Blog

Updates on talks and publications. I also periodically write reviews of books and films, interview people I’m interested in talking to, or write short essays and commentaries about issues that capture my attention.

On the failings of alarmist headlines

There recently seems to have been a renewed rise in dramatic, alarming narratives about impending mass climate migrations. Concerned about the potentially negative impacts of these reports and the news stories that uncritically relay them, I published a short piece in The Conversation with colleagues Carol Farbotko (University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia), Christiane Froelich (German Institute for Global and Area Studies) and Ingrid Boas (Wageningen University).

[Film Review] Ex Libris, The New York Public Library, by Frederick Wiseman

Some uninformed idiot recently suggested in a Forbes Op-Ed that libraries are not worth Americans’ tax dollars and should be replaced instead with Amazon bookstores. The second part of the argument is so outlandish that I won’t even bother addressing it here, but the first sadly merits some attention. Thankfully, the backlash against the op-ed was immediate and crushing, leading to the publications retraction by the magazine – a sign that all is not yet lost in this world. Plenty of counter-articles have summarised the many levels on which the initial assertion was wrong, but I would like to draw attention to Ex Libris, a documentary on the New York Public Library that neatly summarises it all by introducing us to the third largest and most visited library system in the world (55 million items and 18 million visitors).

[Film Review] The Looming Storm, by Dong Yue

Southern China, in early 1997. A serial killer is murdering women and dumping them in the muddy grassland of an industrial area. The bodies pile up, to the bafflement of local police. From the side-lines, a security guard for a nearby steel factory called Yu Guowei (Duan Yihong), offers to assist the under-staffed police in the case. Incorruptible and efficient at his job, Yu is a model worker, rewarded with an “employee of the year” award, to which his reaction is to reiterate his commitment to keep on improving, to keep making security better. But the award is only for show, and Yu is soon cast aside along with the majority of workers soon after, as the state-owned company shuts down. It is at this point that his desire to catch the culprit, at first seemingly driven by an innocent eagerness to serve, turns into blind obsession.

Grains of Sand

Grains of sand falling can be counted one by one. If you look close enough, that is, and train your mind to slow the passage of time. When Chronos finally yields: there is an instant of pure beauty. You feel invincible, unstoppable, immortal. You are these things. Then everything stops.

[Travel Diary] Urbex in the Kupari Complex

Abandoned places hold a strange power of attraction. Think of the village of Pripyat, frozen in time in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, or the Parisian catacombs, with their extensive network of damp galleries, secret rooms, ossuaries, sculpture and graffiti. People of all kinds are drawn to them, despite the evident dangers, from radiation overdose to claustrophobic panic. In allowing us to to run among the debris of civilisation, to hide

[Travel Diary] A week in Albania

As the minivan rattled its way towards Albania, winding through the last valleys of eastern Montenegro, I realised I knew nothing of the country I was about to enter. Dazed by an unsuccessful attempt at hitch-hiking which would have ended with sunstroke had I not given up mid-afternoon, I could think up anything else than Taken and its Albanians traffickers, stereotyped to the extreme in the service of vengeance. A

The Indigenous Design Process: an Interview with Bill Semple

Culture cannot be relegated to the margins of sustainable development policy. When I last went to the International Conference on Sustainable Development[1], the latest edition of which will take place this September in New York, it was therefore a pleasant surprise to meet Bill, who was checking in for his session on “Indigenous Approaches to Sustainable Development”. A brief conversation about his work as an architect in indigenous community contexts

Bluets, by Maggie Nelson

To focus on a single object or concept is to open a world of free association. The strength of the single theme is that it allows boundaries to be drawn, questioned, erased, altered. The obsessive turning of the object can reveal complexities where they are least expected, just as attempts to apprehend a whole world of chaos can only lead to the grossest of simplifications. To focus is to expand.

[Film Review] Grave, by Julia Ducournau

One of the first things we learn about Justine is that she was raised as a vegetarian and has never strayed. Both her parents are veterinarians, and we meet her as she is about to follow in their footsteps by joining veterinary school. Her older sister has already completed her first year there: a concrete hospital complex in a pale semi-urban area. The film unsettles quickly, as the new arrivals are hazed by the second years, forced through a series of humiliating situations. Under pressure from her peers, Justine has her first taste of meat: the raw liver of a rabbit. Horrible as the experience is, complete with red raw rashes, it sparks in her a shameful curiosity.

Rapid-Fire Reviews (III)

It’s been a great month. I got to revisit some classics in the cinema, discover directors I had thus-far unfairly neglected, reconnect with one of my favourite documentarians and with my love for Hong Kong cinema. Here’s the overview, rapid-fire reviews below.  Split, by M. Night Shyamalan (02/03 – in the cinema) Logan, by James Mangold (03/03 – in the cinema) Gattaca, by Andrew Niccol (04/05) Drug War, by Johnnie