July 2nd, 2012 — 3:27pm
The Group, 1966 (source)
Girls, 2012 (source)


Girls suffers the burden of an overwhelming critical response—a series of writings that project significant intellectual and artistic questions onto its half-hour form. Essays and reviews betray the false collision of a humorous portrait of several young women with a much larger aim: that of generational definition, or representation.


Following the 1963 release of Mary McCarthy’s The Group, a novel presenting the lives of eight Vassar girls who just graduated from college, Norman Mailer published a rather cruel review. He wrote, in the New York Review of Books, ‘She [McCarthy] has eight well-to-do young ladies moving through the thirties on the very outer fringe of events, and none of them has an inner passion large enough to take over the book and make it run away’.


If McCarthy’s sometimes hilarious, sometimes poignantly presented Vassar graduates resemble Dunham’s girls in their varied struggles and reflections—and share with them a vivid New York as setting for these tribulations—so Mailer’s criticisms evoke contemporary responses to our HBO program:


Her characters…will not look to participate in the center of the history which is being made, and they will be the victim of no outsize passion…She will take these women, nearly all finally dull, because they have neither the interest to break out of the cage of their character, nor even the necessity—the cage is not that cruel, the girls are merely premature suburbanites—and she will obey the logic of the intricately educated and dull, she will follow them through their furniture and their recipes…


But while Mailer assumes, perhaps falsely, that in writing, Mary McCarthy must fundamentally engage with the tradition of her form—the history of the novel and its pitfalls and ambitions… more


Tours of television and film shooting locations abound in New York City, introducing visitors to previously unknown places, locally celebrated spots and world-famous landmarks. Films like Manhattan, Taxi Driver, and The Godfather along with television shows such as Law and Order, Sex and the City and The Sopranos are a few, of the many, well-loved productions that have inspired this real-world format for indulging fans.
A likely candidate for this treatment in the near future is HBO’s Girls, a show which alternately reflects and constructs the reality of twenty-somethings in the city. The Guardian’s effort to map the show’s urban backdrops along with confirmation of the program’s eligibility as a theme for a tour, from a local operator, to the New York Times, is promising evidence that an organized excursion may soon be realized.


Tripping in and out of Manhattan into the surrounding boroughs, with its recession-era motifs, Girls’ locations typically avoid glossy upscale settings in favor of average or run-down spots. The validation of these sites—particularly the latter variety—is often dependent on their occupation by young adults. Is it possible that inclusion on a pilgrimage route might promise longevity to these modest venues in the form of enduring physical existence, financial success or memory? As a result of Girls‘ popularity, can the cupcake shop Babycakes look forward experiencing a similar sort of preservation and recognition as Katz’s Delicatessen? Will Tom and Jerry’s, the bar where the character Jessa has a pre-abortion drink, be guaranteed years of business serving busloads of fans? And what will become of those sites that are excluded from the tour?

For those locations that do make the cut, they will become nodes in a circuit—a series of spaces which create another layer in a set of unique routes, locating the stages of fictional narratives set in New York City.


Rachel Engler



Erandi de Silva


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May 26th, 2012 — 7:01am
Visible World, Fischli and Weiss, 2002 (source)
Five-Point Cut, Vidal Sassoon, 1964 (source)


‘…you can’t be in every beautiful place at the same time.’


—David Weiss (1946-2012)



Between 1987 and 2001 Peter Fischli and the late David Weiss took some 3,000 photographs, images that came to form their Visible World project. The photographs, arranged on long light tables that stretched across the exhibition space at New York’s Matthew Marks Gallery, collected instances of the world’s diversity… more


Claiming inspiration from the Bauhaus, the late Vidal Sassoon interpreted Modern architecture’s functionalist ambitions leading him to diminish the styling of hair, which in the 1960s was overtly ornamental and labored. He showcased instead the nature of the material he was working with and his craft of cutting. This efficient, minimal approach was emphasized through the infinite layering of geometric primitives: circles, squares and triangles. Sassoon built his legacy by giving hair a graphic identity. The strictness of his shapes while definitive, remain simple, giving way to a vague immediacy.


Rachel Engler



Erandi de Silva


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August 29th, 2011 — 11:29am
pygmalion fencing
Pygmalion and Galatea, Jean-Leon Gerome, 1890 (source)
Piccadilly Community Center, Christoph Büchel, 2011 (source)


The Piccadilly Community Center does not represent an instance of documentation. Its uncanny juxtaposition of both impoverishment and overabundance is both anachronistic and revealing of the center’s studied construction. The inverse of the canon of social documentary photography, those images that record and sometimes romanticize the poverty, the community center creates a dense and specific world, rather than record one already existing. It is a kind of social realism built, not captured.


And though it takes as its subject interaction between people, and studies those spaces that facilitate and house these interactions, neither does the Piccadilly Community Center, as constructed in Hauser & Wirth’s Piccadilly gallery space, represent an instance of relational aesthetics. Rather than represent a continuation of that phenomenon defined by Bourriaud as ‘a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space’, the center perpetuates, instead, a more traditional dream of mimesis and its power.


When Pygmalion created Galatea in the likeness of a woman, he hoped the divine gift of a human soul might enliven her sculpted flesh. The Piccadilly Community Center, an artificially constructed vision of a local community center built in a gallery space in posh central London, is, in its mimetic foundation, an expression of renewed faith in recreating reality and the power of these recreations. The Piccadilly project suggests that by building something that looks like a community center, the spirit of such a place, of community, might somehow descend into its shell, rendering it less a mockery of the lower classes than a functioning supplement to their social lives.


As a type of reproduced space, the artist Christoph Büchel’s Piccadilly Community Center has a dialectical agenda which is self-consciously positioned between reality and artifice. In the creation of this public space, the hosts’ (Hauser & Wirth) upscale gallery fittings are removed and replaced with scavenged furnishings and accessories that simulate a detailed but thrifty recreation facility, indicating a place that has been there for some time and is permanent rather than temporary.


This project relies on misrepresentation to define itself. While the space’s identity may originate in ‘Art’, it shies away from this label. An obvious gesture indicating an attempted divorce from the discipline’s conventions is the omission of Büchel’s name from any promotional material, implying that the community space has come into being as any other: a product of anonymous authors, possibly bureaucrats.


The uncanniness of the space results from its proclivity for mimicry but also from its programmatic tension: art fans intently gaze at carefully placed Post-it notes and disheveled file folders, as if they were trying to understand a Dutch still-life, while elderly locals bake Algerian bread. Some users of the space are there to observe, while those under surveillance may not know that they are being watched. Thus, there is a gradient of awareness amongst users as to what is really taking place in the space.


Büchel has essentially constructed a stage for ordinary people to go about their daily activities and upon which an audience can wander. Here the roles of audience and actor are fluid and can be exchanged at any given moment. This juxtaposition of program produces… more


Rachel Engler



Erandi de Silva


Comments Off on COMMUNITY | Editorial, Regular Contributors


June 16th, 2011 — 5:59pm
puritans milk
Painting of American Puritans (source)
Milk Farmers Protest, 2009 (source)


Reformation theology emphasized the intangible quality of faith and its location within the hearts of believers, rather than in the prescribed ritual of an ornate and hierarchical Catholicism. Embedded here, generally, was a rejection of the material. As waves of iconoclasm spread with Protestantism, so did the articulation of a new church architecture – one spare and plain, puritanical, rather than bejeweled or gilded.


This new religion founded itself in reaction, in protest, to the dominant practice thus, forming a network of Protestants in various guises, across Europe. Central to their belief was the philosophical distinction between the visible and invisible churches, between those who participate in religion in a material, empirical way—attending sermons, Sunday school classes—and those who, more significantly, are spiritually bound to Jesus.


The Westminster Standards, composed during the English Reformation, became the basis for, among other movements, Presbyterianism. The Standards articulated this difference between the invisible and visible, while denouncing the Pope of Rome as the head of the church. Instead, this vision of Protestantism imagined a community of individuals bound not by ecclesiastical authority but instead by a persistent and invisible faith. Protest then, unites a group diffuse in location or body under an immaterial priority.


In a staged protest however, it is exactly visibility that is valued. The accumulation of individuals… more



For the average protest, attracting media attention is as critical as the grievance itself. Although current modes of digital communication can help to spread awareness of a cause, in order to maximize the (physical) platform for presenting concerns and to provide an accessible forum for generating public debate, demonstrators are known to collectively appropriate the city.


As societies become increasingly sophisticated, so do their forms of demonstration. Instead of throwing stones at government buildings, brute physical aggression may be superseded by psychological methods. In 2009, dairy farmers in Belgium began spraying milk onto farmland in order to protest the extremely low prices that they were receiving for their products. Responsibility for the protesters’ actions was directed at bureaucrats, while the inability of observers to witness such wastage spurred the end of the protest.


Because resistance is often a response to acts of oppression, protesting can instigate representation for alternate perspectives and even mediation between them. In May of this year, a group of Spanish citizens criticized what they perceived to be a corrupt government, through the formation of a grassroots democratic movement. What began as an informal protest camp, is developing into a hyper-organized micro-society that aims to guide the parties involved in the political system, on collective decision-making.


Through their many forms, protests typically maintain a spatial dimension, be it urban, rural or otherwise.


Rachel Engler



Daniel Fernàndez Pascual


1 comment » | Regular Contributors


May 12th, 2011 — 6:43am
great showgirls
Catherine the Great (source)
Tropicana Showgirls, Havana (source)


“It improves the look of the neighborhood like 1,000 percent…”


Advocate for neighborhood revitalization, Albany N.Y.



The Russian minister Potemkin is apocryphally said to have erected a series of hollow facades and empty homes—the shells of real village life and real infrastructure—in order to impress Catherine the Great. She was the queen and his lover and all was to be in order for her 1787 review of the Crimean countryside.


While this vision—of false townships glowing in the Slavic wilderness, of a tremendous project presented to an adored, royal woman—holds a mythic appeal, the ‘Potemkin Village’ has since become a useful and potent metaphor, assuming a weight and cultural meaning that obscures its origin story. The phrase is now used to describe any number of initiatives that present a theater of deception, a world somehow duplicitous. The Potemkin Village operates according to facades and is false specifically in its superficiality.


Today, the motive for falsehood is no longer the great monarch in need of consolation or confirmation of her subject’s well being. While the presentation of apparent success remains a priority, the individual or institution to which that presentation is directed is diffuse and far from obvious. Infrastructural accountability is directed at vast networks, and the standards, rather than those of royal service, are notions of urban success and municipal efficiency.


In Cleveland, a city affected by the kind of blighted deprivation much documented across… more


Havana’s Tropicana is a place, out of time. While in many ways, much of Cuba is living in the past, with the island’s limited resources ensuring that little has changed since the 1959 revolution, this seventy-two year old cabaret-style nightclub has evaded the worn aura that sweeps over much of the rest of the nation, making it one of the few lasting testaments to Cuba’s pre-revolutionary decadence.


The experience of the Tropicana is steeped in fantasy, reminiscent of old Hollywood films studded with visions of gangsters, starlets and dancers clad in flamboyantly voluminous, yet strategically scant costumes. With a cinematic entrance, that winds around a lush tropical roundabout lit with glorious neon signage, it is difficult not to get swept into its deeply displaced atmosphere from the moment of arrival. Doormen escort patrons from their 1950s Cadillacs, Oldsmobiles, Fords and Chevrolets to the club’s entryway, a glamorous mirrored hall with crystal chandeliers, which cast a sparkling light all around the reflective space. Here guests are presented with gifts—long stem roses for women and cigars for men. Moving onwards into the main space, staff in vintage-style tuxedos seat guests, as others deliver complimentary champagne and rum. All the while, a dazzling show begins—betraying no shortage of sequins or feathers on the island—in an intimate space surrounded by a dense canopy of tall trees, laid out across multiple stages at varying heights, amplifying the venue’s ability to intoxicate with, above all else, overwhelming visuals.


As cans of Coca-Cola begin making appearances on the streets of Havana and with the recent meeting of Cuba’s Communist Party (the first in fourteen years), changes are taking place that signal a shift in the values and priorities of this nation. Hopefully the Tropicana will endure, as an island within an island, continually moving to its own rhythm.


Rachel Engler



Erandi de Silva


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May 6th, 2011 — 10:23pm
shopping nina
Two Women Shopping in New York City, Photo by Rob Lang, 2008 (source)
Nina Ricci’s New Label, Paris, 2011 (source)


Following her first marriage and first divorce, and in an attempt to show her acquaintances that she was ‘doing alright’, my grandmother would sew designer labels into her generic clothing. There is a beige trench coat that hangs in her closet. Opening it wide, you can see a silky square tag, stitched in with amateurish and uneven strokes. It says, ‘Bergdorf Goodman’.



We clambered out of dresses and skirts in rooms full of women all doing that same thing—rustling through racks of patterns and textures, grabbing things, calculating discounts. These sales are mostly held in warehouse spaces, in empty and cavernous halls in which mirrors have been placed and tables positioned. We were chaperoned by a few, by people who guarded the doors and the dressing rooms and attempted to impose order and manage the sloppiness that materialism and desperation seemed to inspire in otherwise tidy women.


The stock sale’s relatively reasonable prices begin to suggest an easy access to designer clothing otherwise inaccessible but for the few. The warehouses that hold the clothing are big and spare and without elegant lighting or paneled fitting rooms. They evoke the factory—the place of production—and imply a pared down version of a world usually rarefied and ornate. Rejecting the boutique’s preciousness and the department store’s attempts at the cosmopolitan, these warehouses represent a different vision of retail, one suffused with gritty cool and the thrill of disorder. Important here, though, is one distinction. The items that burden the racks that line the walls are, implicitly, unrelated to the mode of factory production responsible for lower-end garments… more


‘One of the first changes I made, as soon as I arrived, was to the label on the clothes. I added the address…’


—Peter Copping, The New York Times, March 4, 2011



Associating a brand with a particular place is an established practice in the fashion industry. From cities, to neighborhoods, to streets: Chanel is tied to Paris, Yves St. Laurent to the Left Bank (Rive Guache) and Nina Ricci to Avenue Montaigne. These relationships with a specific locale are usually established through a company’s promotional material which may feature images of urban landmarks or citations of city names and addresses.


Some designers, such as Dries van Noten, take a more subtle approach to generating associations with particular environments. With no photographic or written references, the patterns of his textiles, with their nods to silks from Asia, printing processes from Africa, weaving methods from the Middle East and so on, take their wearers all over the world.


An even more abstract tier of signifiers are evoked by designers like Comme des Garçons and Martin Margiela through a barrage of techniques, such as ripping and employing dubious amounts of black, to connote ‘the street’.


A label’s ubiquitous allusions to place may, in part, be associations formulated as tributes to a muse. But more significantly, they may be presented with the intention of providing a distinct lifestyle narrative, helping shoppers to connect with the atmosphere an item seeks to create, regardless of what new context it is placed in.


Rachel Engler



Erandi de Silva


2 comments » | Editorial, Regular Contributors


March 28th, 2011 — 8:03am
lynn magic
Alessi Tea and Coffee Towers, Greg Lynn (source)
Nostradamus in a Magic Circle, Engraving (source)


While CNC milling is prized for its capacity to rapidly produce large-scale prototypes of complex geometries, the physical properties of the mill’s construction—it relies on circular drill bits to carve away material—results in residual noise, or grooves, otherwise known as ‘tooling paths’. Although these tooling paths can be smoothed out with coats of Bando or sanded out of existence, over time they have become accepted into the contemporary design language and even celebrated for their ability to map the fabrication process—a marriage between fabrication and ornament, not dissimilar to the work of Process artists from the 1960s.


If Process art was prized for documenting natural organic phenomena, such as movement and gravity, contemporary rapid-prototyping offers a parallel view into the world of digital machines. The width and head-type of a tool-bit or the resolution of a plastic printer reveal the limitations of the technologies that produced them. But while the artists of the 60s were producing sculpture at a one to one scale, architects typically utilize rapid prototyping to produce scale models of objects that are much larger. And while the grooves on Greg Lynn’s Tea & Coffee Towers… more


To ward off bad luck, the more traditional residents of Lancaster County—the heartland of those apocryphally known as the ‘Pennsylvania Dutch’—mount circles and shapes, colorful geometric compasses and mandalas, on their barn walls. The symbols have been termed ‘hex’ signs for reasons that are now opaque. Whether this name derives from sinister spell-casting—’hexing’, a gerund rooted in the German word for witch, Hexe—or from the more benign formal term, hexagon, is unclear. This ambiguity, however, reveals—despite its inherent confusion—a structural relation and hidden affinity. The distance between these two notions, between geometry and mysticism is, in some cases, not a great one.


The magic circle, imagined in both archaic and popular visions of sorcery, enacts precisely this conjunction of form and witchcraft. Drawn as a ring around its maker and enlivened by an accompanying incantation, it generates a protective realm, a field-like safe haven originating in simple, two-dimensional form. The magic circle forms a semi-architectural plan, the designs for a realm not built but mystically tangible.


E. Sean Bailey



Rachel Engler


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January 12th, 2011 — 8:41pm
pyramid gaslight
Inverted Pyramid at the Louvre, Designed by I. M. Pei, Paris, 1989 (source)
Still from Gaslight, 1944 (source)


In Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, the author attaches special importance to I. M. Pei’s 1989 addition to the Louvre in Paris, which he concludes is the burial site of the Holy Grail. What is curious about Brown’s hypothesis is that it assumes a complicit architectural profession, and in so doing forces us to reconsider Pei’s reputation as a high modernist. While Pei’s work is often viewed as an exploration into the volumetric potential of basic geometries, Brown interprets it as an infatuation with symbology (not surprisingly, basic geometries translate quite well into symbols of other things). While Pei has argued that the pyramid was ‘most compatible with the architecture of the Louvre, especially with the faceted planes of its roofs’ and that his pyramids were not meant to be read as copies of the Great Pyramids in Egypt, for Brown, Pei’s pyramids are foremost wayfinders for members of the Priory of Sion. The pyramids represent a V, feminine vessel (vagina), or Holy Grail (Brown believes that the Holy Grail is… more


In the 1944 film Gaslight, the home, potentially the site of Paula Alquist’s conjugal bliss, is perverted by a husband who is similarly depraved. He’s in it for the jewels, you see.


He, her husband, moves things within the house. Her bag, the table and his pocket watch change position unexpectedly, appearing in the wrong places—the seeming symptoms of her mental degeneration. He flickers the gaslights and the rooms become suddenly brighter and then dark again. This varied dimness convinces her that it is not the physical world that is somehow corrupt, but rather, her mind. For poor Paula, our victim-cum-heroine, the home becomes not only the stage but also an actor in her psychological oppression.


Following the release of this movie, ‘gaslight’ has become an expression to describe intentional psychological manipulation—a quaint noun is transformed into a sinister verb by the eponymous film.


E. Sean Bailey



Rachel Engler


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December 7th, 2010 — 8:54pm
oil kirche
Oil in the Rain, Photo by Samar Singla, 2009 (source)


A blow lasts a hundredth of a second. Its registration, a bruise, may last several days or even weeks. Trace evidence is left behind when different objects come into contact with one another revealing a past narrative. Fingerprints indicate a hand that was once in contact; skid marks on the runway recall a flight.


Trauma affects mushrooms, like humans they may suffer similarly by undergoing a change in color following an impact. Once the cap of a Boletus erythropus is nicked and the cell walls are broken, oxygen alters their color from brownish-orange to a range of iridescent tones. There are many famous blue-bruising mushrooms, which are mostly either poisonous or hallucinogenic. Walking amongst these psychedelic fungi in a forest could produce fantastic blue-black footsteps, as their color transfers onto the shoes which tread upon them.


Light unveils marks on a road; foreign fluids such as oil, spilled on the wet surface of the asphalt generate rainbows through reflection. These colorful stains indicate a car’s dripping engine, which may have since left the scene.


When derelict buildings are demolished, they also leave signs of their one-time existence on adjoining structures. A white-tiled wall of a bathroom may remain on the second story of the neighboring party wall or perhaps the fragments of steps from a former staircase may have survived.


Like bruises, renewal and regeneration will usually diminish any remnants with time.


Frauenkirche Rubble, Berlin (source)


A bruise is a photograph in flesh, an abstracted index of action in color. It is a place of injury, whereby red and blue mark the site of impact. A locus of tenderness, with its red and blue demarcation from undamaged tissue, the bruise depicts in two dimensions, a violence now past.


An urban assault can be remembered as well and traced in physical terms. In Dresden, the Frauenkirche’s flecked, reconstructed surface represents an enduring urban trauma. Since German reunification, and the extension of Western funds to the formerly socialist state, Dresden’s historic center has been reinstated as a predominantly baroque city. Tourism and civic pride have encouraged this refurbishing and in a metaphorical spirit far from subtle, authorities have reconstructed the Frauenkirche from mixed materials, from both new stones and from those charred building blocks rescued post-war.


The Frauenkirche’s combination of new and old stones, some clean and others charred by the bombing, creates a collage. The black and white geometry builds a form of seemingly positive and negative spaces. The black, charred bricks, picked from heaps of rubble and reused in the restored church, mark the specific site of violence and commemorate the larger destruction of the city during the Second World War.


Unlike a bruise which exclaims itself for some days before it, and its ache, fade away, Dresden’s injury has been made monumental and persists in the church’s built form. The Frauenkirche is a site unhealed… more


Daniel Fernàndez Pascual

Rachel Engler


1 comment » | Guest Contributors, Regular Contributors


November 26th, 2010 — 3:25am
dollhouse upskirt
The Doll’s House of Petronella Oortman, Rijksmuseum, c. 1686-1705 (source) Waist Down, Prada Transformer, Seoul, 2009 (source)


In Amsterdam it is possible to walk from one miniature house to another.


The Rijksmusem’s dollhouses are precious, cross-sectioned structures, enclosed in glass vitrines and lit appealingly. They represent a particularly lush period of Dutch history, one which is known as the Golden Age. The period was not so-called without reason; its title refers to a time when homes were well-furnished with elegant fabrics, lined with spectacularly patterned wallpapers and well-stocked with preserves and meats. There was also enough money for miniaturization—for tiny, expensive, scaled versions of full-sized structures.


These dollhouses were not toys, but rather, the possessions of wealthy women. Serving as elaborate parlor tricks, they allowed a woman the pride of a home in a state of permanent perfection. Rather than drag guests up notoriously steep stairs, past potentially unmade beds, the Dutch hostess might display the refinement of her decoration in miniaturized form. Condensation reinforced a sense of possession by connecting super-vision with ownership.


Besides the famous Golden Age of Holland, the period which perhaps places second in a tourist’s knowledge of the Dutch capital is that of the Second World War. This era’s local centerpiece is the Anne Frank House—her hiding place somehow conflated with her home, in the museum’s misleading title—which attracts crowds daily. Lines of people assemble, along the canal, to walk through a now mostly empty attic space.


While the annex’s… more


Skirt lengths, shapes and drapes often embody social messages, and since its invention, the mini-skirt has been seen as both a symbol of liberation and of control. Originally introduced as sportswear, because of the freedom of movement they allow, by the 1960s they were popularly adapted by women as tools of self-empowerment. Following this period however, minis tended to be seen as complicit in the objectification of women.


With these sorts of narratives in mind, Miuccia Prada carefully selects the cuts of her skirts. Skirts have consistently played a significant role in Prada’s repertoire since the inception of her women’s ready-to-wear collection in 1988. However, in lieu of the mini, she favors lengths that land around the knee. In the typical Prada collection box pleats, kick pleats, and gathers are variously configured on A-line and full skirts — these often appear alongside a smaller selection of pencil-skirts. Her skirts are built to perform as devices of subtle expression, employing vaguely matronly designs that heavily signify bourgeois ideals of feminine propriety—a combination which is generally interpreted by fashion’s pundits as some loose synthesis of subversion, politics and intellect.


In Prada’s Waist Down exhibition, one of the fashion house’s many collaborations with AMO, this sense of politesse is thoroughly eschewed. Numerous skirts are mounted on motorized hangers which send their hems high into the air. Their display is further aided by the placement of mirrors on the floor, giving the viewing public a glance of what lies beneath. Without relying on the revealing qualities of the mini, Prada and AMO have developed a way to engage the skirt in the act of display.


Rachel Engler



Erandi de Silva


Comments Off on MINI | Editorial, Guest Contributors

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