Baghdad, Utopia



The problem of exile: the real rupture happens when you return

For many who remained in Iraq over the past four decades, exile has almost become synonymous with betrayal. As if exile chooses its victims, or had been chosen by them; as if leaving your life behind was desirable. Of course, some of those who left Iraq did want to erase their past. They were exhausted by living in a dictatorship. For others, life in Iraq would have been a death sentence. They had opposed the state, experienced censorship, torture, and the constant threat of imprisonment. Escape was often only the bitter coda to a political life in Iraq. But even if you make it out, exile isn’t a break with the old life – you carry your country with you. The person in exile keeps on leaving forever.

The prospect of escape often came unexpectedly. During the Iran-Iraq war, leaving Iraq was a privilege reserved for members of the Baath party. But by the end of the war in 1991, state borders and institutions were significantly weakened. Years of rebel movement in the Kurdish north and the marshlands in the south had had their effects too. And so if you were wealthy enough, or managed to conjure the help of friends, ’91 offered a window to escape the dictatorship, if only a small one. My family slipped through it.

Life far from Iraq came with its own trauma. I remember a visit to my aunt’s apartment in the south of Germany in the late 90s, long before the second American invasion. There was a documentary on TV about people who had been tortured under Saddam. They were revealing their mutilated bodies, their scarred chests and lashed backs. A woman pulled up her shirt: Acid had eaten and molded her skin unrecognizably. At five years old, I felt as if it was my fault. My mother kept yelling at me, telling me to leave the room, while my aunt insisted that I needed to see “what goes on there”, why we had left Iraq. My aunt had spent years underground, and they had lost a sister to one of the many mass graves. For her, to look away from the screen was to look away from the atrocities of Saddam’s reign. To watch the documentary was to remain vigilant. And so I sat through the program, branding the haunting images and voices of torture into my memory, resisting the comfort of easy distractions.

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Tracing Ana


Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Glass on Body Imprints — Face), 1972


How artist Ana Mendieta is unremembered

In 1992, protesters stood outside the opening of the short-lived Guggenheim Museum Soho location with banners, asking, “Where is Ana Mendieta?” No one was looking for an answer—everyone knew where Ana Mendieta was. In September 1985, she died after falling out her apartment window under what can only be referred to as suspicious circumstances. Her husband, heralded artist Carl Andre, was tried and ultimately acquitted of murder, earning him a new sobriquet: “The O.J. of the Art World.” Since then, a significant amount of writing about Mendieta has focused solely on her death, and indeed, as someone who has only ever known Mendieta as deceased, I understand the impulse. The eerie circumstances—a fall after a lifelong fear of heights, her body left un-photographed by police after a career of photographing her own body—as well as the infuriatingly unresolved cause of death creates a compellingly dramatic and structurally tidy narrative.

Protesters asked, “Where is Ana Mendieta?” to remind that Ana was a physical presence on this earth. But asking “where” also implies that Ana Mendieta is a force that can be contained. Over the course of her career, Mendieta created almost 80 films, making her a more prolific filmmaker than Mary Kelly, Vito Acconci, Bruce Nauman, Robert Smithson, Richard Serra, Dennis Oppenheim, or Nancy Holt, just to name a few of her contemporaries, despite not really being a filmmaker. She staged performances but was not a performance artist. She worked with the earth but was not an earth artist. She resisted the label of “feminist artist” after finding the movement too white and exclusionary; she felt exiled from Cuba, but made homes in the U.S. and Rome. She created works that invoked specific goddesses and magic but resisted being included with the essentialist “feminist goddess” works of the 1970s, like Judy Chicago’s Fertile Goddess plate in The Dinner Party or Mary Beth Edelson’s Woman Rising/Spirit. There was no label large enough for all the art that Mendieta made. That is, until she died, and there was one label for what she was: gone.

Jane Blocker, author of Where Is Ana Mendieta? Identity, Performativity, and Exile, cautioned against a quest to pin Ana down in an exact place. “The urge to locate Mendieta dangerously assumes that securing a place in the history of art necessarily translates into increased power, an assumption to which many women and artists of color have fallen victim.” Being an easily categorized artist on a popular index is not real power; the power always lies with the person making the index.

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Cookie Cutters


NEC SX-3, 1984


Online advertising is a self-regulated industry, which means you tangle with it entirely on its terms

The signature, once the widely accepted seal of approval, seems increasingly quaint and perfunctory in the age of digitally mediated interaction, an outmoded ritual that for many transactions has become superfluous. When you scrawl-sign your name with a plastic stub in digital capture box, you can’t help but wonder whether this vestigial ritual of consent is even necessary.

Online marketers and data brokers don’t seem to think so, however. Many benefit from this relic and its inability to handle today’s complexities. This is best seen when we try to enter into agreements to opt out of online advertising schemes. Instead of agreeing to an opted-out status, we find we have always opted in—even when we accept their consent to not track our online ­activities. We are, it seems, already opted out of opting out of such efforts.

Traditionally, the matter of drawing signatures on documents has served as the lasting reminder of the moment of contractual consent. But this moment, in more and more cases, never comes. For instance, faced with towering stacks of delinquent contracts, mortgage companies resorted to the practice of robo-signing to expedite foreclosure proceedings against homeowners, despite laws that explicitly forbid such practices. President Obama’s legal team had to argue for the constitutionality of his using an autopen to sign legislation into law when he is away from Washington.

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TNI’s co-founder, publisher and EIC makes the Guardian’s 30 under 30 list this year. (2nd row on the left.)


The top 30 young people in digital media: Nos 30-11

The Guardian’s 10 trainee digital journalists invited Alex Hern and Matt Andrews from the Guardian, and BuzzFeed’s editorial director Jack Shepherd to help choose the most exciting people under 30 in digital media. Here are their choices for Nos 30-11

PJ Liguori (30), Rachel Rosenfelt (25), Laurie Penny (22), Caroline O’Donovan (20), Jack Harries (19), Dylan Sprouse (18), Tanya Burr (17), King Bach (16), Emily Graslie (15), Lewis Hancox (13). 

Click photos for credits and captions. 

10 Mind Blowing Sex Tips


illustration by imp kerr


stoya-1 Put an Altoid in your mouth. Now spit it out and stop trying to hack communication with gimmicks and props.

stoya-2 Always assume your public groping is far less subtle than you think it is.

stoya-3 Drive men and women and people who identify as gender neutral absolutely wild by paying attention to them and what they’re enjoying, like they’re an individual you are attracted to.

stoya-4 Think of your partners’ genitals as genitals. They are not tennis balls, flowers, butterflies, or meat.

stoya-5 Sext each other like the NSA is watching and you want to put on a fantastic show.

stoya-6 Mixing food with sex can be fun. It can also cause a yeast infection. Weigh the risks.

stoya-7 Trying too hard is really sexy, so make sure to devote two hours a week to memorizing and practicing complex new sexual routines.

stoya-8 If you feel like your partner is losing interest or hiding things from you, skip the cyber-stalking and douse yourself Carrie-style in chocolate syrup.

stoya-9 Remember that testicles, earlobes, labia, and eyelids are delicate. If you’re going to yank, bite, pull, or abuse any of these body parts with a fork, proceed with caution and talk about it first.

stoya-10 There’s a difference between having sex with your partner and having sex at them. Do the first one.

Death Stares


Sleeping Beauty, Carte de visite, circa 1875, courtesy of The Thanatos Archive


Reports of a general “death taboo” have been greatly exaggerated

Afternoon with Michel, sorting maman’s belongings.
Began the day by looking at her photographs.
A cruel mourning begins again (but had never ended).
To begin again without resting. Sisyphus.
—Roland Barthes, Mourning Diary

“Secure the Shadow, ‘Ere the Substance Fade
Let Nature imitate what Nature made”
—19th century daguerrotype advertisement

A grimacing teenager in a striped shirt stands with his back to an open casket. A caption accompanies the image: “MY FRIEND TOOK A SELFIE AT A FUNERAL AND DIDNT REALIZE HIS DEAD GRANDMA WAS IN THE BACKGROUND I CANT BREATHE.” Both photograph and caption were reproduced without comment by Jason Feifer on a short-lived Tumblr named Selfies at Funerals, a collection of similar photos in which young women primp in black dresses, lips in duck-face formation, or young men cheerfully pose with portraits of newly deceased grandparents.

The apparent message of Selfies at Funerals was clear: Young people’s need to endlessly photograph themselves and overshare now extends to a cavalier disrespect for the dead. In an essay for Flavorwire, Tyler Coates attempted to defend teens, arguing that what Selfies at Funerals actually reveals is adults’ desire to make fun of teenagers. He notes the “underlying narcissism on display in [adults’] performance of grief” with respect to late celebrities like Lou Reed, but doesn’t dispute the idea that public grieving is inherently narcissistic. The reaction to funeral selfies — as with the recent debates about illness tweets, which some critics equated with them — sheds light not on the generational divide so much as our discomfort with social media and death, especially where they overlap.

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Selfie Control



Different questions about consent emerge when the photographer is both subject and shooter

On January 22 of this year, the Associated Press announced that it had severed ties with Pulitzer Prize–­winning photographer Narciso Contreras after he admitted to altering an image of a Syrian opposition fighter filed with the AP. The controversy stems from the industry-wide policy of only accepting completely unaltered images, on the basis that photojournalism should reproduce reality without intervention.

The controversy of Contreras’ photo­shopping reveals the stubborn faith in the photograph as evidence, as being worth a thousand words. We are offended by the fake ­because we assume the photograph to be more than real. The photograph is the truth and needs no further explanation.

So what was the object removed from Contreras’ photograph to create a more perfect composition? Another photographer’s camera.

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Of Being Numerous


image by imp kerr


We have not consented to our own constant surveillance, even if the way we live has produced it

One photo from the sometime halcyon days of Occupy Wall Street has come to haunt me. The image, which was used as the cover for the second issue of  Tidal, Occupy’s theory journal, at first glance seems to capture a trenchant insurrectionary tableau. A massive mob of protesters appears on the cusp of breaking down a fence, held up by a measly line of riot cops defending the emptiness of Duarte Square, a drab expanse of concrete in downtown Manhattan. Look closer, though, and a different scene comes in to focus: No more than a scattered handful of protesters are actually pushing against the fence. The rest of the crowd, pressed tight against each other, hold smartphones aloft, recording each other recording each other for the (assumed) viewers at home. The fence of Duarte Square was barely breached that December day.

Over two years later, and nine months since Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks have highlighted totalized -surveillance as an undeniable fact of the American now, one wonders whether such an image of mutual co-surveillance would make it onto the cover of a self-identifying radical magazine.

For me, the photo captures the problematic, near knee-jerk proclivity many participants had to live-recount every action over smartphones, with the idea that this was inherently bold and radical, taking the narrative of protest into our own hands, our own broadcast devices, refusing reliance on media institutions. Regardless of where you stand on the question of whether social-media platforms like Twitter have helped, hindered, or shaped recent protest, the Tidal cover image carries a different valence in light of the Snowden revelations. The smartphones in that photograph were not only a hindrance to the crowd’s purported effort to swarm Duarte Square; they were, of course, surveillance devices too. The photo’s caption could well read: Unwitting footsoldiers of the surveillance state watch each other for the state.

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What Happens in Girls Club


image courtesy of The Two Germanies


When a teacher attempts to exorcise a class of Mean Girls she finds there’s no such thing

Girls Club did not turn out to be the festival of sisterhood I hoped for.

The first rule of Girls Club— “what happens in Girls Club stays in Girls Club”— was violated at a rate which defied space and time. How were Girls Club secrets leaked to other classmates before the girls even left the room?

It’s not because the kids broke the rule first that I now break it, but because years have passed and the stakes are no longer so high. At the time, I was as invested as the kids were in the drama of our weekly sessions, meant to foster communication and community between 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders. My vision was that of early consciousness-raising groups— theirs was, literally, that of the show Bad Girls Club, which, some told me later, was why they signed up. All of our emotions were so charged and volatile, it was impossible to imagine how the drama and gossip wouldn’t define and ruin us forever. The kids were mean girls, after all— an identity I envisioned like a chronic illness, one that had been lying dormant inside them and had to be treated immediately. Even then, symptoms could linger long after.

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Escape Velocity


image via Singapore Airlines


When we’re used to traveling at the speed of data, what do passenger jets have left to offer?

Did you read the story and see the pictures of the guy who constructed a 1:60 scale model of a Boeing 777, entirely out of manila folders? It has taken him over 400 folders and five years so far—or as a CNN article put it, “10,000 man hours.” A slideshow on CNN’s website highlights various interior and exterior views of the small-scale wide-body airliner, basking in starkly silhouetted ambient and spot-lighting effects. The pictures create an impressively hermetic, contained environment, and they draw attention to its utterly precise design: the airliner is represented as a sublime aesthetic object, rendered in exquisite and intensely accurate detail.

The imagination behind this creation belongs to 22-year-old Luca Iaconi-Stewart of San Francisco. The profile picture in the last frame of the slideshow makes Iaconi-Stewart look vaguely akin to Mark Zuckerberg: he sports an American Apparelish hoodie, not too skinny jeans, and cozy looking socks. Iaconi-Stewart has only the wings left to go and he will be done working on a plane that will never fly.

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A Game Is Being Beaten



The trend in video game design is to comment on violence by asking players to perform violence. But could there be pleasure in performing consent?

A popular approach to ­video-game design is to “think about the verbs.” Interactive entertainment should be verb-led, some say, and the way to make a good game is to think about what the player does. In many games, you have to do the things it wants you to do whether you want to or not. If you don’t like it, as the saying goes, just don’t play it.

Games have a heritage in simple verbs. Remember the stuff you played at friends’ houses as a kid? In those games, you’re a guy. You jump on that guy, you grab the thing, you beat the boss. Lots of people spent hours in a basement yelling things like get that guy, get him, and trying to win the prize at the end of all the verbs: often a woman, locked in a castle, imprisoned in an ice crystal, bound with rope, tied to a wall, a scaffold, a set of shackles.

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Short Circuit

Terror by Night, 1946


Despite longer odds and smaller payoffs, America produces more independent filmmakers every year. What the hell are they thinking?

Recently a friend of mine, a film journalist known for his quick wit and somewhat forced but oddly endearing trash chic clothing aesthetic on weekends, launched the following into the social media ether: “The quickest way to become a millionaire in indie film is by starting out as a billionaire.” It drew nearly 100 likes from his over 1800 friends in just a few hours. Many of us laughed knowingly to ourselves in whatever nook we hunched over our computer screens. More serious “independent” filmmakers than you might think start out staring at the Hollywood star machine as impressionable children, beamed incandescently through media both traditional and new, thinking naively to themselves, “I too can get rich and/or famous being an artist.” It’d take a fool to think that way of course. The only filmmakers I know personally — and I know a lot of them — who’ve became millionaires started out as millionaires. Many of us will keep trying I suppose and a token few will succeed, keeping the dream alive for a new generation of suckers.

This mental illness described above is something for which the most recent iteration of the Eastern Oregon Film Festival is a welcome antidote. For the fifth time, La Grande, Oregon, the country’s largest fully enclosed valley and the second largest in the world, a remote and conservative municipality that gives zero financial support to institutions like film festivals, played host to far flung slices of American life rarely glimpsed on traditional movie screens: mildly autistic men who can bend steel, Norwegian Mormons dude bros in Hawaii, insecure ingénues trying to self-actualize in long black and white takes that make them seem dowdier than they really are. That these mostly unheralded works were made by young filmmakers who are on food stamps in Olympia, project managing home construction sites in Corvallis or, the most depressing of activities, shooting commercials for hire in Greenpoint in order to make the $1700 rent is a symptom of our sorry times. For these filmmakers, the rent is always too damn high and the audiences too damn small, regardless of the quality of their work.

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