Imagine you’re in north-central Florida. It feels like it has been over 100ºF out for weeks. It’s humid. It’s tick season. Someone you love was just admitted to hospice. All of a sudden you are navigating death planning, which… said mildly, can be challenging—a perfect concoction of tricky-to-figure-out logistics piled generously on top of all-the-emotions-at-once. However, if you are in the southeast of the United States there is a body disposition option available that is not easily found everywhere—conservation burials.
Conservation burials go beyond the standards of natural burial—no vaults, no embalming, only biodegradable burial materials—by promising to forever protect the land where burials take place. Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery (PCCC) is a non-profit community cemetery that borders Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. The 93 acres that sit between Micanopy, Rochelle, and Gainesville, Florida, look nothing like a standard U.S. cemetery.
Walking down PCCC’s Kathy Cantwell Trail you would think you were in a state park—that is, until you noticed mounds of recently turned soil cocooned in pine needles, some of which are covered in carefully laid flowers. In partnerships with Alachua Conservation Trust and Alachua County, Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery restores land by removing invasive or overly-hearty species to preserve legacy species such as live oaks and hickory trees. Unlike standard contemporary cemeteries, PCCC is a place where wildlife and humans abound. There are deer spotted on graves, gators in cypress ponds, people walking through the meadow or seeking shade in the woods, and community members who come to help staff dig graves.
Of course, that description is representative of the cemetery before COVID-19. The cemetery seems to be operating as usual for the most part—with fewer people allowed on-site, fewer attendees permitted at funerals, and only staff allowed at burials if the deceased died from coronavirus. There are still eagles flying and large banana spiders making equally large webs. My summer looks markedly different than what I imagined. Instead of being in Florida helping to dig graves, maintain the land, and doing in-person outreach to organizations, I am in Providence.
I started work at PCCC three weeks ago and was nervous because my plan to be in Gainesville, FL in person this summer had been swiftly eradicated by COVID-19. I wasn’t going to meet my supervisor Freddie, the executive director, or the other staff members, Sarah and Carlos, in person. How would I connect with them? Would the experience “work” without me being physically present to dig graves and assist with burials? I worried I would get stuck in an eddy of administrative tasks and lose my link to the stories of people being naturally buried close to ponds filled with cypress and gators; to the story of my dad hoping (to the point of expecting) that he’ll die on the path between the family’s Quonset hut and the rocky shore of the Pacific. For the first five days, I had a spike in anxiety—the kind that clouds my day, leaving me overwhelmed by the uncertainty of new situations, and putting me right to sleep. This was not the beginning I had wanted. However, through the staff members’ graciousness, I have become grounded—even if my soil is made from zoom meetings and phone calls instead of clay, nurse logs, and earthworms.
I am now conducting virtual outreach for PCCC. We are trying to figure out how, in the middle of a pandemic, to reach out to end-of-life organizations. We want people to know that there are affordable, sustainable burial practices that offer the ceremony of their choice. However, our primary goal is to provide details on each option so families can make the best choice for whatever their situation may be.
That’s when I think of my dad.
When I told my dad about PCCC, he asked if he could get buried there before quickly backtracking—wanting instead to naturally decompose on our property. Many people who hear about Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery wish they had known about the cemetery when a loved one of theirs died. If you haven’t researched your end of life wishes, it is easy in our country to believe that embalming is legally required and expensive caskets are the only option. However there are many body disposition options, of which the nine conservation cemeteries in the U.S. are just one— body composting, alkaline hydrolysis, and donation to forensic anthropology sites are a few alternatives.
I am hopeful that this summer I will find effective avenues of outreach for PCCC, so people can choose body disposition options in alignment with their values. I am optimistic that I will continue to learn more about different ways to take care of dead bodies and the environmental, social, and financial implications of each. I’m curious about how being more open to different death practices will impact my thinking around what I want for my own body and what will happen to my family’s bodies. Where’s the form to make the small canyon, below my dad’s house, where the vultures feed, a conservation cemetery? That’s where my dad wants his body. I wish it was that easy.
I keep seeing myself as the third point in a triangle, opposite to two places I have not gone this summer—my dad’s house, Raven’s Roost, in Humboldt County, California and the cemetery in Alachua County, Florida (although I’m still holding out hope for a site visit at the end of August). There’s this thread that I can’t quite grasp yet, that is spun from bodies lovingly decomposing into the earth and blackberry brambles and soul-deep humidity, that connects the three locations. This summer will also be an attempt to expose these connections by looking at COVID-19 cases in all three locations, interviewing people in Florida and at home, and collecting colors from each place and examining the stories those hues tell. Maybe the overlap in color will reveal the relationships I am searching for.
Additional Death Positive Links:
End Well Live with Ladybird Morgan, RN, MSW, Executive Director of Humane Prison Hospice Project
With the confluence of the COVID-19 Pandemic and the recent Black Lives Matter Uprising in response to the onslaught of police killings of Black and Black trans people, the beginning of my time at SRLP has been illuminating about the work of collective organization in a time of crisis. The reality is that these crises that the nation is reckoning with are only outer layers to the perpetual crisis of transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex (TGNCI) peoples’ daily survival and self determination, specifically when their identities intersect with blackness, and/or the realities lived by indigenous people, people of color, people with disabilities, and low income people.
My work with SRLP is co-supervised by SRLP’s Director of Membership, Sasha, and Director of Outreach and Community Engagement, Kimberly.
With Sasha, I have had the opportunity to interact directly with SRLP members engaging in the community organizing and leadership development opportunities provided by the Movement Building Team and the Shelter Organizing Team (online for now).
Currently, the Movement Building Team is focused on developing the leadership of SRLP’s membership through member-led panel discussions. Based on the group’s interest and experience we began planning two panels: Disability Justice for TGNCI People, and Ending Violence Against Black Trans Women.
Meanwhile, the Shelter Organizing Team is working to change the conditions for TGNC people in shelter and experiencing housing insecurity – a task that is directly affected by the pandemic. In a meeting with NYC’s Department of Homeless Services, I learned that there is a deep disconnection between the city office and the on-the-ground experiences of unhoused people. In a meeting with the Legal Aid Society of NY I was able to hear more about the history of the right to shelter in NYC, and the urgent need for reform to make shelter conditions livable, and to make shelters accessible to TGNCI people.
With Kimberly I am working on projects related to the Prisoner Advisory Committee (PAC) and a forthcoming report on the lives and experiences of TGNCI people in NY state prisons. The PAC is a group of SRLP members who are incarcerated and advise the organization of the needs and experiences of incarcerated TGNCI people. This link with these incarcerated members is crucial in making sure SRLP’s work is done with not for the people it serves.
Through this work with the forthcoming report I have been doing my own research on the current prison reform and abolition efforts in NYC and nationwide including the HALT Solitary Act which refers to the Mandela rule asserting that prolonged use of solitary confinement is torture, and the Sepulveda Bill which aims to amend correctional law to allow for the early release of certain people in order to lower the impact of COVID-19 on prison populations. I am also researching SRLP’s past initiatives and actions to put together an understanding of the collective’s strategies and message.
The work has fallen into a rhythm that I hope will pick up as I begin the process of relocating to NYC to transition from fully remote to partially in person work. I am hoping that being in a place where my expressed purpose is to dive into the work with SRLP will accelerate things.
In these times, when we feel the world is changing constantly and there is a lot of uncertainty, our professional projects also suffer modifications frequently. After one month in my internship, I needed to re-adapt the shape of the educational material about sustainable development for rural children that I originally planned for. The initial plan was to create some material for the rural schools, and I was considering that there was going to be a teacher who explains the information to the children and organizes the proposed activities. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the rural schools will remain closed for the foreseeable future and the kids won’t have the opportunity to be guided by their teachers.
To understand the situation, it is necessary to say that it’s virtually impossible for these children to have online classes, because most of their homes don’t have internet nor computers. Only some of the parents have satellite internet in their cell phones. The THP-Mexico team let me know that surprisingly, Whatsapp is a common app in the communities because they use it to communicate with the neighboring communities and other relatives who have migrated to the city, and after talking with the team and some of the youth leaders in these communities, we think that this app can become a possible channel to deliver our informative material. Besides, we need to be careful because unfortunately, this app is the main source of misinformation about COVID-19 and other issues.
With this in mind, we decided to replace the tale with a booklet containing many colorful illustrations that will be sent to the rural schools together with a handbook that will be distributed among the youth leaders looking to provide them with information and specific activities to help them direct the conversation about sustainability with the children and families.
My main labour during the last 2 weeks has been to write all the content. I was lucky to participate in a writing workshop with Ana Garralón, critique of children’s and youth literature, specialized in non-fiction books, to polish my draft for this internship. Her comments were enlightening and supportive. She mainly helped me to feel confident about my work and reinforced my idea that it is not necessary to explain and define all the concepts in the text and that it is important to value the kid’s previous knowledge. At the time, I learnt how important it is to be very clear in a children’s text and have patience in finding the correct sentence.
Since sustainable development is such a broad topic, usually related to uncomfortable situations such as poverty, lack of services and job opportunities, and gender inequality, among others, one of the biggest challenges is to find the appropriate phrase to talk about those issues and possible solutions, but being careful to avoid stigmatization and not to hurt the children’s feelings.
During the writing process, I have been working more closely with the THP team to verify the text was responsive to the environmental and cultural context in the attended communities and to the children’s necessities . One of the dilemmas that arose was about interculturality: At the beginning of the writing, I mentioned some illustrative examples from some geographically distant regions but some colleagues often insisted that all the examples needed to be more ‘local’. They argued that by showing local examples where the children could mirror their own experiences, we could show them the magnitude of their daily actions, but, in my opinion, the inclusion of distant histories can create awareness into the child about the real dimensions of those small actions in cases such as desertification, global warming and plastic contamination in the oceans. After discussing, we have managed to find a suitable proportion (almost all local references, and a few examples from distant regions). Also, the constant feedback from the THP team has helped me to align the text completely with the organization’s core values such as gender equality and the recovery of traditional knowledge.
Albert Einstein once said: “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” This internship has been a long learning journey where I have found the challenge of ‘translating’ all my academic reviews and class discussions to deliver the same information to an extremely different segment of the population but that effort has been very satisfying.
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.