Hi everyone! With time flying by so fast, there has been so much for me to share.
The final few weeks of the fellowship were the most productive, insightful, and joyful parts of the fellowship. The fellowship finalized in the panel that became the ideal synergy of my architectural education, interest in sustainability, and urban development topics in Ethiopia.
Working towards finalizing the panel involved multiple coordination, cooperation, and outreach with various unexpected challenges. To explain this further, I will divide this journal into three parts. The first part is what I would consider the planning phase. The second one involved various outreach activities and the third one involved the execution of the tasks.
In the first phase, my team and I had struggled securing partnerships in methods we had assumed would be successful. We had been dependent on using emails, phone calls, and social media channels to reach out to multiple groups we wanted to partner with. However, our concerns with the timeline led us to taking a more assertive approach. We started heading into various offices without an appointment. Although we were weary of the consequences, we were surprised to see a different professional culture where people preferred to have the conversations in person. Since then our trajectory towards conducting the panel became exponential.
We were first able to find the ideal space and partnership for the event at a multidisciplinary organization called The Urban Center. Although the space came with the organization that would provide us the community outreach we needed, it also came at a cost. Therefore our next step was to find sponsorship. The need for sponsorship led us to find more of our ideal company, Kefita Building at Rock Stone development, whose members became our partner, sponsor, and panel member. With our panelists in order and space secured, we were ready for the next phase of our project.
The second phase of our project involved multiple content creation and outreach. Although sustainability and green architecture are terms that are used often, there is a certain level of vagueness in their meanings. Therefore, to set the tone for the conversation, we decided to create and share the following content that provides the definitions and examples we were thinking about. I also further used these same slides for a presentation that preceded the conversation at the panel.
While sharing the above content, it was also very important to cater to each panelist’s expertise when devising the questions. Therefore, much of our time was also taken up with developing the following document that contains the questions and related contents of the panel. This document allowed us to stay on top of our topic and to have a very successful engagement with the audience.
In the final stage, which is about the last week and half of the panel we focused on outreach and finalization of the content. In this process it was very interesting to see how different skill sets come into play. For instance, although my architectural education had allowed me to learn some of the software that graphic designers would use, I was struggling with the layout and intricacy of the poster. Then, one of the members of green Ethiopia, Dawit Yitref, was able to take the concept notes and turn it into a professional poster that had surpassed what we had imagined. The poster, attached below, was then distributed through various social media channels allowing us to register 91 people ahead of time.
The day of the panel unfortunately started with two disappointing news. The first one was when one of our panelists informed us that they will not be able to attend due to unforeseen circumstances. The second one was when the national TV channel informed us that they have overbooked events for the day and that they might not be able to cover the event for us. Throughout the day we worked tirelessly calling every media channel, camera crew, and host we could find to no luck. Finally, a close friend of one of our members, Sintayehu Teferi, was able to capture all the important moments.
As soon as the time for the panel got close, people in large numbers started coming into the space. We had our panelists, our photographer, and our attendees ready. This was an exciting moment for me personally because I could see my parents and friends in the audience. I could see the people I look up to on the stage with me conversing on issues that I am extremely passionate about. The concepts of locality, context, equity, and more were always a part of each question we raised. The answers that came from the panelists were some of the most insightful and diverse set of knowledge I had acquired.
Based on the document mentioned above, the questions were divided into topics of Energy, water, material, equity, measurement. Through each of the topics our panelists Adiamseged Eyassu, Elias Ayalew, Yasmin Abdu, and Fitsum Gelaye shared their expertise.
Adiamseged Eyassu, project director of Rockstone Ethiopia Real Estate, shared his experience in developing a green high end residential building in Ethiopia. He was able to explain the systems, technologies, and methods Kefita utilized in order to be able to design and build a green building. He also went further into the possibilities the future can hold in looking into affordability and accessibility in the industry of green building. As someone that was working on a building that was in the process of a green building certification, his insights were inspirational for the professional community in the audience.
Architect and lecturer, Elias Ayalew, was one of the panelists who gave the most contextual examples in the methods local architects and construction professionals utilize to produce green buildings today. He was able to share his expert knowledge on the challenges and opportunities the industry faces in making green buildings. His examples ranged from high risers in the middle of the city to small huts in some of the most climatically difficult areas in Ethiopia. He was also able to define what green building means to him and how having an in-depth understanding of context is important in approaching these issues.
Fitsum Gelaye, who works as Programs and Engagement Consultant at Resilient Cities Network, had many insightful examples and knowledge to share especially at the urban scale. Her insights ranged from challenges Addis Ababa has with informality and lack of basic resources to the challenges other african cities are facing. As someone that had worked with water for most of her career, she further emphasized her points related to water conservation, mitigation, recycle, and the heavy intersection between the architectural and urban scale. During our equity portion, her quote that is read as the following, became one of the highlights of the evening.
“A city is as resilient as its most vulnerable community”
Yasmin Abdu, who is a researcher and architect, was also one of our insightful panelists who was able to share her knowledge on advocacy and community engagement. Her points mainly spanned the relationship between every topic and its implementability on a community level. Her examples were on research conducted on the effects of sustainability related topics that impact the community at large. She further demonstrated her ideas through government led projects as well smaller initiatives that integrate community advocacy with sustainability. Finally, she emphasized that the desire to integrate community engagement in making decisions should be amongst the main discussion points on any project that comes forward.
The panel was then followed by a question and answer that was just as fruitful and engaging. The panel that we had intended to be a total of two hours took a total time of two hours and forty five minutes. Nonetheless, most of our audience was still there supporting us, engaging with our topic, and continuing to converse at the networking session.
As I got on the plane back to RISD for my final year as a grad student, I realized that this experience is one that I will cherish for a very long time. It is an experience I learned so much from, an experience I developed connections I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise, and an experience that stationed itself in the place I will always call home. For that, I am very thankful for RISD and the Maharam Fellowship.
Navigating urban narratives and green alternatives #2, Ruth Wondimu, MARCH, 2023
This past month in Ethiopia has been a time of reflection, learning, and asking many questions for me. My conversations with many architects, family members, and the community have often been my method for getting to know my home again. Although I was hoping that everything I continue to learn about would be something positive, I have been able to learn about the difficulties people live through on a daily basis. For some time, I had found the outreach work challenging because it had been difficult to securely book some time to talk to the organizations that I had believed were highly relevant. However, my work gained a positive trajectory when I was able to attend the annual conference for the Ethiopian Architecture Association on July 23, 2022.
The Ethiopian Architecture Association hosts a panel discussion and an election ceremony annually. However, this panel was happening after three years of discontinuation due to impacts of war and Covid. Therefore, this panel was also a time of reflection for the community. The panel started with a moment of silence and prayer for the victims of war that’s still happening across Ethiopia. From the way everyone immediately stood up, it was easy to see that there was this moment of collective grievance and pain. That became one of the points of conversation for the conference.
This conference was a very eye-opening experience for me because I went in with the hope of making connections and sharing ideas on sustainability topics. However, that was only a small portion of what I was able to attain and learn from. The first topic of the conference was post war construction. In the hope and belief that one day, this war will come to an end, the discussion was on how architecture can play a role in reconstructing and building new health care facilities, schools, residential places and more. For me, it was a reminder that it is a time of grievance as a country and that people were actively looking for ways to contribute to the better future.
Although there were a variety of topics that were mentioned such as architecture’s role at a time of covid and what the association has done, a project that caught my attention more deeply was called The Ethiopian New School Project. It is a project on developing design prototypes for over 1200 new public schools based on the latest technological advances and environmental considerations. Therefore, the designs were a variety of prototypes developed based on their climatic and locational conditions with heavy considerations of water systems, energy access, and comfort. I was immediately excited to figure out who was responsible for the environmental consulting aspect of it. I was later informed that there aren’t many groups responsibly dedicated to the environmental aspect of the project. However, I was able to obtain the contact information of the few groups that could be of significant value in discussing environmentally conscious projects.
Following the conference, I have been able to connect with two groups that have been pioneering discussions surrounding architecture and urban development. One of them is Architecture Werhawi (Architecture Monthly) and the other one is The Urban Center. The two groups also often collaborate on a variety of projects. I was able to send my proposal where teams from each group will be able to review my proposal and hopefully collaborate.
On a personal reflection, I believe that this experience has taught me that circumstances on ground have been and continue to be difficult for people. The consequences of war impacts people on the daily through personal stories, inflation, and unattainable living expenses. The unemployment rate and low wages have been discouraging for many recent graduates. That, however, makes me believe that there is a role for the green industry to play here. The fact that a new type of industry might create new employment opportunities, encourage utilization of local resources on a more industrial level, and make water and electricity more easily and widely accessible is a good enough reason to discuss this topic. Therefore, this experience has empowered me to facilitate this conversation further.
For the past two weeks, alongside continuing to make the website and mapping the historical event, I have been interviewing people who have previously worked with the organization with walking tours about the massacre. Due to geographical constraints and timing, some were online, and some were in-person.
The purpose behind these interviews was to gain an insight into how these researchers and tour guides organize and develop the route. In addition, I want to hear their thoughts on this issue. They are the medium for us to look into the past.
I was fortunate to participate in the walking tours for some of the lecturers I’m interviewing. Learning history by foot was a different experience than in the books. This experience inspired me to create this project where I interviewed these tour guides. At first, they were hesitant about why I would be interested in their story. They have always been the ones telling others people’s stories. I explained that I feel the stories being passed down might encounter alteration due to the people telling the story. I want to know their thoughts and why they are passionate about the issue. Their story is very much part of the narrative of historical memorization than the stories of victims or their descendants.
Walking tours, I believe, are very much a process of mapping. And active mapping where visitors and audience are forced to be in the landscape while imagining the past. While these routes are carefully designed considering time, geographical constraints, and storytelling, every tour is unique due to the people participating, the weather, and other unforeseeable circumstances. It is a device to the past through the people telling the story. It is also a pathway of the present.
The main thing I have taken away from these interviews is that knowing the history of the massacre is only part of these walking tours. The core purpose is to learn the city’s history. In the process of knowing where you are from, telling the story of the massacre is inevitable. Due to the nature of this historical event, the accounts of the massacre are embedded in the bricks of architecture, roads, and waterways.
For example, in one city, Tam Sui, the tour guide I interviewed, said that she didn’t care about this part of the history until her late 40s (she is now in her 60s). When she was little, she would hear from the elders that the Tam Sui River was once dyed red with blood. Ports were places one should not go, for many spirits resided there in the past. She didn’t believe what the elders said. “How is it possible that the whole river was dyed of blood? That is impossible!” It was not until she started reading more about the city’s history that she connected what her elders told her and what was documented. The port, they said, was a place where all those captured in the name of treason were excuted. Hundreds were killed, thrown into the river, reding the river with terror.
Emotionally, it was hard to process all these stories. Older generations I’ve interviewed were much more emotional and passionate about the issue. They were closer to this part of history. All of them heard stories from elders, and the terror of knowing became a passion for sharing. When I asked why it is essential to learn about the massacre and continue advocating on this issue, they said it was for the truth to be seen.
“When I was talking to the descendants of victims, they don’t want the compensation or reparation. They just want to know why. “Why was my father taken one night and never came back? “
In a text chain I had with the historian, he said,
“We must not give up the pursuit of the truth in history. The connection and emotions through the process are personal, humanitarian, and societal.”
“This is very true. Thank you so much for what you are doing. 228 is about the history of the land, but it is also the scar and pain of the land.”張文義 (Writer of Kavalan 228, oral history historian of Kavalan region, tour guide of 2022 Kavalan tour)
I am very grateful that I have this opportunity to keep their story alive.
Younger generations, like me, had little understanding of this issue until we were much older (high school or university). Most of them are passionate about this issue not because of pain but because of the unjust. There is a diaspora of identity due to the change in education. We were not taught much about the massacre in our educational system, and most of us are fortunate not to be related directly to this massacre.
When asked the same question, “Why is it important that we, the younger generation, remember and learn about this part of history?”
One answered, “It’s about justice. Why is it that the descendent of one of the generals in charge of the massacre in Kaoshiung was able to be a famous architect and have something out of him? At the same time, the descendants of the victims suffer mental disorders and societal trauma?”
Another thinks that knowing the history of your city, country, and land is important because it ties to other social justice issues such as human rights, environmental, and other political issues.
It was fascinating hearing from both sides of the generation. I started with this project wanting to know the thought process of organizing walking tours and the opinions of these historians and tour guides. I ended up with a more in-depth understanding of the gap between generations and the importance of this issue. For the older generations passionate about this issue, it is a matter of survival. Talking about this puts a light on this part of the history that is vanishing.
It is to keep this story alive, for these stories die with them.
On the other hand, for the younger generation, it is a choice. It is a choice of personal growth in learning about your history. It is recommended to choose to recognize the land and care about this humanitarian issue.
“Ms. Hung, this is a very traumatizing story for me. If it were twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have accepted your interview request.”
For me, I’m touched by their love for the land. It was hard emotionally to hear such a traumatic story. Like a boulder in my heart, I often feel unbearable emotionally. Sadness is inevitable in this process.
Stripping Preconceptions in Accessible Imagery Around Safer Consumption | Zibby Jahns | MFA Sculpture ’22
When you search image databases for “drugs” or “drug use”, this is what you’ll find:
Desperation, shame, homelessness, death. These aren’t actually the symptoms of drug use–they are the symptoms of a society that criminalizes drug use. When the visuals of drug use reflect society’s stigma and place the blame on the user, as opposed to the system, education around overdoses cannot progress.
For the past month, I’ve been working to make a new type of image, one that doesn’t replicate images of drugs–or kitchen cabinet substances posing as those drugs–or distraught teens huddling in a corner. I am working to create images that demonstrate healthy relationships with substances on a personal and social level, through accepted modes of discussing harm reduction and safer use.
Instead of making visuals within my own aesthetic confines, I’ve been experimenting with stripping these images of all their stigmatizing factors. I want to remove users from shadows and hoodies, and normalize use that doesn’t end in strife. I want to represent people in a way that isn’t gendered, nor do I want to give them a race or a body type–i.e. not white or black, fat or skinny, old or young, straight or gay–in order to eliminate the possibility of preconception or stereotype. My goal is to portray people, in a world, using drugs or not, existing in a society that could be our own.
Why does it seem so far-fetched and dangerous to have conversations about safer drug use without some sort of visual warning sign? Our society already has safety measures in place for objects and activities that pose risk. This is a simple and ingrained part of our everyday lives. We are trained to use powertools and sharp objects; users are given protective-wear such as goggles, hardhats, and gloves; first-aid boxes are always on site for emergencies. Rarely do people chop down trees alone–they do so in a team. All of these protocols are the same for using drugs: Never Use Alone, Test Your Drugs, Use Clean Needles, Sterilize the Injection Spot, Carry Narcan. There are always ways to reduce harm in any situation. We know what protocol works–it was passed down through community members of drug users and their allies. The only thing standing in the way is stigma. How will your mind, dear reader, shift so that these principles seem one in the same? How can images help locate such a pivot point in the average viewer?
I have been sketching out these ideas in the most simplistic way I can imagine, to envision innocuous, accessible and de-stigmatized entry points for talking about these concepts. I have been experimenting with paints and collage, continually trying to strip down the shapes and images, until I began taking a hint from kindergartners and used construction paper to talk about adult safety. (This has been a great challenge, as I don’t find these to be very aesthetically pleasing.)
We don’t dull a knife’s blade to make it less dangerous, we standardize education and safe practice around knife use at home and in school.
The overdose epidemic has hit kids so hard, but children are continually taught only abstinence–a method with a 96% failure rate. Why do we make discussion of safer drug use only a topic for adults? Why can’t we incorporate the conversation of testing drugs and knowing the effects of and first aid for overdoses into our everyday vernacular? This inspired the image of a parents taking a picture of youth preparing for a party or celebration, and casually reminding them to test their drugs.
I like to imagine a world where an active, concerned parent talks to their children about condoms, urges them not to drink and drive, and gives them fentanyl test strips. 1 in 4 children report using drugs– “Just Say No” has not limited the death toll.
Have fun, kids, and don’t forget to test your drugs!
The overdose epidemic continues to rear its ugly head, only exacerbated but hidden by the global Covid pandemic. Decades of research have demonstrated that the “War on Drugs” has not changed society’s relationship to drugs nor limited its harm: on the contrary, the criminalization of drugs has led to mass incarceration and a staggering number of deaths, especially of young people.
The data exists and the literature has been written that demonstrates how these mortalities can be avoided–but how to change public policy? How to change public opinion? How to lead people to dense texts on the topic? And most importantly, how to de-stigmatize some of the conceptions people have around drug use?
This July, I began my fellowship with Transform. Transform is a desk-based research organization in the UK focusing on the catastrophic effect drug policies have on communities. Transform’s educational literature and videos seek to bring attention to the harm that drug policy causes, maintaining that drugs are a health issue, not a criminal issue. The organization seeks to protect children through tighter regulations around drugs and an end to the criminalization of drug users. Transform, like so many other progressive institutions, relies on stock imagery to illustrate their points, which often reinforce particular stigmas around drug use. My proposal for this fellowship was to experiment with new forms of representation that call the initial images into question and point to the larger systemic issues at play.
As we are living in a pandemic, this fellowship is remote. I have been familiarizing myself with Transform’s literature, hundreds of pages of thorough research into legal policy as well as public health. I have been pulling out data points that are extremely compelling in shifting opinion about drug use, and then sketching these moments in the most simplistic ways.
I have printed out the stock imagery that Transform has used in their publications and spliced it up to make the viewer aware of the problematic nature of stigmatizing, user-focused imagery. Sometimes I juxtapose these images with photographs that Transform member Steve Rolles has taken while visiting various forms of harm reduction centers around the world (such as the Heroin Assisted Treatment Centers in Switzerland and Copenhagen; Safe Injection Sites in Vancouver; or free and decriminalized drug testing operations at festivals in the UK) to create a visual dichotomy between criminalization and mutual aid.
Addiction and drug fatality are systemic problems, not personal ones. But all of the imagery we have ever seen on this topic focuses on an individual, draped in a hoodie, cowering in shame under the shadows of a dark alley. What were the forces that brought people who use drugs to this place? Just as the prohibition of alcohol didn’t stamp out alcoholism but did empower mafia organizations, drug addiction hasn’t been healed by a tough on crime approach. Addiction is the one neurological situation labeled as a disorder where showing symptoms precludes someone from getting treatment.
I share these images and experiments with the team at Transform through zoom meetings throughout the week. We have conversations about what they are working on, how particular visuals have helped to shift public opinion in the past, and what has failed. I’ve noticed in these meetings how much more interested I have become in the politics and law aspect of drug use, and how much more creatively-minded the team meetings are. We have involved conversations about how to be visually impactful.
One of the major issues that I kept gravitating towards, this summer was the ugly situation of the trucking industry in India. Most truckers are men with little or no education- they can barely read signs in their own language, and often think of bribes as just a way of life. This is an incredibly complex issue that ought to be addressed from multiple perspectives. It is an issue that concerns a small group that is treated wrong, but it contributes to general public health issues. Truckers operate with very little and entirely too uncomfortable sleep- as they are perpetually under the danger of being robbed. If robbed, their employers blame them for any lost goods. They have neither respect nor dignity in their jobs which take up most of their life. My work in the future will be looking to address this.
As of my fellowship, it was interesting space of in betweens. I was both a part of the team, yet not. Being a designer in the NGO with 2 main teams- 1. Policy and Research and 2. Training, was mildly confusing for me at times. It was sometimes hard to keep track of my own work. I certainly developed a language for communicating with non-design persona. Besides that I gained a realistic understanding of what policy work involves in India. There is a lot at stake for everyone involved and everybody has their own agendas- even amongst the groups with the same goals, their approaches and philosophies create clashes that create negative work. Working in the policy arena is an interesting, yet complex experience. I had my first taste and now I look forward to delving in further in the future, with more experience in the design field too.
Road safety isn’t an issue that people are overly concerned with. To remain optimistic, we choose to believe the bad things don’t happen to us. It is better that way to an extent. We do not want ourselves to be overly paranoid and avoid ever driving et cetera. When one thinks of the lack of road safety in India, gruesome details of hurt people on the road and burnt broken vehicles on the road come to mind. India as a country isn’t censored in the morbid or the gruesome. We see our chickens skinned and hung up outside butcher stores in plain view. We have all seen the gruesome remains of accidents too. Most of us have in some way been touched by these accidents- either by being hurt ourselves, or having our loved ones in close encounters with death and worse.
The biggest challenge that road safety spearheaders in policy face is one of public solidarity. How does one appeal to a crowd for support, when the said crowd would rather not dwell on what isn’t working? As an artist and a designer, I choose to work with narratives. But how does one create a narrative about something naturally pain inducing, and somehow induce hope in the audience? If the end result of the narrative isn’t some sort of hope, there is no real way to lull people into action.
Politicians are seriously daunted by the case that any action taken can make for or against their positions in each situation. When most of your voters aren’t interested in road safety, they won’t be very understanding if you take it up as your main fighting point in the parliament.
More than anything, this fellowship lead me to more informed questions on how to influence policy. The people I worked with this summer, are in a constant flux of gathering information, analysing it and representing it in ways that make their cause seem important to different power players. They are trying to make road safety seem like a non-politiciized issue- as politics in India are heavily leaning towards being identity politics and if a public safety issue like road safety got caught in it, we would never move forward. It has to somehow carry appeal as a nationally unified problem.
I was rather deeply hurt by one of the recent incidents. One of India’s retired famous actor-turned politician, got into a road traffic accident. It was the fault of her driver and herself, but they were well protected in their luxury car with airbags et cetera. She was nicked on her entertainment system due to her neglect in wearing a seatbelt. The flip-side of this was another not so luxurious car that got caught in this accident. The family in the car lost a child due to sheer neglect. The actor got all the care she needed and more- a lot of pity from the media and love from her fans. The girl did not get checked on by the said actor or the police officer that was more inclined on lending a shoulder to lean to the actor. The country is entrenched with ideas of of one life being more important than another. It has been rather hard to remain optimistic and I admire this organisation for keeping on with the cause despite receiving heartbreaking news everyday. I hope to start making short illustrations of hope in the world of road safety to join them.
In memory of a child lost to neglect.
As I sit here in my RISD studio reflecting on my thoughts as a Maharam STEAM fellow, I can’t help but think about how grateful I was to have the opportunity to return to a familiar location with an intentionality of making art, learning about science and formulating visual communication. Working closely with scientists and non-profits educators elevated my understanding of the place and how to produce an understanding of that place from many different angles.
I have always felt attached to the Colorado Plateau and to a myriad of specific locations within in, especially rivers and canyons, soaring sandstone cliffs, and having the ability to see for hundreds of miles in every direction while simultaneously feeling small and a part of it all. My feelings rival that of any interpersonal relationship I have and yet its always been hard for me to articulate that feeling to others, and articulate those feelings in my own art work. It has always been an “intangible”. It is something I’m still working on, but somehow, over the course of the summer, working in a variety of ways to communicate visually different aspects of the Colorado River watershed and the importance of its existence within the Colorado Plateau and greater Western United States, something shifted. Working with scientists taught me the value of clear and literal visual tools to communicate very specific scientific concepts. Working with youth taught me how to translate complicated scientific ideas and greater topics in conservation into simple bits that resonated with meaning. Creating a specific visual language catered to a certain audience taught me the value of specificity and intention that I have now been able to translate into my own, more metaphorical and emotional art practice.
I am beginning to put together all the pieces.
Images of Final Grand Canyon Food Web for USGS use. (all imagery originally block prints that have been digitized and put together into this food web)
Grand Canyon Aquatic Base Food Web
DETAILS from food web
Flannelmouth Sucker (native fish)
Desert Spiny Lizard
Ultimately, this piecing together of art, science, conservation, and collaboration is, for me, a life long project. This fellowship was a stepping stone on my path to finding the connectedness between the things that I love and to show other people, from all walks of life, that everything is more connected than it may first appear. I wanted to show scientists the importance of art as a visual communication tool, and I began to. I wanted to show youth the importance of connecting with place on many different levels, and I began to. And I wanted to show everyone I met that art and science can work symbiotically to create new things neither one can accomplish on its own. I see this project more as a beginning than as an end, and I hope to work more in this realm as I move forward beyond graduate school and into the next phases of my life.
Below you will find a few images from my most recent body of work, a collection of monotypes created in response to the summer and my connection with Grand Canyon and the Colorado Plateau. Working with maps as well as personal memories of place, I am weaving together imagery that represents the landscape, the way we abstract the landscape into flat, categorical measurements, and how those measurements and mis-measurements have led us to this tenuous place we occupy today. Water, especially Colorado River water is becoming a more and more precious commodity as western populations continue to grow. There is no easy answer, only the knowledge that we will reach a tipping point, and something will have to give. This is my opportunity to define, through visual means, what this place means to me and how I interact with the political framework surrounding these beloved, endangered landscapes. I couldn’t have made these without my experience this summer and I am glad to have been able to develop such a rich body of work because of it.
I must first and foremost apologize for how long it has been since our last post! It has been a little over a month since Lyza and I have returned from our summer abroad in the Philippines, and I have finally been able to process all that we’ve seen and done this summer!
Our final few weeks in the Philippines were, as expected, rather emotional. In between our monofilament woven fabric not being sewable, flash storms dictating our work schedules, and emotional goodbyes, our final weeks felt like they were moving far more rapidly than those prior.
To quickly sum up what happened those final weeks, it must be known that thick monofilament and raffia woven fabrics will not sew!! Our initial plans to work with this fabric, to create a textile directly reflective of the community’s marine-based economic past and raffia-based current situation, proved futile when our handiwork began to fall apart in our hands as we tried to sew this fabric.
Very quickly we had to make decisions and begin new operations. These fabrics would have to remain as purely decorative; they would become scarecrows or wall-hangings. We then decided to collaborate with a local crab trap weaver to develop crab trap and fishing net bags. What began as a few rough sketches to Pandan’s local crap trap maker, Dodong, eventually became a system. We would talk to Dodong about our ideas for the bags, and he would be ready with them the next day. Particularly exciting was when Dodong began presenting us with his own designs, or with bags embellished with coconut husk beads his wife had made. To see this creative spark in him, that in itself was encouragement enough.
All the while during this emotional time, Lyza and I were scrambling to get our diary entries sorted in time to print the book we were working on, “Dye Trying”.
An excerpt from the book:
“wed aug 12 emotional goodbyes
It is our last day in Bohol and we are leaving the loom weavers the same way we came, with meryenda; we are having pancit.
The first goodbye we had to say was to our island staff and boat crew. With a heavy heart we said goodbye to Neneng, Rose, Genaro, Ompong, Botyok, and Metring, and boarded the boat to head toward to Tubigon for the last time.
Upon arriving at the loomweavers co-op where we were greeted by Trina and presented a card of thanks from the co-op. We had our pancit and had to say goodbye to the co-op and those such as Victor, Peter, Ronillo, Stephen, Don-Don, Misael, Amay, Ruth, Carmel, Erning, and Fidel, who had helped us so much.”
Our nine weeks were not nearly enough time. Although our initial plan went awry, it was our second plan, of working with Dodong, that made our initial goals, of connecting with both the fishing community and weaving community a success.
We leave the loomweavers co-op with 10 scarecrows, two wall hangings, 7 backpack prototypes, and the hope that they will continue to explore the ideas we have only begun to explore.
We are not sure whether or not the co-op will decide to further pursue the idea of the fishing net and raffia bags, but we can only plant the seed and hope that it the preparation that went into it will be enough for it to germinate and grow.
The talented and sharp minded people we were fortunate enough to work with in Pandan and Tubigon have us leaving feeling positive. We hope to return to Pandan in a year or so and seeing the fishing net bags worn by the community.
Since returning to the states, Lyza and I have exhibited a book featuring dye recipes, diary entires, and observations published by Hardworking Goodlooking, and exhibited at the New York Art Book Fair at MOMA PS1.
I think I’ve reached a point where it’s going to be hard to tear myself away from my work here. I’ve fallen head over heels for this valley, from peak to plover. Some of my efforts have fallen short of my own expectations. That’s okay though, I don’t necessarily want to be finished here. I’ve found that during the busiest season for the park, it’s extremely difficult to network effectively with the workload the Park rangers have been experiencing. I found myself working on a more independent basis as the Rangers scramble to accommodate the increased traffic.
Access has been a persistent challenge as the road infrastructure is limited. I’ve been trying to reach Medano Lake which, as I see it is one of the most important features of the park. The trouble was that about halfway up the road to get there, your chances of reaching the trailhead dwindle as the road becomes less suitable to vehicles with more conventional clearance. To make matters more difficult, due to all the rain this year, much of the higher portions of the road had been washed out so even rangers were hesitant to head up there. The only people who ventured up there this season were folks with jeeps or high riding SUVs.
In lieu of that, I discovered a handful of other sites to explore. Some had been hiding in plain sight. Miner’s cabins and homesteads are not an uncommon sight in the park. Many have been washed away in years past but there are still a few like the Wellington Homestead, as well as a Cabin perched up near Ptarmigan peak, a false summit just up the mountain from the Visitor’s center. Rangers, often won’t tell you about these locations as it can be dangerous to enter these structures, and the fewer people that go there, the fewer that will be compelled to have a look inside. I also discovered a number of mountain lion caches I felt would make good sites to scan.
I’ve found sort of an observation post in my hourly position at the Great Sand Dunes Oasis that I’ve taken in exchange for a free campsite and supplies in a project that I had expected to be largely solitary outside the Park Visitor’s Center. In the few hours that I work, I meet people visiting, and people who have lived in the Valley their whole life. Some of the most interesting people I’ve met call the Valley their home. Firstly, Patti the owner of the Oasis, is quite possibly one of the most welcoming people I’ve met since being here. In many ways she’s treated me the way a concerned mother might treat a stubborn runaway mutt. That is–with patience, employee priced un-canned food, and a lovely clearing in the mountain piñons to pee all over. Though I might find that the actual store mutt Bella, the half-husky half-coyote pup who has been playing the role of greeter outside the store for almost 15 years now, views Patti’s kindness as just part of her regular rhythms. As far as I understand it Bella started showing up 15 years ago, and after some conversely purebred suspicion, eventually she let Patti rub her belly and has showed up at 7:00 AM every morning since. No-one is quite sure what she does at night, but she’s always ready for work in the morning.
My internship supervisor Ranger Chavez, has been welcoming but also honest. He told me that this year has been as busy as the park has every been, it has been as wet as it has every been and staff has been stretched as thin as it has ever been. Ranger Chavez has a warmth and has a balanced level of confidence that I admire in another person. He’s humble enough to be personable, but confident enough to draw the lines that need to be drawn in his line of work. Ranger Chavez is a law enforcement officer. One day I said something related to how some designers say that Architects know nothing about everything, and engineers know everything about nothing. He chuckled, and said,” You know I can relate to that, Park Rangers do a lot of different things, without getting really good at one thing in particular” Some mornings, Ranger Chavez would be down at the Dune Access lot directing traffic. Other days you might find him in the stables tending to the Horses. One day in particular, as I was meeting with him, he got a call over the radio that someone’s father had fainted back at the Sand Dunes Oasis, but their family had been dropped off at the dunes, and I guess we were a little outside of Uber’s jurisdiction or so to speak. Ranger Chavez looked over at me and said, “Okay, let’s take this discussion to the truck.” After locating the family, they hopped in his truck and were there in less than three minutes. I’d driven that stretch many times and had seen my fair share of mule deer crossings, so I was a bit jittery as the needle of his speedometer started flirting with one hundred miles per hour. Upon our arrival, Patti was rather surprised to see me stepping out of the truck as the ambulances and Sheriff’s Deputies started to pull up. After dropping off the family, Ranger Chavez and I continued our discussion as he patrolled the camp grounds. He told me that my work had gotten the attention of the leadership team and that they wanted to hear what I had to say. In the end unfortunately, it seems that the leadership team was extremely busy, however I have been given the opportunity to write a report regarding my work here, my intensions, and in service of stating the case for 3D scanning in the National Parks.
In the park if a visitor finds something unusual that they think the park officials should know about, they’re encouraged to report it to the interpretive staff who will then submit the reports to Resource management. These inquiries are then given to the park Biologist who looks through and evaluates them and tries to find cases that might be of interest or concern. For instance there has been a disease moving through some of the elk herds in the valley and If I had come across elk fresh elk remains, they might be able to sample the remains and determine whether it had been killed by a predator or by the disease. If I could take an accurate scan of a site that might be of interest or concern and be able to show in more detail what it was that I saw, it might be easier for the biologist to evaluate whether or not they needed to investigate further.
Even now, Colorado State has been using LiDar scanners to be able to map the interiors or historical buildings in the valley among other places. Though these serve as digital maps, for me the interesting part comes when you think of it a machinable model and the implications for sculptural thinking regarding found objects. How do found objects function when direct historical and cultural references are a click away? Better yet– what happens when sculptures can be editioned, economically, conceptually, and technically? What if we got high resolution LiDar rigs in the hands of artists?
I was able to experiment in the field with my scanners. One site of interest to me was the Wellington Homestead. For starters it was accessible so it allowed me to time my visits precisely as weather moved in quickly and unexpectedly to be able to minimize the risk of damaging my most vital equipment. Some sites that I had visited were at a much higher elevation, and posed larger risks to my equipment. It also allowed me to visit more frequently. However I had to really avoid entering the structure, as upon my first attempt to scan the interior I found that I could cause damage to the floor of the structure. Another was an area of the park known as Indian Grove. This is where Native Americans would peel the bark off of the Ponderosa Pines to use as medicine and food. I was unsuccessful in most attempts to create complete scans of the trees as lighting and scale proved to be extremely difficult obstacles to overcome using scanners that primarily used light and color to create form. However, my preliminary models were really exciting to see, though they require some repairs to be made.
Recently I was able to produce my first 3D print for the park staff, via Shapeways. For me this was a big victory. I was able to hold a series of informal critiques with staff members to criticize the form that I produced from a functional standpoint. I had created a track swatch, similar to the track casts that the interpretive staff often times will have ordered in. I was able to scan every track that they had in the park and scan a number of ground surfaces which means it’s easy to create an impression in pretty much any scannable surface in the park and print it out as though it had been casted that way. The sample I had sent out was a Mountain Lion print placed on a gravel surface. I was really happy with the detail retention from the file to the print. Things I didn’t expect, like the flexibility of the plastic in some thin areas, the slightly overpowering bleached color of the plastic, and the subtle appearance of the National Parks badge on the back, were quickly pointed out to me by the Rangers. The swatch was designed to be sturdy, and light weight so that it could be packed away without having to be concerned about damage.
The next iteration, to be printed in a full series of tracks will be sleeker, and more rigid. In the mean time, this version demonstrated the ability to print offsite, which one ranger pointed out was very much like the way the National Parks sign makers shops service national park region. Great Sand Dunes is a part of the Rocky Mountain Region, and their sign shop is near Rocky Mountain National Park. They can put in requests there for signs to standardize their signage. My thinking is perhaps to approach the Rocky Mountain Region much the way that RISD has approached the development of the Co-Works lab, in making it a collaborative space for all the parks in the Rocky Mountain Region to be able to experiment with 3D media to be able to more effectively speak to the public. What if the National Parks could take on the responsibilities of constantly reinventing their visitors center messages to fit the realities faced by their resource managers on a season to season basis?
The Parks I’ve learned, take great care in crafting their image relative to their visitors expectations and safety. For instance, I took pictures in the Nature Conservancy land waiting to be absorbed into the park of the large bison herds there. Although I didn’t know it at the time, the bison there have a small percentage of cattle genes in them, so by the resource management team, technically they are a non-native species, which poses problems in terms of deciding wether or not they would stay in the park once its absorbed. Consequently, even when the rangers go out into the nature conservancy, any pictures of the bison may not be used to represent the park online until they finalize a conservation plan to keep visitors from expecting the park to hold bison. As it was explained to me, with any animal reintroductions have to be pursued carefully. Park officials have to make sure that there is a healthy predator prey relationship. Introducing too many predators before a certain population of prey is ready to support itself and handle any losses there may be can cause imbalances to delicate park ecosystems that would be hard to recover from. Additionally, visitors may be compelled to visit the Bison on their own terms, which is a risky bit of business to say the least.
When I started staying up in the campgrounds, I quickly learned that I was not the only Oasis employee staying in the campgrounds. I’d started to notice a lifted white Chevy around the grounds. At first I assumed it was just a regular visitor staying at the campground. I would come to learn that it was Dan, Patti’s nephew who’s avante garde approach to bear encounters, guided by his description of Black Bears as ‘sissies’, entailed a swift, emergency punch to the nose. “Have you ever been punched in the nose?” he asked with wide pale blue eyes, before going on to explain how much it makes you not want to maul somebody. Dan is in charge of doing any kind of repairs or maintenance, and builds furniture from wood he’ll mill, dry, and plane himself (almost exclusively with a chainsaw). One morning Im told Dan woke up to some unwelcome visitors in his camp. He proceeded to get upand fend off three Coy-dogs who persisted until they got bopped on the nose with a shovel wielded by an agitated half-awake leathery man with a ‘punch-first’ approach to black bears.
Dan explained to me that he makes part of his living collecting elk and deer sheds, which he is then able to sell by the pound for hundreds of dollars per pair. He said sometimes he likes to use them for furniture and when he finds a particularly nice set, he’ll keep them. What I found particularly interesting about Dan was the way that he approaches making. To him it’s necessary, and it’s as much about finding as it is about creation. It seems as likely to him that a piece of wood has already decided what it will be before he can even think about ripping the starter-pulley on his chainsaw.
Just outside of the campgrounds Patti rents out a house to a man named Juan. Juan is in his sixties, and is extremely friendly. Juan invited me to go out with him fishing one weekend in some of the reservoirs to the south. I had chatted with Juan a few times before, he’s a Vietnam War Veteran, and as our discussions started to move towards Vietnam, I told him that my father was drafted in Vietnam, but never spoke too much about his experience. Juan explained to me how he felt when he and other veterans returned from over-seas. He said they were called baby-killers, and had excrement thrown at them. He told me that out here he’s made friends with a few other Vietnam veterans who live in the valley but they’ve become reclusive and withdrawn from society out of the rejection they felt from their own peers. A sentiment I recognized in my father’s story as well.
Juan worked for a solar electric company. His job keeps him on the road.that keeps him on the road during the week but he tells me that he’s in love with this valley, the empty spaces and the people as much as those things might seem in conflict with one another. The days he and I fished together, he proudly showed me the two pieces of land he had bought upon his arrival. One was at the base of One of the more prominent peaks in the valley, he hadn’t lived there for a while, but his RV was still parked there, with a chain-link fence surrounding it. A pile of rocks he had collected from old gold mine outcroppings that had little bright orange crystals. He took great satisfaction in the idea that one day he would pass this land on to his Grandchildren.
The second tract, was up on a small plateau near one of his fishing spots. It seems he has no intensions to build anything on the land. He said that he was more satisfied by the idea that somewhere in the world there was a place that was all his, a place to belong. He shared with me his love for collecting rocks, and showed me a petrified log that had been in his family for an undetermined amount of time along with some rocks that contained pockets of orange crystals, and green turquoise. He is extremely generous– after we returned from fishing, we had both caught one Rainbow Trout each, and he insisted that I take his as he already had dinner planned for himself. “Fajitas.” he said. It probably the best dinner I’ve had since being here. He was also shocked that I had never eaten Elk meat and proceeded to insist that I take a hunk of elk that his close friend had shot this year. He says it’s better than venison, and I am pleased to report that this is true.
I’ve found that a great way to talk to and get to know some of the local folks is to do what they all seem to do regularly. That is, search for and find objects hidden in the landscape. They have their own kind of a material culture that is refreshing to me, it’s not a throw away culture, its a culture of finding, and looking. The most valuable things that many of these people have couldn’t be bought in a store, the core essence of the value that they apply to their findings are the stories that accompany the discovery. Without the story, they may as well be mere tourist trinkets.
Dan said something to me that came to mind the more I thought about these ideas. We were jawing back and fourth about our cars. He had offered to let me use his welding equipment so I could fix my exhaust pipe as it had broken into two separate pieces while I was out galavanting on a primitive road with my Subaru. He said, ”The good thing about fixing your exhaust is that next time something breaks you’ll know that ain’t it.”. He then chuckled a bit to himself and then pointed over at his chevy and said,”They say it takes about six err-seven years for your bodies cells to completely replace themselves, and I had that truck darn near 15 years, so you do the math.”
There was no doubt in my mind that he was going to ride that truck until there was nothing left to fix. He wasn’t concerned about what it was going to be worth upon resale, only if it would survive it’s next trip up to Blanca Peak. Value to him is relative to whether or not he can get to where he wants to go, rather than some abstract concept of material worth.
Patti often times had a very motherly quality to her. During lunch breaks often times she would see me with my gigantic water bottle, and a plate of fish from the kitchen and would smile warmly and remark, “you’re eating fish, that’s good for you AND you’re drinking water. Good boy.” Which at first threw me through a loop a little because I hadn’t been referred to as a ‘boy’ since the sixth grade, as I my head poked up above six feet, but I found some humor in it. Patti seemed to think of her staff as a family in the most literal terms imaginable.
The last week of my project, I was eating breakfast in the restaurant and she sat down and asked if I had heard the ‘frog story’. I said no. She explained that the Native Americans that lived in the Valley for centuries had legends passed on from their ancestors who lived through a period in the Valley where the Valley floor was wet. As they saw it dry up, they said that it left behind thousands of frog spirits. The spirits would sometimes follow visitors from the valley and compel them to come back. She would later give me a small frog figure carved from stone. It’s a frog carved from Green Turquoise. She said it would follow me around until I came back.