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Monthly Archives: 02/2015

Art+Village+City: On Video as a Method and What Constitutes a “Site”

Posted on by Genise Choy

Art+Village+City in the Pearl River Delta is one of two interdisciplinary courses being sponsored by the Global Urban Humanities Initiative in Spring 2015. Students in this research studio are utilizing a variety of research methods from interviews to video documentation to explore the ongoing evolution of relationships between urban and rural spaces and people, and the emerging role of the arts in China’s Pearl River Delta.

The research studio paired up in teams and produced 7 short videos depicting a “Chinese” site. These sites were the Pacific East Mall in El Cerrito, Oakland’s Chinatown, San Francisco’s Chinatown, and two dollar-stores in the Mission and West Oakland. The films produced were markedly different in style, pace, content, and scope, prompting the class to reflect upon the elasticity of a site’s users, boundaries, activities, objects, everyday life, and emotional qualities.
— Winnie Wong

“During our editing process we felt like we did not have enough to work with yet, at the same time, this made the process relatively quick. Others talked about the difficulties they faced with too much film and the decisions they had to make cutting things out. For me the question remains whether a short film is more powerful in its ability to catch the attention of the viewer or if the long film is better in its ability to capture more. However, this also raises the question – do you necessarily need length to capture everything that you want to depict and to give an initial sense of what a place is like?”
— Katie Bruhn (Southeast Asian Studies)

“The most difficult aspect to this video project was not the process of making the video but the actual selection of a “Chinese place.” Although Brittany and I decided on the Asian Library in Oakland, what we ultimately captured was a much larger space than the singular place we selected; this included the festival outside of the library as well as some of the content filmed within the library itself. The American slang book that we picked up is one example of how a singular artifact has the potential to reveal histories, stereotypes, and cultures that occupy a much larger space than the Chinese aisle in the Oakland Asian Library.”
— Trude Renwick (Architecture)

“Video as a means of documentation, collection, communication and representation is really powerful. You can only capture so much and what you capture is subject to circumstance, but the format of the project is something that people are familiar with and can easily consume, even if the content of the video is difficult to decipher….It can also be highly manipulated to achieve certain effects. Like photography, even though it captures real images (not likenesses or interpretations like drawing, painting, etc.), the hand of the artist/producer can still be felt. I think that was made clear from the differences we saw in the Xiuxian/Story and Valentina/Ettore videos, which were filmed in the same place at the same time but felt so different and as a result had completely different effects on the viewer.”
— Genise Choy (City Planning)

“I wanted the film to reflect our impressions of walking through this so-called Chinese space without any overt purpose - though I think it is evident that we were searching for one. Belatedly, we realized that we had stumbled upon a character in the tunnel, a woman pulling a rollie suitcase in a “Where’s Waldo” sweater, but we lost track of her due to our red herring, the BART excavation. We were also unclear about our intent in documenting this space. How does one document a site, both with or without asserting one’s own narrative?…This opens up a range of approaches to “documenting” a site - do you treat the (possibly boring, banal) place as the object of your film, or do you use it as a setting to foreground an action, event or narrative which you either find or create? I suppose in a way, in our film, our own searching eye, through the vehicle of the camera, became the event of the film.”
— Susan Eberhard (Art History)

“I decided to document an 'all American' dollar store. Most of the low-consumer objects in this store were made in factories in the Pearl River Delta. It’s fascinating to note that both the producers of these objects and their consumers are usually struggling in the socio-economic apparatus. There’s a global market that profits from these transactions….Looking through the material and editing was the hard part. The research and image recording reads superficially and feels like the potential introduction for a larger/denser narrative….There’s a lot of material to sculpt from these sites. I’m immensely interested in the metaphor of the artificial flowers as a skeleton to expand upon the tension between the object/ its producer/site of production and its consumer…”
— Jose Figueroa (Art Practice)

What were we looking for? did not get asked or answered at any point in the process of shooting, editing or critiquing the work. Had the question been posed, what might have gone differently? Would we have “found” more or less? What would more or less look like in this process?”
— Annie Malcolm (Anthropology)

“Honestly, the Oakland Chinatown leaves me with a better impression than the Pacific East Mall, probably because it is more dynamic, more vibrant. In contrast, the Pacific East Mall gives me a feeling of stagnancy and dullness. I told Story that I think of the Pacific East Mall like a museum, storing the old-dated material, sentiment, and lifestyle of the 1980s. I kept thinking about the different spatial forms of these two sites, open and enclosed. Does spatial quality have emotions?”
— Xiuxian Zhan (Landscape Architecture)

“Having just struggled with editing and giving our raw footage some semblance of an order or meaning, I was hyper aware of all the wonderful things other people thought of to do (or did intuitively) with their films. Playing with splitting the screen to juxtapose or compare objects or experiences was very effective and visually interesting. I also liked the feeling that walking a loop gave, with familiar landmarks giving a spatial sense that is otherwise hard to capture in an edited film. A loop can be imbued with a ritualistic quality by making a connection to some theme or historical reference. In general, playing with references and questioning the underlying meaning of the everyday seems to have much potential. Lingering on objects, and especially architectural spaces and details, forces people to see things that they might otherwise miss. Similarly, footage of “back of house” activities has much to offer the audience, as it exposes a world otherwise not seen. Editing can be used to give the audience a sense (through pacing or music) that represents an idea of how a place is or should be.”
— Story Wiggins (Landscape Architecture)

“We had the advantage of being able to compare our video with Xiuxian’s and Story’s work who filmed the same space. It was striking how filmed under the same circumstances and even with similar scenes, both videos had very different takes on the space they were portraying. While our video had an emphasis on the empty spaces we perceived, compared to the density we were expecting, Xiuxian’s and Story’s video had a much more social narrative that was constructed upon the interviews Xiuxian was able to perform in Cantonese. These interviews opened up the space of the Mall, and it seemed a much more lived space than in our approach.”
— Valentina Rozas-Krause (Architecture)


Happy New Year from Art+Village+City in the Pearl River Delta!

Posted on by Genise Choy
Filed under: Art+Village+City, Film, Oakland

Filmed and edited by Katie Bruhn and Annie Malcolm


Art+Village+City: Video Presentations

Posted on by Genise Choy

Art+Village+City in the Pearl River Delta is one of two interdisciplinary courses being sponsored by the Global Urban Humanities Initiative in Spring 2015. Students in this research studio are utilizing a variety of research methods from interviews to video documentation to explore the ongoing evolution of relationships between urban and rural spaces and people, and the emerging role of the arts in China’s Pearl River Delta.

Students paired up to create videos of places related to China and the Chinese diaspora throughout the Bay Area. Here is José Figueroa's watercolor documentation of the in-class presentations!

We'll be posting one of the videos soon, just in time for the New Year!


Art+Village+City: On Art, Culture, Village, or City in the PRD

Posted on by Genise Choy
Filed under: Art+Village+City

Art+Village+City in the Pearl River Delta is one of two interdisciplinary courses being sponsored by the Global Urban Humanities Initiative in Spring 2015. Students in this research studio are utilizing a variety of research methods from interviews to video documentation to explore the ongoing evolution of relationships between urban and rural spaces and people, and the emerging role of the arts in China’s Pearl River Delta.

The research studio conducted roughly 15 one-on-one interviews with individuals from the PRD or who had lived there. This resulted in reflections from the class on the interview as a method from individual students’ disciplinary expectations, and insights gained from the aggregate of the class’s presentations of interviews.
— Winnie Wong

“Shenzhen is a great place to live, better than Hong Kong, but it has no history. The villages are beautiful and a great place to escape into nature, but they are not where the wealthy people live. Villagers are so nice and welcoming. Villages have culture but urban villages have no culture. Artist collectives are moving from the cosmopolitan centers to the countryside.”
— a South African artist, from Brittany Birberick (Anthropology)

“One of the primary themes I drew from Tuesday’s interview presentations is the undeniably migratory and global nature of the Pearl River Delta. We heard about wine importers; families who move back and forth within the region, within China and between the US and PRD; the Chinese diaspora in South America; and, of course, professors and students who study, are from or work in the PRD who are currently amongst our local networks. I would be curious to interview someone who has never left their hometown or village in the PRD and get their perspective on life in the region. More importantly, I wonder how they would describe their interactions (if at all) with the global economy that has emerged there. I suspect that even those who do not physically travel away from their home feel the effects of the outside world quite deeply on a daily basis…”
— Genise Choy (City Planning)

“I learned about a class of nouveau riche she called tuhao 土豪 - in my dictionary 'local tyrant' but slang for this new group of people, which according to [my interviewee], are visibly distinguished by their urgent need to show off their new wealth. Interestingly, as she pointed out, the first character means soil or earth. I’m not sure whether this class includes newly wealthy people from the villages or not, but from a quick internet search it seems to apply to the 'uncultured' nouveau riche from mainland China, and it is a term that has gained fluency since 2013 in the media internationally.”
— Susan Eberhard (Art History)

“[My interviewee, a Shanghai urbanite] stated contradictory ideas: on the one hand, she hopes for an improvement of facilities in urban villages, in order to offer better ‘rural experiences’ to citizens (and we know this need is increasing); on the other hand, she think those situations are ‘not that special,’ probably without a strong cultural identity. She even stated that preservation is not needed, except for particular heritages. This means she doesn’t perceive the social conditions of villages as a heritage. This point is quite crucial: even when people see the potential of urban villages in terms of rural experiences, are they perceiving them as part of the collective culture of the nation? Or they are just touristic attraction? Really impressive is the statement: ‘since urbanization is going on, there is nothing about living without a city.’ This must be deepened: did she mean that we can consider rural life as part of the urban life? Or did she think that there are not possibilities for rural life in China anymore?”
— Ettore Santi (Architecture)

“In my own interview one of the most striking comments made was the fact that Shenzhen has no history or culture of its own. Sharing this comment with the class the question was raised as to what my interviewee deemed culture. I think partially because I knew my interviewee well and he knew my research interests in terms of visual arts and other forms of 'high culture' (for lack of a better term) such as theatre, literature, and dance, his articulation of 'culture' related to this type of art production. Thinking past this obviously narrow definition of culture, I am curious to explore what other types of creative production and/or strategies of placemaking are taking place in the Pearl River Delta that might be seen as modes of history making or preserving and/or cultural production. I am not sure how to approach this question or what I might be looking for – outward displays of staking claim to a place/space? Interactions amongst people or groups that constitute some type of social cohesion or creative production?”
— Katie Bruhn (Southeast Asian Studies)

“Overview photos of the PRD at night prove the density and aliveness of the area—it’s quite shocking….Although Hong Kong is investing a lot of money in culture/arts, it’s not supporting upcoming/unknown Chinese artists. The government’s funding is mostly given to internationally acclaimed artists (mostly westerners)…People on Mainland China, specifically in the villages, are depicted to be happier and more humane than one’s within the city (expected in the citizen / villager dichotomy)….Scholars from the area seem to be harder subjects for interviews.”
— Jose Figueroa (Art Practice)

“…the global south connections between China and South Africa and South America: The fact that Chinese mine workers were ranked at the bottom in South Africa, but now have attained mythical (?) status for their ‘Chinese work ethic,’ links to Valentina’s exploration of similarities between the creation of Brasilia and the ‘chaos of recent birth’ in the PRD. These cross continental comparisons seem promising for the ways they relate or don’t relate, just as I continually find myself taking what I learn about the PRD back to the US and questioning how different or similar things are (or were) here. In that same vein, I found it interesting that China might be the new New York of the art world (based on Brittany’s interviewee’s choice of graduate school location). And this makes sense, since Greenwich Village, or even Brooklyn, certainly now bear very little resemblance to the cheap, gritty, and potential-rich urban condition that attracted artists in the first place.”
— Story Wiggins (Landscape Architecture)


Art+Village+City: On the Interview as a Method

Posted on by Genise Choy
Filed under: Art+Village+City

Art+Village+City in the Pearl River Delta is one of two interdisciplinary courses being sponsored by the Global Urban Humanities Initiative in Spring 2015. Students in this research studio are utilizing a variety of research methods from interviews to video documentation to explore the ongoing evolution of relationships between urban and rural spaces and people, and the emerging role of the arts in China’s Pearl River Delta.

The research studio conducted roughly 15 one-on-one interviews with individuals from the PRD or who had lived there. This resulted in reflections from the class on the interview as a method from individual students’ disciplinary expectations, and insights gained from the aggregate of the class’s presentations of interviews.
— Winnie Wong

“On listening to and watching fellow classmates’ presentations of their interviews, I was struck by the two forms that the interviews took. There is the form of questioning, of the encounter, the manner in which one, the researcher, goes about extracting information from the other, the informant. Then there is the finished form, the completed conversation, the object that can be presented. This later form, the presentable object, is not one that I think about much. In anthropology we are taught to ask open questions, to not push our interlocutors to certain conclusions….The later form, the presentation of the interview, remains fragmented—bits of it appear in articles, anecdotes, and books.”
— Brittany Birberick (Anthropology)

“I personally wish that I had made an audio recording of my interview so that I could go back and confirm the accuracy of and flesh out my notes. Perhaps more importantly, though, I think that by recording the questions I asked along with my interviewee’s responses, I could gain a better understanding of how I may or may not have posed biased, guiding questions, or missed opportunities for valuable follow-up questions….However, I think there is something even more powerful about a video recording because one is able to capture the silent gestures that may not be conveyed in the verbal expressions of an interviewee, adding immeasurable value…”
— Genise Choy (City Planning)

“Perhaps due to the very similar biographies of my two interviewees, I’ve been thinking about the presumable goals of finding a 'good' ethnographic subject or informant. Is it to find the typical, or to search out the exceptional? I get the sense that social science research is motivated by tracing patterns, and perhaps finding a typical case within these narratives to personalize them and cast larger social movements, developments, issues, etc., into a concrete representation. My field of art history often tends to look at the singular or at the odd detail in order to propose counter-narratives to the expected.”
— Susan Eberhard (Art History)

“I decided to report a summary of the interviews in form of video clip. In my idea, it was important to describe the personality of the interviewee, besides reporting their statements. This probably allows a complete understanding of the sample, a more transparent reading of the conversation; and makes possible to establish relations between given informations and interviewee personality.”
— Ettore Santi (Architecture)

“In choosing my interview subject I did not consider the possibility of a virtual interview. For me the word ‘interview’ immediately brought to mind a face-to-face interaction somewhere in the Bay Area. I was quite pleased others took the notion of the interview beyond our geographical location.…Each of these interviews presented the story of someone living elsewhere….In my own research I communicate frequently with artists via Facebook and Skype in order to keep up to date on the most recent art happenings in Indonesia. Some of these conversations are incredibly rich yet ephemeral as I generally do not view them as interviews. Sben’s documentation of Facebook and Skype conversation as well as Ettore’s recording of his Skype chat caused me to think more critically about how I position or utilize my virtual interactions with those I consider key informants and/or collaborators in my project.”
— Katie Bruhn (Southeast Asian Studies)

“Notes to self: 1) Allow the person you interview to have space to speak -even if that means long pauses. Although you can reveal your desires in the conversation, just try to do 20% of the talking. 2) Remember written interviews/correspondence as a valuable/valid form. TAKE NOTES. 3) Any subject is a good subject.”
— José Figueroa (Art Practice)

“This being my first ever assigned interview in the history of my education, I am wondering why this is not a more frequently used pedagogical tool across disciplines. The layering and intersection of personal anecdotes with the broader patterns we have been reading about asks a level of critical thinking and connection making that felt extremely illuminating and productive. People are a fascinating resource, and I loved the excuse to be nosey about someone’s life and thoughts. Each of our presentations was a glimpse into a life and mind, and so full of information that I find it hard to remember the details.”
— Story Wiggins (Landscape Architecture)