Vol. 31 Issue 1 Vol. 31 Issue 1
a Brown/RISD Weekly a Brown/RISD weekly
a Brown/RISD weekly
the NEWS 02 Week in Review Wilson Cusack, Dash Elhauge & Dominique Pariso
Volume 31 No. 1
03 Trouble in Paradise Francis Torres METRO 05 Two-for-one Jamie Packs 12 Power Play Shane Potts ARTS 13 Steyerl’s World Alec Mapes-Frances FEATURES 15 Decaf Yousef Hilmy TECH 07 :) Erin West OCCULT 09 Goodnight, Pluto Lance Gloss INTERVIEWS 11 All About My Mother Madeleine Matsui
From the Editors We found ourselves on the Silk Road of old, and came upon a man. He told us grey was the opposite of black, ice the opposite of water, hill the opposite of mountain. “You are at the hypnosis spa,” he said. “There is much to see.” We stumbled upon a palace, its buttresses carved by dolphins, their designs ornately blunt. If you believe it so, dolphins can be dextrous. On slippery sands and eddying winds, we rode the dolphin home. We submitted our two page report for peer review and, in a positive feedback loop, were gratified. Onwards to the Silk Road of new. SC / KS / MS
LITERARY 17 Start Here Gabrielle Hick EPHEMERA 08 Trendy Pendant Jake Brodsky X 18 The Nightlife Aquatic Layla Ehsan, Sara Khan, & Pierie Korostoff
Interviews Madeleine Matsui Managing Editors Sebastian Clark Kim Sarnoff Maya Sorabjee News Wilson Cusack Dominique Pariso Francis Torres
Literary Gabrielle Hick Metabolics Eli NeumanHammond
Metro Jamie Packs Shane Potts
Ephemera Jake Brodsky India Ennenga
Arts Alec Mapes-Frances Johan Max Athena Washburn
X Layla Ehsan Sara Khan Pierie Korostoff
Features Piper French Yousef Hilmy Henry Staley
List Jade Donaldson
Science Camera Ford Tech Dash Elhauge
P.O Box 1930 Brown University, Providence, RI 02912 Letters to the editor are welcome distractions. The Independent, a family-run publication, is published weekly during the fall & spring semesters and is printed by TCI Press in Seekonk, MA.
Occult Lance Gloss
Cover Jade Donaldson Design & Illustration Nikolas Bentel Polina Godz Alexa Terfloth
Staff Writers Jane Argodale Ben Berke Liz Cory Peter Maklouf Marcelo Rivero-Figueroa Julia Tompkins Erin West Staff Illustrators Caroline Brewer Amy Chen Natalie Kassirer Teri Minoque Rob Polidoro Web Charlie Windolf Business Kaya Hill Senior Editors Tristan Rodman Rick Salamé MVP Pierie Korostoff
WEEK IN REVIEW
by Dominique Pariso, Wilson Cusack & Dash Elhauge
The Artist Formally Known as Roach It is an unseasonably hot fall evening. Sweat drips down your back as you approach the gallery. White Cube is as intimidating as ever. You catch a glimpse of yourself in a window and cringe. The doors open and you are immersed in a crowd of usual suspects: art school kids decked out in all black, the sprightly gallerinas feigning boredom, the actually bored older set whose makeup is applied with more care than most of the paintings hanging on the walls. You knock back some champagne a little too fast, get a little too drunk when you notice a large crowd gathered around one piece. You jockey for space and gaze up at the most beautiful painting you’ve ever seen. Your breath catches. The brushwork is primitive, almost animalistic. Just who is this artist who has drawn out your soul? The moment is rapturous but does not last as you peer at the placard. It reads: Specimen #302. Gromphadorhina portentosa. Untitled, 2015 Acrylic on canvas 73.7 cm x 92.1 cm (29 in x 36 ¼ in) Portentosa, a Madagascar hissing cockroach, made his gallery debut at the 2015 Oakland Zoo Art Show, a collective cross-species fundraiser, and has since risen to critical acclaim. Freedom, his second show, represents a departure from the restrained style that previously characterized his art. Your mouth goes dry and you slowly back away. You didn’t believe anything could sink lower than Dismaland, but you were sadly mistaken. You begin to look around desperately for an exit and there you see the artist sitting atop his agent’s shoulder. He turns his dead, black eyes on you. “Oh darling,” he hisses. “Haven’t you heard? Art is dead.” –DP
Sep 18, 2015
There’s Always Money in Fear Big News! Sorry, sorry, *Big Announcement, as Infowars so nicely put it in their video title: “Big Announcement: Infowars’ Plan to Wake Up 400 Million Revealed.” I know what you’re thinking, “SIMULTANEOUS ALARM CLOCKS? 400 MILLION OF ‘EM?! R U 4 REAL?!” You’re wrong. We’re talking ideological wakeup here, you dum dum. infowars.com, which should be on anyone’s shortlist for alternative and far out perspectives on current issues, is the news site that conspiracy theorists and rightist militias can call home. (Remember those civilians with guns that showed up to the Ferguson protests? They said they were there to protect Infowars reporters). The site reposts Alex Jones’ XM Radio broadcasts, during which he rants about government plots to enforce marshal law and related concerns, and otherwise functions as an op-ed news site. Anyway, the video campaign was launched a little over a week ago—but come for the video, stay for the store, because holy moly is Alex Jones taking journalism’s merchandising potential to a whole new level. The New Yorker has desk diaries, calendars, and umbrellas, and Alex Jones’ infowars.com has emergency survival food kits. Running along the side Infowars homepage are ads that redirect you to its store. Some are what you’d expect: a “Hillary for Prison 2016” t-shirt, ads for assault rifles, and the survival food kits. Others are unexpected. An ad with Alex Jones very seriously squinting at the viewer reads “What I’d use for any disaster.” There is a dark sky in the background with a lightning bolt that looks to be striking Jones’ left shoulder. Directly clicking, though, does not lead to a page for an emergency water purifier, nuclear bomb-proof radio, or anything else you might expect with such a dramatic endorsement. The product is called “Survival Shield X-2,” but is actually “Nascent Iodine,” which the product description confidently claims “may support healthy iodine levels,” “may support healthy hormone levels,” and will “support healthy thyroid levels,” among other levels. Jones is featured again in the middle of the product page, once more squinting, this time with nuclear power plants in the background and a quote reading “If you’re not getting prepared with nascent iodine, you’re crazy.” The item is number two on the store’s “Hottest Items” page, second only to “Knockout Sleep Support.” More of the same, listed next to assault rifle laser sights, make the store an odd mix of health food and apocalypse survival supplies, and the five-star product reviews abound. Anyway, glad Infowars has found a way to so capably meet the demand they are creating. –WC
Chip the Chicken I can’t crack eggs for shit. My roommate knows it. I can see a flicker in the corner of his eyes when the shells fall down into pooling yolk at the bottom of the mixing bowl each morning. I can hear the crunching in his teeth when he bites into the scrambled mush and smiles. “Good tea,” I say. “Good eggs,” he lies. I like to think my inability to crack eggs has something to do with a subconcious flinch that there’s a potential life in there. If the kindergarten class egg could flourish into an admittedly ugly chick, why not this one? Couldn’t it grow up to be something? Don’t chickens dream? Chip the chicken. Now there’s a famous chicken. Chip the chicken strutted between cars at Bay Bridge toll plaza in San Francisco this past week. Three people have already come to the Oakland Animal Shelter claiming ownership of the chicken. “Yeah,” I imagine they all said. “He’s always causing jams. But I love him, you know?” Now that’s a famous chicken. Two rescue groups have also displayed interest in Chip, which, to my knowledge, is the first time a rescue group has ever fought over anything. Chip the chicken is living the chicken dream. He flapped his wings over a bridge, feathers ruffling in the Bay Area breeze. He raised his head and clucked at the honks and hisses of rush-hour traffic. Do famous chickens worry about whether they’re going to be killed? Do they wonder when to cluck and when to peck? Do they wonder if their Literary Arts degree will hold any weight in this economy? All this I wonder, staring at my shelly eggs each morning. Chip laid an egg on Thursday. The shelter is going to swap it out for a fake; they don’t want any more famous chickens. –DE
VULTURES ON THE ISLAND
Few concepts in Judeo-Christian theology are as emancipating as the Jubilee year. Celebrating the end of seven sabbatical cycles, each seven years long, the Jubilee year represented a radical restructuring of social and economic relations in the Israel of biblical times. Slaves were freed, estranged family members were allowed to return home, and citizens could affirm their right over the land they worked and lived in. Most importantly, all outstanding debts were forgiven. The sounding of the Jubilee trumpet on the fiftieth year was an act of collective redemption, a recognition of the past sacrifices, a call for good faith, and cooperation as a manifestation of God’s mercy. The lessons of this biblical tale go beyond Sunday school in a time when financial debt outpaces global GDP growth and triggers financial meltdowns around the world. Increasingly, economists and political actors refer to unpayable debt and its toxic corollaries as one of the defining issues of international politics. Iceland recently responded to crippling debt by having its own Jubilee, the subject of a recent NPR podcast, in which the government taxed hedge funds who bought dissolved bank assets to pay down citizens’ rapidly inflating mortgages. Beyond this arctic experiment, a wide range of public intellectuals—from anarchist David Graeber to neo-Keynesian economist Joseph Stiglitz to socialist Yanis Varoufakis—have banded together in a transnational front against contemporary manifestations of debt peonage. On September 10, delegates to the United Nations approved a resolution that set out nine principles for restructuring national debts. The non-binding resolution sets terms for more equitable renegotiations of financial obligations and asks creditors and debtors to “act in good faith and with a cooperative spirit.” Stiglitz, who worked on the resolution, explained in The Guardian why the world needs international rule of law for resolving debt crises. He points out that creditors often cause negative-sum results by forcing flailing democracies to impose austerity measures that undermine their ability to make the future payments. In a 2009 UN Report, he advocated for binding mechanisms to check the power of distressed securities funds— often called ‘vulture funds’—and curb their practice of lending at usurious rates to neardefault countries to then seek repayment guarantees through judicial means. Though non-binding, the UN vote may herald a shifting tide in favor of debt sustainability. Wall Street banks may be concerned about how global regulation could mean cuts to their profit margins, but they do not need to look beyond America’s periphery to soften their losses.
The invisible island “In 2013, a column in The Economist dubbed Puerto Rico the “Greece of the Caribbean.” At the time, the island—a US territory—had been in the economic doldrums for 15 years and sending migrants to the mainland in unprecedented droves. The storm was already looming over the horizon, but it morphed into a hurricane when Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla declared the $72 billion debt unpayable on June 28. The government failed to make a $58 million debt payment on August 3, its first default in Puerto Rico’s 117year history as a US territory. Much of the media commentary since then has focused on Puerto Rico’s alleged profligate spending, and has shifted the blame onto the commonwealth’s large public sector and low labor participation—only 40% of working-age Puerto Ricans are officially part of the labor force, though the informal economy is considerable. The holders of a majority of Puerto Rican debt spend thousands of dollars lobbying in Washington against debt restructuring and work to promulgate the familiar image of Puerto Ricans as irresponsible, misguided, and lazy. There is even talk of going over the government and imposing a Financial Control Board on the island, presumably made up of American technocrats. As an unincorporated commonwealth of the United States, Puerto Rico is not eligible for the bankruptcy protections offered to mainland municipalities and states in Chapter 9 of the Constitution. Additionally, the island’s own constitution prioritizes general obligation payments over public spending, effectively mandating the government to earmark money for debt payments before budgeting for schools or food aid. Puerto Rico’s status as a territory allows Congress to deny certain Constitutional protections for islanders, while stopping it from reneging on debt and establishing its own currency. This fiscal quagmire coincides with, and relates to, other grievances. Puerto Rico suffers from a 45% poverty rate, low productivity, high living costs, and mercantilist shipping restrictions. Consecutive administrations have addressed the debt crisis by cutting spending on education and healthcare, which are already of significantly lower quality than that of the mainland. A lack of employment opportunities means that young Puerto Ricans are leaving for the US, shrinking the tax base and leaving behind an ageing population. As these chronic problems weakened the economy and once-coveted Puerto Rican bonds sank into junk status, vulture funds began to circle above. A group of these funds—many of which made millions from defaults in Greece, Argentina, and Detroit— have swooped in to lend the government funds, demanding exorbitant interest rates as compensation. 21st century colony Puerto Rico’s debt crisis is deeply rooted in its murky territorial status. In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal titled “What the United States owes Puerto Rico,” Stiglitz frames the island and Greece as “quasi-colonial dependencies of distant powers in Washington and Berlin,” though he makes the crucial point that, unlike Greece with the EU, Puerto Rico never chose to become a part of the US fiscal union. Puerto Rico came under American control as war bounty from the Spanish-American War of 1898. Ruled by military governments until 1900, the island later endured a procession of robber-baron governors who turned the colony into a playground for American plantation owners and hotel builders. Absentee landlords bought up most of the arable land, monopolized the sugar industry and transformed the rural population into a mass of wage-laborers. Industrialization came as a by-product of the island’s military development during World War II, and later as a base of operations in the ideological
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In Defense of Debtors
war against Cuban communism. Though the second half of the 20th century saw the development of the island’s current Commonwealth status, the underlying asymmetry of power between the island’s representatives and American commerce has never shifted. American banks have always benefited from this situation, exploiting a loophole that leaves the trading of Puerto Rican municipal bonds exempt from local, state and federal taxes. Irresponsible brokers sold high-risk bonds to locals and mainlanders by claiming they were legally protected, earning hefty commissions from banks and the cash-strapped Puerto Rican government in the process. Solutions Wall Street has replaced the old plantation moguls. In their search for solutions to the crisis, the island’s political class is scrambling to offer new sugar. On June 29, a research commission led by IMF economist Anne Krueger released a detailed report on the island’s debt situation along with a set of policy recommendations. Krueger’s report recognizes the need for bankruptcy protections and calls for an end to the law granting the United States Merchant Marine a monopoly on transporting all goods that enter and leave Puerto Rico. However, it also calls for eliminating minimum wage laws and for further spending cuts on education and other social services. The island’s current administration has taken the report’s suggestions to heart, proposing a five-year fiscal reform plan that would cut spending on public universities, establish sub-minimum wage salaries for workers under 25, and freeze public sector salaries and job openings. Puerto Rico’s leaders have committed to the same austerity policies that have led other debtor nations into even more precarious situations. Opponents to further cuts immediately criticized the plan as a waiver of what little sovereignty the island has—simply to appease large creditors. Among those that oppose the deal, University of Puerto Rico professor and 2012 gubernatorial candidate Rafael Bernabe has made a name for himself as a local representative of the transnational anti-austerity movement. Bernabe, who presides over the minority Working People’s Party, has released a slew of articles and videos that oppose the report’s reading of the debt situation. Echoing many of the arguments made during the UN General Assembly vote on the debt sustainability resolution, Bernabe claims that the proposed cuts to education and employment opportunities will lead only to more youth emigration. Wage cuts may make Puerto Rican workers more competitive, he says, but at a great cost if applied at the same time as tax hikes and welfare cuts. The Working People’s Party, along with the rest of the island’s anti-austerity movement, faces formidable opponents. Two center-right parties dominate the political system and stifle greater ideological diversity in mainstream political discourse. A movement similar to Syriza, in Greece, or Podemos, in Spain, would be virtually impossible in the island’s current context. A physical disconnect from spaces of political power only makes things harder for alternative parties, who lack the lobbying capacity that the island’s larger political formations have in Washington. Even if they could lobby, the Republican-dominated Congress has shown no interest in providing bankruptcy assistance for the island. The opposition also has to answer to the inconvenient reality that 20% of the government debt is owned locally. And as the value of Puerto Rican debt has plunged, some of the pain is felt by the tens of thousands of small investors who bet much of their savings on the bonds. Many fear that the crisis will play out much like it has already: greater pain for those on the island to guarantee profits for the larger investors outside. Perhaps what is needed, beyond negotiations on restructuring, is a discussion on the nature and moral corollaries of debt.
Sep 18, 2015
by Francis Torres illustration by Pierie Korostoff
Who owes whom? David Graeber begins his book Debt: The First 5000 Years with a deconstruction of the idea that “one has to pay one’s debts.” Few would disagree with this normative claim, though the author says it doesn’t often apply in real-world situations. Did the banks that caused the 2008 financial crisis pay back their debts? Have imperial powers paid reparations for their pillaging of other nations? Can the descendants of slaveholders be held accountable for the struggles that descendants of slaves face? These are all subjective questions, as debt is a contested moral construction. Bondholders may not see it that way because modern debt quantifications like securities and bonds have replaced ties of trust. And breaching a respectable creditor’s ‘trust’ by reneging on a debt is increasingly punished as a capital sin in the globalized economy. What about the amorality of usury? In another famous biblical episode, Jesus cleanses a temple from the moneychangers that had polluted it with their usurious commerce. Since Aristotelian times, political and religious authorities have decried charging interest on loans as unproductive and immoral. Few deny the importance of credit and debt for economic activity, but we still draw a thin line between the moral authority of the prudent lender and the toxic self-interest of loan sharks or irresponsible brokers. Recent crises in Argentina and Greece show that morality and greed, rather than economic logic, tend to drive high-stakes debt negotiations. For situations in which creditors have historically used these constructions to marginalize and oppress, it is crucial to question the blame placed on debtors’ shoulders. It is true that Puerto Rican leaders have mismanaged the island’s economy and borrowed beyond their means. It is also true that the Commonwealth’s economy has always operated—often forcibly—according to the whims of Big Business and mainland capital. Perhaps it is time for Puerto Rico’s creditors to recognize the island’s past sacrifices and see beyond a condition of dependence. It has been well over 50 years since Puerto Rico became a US Commonwealth, and 117 years since America sent its warships and its commerce to the shore. Our own Jubilee is well overdue. FRANCIS TORRES B’16 should really stop ranting about Puerto Rican crises.
NOT YOUR MOTHER’S TONGUE “I’m from Guatemala,” Leandro tells me the moment I enter Ms. Lopez’s fifth grade classroom at William D’Abate Elementary School in Providence’s Olneyville neighborhood. Unprompted, the students around him begin to rattle off their countries of origin: El Salvador, Mexico, the Dominican Republic. They buzz with visible excitement, forgetting the long division worksheets that sit in front of them. Ms. Lopez soon has to come over to calm them down. “It’s time to focus on your math,” she says. Structural Inequality Rhode Island is facing a crisis in English Language Learner education. The Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University made this claim in a 2013 study, and it appears that not much has changed since then. The Rhode Island Department of Education defines an English Language Learner (ELL) as a student whose difficulties in reading, speaking or writing English may render them unable to meet proficiency standards on State assessments, to succeed in a classroom in which the principal language of instruction is English, or to “participate fully in society.” And English Language Learners in Rhode Island are struggling to keep up with their peers across the nation. The report by the Latino Policy Institute, for example, revealed that in 8th grade mathematics achievement, ELLs in Rhode Island placed dead last. The crisis facing English Language Learners cannot be considered separately from the education of Latino populations in Rhode Island. According to the Rhode Island Department of Education’s website, there are nearly 10,000 students in Rhode Island’s public school system who receive English as a Second Language (ESL) and bilingual education services, 75% of whom are Latino. While this accounts for only 7% of the state’s total public school student population, the number spikes in the urban core of Rhode Island (Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls), where three out of four students are Latino. The percentage of students receiving ESL and bilingual education services in the district of Providence is more than triple the statewide average. The 2013 report by the Latino Policy Institute, which is a comprehensive study on the state of educational performance amongst Latinos in Rhode Island, found that the achievement gaps between Latino and white students in Rhode Island are some of the worst in the country. Latinos in Rhode Island were also found to perform below the level of Latinos in other states, scoring one half to one full grade level behind Latinos nationally in several subjects. “These same-race disparity patterns do not exist for White or Black students in Rhode Island,” says the report. While there are many factors that influence these wide achievement gaps between Latino and white students, language is one of the most significant. ELLs in Rhode Island perform poorly because they are being educated within a system that is not designed for them, and in a language that is not their own. At William D’Abate Elementary School, Ms. Lopez spends most of her Fridays translating standardized tests for students whose families have only recently immigrated to the United States, and who thus have no English language skills. These are the kinds of problems that many ELL classrooms have to deal with rather than spending time on learning. Since the Latino Policy Institute’s 2013 report, Rhode Island has made some progress in addressing the inequalities amongst its students. These efforts include district-level initiatives to increase attendance rates, as well as $250,000 of funding for proposals based on Latino Policy Institute recommendations. Yet with cuts to the State’s education budget, including a recent $9 million loss in federal funds, the future for ELLs in Rhode Island is looking rather grim. The continued presence of vast achievement gaps points to deep structural inequalities in which ELLs lack language support and struggle with their coursework as a result. These inequalities, however, transcend the surface inadequacies of the education system and extend towards deeper issues that cannot be fixed by small increases in funding or temporary initiatives.
Segregation and Erasure It is no secret that Rhode Island’s schools are segregated. And given the correlations that exist between Rhode Island’s Latino communities and poverty, English Language Learners in Rhode Island are largely found in schools within lowerincome areas—schools that are vastly unequipped with the resources and quality of teaching necessary for student success. These inadequate educational environments are, of course, compounded with the barriers to success that these students already face. In a recent broadcast by This American Life, Nikole Hannah-Jones, an investigative reporter at the New York Times, addresses school integration as “the one thing we are not talking about” when it comes to reducing disparities. She explains that the achievement gap across minority and majority student populations halved between 1971 and 1988, following Brown v. Board of Education. After this period, however, American schools began to re-segregate as the issue fell out of the public eye and school districts no longer actively pursued integration. “And it is at that exact moment that you see the achievement gap start to widen again,” says Hannah-Jones. In many ways, Rhode Island’s public schools are representative of the deepcutting effects that segregation can have at a time when the words “segregation” or “integration” are thought of as irrelevant in the contemporary educational discourse. While Hannah-Jones specifically refers to the achievement gaps between white and African American students, her line of argument very much applies to Latino ELLs in Rhode Island. A fully integrated school system means that minority students have better access to quality teaching and resources, which are the most important factors in improving student performance. This level of integration is far from the state’s reality. For ELLs, segregation is combined with less visible oppression. Faced with a system that is inadequately structured to support their language needs, ELLs often lose their original language skills as a product of being educated entirely in English. Over and over again the same message is reinforced: if a student wants to succeed, they must speak English. But this ‘success’ comes at a cost. The kinds of linguistic erasures that this logic necessitates are linked to larger cultural erasures that work to negate identities not normally considered American. And this phenomenon is not limited to Rhode Island alone. In 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act removed the term “bilingual education” from federal education policies. What was previously called the Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Language Affairs was renamed the Office of English Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement, and Academic Achievement for Limited English Proficient Students (OELA). The conscious (and rather convoluted) revision of wording is representative of a value shift away from bilingual education and towards pure English language acquisition. In other words, linguistic erasure has become the norm of the system. The bilingual capacity of a great deal of America’s youth—as well as the kinds of cultural knowledge that come with that—is being surrendered to an assimilationist language learning policy that only values the use of English. But what happens when a non-English native tongue is valued, rather than treated as a barrier to education?
The College Hill Independent
Language Troubles in Rhode Island’s Schools by Jamie Packs illustration by Pierie Korostoff
Outside the System The International Charter School (ICS) in Pawtucket, which was founded in 2001 as an independent charter school, provides an alternative model in which many of the unique educational needs of ELLs are carefully considered rather than unjustly overlooked. Across all of its material, the school proudly flaunts its motto: “Teaching the languages of our community: English, Español, Português.” When Julie Nora, the director of the International Charter School, inevitably repeated the motto for the Independent over the phone, she put special emphasis on the word “our,” launching into an excited description of how the school’s philosophy reflects Rhode Island’s history and unique patterns of immigration (indeed, while much of the narrative of bilingual education in the United States has been dominated by the presence of Spanish speakers, Rhode Island has a long history of immigration from Portuguese-speaking communities). The International Charter School uses a dual language education model in which all students spend half of their time learning in English, and the other half of their time learning in either Spanish or Portuguese, depending on which “strand” the student’s family chooses. This language model has grown in prominence in the last few years, but has yet to be implemented on a large scale. Dual language learning differs immensely from standard ESL or bilingual education services, in which teaching happens either entirely in English or in Spanish to a separated group of students. ICS uses a “week-to-week” model in which instruction alternates between English and either Spanish or Portuguese on a weekly basis. Julie Nora knows the benefits of dual language learning like the back of her hand, effortlessly listing the cognitive, professional, social, and cultural benefits of the pedagogical approach. Dual language learning, she insists, aligns with an increasingly large need for people who are able to navigate cultural boundaries. Importantly, dual language learning is the only multilingual educational model that targets both minority and majority student populations. Learning that happens in a dual language learning classroom is multidirectional. Native Spanish speakers are able to learn from native English speakers and vice versa. Beyond the benefits this kind of environment has for the students, dual language learning establishes an important value shift in which the presence of non-native English speakers is seen as an asset, and not an obstacle, to learning. While ICS certainly has not found a cure-all solution, it is clear that their pedagogical model directly addresses the systemic inequalities—both material and symbolic—that are so pervasive at other schools. And the model has proven to be a success, at least at ICS. In 2010 the school was recognized as one of 20 Regents’ Commended Schools as a result of its success in closing achievement gaps between ELLs and non-ELLs. The school was also featured in a study on “next generation charter schools” conducted by the Center for American Progress. According to the study, 45% of fourth grade ELLs at the International Charter School are proficient in reading, compared to 22% statewide. ELLs at the International Charter School performed at similarly higher rates in other subjects and grade levels, suggestive of the benefits that exist within a more integrated education system. Certainly there are a number of challenges that come along with this educational model. Nora describes, for example, the difficulty in hiring staff that are adequately prepared to teach students in this kind of environment. Given the unique circumstances of the International Charter School, professional development of
staff needs to happen at the school level, Nora explains. She also emphasizes the need for a pipeline that can more effectively bring teachers into the community, a task that is rather difficult in a state as small as Rhode Island. Nonetheless, Nora is palpably proud of the staff at ICS. “Our staff is very much representative of our students,” she explains. In a country where students of color rarely have the opportunity to learn from teachers who look like them, Nora lauds the diversity of her staff. Only 19 out of the 42 teachers at ICS were born in the United States. In contrast, only 1-3% of teachers in the Rhode Island public school system selfidentify as Latino. Lost in Translation ICS’s charter school status has afforded it a degree of flexibility that simply is not possible in most of Rhode Island’s public schools. Whereas decision-making in public schools happens at the district level (all of Providence, for instance), decisions at ICS are made within the school, and are thus able to more fully respond to the school’s priorities, namely dual language learning. The school also has much more freedom in hiring teachers, ultimately allowing them to bring in people who embody their central mission. And this notion of “mission alignment” extends even to the families, who can send their children to the school even if they do not live in the district. What this suggests about the status of education as a privilege rather than a right for non-English speaking communities is certainly troubling. Nonetheless, the waiting list for the school is growing by the day. Charter schools in Rhode Island are facing their own spate of difficulties. Debates over the fate of Rhode Island’s charter schools have been intensifying in the past few months, with discussions specifically centered on a piece of pending legislation that would require any future expansion of RI charter schools to be unanimously approved by every city or town council where the charter school’s students would reside. These conversations are indicative of a growing rift between charter and public schools on a national level. And almost all of the surrounding discourse frames the issue as a neat dichotomy in which charter and public schools are in direct competition for resources. While there are efforts to invoke partnerships between charter and public schools, the discussion at the state level appears to be stuck within an either/or binary. Nora, however, insists on her school’s collaborative efforts. The International Charter School, she explains, has been working with two other school districts to open up dual language programs in the coming year. ICS’s strategic plan also includes a proposal to establish a bilingual resource center that will help provide information to other schools in the state. Nonetheless, it is clear that if any progress is to be made in closing the achievement gaps between white and Latino students in Rhode Island, change needs to happen at a systemic level. Whether or not the system will allow schools like ICS to spread is another question. ICS’s model, however, reveals something about what must be valued going forward. If there is anything that can be translated from ICS to other schools, it is the kinds of priorities that must be kept in mind when imagining the future education of non-native speakers of English, a future that is especially important considering that the majority of America’s population will be non-white in the near future. An educational policy that fails to address these shifts will eventually only amplify the kinds of cultural and economic exclusions that already exist. Dual language learning stands as one example of the possibility of a system in which Latino students are never allowed to fall behind their peers in the first place, where we don’t constantly have to talk about “catching up” and can instead just talk about learning. JAMIE PACKS B’17 needs to focus on his math.
Sep 18, 2015
ASCII ME ANOTHER by Erin West illustration by Noah Beckwith
How to Text Better
On October 6, 1960, the American Standards Association (ASA) inaugurated the mysterious “X3” committee; a group tasked with determining the standard set of characters that would define computer communication for years to come. After three years of debate, the ASA committee decided on the numbers 0 to 9, some control codes like “alt” and “command,” a space bar, and several punctuation symbols. Together, these symbols comprised the 128-character American Standard Code for Information Interchange, ASCII. After three years of debate, the ASA probably toasted whiskey to the many future government documents and academic essays that could now be typed up and distributed, all—thanks to their carefully selected punctuation—with perfect grammar. Physically, ASCII is what we see on computer, phone, and other communication device keyboards. Electronically, ASCII assigns each character a set of numbers that computers can recognize—it essentially allows humans to share information from one computer to the next. And here lies the crucial significance of ASCII: as more and more of our interactions occur through technology, we are constantly attempting to translate our physical thoughts and experiences to digital terms. ASCII is exactly this translation tool. What has it meant for us to be restricted to the same 128 characters for the past fifty-some years? How has our use of ASCII to express our lived experiences evolved over time? We could start, as all great things do, with the '90s. 1997 witnessed the onset of the dot-com bubble as well as AOL’s release of its instant messenger, AIM. As ASCII exploded in its availability, creative anarchy surfaced in the form of 12-year-olds messaging sk8rboi92 a ‘ :* ’ to mimic the pucker they may have formed with their lips had they been face-toface. With fingers in such close proximity to a few charmingly random symbols, cellphone and computer users began to get inventive and stretch the boundaries of use for X3’s carefully chosen punctuation. For a while, our efforts to communicate physical experiences, especially emotions, relied on the standard ASCII characters. But not for long. +++ Enter the emoji: ASCII art incarnate. In 1999, Japanese mobile phone provider DoCoMo picked up on the popularity of typed emoticons and turned them into small pictures that users could add to their texts. Beyond 50 facial expressions, emojis also included images we could neither produce with ASCII characters nor during face-to-face contact: a monkey with hands over its mouth, for example. These symbols took on diverse meanings; the girl in a pink shirt with her hand cocked by her shoulder (an Apple emoji) filled a particular void in users’ sassy or smug communication. While these small graphics have varied and creative uses, an important aspect of emoji is that each has an equivalent in the physical world. In this way, emojis almost subsumed the classic emoticon; the facial expressions and even small animals people had strived to create with colons and parentheses were realized, and expanded—much like how the advent of
photography accomplished one role of art: attempting to accurately represent the physical. Did emoji kill the ASCII star? Not quite. Despite the emoji obsession, ASCII characters have not been tossed aside. In fact, they are re-emerging in new ways. Within the digital twists and turns of Facebook, a specific trend has emerged: the ubiquitous and inexplicable new use of some old punctuation symbols. In today’s social media world, millenials can get people to come to an event if they announce it by saying: ~TONIGHT’S THE NIGHT Y’ALL~ … if they emphasize the setting with: +++ This Location @ 8 ! ! ! +++ … and make the benefits of attending clear: Come for a night of music//fun//baes Featuring creative work from the most ~fab~, *fierce*, +feminist+ artists & poets… ~get excited~ +++ Symbols function as punctuation specifically when they add meaning to a word or phrase, and some of the symbols used in those posts fulfill that role. The slash (/) is a cousin of the “&” but can also mean “or”; it is meant to communicate that these words in a list are related to each other. The tilde (~) surrounds a word in order to impart a feeling of suaveness or innuendo—imagine suggestive eyebrow raising. There’s a certain elegance to these symbols (+, *, ~, etc.). Their shapes appear minimalist but also frivolously decorative. Why did we choose to use two slashes, when one would have sufficed? Why the squiggle on both sides of the word? The answer is that we are highly conscious of how punctuation appears visually. Punctuation could be the technological equivalent of doodling in the margins of our notebooks. In texts, Facebook posts, and 140-character tweets, everyone is a graphic designer. Designing with symbols isn’t new. In 1898, stenographer Flora Stacey tapped out a butterfly on her typewriter. More than 100 years later, we’ve reached impressive heights in ASCII art (think Obama’s face generated entirely by your computer keys). What is new, however, is how the squiggles, dashes, and plusses go beyond basic ASCII art in their interactions with words. Today, our ASCII symbols impart meaning through their grammatical functions as well as through their artistic design. The plus symbol used above (+feminist+) adds a particular sharp emphasis to the word it surrounds, but maybe more importantly, it is aesthetically pleasing. The asterisk in “ *fierce* ” makes the word dazzle both in its meaning when read, and how it looks on the screen. And why might design be important to our communication? If an estimated 80% of our in-person communication is nonverbal, this may be equally true in our digital conversations. Just as we communicate visually with our body language, maybe we are designing with plusses and slashes instead of arms and legs.
What is it about the aesthetics of punctuation that have drawn us back to ASCII instead of surrounding our words with vibrant emojis? Is this the final triumph of the ASA committee in constraining us to their 128-character keyboard? Maybe we’ve picked up on the Scandinavian trend of minimalist design. Now that we’re surrounded by fiber-optic, HD, retina display, it’s possible that our eyes crave the simple sight of basic symbols. And it’s just that—ASCII characters are simply symbols, symbols that are abstract from our physical lives. This makes them malleable and capable of being instilled with new meaning. Even emoji, although revolutionary, only offered us replications of what was already familiar in the physical world. We have moved back to using ASCII because emojis aren’t enough—small representations of the physical are seemingly inadequate. Why? With more of our experiences and interactions occurring in the digital world, including entire relationships formed online, there may be some thoughts and feelings created in the technological sphere that we cannot replicate in the physical world. The rush one might feel from a 'like' on their photo, or the specific addiction one might feel to scrolling through endless photos on the internet. These miniscule but extremely common experiences have only entered our lives in very recent history. Perhaps we don’t have the words or pictures to properly describe them yet, so we’ve settled on punctuation. This new trend in punctuation offers something further. When conversations became increasingly digital, the messaging trends we developed all seemed to reach towards one goal: mirroring what face-to-face interaction provides. These new symbols are moving things in the opposite direction. Even though the squiggle suggests a physical expression (recall the eyebrows), that’s not exactly it. Like explaining the definition of a word, we could offer synonyms for a squiggle, but none of them would exactly encompass its dynamic meaning. A friend and I recently joked that in conversation, we sometimes feel the urge to emulate the squiggle. We debated the potential of flapping our arms at our sides as we said a word we wanted to give “the squiggly feeling” to. I couldn’t quite explain to her in words how this one place gave me ~good vibes~. And there we were, for once, turning the table and trying to replicate in the +physical world+, what we could only experience *digitally* !!! ERIN WEST B'18 appears minimalist but also frivolously decorative.
The College Hill Independent
RUNT IN ORBIT
Pluto and Humanity Do the Long Dis
The interplanetary space probe New Horizons arrived this July in the Pluto system, marking both a new milestone for astronomy and the climax of its journey. Since 2006, the probe has hurtled through space on NASA’s dime, its trajectory carefully calculated from the outset to make its date with Pluto. Today, it still drifts through Pluto’s neighborhood, the Kuiper Belt, some four and a half billion miles away, happily snapping photos while Pluto remains in sight. For the next year, New Horizons will send data back to Earth, awaiting a possible reassignment in 2016. It will then proceed indefinitely, outbound, silent. While pure science may be NASA’s prerogative in this matter, the New Horizons mission has a poetic aspect that the average expedition lacks. The life of any interplanetary space probe is one of cold solitude, punctuated only by a brief moment of glory as it fulfills its investigation. New Horizons, uniquely, seems to have been granted another mission: to enact the next episode of melodrama between humans and that iciest, most distant rock. Though it must also pay the price of eventual abandonment, it is the only one of five hundred NASA probes that has been hurtling through space with emotional baggage. And with an urn. Strange luggage The urn contains the ashes of Clyde Tombaugh, the man who first spied Pluto in 1930. Tombaugh, an Illinois native who first achieved repute as a builder of telescopes, was hired by the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona to handle the painstaking task of reviewing thousands of images for minute changes in light patterns—the kind of task offered today to college students, not to PhDs. This hunt was thus an eccentric business from the start, influenced by an acute longing for a new frontier. The astronomy community had debated the existence of a mysterious Planet X beyond Neptune from the mid-nineteenth century, and had held up various and sometimes contradictory mathematical proofs for its presence. Percival Lowell, the Lowell Institute’s founder, developed one Planet X hypothesis, and when he died in 1916, the Institute carried on his mission. Checking Lowell’s work later on, the folks at the Institute found that their search had been motivated by an error in calculating Neptune’s orbit—but the ninth planet was still there. Tombaugh, bent over a stack of photographs, discerned Pluto with the technology at hand only because its surface is extraordinarily bright; other celestial bodies of roughly the same size and distance from Earth went undiscovered for decades following. Broadcasting itself as such, it seems that Pluto meant to be found. Those mysteries that evaded others seemed to seek out Tombaugh in particular. In the 1940s, he reported having witnessed rectangular prisms of light while monitoring Mars, and, later, green fireballs in the skies over New Mexico. These he attributed to extrasolar aliens, arguing that the tremendous scale of the universe gave some statistical support to the possibility that life exists on other planets. While this sullied Tombaugh’s reputation for a time, he was remembered largely for his other work when died of a heart failure in 1997. NASA
obtained permission from his family to pack his remains aboard New Horizons; this July he was granted his heartfelt reunion. The act recalls the dedication of the Institute to Percival Lowell’s work, and the use of his initials in selecting Pluto’s name. These may seem strangely emotional turns for a scientific team investigating the most alien reaches of the solar system. On what grounds was this sentimental canister included on a thousand-pound spacecraft, outfitted to the inch with the best equipment 2006 had to offer, and with its fuel capacity carefully calculated down to the minute’s flight time? The answer lies in an extension of that profound human impulse to carry on tradition and to follow through on promises. We’re projecting The urn is, perhaps, rather less important to physicists than New Horizons’ pictures. The images reveal ice flows, mountains, maculas, dunes, and craters. The ice flows and dunes are the most interesting thing, Ian Dell’Antonio, PhD and Professor of Physics at Brown University, told the Independent: “If you asked scientists before the New Horizons missions, they weren’t predicting this movement.” It was thought that Pluto was too cold for much motion to occur on the surface, which would have made Pluto a relic of the earliest period in our solar system’s formation. New Horizons is prompting physicists to reexamine their thinking about geological motion, and to recognize in Pluto a greater depth of character. Even in the case of the hard data, an emotional element slips in. As the first of the images came in, parts of the mission team at NASA quickly set to work pasting names across Pluto’s surface. The team reached out with online polling to help nickname the newly visible geographic features, producing a set of temporary toponyms that await ratification by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). Among them is the heart-shaped Tombaugh Regio. Other names include Mayan, Igbo, Buddhist, and Mesopotamian underworld divinities. Cthulu, an aquatic deity of the apocalypse and a Providence native, was granted title of a massive tar field, the Cthulu Regio. Skywalker and Vader are in the running, and the Sputnik and Challenger missions were honored with features of their own. To the extent that Pluto is an extension of the human imaginary—its earthly presence limited as it is by it being invisible to the naked eye—its characterization evolves through our own thinking. The names of planets discovered in an earlier era reflect an archaic obsession with Classical Western mythologies, but we are no longer reading Plutarch with the same passion that we anticipate the upcoming extension of the Star Wars trilogies. So it is that the heroes and beasts now colonizing Pluto’s surface in name are of a modern provenance. Lovers on Earth, when separated by state lines or oceans, speak of a blurred distinction between the distant and the imaginary. Soon, each finds it hard to recall the other’s a face; forms and ideas are distorted, and we start projecting. It is times like these that inspire the devotee to drive across the country, chasing the briefest encounter to revivify the object of the mind. Magnified by the immense distance between Earth and the Kuiper Belt, a similar crisis ensues; the distinction between Pluto, the distant rock, and Pluto, the mapped figment, breaks down, and we are thrown into confusion. For our sanity, we send an emissary. This is how a canister of ashes becomes an arrow from Eros’ bow. Shrunken in name The launch of New Horizons drew little in the way of popular attention. Many more people will recall the news in 2006 that Pluto had been demoted after 76 years as a planet, to the status of dwarf planet. This caused some stir, as a disgruntled Earth updated its maps and rewrote its solar system mnemonics to accommodate the change. “Plutoed,” a verb, was voted
The College Hill Independent
stance Thing by Lance Gloss illustration by Layla Ehsan
word of the year by the American Dialect Society, to mean demoted. Pluto, already diminutively framed by its atomity and its association with a Disney character that neither walked upright nor spoke, had achieved a new low. Suddenly, those who had teased Pluto felt a pang of pity. But there is reason to consider the status well-deserved. For many years, Pluto was thought to be similar in size to the Earth, with a roughly equivalent mass, and a diameter nearly half that of Earth. That was until 1978, when the discovery of its largest moon, Charon, allowed for new calculations of Pluto’s size—it turns out to be roughly the volume of Earth’s moon. Imagine, if you will, meeting a cutie on an online chatroom, only to discover that this cutie is an inch tall, and weighs in grams. Scientists itched to redefine the relationship, and their excuse came when the IAU published their three criteria defining a planet. While Pluto complies with the first by orbiting the sun, and the second by being round—it is, in fact, rounder than the Earth—it fails to clear the third hurdle. This is because it does not ‘clear the neighborhood’ of its orbit. That is to say that there are planets of similar mass within the influence of its gravity that it has not pulled into orbit. This a function of maturity and of size; though it is old, faraway Pluto is just too little. The ruling has been called into question, but is unlikely to be overturned any time soon. Alan Stern, leader of the New Horizons mission team, lately dissented the dwarf planet distinction, arguing that other so-called planets have not cleared their neighborhoods. Earth is among them. But the IAU is not making any moves, pointing to the increasing count of other planetary forms similar to Pluto in size. Dell’Antonio thinks that the classification is of minor importance. “Calling something a planet or a dwarf planet is mostly a political decision,” he explains, and to claim the discovery of a planet in 1930 was an important move for the Lowell Institute and for the United States. The technical decision of 2006 arguably demonstrated scientific purity in the ministrations of an international body. Yet, if Pluto’s status is a chastely technical issue, why are Alan Stern and his colleagues still making the case? More importantly, why can’t we just do this without labels? A second opinion Pluto’s demotion at the hands of physicists has not been corroborated by astrologers, who were already working within their own, much older parameters for defining a planet. Before the night sky was understood as space in the modern scientific sense, planets were recognized celestial bodies moving out of concert with the stars. To the casual observer, they still are. That Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto are invisible to the naked eye long kept them out of celestial studies of all kinds. Pluto’s astrological significance varies for individuals, based on its position in one’s natal chart. This diagrams the positions of the planets at one’s birth into the houses and zodiacs, each an actual set of locations in the night sky, and the function of relationships in space. Generally, Pluto is associated with the traits of power and transformation, including transitions between life and death. Pluto also lords over relationships and orgasms, and brings them into combination with the houses through which it moves. It is considered the native ruler of the Eighth House, the house of sex, death, and rebirth. Perhaps this explains why even science has been swayed by its aching heart. Where do these associations come from? Classical Western and Vedic astrological schemes are rooted in ancient and medieval texts. These schools resist elaboration, and have
retained the archaic understanding of planets features of the shifting heavens, rather than of space. But New Age astrologers managed to divine Pluto’s role in the 20th century using deductive reasoning based on the historical record. It turns out that significant Plutonian activity coincided with an anomalous surfeit of wars and treaties, and such snafus d’amour as the American Declaration of Independence and Britain’s entry into the EU. It is also possible that two of the investigating astrologists went through a breakup of their own whilst Pluto transited to the moon, and angrily coined the association in a haze of comfort food and tears. There is certainly something extraordinary about Pluto’s relationships with other bodies in space. It is locked in a curious pattern with Charon. Charon’s comparative mass means that it does not orbit Pluto itself. Rather, each orbits a point between the two, locking them both in a dance. As the entire Pluto system performs its oblong orbit, it passes through Neptune’s orbital path, but the two never collide thanks to what scientists term a stable orbital resonance. This rests on a perfect ratio of 2:3 in their respective orbital periods—that is, if they are dancing, they are doing it in perfect meter. When to walk away The motivation for these faraway missions has long been in question. Earthly applications for New Horizons’ discoveries are not immediately apparent. Dell’Antonio says that the onboard communications system, which incorporates a “tremendous amount of amount of technology” has “fairly good applied uses” on Earth for compressing data signals. But for the most part, this is a victory for physics, and a costly one at that. Though NASA’s share of the federal budget has fallen considerably since that the Cold War era, it still takes up half a penny on the tax dollar today. Expensive missions with abstract benefits recall Gil-Scot Heron’s poignant critique of the NASA’s moon landing in 1970. He contrasted conditions of suffering and oppression on Earth, with “taxes taking his whole damn check… no hot water, no toilet, no lights” with the costly effort to put “whitey on the moon”. The comparison remains bitterly relevant as the space program extends its physical reach. What professional scientists do to fulfill their aching curiosities, populations have paid for rather dearly in the way of less bread. So, as some fix their eyes and hearts on New Horizons, it may also be wise to keep a telescope trained inward. Pluto, ruler of relationships, might approve some terrestrial soulsearching. The sage have long advised that in any relationship, each partner must also take care of herself. In the game of interplanetary amour, the same rules apply. LANCE GLOSS B’18 has a burial plot reserved on Uranus.
Sep 18, 2015
RAW FOOTAGE In Conversation With Elinor Carucci
There is a closeness to Elinor Carucci’s work. The proximity of her camera to her subject matter results in intimate images, close-ups of the most personal parts of bodies and the lives they index. Born and raised in Jerusalem, Carucci moved to New York permanently at the age of 24 after a stint in the Israeli Army and completing her BFA in photography in Israel. By her own account, Carucci discovered photography almost by chance, after taking pictures of her mother with her father’s camera. Family has continued to play a major role in Carucci’s work; her subjects mainly comprise her parents and twin children, whom she photographed over the course of many years for her latest book, Mother. Characteristic of both Mother as well as her earlier photographs is an unwillingness to shy away from the intensity and complexity of human emotions. One of Carucci’s most iconic images, taken in 2002 for her series Comfort, depicts herself smiling and seated on the ledge of a bathtub next to her mother, who is dressed only in underwear and is playfully cupping her breasts. Other distinctive photographs include her bulging pregnant belly, her armpits and skin, her menstrual cycle and ample images of herself nude among various family members. Carucci confronts experiences such as pain, joy, and love viscerally, unflinchingly, and thoroughly. The honesty in her work is mirrored in her personality and speech—candid, warm, and punctuated by an Israeli accent. The Independent spoke with her by phone from her home in New York about her upbringing, influences, family, and what it means to age both as a mother and artist. The College Hill Independent: The themes of womanhood and motherhood figure prominently in your work. Why do you think you are drawn to exploring these topics and how did you come to focus on them? Elinor Carucci: I think it’s hard to really know why any of us do the work that we do. It’s something that we’re just attracted to. I don’t know why I focused more on my mom. My mom was very open and she liked my attention. She was diving in deep with me in the process. My father was more introverted and private. Not that I love him less or am less close to him, I don’t know. I don’t know why I focus more on women. I guess because I’m a woman. Now that I’m a mother, like in my most recent book Mother, it’s something that I know. This is what I know, this is what I feel from a first-hand experience. I usually work from what I know most, where I’ve been the deepest. The most painful, or the most joyful to me personally. I guess that’s why. My mom is a significant mother—very unique, very unusual, very intense. I always say it’s like, why do you marry the man that you marry? We meet so many people. But there’s something; it’s like falling in love with a man. Of course you can point out his weaknesses but it’s the same. The Indy: One of my favorite images from your latest collection, Mother, is “Eden Peeking,” where you are seated and your young son has pulled down your underpants and is curiously and examining your vagina. I enjoy the innocence of the image and the look of discovery your son wears on his face. Your work is frank Are most of your photographs planned ahead of time or improvised?
EC: It’s both, and everything that’s in between. Some of the work, I’ll take the camera out with me and it’s a total snapshot—but never the work that I’m in. The work that I’m in always has to be more planned. Some of the work is very planned. Let’s say that I know that I’m going to take a bath with my son everyday, and so before he comes from nursery school, I fix the light and take the exposure and prepare everything and get in the bath and have my husband help me. But whatever happens in the moment is the image. Sometimes I’ll start with what I planned but something else is happening. Some of the work is in-between. I have strobes always open at home. Something will happen and I’ll just turn on the strobe. I know almost every aperture in every corner of my apartment! You know, this is six, this is eight, this is four, and I’ll take a quick picture. But I did turn on the light or I did move something from the background, so it’s halfway between the snapshot and the plan. None of it though, is completely staged. I will maybe prepare the light, set the situation, but then let the life somehow continue in front of the camera. The Indy: It’s clear from your photographs that you are very close to your family, and that your family plays an extremely important role in your life. One image that comes to mind is “Mom Hugs Dad” taken in 1994 where your mother is standing in her underwear with a full head of hair curlers, embracing your father, who is fully clothed. Though your work does feature scenes of familial strife that I think are familiar to everyone, in general your work often depicts a family that is very close-knit, perhaps an ideal vision of family. With family and gender as central themes in your work, do you see your artwork as having an explicit social or political purpose? EC: Yeah, definitely. I do feel in a very universal way that I don’t talk about specific politics. But I do feel that I talk about feminism and also about the importance of family. Especially in America, I think it has sometimes been forgotten. Even geographically, in America, families are broken apart. One person is in the West Coast, and the other is in the East Coast, and the other is in the Midwest. It’s the beauty and the wildness and the opportunity of America. But it also has a price to it. So I feel that we have to have our core strength come from having a family, having a support. We have to stick together with the pain, the joy, the flaws of our family. With the good times and the bad times. It’s something that I really believe is important in the core of all of us. It sometimes frustrates me when people look at what I do and see motherhood and parenthood in a more narrow way, when I think this comes before talking about our political system. Who are your parents? Who are you? Who are you as a parent? The Indy: How do you think your thematic focus as a photographer has evolved since you first began working? EC: I was much more innocent, in a way, with the early work. [I was] more looking at the work, searching for myself and what I feel with my camera. The older I get, the more I’ve learned and experienced. I’ve experienced pain and disappointment and despair. I’ve seen my body change and get
older. I’ve experienced emotional crises and difficulties. And I’m also more opinionated today—I don’t know how bad it will be when I’m 64! I’m 44 now. The way it’s going I’m a little nervous. The work today is a little less innocent, less searching. It’s more opinionated, even angry, more in-yourface. I think it’s more intense and more me. On the other hand, there is a beauty to the early images of looking at my mother. A more admiring eye, searching for who she is as a person and not only as my mom. The Indy: What makes photography as an art form unique to you? EC: I think photography is unique because it’s a lot about what the photographer feels and thinks and wants to do. But it has to be connected to the world, even when photographers build their own sets in their studio. Even Cindy Sherman, who built sets in her studio—she has to be connected to the world, to her, to her age, to her skin, to how she looked when she was 20 and how she looked when she was 50. And it makes photographers connected and responsive to reality. It’s something that I love about photography. I can’t continue to paint myself as a photographer at the age of 16. I have to look at my 44-year-old body or face and photograph it. I have to go on shoots for magazines and relate to people, relate to the story, listen to every word and every expression they’re having and photograph them. It keeps me—and my colleagues—very much connected in general as artists. You are a connected artist if you are a photographer. The Indy: These days, your work is collected and published by many museums, galleries, and publications. Has this popular recognition changed the way you work or your purpose as a photographer? EC: I wasn’t aware of any purpose when I started. I was just taking pictures. It also changed [when I was] a 15, 16 year old; and even in my 20s, I was very, very committed, but I was nervous that I would not be able to make it into a profession, to be a fine art photographer. Once I realized that I made it—I sacrificed and worked very hard to make it happen, I moved from Israel, and left my family, and came here— something happened. I knew I was going to be a photographer until the day I die. Something about the commitment changed my work. In terms of purpose, I don’t know if you can say this in English—when writers work to the drawer?—the fact that people look at my work, that there is a dialogue and an audience that responds to my work. Sometimes they share information from their personal experiences and lives, the purpose is really becoming more and more about this dialogue. About telling people that this is who I am, with all my flaws and imperfections, and beauty and joy and pain. And it’s okay. The purpose really becomes about: we are people and we’re allowed to have all those flaws and to go as deep as I can into what I see as the universal experience of being human and to open this up to other people as well.
by Madeleine Matsui
The College Hill Independent
FRACKS AND EDGES
Equitable energy and clean power by Shane Potts
Vampiric, Hurricane Sandy drained the life-blood of New York City in 2012, flooding its subway system for the first time in years. Though the City was quickly able to construct towers for billionaires post-recovery, it lagged on aid for its most disadvantaged neighborhoods. Public housing in New York City was devastated; 80,000 people—many of color— were left without heat or electricity for months. In North Shore, Staten Island, three feet of water stood atop a former lead factory, where there were remnants of neurotoxic heavy metals. “No one was prepared for this,” said Beryl Thurman, executive director of the North Shore Waterfront Conservancy, “the risk of sea level rise, storm surges, is not a conversation anyone wanted to have.” The White House estimates that cleanup of natural disasters in 2012 cost $100 Billion. In an effort to reduce costs, the Obama Administration has made environmental legislation a priority—in August, during a visit to Alaska, the President unveiled his Clean Power Plan, which seeks to increase the use of clean energy thirty percent by 2030. Rhode Island is at the forefront of states trying to invest in clean energy. In 2011, Rhode Island had the third lowest amount of carbon dioxide emissions in the country and has been a founding member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cooperative effort among states in the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But even though one of the major goals of the Clean Power Plan is to make us less reliant on expensive and polluting fossil fuels from overseas, natural gas is affecting two different neighborhoods within the Ocean State. +++ Under Obama’s plan, states are allowed to choose how to meet carbon standards. Following the Clean Power announcement, Governor Gina Raimondo proposed a $700 million natural gas plant in Burrillville, RI, where, out of a population of about 15,000, 97% are white and 76% own their homes. The plant, operating at a capacity of 900 megawatts, will be among the most efficient in New England and the firm sponsoring the construction, Invenergy, is a Chicago-based firm specializing in clean energy projects. The gas that it will burn, however, will come from the fracking fields of Pennsylvania. The natural gas is 75% methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide—mixtures of about 5-15% in the air can be explosive. At gas-fired facilities like the one proposed, the methane is known to leak eight times more often than emissions at carbon dioxide counterparts. To transport the gas, Raimondo has also proposed the renovation of the Algonquin Gas Transmission, a 1,129-mile long gas conduit that runs through New England, New York and New Jersey. Beyond Northern Rhode Island, Raimondo also plans to build a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facility in Fields Point, overseen by National Grid. To the question ‘doesn’t National Grid already have an LNG facility in Providence?’ they have an answer on their website: “The white tank and accompanying equipment already present is used to ‘store’ and ‘vaporize’ LNG.” The area has a population of 25,000—more than half of which is non-white, but the project would provide 40% of New England’s gas supply. “I’m a big proponent of wind and offshore wind,” Raimondo told 630 WPRO, “but the shortterm solution to bring down energy costs for businesses and families is natural gas.” Several activist groups in and around Providence disagree, though. And over the course of the summer, they have made their opposition known.
Fighting Against Natural Gas (FANG), a community organization opposed to fracking, has conducted several forms of disruptive protest against the Burrillville plant. On August 4th, FANG rallied around the Center of Commerce to object proposed energy plans. Later in the month, two members of FANG—Peter Nightingale and Curt Nordgaard, a physics professor and a pediatrician, respectively—were arrested after chaining themselves to a gate near the building site. Describing his stint in jail, Dr. Nordgaard told RI Future that time in the pen was relaxed, somewhat due to his white privilege. “Learning about people who die in jail cells like the one we were in, purely because of race,” Nordgaard reflected, “makes me sad, and at the same time, part of the reason why we can do this is because of our privileged status.” At the Juanita Sanchez Educational Complex in August, a girl shouts, “People of color are likely to receive more bad treatment to their environment, more than any other group of people.” Environmental racism shows itself in the increased likelihood of exposure to hazards, the deliberate targeting of toxic facilities in particular neighborhoods, and the lack of access to or adequate maintenance of environmental amenities. Jesus Holguin of the EJLRI is opposed to National Grid’s project. “It’s already 95 that cuts through the community,” he says “and that’s already a lot of toxic emissions.” In “The Burden of Asthma in Rhode Island,” the Rhode Island Department of Health states that adult asthma rates are significantly higher among adults with household incomes below $25,000. The median household income for Latino families residing near Roger Williams Park is $17,000. The income for black families is even lower—$10,000. Flanked by Providence Police, Julian Rodriguez-Drix of the EJLRI told the story of how his photos of an earthquake’s effect on the already-present facility had led to his friend’s interrogation at the hands of the FBI. “I just happened to borrow a friend’s car, because I usually bike or bus to work,” goes Drix, “and then the next day, he started getting calls—first from the coastguard and then the state police who’s with the FBI Drug Terrorism Task Force and Home Security, then my friend’s mom got calls looking for him.” +++ As a check on environmental discrimination, states consider environmental equity when making energy decisions. This principle ensures that no single group of people shoulders a disproportionate share of environmental hazards resulting from industrial, governmental, and commercial policies. The Univar Chemical facility currently in Fields Point holds the second highest percentage of children who go to school within the hazard radius of a chemical facility—300 Providence schools lie within the 14-mile danger zone of the Fields Point plant. The Burrillville plant will still ooze out methane, affecting everyone in Rhode Island—non-white or not. If the plants win approval from state and local officials, construction in Burrillville and Fields Point will begin next year. “Better protecting the environment is not only the right thing to do,” wrote the Governor in her Green Bank proposal earlier this year, “it is an economic driver” But a driver for whom? Behind big plans hide fat envelopes. “Far from enhancing our energy independence or energy security,” says Lisa Petrie of Fossil Free Rhode Island, “this pipeline will accelerate the depletion of our already vastly overrated domestic gas reserves because much of the gas will be destined for export.” In October of last year, Pieridae Energy, owner of the Maritimes & Northeast pipeline, filed a federal application to send domestic natural gas from Massachusetts to Nova Scotia; there, it would be converted to LNG and exported. Is Raimondo willing to forsake our communities—some at more risk than others—in the name of revenue? SHANE POTTS B’17 lies within the danger zone.
Sep 18, 2015
“TOO MUCH WORLD” by Alec Mapes-Frances illustration by Pierie Korostoff
On Hito Steyerl At Artists Space in Tribeca, the disembodied voice of Bruce Lee booms from Hito Steyerl’s video Liquidity, Inc., amid the distant sound of breaking waves. “Empty your mind,” says Bruce in soothing tones. “Be formless, shapeless. Like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot.” The gallery is lit in an intense argon blue, and the video is being projected on a hanging scrim opposite a massive, blue, padded surface, which curves from the floor upward in the shape of a wave. Viewers sink into huge blue bean bags in front of the screen, in the trough of the wave. “Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” +++ Hito Steyerl is a Berlin-based artist, writer, and professor of new media art at Berlin University of the Arts. She has been active since the 1990s, and her practice deals with data, politics, and the global circulation of images. Originally trained as a filmmaker, she has made work in a number of genres: essayistic documentary film—short, tightly composed pieces anchored by narration—as well as less conventional forms of video, sculpture, and installation. At the heart of her oeuvre is an interest in liquidity; liquidity as the primary condition underlying the present shape of the world. The dynamics of liquidity, which sometimes appear as a serene, blissful kind of free flow and sometimes as a repressive, violent force of control, make it impossible to keep thinking about things like images or information as solid, ‘framed’ objects with hard edges or consistent, determinate attributes. Rather, Steyerl’s artworks want to show that images and information are water or clouds or currents—systems that move and mutate in strange and sometimes terrifying ways. In two of her early, well-known essay films, November (2004) and Lovely Andrea (2007), the artist accomplishes this by seeking out politically resonant images of herself and her childhood friend Andrea Wolf, a German-born activist and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant who was murdered by Turkish police in 1998, subsequently becoming an icon of the Kurdish liberation movement. November revisits a no-budget action film the two made together as teenagers, while Lovely Andrea follows Steyerl’s attempts to locate a long-lost bondage photo of herself, which was taken in her twenties under the pseudonym ‘Andrea.’ In tracking the movement of Wolf ’s image from amateur movie stardom to Kurdish martyrdom, or in following the image of ‘Andrea’ through Japanese pornography production and distribution networks, Steyerl discloses the uncontrollable, unpredictable fluid dynamics of image dissemination. And Wolf ’s regular, ghostlike appearances throughout both films provide a deeply personal atmosphere, linking the artist directly to the histories of state violence and mediated violence that accompany such fluidity. In contrast to November and Lovely Andrea, Steyerl’s Red Alert (2007) is relatively non-narrative: three aluminum Apple monitors display pure red, evoking post-9/11 terror warnings and the ambient normalization of crisis. Inspired by Pure Colours: Red, Yellow and Blue (1921), a trio of solid color paintings by the Soviet Constructivist artist Alexander Rodchenko, Red Alert is a video work that acts more like a painting. Steyerl has described it as an expression of the entropic liquidation of video, just as Rodchenko and his contemporaries, nearly a century ago, explained Pure Colours in terms of the ‘end of painting.’
Liquidity, Inc. (2014) occupies a strange space between Steyerl’s narrative and nonnarrative work, but it’s also probably the most concise and disarming summation of Steyerl’s artistic project. The 30-minute video obliquely tells the story of Jacob Wood, a former financial analyst for Lehman Brothers who, after losing his job in the 2008 collapse, became a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter and commentator. Steyerl uses both documentary footage and staged scenes alongside computer-generated graphics and appropriated video material to construct a witty and disarming meditation on the present, linking Bruce Lee’s concept of athletic “liquidity” with financial liquidity and structural instability, and eventually expanding to address weather patterns, climate change, natural disaster, cloud computing and web surfing. Poorly drawn Microsoft Paint diagrams and campy titles clash with pristine HD video and CG oceans as Jacob narrates his career transition, stressing the importance of shapelessness, formlessness: being-water. “You don’t want to be frozen, that’s the kiss of death, so you’re always being liquid and moving whether you’re striking, faking fainting, or doing take-downs,” he says, dressed in the business uniform of a finance worker—crisp white shirt, dark suit, gold tie. “That’s why, in a fight, they’ll always keep the action moving.” And there is also the value of hybridity, of fighters who are “well-versed in everything. That’s what makes [MMA] so exciting. That’s what makes things liquid and fluid.” Liquidity, fluidity, adaptability, elasticity, flexibility, diversification—mantras of finance and fighters alike. “When you have liquidity, you’re in control,” Douglas R. Andrew, a ‘financial strategist,’ tells us in a clip taken from an infomercial. But these catchwords may as well be themes for workers in general, who, in an economy characterized in large part by precarious and affective labor, are expected to be totally ‘flexible’ in time and space. At one point in Liquidity, Inc. we get a glimpse of Steyerl’s own experience as a working artist: in an overflowing montage of Facebook and email screenshots, she documents a conversation with writer and collaborator Brian Kuan Wood (Jacob’s cousin) in which Steyerl mentions having had a nervous breakdown, thus failing to meet the commission deadline and losing her funding for Liquidity, Inc. “This means no budget for water CGI,” she writes. Of course, Steyerl too is flexible, adaptable—she (hilariously) scavenges the water CGI from YouTube flotsam: a tutorial for the 3D modeling program Maxon C4D. “Today I’m going to show you how to make a displaced body of water using a plane and a displace modifier…hoping to catch some sun glimmer…and, give it a little render…let’s see what we have…and look at that! Gorgeous, displaced, animated water.” Halfway through Liquidity, Inc., Jacob’s story is interrupted by news footage from Hurricane Katrina, and then by a bizarre, fictional “weather report” entitled “The Weather Underground” (in reference to the ‘70s left-wing militant organization). A “terrorist” in an owl t-shirt, sunglasses, and a black balaclava gives the report in front of a world map covered in labels such as “New State,” “Hollow State,” “Self-Declared State?” “Real Unrecognized State,” “Stateless Nations,” “Stateless People,” “Non-Territorial Sovereign Entities,” “Unclaimed Insurgency,” and so on. Speaking through a dry, computerized textto-speech voice, the terrorist-meteorologist gives a gloss of this geopolitical fluidity in a poetic description of “trade winds.” “You will ask yourself questions like: what is the history of wind?” he says. “How did this gust arrive here? Where did it come from and who am I to be blown by it?” The map is replaced by a shot of a Tumblr dashboard filled with flashing, animated GIFs of Hokusai’s Great Wave. “The storm is blowing people back to their homes,” continues the terrorist, “blowing goods back to their factories, blowing factories back to their countries, blowing people back into their past.” +++ That global capital and global networks are like a planetary storm—a liquid force of nature, placing and displacing borders, citizens, commodities, climates, and so on—is, in some circles, a well-established idea. But it’s one that Steyerl has seized upon and made concrete
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in a way that feels more substantial and engaging than other attempts. Liquidity, Inc.’s torrent of images makes the contemporary palpable in a way that’s neither overbearing nor schematic. This is mostly a result of her postproduction techniques, which are immediately expressive—text clouds emerge and dissipate, 3D-rendered bodies tumble and dissolve, video clips move across different supports, screen to screen. Steyerl has mentioned in interviews that she does most of her editing on flights or mid-commute, on her laptop, and this transitory, nomadic workflow seeps into the work itself. The images aren’t steady, settled entities; rather, they’re perpetual migrants, spilling out from their VLC frames or their LCDs. Of course, a liquid crystal display is literally liquid, and it’s this good old materiality of digital technology to which Steyerl is so attentive. “Immateriality,” or “immaterial labor,” to use the jargon of the day, is a deception. There’s nothing immaterial about the flat, smooth aluminum of a trackpad, the warm glass of a touchscreen, the ripples in an LCD, the soft gradients of windows and their shadows—not to mention the massive Chinese rare-earth mineral mines that make all these things possible. The Cloud isn’t some digital mist hovering imperiously above our reality; it’s part of a planetary cycle, a whole storm system of production, logistics, transportation, and circulation. In her recent essay “Too Much World: Is the Internet Dead?”, published in e-flux journal’s 2015 release The Internet Does Not Exist, Steyerl writes strikingly on this theme, one that’s been constant in her work; here, she calls for a closer, more politicized look at the technical and imagebased processes that inundate and incorporate almost every stratum of material life. Just look around you: artificial islands mimic genetically manipulated plants. Dental offices parade as car commercial film sets. Cheekbones are airbrushed just as whole cities pretend to be YouTube CAD tutorials. Artworks are emailed to pop up in bank lobbies designed on fighter-jet software. Huge cloud storage drives rain down as skylines in desert locations…A nail-paint clip turns into an Instagram riot. An upload comes down as a shitstorm. An animated GIF materializes as a pop-up airport transit gate.
In short, the conceptual antagonisms between image and world, map and territory that once served our understanding of media and technology are no longer particularly useful. It’s not that there’s no longer any difference between image and world—for Steyerl, the two are not, by any means, equivalent. It’s a matter of determining which is primary and which is secondary. This determination is what’s beginning to seem more and more impossible. Images refuse to stay in their place; instead of being derivative copies of reality, images are participating in the very formation of reality. From the refusal of the image to stay where it ‘should,’ from this fluidity of image and world, a twofold response emerges, typified in the speculation of the financial analyst and the paralyzing anxiety of the precarious worker. Bruce Lee’s advice, professing serenity and ‘going with the flow,’ no doubt emerges from the same liquid moment. So what, more specifically, are the stakes of liquidity? In particular, how do violence and terror, which always seem to be somehow present in Steyerl’s projects, manifest in or as liquidity? In Free Fall (2010) begins to hone in further on these questions. Taking as its starting point the Russian Constructivist playwright and “factographer” Sergei Tretyakov’s 1929 essay, “Biography of the Object,” In Free Fall is a “recycled biography” of a Boeing 4X-JYI jet, following its material history from Trans World Airlines to the Israeli Air Force to a Southern California scrapyard to a Hollywood backlot—where it’s used as a film prop in movies like Speed—and then finally to a factory, where the jet’s metal is recycled into DVDs. The cinematic image of the jet is then burned onto a Chinese bootleg disc made from the scrapped jet, and this disc is, in a way, just as much an image of the jet as is the Hollywood blockbuster. The 32-minute video’s three episodes—“before the crash,” “crash,” and “after the crash”—allude, perhaps, to a financial crash or free fall. Indeed, lurking in the background of the whole video is a kind of violence, whether Israeli statesanctioned violence or spectacular, cinematic violence.
Sep 18, 2015
Steyerl takes up the porousness of matter and image, especially with regard to violence, once again in the brilliant 14-minute video HOW NOT TO BE SEEN: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File (2013), in which a drawling, English-accented computer voice gives step-by-step instructions on how to make oneself “not-seen” under today’s conditions of networked surveillance. “To go off-screen,” is one suggestion; “to pretend you are not there” and “to become smaller than or equal to one pixel” are others. Various performers, including Steyerl herself, demonstrate each method as it’s narrated. The piece is oriented around “resolution targets”—in particular, one drone calibration pattern, discovered by Steyerl via Google Earth, that’s located in a militarized zone of the California desert. It’s a black, cracked asphalt patch, maybe the size of a small parking lot, covered in white linear markings that correspond to altitude measurements. This space, which in a sense is one of extreme, violent visibility, serves as a stage for Steyerl’s virtual interventions, in which she sets up green-screen superimpositions of computer desktops and low-res satellite images from Google. Green-bodysuited stagehands, dark green-burqa’d women, white-robed singers, and black and white pixel-headed figures dance to The Three Degrees’ 1974 soul hit “When Will I See You Again,” accompanying a 3D rendering of a shopping center. Like most of Liquidity, Inc., it’s totally absurd, joyful parody—to a fault, perhaps. The video’s jokey, meme-like qualities might come off simply as irresponsible, or as a form of flippant, cynical disavowal. On the other hand, there’s a deadly seriousness here, a darkness that makes the humor and Web 1.0-style graphics productively disturbing. As viewers of contemporary art, standing comfortably, perhaps, in a sterile Manhattan gallery, we’re being placed in the position of drone pilots. All we get in this video is simulation, seemingly at an utter remove from any real violence or real bodies. And yet it’s not just a simulation. It’s not just a poor imitation. It’s the actual operative mechanism of modern warfare, in which the reality of death and dispossession exists primarily as a low-quality aerial video feed. As Steyerl has suggested, it’s not so much that there is an excess of images, or that the technical apparatus is too vast and too removed from the ‘real world;’ rather, it’s that there’s now too much world. The world is overflowing its banks and puncturing our floodwalls. If resolution is the measure of the world, as HOW NOT TO BE SEEN proclaims, it’s becoming apparent that the world only becomes more immeasurable, more complex, more fluid, as resolutions increase. With resolution comes dissolution. More “control,” more liquidity, opens onto unforeseen violence, instability, and inequality. This moment of realization, as it were, is what’s felt in Liquidity, Inc., In Free Fall, and HOW NOT TO BE SEEN. It’s the moment that Steyerl presents us with in “Too Much World.” “We thought it was a plumbing system, so how did this tsunami creep up in my sink?” she asks. “How is this algorithm drying up this rice paddy? And how many workers are desperately clambering onto the menacing cloud that hovers in the distance right now, trying to squeeze out a living, groping through a fog that may at any second transform both into an immersive art installation and a demonstration doused in cutting-edge tear gas?” In a contemporary art scene that often seems positively magpie-like in its delirious obsession with new digital languages and new visual forms, that frequently finds itself enchanted by ‘acceleration’ at the expense of real politics, Steyerl’s questioning informs us of the work that is still to be done. ALEC MAPES-FRANCES B’17 is in control.
DIGGING IN THE GROUNDS Gender and Tradition in Cairo’s Coffee Shops by Yousef Hilmy
Visit any neighborhood in Cairo, especially ones in its older districts, and you will find countless traditional coffeehouses (called ahawi; singular: ahwa) jutting out from the sidewalk and spilling into the streets. Most ahawi look the same: each has an indoor section consisting of a small kitchen and storage area, and an outdoor informal seating space furnished with an assortment of cheap plastic or wooden chairs and tables. The ahwa is in every sense the primary public space for intense social interaction and networking. In its boisterous atmosphere, Egyptians find a comfortable setting in which to mingle, meet up with friends, talk politics, smoke sheesha, and pass idle time. This is the fundamental place where Cairo’s transformations find their initial expression, the space with the single most transparent representation of political culture in Egypt at large. Both local and touristic narratives on ahawi tend to represent them as decidedly democratic spaces, ones in which ‘ordinary Egyptians’ from all walks of life can interact and interrelate. This is true in an economic sense: a cup of coffee or tea at an ahwa costs around 2 LE (roughly 30 cents) and sheesha is about 5 LE. Because of these cheap prices, Egyptians from all socio-economic backgrounds frequent ahawi daily, as they feel comfortable in its unpretentious atmosphere. In addition, ahawi can be found all over the city, almost in every corner, such that each Egyptian typically has his own ahwa at which he is a regular. But the depiction of ahawi as democratic fails when we consider that they are functionally male-only spaces, with strictly enforced taboos on gender comportment. How can a space faithfully be called democratic if it structurally excludes half of a nation’s population, the plurality of voices and expressions of women who form Cairo’s very backbone? Critics might respond by pointing to the newer, Western-style coffeehouses, such as Cilantro or Gloria Jeans, that are gender inclusive and whose functions and meanings are open to negotiation. These coffeehouses, clustered in Cairo’s wealthier neighborhoods, cater primarily to cosmopolitan Egyptians and reflect all the sterility and neutrality of what scholars have called a ‘translocal space.’ All of them are indoors, maintain a clean, elegant atmosphere, serve a variety of beverages and food items, and offer their customers free Internet, so that they can work or study if they choose. Most of these coffeehouses were built in the 1990s—a decade during which Egypt experienced an economic boom after Mubarak accepted the thorny conditions of an IMF austerity program—and continue to be built today. On a recent trip Cairo, I discovered that two new coffeehouses had sprouted near my grandfather’s apartment, in a process akin to gentrification. As I found, these coffeehouses often have menus in both English and Arabic, as well as exorbitant prices—a latte or cappuccino here (Turkish coffee is served, but tends to be overshadowed by fancier, espresso-based beverages) costs between 10 and 25 LE ($2-4), a price that can be expensive even for foreigners. Gender intermixing at these coffeehouses is considered appropriate: it is normal to find married couples with their children, and even men and women on dates. One research essay done at the American University in Cairo (AUC) found that the customers at Western-style coffeehouses are equally male and female. The difference, according to the research, is negligible: 51% of customers are female and 49% are male, with over half of that purchasing demographic aged between twenty and thirty. Gender concerns notwithstanding, these spaces are riddled with exclusionary problems of their own: namely, that only elite, cosmopolitan Egyptians can afford to go to them, and that even then, they aren’t reflective of traditional or local Egyptian culture. In addition, these coffeehouses aren’t meant to be replacements of ahawi, which are more ubiquitous and don’t exist solely in upscale neighborhoods. +++ The question remains why Egyptian women are excluded from ahawi, and what this says about Western interpretations of “right to the city,” an idea popular in urban studies. One reason can be found in what is referred to as illit al-adab (indecent behavior). Here, the ahwa and Western-style coffeehouses diverge, for each space has its own ethics of propriety, a kind of code of conduct that is directly related to notions of gender and acceptability. The ahwa, in keeping up with its history, features a loud, chauvinistic, atmosphere, along with generally aggressive behavior, vulgar language, and, occasionally, catcalling. Most Egyptians therefore perceive it as a “dirty” or “impure” place. This is one reason why it is taboo for women to go to them—for example, when asked about ahawi, one Egyptian man quoted in a Global Post article remarked, “they are not considered places respectable for women. All of Egypt would be able to hear her laugh.” Another man quoted in the same article, Mohamed Abdul Rahman, when asked whether or not he would allow his daughter to go to an ahwa, responded with an emphatic no. “For us from Upper Egypt,” he replied, “it would bring shame if a woman sits on ahwa (in Arabic, “sitting on the ahwa”—ya3ood 3l ahwa—is a popular expression) because of the bad effects of the sheesha, the atmosphere, and the fact that sometimes people use bad language.” Ahawi, then, stand at the intersection of immorality and acceptability: they are perceived as benign, non-violent spaces that are nonetheless dangerous, the Egyptian equivalent of a bar where masculine aggression can be performed with license. Not all ahawi are strictly men-only, however, nor is the taboo distributed evenly. This is often a function of which neighborhood the ahwa is in and whether or not that neighborhood is affluent. As a general rule, the poorer the area, the fewer females you will find at the ahwa and the rowdier the behavior of the men. A neighborhood in which one can find men and women at ahawi is the Borsa (stock exchange) district in downtown Cairo. For several reasons, rules of public consumption in this area are different from other neighborhoods in Cairo, and professionals who work in nearby offices frequent many of the ahawi here. Mohamed, the man quoted earlier, calls these cafes and the intermixing of men and women that can be found in
illustration by Rob Polidoro
them “untraditional and improper.” The women who are customers at these more liberal ahawi are middle to upper-middle class young professionals, with higher educational backgrounds and generally more liberal views, as opposed to someone like Mohamed, who works as a day laborer. When asked about ahawi, a 22 year-old woman named Aya Youssef remarked that, “I respect our customs and everything but it’s frustrating that a woman is still treated like a woman and not just a human being. We have to take care that our voices are not too loud, even if there are no men with us. If we sat in an ordinary ahwa, everyone would be looking at us.” Here, the ideas of “custom” and “ordinary” gesture toward tensions between tradition and reform. The ahawi Aya goes to in the Borsa are considered to be inherently irregular— indeed extraordinary—because of their gender policies, which, to be clear, are still relatively conservative: i.e. a woman can’t come to these ahawi alone and ask for a sheesha, because if she did so, she would be either denied her request, or dismissed as improper. It would be facile to argue by negation that the Western-style coffee shops are models of progressivism and tolerance. Although they may lack taboos on male-female intermixing, these coffee shops are just as exclusionary, but in different ways. Many women go to these coffee shops because doing so is a mark of cosmopolitan prestige and because they have the time and money to do so. Conversely, the men who go to the affordable ahawi go to them because they are unemployed or work only part-time, choosing to go to ahawi because it is largely socially and economically acceptable for them to do so. Most of the women married to these men are restricted to the private domestic sphere, where they are expected to fulfill obligations such as taking care of the house, making food, and nursing and raising their children. As has been argued in the academic literature on the topic, lower to lower-middle class women in Egypt suffer the brunt of this exclusion, for they are caught in what anthropologist Diane Singerman has called a “push and pull of cross-cutting ideological pressures.” While they are supported to go outside the home to help support the family in its drive toward middle class status, their “new role of ‘working woman’ is not supported, and indeed strongly opposed, by subcultural ideas about women’s nature which locate women’s place within the home.” What surfaces, then, is that the ordinary, lower-class Egyptian woman is excluded on all fronts, for she has neither the time, nor the resources, nor the privilege to go to any of the coffee shops. And while a coffee shop in the West may seem like an innocuous recreational space, in Cairo they emerge as critical spaces in which one can have a voice and an audience, a privilege that, in a country marred by censorship and disciplinary control, is by no means a trivial matter. +++ So far, all of the problems I have addressed are directed from Egyptians to other Egyptians. It is imperative not to forget that there is internal critique and resistance, that Egyptian woman on the ground have agency, that they actively resist, within their radical contexts, against forms of tradition or custom that seek to police, subjugate, or otherwise contain them. But by and large, traditional ahawi remain stagnant and unchallenged. Because of this, ahawi are indispensible places to gauge popular opinion and change. The cultural and historical specificity of ahawi presents us with some difficulty: are ahawi called traditional because the Egyptian tradition is in itself patriarchal? Furthermore, are the very concepts of traditionalism and authenticity gendered ones, as prescriptive as they are descriptive, which serve to exclude women from national and heritage discourses both physically and intellectually? I don’t have full answers to these questions, but I think it is productive to look at specific coffee shops, some of them famous, and to see how they have been depicted in tourist narratives. It is the “outside,” representational eye of the tourist—the individual who needs to find a frame and then the owners who, in response to tourism and capitalism, respond by reframing their coffee shops for those images and representations—that helps us to unpack the complexities at play with ahawi in Cairo. Only then can we deconstruct the larger socio-economic and historical forces involved in the conflation of tradition and gender exclusivity. As I have mentioned, most descriptions of ahawi are generalized because of their ubiquity. In other words, ahawi are popular because of their banality: ahawi are a kind of style, an attitude, a microcosm of popular Egyptian discursive logic and habit. Nothing about ahawi stands out so much that they need to be co-opted into an official historical or heritage discourses, most of which are focused on objects and sites associated with Ancient Egypt, as well as on other, more modern sites such as the Baron Empain palace or the Khan el Khalili bazaar. But some ahawi do stand out. One of the few that is featured on official Egyptian heritage and tourist publications is al-Fishawy, an historic ahwa nestled in a corner of the Khan El Khalili bazaar that was once a popular hangout spot for artists, intellectuals, and writers. The descriptions of this coffee shop, particularly on websites like TripAdvisor, reveal the contradictions latent in the concept of a traditional ahwa and the paradox of “famous” ones: namely, that it is only once these ahawi are famous, that is, once they are certified by official discourses in the Egyptian Ministry of Culture (pandering to the tourist industry) as ‘traditional’ and ‘authentic,’ that they become inclusive, open for women, tourists, people from all walks of life. +++ In 1773, a man known as al-Fishawy began serving coffee to his friends in the evening, after prayer. His descendants—they still run the coffee shop today—claim that the gatherings at which al-Fishawy would serve coffee grew larger every year and eventually became a Khan el Khalili staple. The tourist narratives on the al-Fishawy coffee shop are fascinating for their
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Orientalist imagery and depictions. What is most interesting is that the al-Fishawy family subscribes to these fetishized descriptions, convinced as they are of the authenticity and “essence” of al-Fishawy coffee shop, despite its many transformations in relation to the tourist industry throughout the last fifty odd years. One National Geographic article reads: “[The] smoky, mirrored El Fishawy café has been an inviting respite within the labyrinthine tangle of the 14th-century Khan el Khalili bazaar. Beneath checkered archways and tin lamps, wobbly brass-topped tables teeter under the traffic of steaming glasses of mint tea, dark coffee, and apricot-flavored sheesha tobacco from hookah pipes.” Having visited al-Fishawy, I can say that this description is exaggerated and exoticized, if not flat out ahistorical. The description is meant to depict al-Fishawy as timeless and static, trademark assumptions of Orientalist representation. Understandably, the National Geographic passage exists in conjunction with hundreds of other descriptions, which I found mostly on TripAdvisor. After a cursory glance I see (all sic): “oldest coffeehouse in Cairo…the atmosphere is very welcoming to foreigners”; “Historical Café old Cairo; “timeless café…” Fishawi’s, an iconic coffee house, is a landmark in itself. There are few specific things to see in the Khan el-Khalili souk, but Fishawi’s Coffeehouse, is an absolute must. Its on a small alley in the souk, having huge mirrors hung on the walls and its packed day and night. It claims to have been open continuously since the year 1773, except during Ramadan month. Sitting here, enjoying a cup of tea is a unique experience, as you soak in the timelessness of the cafe and the souk. Time seems to have stopped moving, and as you look around yourself, the view would, probably, have been the same 50 years back !! You would be pestered by roaming salesmen hawking souvenirs, books and sundry products. There could be a local guy belting out a solo music performance. But, these are the charms of Fishawi’s. If you are a tourist and want to taste the real Egyptian coffee shop atmosphere, you must go to el fishawi in el hussien area, very classic but crowded, best tea you can drink, prices are reasonable, if you are going to buy any thing from the beside shops try to bargain. The area is not so classy so take care from beggars and female tourists are recommended to wear conservative clothes. A true gem.
Now, the descendants of al-Fishawi, of course, haven’t kept the coffee house open for so long solely because of its ‘historic’ and ‘timeless’ virtues—they’re good businessmen. And yet it’s hard to tell whether they really believe in these qualities or they’re just great at branding. Akram al-Fishawi, one of the seventh-generation owners (along with his siblings, I presume), said in an
Sep 18, 2015
interview with Aramco magazine “we are different from the other coffeehouses because we work to preserve the old style. Qahwat al-Fishawy really represents Egypt’s past.” Surely, if the old style has to be worked at to be maintained then it is inherently artificial. In addition, it should be said that al-Fishawy, a once-watering hole for Cairo’s intelligentsia and artistic class, was in every sense of the word extraordinary. That is what marked it off as different and what continues to be added to its legacy as an embodiment of Egyptian and Cairene culture. The “old-style” that Akram mentioned is really a commoditized one, a style that is catered, marketed, and sold to a primarily Western audience for its nostalgic value. It is only when the coffee shop came to be narrativized on the global, touristic level that it truly began to change. Despite what its owners want to say, al-Fishawy is what is today because of its transformation, over the past 50 years, into a tourist destination. This is what allows for it to be, simultaneously, “a café for ordinary people” such as “cabbies, craftsmen, and shopkeepers,” for “camera-toting travelers” as well as “Egyptians from towns and cities outside of Cairo” and, most importantly, for women—a place where, as Reda Abdel Hakim says, “people from all classes, Egyptians and tourists, all come.” Al-Fishari and the few others like it may be isolated examples of the contradictions that surface when an ahwa becomes famous. But it is powerful that the reduction of the ahwa to its aesthetic tropes is what simultaneously allows for Egyptian women from all backgrounds to subvert its historic traditions and customs, and to participate in a space that has been denied to them for so long. Fame, here, bestows liberty. +++ All of the examples explored in this article—the traditional male-only ahawi that people like Mohamed, the day laborer, frequent; the more liberal ones in business areas like the Borsa that some women can go to; the Western-style coffee shops in wealthy neighborhoods such as Heliopolis and Maadi; and lastly, the famous ahawi which paradoxically manage to be at once traditional and gender inclusive—bring to light some demanding questions about the very nature of tradition, authenticity, and heritage. These questions continue to be asked and challenged on the ground today. I am left thinking: Can what we have been calling traditional ahawi ever structurally change, assuming that the inclusion of women is a transformation in the very idea of what an ahwa is? And what does this mean if we understand ahawi as microcosms of Egyptian culture at-large that are much more significant that the sum of their parts? YOUSEF HILMY B’16 sips ahwa on the daily.
YOU KNOW HOW THIS IS by Gabrielle Hick
into the slow bend of an S-curve summer you bleed more lonely than you thought you would if you could ask Escher to draw out the calendar of your lives so that those histories might meet somewhere in the middle of the night you watch nervous people fill a hollow with their bodies of water fold your body into the shapes your muscles call out to a distance much greater than one day you swim to the ocean to stay afloat someone tells you when all you want to do is lie down deep dark into a field of grass without bending it a life is long and brittle you know that when someone tells you never love anything too much that some mouths are meant to be voids are the echoes between godwords tall words like sea sun salt highways and crawling into the beginning you imagine this must be how it feels to be hungry is an unsolvable problem when you begin again and again falling into the slow bend
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From Sea to Shining Sea: Organ and Multimedia Event 7:30PM First Baptist Church in America Dr. Jeanine Jordan and David Jordan, organist and multimedia artist respectively, present the history and development of the organ in the United States. The performance appears to be couched in some pretty grand American iconography, which could substantially amp up the kitsch factor. Plus, the organ is a rad instrument and certainly not one that is easy to master. Worth it for a plethora of reasons, not least of which is that it’s free. The Refugee Crises: Reshaping Europe and the Middle East 5:30—7PM List Art Building 120 Free and open to the public, this teachin should provide historical context for and elucidate the effects of an exigent and ongoing humanitarian catastrophe. Count on panelists like Beshara Doumani to enlighten an issue so often obfuscated by Western media outlets. Hopefully the complicity of European governments in sustaining the crises will get some well-deserved attention. Reif Larsen Multimedia Presentation on I Am Radar Brown Bookstore, 244 Thayer St. Acclaimed purveyor of ergodic lit Reif Larsen B’02 will discuss his new novel I Am Radar in some kind of newfangled multimedia presentation. This could mean photographs, charts, or perhaps a feature-length film version of the book thrown together just for the reading. Who knows. Some say I Am Radar is Pynchonesque, Sebaldian, Borgesian— name a postmodern-ish male author and without fail Larsen has been likened to him. Some of us might say it’s more steroidal Safran-Foer (smart kids! diagrams!) but the jury’s still out. P.S. We’ve yet to see a non-male author mentioned in the same breath as Larsen. Conclude from
Providence Improv Fest 5:30—11PM AS220 Some of us who write for the LIST have performed improv in the past and so recognize that it can be rough— impulsive, unctuous, occasionally misguided. It’s also among the most immediate modes of performance we know, and when it’s good it’s ecstatic. If this type of wager sounds fun for you then check out the Providence Improv Fest. S/o to UCB’s Airwolf who actually perform Friday 9/18. They shouldn’t be missed. Stop by Saturday for samples of the local fare and, weirdly, Oxford University’s troupe the Imps.
Community writing hours for those looking for a productive Sunday morning. Prompts are offered for the curious, otherwise it’s just an open space for writers. No feedback or instruction given but I’m sure the kindly scribe across from you will happily check out some words you wrote. Free! Communal! Creative! Beginner Ballet 10:30—11:30AM AS220 $13, $10 per class for all 6 classes
Uncovering Ancient Egypt: Ancient Crafts, Modern Technologies 10:00AM—4:00PM Haffenreffer Museum at Manning Hall, 1-21 Prospect St., Providence
Perfect for people who have no ballet experience, so says the write-up. Taught by Stephanie Albanese, a School of American Ballet grad, this intro ballet class should be stress-free but also demanding enough for Sunday try-hards.
University Egyptologists, archaeologists, anthropologists, and a host of other great –ologists take you into the lab with the Haffenreffer’s collection of ancient Egyptian objects. With the help of a few novel technologies, learned folks will discuss how these objects were used, what their cultural and political significance is, and how the researchers figured all this out. “I can’t believe this is that old” moments abound in this downright neat-o exhibit, which is free and open to all. Reif Larsen Multimedia Presentation on I Am Radar.
Family See & Sketch 2—2:45PM RISD Museum
Rhode Island Outsider Art Fair 10:00AM—4:00PM 24 Commerce St., Pawtucket
Patience Pays: A Solo Exhibition by Christiane Corcelle 9AM—5PM Sarah Doyle Gallery, 26 Benevolent St., Providence, RI
The Rhode Island Outsider Art Fair features work by neurodiverse and uniquely abled individuals. It’s run by Resources for Human Development-RI, and it is definitely worth supporting and checking out. The samples we’ve seen on the site are great. A very cool way to spend the afternoon.
Drop-in to check out some great art and have someone guide you through the art-making process. Great for families, though I’m sure anyone interested in enriching their day with a 45-minute art block will be welcome enough. Uncovering Ancient Egypt: Ancient Crafts, Modern Technologies.
4th Annual Brown University Vascular and Interventional
Machines with Magnets
Warren Alpert Medical School
Rafael Toral’s outré free jazz-ish/visceral electronic sound is uncanny. Toral is an endless tinkerer, and the inquisitive listener should find much to love in his sonic experiments. Recommended if a Sun Ra and Messiaen sandwich sounds chill to you. Scott Reber + Sakiko Mori, Ouxatil 95, and Titans of Jazz fill out the bill. Slash 8:00PM—All Night Long Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel $40 Legendary Guns N’ Roses guitarist and man we suspect is hiding something under his hat Slash brings his guitar heroics to Lupo’s in what is sure to be an impressive display of something. The kiddies nowadays no doubt think ill of this man’s career but that shouldn’t stop you from appreciating how fast his fingers can go. Extra points if you’re the youngest person there.
Building, 222 Richmond St., Providence Let’s be real: neither of us knows what vascular and interventional radiology is and what it’s all about. Sure we know what the words mean, but what subtends the way in which these words are put together is a breadth of knowledge in medicine that you and I, well, we just don’t and won’t have. Let’s learn together. If you don’t understand, we don’t understand. Listed for the bold.
French-born, American-trained artist Christiane Corcelle works primarily in prints and installation. Challenging and incisive, Corcelle excels at re-contextualizing found objects. A cool thing that is free and open to all.
Book Launch for Colin Channer’s Providential 7PM Providence Athenaeum Jamaican writer Colin Channer releases his first book of poetry. The book, timely and probing, centers on the figure of the Jamaican policeman. Engaging with state violence, family, and spirituality, Channer’s book should pique the interest of anyone interested in state power and Caribbean diaspora.
Did You Know?: The list originally aggregated information about events that occurred in the week prior to an issue’s publishing date, before a staff member suggested it might be helpful to inform readers of events before they happen.
One remarkable thing about chess is that its symbolic capacity, which is immense, never exceeds the convenience and fun of playing it. Metaphorically tumid. Challenging. Simple. There’s a universe in chess. Janet Jackson: Unbreakable World Tour 8PM Dunkin’ Donuts Center $37.50 For under $40 you can see Janet Jackson and it is Janet Jackson. Pricy but it’s Janet Jackson! She recorded Control! A legend!
The Wanted 18 Film Screening 7PM Joukowsky Forum, Watson Institute, 111 Thayer St., Providence Centers on Palestinian nonviolent resistance to Israeli occupation during the First Intifada. The film is part animated, part archival footage, all invoking solidarity and the power of political mobilization. The Palestinian Oscar entry for documentary film, by the way, which is great—not that awards really matter.
that what you will. Rafael Toral + Others
Chess Club 7PM 186 Carpenter St., Providence
Frequency Writing Drop-in 10AM—12PM 186 Carpenter St., Providence
9/24 THU Ann Stoler: “Raw Cuts: Palestine, Israel, and (Post) Colonial Studies” 4:30—6:30PM Joukowsky Forum, Watson Institute, 111 Thayer St., Providence Anthropologist and historian Ann Stoler talks about the role of Palestine in discussions of post-colonial studies. She’ll present from her new book Duress: Concept-Work for Our Times. Sure to be compelling and politically interesting.