Reflection/Response: Who Goes There? Material Social Practices (Kathi B.)
One of the main reasons I enjoyed the three day one credit workshop "Who Goes There? Material Social Practices" is because of the individuals in the group. As is the way with most of the InterArts grad students, the group was comprised of active and expressive individuals, all of whom are experienced with and interested in working collaboratively in service to a higher cause.
This course presented some interesting ideas on the rapidly changing landscape of public art and arts activism. The readings referred to a number of projects in the U.S. that created real change in an environment or community. In those instances, the concept of what kind of change was needed was present before any ideas of implementation were in place. This enabled the participants to join in to work for a cause and help in any way they were able to.
In our case, the course was devised with the main element of implementation in place first: the Papermaker's Garden. Parameters of its current usage were already in place, but on hold due to the season and weather. Future upgrades, uses, and the buildout, were being discussed, and ultimately decided upon, in separate meetings at the college administration level. Our class was on the way to dreaming up many different uses for the garden, as well as explorations of community involvement and sustainability/environmental, but there was no way for us to implement most of the ideas we came up with.
A few major issues impeded our progress: lack of water and electricity in the space; restricted access to the space and a locked gate on the chain-link fence surrounding the space; lack of implements to work with the existing environment on the first and second days; the inverted nature of the garden's status in relationship to the course's directive and mission. Ideas of creating projections, using sound and lighting, or making the space more user-friendly (more green space and places to sit) were dismissed by the group once we realized the limitations. The additional late-breaking information about the landscape architectural plans that had already been approved by campus administration put a damper on our group coming up with additional innovative ideas.
Using the second part of the class time to work with the tools, supplies, and environment that was actually available to us was a nice release from the fact-finding and idea-generating activities we had done earlier in the classroom. Although severely restricted in our materials, the group pooled their own personal resources as far as tools, and worked together to decide on small details that contributed much to the cohesiveness of the final installation. Having rocks and gravel as a primary building material was almost ridiculous, but with the group's positive and can-do attitude, the self-styled "Team Gravel" was able to rearrange and sculpt the rocks and gravel into interesting and eye-catching swirls and ribbons. The dendritic growths created by Heather and Jillian, that were made to climb up the reviled chain-link fence were especially effective, and will certainly draw attention to the space ("How did they do that? How did they think of that?!").
I do feel a portion of the brainstorming time could have been directed more into researching one or two of the group's "pie-in-the-sky" ideas, and preparing a proposal report to hand over to the college committee that is directly responsible for the final architectural plans that were recently approve. Examples of this include adding seating areas, devising easy to allow community access and use, and researching how an apiary could be incorporated. Our group also noticed a number of things about the site that did not seem to be reflected in the final plans or renderings. It could be helpful for our observations to be passed along to the powers-that-be.
~Lack of electricity and water access in the space: How will this affect the plan for increased garden beds and a concert/presentation stage?
~Constant surrounding noise from the elevated train, hotel HVAC exhaust fans, traffic, etc.: How will possible concerts and presentations on the stage be audible if surrounding noise is overwhelming, as it often is?
~How will adjacent residential neighbors react to the proximity of a concert/presentation stage?
~The one sign on the property talks about an active composting practice being set up. The committee should actively research how to make this a reality, and not be bogged down by imagined "sanitation problems." The college already has a composting program in effect, and it should be linked to the garden's expansion and use.
Overall I am glad I was part of the short-term activation of this space, making it a bit more interesting, colorful, and presentable for the upcoming Manifest celebration.