As students and I have been creating more zines (both through classes and research projects), we have started to build a critical mass of them. You can now find several in the Collaboratorium (Smith Lab 4180) here at OSU. Best of all, they are free!
Our zine “Infrastructural Digest” is now completed(!) and 250 copies have just been printed for the opening of the Privy2 demonstration garden. The zine features original artwork and essays by OSU students and faculty that reflect on the history of sanitation and its relationship to agriculture. You can download a copy here.
This summer I’ve been working with students and colleagues in the Knowlton School of Architecture at Ohio State to install a demonstration garden, titled “Privy2: Biosolids and You.” The project is designed to draw attention to the processes by which waste products are transformed into both agricultural and architectural resources. The garden is fertilized with Com-Til — a Class A biosolids product made by the City of Columbus — and planted with corn. The site will also feature an architectural pavilion constructed primarily of material derived from recycled plastics. You can follow our progress and learn more from the project website. You can also read this recent article that provides an overview of the project.
When I first started teaching an environmental anthropology class several years ago, I wanted students to develop group projects that could potentially address some local environmental problem or issue. But I found that the projects asked a lot of students and I really didn’t have the time (or resources) to launch successful experiential or service-learning projects. So instead, I started thinking more about how to get students to reflect on their personal relationships to the environment and how they might conceive of those relationships. I started with a short “Show & Tell” classroom presentation (assignment #1). I’d been thinking a lot about this Object Lessons series and I’d been reading a little philosophical work on Object Oriented Ontology. Simply put, I wanted students to bring in objects that they felt embodied their personal connection to their environs or even objects that they thought were helpful for reflecting on human-environment relations. As part of the assignment, I asked them to develop a “take-home” message. Really, I was asking them to build some kind of theory out of their personal insights and reflections.
From there, I had them draft an essay (assignment #2) in which they refined their reflections. Generally, I asked them for more idiosyncratic “ethnographic” details while I also tried to push them further on their final take-home message.
In the second half of the class, we read about phenomenological approaches to understanding human-environment relationships and we talked about sensory ethnography as well as embodied and experiential knowledge. After that, I asked them to develop an artistic model that captured some distinctive feature(s) of their Show & Tell object that could be represented in a way that appealed to one of the five senses (assignment #3). This semester was the first time I’d asked them to do that. To lead by example, I made sauerkraut with them in class and used the experience as way for them to think a bit more expansively about what their art piece might be.
After I gave them feedback on their preliminary models, I provided them with more details on the final art exhibition (assignment #4). As part of the final art piece, they also developed short artist statements that drew from their essay drafts but also offered reflections on their choices of materials and the intentions behind their pieces. For the actual exhibition, we were lucky enough to be able to use an open study space in our department and we did a real slap-dash installation right before the start of class. In retrospect I think it would’ve helped if I had asked for the projects a day or two ahead of time to think more through the layout and distribution of the pieces in the room. But, despite it being a little chaotic and crowded, they seemed to enjoy it. With the exhibition installed, I gave them a worksheet (assignment #5) that prompted everyone to engage with different pieces in the room. We also had bagels and coffee so people took breaks and rotated in and out of the exhibition space. At the end, we had some final reflections as a group and every individual had a chance to talk and reflect. We even sampled the sauerkraut that we had made together in class the week prior.
For the final assignment, I had them write one final version of their Show & Tell essay (assignment #6). I’m not sure if that’s overkill or not. Still, I’m hoping to tweak this further for future use. Along with the zine assignment that I’ve used in my History of Anthropological Theory course, this is most fun I have had with a course project.
Last week, we printed off the first zine produced by the Culture & Agriculture section of the American Anthropological Association (AAA). It’s a collaborative effort with essays, art, and conversations on the history, making, and sharing of mead (honey wine). A special shout-out goes to Jon Tanis who handled the orchestration and assemblage, and really made the thing come alive.
We’re eager to get the zine into your hands, and we will have print copies available at the AAA Annual Meeting in Washington D.C. this November. We’d also love for you to check out the “Cultures of Fermentation” roundtable that Jim Veteto and I organized for the AAA meeting, which will be held Saturday, Dec. 2nd at 10:15 AM. The zine will be there and you might even be able to sample some meads with us.
You can find electronic versions of the zine (in both reader and print formats) on the C&A website if you who want to take a sneak peak or even print out some copies of your own. Feel free to distribute it and let us know what you think!
Yesterday I visited The Indianapolis Museum of Art’s current exhibition of the work of Ai Weiwei, Chinese artist, political activist, and all-around provocateur. The exhibit, entitled Ai Weiwei: According to What?, has a large number of his works including examples of his series of “studies in perspective” in which he flicks off the White House and Tiananmen. Some of his pieces rely on salvaged materials that are reassembled using traditional Chinese joining techniques, including his iconic Map of China. Photographs from his period in New York are featured including a few taken of him with Allen Ginsburg, and another of the young artist imitating Andy Warhol. Some of the works are much less visually striking than others, but often the process and message behind them are more important that the actual works themselves. I felt this was especially the case with his most politically significant work in the exhibit in which he critiques the Chinese government’s handling of the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan province. In the last room of the exhibit, the 5,000+ names of children killed in poorly-constructed school buildings are posted on the wall and read through a speaker with a series of stacked pieces of rebar laying in the foreground. The stacks of rebar aren’t particularly impressive themselves, but the viewer learns that these were taken from buildings destroyed in the earthquake and painstakingly re-straightened by Ai Weiwei and his assistants. In attempting to set right what he sees as wrong, oftentimes in open provocation of the Chinese government, Ai Weiwei does his most powerful work.