comprehend all the things that are going on just in order to convert organic matter into dirt. Spending all this time looking into this complex system of connected parts, I started to look at other aspects of our work at SCLT as part of a larger, more complicated web of interconnected parts. In my experience at Southside Community Land Trust, I’ve come to see the importance of our interactions with all of the different people and organizations in the neighborhood. Teaching at Davey Lopes Recreation Complex and at the Center for Southeast Asians twice a weak provides regular contact with the families that use those spaces. We rely on that contact in order to understand what people’s needs and interests are with regards to the realm of growing food. We have also touched base with different organizations in the neighborhood such as Project Weber/RENEW to understand how to safely interact with vulnerable populations that surround our site at Somerset Hayward. It has become increasingly clear to me that in order to thrive we need to actively engage in the variety of organisms that exist in the neighborhood. Like the soil, we are in an ecosystem and there is no denying our inherent connection, whether large or small, to every aspect of the Southside.
I feel the last bit of a project is always the toughest to get through. One can see the finish line, but they don’t want it to end so quick. I have been in that phase for a few days now. Following my last post I spent two rigorous weeks of being indoors, illustrating, editing text, compositing and laying all of this out into files ready to be printed. The week hence has been a whirlwind of getting the production right.
After failed test prints(print colors which made me want to weep), re-iterations of the box (sitting cross-legged with local book-binders to teach them how to adapt their technique to my purpose), and being told what I was trying to do is not possible to manufacture locally; I decided to do things at home. Armed with a home printer, a new CMYK ink cartridge, and some charcoal paper, chopped to size, I was ready to produce 2 copies myself, and demonstrate that what I intended to produce was not as impossible and could well be done at an acceptable cost.
Considering that I had to print on an A4 paper size, I set out to cut sheets of the accordion book and glue them together. Here’s an image of my initial test prints. For a relatively worn out home printer, I was pretty happy with the results.
Having learnt from my experience with the local book binders, I decided to adapt to the production techniques they were more familiar with. I also used the opportunity to re-look at the external form and introduce a more sleek exterior. Having played with a few ideas I decided on the version you see below.
A simple 3 flap book (less of a box now), with a pocket for a folded map, showing the ideal location for spotting each species.
The entire book covers a total of 13 species, 5 of which are endangered, 5 others which are spread in and around the city and 3 which can be spotted in many backyards. Apart from discussing fascinating features of the species and the result of human impact; the book also hints on changes we could incorporate in our lifestyle. The book even mentions count of classes of vertebrates that currently inhabit Guwahati, hoping to share the scale of impact human activities could have on the entire ecosystem.
The good news is, these prototypes have had a great response. I haven’t yet had a chance to test them with a teenage audience or younger; but had the chance to do a test run with a few small groups of adults (3-4 people). They all seem excited and some even started swapping stories of where they had seen a particular bird, or how they had first discovered the bat colony. Over all, I was pleased because my intention of getting people interested seemed to have had the desired effect. Some people also tended to interact with the object merely intrigued by the length (when completely unfolded) of 12 feet.
I had a chance to share the idea with the local Deputy Forest Commissioner, who has shown initial interest and wants to start incorporating design ideas within the space at his disposal. Some of which he wants to adapt from this book and bring out into the public spaces and programming at the Assam State Zoo.
Through Help Earth, we are also approaching possible investors, to gather enough funding to produce a larger amount. Currently the organization is funding a production of 20 copies, to be distributed and shared with officials, who might be interested in helping us take this project forward.
Meanwhile, I had promised Kevin, that I will share a bit of my experience of the changing city of Guwahati and the relevance of this project in light of the changes I see.
It has been two months since I got here. I plan to leave in another week and a half. But I think I will leave that description for my final Maharam post. I have been incredibly lucky to work with Help Earth, and I am inclined to come back. I most likely will.
Until then, I look forward to sharing a post with some background information about the city, a final update on the printing success (hopefully) of multiple copies and my future plans of taking the Maharam experience forward.
I’m writing today to share some of the images from my exhibition here at Biosphere 2. My show, A Love That Bears No Fruit, is a combination of the work I’ve been making here on my residency and the work I’ve been making in the past year and a half at RISD.
Below is the Exhibition text, and the documentation shots. The show is taking place in the old Library Tower, which overlooks the rest of the facility and the surrounding Sonoran Desert. I got into a serious debate with my bosses about the writing I present here, and we actually are using a simplified version here in person. They believed I was being too critical of the initial experiments and the history of the building – and I probably am but I tried to mask it. Here it is as it was intended by me.
A Love That Bears No Fruit
August 13 – 27th 2017
” Lee Pivnik is the current Artist in Residence at Biosphere 2 and has produced a series of work that considers the facility’s history as a monument to human futurity while also questioning the ethics of such a mission. Is “Human Achievement” worth celebrating or pursuing if it is built on the backs of dwindling species populations? Biosphere 2’s original mission turned the wilderness to a garden so our species could propel ourselves to new worlds using this one as a life support system. It must be acknowledged that when our success comes at the expense of the organisms and systems that support us, that success will be short lived.
The phrase “Bearing Fruit” boils down to a measure of success, either in economic production, human reproduction, or spiritual devotion. In this context, fruit acts as both an allusion to the challenges of feeding an exponentially growing global population and a metaphor for bountiful continuation. The notion that our efforts may not always bear fruit, then, is destabilizing. How will next season’s harvest compare to this one’s?
Fruit is produced when a flower is pollinated. The fertilized ovules become seeds, surrounded by fruit tissue called pericarp. For this to occur, a pollinator, or the wind, is usually involved in the process. Pollination was vital for the production of food in Biosphere 2 and the task was assigned to both bees and hummingbirds (although bats were also considered). Bees, which navigate and find flowers with the help of ultraviolet light, could not adjust to life inside B2, as the glass structure was designed to filter out most UV rays. A few panes of the structure allowed UV light to enter, as this was necessary for reptiles inside the experiment. The disoriented bees were attracted to these and would smash into them. By the end of the experiment in 1993, biodiversity inside B2 was significantly reduced, with pollinator species hit particularly hard. There were no surviving bees or hummingbirds. The absence of these animals meant that a critical ecosystem service had to be simulated: plants had to be hand-pollinated, extending the work days of the humans significantly.
The systems inside Biosphere 2, historically and currently, were designed to scale up to apply to Earth. Not long after the decline of the bee population within Biosphere 2, Colony Collapse Disorder became a household term as bees began vanishing from their hives. In the latest 2016-2017 winter, 21.1% of bee colonies died, but this is actually less than the average number of winter losses over the last decade. The bees are starting to do better because of an increase in colonies and new protective measures from government agencies. See the Obama administration’s 64 page National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinatorsfor more information. The problem became clear though. People experienced a paradigm shift, learning that without insects on the planet to pollinate plants, within 50 years most other organisms would perish. Pollinators are keystone species, filling a role in ecosystems that makes them indispensable. People, on the other hand, don’t serve any comparably positive role. Most species would likely benefit from our absence.
To present humanity as expendable in a facility that was built to safeguard our future is radical to say the least. Though, isn’t it time to consider the future of the nonhuman? With possibly dozens of species going extinct daily, we sit precariously in an ongoing mass extinction event that we have set into motion. How much can we spare to lose before our health is affected? Before our fruit trees aren’t pollinated? Before we act collectively? Of the 1,000+ known species to go extinct in the past 500 years, 3 have been hummingbirds. Consider this while looking at a portrait by Frida Kahlo, in which she wears a dead hummingbird around her neck. She references a folk myth that the body of a dead hummingbird can bring back lost love. This association of animal death with human luck and good fortune doesn’t add up in a deep ecology mindset. What lifeless body could bring back lost love in an environmental sense? To revive a coral reef, or a rainforest, would that corpse be not of a pollinator such as the hummingbird, but rather a person? A civilization? A political and economic system? We can learn from the interconnectivity made visible by Biosphere 2 that without proper respect and care for the multi-species safety-net that keeps us alive, it will vanish, bringing us down with it. ”
Thanks for reading!
In gearing up for our masterplan unveiling, O.N.E. Mile has been working to address ways in which agricultural production can provide infrastructure for other cultural modes of engagement. Given the context of the urban farm, they tend to be in areas of minority populations who tend to see less amenities than white Americans living in the suburbs. Specific to Detroit, a major issue is the lack of grocery stores, being only 3 major grocery stores within the city limits, (not including independent stores). Many people are left to source their food from liquor stores and corner stores to find sustenance, which in the long run can really add up.
The urban farm in this “post-apocalyptic” landscape creates a great opportunity to think beyond typical agricultural structures. One aim of our work has been to tackle the trauma that Black people have with land. By creating curiosity surrounding the fauna of agriculture, we hope to engage the community to learn more about the fruits of the land we inhabit. We also consider the historical context of the crops we grow, as means to foster a relationship with other living organisms which sustain us. Consider the number of fruits and vegetables we eat today that were introduced as a result of the transatlantic slave trade; watermelons, squash, yams, greens, plantain, etc.
As the masterplan process and model comes together, centering African culture is a priority as the project grows. In conversations with some of the artists in the neighborhood, it is important to consider how we can move beyond the prescriptive narrative that has been crafted for Black Americans. How do we reclaim our story and begin to truly create new ones? Afrofuturism is impossible without imagination, which is why our upcoming unveiling is so crucial to the soul of ONE Mile. By reimagining what is a farm, it becomes possible to grow far more than just fruits and vegetables.
Our event will pay homage to that, as a collective of community members, farmers, performers, musicians, artists, and designers, will all contribute to creating that future. We will carve out a new space in time, in continuity with our ancestors, and those who are to follow. “Crop Up!” will feature an orchestra using farm tools as instruments, an installation 100 handmade masks, among other programming. It will be an example of what ONE Mile will continue to pioneer far into the future, and how community initiated growth can extend far and wide by using food as the medium. That is Afrofuturism.
Every Monday and Wednesday I teach at the Davey Lopes Recreation Complex along with the help from two youth staff. This past Wednesday I sent one of our youth staff, Andre outside to grab around six local plant specimens that we could use for an observation activity with the kids. Ten minutes later he came back with these! I was like, “where did you even find these?! this is practically the most beautiful arrangement of plants I’ve ever seen!” Not to mention the extremely broad range of color, texture and form that he composed. I asked him if anyone has ever told him he’s an artist. He replied,
I laughed, of course.
One of my favorite parts about working with the youth staff after a few weeks is having discovered each of their strengths and being able to put them to use. It would be amazing to be able to work with them for a year in order to really be able to take advantage of what each individual has to offer. For now, it’s been really fun for me just getting to know them.
This past Thursday we took a break from farming to learn about salt marshes and how valuable they are to coastal regions. We watched a few videos and listened to a Rhode Island Public Radio report about salt marsh conservation before taking a field trip to see a salt marsh in person. We drove thirty minutes to the Touisset Marsh Wildlife Refuge in Warren, RI. On the drive up I had four of the youth staff in my car and we each took turns picking songs to play. It was fun to listen to everyone’s choices, all singing a long in some moments and in others discovering song’s we hadn’t heard before (K-Pop as a personal example).
When we arrived at the marsh, Alyssa, one of SCLT programmers, gave us the assignment to complete a “sit spot.” A sit spot entails sitting in one place for about ten minutes and situating yourself so that no other humans are in your field of vision. In those ten or so minutes, you are meant to observe the movement, colors, sounds, smells around you as well as your own emotions. This exercise, as simple as it was, was the main activity we did on site. Afterwards, we each went around and shared one thing we noticed. The overwhelming response from the youth staff was that they loved the experience. Most of us found it to be relaxing and everyone had noticed different things about the same place. Mostly, it was really exciting for all of us to see such striking scenery so close to our home.
This experience, a long with many others, made me see the value of just hanging out together as a group. It is important that we learn about the food system, it is important that we better understand farming and it is important that we see the effects of global warming on our lives. It is also important that we have fun together in a beautiful place or just driving around listening to music. When I talked to my supervisor Kevin Jankowski about these experiences he reminded me of the Maya Angelou quote:
“At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”
I have spent the last few weeks preparing a design thinking workshop for my office (Mayor’s Center for City Services), Office of Innovation, Senior Services, and Healthy Communities Office. My goals are to a. learn how to facilitate a design thinking workshop b. begin to unpack my design process and explore how to share it with others c. wrap up my Maharam Fellowship with my colleagues finally explaining what I do and d. share design thinking with people who work in city hall to infiltrate municipal thinking with the people who execute it. No tall order!
It is reminiscent of another workshop I lead this year during Alternative Spring Break. I also proposed working with a government organization (National Park Service, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area) and had them agree to host a group of RISD students (all majors and years) for a 3-day workshop/volunteering opportunity. They presented us with a problem, and I spent the next few days leading my team through the design process to come up with a solution (here and here for spoilers). It’s so interesting to me that so many people see designing as this impenetrable action, versus the parts needed to analyze, synthesize, visualize and create that we are taught in traditional school.
After facilitating both of these experiences I have learned a ton about my own design process, but even more importantly I have learned about how the design process uncovers one’s values. At its core, working for the government, working in public service (service is a word I like to problematize but I’ll keep it for now) is about improving people’s lives, and in the least-cheesy way making the world better for people. Of course, over time this has mutated from many other types of societies and one should argue that currently big government is not doing this but at this level, in the place, people CARE. It was abundantly clear throughout the design process that the chief concern for everyone was if constituents of Providence would be better served.
There were no mentions of breakthrough ideas (which for the record I would normally go for) that would revolutionize everything, no extreme statements for the sake of statements. Just extremely careful considerations of doing the most good for the most people using the precious resources the city has.
It was so beautiful that each office truly acted as an advocate for the people they represent. The department head of Senior Services told her cohorts when anything proposed would be hard for seniors to navigate. The department head of Mayor’s Center for City Services was determined that city hall would become actually approachable and visitors would have access to the services they need in the way that they need it. Everyone was united in their vision for plain language to be used at every opportunity- breaking down the bureaucratic system one step at a time.
Good design is considered design, and that’s why we need more government workers and designers at the same table.
Recently, we’ve had the opportunity for all the youth staff to have a tour of the Amos House, an impressive social services agency just two blocks from our site. They provide everything from free dining services, clothes and hygienic products to job training and education. We were able to make the intellectual connection between our work urban farming and the existence of hunger in America as an aspect of the larger food system. The amos house provides over 500 meals per day using food they purchase wholesale as well as salvaged produce from super markets. The other important connection we’ve made with the organization is the ability to hire extra helping hands when needed for big jobs like planting, weed whacking or repurposing land. The Amos House is able to connect our organization with people who are ready and willing to do some hands on work.
Having mentioned the Museum in a Box in my last post, I thought I should start here by introducing a bit of background information.
The Museum in a Box is a concept generated in the hope of reaching audiences not often inclined towards visiting conventional museums. The first version was produced at RISD, with the intent of raising awareness and disseminating information about pangolins, an endangered mammalian species. Pangolins are fascinating, yet little known creatures. Here’s an image and a link to the Museum in a Box for Pangolins.
Museum in a Box is not a new concept, It has been used by traditional museums to engage with audiences and have a wider reach. In India, there are beautiful museums, but we don’t have as many as we could possibly need and the ones that exist are not visited or appreciated by audiences as much. As an Exhibition and Spatial Designer I wanted to contribute through the medium of a museum but had the urge to give it a shift from the traditional form. As many of my friends and colleagues work tirelessly to get more people interested in beautiful museums, I try to work towards taking museums (or their parts) to people. For essentially a museum is a learning experience of interactivity and immersion. Hence the need for museums to be put into boxes and shipped.
While the above Pangolin Box was hand made by me and only two pieces have been produced so far, for the current project I had to think differently. I needed to find a way to put information in a box, in an interesting way, yet a form which can be locally produced in multiples. As I conducted my research about the local Urban Biodiversity of Guwahati and started looking at the production possibilities in this city, (economically viable as well as good quality end products), a simple form emerged.
A magnetic box, which folds open, to reveal an accordion book which is about 360 cm long. The box will also contain a map of the city of Guwahati to identify the spots being discussed for viewing certain fauna. The text for the box is aimed at the locals, who are urged to walk around their city and discover some more about their co-inhabitants.
The book starts by cutting through the city in a rough cross section, and then takes people to two nearby wildlife sanctuaries (within two hours of driving distance) and finally to their own backyards, where often some species can be spotted and admired.
Here I share the beginning of the accordion.
Starting with the Gangetic River Dolphin and Golden Langur both of which are endangered species, the book takes its audience through the city and 12 amazing animals, urging them to walk around and spot each of these creatures. Scattered with some ‘did you know?’ questions and some action statements about small changes we can make to help these species, the book tries to increase the curiosity and sense of ownership among locals. I must admit, by no means can this be a comprehensive study of all the species in the region, but this is simply meant to raise awareness and curiosity. I look at my work as that of an intervenor who facilitates the increase of interest. With all information available online one can always find more if they know some basics.
Also to support the dissemination of these boxes, we plan to produce some t-shirts and posters, to share online and locally in the hope of increasing participation and interest.
The future plan primarily includes the sharing of the box with eco-clubs in local schools so that students can be involved in the process of identifying and admiring urban bio-diversity. Having had an initial conversation with the local District Commissioner and received primary interest, my supervisor feels that the project could have a long term impact. More updates coming soon on that front after the governmental pitch. We are busy producing prototypes of posters, t-shirts and the box- to bring along for the pitch.
Here’s a sample image, with an illustration of the Greater Adjutant Stock, approximately 2000 of which remain on the planet. These scavengers depend largely on organic waste for food, so by segregating waste in households and at collection sites, we can save many of these birds from choking hazards. Encroachment of habitat is a problem we cannot immediately solve, but waste segregation can definitely be taken care of, by us, now.
Similar to the one above there are others within the series of ‘I Care. Do You?’ visuals.
Moving ahead, I am working on simplifying the visuals to make them fit for silk screen printing on t-shirts. I am also working towards having a first finished prototype of the Museum in a Box by the next weekend. For the same I am trying to outsource the printing and box manufacturing, for through the prototype we would be able to gauge the quality and cost per piece. We aim to print at least a hundred of these to begin with.
In the meantime, I am informally learning a lot about frogs and am all set to start exploring the pygmy hog in another two weeks or so. My supervisor has been kind enough to offer to put me touch with a local breeding center and another one at the Manas National Park. The progress on this front depends on the successful and timely execution of the box. If not immediately I know it will happen when the time is right.
I might also mention that I am considering sticking around for some time longer even after my promised eight weeks of internship are done, as the organization has given me a window into affecting change, towards reviewing the human relationship with nature.
I sat in on a discussion fostered by O.N.E. Mile in collaboration with the Zimbabwe Cultural Center, who brought various fellows and the band Mokoomba (who were in town for Detroit’s Concert of Colors), as a part of facilitating a connection with Detroit and Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe cultural center facilitates a residency in partnership with Njelele Art Station in Harare, Zimbabwe; where artists exchange between the respective geographies to execute projects on both sides of the ocean [http://zccd.org/residence/]. We discussed the parallel struggles we share in terms of corruption, class differences, and political suppression. We also discussed the uplift and power of our culture, and how cultural collaboration maintains solidarity and community building.
Entertainment activist, producer, and rapper BRYCE Detroit laid it down best, where he laid out the situation in Detroit at this nexus in time. “Gentrification is a narrative strategy that operates primarily, but is not limited to, the following principles:
1. Corruption is equated to emptiness; the vastness of vacancy is correlated to the race of political leaders. When our leaders are black, there is no hesitation to villainize their leadership. Looking at any post colonial history, we see that darker, and indigenous bodies are criminalized and evalued. A pandemic issue rooted in white colonialism that has evolved decade after decade, but never left.
2. Ruin porn; Detroit’s landscape of vacant buildings and structures had been the best international content for people to continue to appropriate from a city that has given so much to society as we know it. Detroit is not, will never, and has never been dead. Selective depictions of ‘ruins’ in Detroit is a way to signal a final frontier, hence the rapid land grab that is well underway. Contrary to popular media, Detroit has always had people who cared, who fixed, who survived here. Its been 50 years since conspiracy to destroy Black enclaves in the city backfired on whites who have since vacated the municipality. This strategic propaganda leaves out the hundreds of thousands Black folks who have and continue to live here. Who laid the foundation and fixed what no one else wanted to.
3. Savior complex: an invitation has been extended to white folks to reinhabit Detroit, the beginning of a new chapter. We see this in Downtown where the majority of parcels are owned by a single entity. We see this in “Midtown” originally Cass Corridor, where new stadium is being constructed with taxpayer money, while our schools are in a unacceptable state. It goes without explanation when our Mayor touts this city as being “for everyone” but the money trail says otherwise. The city does not need saving, there is plenty of work to be done, but it is an issue of equality not “capability.” It always has been.
So how do we stop *gentrification,* quite a trendy word of the past decade. Well, gentrification is always an issue of a community of peoples laying the foundations for the success and life of their culture, and kinfolk. That community then becomes
. ~ * poppin * ~ .
and outsiders begin to look in. Eventually the creators of the space are pushed out, who bring their culture with them, and what once was becomes diluted or erased . Soon they realize what the came for is no longer, and the cycle continues to the next neighborhood. This narrative is most often disseminated via the internet, or television. What’s necessary is a reclamation of the narrative, and building the stories of those that have not been told. O.N.E. Mile has been building the story of the North End and the residents of the community.
None of this information is groundbreaking or revolutionary, this is basic American history. In every city, in every state, this cycle is happening, its how we break the cycle while upholding values of diversity and cultural exchange.
Alot more to come soon!