Facebook Unveils VR Workrooms With Cartoonish Avatars, and Other News

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Facebook launches a virtual VR office with avatars called Horizon Workrooms. 

Facebook users with an Oculus VR headset will now be able to enter virtual workrooms and see their computer screen and keyboard, interact with coworkers, conduct brainstorms, and give presentations. Though the product was reportedly underway before COVID-19, the paradigm shift to remote work has increased the need for new technologies like Horizon Workrooms to help foster digital collaboration. “It basically gives you the opportunity to sit around a table with people and work, and brainstorm and whiteboard ideas,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg says. “For people who can’t be there through virtual reality, they could just video conference in so you can include everyone. But it’s this pretty amazing experience where you feel like you’re really right there with your colleagues.” 

After helping decimate department stores, Amazon soon plans to open their own. 

Amazon remains one of the most notorious victors from the coronavirus pandemic, which hit pause on in-person retail as customers relied exclusively on e-commerce during lockdown. After years of growth, the e-commerce behemoth recently announced plans to open its own department stores that will hawk private-label household goods, clothing, and electronics. The new retail flagships, which are slated to open in Ohio and California, will be roughly one-third the size of typical mall department stores. The news arrives a couple years after Amazon found success through grocery stores, bookstores, and Amazon Go convenience stores.

Chuck Close, controversial artist known for Photorealist portraits, dies at 81.

Chuck Close rose to prominence in the 1970s and ‘80s for monumental, expressionless portraits that gazed back at viewers with a certain inscrutability. Many were composed with a grid structure, which Close said helped him break faces down into “incremental units.” Despite their labor-intensive nature, Close remained prolific throughout his career, even after a 1988 spinal artery collapse left him paralyzed and bound to a wheelchair. He participated in major global exhibitions over the years, including Documenta, the Venice Biennale, and a major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 1998. Later in his career, however, several women accused Close of sexual harassment that prompted conversations about whether art can be separated from the artist’s behavior; the National Gallery of Art in Washington decided to indefinitely postpone a solo exhibition in the aftermath.   

Experts encourage Britain to plant more hedgerows to combat climate change. 

The country’s largest semi-natural habitat, which acts as a refuge for plants and wildlife near barren farmland landscapes, has lost more than half of its size since 1945. The benefits of regrowing hedgerows are numerous: the narrow strips of plants and trees help slow down the runoff of water, guard against flooding and soil erosion, and act as barriers to help prevent pesticide and fertilizer pollution from seeping into water supplies. Some studies show they are even able to trap pollution and improve air quality.

Hiro, the legendary fashion photographer, dies at 90 after an illustrious career.

The prolific Japanese American photographer Yasuhiro Wakabayashi, also known as Hiro, captivated the world with his surrealist images. Following his traumatic childhood in China during the Sino-Japanese War, Hiro migrated to the U.S. and stewarded the likes of Richard Avedon and Harper’s Bazaar. His photography fused the mundane with the sublime to generate dream-like images that are ranked as master templates in fashion advertising. The late photographer’s features in multiple texts and art galleries are fractional illustrations of his awesome career; the wide-ranging acclaim he received from his industry peers station him as one for the history books. Although Hiro’s passing marks the end of an era in still-life photography, his works are immortalized for future generations to come. 

A new fine art gallery in Manhattan will exclusively spotlight Latinx artists.

Calderón Ruiz, a new gallery that celebrates Latinx artists, is slated to open on September 7 in Manhattan’s South Street Seaport. Calderón Ruiz aims to dispel the myth that generalizes Latinx art and promotes the vibrance of their nuanced identities within its 1,800 square-foot exhibition space. The founders, Nicole Calderón and Mike Ruiz, inaugurated the space with an unusual two-person exhibition, with a similar show scheduled for October. “There’s not a space that does this—and that’s exactly why we’re doing it,” says Ruiz. “We want to iterate that there’s a lot to talk about and a lot of amazing artists who are underrepresented. We want to put our connections in the art world toward this group of artists and see what we can’t do.”

Architecture firm HDR is surveilling online activists that oppose their projects.

HDR is monitoring online activist groups that oppose the company’s controversial jail and highway projects. The opinion of prison architecture and highway placement is notoriously complicated, but HDR has remained determined to understand the public consensus by surveilling both public and private Facebook groups run by opposing parties. The multimillion-dollar firm has been deploying “soft” tactics in this initiative: in consolidating online data, HDR developed PR campaigns as a means to drown out resistance. “Controversy is costly, both in reputation and in dollars,” reads their site. “Social and political risk deserves attention at the planning stage of a project or program, where it can be carefully assessed and when there is time to develop strategies to mitigate or diminish risk.”

Today’s attractive distractions:

Behold the Adventureful, the latest addition to the Girl Scout Cookie lineup.

Chess plays a bigger role in parks and public spaces than one might think.

Casio’s latest digital watch celebrates Pac-Man’s classic game of chase.

Keith Taillon sounds off about one of New York’s most historic buildings.

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