Comments on Mark Dion exhibit

The exhibit employed scientific methods of classification to look at the relationship between humans and nature, with the apparent overarching theme that nature can easily undo man’s work. These were particularly evident in the exhibit where the birds were kept in a large cage with books, and the excavation of various small objects buried by the river.  The exhibit is largely light hearted and humorous, but has some dark undertones towards the end, such as the photos of polar bears shown as various museums, where the author reminds us that in time these may be the only way to see the animals.

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Reflection on Mark Dion and ideas for final project

Reflection on Mark Dion’s exhibition

What I found most interesting for Mark Dion’s work is his appropriation of the scientific methods of collecting and categorizing species to convey the problematic nature of such hierarchical evaluation system. The staircase that displays and ranks living things and objects satirizes Aristotle’s classification of living things. The conception of human’s superiority over other species is the key to human’s exploitation of nature and the consequence of ecological disaster. Many of his works are political and poignant because of the things he collected and the ways he displayed them. He questioned and challenged our perception of value and our relationship with nature. What is valuable? What is worth collecting? Seeing his meticulous application of the familiar means of evaluating, categorizing and displaying to things we normally deem as useless, such as trash and waste, I could not help to question that the nature of value may be a fabricated concept to keep the structure of the society, and the irrationality hidden behind the seemingly rational scientific discoveries. Ultimately, the nature we are so entangled with and obsessed with, is indifferent to us, like how the birds shitting on the piles of books about birds. However, nature is also vulnerable to our acts. Our relationship with nature is like a mirror that reflects the good and bad of human, and ultimately, determines our fate as a specie.

Sketch Ideas for the Final Project

Alan Berger defined the term “drosscape” as waste land generated in the process of horizontal urbanization and deindustrialization in the post-Fordism cities. In his book “Drosscape”, he developed an approach of representation to document and analyze the waste land in the periphery of cities, including aerial photographs, graphs and maps. The collection of images reveals the pervasive conditions of wasting land in the context of urbanization in U.S.

I am intrigued by this concept of drosscape, and am interested in documenting it from a more experiential point of view. Walking through the city, the changing scale of infrastructure, street view, and visual cues such as demographics, styles of storefront can all be decoded as readings of socio- and economic condition of the neighborhood. The boundary between nature and industry, urban and suburban, rich and poor, commercial and residential are interesting sites for investigating and documenting conflicts and contradictions of social implications.

Identified from Google Map, I am interested in photographing the waterfront area around Assembly Row. I found the landscape extremely interesting because it is a mixture of industrial sites for energy production, stripe malls, luxury and cheap residential buildings.

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fires of revolution

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The political photograph that has had the greatest impact on me is that of South Vietnamese monk Thich Quang Duc self-immolating in a Saigon intersection in 1963. This image shocks me because I do not know how to comprehend it. In the West, our only major precedents for staged death by fire are punitive, not self-inflicted. Historically, Westerners burned witches and heretics, condemning those they believed to be destined for the eternal fires of hell to temporal pyres of Earth. But I cannot imagine even the boldest martyr choosing to die by fire. It just seems too horrible.

Yet Duc was not alone in his act of resistance. Several other South Vietnamese monks soon followed his example, burning themselves in protest of the oppression of Buddhists under (American-backed) President Ngo Dinh Diem. More recently, Mohamed Bouazizi set himself afire in protest of the injustice he suffered under an autocratic regime, producing the spark that ignited the Arab Spring. (And his death, too, produced a martyr’s Werther effect, as several similar self-immolations took place in quick succession across the Middle East.)

Duc’s sacrifice was the beginning of the end for Diem’s regime. As this and subsequent scenes of political protest and police brutality spread around the world, the dialectic image of Diem’s “democratic” state standing up against Ho Chi Minh’s Communist North Vietnam became impossible to maintain. The regime’s international reputation foundered, the U.S. withdrew its support, and Diem and his brother were killed in a coup soon after. Bouazizi, of course, also ignited a revolutionary spark – one of even greater consequence.

Both of these revolutionary courses of events were aided by photography. Malcolm Browne’s gruesome photographs of a sitting monk aflame, followed by other images of South Vietnamese protest and oppression, strengthened resistance to the Diem regime and turned world opinion definitively against it. In the age of social media, Bouazizi became the face of the Arab Spring, a martyr and a revolutionary. (Though Tunisian dictator Zine Abidine Ben Ali’s own attempt to use photography to his advantage was less effectual. In late December, his government released an image of Ben Ali visiting Bouazizi in the hospital; but it was too little, too late.)

Readings 31/10

The readings all consider the concept of archiving. Many touch upon the idea that the archive, much like photography, is commonly seen as objective because it purports to represent reality as it is. However, this is not the case as context is important, and the organisation of the information, specifically the decision to include or omit information, shows the bias of its creator. This leads to the often quoted phrase “history is written by the victors” not only in the case of wars and conflict, but even within a society the collection of information is often related to the upper class, and as such can be snobbish and not fully representative of even the intention of the photographers, who are referred to as the “proletarians of creation”.

These images are from the sit-in protest (dharna) organized by two Pakistani political parties over disputes with the government during the latter half of 2014. Particularly the PTI, led by Imran Khan contested the legitimacy of the elections held a year ago and was thus pressurizing the government to step down. These are the first enduring televised protests in Pakistan and I believe that the images stand testament to the altered nature of   dissent and populism as influenced by simulacra.

Particularly, these images begin to be encoded more as symbolic than representational. Gone is the singular hero pitched in an iconographic against a Goliath. Instead what we see here is a confusion between reality, representation and language. Instead of capturing action, television created action. Coverage was provided round the clock in increasing registers of panic and euphoria. In fact when the protestors stormed the state television building one day, their actions were re-enacting those of the soldiers every time that martial law was declared in Pakistan. They seemed to be looking for the talismanic power of the government which continued to evade them.

‘Perhaps they thought Youtube was hiding inside’, quipped Twitter referring to the site’s ban in Pakistan at the time.

Infact, both marches were even named after albums of the most popular rock band of the generation, Junoon: Azadi (freedom) and Inquilab (revolution)

However, by trying to emulate protests and revolutions that the participants had indirectly consumed, they did arrive at a form of crude populism. Seeing as the forces behind this populism were unthinking nationalism, support for the military establishment and other right wing regressive beliefs, it was a chilling reminder that the anatomy of genuine protest is more complex than its outward appearance.

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Kashmir Mourns Its Martyr

**This post contains graphic images**

Burhan Wani was the Chief Commander of Hizbul Mujahideen which is an armed Kashmiri separatist group. In 2016, he was killed in an encounter with the Indian Army. The Indian Government subsequently released images of his corpse which went viral amongst the Kashmiri youth. The gruesome image shows him lying motionless on what appears to be a hospital bed. His clothes are stained with blood, probably from the bullet wounds that he sustained during the gun-battle.

Wani was only 22 years old when he was killed by the Indian security forces. The story of his transformation from a cricket-loving teenage boy to an armed folk hero is a quintessential Kashmiri tale; an armed insurgency clashing against an iron-fisted regime, giving birth to a vicious cycle of violence. His struggle was relatable and he became the face of the countless Kashmiris enduring a police state. Contrary to government’s intentions of intimidating them, Burhan Wani became a rallying cry for the people of Kashmir. The civil unrest that followed left 90 dead, 15,000 civilians, and 4,000 security personnel injured.

Feature Image Credit: Danish Ismail-Reuters

 

Image Source: ANI

Icelandic Women on Strike

Nordic Countries are known to be the some of the best countries to live if you are a woman. When ranked by human rights, gender quality, income equality and safety, Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway are always at the top of the list. As a Nordic woman, I’m proud of the region, but I know that the steps we have taken towards equality haven’t been without struggle. There have been multiple generations that have protested publicly and in the home, and women have worked hard to raise boys to respect women and treat them with dignity.

1975 was declared International Women’s Year by The United Nations. In Iceland that year, multiple women’s rights organizations planned events; one was a general strike. The strike was later called a Day Off so that women taking part wouldn’t be fired from their jobs for taking part.

On October 24, 1975, ninety percent of Icelandic women in cities and rural areas, didn’t show up to work to show the importance of women’s work in the nations economy, and to draw attention to wage inequality and unfair hiring practices. But Icelandic women didn’t just avoid their jobs, they also left housework and childcare for men and gathered in Reykjavik for a rally which lasted until midnight.

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According to Wikipedia The women achieved their goal of showing Iceland their value by essentially shutting down the country for a day. There was no telephone service and newspapers were not printed since the typesetters were all women. Theatres shut down for the day as actresses refused to work. The majority of teachers were women so schools either closed or ‘operated at limited capacity.’ Flights got cancelled since the flight attendants did not come into work and bank executives had to work as tellers to keep the banks open on this day. Fish factories were closed since the factory workers were primarily women.”

A year later Iceland’s parliament passed gender equality laws and five years later, Iceland became the first nation to democratically elect a female president: Vigdis Finnbogadottir. When describing the Day Off in 1975 to the BBC, Finnbogadottir said “Things went back to normal the next day, but with the knowledge that women are as well as men the pillars of society. So many companies and institutions came to a halt and it showed the force and necessity of women – it completely changed the way of thinking.”

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The Day Off tradition continues in Iceland. In 2005, women strikers left their jobs at 2:08pm – trimming a regular workday to correspond with the average annual income gap between men and women. By 2010, women left their jobs at 2:25pm and in 2016, 2:38pm. Even in Iceland, the country many experts consider the world’s leader in gender equity, the gender pay gap persists.

 

Political conflict in Thailand 2006-?

Thailand has been a country in regular political turmoil. since 1932, there have been 11 successful military coups and 7 unsuccessful ones (1). The country is a constitutional monarchy, but there are strict laws prohibiting speaking negatively about the royal family. In 2001 Prime Minister Thaksin Shiniwatra’s TRT party won the elections on what many argue as populist policies aimed at gaining the vote of the rural poor. They win again in 2005, and in 2006 the Shinawatra family sells off a large stake of its telecommunications company to Singapore(2), and there are murmurs of dissatisfaction against him concerning corruptions and conflict of interest, particularly from the middle and upper class who mostly reside in the capital Bangkok. These are known as the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD). By March 2006 there are large scale protests in the streets numbering 10’s of thousands, and in September a bloodless military coup removes Thaksin from power.

The TRT party then reforms as the PPP (without Thaksin), and again win elections in December 2007. By May 2008 the PAD are again holding large scale protests round the clock for months, and in November stage sit-ins at both major Bangkok airports, stranding travellers. The parliament deems the 2007 election win of the PPP as invalid, and the opposition (supported by the PAD) is installed as prime minister. This sparks protests by Thaksin supporters, who came to be known as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD). By 2009 there are violent clashes between the PAD and the UDD, and 2 are killed.

By March 2010 the UDD are occupying the streets in the main shopping area of Bangkok, much like the PAD occupied the airports previously. This ends in May 2010 when troops storm the camp and 91 are killed. In 2011 there is another election and the Pheu Thai party wins. Thaksin’s sister becomes prime minister. Between June and November the anti-Thaksin groups continue to protest (3). In 2014 there is another coup, and the military controls the government. In October 2016, the king of Thailand Rama IX, who was well regarded and often seen as a calming force in the country’s politics, passes away and the throne is passed onto his son, who is much less respected in the country. Which brings us roughly to today.

To my knowledge there were no single iconic images associated with these protests, but those for and against the Shinawatra family could be easily identified: the latter were often wore yellow to represent their loyalty to the king, while the former wear red, chosen simply to contrast the colour of the yellow shirts. The conflict in many ways has come down to polar opposites in this way: urban vs rural, populist vs traditionalist, and in the end simplified to the red shirts vs the yellow shirts.

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Massive gatherings of people wearing each of these colours have become quite symbolic to the people in Thailand, to the point where (for example) yellow shirts are reluctant to wear their favourite football jerseys (Manchester united, Liverpool, Arsenal) for fear of being identified as the “wrong” team.

In many ways this conflict has been similar to the recent Trump election. After all, Thaksin was initially elected on a platform of improving the economic situation of the north and northeast rural areas of Thailand, while shunning the urban voters. Despite being removed from power multiple times, his allies continued to win elections, and we will have to see whether the US will also come to show this pattern.

 

(1) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2013/12/03/thailand-has-had-more-coups-than-any-other-country-this-is-why/?utm_term=.26c534d81df6

(2) http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/asiapcf/07/01/thailand.timeline/index.html

(3) http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-15641745