It often takes creative minds to change the design of materials or the landscape without changing the function in order to lure people into using the material or the space more effectively. A group of people redesign the staircase at a subway station to attract people to walking up and down the stairs than to go on escalators so that people would exercise. Here is a video presenting this grand idea:
January 30th, 2011 by Rachel
anthropology, environment, material culture, video
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January 21st, 2011 by Rachel
Remember those days when we wanted to make copies of documents, we had to take them to an office center or the time before we many of us were born, documents were copied by hand. Nowadays, we have little copy machines known as scanners in our homes. CAD printers also known as 3D printers can be heading in that direction, as it was discussed in one of my courses’ lectures a week ago. While today CAD printers are normally found only in factories and companies, imagine one day, being able to go on internet and purchase a product that can be printed from your CAD printer, or in other words, buy rights to print out the product a certain number of times. We can print out toys, jewelry, chairs, crates, cups, plates, bowls, tables, lamp shades, bottles and etc. The scenario can be very similar to purchasing music from iTunes, as we can purchase music on the internet and have them downloaded, or in other words, buy the rights to listen to music on our iPods instead of going out to the store to purchase CDs with music. CAD printers can create a major shift in employment, economy and transportation. Because manufacturing would be moved to the homes, the number of factories can dwindle. The number of trucks, ships and railways exporting products would be reduced dramatically. Because factories and transportation are both run by people, employment opportunities would be crushed.
On the other hand, CAD printers have major potentials in the medical industry. They can print bones that can’t be made by humans as CAD printers can produce textures that are needed on the bones in order for tissues to be able to grow and attach to them. They can print prosthesis limbs that would improve the lives of humans without limbs. They can also print human tissue.
I await to see where CAD printers will lead us…
January 20th, 2011 by Rachel
Last Monday, I attended a lecture called Affirmative Objects by Glenn Adamson who is Deputy Head of Research and Head of Graduate Studies at Albert and Victoria Museum. He brought up a particular thought-provoking point in the lecture that motivated me to write a blog entry. He discussed the differences between machine-made products and craftsmanship products and the ethics of child labor. He said that craft would be better replaced by machines as there are some items that you can’t automate. He brought up an example of manufacturing soccer balls. Soccer balls are usually done entirely by hand because of pliable material. Most are made in Pakistan where child labor perhaps exist and probably manufactured by a sub-contractor of a sub-contractor. For the last World Cup in South Africa, Jabulani balls, the official soccer balls, were made in a Chinese factory utilizing both machines and hands to reduce the exploitation of child labor and low wage manufacturing. However, there was a problem in utilizing the machines! The soccer players at the World Cup complained that the Jabulani ball lacked in some qualities that those soccer balls, made by people working in factories where poor conditions and child labor existed in Pakistan, had. There were criticisms stating that because the soccer balls were too perfect spheres that they weren’t able to fly straight and the goalkeepers had a hard time predicting where the ball would head. Some soccer players were saying that they would much rather purchase a cheap soccer ball from a supermarket that works better than soccer balls made by mostly machines
Thus, it turns out that soccer balls manufactured by people working in factories where poor conditions and child labor existed, are better than those manufactured by mostly machines. This situation raises questions on whether soccer balls should continue to be made with machines to reduce the exploitation or continue to be made by people working in poor conditions and/or children in order to provide better satisfaction for the soccer players. This issue also brings up the importance of continuing to produce products that have craftsmanship qualities and are made entirely by hands, as they bring in higher qualities.
anthropology, factory workers, material culture
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January 2nd, 2011 by Rachel
Nestled in the basement of Museum of London, is an extraordinary exhibit called “London Futures,” which is being held from October 1, 2010 until March 6, 2011. Illustrators, Robert Graves and Didier Madoc-Jones, created a series of photographic images of what London could become in hundreds of years down the road as long as if climate change continues to make an impact and the global population continues to grow.
Recognizable views of the city depict possible dramatic possible changes. For instance, one photo illustration shows an overview of the city, in which it resembles Venice. In the picture, water towered six meters above the ground, leaving portions of buildings and only the top part of the bridges visible. According to the artists’ statement, tides could surge through the Thames Barrier every spring. Then in another photo illustration, which presents a very different climate scenario, a bird-eye view of the London Tower is depicted in a frigid winter scene as the Thames River is frozen and people skate on the frozen river, which had become a new tourist attraction. According to Graves and Madoc-Jones, because the gulfstream has slowed down due to the Arctic air warming up, winter can be harsh, but a relief to heat-weary Londoners.
While many people, myself included, acknowledge that climate change is occurring, it is very hard to visualize its extent on our planet. Graves and Madoc-Jones help the viewers like me gain a better understanding of how changes can affect the human beings, both culturally and physically by displaying images not only of the environment itself but also of people in it. The images are so surreal and believable that I feel as if the events recently occurred, and I am viewing them as if I were reading a newspaper filled with photos. Because the images are so arresting, they encourage me to think about the possible consequences of our behavior, including our addiction to oil.
As evident in the artists’ statements, these photographs were indeed created based on scientific studies of how climate change can impact the landscape and human beings. For example, a photo illustration of Trafalgar Square is viewed as a shanty town filled with refugees from those who moved from the equatorial belt as it became uninhabitable due to rising temperature, according to Graves and Madoc-Jones’ scenario. The illustrators explained that the problem is not merely a visual change of the scenery but also a political and social transformation:
“This is the political dilemma of the day for all European countries. The numbers are overwhelming. London’s strategy is to cluster the new arrivals in the historic centre, rather than spread them through the suburbs, where most Londoners now live.”
A photo illustration of a close-up view of the Gherkin depicting curtains in various colors and clothes hanging by the windows also presents a view of social change in London. Gravels and Madoc-Jones both explain that because of the possibility of the collapse of the global economy, the iconic City office tower could be transformed into a luxury high-rise housing and then into a slum as refugees continue to move into the city. The illustrators state concerns that the social scale of the area could dwindle as it could potentially become a slum. Native-born Londoners would be driven out of the city and move into the suburbs.
Additionally, some of the photo illustrations depict the changes in obtaining resources for energy. For example, a photo illustration presents wind turbines lining up on both sides of the British driveway The Mall. The illustrators questions whether The Mall can preserve its notion of “Britishness,” as the wind turbines tower over the flags.
Believe or not, Graves and Madoc-Jones say that they were even as surprised as I was to see the impacts on London:
“By focusing our creative energy on these well-known panoramas, the images have taken on a life of their own. Even we were surprised by the way the story unfolded as the scene was created. Each picture has become a mini soap opera, alive with colour, drama, triumph and adversity as our city is transformed and Londoners adapt to meet this change.”
At the end of the day, these photo illustrations present a thought-provoking question: Do we really want to live in nearly unbearable conditions by living with the slums, floods, overcrowding, high temperatures in the summers and frigid winters? Even if people do not believe in climate change, we still need to alter our uses in resources of energy, as fossil fuels are non-renewable.
This exhibit runs until March 6, 2011. Click here for more information on the exhibit.
anthropology, environment, London, tourism, travel
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November 17th, 2010 by Rachel
The Coming of Age in Second Life by Tom Boellstorff is not just for those who are tech geeks or gamers. When I started reading the book, I first thought that doing anthropological field work in Second Life was tacky. I couldn’t imagine the idea of sitting in front of a computer and immersing myself in a virtual world. One of the reasons I choose to study anthropology is because I enjoy physically moving my body throughout the landscape to observe cultural differences and interacting with people face-to-face to gain a greater understanding of their lifestyle.
However, Boellstorff puts his thoughts into ethnography studies outside of the box. He immerses in a different world with people known as avatars. He is interested in examining how people interacted in Second Life and why they are part of Second Life. Avatars not only build their own homes and businesses but also get into disputes over property rights that seem as if it is an incredibly important issues. Avatars exchanged good utilizing their own currency known as lindens. Avatars have their own set of language by utilizing words that are not used in real life such as “teleporting’ which means digitally transporting oneself from one place to another, “rezzing” which means to create or to make an object appear, and “prims” which are materials used to create items in Second Life. Avatars had their own neighborhood meetings to discuss ideas and issues in their communities. Protests and rallies were held in Second Life. Avatars even get marry in Second Life. Boellstorff attended a wedding in Second Life where he was able to view a beautiful sunset. Avatars go to bars and parks and even have a job as a fashion designer. On top of that, Boellstorff interacts with his neighbors via chatbox, and he did all of his interviews in the chatbox. Boellstorff sums up well on what it means to examine Second Life:
“Virtual worlds provide the opportunity for many forms of social interaction, and this can include anthropological research. Just as I can attend a wedding or build a house in Second Life, so I can interview those in Second Life about their experiences and engage in ‘participant observation,’ following people around in their daily lives as a member of the community.’
Moreover, Boellstorf spoke of how culture truly exists in Second Life:
“I spoke of ‘culture in virtual worlds’ rather than ‘virtual culture’ to underscore how cultures in virtual worlds are simply new, ‘highly particular’ forms of culture.”
While a female avatar could be a male in a real life and vice-versa, at most of the time, Boellstorff only knew the gender of avatars, not of those people in real life who were simulating the avatars. Every avatar had their own personality, their own choice of clothing styles and even skin colors. Avatars were indeed self-conscious of their looks as they would ask other avatars for opinions on their hair and clothing.
The most moving part of Boellstorff’s study was examining how people with disabilities in actual world were given a new way of experiencing life. While many deaf people are able to speak and hear utilizing cochlear implants, some deaf people communicated solely through sign language and they were given the opportunity to interact with more people in Second Life than they would in the actual world. People who were bound to wheelchairs were given the opportunity to experience walking and constructing buildings with other community members. Boellstorff explains how people with physical disabilities has a pleasurable experience in Second Life:
“Residents with more permanent physical disabilities also found new possibilities in Second Life’s potential to allow them to experience different forms of embodiment: ‘there is the advantage of not being body bound, being able to be yourself.’ Such residents spoke of the pleasures of activities like flying (which cannot be done in the actual world by anyone) and dancing, skydiving, and swimming (which are possible in the actual world but cannot be done by many disabled people. One disabled resident summed up the impact of Second Life for those with permanent disabilities by stating it ‘allows you to be free to explore yourself.’
Life is seemingly real in Second Life, which provides a validity for anthropological research.
October 28th, 2010 by Rachel
While every culture has its own unique set of fashion, suits are integral garments in every culture. When men go to work, go for an interview, or have a meeting with important people, many around the world wear business suits that consists of a blazer, pants, collar shirt and a tie. Leaders such as Barack Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy, and Wen Jiabao wear them everywhere they go. Suits are seen as symbolism of credibility and modernity.
While suits appears to be a ‘standard’ fashion as it’s worn in many different cultures, suits actually originated from the western culture. This is to say how the western culture is a big influence on the world. This history goes back to the 1600′s, according to Fareed, Zakaria, author of The Post-American World, when Peter the Great of Russia determined his beliefs of what appearance is ethical in professional places:
“Peter the Great of Russia, spent months traveling through Europe, dazzled by its industries and its militaries. Determined to learn from them, he returned home and decreed a series of radical reforms: reorganizing the army along European lines, modernizing the bureaucracy, moving the capital from Asiatic Moscow to a new, European-style on the edge of the Russian empire, which he named St. Petersburg. He reformed the tax code and even tinkered with the structure of the Orthodox Church to make it more Western. Men were ordered to shave their beards and wear European-style clothing.”
Zakaria explains further how western styles have become the ‘standard mode of work dress for men’:
“For men, Western clothing is ubiquitous. Ever since armies began dressing in Western-style uniforms, men around the world have adapted Western-style work clothes. The business suit, a descendant of a European army officer’s outfit, is now standard for men from Japan to South Africa to Peru – with the laggard (or rebel once again being the Arab world. The Japanese, for all their cultural distinctiveness, go once step further and on special occasions (such as the swearing in of their government) wear morning coats and striped pants, the style for Edwardian diplomats in England a hundred years ago. In India, wearing traditional clothes was long associated with patriotism; Gandhi insisted on it, as a revolt against British tariffs and British textiles. Now the Western business suit has become the standard attire for Indian businessmen and even many young government officials, which speaks of a new post-colonial phase in India. In the United States, of course, many businessmen in new industries dispense with formal dress altogether, adopting a casual jeans-and-T-shirt style. This, too has caught on in some other countries, especially with younger people in technology-based industries. The pattern remains the same. Western styles have become the standard mode of work dress for men, signifying modernity.”
anthropology, clothing, corporation, Europe, material culture
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October 26th, 2010 by Rachel
Why do people own a toy car or a cup or save old letters from friends and families? This past Sunday, I went to the Wellcome Collections to visit the exhibit called ‘Things’ to explore the reasoning of people owning certain things. This exhibit presented items that people brought to the museum to lend to them or give it to them as a gift . As I was walking through the exhibit, viewing the items, and reading the descriptions written by the owners, I felt like I was reading Daniel Miller’s book, The Comfort of Things. While some of the objects appeared to be strange enough for people to own, there were valid reasons according to the descriptions, which owners wrote. For instance, the toy car displayed at the exhibit was an item to reminisce the relationship between the son and the father who found the toy car in a park that was broken and fixed it for the son. A highlighter was represented as an essential tool for studying and researching and the owner of the highlighter was always reading and studying. A ‘golden palm tree’ from Spain was not only a representation of a travel memory in Spain, but also a rare treasure for a Londoner.
Viewing some of the objects also made me think about the objects I owned. For example, I have a ‘golden palm tree’ too except that it’s blue instead of gold from France. I saved it because it represents my travel memories in southwest France, in particular the last night of the trip when the ‘golden palm tree’ was placed in an enormous ice cream I ate with a special friend. Thus, when I view the object which is tapped in my journal, I think about the ‘time of my life’ in teen years. Highlighter is also a very important object. I have a habit of carrying it around all the time because when I read, I love to highlight so that I can remember important quotes and refer back to them when I need them for papers or blogs I write. The old letters I saw reminded me of letters I saved throughout my childhood. They’re considered treasures because they’re letters from foreign countries and so, seeing what kind of paper and envelopes they used always fascinated me as they were different from the materials I used. Seeing their hand writing was a plus, as I felt that I got to know the person better than seeing a typed up letter because I got to know whether the person was artistic or is sloppy because of the sloppy handwriting or is perfectionist because of its perfect handwriting.
Here is an artist statement by Keith Wilson, the man behind this project:
Sculpture stills the stuff of life much as poetry stills language. While this can cause resentment, it can also open up a rich space full of its own history. Where sculpture is made using pre-existing objects, each brings with it associative meanings from its past life or its language of fabrication: the how and the why of its making and our keeping. Things is an an attempt to open up that space of a moment, and see how our relationship with the material world might be changing.
anthropology, material culture, museum
Posted in Activities, Art Review | No Comments »
October 19th, 2010 by Rachel
Camera is not merely a tool to capture images, but also to educate photographers about the culture and issues of their surroundings, meet new people on their travels, and to appreciate the landscapes they were viewing. Karen Strassler, author of Refracted Visions: Popular Photography and National Modernity in Java, makes these points in her captivating book. Strassler’s sharing her experiences of traveling to Java to learn how Indonesians and Chinese treasure photography hit close to home. While I was capturing the Australians sitting down at a table and drinking coffee, I learned that this scene is part of their culture. I learned Italian’s opinions of President Bush in 2007 as I documented the protest against Bush’s visit in Rome. My Spanish speaking skills improved as I spoke to Peruvians when I was photographing portraits of them. In all of these travel experiences I lived through in the past five years, my camera has been a tool to research the cultural differences, learn other cultures’ opinions of my own culture and of course, their own culture, and practice my foreign language speaking skills.
Along with vivid descriptions of the surroundings of where Strassler did her field work, she takes me on an excursion to places where Indonesians appeared to be happy to be living in rural areas and tourists were attracted to photograph because of the sense of ‘exoticism.’ She shares people’s journeys of having their identity photographs taken and teaches me about issues of identity among the Chinese people who could not be as well regarded as the Indonesians. Young women go wild over wanting to live in the fantasy world by visiting studios to stand behind mystical backdrops and portraying themselves as television characters from other countries, which promotes in improving relationships with different cultures. People photograph themselves with objects to signify hierarchy and proud ownership. She shares people’s views of treating photographs as a way to chronicle children’s upbringings such as a daughter who portrayed for her father who was a photographer. Parents not taking photographs of their children in their early years is a sign of negligence, as Strassler states. Photography indeed plays an important role in creating ‘memories’ and various identities in Indonesia.
Strassler also explores the history of New Order, the time when Indonesians expressed their sentiments the about former Indonesian President Suharto and requested him to resign by protesting on the streets. As someone who is currently a student and was an editor of a university’s newspaper, I related to students’ crises of trying to reveal the real images of demonstrations and other political events while the government and such administrators blocked them from showing the images that the world deserved to see to know the truth of the events. I cringe when Strassler speaks about how professional journalists focused only on capturing certain angles of images that were requested by police officers and intelligent agents simply so that the images could be published and distributed in newspapers in order for the media to earn money.
I would like to post many important and meaningful quotes from the book, but I think I will save it for another post so that I can explore them in deeper meanings. I just wanted to give everyone the glimpse of this wonderful book.
anthropology, book, camera, material culture, news media, newspaper, Photography
Posted in Book Review | No Comments »
October 17th, 2010 by Rachel
A professor from my school shared a video from Spain about rapid manufacturing and sustainability. What’s really sad is that many people have lost the value of good quality craftsmanship and products that are made by individual craftsmen who took the time to make durable products by their own hands and paid attention to every details.
Also, in some cultures, in particular in the US, many people actually DO like having their products break easily because it gives them the excuse to purchase new products since they get bored of owning the same products. I remember from a reading, in Japan, in their culture, they value in producing durable and good quality products because the land size of their country is so small that they don’t have a lot of landfill spaces. Hence, that explains why Japanese cars are made better! Then there is the US which has a lot of land space to create landfills!
anthropology, corporation, factory workers, material culture, video
Posted in Video Clip | 3 Comments »
October 10th, 2010 by Rachel
Several years ago, a group of friends raved about IKEA. At that time, I never shopped there. They said it’s THE place to shop for college dorm and also for great stylish furniture at incredible deals. Moreover, they said it’s a Swedish store and so, I thought since it’s perhaps not a ‘Made-in-China’ store, I ought to check it out. A few months later, because I needed a new desk, I made a trip to the 366,000 square feet store in midtown Atlanta, near where I used to live. I found a desk. I picked up a piece of paper to take to the cashier to pay and to pick up the desk. Then, I went to an enormous area that looked like a warehouse. After taking some moments to search, I picked up a heavy brown box that was rather flat than voluminous. This was a sign that it was my job to put the desk together at home.
The adventure of putting together the desk was not smooth sail ride. The instructions were impossible to understand. The placement of where the parts belonged was not clear. Even trying to attach the pieces together was a nightmare. After several hours of my mother and I putting it together, we finally had a fully-built desk that was a worthwhile use until this summer when the movers broke the desk on the move from from Atlanta to Boston.
While studying in France, I brought a few frames from IKEA in Marseilles for a student art show. Putting artwork inside IKEA’s frames was a nightmare. My fingers got cut from trying to open the aluminum release bands. It was extremely difficult to place the wooden backing back in the frame as it appeared to be bigger than it could fit in the frame. When I was cleaning the glass gently, the glass cracked.
I could go on more with stores about my experiences in shopping at IKEA. Because of my unstoppable bad experiences, I knew there was something fishy about IKEA because of company’s lack of efforts to provide their consumers with good experiences in assembling products and products that should be made with good craftsmanship.
IKEA products are not made in Sweden in spite of proudly calling themselves the ‘Swedish store.’ In fact, IKEA is just a RETAILER not a maker of furniture. Woods come from forests of eastern Europe and far east Russia where woods are often illegally cut, as they are cut in restricted and conservation areas. Then woods are exported to China and Vietnam where workers are paid at minimum wage, according to Ellen Ruppel Shell, author of Cheap: High Cost of Discount Culture, to manufacture the products in low quality. Factories in Vietnam pay workers as little as $50 a month for working 48 hours, six days each week while IKEA’s suppliers have been instructed to follow IKEA’s environmental and human rights regulations and IKEA has hired a Yale-educated woman to be a forestry coordinator to overseas the suppliers for wood. Then, all the finished products are shipped to 270+ stores across the globe, hence the reason why products come in disassembled so that as many products as possible can fit in the cargo, which is actually a good thing as it’s cost saving for businesses and also saving number of ships and usage of fuel.
On top of that, many of the products are made from pine wood pocketed with ‘healthy knots’ according to Shell. Pine is actually not the wisest to choice of material as it’s softwood. Softwood with knots, even ‘healthy knots’ have the tendency to break and splint easily under pressure and stress. Just imagine sitting on a chair made by that material!
Shell nails her thoughts on IKEA and other discount stores as the fact their products are considered disposable and meant to ‘fall-apart‘:
“In the world of Cheap, “design” has become a stand-in for quality. Companies such as Target, H&M, and Zara offer consumers the look they love at a price they can live with – but at what true cost? In Sweden we visit IKEA, the global furniture retailer made famous and fabulously successful by a scheme of designing not just for low price but to low price. The consequence of this are both obvious and subtle. IKEA makes furniture available to all at alow price, which means college students, young couples, and others on a budget can furnish their homes in style. But IKEA does not overly concern itself with what Homer Simpson calls “fall-apart.” The company designs for easy construction, uniformity, cheap production, and transportability around the globe. Ultimately, what it markets is disposable, with everything that implies. The genius of IKEA and other cheap-chic purveyors is that they have made fashionable, desirable, and even lovable objects nearly devoid of craftsmanship. The environmental and social implications of this are insidious and alarming.”
At last, while IKEA likes to toot that they’re environmentally conservative, they’re really not, according to Shell:
“…the traffic jams surrounding IKEA stores are so gnarly that customers are discouraged from shopping on weekends when lines of idling cars can back up for miles. IKEA touts its ‘green side’ by lighting its stores with low-wattage bulbs and charging extra for plastic bags while its clientele burns through gallon after gallon of fuel to buy disposable tables and lamps.”
I love how Shell uses the adjective, disposable, to describe IKEA’s products. It’s so true!
You can read more details about IKEA in Shell’s book, in Chapter Six: Death of a Craftsman, which is available for purchase on Amazon.com .