We live an incomprehensible existence in a bewildering time. For any self-identifying sane, rational person, the world we inhabit, clearly, is not. A global pandemic, the implausible response to it by some of our leaders and fellow citizens, and a deteriorating planet that many fear will soon become inhabitable for humans—quite possibly within our lifetimes—these are but a few of the things that make nothing make sense. This is the time which I set forth as a Maharam STEAM Fellow in 2020.
Working as an artist-in-residence with the Heritage Resources Unit (HRU) of the Yukon Government and sponsored as a RISD Maharam STEAM Fellow, I was scheduled to go to Yukon, Canada’s westernmost territory, over the summer of 2020. Undertaking a self-designed fellowship, my aim was to collect stories from the people involved with the Yukon Ice Patch Project and afterward present these finding, in artistic form, publicly.
Thousands of years old, the Yukon Ice Patches are windblown snow accumulations that are now melting—due to climate change—and are revealing exceptionally preserved Indigenous archaeological artifacts, some more than 9000 years old.
In Yukon I was to liaise with the Government of Yukon (Heritage Resources Unit) archaeologists, local self-governing Yukon First Nations, industry members, NPO arts and community organizations, and UNESCO delegates. My aim was to further these groups’ efforts to research, document, and educate the public about the Yukon Ice Patches, their cultural, economic, and climatological significance. And, I was poised to critically examine their groundbreaking consensus-based and collaborative working relationships.
I would then make artwork for public exhibition that communicated these stories. Now delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I hope to form these relationships remotely before I visit next summer, in 2021.
Over the next year I hope to discover what makes the Ice Patches important. I want to learn what compels people to do the work they do and why it is so important for this work to be known. I want to hear what inspires and where purpose is found. I want to learn of the struggles, frustrations, and obstacles people and organizations face. I want to know where they feel misunderstood and the limitations of their power. I want to understand why.
By helping me comprehend the importance and significance of the Yukon Ice Patches, I hope to bring fresh perspective. My aim is to help communicate peoples’ unique points of view that might otherwise be quietened or misunderstood. I want to further understanding and offer new insights.
From these interactions I will create artwork for exhibition that shares the truth and experience of its storytellers. Not only will this work bring needed attention to the cultural, economic, and climatological significance of the Ice Patches, but it will also highlight the complex and intertwined in-between nuances of time, space, and place that are all too often overlooked and lost in the service of projects, goals, and outcomes. Then, from this work, perhaps new understandings and possibilities may arise that can help current relationships and future policies.
Although little to nothing makes sense at the moment, perhaps looking to the past can shed new light on our collective present in the hopes of working toward a positive, and hopeful, future.
For starters, here are some links on the Yukon Ice Patches:
Transient Stillness started with an intention to better understand and communicate the power and beauty of daylight. The Sun moves around the world at a different speed, and our natural light is dynamic, temporal, and transient in every moment. As daylight changes rather quietly without a notice or a sound, we often forget to appreciate its visual qualities and spiritual values. Through a creation of a pattern book of daylight, this project attempts to reverse this common perception. By documenting the fleeting daylight and its different patterns created by the Sun, Transient Stillness records how we visually perceive natural light.
Through the use of four different techniques, – (1) white ink, (2) color pencil, (3) cut-outs, and (4) time-lapse videos – Transient Stillness analyzes four preattentive visual properties individually. Preattentive visual properties refer to four information – (a) form, (b) color, (c) position in space, and (4) movement – that gets processed in our sensory memory without our conscious thought. These features are part of our low level visual system, which are necessary for us to perform higher level visual abilities, such as figure to ground discrimination as well as depth perception from perspective or relative movement. In the creative industries, artists and designers use these visual properties to help their targeted users easily understand and use information they are presented with. Following these four features, Transient Stillness allows viewers to understand their intuition and the unconscious mind towards natural light through a constant observation and repetitive documentation.
Throughout the first half of my Maharam journey, I was able to observe, research, and learn about natural light and finally started to conceptualize and document my project. And the past two weeks were about searching for ways to best present my works and envisioning how the final outcomes would look like. As Transient Stillness is focused on the poetic and abstract nature of daylight and its beauty with the use of various hand drawing techniques, I wanted the final look of this project to also have a somewhat physical quality. I wanted my viewers to understand how this project was realized and also to have a physical interaction with my drawings. With this intention, I started to build graphics to propose a book design.
All of the pages are currently in A3 size for an easier printing process, and I designed a cover page and visual diagrams to explain my concepts and define each of the visual properties that was used to produce the drawings. To document the process of how each style was produced, I also started to record a time-lapse video of myself making individual drawings. So far, I was able to finish an entire set of 25 drawings documenting the form of the daylight (white ink on black paper), and made a time-lapse video only on this section. As I finish more drawings on different properties with different techniques, I am planning to add more videos and expand this time-lapse exploration.
Similarly, I also spent some time reflecting on my progress on Choreography of Light. I realized that my previous chapters were mainly focused on architectural exploration of an office, museum, and an urban nightscape. The aim I had for this project was to discuss light in many different areas of study, not just limited to the architectural point of view. Although the written content was about much broader ideas of preserving darkness in the city and how light shapes architectural form and changes the atmosphere of an indoor space, I found the current focus of the project to be quite narrow. With this realization, I started working on two images that can show different aspects of light. The first image with my face shows how different angles and intensities of light alter our perception (in this example, perception of a facial feature). The second image shows a personal choice of luminaires for a private living room from Home Messe exhibition in Hamburg, Germany. This image could be used to talk about light and lifestyle, how the choice of light sources and color temperatures could be very personal. I would like to work with these two images in the next following weeks to further develop Choreography of Light to include broader contents featuring a variety of different perspectives.
During the past two weeks, I had three different zoom meetings with different people from Germany, Mexico, and the United States. Every single one of them gave me so much helpful comments and critiques along with supportive and inspiring advice and discussion. I believe that these virtual meetings are the true highlight of my fellowship, as they allow me an opportunity to verbally present my ideas, get valuable feedback, and have fruitful conversations that motivate and inspire me to continue my projects. Zoom sessions sometimes make me forget that my internship is entirely remote, as everyone I “meet” and “interact” with is full of energy and passion.
Before I end this blog, I wanted to share a virtual conference I participated in on July 15th, Heinze Architektour. I got an invitation from Ulrike Brandi, who was one of the speakers. This conference had professionals from various fields related to architecture to present and discuss their current projects and development ideas. I was able to see so many new technologies and hear about creative projects from Europe. Ulrike presented a number of her previous architectural lighting projects. Her talk, however, focused on the importance of natural light and how to make the best use of it through a design practice. She ended her presentation by introducing The Habitat of the Sun that she worked with Luca Salas, who is one of our collaborators from Mexico. She also briefly mentioned my name and the projects I am currently working on at the end of her talk to everyone who joined the conference. I felt extremely grateful and excited to be able to share my ideas to so many professionals who are active in the current industry. This conference also gave me a lot of energy and hope for doing virtual fellowship, as it ended with a huge success despite the fact that the entire event was done online.
Now that I have a more clear understanding on the formatting and the direction for my projects, I am excited to continue to produce more contents and drawings to work towards their completion.
This summer at the farm has been very different from what it would normally look like. Volunteer groups and visitors have been limited for safety reasons, and many annual programs have had to be adjusted. Recently one of these programs: Seeds of Success which provides job training to single mothers in poverty, has been able to come back to the farm in person.
With Seeds of Success and The Green Team working on the farm simultaneously, the past two weeks have been the perfect time to start the collaborative art project I had planned with James. Reintroducing the hand print mural project that had existed on the farm before the fire, has been a great way to bring together the women from two separate programs on the farm. In two more weeks I will be finished with the fellowship, so it feels good to know that this collaborative project can grow over time once I am gone.
I was nervous about facilitating the group art project, but people were actually very excited to participate, and had lots of their own good ideas to add to it. We ended up getting some paint markers so that everyone could sign their name as well, but I haven’t had a chance to photograph it since that edition. During my last two weeks I will be making sure that the permanent staff have the materials and resources needed to continue this project into the future. This group art project will serve as a representation of all of the people in the community who have been a part of the farm, giving new participants a sense of importance and tradition.
One of the other projects that I spent a lot of time in these past two weeks, was filming the virtual tour video. The goal being to create content that allows community members to feel connected to the farm, though many cannot currently visit in person. Before COVID-19 James would regularly give tours of the farm for potential volunteers and donors, so creating a digital version is a way to reintroduce that.
After spending weeks working with The Green Team, I felt close enough with some of my peers to ask a few of them to share their personal experiences about the farm on camera. Julie, Cher, and I spoke about our involvement, and these snippets will weave together with the body of the tour, given by James, to give viewers a broad understanding of the impact and significance of the Green Phoenix Farm. My good friend Ben, who goes to film school, was kind enough to volunteer their time for a day, so that I could play more of a directorial role while we filmed. With a background in painting, and little experience with video, I found it challenging to know which shots would work best, and to encourage people to be natural and fluid on camera. In the end we probably filmed more than we needed to because of this, but at least that will give me more to work with while editing down to the final product.
Though there has been a lot of new activity on the farm recently, day to day responsibilities continue. I have been weeding, harvesting, and processing veggies with The Green Team, and painting the last shipping container that I will have time to get to this summer. We are headed towards the hottest stretch of the year, with temperatures inching close to 100 degrees. Having fun side projects like the virtual tour and collaborative mural have helped keep morale up, but it is certainly still a struggle to work outside all day in the heat. Building support and trust as a team is an important part of maintaining energy in difficult working conditions. I am constantly inspired by the resiliency and toughness of the people I work with here. I am looking forward to showing them the finished video of the virtual tour, because I think they will enjoy seeing their hard work represented in film.
Observe, ask, test: Immersing in the imagination of the rural child -Valeria Ramirez Ensastiga MA NCSS ‘21
I am finishing my fourth week collaborating with THP-Mexico and I have enjoyed expanding my perspective on what it would really mean to achieve sustainable development for the pluriverse, as Arturo Escobar and other academics say, which is a universe where many cultural and ideological worlds coexist. I am very happy because this internship has been an interesting intersection between my different interests: non-formal education, product design, and also all the reflections around social and environmental justice which had constantly arisen in my Master’s classes.
Following the well-known “Observe, Ask, Try” mantra to collect information that informs the development of a product, during this internship I have devised mechanisms to obtain the necessary data, even without being in the field.
Observe. – As I had already commented in the previous post, looking for information on rural education, I came to find the documentary “The sower”. Exploring a little more the same digital platform, which hosts a large collection of Mexican cinema, I found a category about rural life in Mexico and decided to take it as an opportunity to expand my ‘ethnographic’ research. To set boundaries and not to go too far I focus on selecting films with certain characteristics: being produced within the last 10 years; having protagonists who were children or young people; and being focused on issues of education or daily life. I have chosen a few large and short films that I carefully analyzed and which were useful for me to ‘settle’ in the rural living and that have allowed me to take note of which natural or social phenomena affect these populations and the strategies they follow to overcome them.
One of them (“De tres.. uno”) specifically shows the complaint of young people from a community in southern Mexico regarding how the education they receive in technical school becomes useless to work or create new businesses within their communities forcing them to migrate to urban populations if they want to continue studying or if they want to put into practice the skills learnt in the school. Along with other films, this documentary exhibits the need to create an educational plan that focuses on rural development so that children and young people can have a decent life within their communities. Otherwise, these children and their families consider that they only waste time and a large part of its scarce economic resources to study something that will not yield some tangible benefits. For this reason, I seek that, at least in my work for this internship, children can find their context represented and see some examples of respectful development in those terms.
Ask. – Mexico is a country with extraordinary cultural diversity, though it hurts to recognize it is a country with enormous inequality too. During this internship, I constantly seek to be receptive to other realities in order to develop a product that reflects empathy. In my attempt to become close with children, who are a necessary piece for my task, I decided to talk by phone with children between 6 and 12 years old that live in peri-urban or rural areas in Mexico. To achieve my goal, I turned to my family or friends network who have children with these characteristics and explained to them I was researching the perceptions that children have about their habitat, care for the environment, and natural disasters. I told the parents my questions in advance to get their authorization, but I asked them not to say anything to the children in advance so that I could have a casual conversation. I was looking for some honest and spontaneous answers and I didn’t want children to think this was an exam. I am aware that this recruitment is biased and has its limitations at the research level. However, given the health contingency and that I only wanted to reinforce my ideas rather than generate definitive data, it seemed to be a good option for me .
During this process, I managed to interview 12 children. Some of the findings I did were that some children confused climate change with the change of seasons; some children said indigenous people are only the pre-Colombian civilizations; and that for them poor populations seemed like a thing from very distant countries. When I asked about environmental caring, children in peri-urban regions answered things more related to waste management and avoiding waste of water or electricity, while those living in rural environments were already more aware of how to care for extensive green areas, such as properly extinguishing bonfires or caring for wild animals. Definitely, it was very refreshing to have these conversations and to remember again what the ‘important things’ are when you are a child.
Try. – Finally, I started to review non-fiction children’s books. I did this review while wearing my ‘rural kid glasses’, wondering, if the avatar that I have developed in all this research saw these books, what would these books say to her? What kind of doubts would arise? Which book would hook her the most? Which info could become a source of confusion? Which ones would invite her to know more about the proposed topic? What would a book on sustainable development in which this child feels identified and inspired look like?
I have to confess that I am a big fan of non-fiction children’s books, but it bothers me that sometimes we, as adults, are not clear on what constitutes a good informative book. A non-fiction book must explain true and clear information while also it should be appealing to the child, inviting him to reflect, to imagine , and even to make use of that information in informing his or her decisions and to take actions in his or her daily life. A good non-fiction book is not an educational book that just tells the child what to do without reflection, nor should it contain a lot of random information to memorize, nor should it treat the child as an empty reservoir that needs to be filled with information. The child already has a world around him/her that is worth respecting.
After doing some research, I have attempted to brainstorm, compiling everything I consider included within an Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) context but translated to rural areas. Also, I have recalled that some of the fundamental topics to include in the educational system are: promotion of healthy lifestyles, biodiversity, poverty reduction, climate change, and disaster risk reduction. Of course, sustainable development is a very broad concept, and wanting to talk about it in depth would be too ambitious for this internship and not very productive within the context so, I have decided to develop a pamphlet that gives children an overview and I will design worksheets so that both teachers and parents can participate in the reflection of what is sustainable development in rural environments and how they can participate in its construction.
I had a meeting with Diana to review the list of topics and verify which ones are more relevant or a priority. In general, I had good comments from her and we concluded that the goal of the booklet is not only to have information for the child but also to give a call to action. We also agreed that she would contact some of the community partners so that they can also participate with their comments. Although getting their comments might take many days, it will be vital for the project they begin to appropriate the material. Moreover, we were also talking a little more about the format of the text because, as I have mentioned before, this internship has the challenge that the product to be developed must be aimed at multilevel and multilingual education. Therefore, including too much text can be unattractive, but having some appealing illustrations might become a powerful tool to achieve our goal provided they are done appropriately. Diana also commented that if the text is short, it can make it easier to find a future collaboration of THP with translators of indigenous languages to translate this work at least into the native languages of the communities where the organization works, which has given me great joy.
During this week I have been writing the first draft, hoping to submit it for review in the next week and then begin the illustrations that it will contain. I feel that the text still needs some work, but I’ll be reviewing it while doing the illustrations and the layout. In the next post, I will share how this booklet has evolved.
On Friday, July 3rd, we had our first group meeting on Zoom between Mexico, Germany, and South Korea. After spending the first month on online communication to share each other’s ideas and projects, we finally found a time that works for everyone to “meet” and “talk” to each other. Our call was at 8AM in Mexico, 3PM in Germany, and 10PM in South Korea. And from now on, all of us agreed to have this group call on every other Friday to have time for check-in and verbal presentation.
Our first zoom meeting started with my presentation. I shared my progress on both Transient Stillness and Choreography of Light. Verbally presenting my ideas through Zoom raised a few questions and critiques from others to clarify some of my ideas and to modify graphic designs for an easier reading. It also gave me a list of tasks to be prioritized to explain my ideas and intentions more clearly. For instance, when I was presenting four preattentive visual properties, I realized I needed more information about their origins and differences from other properties, such as contrast or brightness and darkness. And Luca (from Mexico) raised a very interesting point that all these properties occur simultaneously in real-life, but my project attempts to separate them, which potentially can allow us to understand how we process visual information unconsciously.
After my presentation, Luca shared some of his time-lapse videos and photographs of a workshop he previously led. His presentation focused on the idea of movement, questioning the speed and sequence of how light moves throughout the day. More specifically, Luca is interested in the difference between natural light and artificial light. And he is currently working on a videography project to understand whether artificial light is static or moves at a different pace compared to natural light. The workshop he led also focused on finding creative solutions to capture movement of the Sun. The workshop happened during the sunset in Mexico for an hour, from 7PM to 8PM. During this time, participants developed so many interesting devices, such as a sun clock made out of bamboo sticks and a mirror installation projecting colors of the sunset. Luca generously shared these photographs to find ways to incorporate them into our projects.
At the end of our call, all of us realized that this Zoom meeting was extremely helpful and inspiring for each of our projects. Ulrike (from Germany) then suggested that all of us should write a short explanation for our next meeting on how we envision what can come out from these projects and our expectations for the final outcomes. Now that we scheduled this group meeting to happen on every other Friday, we all are so excited to individually work on our ideas and have a presentation in two weeks.
This week in Germany, Ulrike Brandi and her office organized a public workshop in collaboration with the LUCIA team. The workshop explored different ways to observe and understand light in a public space. Local residents were invited to experiment with the different effects of light at the pilot site and discuss their opinions. The pedestrian tunnel “Elbschlosstunnel” was the investigated area, where the perception of light and color with different materials were tested. The results were documented with video statements from the participants with short questionnaires. As I am working on my projects alongside Ulrike’s office (Ulrike Brandi Licht), we will continue to share the progress on these public workshops to find ways to incorporate some of the knowledge and experiences that were gained from face-to-face interactions.
As this week marked the end of the first month of my fellowship, I spent the whole week on doing research and literature review. I focused on the theme of space, time, and light particles by reading Toyo Ito’s Three Transparencies, C. Rowe and R. Slutzky’s Transparency: Literal and Phenomenal, Kenneth Frampton’s Ando Tadao, Steven Holl’s Time, and Richard Feynman’s Photons: Particles of Light. From these readings, I was able to better understand different types of mediums to transfer light and their abstraction within the architectural realm. Literature on ‘transparency’ defined the terminology both as a material condition and a moral overtone. In a very poetic manner, both authors discussed the materiality of light and how it gets symbolized in our lives. It was also interesting to think of space as a time keeping, clocking device through which we perceive different conditions and movement of light. Ando Tadao’s architectural practice with shadow and light particularly stood out in understanding how light gives us a sense of time and how space can be a device to visualize this interaction.
I read Richard Feynman’s theory on Quantum Electrodynamics (QED) out of curiosity. I wanted to understand the physics behind why light works the way it does. Feynman’s theory focused on interpreting forces between electrons as particle interactions rather than that of the magnetic fields. His chapter on ‘photons’ from The Strange Theory of Light and Matters was very mathematical and complicated for me to comprehend. In order to finish reading his chapter, I had to watch Feynman’s explanations from the lecture recordings found online. With no background in physics, I couldn’t fully understand the QED theory, but Richard Feynman definitely gave me a more analytic and scientific view towards mechanisms behind light particles.
I am hoping to incorporate some of my thoughts and reflections from these literature into my projects in the coming weeks. Next week, I will be completing more hand drawings of daylight and write more chapters about the use of artificial light. And I am thrilled to start the second month of Maharam Fellowship with Lighting Detectives.
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.
During these two weeks collaborating with The Hunger Project- Mexico (THP) I have had many learnings and reflections although I also have felt that time has passed incredibly fast. I would like to start by explaining how, due to the health contingency, the initial proposal to carry out this fellowship was modified, and then tell about my experience of these first weeks.
THP works to eradicate the systemic causes that generate most of the conditions of poverty in rural and indigenous communities as well as to generate development and better living conditions while at the same time trying to respect their own idiosyncrasy and the natural ecosystem that surrounds them. Therefore, the initial idea of my participation was to visit the communities and develop visual material to help the dissemination of eco-technologies in which some residents have already been trained, as well as the promotion of other sustainable practices that can provide these towns and communities with more dignified living conditions and help them build resilience to the threats caused by climate change.
Since the current health contingency does not allow to carry out face-to-face activities and contact with the communities is extremely complex because there isn’t a stable internet connection or reliable telephone networks, the proposal moved towards creating educational material about sustainable development for children with the objective of it being used, in the near future, more widely within various rural schools. Informing children about sustainable development, and how it relates to their rights, is vital to create in them a cultural citizenship that empowers and allows them to participate in the construction of their communities. Perhaps to the reader, this last line might sound too radical, but the more I investigate, the more aware I become that these children grow up immersed in an environment that constantly tells them to resign to living in deplorable conditions while also stealing any aspiration to escape the systemic violence that places them in extreme poverty and environmental inequity.
During the first days, I learned about THP’s working methodology and understood some of the guidelines my proposals should follow so that they correspond to the values and vision promoted by the organization. THP starts from seeing people in poverty as the greatest experts in knowing what changes are necessary to eradicate the causes that generate the situation they are living in. They also seek to develop their potential to be agents of their own transformation instead of requiring them to wait for external assistance.
Later, I started researching and understanding, on the one hand, what materials could be available to explain sustainable development to children and, on the other, rurality, and in more detail rural and indigenous education. In the beginning, I felt a little sad about not being able to visit rural communities, but I also was worried about developing educational material for children who live in a different reality from mine and other children with whom I have previously worked with in highly urbanized populations. Dear reader, please notice that I was born and raised in Mexico City, one of the most populous cities on the planet. Thus, it was necessary to look for alternative ways of doing my ‘field’ documentation.
First, I read carefully about the characteristics of the rural education in Mexico and Latin America, and I found that, unfortunately, although there is a lot of talk about the need to improve rural education there is very little educational material designed specifically for this type of schooling system. Rurality in this context does not only refer to the fact that people live in places far away from large cities, or that most of the economic activities are related to agriculture and livestock but unfortunately, most of these communities lack basic infrastructure, sometimes electricity, sanitation, roads and even tap water. So talking about sustainable development to children living in these conditions, of course, cannot follow the discourse that has spread widely to the most privileged classes, either academically or economically. On the other hand, rural education in Mexico is usually multilevel, that is, a single teacher teaches classes for two or more levels. It also occurs that a single teacher cares for a group of up to 40 children from 5 to 12 years in a large classroom. In addition, many of these communities are indigenous and Spanish is not the native language of children, but it is the language in which the official educational texts and working tools provided to teachers is written in.
Diana, Manager of Alliances and Advocacy in Public Policies at THP was very kind to share with me some previous experiences with the communities. She also provided me with some reports of activities, led by THP or other partner organizations, related to the environmental education that has been carried out within the member communities. Some examples of the topics that have been worked within these communities are caring for water; reducing energy expenditure; and separating solid waste among others. Thanks to this information, I understood more clearly what kind of actions the material I will develop should invite the community to do. I also find it very interesting to see how the small size of these member communities where everyone knows each other, could possibly allow the proposal of community actions that have a big impact in the long term.
Besides, I also searched online the existing educational material regarding sustainable development specifically designed for children, having special attention in finding content developed for the Global South. It was alarming to see that the dissemination material is highly oriented to the privileged classes. There is practically no material on the actions that underprivileged children can take or demand to achieve sustainable development worldwide. The UN 2030 agenda points out the goals on which it is necessary to work, and there is a lot of academic information on how all social groups are capable and have the right to collaborate on achieving them. However, I noticed that such information is not being widely disseminated nor it is adapted to different contexts. For example, one action that UNICEF suggests that children and young people can carry out to achieve the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to “place carpets and lower the thermostat temperature to save electrical energy”. However, saying that to a child from a rural community in Mexico would be totally out of context. Of course, those recommendations are valuable to some populations but we need to be more inclusive and generate diverse content for different audiences. Therefore, after going through some discomfort due to this finding, I concluded that the material I will try to develop, thanks to the Maharam Fellowship, may seem like a drop in the ocean, but it certainly can become a very valuable contribution.
Working on this project excites me, but at the same time, makes me feel a great responsibility. So, this first part of my internship has been dedicated to performing careful research, which now I believe is very important for achieving successful results, first, in terms of the reception it will have, but especially in terms of the impact it will have on the children and teachers who at some point will have this material in their hands. For this reason, I also have decided to approach former friends and colleagues who have worked in rural communities in Yucatán and others who have worked on environmental issues with children to get feedback. They all recommended developing a deliverable in a simple language and that I should not worry about including all the necessary topics, but instead that I should explain carefully the topics I consider to be the most essential.
Lastly, this educational material should serve both children and teachers. Therefore, it’s relevant to understand how the teacher can introduce it to the children and what is the easiest way for him/her to achieve his/her goals while also sharing all the valuable information contained in the material to the pupils. However, I also feel that I have some valuable experience that might allow me to achieve this goal. A few years ago I worked as an instructor in a school garden within the Montessori methodology and I remembered that, during the process of learning to teach, I must observe other teachers working with children. So, imagining a similar exercise, I watched the documentary “The Sower” by Melissa Elizondo, which is a story that narrates the daily life of a rural teacher in Chiapas (one of the states where the material I’m developing will arrive). It is admirable to note all the effort and dedication ‘Teacher Bartolomé’ has to encourage children to learn and to take care of themselves and others while respecting their identities. Watching this documentary has inspired me to carry out this work with a lot of affection even within the confinement of my desk.
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.