Category:writing

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Untitled, 2004, Agnes Martin's last painting. Image via Phaidon

The visits that maybe stick in the mind are the ones where she would show me four versions of a single painting and she'd say to me. 'I think this is the best one, what do you think?' Invariably there was so little difference between them, it was so hard to say, they were all really beautiful. And then she'd say OK we're gonna keep that one and we're going to cut up the others. And I would help with a knife slice up the paintings. Those are the studio visits that I think are the sharpest, helping her destroy the work. What goes through your mind the first time you hear something like that? It's her work, and I'm a co-worker in the art field. . . but yeah. It is brutal. I was there at the end of her life and she said 'go down to the studio, there are three paintings. Hanging on the wall is the one I want to keep, I want you to destroy the other two.' So I went down to the studio. The two paintings she wanted me to destroy were magnificent - absolutely perfect. The one on the wall was a very stormy painting, unlike anything that she had made since the 60s. I certainly didn't want to destroy those two spectacular paintings but I did. I sliced them to ribbons and put them in the trash. When I came back. She said, 'did you do it?' I said, 'I did it.' And that was that. Our last conversation.
Arne Glimcher, in a Q&A published last month by Phaidon.

The Q&A is timed to the publication of Agnes Martin: Paintings, Writings, Remembrances by Arne Glimcher, an extraordinary collection of Martin's writings and correspondence, many works, and Glimcher's own snapshots and notes. He would take extensive notes during his studio visits with Martin in New Mexico, and then transcribe them on the plane home.

He expands on Martin's last request to destroy some of her work in March 2004:

A mystique exists that Agnes painted very few works but in actuality, she painted almost daily when inspired and that was with some frequency. However, only a relatively small amount of works exist from such a long and productive life because she destroyed most of the works she produced. Probably no artist has ever been a better editor than Agnes Martin. The rejected paintings were shredded with a mat knife. As she grew older, during the last few years, she enlisted the help of friends (myself included) to destroy the unacceptable works, as it was very hard to cut through the thick primed linen fabric. When I once asked her why she was destroying a particularly delicate and beautiful work, she said, 'It's too aggressive, and there's a mistake.' Most often that referred to a pooling of colour in one of the works that made the brushstrokes discontinuous. The mistake became an unwanted 'focus' in a non-compositional painting, which disturbed its serenity.

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Trumpet, 1967, an earlier last painting by Agnes Martin, image via zwirnerandwirth

I drove to the studio where I found three grey paintings, all of which were beautiful. Using her mat knife, I reluctantly shredded two and spared the one that hung on the wall. It was unique, expressionistically painted with stormy grey asymmetrical brushstrokes covering the surface. Five thin pencil lines visually grounded the passionate wash to the canvas. There is only one other painting with such an expressionistic asymmetrical handling of brush work. It is called Trumpet and was painted in 1967, just before she took her long hiatus and first departure from painting. On first glance, in this last painting, Agnes appears to have taken a new direction. Comparing Untitled (2004) with Trumpet, it is clear that it was not so much a change in style as it was coming full circle home.

[2016 UPDATE: In 2013 Glimcher spoke with Tate Modern curator Frances Morris about his memoir, and the last audience question was about what the last two destroyed paintings looked like:
The two that I had to destroy were very dissimilar from the one that was left, which you saw the picture of. They were much more rigorous; they were less emotional paintings. They looked more like the 70s than they did the 90s, or the late work. They seemed to be a little bit out of context, but perfect paintings, really exquisite paintings. So I took the box cutter and sliced them to ribbons.
]

In reviewing "Five Decades," a 10-painting Zwirner & Wirth survey in 2003, Holland Cotter called the artist's practice, "a kind of yoga of painting." I'm still trying to think it through, and understanding why she destroyed so much of her work--or her paintings, really, and maybe that's the difference--but perhaps it involves a kind of yoga of looking as well.

Buy Agnes Martin: Paintings, Writings, Remembrances by Arne Glimcher via Amazon [amazon]
Ten questions for Pace Gallery's Arne Glimcher [phaidon via yhbhs]

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Barnett Newman, 18 Cantos, image via portlandart.net

Barnett Newman, from the statement included in 18 Cantos, a set of lithographs produced in 1963-4 with ULAE:

I must explain that I had no plan to make a portfolio of "prints." I am not a printmaker. Nor did I intend to make a "set" by introducing superficial variety. These cantos arose from a compelling necessity--the result of grappling with the instrument.

To me that is what lithography is. It is an instrument. It is not a "medium"; it is not a poor man's substitute for painting or for drawing. Nor do I consider it to be a kind of translation of something from one medium to another. For me, it is an instrument that one plays. It is like a piano or an orchestra; and as with an instrument, it interprets. And as in all the interpretive arts, so in lithography, creation is joined with the "playing"--in this case not of bow and string but of stone and press. The definition of lithograph is that it is writing on stone. But unlike Gertrude Stein's rose, the stone is not a stone. The stone is a piece of paper.

I have been captivated by the things that happen in playing this litho instrument, the choices that develop when changing a color of the paper size. I have "played" hoping to evoke every possible instrumental lick. The prints really started as three, grew to seven, then eleven, then fourteen, and finished as eighteen. Here are the cantos, eighteen of them, each one different in form, mood, color, beat, scale, and key. There are no cadenzas. Each is separate. Each can stand by itself. But its fullest meaning, ti seems to me, is when it is seen together with the others.

I joked about 18 Cantos this morning; it's one of my absolute favorite print works ever. [And no, I don't have a copy, so no, I will not be breaking it up and giving it away to random Twitter followers.]

But it just occurred to me that Newman's perception of the lithograph stone as an instrument to be played, not a medium to be translated, is very similar to Richard Prince's early approach to photography.

Here's just one example from Prince's Canal Zone deposition, when questioned about a 2003 Artforum Q&A where he said he "played the camera":

I was extremely--to tell you the truth, I was extremely conservative, on the other hand, in terms of my artistic attitude.
And I knew that in order to maybe discover something new I had to change a bit and take on another persona. And I felt that by playing, quote, as I said in the interview, the camera, just like a punk rock guitarist who picks up a guitar, seven days later he's playing on stage. He doesn't know how to play the guitar, but it's his inability which shines through, which is really exciting. And the fact that he's not a virtuoso--it's the very limitations I think that make--can actually make great art.

Newman's statement is published as "Preface to 18 Cantos" in Barnett Newman: Selected Writings and Interviews [amazon]
Arcy Douglass's 2008 post about 18 Cantos, then on exhibit at the Portland Art Museum [portlandart.net]

November 8, 2012

Blank And Blank And Blank

One of the things I found so fascinating about the Cariou v. Prince case is the language. The juxtaposition of the ambiguities and subjectivities of art, the calculated omissions of the art market, and the adversarial formalism and ritual of the legal context.

That comes to a head in Prince's deposition transcript, which is this kind of amazing text and performance in one. People objecting to things, people repeating or parsing questions, spelling out names with the consciousness that the purpose is to put something on a record--the record--for later use.

And out of it all, art history inevitably or inadvertently emerges, and a window opens onto something--I was going to type reality, but that's probably naive. It's information, information pulled and distorted by the constraints and confrontations of the deposition process. Which fits the form of the genre, the medium.

The deposition transcript Gallerist posted yesterday from Larry Gagosian, in the suit over the Cowles Lichtenstsein is another example, just a great read. Unlike Prince, and unlike Gagosian's Cariou deposition, it's a real pageturner, combative, tense, a bit suspenseful, maybe with some setups that you think are corny, but yet, in the deposition setting, they still end up working. And even some twists at the end. [My only real complaint: I hate scribd. Just hate it. It's as much a reason for doing a book in the first place, because I hate using scribd so much.]

Anyway, point is, while reading through the hilarious transcript of a preliminary scheduling hearing in the contract/infringement/revenge/divorce case of Burch v. Burch, the chatty judge, Chancellor Leo Strine, wrapped up with an insight on depositions that is a piece of poetry itself:

THE COURT: Okay. Then don't -- then don't worry. What I'm saying is it could be -- if you can all get the depositions done in 62.3 hours on each side, you should.
But a hundred hours is just an artificial thing.

I also don't know -- for example, depositions are often longer than they should be, not
because the person is taking a long time asking questions, because somebody says "Objection."

Mr. Abrams knows that the real reasons why the board did this were blank and blank and blank. And it's distracting the witness from the fact that they're blank and blank and blank, and the witness' inability to answer for himself blank and blank and blank and blank has now been corrected by me, indicating that the real reasons he did what he did is blank and blank. I mean, I've seen plenty -- everybody in Chancery has seen plenty of transcripts -- and you've been at those depositions -- where, frankly, it's much more from the obstreperous defense side than there is from the asking side.

In fact, during his deposition, Gagosian actually stops his lawyer, the estimable Hollis Gonerka Bart, a couple of times to ask, "What does that mean, by the way? Can I ask you what that means when you say 'Objection to form'?"

I can tell you that by the end of the live staging of Canal Zone Richard Prince Yes Rasta this summer, "Objection to form" meant everyone took a drink. To the obstreperous defense.

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I am stoked and a bit daunted to be participating in a session on appropriation at this year's Contemporary Artists' Books Conference. It will be this coming Friday at PS1, as part of the NY Art Book Fair, and will take place in the Performance Dome:

2:00-3:30 pm
Appropriation and Intellectual Property
Debates on the the legal complexity of appropriated imagery have resurfaced in light of a recent lawsuit between artist Richard Prince and photographer Patrick Cariou. Artists Greg Allen and Eric Doeringer and lawyer Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento will discuss notions of "fair use" and "transformation" with our digital culture, as well as the question of how copyright law should adapt to rapidly evolving artistic practices and whether copyright law might constitute a medium in and of itself. Organized and moderated by Stephen Bury.
I hope you can come to the Fair, of course, because it is amazing. And while you're there, I hope you'll come by the session. It's a big dome, and it'll feel even bigger if it's empty.

CABC Conference Sessions [nyartbookfair]
image: from DJ Francois and Juan Atkins' performance during the MoMA PS1 Kraftwerk Festival, via timeout

September 18, 2012

Good Mourning

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I knew vaguely of Laurence Sterne's The life and opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman's importance, and I did see Michael Winterbottom's wild 2005 film adaptation, but I've never read the book itself. So HOLY SMOKES, PEOPLE, Mourning Pages!

Sterne wrote and designed Tristram Shandy [1759] not just as a story, but very much as a reading experience. Which is why the death of the parson Yorick in Vol. I is followed by a page printed solid black. It's usually called [by Shandyheads] The Black Page.

But as Duke comp lit PhD candidate/blogger Whitney explains, it's most typically called a mourning page, and Tristram Shandy is the first time a mourning page was deployed in fictional writing.

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Lachrymae, 1613, Joshua Sylvester, image via folger.edu

Whitney has pulled together an incredible assortment of mourning pages, which usually appeared at the beginning of a book as a memorial to a deceased king or the author's patron.

They sometimes had text or a crest, or designs or illustrations, but a solid monochrome monolith of black was not unheard of. Except, of course, by me.

In 2009 the Laurence Sterne Trust organized an exhibition titled, The Black Page, for which they solicited 73 artists to create their own interpretation of the black page. The artists ranged from John Baldessari to Kenneth Goldsmith to Lemony Snicket.

I think that by now, three+ years later, the artificial suspense has played out, and the Trust can go ahead and reveal the identities of the artists of each work on their little blog.

Diapsalmata: Tristram Shandy & the art of black mourning pages [whitneyannetrettien via bibliodyssey, I think]
The Black Page [blackpage73.blogspot.com]

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Well look what I unearthed while reorganizing my books in storage. The Fall 1966 issue of Art Voices, a short-lived magazine that, I swear, I bought for the articles.

Seriously. It's the issue where Robert Smithson & Mel Bochner published "The Domain Of The Great Bear," their photo-essay/article-as-art expedition through the Hayden Planetarium. I mean, sure, you could read it in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, but don't you want to see it printed slightly bigger?

Anyway, in the short features section up front, right before Lawrence Alloway's essay on early space age films, is this awesome story by pioneering downtown journalist Walter Bowart about a secret, artist-run tattoo parlor called Apocalyptic Tattoo. It's not turning up online anywhere, so I'm putting the whole, short, thing after the jump:

From Allan Sekula's response to Nato Thompson's "Debating Occupy" roundup in Art in America [Jun/Jul 2012, on scribd, which oy]

The "art world" is a small sector of culture in general, but an important one. It is, among other things, the illuminated luxury-goods tip of the commodity iceberg. The art world is the most complicit fabrication work-shop for the compensatory dreams of financial elites who have nothing else to dream about but a "subjectivity" they have successfully killed within themselves. Thus the pervasive necrophilia of the art system. Alfred Jarry spoke at the turn of the 20th century of a "disembraining machine." We can speak now of a "self-embalming machine." Hook yourself up to the dripfor the antiquarian future.
Will do.

Meanwhile, in the summer of 2004, in advance of the Bush/Kerry election, Frieze did a similarly structured but more abstract roundup of artist comments about art and politics, which makes for a sobering, ambivalent read. Here's Paul Chan's response to the carefully worded question, "Can you give an example of a piece of art you think is politically effective?"

When the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968 to quash the 'Prague Spring' (a series of economic and free speech reforms that liberal-minded Czech communist leaders enacted), the people of Prague were overwhelmed and could not resist militarily. So they did the next best thing: they painted all their street signs white. For eight months the Soviets could not arrest resistance leaders, shut down pirate radio and television stations or break up organized meetings, all because they couldn't fucking find them.
Which is true? I guess? The Wikipedia entry for the Prague Spring cites Paul Chan. But from his Mar. 2007 Artforum text, "Fearless Symmetry," [which only shows up on Google in this wonky page and] which ends like this:
But how do we verify, following Rancière, the efficacy of our practice? How do we test the work so that we know it is something made that has become more than something simply made? If we use Rancière as a departure point, perhaps a confrontation is in order. That is to say, the place to verify the practice of equality in the pursuit of a form of freedom (which seems to me like a pleasing if wonky definition of art) might well be a confrontation with a force of order that divides and partitions the ghostly whole back into measured forms of understanding and consumption. If the work is indeed a work, it will resist this partitioning at every turn and claim for itself the autonomy that can come only from the practice of imagining the presence of this now not-so-secret equality in every line, shape, color, and sound. Confronted with such a presence, the police order that longs to divide in order to own can only blush: out of frustration, out of confusion, perhaps even out of fear. But tell me-honestly-when was the last time you blushed looking at art?
Whoa also this, same question to Kara Walker, from the Frieze thing:
I like to think of Donald Judd's Marfa complex as exemplifying the strivings of White patriarchy. But that's just me; I don't think he intended that.

American grain-fed beef will still remain the number one choice of Americans who dine out. Health food fanatics with bogus credentials will continue to slam producers and consumers of beef for destroying the environment and the health of children who are supposedly being poisoned by red meat when organic vegetables, tofu and soy milk are their answers to the world's health problems. More and more pressure in the form of increased year around recreation demand by citizens cloistered much of the year in their Wasatch Front and Southern California neighborhoods will test the patience of ranchers and farmers in the valley who find their gates left open, livestock scattered, sprinkler pipes shot full of holes, crops trampled by four-wheelers and fences cut so hunters can get closer to that "real good hunting spot."

...

One thing that won't change is that there will always be some young men or women who are willing to sacrifice guaranteed vacations, retirement programs, forty-hour weeks and twelve holidays a year with pay, just for the challenge and satisfaction of being a rancher/farmer. The drive or motivation to be a provider of food and fiber for a nation is still alive in a few young people in Grass Valley. May that hunger to work with the soil and the beasts never be lost or destroyed.

excerpted from Verl Bagley's extensively researched history and future of "Beef Husbandry in Grass Valley," p. 222 of the impressive if not quite comprehensive Grass Valley History, Including the Communities of Box Creek, Burrville, Greenwich, Koosharem, published privately in 2005, which I saw a heavily used, duct-taped copy of near the register at the Koosharem Cafe the other day. And when I inquired about it, the lady helping me called down to the store to see if they had a copy. And then she called over to Carol's place, and sure enough, Carol had a copy I could buy, did I know Carol? And that's when I had to confess that until she said it on the phone just then, I was unsure how to pronounce Koo-SHARE-em, we were just on a quick, first family history visit. But Carol was right down the road, and sure enough, she answered the door with a copy, and was surprised to take money, didn't I pay down to the store?

In any case, an unexpected and invaluable resource for my research into the contentious history of irrigation in and around Burrville.

Just go read Brian Phillips' awesome analysis of the bizarre hermetic superlatives of rhythmic gymnastics:

[L]ike all insular civilizations, [RG]'s evolved in a certain direction, it's developed hard-and-fast attitudes about what's beautiful and proper, and a corresponding need to defend those attitudes. It's putting on a show, and it does what it knows how to do. The result is that it feels a little unbalanced to outsiders, in the same way as, say, ice dancing, or dog shows, or a lot of judged activities.
This notion of competition, judgment and the pursuit of perfection within an insular world happens to be a minor fascination/obsession of mine. At some point probably 10 years ago, after surfing past yet another aerobics world championship on ESPN3, I started a posterboard spectrum, which I changed to a 2x2 grid, and then just a bubble chart. All the sports and "sports," I can find are laid out on it, from bodybuilding to dressage to cheerleading to college marching bands [both historically black and not]. Rhythmic gymnastics is there, too, in a cluster with regular gymnastics, synchronized swimming, ballet, drill team, and child beauty pageants. Here's Phillips again:
There is, in the contrast between the poise and seriousness of the athletes and the princessy kitsch of the setting, something really kind of dark and wonderful. Just imagine it: devoting your life, mercilessly and with absolute commitment, to the task of dancing with little twirly clubs to a synth-folk soundtrack while wearing a spangled bathing suit designed to look like ladybug wings. Imagine doing that as well as it can humanly be done, being the person who embodies that accomplishment. I'm not making fun of anyone; I find it strangely noble.
I find it WTFcrazy. With two daughters of my own now, it feels like my parental prime directive is to steer these kids as far the hell away from these freakshows as possible.

I mean, how can it be that less than ten years after Chris Rock identified keepin' his baby off the pole as a father's only job, there is a petition by an Irish member of the International Pole Dance Fitness Association [which is different from the World Pole Dance Federation] to make pole dancing [or "Vertical Bar Dance"] an Olympic sport?

I haven't figured it out yet, what it all means, but the more you think about it, these kind of esoteric, competitive evaluation systems are everywhere, and the desire to excel within them is, too: business, politics, religion, literature, art. Is the only difference popularity, which is apparently just a function of time?

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Maybe to achieve a Theory of Every WTF Thing requires looking beyond the gut, cultural affinities of a judged system, to its language, attempting a close read of the texts it produces. Phillips again:

RG has its own language, which non-RG initiates mostly perceive as a series of ultrasonic clicks and emoji hearts. What, for instance, is the precise distinction between the tournaments Miss Valentine 2012 (Tartu, Estonia, February 10-12), Pearls of Varna 2012 Academic (Bulgaria, July 2), and the 4th International Waves Cup (Germany, March 24)? I have read the rulebook in effect for the Olympics, the 125-page Code of Points: Rhythmic Gymnastics 2009-2012 [pdf], and let me tell you -- you thought football had a lot going on. Between the aggro-ballet terminology (fouetté, entrelacé), the extensive use of pictograms, and the radical linguistic uncertainty ("The French version is the official text," the front cover proclaims, in English), this thing reads like Finnegans Wake as drafted by the unicorn debate team.
Yes. RG has its own language. Just like everything else. And it has roots in aggro-ballet, and there are 43 words for ribbon twirling.

So the top hundred or so international sport and "sport" federations' codes, preferably in print, to fill a bookshelf, and then to begin the data-intensive synthesis between them all. I'll get right on that.

Sparkle Motion [grantland via @felixsalmon]

So tomorrow evening, Friday, I'll be speaking at Printed Matter. If anyone reading this is in town and interested, I hope you'll stop by. Bring a fan, though; it gets hot in there.

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Eric Doeringer and I will be discussing appropriation and artist books, though he's already won the night, merch-wise, thanks to his two new titles he's launching. Fellow Prince appropriator Hermann Zschiegner will be moderating.

The whole evening, which starts at 6:30, is part of HELP/LESS, Chris Habib's frankly awesome-looking show of authorship, originality, reproduction, and appropriation, which is taking over the whole store this summer. If you can't make the talk, you should still swing by to see the show.

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Eric Doeringer + Greg Allen/ Book Launch + Discussion [printed matter's facebook invite for the event]
HELP/LESS, curated by Chris Habib [printedmatter.org]

Previously, related: Untitled (300x404), a print after Richard Prince
Canal Zone Richard Prince Yes Rasta: The Book

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Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

comments? questions? tips? pitches? email
greg [at] greg [dot ] org

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about this archive

Category: writing

recent projects, &c.


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Our Guernica Cycle, 2017 –
about/kickstarter | exhibit, 2017


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Social Medium:
artists writing, 2000-2015
Paper Monument, Oct. 2016
ed. by Jennifer Liese
buy, $28

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Madoff Provenance Project in
'Tell Me What I Mean' at
To__Bridges__, The Bronx
11 Sept - Oct 23 2016
show | beginnings

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Chop Shop
at SPRING/BREAK Art Show
curated by Magda Sawon
1-7 March 2016

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eBay Test Listings
Armory – ABMB 2015
about | proposte monocrome, rose

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It Narratives, incl.
Shanzhai Gursky & Destroyed Richter
Franklin Street Works, Stamford
Sept 5 - Nov 9, 2014
about | link

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TheRealHennessy Tweets Paintings, 2014 -
about

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Standard Operating Procedure
about | buy now, 284pp, $15.99

CZRPYR2: The Illustrated Appendix
Canal Zone Richard Prince
YES RASTA 2:The Appeals Court
Decision, plus the Court's
Complete Illustrated Appendix (2013)
about | buy now, 142pp, $12.99

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"Exhibition Space" @ apexart, NYC
Mar 20 - May 8, 2013
about, brochure | installation shots


HELP/LESS Curated by Chris Habib
Printed Matter, NYC
Summer 2012
panel &c.


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Destroyed Richter Paintings, 2012-
background | making of
"Richteriana," Postmasters Gallery, NYC

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Canal Zone Richard
Prince YES RASTA:
Selected Court Documents
from Cariou v. Prince (2011)
about | buy now, 376pp, $17.99

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