This spring, faculty and students explore the ways in which we try to make and re-make our worlds through language, music, art, performance, and the activities of everyday life.
takes its title from Wayne Yang’s popular course of the same title. Yang and his students study worlds created in film, novels and short fiction, science fiction, art, music, and comics. By exploring the structures of injustice in these worlds—both fictional and familiar—students learn to hone the skills of writing, imagination and research... all of which will culminate in their own creation of new worlds in the form of graphic novels that will be presented at Sixth College’s own Comic-Con event.
Fiction is a name given to that which we cannot stand by as fact. But when fictional worlds are vividly enough, they may be so familiar as to feel more real than facts.
Jamilah Abdul-Sabur explores the maybe fictional, maybe factual worlds of memories and dreams in her videos and performances. In Playing Possum, a masked female figure dances to a mysterious music of the moon: with a flag planted on a lunar-like surface, we are taken to another world where motions are altered, light is lighter and dark darker... until the focus is so intense the images splinter: Up close all we see is light fracturing into and onto the surface.
Lunar landscapes emerge in the imaginative space opened up by Christopher Kardambikis’s piece, Squaring a Circle (excerpt). Taking the Amboy Crater as a starting point, the artist “reorganizes” the landscape to create an overlapping image of mountainous peaks, a blank foreground sets the scene for multiple exposures of the craters on the horizon.
The association with the moon is not entirely accidental: the Amboy Crater site was a popular travel destination along Route 66, especially in the heydey of scifi movies featuring the surrounding landscape as alien territory.
The Southwest region of desertscapes, geological formations and Seussian flora and fauna seems at once hyper-natural and hyper-alien, dystopian in its barrenness even as it has been the site and inspiration for many utopian communities of the twentieth century, concerned with the deleterious effects of humans on the earth, revealed as it is, in all its nudity, in the desert landscape.
Looking at the desertscapes, one sometimes catches a glimpse of the strange expanses of time: the enormous changes wrought by millenia of slow shifts of the earth’s surfaces, friction bubbling to the surface. Meanwhile, we are aware of the surfaces of change created by humans in our miniscule existence on the planet.
Sam Kronick explores one site of such change in his piece, Slab City Infrastructure. Just a few miles east of the Salton Sea, a community has emerged—settled, accumulated, moved through—on the abandoned site of a defunct WWII-era military base. By choice, circumstance, necessity, or lack of choice, people have made homes here, despite the transience and inhospitable conditions: a lack of “normal” infrastructure (electricity, running water, sewage, waste removal) and scorching summer temperatures. The “slabs” seem to provide anchors, a grid upon which to overlay the messiness of human life, activity, motion. Even so, the draw of the place seems to be the very fact of its being off the grid. Kronick explores the apparent contradictions between the rigid shapes and ever-shifting sands of a place that is (for now) free from the rigidity of The Grid.
Matt Hebert’s work playfully asks the viewer to consider our resources: what is used and what is discarded, what powers our everyday lives with or without our full consent or participation. For Filings the year 2008, he retro-fitted an old and rusty filing cabinet as a sort of cabinet of curiosities. The “curiosities,” however, require the viewer to discover them (by trying to open the drawers); once discovered, the solar-powered dioramas offer a tour of oil harvesting technology. At once futuristic and nostalgic, the scenes call to mind 1950s sci-fi visions of a dystopic future where dinosaurs mechanically plumb the earth for power.
In Cheryl Peach’s course, “Climate, Technology and Culture II,” students explore the sometimes murky territory that emerges between fact and fiction in discussions about climate change: how do scientists establish facts? How are misconceptions formed and dispelled? How have science and technology detected, charted and narrated the story of global climate change?
What is this world becoming? How and why do we distinguish between human and so-called “natural” change? How do we—as researchers and consumers-of-research—learn to visualize such change?
As a former research scientist and practicing artist, David Kim explores the overlapping territories of scientific research and artistic creation. His piece, Ecolibrium III: Aquaponic Installation & Interspecies Collaboration has lived in ARTifact gallery since the fall, growing and reacting to the environment, seemingly self-sufficient even as it requires a little fish-food and water replenishment on a daily basis. Here, again, we are confronted with questions about how we make and maintain our worlds: Is Kim’s piece a matter of artistic creation or scientific research, or both? Or is such a question merely a matter of context, the world that we choose to live in (or that chooses us)?
Is a matter of maintenance or a matter of radical invention? Or is it something in between, a matter of careful tweaking, re-imagining facts as fictions and vice versa?
In her class, “‘The Message’: the Rise and Globalization of Hiphop,” Camille Forbes guides her students through the processes of worldmaking specific to the global phenomenon of hiphop. Tracing the development and rise of hiphop music and culture from its origin in Bronx, NY (and before) to its current status as a global culture, Forbes focuses on “activist” hiphop, with its interest in using the form as means of confronting and challenging power. Here, then, worldmaking emerges as a sub-genre of musical form. The quarter will culminate in group projects in which students will devise their own culturally-specific “nations” and youth cultures, out of which a hiphop group of their own making—complete with representative “rap” illustrating their worldview—will speak their reality.
How do artists use language and technology to challenge power structures, to re-narrate, re-stage and re-make the worlds in which they live?
Ela Boyd’s 3-channel video, Perspectival suggests that worldmaking may have more to do with perspective, with the subtle shifts in attention that occur in seemingly still moments. Seeing the same moment through three channels allows us to imagine what it might be like to actually see each moment through mutiple lenses, not our own, or not naturally our own. Such shifts are just the beginning of understanding the world from another person’s perspective, to understanding the displacements and disjunctures that being in another’s body enacts. Perception and perspective multiply, allowing us to see that seeing is crucial to making and re-making the world.
In his course, “Social Text” Patrick Anderson guides his students through an exploration of public texts, overheard, pronounced, proclaimed, posted and pasted. Students learn to zero in on the language that surrounds us: how do we learn to make sense of these texts, to question them, contextualize them and use them to understand the world around us? More importantly, how do we make texts that make the world? By writing every day, students learn to overcome the fear of the freaky act that is writing: making worlds, worldmaking.
is a big term: it suggests godly feats of creation. But it also brings to mind dollhouses, miniature worlds, created ritually, playfully, on a much smaller scale.
Kate Clark explores the ways in which certain life rhythms are themselves methods of worldmaking: customs create objects that are used in narratives and rituals that make and maintain our world. For her work, Bread Virgins, she began with a plastic religious figurine from a thrift store. Using this shape as the mold for bread dough, she manually shaped new figurines and baked them, after which she cast the figurines in solid aluminum. The figurines are arranged on a shelf, seemingly inviting the viewer to move the objects around, as if such small shifts could change the world.
Joe Yorty’s work also derives from seemingly abandoned objects, found in the worlds of thrift stores, swap meets and yard sales. From Untitled (Mirrorshelf collection) consists of a series of mirrorshelves, apparently made by woodworking students, carefully collected and saved for a future unknown by their makers. The shelves are contexts, mini-worlds that invite the display of tchotchkes and trinkets. Accepting the invitation, Yorty created his own series of concrete colored “blobs,” instant-souvenirs, seemingly transported from worlds (moons?) away.
Josh Aaron’s paintings in the series The Forest seem to come from lunar fairytales, nostalgic and longing for an altered future. Nostalgic: set in black and white on square panels, the images recall early television sets; seen from this perspective, the technology is palpable as wood grain seeps through the paint, layering foreground intentional imagery with the reality of surfaces that cannot be transgressed. Futuristic: as with memory, the future offers itself only in misty forests; hiding behind trees we catch a glimpse, a barely perceptible sound anticipates the moment yet to come.
Associate Director of Art & Technology
UCSD Sixth College