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Saturday, October 24, 2020
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Suggestions for your senses,
every Saturday at 9 a.m.
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SPONSORED BY
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Good morning.

This week, we speak with our co-founder Spencer Bailey about his new Phaidon book In Memory Of: Designing Contemporary Memorials, put on Wonder Valley’s hinoki body oil, sip natural wine with Apartamento magazine co-founder Omar Sosa, revel in the Black Music History Library, and take whiffs of several scratch and sniffs.

On our At a Distance podcast, we talk with economist Paola Subacchi and Hood Design Studio founder and creative director Walter Hood.

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On Ep. 39 of our Time Sensitive podcast, Spencer speaks with fashion designer Angel Chang, who works closely with the Miao and Dong ethnic minorities in China’s Guizhou Province.

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See
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The Act of Unforgetting
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At age 3, Spencer Bailey, writer and editor (and co-founder of The Slowdown), survived the crash-landing of United Airlines Flight 232 in Sioux City, Iowa, on July 19, 1989. In the wake of the tragedy, he found himself the subject of a memorial sculpture, called “The Spirit of Siouxland,” based on a famous photo of him being carried to safety in the arms of Lt. Col. Dennis Nielsen. That cast-in-bronze depiction serves as a jumping-off point for Bailey’s forthcoming book, In Memory Of: Designing Contemporary Memorials (Phaidon), examining the power and potential of memorials designed over the past 40 years, from Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial (1982) in Washington, D.C., to Peter Eisenman’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews (2005) in Berlin, to MASS Design Group’s Gun Violence Memorial (2019). At 1 p.m. ET next Wed., Oct. 28—the book’s U.S. publication date—Bailey will join architect Sir David Adjaye, who wrote the book’s foreword, and graphic designer and Pentagram partner Michael Bierut, who with Laitsz Ho oversaw the design and layout, in a free, public live-streamed conversation on Dezeen (no RSVP required).

Here, he describes the process of working on the book, and tells us why the power of abstraction may help us all to heal.


You began working on this project nearly thirty years after the Flight 232 crash. What has it been like to process and revisit that trauma and experience through this more expansive outlook?

The book was, for me, a way to unpack this deeply personal experience in a global, collective way, and to understand what it means to be memorialized in a greater context. Whether it’s war, genocide, terrorism, or natural disaster—all of these sites respond to events that took place, each in their own way, and contributed to my understanding and questioning of: Was the way that I was memorialized [in a figurative statue] actually effective? What does it mean to be representative of something much larger than yourself? Ultimately, the conclusion I came to was that there is, in fact, a solution to memorializing in the modern age, and that’s through abstraction. Abstraction reflects the society around it, because it doesn’t dictate a meaning or message the way that a figurative statue does. 

One of the compelling aspects of this book is that you present a critical edge to your observation of memorials. They carry a sense of permanence, but are also entirely subjective, and are sometimes fraught with conflicting interests and intentions.

I’ve come to understand the failure of figurative memorialization—or, more accurately, monumentalization—from the Flight 232 Memorial. I came to represent this symbol. There’s something wrong about that: the motif of a child being carried doesn’t bring a lot of clarity. It doesn’t show the myriad experiences and multiple perspectives on what took place that day. To me, that statue is just projective of a hero’s story, not reflective of the tragic event it’s intended to commemorate. I don’t see myself in it. 

Especially striking is what’s not shown at the site. Why is there no mention of the pilot, Alfred Haynes, who guided the plane to the ground? Why are there no names of other crew members or passengers? At the very least, what about the dead? A different design, I think, one inscribed with the names of those lost, and with a more sculptural or abstract quality, would have better captured the detritus and tragedy of that event. There’s a real way forward, if we want to understand, collectively, the power of memorialization, and that’s to literally stop putting ourselves—our human figures—on pedestals.

Abstraction leaves the viewer to reflect, rather than take away a set narrative.

Abstraction is all about metaphor. It allows for complexity and contradiction. An abstract memorial gives each visitor the opportunity to read and respond to it in their own way. That’s so different from what happens when you’re looking at a figurative statue. We live in such a chaotic world, where there is no black and white, where there’s such diversity of people and perspectives, and we need to make memorials that reflect that multitude of experience. Abstraction, with specific intent, is a way to do that.

Hua Hsu recently wrote a beautiful piece in The New Yorker that got me thinking a lot about this very thing—about “commemorative justice.” Instead of a monument, he asks, why not a portal? I love that idea. That’s basically what the memorials in my book are: portals. This notion of the portal, inviting something deeper, taking you to a place, offering you an opportunity to slow down and turn inward. A portal into yourself—there’s something really profound in that.

As someone who has interviewed and written about art and architecture for years, what have you learned about this genre—if we can call it that—of the built environment?

In Memory Of is a global survey of art, architecture, and landscape, but I would say it’s also about the human experience and emotional weight. The book is framed in our contemporary world, but memorialization goes back centuries, from burial mounds to pyramids. There are a lot of notions—arguably there have been since the beginning of mankind—around what a memorial is. But in speaking to many of these architects and artists behind these memorials, the thing that hit me was the human experience behind all of it. These projects are so rooted in story, and often trauma, but underlying all of them is an incredible testament to human strength, and the ability to move forward and progress—without forgetting what has happened.

You couldn’t have anticipated this book would come out at this moment in history, where grieving and loss have multiplied, amid the pandemic, protests, and a political maelstrom. How have the events of 2020 changed the way you’re thinking about memorials?

It was really strange to turn in my final copy of the book in the first week of March, right before we went into lockdown. I’d spent more than a year and a half researching, reporting, and writing this, thinking about mass atrocity and mass deaths, so to be confronted with it so head-on just a few weeks later, was a peculiar feeling. I don’t think it provided any new insight for unpacking the pandemic, necessarily, other than thinking about the fact that it’s important we recognize, at least on some level, that there are barely any memorials to the 1918 Spanish flu. That may explain, at least in part, the cultural, political, and social amnesia that has led to our catastrophic present. 

Memorials are something we need—not only to remember, but more importantly, to humble us and allow us to feel loss, grief, fear, hope, and strength in our bodies. Not to just think about those things, but to feel them. I look at memorials as poems of the built environment. They are expressive, visceral, concrete reminders that ultimately help us heal.

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Touch
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Clean Oil
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Courtesy Wonder Valley
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Wonder Valley’s hinoki body oil—a cult favorite among beauty and wellness bloggers—is formulated around a simple moisturizer that’s been embraced by various cultures for centuries: extra-virgin olive oil. It’s an ingredient that co-founder Alison Carroll takes seriously. Carroll, who’s based in Joshua Tree, California, and runs the company from there with her husband, Jay, previously worked at the California Olive Oil Council, where she acted as an educator, advocate, and quality-control keeper for the state’s domestic agriculture industry. For its line of products, the brand hand-harvests and mills premium olives from its own groves in Northern California. Scented with soothing notes of Siberian fir and Japanese hinoki, with additional extracts of sea buckthorn, rosemary leaf, and rice bran, Wonder Valley’s body-oil formula smells enticing enough to taste—but you’d be better off savoring the precious drops for massaging into your skin for an all-natural glow, especially as the colder, drier weather picks up this season. We suggest making it part of your morning ritual: warm, slather, soften. Repeat.

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SPONSORED BY
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Taste
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Wine Design
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Photo: Nicole Cohen
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Omar Sosa, co-founder of Apartamento magazine and Apartamento Studios, has an unfussy love of natural wine. Here, he describes the process of developing a design for Vivanterre (a riff on the French term for “living earth”), a new line of natural wine produced by Patrick Bouju and Justine Loiseau, and founded by fashion insiders Rosie and Max Assoulin.

“For a long time, I had totally lost interest in wine—I was much more into beer. I’m not an expert, and always felt like wine was a little bit boring. I felt like I couldn’t tell the nuances, in one way or another, or remember the names of different kinds. I also thought I was allergic to red wine, or was intolerant in a way, because it didn’t make me feel good. Then I tried natural wine, not knowing anything about it, and it was like going into a whole new world. I like all the distinct flavors, and the more radical versions. Natural wines feel much more fun and relaxed. My whole position on enjoying wine is simple: Do you like how it tastes or not? That’s it.

Vivanterre was really a collective project, with all of us working together in all senses. The starting point was not to repeat another label. The bottle that Patrick chose is very elegant, and I wanted to emphasize that. Our original idea was to not add any label at all on the front, and instead dip the bottom of the bottle into rocks: [creating] a tactile material, something you could feel and touch. We all loved that, but realized it was impossible to do, for practical reasons, because of potential breakage and other problems that would make the wine unstable. So we had to scrap that idea. 

We went back to the idea of a label, but wanted to keep this same concept around the rocks. At first, I was against that, because I’m a bit more radical—I’m of the mind that you do it one way, or you start again from scratch—but there was an interesting tension that made us come up with the solution, which was not to use one label, but two, with one overlapping the other. In my mind, that was a similar gesture: It’s not a flat graphic. We took the shape of how it would have looked if we had dipped the bottle [into rocks], and converted it into a label. 

When you drink a wine you like, you try to remember the name, but that’s not always easy—the names can be quite experimental, and there are different languages involved—so having a distinct, recognizable graphic was always a priority. Rosie and I both have a strong sense of color. We ended up with a shape and color play that, while you may not remember the name Vivanterre, you’ll definitely remember how it looks.”

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Hear
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Sound Affect
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Courtesy Black Music History Library/Jenzia Burgos
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The Black Music History Library is here to bless—and educate—your ears. Launched this past August by New York–based music journalist Jenzia Burgos, the free digital archive seeks to address a sorely overlooked blind spot in music history, with more than a thousand (and counting) entries of books, articles, documentaries, radio segments, zines, and other ephemera that catalog the abundance of Black origins in popular and traditional music. Roughly dating from the 18th century to the present day, the materials run the gamut from academic to mainstream culture, and include guitarist Vernon Reid discussing Jimi Hendrix on an episode of the Heat Rocks podcast as well as a list of preeminent musicologists, historians, and scholars. To those open to pure exploration and discovery, Burgos offers a roll-the-dice folder that randomizes selections from the living archive. An online trove and rabbit hole for everyone, and a gift that keeps giving, it charts out the huge influence of artists who have shaped countless genres of music as we know it.

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Smell
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Sniff Out
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Courtesy Abrams Books
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Six decades ago, researchers at 3M and the NCR Corporation were looking for a more effective way of trapping ink inside tiny pockets on paper to improve the legibility of receipts and carbon copies. “Microencapsulation,” the method they devised, also functioned with scented oils that, when scratched, burst open, emitting their distinctive smells. The technique has since been used on stickers, stamps, and perfume-peddling magazine inserts. John Waters incorporated it into his 1981 film Polyester, when he distributed large cards that featured ten circular patches, laced with scents such as skunk and old shoes, for viewers to inhale during the movie.  

Unlike those throwaway applications, scratch-and-sniff books have a long shelf life, inviting folks to scrape their surfaces time and time again. Some of the recent, most imaginative volumes target adults, and use smell to illuminate the multisensory elements of their subjects. Master sommelier Richard Betts, author of lighthearted guides to wine and whiskey, helps readers understand flavor through the scents of its aromatic pages, while co-authors Seth Matlins and Eve Epstein use the tactic to capture cannabis’s various sensations in The Scratch and Sniff Book of Weed. Other titles employ the strategy in more subtle ways. Scent in Context, a deep dive into the work of Belgian olfactory artist Peter De Cupere, disperses hidden scratch-and-sniff odors among its 400 pages. Our noses are particularly intrigued by journal from the California publisher Knock Knock that pairs scented stickers with writing prompts—a clever way to stimulate users’ emotions, creativity, and memory.

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Until next week...

Today’s email was written by Aileen Kwun. Tiffany Jow contributed the Smell column.

Co-Editors: Spencer Bailey and Tiffany Jow
Creative Director: Andrew Zuckerman
Producer: Mike Lala
Copy Editor: Mimi Hannon

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