Since early 2016, Bell has installed enlarged pages of The New York Times, edited to expose biases concerning race and gender in mainstream media reporting, in public spaces around the country: subway stations, bus stops, the sides of buildings in Brooklyn, and the courtyards of institutions like MoMA PS1 and Atlanta Contemporary. Incisive, acerbic, and easily shareable, the project gained notable traction on social media in the months immediately following Trump’s election in 2016.
In Bell’s own words, the purpose of “Counternarratives” is to “disrupt subliminal messaging about who should be valued.” In the image shown above, the headline “A Teenager Grappling with Problems and Promise” becomes “A Teenager with Promise.” The series encourages passersby to consider the damaging assumptions made by media when reporting a story, and to examine the effects these stories have on our collective societal values. “Counternarratives” also presents a corrective to harmful storytelling, emphasizing the importance of who is doing the telling. After all, the power of a story lies with the person or entity telling it: where they come from, how they view the world, and how they wish to change it. —Danny Vazquez, Assistant Editor, MCD
More on “Counternarratives” and the art of revision:
“How Alexandra Bell is Disrupting Racism in Journalism” by Doreen St. Félix, The New Yorker
“The Trump-Era Boom in Erasure Poetry” by Rachel Stone, The New Republic
“Redaction Art: How Secrets Are Made Visible” by Cora Currier, The Intercept
Each issue of Electric Eel will examine not what makes a good story, but how a good story is told. Some of the best stories out there are overlooked because they're told by voices that have been historically ignored, or because we aren't perceiving them as stories in the first place; we'll do our best to find them and share them with you. We want to know: has anyone written the Great American Novel on Slack? How does a new book festival become a community archive? Is a high-concept restaurant in Los Angeles influenced by science fiction novels? What does it mean for an independent film studio to publish a zine?
Electric Eel will also always include links to the stuff that we can't stop telling people about, plus a glimpse at something beautiful, like the collaborative art project Stick the Vote, featured below.
In upcoming issues, we'll explore the singular genius behind a young female rapper and her debut album, talk with the editor of a long-running literary blog about the similarities between short story collections and playlists, and consider the marketing strategy of fictional social media accounts. (We recommend following the Cookie Monster.)
— Electric Eel