Sara Greenberger Rafferty, Mary-Lou Arscott, Bekezela Mguni, Daniel Glendening
In Remote Control - Issue 2. What Does Not Bend, we asked artists to recommend reading lists to help make sense of this moment. Pick up one of these titles when you need to power down your screen and get off the internet.
Sara Greenberger Rafferty
• On Beauty and Being Just by Elaine Scarry, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999.
When my work goes dark, it does so in a colorful way. This is often called beauty. Sometimes when people say my work is beautiful, I squirm. But last year, I re-read Elaine Scarry 20 year old slim volume, On Beauty and Being Just, which came out in my last year as an undergraduate, while I was working on my BFA thesis. In the second part of the book, she writes about the critiques of beauty as implicitly and explicitly unjust. That people say beauty and looking reifies the the injustice (or pain, or ugliness, or difficulty) it pictures or represents. She posits a contrast, which is helpful for me to think about at this current moment:"There is no way to be in a high state of alert toward injustices" to subjects that, because they entail injuries, will bring distress "without simultaneously demanding of oneself precisely the level of perceptual acuity that will forever be opening one to the arrival of beautiful sights and sounds."
• At the Edge of Sight: Photography and the Unseen by Shawn Michelle Smith, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2013.
A friend recently asked me a question about Edweard Muybridge and it sent me down a research rabbit-hole, with what I had at my fingertips. This was a welcome diversion research, with a small prompt, an itch, a notion. The result was a true feeling of engagement with a query that seems near impossible in the subsistence existence of life under quarantine. Of course, it goes without saying that I have the luxury of getting lost in a query. And Smith's book weaves artwork, history, analysis, social justice, and writing together beautifully. The role "not always positive" our major academic institutions have played in scientific (or "scientific") advances (or "advances") is highlighted, as Smith draws attention to connections between Stanford University, and the University of Pennsylvania; among others, artists, scientists, and powerful capitalists to make meaning in photographic form. This book, along with the excellent notes and bibliography, should keep anyone occupied for as long as their attention holds.
• The Circuit: A Tennis Odyssey by Rowan Ricardo Phillips, New York: Farbar, Strauss & Giroux, 2018.
For those of us intensely missing sports, this year-in-tennis-and-politics follows the 2017 season of the ATP mens tennis tour. I read it voraciously in hardcover but am remembering now how part of the "odyssey" takes place while Phillips has a physical injury, is couch-bound, and in any case most of his experience of the tour happens through the tv screen. That the circuit played out in all manner of time zones which had him up at all hours of the night feels a little like now. With people flung all over the globe, connected virtually, a student calling in from 2 am in China for an "afternoon" class; a professor home-schooling their child in rural Massachusetts simultaneously; everything being experienced at a distance, and few diversions. Recommend.
• Evidence by Diana Matar, Amsterdam: Schilt Publishing, 2014.
The facts of the 2020 pandemic are emerging, our understanding changes by the minute, the sense we make of the world is susceptible to uneven visibility. Everyone is sheltering and no shelter is adequate to deal with the shame of our silence in the face of the violence of the moment. Diana Matar in her book EVIDENCE reminds us with enigmatic text and image that we cannot know what happens behind closed doors. But she suggests that there are ways to reconsider the sites of capture and the exercise of power through the imprint. She searches, ostensibly hopelessly for a trace of something to assuage the loss of a Libyan man (her father-in-law) who was captured in Cairo in 1985 and was disappeared in Tripoli. This book is a meditative read in which a tension is created through the extreme care she takes in the choice of the sequence of photographs which shift in focus from high resolution, color and identifiable subject to atmospheric and evocative summoning of live representing lost life. The rhythm of sparse excerpts of her diary help frame the narrative detail but recede as a sensation, suggesting a detective plot applicable to here and now.
• In the Wake, On Blackness and Being by Christina Sharpe, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2016.
Some texts are elusive, their meanings myriad and the adjustment to our understanding is progressive. Such a book is Christina Sharpe’s ‘In the Wake, On Blackness and Being’. I found the first read concerning compelling and apparently complete. I registered the ideas of weaponized black bodies and the continuity of slavery as a contemporary tool of industrial global complex. The theory fitted with the arguments of Sayak Valencia in Gore Capitalism. But Sharpe’s method uses framing themes to scaffold layered, exploratory and provisional concepts. The book thus rewards re-reading and needs reflection. It ushers in an uncomfortable sense of more work to be done. Her open personal account of familial loss woven into the first chapter sheds chilling light on our current pandemic statistics. We cannot ignore the significance of constructed vulnerabilities and the struggle to find any adequate response is continually supported by Sharpe’s intelligence and subtle poetic.
• One Way Street (1927) by Walter Benjamin, London: NLB, 1979.
We are not quite a century away from the moment when Walter Benjamin wrote ‘One Way Street’, a prophetic derive which feels astonishingly apposite in its content and form. This is a book that counters contemporary thinking where we are at once hounded by simplistic insidious algorithmic logics and frighteningly tidy Hollywood narratives. Benjamin’s rambling little text poses a refreshing surreal montage where the prose acts as a picture book without images. Benjamin counter-poses the evocative sequence of signs and store fronts in the section titles with dream-like reveries. This moment of technological potential is parallel to his fascination with film, his part hopeful and yet unresolved position in the face of a rising politic careering into fascism and economic collapse is closer to us than we want. Benjamin explores and provokes with 76 pages of acupuncture.
Bekezela Mguni - Artist, Librarian, Educator
• Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work by Edwidge Danticat, 1st ed., New York: Vintage Books, 2011.
“Create dangerously, for people who read dangerously. This is what I’ve always thought it meant to be a writer. Writing, knowing in part that no matter how trivial your words may seem, someday, somewhere, someone may risk his or her life to read them.” – Edwidge Danticat
With love and wisdom, Danticat shares how literature served as a bridge toward liberatory paths for her. She bears witness to Haiti’s revolutionary lineage, which was emboldened by lionhearted writers and artists who knew the power of telling stories, and who dared to share them despite the perilous realities in which they told their truths.
• Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Y. Davis, New York: Seven Stories Press, 2003.
“[Prison] relieves us of the responsibility of seriously engaging with the problems of our society, especially those produced by racism and, increasingly, global capitalism.” - Angela Davis
Radical thinker and political activist, Angela Davis asks us critical questions about the place of prisons in American society. She boldly calls for their abolition and shines light upon the injustices and inequities that are further exacerbated by the prison industrial complex. Davis offers insightful arguments toward social transformation, informed by previous movements, that changed both cultural and political values and practices.
• All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks. 756th ed., New York: William Morrow Paperbacks, 2018.
“The word "love" is most often defined as a noun, yet all the more astute theorists of love acknowledge that we would all love better if we used it as a verb.” – bell hooks
From years of life experience, research, heartache and triumph in love, hooks offers us an opportunity to ask ourselves how we have come to learn about love. She offers a thoughtful definition, profound insights into the art of loving and how we can challenge our societal programming to envision and create healthy and dynamic forms of love, in all areas of our lives.
• The Positions and Situations Project: Back-to-the-land Letters. Vol. 1: 1968-1973 by Alex Arzt, 2014-2019.
This is my current favorite artist publication project. Beginning in 2013, Arzt scoured back issues of Mother Earth News and other back-to-the-land publications from the late 60s‚Äìearly 70s, many of which had extensive classified ads sections with ads posted by people looking to connect with other people and set out on establishing farms, communes, and other adventures. Arzt tracked down current mailing addresses, and reached out via letter. In many cases she got a reply, and collects those letters in this series of publications. It's full of stories, regrets, dreams deferred, dreams realized.
• Vernon Subutex, vol. 1 by Virginie Despentes, New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2015.
This was recommended to me by artist and friend Thomas Gamble, and Thomas' recommendations never go wrong. This novel is like, I don't know, "Ulysses," if "Ulysses" was about a down on his luck record dealer? But also shifted perspective so you got other's, equally depraved, view of Leopold Bloom? In any case the writing is wicked sharp, it's peppered with mid 2000s rock trivia, and is pretty searing indictment of the internet, social media, capitalism, idol-worship, and money, generally.
• Being Numerous: Essays on Non-Fascist Life by Natasha Lennard, London: Verso, 2019.
Often we position fascism as something external to the self, an oppression coming from some other person, entity, force, system. Often, it is, but it's also something we internalize and carry with us. Lennard's collection of essays seeks to try and unpack that a bit, and point toward those ways and places in which we might oppress ourselves or those around us, and how, maybe, we might start dismantling those internalized fascisms.