For the final push of Thesis 2016, I’ve revised my project outline, readjusting for the new physical/sculptural direction of my project and the focus on multiple simultaneous installations in Eureka.
I’ve tried to pace things realistically — understanding that I have to work continuously but in small increments over the next month, reaching mini-milestones. The flow of the project outline corresponds top-to-bottom to the chronology I need to follow, except for my “Project Narrative/Peripherals” section, which I put below because while it is vital to my goals for this project, it doesn’t have a function/purpose if I fail to achieve the physical implementation of my installations.
Source: ITP Thesis
A core conceit of my project Through Various Hazards has been the idea that the physical site and the architectural form of Fort Humboldt are iconic representatives for the larger historical questions I’m asking and the historical dynamics I’m pointing to. As I was visiting sites in Eureka, trying to decide where and how I wanted to install the series of expanded dioramas, I was struck by the potential of merging the layout of the fort itself and the geography of the city.
I took the fort layout into Photoshop and overlaid it onto the city.
Based on the location of the original fort buildings, I determined sites for placing markers/clues about the project and also the installations themselves.
I felt this was a successful prototype of the layout, and discussions at the Quick & Dirty Thesis Show allowed me to develop a second version that I think is much stronger.
The markers have been removed (no need for them to be represented here). The installation sites have been shifted and, while they still correspond to a metonym of the fort layout in terms of geography, they now also reflect it figuratively as well.
Starting from North to South, West to East:
- Woodley Island, Duluwat Historical Marker (Violence, Memorial)
- Civic Center: City Council Building, Superior Court, Times Standard newspaper (Politics & Media)
- Wabash Ave, entryway to the city (Everyday life)
- Samoa Peninsula, former reservation site for overflow prisoners from Fort Humboldt
- Fort Humboldt
- Mouth of the Elk River + Hikshari’ Trail (Indigenous life, Constant flux)
- (Ulysses S.) Grant Elementary School (Education/Ignorance)
My vision is to have this map as a physical object and guide in the style of the many years of Fort Humboldt Brochures/Pamphlets, which I will distribute to coffee shops, the library, etc. It will also be the centerpiece of the project website (which Sam Lavigne reminded me–smart–needs to be mobile-first). This will be a tool for seeing how each installation is part of a larger endeavor, and navigating between the distributed sites.
When I went out to Eureka for Spring Break, I had a working assumption that I’d be able to interview an array of voices within the community about their memories, feelings, and perspective on Fort Humboldt and the importance of local history. I did have the opportunity to do this informally, speaking with historians, educators, park staff, tribal historians, and tribal members. However, I wasn’t able to find individual voices that could have provided oral history content in the way I wanted. In general there were either colleagues — people doing work complimentary and parallel to Through Various Hazards — or skeptics, which understandably included those associated with the tribes (for a thorough, enlightening, and eloquent exploration of the reasons behind this reaction, see Tony Platt’s Grave Matters).
As a result of this experience, I decided that a more effective way to bring community voices into the project early on (they will be present in a tangible way at the actual install) could be a survey. If, with the contacts I’ve been building, I can get wide distribution, then I can realistically anticipate at least 100-200 responses from a range of individuals from historians, students, politicians, to artists. Imbedded in the survey are questions that have the potential to generate content (such as titles for some of the installations in the series), and first and foremost it expands to conversation about Fort Humboldt (the conversation I began by meeting with community members in person). More people in the community will be thinking of the site in a new or fresh way, and they will be primed to experience the site-specific works and continue engaging over time with my twitter account and the delayed release of the mementos contained in the paper models constructed during the event at Fort Humboldt.
I began prototyping the survey by sending the following version to ITP students and my social media friends. It is about local history in general, so it doesn’t map precisely.
I was able to test the format of certain more abstract questions, and gained some worthwhile feedback in the comments:
- Incorporate a build within the direct historical questions, encouraging users to think more deeply and critically about their relationship to the history
- Have a variety of abstract questions like the “choose a texture” one here
- Have more options within each question, including, in some cases, an “other” or choose-your-own
- Build comments/feedback into the questions as opposed to just at the end
Taking these thoughts into account, I began to craft the actual Fort Humboldt survey. Here is what that looks like at this stage. I’m awaiting further feedback before a final revision and then an initial distribution later this week.
Towards the end of my visit in Eureka, I spent several hours at Fort Humboldt photographing the existing buildings and several smaller monuments and display panels with the intention of reproducing them in 3D form through photogrammetry. The endgame with the models will be that I will mass-produce them via 3D printing and distribute them around Eureka the day before the installations go up, as if they are clues or markers pointing toward the Fort itself and toward the project. Each model will have a URL for the project mobile website on the bottom. I anticipate that some will be claimed as souvenirs (in keeping with a longstanding tradition of stealing objects from the fort for this purpose), others will be removed as vandalism, and many may remain longer-term as street art (a la people like Isaac Cordal, whose miniature figures live alongside more known forms of street art in places like London’s East End).
Here is some process documentation and the resulting model prototypes, which I am amassing on Sketchfab in this collection.
For the Quick & Dirty Thesis Show I focused on two goals:
- Articulating the concept of Through Various Hazards to newcomers/fresh ears
- Experimenting with presentation/exhibition (important long-term)
In order to achieve #1, I prototyped a few elements of the larger project, touchstones that I’m developing to help weave a framework. One is a map of where the installations will live. I’ve posted about that map here. Another is a survey that I will be sending out to Eurekans, through blogs, membership organizations/mailing lists, and media organizations. This is the version that I used at Q&D:
I didn’t get many responses. I’m continuing to develop the survey, in a more accessible digital format — progress on that here.
Takeaways of note from visitor feedback:
- I need to consider the degree to which the map is a metonym; am I saying that the whole city is the fort/the fort stands in for the city, and if so can I strengthen that through the layout and the particular installations that live at particular points on the map?
- How much do I want people to learn/take-away from their interactions with these peripheral elements? How much of the larger narrative should they pick-up? Are these things mostly teasers?
- The design of the whole framework, including the map and planned website, can reflect the tone of the project –> visual metaphors. How can the design be as serious as the project is, as the history is?
- Somehow the project needs to explicitly connect the dots for users between the past and the present. As opposed to hoping users will make leaps from the past when they encounter the work, linkages should be imbedded in the design.
- I should look at the writings of Joseph Beuys around his project 700 Oaks.
In addition to having my poster, map, and survey on display, I also incorporated research literature and archival photographs for context. The photographs also serve — and will even more so when the installations are present — to present the source material/assets for 3D object creation. Since I didn’t have the installations yet, I showcased my modeling efforts up to this point. I’ve posted about some of that process previously, and you can find more on my most recent attempts here.
Visitors responded well to the display, and in particular it helped provide an immediate tonal definition to the project. That lets me know that I’m already succeeding in finding a visual language for presenting the material. It’s not fully there yet, but I’m on the way.
While I was in Eureka I took advantage of the ability to do on-the-ground research. Many of the local institutions have collections of materials like newspaper clippings, photographs, and pamphlets that do not exist in an accessible, digitized format. Many of these artifacts contain much more pertinent content about local opinions on the meaning of Fort Humboldt than the scholarly and historical texts I’ve been relying on up to this point.
My first stop, after an interview with historian Jerry Rohde, was Old Town Antiques.
OLD TOWN ANTIQUES
This is one of my favorite antique/junk shops, and I wandered in thinking maybe they’d have a Fort Humboldt postcard or a coffee mug or something. The owner, Gary, said, “Really? That kinda stuff is hard to come by…don’t think I have anything…except in the case there, and I don’t think I want to sell it.” In the case, buried under all sorts of other things, was what looked like a board with a few photos on it. I asked him if he would pull it out so I could inspect it up close.
It turns out that what he has in his possession is a very rare souvenir from the days of abandonment. After the fort was closed in the 1880s, it become progressively derelict. It was somewhat of a tourist destination because the then-president, Ulysses S. Grant, had been stationed there before he became well-known. Looters began to literally tear the buildings apart, collecting boards and shingles and notating to authenticate them. One of the informational displays along the pathway at Fort Humboldt in the present even mentions these objets d’mémoire:
HUMBOLDT COUNTY LIBRARY, HUMBOLDT ROOM
The Humboldt County Library on the Northern edge of town has a special collection of local historical documents called The Humboldt Room. It is a beautiful bit of architecture, and they had a few pertinent documents that I had been unable to access remotely.
HUMBOLDT HISTORICAL SOCIETY
I went to Humboldt Historical Society to meet with Jim Garrison, who I wrote about in my post on UX conversations. The primary resource of interest to me in their facilities were images.
HHS will provide high-resolution scans of their documents and lease them out for use at a reasonable fee. They were particularly excited by the possibility of my work transforming their archives and presenting them to the public in an unexpected and contemporary way.
HUMBOLDT STATE UNIVERSITY, HUMBOLDT ROOM
Humboldt State University has the broadest, most varied archive for Fort Humboldt materials.
I was able, while there, to photocopy a large selection of documents. In addition I photographed those of abnormal shape/size, and earmarked a stack for high-resolution scanning.