages women to seek attention and then punishes them for it, where does vulnerability fit in? Is that a quality we are pushed to cultivate but also punished for too?
When I am creating art, if it doesn’t make me feel vulnerable in some way, it doesn’t feel interesting to me. For me, it’s vulnerability that breaks down surface interpretations of people and gives human dimension to certain “desirable” characteristics. To be “sexy” for example, is to be devoid of vulnerability—it is to present oneself as confidently sexual, even if one is terrified. Even though someone’s vulnerability could make them sexually appealing to others, the way we code “sexy” as a society is typically through the lens of unabashed confidence.
In order to be “sexy” and to appeal to one’s desired, one must attempt to “be sexy.” The most successful “sexy” people are the ones who do so effortlessly, who don’t seem to be trying at all—those who wear the most convincing masks. I think that’s also what makes the most successful romantic reality TV contestants. It’s the people who most fluidly portray “being authentic,” who don’t appear to be acting for the cameras. But the truth is, all reality show contestants are solely there for the cameras and the show becomes a game at seeing who can be the best at pretending that they’re not.
What I love about vulnerability is that it unveils the masks we put on to make us seem “sexy” or “authentic” and reveals the societal structures that perpetuate us conforming to gender and race-based stereotypes. Being vulnerable is an important tool to reveal the structures that oppress us.
What is the role of humor in your work? Do you think that you're parodying when you make something like horny lil feminist (2015)? Or satirizing, or something else? How would you characterize the genre of those pieces?
I love using humor in my work and I think it’s such a powerful tool. Simply, humor is such a big part of our daily lives. My goal is to create humanity in all the personas I portray and stories I tell. How could someone do that without using humor? It doesn’t seem realistic.
When I was creating the horny lil feminist videos, I didn’t intend them as parody or satire; I wanted them to just very honestly represent me. I spent months making videos trying to delve deeper into who I honestly am. I wanted to show I was a feminist, with a sense of humor, who also gets off to porn despite knowing that it’s damaging for women, and that I have a cute wedding registry but also anxieties about losing my identity in a marriage to a man. And most significantly, what it means to be a woman in today’s online culture, in which your looks and opinions are on display more than ever.
Writing on your work often emphasizes how you use reality television, webcams, digital video, video sharing sites, and so on to explore how women are looked at. Or, in other words, to explore different kinds of interpersonal relations. But it strikes me that your work is very interested not only in how women are looked at by others, but in how we use screens to produce ourselves. What role do the technologies you use play in the production of selfhood, a well as interpersonal dynamics?
For women, we have a long history of being looked at, mainly by men, who have also historically authored all imagery of us. In the last decade, women now have the ability to produce their own imagery and disseminate it widely. This change has huge potential, and to some degree I think women—and also people of color and LGBT people—have used these new platforms to create human, empathetic depictions of themselves. I think this is a huge reason why we have suddenly come to find ourselves living in an era defined by a growing acceptance of trans bodies, Black Lives Matter, and a new wave of feminism. However, it’s not all utopian. The internet exerts its disciplinary control through creating an atmosphere of “likes” and “virality” and pleasing the lowest common denominator. So often we feel we must conform to more stereotypical portrayals of ourselves in order to be part of this attention economy and to have a voice. This has happened for me on a personal level—where, in order to be seen, I know sexy selfies will be liked the most. But I don’t want to have to show myself in that light in order to have a voice. So I have to choose whether I want attention and loud voice or if I want to show myself in a more humane manner—by that I mean show myself as a holistic person who isn’t just a sexual object—or if there is a way I can do both.
Can you talk about the drawings in this exhibition, Dr. Guttman’s Office (2014-15)? How do you feel this different, non-digital medium interacted with or expressed differently your interest in gender, the body, self-representation? Is the doctor's office a performance space? Have you always drawn?
My drawing and painting practice has been really important for me because it’s the medium in which I am able to express my ideas less didactically. I started taking drawing and painting lessons when I was 12: my childhood therapist recommended it to my parents since all I did in her office was draw obsessively. I left drawing for a long time because I developed interests in newer media like video and performance, but in the last few years I’ve been using drawing as a way to explore my subconscious thoughts, which, not surprisingly, are often issues I wrestle with around gender roles and conformity. I’ve been making art for nearly 10 years almost exclusively about what it means to be a woman. When I revisited old drawings I had made as a child, which I uncovered while visiting my parent’s house recently, I was surprised to see this content shared in these drawings—I had the epiphany that this is something I’ve been wrestling with my whole life. So the paintings in Sharing Love show how my obsession with gender manifested at a young age, and how the issues in those old childhood drawings still exist for me today.
Moira Weigel is a writer and academic, currently finishing a PhD in Film and Media and Comparative Literature at Yale University. Previously, she earned a BA from Harvard and an MPhil from Cambridge. Her research focuses on where the history of technology intersects with the history of ideas—particularly ideas about nature, life, and gender.
Moira's essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, and The New Republic among other places. In May, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux published her first book Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating. The New York Times called the book "addictive and accessible"; the New Yorker said it was "perceptive and wide ranging," while The New Statesman referred to it as a "radical feminist Marxist tract disguised as a salmon pink self-help book." You decide.
*Image: Ann Hirsch, The Scandalishious Project, 2008–09. Video, color, sound, 42:30 minutes. Courtesy the artist.
Writing for Salvage magazine, Richard Seymour argues that the British Left, especially the Labour Party, was largely ineffective and irrelevant in the debate leading up to the Brexit vote. The Left failed to articulate an explanation for widespread economic insecurity that addressed the real worries of working-class Britons, instead ceding the rhetorical terrain to the Right, with its anti-immigrant fear-mongering. Here's an excerpt:
But Corbyn was also not the dynamic factor in this referendum. Nor was any part of the Left. The racists were. The chauvinists were. And what the racists have done is successfully articulated a broad antiestablishment sentiment — originating in class injuries, regional decline, postindustrial devastation, generational anxieties, etc. — along bigoted, national chauvinist lines. The vote cannot be reduced to racism and nationalism — but that is the primary way in which it has been organised and recruited and directed, and that is the primary way in which the outcome will be experienced. That this was achieved so soon after the fascist murder of a centre-left, pro-immigrant MP, is stunning in a way. It says something about the truculence of some of the chauvinism on display. It says something about the profound sense of loss which a reasserted ‘Britishness’ is supposed to compensate for. This is what many of the left-Brexiters have simply failed to appreciate. In refusing to see that resentful, racist nationalism was indispensable to the Brexit victory, in imagining that the flag-waving and conspiracy theories about the EU are superfluous relative to the ‘class anger’ about neoliberalism and declining living standards, they have adopted an exceptionally crude model of ‘consciousness’. Implicitly, it is as if they see racism as merely a flimsy superstructure, or a temporary fug obscuring the ‘real’ antagonism. As if the questions of nationality and race have not been decisively formative of the way in which class issues are settled in the United Kingdom.
There is a lot of finger-wagging on Twitter and elsewhere about how the exit voters have just triggered economic self-destruction. House prices will fall, savings will be diminished, the pound will weaken, jobs will dry up. Well, that’s all true. Except. Not everyone benefits from the insane property market. Not everyone has savings. Not everyone benefits, as the City does, from a strong pound. Manufacturing has suffered from that priority. Large parts of the country have been haemorrhaging jobs for years. ‘The economy’ is not a neutral terrain experienced by everyone in exactly the same way. And some of the votes, coming in core Labour areas, not necessarily strongly racist areas at first glance, indicate that. So people have voted against an economy that wasn’t working to their benefit. They have voted for ‘fairness’ in a context in which immigration was the only index of ‘fairness’. Of course, the polling and vox pops suggest that large numbers of them have also voted against Muslims, ‘Africans’, equal rights for gays, and all the social change that has befallen the UK in recent years. In some way, connotatively, these things are all linked — the nation’s decline, the loss of the empire, the evisceration of whole regions of industrial strength, and the erosion of the white, heterosexual man’s monopoly on full citizenship.
Image of UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn via The Guardian.
For The Nation, Jana Prikryl writes about Bernd and Hilla Becher and their lifelong pursuit photographing blast furnaces and other ornaments of the diminishing post-war industrial landscape. Prikryl's essay gives depth to the Becher's work and overall legend, focusing on Hilla's contributions to the team. Given that she was born in 1934 and the vast majority of her contemporaries were male (as was her collaborator), and the generally reclusive nature of the Becher duo, Hilla's story seems incredibly important to recount. Read Prikryl in partial below, or in full via The Nation.
Hilla once said that her aim, even as an apprentice photographer, had been to capture “silent objects.” Bernd was born in 1931 and Hilla in ’34, so they were children during the war, a time they rarely if ever discussed on the record. After Bernd’s death, Hilla was interviewed by two German journalists, Tobias Haberl and Dominik Wichmann, and told them: “It’s true, we both got roughed up a lot by the war. I remember how I thought after the war: God, my parents have such sentimental ideals of landscapes, beauty, music.” Without specifying how her family suffered, she suggests that it freed her from older ways of looking: “The idea of a bourgeois life was gone, I didn’t take those things that seriously any longer. That way, I was open for an independent way to view things.” When Haberl and Wichmann challenge the political detachment of the Bechers’ photographs, which they note contain “no Cold War, no student movement, no re-unification,” Hilla replies: “That we did on purpose. We always said: We cannot comment. We never took sides during a strike. You can’t criticize when you want to photographically conclude something.” And yet she adds: “What matters is whether the blast furnace produces hospital beds [or] steel for bombs.” “Were accusations made against you?” the journalists ask. “Of course! We were accused of making something look beautiful that could be used…” They assist: “…to kill people.” “Exactly.”
The Bechers once tried to collaborate with historians—a project that was abandoned because their collaborators intended to “write a text, and garnish their text with our photos,” Bernd recalled in 2002. “They couldn’t imagine that photographs could stand on their own.” And Hilla added: “Working with them, we felt for the first time that we weren’t free.” The most generous interpretation of their refusal to discuss the past (or garnish their photos with texts) is to see it as a formal decision, a theoretical counterpart to the way the images evoke absolute emotional restraint, whether about the photographers’ backgrounds or the objects’ uses. This recalls the lifelong self-erasure of the Japanese painter On Kawara—another late modernist who died quite recently and whose 50-year career of painting nothing but the day’s date, day after day, was married to a reticence about himself that was so total (no interviews, no photographs except from the back, and, like Bernd, routine avoidance of his own openings) that it passes through morbid withdrawal into a kind of sublime expressiveness by dint of its consistency and its departure from common practice. About the same age as the Bechers, On Kawara was a child during Japan’s adventure as an Axis power, a high-school student during the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He later said his wartime experiences made him doubt “everything.” Everything—every grain of narrative information, aside from the abstract placeholder of date—is withheld from his pictures in a negative capability that is similar to the little we know about what we see in the Bechers’ photographs. Could this distrust of making assertions be a response to the trauma of growing up in one of the aggressor nations during World War II? Yet other painters of the same generation (I think again of Richter and Polke) discovered themselves precisely by confronting the historical taboos of German culture in the 1960s.
If On Kawara carried his doubt to its ultimate conclusion, emptying his canvases of all but code, the Bechers never lost faith in the plain old that-which-can-be-seen. Their unquenchable attraction to industrial forms has a real innocence about it. In 2008, Hilla was asked, “But why furnaces and conveyor belts?” She replied: “Because they are honest. They are functional, and they reflect what they do—that is what we liked. A person always is what s/he wants to be, never what s/he is. Even an animal usually plays a role in front of the camera.” Is there not some innocence, too, in the notion that the massive buildings and equipment of any given industry play no rhetorical role in suggesting the power of their masters? When Hilla is asked whether they “never got bored of blast furnaces, not once in forty years?,” she replies, “Never. We studied this anonymous architecture, object after object, until we understood the enormous variety of the subject…. We learned how blast furnaces worked, how they were constructed, what parts they had.” It seems they were curious only about the mechanics of each structure, a bit like children learning about fire stations. “And then it was easier to find out whether there was a front and back. At some stage we asked ourselves: Does a blast furnace have a face?” But the next question—if so, wouldn’t a blast furnace also “play a role in front of the camera”?—remains unspoken.
*Image: Bernd and Hilla Becher, "Shaft Towers; Forderturme," 1966-79. (Private Collection / Bridgeman Images)
For the New Yorker, Amanda Petrusich writes about the closure of East Village's Other Music, and how the end of the record store speaks also to other, larger ends--the death of New York, the end of the expert shopkeep, the death of "curation," as she puts it. Most interestingly, Petrusich writes about how the music nerds behind the counter at Other Music would seem insufferably pretentious to younger millennials today, especially given "they have come of age in an era in which intolerance is forcefully policed." Though she seems correct in this assessment, it's nonetheless difficult to imagine how youth counterculture would develop independent of our inveterate music snobs.
Read Petrusich in partial below, or in full via the New Yorker.
The store’s stock has always tended toward the abstruse. For many years, it was the only place in the city (and maybe on the East Coast) where you could find copies of great but commercially unpopular records: free jazz, certain strains of world music, Krautrock, long forgotten folk balladry. I bought my first albums by otherwise-unclassifiable artists like Arthur Russell and John Fahey at Other Music. I later read from my book about obscure 78 r.p.m. records there. Uncommon but extraordinary records were offered prominent shelf space, and serendipity was always in the air. Station yourself before the bins labelled “Out”—“Out” in the context of Other Music implied either intrepid or foolhardy experimentation, or maybe both—and see what calls to you.
I still don’t know anyone who has ever stepped into Other Music with total confidence. In the nineteen-nineties and well into the aughts, this was an enormous part of the store’s appeal. It was the bungee jump of shopping experiences: did you have the nerve, and could you survive the leap? Certainly, the need for a knowledgeable staff is less urgent these days—a smartphone will instantly tell you anything you want to know, and you don’t have to feel lethally embarrassed if it turns out you are asking a phone a dumb question—but, when I first started buying CDs there, as a teen-ager, it was hard to find a more astute, studied assemblage of music nerds than the crew lounging behind the counter. I found them so formidable as to be frightening. They did not abide musical foolishness, or bad taste.
To anyone born after me, this probably sounds like a hideously snobbish scene. As I’ve learned teaching music criticism to New York University students, subsequent generations have since adopted a lovely “Do you!” magnanimity when it comes to musical taste. Part of this might have to do with their instinctively inclusive temperaments—they have come of age in an era in which intolerance is forcefully policed—and part of it might have to do with the breakdown of genre, at least as it once existed in the record bins. There are no record bins anymore—no little plastic signposts signifying content, broadcasting a set of principles, musical and otherwise. Genre itself—or, more specifically, genre affiliation as a means of self-identification—feels like another End hovering in the atmosphere this week. No one is asked to choose one affiliation at the expense of another. Instead, it is perfectly normal, even expected, that a person might have a little bit of everything stacked up in her digital library. The idea of “Other Music” as it was conceived in 1995 is unknowable now.
*Image of Moyra Davey photograph of records via e-flux
*Editorial note: The following open letter has been translated by Janto Schwitters for e-flux and is available in the original German below, via Volksbühne's website, or with a full list of signatories via PDF here: Offener Brief.pdf (2.2 MB)
Berlin, 20th June 2016
To the parties in the Berlin House of Representatives:Alliance ‘90/The Green Party CDU Party The Left Party Pirate Party SPD Party
Minister of State for Culture and Media, Prof. Monika Grütters
Dear ladies and gentlemen, dear party leaders, dear Minister of State for Culture and Media!
From the city budget plan of Berlin 2014/2015:
The Volksbühne is an ensemble and repertory theater operating in the tradition of Erwin Piscator and Benno Besson, and synthesizes avant-garde content and form with a tradition of social engagement. The program will add dance and music to their current drama offerings.
With concern we await Volksbühne's change of director in the coming year.
The Volksbühne on Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz is, with its artistic and technical departments, a production site for artistic challenges. We’re not afraid of the new.
Meeting together with the future theater leadership on April 28th gave us reason to believe that there won’t be new forms and artistic challenges. A conceptual thread of the artistic structural development of our theater was not recognizable in the remarks by Chris Dercon and his program director Marietta Piekenbrock.
Instead, dance, musical theater, media art, digital art, and film—which are already core elements of Volksbühne—are presented to us as novelty. At the same time, the entire staff was told that “spoken theater won’t be the main column of the house” and given platitudes like “the stage language will become more polyglot.” The banality of this pronouncement makes us fear both the selling out of artistic standards that are our rule as well as the anticipated weakening of our drama theater operation’s potency.
Instead of the “radical new beginning” alleged by culture state secretary Renner, the roots of Volksbühne’s special history, which began over 100 years ago in Berlin’s city center with the founding of the Theater of the People’s Stage (Theaters der Volksbühnenbewegung), are being cut. This neutralizes each the locally and historically grown connection to the city, which is so decisive for Volksbühne, as well as the political engagement of artists and the arts and our resulting unmistakable aesthetic.
This change of director is not a friendly takeover. He represents an irreversible turning point and a break from our most recent history in which the Volksbühne could be saved from being reclassified as a dance and festival hall. This change stands for a historical leveling and destruction of our identity. The artistic processing of historical conflicts is pushed aside in favor of global consensus culture with unified patterns of presentation and sale.
What we missed in the explanatory remarks of the coming leadership is everything that makes this theater so special for us: namely, a politically engaged art, a specific theater concept, a repertory and ensemble operation, which is in accordance with the unique capabilities of a theater with more than 200 staff and their own workshop. A potential that allows for planning and working on productions in great freedom.
We fear that with these plans there will be no need for our expertise and capacities. We fear job cuts, even liquidation of entire subsections. As the sub-departments of Volksbühne bear strong pre-existing structures, a weakening of existing potential will weaken Volksbühne itself. Once these possibilities are destroyed, they will, at this theater, be gone forever. A devastating signal affecting the entire German theatrical landscape would follow.
Our criticism is directed toward Berlin culture politics: In the name of supposed internationalization and diversity, these politics work to destroy the originality and self-will for which Volksbühne gained worldwide recognition.
We see the future of Volksbühne threatened! We request that you address our concerns and ensure the theater’s position as described in the budget plan. The reorientation of Volksbühne, to which the directorship of Chris Dercon lays claim, must not come at the price of liquidating our artistic standards and nurtured partnerships that are the norm for Volksbühne staff!
We ask the House of Representatives and the Senate of Berlin to examine the new leadership team of Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz in order to address the concerns we have verbalized here.
In the name of the following staff members of Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin, in June 2016.
(List of names in PDF)
An die Parteien im Abgeordnetenhaus von Berlin Bündnis 90/Die Grünen – Fraktion CDU – Fraktion Die Linke. – Fraktion Piratenfraktion SPD – Fraktion
Staatsministerin für Kultur und Medien, Frau Prof. Monika Grütters
Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren, sehr geehrte Fraktionsvorsitzende, sehr geehrte Frau Staatsministerin!
Aus dem Haushaltsplan für Berlin 2014/15:
Die Volksbühne ist ein im Ensemble- und Repertoirebetrieb arbeitendes Theater und versucht in der Tradition von Erwin Piscator und Benno Besson eine Synthese von Inhalten und Mitteln der Avantgarde mit der Tradition eines sozial engagierten Theaters. Das Schauspielangebot der Volksbühne wird um Tanz- und Musikangebote erweitert.
Mit Sorge sehen wir dem Intendantenwechsel an der Volksbühne im kommenden Jahr entgegen.
Die Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz ist mit ihren künstlerischen und technischen Abteilungen eine Produktionsstätte für künstlerische Herausforderungen. Uns schreckt nicht das Neue.
Die am 28. April mit der zukünftigen Theaterleitung abgehaltene Vollversammlung lässt darauf schließen, dass es an der Volksbühne jedoch keine neuen Formen und künstlerischen Herausforderungen geben wird. Eine konzeptionelle Linie der künstlerisch-strukturellen Weiterentwicklung unseres Theaters ist in den Ausführungen Chris Dercons und seiner Programmdirektorin Marietta Piekenbrock nicht zu erkennen.
Vielmehr werden uns Tanz, Musiktheater, Medienkunst, digitale Kunst und Film, die ohnehin fester Spielplanbestandteil an der Volksbühne sind, als Novität vorgesetzt. Im selben Atemzug wird der versammelten Belegschaft verkündet, dass „das Sprechtheater nicht die dominante Säule dieses Hauses sein wird“ und es werden Gemeinplätze wie „die Bühnensprache wird polyglotter werden“ bemüht. In der Banalität der Verkündung fürchten wir den Ausverkauf der für uns geltenden künstlerischen Maßstäbe und die zu erwartende Schwächung unseres potenten Schauspieltheaterbetriebs.
Mit dem von Kulturstaatssekretär Renner behaupteten „radikalen Neuanfang“ werden stattdessen die Wurzeln der besonderen Geschichte der Volksbühne gekappt, die vor über 100 Jahren in der Mitte Berlins mit der Gründung des Theaters der Volksbühnenbewegung begann. Die für dieses Haus entscheidende lokale und historisch gewachsene Bindung an die Stadt, die politische Ausrichtung der Künstler und der Künste, die daraus entstandene unverwechselbare Ästhetik, werden neutralisiert.
Dieser Intendantenwechsel ist keine freundliche Übernahme. Er ist eine irreversible Zäsur und ein Bruch in der jüngeren Theatergeschichte, während der die Volksbühne vor der Umwidmung in ein Tanz- und Festspielhaus bewahrt werden konnte. Dieser Wechsel steht für historische Nivellierung und Schleifung von Identität. Die künstlerische Verarbeitung gesellschaftlicher Konflikte wird zugunsten einer global verbreiteten Konsenskultur mit einheitlichen Darstellungs- und Verkaufsmustern verdrängt.
Wir vermissen in den konzeptionellen Ausführungen der kommenden Leitung all das, was dieses Theater für uns und mit uns so unverwechselbar macht: eine politisch eingreifende Kunst, ein spezifisches Theaterkonzept, einen Repertoire- und Ensemblebetrieb, der dem einzigartigen Potential des Hauses mit über 200 Festangestellten und eigenen Werkstätten entspricht. Einem Potential, mit dem in großen Freiräumen Inszenierungen geplant und erarbeitet werden können.
Wir befürchten, dass angesichts dieser Pläne unsere Kompetenzen und Kapazitäten nicht gebraucht werden. Wir befürchten einen Stellenabbau, bis hin zur Abwicklung ganzer Gewerke. Die Gewerke der Volksbühne sind in ihren Strukturen stark; eine Schwächung des vorhandenen Potentials wird zu einer Schwächung der Volksbühne führen. Sind diese Möglichkeiten einmal zerstört, werden sie an diesem Ort dauerhaft verloren sein. Eine verheerende Signalwirkung für die gesamte deutsche Stadttheaterlandschaft wäre die Folge.Unsere Kritik richtet sich an die Berliner Kulturpolitik: Im Namen einer vermeintlichen Internationalisierung und Vielfalt arbeitet sie intensiv an der Zerstörung von Originalität und Eigensinn, mit der die Volksbühne weltweit Anerkennung findet.
Wir sehen die Zukunft der Volksbühne bedroht! Wir fordern Sie auf, sich dieser Sorge anzunehmen und die im Haushaltsplan beschriebene Funktion des Theaters zu gewährleisten. Die Neuausrichtung der Volksbühne, die Chris Dercons Intendanz für sich in Anspruch nimmt, darf nicht um den Preis der Abwicklung künstlerischer Standards und gewachsener Kooperationen – und damit der Arbeitsgrundlage der hier Beschäftigten, vorgenommen werden!
Wir bitten das Abgeordnetenhaus und den Senat von Berlin, das Konzept des neuen Leitungsteams der Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz hinsichtlich der von uns formulierten Sorge zu überprüfen.
Im Namen folgender Mitarbeiter der Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin, im Juni 2016
Siehe PDF für die Liste alle Namen
*Image of Volksbühne via e-architect.com
Editorial note: this open letter was sent to us by Rare Candy. It is reproduced in full here.
Rare Candy, together with our collaborators Alden Epp, Spencer Lai, Natasha Madden, Ander Rennick and Amber Wright, have made the decision to reclaim our proposed work from Centre for Style’s Dress Rehearsal exhibition in the 9th Berlin Biennale, curated by DIS.
This has been a difficult decision for us to make, but we have made it together. The decision came from our refusal to accept the conditions we faced exhibiting our work in the biennale--conditions we sadly felt did not honour the many sacrifices we had made in order to participate.
Our artists and our work have been incorrectly credited in essentially every media outlet associated with the exhibition, both internally from official sources and externally in various media coverages of the event. While we appreciate the efforts to correct many of these retroactively and after the removal of the work, we feel these oversights have enabled an almost complete dismissal of the authorship of our contribution to the biennale.
We took issue with the exhibition being framed under the loose rhetoric of ‘community’ and ‘collaboration’ without the proper recognition of the authorship of those of us who form that community, nor the communication required of a collaboration. We felt the dissolving of our work into an anonymous display, labelled as ‘community’, only served to blur the distinct voices within. As a diverse collective who has presented various collaborative projects for this exhibition, all of which have been realised through the intersection of our respective practices over a period of six months, we felt the loosely applied use of this language around the organisation of the exhibition failed to recognise the value of these artists’ contributions. Coupled with the lack of proper accreditation, we felt subsumed under several banners, one above the next, that drew capital from our labour yet neglected to acknowledge from where, or whom, it had come.
Reclaiming the work has been an action to remind ourselves and others of the necessity to resist the cooption of artistic labour that can occur when art is decontextualized from its community and repurposed to accommodate an overriding curatorial agenda, or in this case, several. Together we felt the context of the biennale and its multitiered hierarchy of curators did not accurately reflect the importance of the community that were instrumental in the production of the work itself. Sadly, we felt we needed to withdraw our work in order to protect our authorship.
Upstairs at Akademie der Künste, beneath a leaky glass ceiling, we have left a remainder of the original install which we hope remains a generous offer to the biennale and one that speaks to the urgency of the politics we seek to address. Although we have removed much of the work, we have left the impression of our presence – empty glass vitrines with dust, hair, loose beads, and greasy fingerprints where the doors have been opened to remove the work. In addition to the retrieval of the physical works, the monitor installed to screen the sixteen minute collaborative film work by Rare Candy, Alden Epp, Spencer Lai and Amber Wright, entitled Don’t mutilate my mink, has been switched off yet remains blank in the space. These palpable souvenirs amongst the emptiness indicate our continued involvement, yet resist the appropriation of our work-as-content we have sought to address.
We have brought our work back with us to Melbourne where we are planning to restage our contribution to the biennale within the context of the community that has produced it alongside us. We hope this will finally be a time to celebrate with those who have supported us.
We are still processing what has happened, and what has not happened, during our involvement in the biennale and wish to remain open to discussion around these issues.
*Images of Rare Candy and collaborators' empty installation by Amber Wright courtesy Rare Candy