A little more than half way through my time with Wasatch Community Gardens, and I have really started to understand the network of support that The Green Phoenix Farm is a part of. In my last post I mentioned the virtual tour video that we will be improvising, to give the public an opportunity to “visit” the farm despite the current health crisis. In the past week or two I have been trying to figure out the right way to weave personal stories into this video, to show visitors the genuine impacts that the farm has.
While we were packaging veggies for the weekly CSA shares, Julie just happened to tell a story about her experience with the farm, that perfectly represents this. She was briefly a part of the job training program last year, and had to leave for personal reasons, however during this time off, she was living at Odyssey House (a substance abuse treatment center I mentioned in my last post) and advocated for Odyssey to start their own garden. They did not have the funding for it, but Julie reached out to The Green Phoenix Farm, and James donated free seeds to get the ball rolling. Because of this connection that she created, The Green Phoenix Farm now donates fresh produce to the Odyssey House on a weekly basis, and Odyssey has an ongoing garden in their center. Since then she as returned to the job training program, becoming an integral part of the team. She has agreed to share this story as a part of our virtual tour, which we will begin filming next week.
To me this is such a genuine representation of what Wasatch Community Gardens stands for. Their mission is not only to provide healthy food to the people of Salt Lake, but to provide resources for residents to become independent and build agency. This empowers community members to help themselves and creates a more long-lasting impact.
One of the big tasks on the farm recently was making some new compost piles. Doing the grunt work as part of the team has helped me learn so much about agriculture, but most importantly, has helped me integrate into the community on the farm. Building that trust has made it easier to get feedback on the murals, and get people excited to participate in the creative process. This is important because next week I will be facilitating a collaborative art project with the team, reintroducing the hand print mural tradition (mentioned in my first post) that previously existed on the farm.
When planning the collaborative project with James, I was noting which supplies would be needed so that I could go pick them up, but he came up with a different solution. Literally right across the street from The Green Phoenix Farm, is Utah Arts Alliance, a non-profit focused on providing resources for artists and art related events. We got in contact with a representative over there, and were able to go get some paints and other supplies for the project. I’m not even joking I just walked a wheelbarrow across the street and picked up a ton of second-hand spray paints and house paints that they were happy to donate to the project. It was also an opportunity to let them know about our Free CSA program, which some of their members might benefit from.
It was inspiring to see that relationship between two organizations grow, and exciting to know that the collaborative art project was a factor in sparking up that communication. The further into this fellowship I get, the more I understand the larger impact these projects could have.
It has certainly been a busy week and a half since my last post. Along with discovering and building connections to other non-profits around town, and getting my hands dirty with day-to-day garden tasks, I have been finishing the mural that wraps around the locker room. Despite being the middle of summer in a desert climate, the weather recently has been very stormy. I got rained out a few times while painting, and had to redo those sections on a later day when the weather was more forgiving. My transportation to and from the farm is my bike, so during my ride I also almost lost some sketches for the next mural to water damage. Though there were some frustrating set backs, two buildings have been finished, and there is at least one more to go. I am looking forward to seeing how the virtual tour, collaborative art project, and other mural work weave together.
Light connects interior architecture, urban studies, and cognitive neuroscience – Yunni Cho, BRDD 21′
I am currently majoring in the field of urban studies, cognitive neuroscience, and interior architecture through a dual degree program at Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design. My goal is to find the potential of design in creating social justice at an urban scale with an understanding of the science behind our spatial perception. Throughout the first month of the Maharam fellowship, I realized that the study of lighting is a perfect way to demonstrate the interdisciplinary nature of my education.
Lighting contributes a fundamental base for architecture and space making. As Steven Holl argues in his interview, lighting remains “integral to the concept of the architecture, unique to the site and place.” Although each of his projects is different in how the building utilizes the presence of light, he believes that “the infinite possibilities of light have been evident from the beginning of architecture and will continue into the future … as light is contingent, its shadows intermittent.” In The Light on Things, Peter Zumthor further extends Holl’s notion of light orchestrating the interior experience by analyzing materials with their capacity to pick up the quantities of light and reflect them in the darkness. For Zumthor, architecture is “to plan the building as a pure mass of shadow then, afterwards, to put in light as if you were hollowing out the darkness, as if the light were a new mass seeping in.” It is this very conception of giving light a sense of mass that allows materials to occupy its surfaces through their way of reflecting the light. In Silence and Light, Louis Kahn defines light as “the giver of all presences … giving to silence the ability to act.” He follows Zumthor’s approach by situating structure as the maker of light and believing an expression of form as the realization of nature.
In architecture, one can see how architects have harnessed the varying morals and politics of their respective time periods leading to a wide array of artistic interpretation. All of these different time periods and ideologies can be united under the presence of light. As Holl, Zumthor, and Kahn claimed, the power of architecture comes through in its ways of dealing with the presence of light, by designing the passage of how light enters and leaves the structure and the ways in which light leaves a visual trace of its presence in one’s spatial perception.
Light, the radiant energy that is capable of exciting the retina and producing a visual sensation, gives rise to visual principles, such as illuminance, luminance, color, temperature, height, density, direction, and distribution (IESNA, 2011). Lighting is fundamental in creating depth perception and a sense of intimacy by defining visual composition and ambience of a space. Without light, we cannot perceive contrast, brightness, material appearance, or three-dimensional surfaces through our vision. There is no space that we can visually perceive and appreciate in an absence of light.
I wanted to share this intimate connection with light in architecture as well as in perception and cognition through my fellowship projects. After spending two weeks on research to find relevant sources, I came across literature on ‘preattentive visual properties.’ Preattentive visual properties refer to four information – (1) form, (2) color, (3) position in space, and (4) movement – that get processed in our sensory memory without our conscious thought. These features are part of our low level visual system, which are necessary for higher level visual abilities, such as figure to ground discrimination as well as depth perception from perspective or relative movement. Designers use these properties to help users easily understand and use information they are presented with.
For my first project, Transient Stillness, I proposed to use these four properties to analyze form, color, spatial position, and movement of light using four different techniques – (1) white ink, (2) color pencil, (3) cut-outs, and (4) time-lapse images – to breakdown our perception and understanding of natural light. The initial goal for this project is to finish 25 images in these four different techniques (100 drawings in total) to make a grid formation for an easier comparison. This week, I finished five additional color drawings and five cut-outs to show how I am envisioning the inclusion of these new techniques. Additionally, I took a couple more time-lapse videos when the weather was windy and cloudy to record different daylight conditions.
I presented my new ideas for the second project, Choreography of Light, at the start of this week to my team. The new proposal was about including two additional pages at the end of each chapter to cite the sources and summarize my research process. The presentation was successful and the team supported this new direction to the project. After the approval, I completed the citation pages for the first and third chapters as well to finalize the three chapters I started.
During the team meeting, I got a chance to meet two interns at the Hamburg office, Selina and Vanessa, who would also be joining our virtual collaboration. We now have fine artists, interior designers, architects, lighting professionals, as well as engineering experts in our team. And all of us are very excited to see how this journey would end as we have a great diversity in each of our backgrounds and skill sets.
This week, we received the first newsletter from the Tanteidan office for the Lighting Detectives since all of the projects became online due to the effects of COVID-19. The letter acknowledged the difficulties the organization as a whole face in not having in-person meetings and public workshops. But Lighting Detectives also promised to focus on the World Lighting Journey magazine and virtual projects that can still be very effective in achieving their goals. We were very glad to receive this letter as it ensured that other chapters are also taking a similar direction as how we are doing our projects through a virtual collaboration.
I am finding myself in a comfortable routine as I start my fourth week of the fellowship. Working in the gardens continues to inform the planning process for the mural work, and I am developing relationships with the people I am working with. My coworkers are made up of permanent staff, job trainees, volunteers, and a grad student from a local college who is doing research for her biology degree. Because of this diversity in everyone’s background, I am getting feedback pleasantly informed both by people who have spent years as a part of the organization, and from those who are as new to the community as I am. Now that I have really gotten the mural work into full swing, people are more interested in talking about the designs, which I am hoping will stir up excitement for the collaborative element that I am facilitating with the members of the farm in the coming weeks.
Painting on shipping containers and with spray paint is new to me, and has proven challenging, but has pushed me to learn more about myself as an artist. As always with a new medium, I have to go back to the basics. I have started buying all of my supplies at a local spray paint shop, and through that have been able to get advice from other artists more acquainted with the material and surface I am working with.
Since my last update I was also able to attend a virtual meeting with the Wasatch Community Gardens board members. After having spent most of my time so far focused on the day-to-day, this was a great opportunity for me to understand the larger mission of the organization, as well as gain insight into how a non-profit functions. They talked about many ongoing projects at various garden locations, including new children’s programming that have introduced in response to COVID-19. Something else that caught my attention was information about the small educational campus that they are currently building at one of the community gardens. It will include classroom spaces as well as low income housing, all centered around permaculture and food autonomy. Not to get ahead of myself but I see this as a possible site for future public art projects that I could collaborate with Wasatch Community Gardens on. Though the fellowship will of course end at a certain point, I would love to continue to work with this organization.
Looking forward, these daily activities will continue, but I will also begin working on ideas for a promotion of Wasatch Community Gardens. Originally I was going to collaborate with Salt Lake City Gallery Stroll, however due to COVID-19 they are not currently doing events. An idea has sprouted from the board meeting though. James has been known to give enriching tours of the farm for potential volunteers, donors, and just visitors in general, so it seems like a natural extension for me and him to create a recorded virtual tour that talks about agriculture, art, and design. This will serve as way for people interested the participating to get acquainted with the organization and their mission. It may also aid in introducing more donors from the arts community in the city. More updates on that to come.
Last week, my presentation for both Transient Stillness and Choreography of Light were successful, and everyone from Lighting Detectives agreed to collaborate on these projects. This week was about further developing my initial proposals to make the projects more cohesive. For the first project, Transient Stillness, I completed five additional hand drawings of daylight condition in Jeju Island, South Korea. Unlike previous drawings focused on the time of sunrise and sunset, this week’s drawings were made around the time of late-morning and early-evening. The addition of these new set of drawings allowed me to focus on the transitional moments of daylight and showed many different forms and shades.
Along with these drawings, I made two time lapse videos in a similar format made by Ulrike Brandi last week in Hamburg, Germany. The first time lapse was made from around 4PM to 10PM and captured changes in sky and light conditions from late afternoon to sunset. The second video was made from around midnight to 7AM and captured changes during late evening and sunrise. Both of these videos were trials made as soon as the rainy season ended in South Korea. And I will be making more of these videos in different settings both in Jeju Island and Seoul to capture a variety of seasonal changes as well as environmental settings. My partners from Germany and Mexico will also be joining me by making more time lapses. Throughout the fellowship, we will be sharing all of our videos to observe and understand potential differences between time zones and geographical coordinates.
For the second project, Choreography of Light, this week was about doing initial research and documenting a list of sources with relevant information, including books, journals, movies, and lectures. The initial list includes literature about the poetic nature of light, such as In Praise of Shadows by Junichiro Tanizaki, The Light on Things by Peter Zumthor, Silence and Light by Louis Kahn, and The Eyes of the Skin by Juhani Pallasmaa. I also included more of the classic architecture books focused on lighting design, such as The Art of Architectural Daylighting by Mary Guzowski, Light and Design by Gyorgy Kepes, and Lighting with Steven Holl by Hervae Descottes. A journal by Nurleawati Ab. Jalil et al. titled Environmental Color Impact upon Human Behavior will be a great addition to account for psychological and perceptual properties of lighting. In order to further understand the complexity of lighting design at an urban scale, I will be reading Twenty Minutes in Manhattan by Michael Sorkin and The Power of Place by Dolores Hayden. In addition to this list, I included the movie Playtime directed by Jacques Tati as an inspiration for my projects, as each scene was carefully constructed with clever framing and lighting to intensify colors and window reflections. Starting my project with these sources as a reference would give me more of a holistic view on lighting from many different points of view.
Following the approach of the first chapter on the dark sky preservation, I did two additional chapters and photo analysis of interior lighting projects. The first project is on the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art in Seoul, South Korea designed by Jean Nouvel, Mario Botta, and Rem Koolhaas. The second project is Kooperative Regionalleitstelle West office designed by Ulrike Brandi in Elmshorn, Germany. Through my analysis on these two projects, I wrote about the importance of light in architecture and adaptive reuse. For my written analysis, I referenced some of the literature from the list of sources including In Praise of Shadows by Junichiro Tanizaki, The Light on Things by Peter Zumthor, Silence and Light by Louis Kahn, The Art of Architectural Daylighting by Mary Guzowski, Light and Design by Gyorgy Kepes, Lighting with Steven Holl by Hervae Descottes, Twenty Minutes in Manhattan by Michael Sorkin, and The Power of Place by Dolores Hayden.
In order to properly cite the sources and explain the process of my research, I wanted to make additional pages at the end of each chapter in more of a collage style. This follows the same format of my initial project proposal for Choreography of Light with two additional pages. I will be presenting this new format to Lighting Detectives and my partners in a couple days through a video call to discuss its graphic design and feasibility. Through the video call, we will also be discussing the content for new photo analysis and the correct order/ table of contents to make a logical transition between the chapters.
On June 18th of this week, I had the first Maharam check-in meeting with Kevin Jankowski, a director of RISD career center. Kevin and I mainly discussed what I accomplished so far as well as the changes to the fellowship. The meeting with Kevin was actually so much more helpful than I imagined. Verbally explaining and summarizing the first few weeks of my fellowship helped me understand the main takeaways and challenges ahead of my project. And also Kevin asked me a few clarifying questions, which made me look at my projects at a new angle. For instance, he asked me about the LUCIA project (mentioned in my second blog post) and how I think about the public-private partnership and the government’s involvement. This question was totally unexpected, as I didn’t realize the implication of working with a public organization in another country. Also Kevin asked me to explain the purpose of adding my hand drawings and photo analysis, which made me reflect on the importance of being more transparent in my design process and documenting changes that were made along with my reflections.
Answering questions from Kevin made me realize some of the weak points of my projects that could be modified or challenged in another way. I will be sharing some of the things I learned through this meeting with the Lighting Detectives to discuss a better way to document our projects together. Moments like these truly show the fact that Maharam fellowship is all about the process more than the final outcomes. Already the project has been drastically changed from its initial proposal through the process of working with others in a virtual platform. But so much can be learned and valued in this process of receiving feedback, solving the problems, understanding potential implications, and coming up with an alternative plan. And I cannot wait to see how my projects would evolve by the time of my second and the last check-in meetings with Kevin.
My second week of the fellowship started with great excitement. An architectural designer and a lighting specialist born in Mexico City, Luca Salas Bassani Antivari joined my collaboration with Ulrike Brandi Licht and Lighting Detectives. All three of us already established a group for online chatting and exchanged email addresses to easily communicate between three different time zones. Luca’s office is located in Mexico City but he has a farm in a countryside outside of the city environment where he often stays for a weekend with his family. His involvement allowed us to have a diversity in the types of environment to gather primary resources through research and field studies. Our project will now include a port city of Hamburg through Ulrike, a country side farm and a high-altitude City of Mexico through Luca, and a volcanic island Jeju and a densely populated city of Seoul in South Korea through myself.
Earlier this week, I shared my initial ideas and project proposals to both teams along with the images I shared in my previous blog post. The presentation was successful, and everyone agreed to proceed and collaborate on (1) Transient Stillness as well as (2) Choreography of Light. And I was able to get some feedback on my proposal to make the project more cohesive and concrete. For our first project, Transient Stillness, we all decided to dedicate this week and next week to gather initial data on daylight conditions by sharing photographs and time-lapse videos. In each of our home countries, we will document how daylight changes throughout the day by doing 24-hour time lapse videos and photo collages. By sharing photos from different environment settings around the world, we hope to better understand the dynamic nature of natural light. Ulrike already shared her time lapse and photographs with us from Hamburg, Germany, which I attached below.
I couldn’t do my own time-lapse video this week in South Korea, as it is still a rainy season here. But I did capture some moments of daylight in Jeju Island through hand drawings. I focused on sunrise and sunset, time in which light changes the most at the fastest pace. I used white color pencil and ink pen on black paper to draw the light. Throughout the fellowship, I will continue to investigate and draw light. And I hope to find more new and creative ways to document light by continuously practicing my hand drawing skills.
For our second project, Choreography of Light, we decided to come up with a preliminary list of books, articles, and movies for our research on urban lighting. Last week, I wrote the first chapter on the problem of light pollution and the need to preserve dark sky through a photo analysis of Hamburg. This chapter was influenced by a research I did with Ulrike Brandi Licht this past winter through a collaboration with an organization called Lucia.
This past Thursday (June 11th), Ulrike shared exciting news that her office is now collaborating on the European project “Lucia – Lighting the Baltic Sea Region” to exchange knowledge on the subject of public lighting. The district office Altona became the lead partner of the project. Lucia begins by examining a section of the Elbe hiking between the Teufelsbrück ferry pier and the Jacob stairs. Particular attention is paid to the Elbschlosstunnel (the underpass for cyclists and pedestrians at the International Maritime Court), an important site for local recreation.
An interactive map tool and a survey are already online for the public to evaluate the current lighting situation. On June 26th, Ulrike will be leading an open lighting workshop on the Elbwanderweg. In addition to the workshop, Lucia team is hosting guided evening walks along the pilot site in cooperation with experts from the nature conservancy union “NABU” and a local police department. This project follows the objectives of Lighting Detectives and serves as an important base for the following feasibility study and future lighting concepts. And as Ulrike and her team are being one of the core members of the project, I will be able to follow the progress and assist them as part of my research and remote work.
To be honest, I was not sure how to participate in an online internship and have the same amount of passion and investment as being on site. But this week gave me so much more confidence and excitement that a successful project can be done in a virtual platform. I feel very grateful to have an amazing team supporting me from both Mexico and Germany. And I can’t wait to see how this project will progress as time goes by.
Nearing the end of my 2nd week at the urban farm, I am reflecting on my initial proposal for this summer project, and evaluating the exciting progress that is happening, as well as noting the challenges I will face with certain aspects of the fellowship that are complicated by the current health crisis. Wasatch Community Gardens is still committed to providing the tools for residents of the Salt Lake Valley to access and grow their own fresh food, though there are certain challenges to many of their usual in-person resources. Thankfully Utah has not been hit as hard by COVID-19 as many other areas have, so though caution and safety measures are being prioritized, I am able to work on site in the gardens. We are all wearing masks at all times and social distancing as much as possible, though some harvests require closer quarters.
I am finding that though it s my job to facilitate a connection to the arts for this community, they are also facilitating my connection to nature and agriculture. I have been given many of the responsibilities that are central to the job training program, including an assigned plot that I am in charge of caring for. This experience of being a part of the gardens is becoming very influential in my ideas for how to represent it through public art.
The majority of my attention is focused on integrating public art into the Green Phoenix Farm, and building a relationship with the staff and volunteers there in order to inspire the content of the mural make-over. My time volunteering in the gardens with the women in the job training program, gives me insight into how they want to be represented, and how they are interested in collaborating. Through casual conversation as we garden I have been able to collect exciting suggestions that will fuel the content of the murals. Many of these women though new to the world of agriculture, have taken a keen interest in plant identification, and understanding the personalities of each species. We have decided to pull this thread into the decorative elements of the design plan, painting dandelions on the first shipping container. Cher and Mona Lisa explained to me that though many underestimate them to be a weed with little value, dandelions are resilient, edible, and can make for great companion crops. These women rebuilding their lives from homelessness through the job training program feel that their experience is reflected in a plant that is so useful and beautiful, yet is underestimated and undervalued. I plan to continue to incorporate their plant knowledge into future designs for the other shipping containers, as a way to represent this community indirectly.
One of the challenges that I did not initially anticipate, is that for me to provide an artistic outlet for the community at the farm, I will have to work with the social distancing safety protocols, which excludes many of my initial ideas. However conversations with the staff, and with James the farm lead, have resulted in a plan to reintroduce a tradition that has already existed on the farm previously. The reason it is called The Green Phoenix Farm, is because it was renamed after a devastating fire that destroyed much of the plot a few seasons ago. One of the buildings that was destroyed had a mural where community members could leave their hand prints as a way to be remembered, and to build an art piece together, over time. Now that the farm is rebuilt, there is an opportunity for me to facilitate a new version of this tradition. Themes of growing over time, and giving an opportunity for everyone to participate feel central to both myself and the community at the farm.
In such a short time I have already been inspired by, and learned so much from the community at this urban farm. I am looking forward to the ways that this project will effect my personal painting and drawing practice, but for now I am spending most of my sketching time working on ideas for some of the larger shipping containers that have space for a more complicated design. Excuse the crude photoshop, but here is one of the potential ideas for one of the larger surfaces. The border may become a place for volunteers and staff to sign their names, or add their own embellishments.
First Week of My Maharam Experience – Yunni Cho, BFA Interior Architecture & A.B Urban Studies & A.B Cognitive Neuroscience 2021
Through Maharam Fellowship this summer, I proposed to conduct research with Ulrike Brandi in Hamburg, Germany by investigating the problem of light pollution and developing new ways to approach sustainable lighting. Ulrike Brandi is an internationally acclaimed lighting designer and educator, who has a Tanteidan chapter in Hamburg. She has knowledge both in the field of architecture and lighting design and dedicates her practice to environmental sustainability. Tanteidan organization allows opportunities for me to organize and participate in various activities, which includes: City Walks and Lighting Salon, Urban Nightscape Survey, Publications, Seminars and Exhibitions, Workshops and Citizen Participation Events, and Transnational Tanteidan Forum.
The Lighting Detectives was founded with an objective to physically go out with our own feet and eyes to observe lighting in actual use instead of relying on theories, ideologies, and preconceptions. The organization’s goal is to detect, observe, and gather experiences to understand lighting at a deeper level. This allows the public to participate and understand public policy through various educational activities and workshops. Its vision includes sharing local lighting culture from around the world to offer a platform to share knowledge and inspiration obtained from it. Respecting the identity of various lighting cultures and providing activities to learn, think about, and enjoy through mutual interaction, the Lighting Detectives strives to create the future and ideal being of sustainable lighting. Currently, there are over 500 international members from various backgrounds, including lighting professionals, researchers, architects, designers, students, and businessmen with a collective interest in lighting. The aim is to make the knowledge of lighting design more approachable and accessible for the citizens. By allowing a wider range of audience to understand the problem of lighting pollution at an urban scale, the organization also contributes to a global commitment towards environmental sustainability.
Due to the current circumstances related to COVID-19, physical interactions with the wider public are extremely difficult. This, however, allows for creative solutions to be proposed and implemented to create a similar experience in the virtual world. Based on extensive lighting environment studies and practical fieldwork, the Lighting Detectives is a place to discuss the future of humanity and better light. The organization is dedicated to the study of lighting culture – all things surrounding and concerned with light. The Lighting Detectives can still strive to pursue its aim by holding regular online meetings and also participating in various outside events, which can happen through zoom meetings and skype calls.
My main goal for this internship is to develop a well-documented lighting booklet through which design and urban planning can come together. I would like to research through online field studies and virtual interviews from lighting experts to obtain knowledge on this emerging field. Using my home country, South Korea, as well as Hamburg as case studies, my research will develop a comprehensive system with defined lighting hierarchy and categories for different types of urban spaces. My aim is to understand what a responsible lighting is and how it can be achieved by combining my design skills with urban education. Additionally, I would like to participate in publishing my research online to communicate my research and get feedback from the different groups of citizens.
The Lighting Detectives have established necessary partnerships to be able to organize these activities, which I would like to contribute. Although the project has been modified to be held online with me being home in South Korea, not in Germany, the organization has been extremely helpful and supportive to make this internship even more meaningful. I am now collaborating with the Hamburg chapter as well as an interior architect and a lighting designer from Mexico City to expand my project at a global scale. Throughout this partnership, I would have continuous mentorship from Ulrike Brandi and her office with their decades of professional experience. They will provide me with constant feedback and opportunities to present my research to her colleagues and fellow lighting experts. This would allow me to develop a holistic understanding towards lighting design by directly working with the industry and the experts.
Our collaboration already began this week, and I was able to virtually meet everyone who is helping me on this project and schedule group zoom meetings between three different time zones – South Korea, Mexico, and Germany. On Friday (June 5th), I presented two different ideas for the collaboration with a written proposal supported by my drawings, titled (1) Transient Stillness and (2) Choreography of Light. And I am now waiting for the initial feedback from both Hamburg and Mexico to start the collaboration next week. For my next blog post, I will inform you how the conversation went and what projects I will be working on for the next twelve weeks.
It feels strange to attempt to complete a video when there is still so much to learn about tong cao and the revival effort led by the Taiwan Tong Cao Association. However, it is important to use this remaining time to produce material for both the association and Irene to use for submissions to future funding!
In addition to preparing the video for output, Irene and I will be giving lectures at the Taiwan Nature Trail Society on November 21st. Our advisor, Kuei Mei, organized this opportunity for us. Irene will talk about papermaking and lead a demo on shifu (paper thread), and I will present some of my work from my degree project and the Maharam Fellowship period. Making this lecture has encouraged a lot of reflection on how my thesis work (which is conceptually inspired by the history and uses of artificial flowers) connects to my current experience recording the tradition of pith flower-making. This will be my first artist talk outside of a school setting, so I am looking forward to trying something new.
Our most recent trip out of Taipei was a couple days ago, to a town called Xiluo in Yunlin County. We were scheduled to meet an artist who has previously worked with tong cao. As we had to catch a bus back to Taipei the same night, the interview was brief, but very worth it! I continue to be amazed at Kuei Mei’s talent for and commitment to connecting people.
During our next trip out of Taipei, we will go to Hsinchu to visit our friend Bawdu, a Hua Yuan member who is the leader in reviving tong cao cultivation practices in his village. Last time we visited his farm plot, the plants were not yet flowering, but this time we will get to see the tong cao in bloom. He explained to us that because tong cao flowers during the colder months in Taiwan, it is a good resource for pollinators who typically have greater access to flowers in the springtime. Fingers crossed that we will get to see some bees!
Until then, I will continue my daily search for cafes with power outlets and keep working on post-production for this video~
Changes happen when people who hold similar missions gather to form a community. At the beginning of my fellowship, Eliza and I visited Father Lennon community garden, a 50ft x 70ft sized plot located along Camden Avenue. What really surprised us was that the garden is entirely covered with weed and it did not have any vegetables growing on the land. I felt a strong urge to raise more attention in this garden since, with a little bit of help, the garden may grow and flourish as an active food hub for the neighborhood. The challenge was that the neighborhood was a low-income housing area where people did not have access to phones and computers. Hence it was difficult to establish a solid structure for organizing the garden.
When I raised this issue to my supervisor, I was notified that there is a clear boundary for how much government can provide support for individual gardens. Community garden gets established because the community gathers and requests the government to provide fundamental resources such as land and water. Yet, it is not the responsibility of the government to maintain individual organizations of the garden and if this becomes the task, they cannot maintain large network of the garden system.
Instead of giving up, what I chose to do is to reach out to Eliza and see if there is anything we can do to re-activate the garden. Looking at the map, I realized that the community garden is located between the Recreation center and elementary school. Although those institutions do not hold responsibility for taking care of the garden, I imagined what if they collaborate to run programs for participants and students and maintain the garden? In this case, it is a win-win situation for both academic institutions and community gardens? I shared all of these thoughts with Eliza and she also thought it was a great idea to maximize assets of existing contexts. After reaching out to Shawn from the Recreation center, we had a meeting and eventually organized a date for communal weeding! Fortunately, we were able to find a connection with the organization in Providence College who are commissioned to do service for community works! August 25, there were lots of people including students from Providence College and people from the neighborhood who gathered and helped clean the garden to have it ready for fall seeding!
Prairie street view
Imagining a new street with more agricultural practice in Providence
My ultimate learning from working with the Parks department is that there has already been a lot of movements on urban farming and food justice. My focus during the fellowship was to create a common ground where different organizations and movements come together. As an architecture student, I often imagine what would it be like if the reality is a little different from what is right now. August 27th, on my last day of working in the Parks Department Botanical Center, I couldn’t stop but keep thinking what would it be like to walk along the street that is full of trees and planters? What would it be like if these dead parking lots are turned into public gardens? What would it be like to take berries from the street when I feel hungry? What would it be like to encounter a pocket of green space in the middle of a dense urban district? What would it be like to harvest corn next to the bus station every morning on my way to work? What would it be like to go out on the street every weekend with my children to take care of trees and planters?
How do we make this happen?
To make imagination come true, I believe we need to form a community of people who hold similar faith, who is aware of the environment and who believes in creating a better world by making simple changes. Although my fellowship ends, I gained huge confidence and courage to continue my research and role as an environmental activist to seek other opportunities to work with the community leaders in Providence to construct new branding of urban agriculture in Providence.
Chang Tang: Tibetan for ‘the great flat plain of the north’
After light enters the atmosphere, the shorter wavelength of the spectrum is scattered into many directions by the air molecules. It dissimilates. It wanders. It travels together with the sublime, remains deep down and far away, making the sky, the ocean, the distant mountains, the melancholy longings or the cavities of our memory appear to be blue.
I remember the blue
drawing a line between turquoise and sapphire
I remember the fresh smell of Kobresia mixed with animal droppings after that mid-summer hail. We were out on a hike to search for antelopes’ bite marks and to learn which kinds of vegetation they’d prefer. The ice hit us while we were on the ground, looking for the marks leaf by leaf
I remember watching the mountains far away turn foggy and white. The storm lasted probably twenty minutes in total. The blue sky slowly disappeared, re-appeared
The clouds cast a foggy shadow beyond and the coldness gave my exposed skin a prickly tingle
I also remember a different coldness emitted from the solemn Purogangri glacier, brushed against my skin
And the sound from the melting ice gliding through the crevices of the rocks, harmonizing with a plastic flower that played chantings of buddhist prayers on loop
I remember the feeling of thrill and fear when a male wild yak stood on the hill right next to the road. It was startled by our truck, flanking its tail and kicking its hooves, forcing us to back away. And the same thrill and fear I felt when encountering a family of Tibetan brown bear, a mother and two children, while we were on a motor bike
And the tranquility of observing a big group of wild donkeys feasting, mating and an antelope sprinting around faster than any other being on this plateau
I remember our sorrow and apologies, for bringing disturbance and fear
And I remember the blue undulating between here and there
Casting a veil onto the mountains’ reflection and the defrosting land. The colorful vegetation looked like deep-ocean-creatures, but miniature in size, budding from Earth at places they never used to appear. And onto the roads that now are lost.
Sometimes I imagined the lakes and rivers have a blue sheet of glass underneath, silvered by the sunlight at dusk. Reflecting onto the creatures that tread on this ancient soil
the fleeing hooves, the anxiety of a mother, the dry and sharp coldness from the highland moon and the rhythm of ravens’ love song
I accidentally saw a pair of ravens practiced their mating dance in a village that we stayed overnight. At first I only heard them when I was on a walk. I looked around and searched for the source of the sound. It was foreign and beautiful. I was surprised that these large, scary-looking creatures can make such elegant, adorable sounds. I walked around the corner and there they were, in the middle of two mountains of trash disposals. The image was jagged but graceful. They didn’t care about my presence so I stood there along side with a pigeon, and watched them. Soon, I became self-conscious, feeling like an intruder to a private and sacred ceremony. So I slowly walked away. The pigeon stayed.
I was lucky that I encountered this ritual and remembered it. There are many songs chanted on this highland, carried away by wind and devoured by the horizon, extending to infinity.
That I would never hear.
The Third Pole is silent and that silence is the blueness of its soundscape A gift from the boundless flatland hovering over the evolution and extinction below, creating a tint of tranquility
The wildlife patrollers told us many stories of Chang Tang’s trespassers. Some came to conquer the land, some came to test their own limits and some came to seek for an end. In time the past will decay, becoming a part of the blue. Are they all trespassers? Or are some of them just souls pursuing the sublime and longing to be lost? That I do not know.
Rebecca Solnit talked about losing oneself as a “voluptuous surrender, lost in your arms, lost to the world, utterly immersed in what is present so that its surroundings fade away.”
I stepped on this terrain with (I assumed) ideas and questions that I wanted to pursue. Yet my memories of the world I use to know dissolved a little bit more as more time we spent seeking on this mysterious highland with very little oxygen and traces of people. Without experiences and preparations, I stumbled upon this realm of lost and present and unknown by accident. Chang Tang made me chase the blue and eventually surrender to the present that is now was.
After we came back from Yingjiang with Cloud Mountain Conservation, I asked Liang a question. I wondered, if the population of Skywalker Gibbon is low and the conservators’ chance of reviving the species is minuscule, then what is the purpose of their effort? “I’m not sure” Liang told me at first. He paused for a second and added “but we’ve got to do something now, right? Who knows what will happen in the future. At least we did everything we could.” This very short conversation lingered in my mind while I was at Chang Tang plateau
facing the ancient yet young geography of this northern flatland and the species that will disappear someday or transform into something new
I now understand that he is also a fellow voyager to the far away blue
to the flora
and to the fauna