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Art, Politics & the City in Mexico and China: Keynote Presentation

Posted on by Genise Choy
Filed under: Mexico, Symposium

Click here for VIDEO of the Keynote Presentation.

The Art, Politics & the City in Mexico and China symposium took place on October 23, 2015. This wide-ranging interdisciplinary symposium examined art, commerce, politics, violence, history, and urban space on both sides of the Pacific. Creative artists and scholars explored contemporary performance, film, art, and activism in Mexico City from the Revolution to today. The event also featured an exhibition on current art and urbanism in China’s dynamic Pearl River Delta (Art+Village+City) and research on contemporary Shanghai by a team from the UCLA Urban Humanities Initiative was presented in a video-based exhibit. In addition, new UC Berkeley publications and websites on participatory urbanisms (focusing on São Paulo and New Delhi) and urban pilgrimage were unveiled.

by Lyndsey Ogle

In his keynote address, “Mexico City: From Revolutionary Ruins to Global City…and Back Again,” Rubén Gallo asked the question, “What does it mean to use Havana to think about Mexico City?” With radically different first impressions of each capital, Gallo suggests that each city reflects an omnipresence of ruins. While ruins have almost become a stereotype of Havana, the official discourse of the ‘new’ Mexico City, centers on the city as a thriving metropolis, experiencing a moment of discrete economic growth, yet ruin has always defined the city’s history. In the Zócalo or main square of central Mexico City are the remains of a great temple of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan. The Zócalo later became the site of colonial power, flanked by a 16th century church and governmental building and now stands as one of the foremost tourist destination in the city. The 1920s and 1930s were seen by many scholars as the golden age of Mexican art, with Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and experimental poetry and literature “synchronized to reflect the modern new world,” but life during that period was also framed by the everyday experience of collapse as demonstrated in photos of the destruction left behind by the Mexican Revolution—images which Gallo points out are more often associated with Havana than Mexico City. Gallo argues that though the 1920s was a moment of life in shambles, most scholars reflect on it with optimism, focusing on new building, expansion, and experimentation. In the 1950s, Mexico City entered what many believe to be its golden age of economic and political stability.

 


Image courtesy of Tamara Kalo

 

Gallo cites the construction of Mario Pani’s 1960’s housing development, Conjunto Urbano Nonoalco Tlatelolco, which was the largest in Mexico and one of the largest in the world, as an example of the new development intended to convey a “new” Mexico City. During the excavation, the ruins of what was believed to be a pre-Columbian necropolis were discovered, however, Pani refused to halt the construction of the complex, limiting future scholarship of the site. This project intended to distance the city from the image of ruins itself became a site of ruin, first in 1968 with the Tlatelolco massacre and then in 1985 when an earthquake left parts of the complex in ruins for decades. Gallo asks if ruins are a constant presence, why do most scholars not think about the city as a city of ruin? Today Havana is critiqued for turning its ruins into sites for tourism while Mexico City has used the disruption of modern construction as a way of concealing its ruins. This dialectic of exposure and concealment, problematizes “exactly what type of ruin that is being concealed?"

 


Image courtesy of Tamara Kalo

 

“Never has Mexico City been so fragile on the inside—drugs and corruption have penetrated every level of society, justice and ministries are in shambles, all systems meant to take care are in ruins.” Gallo leaves us with the question: “Havana’s ruins can be fixed but how do your rebuild trust, ethics, and respect for human rights? Where does a society begin a process of national reconstruction?”


Art, Politics & the City in Mexico and China: Panel 1 | Modernity in Process

Posted on by Genise Choy
Filed under: Mexico, Symposium

Click here for VIDEO of the Panel 1 presentations.

The Art, Politics & the City in Mexico and China symposium took place on October 23, 2015. This wide-ranging interdisciplinary symposium examined art, commerce, politics, violence, history, and urban space on both sides of the Pacific. Creative artists and scholars explored contemporary performance, film, art, and activism in Mexico City from the Revolution to today. The event also featured an exhibition on current art and urbanism in China’s dynamic Pearl River Delta (Art+Village+City) and research on contemporary Shanghai by a team from the UCLA Urban Humanities Initiative was presented in a video-based exhibit. In addition, new UC Berkeley publications and websites on participatory urbanisms (focusing on São Paulo and New Delhi) and urban pilgrimage were unveiled.

by Katherine Bruhn

The symposium’s first panel entitled “Modernity in Process: Creative Practice, Urban Experience and the City” began with a presentation by Tatiana Flores, Associate Professor in the Department of Art History at Rutgers. Professor Flores’ presentation, “Mexico City: Avant-Garde City?,” explored the history of the Mexican avant-garde with a focus on the relationship of Manuel Maples Arce to the work of modern artists. Maples Arce is known for his 1921 publication Actual No. 1. This document, seen as a manifesto of the avant-garde movement, asserted that the new post-revolutionary era required a renovation in the arts that would occur through the embrace by contemporary artists of modernity and subjects including the city and new technologies. As Flores stated, Maples Arce believed that the “modern artist should be a city dweller.” Following an examination of the work of numerous modern artists who engaged with Maples Arce’s texts, Flores concluded her presentation, bringing the conversation full circle with the example of contemporary artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, who in 2000 “realized Maples Arce’s dream of a technological modernity” through his installation Vectorial Elevation in Mexico City’s historic Zócalo Square. According to Flores, through this interactive installation, which allowed for the engagement of masses of locals as well as a global audience, “Lozano-Hemmer achieved a milestone in Mexican art. Not only did he demonstrate the relationship that Maples Arce had established between technology and globalization. He was also able to address and connect a mass audience in a way that had eluded the artist of the post-revolutionary avant-garde.”

 


Image courtesy of Tamara Kalo

 

The second presentation entitled “Art Activism and New Ways of Being Mexican” given by Edward McCaughan, Professor of Sociology at San Francisco State University, continued the conversation of Mexico’s art history through a discussion of how, over the past four decades, art has served as a vehicle for the production and expression of a new Mexican identity. Drawing on the work of cultural sociologists who “understand identities, ideologies, and subjects as being constituted by not simply reflected in art” and Latin American social movement scholar Sonia E. Alvarez, McCaughan described the role that Mexican social movements and artists have played in deploying alternative notions of citizenship and unsettling accepted cultural meanings beginning with the student movement of 1968. Following a brief historical background of Mexico’s student movement, McCaughan moved to a discussion of artist collectives known as “Grupos” that were a legacy of this history. McCaughan described that at its height the Grupos Movement included at least a dozen collectives in Mexico City with others in areas like Guadalajara. These groups created art that touched on issues ranging from corruption, poverty and repression to environmental destruction and U.S. imperialism. Of particular importance to McCaughan’s presentation were examples of street art, feminist art, and art associated with the 1970s Mexican Homosexual Liberation Movement. McCaughan concluded his presentation with a discussion of a recent project intended to archive the work of LGB activists and allies.

 


Image courtesy of Tamara Kalo

 

Finally, the third presentation entitled “¡Me Encanta La Ciudad! The Perils of a More User-Friendly Mexico City” given by journalist, author, and current Mexico bureau chief for VICE News, Daniel Hernandez, moved to a discussion of lived experience in contemporary Mexico City. Hernandez’s presentation discussed recent development or gentrification of Mexico City’s center, which despite allowing for some improvement or as Hernandez suggested, making Mexico City “more livable and inviting to foreigners” have in fact “masked or hidden the underlying problems that the vast majority of the city’s population still face.” These changes followed on the heels of the campaign referenced in the presentation’s title ¡Me Encanta La Ciudad! that began in mid-2000. Hernandez’s presentation, describing the lived reality of Mexico City today added greater context to the ideas put forth by both Flores and McCaughan. While Flores and McCaughan expressed a sense of optimism for the possibilities of art in the increased democratization of Mexico City’s public sphere, Hernandez reminded attendees of the continued challenges and violence that plague Mexico City today.

 


Image courtesy of Tamara Kalo

Art, Politics & the City in Mexico and China: Exhibit(ion)s and Publications

Posted on by Genise Choy

The Art, Politics & the City in Mexico and China symposium took place on October 23, 2015. This wide-ranging interdisciplinary symposium examined art, commerce, politics, violence, history, and urban space on both sides of the Pacific. Creative artists and scholars explored contemporary performance, film, art, and activism in Mexico City from the Revolution to today. The event also featured an exhibition on current art and urbanism in China’s dynamic Pearl River Delta (Art+Village+City) and research on contemporary Shanghai by a team from the UCLA Urban Humanities Initiative was presented in a video-based exhibit. In addition, new UC Berkeley publications and websites on participatory urbanisms (focusing on São Paulo and New Delhi) and urban pilgrimage were unveiled.

by Will Payne

Susan Moffat, Project Director of Berkeley’s Global Urban Humanities Initiative, kicked off a short session showcasing hybrid approaches to cities with faculty from different departments teaching together, weaving together different methods and bringing together students from different disciplines. First, Berkeley professors Margaret Crawford (Architecture) and Winnie Wong (Rhetoric), accompanied by graduate student members of the studio José Figueroa and Valentina Rozas-Krause, came up to introduce the exhibition that came out of their Mellon-funded studio course in the spring semester of 2015, Art+Village+City in the Pearl River Delta. The group visited a number of villages where art is produced and documented them, producing a complex, multimedia exhibition over the summer, with many hours put in by visiting scholar Ettore Santi. Their website (artvillage.city) is “the story of the pedagogical journey of the studio,” and all drawings were done by Figueroa during the class.

 


Image courtesy of Genise Choy

 

Next up were Jonathan Crisman, project director for the Urban Humanities initiative at UCLA and Dana Cuff, UCLA Professor of Architecture and Urban Planning, to present the Now Shanghai project, also funded by a Mellon Foundation grant. According to Cuff, Now Shanghai is a cross-disciplinary urban methodological investigation wrapped around ideas of film, thick mapping, and experiential ethnography, made up of a group of 24 students incorporating films made in Shanghai about urbanism across many genres, from documentary to fable and travelogue. Crisman described the way in which the project drew on anthropologist Clifford Geert’s idea of “thickness,” as the group explored a wide range of media "that could embed this polyvocality, multiple voices that are often conflicting” occupying the same space.

 


Image courtesy of Tamara Kalo

 

Crisman and Cuff were followed by UC Berkeley graduate students Kirsten Larson (Architecture/City Planning) and Karin Shankar (Performance Studies), to present their coauthored journal and website, P[art]icipatory Urbanisms, a project that came about due to a “blind date” meeting through the Global Urban Humanities Initiative. Larson described how bracketing the [art] in ‘participation’ also suggests a blurring of the conventional separation between the aesthetic and the political dimensions of urban participation. She offered that urban practices, from spontaneous protests, to organized claims on urban space, are as aesthetic as they are political since they "entail a re-ordering of the field of urban experience and perception." The publication has two main components, a bilingual website (www.part-urbs.com) with interviews in English and Portuguese with community activists, artists, and other groups involved in participatory urban processes in Sao Paolo and New Delhi, and a peer-reviewed publication of articles by scholars across disciplines taking on the subjects of participatory practices in art and planning. Shankar outlined their hope that this intervention can help spark conversation and collaboration, and to “assess the radical promise and the potential pitfalls of participation in both urban politics and art today.”

 


Image courtesy of Tamara Kalo

 

Finally, Berkeley graduate students Mia Narell (Architecture) and Lawrence Yang (East Asian Languages + Cultures) presented Urban Pilgrimage, a special issue of Berkeley’s Room One Thousand student-edited journal on architecture. Narell, who serves on the publication’s editorial board, talked about how pleased she was to be partnering with the Global Urban Humanities Initiative, and read a statement on behalf of Padma Maitland, co-editor of the publication. Maitland and Yang were drawn to the project of “rethinking pilgrimage in the modern urban context” beyond merely religious travel. There were print copies of the journal available for sale at the symposium, but the whole project is also available on their website (www.roomonethousand.com), providing a diverse collection of answers to the question: “What draws and moves us towards and through cities?”


Art+Village+City: The Website

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

Art+Village+City in the Pearl River Delta was one of two interdisciplinary courses sponsored by the Global Urban Humanities Initiative in Spring 2015. Students in this research studio utilized 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 from the Art+Village+City studio have been working hard over the summer to turn the class's experiences and documentation into polished products to share with the world, in the form of a catalogue, a website and an exhibition (to be shown both here at home in the Wurster Gallery and at the 2015 Shanghai West Bund Biennale)!

Take a moment to browse through the website, featuring artwork by José Joaquin Figueroa and text by Winnie Wong and Brittany Birberick: http://artvillage.city/

 


Image courtesy of José Figueroa

GeoHumanities: An Introduction and Call for Papers

Posted on by Genise Choy

MICHAEL DEAR (DCRP) is pleased to introduce GeoHumanities, a new journal being launched by the Association of American Geographers and published by Taylor and Francis. Its editors are Tim Cresswell (Northeastern University, Boston) and Deborah Dixon (University of Glasgow, Scotland). GeoHumanities publishes original peer-reviewed articles that span conceptual and methodological debates in environmental design, geography and the humanities; critical reflections on analog and digital artistic productions; and new scholarly interactions occurring at the intersections of geography, environmental design, and multiple humanities disciplines. The first issue will be published in October of this year.

The journal is likely to be of particular relevance to faculty and students interested in Berkeley’s Global Urban Humanities project (GLOUH) and in the Digital Humanities.

As a member of the founding editorial board, Michael would like to draw your attention to the Call for Papers.


Art+Village+City: Post-Travel Update

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

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.

From March 18th to April 3rd, the students and faculty of the Art+Village+City in the Pearl River Delta Studio visited the three mega cities of the Pearl River Delta: Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou. Working in small teams, students surveyed over fifteen neighborhoods, urbanized villages, theme parks, commercial districts, and production centers of art, creative industry and cultural heritage. They interviewed artists, activists, art teachers, designers, performers, and villagers.

 


Image courtesy of José Figueroa

 

As he has done throughout the course, Berkeley MFA student José Figueroa (Art Practice) documented in drawing and watercolor our discussions and group meetings in cafes, restaurants and on the road. Our March 24th journey took some of the studio members on the highway running along the historic shorelines of the Pearl River Delta, from Shenzhen’s Shekou and new Qianhai financial district, to Guangzhou’s Xiaozhou Art Village.

 

 

Since our return, the studio has been archiving and cataloguing the extensive amount of photographic, ethnographic, video, and ephemeral materials collected, which will be presented in a public exhibition at UCB, and in various cities of the PRD in Fall 2015.


Art+Village+City: On the Photograph

Posted on by Genise Choy
Filed under: Art, 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.

This week in the studio we worked on two common forms of fieldwork representation that are often overlooked: the single photograph, and the anecdote. Each student took a single photograph and told a single anecdote. In our studio crit, we reflected upon what an anecdote or a photograph can and cannot do as a form of research representation. At issue are questions of narrative and image, both in our own making of images and anecdotes, and in our framing and telling of them.
— Winnie Wong

“As I thought about what I might want to photograph I was constantly reminded of what I perceive to be my inability to capture the perfect photo while I am in the field or to determine what might be ‘interesting.’ It was with this in mind that I chose to use a photograph of the San Francisco skyline taken from Sausalito. As I mentioned in class, this is a photograph I have taken on numerous occasions. Each time, while from the same spot, the image of San Francisco appears different. While this is not a profound reflection I think that it demonstrates the relevance of how something is represented based on when a picture is taken, who takes the picture, and how it is later presented be it with captions or not.”
— Katie Bruhn (Southeast Asian Studies)

“We are very used to being faced with anonymous images, and while I’m not sure that we mistake them as objective, we do not (could not possibly) analyze each one in the way that we did this project…it was a pleasure to take time with images, digesting them aesthetically and probing them for meaning. It gave them back the dignity that has been taken away by the digital proliferation of photographs. We assign meaning by choosing a single photograph and by giving it a caption or not, and others assign meaning by seeing it from their unique perspective. It’s a fascinating process and undervalued or taken for granted today.“
— Story Wiggins (Landscape Architecture)

“What does it mean to represent versus narrate? Although one may instinctively argue that narration is typically performed through word and representation through image, I think that these divisions were blurred a lot on Tuesday. Therefore, for my own purpose within the class, it became clear to me that I need to move beyond just picking any story or image without some sort of minimal thought into our own motives or interests in taking that picture or selecting that story. Even if I am to use photography more as a from of documentation than a narration of a particular moment, I need to then locate that series of photos within a broader framework of motives, aims, and questions that they then help evoke."
- Trude Renwick (Architecture)

“What struck me about the presentation of photos was the number of ways photos could be interpreted or talked about. Having a range of visual languages within the class (architects, urban planning, design, art practice, anthropology, art history, etc.), it was clear that different people saw different things when viewing the photographs.”
— Brittany Birberick (Anthropology)

“With a studio art background, I am much more comfortable composing visual rather than verbal communications. However, to help make sense of what my image was showing, I had to provide quite a bit of verbal explanation about what the objects in my photo were…. I was impressed by the range of approaches the class took in capturing, captioning and composing their photos. Story’s caption, Sben’s croppings, Susan’s referential process, Xiuxian’s sequencing, Brittany’s accidental symbolism, and José’s layers of bizarre-ness were most notable to me and I think the photos presented may very well tell more about the people who took them than the subjects or objects within them.”
— Genise Choy (City Planning)

“I was struck by the effectiveness of some of the pictures to convey a story, especially Story’s “Leather harvest”. It was interesting to see that the class’ photographs presented a wide range of approaches: some were anecdotes, other registered scenes, while others were aesthetic compositions. Further, the relationship between text and image acquired multiple dimensions: some pictures were in dialect with their caption; others had no caption, and some had a description.”
— Valentina Rozas Kraus (Architecture)

“While I thought [my photo] was very funny, I realized in class how different my classmates understood it. It stuck me that photograph could be culturally exclusive to the others. The way I understood and felt about the photo is tightly related to my cultural background. Without explanation, this photo is totally another thing to the people from other background. Here is my question, photo as visual medium, can it communicate effectively? Can it be narrative?"
— Xiuxian Zhan (Landscape Architecture)

“When I showed my photograph several things became apparent which I had not thought about. I wrote a caption about the postures of the people, which really struck me—the woman’s formal portrait stance and the man lunging to capture her. The class seemed less interested in these poses and more interested in the angles—the strong diagonal line, the accuracy of the caption—how did I know they were tourists?—as well as the fact that I failed to capture the site in front of which the woman posed. We presume tourists aim to record the act of being in a particular place, so why did I not take the photograph from an angle at which I could see that place? It hadn’t occurred to me because I was caught up in their relation…”
— Annie Malcolm (Anthropology)

“Annie presented an ethnographic image, for example, that she coded as such through the caption and her explanation. Can we read her image as data about a cultural actor or practice? Or does her framing of the scene—the strong diagonals echoing the diagonal positions of the two standing figures—already determine its status as a photograph taken by someone who is making the photo by following certain compositional conventions, therefore giving it a connotative, aesthetic value that exceeds its denotative ethnographic content? …Sben took the opposite approach: he shot many pictures of a place before deciding on one to share with us—based on a data-mining procedure he produced after-the-fact. Instead of centralizing the figures like in Annie’s photo or in history painting, his figures were diffuse, more like a Dutch landscape or genre scene showing a literal slice-of-life, in Svetlana Albers’ reading, the real “as it is.” With technologically-aided enhancement, he was able to zoom in on his photograph to reveal more than is initially visible to both the human eye and attention span. Though by fracturing the photo into mini-dramas, we lose the glossy perfection of the intact whole, the picture-postcard.”
— Susan Eberhard (Art History)


Art+Village+City: On the Anecdote

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.

This week in the studio we worked on two common forms of fieldwork representation that are often overlooked: the single photograph, and the anecdote. Each student took a single photograph and told a single anecdote. In our studio crit, we reflected upon what an anecdote or a photograph can and cannot do as a form of research representation. At issue are questions of narrative and image, both in our own making of images and anecdotes, and in our framing and telling of them.
— Winnie Wong

“Upon first hearing this assignment I began to frantically think about which anecdote to tell: something from childhood, something from fieldwork during college, something from fieldwork in Johannesburg, or Durban, or Empangeni. And this led me to think more about memory and the temporal aspect of the anecdote. How a story unfolds linearly in the present while attempting to retell something from the past. Anecdotes are made meaningful only through their relation to the present—their contextualization in a current conversation.”
— Brittany Birberick (Anthropology)

“[Selecting to research] something that appears at first glance, uninteresting to most or utterly banal: In doing so, we are forced to consider a source or an event’s relevance, thinking more critically about its place within a large context and how we might articulate its significance in comparison to more ‘extraordinary’ events. By doing this we are able to reconceptualize the importance of something that initially seemed unimportant while also, in some instances, demystifying that, which for whatever reason may have seemed more extraordinary. Jose’s anecdote exemplified this static. His anecdote began with a photograph that in the moment it was taken was merely a record of his fourth birthday. However, looking at this ‘ordinary’ event from a more critical perspective, taking into account all that it represented of Jose himself, Jose was able to make this photo speak in a way that expressed various levels of complexity.”
— Katie Bruhn (Southeast Asian Studies)

“My approach to the anecdote was to translate a banal, specific and relatable personal memory into a complex read that allowed a bigger understanding of an image in time with all of it details. Through the process of ekphrasis I transformed my personal discovery into a written paragraph. Although, I am happy with the result I can’t help but wonder the degree to which I am purposely manipulating the reader through the process of story telling…. Although it can be argued that a text is also never static as its read will vary depending on the reader and the date in which its read, what I enjoy about the casual story telling is that it’s always open to different iterations and the story is never completely the same. Its written form succeeds in capturing and preserving a moment of the story in time (not unlike a photograph), yet it fails in allowing this story to flow and restructure itself depending on the context it gets to be shared. Storytelling is intrinsically performative yet the line between the spontaneous and the scripted is blurred in the moment. There is no physical evidence of an artifice.”
— Jose Figueroa (Art Practice)

“The question that kept arising: what is the difference between an anecdote and a story? I have always had the sense that an anecdote is something which bubbles up spontaneously in conversation and is told/listened to, rather than written/read. But in the context of our research, it takes on a different meaning. The anecdote is a depiction of certain details and textures of everyday life which are scalable, or recognizable as pieces in the larger mosaic. …Each person’s anecdote illuminated things about them, not only by the story and its tone, but by the fact that it was that story which was chosen. This circles back to the question of self-¬reflexivity which keeps coming up in each of our projects, ie. where is the author and how have they represented themselves?“
— Story Wiggins (Landscape Architecture)

“The best anecdotes this week were not necessarily the most well written, but they were the ones in which I could see the storyteller through the words on the on hand, or captured a climax, a moment in which a feeling emerges on the other hand. I really connected with Story’s anecdote. Although I may not know much about her past I felt a strong connection to the struggle or broader atmosphere she painted for us. There was a way in which her anecdote is built up and vividly described through places and people.… Although such a complex build-up was not present in many of the anecdotes, others also chose a singular moment around which the anecdote was built. Valentina creates this moment in the office, in which time freezes around her as she struggles to not necessarily answer the fairly direct question but creates an inner dialogue about a much more complex dilemma she is facing. Unlike the three dimensional or atmospheric ways in which some of the anecdotes were told, Jose paints a self portrait of himself through is description of this photograph he found, describing the tragic irony of this moment.“
— Trude Renwick (Architecture)

“Susan’s anecdote about being interviewed by two Asian students made sense and was impactful in part because it was told in the context of our class having just done interviews ourselves and having had multiple conversations about cultural differences and social categorization. We, her audience, all understood how to interpret the anecdote because of the context made up of our shared experience in the studio course. On the other hand, José’s anecdote was arguably told without context, except that he gave us hints of context embedded within his anecdote that helped the listener understand what was being illustrated by the photograph (which in many ways was itself an anecdote) in his story…Thus, I would argue that it is not enough to tell a story and call it an anecdote. What makes a story an anecdote is its relationship to a larger context and that context must be understood by the listener to make the anecdote work (otherwise it’s just a story, even if it’s a very good story).”
— Genise Choy (City Planning)

“Telling Brittany’s story was an ethnographic exercise; I acted like she had told me her story in the field. In the retelling of the account, I realized it was amusing because people were laughing. Perhaps because Brittany had already told her own story and there was something about telling someone else’s anecdote that was humorous.”
— Annie Malcolm (Anthropology)

“Meeting Mary Ann O’Donnell was really interesting in terms of these assignments as she constantly takes anecdotes and snapshots from her everyday experience and turns them into material for her blog, Shenzhen Noted. When walking with her and Ettore on campus, I felt like I was in the presence of someone closely and constantly observing her surroundings both critically and with delight. It started when I met her in the City Club. She looked up from her laptop and before saying hello asked whether or not I believed in environmental determinism. Then she contrasted the murkiness of Shenzhen air and social/political space with the appearance of clarity and even rationality of Berkeley. She said she wished she did believe, but she didn’t. So since meeting her I’ve been wondering, in a similarly comparative way, what it would be like to be an ethnographer living in and taking Berkeley as a subject?”
— Susan Eberhard (Art History)


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