Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.
Halfway down, Joseph Bernstein’s article on “He will not divide us,” a public art piece fronted by Shia LaBeouf, goes batshit crazy. Launched on January 20 at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York, the installation was simple and in theory (although: really?) nonpartisan: a sidewalk-facing camera and a line of text for passersby to read aloud. Within a week it was a mosh pit of alt-right trolling, trash, and violence. Then the real fight started: between the artists, the museum, and the community.
By the third and fourth days of the installation, as young men in MAGA hats started showing up to the museum in larger numbers, "He Will Not Divide Us" began to resemble nothing so much as a social network made flesh. There were civil discussions. There were shouting matches. There were visitors squawking about Trump, about “the Jewish word for division, Soros,” about the revolution not being televised, about their mixtapes, about how Bitcoin would save the world, about WeSearchr, about yo, follow my Instagram. There were doxxes. There were well-intentioned founders with institutional backing and idealistic words about free expression; there were early celebrity adopters; there was an initial period of great hope; there was a worsening signal-to-noise ratio; and there were trolls and racists determined to test the boundaries of the new space with provocations and hate speech.
And then, there was chaos.
Rebecca Mead profiles Gerhard Steidl, considered the best printer of photography books in the world — a craftsman so confident he was disappointed by the Gutenberg Bible. Fascinating look at the practicalities of printing (the fine details of ink, paper, and press) and the philosophy of books as beautiful and meaningful objects. As well as the book as more than an object:
Steidl’s family was poor, and his parents had received no formal education. There were few books at home, and it was momentous for Steidl when he received one — Hans Christian Andersen’s “Thumbelina” — as a Christmas gift. Steidl begged his sister to read it aloud to him immediately, and afterward he told his father how much he had loved it. Steidl’s father, angered that the children had finished the book so quickly, struck the sister. Years later, Steidl’s father explained that he had believed the book, having been read through, was now useless; before buying the gift, he’d never been in a bookstore.
See also Craig Mod this week on the maturing debate about print vs. digital reading: “Containers matter.”
In 1843, a jealous James Hooker started a twenty-year evolutionary hack, shipping the first of hundreds of trees to barren, equatorial Ascension Island. Today the island’s “Green Mountain” is lush and abundant — and a new ecosystem is pushing out the old. This is what terraforming a new world might look like: the transformation of a Mars-like wasteland; a slow, painful struggle between native and alien species; and constant vigilance to prevent an epic system crash.
I visit Ascension’s famous Dew Pond. By the 1880s, Hooker’s “mist-catching trees” had formed a small pond at the mountain’s summit, the island’s first freshwater water body. Today, bamboo trunks form a 40-foot tall wall around the pond, knocking together harmoniously in the breeze.
A life-sized, plastic crocodile waits half-submerged in the pond with teeth showing. The faux reptile appeared there in the 1990s as a gag. It quickly developed its own mythology among the military residents. Should they remove the item? Or leave it? No one can agree what to do with it now. The same can be said about the artificial ecosystem all around.