Edgy Stuff: February 2015 Recommendations
The Edge Effects editorial board brings you a handful of recommendations based on the most interesting stuff that’s come across our desks, screens, and speakers over the last month (or so). From books and articles, to podcasts, music, and film, we’ll keep you on the edge.
Mohammed Rafi Arefin
In urban studies, Cairo is often depicted as a mega city out of control. This month, I want to point to a set of readings that explore a recent crisis in Cairo’s urban services—a severe lack of electricity. In the last two years, an amalgam of problems has precipitated widespread power shortages in Cairo and cities around Egypt. Experts estimate that the country’s electricity demands are 20% over capacity leading to regular citywide blackouts. Last week, the government was reported to be considering privatizing the country’s electricity grid. This news came amid an announcement that Russia would finance and help build Egypt’s first nuclear power plant, which was met with international concerns around the possibility of nuclear proliferation. From a crisis in urban services to geopolitical concerns over nuclear technologies, Cairo’s electricity shortage presents a set of important urban environmental lessons around issues of privatization, geopolitics, and urbanization for megacities around the world.
I’ve found myself reflecting a great deal this past month on the work that the CHE community does as public scholars. In the spirit of appreciation, I’d like to recommend current CHE Director William Cronon’s essay “Only Connect…” The Goals of a Liberal Education, as well as a handful of some of the most memorable things I’ve seen CHE graduate student associates publish for a public audience. Anna Zeide’s short but remarkable Grist post on grocery lists as historical documents; Heather Swan’s Aeon piece that tenderly and rigorously explores bee suffering; and Garrett Nelson’s Boston Globe article on past dreams of Boston’s future stand out to me as wonderfully diverse examples of the enactment of the educational values Cronon’s essay describes.
Is it gauche to use the blog one edits as space to stump for one’s friends? Ah well, let me be so rude: this month, these three artists are capturing place in a way that feels recognizably Edge Effects-like: photographer Nathan Cooke is shooting playful and “opposite” portraits of his adopted Kenyan home alongside a partner photographer; musician Ben Cosgrove is rendering landscape into song using keyboard and the … 12? other instruments he plays; and poet Oliver Bendorf is thinking deeply about landscape and identity in The Spectral Wilderness, his recent poetry collection. If you’ve ever doubted that a body can transform completely, take the / highway north from town. . . .1
Willson Cummer, an upstate New York-based art curator, photographer, and teacher, keeps a blog called New Landscape Photography on which he “presents contemporary art from around the world that explores the natural and built environments,” especially “the interactions between the two.” I’ve been following Cummer’s blog for several weeks now, and am frequently impressed by the work he finds and shares. On February 23rd, for example, he featured a particularly evocative set of photos by Babis Kougemitros, entitled Edgelands. (See here for the entire portfolio). Kougemitros’s project examines the “zone between the city edges and the countryside” in Greece, locating a feeling of intimacy and melancholy in places between places. Often employing an eerie combination of artificial light and the glow of a night sky, his photographs place the viewer consistently on edge—visually, geographically, emotionally—yet feel, somehow, as though they are familiar, revealing places to which we have all been before.
For the last few years, geographers Julie Guthman and Becky Mansfield have been examining the implications of new research in epigenetics for how we think about nature, the human body, and the politics of environmental health (see paywalled articles here and here). In a recent must-read article for Aeon Magazine, Guthman and Mansfield bring their findings to a wider audience, discussing in clear, evocative language what the science of gene expression says about our permeable human bodies and the social values we bring to them.
I collect postcards of art from museums, and several from Canadian artist IAIN BAXTER& have been grabbing my attention again lately. With a background in zoology, BAXTER&’s central concern is how we mediate our relationship to the environment, his favorite material being information—televisions and computers become objects for re-examining both what we consider nature and our impact on it. In LANDSCAPE WITH SAILBOATS (Digital Code Conversion Series), 2008, for instance, BAXTER& grafts a set of 0s and 1s—the binary “language” of computing—onto a typical idyllic scene. Check out this interview he conducted with the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago during a 50 year retrospective exhibit:
Oliver Bendorf, “Outing, Iowa” in The Spectral Wilderness (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2015), 8. ↩