Loeb Fellowship 45th Anniversary Lecture: Swoon, On The Urban Impact of Collaborative Gestures

Loeb Fellowship 45th Anniversary Lecture: Swoon, On The Urban Impact of Collaborative Gestures


Good evening. Good evening. There you go. Welcome to the
45th Loeb reunion. [cheers, applause] Yeah. Yeah. That’s much better. I want to welcome Loeb alumni,
GSD alumni, students, staff, faculty, and friends
to this evening and to the start
of what I hope will be for everyone a terrific
experience over the next two and 1/2 days. I’m John Peterson. I’m the newly-minted
Loeb curator. [cheers, applause] I still have that new,
fresh curator smell. [laughter] In the audience here,
it’s perfect for me next to recognize the architects
of the modern-day Loeb Fellowship. Bill Doebele Bill, do
you mind standing up? [cheers, applause] Jim Stockard. Jim, are you here? [cheers, applause] Oh, there he is. 45-year-old
institution, and we have two people to lead to the ship. It’s extraordinary. And, of course, the two people
who are not here, that we’re always grateful for. And raise a glass to, often
enough, John and Frances Loeb. [applause] Now, it’s my
pleasure to introduce the most envied people in the
room, our current class of Loeb Fellows. Will you please stand up? [cheers, applause] Please meet every one of them
before you end this weekend. Now, a little bit
of housekeeping, but valuable to many
of those in the room. So this whole weekend,
because of Eddie, is a CEU-certified weekend. So for architects, landscape
architects and planners, you get a chance to
earn your CEU points. But you have to sign up at the
registration table up there. So with that, I’m honored to
introduce our opening keynote speaker. Callie Curry, also known
as the artist Swoon, is an activist artist
and community developer. She started her career
path at Pratt in Brooklyn, but quickly became frustrated
with the narrowly defined conventional path of an artist. And her work moved
out into the street, where she could find a much
broader, more accessible audience. And that path has led her to the
creation of flotillas in Venice to reconstruction work
in Haiti and far beyond. And you’ll see tonight. Her work is collected
by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She’s exhibited at
the New Orleans Art Museum and the Brooklyn Museum. And she held her first solo
show in London in 2011. I think she’s particularly
meaningful as a speaker for us because I hope you see an
overlap between her work and her path and her choices
and I think the challenges that we face as shapers
of the built environment. She has sought a path
that brought her work to a much broader audience
without compromising on aesthetic rigor. She’s maintained an artistic
license and expectation even as she’s brought
her work to folks literally on the street,
passers by on the street. And I would ask as
you see her work, see her own choices, that
you reflect on our path as professionals and
shapers of the environment and get clues for how
we can do the same. Where we can maintain high
aesthetic and artistic expectations even as
we serve a population that is far beyond the
narrow slice of culture in this country,
around the world, that our profession
generally serves. With that, join me in
welcoming Cale Curry. Thank you. [applause] Hi. How are you guys? Give me just one second
to get this sorted out. OK. Wow. Thanks. This is a really, really
great turnout tonight. And I’ve been super-honored
to speak at Harvard. So my name is Caledonia Curry. And I’m going to give
you a lot of background about my work and my projects. But first, I want to start
on a kind of a personal note. I have really been
kind of digging deep into the
relationship between how who we are as people really
is kind of the driver for what we’re doing out in the world. And so I felt that it was kind
of important lately to sort of start with who we are. And it always makes me a
little nervous to do this. But the thing I sort of kept
in mind as I was coming over is I have a friend
who’s a songwriter. And one of her songs
made me cry recently. And I sent here a message. Like, hey, your
song made me cry. And she said thanks,
that’s part of my job. I help people feel
their feelings. I help them cry. And I was like OK. I really felt kind of
emboldened to understand so much of the
role of the artist as being sort of part of the
way that we process emotions culturally. So that said, I’m
going to take you through a bunch of my
different projects. And I’m just going to start
with this base idea that is– I was asked when
coming here to Loeb, like think about what
is most important to you and why you do what you do. Like what’s the kind
of like deep message that’s driving all
of these things? And at different points, we
can always answer that question differently. But right now, I realized
that what I really wanted to talk about are the
different kind of subtle forms that acts of
resistance can take. So to give a little bit of
kind of a personal background about how I came to this idea
about acts of resistance, I’ll explain a little
bit about my childhood. So I grew up in a super,
super difficult place. I was born to two
heroin-addicted parents. And if you can imagine,
the chaos of that situation was quite immense. Just a lot of experiences
of being with parents who were in rehabilitation,
or who were in jail, or who were in the
mental hospital, strapped down on suicide watch. Just a very kind of a dark time. And for me, when
I was a teenager, I always had this
feeling like, OK, this is a kind of a genetic predestiny. Like this is the thing
that’s coming for me. And I just have to wait for
when my specific version of this befalls me. And then I reached
about the age of 26. And I was doing OK and
I started to breathe a little sigh of relief because
all the textbooks said like, OK, if you make it to 26, and
it hasn’t happened to you, then maybe you’re OK. So I just kept going. And I was like working
my butt off and just defying all of the odds
and all of the ways that I could imagine. Because I had
discovered painting when I was about 10 years old. And it very, very, very much
became an anchor for me. And became this way that I got
incredible positive feedback and really kind of
kept my sanity, I felt. And so here I was. And not only had
I survived, which seemed like a kind of a
miracle, but I was succeeding. And that felt like
such a wild card to have drawn that I just had
this attitude where I was like, OK, let’s see what else
we can do that shouldn’t be able to be done? And I had moved to New York. And I had become an artist. And I got involved in a lot of
political organizing and kind of resistance work. Resistance around post-September
11th and the US involvement in the Iraq war or resistance
around our current version of capitalism and its
promise to totally destroy the last remaining
ecosystems that support us. And then slowly, I think maybe
be out of a kind of a weariness from sort of throwing
myself against big systems, I started to look for forms
of resistance that could be found through creation. And so I started to work in a
couple of different communities that had gone through
disasters, both fast and slow. So I had started to work in
Haiti, post-earthquake, 2010. And I also started to
work in a town called Braddock,
Pennsylvania, which has suffered a kind of a slow
economic devastation. And then a really huge
shift happened in my life and created a really
enormous perspective shift that really changed
how I understood all the work that I’m going
to show you in a minute. And I came to a
kind of a crossroads in my own personal life and
started to study trauma. And I was studying the effects
of trauma on the human psyche. And I discovered the work of
a doctor named Gabor Mate. And he’s an addiction
doctor that works with addicts in Vancouver. And he said something that
was really shocking to me, somehow I had never
heard of before. He said that the one factor
that all of his Skid Row junkies had in common was
a childhood marked by severe abuse,
neglect, and trauma. And it was really so shocking
for me that I went on to study. And I learned that not
only is it addiction, but suicide, mental illness,
violence, so many things that people struggle
with, all have their roots in a
young life marked by terror and helplessness. And so this light
went on for me. And I started to use think maybe
this has meaning for my family and for where I’m coming from. And so I started to
speak with my parents. And they started to tell me
stories of severe neglect and sexual abuse, all stories
that had been totally silent up until that point. And suddenly I began to make
sense of where I came from. And I realized that there was
nothing random about my family and the state that it was in. And there was also nothing
genetically fated about it. I realized that through a
cycle of catastrophic events that I was born in an
extremely broken place. And so that
understanding is kind of the understanding, the new
understanding that I’m bringing here today, that
is really informing some of the looking back
that I’m doing in my work. And so I’m going to pause
and kind of shift gears and start taking you
through sort of the work. And then at the end, I just
want to like kind of come back and reflect on what this
understanding has given me. So I started out as a visual
artist, as a printmaker, and as a very classical drawer. And I had a kind of a– you
know, I studied at Pratt. I had this sort of breakdown
where, as John was saying, I felt like I needed to be
connected to something more. And I felt like I
wanted to be a part of my world in a different way. And I was obsessed with cities. I was obsessed with
the sort of psychology of spaces and the way
that we built our cities because I was a country kid. And so when I got to the
city, it really blew my mind. And I just saw this language. It felt to me like
in some ways, I was like cities are
the highest art form. I am a portrait artist. How will I create things
that look at people and then look at their
built environment and that become part
of those places? This is a piece that
someone took to Iraq for me. And so very immediately,
I also started to see how putting things
within the urban context creates really incredible
kinds of moments, with very deep and
specific meanings. Here’s another. This one’s very small. But I went with the stencil
artist, Banksy and his group to Bethlehem, Palestine
and created work on the partition wall there. And so without getting too
much into that body of work, there was a thing that happened
for me where I started out as this kind of very
classically trained artist. And I went outside and started
working on city streets. And everything changed
for me really radically. And there were all of
these questions opening up around public space,
the ownership of walls, the ownership of billboards,
commercialization of our cities, sort of who
owns the dialogue and why? And then all of these
questions just kind of– about cities
themselves, and how do they look to us, and how
they feel to us, and how do we
interact with them? And I also, around
this time, started to be asked to do installations. So I chose a lot of slides
for tonight for you guys, because this is
the Loeb Fellowship and people are so much looking
at the urban environment, where I found that I
was really looking at the creation of
cities, and structures, and spaces in this kind of very
specific, but very fantastical way. And John and I were just
talking before we started. And we were talking about how,
as artists, our constraints are so far fewer than so many
people who are in architecture and community building. And so you have this kind
of really incredibly, like, imaginative fluid
space, within which you can kind of play around
with the idea of what our built environment can be. And so for me, that has
been what a lot of drawing and the creation of
installations has been. Has been about kind of imagining
and reimagining cities, but in this way that’s like
utterly kind of constraintless. Where I sort of feel
like I’m allowing people into the dream world of
my kind of imagination in terms of building spaces. And the active working
outside, I think, and of always creating things
which had so much of a context meant that when I
did come back inside, I was really a different person. I had kind of created
a life for myself outside of the institutions. And then when institutions
started to ask me to come in and to sort of create
things, at first I had a kind of a
crisis of conscience where I was like,
oh, wait a minute. I’m outside. I’m doing this kind
of rebellious thing. Does it make sense
to really be inside? And I kind of quickly realized
that I had a lot to say. And that because I
had so much created my own kind of inner
world and the outer world and like community
of creativity, that what I was going to
bring back into these settings was actually quite different
and that I had a lot to say. So the next project, I just want
to go through really briefly. John also referred to
as flotillas of rafts. So I had become really
obsessed with the idea of, like, how do you speak
to different communities? So pasting things on
the wall was this kind of very first impulse
of being, like, let’s get outside of museums
and institutions and spaces that are
formally about art making. And let’s go to people where
they live and where they are. And so one of the kind of
early ideas that came to me was about the building of boats
and about the traveling down the Mississippi River
because that’s such a main artery of our country. And so I got together with
a huge group of friends. And we kind of envisioned
this massive project. We collected all
kinds of garbage. We did all kinds of tactical
and logistical work. And we got together
and we built it. And we had a lot of
questions about how can 30 people live sustainably
on a traveling home? What are we communicating
to people with that gesture? Are we performing? Here we are with our
mentor, Poppa Neutrino, who built scrap rafts and
when transatlantic and kind of taught us how to do it. And we’re kind of
giving performances because it was a real way
to connect with people, who would be like who are you? What are you? And you would just say,
like, OK, show up at 7:00. And we’ll sing really badly. And then you’ll
think we’re funny. And you’ll, like,
bring us potato salad. [laughter] But it was one of the most
incredible experiences of my life. The intense freedom of
having imagined and build your own home and
of having created artworks, which are these
ridiculous, unlikely kind of floating– [laughter] They were really fun. Here we are rafted up,
in the Adriatic Sea. And so we did this
over four years. We went for two years down
the Mississippi River. We went down the Hudson River. And we also went in the
Adriatic Sea to Venice. Because for me,
I had just always been so blown away by
the city of Venice. And so interested in the idea of
creating something that really echoed and interacted directly
with this city, that was almost like Venice was the mothership. And, of course, I was also
thinking a lot about climate change and rising seas. And like the sort of
perilous coastal communities and particularly
self-built communities. And what that means to be a
fragile self-built community in rising seas. They loved us. [laughter] We can talk later
about how we managed to get past the police, and the
Coast Guard, and everyone else. And so for me, this project was
also a really big turning point because if you can imagine, it
was nearly impossible to do. Here we are sneaking into
the Grand Canal at night. Everyone under the
sun has said no to us. You can’t come into
the Grand Canal. It’s one of the oldest
waterways in Europe. We have our own laws,
over our dead bodies, you are not coming
into this waterway. And I had build these
boats to within an inch of those bridges. So I was like, oh, no, no, no. They’re going. So we just waited until 3:00
in the morning, one night. And we went. And it was so incredible, and
so beautiful, and so moving. And yet, even in the midst of
one of the most magical times of my entire life,
I had this, like, really gnawing feeling
where I was like, OK, we just moved mountains. We just raised insane
amounts of money. Because although they look
like piles of garbage, it’s actually quite expensive
to feed, and clothe, and house and do– not clothe, but
you know– all these people. And we had done so much
and just kind of bent and broken so many rules and
got past so much bureaucracy. And just like mobilized the
force of our entire community in the service of
this beautiful moment. And, like, hurray for us. Like I don’t regret it. And at the same, I
just though, god, what about if we tried to
put this to a different use? Like this is amazing,
and yet there’s this really gnawing, kind
of nagging part of me, that’s like, there are
situations in the world that need this kind of energy. And we’re just, like, rah-rahing
around on these boats. And so it was amazing. But after that moment in the
Grand Canal, I was like, OK, I have to put this
project to bed. And shortly thereafter,
the earthquake of 2010 struck Haiti. And as all of you
I’m sure remember, it was such a
devastating moment, not just for Haitians, but
also kind of around the world and for people. I was a Floridian and feeling
like, OK, these people are so close, off
the coast of Florida. These are our neighbors. And this is happening. And how can I take
what I had just been thinking about all of
the creativity and resource mobilization that
we had been doing and kind of offer
this to our neighbors in this moment of crisis? And so I did some thinking
and realized like, OK, we’re a small community. We probably shouldn’t go
straight to Port Au Prince. We should probably
think about connecting with another small community. And so over the course
of a few months, with Thaddeus Pawlowski, who’s
here, and some other folks, we just came up with
a plan that involved taking a style of architecture,
known as Superadobe which was invented by an Iranian-born
architect named Nader Khalili. And he was a kind of a
mainstream skyscraper architect, who then
spent the last 20 years of his life trying to
address the issue of housing globally. And so he had this
really beautiful thought, where he was like,
hey, I grew up around this really traditional
style of architecture, that’s very specific
to Iran, but which is really quite incredible. How could I take
all of the learning that I have done as like
an international architect and combine it with this
traditional knowledge and create something which is
really, really, really lasting for people around the world? And so he designed this
style called Superadobe. And it involves using 10%
cement and 90% percent earth and creating these
structures, which use the shape of the dome. And you get these
structures that are just kind of indestructible. They’re like flood, hurricane,
fire, tornado, earthquake– like they’re very
hard to damage. And it’s a system
that’s preengineered. It can be learned. And it’s made with
available resources. And so we realized that we
didn’t have to import anything. And that we could learn it
and that we could teach it. And so this seemed like a really
kind of a powerful moment. And so here we are a
year after the earthquake and we’re opening
the community center. And I remember at this
moment, about six months after the quake, when
we were in full go-mode. We were in total building mode. And people were coming by
and they were like, oh, my god, how you guys doing this? Like all of the organizations
that we know of, all have their materials
stuck in customs. They’re locked
into this gridlock of the kind of crazy
situation that’s happening. Like how are you guys
already in full construction? And for me, it was a
really beautiful moment. Because I had this very deep
instinct where I was like, OK, I get that we don’t look
qualified to be doing this. I get that we’re just like
a group of scraggly artists. I get that we’re
not a massive NGO. We’re not like first responders. But I have this hunch that as
a very small group of people who really intensely
believes in possibility and is willing to work
on this very small scale, I think that we have
something that can be uniquely powerful in this moment. And that turned out to be true. And so we connected
with this community. We built a community center. And then we’ve just kind
of kept working with them over the period of five years,
in a very slow, steady way. And the thing that
we have found is that we didn’t have like a magic
solution, where we were like, hurray, Superadobe is
going to save everything. And instead, what we found
was that what we were creating was a relationship with a place. And that, OK, we are a small
creative group of people, from away. And we are connecting with
another small, very creative group of people here in Haiti. And we’re going to keep working
together and keep changing. So, for example,
most of the photos that I’m showing right now
are Superadobe construction. But we built the first
two homes in Superadobe. And then we started
to think about, OK, what are the economics of that? And even though this
system of building is designed to be
very, very affordable, the economics of Haiti are
such that it’s actually still out of people’s
reach in rural Haiti. And so we have decided to
keep working with people, to keep adapting
and figuring out different methods of building. And so as John was saying,
keeping aesthetics in mind, for me, also as an
artist, I’ve always had a really, kind of a
deep feeling that there is a power in beauty and in
soulfulness and attention to detail, even while you’re
in the midst of rebuilding after a disaster. And so– this one’s
a little wild. But the whole step
of the way, we decided that we weren’t first
responders after a disaster. We were kind of involved in
this long-term rebuilding. And so we were going to take
into account the creation of structures which were
stable and permanent and which incorporated the kind
of crafts and skills of people in the area. Because it’s a village
of stone carvers and they’re super-talented. And this slide is here
to cue me that we’re about to start having some
fun in the community center. Because we built one
community center and two homes over the course of a few
years that we were there. And then the fundraising
started to get really difficult because we were getting a few
years out since the earthquake. And we also started to really
feel that we had rushed in. And even though we were
moving kind of slow, we were also moving– we were
still in post-disaster mode. We were still like go, go, go. And we were like, OK,
it’s a few years out. Let’s settle down. Let’s slow down. Let’s get into, like, a little
bit of deeper relationship building and a little bit of
further kind of asking of, like, what’s next? What does this
relationship really mean? And so the community
center was built. And so we started
to just make trips where we were just playing. And we were having
fun with kids. And we were kind of doing
classes, and art making, and different things. And then from there,
I made a decision to reach out with to an
incredible play-based educator that I had seen doing some
work in upstate New York. And he kind of designed a series
of workshops that were around turning the community center
into, like, a camera obscura, as a kind of an opening gesture
to sort of start a learning center in the community center. And so we’ve since gone
back and worked with– this is a group of teachers that
have kind of emerged out of the community, that we
now have been fundraising. And we are able to
pay them salaries, to kind of keep a learning
club going that is doing all different kinds of things. And so one of the sort of
changes that has happened is that people in
the village have started to want to grow bamboo
because there’s tons of erosion and deforestation in Haiti. We work with a group of farmers. And so they started to
think a lot about them food to feed the
cows, to hold soil, to do all kinds of
different things. And so we made a decision that
we wanted to kind of combine the work that we were doing
architecturally with the work that we were doing around
starting a learning center. And to do something where
we would play with kids and kind of get them
involved in the process of, like, learning about and
designing bamboo constructions, at the same time
as their parents are working on growing bamboo. And then this will
ultimately translate into what the next
structure in Haiti becomes. So– [laughter] –really, really, really like
this kind of incredible force of nature just
gets unleashed when you get– this is clay
from the riverside. And so we did a section
on how did this Superadobe dome get built? It’s an earth construction. How does it work? And we roll the coils
and say, look, you remember watching
the bags go up? And it’s so fun. Just like– I can’t even
describe the, like, burst of energy that comes from kids. And here we are kind
of designing a town. And saying like
OK, here’s Cormier. It’s built on the river. Where would this house go? Where would that house go? And so we’re just
kind of thinking about how do you have this like
super-deep level of involvement in ideas around
structure building, like from the three-year-old
to the 80-year-old? And one really kind
of great thing. This is this for me
is like a happy moment about the community center. So what’s going on here
is this is a literacy class being taught to adults. And when we very, very first
connected with the village in Cormier, we were Going on Haiti researching
for the project. And architect, after architect,
after community planner was saying to us, it doesn’t
matter that this place just had a major earthquake and the
people are living in hot tents. If you’re going to try introduce
a weird style of architecture, you cannot build a home. You have to build a community
space or a school or something that people can all get
their hands on together and decide that they
trust it and they like it. So we were like, OK,
this is a real truth. And so we found this village. And people were saying, yeah,
we have these literacy classes because the older generation
doesn’t know how to read. The younger generation does. So what we do, because
we’re embarrassed to have our kids watching us
learn to write our names, is we get inside of a house. We shut all the windows. It’s completely pitch black. It’s a thousand degrees. We let a bunch of candles,
which only makes it hotter. And then we’re hiding,
trying to write our names. And they were like if
you could make something where we could shut the windows,
but it’s still lets light in, then we could have our classes
in privacy and in dignity. And so we built the
community center. And then one of the kids,
who had been 15 and watching us build the whole
time, all of a sudden, this summer, he said, hey, I’ve
been teaching literacy classes for the last three months. What do you guys think? And it was so beautiful. It was really a lovely
moment to see that reappear. Here we are having a meeting
with the mango growers association, which is our local
partner there, about bamboo. People are learning
and researching about building techniques
and what different, just the possibilities are. And this is a woman
named Louisiana, whose family house was
damaged all the way in 2010. Her family moved into what was
formerly the clinic in town. So they have a roof
over their head. But the problem is
that they’re kind of occupying a space that
if they could move out of it and it could be repaired,
then the community will get a clinic back. And so here’s the house
that she was living in. Here we are kind of discussing
all different kinds of things, from property law, to what a
new house should look like. So the meanings of kind
of traditional decoration. And so our next
step with Haiti is looking at this kind of
collaboration with the farmers. Here’s the clinic that’s going
to get restored once they’re able to move out of it. And so our next
step is going to be working on a bamboo
construction with Louisiana. And just going from there,
and kind of keeping the kids involved, and keeping this
whole way of working going. And so, yeah, I’m going to
move on to the next project. So simultaneous for me
with working with Haiti– because I’m not there full time. I’m back and forth–
is also another project that I want to go into a
little bit of detail about, in a town called
Braddock, Pennsylvania. So Braddock, is a town that
very iconically, like Detroit, like many places, has
suffered really intensely from post-industrial collapse. It was the home of one
of the first steel mills. It’s actually still the home
of one of the last steel mills, although 80%
of the jobs have left, 80% of the population has moved,
tons and tons of abandonment. And Braddock is also a really
powerful place because just across the river in
Homestead is actually the beginning of the entire
labor movement in the United States. And so it’s this really,
really rich and storied place, which is just now
in the middle of one of those slow-motion disasters
that is happening in so many places all over
the United States. And when I first went
there, I was invited there by– there was
the mayor, who was kind of calling in people
to do urban farming in a lot of the vacant lots. And some friends of mine, who
I’d worked collectively with, wanted to become farmers. We went to research. We were asked to do a show,
an art show in the area. And as we explored
around, it was such a heavy and such
an intense experience, scenes like this, where people
seemed to have kind of moved out in the night. And somehow, even though
each day there, there was a happiness that was
really surprising to me, there was also something, as
you can also probably imagine. And does anyone know the
artist LaToya Ruby Frazier? She’s somebody who is
from North Braddock and who just speaks
really, really powerfully about the
fierceness of that community and about the
importance of the way that we recognize the racial
inequalities in so much of what is happening there. And so, I don’t know, I
just wanted to just, like, give her a shout-out
because I really look to her critique of what
has happened in Braddock, as we sort of think about the
work that we’re doing there. So this church, which is right
at the boundary of Braddock and North Braddock,
was a building that was going to be demolished. It had been abandoned. It had to become
a halfway house. And then there was a fire. And when it was abandoned,
all of the stained glass and the organs were removed. The roof was collapsing. Parts of the
building had burned. And Braddock was going through
one demolition after another. The bulldozers were basically
rolling every single day. And so some people,
who were kind of working on saving some of the
architecture, just grabbed me. And they were like, hey,
you have a reputation for doing projects. Get over here. Look at this. Look at this building. What do you think about this? It’s going to get demolished. And I was young and dumb. And I was like, oh, wow,
that’s really incredible. I really want to work on this. I really want to do a
project in this town. And now, of course, I realize
that anything on this scale is just utterly,
utterly monumental. But I’m in there and
I’m sticking with it. And it’s been an
incredible process. And so what has happened is
that a group– my friends, who moved there to
do urban farming, have since become
permanent residence there and have done a lot of
really incredible work in the community, around
building up arts programming, and the library, and farming. And just like tons
of different ways of just being like how
do we be good neighbors and artists at the same time? And one of the steps
that we started with was about deconstructing
parts of the building that were broken, rather
than demolishing them. So the bulldozers roll in. They push the buildings
into their foundations. The field becomes a brown field. The materials are unreusable. So Transformazium, my local
artist partners there, learned about the
deconstruction process and then found some
contractors that were willing to work
specifically in that way, to take the building apart,
brick by brick, joist by joist, and to reuse the materials. And also we just started
working with kids. And the kids just
want to like you over on Saturday or after school. And one of the things that’s
been really incredible for me, I used to work with
posters out on the street. And you put something up. You’re gone. Maybe you never
even see it again. But doing this work in Haiti
and doing this work in Braddock means that– this was
Jawuan, when he was nine. Oh, I realize I
don’t have the video. If you guys were doing a
Kickstarter for this project, if you check out
the video, you’re going to see a 15-year-old,
who’s like very mature. And that’s him. And so this process of
just growing up with people has been really incredible. And so from early on,
we just started plugging in kids in the community. This is a girl named
Jayla, who also I think started talking to
me when she was about 12. And one day she just
hollered over at me like, hey, you look sad. Because I was staring
at the building and thinking of how
much work we had to do. And then we just kind of
struck up a conversation. And then she came again,
a few years later, and helped us, like she
volunteered on something. And said, I’m so excited
that this is going to be an art space one day. And I was like, baby,
we are moving so slow. Like you might be grown up
by the time this is open. And she was like, I don’t care. This is good. And I want to be a part of it. And so we just have
kind of very slowly, one piece at a time, taken
each phase of the work around this building and
tried to figure out ways that it can creatively
become part of its community. This was a moment. You see people laying a
brick floor in a dome. So they’re using the bricks
from the deconstructed building, the parish house. And they’re laying the
floor of the dome, which was our teaching
dome that we started the work in Haiti around. And then here we
are doing some kind of small, decorative
gestures, painting the doors. Here’s that dome in the field. So we have the
church and we also have the lot across the street. And we are just figuring
out all different kinds of gardening and farming
and just different ways to bring this space back to life
in ways that also are engaging. And also economically trying
to push forward things in town because 80% of jobs are gone. Like people are really
quite desperate for work. And occasionally, people come
over and volunteer or get a day’s work here and there. But what we’re
really trying to do is to actually
build ways that we can kind of provide long-term
employment for people. Because one thing that
I learned in Haiti is that we worked after the
earthquake and we rebuilt. And there were so many
different side effects. Like one guy said
being able to get my hands on work in a time of
crisis helped my mental health. It helped me stay sane,
to be able to feel that I was affecting
change in my community. And I was like, wow,
I didn’t realize that. And I didn’t realize that
that was going to happen. And the other
thing that happened is that I realized that one of
the most important things we were doing was providing jobs. It’s simple. But you create
spaces and you create spaces of beauty and joy. And you also create
spaces for people to come and have livelihood. And so one of the things that
we’re thinking about right now is this roof needs to be fixed. I don’t know if
you guys can see. Kind of in the
distance there, there’s just like a sealant
is covering the roof. And so the project that
we’re working on right now is to create a ceramic
studio, a fully functioning commercial ceramic
studio in the basement. And we want to
hand-make the, like, 20,000 titles that it’s going
to take to rebuild the street. Raise your hand if you’ve
ever seen like St. Stephen’s in Vienna, the
kind of beautiful, like colorful churches? So I saw that when
I was a teenager. Here’s a portrait of a
local woman, Catherine J., that I made. I saw that and I
just thought, my god, like if we need to
fix this roof– like I looked at tar paper shingles. There’s a lot of toxicity there. Like a lot of the sort of
more affordable ceramic tile options, tons of
stuff was looking like it needs to be
imported from China. And there was this
feeling of like, OK, we’re working in a place
where industry has divested, where jobs have left. Does it really makes
sense to import things? Or would it be an
incredible gesture to try to bring back
this culture of making? And so here we are
working with kids to paint a scale model of
what the church could look like with this
beautiful colored roof and making sort of
various proposals. And so the stage that
we’re at right now is we started doing
some prototyping in the ceramic studio in
the library, which is there. It’s too small to
fix the entire roof. But it’s big enough so that
we can start playing around. Here’s our local ceramicist. And we’re just working with
kids in the neighborhood, people who are coming to sort of
do skill shares with us, like all different people
who have kind of something to contribute to
this larger puzzle. And the significance of working
with kids in the neighborhood is that we’ve been working for
years with the Braddock Youth Program. And what is happening
is that we have these relationships
with kids that are aging out of the program. So I really shouldn’t be
calling them kids anymore. They becoming
adults– and exactly. And who have kids of their own. And who are saying like,
OK, I need a real job now. And so for me, it’s kind
of this moment of sort of stepping up and
saying, OK, I’m starting to learn what it really
means to work in community in a long-term way. How can we make this
real for people? How can we become an
anchor in the community? And so we’re working
on the tile studio. We’re starting to do some
decorative tiles as well. Because I figure,
thinking about aesthetics, thinking about what our skill
set is, thinking about beauty, and just trying to
kind of bring together everything that is my
strength with this situation, to see if we can
get something going. And so this is our first
kind of product line. And like I said, we
have a Kickstarter. So you guys can look it up. It’s called Braddock Tiles. And we’ve got all of
these different tiles available on it. And we’re going to
be collaborating with kind of artist tiles. And then we’re also going to
be making commercial tiles and roof tiles. And hopefully, within
the next year or so, we’re going to get
the roof fixed. So here’s a little
scale model of what the building could look like. [laughter] It looks like a dollhouse. But it’s quite gargantuan. And it’s just been
such a huge process. And in a lot of ways,
it’s just beginning. I feel like we’re kind of just
getting our firepower now. So keep an eye for us. And so the last
thing that I want to say, just like in closing,
is to sort of go back to where I started when I
was talking about I’ve been doing all this work for years. And yet, somehow in the
last couple of years, I’ve had a real
perspective shift on it. And in thinking about what
I wanted to say tonight, I think that what I really
realized from everything that I just told you is that there
are forms of resistance which take the form of not settling
for the brokenness of, like, the way things are. And that also are kind
of about not seeing that brokenness as inevitable. And I think that in a way
this kind of resistance sort of begins with naming it. Like, for example,
in Haiti, kind of understanding that
there was nothing random about the level of
devastation that was caused by the
earthquake in Haiti. And that it couldn’t really
be simplified just as like a natural disaster. Because an earthquake of
a very similar magnitude happened in France and never
even really made the news. And the reason for
that is because all of the wealth of
Haiti had already been extracted to France. And so people in France,
as a result of that, are able to build
their homes to last. While in Haiti, the price
of one bag of cement is the same as day’s wage. Or like in Haiti, a few years
ago, there was this Levi’s ad. And one of their kind
of lines was people just got sad and moved away. And I thought that is crazy. People didn’t get
sad and move away. It’s not even really OK
to look at it like that. It’s so important to see that–
even though what I have found is that people in
those communities do often take on the
stigma of what has happened and sort of personalize
the shame of living in a town that’s undergoing
what Braddock is undergoing, what’s the most
important thing for us to recognize at the outset
is that big industry came into Braddock like a rising
tide and left like a tsunami. And what we have left for me is
the question of how do we make meaning out of this suffering? And so the lesson
that I brought up with talking about my own
family is that within my family, I learned that simply calling
the tragedy by its true name is in itself a kind of
an active resistance. So understanding that–
for example, for me, understanding that my
parents weren’t just kind of crazy,
hedonist drug addicts, that didn’t feel like
taking care of their kids and that just preferred
drugs to their children. And that understanding this
other perspective, which is that they were deeply,
deeply damaged people, who were trying to self-medicate. And they were using the
wrong kinds of medicine. And seeing that I grew up
in a culture of silence and in a culture that
blamed the victims. And that left us all awash
and a very, very deep sense of powerlessness. And so within my
family, my work has been on how do I change
that culture of blaming the victim and of silence? And how do I try to end
those cycles of powerlessness that I was born into? And then when I look
outward, and sort of try to take that lesson
into the world, I see that these
situations, where you have this kind of big,
loud, dramatic symptom that’s happening on
the outside, and which is very often actually kind of
a mask for these very much more entrenched, deep root causes,
that whether or not you’re seeing those kinds of
situations in your personal life or you’re seeing
them societally, that always, always,
always those situations are a call for us to bring
forth so many and so many varied and stubborn different
kinds of acts of resistance. And so for me, like,
using the tools that I have at my disposal,
the thing that I have seen is that creating
meaningful work for people in a time of devastation
becomes an anchor and becomes a way of rebuilding
sanity and rebuilding community. And that there’s a
true dignity in beauty. And that that
alone can be really generative for a community. And then also something that
I’m learning really recently is that the language
of creativity, in all of its kind of like
beautiful, and aesthetic, and symbolic instinctual
ways, that that’s a language that really
speaks to us in a way that no other language does. And that as we’re healing
and as we’re rebuilding, it’s absolutely an essential
part of that process. And so I guess I
just want to say in closing that the
thing that I’m seeing is that when we can get
together with everyone who has a stake in and who has
been involved in situations of devastation, and when we can
all use all of our creativity and all of our will
power to work together to try to make whole what has
been broken, that doing that becomes such a deep,
active resistance. And it’s a resistance against
the mechanisms that serve to hold powerlessness in place. And so I just want
to say thanks. [laughter] Thank you. I think we’ll take
a couple questions. If anyone has any questions? What’s next? What’s next? Well, what’s next
is keeping going. So the project that
I showed in Braddock is, like, in this
really, like, power phase of trying to get that
ceramic studio started. The project in Haiti
is in a similar phase of trying to develop the
kind of work around bamboo. I have another project,
that I didn’t mention, of a musical
architecture, that’s been happening for a few
years in New Orleans. And then I kind of
spoke about my family because I have just
recently kind of started to delve deep into the
study of trauma and kind of personal psychology. And I just got back
from Philadelphia, where I was working with
people in prison and people in rehab and kind of really
looking, kind of deeply and with people who are
affected by it, at those links and kind of thinking
about how we can understand that culturally? And so I guess what’s
next is keeping going. And keeping going and
sort of figuring out, like, how we understand trauma,
and how we understand healing, and how we understand
creativity, and just each of the projects. And we’re drawing too. Anybody else have a question? I see a hand right there. Hi. Thanks so much for coming. I actually lived in
Pittsburgh for five years. So I’m very familiar– Cool, –with your work in Braddock. And I was wondering if you
could talk about the enthusiasm from John Fetterman, who was
mayor– is mayor of Braddock? And just how that has
moved your project forward? Yeah. Well, John Fetterman put out
the initial call for farmers. So I have since been
collaborating less closely with him. He’s just busy on
tons of projects– and more closely with my local
partners, Transformazium. But he definitely
instigated that kind of moment of people– of
people knowing that there was some enthusiasm around
farming and rebuilding and just trying to work
with youth programs and get stuff going locally
in that particular place. So I don’t know. That’s not a very good answer. I don’t know if you guys know
much about John Fetterman. But he’s sort of one
of many kind of mayors and local figures who have
decided to just really take head-on this challenge that’s
presented by rust-belt cities. And this challenge that’s kind
of presented to all of us of, like, just what do we do? Like how do we not see this
as a hopeless situation? How do we recognize the
resources that are present? How do we recognize–
for us, it’s been like how do we see that
this is not like some abandoned town? But there are tons
of people there. And how do we value the
people that live there and the resources that are still
there and do so creatively? Even as people who, like
me, I live in New York City, but how do I keep
a cross-connection between my life in
New York and my life working on other
projects and the life of this really specific town? Anyone else have a question? I see a hand back there
and one right here. I’ve been really moved by
your work over the years. And I was wondering,
you really maintain a self-reflexive awareness
of the possibilities of the projects, the
problems, and how to be, like, mindful in each
space and in each project. I was wondering if
there’s people outside of your work that inspire
you to kind of maintain that? Because it’s very easy, once
you get into the museum world to kind of have one
answer for your work and like not question some
problems or limitations and kind of not let it grow. And you just keeps growing
and keeping very self-aware. Yeah. My secret is actually
good collaborators. I choose better
collaborate– people who are smarter than
me to work with. And so like, for
example, in Haiti I will really often forget
to have big meetings. And my collaborators are like,
nuh-uh, what are you doing? You can’t just show up. And we have to be having
the conversations. And we have to be
having them constantly. And just because you
had one last month, doesn’t mean that people’s
thoughts and feelings are the same this month. And I get going so fast
that I’ll forget that. I’ll just straight
up, just like, oh, what ever, jah, jah, jah. And so I very specifically
work with collaborators who are like, no, no. This is the important
piece of this. This is how this works. Don’t forget to pay
attention to the details. People who aren’t afraid to
give me shit and yell at me and be really grumpy. And be like, come on, we’ve got
to do this in the right way. Because I need that. You’re right. Like when you get
going and you’re like on budgets, and
deadlines, and you’re worried about
presenting the thing and how does it look
from the outside– I need people who are keeping
me very, very grounded. And like, yeah, but how is
it actually being lived? What does it look
like from the inside? Yeah, right there. You talked about the challenge
of working outside and then working inside. I saw your work in
the Brooklyn Museum. Oh, yeah. And it was a really
wonderful environment. But you were also
sending a message. So could you talk about
the interior work? OK. So sort of talk about the
themes that were within that? Yeah. OK. So I did a big installation
at the Brooklyn Museum that was super– it was
a big, big part of 2014. So I’m happy that you saw it. It was really a massive
labor of love for me. And like I said, I’m really
so much into creating kind of environments. And I didn’t really kind
of go into like what was happening in that environment. And the Brooklyn Museum
was a big moment for me of I think first having
an awakening about what I was saying about really
making a link between sort of histories of trauma and
regeneration, and healing and growth, and the
moment that we’re in right now in all of the
work that I had been doing. And so I started with
the rafts that you saw on the water, which were
a lot of different things. But one of the things that
they were kind of a response to a lot of very deep, internal,
kind of intuitive anxieties around climate change. So they were nothing kind
of– no type of solution. They were really
just a kind of– I don’t know, like a talisman of
thinking, and of representing, and of what does is
this kind of look and feel like at a certain
kind of instinctual level? And so at the time, when we
were first working on the rafts and I would want to talk to
people about the aspect that was related to
climate change, it was like nobody– it was like
2008, before the collapse. And people just really
weren’t interested in talking about that. And so I found that
that conversation really fell on a lot of deaf ears. And then in New York,
when the Brooklyn Museum asked me to do a show,
it was post-Sandy. So like all of a
sudden, New York City has had this direct experience
of what it’s like to be flooded and of how vulnerable we really
are as a coastal community. And so it felt to
me like it perhaps would be relevant to
bring the rafts back, just as this object, to see,
and to feel, and to think about. And then just thinking about
the environment and what else would work in there. And I ended up kind
of unifying things around the symbol of a tree. Because that space–
I always also choose a really interesting
architectural spaces that I like. And so I was responding to kind
the epicness of that space. And also just the sort of
symbols of stability and kind of rootedness that
I think that we feel when we confront
kind of trees in that way and kind of home port. And then all of the portraits
within the– maybe I’ll just try to go back quickly and
see if I can show some images. But all of the portraits
within the installation also come from these
various projects that I’ve been working on. So there’s portraits that are
about the resistance of people in Brazil to the construction
of a dam on the Amazon River and its tributaries,
that the Brazilian government is trying to push through right
now, without the permission of the indigenous people. Or a piece that’s working
around subjects of Braddock or of Haiti. Or this one, whereas my mother
also– both my parents passed away in the last two years. And that was a really
big turning point, with kind of looking even more
deeply at this kind of trauma work and grieving and
healing and all these things. And so this piece was also
kind of about the death of my mother. And so in that way that
art kind of has the freedom to just link a lot of things
that don’t seem related and to kind of draw these sort
of fantastical narratives, I was working with thinking
about climate change, and thinking about
trauma and loss, and thinking about the
loss of my own mother. And then thinking about
the place that we are in, where we stand to
lose our motherland, like our home, really our
entire planet and the ecosystems that support us. So just thinking also about
the connectedness between– you know, you have
people in Brazil that are fighting the kind
of industrialization of their homeland. And then you have
people in Braddock who– this industrialisation has
rolled through and left them. And what is the relationship
between those two groups of people and then what is
the larger relationship to us right now in the global
moment that we’re in, as we are kind of risking
everything because of this devouring kind
of capitalist process that we survive by right now? So yeah, it was about
like that kind of stuff. [laughter] The world’s shortest answer. OK. That seems good. Yeah. Anybody else? We’ll will close there. Oh wait, one more. Prosaic– oh, excuse me. Prosaic question, Caledonia. But how do you get
this all financed? And how do you manage to
make even a modest living for yourself? Yeah. Thanks for asking. So my apartment– I live
in the same apartment that I’ve lived in
for the last 12 years. And I just realized
this morning, oh, I was like I don’t have a
ladder to get to my bed. What is wrong me? Like I just got health
insurance in the last year. So I’m like, finally the light
is turning on in my head. Like, oh, you should
take care of yourself. You’re 37 now. Like this isn’t going
to last forever, that you can just
take all of your money and dump it into your projects. But so far I am very,
very lucky in that I live as a studio artist. So I my work actually sells
for a whole other kind of art world market. And a lot of those resources
get put directly back into my projects. And in addition to that,
I apply for grants. I also, like I said,
we have a Kickstarter that’s going right now for
the project in Braddock. So I’m trying to kind
of diversify that. But the sort of core of so
much of the funding of my work has been about that I
have a market that’s around the sort of portraiture. And I’m able to let that
kind of fuel my projects. But like I said, because I’ve
realized that I have then failed to actually set
myself up to survive and to be able to
like have a home or like things and
take care of myself, I’m trying to learn
to do less of that and to get the projects
funded in different ways. But yeah, fundraisers
and all kinds of stuff. OK. Thank you guys. You can do it too, fundraisers. They’re paying. [applause] Hey, I want to mention that
there is, for those of you who are stepping into
this, not alumni, there’s public programming
throughout this event this weekend. Including Michael Kimmelman,
the architecture critic for the New York Times, is
going to be giving our closing keynote on Saturday afternoon. Thank you all so
much for coming. And thank you Cale, so much
for your energy and your talent and hard work. We are going to have a reception
now in the portico rooms, which are at the end of the
lobby, back there. And enjoy. [applause]

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