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Subverting American Apparel: an interview with the amazing Nancy Upton
09.11.2011
02:25 pm
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You might have seen the name Nancy Upton trending online in the last few days. After taking offence at the language in a recent talent-hunt campaign by American Apparel (a company whose image is already a source of much controversy, and who are looking for a plus-size model to advertise their new range), Nancy decided to do some satirical beauty shots of herself sexily consuming food and enter them into the contest. Well, the photos came out very well and have proved wildly popular with the public, who have voted Nancy into first place in the competition (even though she has stated that she would not accept the prize if the judges chose her to win). 

All in all this is a pretty awesome story, which touches on female sexual empowerment, body image, sexist corporate branding and the acceptability of sizeism within the mainstream. I sent Nancy some brief questions for Dangerous Minds, and she was kind enough to answer them in some detail:

How did you feel about American Apparel before their “plus size” competition? What was it about this particular campaign that made you want to enter?

I feel like they’ve always gone above and beyond other companies in objectifying women. Basically it was the fact that they were trying to take advantage of a new market but make it seem like they were doing people a favor. I answered this a bit with my Daily Beast article.

“The company was co-opting the mantra of plus-size empowerment and glazing it with its unmistakable brand of female objectification. The puns, the insulting, giggly tones, and the over-used euphemisms for fat that were scattered throughout the campaign’s solicitation began to crystalize an opinion in my mind.
...
American Apparel was going to try to use one fat girl as a symbol of apology and acceptance to a demographic it had long insisted on ignoring, while simultaneously having that girl (and a thousand other girls) shill their products.”

 

 

What’s your reaction to being voted no. 1 by the public?

Complete and utter shock. I never expected to actually be accepted into the contest, and I certainly never expected for people (other than friends who knew what I was doing and why I was doing it) to want me to win.

You’ve taken a bit of flack for supposedly insulting large women with the pics - how do you respond to that?

It’s actually very upsetting for me to hear from women that they feel insulted by what I did. I feel like, being a plus-sized woman myself, it should be very apparent that the photos are done to mock people who are the ones judging overweight men and women. Also, that they were done in the spirit of silly shenanigans and having fun being yourself. I feel like watching a plus-sized model get brutally airbrushed or only shot from one specific, slimming angle for an ad campaign is way more insulting. It’s interesting that by insulting a company that has a history of negativity towards women, I’ve managed to insult the same women the company marginalizes.

You have already said that if you do win you wouldn’t accept the prize - but wouldn’t it be better if you did?

Would it be better? I’m not sure. I wouldn’t appear for American Apparel because I disagree with their business practices, specifically their system of advertising. I feel like putting your face on a product or brand you can’t actually get behind is pretty gross. I’m also not sure it would send a great message. I feel like I’ve had an opportunity to make a statement about standing up (or at least satirizing) for what you believe in, and if I turned around and accepted a job from AA, that statement would be negated to a degree.
 

 
Do you have any favourite other models in the comp you think should win?

I’m not going to play favorites, but I definitely think the person chosen should ACTUALLY be unknown, especially since there’s no monetary compensation. Some of the women in the competition not only had modeling experience, but are actually signed with agencies. I’ve always been under the impression that once you have representation, you should avoid contests and stunts like this. But what the hell do I know about the world of modeling?

What do you think as to how large people are treated in mainstream culture and fashion in general, and is there anything anyone can do to affect this?

I feel like it’s a dialogue/presence that is always in a flux between shrinking and expanding. For every “fat best friend” throw away character on television, we get one who is brilliantly written and portrayed. Increasingly we see different shapes and looks being incorporated into major ad campaigns and runway work. Are large people treated well across the board? No. Has their level of representation and respect grown from where it was 10 years ago? Yes.

I think people are becoming more and more outspoken about the role of the plus-sized model in fashion, as well as in other aspects of entertainment and art. If we continue to keep those lines of communication open and express our desires directly and dynamically, change will happen.
 

 
Are there any designers/labels/outlets you think DO respect plus size people?

I think some designers have cuts that are more generous or have become more generous as time has gone on. Diane Von Furstenberg, for example. I believe they go up to a 14 now, as does Kate Spade, which is interesting considering their clothing line isn’t even the company’s main selling point.

I’m a big fan of the Dove campaigns. They’re very natural and don’t feel patronizing or cheap. They’re honest, simple and encourage individuality. The Gentlewoman had a great article on Adele earlier this year, and I’m a big fan of the way they profile strong, interesting women in their magazine. Target has a great selection of sizes and, I swear, every time I walk in there, the clothes are better and better.

And finally the photographs are beautiful - can you tell us more about the photographer?

Shannon Skloss, the magnificent. She has a website that will be launching soon, but for now you can find her business page on Facebook. She’s incredibly funny, vibrant and talented. We had so much fun on the shoot, and her work is just outstanding. We were introduced through a mutual friend when I needed some headshots done a few months ago, and I’m so glad it worked out that way.

Voting has now closed on the American Apparel “Next Big Thing” campaign, though we await with interest any kind of statement from the company. Shannon Skloss’ Facebook photography page is here.

 

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile
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09.11.2011
02:25 pm
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The End of Work: A conversation with Charles Hugh Smith

Charles Hugh Smith, author of Survival+ and An Unconventional Guide to Investing in Troubled Times discusses why the Great Recession is here to stay, the structural unemployment that will affect many people and the future of the US economy. Plus, investing your money and time in your own life and in your own community and not getting burned by a publicly traded company you’ve never personally visited. Charles Hugh Smith blogs daily at Of Two Minds.com.
 

 

READ ON
Posted by Richard Metzger
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09.03.2011
11:19 pm
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Greenmeme: The (profoundly) eco-conscious artforms of Brian Howe and Freya Bardell
08.29.2011
03:38 pm
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Above, Greenmeme’s Freya Bardell constructing “Migration of the Marine Tumbleweed.”


Brian Howe and Freya Bardell work under the studio name Greenmeme, a cross-disciplinary design collective, based in Los Angeles. Bardell and Howe create site-specific artistic environments that encourage the public to participate and think, promoting both environmental and cultural awareness of given landscapes and ecosystems. Through their public artworks they can hope to provoke creative dialogue about deep ecological issues that matter to all of us.

I recently caught up with Freya Bardell over email:

Richard Metzger: What is your “River Liver” installation about?

Freya Bardell: The first “River Liver” was created in 2005 in the Los Angeles River, seeking to raise awareness of the many ecological and cultural conditions that line its concrete banks. Since that time, the “River Liver” project has become a yearly ritual, designed to “restore” the health of different types of stressed and polluted bodies of water. “River Livers” are functional sculptures, made through community events. They take place “down by the river,” in communities where doing so is not normal.
 

 
We encourage people to create their own River Livers, based around developing community strategies for culturally and ecologically reclaiming their water resources. River Livers re-mediate their environment but ,most often, we see the most significant remediation within ourselves, walking away with new friendships based in an enthusiasm to come together and pro-actively clean and reclaim our environment.

Richard Metzger: How many locations have you installed in 5 years?

Freya Bardell: Beyond the yearly Los Angeles River ritual, we have installed a series in Stowe Lake and we are planning a 2012 launch of one on the Trinity River, Dallas, TX.

As I keep mentioning our work is site specific, and therefore we were excited to have the opportunity to utilize the paddle boat culture on the Stowe Lake in our artwork by inviting the public to hook the River Livers onto their paddle boats and tow them to different parts of the lake that they thought needed remediation.

Coming up in Dallas, there will be something totally different. We’re anxious to delve into the site history and see what emerges. Maybe we could create more of an atoll or invite people to inhabit one of the islands. We have to get there first and see.
 

“Migration of the Marine Tumbleweed” in Santa Monica bay.

Richard Metzger: That amazing glowing, floating trash project you did for the big Glow festival in the Santa Monica bay was also, obviously, about water. What is the connection, if any between these two pieces?

Freya Bardell: We are particularly interested in the environmental and cultural systems at play around our studio and in the city we live in. The ideas that watersheds and air-sheds, cross all kinds physical, political and economic boundaries, picking up all kinds of crap on the way and depositing it out into the oceans or into the atmosphere. The “River Liver” projects looks at the source of these contaminants. Other projects, such as the “Migration of the Marine Tumbleweed,” the one you saw off the beach in Santa Monica look at the collection points of these toxic sources, pollutants gathering in the pacific ocean at the “the trash vortex” or “great pacific gyre”. The project is essentially a story that talks about plastic pollution in our oceans.  In the narrative we reconstruct tiny pieces of plastic pollution into fictitous sea creatures, that evolved from the toxic soup of plastic and electronic parts which litter the vortex. The Mum, Dad and Baby tumbleweeds, communicated through a light based language to a team of “scientists” from the “Center for Marine Intelligence,” who could decode to those at the Glow festival the tales of their journey from the vortex
 

Above, the Environmental Learning Center project, recently completed, at the Hyperion Treatment Plant in Los Angeles.

A third piece in the theme of watersheds, water usage and waste water it our latest project, “Hyperion-Son of Uranus,” a giant 3D topographical map of the Los Angeles sewer system. Based upon the Thomas Guide grid of Los Angeles County, reclaimed Caltrans road signs have been made to represent levels of sewer infrastructure lying beneath LA County.

Richard Metzger: What led you both in your careers to do work like this? There’s almost no precedent for the sort of interdisciplinary environmental and scientific blend of the art you make. How did you get into, or even create this field you’re in?

Freya Bardell: I studied Environmental Science in Manchester, UK and my first job was designing and constructing learning gardens for the Lancashire Wildlife Trust. Life led me to Los Angeles and I began my professional career here as art director. Brian comes from architecture and earthship building. I think the meshing of these various disciplines has helped mold our studio and the type of projects we feel compelled to create. We often work with teams of experts to help us overcome some of the more challenging technical aspects of our work.

Richard Metzger: Is it often major corporations and their foundations who underwrite your grants or do the budgets come from the local governments in areas where you work?

Freya Bardell: Our first projects were actually self-funded, in kind donations, small stipends from artwalks, and some private commissions. With a small portfolio of environmental art, we began applying for art grants the first of which was for $500, then $1000. Most of our projects have been funded though local governments such as The Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. The projects are very site specific. We rarely have an idea of a form before we have a site, before we understand the environmental and cultural factors at play and most importantly, who will be the audience.

Richard Metzger: Knowing the long, long lead-time and planning stages it entails to pull off the kinds of projects you do, from finding the money to actually planning them out and constructing them, I’m wondering what your next projects are?

Freya Bardell: Our most current projects have incredibly long time frames, some not being installed until 2015 or later. We are designing the first traffic roundabout in the City of Los Angeles at the confluence of the LA River and the Arroyo Seco. Water will be a major element within the 100’ diameter roundabout. Underneath the roundabout is a water catchment cistern that captures rainwater and run-off hitting the roundabout. This water will be used to irrigate a California native landscape. Throughout the landscape will be nine large stone sculptures.
 

Above, a visualization of Greenmeme’s “Climate Clock” proposal.

We’re spending the rest of the summer developing our proposal for the San Jose Climate Clock competition, a 100-year instrument to aid in the visualization of Climate Change in the Bay Area. We were selected as finalists over two years ago, and since then we have been refining the prototype of our proposal with the University of California Natural Reserve system and Stanford University to develop an artist-in-residency program within their high-tech field stations. Our main focus in this phase is the Blue Oak Ranch Reserve, a NRS Field Station near San Jose. There we have already begun a respectful transformation of a 100-year-old cabin into the first studio space for our art-science residency program. This will become the site for the first in series of yearly artist residencies over the next 100 years.

Richard Metzger: You certainly do plan things out well in advance, don’t you?

Freya Bardell: Yes, I think you can safely say that!
 

Posted by Richard Metzger
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08.29.2011
03:38 pm
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George Jackson: Soledad Brother 40 years later


 
Forty years after his death, George Jackson continues to reflect different things to different people depending on their ideologies and experiences.

To some, Jackson was a renowned author, Marxist, and activist truth-teller who brought the injustices of the American experience in and out of prison into harsh light as the once-vibrant ‘60s faded to a disillusioned and bloody end.

To others, he was a career criminal and prisoner turned violent radical whose acts and incitements brought misery to many and resulted in the kind of revolutionary martyrdom now worshiped by Islamicists and Tea Party extremists.

In a society that both thrives on a fundamental class-based inequality and manages to keep its prison population of 2 million over 40% black, Jackson remains a figure of some relevance, however legendary. Perhaps the best way to get a picture of the man is to read his words in Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson

On the ideological side of things, here’s George Jackson - 40 year commemoration, a video produced by Jonathan Jackson Jr:
 

 
After the jump: George Jackson in context, and Bob Dylan’s salute to the man…

READ ON
Posted by Ron Nachmann
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08.22.2011
12:16 am
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Syrians swiping and trashing portraits of al-Assad
08.16.2011
06:27 pm
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The destruction of a dictator’s likenesses has always proved symbolically powerful, whether it’s a Haitian kid taking a pick-axe to a Jean-Claude Duvalier poster in 1985 or Libyan protestors shoeing the televised image of Muammar Gaddaffi more recently.

It’s been a spring and summer of brave protest in Syria, and a bloody crackdown by the country’s president Bashar al-Assad has resulted in the deaths of more than 1,600. A squad of Madrid-based Syrian expatriates have taken a cue from fellow protestors in the Arab world and offered their own show of solidarity.

No portrait of Assad in a Syrianair office is safe now. Oh, and sorry, trash-bin.
 

 

Posted by Ron Nachmann
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08.16.2011
06:27 pm
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DeLoot London: The opposite of a boycott
08.15.2011
04:50 pm
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Rioters may have helped themselves to the inventory of local shops, but DeLoot London wants to help insure that none of them shuts by pointing out to concerned people how they can support these damaged businesses with their purchases. DeLoot London aims to help these small business owners to get back on their feet with the opposite of a boycott:

DeLoot London’s mission is to make sure that not a single shop that was looted during the riots is forced to close. While a small number of people did the damage, we can all help our local, independent businesses recover by spending our money with them.

This map will show you where your money will do the most good. If you know a looted shop that’s not on the map, send details to help@delootlondon.co.uk and we’ll add it. Let’s go shopping, and DeLoot London!

I’m normally not one to try to encourage consumerism, but DeLoot London’s heart is in the right place. Find out more at De-Loot London’s efforts to mitigate the damage of the England riots at their official website.

Thanks, Gabriella Wingådh!

Posted by Richard Metzger
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08.15.2011
04:50 pm
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Eric Clapton’s DIsgusting Racist Tirade
07.03.2011
05:08 pm
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I was only made aware of this speech by Eric Clapton at a 1976 gig in Birmingham, UK, the other day, but It’s truly disgusting. Here’s a relatively short sample (quoted from Rebel Rock by J. Street (1986) and sourced from New Musical Express, Melody Maker, The Guardian and The Times):

Stop Britain from becoming a black colony. Get the foreigners out. Get the wogs out. Get the coons out. Keep Britain white. I used to be into dope, now I’m into racism. It’s much heavier, man. Fucking wogs, man. Fucking Saudis taking over London. Bastard wogs. Britain is becoming overcrowded and Enoch will stop it and send them all back.

It goes on for a lot longer than that - the entire speech can be heard in the animated YouTube clip below. The “Enoch” Clapton is referring to is the notorious English politician Enoch Powell who in 1968 made the infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech, also in Brimingham. How Clapton didn’t get crucified at the time in the popular press is beyond me, as is the fact that the rest of the concert continued as normal, with no rioting or no bottling. The activist group Rock Against Racism was set up as a direct response to these remarks. Clapton has never properly apologised  - how does he still get away with receiving so much praise and acclaim? Fuck Eric Clapton.  
 

 
Thanks to Joe Spencer for alerting me to this.

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile
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07.03.2011
05:08 pm
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‘U PAY YOUR TAX 2’
06.25.2011
08:02 am
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From last night at the Glastonbury festival, where U2 made their debut. The balloon reads “U PAY YOUR TAX 2?”, referring to the fact that U2 don’t pay taxes in their native Ireland, despite being one of the country’s biggest exports. Methinks Ireland, which is pretty fucking broke, could do with Bono and co’s extra dollar right now…

From BBC News (where you can also see footage of the balloon and the Glastonbury festival security’s over-the-top reaction to it):

[U2] played a greatest hits set that included Where The Streets Have No Name, One, With Or Without You and Beautiful Day. They also played on as protest group Art Uncut inflated a 20ft balloon emblazoned with “U Pay Your Tax 2”.

Scuffles broke out when the protest balloon was removed by festival security, although many of those in the 50,000 crowd were probably unaware of the minor incident. Security staff sought to stop the protest by about 30 people at the end of U2’s opening song Even Better Than the Real Thing.

So the next time you see or hear Bono patronisingly droning on about some sanctimonious twaddle, just think these three words: “Pay Your Taxes”!

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile
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06.25.2011
08:02 am
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EFIL4ZTULS: A report from a Slut Walk
06.13.2011
07:59 pm
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My first reaction on hearing of the international “Slut Walk” movement was “brilliant.” About bloody time! What a horribly demeaning word, one loaded with judgement that denies a person the basic enjoyment of their own sexual activities and bodies. “Slut” is rife for reclaiming - because there is no term for a person who enjoys copious amount of sex that is not pejorative. Why not, as other social groups have done in the past, take an already existing term of abuse and strip it of its negative meaning? It’s hard to fathom that the word “slut” still holds so much power in this, the twenty first century. Are we still to feel shame for our sexual desires and appetites? Does Michael Sanguinetti believe that if all women were to suddenly don burkhas all rape would be wiped out? No, because a rapist will commit a rape regardless of what a person is wearing, slutty or otherwise - the risk factors lie with the rapists not the victim.  

So, my partner and I turned out for Slut Walk Manchester on last Friday evening, to show our faces and bodies and in some small way reclaim the place will live as being safe from harassment and abuse. Of course it’s only a small gesture but that in itself does not make it invalid or worthless. By all accounts Manchester is a very protest-friendly city, but the turnout of roughly a thousand was very healthy and exceeded expectations. We walked for over an hour, winding our way through the city centre streets, stopping traffic and emptying public transport. The reaction from passers by was supportive and not negative like I had assumed it would be, and even though no official license had been granted for the march by the council, the police were helpful and friendly, and guided the mass of people on their way rather than hemming them in.
 

 
The crowd was mixed, with a lot of men walking and a good range of ages (though most on the march were young). There were a handful of drag queens and queer activists as well - Manchester has a large gay population and an active male sex industry, so male rape is not uncommon. If I have one gripe it was with the placards handed out to the crowd by the Socialist Worker Party, an act that to me seemingly hijacked an apolitical march for its own ends. The placards read “No Means No” on one side, with “Clarke Must Go” on the other. Sure, Ken Clarke, the British Secretary of State for Justice made some very unwise comments on rape a few weeks ago, but I did not need the SWP to help me call for his resignation, or tell me that my body was my property. It just came across as petty point scoring. Other placards of interest held by members of the march included “Police Rapists, Not My Fucking Wardrobe”, “My Minge My Rules” and “Queer As in Fuck You (But Only If You Consent)”.

At one point during the march I was approached by a man for a cigarette an we got chatting. He seemed not to be of the typical student/protester mould, more a working class guy fond of a few pints, but I had noticed him before and though he might have been one of the organisers. As we were walking he asked me if I had been raped. I answered that thankfully I hadn’t, but I still wanted to show my support as I know people who have. Almost with a sense of confrontational pride he told me that he had been raped, and that it had happened while he was 9 years old and living in care. He asked me what the march was about and if it was specifically for women. He didn’t know what a “Slut Walk” was, he had never heard of it, he just happened to be in town and saw it passing. So I explained about the concept, the reclaiming of the word, and the comments on rape Ken Clarke had made. He kept clarifying that he was not gay - at first I thought this might have had to do the leather gear I was wearing, but soon realised it was more to do with the societal taboo of male rape and this man’s own experience of it. Eventually he turned to me, looked me in the eye and said he had never told another man about this before. I shook his hand. I understood where the confrontation was coming from - it was not with me but it with himself and the fact that he was facing up to a dark part of his own past he had buried for god knows how long. A part he probably would not have faced up to had it not been for the Slut Walk.
 

 

 

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile
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06.13.2011
07:59 pm
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