Monday, November 4, 2013

Experimental art and landscape mobile phone tour

As we have worked on mobile phone tour of the CWU campus, students have been playing with different ways to call attention to art and landscape locations, without necessarily speaking in an "authoritative" or monologic voice. Leah for instance recorded a poem ("World Tree", 108) set in the campus arboretum, in which she speaks in the voice of a primal Mother Tree.   Vernee (117) introduces her favorite residence hall by  taking on the voice of a student newly arrived on campus in the 1960s. Liz situates herself daydreaming in class, wondering about the  Cascade Cradle  (106) sculpture out the window.  Sean rather hilariously ponders the meaning of liminality (105) while hanging on the Dean lawn.Hanna (119) narrates the campus through the eyes of a coyote spirit returning to the landscape after a century's absence.

Here is the current list of audio prompts.

Dial   (509) 350-5040

Then enter the  prompt number, followed by the # sign.

The easiest place to start is in the Dean Hall lobby in front of the Museum of Culture and Environment, facing John Hoover's  1972 sculpture, "The Man who Married an Eagle" 

2. Introduction to outdoor tour (Mark)  LIVE

100. John Hoover sculpture  in Dean Hall lobby  (Mark)   LIVE

101. Mark personal reflections on John Hoover sculpture  in Dean Hall lobby (Mark)   LIVE

102.Remembering the Shrub Steppe, seen from east of Dean Hall (Amanda) LIVE  

103. Irrigation Canal, seen from Bridge east of Dean Hall, (Caitlyn)  LIVE

104.  Musical Memory, from Bridge east of Dean Hall,

105.  Liminal Space lawn, east of Dean Hall  (Sean)  LIVE

106 Cascade Cradle sculpture, east of Dean Hall  (Liz)   LIVE

107.   Arboretum (Rachel) LIVE

108. Arboretum "World Tree" , to west of Dean Hall, in front of the white birch (Leah)   LIVE

109.  Favorite spot, Between Hebler and Hertz  (Zach)  LIVE

110. Community Vegetable Garden, north of ROTC  (Kailona) LIVE

111.  Luke Blackstone sculpture, just southeast of Hogue. (Mark)  LIVE

112. Chimpanzee memorial rocks (former CHCI)  (Sandra)

 113. Deborah Butterfield’s Horse near Barge (Mark)  LIVE

114 Darwin Davis sculpture near L & L. (Mark)   LIVE

115  Satellite Dishes behind Brooks Library (Mark)  LIVE

116.  Mira's Garden near Health Center (Alex) LIVE

117.  Basettis Dorms in the 1960s (Vernee)  LIVE

118.  Cindy Krieble Umtanum Ridge painting in Library (Mark)   LIVE

119. Shrub Steppe through eyes of Coyoto Spirit  (Hanna) LIVE

120  Japanese Garden  (Mariel)

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Mobile phone segment on Butterfield Horse

My students and I have been thinking about how to develop effective segments for our outdoor art and landscape tour of campus. We do want the audio pieces to be a little wacky and unexpected, to get our auditors to experience art and landscape sites in new ways.  We've been talking about how to vary tone, to use humor, or startling juxtapositions, to shake things up a little bit.

I've tried my hand at this, with a segment about Deborah Butterfield's cast bronze sculpture, Wickiup, on the southwestern edge of campus. Like many of her horse sculptures, the piece appears to be made out of drift wood; it was cast at a foundry in Walla Walla and is installed as a long term loan here at Central. I've heen thinking we might do a series of audio pieces on this intriguing work.

A sign would list the phone number of the tour and list the prompt numbers to enter.

In this little piece, at:

I try to imagine what the horse might be thinking, standing out there between the campus buildings. I try for some humor mixed with an elegiac tone--- still trying to get this right, and it might work better if one of our theater colleagues performed the script instead.

You can access it through a phone line at  (509) 350-5040.   Enter 113, followed by the pound sign (#)

Still working on the audio levels. I've recorded the piece digitally on computer and then uploaded it to the Guide by Cell server. The other option is just to call the recording via telephone, using a land line.  That might work better, since then one doesn't have to worry about compression ratios.

I'm eager to see what the students in my Exhibiting Nature seminar, as well the Theater and Performance studies grad students, come up with for this experimental audio tour!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Cell phone tour of campus outdoor art and landscape sites

With my students in "Exhibiting Nature" (Anth 498) we are hoping to create an experimental cell phone tour of sites of aesthetic interest on campus, including works of art and landscape features. For the purposes of this class, we are especially interested in sites that highlight the complex relationship between nature and culture on this campus.

These segments will be" housed" within the cell phone tour that the Museum is developing, through a contract with the San Francisco-based company Guide by Cell.

At the Museum front desk, visitors will be able to pick up a map of the campus, indicating sites where audio segments are accessible through a phone call. The art/landscape tour will start with  two segmenst about the Native American artist John Hoover's "Man who married an eagle' (1971) permanently installed in the Dean Hall lobby.    First, a general appreciation of the work:

And then a commentary by me, as Museum director, reflecting on the special significance this modern Native American art work holds for us, including the ways in which it reminds us that the campus is located on ceded lands, under the terms of the 1855 Yakama treaty"

(There will presumably be other landscape sites on campus that will allow us to call attention to specific aspects of the campus' indigenous history and its Native American connections.)

From Dean, the tour might go outside to see  Benson Shaw's "Resources":

Central Washington University art

And the adjacent Gary Bates' "Cascadia Cradle" (1991):

Central Washington University art

Then into the Japanese garden: 

Next into the Science building to discuss The Elephant Desk, by Chris Schambacher, at the top of the east staircase:

Central Washington University art

Then we might head south to Deborah Butterfield's sculpture of a horse near Barge Hall.

And then back north on the othe side of the SURC to Luke Blackstone's Gesture for Planetary Alignment, (2012), near Hogue Hall: 

and perhaps then over to the new community vegetable garden plot near D Street and the Wahle housing complex. 

We will need to give some careful thought to navigation on this largely outdoor tour, especially for visually impaired visitors.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Audio Tour of Fire exhibition

I am experimenting with different ways of putting on line an audio tour for our new exhibition, "Where There's Smoke: Living with Fire."  Here, I've made to links to .mp3 files on my Google Sites location:

00-Introduction to the Exhibition

01-Overview of exhibition (describing how the exhibition developed)

02-Explaining the Soundscape (Commentary on Justin Poole's soundscape for the show)

03-Ancient Regimes of Fire (on Dr. Megan Walsh's Research)

04-Fire and Evolution (on how domesticated fire contributed to human evolution)

05-Religion and Fire (on the symbolism of fire in World Religions)

06-Cooking and Culture (on the anthropological idea that cooking is a kind of language)

07-The Culinary Triangle (on Claude Levi-Strauss' ideas)

08- Sacred Smoke (on Native American smoking pipes)

09-  Fire graph (on extent of fire in the Inland Pacific Northwest from 1540-1920)

10- Firefighting tools (including the Pulaski tool and the water cannister)

11- Roslyn Fire Department (badge)

12- Taylor Bridge Fire timeline

13-Joe Powell's poem, "The Taylor Bridge Fire"

14-Mark Halperin's poem, "After the Fire"

15-Don Bronstema's painting, "Sunset Before the Taylor Bridge Fire"

16-Memorial Panel (Honoring lost firefighters)

We are pondering different delivery methods, for visually impaired visitors to the exhibition, or anyone else who would prefer to listen to the audio tracks.  One option is signing out ipods, with the tracks loaded, from the museum front desk.  We could also put QR codes on the wall, allowing those with smart phones to link to the audio segments on line. We are in time hoping to have a cell phone tour, so that visitors simply will be able to phone in to a specified number, and punch in the designated segment. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Developing the Fire exhibition

It has been fascinating following the development of our new exhibition in the Museum, "Where There's Smoke: Living with Fire," organized by my colleague J. Hope Amason.  Hope, my wife Ellen and i had initially conceived the exhibition in August 2012, as we were volunteering in the animal rescue initiative (organized by Deborah Barkley, at that time a Museum board member)  at the Kittitas County Fairgrounds during the Taylor Bridge Fire (TBF). Wouldn't it be exciting, we thought, if the Museum could put on a small show about the Taylor Bridge Fire itself?

As we started to research and conceptualize the show, we quickly realized that it was important to put this particular fire in larger historical and environmental contexts. Fire, after all, has shaped the landscape of the inland West for millenia,  As dramatic as the 2012 Taylor Bridge Fire was, it would surely be even more interesting for our visitors if we could help explain why that particular wildland fire so intense and why a particular kind of command structure had directed the fight against it.  We also wanted to demonstrate a point that had been repeatedly brought home to us during the TBF; that fire, for all its destructive force, is also often creative, helping to forge or re-forge the bonds of community.

As we talked with fire professionals and with scientists, we began to realize  that the conventional distinction we had been making, between "structure" firefighting and "wildland" firefighting, didn't entirely make sense in our particular region, living as we do on a wildland-urban interface,  Working with our friends at the Roslyn Historical Museum, we saw we had the opportunity to foreground the Roslyn story, emphasizing that the struggle against fire has been been constitutive of community. Thus, the show starts with a dramatic artifact: the classic hand-pulled firehouse wagon from the Roslyn Museum, juxtaposed with old photographs of the Roslyn volunteer fire force.

We also wanted to illuminate the deep history of fire in the lnland Northwest since the end of the last ice age.  Fortunately, our colleague Megan Walsh in the Geography Department, whose office is just a hallway over from Anthropology, is a noted specialist on the paleo-ecology of fire in this region; she and her students have been gathering data on the past 10,000 years of fire in the inland West. Megan generously shared her research data and her insights, contributing to our opening section, "Ancient Regimes of Fire."

We were able to include a microscope through which visitors can look at petri dishes Megan prepared, allowing visitors to distinguish between different kinds of charcoal, associated with  grass, leaf and wood fire deposits.

And through old and new photographs of the Sinlahekin valley, visitor are able to ponder the long term consequences of an intensive regime of fire suppression across the past century, which has, ironically, rendered our forests much more vulnerable to mass conflagrations.

I developed a small section (named by Lynn, "Lighting the Way") on fire, human evolution, the history of religion and the cultural meanings of fire. I drew in part on the thinking of Richard Wrangham, whose book “Catching Fire: How Cooking Made us Human, will be the subject of our first museum-library book discussion on Dec. 5 at the Ellensburg Public Library. We hope to read each quarter a book related to an exhibition theme, rotating between the Ellesnburg Public Library, the Museum and the university's Brooks Library.

I also summarize the classic discussion of the Culinary Triangle by structural anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, for whom fire and cooking are a subtle kind of “language” through which people contemplate the relationships between themselves and others and between nature and culture.
Indigenous meanings of fire are also explored in a case on Native American smoking pipes, emphasizing the ways in which precontact smoking help seal diplomatic bonds between different social groups and also opened up spiritual connections between humans and the invisible world. The pipes are lent by Museum staff member, Elizabeth Bollwerk, an archaeologist who authored this section of the exhibition.

Hope and her students had a grand time working with local firefighters and community historians, gathering stories and artifacts related to fire and firefighting, including objects that illustrated the history of the Roslyn all volunteer Fire Department.

As anthropologists we are especially fascinated by the ways in which the carefully managed traditions and nearly sacred objects of the fire department help create an extended system of "fictive" kinship, binding past and present members of the force into deep bonds of family-like connection.

  We both worked closely with our recent museum studies graduate Justin Poole ’13, who through his new company "Curative Sounds" has created a striking soundscape for the exhibition, a two and a half minute loops that starts with a thunderclap and fire crackling, moves into wailing sirens and then whirling sound of a helicopter. A more solemn note is stuck by a bell ringing repeatedly, moving us into a memorial section with human voice, fading back into the sounds of the raging fire before the thunder clap and lightning strike begin the cycle all over again.

From left: Prof. Hope Amason, Casey Demory, Justin Poole, Hanna Person (not shown: intern Mariel Brodsky)

Our interns (Hanna Person and Mariel Brodsky) and former students  (Casey Demory '13 and Justin Poole '13) worked tirelessly on the show, overseen by museum collections manager Lynn Bethke.  Sara Baer '15, undergraduate rep to the Museum Advisory Council, has been advising us on making the exhibition safer and more accessible to those with disabilities, including adding braille, audio components and touchable objects into the gallery.

Our most interactive section is a wall devoted to the sixteen days of the Taylor Bridge Fire in late summer 2012, illustrated by the photographs of firefighter Steve Bisig. Visitors are invited to pen their reminiscences of the fire on yellow sticky "Post-Its" affixed to a long timeline, which marks notable events of that dramatic period, hour by hour. We hope this segments will continue to grow as more of our neighbors share their memories.

A final section consists of artistic mediations on the fire, showcasing two new poems by local poets Joe Powell and Mark Halperin.
Given the deeply personal nature of these poems we tried for a more intimate installation than our previous poetry displays, which have tended towards large format presentation on white walls. Instead, we placed these poems within recessed cases, presented on a black field framed with black cloth to evoke the scorched earth aftermath of a forest fire.  Viewers need to lean in close to each poem, which seems appropriate given the linkages each work establishes between external fired landscapes and interior psychic topographies.
We also display a painting of local artist Don Brontsema on one of the striking sunsets of Taylor Bridge Fire week. The painting evokes an irony often noted by county residents during the fire, that amidst all the terrible destruction and danger, the fire also gave us the gift of magnificent sunsets.   An adjacent powerpoint display highlights oral history research by the students of Lene Pedersen (Anthropology) and Kathy Whitcomb (English) on the fire’s impact: especially moving is a section on Robert, interviewed by Museum Studies student Courtney Jones and our desk monitor Megan Epperson, as Robert reflects on the loss of his cabin. We also project film footage from Roslyn's oldtime fires and from modern firefighting air support, courtesy of the Roslyn Fire Department and Roslyn Museum president Scott Templin.

Tom Craven DJ Hall of Fame, KCWU
The show concludes with a memorial section, dedicated to all those who had lost their lives as firefighters, including the four victims of the 2001 Thirtymile fire, among them CWU alumnus Tom Craven, warmly remembered here as a campus DJ and football player.  (Tom Craven is memoriaized at our campus radio station KCWU through a memorial plaque award.)

We showcase the beautiful memorial at Mt. Olivet cemetery in Roslyn, honoring the four victims through an environmental installation, incorporating charred logs and sculpted animals, that reminds visitors of a peaceful forest glade.

Our opening this past Thursday, organized by Museum Graduate Fellow Bethany Oliver, was delightful.  Native American artist and wildland fire fighter Jim Baugh held many visitors spellbound as he demonstrated indigenous fire-making techniques (lots of people tried their hands at the task, creating a good deal of smoke though not much fire.)  We'd also like to thank the Lunch Box Cafe for catering the event with delicious pizza (appropriately wood-fired in a portable clay oven made from local clays.)

The exhibition continues to develop, even after our official opening. People keep on coming in with new ideas and stories, which we treasure.

Finally, special thanks to one of our front desk monitors, Erin (an artist and Anthropology major) and her roommate Ariana, for  creating a crepe paper montage evoking multicolored fire flames on the museum's front window panes.   This should warm us through the winter nights ahead!

We look forward in winter quarter to developing new exhibition components, including sections on Animal Rescue during the fire and on Native American firefighters.   Please stop by the museum and share your memories and reflections on fire in our region and in our lives.

Please note that audio tour segments for this exhibition may be downloaded from:

Monday, June 3, 2013

Linen and Memory

At the Museum we have been contemplating an exhibition we hope to mount in Fall 2016 on "Cloth and Kinship,"  associated with a traveling show of Chilean ariplleras, organized by poet and activist Marjorie Agosin-- applique works that highlight stories of the desaparecidos (disappeared people) and other human rights atrocities in Chile since the 1973 coup.  We have been especially fascinated by the power of textile to evoke memories of profound injustice and social rupture within family and extended kin networks, as well as the capacities of cloth to help sublimate or redress agonies of loss. We may be able to incorporate the remarkable community quilt, Unraveling Miss Kitty's Cloak, created by the African American artist Lynn Marshall-Linnemeier, which I discuss in my book, The Accidental Slaveowner.

In this connection, I have been puzzling over a lovely piece of linen recently given to me and Ellen by my father's cousin Joan.  The linen, lined by a complex motif sporting winged lions, was given to her mother Celia (my great-aunt) by my grandfather Dr. Jacob Auslander when he returned from the Bukovina region in Romania in 1936, following his failed effort to convince his parents to emigrate from Radautz (Radauti), Bukovina to the United States.  The linen takes on particular poignant effects given the knowledge that, five years later, in 1941 my great-grandparents were deported from Bukovina, by Romanian officials acting in collaboration with the Nazis, to the killing fields of Transnistria, in the historical context of the Holocaust/Shoah. 

First, I hope to learn more of the cloth itself. Celia believed that Jacob ("Bi" as he was known in the family) acquired the linen in Vienna, which would make sense as his most likely route in and out of Bukovina (Bi had studied in Vienna and in 1936 had relatives and friends living there.). Or it may have been acquired within Romania  itself. The yellow linen has one each edge an elaborate device, perhaps a heraldic emblem, showing two winged lions facing a central device, perhaps an urn. Each of these sections is linked by a braided design around the edge of the cloth; a similar braided design forms a square in the interior of the cloth.  My aunt Judy (Bi's daughter) has similar linens which Bi had given her mother upon returning from Romania in 1936.

Perhaps the winged lion is itself a clue. The winged lion, an ancient symbol, is most commonly associated  in Christian traditions with St. Mark, who became the patron saint of Venice; the winged lion column monument of San Marco (St. Mark) is one of the best known icons of the city. Venice was a component of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the political entity into which my grandfather was born, so the emblem might have familiar in Austria during the period. By the time Bi re-visited his hometown of Radautz/Radauti in 1936, the region of Bukovina had been incorporated into Romania; I don't believe the winged eagle was an emblem of the Kingdom of Romania at any point, though.

I would love to know more about Bi's trip in 1936. A committed anti-fascist, he was politically astute and had long recognized the threat Hitler posed to Jews throughout Europe.    He very much wanted to bring with him, not only his parents, but also his young nephew, Dan Pagis, who at that point had lost his mother and who was being raised by Bi's parents; Dan would survive the terrors of Transnistia, 1941-45, then emigrate to Palestine, and go on to become one of Israel's most important poets.

Bi did report afterwards, my father and aunt recall, that there were several reasons his parents refused to emigrate. They refused to leave young Dan behind, and US immigration authorities,who would have allowed Bi to bring in his parents, would not allow him to bring in a nephew. Bi's father also asked rhetorically if Bi's wife Rebekah had servants in New York, contrasting the New York family's financial circumstances to the secure Bourgeois lifestyle of the family in Radautz.  I see from on line Passenger lists that Bi arrived back in New York, on September 1, 1936, on board the Aquitania, from Southampton, England.  He  returned without any family members.

Two years later, Bi did successfully facilitate the emigration to America of Marta Edith Klinghofer, his niece, daughter of his sister Tsuli.  She arrived in New York on September 12, 1938 from France, and I believe traveled to Canada before returning to the US; she lived for a time with my grandparents in Manhattan. During the war she worked for the Voice of Freedom radio, broadcasting in Romanian, and then married and had children. It may be that during his visit in 1936, Bi laid the groundwork for Marta's journey to America.  (Marta's birthplace in the 1938 manifest is listed as the village of Storojinet, but I believe that by the late 1930s her family was in Czernowitz, the cultural capital of the Bukovina region, before Bukovina was riven by the Molotov-Ribbentrip Pact. )

I wish I knew more about what befell our family during the deportation period of 1941-1945. There are chilling documents now available on line, at    displaying telegrams sent by Romanian security officials in 1941 in Radautz, detailing their efforts to round up the local Jewish population. One telegram, dated July 2, 1941, orders that six Jewish leaders of the community, including my great-grandfather Isaac Auslander (listed as a "wholesaler") be confined to the Boys Boarding School as hostages.  My understanding is that by Fall 1941 most of the Jews of Radautz had been forcibly deported within railway cattle cars across the Dneistra river to the Transnistria river.  Dan Pagis, who survived the deportation, never spoke explicitly of what befell him or the rest of the family during these terrible years. Conditions on board the train car are hinted at by one of his most famous poems,

here in this carload
i am eve
with abel my son
if you see my other son
cain son of man
tell him that i
The unfinished final line remains, of course, one of the most uncanny absences in the literature of the Holocaust.
Bi's sister Tsili, who spent the war in the Soviet Union, told me that she knew little of what precisely  happened to her parents and to Dan during the Transnistria period; the one thing she recalled is that like her, her mother had a deep fear of going into air raid shelters, and that she attributed their common survival to this anxiety.
It is clear that conditions for deported Jews in Transnistria were horrific, characterized by labor camps, starvation, mass shootings and death marches.  It appears that both my greatgrandparents survived the war, although I believe my great grandfather, in a severely weakened condition, died soon after he returned to Czernowitz or Radautz; Marta's parents and brother survived, spending much of the war period in Czernowitz (in part because Marta's father was a Doctor and his skills were valued) before being forced into Transnistria. They later emigrated to Israel.
I hope to learn more about these heart-breaking historical episodes and about the evocative linen that has inspired this inquiry; I would be most grateful for any help or guidance readers might be able to give.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Family Symbolism in Ed Ruscha's Standard?

I recently participated in a "Close Looking" conversation at the Rose Art Museum (Brandeis University) on their visiting exhibition of Ed Ruscha's work, from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, led by Joe Wardwell and Andreas Teuber and facilitated by the Rose's education director Dabney Hailey. We talked at length about Ruscha's 1966 painting "Standard," or "Standard Station", one of the postwar era's most familiar (and widely reproduced) works of art, and the work from which the exhibition's polyvalent title  ("Ed Ruscha: Standard") is derived.

Ed Ruscha  Standard Station, 1966.
We talked about the 'drive by" quality of the image, the ways in which one could read the image as glimpsed from a vehicle speeding by on Route 66. We also touched on David Bunn's observation that "there are no landscapes without bodies"-- given that in this landscape there are no evident human bodies. But then a colleague creatively observed that the five fuel pumps could in fact be read as a stand-in for human bodies, comprising  a nuclear family of two parents and three children. The two larger pumps on the right could be read as parents, the three smaller pumps to the left (separated off from the 'parental' pumps' by a support pole) in turn could be read as children. The far left pump lacks a (presumably phallic) hose, and thus could be read as "Mother", while the large pump next to it has a pump and thus might be read as "Father"; in turn, the next, smaller (child?) pump lacks a hose and thus could be read as "Daughter", while the final two smaller pumps each have hoses and thus could be read as "Sons."  Thus another possible resonance to the overarching sign about the pumps, "Standard": this is indeed the normative, idealized American nuclear family.

For those in a Lacanian frame of mind, the hoses could be read as instances of the Phallus, signifier of masculine agency within the context of the modern domestic sex-gender system--all the more appropriate given the deep cultural linkages between automotive travel, corporate industrial might, and fantasies of American masculine mastery.

This reading intuitively strikes me a quite promising, and it would be interesting to know what Ruscha himself would think of it. (In interviews, he has noted that the widely interpreted association of the sign "Standard" with the normativeness of dominant American culture is not one he had been consciously aware of while creating these works, although he is open to that line of interpretation.)

 I am tempted to speculate that there might even be an implicit linkage within this image (and the many variations on the theme Ruscha has created) between biological reproduction and the reproductive capacities of the commodity sign in a capitalist context.  Here we may have a protoypical modern, "standardized" family in which the parents have reproduced themselves in the form of their children, at several different symbolic levels.  Each of the pumps, after all, sports the name and image of "Chevron" the most famous product of the Standard Oil Company. Under the modern schema of commodity aesthetics it is in the nature of one brand to beget another, ultimately subsuming all human experience under the arch-signifier of the endlesely-fecund commodity fetish. Thus, direct representations of human bodies would be superfluous in such an image: the logic of reproduction under modern capitalist conditions is entirely enframed with the capacity of the brand emblem ("Standard", which appropriately spans the scene) to spawn subsequent iterations of itself under subordinate brand emblems ("Chevron"); hence, we have before us the perfect family under modern capitalism, waiting, as it were, to glimpsed, and desired, by other families speeding along down the very highway made possible by the petrochemical industry.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

42, baseball, and mythic time

 Over the weekend, my colleagues Bobby Cummings, Keith Champagne, and I had the chance to go see the newly released film “42” (opening on the anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers) with the predominantly African American student Living Learning group, “Students of the Dream.” Afterwards, as we talked over the movie,  I found myself thinking about the structure of the film in light of anthropologist Bradd Shore’s classic discussion of baseball symbolism, developed in Chapter Three of his book, Culture in Mind:Cognition, Culture, and the Problem of Meaning (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).

To begin with, Shore argues that baseball, more than any other sport, dramatizes and mediates core tensions between American communitarian and individualist values.  This is enabled by the curious asymmetry of the game (odd numbers of players, odd number of innings, the striking contrast between a sole player at bat and the entire fielded team that he faces, and so forth) and by the unusual quality of temporal experience during the game, ungoverned by “clock time” , so that a game in principle could go on forever, in an eternal Field of Dreams. These qualities, among others, make baseball especially well suited to metaphorical or mythical reflections by Americans on the nature of  American society.  The emphatically pastoral and agrarian dimensions of the game, played in a “park” and resisting the industrial tyranny of clock time, lend it a generally nostalgic air, generating associations with an endless summer of youth regained, located within a reassuring annual cycle of rebirth each spring.

“42” initially challenge, and then returns to, this standard cultural logic of nostalgia for the era of youthful innocence. The film initially presents the game, in the immediate postwar period, as illustrative of the national affliction of racism. During a rendition of the National  Anthem, the camera pans through the line of players, coming to rest on Robinson for the line “Land of the Free,” to highlight the failed national promise. Taken as a whole, though, the film presents baseball as cure for that which ailed us.  In that sense, the film allows us all a return to a dreamed-of national childhood.  At one point, Dodgers team executive Branch Richey overtly thanks Robinson for in effect redeeming baseball, for giving the sport he loved as a boy back to him.  Significantly, images of boys are prominent in the film; from the African American boy to whom Robinson tosses a baseball from a train (who grows up to be a Major League player) to a white boy who initially joins in his father’s racist jeers at Robinson, but who then pauses, his face transformed, as he recognizes Robinson’s grace on the field.  Through baseball, in effect, we are all returned to pre-Lapsarian era of national innocence.

Elsewhere, Shore has noted that baseball is especially illustrative of  American cultural tensions between home and away. The ultimate goal is to hit the ball out of the park, escaping all confines of one’s environs, in order, paradoxically, to return “home.”  Such a tension is nicely evoke in the film final scene: Robinson, having hit the ball out of the park, lopes around the bases, and rounding third, finally heads, larger than life, for home.  As in all rites of passage, upon returning out of the liminal zone, everything is the same, but everything is different. As his foot touches home plate, he is once more back home, but his home, our national home, is an abode transformed.

The film steers rather clear of the political in any direct sense, emphasizing Jackson’s fierce individualism. At one point, he snaps at his guide and protector, an African American journalist,  that he doesn’t like depending on anyone.  There’s hardly any allusion to the political pressures in the late 1940s pushing for desegregation in baseball or elsewhere in society; rather, this is a morality play of individuals, of Robinson’s stalwart discipline, Richey’s ethical grit, and a few white teammate’s salty (if belated) decency, out of which emerges the collective glory of the team in the 1947 pennant victory, and by extension the restored glory of the republic.  And that is the mythic, paradoxical alchemy of baseball as a ritual system: transmuting individual achievement into collective glory, without necessarily engaging fully with the domain of the social, beyond the borders of the park itself.

Other thoughts on the the symbolism of race, the nation and regeneration in the film?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Museum Statement on Accessibility

Following the lead of other museums,  the MCE has been working on developing a statement on accessibility, to help guide our efforts to accommodate diverse publics, including persons with special needs and disabilities.

Here's our current draft. We welcome comments and suggestions from interested parties:

MCE Draft Statement on Accessibility

Draft  2/5/13

The Museum of Culture and Environment (Central Washington University) is committed to making its exhibitions,  programs, and services accessible to everyone,  including those with special needs. We seek to accommodate a diverse range of learning styles and to engage multiple senses and educational approaches as visitors engage with exhibition materials and public programs. 

The Museum, located on the ground floor of Dean  Hall, is accessible to wheelchair users and other visitors who need to avoid stairs. Service animals are welcome in the Museum,

Working  closely with our Advisory Committee on Accessibility, we explore new forms of assistive technology to deepen the museum-going experience for all. The Museum is working towards developing audio guides, available through assistive devices or mobile phones, for all interested visitors, including visually-impaired visitors. 


We anticipate that our advisory committee or working group on accessibility will include students, staff and faculty members, and perhaps off campus reps as well.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Literary Landscapes and Multiple Points of View

Frame from A Sense of Place, on
Cascadia Chronicle
At the Museum of Culture and Environment and at Cascadia Chronicle, we have been grappling over effective geospatial means of representing and evoking multiple points of view on a given landscape.  Within a GoogleEarth-type virtual environment, The Sense of Place poetry project (edited by poet Kathy Whitcomb)  in effect sticks virtual pins on varied landscape features in Washington State; clicking on these brings up a poem inspired by that location.  The GoogleEarth platform allows users to navigate themselves through the landscape of Washington State, and click at will on varied poems, identified by author.

[For those with GoogleEarth loaded on their desktops, access the site at:

Yet how to represent diverse literary or popular commentaries on any given landscape site?   And how to evoke sensations of moving through a landscape, so that the perceptual frame is not simply static at any given moment? (This is, it seems to me,  a limitation with the current GeoStories platform being developed by National Geographic:

As promising as it is in many respects, GeoStories is still presents a static, map-based vision of landcape. 

The GoogleEarth flyover effect, which gives the viewer the sensation of flying over a landscape from various heights, has struck me, Kathy, and our technology editor Marco Thompson as potentially more promising, and perhaps especially appealing to younger users; the flyover is an aesthetic register well beloved by many of our students, who spend a good deal of time flying over and through the landscapes of Skyrim and many other landscape-organized video game environments. 

In our current exhibition, "Voices of the River: Life along the Yakima," the Museum commissioned   Marco to develop a flyover sequence down the Yakima River, from its headwaters to its confluence with the Columbia.

 In sequence, five poems about the Yakima River appear on the screen over the riverscape:

Xavier Cavanos poem projected   

The Beta version currently projected on the wall, partially framed by a wall design feature evoking the basalt walls of the Yakima River Canyon (designed by Theater scene designer Marc Haniuk) has attracted a good deal of  audience response thus far. 

Some people love being able to read the poetry while seeing the landscape unfold around and through the semi-transparent text; others find the configuration too distracting to appreciate the poems fully. Some express a desire simply to watch the landscape in motion, without having to engage with the poems.  We'll keep on tweaking it during the run of the show, and see what version is most effective.

In Cascadia Chronicle (which I co-edit with colleague Kathy Whitcomb) Marco has developed visual essay I scripted, comparing how Woody Guthrie and Sherman Alexie very differently narrate the Columbia riverscape, with particular reference to Native American absence and presence:

Still from the Columbia River flyover tour, illustrating
line from Sherman Alexie's Powow at the End of the World":
"past the abandoned reactors of Hanford."
Both the Yakima River and Columbia River projects are organized in a linear fashion; the viewer encounters different perspectives on the river in sequence. In the case of the Columbia River piece, this involves multiple trips up and down the river, encountering how the same riverscape looks very different to the two artists --technological triumph over a vanished Native American presence in Guthrie's case;  a millenarian vision of a reclaimed Native American presence for Sherman Alexie). But perhaps it would be best to get away from an exclusively linear representation and to give viewers, in a more interactive vein, the choice of moving between various subject positions. Perhaps there could be a slide bar on the side of the unfolding landscape in motion, so that the viewer could move between "Anglo" , "Mexicano"  and "African American" literary representations of the same landscape-- and perhaps also have the option of clicking on or toggling to an "Un-narrated" landscape tour. 

And yet, even that approach wouldn't full convey the dynamics of multiple consciousness that so often characterize our experiences of landscape. We can, after all, more or less simultaneously experience a landscape in terms of dominant and subaltern perceptual frameworks. How might we be able to evoke that fluid multiplicity of consciousness of place?

In turn how could we effectively "crowd source" these diverse stories of place, so that the members of the public could upload and share their poems and written reflections on a particular river or landscape site, and edit and organize the developing virtual landscape in a way that would let visitors explore very different contemplations of a commonly encountered place?  Perhaps we will need to move to Augmented Reality platforms, involving mobile handheld devices with screens, to more fully convey multiple points of view on a given landscape feature?