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A Cardboard Life

Posted on by sarahhwang@berkeley.edu

About the writer: Connie Zheng is an artist and writer currently pursuing her MFA in Art Practice at UC Berkeley. She uses the dialogue between text, drawing, painting and time-based media as a conduit through which to consider the environment of the media and the media of the environment, and these investigations tend to center on the visual culture around environmental crisis and economies of waste and creative reuse. She received her BA in Economics and English from Brown University and worked as a researcher before beginning graduate school. Here, she writes about her current practice and research on cardboard is influenced by the GUH course, Populism, Art and the City.

We are surrounded by cardboard everywhere in the Bay Area: in our recycling bins, on our doorsteps, and scattered on the street. We use cardboard to protect and transport the items that often make up our domestic interiors, whether we are moving between homes or awaiting a shipment that traces its origins overseas. We also see cardboard being repurposed and given new life and context, often by our unhoused neighbors, as signage, shelter and insulation.

This material, so evocative of consumption, movement, and creative reuse, became the subject for a speculative research paper that I began while taking the GUH seminar Populism, Art and the City, with Drs. Angela Marino and Jason Luger. I’m grateful that this paper will be published in the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies this upcoming winter, and that the research I did for this piece has informed other writing, video and installation projects that I have been working on this fall.

The idea of a home space in relation to cardboard struck me one Sunday afternoon in January of this year, when I was walking through the ground floor of the HSBC headquarters of Hong Kong. There, I saw nearly a hundred Filipina and Indonesian women gathered in space. They were Filipina and Indonesian domestic workers assembled in one of many informal gathering sites that bloom and are then disassembled over the course of one day. Sunday was the day they could claim as their sole day off from what would otherwise be a 24/7 workweek in the home of their local or expatriate employers, and I assumed that the ephemerality of this gathering made cardboard a useful material to support its manifestation. When I first encountered one of these gatherings, or assemblies, I found myself struck by an affective response that I later attributed to the sight of cardboard being used to demarcate a new informal space directly on top of an existing codified space.

Initially I wondered if the women were homeless, since I am accustomed to the image of the homeless in the Bay Area sitting or sleeping on flattened cardboard. Closer observation negated this possibility. In both cases, however, the cardboard being used as insulation or shelter appeared to be of unknown provenance, occasionally bearing logos that suggested they migrated from a residence or commercial business. Through conversations with Professors Marino and Luger, and my brilliant classmates in the Art, Populism and the City seminar, I realized that the ubiquitous, utilitarian, endlessly repurposable material of cardboard could possess not only a particular symbolic force that is linked to class inequality and consumption, but that it may also contain the ability to cross spatial delineations and produce a new kind of public space. This inquiry led me to the following research question: how does cardboard circulate between public and private spaces, both physically and ontologically, and what is produced in the moment when it crosses from one semiotic space into another?

I began the project by tracing the movement of cardboard through a trans-Pacific circuitry of trade: I made calls to and visited the Port of Oakland, the Berkeley Recycling Center, the Creative Packaging factory in Hayward, and the International Paper sheet feeder factory in Gilroy. I used walking, sketching, photography, video, and speculative writing as methodologies, in addition to more “traditional” methods of research. The multidisciplinary approach that our instructors encouraged the class to take were crucial for the formulation of this paper and its evolution into more visually-oriented works as part of my artistic practice. In fact, much of the research that I did for this paper regarding the circulation of waste commodities made its way into an oil painting, an installation that I am currently building, a visual essay that was just published on SFMOMA’s Open Space platform (“Familiar Strangers, Strange Familiars”), and the footage that I shot when visiting the Berkeley Recycling Center for this paper found its way into a video piece, Notes on Fluorescence, which showed in the Trace Evidence exhibition sponsored by GUH earlier this year.


Neutralizing Poverty: Governing Homelessness in San Francisco (Edmundo Fitzgerald)

Posted on by sarahhwang@berkeley.edu

Neutralizing Poverty: Governing Homelessness in San Francisco Lecture by Chris Herring for Fall 2018 Colloquium The City and its People. Fall 2018 GUH Colloquium student Edmundo Fitzgerald wrote the following reflection on the November 13th lecture given by Chris Herring, PhD Candidate in Sociology. Chris Herring’s work looks at how cities attempt to mitigate homelessness. His presentation shared the results of his research as a PHD Candidate at UC Berkeley. He first showed us a brief history of cities incorporating anti-homeless legislation, the legacy of which being that 50% of all cities have at least one anti-homeless ordinance while some have as many as…


Neutralizing Poverty: Governing Homelessness in San Francisco (WeiJie Zhu)

Posted on by sarahhwang@berkeley.edu

Neutralizing Poverty: Governing Homelessness in San Francisco Lecture by Chris Herring for Fall 2018 Colloquium The City and its People. Fall 2018 GUH Colloquium student WeiJie Zhu wrote the following reflection on the November 13th lecture given by Chris Herring, PhD Candidate in Sociology. Chris Herring’s lecture focused on discussing the relationship between the police and the homeless community in San Francisco. He began by explaining that there has been a history of discriminatory laws and ordinances that have negatively affected homeless people. An example is the Ugly Law (revised in 1970s), which makes it illegal for “unsightly or disgusting” people to appear…


Impossible Exiles: Palestinians in Arab Cities

Posted on by sarahhwang@berkeley.edu

Impossible Exiles: Palestinians in Arab Cities Lecture by Ahmad Diab for Fall 2018 Colloquium The City and its People. Fall 2018 GUH Colloquium student Saeed Nassef wrote the following reflection on the October 16th lecture given by Ahmad Diab, Assistant Professor of Near Eastern Studies. Ahmad Diab posed the idea of an impossible exile by investigating the works and lives of two of the most famous Palestinian artists and poets: Mahmoud Darwish and Jabra Ibrahim Jabra. Both of these authors were born in Palestine at the time of the British mandate. Darwish stayed in Palestine during the Israeli occupation and left in…


‘My Bad Attitude Toward the Pastoral’: The Country and the City in the Poetry of C.S. Giscombe

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'My Bad Attitude Toward the Pastoral': The Country and the City in the Poetry of C.S. Giscombe Lecture by Chiyuma Elliott for Fall 2018 Colloquium The City and its People. Fall 2018 GUH Colloquium student Sunya Berkelman-Rosado wrote the following reflection on the October 23rd lecture given by Chiyuma Elliott, Assistant Professor of African American Studies. Chiyuma Elliott, Assistant Professor of African American Studies tells us that great pieces of art teach us how to analyze them. The analysis of such art, in turn, is an important tool for social analysis. In her lecture, ‘My Bad Attitude Toward the Pastoral': The Country and…


Recent publications by GUH Faculty Andrew Shanken

Posted on by sarahhwang@berkeley.edu

Professor of Architecture Andrew Shanken has published two new articles this year. He wrote “Unit: A Semantic and architectural History” in the summer issue of Representations and “The Visual Culture of Planning” in the Journal of Planning History. Shanken co-taught the GUH course City of Memory with Prof. Lauren Kroiz, and will be co-teaching with her the Spring 2020 Graduate Interdisciplinary Studio on Berlin. Shanken, Andrew. “Unit: A Semantic and Architectural History.” Representations 143, (Summer 2018): 91-117. Find the article here.  This essay peers through the peephole of the word unit to reveal the word's journey across multiple fields from the mid-nineteenth…


Metropolis in Ruins. Berlin’s Interval of Time, 1943-1947 (Vincent Buckwitz)

Posted on by sarahhwang@berkeley.edu

Metropolis in Ruins. Berlin's Interval of Time, 1943-1947. Lecture by Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann for Fall 2018 Colloquium The City and its People. Fall 2018 GUH Colloquium student Vincent Buckwitz wrote the following reflection on the October 30th lecture given by Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann, Associate Professor of History. Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann (Associate Professor of History) was from 2017-2018 Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg/Institute for Advanced Studies Berlin and Guggenheim Fellow. He shared his research about the history of Berlin from 1943 to 1947 as it was transformed from the capital of Nazi Germany to a divided metropolis of the Cold War. In the beginning of the presentation, Prof.…


What does Infrastructure do? Water in Mexico City

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What does Infrastructure do? Water in Mexico City Lecture by Ivonne del Valle for Fall 2018 Colloquium The City and its People. Fall 2018 GUH Colloquium student Vivian Tran wrote the following reflection on the November 6th lecture given by Ivonne del Valle, Associate Professor of Spanish and Portuguese. In the early 16th century, the conquest of Mexico-Tenochtitlan by the Spanish Empire brought about changes that radically altered the city's semi-aquatic environment. While the indigenous populations strived for a system of water management (using lakes and rivers surrounding the area), Spaniards from very early on had done the opposite by exposing a model…


Neutralizing Poverty: Governing Homelessness in San Francisco

Posted on by sarahhwang@berkeley.edu

Neutralizing Poverty: Governing Homelessness in San Francisco Lecture by Chris Herring for Fall 2018 Colloquium The City and its People. Fall 2018 GUH Colloquium student Tom Lindman wrote the following reflection on the November 13th lecture given by Chris Herring, PhD Candidate in Sociology. Chris Herring—a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology at UC Berkeley—studies anti-homelessness laws in the United States. His presentation for the City and its People provided a history of anti-homelessness laws and their impact in San Francisco. His work sheds light on how these laws are currently enforced and their effect on the unhoused. The talk began by situating current responses…


Metropolis in Ruins. Berlin’s Interval of Time, 1943-1947

Posted on by sarahhwang@berkeley.edu

Metropolis in Ruins. Berlin's Interval of Time, 1943-1947 Lecture by Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann for Fall 2018 Colloquium The City and its People. Fall 2018 GUH Colloquium student Lily Leveque Eichhorn wrote the following reflection on the October 30th lecture given by Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann, Assistant Professor of History. Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann’s work focuses on uncovering a new perspective on people’s experiences in Berlin before, during, and after World War II. In introducing his work, he comments on the enormous amount of attention the World War II period has received from historians and scholars. He explains that despite people’s fascination with this point in history, little is known…