My next step for Through Various Hazards is to prototype the range of fort building replicas that I’ll be using in my network of installations. First attempt: a version of the foldable paper model participants will write inside and construct on site at Fort Humboldt.
I first altered my Sketchup design for one of the buildings, the abandoned Hospital, to simplify the surface area, remove extraneous parts, and work towards something that would be easy to quickly reassemble by someone who didn’t know the structure intimately.
Next I used a unique software called Pepakura Designer, which serves to convert 3D digital models into paper ones. In some ways it resembles the process of creating a UV map, where the polygons in the model are flattened out. In this case, though, after flattening they are arranged and linked in such as a way as to optimize folds for a paper-based print.
While this design was not optimal, based on the original model it was the best linkage arrangement I could achieve, so I decided to go ahead and print and try to combine the parts. Pepakura has a function that mirrors the model, and I activated it mistakenly but again decided to proceed.
Joining the parts was rough; having more linkages that are foldable or that can be joined with a tab will be key to making the UX of constructing the paper models enjoyable with a low barrier-to-entry.
The model is less refined than I want, but the shape is recognizable and so with a better design going into Pepakura, I’ve proven now that the concept is sound.
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
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.
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.
March 14-18, 2016, I traveled to Eureka, CA, to begin the on-the-ground process of re-engaging with the community around the town’s history.
As I traversed the city and surrounding areas for meetings and research, I continually scouted potential installation sites. I had various ideas, from placing something at all the entryways to the Eureka (where the highway meets the city from the North & South, at marinas and bridges), to randomly setting up pieces for passersby to encounter.
Some of the primary sites that I’ve landed on as a shortlist are:
The Mouth of the Elk River/Hikshari’ Trail
This area on the southwest corner of Eureka was called Hikshari’ by the Wiyot Tribe, and was home to at least one Wiyot village. I plan to install a diorama of the fort here that will dissolve as the tide rises of the course of a day.
The Eureka City Council Chambers, 6th & K Streets
Located on the edge of downtown/oldtown, this intersection are hub of civic life. The Times Standard building, housing the city’s newspaper (descendant of the Humboldt Times, which was the active paper in the days of Fort Humboldt), is across the street. The Superior Court of California, Humboldt County, is a block away.
Grant Elementary School, Oak Street & Campton Drive
Named after President Ulysses S. Grant, Fort Humboldt’s most famous resident, this elementary school is on the southwest edge of Eureka proper. As a member of the local school district, and a K-5 program, this is where many Eureka children will get their first and only exposure to California History.
The National Historic Register Marker for Duluwat/Gunther/Indian Island
Duluwat is the most sacred site in this lives of the Wiyot people. For most of their existence a number of villages were situated along it, and it was the gathering place for the World Renewal Ceremony, which brought together scores of people from across different tribes. In 1860 it was the epicenter of the Indian Island Massacre. Then, until the present day it was inaccessible to the Wiyots. The city of Eureka has sold or granted portions of the island back to the tribe. It is not publicly accessible, but there is a National Historic Marker on neighboring Woodley Island that looks directly toward Duluwat (seen in the background).
The Samoa Peninsula
After the Indian Island Massacre, the small group of survivors of the Wiyot Tribe, along with American Indians from other tribes captured or rounded up during the years of conflict during the 1860s, were stockaded at Fort Humboldt. When conditions became too dire and too many people were dying (they were living in conditions comparable to the Atlantic slave ships), then were moved across Humboldt Bay to the Samoa Peninsula and kept there until they could be shipped north to Klamath Reservation.
Wabash & Broadway
This location would not be ideal for an installation that required close-up inspection or viewing for a duration of time, but a static work could do well in this spot, and because it is the site of the most prominent “welcome to Eureka” billboard, it would be in conversation with the way the city tries to present/portray itself.
March 14-18, 2016, I traveled to Eureka, CA, to begin the on-the-ground process of re-engaging with the community around the town’s history.
Over the course of the week, I met with several key individuals to discuss the User Experience possibilities, challenges, and barriers within Humboldt County. This was my first opportunity to test my concept sketches for Through Various Hazards and Adventures We Move against the realities of installing public art and facilitating a participatory event in that particular location.
Jack Barielles, Mentor, Humboldt County History Day
Jack works out of Arcata High School as the Grants and Evaluation Administrator at Northern Humboldt Union High School District. He has also been a longtime mentor in the Humboldt County History Day, which is the local chapter of National History Day. We met at the high school to discuss local history in the context of education and youth. Jerry was kind enough to connect me as well with one of the school’s history teachers and the director of their Maker Lab. Here are key takeaways for me:
About 5% or less of entries to Humboldt History Day deal with local history — the competition is not explicitly directed toward the local level
With an emphasis on broadly defined American History, and a one or two year snapshot of California History (which has over the years tended to focus on the development of the Spanish mission system), it’s rare that a student will encounter Humboldt County history without extraordinary efforts on the part of teachers
Reduced funding for field trips and outside activities and lack of adequate internal transportation systems means that it’s unlikely students who aren’t in the immediate neighborhood of Fort Humboldt will visit the site (where they would encounter local history). This is a change from the past where these kinds of trips were more common.
Interest and resources at local schools around new technologies and “21st Century skills” means that, as an artist working across the disciplines of technology and history, I may be uniquely poised to provide them with an avenue to engage area history.
Thomas Torma, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer (THPO), Wiyot Tribe
Tom was brought on by the Wiyot Tribe in 2013 to oversee their NAGPRA (Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act) Program and serve as their Tribal Historic Preservation Officer (THPO). I connected with him as a gatekeeper, to extend my invitation to the tribe to be involved in some form with my thesis and make my first introduction to the Wiyot tribal community. The Wiyot’s were the inhabitants of the land that is now incorporated into the city of Eureka, suffered the worst violence at Fort Humboldt, and came the closest to being wiped out as a result of formal and informal policies of extermination in the Humboldt Bay Region. Tom brought Terry, a tribal elder into our conversation, and we discussed artistic approaches to history, cultural trauma, and the question of voice when it comes to telling the stories that shaped the present.
The Wiyot name for Fort Humboldt is Jouwuchguri, which translates as, “lying down and drawing up your knees”. I had read this before on on of the displays at the fort, but to hear it in conversation, and to realize how much it still resonates for the tribe, gave it a new weight for me.
The Wiyots, who were literally corralled at the fort in conditions equivalent to the Atlantic slave ships (historian Jerry Rohde has determined the dimensions), consider Fort Humboldt to be a genocidal site. Terry told me that for him and others in the tribe the pain embedded in the site is palpable.
The Wiyot tribe continues to face struggles when it comes to having a public, audible voice within the larger Humboldt Bay community, and they are understandably concerned about being the voice around their own history, especially the interpretation of it. There are tribal members who are looking at Fort Humboldt and the settlement period from a historical perspective, however in terms of an artistic engagement from the Wiyot point-of-view, this is not the moment.
Susan Doniger,District Interpretive Specialist, California State Parks
Susan, the District Interpretive Specialist for California State Parks, is directly involved in the life of Fort Humboldt. She came on around ten years ago, and has been committed to finding means to activate the site. One of her first efforts was to install 8 wall displays in the Bayshore Mall, which is directly across the highway from the fort, on the land previously occupied by the town of Bucksport (where soldiers used to frequent the saloons). When funds became available to make improvements, and were intended to go toward general maintenance, Susan advocated for improved exhibits and was able to direct the resources towards a series of interpretive panels along a self-guided walk, implemented with Portland, OR firm Alchemy of Design.
The park is still committed to a 1978 plan for enacting a full reconstruction of Fort Humboldt (one original building and one reconstruction exist today), but potentially irreversible encroachment onto the grounds (land that was sold off and is now either privately occupied or used for other purposes by the state) makes this challenging to envision. The notion of using emerging technologies is very exciting to Susan.
The park has a complex interplay of interests, which has tended to undermine or downplay the importance of the site as a representative of the early days of settlement in Humboldt Bay. These interests include logging history — in the form a large scale display including actual machinery that now occupies the northeast corner of the park, and events that draw the most visitors to the park — and the California State Parks offices, which have their district headquarters on the grounds.
Visibility seems to be a major hurdle for Fort Humboldt. The site is located literally on the edge of town, on a bluff overlooking the highway. While signage nearby does point to the park (and Susan invested in an additional, larger sign in recent years), the tops of the buildings are just visible from the road over the greenery that borders the park and it would be easy to miss the whole place if you weren’t looking at the right moment. According to Susan the majority of locals that she meets who are visiting the site say they did not previously know it existed even though they’ve lived in the area many years.
The primary role for the park is recreational use by its immediate neighbors. Steve Simmons, who used to be a Living History docent at the fort told me, “The Fort is a small park that receives little attention, other than locals using it as a dog or kite flying park.” This characterization was confirmed by Susan, and also by my observations on my multiple visits to the park last week.
Jim Garrison, Historian, Humboldt County Historical Society
Jim and I share a similar pathway to reaching our current relationship to Humboldt history. He grew up in another small town in the area, Rio Dell, and knew nothing about its history until, having left, he came back as an adult, began to study history as a subject, and had a series of surprising encounters with locals that alerted him to the ways that the dynamics set in motion by the past are still very active. He went on to write his thesis about the area, recently published his first book, and has served for a year as a resident historian for the Humboldt Historical Society. He gave me a tour of their facilities at the former home of Helen Wells Barnum in downtown Eureka. Built by her maternal grandparents, Dr. and Mrs. Reuben Gross, in 1902, the beautiful two-story Colonial Revival style house was donated to the Society in 1993 through Mrs. Barnum’s estate. We spoke at length about how the general populace there connects (or doesn’t) with history.
An unscientific but informed assessment of the average citizen in Eureka and Humboldt Bay indicates that the majority of people know very little about their local history. There is an active contingent of people who do dig deep into this information (read: Historical Society members), but they are, in general, a contrast to the average.
Until about 30 years ago, there were only two or three widely available sources of formal history about the Humboldt Bay Region, and these tended to have very particular politics. A survey of these materials, including the work of Owen C. Coy (my first encounter with written history about Humboldt) who went on to become the Director of the California Historical Survey Commission, tends to indicate either lingering racism or attempts to circumscribe violence and trauma as the work of isolated individuals in isolated periods that are distant from us in time.
Recent work by scholars such as Jerry Rohde (who I also met with) and Ray Raphael have begun to provide additional perspective, broader understanding, and included new voices such as those of the tribes directly affected by the settlement of the county. Their writings are widely available, but have not necessarily reached full public consciousness. Jim, Jerry, and others are very active in trying to promote a broader perspective, and this work is current and ongoing. My work as an artist would be in line with their efforts and contribute to them directly in a complimentary fashion.
Recent historical work has, in almost every case, met with pushback. Shedding light on details that were previously obscured, such as the identities of men who perpetrated massacres against innocents, has at times been a challenge for descendants and skeptics to process. Even those who are open to hearing new information have had trouble accepting the full picture, when it has conflicted with long-held beliefs (for example discovering that California was not, in effect, a free state, because it institutionalized the indenture of American Indians).
Because historical material itself is so fresh in many cases, artistic engagement with it has not been widespread. There is fertile ground for this kind of exploration, and the consensus from all of the historians I spoke to was that it would be welcome from their perspective, even if — as is the case with their own work — it may encounter controversy from the wider community.
While bringing in an array of individual voices, as I originally hoped to do, and having the project be majority participatory and collaborative, may not be a realizable goal, many of my intuitions about the reasons for embarking on this endeavor were confirmed. There is broad support from the administration of Fort Humboldt and the local historical community to create the kind of public history interventions that I have devised for my thesis.
I thought, early on when I first began trying to be in conversation with Humboldt County history, that the important stories were not being told. Instead, what I have come to understand is that there is a gap between the storytellers and the audience. What I can contribute as a designer is an experience that tries to bridge that gap. I can offer reorientation experiences for citizens, so that they can, if they stop to look, begin to see their city and their community in a new way, and open themselves to these important stories that need to be heard.
Earlier this semester, I took Computational Portraiture, taught by James George and Alexander Porter of Specular. Alexander introduced me to an elegant workflow to build architectural models from photographs in Google Sketchup. Sketchup was acquired by Google for the purpose of crowdsourcing 3D renders to populate their Google Earth maps, laid down upon global land surveys and data that they already had access to for terrain and overhead views of geography and human imprints. Google has moved on, but the process is still available and can be applied for other purposes.
In my case, the purpose is beginning to recreate the buildings that made up Fort Humboldt, Eureka, CA, almost all of which only exist in archival photographs.
Sketchup’s particular utility is that these models can be generated fairly quickly, to a good degree of accuracy, and then there is a simple function to reproject the texture back onto the model, so you end up with a convincing, if stylized, 3D version of the structure.
That version can then be taken into any other software. In my that was Unity, to construct a VR portrait.
My subject was the survivors of the 1860 Indian Island Massacre, most of whom ended up at Fort Humboldt ostensibly for their own protection. They were literally corralled there in destitute conditions until they were eventually moved outside of the area to distant reservations. Of those limited survivors, an even smaller set have any existing representation in the form of photographs. I used what I could find to shed light on them.