The textile dying process is one of the most polluting processes in the world. Chemical dyes are used until the color is no longer consistent, then the liquid chemical dye is thrown away, with little regard to where it goes and the harm that it creates. It is an unsustainable and toxic process. Due to high demand and fast fashion, little is being done to disrupt this harmful cycle.
We have a plague on our society of consumer capitalism, with predictable and obedient consumers. Fast fashion is a product of this plague, where clothing is meant to only last for one season and then expire as the trend expires. This has created an uncontrollable amount of textile waste. In 2014, the United States alone produced 32.44 Billion pounds of textile waste.
As the Artist in Residence at BosLab, a community built molecular biology lab in Cambridge, MA, I have the unique opportunity to disrupt this fast fashion cycle through novel bacteria dyes. Bacteria dyes use significantly less water than traditional dying methods, and the biproduct of the dye is ecological, as opposed to foreign chemicals from traditional dying methods.
I began my journey with safety training and learning the concept of sterile from a biologist’s perspective. Sterile is very different than being clean. We exist in a world surrounded by microbes, they are on our bodies, on surfaces, in the ground and in the air. To create a sterile environment means to rid that environment of all the microbes. This is commonly done with heat, UV light, rubbing alcohol, and bleach. Creating a sterile space is quite straight forward, but keeping a space sterile is much more difficult. If you reach your hand over your work surface, you have contaminated it. If you touch the outside of a bottle or container with your hands, you are contaminated. As result, I find myself spraying my gloved hands down with ethanol every 30 seconds or so in the lab.
This need to keep my workspace sterile shines a light on the cleanliness of my everyday COVID lifestyle habits. I am aware of how many microbes are living all over everything in my home, my car, and my food. I am also more aware of how strong my body is as it co-exists with microbes. But I would not want to be living in a glass bubble – microbes are good.
In my first attempt to dye textiles with bacteria, I used a magenta synthetic e.coli. I took a single e.coli colony and grew it up in a vat of LB broth which provides the food for the bacteria to grow. Then I added textiles to the dye bath, then put the dye bath on heat. A week later I came back to find beautiful pink textiles. It was so exciting to see the dye work on the textiles, but this was only half of the challenge. Next, I had to figure out how to kill the bacteria while keeping the color, because you can’t have active bacteria living and growing on your clothing. Killing the bacteria turned out to be the most difficult part of the project. I experimented with ethanol, vinegar, UV light and an autoclave. Heating the bacteria in the autoclave was the only method that worked to kill this specific type of bacteria. Unfortunately, killing the bacteria by autoclave also meant killing the color as well. My autoclaved samples looked almost completely washed out, devoid of color.
Back to the drawing board. I need to fine a different type of bacteria for textile dyeing.
B2- Stimuli-Sensation-Perception-Reaction-Behavior-Culture: Design for Sensory Overload in Public Spaces- Chetan Dusane MID ’21
How do we enjoy music that is well above 100 decibel or strobe lights millions of lumens intense at a concert when they cause discomfort in other situations?
What do these numbers mean? Do they mean anything alone? How does the context give them meaning? What counts as an overload?
As I was trying to build my research to answer these questions, the literature hinted that stimuli experienced by people in urban environments might not be entirely about numbers. Interpretations derived from stimuli gradually revealed themselves to be quite contextual, personal, cultural and dynamic to be explained entirely in rigid numbers. I realized that only a few senses like sound, touch (heat, humidity) and vision (light) have measurable/perceivable thresholds and they only serve as indicators of discomfort, depending on the period of exposure. The perceptual realities of humans experiencing them are very personal and contextual. These realities in this project’s context could be most appropriately understood only by drawing from personal experiences and gathering actual field insight from the citizens of Panvel city.
However, before inquiring the citizens about their experiences, I began investigating the process of sensing, its mechanisms and perception of these senses, to better understand the genesis of our sensory experiences. I wished to elicit genuine, meaningful responses from the stakeholders through this knowledge.
The literature on human sensation usually speaks about the five popular senses. However, many believe that there are more than 20. The senses are of two types, Exteroceptive and Interoceptive. Exteroception occurs when stimuli to be sensed originate outside of an individual’s body— such as sensing light, surfaces, foods, smells and sounds. On the other hand, Interoception is sensing the stimuli coming from within the body like pain, balance, body position, hunger, anxiety, etc. The meaning of objects/environments is derived through an interplay of multiple cues captured from various stimuli by a combination of these senses. Both types of senses together form the sensory ecosystem of a person; however, only exteroceptive senses are being considered in this study as they are more relevant to the topic.
Every sense has a biological system associated with it (like vision system, auditory system, olfactory system etc.). A sensory system collects, transduces, and transports sensory stimuli from the sensory organs to the brain’s relevant parts. Sensory organs and the nervous system are parts of these systems.
A sensory organ contains external stimuli collection and transduction units called the sensory receptors. The receptors detect, collect and transduce relevant stimuli like mechanical (vibrations for ears), chemical (smell and taste), thermal (touch) and light (eyes) into signals understandable by the brain. Neural pathways transfer the transduced signals to relevant parts the brain to read, perceive and act on them.
As mentioned earlier, there are some numerical thresholds to the intensity of the signals known to create a sensory overload in some senses. However, the context within which theses signals are experienced, evoke different reactions irrespective of the numbers. In this project’s context, which concerns urban public spaces, the stimuli are unlike a music festival or an airport runway; but, they are dynamic, multitudinous and perceivably overwhelming because of that and less so because of higher intensity of the stimuli.
Interestingly, deriving meaning from an object/environment is not solely informed by the external stimuli. An individual’s context, mental makeup, expectations, motivations, and experiences greatly influence their interpretations. These aspects add and modify the meaning of the bare external stimuli, making experiences very personal. The discomfort and hence behaviors are greatly affected by people’s personal attributes. The culture of a place also plays a role in deciding what is acceptable and what is uncomfortable. This subjective perceptual experience of the senses is called Qualia. This is not to say that people’s reactions differ even in case of extremely intense stimuli. In fact, visual and auditory (not as much for other senses) experiences usually appear to be similar across demographics. However, as aforementioned, the stimuli in urban spaces cause discomfort and overload majorly due to their dynamism and multitude and sometimes due to intensity.
Another interesting aspect of stimuli detection and perception is that the criteria for these actions may shift based on the importance allotted by individuals to the incoming signal. These criteria can be bias, physiological state, expectations, personal experiences and environment. For example, some can read a book in a crowded place, and others may find it too noisy to do so. The ones who can; selectively filter out the external noises to not affect them. An overload of sensory stimuli can make this process difficult. However, this cognitive censorship ability could also come in the way of us experiencing the pleasures and dangers of a space, if the mind is trained, conditioned to ignore most stimuli in an environment of high sensory stimuli like in the urban areas of Mumbai. Also, a constant barrage of stimuli can lead to sensory adaptation, leading to closing out of the environment.
This combination of Sensation and Perception together precedes almost all elements of cognition, thought and behavior. This fact makes the study of Sensory Overload and the subsequent perceptual impedance more significant as it can affect our daily lives in profound ways. This study becomes even more important if we look at it in the context of a crowded Indian urban area like Mumbai/Panvel, which is a mélange of relentless sensory stimuli.
This understanding, then compelled me to learn about how a city, a medley of sensory stimuli, is experienced by its residents. How these stimuli, affect perception and how perception, in turn, affects the mindset, culture, and quality of life in a city.
So, what is a city?
A place for us to house our bodies, as the body houses the self?
or a sensory and emotional experience as Charles Landry (Urban Planner, Author) in his book ‘The Art of City-Making’ says?
I feel it is all at once. An elaborate, intriguing mash-up of social groups, behaviors and cultures experienced through the senses. A melting pot of our collective needs, desires and aspirations. It strives to cater to our basic, economic, educational and health needs along with entertainment, cultural and emotional needs. All this builds unique contexts when we as citizens think of using its various public spaces.
Charles Landry says that the science of city making assumes certain predictability that the city’s human ecologies cannot provide. These ecologies need to be very closely observed, studied and their inhabitants must be involved, in the process of making city spaces. The sensory landscape is a complex interplay of known, long-standing senses overlayed with new, fleeting ones. In my understanding, a city’s sensory landscape elicits a pattern of perceptions, which inspires our behavior, which turns into the place’s culture. Hence, it needs careful consideration in the design phase itself as I feel it profoundly inspires a place’s culture and ultimately, the citizens’ daily lived experiences and quality of life. This is my hypothesis based on literature and personal experiences which is illustrated in the following image.
I believe, and the literature also suggests, cities are sensory, emotional and psychological experiences. Only codes, regulations, and ethics do not make a city; it needs the experiential immersion of its citizens to fully realize its potential. But, we as urban dwellers experience them on a lower level of awareness in terms of its sounds, visuals, touches, smells and even tastes. This is because the public spaces, especially in India, are designed only based on geography and demographic data, with perceivable disregard for sensory fulfilment often inducing a closing rather than opening out our senses. My personal experiences in Mumbai and Panvel made me feel depleted, drained, and defensive regarding my desire to experience the cities. By diminishing our desire to experience the sensory landscape, we approach the world and its opportunities from a narrower perspective. This narrowness makes us oblivious to the beauty of the city and its people and the many problems and even dangers it possesses.
All of the above learning led me to perceive a city and its senses in a completely different light altogether! It made me reflect on my own experiences with the stimuli in Panvel city. I remembered the shared feelings we have as citizens of Mumbai/Panvel before stepping out in a public space. Even though the context varied with the spaces I visited, what remained constant was the overwhelming rush and concern for safety due to crowding, chaos, mass media, information, traffic, dust, smoke, heat, humidity, smells etc. I realized that these feelings have shaped certain behaviors in me like excessive honking, cutting lanes, always crossing roads in a hurry irrespective of the traffic lights, contempt for crowds and people in general, anger, disregard for public property and rules, and ultimately apathy towards others. I have experienced these behaviors among my fellow citizens too, and I fear this may have developed a culture of indifference among us in Mumbai/Panvel.
This constant struggle to defend ourselves from over-stimulation while having our life struggles in mind causes tension and affects our behavior towards our work and one another. This tension then has the potential to affect our health and wellbeing. This feels to be especially true in urban areas as crowded and stimulating as New Mumbai and Panvel. Consequently, the addition of all these hindrances in experiencing the city has led to indifferent experiences in the city we love and a negative impact on our personal and social lives. All this learning led me to build my hypothesis, which then became the basis for my next step, that is proving, disproving or modifying it through an extensive field study. My next blog will cover my findings of extensive field research in detail.
Hearing the Closet: Archival Interventions with Costume + Textiles Collections – Holly Gaboriault, MA Global Arts + Cultures 2021
Central to understanding identities of people, their behaviors, and lived experiences are the material objects created and consumed. Long after they are placed upon a hanger or shelf, objects, clothing, and textiles continue to operate as expressions and historical markers exploring the power of place through cultural production, civic actions, communities, and their landscapes. In the discourse of looking and making, the politics of accumulated differences, disjunctions and dislocations centralize objects in social, cultural, economic, nationalistic, and historical entanglements.
In the past decade, the field of material history has emerged as one of the most urgent areas of research and pedagogy in the art and design world. Related to my previous studies and research of global history, culture, and design influence, the themes and subjects I examine are viewed through the lens of history, geography, and textural social integration seeking better practices for connecting concepts and critical thinking. My recent investigations surround methodology for object-based textile references used by both historical and contemporary textile and apparel designers exploring the boundaries of translation, cultural oversights, and historical misappropriation.
Material histories serve as dynamic vehicles to activate systems, values, cultural identities, and the dialectical relationship between the maker and the medium. During Winter 2020, I conducted a case study of the biennial juried exhibition projects Designing Traditions: Student Explorations in the Asian Textile Collection 2008-2018 within the Costume and Textiles Collections at the RISD Museum of Art. I hoped to continue this research working in the Rhode Island Historical Society’s Textile Collection putting aesthetic qualities of an object in dialogue with the colonial, racial, and environmental histories surrounding it.
Prior to COVID-19, my initial concept for this fellowship coincided with the women’s suffrage centennial, to work with the Rhode Island Historical Society researching their multimedia archive, including film, documents, and textiles to connect diverse stories of women who pioneered civic and cultural leadership in early Rhode Island history. This project extended that directive by composing a unique narrative using research and film to write and produce an original work for Rhode Islanders and beyond featuring the legacy of women who dedicated themselves to the fight for women’s equality and independence. Combined with scholarship and historical backstory, I intended to learn how people can better connect and engage with Rhode Island stories on a national and global level to produce a multi-phonic platform illustrating how people contribute to a place and how they shape it.
When I realized gaining access would be an unknown factor of proportions I could not have anticipated, I pivoted with a second idea to create a series of vignettes highlighting selections from RIHS collection of textiles, objects, and furniture exploring a profusion of multiple narratives existent within a singular object. By implementing an integrative framework for questioning interdisciplinary experts, scholars, and researchers, each theme is not intended to be exhaustive, but rather as capsules of curiosity providing opportunity for beginning future research and unpacking its history from different perspectives. Aligning with RIHS’s mission to teach people how to think historically, my intentions were for this project to give voice to objects, their hidden lives, and the lives of those who made them and used them. However, operating in and around this pandemic would NOT be easy.
The RIHS does not collect items, but rather “actively acquires” in a considered fashion. These collections include some 25,000 objects, 5,000 manuscripts, 100,000 books and printed items, 400,000 photographs and maps, and 9 million feet of motion-picture film. Approximately 7,800 objects reside in the RIHS Textiles collection, spanning the 1670’s through 2005, encapsulating domestic: including samplers, carpets, quilts; costumes worn on the human body and accessories: including fans, purses, hair combs, jewelry. Using material culture, object-based research provides opportunity to examine complex and shifting historical relationships with objects and how they transform over time, readdress exclusions, and allow a diversity of ethical perspectives to perform a reparative intervention. But what is evidence – or perhaps – what is a life lived for an object or textile? Frayed edges, the worn wood from human touch, a party stain from a drink spilled on a dress, sweat stains on the interior lining of a suit, the scent that lingers on fabric from a person or place, repeated mendings of the well-worn, and hasty repairs done by the novice hand – each ascribing social information to their individual narratives.
Many, if not all, of the subjects and items I searched for on the RIHS NETworked Online Public catalog (its NETOP database) did not have photographs – an obstacle I first encountered researching the RIHS material histories in attempts to select items to film for the project. As a design researcher, you HAVE to be able to see objects to find visual clues. I proceeded to initiate concurrent dialogues with C. Morgan Grefe, Executive Director, and Dana Signe K. Munroe, Registrar and residing digital overseer for the RI COVID-19 Archive. Her knowledge of the RIHS costume and textiles collection was unparalleled as a result of her long tenure at RIHS, coupled by her knowledge of textile conservation and passion for making. Dana and I set out on a journey to try to explore what we could within extremely tight time and COVID-19 restrictions. I was unable to enter RIHS property and continued to conduct extensive research through books and databases, including the Guide to Manuscripts at the Rhode Island Historical Society Relating to People of Color and possible inter-institutional knowledge from the RISD Museum online collection.
ABSENCE motivates my research. Reframing concepts of inclusion and absence, diversity and the tangible manifestations of the presence of women, especially within diverse communities and public life, sharpen my curiosity for such interdisciplinary connections. The mission of the RIHS is to tell compelling stories about the events and people of Rhode Island within their museums, programming, and archives. And the importance for featuring the stories of women from migrant and marginalized communities will testify to moments that resonate today. Aligning with RIHS’s desire to create tools aligned with their mission and ongoing dialogical interpretation, I was focused on a different way of viewing Rhode Island history and teasing out potential narrative ‘threads’ hidden within a textile or object, primarily examining the people and moments that shaped these items and their context.
Through a mixture of Zoom meetings and emails with Dana and Morgan from mid to late summer, my list narrowed to a selection of possibilities to explore: independent dressmakers and female entrepreneurship through tailoring; black seamstresses, tailors, millinery, haberdashery businesses; industrial objects designed by women; objects belonging to female athletes and/or athletic objects/garments made by women; objects / garments attributed to female writers/journalists; and items displaying cultural appropriation and/or cultural attribution from global trade (such as the Orientalist influence from the late 19th and items obtained from the China Trade). Eventually, with health safety regulations permitting, I was finally able to schedule a handful of visits over the course of late-July and August to see these items housed at the John Brown House Museum. Once I curated a small selection of objects and textiles, I could then begin to craft individualized narratives and plan filming.
For those unfamiliar with Rhode Island, its prosperity and commerce comprised of waterways and ports which proliferated the Industrial Revolution, global trade, and transatlantic slavery. Wealth and privilege was predominantly white, as were ideals and Westernized concepts of preservation and historical importance. This becomes a tricky proposition in the historical paradox of which objects and stories get saved, and those that do not. Located at 52 Power Street, on the edges of Brown University, just a few blocks from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), the John Brown House Museum is noted as the first mansion constructed in Providence, Rhode Island circa 1786-88. John Brown, its original owner, was an early benefactor of Brown University, a merchant, statesman, and slave trader. Consequences such as these tangle the fibers of what manufactured America into a leading world figure and expansive agent of power. And yet aside from these truths of affluence families of industry, the RIHS staff works continuously to tell the stories of those who overcame enslavement, prejudice, exploitation, including women who exceeded the limitations of their gender and predetermined expectations. My hope was to find more of these women’s stories and interconnect them.
On a staff-guided walk-through, I make note of objects that seem both domestic and curiously designed. When I walk into the textile storage, the rooms are darkened by dark-colored shutters and the light cast shadows from two mannequins dressed in widow’s mourning outfits. Stacked on one side are flat file drawers, garments peak out from tightly packed closets and archival boxes tower up to the ceiling. Not sure of what era or even what I am looking at, I catch glimpses of faded, the tattered hems, ruffles of brown velvet, slices of bright purple satin, tassels, white feathers, woolen weaves, printed cotton patterns, and yes – more ruffles. It is a balance of asking to see what immediately catches my eye and viewing what Dana produces from our research conversations. Some items have little information attached to them; some are a complete mystery. Several items will come as a surprise; most will be just the beginning of a much larger story to tell.
One of the easiest ways to describe the Yukon Ice Patches is to explain what they are not. Ice Patches are not glaciers. Glaciers are massive bodies of ice that move slowly over land. Ice Patches are large stationary accumulations of snow that compress into ice over thousands of years. According to a 2004 scientific journal there are eighty-five such ice patches in southern Yukon. Sixty-five of which have been ground surveyed, in part. Occupying a study area of 18,000km2, many of the sites are accessible only by helicopter. As for why the ice patches are important—the first question most commonly asked of anyone involved with the Ice Patch Project—the answers are many.
Established in 1997, after sheep hunters Kristin Benedek and her husband Gerry Kuzyk found an arrow near Kusawa Lake in Southern Yukon, the Yukon Ice Patch project was formed between the Government of Yukon and the six Yukon First Nations on whose traditional lands the patches are located. Ranging in age from a late 18th-century musket ball to a dart shaft more than 9000 years old, the patches have revealed more than 200 archaeological artifacts and 1700 faunal remains. Artifacts that have become visible only because the ice patches are melting – a direct result of global warming.
Now residing in the collections of the Government of Yukon Archaeology Program, these artifacts of archaeological significance indicate ‘a tradition of alpine hunting that spans most of the Holocene epoch and provides evidence of traditions from ancient technologies of throwing arts to bows and arrows and musketry’ (Hare et al. 118). Of special importance, these artifacts mostly used for hunting caribou indicate an abrupt technological replacement from throwing dart to bow and arrow in the last 1200 years. Revealed when the covering ice melts, the artifacts are found atop thousands of years of accumulated caribou dung, many feet in depth.
In 2004, the substantial remains of a leather moccasin with drawstring was retrieved from the Gladstone Ice Patch. The size of a contemporary men’s size five shoe, the moccasin was made from three pieces of hide, sewn together using sinew thread with traces of what is thought to be ochre painted on the heel.
Through the retrieval of objects and faunal remains Iand-use patterns and caribou patterns can be documented. Prior to 1997, it was difficult to identify specific areas of resource harvest that formerly relied upon ethnographies and oral histories.
The ice patches occupy the traditional territories of six Yukon First Nations: The Carcross/Tagish, Champagne and Aishihik, Kluane, and Kwanlin Dün First Nations, and the Ta’an Kwächän and Teslin Tlingit Councils. All of these self-governing First Nations are partners in the Yukon Ice Patch Project. Far beyond ‘representing’ something, according to authors Sheila Greer (Champagne and Aishihik First Nations) and Diane Strand (Champagne and Aishihik First Nations), for these First Nations the ice patches are a tangible connection to the past that communicate intangible cultural heritage, an opportunity to strengthen culture, enhance citizens’ understanding of their history, and a vehicle to express First Nations values regarding cultural resources (Greer and Strand 136).
Beyond markers of a physical past, artifacts connected to caribou hunting—animals which are now found only in a limited area in the southern Yukon—are vital to the history and culture of local first Nations. Caribou are frequently mentioned in traditional stories set in the long-ago time when animals and humans could talk together. (Hare et al. 9) .
Together, the collaborative Ice Patch Project Group consists of Yukon and First Nation governments and research institutions. These are the principal partners: Yukon Government Department of Environment; Yukon Government Department of Tourism and Culture; Carcross/Tagish First Nation (CTFN); Champagne and Aishihik First Nations (CAFN); Kluane First Nation (KFN); Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN); Ta’an Kwäch’än Council (TKC); and Teslin Tlingit Council (TTC). In the past decade partners have included University of Alberta, University of Alaska, Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment Canada, the Henry Wellcome Ancient Biomolecules Centre at Oxford University, Geological Survey of Canada, and Icefield Instruments Inc. In addition, many Yukoners have assisted with fieldwork – visiting the ice patch sites. And many others have assisted with laboratory studies.
As for what this project is, and what it may become…Everywhen* it is not a means to communicate already well documented facts about the Yukon Ice Patches, the Ice Patch Project, or the groups involved with the IPP. Rather, the aim is for it to be an evolving, process driven, exploratory artistic investigation of the individuals and their procedures in relation to the Ice Patch Project work. For the most part, the details l have shared here, the inclusion of others’ research, and the direction to other sources of information will constitute the totality of this reiteration of fact. Going forth, Everywhen will delve into the nuances of overlapping story, opinion, conflict, histories, and desires. In this way, Everywhen will be a cultural artifact of a particular undertaking inextricably tied to place and time. It will be an artifact of today.
*Note: currently the title Everywhen is a placeholder working title; one of which I am still ambivalent. Some sources cite the term ‘everywhen’ as originating in a 1956 essay by Australian anthropologist WEH Stanner in relation to the concept of Jukurrpa as related to the belief systems of Indigenous Australian Peoples. This is in addition to the commonly known anglicized versions of ‘dreaming’ or ‘dreamtime’, which are also contentious terms.
I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to go to the cemetery at all due to the pandemic, but everything came together in the last few weeks of the fellowship. I ended up being able to get free housing from a friend of the cemetery (thanks Mary!). I stayed in a mother-in-law unit on the edge of a beautiful turtle filled pond, 20 minutes from Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery (PCCC).
The first day I arrived, I participated in a burial. Being a helper at a funeral instead of one of the mourners was strikingly different, of course. It was not my grief. I followed the lead of the cemetery staff members as they helped to load the shrouded body onto the burial cart, assisted the family to the plot, helped to lower the body into the grave, and with aid from the loved ones buried the body.
The cemetery was quiet while I was there, in comparison to having two burials per week since February (higher than their usual frequency). There was one burial the day I arrived and one the day before I left. I was able to help dig a grave the morning I started my drive back up to Providence.
Everyone at the cemetery was incredibly supportive. They consistently provided me with images, helped me to collect audio samples, collected bones of wildlife found on the site, and allowed me to interview them. I was able to talk to a board member who had a family member buried in the cemetery and the head of Alachua Conservation Trust, who collaborates with the cemetery to restore the land. I talked with Freddie, the executive director and one of the founders who, when he was dissatisfied with his body disposition options, created Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery. He told me about the origin story of PCCC. The first burial was a woman, Kathy Cantwell, who was involved in the cemetery planning and was an active community member in Gainesville. Carlos told me about the different areas in the cemetery, the wetlands where burials are prohibited, the shady woods which is the domain of mosquitos, and the bright meadow where black-eyed Susans bloom and bats fly at night. Sarah gave me the no-nonsense details how how things were run, how the cemetery has to work with families, how the locations of graves are recorded. The cemetery staff, board, and collaborators helped me more generously than I could have ever asked.
As for where this will take me next? I recently found another site of interest—the abandoned parking lot by Urban Greens Co-op. I met up with a friend to test a H1 recorder and we ended up wandering to the lot. He regularly would pause by and comment on other crack-filled plains of asphalt, so on this nigh I interviewed him about why he was interested in the sites. He said it was dystopian and a sign of natures ability to transmute, from man-made structures popping up constantly to sprouts breaking through once smooth cement. Later I went back and filmed the wind blowing through plants.
I think there’s a relationship between Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery, The Raven’s Roost, and this abandoned lot. I think I’ll have to consult my colors and my tarot to figure it out.
Here’s a silly preview I made to introduce myself to the new members in my department:
In addition to investigating death through the environmental lens of the site, I also spent time interviewing my dad about what he wants for his own death. This conversation was hard, but not because of anticipatory grief, or because we haven’t broached the subject of his death before. Quite the contrary. My dad would make light of his own death while I was growing up, in order to address the reality without, hopefully, making the topic something I feared. He’s told me to taxidermy his body and mount his head on a plaque like a talking trout trophy so that whenever someone walk’s by a phrase, pre-recorded in his voice, we be shouted at them. Currently, he would like to be rolled off of the path between my family’s home and the beach to decompose naturally and be eaten by animals. He doesn’t care too much though, being cremated and scattered in the ocean with our other family members’ remains would also suffice.
The challenging part when thinking about death in my family always is about logistics. Which is sad, as one part of my brain can separate out the importance of someone dying from the importance of interpersonal squabbles. However, a strange (and disturbing) part of grief in our society has to do with property ownership. Our family’s house, The Raven’s Roost, is a quonset hut with its own strange mythology. It was a WWII aircraft hanger 40 miles inland before, so the story goes, Edgar Allen Poe’s nephew moved it to it’s current location on the coast. My great grandparents, on my Opa’s side, purchased it when their landlord decided to sell in the 70s. As the primary property of a family without a large income, figuring out how to maintain and care for both the land and the house can bring up a large amount of stress.
Down the hill though is a different world. The path down to the Pacific goes past blackberry brambles and ferns, under trees and beside creeks. It opens up just above the beach to an area called “The Flat Space” a clover covered valley filled with wildflowers and multiple artichoke varieties that a friend of my dad’s gave to him.
The whole family loves this home, and yet it seems sometimes too unwieldy, like the family dynamics are too strained to come together to take care of it. To make it a comfortable place for my Oma, my dad, and probably my uncle, to age and to die. And will it be manageable for my cousin’s and I to keep once it’s in our hands or will it be too full of it’s own holes, too much tax, too overrun with mouldering books and old mattresses?
Everyone tells met to separate myself from this stress, that it’s far off, that it’s not my responsibility, that it’s just the material world. These arguments make sense, and I can apply them to other areas of my life, but my connection to this upside-down halfpipe of a home is incredibly strong.
Beyond the personal, understanding the societal context of death is also important — particularly recognizing that racial disparities occur around death, as well as in life. Due to bodies being treated poorly by white funeral directors, Black funeral homes became a trusted source within Black communities. No matter what someone had faced during life, these funeral homes would treat the body with the respect it was due. Outside of working with the cemetery and my own personal investigations, I also participated in a book club put on by The Collective for Radical Death Studies about mass death and social justice. Some focuses included memorialization (Who is it for? Who does it benefit?) and the politics of grief (the interplay of grief and activism, and different reasons why grieving would be shared publicly or kept private).
While I was helping with PCCC’s presentation, another university student studying conservation cemeteries, and who attended one of our events, gave two source about disparities within death toward Black people and Black death rituals:
The Disappearance of a Distinctively Black Way to Mourn
By Tiffany Stanley
‘Ours is a Business of Loyalty’: African American Funeral Home Owners in Southern Cities
By Beverly Bunch-Lyons
Additionally, there is a video called:
Why Are Black & White Funeral Homes STILL Separate?
By Caitlin Doughty in conversation with Dr. Kami Fletcher, president of The Collective for Radical Death Studies
It is also important to note conservation’s racism, particularly toward indigenous peoples, which is highlighted in the article:
Environmentalism’s Racist History
By Jedediah Purdy
For Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery (PCCC), I called hospital chaplains and hospice organizations in Alachua County to see if they would be interested in a staff presentation about PCCC and different body disposition options that many people are unaware of. The cemetery is in an interesting place where more people are tuning into their presence, both due to rising awareness of environmental death practices and due to an increase of death planning as a result of COVID-19. This is leading to them getting more reservations for burial plots at the cemetery, but not the same rate of increase of burials (although burial rate has gone up as well). If the reservation rate stays high, particularly for people who will be alive for 30-50 more years, the cemetery will cease to be a resource for at-need burials. This would be unfortunate because, in addition to being environmentally supportive, PCCC offers the most affordable burial option in the area — only $2000 for the plot and burial. Even with funeral home expenses, someone can have a burial for easily less than $4000 which, while in my opinion should be covered by social programs for everyone, is still strikingly lower than the national average $8000–$10,000.
Because of this, the cemetery wants to reach local end of life organizations who are working with individuals and families who are likely to have a death soon. However, cold calling for a staff presentation was ineffective. In talking with one of the cemetery’s board members, who also is a lead nurse in a local hospital, she explained that medical workers are being asked to manage their usual tasks as well as new COVID-19 protocols. Scheduling an additional meeting for staff is unrealistic. However, through doing the outreach more organizations became at least passingly familiar with Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery, which will hopefully translate to more of their clients becoming informed about the cemetery and make it easier for the cemetery to connect in the future.
The most effective form of outreach was inviting people who had already expressed interest in the cemetery to one-off presentations, virtually hosted by PCCC itself. Those invited included funeral home workers, cemetery volunteers who also work in medicine, board members, university students researching conservation burials, and community members. At the end of the presentations we expressed interest in presenting for more groups, and received leads for future outreach. If I had had more time there I would have worked with them on adapting this presentation for continuing education units required to maintain medical licenses such as nursing. This would have required adding a layer of granularity regarding where different body disposition options were available locally, as well as more precision around pricing and environmental impacts for lesser known options (such as donating to a forensic body farm or liquid cremation).
Since the second week of August I’ve been able to work in person twice per week on certain work that cannot leave the SRLP office. Since staff are on a staggered schedule, I have been able to take safety measures including working in a private separately ventilated room.
Though it absolutely changes the relationship to my work and the scope of my involvement, working in person while adhering to important safety measures to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 limits my ability to build connections with my supervisors, other staff, and community members. This work is so community and consensus based that this has been a challenging aspect of our reality for the entire organization.
My supervisors have graciously offered me numerous professional development resources including sending me to the Groundswell Fund’s Grassroots Organizing Institute virtual convening where I took part in workshops about digital organizing, mutual aid, updates from movement organizations around the country, and training on direct action.
As a part of the Shelter Organizing Team’s Campaign for Safe Shelter, I have been working on our correspondence with stakeholders to follow up on demands for improving the conditions for trans and gendernonconforming (TGNC) people in shelter. As with any organizing strategy, at some point you must take a step back and reassess the efficacy of your action. Moving past one year of correspondence with city agencies, the Shelter Organizing Team is reassessing and noticing that staying at the table and keeping a passive engagement is not bringing the results that we need to end the systematic harm perpetuated against TGNC people.
My involvement has continued on the report based on the work and experiences of the Prisoner Advisory Committee, and I have been able to contribute in a writing capacity by helping to re-evaluate and re-write the policy recommendations to make them align better with SRLP’s abolitionist and non-compromising agenda.
With all of this work, I find that my perspective and training as an artist with a RISD education has served me most in my eye and intuition for narrative. We are working with the very personal realities of trauma, resilience, and lived experience, and it can be difficult to hold the individual and their narrative experience when trying to reach policymakers and potential allies. Although the realities may be incommunicable, it is my responsibility as a storyteller to begin to bring these realities out of the abstract.
This is the final week of my internship with THP – Mexico. I have had learnings in all senses: from working completely online for the first time to knowing how to talk about the preservation of traditional knowledge without idealizing its fossilization. I am definitely grateful to the RISD Maharam Fellowship, which has allowed me to live this extraordinary experience even in the midst of the pandemic.
Although the recommendation when writing nonfiction for children is to avoid mixing with fiction, we decided that it was important to respond to the indigenuos ‘oraliteratura’ (which is the fact that orality and the use of storytelling is the natural mode of transmission of knowledge among indigenous and rural communities). Thus, the final product is a tale that explains different aspects of sustainable development, coupled with some activities specifically designed to invite the children and their families to reflect about how to achieve a more ecological life.
The story narrates the encounter between Zazil, a girl who lives in a rural community in the jungle, and a jaguar with her cub with the aim of showing the interconnection between humans, other species and their natural environment. In each of its 12 sections, one different topic is reviewed, explaining the current situation and the necessity to achieve a local sustainable development. Some of the topics are: water, waste reduction, indigenous languages and non-discrimination, traditional food and health, among others.
After several reviews by both, the THP team in Mexico City and some of the youth community leaders (catalysts), the result was two booklets. The children’s booklet contains Zazil’s story, and the catalyst booklet includes the tale plus 4 other sections. The first of these sections contains suggested activities to help children reflect more on the topic covered in each chapter. The second section is a table with data on the topic at the individual, community and global levels. The third section suggests an exercise of deep reflection for the child (and her/his family) to diagnose her (their) own current situation and thus, create a beginning in visualizing changes at the individual and family level that can be carried out to contribute to a sustainable development. Finally, the fourth section is a list of tips that people can easily follow and share with others in their community. The THP-Mexico team also plans to use the illustrations in this last section to spread the tips through WhatsApp with the other adults that the organization works with.
The illustrations are simple shapes and the selected colors allow the image to be easily understood even though they are printed in black and white, because I figured that some of the young leaders would do the physical distribution within their communities and, for now at least, they will pay the cost of printing, making black and white printing a better option for them. The THP team is looking into funding other alliances to translate the material to some indigenous languages and to do a good quality printing of the material when the pandemic is over.
This last week I’ve been dedicated to finishing the illustrations and polishing some editorial details that the THP team has observed. Maybe after testing it in the field THP, will need to make some adaptations according to the feedback they get. For now, I am very happy with the results that were obtained because I believe that these will help the catalysts to appropriate the content; transmit it to the children and; also, to spread it within the families of these little ones.
Transient Stillness is focused on the poetic and abstract nature of daylight and its beauty. It started with my own personal observation of the sky in my neighborhood due to the physical restrictions I faced with the current pandemic. The project was realized by simply trying many different methods to document what I saw and how I felt in response to each and every moment I had with daylight. The result of those experimentations is this book.
Rather than focusing on the objective information or the universal truth, my project communicates a very personal – in fact, quite narrow – point of view towards daylight. By sharing my own perception in this way, I hope to share my appreciation and passion for natural light with others. The use of different techniques attempts to recreate the four visual properties of daylight, analyzing each layer separately. In real life, all four properties occur almost simultaneously to create our vision, which often makes us forget the value of a single property on its own. Through the separation of the properties, I wanted to show the beauty that is unique to each property, allowing the viewers to rethink and evaluate their own perception of light in a similar manner.
This project is about sharing my personal thoughts and experiences. But it can also serve as a guide to follow. For each technique I used, I included a few reference pictures of the daylight conditions I depicted in order to show the whole process of my analysis. I hope these pictures make the drawings more approachable and accessible to understand how they were produced, as they show a snapshot of what I saw at that particular moment.
We see daylight almost everyday, and yet we rarely find time in our busy lives to appreciate its power and beauty. As this project shows, our natural light constantly changes its form, color, position in space, and movement. In other words, every moment of our daylight is unique and special.
My ultimate goal for Transient Stillness is to allow one to find more beauty and appreciation in their daily interactions with light. Along with my drawings and pictures, I also included a few quotes from other architects, interior designers, and lighting professionals to provide a wider platform and range of perspectives to discuss natural light. This project has not ended yet. Indeed, this is just a beginning to start a longer discussion about daylight by inviting others to reflect and share their versions of daylight. Transient Stillness will change and evolve as much as daylight itself.
<Choreography of Light>
In my research, I came across essays on public narrative written by Marshall Ganz in 2008 for Harvard Kennedy School. In this article, Ganz talks about how to effectively create a shared story through a story of self, us, and now. He states that through the narrative story of ‘self’ and ‘us’, one can build a sense of community. Similarly, through the story of ‘us’ and ‘now’, urgency gets formed and ‘purpose’ arises from the story of ‘self’ and ‘now’. I think his logic on public narrative is a perfect fit for the Choreography of Light.
A story of self emerges from our lighting – what has shaped ‘me’ – as it reflects one’s individual perception of their surroundings. The chapters on lighting design for architectural spaces shape a story of ‘us’ – about our shared values and experience – forming the connection between lighting and spatial experience, shaping the community of place. The chapters on the excessive use of artificial light in a city and the problem of light pollution is the story of ‘now’ – about strategies and actions – asking for a solution to urgency.
By borrowing Ganz’s method to organize different chapters, I wanted to achieve simplicity. I organized each chapter in the same order using the same medium. Every chapter starts with a source picture, which is then digitally analyzed to show different layers of lighting, followed by an essay about a broader theme, and ends with citations and notes from my research process. Through this straightforward organization, my aim was to present relatable and accessible content for a wide audience from diverse backgrounds. Sharing stories about light from many different vantages, this project attempts to engage in ongoing collaborative research about our usage of light in various environments through non-academic pedagogies.
In creating this project, I received immense help from Ulrike Brandi, a well-known lighting designer and a professional based in Hamburg, Germany and Luca Salas Bassani Antivari, an architectural designer and lighting specialist from Mexico City. Despite our time differences and working schedules, we were in constant contact with each other through video calls and messaging. I would like to thank them for their contributions and generous support.
<Virtual presentation / meeting Notes>