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Posts tagged ‘RISD Maharam Fellows’

18
Sep

Finding the synergy of architecture, sustainability, and urban development in Ethiopia

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.

4
Aug

Walking out for conversation, Pei-Yu, 2024, ID

Stay out of the conversation. 

Twenty to forty years ago, speaking of this massacre was not only prohibited but many were also executed for even mentioning it. I’d never heard of the stories as a kid. What I have observed throughout my journey, there was a definite fear of remembering the past. Although it has been thirty-plus years since lifting more than half a century of martial law, terror and miscommunications exist. 

“We don’t talk about politics” or “Keep politics out of this” was what I got a lot of times when starting conversations about the massacre. 

Starting conversation 

For one of my past projects with Kiong Seng, we made a poke-a-present game filled with stories of the massacre and had the public interact with it. The game was laid out like the map of Taiwan. We walked out into the streets and invited passersby to participate and “win a prize.” When they poke through the map, they will find stickers and a letter. In the letter, we wrote the stories of the massacre in that region. Then, we encouraged the participant to write their thoughts on a post-it note and cover up the hole they had just made. 

The purpose behind the game was not only to spread awareness of this historical event but also to start a conversation. We saw many parents telling their children about this historical event and many elders willing to share their stories with us. However, there were still many that refused to write anything. Some think we were bending the truth, and few told us not to dwell in the past. Despite the mixed results, this activity presents the current situation of transitional justice and remembrance of the massacre. 

A pop sound is made when they poke through the map, made of heavy-weighted paper. It is an aggressive and nerve-wracking action of breaking something that looks perfect and well-sealed. Similar to the process of uncovering injustices in the past. The participants read the stories of the past. Some stayed silent while they absorbed the pain in the letters, while others were in awe that they had no idea of a story so close to them. When they choose to write on the post-it note, they are in conversation with the past and themselves. It perpetuates the constant revisions, understanding, and reimagining of history, thereby preserving it. In the end, the map was filled with colorful post-its representing the beauty of diverse opinions and people on this land. Even though some holes are not poked through or covered up, it also shows the continuation of working through and discovering more stories and more conversation. 

Keeping the conversation going

For this recent mapping project, I was interested in the act of remembering and memorial. There are many ways to remember a historical event. Though in recent years, the government has made 228, February 28th, a national remembrance day of the massacre, I realized that many still don’t know what that day is for. 

photo of the 228 Memorial Park in Tainan, Taiwan

I begin by thinking of how to map the act of remembrance. The first thought that came into my mind was the few memorial statues and sculptures in each city. Upon further research, most of these sculptures had misinformation or that it had a lack of maintenance. Conversely, we also have a lot of statues of the past dictator in almost all public schools. This dichotomy of historical sculpture and statue preserving two different ideologies interested me. 


This roundabout in my city had a statue of the “founding father” who never set foot in Taiwan and was used as political idolatry during the martial law period. It was also the same roundabout where lawyer Tang Te-chang was executed publicly, whose corpse was left exposed for a week as a warning during the 228 Massacre. Now the statue of the “founding father” has been taken down after a protest. A new statue not related to the massacre was installed. 

I began to invest in different memorial sculptures and designs, trying to understand why people don’t know about them or don’t care. I organized and collected all the other monument places on a spreadsheet. I wanted to apprehend how younger people, like me, think about this issue. Therefore, I planned a road trip, inviting many to join my conversation on the 228 massacre. Many were students like me. Most of them had little to no knowledge of this historical event. I started the road trip by introducing the historical event in the city we were in, encouraging them to ask questions and share their thoughts. 

I was really surprised by how a lot of the conversations turned into. One of the participants, whose political stance was more towards the party involved in the massacre revealed that their relatives were political victims. Though they understand the historical trauma, they still believe in their political views. While I traveled to the different cities, telling stories and talking to people, I kept reflecting on the purpose of this trip. 


After the conversation – now what?

Why is it essential that we talk about the past? 

This is a question I asked all my interviewees and myself. 

History is not about the past. It is the present and the future.

From the tour guide for GinSan 228 

It’s important to talk about it because we can now. Being able to speak freely and have conversations about it, whether pleasant or not, is a privilege. 

one of the interviewees as we drove through the city of Pingtung

To me, the current conclusion I have, talking about the past, is human nature. We like to remind ourselves of what happened yesterday. When the elders speak about the past, they are not just talking about the horrendous past, but also about their past. The history they lived through. Just like how in some of the historical tours, the purpose was to learn about the city’s past.

Learning about the collective past is a way through personal history. Regardless of what side of the story you are on, active learning and listening are love. Love to the land. 

This is similar to those whose loved ones were lost during the massacre. Preserving history was an act of preserving their loved ones. Giving their stories truth was a way that we, who were fortunate to not have to go through the same trauma, can respect their love.

Remembrance of the traumatic past of this land is to remember it was once loved. 

Remember the land. 

Love the land.

Sidenote: There have been dramatic political changes recently with the visit of US Congress Representative Nancy Pelosi. Broadcasts of China’s aircraft and military drills around the island report non-stop. 

Regardless of what happens, life goes on. There will be hope as long as we’re alive. 

1
Aug

Navigating urban narratives and green alternatives #2, Ruth Wondimu, MARCH, 2023

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.

Ethiopian New Schools Proposal

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.

28
Jul

Witness history in your footsteps- Pei-Yu, 2024, ID

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.

We are all victims and witnesses of the ripples of histories trauma.

我們都是餘波盪漾的受害者,也是見證者。

葉芊均 ( 2019, 2020 Event coordinator of Kiong-Sheng Music Festival, and tour guide of Tuā-tiū-tiânn)

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.” 

I responded’

“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?” 

Interview with 張尹嚴 (current master’s candidate of NTNU Taiwan History Department)

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.” 

The elders often say,

“Whenever we speak of 228, the sky gets darker.” 

講到二二八,天就烏一半

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. 

11
Jul

Confronting Pain of the Past- Pei-Yu Hung, 2024, ID

Upon stepping out of the 15 hours plane ride from NYC to Taoyuan Taiwan, I was hit with the unfamiliar density of hot humid air. Last time I was home was a year ago. The air was the same, I’ve just simply forgotten about it. As much as I have try to involved myself with the topic of 228 Massacre and transitioanl justice when I was in the states, it was not the same being back on the island. On the ride back to my quarentine hotel, I pass Zhongzheng Rd (中正路) which was named after the dictator/president responsible of this historical trauma.

History, it is in the air.

Quick Recap

For those who don’t know I’m working with the organization called the Taiwan Youth Association for transitional justice and Kiong Seng, located in Taipei, Taiwan. They advocate the importance of remembering the forgotten history. Their research focuses on the 228 Massacre, which was not taught in history textbooks until the past twenty years. The 228 Massacre, a uprising after the regime change after WW2, marked the beginning of the seventy-year-long White Terror authoritarianism era. Kiong Seng holds history workshops, lectures, summer camps, publications, and music festivals in relation to this massacre. By educating younger generations, they hope to preserve these stories and accomplish transitional justice through the process. 

Making the Website

The first project I started with was the official website for the NGO. Before my arrival this summer, I worked with my then supervisor on the preliminary website, helping him figure outthewebsite’ss platform, domain, and service. While I was in the government-mandated quarantine for seven days during the first weeks, a lot happened.

I was told that the original supervisor had resigned and that I had to find another supervisor who just returned from her vacation. A rocky start. I did not know what to expect and what to do at first, so I started brainstorming and creating prototypes of the websites on Figma before I could get a hold of my new supervisor.

But everything turned out fine. They were all very communicative, and I was able to set a meeting with my new supervisor. In our meeting, we set up new goals and deliverables and shifted the website’s purpose from blog based to archival. However, during this meeting on a Friday 2 in the afternoon, I was given very short notice that the website would launch at 7 the same day. I had four hours to fix and create just enough content before the website announcement.

We managed it! The prototypes helped a ton.

To speed up the process for the launch, we had to use a ready made template. Going forward, I will be adding and design the whole website to better suit the need of the organization.

The following week, I went to the office and started my archival work, working on collecting past event documentations and dicussion on my map making. Transfering ten years worth of documentation of events, puplications, and documentation onto my drive took a few hours. After which, I did more archival work, transfering posts and photos on Facebook, their primary use of social media and documentation, onto google drive and creating a itininary of all the events that will be shown on the website.

file names matter!

note to self

Without planning it, my process of creating the offical website of the organization helped me a lot in my personal project. While riffling through all the past event documentation and files, I became a historian. I was giving the oppertunity to tell the history of this organization. And what was the first thing I did designing the website? Mapping out the flow chart of the website.

Planning and drafting the mapping project

Through mutiple discussion with my supervisors, we came to a conclusion of what this map might look like. It wil be a layered map that tells the stories of 228 massacre in different cities and a dicussion of walking tours hosted by the organization. We went through many different iteration and ideas of what the map might be. At first, we thought about telling the story in a linear fashion, while the reader scroll through the page, storys pop up chronologically, telling the overall history of the massacre. However, that had been done before by governement departments or vmemorial museum. I’ve also thought about doumenting and interviewing all the past walking tours, catologing and presenting the tour digitally. We decieded the value of these tours are that people walk within the streets and see the buidlings in-person as a immervise experience. Changing the medium into the digital lanscape will take away the impact of these walking tours. Through our dicussions, we decided to include stories from different region but also include interviews with the tour guides on how they plan the routes and their view on learning history in an unconventional way.

The second part of the map will be a project called, “Transitional Justice Cab.” I will be inviting people, such as, lecturers, students, people interested in history, and people with little knowledge of the history on a ride to the each memorial park in their city. During the ride, I would like to interview and spark conversation on how they view this historic past and what they think about transitional justice.

Overall there are three parts of the mapping project:

  1. 228 Massacre regional map: telling the story of what happened in each city and the people, victims involved in the event
  2. Kiong Sheng walking tour documentation: interviews with past tour guides and lecturers on how they plan walking tours and their thoughts on historical sites and rememberence
  3. Transitional Justice Cab: a conversation of understanding the past and thoughts on memorial parks and museums

Collective Memory and Maps

Through the past two weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time reading more in depth on transitional justice as well as the massacre itself. I was fond of the idea of “Personal history is collective memory.” It is easy to get caught up in numbers, statistics, and overall picture of historic events if we understand it through the lense on how history is taught in public education and media protray. However, at the end of the day, the root of which is still about people and their stories.

I’ve always been fascinated about maps. Perhaps it might be that Taiwan was not drawn in many world maps in the world or that the representive maps we had are mostly colonial maps by colonial and imperial regime. To me mapping and map reading was always a way to reconnect and understand the locality and history of my culture and identity. In some of the reading recommended by the organization, mapping was a way of storytelling.

there are some phenomena that can only achieve visibility through representation rather than through direct experience.

James Corner, The Agency of Mapping: Speculation,
Critique and Invention,
I visited the National 228 Memorial Museum. This exhibition was curated by KiongSheng in their three part series of “The Scars of the Land” telling stories of 228 within each regions and analyzing the buildings and historical site

I’ve begun to start thinking about my project. How do I map memory? History? Relics? Evidence? Trauma? I’ve been cautious not to fall into the pit of contributing to Trauma Porn (excuse my language), but all the articles, exhibitions, and documentaries on the subject pivot on pain.

I was also invited to the Artist Talk by National Taiwan Art University on their recent exhibition called “Nets of Fragmented Memories” where Korean Artists 朴殷賢(Eunhyun Park)崔瓉琡(Chan Sook Choi)、朴華妍(Hwa Yeon Park)、琴惠元(Hyewon Keum)talked about the Korean War, 518 Student revolution, and Japanese WW2 confort woman. From the talk my biggest take away was artist Sook-Choi’s piece stating that the stories from their memories might be wrong, but the pain was true.

How do I tell a painful history respectfully?

This is a question I will continue to ask myself in my journey of mapping.

6
Dec

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.

2
Nov

Tying up the experience for the future Harini Gona FD’16

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.

1
Nov

Challenges to Road Safety – Harini Gona FD 2016

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.

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In memory of a child lost to neglect.

2
Oct

Final Thoughts, Goodbyes, and Dyeing Trying – Emilie Jehng TEX ’16

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!

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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.

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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”.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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1
Oct

Final weeks in San Luis Valley – Joseph Fellows ’16 / BFA SC

8/7/15

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.