GUH People: Ettore Santi

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Filed under: Art, Art+Village+City, China

Ettore Santi is a doctoral candidate in the Architecture department at UC Berkeley. He recently recieved a 2020 Mellon Dissertation Research Fellowship for his dissertation on "Designing a Land Revolution: The Corporate Reinvention of China's Rural Environment." Ettore received the Graduate Certificate in Global Urban Humanities in 2018 and took ARCH 209/RHETOR 250 Art+Village+City in the Pearl River Delta GUH studio course co-taught by Margaret Crawford (Architecture) and Winnie Wong (Rhetoric) in 2015, which was formative to his research development.

How were you first introduced to the Global Urban Humanities Initiative and what made you want to join?

Before becoming a graduate student at CED, I was conducting research about rural and urban villages in China as a visiting scholar in the architecture department at Berkeley. By a lucky coincidence, that semester Margaret Crawford and Winnie Wong were offering the Global Urban Humanities research studio Art+Village+City in the Pearl River Delta, which included a two-week study trip to southern China. I immediately signed up for the class.

At that point, I was not yet aware of the wonderful and diverse group of students I was about to join: the studio formed a collaborative atmosphere, in which we could all learn from our different academic backgrounds such as art practice, anthropology, Southeast Asian studies, and more. During the summer, we worked collectively to turn the research into an exhibit that we displayed at Wurster Gallery and the Shanghai Biennale. The studio made me realize how the Global Urban Humanities constituted a generative platform where I could develop my scholarship in a rich and interdisciplinary setting. As soon as I started the Ph.D., I signed up for the certificate. 

Tell us how you came up with your current dissertation topic on rural design in China. How did your GUH courses and/or activities help formulate your research?

I always found “the rural” to be a fascinating kind of space, perhaps because I grew up in rural Italy. During my undergraduate and graduate studies in architecture, I noticed that rurality was often associated with emptiness and backwardness as opposed to modern, vibrant cities. This contrasted with my own experience, in which rural areas were sites of intense “urban life.” I saw crowds of rural residents moving at high speed across dense infrastructural networks to catch up with the pressures of daily businesses, or gathering for an “aperitivo” in newly developed rural suburbs.

Similarly, when I was in China as a graduate student and later as a designer, I saw how architects were reconceiving rural areas to accommodate spaces for high-tech food production or rural leisure for the urban middle-class. The studio “Art+Village+City in the Pearl River Delta” enabled me to further explore these dynamics and formulate my research questions. Other classes offered by the initiative, such as Teresa Caldeira (City Planning) and Shannon Jackson’s (Performance Studies) seminar The City, Arts, and Public Space (CYPLAN 291/THEATER 266.1) helped me connect these questions to broader theorization efforts in urban studies and situate my potential contributions to the literature. 

Do you have a memorable moment as a GUH student that you would like to share?

Yes! The opening night of the exhibit Art-Village+City at Wurster gallery was quite memorable. We had been working so hard in the last weeks to meet the opening deadline, and the last few days had been exhausting. When I saw a line of people forming outside of the Wurster gallery, I started getting very nervous. But then, as the huge crowd started wandering around the exhibition spaces, I realized that visitors were getting curious and passionate about the collages, dioramas, videos, and the other materials we had prepared. Only then I was able to relax and enjoy the evening. Certainly, the lychee martini cocktails arranged for the opening helped… those were excellent, too! 

Tell us one thing you're reading, listening to, watching that is helping you get through this pandemic.

I am reading a great book entitled The Mushroom at the End of the World by Anna Tsing. The book follows the story of the Matsutake, a Japanese mushroom variety growing very rapidly in degraded landscapes, such as deforestation lands, toxic swamps, or radioactive territories. The book shows how people left behind by these de-industrialization processes found in the mushroom a way to self-emancipate, for example by becoming pickers, traders, or informally engaging in the transnational Matsutake market. I found this work very powerful for coping with the pandemic. Not only did it make me further think about the devastating effects of the economy on the human-environment balance - an aspect that certainly relates to the pandemic. More importantly, I love how the book tells a story about the opportunities that can pop out in the many holes of capitalist extractivity. I found this perspective somehow reassuring.

What is one thing you want to do once the shelter-in-place policy is lifted?

First, I’ll do what most of us are secretly looking forward to: get a haircut! And then, I would love to go somewhere very warm with my partner, Heming. Perhaps by the sea. I want to lie under the sun for hours and enjoy that feeling of strong heat broken by the breeze. I think somewhere like Sicily would work. And while I’m in Italy, I could go hug my family, too.