What to do with anonymous trolls

The debate over the contents of the draft Online Safety Bill continues.

New plans to protect people from anonymous trolls onlineGOV.UK
The government recognises too many people currently experience online abuse and there are concerns that anonymity is fuelling this, with offenders having little to no fear of recrimination from either the platforms or law enforcement. […]

So today the government is confirming it will add two new duties to its Online Safety Bill to strengthen the law against anonymous online abuse. The first duty will force the largest and most popular social media sites to give adults the ability to block people who have not verified their identity on a platform. A second duty will require platforms to provide users with options to opt out of seeing harmful content.

Sounds reasonable?

Filter out ‘unverified’ accounts, tech giants toldBBC News
The DCMS acknowledged that people use anonymous accounts for a variety of reasons, including whistle-blowing, exploring their sexuality or sharing their experience in an authoritarian company. However, it said users should be given tools to “control who can interact with them”.

But here’s Benedict Evans’s take on it, from a recent newsletter. And even the government agrees that he knows what he’s talking about.

The UK’s content regulation hairball
The UK’s Online Harms Bill began as a pretty sensible and narrowly defined effort to solve one kind of problem: make a list of specific kinds of harmful content, and create an obligation for platform companies to make reasonable best efforts to minimise them. Unfortunately it’s now become a grab bag of hobbyhorses and every random terrible Internet regulation idea from the last decade.

The latest idea is that somehow if the Internet wasn’t anonymous, no one would behave badly, and so big Internet platforms need to give everyone an option to verify their identity, and an option to hide content from people who aren’t verified. This is a bizarre overreach – the UK wants YouTube offer people in Vietnam, Argentina and New Zealand an option to upload passports. Yet since this of course has to be optional, no one will actually do it, so the switch to turn off unverified content will just hide everything and be completely useless. Meanwhile, there have been any number of studies in the last few years demonstrating that the vast majority of problematic accounts are not anonymous anyway. This is regulation by press release – we expect better.

What a mess #2

The war in Ukraine is horrendous, doesn’t bear thinking about. But if you do want to think about it, here are a few interesting links. Let’s start with something positive from the art world.

A selection of resources in support of the people of UkraineIt’s Nice That
We stand in solidarity and support of the Ukrainian people and everyone affected by this war, and wish to use our platform to help. So, here, we’re sharing a growing list of resources put together with our sister company Creative Lives in Progress, shared by our team and community. They include places to donate and volunteer; creative responses to the crisis including projects, campaigns and fundraising sales; key information for those who need it; and other useful links, such as a free photo bank to tackle Russian government propaganda, a list of Ukrainian illustrators to commission, and a callout for help with Ukrainian artist visas.

STOP WAR: A new series of works by Sho Shibuya in support of UkraineDesign You Trust
In the peak of the coronavirus epidemic, he decided to recycle each of the New York Times front pages to turn them into works of art. The designer dedicates his new series of works to the war in Ukraine, a senseless and fratricidal war. A war that became a tragedy for millions of people. A war that cannot be justified.

Ukraine-based content platform launches a free resource of images of Russia’s war in Ukraine for anyone to useIt’s Nice That
Vista’s Depositphotos, a Ukraine-based content platform, has launched a free image collection, Say No to War, detailing the “brutal truth of what’s happening in Ukraine, as well as images of protests from around the world and inside of Russia”, says the Depositphotos team.

Rich with imaginative detail, Maria Prymachenko’s colorful folk art speaks to life in UkraineColossal
Expressive and consistently advocating for peace, Prymachenko’s paintings are widely known throughout Ukraine and internationally: she received a gold medal at the Paris World Fair in 1937, when Pablo Picasso is said to have dubbed her “an artistic miracle.”

Earlier this week, Russian attacks northwest of Kyiv destroyed the Ivankiv Historical and Local History Museum, where about 25 of her works were housed. According to the Ukrainian Institute, though, local residents were able to retrieve the pieces from the burning museum before they were lost entirely. The aggression subsequently prompted calls for Russia to be removed from UNESCO, which declared 2009 the year of Prymachenko.

Ukraine accuses Russia of burning down a museumHyperallergic
About 25 paintings by Ukrainian artist Maria Pryimachenko were destroyed in a fire incited by an attack as part of the Russian invasion, Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said today, February 28, on Twitter. The works were housed at the Ivankiv Local History Museum in the Kyiv province. A video circulating on Twitter shows what appears to be the museum’s building in flames. The destruction of the museum was also reported by the Kyiv Independent. Hyperallergic could not independently verify these reports.

Some big names from the world of music aren’t faring too well.

Anna Netrebko withdraws from upcoming Met Opera engagementsOpera Wire
The company noted that in “not complying with the Met’s condition that she repudiate her public support for Vladimir Putin while he wages war on Ukraine, soprano Anna Netrebko has withdrawn from her upcoming Met performances in Puccini’s ‘Turandot’ this April and May, as well as the run of Verdi’s Don Carlo next season.”

Putin’s Maestro, and the limits of cultural exchange in wartimeThe New York Times
How will we think of Valery Gergiev a century from now? One of the world’s leading conductors, he has in just the last week lost a series of engagements and positions, including as chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic, for not disavowing the war in Ukraine being waged by his longtime friend and ally, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

How would those cancellations be spun in Russia, I wonder.

Outside Russia, Putin’s propaganda machine is swiftly crashing downVanity Fair
Under pressure from the Ukrainian government and other foreign leaders, tech giants and cable providers are issuing a flurry of measures to curb the reach of Russian state media in Europe as Russia wages war on Ukraine. Google on Tuesday blocked the YouTube channels of RT and Sputnik, two Kremlin-owned outlets that serve as mouthpieces for Vladimir Putin’s propagandistic agenda across the continent. The move came a day after Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, and TikTok both said they would block RT and Sputnik content on their platforms in the E.U. Nick Clegg, Meta’s head of global affairs, cited “requests from a number of governments and the E.U.” and “the exceptional nature of the current situation” as he announced the restrictions, which prevent users across E.U. countries from accessing pages or content posted by the two state-backed outlets. Microsoft likewise took action against “state-sponsored disinformation campaigns” Monday as it blocked RT and Sputnik content from appearing on its platform in Europe and banned advertising from Russian state media. In doing so, the company joined Google, YouTube (which is owned by Google), Twitter, and Facebook, all of which have either restricted or banned state-backed media outlets from selling ads.

Russian state TV is covering the war very differentlyCNN
Russian media coverage looks very different than how CNN and other western news outlets are covering the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Ukraine war: ‘My city’s being shelled, but mum won’t believe me’BBC News
“I didn’t want to scare my parents, but I started telling them directly that civilians and children are dying,” she says. “But even though they worry about me, they still say it probably happens only by accident, that the Russian army would never target civilians. That it’s Ukrainians who’re killing their own people.” […] Oleksandra says her mother just repeats the narratives of what she hears on Russian state TV channels. “It really scared me when my mum exactly quoted Russian TV. They are just brainwashing people. And people trust them,” says Oleksandra.

Some Russians are breaking through and trying to make a different, though.

How Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova is using crypto to fight for equalityTime
[I]n the days following the late-February invasion of Ukraine, she helped launch UkraineDAO, a fundraising campaign that racked up almost $7 million in cryptocurrency donations in less than a week, with funds channeled towards Ukrainian aid organizations. “It’s really important for me to be a good activist and be an influential artist to be able to maintain my anti-Putin voice. In that way, it’s all inherently connected,” she says.

Here’s another example of new technology being used for good.

When war struck, Ukraine turned to TelegramWIRED UK
“How to distinguish our equipment from the enemy?” UkraineNOW posted on Friday, sharing pictures of Ukrainian and Russian tanks. On Saturday, three separate posts in the space of just six minutes warned of imminent airstrikes across Ukraine (“air alarm: Lviv, Rivne ❗️❗️❗️”); maps showing air raid shelter locations were shared. On Sunday the channel advised on ways to safely pass military checkpoints (“turn on the hazard warning light, no video recording”) and what to do if there are attacks on chemical processing plants (“close the windows and do not open them unnecessarily”).

With nearly 500,000 members before Russia’s invasion, UkraineNOW was already one of the country’s biggest Telegram channels. Now a million people depend on it for updates about the war.

And it’s nice to see the Second Life community playing its part too.

Linden Lab statement on UkraineSecond Life Community
Effective Monday, we will be further supporting our eligible Ukrainian-based community members by granting them a temporary 30-day moratorium on recurring account fees such as Premium Membership and Land Maintenance fees. We will review this again after 30 days and assess what we can do as next steps where necessary. We invite any of our Ukraine-based community members to contact support with any specific questions they may have.

Second Life community rallies to help Ukraine-based creators on platformNew World Notes
This is a Google Spreadsheet of Second Life stores and website Marketplace shops owned by Ukraine-based creators on the virtual world platform. It was quickly created by SL community members within the first 24 hours of the Putin regime’s invasion of that country, with a goal of supporting these merchants with L$ purchases — which they can subsequently convert into their local currency. (Whenever, that is, they are able to find a stable Internet connection in the now-embattled region.)

Slava Ukraini! Ways to show your support for Ukraine in Second Life (and in real life, too!)Ryan Schultz
You might be surprised to learn that current events in the real world are often quickly reflected in the virtual world! The war in Ukraine is no exception, and in almost no time at all, Second Life content creators have responded! This blogpost will showcase FREE clothing and home/yard decor to allow you to express your feelings about this unwanted, unnecessary, heartbreaking war.

Sadly, not everything online is a positive influence.

Scammy Instagram ‘war pages’ are capitalizing on Ukraine conflictInput
Hayden, who claims to be a 21-year-old from Kentucky, says that after learning about the war breaking out through the hip-hop Instagram page @Rap, he saw an opportunity. He had already run a popular war page called @liveinafghanistan. More recently, he had renamed it @newstruths and pivoted to posting viral, vaguely conservative-leaning videos featuring people shoplifting and clips of President Biden. But on Wednesday night, it was wartime again, and so the page became @livefromukraine.

Seven ways to spot fake photographs of the war in UkraineThe Art Newspaper
As it turns out, this piece of video was produced in DCS, a popular flight simulator game, and was originally posted to YouTube as a tribute to the Ghost, before being repurposed and circulated online as genuine footage. The footage is purposely miscaptioned and therefore fabricated.

Russia using TikTok to spread anti-Ukraine disinformation, experts sayUSA Today
Cyabra’s analysts tracked thousands of Facebook and Twitter accounts that had recently posted about Ukraine. Researchers saw a sudden and dramatic increase in anti-Ukrainian content in the days immediately before the invasion. On Valentine’s Day, for instance, the number of anti-Ukrainian posts created by the sample of Twitter accounts jumped by 11,000% when compared with just days earlier. Analysts believe a significant portion of the accounts are inauthentic and controlled by groups linked to the Russian government. […]

Russia tailors its propaganda message for specific audiences. For Russians and pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, the message is that Russia is trying to defend its own people against Western-fueled aggression and persecution in Ukraine. Similar tactics have been used, including by Nazi Germany when it invaded Czechoslovakia under the guise of protecting ethnic Germans living there, Ludes noted.

But let’s not forget Western media is not without its flaws.

‘They seem so like us’: In depicting Ukraine’s plight, some in media use offensive comparisonsThe Washington Post
Such coverage resorts to “Orientalist concepts of ‘civilization’ that have long been present in European colonial discourse,” said Denijal Jegic, a postdoctoral researcher in communication and multimedia journalism at Lebanese American University in Beirut, in an interview. “This implicitly suggests that war is a natural phenomenon in places outside of the Euro-American sphere, and the Middle East in particular, and that war would take place because of a lack of civilization, rather than due to unjust geopolitical power distribution or foreign intervention.”

Recalling that Western media cares more about people Western countriesThe Morning News
In light of a round-up in the Washington Post of offensive descriptions in the media of the Ukraine invasion—ironic considering a headline the Post used for a George F. Will column as recently as July: “Civilized nations’ efforts to deter Russia and China are starting to add up”—an old graphic feels pertinent:

The Fox News journalist fact-checking channel’s pundits on air over UkraineThe Guardian
Last week Griffin had already corrected Fox & Friends’ Steve Doocy and lectured the Fox News host Harris Faulkner about how Joe Biden stationing troops at Ukraine’s border would have given Putin “a pretext to go into Ukraine”, but the veteran journalist stepped it up in recent days as she apparently lost patience with the opinions of some of the Fox News punditocracy.

It’s hard to know what to say.

Help for teachers and families to talk to pupils about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and how to help them avoid misinformationDfE Education Hub
Establish the facts by pointing pupils towards “trusted, reputable sources that explain the what, where, when, why and who”. It encourages teachers to challenge incorrect information when they see it and to present evidence for facts and get pupils to do the same.

How to talk to children about what’s happening in UkraineMetro News
As parents and carers we can feel like what we should be doing is giving them all of the facts and keeping them informed. But this approach can sometimes leave children feeling overwhelmed, Tania explains. ‘Children tend to be really good at spontaneous questioning. If they want to know something, they’ll ask,’ she says. But if they do ask, or you feel that they need some explanation or reassurance, it’s important to think about how you’re feeling first.

Let’s take a step back.

Ukraine Recap: the origins of Putin’s war – and why it’s not gone to planThe Conversation
Putin has also expressed his concern the Nato has reneged on a pledge after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 that it would not expand into the former Soviet republics. Whether there was indeed a formal pledge along these lines is doubtful, writes Gavin Hall of the University of Strathclyde. But what is not in doubt, writes Aldo Zammit Borda of City, University of London, is that Russia, Ukraine, the UK and US sat down and agreed that Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be respected. In return, Ukraine gave up its nuclear arsenal, at the time the third-largest in the world.

Beyond the fog of war: books to help us understand the invasion of UkraineThe Guardian
A crucial weapon that Putin’s Kremlin deployed in defanging the – albeit rickety and imperfect – democracy that grew up in Russia in the 1990s was his control of the press. No one has written about this better than Kyiv-born Peter Pomerantsev in Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible, a hilarious but terrifying account of his own career in the Russian media. Joshua Yaffa did a fantastic job of exploring how ordinary people navigated the system Putin built in Between Two Fires: Truth, Ambition and Compromise in Putin’s Russia.

But the west is very much not guiltless in supporting the corrupt systems that have bedevilled both Russia and Ukraine (anger at which drove Kyiv’s 2014 revolution). To understand how kleptocracy is enabled out of western capitals, and, above all, out of London, read Kleptopia by Tom Burgis. The oligarchs from both sides employ western lawyers, accountants and wealth managers to hide the money they stole, then spend it on property, luxury goods, fine art and more.

The best books on Ukraine and RussiaFive Books
The Soviet Union fell apart on the issue of Ukraine. The first to raise the banner of independence were the Baltic states, but they’re small countries and they’re not Slavic. The Ukrainian referendum of December 1991 didn’t ask the question of what one wanted to do with the Soviet Union, the referendum was about Ukraine only: ‘Do you want Ukraine to be independent?’ But once more than 90% of Ukrainians responded in the affirmative, the USSR was gone within a week. The Central Asian republics were really pushed out of the Soviet Union because Russia was not interested in a union with them without Ukraine. That’s the beginning of the most recent part of the story: the Soviet Union fell on the issue of Ukraine and now, if there are to be effective Russian economic, military and other spheres of influence, Ukraine is essential, like it was back in 1991.

UK universities brace for impact of sanctions against RussiaThe Guardian
Simon Marginson, a professor of higher education at the University of Oxford, said most academics would support a research boycott with heavy hearts and concerns for Russian colleagues. “All the Russian academics I know oppose the war. The internal situation in Russia will get nastier and they will need solidarity, so there is a case for maintaining ties,” he said.

What a mess. Let’s leave the last word to the Ukrainians themselves.

Thoughts, hopes and disappointments in Kyiv: a street photographer’s photos of Ukraine – 2001-2021Flashbak
Everyday moments in Kyiv before the tanks rolled in.

In the nation’s darkest hours, Ukrainians look out for each otherKyiv Independent
Civilians all across the country do whatever it takes to help each other: They deliver medicine and food for those hiding in bomb shelters. Both regular citizens and restaurant chefs prepare meals for the military, refugees, and civilians. People adopt abandoned animals and offer shelters and rides to fellow Ukrainians.

Liutyk is no exception: The girl, together with her mother and best friend, has been offering warm food and drinks for free to fleeing Ukrainians who are spending exhausting hours in lines on the border with Poland in Lviv Oblast, where she lives. “Such difficult times either break the nation or, just like in our case, unite it entirely,” Liutyk says.

Happy Twosday

So today is 20/02/2022. Time for some facts, before we get carried away.

22/02/2022 meaning: How rare a palindrome (or ambigram) date like ‘Twosday’ is and what people say it means iNews
Twosday has no real special meaning or significance, other than the date is palindromic. … There will never be a 33.03.3033 as there is not month with 33 days in it. … 22.02.2022 will never happen again.

Today also happens to be my father-in-law’s birthday. I wonder if his mother, way back in 1943, realised his 79th birthday would fall on such an unusual day. Any date in 2022 would be almost unimaginably futuristic. Have any of us given the year 2101 a thought?

Eye to eye #2

A horrible act of vandalism in a Russian art gallery occurred last December.

Vandal added eyes to figures in painting by Malevich’s studentThe Art Newspaper Russia
Anna Leporskaya’s painting “Three Figures” (1932-1934) from the collection of the State Tretyakov Gallery, provided for the exhibition “The World as Non-Objectivity. The Birth of a New Art” to the Yekaterinburg Foundation “Presidential Center of B.N. Yeltsin”, as it became known to our publication, suffered from the hands of a vandal. An unknown person drew small eyes with a ballpoint pen on the abstract faces of two figures in the picture.

A somewhat different set of art gallery eyes than Chris Eckert’s, certainly, but still a case for the local police, surely?

Russian police won’t investigate after vandal draws eyes on painting at museumARTnews
Once the damage was reported, law enforcement agencies refused to open a criminal case because there were no signs of a crime as defined by the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. Since the image did not look fundamentally different, and since the painting was no longer in Yekaterinburg at that time (it had returned to Moscow for restoration by the time police got involved), the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation sent a complaint to the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office about the refusal to initiate a criminal case. When asked about the subject, Alexander Drozdov, executive director of the Yeltsin Center, said, “We were not even slightly puzzled when police decided not to open the case, because based on their damage assessment there was no legal grounds for [an investigation]. They say ‘no,’ you obey. We’re law-abiding citizens.”

Turns out it was another inside job.

“Bored” security guard draws eyes on faceless Russian painting on his first dayIt’s Nice That
Anna Leporskaya’s Three Figures, a painting on display at the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Center, has been vandalised by a security worker, who scribbled small eyes on two of the figures with a ballpoint pen. In what is possibly one of the worst first-day-on-the-job horror stories in recent history, the security guard had apparently worked at the gallery for less than 24 hours before he drew on the painting; Three Figures is insured for approximately £740,000.

Russian gallery guard charged after drawing eyes on avant-garde painting with ballpoint penThe Art Newspaper
The guard has been fired and was last week detained by police on criminal vandalism charges. He faces a fine of up to RUB 74.9m (£738,000)—the amount the painting was insured for—and up to one year of correctional labour or up to three months in prison, according to The Times.

Bird’s eye view

Some wonderfully atmospheric images from the unlikeliest of early twentieth-century photographers — pigeons.

The turn-of-the-century pigeons that photographed Earth from aboveThe New Yorker
That perspective that is so commonplace to us now, in which the rooftops stretch out before us as though they were made of a child’s blocks, and people crawl along like ants, was a rare sight when Neubronner took his pigeon pictures. The photos offered a glimpse of the world rendered pocket-size, as it eventually would be via a hundred types of new technology—by airplanes, or skyscrapers, or Google Earth.

But there’s also something a bit wild about the photos, precisely because they were taken by birds. Their framing is random and their angles are askew; sometimes a wing feather obscures the view.

Pigeons are surely the most pedestrian of birds, but, looking at these oddly graceful photographs, or at Neubronner’s pictures of the birds looking stately and upright in their photo kits, they start to seem like heavenly creatures.

Turning noise back into sound

Whether loud or quiet, noise can be a problem. But not for everyone though, as Victoria Bates, associate professor from the University of Bristol, demonstrates.

How the noises of a hospital can become a healing soundscapePsyche Ideas
The label of ‘noise’ is attached to sounds for a wide range of reasons that go beyond loudness. A quiet sound can become noisy over time, sometimes bothering only one person who is frustrated that nobody else can hear it: a ticking clock, for example, or the rattling of an air conditioner. Loud sounds can be tuned out through familiarity. ‘Alarm fatigue’ is often experienced by staff members working in high-technology environments. […]

‘Noise is to sound what stench is to smell (and what weed is to plant) – something dissonant, unwanted, out of place, and invasive.’

A fascinating take on how to turn noise — not just an acoustic phenomenon, but an individual and social one — back into sound.

These sounds save livesVimeo
The purpose of the film was initially to promote & demystify the topics within Victoria Bates’ new book titled Making Noise in the Modern Hospital. But as we developed the script and style, we found that by broadening the audience and centering the patient experience the film could also serve a therapeutic and educational purpose. If this film can help us reframe how we hear and listen within hospitals, maybe then it can help us cope in future moments of distress or anxiety.

A visit to hospital can be a uncomfortable experience and noise is often a source of complaints. Over the years, the NHS has spent significant amounts of money on things like sound-proofing and internal communications campaigns to try and reduce noise within the hospital, but as our film makes clear – silence is never the goal.

Moving animation #2

The 2022 Oscar nominations were announced today. It’s nice to see Dune doing well, but I loved the way a recent Aeon newsletter coincidentally highlighted this Oscar-nominated film — from the late 1960s.

An Oscar-nominated animation that celebrates walking with humansPsyche Films
Walking by the Canadian animator and artist Ryan Larkin (1943-2007) made an indelible mark in the history of animation in 1968 with its innovative combination of drawing and colourwash techniques. The film was nominated for an Oscar® and seemed to augur a bright future for Larkin. However, he made only one more film – Street Musique (1972) – before a long run of drug addiction, alcoholism and destitution.

Wonderfully hypnotic — perhaps an influence on Universal Everything’s walker? A troubled soul, though, as this incredible Oscar-winning animation shows so effectively.

Artistic genius and fragility intersect in this surreal, Oscar®-winning animationAeon Videos
This experimental animation from 2004 finds fellow animator Chris Landreth interviewing Larkin about his brief, storied animation career before confronting him about his alcoholism. Rendered in a world where emotional scars manifest themselves as surreal physical aberrations, Ryan is a strange and striking glimpse into Larkin’s life, including the sometimes fraught relationship between creativity and mental health. Ryan won the 2005 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. Following the film’s completion, Larkin revived his animation career before dying from cancer in 2007.

I think I remember that film when it was first out. I’m so glad I’ve had a chance to revisit it now. And Chris Landreth’s other films are well worth a look too.

My type of calendar

I was going through my old bookmarks and randomly came across one from 2014, a link to a now-forgotten Etsy printable typewriter desk calendar thing. I’m not looking for a 2014 calendar at the moment, but I tried the link anyway. Not only did the link still work, but it redirected to an updated 2022 version.

2022 DIY printable paper desk calendar papercraftEtsy UK
Here’s a quaint little 3D Paper Desk Calendar for your mantelpiece, table-top or shelf… in the form of a typewriter, with 12 month cards with dates for 2022. The body of the calendar is like a miniature vintage typewriter, complete with realistic details.

Comes in yellow, too.

Just goes to show, you can’t keep a good typewriter down.

Minting messages of opposition

Time for more Olympics posters. Unlike those from last year’s Paralympics, these are certainly not official.

Badiucao launches NFT collection to protest against China’s human rights record on eve of Beijing Winter OlympicsThe Art Newspaper
The dissident artist Badiucao—dubbed the Chinese Banksy—is launching a “protest NFT collection” criticising the Chinese government’s record on human rights ahead of the Winter Olympics in Beijing which begin on 4 February.

Beijing 2022 NFT Collection
The first NFT project from Chinese dissident artist Badiucao, the Beijing 2022 Collection includes five works of art depicting the Chinese government’s oppression of the Tibetan people, the Uyghur genocide, the dismantling of democracy in Hong Kong, the regime’s omnipresent surveillance systems, and lack of transparency surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here’s looking at you, Vincent

There’s a new Van Gogh exhibition in London.

Van Gogh. Self-PortraitsThe Courtauld
Van Gogh. Self-Portraits takes as its springboard Van Gogh’s iconic Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, one of the most celebrated works in The Courtauld’s collection, and will bring together around half of the self-portraits Van Gogh created during his short years as a painter. This will be the first time that the full span of Van Gogh’s self-portraiture has been explored in an exhibition. Several works in the exhibition were last together in Van Gogh’s studio and have never been reunited, until now.

I very much like the sound of it. It’s great to see one of my favourite portraits of his is included.

Van Gogh Self-Portraits at the Courtauld Gallery review: beg, borrow or steal, you have to see thisEvening Standard
It would be easy to phone-in a Van Gogh self-portraits show, but the Courtauld’s is rigorous and thoughtful, with smart pairings and groupings. And it has a compelling argument: that we inevitably see the artist’s paintings of himself through the prism of his mental health and suicide, but they should instead be seen as him pursuing a unique artistic language despite rather than because of his illness. Yes, they were vehicles for expression, but it was a more rational pursuit rather than one governed only by torment.

‘Magical, mysterious and electrifyingly intimate’ – Van Gogh: Self-Portraits reviewThe Guardian
One of the star attractions in the collection of the Courtauld Gallery in London is Vincent van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, which was painted in January 1889. The artist had mutilated his left ear two days before Christmas, following a quarrel with Paul Gauguin, with whom he had been sharing a house in Arles. Van Gogh looks pale and introspective, clean-shaven, dressed for the winter chill in his yellow room, an easel behind him and a Japanese print on the wall (the Courtauld owns this print, too, but it was stolen in the 1980s and never recovered). The Dutch artist has the hunted look of a man not yet ready to re-enter the world, except through his painting. The open blue door on the right is the same blue door that appears in the picture of his straw-bottomed yellow chair, which now hangs in the same room at the Courtauld. You can take the chair as a kind of self-portrait, too. It is as if he has stepped out for a second, leaving his pipe and tobacco pouch on the seat.

A trip down to the capital is in order, I think. And whilst we’re there, we might visit this other Van Gogh exhibition. It takes a very different approach, similar to that one in Paris.

Van Gogh Exhibition: The Immersive Experience – London
Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience is a 20,000 square foot light and sound spectacular featuring two-story projections of the artist’s most compelling works. Encounter the brilliance of one of history’s greatest artists in 360 degrees.

Your first look at the eye-popping, immersive Van Gogh exhibitionTime Out
As you can see from the photos, Van Gogh’s paintings are beamed hyper-sharp all over the floors and walls, using dozens of cutting-edge projectors. The all-encompassing sight of iconic works like Starry Night and Wheatfield with Crows (complete with flying birds, natch) knock a lot of socks off (particularly when augmented and combined with VR headsets).

Can’t keep a good Maus down

As surely as night …

‘Maus’ Holocaust novel removed from classrooms by school boardThe New York Times
The board voted unanimously to remove the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel from classrooms because it contained swear words, according to minutes from the meeting. […]

After reading the minutes of the meeting, Mr. Spiegelman said he got the impression that the board members were asking, “Why can’t they teach a nicer Holocaust?”

… follows day.

Maus sales spike after Tennessee school board banHyperallergic
The board’s decision is part of a wider trend of book banning in schools across the country. Books about gender and sexuality, race, and social inequality have been banned from public schools in Idaho, Oklahoma, Texas, Iowa, South Carolina, and other conservative states.

In an interview with CNBC last week, Spiegelman said he was “baffled” by the ban and called the school board’s behavior “Orwellian.”

Meanwhile, readers have voted with their wallets, giving Maus bestseller status more than four decades after it was first published.

When it comes to stress, we’re all birdbrains?

Another stressful Monday in the office? Let the birds from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology put things into perspective for us.

What can we learn about stress from birdsCornell Lab of Ornithology: YouTube
Stress is a common part of modern life, and everyone has experienced its negative effects. Many people even suffer health impacts from chronic stress. So why do we stress out when facing challenges? Research in birds is helping us to discover when natural selection favors a strong stress response, and when it is better to stay calm.

History, homeward bound (hopefully)

That recent post about the not-really-“homecoming” of the Nedra Sky Disc got me thinking about those culturally significant artefacts and paintings that really do need to go home. Here’s a brief list of recent articles from The Art Newspaper to get us started. I’m sure there are unfortunately many more.

Austria takes first step to return artefacts from colonial eraThe Art Newspaper
Though country was not a colonial power, major museums in Vienna have acquisitions of colonial goods.

German museums may have thousands of looted relics from China’s Imperial Palace, research group believesThe Art Newspaper
Collaborative research by major German institutions may expose huge amounts of Chinese objects taken during Boxer Rebellion.

Nigeria seeks to calm tensions over return of Benin bronzesThe Art Newspaper
Government museums body takes control of repatriated artefacts after ruler of Benin challenges new trust set up to unify Nigerian claimants.

Germany returns Nazi-looted, Dutch Golden Age painting to Jewish dealer’s heir—but more than 800 works are still missingThe Art Newspaper
Ice Skating by Adam van Breen was acquired by Hermann Göring, Adolf Hitler’s second-in-command, and bequeathed to the city of Trier’s museum in 1987.

Heavenly maps, henges and hats

Whenever I hear news of artefacts being returned home, I immediately assume they’re leaving these shores, not coming back.

British Museum hails ‘homecoming’ of world’s oldest map of the starsEvening Standard
The British Museum has welcomed the “homecoming” of the Nebra Sky Disc which features Cornish gold to their Stonehenge exhibition. The piece is 3,600 years old and is said to be the world’s oldest surviving map of the stars. The 30cm bronze disc with a blue-green patina is decorated with inlaid gold symbols thought to represent the sun, moon, stars, the solstices and the Pleiades constellation.

That ‘homecoming’ word is doing a lot of work in this case, as it’s just the gold that is thought to come from Britain, not the disc itself. Still, it’s a beautiful Bronze Age (Iron Age?) map (clock?) and part of what looks to be a fascinating exhibition.

The World of Stonehenge slated for exhibition in 2022Fine Books & Collections
The world of Stonehenge (17 February – 17 July 2022) is the UK’s first ever major exhibition on the story of Stonehenge. Key loans coming to the British Museum and announced for the first time today include: Britain’s most spectacular grave goods which were unearthed in the shadow of Stonehenge; elaborate ancient gold hats depicting the cosmos; and the astonishing wooden monument – dubbed Seahenge – that recently emerged after millennia from the sands of a Norfolk beach.

Seahenge? What’s that?

SeahengeExplore Norfolk
Seahenge was so called by the media as it resembled Stonehenge in Wiltshire. It’s a huge tree stump that was buried upside down with its roots upper most, and surrounding this tree stump were 55 timber posts, which had been cut from smaller oaks in the surrounding area. It must be remembered, of course, that 4000 years ago Holme beach was a salt marsh, not a sandy beach. Some say the upturned tree stump was put there so dead bodies could be laid on top and birds and animals could then pick away at the flesh and bones. Gradually, over 3000-4000 years (!) the sea has encroached the land and covered the peat beds which were naturally preserving the timbers. The exact purpose of the timber circle has never quite been determined.

There are some clearer images of it from within Assassin’s Creed, bizarrely.

But going back to that article from Fine Books & Collections, what was it saying about those gold hats?

Newly revealed today as going on show in the exhibition are two rare and remarkable gold cone-shaped hats – the Schifferstadt gold hat from Germany and the Avanton gold cone from France. This is the very first time either will have been seen in Britain. These are decorated with elaborate solar motifs that reflect the religious importance of the sun during this era. Only two other examples of these hats are known to have survived. Serving as headgear during ceremonies or rituals, they perhaps imbued the wearer with divine or otherworldly status. Carefully buried alone or accompanied by axes, rather than interred with the deceased, it seems they were held in trust for the community. Similar motifs are to be found on a belt plate on loan from the National Museum of Denmark. This example, and others like it, was found on the stomach of a woman buried in Scandinavia. It’s conical central point might represent the same concept as the sun hat, but in miniature form.

Feeling hungry? #3

Plenty of food for thought here, with this photography series from Peter Menzel. He and writer Faith D’Alusio travelled the world, documenting what an average family typically eats in a week, and what it costs.

Hungry Planet portrait galleryPeter Menzel

This article in The Guardian pairs a selection of the photos with a line on how much the families spend each week on their food bill.

Hungry Planet: What the World EatsThe Guardian
Californian photographer Peter Menzel visited 24 countries for the book Hungry Planet. From the Aboubakar family, from Darfur, Sudan, who spend 79p feeding six people, to a German family who spend around £320, his work shows how much the world’s weekly groceries cost

The differences are quite startling. Food for thought, indeed.

Combating art crime

From stolen golden toilets and botched Dalí robberies, to fake Banksy NFTs and almost entirely fake museums, the scale of art crime is enormous. How do you tackle all this?

How does the FBI Art Crime team operate?Hyperallergic
Though high-profile art thefts certainly still happen — in March 2020, for example, a masterpiece by Vincent van Gogh was stolen from a Dutch museum that was temporarily closed under pandemic lockdown — the publicity generated around the theft of important works hinders their resale. The FBI Art Crime Team maintains a public “Top 10 Art Crimes” list inspired by the FBI’s “10 Most Wanted Fugitives” list, which has been around since 1950. Topping the list are artifacts looted from Iraq in 2003 — many of which have been recovered and repatriated, though thousands of returns remain outstanding — and the infamous Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Heist, which involved the theft of an estimated $500 million of paintings in a single night in 1990; despite the museum’s offer of a $10 million reward, the crime remains unsolved more than three decades later.

Did you know there are more than 52,000 items on Interpol’s Stolen Works of Art database? Thankfully, there’s an app for that.

You can now report stolen art using Interpol’s new appHyperallergic
A new mobile app launched by Interpol, the global criminal police organization, aims to help identify and track stolen art and cultural property. The ID-Art app provides real-time access to the agency’s Stolen Works of Art database, an international archive of more than 52,000 objects verified to be missing along with images, descriptions, and certified police reports.

I was wondering if they got anywhere with that stolen Van Gogh from March 2020. It turns out they did.

Man sentenced to eight years in prison for theft of van Gogh and Hals paintingsARTnews.com
A Dutch man was sentenced to eight years in prison for stealing paintings by Vincent van Gogh and Frans Hals in 2020. In its ruling on Friday, the Central Netherlands Court also said the that the man, who was not identified in the sentencing, must pay €8.73 million ($10.2 million) to the owner of the Hals painting. Both the Hals and the van Gogh paintings remain missing.