April 28, 2008

Long-overdue Service Learning update

My position as a tutor at Augsberg is a point of frustration for me. I signed up to tutor from 2:00 to 3:00 pm on Monday afternoons, one of the few times I am not in class or working during regular school days. With that set, I assumed it would be a regular weekly gig, and I would easily get my requirement for ARCH 1701.


As things turned out, that was not a sound assumption. Augsberg has an unusual class schedule. Students have two- to three-week sessions where they study either math and science or social studies and English. Within that, their time is balanced between regular class time and "resource periods," or study halls. My time as a tutor was scheduled for the second of two resource periods.


As I found out eventually, attendance was not mandatory during these resource periods. Sometimes students stayed behind for help, but I was not able to fulfill my tutoring obligations in quite the way I expected to.


In addition, the social studies classes frequently went on field trips on Monday afternoons. For several of these, I wasn't informed, so I came all the way to the school only to be turned away. Finally, there was the times when the kids had off of school, or the times when I had off or (once) when I was stranded in Milwaukee for an extra day.


I guess what I'm trying to say is that my service learning experience was very frustrating. I honestly wanted to tutor social studies, but my effectiveness was limited by the program's schedule, which was rather counterproductive to the presence of tutors, and the conflicts between my schedule's and the school's, as well as a lack of communication between myself and the teacher (the social studies teacher frequently forgot to inform me of vital information, like the fact that school was cancelled or that the students were going on a field trip.)


I spoke with the social studies teacher this afternoon during my volunteer period (there weren't any kids around for me to help, again), and voiced some of my concerns about the effectiveness of tutors within the program. And I was pleased to discover that there were going to be changes made to the curriculum which would hopefully increase the effectiveness of tutors like me.


So in the end, I was pleased to find out that many of the things that frustrated me were also concerns for Augsberg, and that the school was actively looking to change many of the things I found frustrating within the tutoring program. Hopefully this makes for a more involved and smooth tutoring process for the next group of volunteers. However, I can't help but feel like a guinea pig. Oh well.

April 2, 2008

Variations on a title page

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Image taken from Flickr.


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Image taken from Flickr.


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March 12, 2008

Images as inspiration

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Above: home page from Uppercase Journal.
A design style I'm really attracted to is simple, readable text with ample white space (which also enhances legibility). Each of the following examples has a clear typographic style that emphasizes legibility and cleanliness, and also establishes with its weight a kind of power and authority.

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Cover of icon magazine.
The other thing that I've been intrigued by is the interplay of text and image, and the powerful message that can be conveyed through the intersection of the two. A report on a policy does not have to be strictly text, it can employ photographic documentation, illustration, and even stylized text to help convey its message.

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Above: Devendra Barnhart poster at Spike Press
I think these ideas are really innovative ways of communicating, especially in an informative presentation (as opposed to an art form), so I'd really like to explore the possibilities of what could happen were I to blur the distinction between image and text in a presentation.

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"Show Some Guts", a poster from the "Advice To Sink In Slowly" project at University College Falmouth. Also on Flickr.

First Service Reflection

I'm volunteering as a tutor at Augsburg Fairvew Academy for Health Careers. It's a nice gig -- not far away at all (a twenty-minute trip from Coffman). I'm tutoring social studies, a subject that I've always had an interest and been good in, but I've also helped out with math. Sometimes it's difficult to engage with the kids -- there's not much you can do when a kid just doesn't need help with work -- but when students do ask for help they're really receptive.


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"Untitled" by SCARLETT / on Flickr

Here's my secret: I have never tutored anyone in anything before, and I'm afraid I'm not too good at it. When asked to be an authority on something (which is an integral part of teaching) I tend to clam up, and not communicate as well as I usually can. In a situation like tutoring, the students intimidate me; I feel as if I can't match up to some sort of expectation they have a right to have of me. In the instances that I have been tutoring and have been asked a question, I think I've done well. I'm just not confident.


So I guess that's the main thing I'm going to try to get from this experience: a greater sense that I might know what I'm talking about, confidence in my own abilities.

March 5, 2008

Interpreting One's Environment

While other parts of the physical realm might impart us with information, the part of a built environment which really affects us, one way or another, is a phenomenon. The relationships between things (framework) or how it cycles through different sets of frameworks (clockwork) are merely descriptors and components of a phenomenon, which we then take in through our senses and interpret as we will. The information and understanding we take from frameworks and clockworks may change us intellectually, but it takes a phenomenon – a defined experience – to in turn define us, or affect us profoundly.


We obviously don’t have complete control over the phenomena related to the built environment that e take in. For example, were we to decide that we didn’t like the physical sensation of gravity, we obviously couldn’t just do away with that. So the six oppositions introduced in class limit our experiences somewhat. But in the end, it’s phenomena that we’re looking at.


Take the example of Anderson 270, one of my least favorite rooms of one of my least favorite buildings on campus.


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The reason I dislike Anderson 270 is not due to its framework. In fact, when it’s looked at strictly through the lens of a framework, it’s a pretty good place – the students’ chairs face the front of the lecture hall, where the professor will presumably be lecturing, the chalkboard is conveniently located near the professor’s space at the front, the seats are a regular distance apart from one another. It all makes sense, and is relatively easy to classify.


However, in the context of me experiencing these things – a phenomenon – I may notice that although the chairs are a regular distance apart from one another, they are still too close together. Or that although we can define the amount of space between rows, it takes a phenomenon – perhaps the experience of squeezing past fellow students on your way to that one empty chair in the middle – for one to interpret that the amount of space allotted to walk between rows is simply too small.


In the same way, clockwork is not something from which we can independently alter our definitions of ourselves. Instead, we have to experience that clockwork through a phenomenon in order to apply it to ourselves and understand its implications and effects fully.

February 27, 2008

A creative space

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"Art Corner, Torso (Capitaine Nemo, illuminent le monde)" by me (em*ly rose) on Flickr

As a senior in high school, I conquered a corner of the art department, a little nook separate from the rest of the classroom, an alcove where I could work on multimedia painting in relative peace. One could argue that by doing this, I was merely isolating myself from the influence and criticism of my peers (or, more importantly, my teacher, a no-nonsense woman of whom I was irrationally terrified). But that space helped me create some of the work that I have been most proud of.


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"Dustin, exhausted in art corner" by me (em*ly rose) on Flickr

Although it began as strictly my refuge, my friends ended up following me to the corner room. One of my first friends to move in with me was a enigmatic conceptual artist and Andy Goldworthy admirer, so her creative process was majestic and inexplicable: burning a wedding dress in a grill, arranging bits of ribbon and fishhooks. For a while, the room featured an impressive collection of dried leaves littering the floor, first for some unforeseen purpose, then suspended from the ceiling in hammocks of semitransparent linen, then arranged in patterns on matte board. Inevitably, they crunched under my feet as I walked across the room, and I learned not to sit down on the ground to work on a floor littered with crushed charcoal and dead leaves and chalk dust. But that was fine, because soon there was barely enough room to squat in front of one of the many paintings, drawings, sheets of newsprint that littered the floor, products of myself and of other friends who used the space. The mess was part of the room, and I believe it helped me to create. Going into a painting, I have no idea which direction it will take. Painting for me is an organic process, affected as much by the interplay of materials (expected or unexpected) as by my own intentions for the work. The proximity of these materials to my work encouraged this aspect of my work, allowing me to go with an impulse rather than carefully consider where it would lead me. So despite the incredible mess it became, that room provided a nurturing place, which fostered a spirit of creativity as much as it fostered dirty jeans and charcoal smudges on faces.


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"Marquee" by me (em*ly rose) on Flickr

I remember other spaces in which I worked creatively in the last few years. Another place which I loved was the theatre. As the head of the paint crew, I worked on the marquee in the theatre basement until late at night, alone in a space that I can only describe as majestic: old, with pipes that are probably lead and insulation that is undoubtedly still asbestos, with the hulking giants of yesteryear’s play sets shoved off into a corner on top of each other, a large empty area at my back filled with shadows and rows and rows of costumes. It’s one of the scariest, yet most regal places I’ve ever been; while working there I felt that perhaps the history of the place would come alive and eat me (leaving no one to close the specially-ordered rainbow hues of paint, which would dry up – a disaster.) But in a way, I was already in the belly of the beast. The womb of the theater nurtured a symbiotic process – I worked on the show, and the show worked on me. Whether I worked upstairs painting or wallpapering the façade of the set, or downstairs working on the marquee in the haunted domain of Fitz Fitsimmons, resident ghost, I felt encouraged by tradition and by the community that I found there.


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"Set III" by me (em*ly rose) on Flickr

One of the things with which I have struggled the most in my first year at the University was a lack of this type of space. Crammed into a tiny two-person dorm room, there’s barely enough room to live, let alone collect the kinds of mess that I would need to create. I just need a space. A space with fluid boundaries to let people and ideas in, a space where mistakes and happy accidents are welcomed, an interactive space that doesn’t particularly mind what I might sketch, even if it’s on the wall or on the floor or on the ceiling. All I need is a room – white walls and a cement floor – where I am allowed to experiment and where I am forgiven for the mistakes that I will make.


It’s the first part of the question that will prove to be difficult. For how can I predict, given this wonderful space, what I will do with it? Perhaps I’ll collect leaves, perhaps I’ll burn a wedding dress.


But whatever it is, it will begin with paint.


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"Paint" by me (em*ly rose) on Flickr

February 19, 2008

Millennium Development Goal 6

The following are a collection of images, quotes and songs that illustrate my values in regard to the United Nations' Millenium Development Goal 6, "Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases."

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"Human Right" by Riacale, on Flickr


"INTERVENTION" BY ARCADE FIRE

Arcade Fire - Intervention
Found at skreemr.com

The song "Intervention" can be interpreted in many different ways, but the one that I like the most speaks to our need to help others. The song is a rather depressing take on what happens when you become slavishly devoted to something, causing you to neglect other, more important things (the metaphor used in the song is family).
"You say it's money that we need
As if we were only mouths to feed
I know no matter what you say
There are some debts you'll never pay
Working for the church while your family dies
You take what they give you and you keep it inside
Every spark of friendship and love will die without a home"


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"Sorrow" by bikeracer, on Flickr

"CASIMIR PULASKI DAY" BY SUFJAN STEVENS

Sufjan Stevens - Casimir Pulaski Day
Found at skreemr.com

"Casimir Pulaski Day" is one of the most honest songs about the death of a loved one that I know. This song illustrates the human side of death. Josef Stalin once said that where one death was a tragedy, a million was a statistic, which is a pretty evil thing to say, but it's also in certain ways true. We do get desensitized to death when it occurs in large numbers to people we don't know. This song helps take death out of the realm of the statistical and into reality.
"On the floor at the great divide
With my shirt tucked in and my shoes untied
I am crying in the bathroom"


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"On The Shoulders Of Giants..." by Tom Q, on Flickr

"HE AIN'T HEAVY, HE'S MY BROTHER" BY THE HOLLIES

Hollies - He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother
Found at skreemr.com

"He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" is a song primarily about helping others, and about how reaching out to help others isn't a burden, but rather a gift.
"So on we go
His welfare is of my concern
No burden is he to bear
We'll get there
For I know
He would not encumber me
He ain't heavy
He's my brother"


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"Lullaby" by musicmuse ca, on Flickr

"SONS AND DAUGHTERS" BY THE DECEMBERISTS

The Decemberists - Sons And Daughters
Found at skreemr.com

"Sons And Daughters" is a song about community and about overcoming obstacles together as a community.
"These currents pull us 'cross the border
Steady your boats, arms to shoulder
Till tides are pulled, hold our ground
Making this cold harbor now home."


AND NOW FOR SOME QUOTES:
“We will end poverty and end HIV/AIDS within our generation when guided by African principles such as ubuntu that underscore our interconnectedness. With greater compassion for others, we would no longer accept hunger and disease as facts of life.?
Cedza Dlamini, youth emissary for the UN Millennium Development Goals and founder of the Ubuntu Institute for Young Social Entrepeneurs
“The dead cannot cry out for justice; it is a duty of the living to do so for them.?
Lois McMaster Bujold
“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men.?
Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick

February 13, 2008

Spraypaint and Democracy

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"Graffiti on Soo Line Bridge" by HOARY HEAD on Flickr

Minnesota is, as a guest lecturer in my design class remarked, pretty drab in the winter months. With its relatively flat landscape, bleak weather and streets-turned-rivers of slush, the winter sucks all color and warmth out of our surroundings. However, as the guest lecturer went on to point out, this bleakness of setting can result in an outbreak of creative talent, compensating and perhaps even overcompensating for our loss of color. Art and design in the Cities attempts to stand out, to stamp into our surroundings that spark that makes us who we are.

The guest lecturer went on to talk about graphic design, but one of the slides that he flashed through near the end was a photo of graffiti. “This is a piece of graffiti,? he said, somewhat redundantly, showing a slide of two fish on the side of a building.

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"27" by All Seeing on Flickr (Note: I couldn’t find the exact slide, but it was something like this.)

For the rest of the day I couldn’t stop thinking about graffiti (or street art, if you prefer…) Its disputed place in the art world, for example: I recently ran up across a story about the Japanese fine artist Takashi Murakami. A billboard for a recent retrospective show of Murakami’s work at MOCA (The Museum of Contemporary Art, in Los Angeles) was tagged (Wooster Collective reports that it was the work of Augor and Revok of MSK and the Seventh Letter Crew.)
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From Wooster Collective

Murakami, who has been known to challenge the division between “high art? and “low art?, reportedly took down the billboard within 72 hours of its being tagged and had it sent back to his studio in Tokyo.

I’m pretty sure that at some point in all of our lives, we have seen or will see billboards such as this one – tagged, but a good amount of the time almost improved by the tagging. And even outside of billboards – throughout our lives, we will see some form of graffiti almost every day. Much of this graffiti is very diverse; the word “graffiti? encompasses hasty gang tags, political statements in public places, elaborate and decorative versions of the pseudonym of the artist, murals commissioned on the sides of buildings, and pretty much anything permanently or semi-permanently written on buildings or other structures, with any number of media. However, there is one common thread running throughout all graffiti. Each graffiti artist makes the conscious choice to get their work out there, in the world and interacting with the world, rather than hiding it on canvases or resorting to tagging bits of plywood in their backyard or basement. Regardless of content, skill level, style or affiliation, street art is meant to interact with public space in a way that delicate art on paper or canvas never could.

As in any venture into public space, this characteristic leaves graffiti wide open to criticism by a public who may not want to see it in their public space, and who view graffiti as an incursion into their own space. Both Minneapolis and St. Paul have harsh rules in place about graffiti removal, charging owners of a property with removal of graffiti on that property within 20 days of it being documented by the city. A quick survey of an internet messageboard devoted to the Minneapolis graffiti statutes shows that opinions on the issue vary widely, some even supporting “extended incarceration? for those caught tagging.

However, graffiti should not be condemned so easily. The debate engenders questions about the nature of public ownership, the role of the individual in a metropolitan area such as the Twin Cities, and the extent to which self-expression is allowed in public places.

For a country which so proudly displays its Bill of Rights – with its “freedom of speech? and its “freedom to assemble,? we do very little questioning of the boundaries of these rights. Assembling at a rally is one way to make change. Another method of changing the world might be to communicate through the marks we make on walls. Tagging, graffiti, street art, whatever you want to call it, can be the democratization of the American billboard. It is communication at its most liberated.

Maybe the problem is that people don’t necessarily want to see the products of real democracy. They don’t necessarily want to see slogans they personally disagree with scrawled on a wall on their way to work in the morning. They don’t want to see the layers of grime that cake the city they try so hard to keep clean.

So let’s make this clear: I’m not condemning or promoting graffiti. However, I do believe it’s an issue that has been disproportionally targeted as harmful in two separate cases. First, “art graffiti? has been lumped along with gang tags as “bad? for the community. I would argue, however, that this art graffiti is the community, or at least part of it. To treat it as an incursion upon “public space,? which of course must remain pure and inoffensive, is to misinterpret its meaning and blind ourselves to what community truly is. Secondly, in the case of gang tags and other graffiti which does not include aesthetic s as a priority in its creation, treating tags as the disease and not merely a symptom distorts the real problems of society.

In both cases, I think that graffiti achieves a very positive end, sometimes despite itself. It opens our eyes to both beauty in our surroundings and problems in our societies. What art form could ask for more?
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"hank" by Chronbombs on Flickr

Continue reading "Spraypaint and Democracy" »

February 5, 2008

A City Alive

“Tall freeway light poles, bright as day,
swinging past like emigrants fleeing the city.
I try to time the lids of my eyes to avoid
the perpetual on-off blinding repetition.
I keep them tightly shut, and it becomes a pulse, a dance.
a dance on the way in to the city.?
-- Zachary Harris (a poet friend of mine), in his poem 2 AM

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"Eje Central, Downtown Mexico City, 2006" by Dante Busquets on Flickr

To see what a city really is, you have to take a pinch of what my geology professor calls geologic time. You need to process the individual and the collective, the moments and the processes, the individual locations and the passageways we use to get there. Looked at in one way, it’s a wonder that anyone gets anywhere at all. Human choice complicates things; we do not merely flow downhill, as water does, but we do as we wish, go where we want. We move crosswise, interrupting each other politely as we pull the city with us in different directions.

However, this apparent conflict disappears when you leave the shutter of your mind's camera open just a second longer. Headlights blur into long, bright lines and stoplights cue a rhythmic mass of pedestrians to keep alternating time with their colleagues in cars.

In the documentary Rivers and Tides, artist Andy Goldsworthy stated that through his work, he wanted “to understand the energy in life, in me – that energy which flows through the landscape.? Goldsworthy’s work is based on a fundamental kinship between man and his environment, in his case, the natural environment. The environment can be both welcoming and harsh, both fluid and static, both active and passive. The city is the intersection of this natural environment and man himself. Like the natural world, and like us ourselves, a city manages to be an ode to both movement and stability, simultaneously and without contradiction.

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Untitled by clarence hk on Flickr

Goldsworthy works by making small but vivid changes to the environment with natural materials, simply by moving and rearranging objects that occur naturally in nature -- stones, driftwood, leaves -- in ways that could have never happed without human intervention. He makes changes that, while never deviating from a natural palette, communicate a sense of order that is distinctively human. For example, shortly after his sister-in-law’s early death, Goldsworthy created a work of art using a hole in a tree, illustrating a profound sense of loss and the feeling that something is missing that comes with the death of a loved one.

Like Goldsworthy’s art, cities are where human perceptions, priorities and values overlap and meld with the natural world on which we build. American architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen reportedly once said, “When you look at a city, it’s like reading the hopes, aspirations and pride of everyone who built it.? Our merging with the natural world produces a new environment, an environment where every detail indicates something about the people who created it. The city is defined by the choices we make when constructing it, and every single choice made in the construction would tell the future alien anthropologist more about us, the builders.

People in Motion.jpg "Västerlånggatan HDR" by MalteR on Flickr

There is another dimension to this new combined environment. The space is changed further by the way people interact with it. Individually, each person modifies and defines the city slightly. Each individual person has their own individual role within the huge system of the city, and we might question how much influence one individual can have on an enormous space such as a large city.

However, if we step back once more, leave the shutter of the camera open as people go rushing past, individuals blur together and become once again the rhythmic movement of a single whole, alternating in a crisscross of stoplights and crosswalks and turn signals. A city needs the motion of people; these streams of people going from place to place are its lifeblood. Like the eponymous rivers and tides of Goldsworthy’s work, the flow of humanity through the city presents a paradox: the motion is to the city a dynamic element, an agent of transformation within the space; however, that motion and perhaps change itself is steady, repetitive, and constant.

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"Park Street, Sydney (#2)" by Christoper Chan (Travelling in Japan) on Flickr