(Stefani: This is a 2 part post for last week and this week)
I was going to write about apathy or more to the point, about futility in the face of all this information surrounding the scarcity of fresh water and increasing levels of the salty variety – I even had a fully formed post — but I scrapped it. It didn’t really seem to contribute to any conversation.
Instead, I thought about the Swale project, which I really like. It steered me thinking to adaptation. Mammals have always been particularly adaptable, but reading doomsday-inspired quotes such as “…the gradual disintegration of West Antarctica may have already become unstoppable…” makes me wonder whether we are capable of adaptation
at this point. Projects like Swale champion an optimistic vision of the future, but are they too little too late?
And cue the in-class discussion about creating change before it is the only option, before we are standing at the precipice and staring at imminent destruction. My only answer to this is to give people a viable alternative.
In a sense, I believe this is what the “disruption” culture is trying to do. While a terribly over-used sentiment, the fundamental assumption upon which it’s based is not wrong or untrue — you need to physically disrupt a pattern with one that is easier, more attractive or all of the above to produce new patterns and new ways of existing (ie. the new sharing economy).
This is what Jamie and I spoke about.
Does our trash can offer a viable alternative? It will, by presenting different options for existing in a trash-riddled world (bar soap instead of plastic bottles), but I don’t think that’s the most evocative point. I believe people are well aware of less-trash producing options. However, I don’t think that people, myself included, think about their trash.
The point is to help move in the direction of a viable alternative by first pointing to a problem.
The trash can is this opaque container that frees you from the burden of this thing you don’t want. Much like we don’t see the source of our food, we rarely see the ending of our trash. For so long, this has been our narrative:
Keep a place clean by throwing away your trash.
Or more progressively, this:
Three or more choices for throwing away your undesirables.
We want to change that to be, regardless of what you discard, it’s not harmless. We want to plant a seed to change a mindset, to suggest their are alternatives to mindlessly discarding something.
We essentially have the trash can running and have finished 80% of the necessary fabrication. We will record the sounds of the trash can tomorrow and finish up the final images that will be our “here’s a viable alternative image.”
Jamie and I made some progress this week on our [working title] SassCan. Physically, we decided on the mechanism. We had a Raspberry Pi up and running and a collision switch on swinging door garbage can. Code can be found here.
We also made some progress on the conceptual idea of the project:
An inconspicuous garbage can that screams/moans/grunts when the user throws something into it and then a hidden screen is triggered. In other words, we have definitely settled on the initial response, but we are still formulating what happens when the screen turns on. The screen is an attempt to try to inform beyond just shock. However, Jamie conceded some of his idea to try to deliver too much information on the spot. We agreed it needed to be
quick and entertaining, so our current idea is to spell out a quick message in humorous gifs.
We want the bottom line/take away to be ‘Go on a trash diet’ or ‘Your trash isn’t innocent.’Of course, we will have an available link with more information for interested parties, but I think this is a good compromise since it still evokes an immediate reaction and allows for a little more context.
We would also like to have it take a photo of the person to catch the screaming reaction and this would be the last thing to display on the mounted screen, such as: Look who is on a Trash Diet.
Again, we are still fleshing out the gif/screen details, but I’m feeling a lot more solid about the project since we are on a similar trajectory and we have the basic mechanism functioning.
This week, Jamie Charry and I discovered that we had a mutual fascination with animating a garbage can.
We had decided to team up on this project, despite having different initial ideas. My initial thought rested on a lot of shock value, without much commentary. I was interested in seeing yes, the shock value, but also if people would make the connection themselves that their trash does not have neutral consequences. Jamie really wants to make a point and to make sure that that point is conveyed. I don’t think one idea nullifies the other, so we are in the midst of trying to envision what this garbage can looks like.
For me, the project has brought up several questions, a couple put forth by Marina Zurkow:
1. How can we make the response negatively associated?
– I don’t want the garbage can to become a game wherein the point is to fill it with as much trash as possible. That’s the opposite of what we are going for. Marina mentioned something along these lines during my initial presentation
2. How much of this project has to use analogy or soft language and how much can rely on honest, potentially shocking truths?
– Marina also referred to this during my presentation. Her comment was that art can be a powerful medium because it harnesses the power of analogy. My thought is, I’m not sure Jamie and I are out to make art, as much as something with a very literal message. With reference to shock, I think of the anti-smoking campaign in Canada that plasters images
of diseased lungs on cigarette packages. The point there is obvious, the effect, I’m not so sure. I think about my own experience with this project and my motivation to take note of my own waste production has come about through feelings of guilt associated with images and things that
I have read about our destruction of the planet. I think that is powerful, but I also know that my motivations can drastically differ from another persons. That said, I do think the climate change movement has been overly sensitive about absolving guilt where guilt is due. I spoke with Jamie about this and he’s not for or against using shocking images, but he thinks there needs to be a payoff. He doesn’t just want to breed a moment of disgust. On that, I can agree.
3. Finally, what is our desired effect?
I think Jamie and I both agree that we want to make people consider something they don’t normally. We want it to illicit a change in behavior or at the very least, plant a seed that will slowly grow. How we get there is a different matter.
Overall, I’m really excited to work with Jamie on this. I think working with him will be good for me in that he will force me to temper some of my absurdist tendencies. From a technical standpoint, his vision is more involved and will force me to extend some of my abilities, which I would love to do.
Just found this smart garbage can. This is really great and uses reward rather than punishment, which is something we should really think about. However, our intent is go to the next level, not just getting people to throw things away, but to think of those things.
In response to the NYTimes Article, “Making Museums Moral Again”
I think looking to any institution for a sense of morality is an idea that has long since gone by the wayside. We may make momentary gods out of individual Instagram stars, but whole institutions? Certainly not in this day in age. In this way, I’m not sure I need to hold museums any more morally accountable than I do similarly large institutions… or at least I don’t pretend to.
I really resonated with the point the author was making about contextualizing the art we see in museums. I think this is an approach that giant institutions, like the Met, need to take in order to stay relevant and modern. Putting something or someone on a blind pedestal seems very pre-internet era to me. We are currently in the age of information and therefore, are more skeptical of purported saints; the internet proves everyone is a sinner.
This actually reminded me of an exhibit at the Met last year, The Plains Indians. The story of North American Indians is well known in this country, so I think the curators of the show knew they had to acknowledge the atrocities committed by early European settlers. The art in this exhibit really reflected the destruction of their way of life. Most interestingly, the end of the exhibit included art by modern day descendants of the Plains Indians and all of it either reflected a somberness or a celebratory revival of this culture. I definitely left the exhibit in awe of the art, but more importantly, moved and sad by the loss of this culture.
On the other side of the coin, who are the curators of exhibits to be moral judges? Can something be beautiful or praiseworthy despite its context? I’ve certainly been drawn to things that are morally questionable and I don’t think it’s ultimately art’s obligation. That’s a big question, which I don’t think I can answer succinctly.
And now I’m torn….
Though a short article, there was a lot of good stuff to digest here, particularly within the context of my project.
Re Environmental Artwork:
Does such work simply normalize a bad situation, providing little more than a BandAid for a gaping wound? Does a focus on individual efforts undermine the need for systemic change? What is the role of the artist in sciencebased experiments? How does one evaluate “success”? To what extent do remediationbased projects really remediate? How do artists reach out to corporate and institutional partners without being captured by their often contrary agendas?
The “Does a focus on…” questions caught my eye and I have to say, I don’t think so. This article in general made me think a lot about structures in our society and how change really occurs. It’s true that systemic change is probably most efficiently caused by larger institutions (corporations, governing bodies), but these entities rely on an individual, especially an individual as a consumer. Abstaining from buying a product on a singular basis isn’t much of an action, but repeated measures such as this that slowly gain momentum individually and as a collective hold a lot of power to force change in the system from the top down.
It’s a little like the adage ‘You can’t love anyone else until you love yourself.’ Well, you can’t cause systemic change until you buy into that change individually. And of course, this is what I want to explore: motivating individual change.
Additionally, I took a lot of inspiration from Mel Chin’s “Fundred Dollar Bill Project” and from Natalie Jeremijenko’s “Mussel Choir.” I think the latter is really brilliant and I found myself extrapolating it to a real world setting so that people would start to hear the mussel’s singing the way they hear the birds, but in this case, it’s more of an inescapable Siren’s warning song. Amazing.
Policy readings! How lovely, given my particular topic!
The Climate paper was particularly enlightening because it opened my world to the eyes of scholars directly dealing with the idea of public engagement by environmental NGO’s. Many of the key advocacy functions written about in this paper referenced the idea of disseminating information and making the public aware of current situations. I”m not saying that climate change is now considered public fact in they year 2016, but we are in a very different place now than we were 5 years ago. The climate talks in Paris are indicative of that. As awareness grows, the greater task for many NGOs will be highlighting actionable items for the public to participate in, to feel that they can in fact make a difference, or even in a dent in this monstrosterous problem.
This quote was particularly interesting:
Likewise, the knowledge generation and dissemination function, as handled by NGOs, seems to be much more about building bridges to action than developing intellectual understanding
While I see where they are coming from, I don’t necessarily agree. For many people (myself included) an action without a reason is pointless, or at least somewhat infuriating. I believe people derive a lot of power from being able to make their own decisions. I believe those decisions can be heavily influenced (as good advertisers will tell you), but choice based on supporting evidence is a very satisfying.
This is something that I really want to keep in mind while I work on this NRDC project.
Undoubtedly, the theme for this week’s readings was Science & Art, two subjects I’ve spent quite a bit of time comparing in my mind. The general sense that I got from many of these readings (and one talk) was that the authors assumed the readers understood these two practices to be opposites from one another. They seemed to delight in showing us how they intersect (at times, with overreaching creativity, as in the case of Jonah Lehrer).
I’ve never thought this. I started in science, but never considered myself much of an artist. I’m not sure I even considered myself a scientist — labels terrify me. I enjoyed art, but it wasn’t until I escaped the lab and started meeting artists that I realized how similar the two really were. People drawn to these professions tend to be very philosophical and enjoy answering big questions. They are happy to muse on a subject for an inordinate amount of time and are quite open-minded. I find artists to be much more analytical than they realize and scientists more emotional than they care to admit. The process by which each is performed or comes to conclusions can be drastically different, but ultimately, both are keen observers of the world around them.