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Reawakening the Sensory Network

Posted on by Susan Moffat
Filed under: Performance, San Francisco

On Saturday, February 27, Ava Roy, Artistic Director of the We Players site-integrated theater group led students in a workshop at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge to learn methods of using movement and bodily awareness to investigate public spaces.  For a complete description of the workshop, which was sponsored by the Global Urban Humanities Initiative, and other experiments in dance and architecture, see this blogpost.

REAWAKENING THE SENSORY NETWORK

by Jason Prado, Master in Landscape Architecture candidate

My recent fascination with Lawrence Halprin's design process and the development of my studio design is what brought me to Ava Roy's workshop.  In studio, I have become increasingly interested in how landscape design can not only benefit places ecologically, but also how it can create a theatrical stage for people in civic spaces to perform at all scales, from concerts and protests to the stand alone street performers.  It seemed like a perfect match!

However, I was still uncertain of what to expect, as I am new to the field of making spaces and even newer to the world of performing arts.  In any case, the workshop did give me a great excuse to visit Fort Point, which is an incredible site.  From the beginning, I felt at ease with Ava.  She did not start with lecturing us or even giving us context. 

 

 

She began with awakening our senses by asking us to close our eyes for just a few minutes and allow the other senses to take hold.  What do we hear in the distance?  What do we hear at our feet?  How does that make you feel?  I almost immediately entered a calming, meditative state.  It reminded me of practicing yoga, which helps to relieve the stresses of my day and ground me in my senses, which are often blurred with all the other noise of the day.  The exercises continued throughout the workshop and helped with bringing the group together and bringing meaning to the place.  It was an effective tool to shut out the outside world and bring yourself to be with the space and notice things that would otherwise be hidden at first glance. 

That is what I found so powerful about the workshop.  This kind of approach to the space allowed Ava to be successful in her production.  She diligently studied the space in a manner that soon revealed to her where, when, and how to set up her performance and this led me to think, “How can I bring this to my design?” 

 


Jason Prado at Fort Point
Image courtesy of Hien Nguyen

 

It is often that we find ourselves glaring at our phones, listening to our headphones, browsing social media, or performing other daily rituals that allow us to be unaware of our surroundings.  And thinking in terms of design, it presents a major problem because it is very difficult to make people stop and take notice.  However, the series of exercises I just underwent revealed the space in a way that I would not have captured otherwise. 

Can I use these exercises in my site analysis?  It seemed clear that they can be another set of tools to make sense of the current state of the site.  This kind of practice can reveal the awful noise of a site but it can also shed light on the uniqueness or beauty of a site.  This is where one can harness, for example, a faint pleasant noise and bring it to the surface to contribute to a more complete design.  


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)


Redirecting the Relationship Between Tech and Innovation

Posted on by Genise Choy

As part of the Global Urban Humanities Initiative Colloquium called Reading Cities, Sensing Cities we have asked students and visitors to write responses to each of the weekly guest lectures.


October 16, 2014
Creative Class Civil Wars: Displacement and the Arts in the Bay Area
Shannon Steen (Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies)

Presentation available here.
Video of the conversation available here.
Steen presented research from her project “Creative Class Civil Wars,” which explores the ways our concepts of creativity are shifting to exclude those in the arts.


by Robyn Perry

"The notion that diversity in an early team is important or good is completely wrong. You should try to make the early team as non-diverse as possible.”
– Max Levchin, co-founder of PayPal

“I want to stress the importance of being young and technical. Young people are just smarter.”
– Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook

Shannon Steen’s recent talk, Creative Class Civil Wars: Displacement and the Arts in the Bay Area, situated the broad question of how US cities are changing economically in a discussion that touched upon my own studies of technology and culture at the School of Information. Steen used Richard Florida’s notion of the “rising creative class” as the focal point of an examination of the state of art and artists, and the shrinking support of the infrastructure that sustains their work and enlivens our American cities.

Florida propounds the rising creative class as the solution to struggling cities, perhaps the most recent in a line of silver bullet strategies for urban renewal, as a commenter aptly pointed out in the discussion following Steen’s talk. Though the “creative class” sounds like artists of all stripes, Florida’s analysis leans away from the (struggling) thespian, painter, poet or muralist, and towards the oft-lauded tech worker. Many cities have created favorable conditions to usher in this tech worker, his company, and his future startup. Some of the I School curriculum is designed to funnel more workers, albeit thoughtful and informed ones, directly into Florida's creative class. In effect, Florida drops the actual artist from said creative class. What he offers instead is an ode to the tech workers, the “productive” creative class that brings innovation, “disruption,” and infallible youth.

Particularly interesting was Steen’s guidance through the history of creativity as a notion in Western culture, and its move from the exclusive domain of God to that of the Renaissance artist, the elitism of artist as distinct from artisan in the 19th Century, to the scientific study and intentional propagation of creativity in children in the modern era, which saw the beginning of the removal of the artist from her authoritative position on creativity. Steen’s talk brought into relief the fact that the current notion of creativity, like many other commodities in US culture, is something we think we can manufacture on demand, and something that we can grow, as if in a Petri dish, if only we arrange the right conditions for it. Many use the existence and bustling churn of Silicon Valley to evidence the fact that indeed, creativity is being pumped out by the hundreds of startups and apps and interfaces.


From an April Fool’s Day action by activist group Heart of the City and artist/interventionist Leslie Dreyer of Google bus action fame. Activists blocked buses and announced that a new service, GMuni, would be offering free transit for all.


However, this is all taking place at the risk of the heart and soul of our cities, and artists themselves. As “old-fashioned” creatives like playwrights, poets, writers, potters, sculptors, and their ilk are forced to resort to Indiegogo and other crowd-sourced funding strategies for one-off projects, their ability to thrive and produce art in the city withers. Meanwhile, the tech companies that are operating in the physical world are raising skepticism that this kind of “innovation” is at all good for San Francisco. On the contrary, it has spawned (some) companies that are capitalizing on public goods, sometimes with unabashed greed and opportunism. After Steen’s talk, I wondered how the burgeoning tech worker community might put some of their high incomes towards strengthening the arts in our cities. Although I’m skeptical that the problem would be solved by the very forces that have caused it, it would be interesting to challenge the Valley to produce a startup that makes the crowd-sourced funding of arts infrastructure extremely easy, fun, and hip.

Steen’s talk drove home the fact that there’s a direct interplay between the elements that make San Francisco and its surrounding cities the place to be, and those that forewarn its decline. Those of us at the I School have the responsibility to double-down on our efforts to be thoughtful and discerning in our contributions to innovative technologies, and tread lightly in a city that was made cool long before we came on the scene. Given a recent article by Carlos Bueno in Quartz from which the quotes at the top of this post were drawn, the tech worker culture of Silicon Valley has tended towards insularity and in-crowd behaviors. I can’t think of a better antidote to such insular clique-ishness than a thriving and protected arts culture in the Bay Area.

Robyn Perry is a candidate for the Master of Information and Management Systems degree at the UC Berkeley School of Information.


From Bricks to Bus Stops: Protesting San Francisco’s Second Tech Boom

Posted on by Genise Choy

As part of the Global Urban Humanities Initiative Colloquium called Reading Cities, Sensing Cities we have asked students and visitors to write responses to each of the weekly guest lectures.


October 16, 2014
Creative Class Civil Wars: Displacement and the Arts in the Bay Area
Shannon Steen (Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies)

Presentation available here.
Video of the conversation available here.
Steen presented research from her project “Creative Class Civil Wars,” which explores the ways our concepts of creativity are shifting to exclude those in the arts.


by Will Payne

Shannon Steen’s presentation about the shifting role the term “creative” has had over the years provided a fascinating glimpse at the power of words to define and redefine populations, and their respective perceived value to the city and its rulers. Specifically, she carefully demonstrated how Richard Florida’s famous invocation of the “creative class” of liberated and affluent workers in his eponymous 1991 book has been used carelessly by planners, politicians, and journalists to describe a multitude of people, often highly fragmented by more traditional class and identity categories. Specifically, the difference in lifestyle and worldview between a poet and a programmer can be a much bigger wedge than the common educational background the two may share, or the fact that both rely on crafting “new forms” (a fairly durable definition of creativity) on relatively flexible work schedules to support themselves.

Recently, the most vivid skirmish in the creative civil war has been related to an astronomical rise in the cost of living in the Bay Area, particularly in San Francisco, along with the fastest rise in income inequality in the country. One question comes to mind as I read about the latest unbelievable price statistics, or the rise of Ellis Act evictions, or the people struggling to get by on fixed incomes: haven’t we been here before? Some of the stories could have been copied and pasted from 1998, swapping Pets.com and Webvan for Uber and Airbnb. Not having lived through the first boom, one of the most striking differences I’ve seen through accounts of the earlier boom and bust is the earlier focus on radical action against property, exemplified by the Mission Yuppie Eradication Project of the late 1990s. See the posters below for an example of the kind of tactics they advocated, and their extremely specific target businesses (3/4 of the businesses are still around, although Circadia is just a regular Starbucks now, around the corner from KQED’s main office).


Posters from the 1990s Mission Yuppie Eradication Project


Image credit: FoundSF


While the group seems to have been a fairly small, violent segment of a broader movement criticizing Web 1.0 excess in a city full of exclusive parties and double-parked SUVs, I haven't seen anything this radical emerge in reaction to today’s crisis. Maybe the fleet of private buses ferrying commuters down to Silicon Valley is too massive a target, too perfect a metaphor for today's two-tiered economy, creating a handful of gold-plated jobs and a sea of intermittent gigs. Perhaps the most vocal critics of the yuppiefication of San Francisco made their way to greener pastures during the first boom, and what we’re left with is only a shadow of the activist Left who used to call the city home. Maybe the Bay Area’s much-vaunted food culture has been internalized to the point where rock star chefs feel more like creative class allies than mere gentrifiers. Maybe the impact of a decade and a half of slow-boil warfare and economic anxiety has limited the capacity of radical activists and allies to strike out too strongly at today's Crockers and Huntingtons, or the symbols of their wealth and status littering the city. Or maybe the creatives today on both sides of the civil war are just content to wage their battles with words, symbols, and social choreography (sometimes literally, in the case of some of the Google Bus protests), instead of the blunter instruments of bygone days.

Disclaimer: This post is a speculation on the history of anti-gentrification activism in San Francisco, not an endorsement of any particular method of protest, especially violent ones. If you feel the need for physical protest against urban space, may I suggest yarn? If you’re fighting eviction or want to help people who are, considering joining and supporting the San Francisco Tenants Union.

Will Payne is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Geography at UC Berkeley.


Road-Testing Psychogeography on Oakland’s International Boulevard

Posted on by Susan Moffat

As part of the Global Urban Humanities Initiative Colloquium called Reading Cities, Sensing Cities, we have asked students and visitors to write responses to each of the weekly guest lectures.  On September 4, 2014, Darin Jensen invited listeners to consider the narrative and spatial aspects of two experiential mapping projects he created with his students: Mission Possible: A Neighborhood Atlas about San Francisco's Mission District, and Intranational International Boulevard about Oakland. Jensen is staff cartographer and lecturer in the UC Berkeley Department of Geography.

His presentation is available here.
Video of the first portion of his presentation is available here.

By Scott Elder

While not explicitly framed as such, it’s great to see the possibilities of Psychogeography dusted off and road-tested in the Bay Area. Under the leadership of Darin Jensen, UC Berkeley’s Cartography and GIS Education Lab (CAGE) digs in to explore the complex intersections of the physical and observational worlds.  The resulting collection of mappings shows spontaneity and graphic savvy, but looking into the territories chosen for exploration provides us more questions than answers.



One project, already complete, zeros in on San Francisco’s complex Mission District CAGE Lab teams up with Mission Local, a district-based news site, to create a 22-map “Atlas” and illuminating a variety of slightly absurd but suggestive juxtapositions.  Each map tells a story through cartographic creativity, rather than text.  Mapped gourmet coffee prices vs. depleting Latino neighborhoods, cupcake bakeries vs. reported gang activities, households with children vs. house-pet infrastructure (shops, kennels, parks)…these all provide suggestions of the frictions at work in the district, and often by comparing retail trends to demographics.  An upcoming CAGE Lab project will focus similar scrutiny on a linear territory, Oakland’s International Boulevard, in advance of sweeping changes about to emerge from the planning pipeline.  In both SF and Oakland projects, the underlying “story” often flirts with themes of gentrification.  It’s important to note, though, that these map-based examinations are being requested and performed as gentrification-related dynamics swell, not plateau or recede.  This raises the question of whether the creation and distribution of these map/stories constitutes just an observation, or whether they in fact abate or propagate the territorial shiftings identified.

A question from the audience suggested that the factors chosen for mapping on International Boulevard seemed to lean towards the “institutional," rather than perhaps looking at more mobile and elusive district factors such as prostitution.  This insinuates that such mapping might have a bias toward the more fixed and permanent components of life.  The subtle possibilities of what this bias might catalyze, however subtly, is worth considering and, given the exploratory nature of CAGE Lab, fully open to question.

Another question from the audience raised the topic of mapping data derived from charge card usage or cell phone use/location.  This rich and emerging source might of course yield new avenues of cartographic creativity, especially relevant here in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Scott Elder is a PhD candidate in the UC Berkeley Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning.


Maps as Stories: Manufacturing Place

Posted on by Genise Choy

As part of the Global Urban Humanities Initiative Colloquium called Reading Cities, Sensing Cities, we have asked students and visitors to write responses to each of the weekly guest lectures.  On September 4, 2014, Darin Jensen invited listeners to consider the narrative and spatial aspects of two experiential mapping projects he created with his students: Mission Possible: A Neighborhood Atlas about San Francisco's Mission District, and Intranational International Boulevard about Oakland. Jensen is staff cartographer and lecturer in the UC Berkeley Department of Geography.

His presentation is available here.
Video of the first portion of his presentation is available here.

By Yael Hadar

Maps have always fascinated me, and as a graduate student in the department of Landscape Architecture I find myself looking at maps all the time as a source of information. My perception of maps was that they are an objective tool that gives us accurate information. Sitting in Darin Jensen’s lecture inspired me to look at maps in a different way – as storytelling devices. Just the fact that most maps orient to the north is a conception that says something about the story a map is trying to convey.



Darin refers to maps as storytelling devices where the cartographer brings in his own emotion and personal experience. Maps convey a complicated story in a certain moment in time, and the reader of the map can enter that story wherever he chooses. So in that perspective, each person creates a different story from the map, depending on the things he noticed first and the things he put an emphasis on.

The project of Mission Possible that Darin and his students did, where they mapped different things in the Mission District in San Francisco, was very inspiring. The ideas that they had about what and how to map in order to tell a story of a neighborhood got me thinking about the information which surrounds us all the time--information that when put on a map can really manufacture the story of a place.

Yael Hadar is a graduate student in the UC Berkeley Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning.