The Terracotta Daughters, Entombed

In a moment of remarkable timing, the Terracotta Daughters were entombed the same week that China announced an end to its destructive one child policy. This shift by the Chinese government comes too late to resolve the gender imbalance that exists today, but is intended to alleviate the problem long term. As for all of those young Chinese men looking for wives now? Well, one economist suggested that they share wives. Good luck with that.


Nourry’s riff on the Terracotta Warriors, an internationally recognized symbol of pride for the Chinese, shines a light on China’s shameful history of gender selection. Read more about the project, and the eight Chinese girls who inspired it, in this post. Nourry always planned to entomb the Terracotta Daughters this year, with the intention of unearthing them in 2030  –  the year that gender imbalance in China will peak. That the burial coincided with a concession to her viewpoint by the Chinese government was just a happy coincidence.

Nourry documented the entombment on her Instagram account and I thought it would be fun to share her pictures and captions with you here:


After one year of research to find a land in Mainland China (a land to be lend for the army not to be sold 😉 here it is! The army is about to be buried as a contemporary archaeological site until 2030


The Earth Ceremony from Aerial view. On October 17th a few eye-witnesses came to attend a ceremony before the actual burial which will happen the week of October 26, 2015


The #terracottadaughters pits in Mainland China, ready to be covered soon


The final stop for the army was also the last step for the shooting of the long feature, to be released next year!


China just ended its “one child” policy. Interesting coincidence with the army’s burial! Started in late 70’s, at the same time than the apparition of the first ultrasounds, this policy added to the scans technologies led to sex selections and a skewed sex ratio of males to females. This gender preference is mainly seen in traditional rural families, that’s why the 8 girls models for the Terracotta Daughters project comes from the deep countryside of China. Here’s Yindi, I met when she was 14, the oldest of the 8. She’s now 17 and I’m amazed by the woman she’s becoming



Photo credits: top picture by Daphne Nash; all others by Prune Nourry, @prune


Design Gets Scary: Jack O’Lanterns


All this week, design historian and critic Alice Rawsthorn has been posting a series on Instagram called, Design Gets Scary. Yesterday she wrote about the history of the Jack O’ Lantern:

Design Gets Scary – 6. As it’s Fright Night tonight, today’s post is on the design of one Halloween tradition, the carved pumpkin Jack O’Lantern. Like so many Halloween rituals, it originated centuries ago in Scotland and Ireland in the ancient Gaelic festival of Samhain that marked the end of the harvest season, when people laid in supplies of food for the winter months. Samhain coincided with October 31, the date on which the ancient Gaels believed that the dead returned to life, unleashing evil spirits to spread sickness and ruin crops.

For centuries, people donned terrifying costumes and lit bonfires in the hope of frightening away those spirits. By the 19th century, they also carved monstrous faces out of turnips, and placed candles inside to turn them into lanterns. The Scottish and Irish immigrants to the United States took their Halloween traditions with them, but replaced turnips with pumpkins, which were softer and easier to carve. These days, the most elaborate Halloween celebrations, like this Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze at Van Cortland Manor in the Hudson Valley, feature thousands of carved pumpkin lanterns.


If you would like to visit the Great Jack-O-Lantern Blaze at Van Cortland Manor, you are in luck because it is on for a full month, just one hour from New York City by train.

And do follow Alice Rawsthorn if you are at all interested in design; recent series have included Designing Gardens, Design Takes Flight, Design & Health, and Design & Hotels.

Happy Halloween!


Photos: Historic Hudson Valley

Making Power Visible: Jill Magid & Mishka Henner


For every picture of a sunset posted online, danger lurks. Or so I learned a few years ago when my niece posted this dazzling skyline on social media. No sooner had I suggested tagging the location than a shadow of disapproval flickered across her face as she informed me, “our teacher told us never to tag anything online” for safety reasons. Of course. I still can’t believe I was so clueless. Thankfully many kids are getting smart advice from their schools about how to keep personal safety and privacy in mind when using social media.

But, for all of our opting in, opting out, and safeguarding our privacy on and offline, how effective are these measures really? It seems as though every new service or product comes with complex legal policies for use and even, in some cases, actual legislation. Who exactly is being protected and from what? Correspondingly, what is being sacrificed in the name of compliance? Well. Who better than artists to reveal these ambiguities?

In 2004 Jill Magid, a New York-based artist, traveled to Birmingham, England for a stay of 31 days to complete her performance art project, Evidence Locker. The length of her stay was based on the number of days that the police department of Birmingham would retain CCTV footage of pedestrian and vehicular activity in the city center. At this time, city center was monitored by 200 video cameras, the largest urban installation of security cameras in England to date. If you passed through the city center for any reason, you were recorded. Therefore, if you chose to visit Birmingham city center, you tacitly agreed to be recorded.

Magid set off for Birmingham and alerted the CCTV operators that she would be present in the city center clad in a bright red coat to ensure her visibility in the daily footage. Each day she submitted a written request for access to the footage (which required the police department to preserve the footage past) with the goal of creating project videos at the end of the month. Magid’s requests took the form of newsy letters each day, as if she and the CCTV team were good friends instead of unequal partners in a power equation.

And, in fact, they did become close collaborators. Magid highlighted this change in circumstance in her video, “Trust.” This footage shows Magid walking blind through the city center, led only by the voices of the police CCTV controllers who were monitoring her progress. It’s a nice way to bring visibility to the bargain our society has struck between public safety and individual privacy, and the quiet erosion of an individual’s right and opportunity to grant consent.

Magid continues to work in this vein around the world. She explores, “the emotional, philosophical and legal tensions between the individual and ‘protective’ institutions, such as intelligence agencies or the police. To work alongside or within large organizations, Magid makes use of institutional quirks, systemic loopholes that allow her to make contact with people ‘on the inside’. Her work tends to be characterized by the dynamics of seduction, the resulting narratives often taking the form of a love story.”

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Mishka Henner, Staphorst Ammunition Depot. Dutch Landscapes, 2011

Mishka Henner, a Manchester, England-based artist, also explores the power dynamics of data and consent. Henner, who I’ve written about here before, creates hyper-detailed images of physical sites by stitching together screenshots from Google Street View and Google Earth. The result is visually striking photography that allows us to see sites that are usually hidden from public view.

ICP Triennial, 2013. Mishka Henner, Unknown Site, Noordwijk aan Zee, South Holland, 2011

Mishka Henner, Unknown Site, Noordwijk aan Zee, Dutch Landscapes, 2011.
The Dutch government insisted that Google pixelate the location to protect national security.

Examples include military installations, oil wells, and industrial farming sites, the last of which is legally protected from public exposure in the United States under anti-whistleblower laws. Henner exploits the omission in this legal protection,  the exemption of satellite imagery from Google Earth from “ag-gag” laws. His work encourages us to ask why these sites are generally kept from public view. Military installations and fuel supply locations might be protected for national security purposes, but industrial farming?


Mishka Henner, Tascosa Feedyard, Texas, 2013 (detail)

Henner developed the idea for these works from a 2010 project tracking prostitutes in Manchester, England, when he discovered that they appeared in Google Street View images. Here again we see tacit consent to be recorded assumed by the surveilling entity, in this case, Google Earth, the moment the prostitutes stepped out-of-doors. Henner’s work builds on this by raising the question of why government agencies and large corporate entities are afforded a greater right to privacy, especially in cases where public safety is not a consideration. What does this system of favor say about our values as a culture, and what does it say about those taking full advantage of these privileges?


Mishka Henner, Wasson Oil Field, Yoakum County, Texas, 2013

Magid and Henner remind us that, for all of our angst about setting privacy permissions on social media, the issue of evaporating personal protections is much bigger than any one app. We naturally gravitate towards the little pockets of control we are granted, app by app, when our focus should be on where and when we aren’t granted any options for control at all.  My niece and her friends are being as smart as they know how to be about safety today, and really, we are all in the same boat. But I do hope schools expand their teaching to include awareness of just how often personal consent is a foregone conclusion, and a recognition that spaces of exception (where you and your data are not being captured) are worth not just protecting, but demanding.

Mishka Henner’s first solo U.S. show, “Semi-Automatic”, was recently at the Bruce Silverstein Gallery in New York City, and his work will be included in the upcoming  “Ocean of Images: New Photography 2015” show at MoMA. Read more about Henner here, and visit his website to see additional works.

Learn more about Jill Magid’s work on her website, and access the “Evidence Locker”, which includes all 31 letters she wrote requesting video footage, here.


  • Photo credit: My niece. Location: top secret.

Miscellany | Favorites No. 5

Favorites are back, at long last*, and so am I. Here goes:

The-Paper-Machine-Carl-Grossberg-New Objectivity-LACMA

The Cooper Hewitt Design Museum reopened almost a year ago after an extensive renovation. While art reflects the world back to us through different viewpoints, design stays focused on creating tangible solutions to identifiable problems in the present-day world. With it’s inaugural year of foundation setting exhibits (Tools for  Survival, Living, etc; Industrial Design 101, etc) almost over, I’m hoping to see shows that explore how design can help solve the large-scale challenges in healthcare, food supply, economic development, transportation, and environmental sustainability that are so prevalent today.

One venue you’d think might explore these topics is the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) here in New York City. But since MAD seems not to have recognized the opportunity to step up as a design destination during the Cooper-Hewitt’s three year absence (three years!), this is unlikely. MAD confuses me – despite the name, I’m not clear about the museums focus or what audience it attracts with niche shows about, for example, fashion mannequins and 3D printing. Does the museum have a programming problem, a marketing problem, or both? Obviously a visit is in order. Stay tuned.

As always, there’s a robust art offering in NYC this Fall; here are five shows farther afield that are on my radar:

New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, October 4, 2015 – January 18, 2016

Within a Realm of Distance, Laurence Weiner at Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace, October 10 – December 20, 2015

Class Distinctions: Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer

Boston Museum of Fine Arts, October 11, 2015 –  January 18, 2016

Asia > Amsterdam: Luxury in the Golden Age
Rijksmusem, October 17, 2015 – January 17, 2016
Peabody Essex Museum, February 27 – June 4, 2016

Habsburg Splendor: Masterpieces from Vienna’s Imperial Collections
High Museum of Art, October 18, 2015 – January 16, 2016 (Atlanta)


Productions of Wolf Hall/Bring up the Bodies, from the books by Hilary Mantel, were on Broadway and television this Spring. I’m a fan, so I watched all versions. Neither was successful in reproducing the hovering darkness felt throughout the books, but the Broadway production was a wonderful theater experience. Why are we still talking about Wolf Hall, you ask? Because the third and final Cromwell book, The Mirror and the Light, is due out in the next several years. In a recent lecture at the Frick Collection, where the famous Hans Holbein portraits of her two main characters, Thomas Cromwell and Thomas More, hang, Mantel spoke about how she selected the much maligned Cromwell from history and developed him as a modern anti-hero for the books. Watch Mantel’s talk here.

For theater going though, nothing tops Hamilton. Everything you’ve read is true, it really is that good. And if you can’t make it in person, the magnificent cast album covers the entire play less one short spoken exchange. Listen to it while browsing the lyric annotations on Genius, and you’ll get a taste of the greatness. I’ll put together a compilation of the best reads on Hamilton here soon.


I have started up a reading list again because otherwise it’s a steady stream of hit-or-miss mysteries around here. That said, if the mystery genre appeals then you will want to subscribe to the excellent The Crime Lady, “a weekly-ish newsletter about crime fiction and true crime, current and long-ago releases,” from Sarah Weinman.

Next up on my list is Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I’ve been following Coates for a few years and find him insightful as well as challenging. Read his lovely essay on the death of his good friend and mentor, David Carr of the New York Times, to learn more about Coates and his unlikely path to becoming a best-selling author.


The Blue Garden in Newport, Rhode Island, is a new discovery. This 1908 Olmsted Brothers-designed garden has been meticulously restored and, though private, is open by appointment Thursdays from June through early October. Have any of you visited this garden? I plan to go next year.


Finally, if you are in NYC this Saturday (October 17th) do take advantage of this tour of the Alice in a World of Wonderlands exhibition at the Grolier Club, led by Connie Brown of Redstone Studios. Brown was commissioned to create four original maps for the exhibition, one of which is pictured above. Read about the tour here.


  • I had no plans to take such a long break. It’s good to be back!

Islamic Art | 14 Centuries of Icon-less Splendor

What happens to creativity in an artistic tradition without icons? We know – too well – that depictions of living human and animal forms are extremely controversial in Islam. So what’s left? How do those of us used to a figurative narrative format make sense of and understand the value of what we are seeing in Islamic art?

Just over a year ago I heard the Metropolitan Museum’s Curator of Islamic Art, Navina Najat Haider, speak on this very topic during an “Icons”-themed TEDx event. Haider notes that Islamic art has evolved over fourteen centuries and because of this the issue of icons is “not a pedantic art historical point, it is a mindset.” She makes a compelling case for the increased importance of abstraction and metaphor in Islamic art in the absence of an icon as a single point of focus. Her complete talk is below; newsletter readers click here to watch the video.

Be sure to watch through to the end to witness the extraordinary craftsmanship that went into the creation of the Met’s recently renovated Islamic galleries. How can we think of missing depictions of the figure of man when the hand – and infinite creativity – of humankind is on display all around us?

Further reading: Figural Representation in Islamic Art