On one of my many daily Facebook scrolls one day, I discovered an article written by a English teacher who encouraged her STEM colleagues to incorporate novels into their curricula (and if I could find the article I would link it here, but I can't for the life of me remember what magazine it was in, but here's a similar one).
Regardless, the concept threw me for a loop. I'm an literature and language lover, so you'd think I'd be all over this. And I was. And I had thought strongly about the benefits of STEM people taking arts and humanities classes, but I hadn't thought much about them taking our practices and work and using it for themselves. And I don't mean that in a possessive way--more in an ignorant way.
But when I read this article I thought, well, why not use science fiction novels or technoscientific novels to teach about STEM? In my schooling I had already been finding the spaces where my technological and humanities knowledge could overlap. I learned just as much about binaries in dissecting the ethics of "Blue Beard" as I did in learning how 0s and 1s work in my computer science classes--they were just different. We already know the benefits of reading--like gaining empathy, widening your perspective, and learning about a different topics--and those wouldn't change with the shift to a STEM focus. Yet, not one of my STEM classes--from elementary school through to college--taught a novel.
Progression comes from exploring the intersections. Take wearable tech gadgets like FitBits, which are born out of the cross between fashion and technology and help wearers become more in touch with their fitness. Now extend extend that idea to something life-saving--like blood sugar monitors for diabetics. Combing both the need for aesthetic design and a functional health device, devices like the FitBit are the start of the intersectional instrumental future.
So let's teach novels in STEM classes. Let's find the crevices between the technology and fashion, between engineering and art, between health and literature. Let's carve those spaces to be deep and round. Stretching these boundaries will help us find the best solutions for today's problems.
March 25th, 1911: 146 workers killed in the Triangle Shirt Factory fire in Manhattan, NY. The victims were mostly women and young immigrants whose marginalization forced them into exploitative jobs. Sweatshops like the Triangle Shirt Factory were notorious for underpaying and overworking its workers, and the buildings themselves were crumbling and dirty.
Unfortunately, the conditions and dangers of sweatshops have not changed much since the Triangle Shirt Factory tragedy. On April 24th, 2013, the Rana Plaza, a building in Bangladesh that contained 5 factories, collapsed, killing 1,135 people and injuring many more. Clean Clothes Campaign, and independent organization that seeks to improve working conditions in the global garment industry, called the Rana Plaza and other sweatshops "deathtrap workplaces." These buildings often contain many health hazards and their shanty building makes them susceptible to collapse. The Rana Plaza was reportedly build on swampy ground, which could have contributed to its instability.
Over a hundred years has passed between the Triangle Shirt Factory fire and the Rana Plaza collapse, and there is no telling how many other sweatshop catastrophes have cost workers their lives. Unfortunately, the conditions have not changed, if anything, with the population surge, they have gotten worse. While we tend to think that we have progressed in human rights since 1911, and while to an extent we have, the collapse of Rana Plaza is a stark reminder that the fashion industry continues to exploit and endanger its workers.
Documentation of protests can severely skew the sentiments of both sides. Media coverage often either downplays the severity of riot crew uses of crowd control tactics or highlights the violent reactions from the protesters. Exposing bias in favor of one side or another in covering a protest can often misinform the public about the reality of a protest.
In the case of Hong Kong's 2014 "Umbrella Protests," various types photographers took either own unique approaches on documenting the protests. A largely peaceful protest that used art as a driving source of propaganda, each of the three photographers featured in "Art and Creative of the Umbrella Movement" (Part 1, Part 2) took a different approach to portray their experiences at the protest.
First is Bobby Sham, a large format camera photographer. Sham does not identify as a photo-journalist, but instead, as a politically-neutral observer who captures the artistic side of the movement. His photos featured blurred faces that evoke the feeling of crowds of people in a single body. Sham believes his work is crucial in the historical documentation of the protests lest they ever be forgotten.
Secondly, there is Alex Ogle, a Hong-Kong based photo-journalist. He impresses himself in the front line of the protests to expose the moments of severity, often between the riot crew or polices and the peaceful protestors. Ogle comments on the disparity between a 20-second news clip of a moment during the protests and his photograph of a moment within that time period. He states that the photograph is a often more shocking when taken out of the context of the protest around it, yet, can easily be misinterpreted by the public.
Taking an entirely different approach is Raymond Kam, who rather than documenting reality, stages actors to create his photograph. In a way, Kam's work akin to a portrait of a battle commissioned by the winning side. An important difference, however, is that Kam is able to project which ever ideology he chooses, and so his work is inherently bias to one side of the protest.
Ultimately, considering the method and intent of the artist is important when documenting reality. Photography, unlike most other art, is able to straddle the line between reality and fiction. While some photography, like journal-photography, airs on the side of reality as it provides an unfiltered snapshot of an event, staged photography tends towards the side of fiction, masked by the specific ideology the photographer is intending to portray.
After Ebola had already spread between Guinea, Sierra-Leone, and Liberia in west Africa, WHO reportedly sent 2 doctors to deal with an unknown yet massive amount of infected people. Metabiotic, an independent company, was called on to help yet did not have the resources necessary to manage and track the outbreak, causing many cases to go unacknowledged. After makeshift clinics were resurrected to care for as many as possible, WHO required the governments to only count those diagnosed in labs in their death count.
With this action, though, WHO attempted to downgrade the severity of the outbreak. While the governments repeatedly asked for the resources necessary to contain and treat the outbreak, WHO failed to recognize the outbreak as severe as those on the ground realized it was. It was not until Ebola spread to Nigeria and involved two Americans did the outbreak get the media attention it deserved. At which point, WHO finally made as statement declaring Ebola an international health crisis, regardless of the fact that the disease had been international concern since its very beginning.
The treatment of the west Africans nations infected with Ebola was another instance of racism. The media and government agencies that were established for this purpose consistently downplayed the severity of the outbreak. While announcing a world health crisis sets the global population into a state of anxiety and duress, the ignorance of the situation is an invalidating attack on those suffering. Doctors Without Borders jumped to the aid of Ebola victims by establishing clinics and their skills and training helped keep nurses and gravediggers--those who worked with the infected people--safe. However, the clinics were filling too fast: there were more sick than room allotted. Bruce Aylward, M.D., the Assistant Director of General Emergencies at WHO, though, laments on their latent response. He states, "Liberians turned their country around. We got in there a little bit afterward and took a lot of credit."
I intend to research ways in which to make a sustainable city. Inspired by Jeff Speck's TedTalk on "The Walkable City," which I also discussed in a previous blog post, I pondered the affect that sustainable cities have on present and future residents' lives. By a "sustainable" city, I mean not only a city that implements sustainability practices, such as energy conservation or use of "clean" energy, recycling, or protection of biodiversity, but also in its foundation--its planning. The art of urban planning takes into account the daily lives of its residents and considers how its residents will interact with the landscape around them. Urban planning decides whether residents will be forced to take private or public transportation or if they will be encouraged to walk to their destination, if they decide to run on a trail or on a treadmill, or if they decide to pass a couple hours on a park bench or a barstool. While urban planning in many ways shapes the lives of city dwellers, other factors such as culture, lifestyle, or climate of a place may interfere. Thus, urban planners must balance the breadth of influences residents may be exposed to design a city that promotes the healthiest living.
Speck emphasizes the importance of planning a sustainability city as a major draw for the Millennial generation. Portland, OR, as I expressed in an earlier blog post, has become a baseline for a "green city." In attempts to keep up with the times, cities are seeking out sustainability city planning organizations, like the Sustainable City Institute (SCI), a subgroup of the National League of Cities'. SCI's website houses a wealth of information regarding diverse elements of sustainability--from Land Use and Planning to Equity and Engagement. Cities are welcome to use the resources provided by the Institute in their own attempts to become more sustainable or they may apply for the pilot Launching of Leadership in Community Resilience program.
I intend in my progression on this research project to identify other organization with similar involvement and programs to help cities become more sustainable. I also intend to identify other leaders, like Jeff Speck, in the issue of contemporary urban planning. I hope to draw connections between the affect of urban planning on general health in order to show the significance of good urban planning. I am particularly interested in how cities redevelop their spaces in order to become more sustainable, so I seek to compare and contrast an "old" city against a "new" city in order to show perhaps their paths and limitations of urban planning.
Health, fashion, and street art together shape the life and culture of London. Just as studies of each of these themes can give us a point of analysis about the present, we are also able to consider the movement of these trends and the affect they have now in order to determine where they may be heading in the future.
Health, for one, has a arguably clear trajectory. Recent studies show the concern of rising pollution hazard and obesity rates that are direct results of our industrialized world. Air pollutants from factories and automobiles have already caused devastating health affects to those living in urbanized areas. The hustle and bustle of city living, too, produces a negative lifestyle of fast food eating, causing the spike in child obesity. Quantified and analyzed, it is certain that these aspects of city living must be severely altered if we want a healthy future.
Although technology has certainly caused these health risks, it is also helping the growth of the fashion world. New and innovated manners of producing textiles and garments may save the delicate world of agriculture. Some innovators have discovered how to grow textiles from fermenting bacteria, which may solve the land use battle between food and textiles. Other innovators are combining fashion and health in order to create sensors in clothes that can track some of the wearer's information throughout the day.
While technology does play an important role in solving the predicted issued of the future, the world often forgets about the arts. People rarely go out of their way to visit an art museum when they might rather play on their phone. Street arts instead bring the art to them. Decorating building walls, overpasses, and trains, street artists often evoke revolutionary or activist messages in their works--street arts serve up culture on a concrete platter.
The engagement with these three intricate elements of life and culture will certainly paint the world we live in in the future. Working symbiotically, the changes in health will influence fashion, fashion will influence health, and street artists will always be there to point out the parts where we messed up.
Not only did the Nazi want to exterminate the Jewish and non-Aryan people, but they squeezed everything out of them before. In addition to the slave labor in the concentration camps, the Nazis extracted gold teeth, rings, and even the family collections of art.
Before the Nazis invaded Paris, the Louvre removed all of its works in fear of them being seized by the Germans. Imagine walking through a museum with nothing to see. Allies attempted to save the art by hiding it. Regardless, the Germans got their paws on tons of works of arts--both from museums and personal collections--and once they were under Ally threat, they stored them in abandoned mines.
Luckily, Ally efforts discovered these mines and the Germans' other hiding places, and started to return the works to their respective origins. This headache may make art-haters question: why bother?
What is the value of art? Given that the sculptures and carvings from 38,000 BCE are still kicking around today, I'd say we, as humans, are either too sentimental for our own good or sheep following in the practices of our ancestors. Do we really care about art, or have we just continued to save art for the sake of it?
Art is personal. There's no denying that every artist pours his or herself into each work. Often, that injection of the personal into an object, the modern-day horcrux, is shared with the viewer, regardless if the purpose of the artist is equal to the interpretation of the viewer. A work of art is an insight into another person's personality and emotions, which presents a point of interest for others to pry into. Constantly grappling with the inability to fully understand other people, we cling to art because it provides a glimpse into the inner psyche of another person.
Not only is the work of art a portion of the artist, but the selected artworks are a portion of the art collector. That is, an art-lover would likely only collect artworks that are "speak" to him or her for one reason or another. What is ironic, then, is that the Nazis disregarded this idea. Blinded by the hatred of non-Aryans, the Nazis did not care to consider the persona that is created by the collection of the artwork, but instead seemingly cared only about the artwork itself.
Technology has unmistakably taken over the world. Luckily, it's in a much more useful way than those in the past imagined, like being attacked by sentient robots who have developed, somehow, the emotions resentful and anger and turned on their makers. Instead, the power of social media to give a voice to the everyday Joe has changed society as a whole--and, arguably, fashion the most.
Scrolling through Instagram has become the equivalent of flipping through a catalogue. But instead of perfectly styled models, you see real, normal people--every day social media stars and fashion bloggers who have had not signed with a modeling agency or graduated from fashion school. Nowadays, anyone can be a fashion expert by studying what other people just like you think is trendy and cool.
As such, social media is now being studied, analyzed, and researched in a serious manner. No longer can social media be cast aside as a frivolous or purely superficial outlet, but instead, must be respected as the vehicle of trendsetting. Massive agencies such as WGSN study these trends by their presence on social media, their influence from top designers, and their connection with social, political, or economical events. Since my first encounter with trend forecasting by way of the introduction of K-Hole in a Vogue documentary with Alexa Chung, I have become, let's say, mildly obsessed with the idea. There is nothing more interesting to me than being a professional oracle who browses every surface of the digital and physical world, greedily collects it all into one large mess, then picks through it to analyze patterns and connections, only to determine what direction everyone is heading in. Trend forecasters are modern-day mystics able to read and manipulate the collective mind and grin in pleasure when herd behavior overtakes as they expected.
The power of social media is overtaking fashion: no longer is the catwalk the visual Bible of fashion and trends. The ground-up effect coming from the streets is just as if not more influential as massive fashion houses. Lauretta Roberts, the director of brands at WGSN, describes this phenomenon as being because of peer-to-peer communication which has become instantaneous with the power of technology. Instead of waiting for designers to launch a new collection every season, resident fashionistas are turning to their friends for ideas on the latest trends. Sure, the omnipresent and seemingly omnipotent fashion houses are still relevant, they aren't taken totally out of the equation just yet, but their voices are dimming as the Instagram comments roll in.
The mix of the stylist modern everyday man with the influence of trends can mean radical changes for the future. Voiced en masse, these "normals" have say in what the fashion houses must produce. As the Millennial generation as a whole is keen on the idea of sustainability and acutely aware of the future of the food industry, will they move onto fashion as the next victim of a green makeover?
In a previous blog post, I claim that Millennials are excommunicated from a healthy space to live: countries lack resources to make them desirable candidates, suburban life is equal to a life in the car and out of the social scene, and cities are now polluted death traps. But in the race for a more sustainable world, urban planners are striving to make greener cities.
Jeff Speck, one of these city designers, claims that today cities must brag about their sustainability ranking to attract Millennials. Gender politics, appropriate work/life balance, "clean eating" and exercise all qualify as free word associations with the Millennial generation. Less likely are they to be impressed by the big name corporations that rule cities than they are a city's bike sharing program. Portland, Oregon, the pioneering sustainable city, has become the baseline.
What makes Millennials so passionate about a "green city" comes from the heap of frightening projections about the future, both about the health consequences of the technological age and pollution. Likely due to a high numbers of fast food chain locations near schools, BBC reports that one in five children in London is obese, higher than the national average. Weight, which affects health, is intrinsically tied to the physical environment. Living further away from your job or school causes you to take transit, walk less. The longer it takes to commute, the less time you have at home to cook dinner, so perhaps stop in at McDonald's on the way home. "Suburban Sprawl," where people choose to live further away from the city, is the death of the healthy American lifestyle, Speck says. American culture such as the sprawl has been emulated and appropriated in other countries around the world, and now they must follow in America's unhealthy footsteps. But this dangerous way of life is not unique to first-world countries. WHO warns that air pollution in developing countries, where more fossil fuels are burned, has caused life threatening illnesses, such as asthma. Not only is health affected by lifestyle, but also by our abuse of Earth's natural resources.
Not wanting to live in the future world in which these unhealthy lifestyles are only exaggerated, Millennials do what they do best: voice their opinions on the Internet. The sharing of viral videos on up-cycling, new indoor and local farming warehouses, and the latest-and-greatest solar panels have become ways in which Millennials imagine their utopia. In the Millennial future, will every city be a Portland: an oasis of sustainability?
I would rather a violent felon be incarcerated than a person with a spray can. Graffiti, unlike many other crimes, is reversible, which makes me consider their vandalism acceptable. After traveling abroad, I found the anti-graffiti sentiment to be perhaps uniquely American.
For some people, graffiti is either a glorious spectacle or just another part of the urban pastiche. For others, graffiti is an attack on personal and government property. In the US, many are quick to associate all graffiti with gang, drug, or rap culture, and thus shun the culture as a whole. As the various graffiti artists in Infamy 2005 reveal, much graffiti is done by non-gang street art crews. Instead, graffiti artists exist between the gangs and the rest of the citizens, painting a place between the world and the law. Their societal disconnect is almost uniquely because of the American misinterpretation of the meaning behind graffiti.
Granada, Spain and Asilah, Morocco are mural meccas. Granada is known for its brilliant street art culture that attracts tourists to the neighborhood of Realejo. On the walls of the stacked hillside buildings is dozens of dazzling murals, many of which are done by the resident graffiti celebrity known as El Niño. His art is mesmerizing and intricate, employing a mixture of realistic images with more graffiti-inspired inscriptions. Bloggers and tourists alike are enchanted by the juxtaposition between the urban art and the historical beauty of the neighborhood. One such blogger, Sonja of "Migrating Miss," reminds that the government has painted over many murals, especially in the oldest parts of the city. Many, however, as Sonja explains, are drawn to the urban art as much as they are the Alhambra palace.
Asilah, a beach town on the northern coast of Morocco, holds a mural competition every year. Muralists and street artists from across the world apply for the chance to travel to Asilah and paint a piece, knowing that in just one year their effort will be replaced by another artist's work. Coating the walls of the medina are anything from simple doodles to massive, colorful works.
These artistic representations of street art also translate into word art, an emerging form of street art I had never witnessed before traveling to Spain. In Granada, this form of street word art seemed to emulate poetic Facebook statuses.
Although the cultures of Asilah and Granada largely accept and encourage street art, artists still have to worry about the fact that their work could be erased in a moment. In the case of Asilah, artists enter with the explicit knowledge that this will be the outcome of their mural. In Asilah's encouragement of street art through the competition and subsequent erasure of the mural afterward, they extract the legal problem we face in the US. That is to say, instead of condemning street art and erasing it anyway, as in the US, they allow the chance for muralists to express themselves freely without consequence other than the temporality of their designs. In doing so, the possessiveness and territory complex of the art is diminished and instead the practice becomes exclusively about quality of the art rather than the number of tags.
Liz is a senior English major with minors in Spanish and Computer Science. Her research interests, like her areas of academic speciality, lie in the intersections between humanities and science. In her free time, she enjoys reading, writing, and playing with dogs.