I was thinking about next semester, and am very much looking forward to getting into some hands on classes. Also, feeling that I’m really rusty, which will be very apparent alongside a bunch of clever folk straight out of full-time education.
So, I joined another class, on Thursday evenings for a couple of months, to get some basic drawing done. Still not sure whether I’ll go for life drawing or something else in Semester #2, but improving my drawing discipline can’t hurt…
One person on my team talked about how some aspects of Māori cultural tradition, for example the dawn ceremony, have been adopted into wider New Zealand Society, but done so without the full cultural context. We discussed how, even though this is probably seen in a positive and appreciative way, it can also be considered to be cultural appropriation.
Contrast dark/light, potentiality/actuality.
Known/unknown both seen as part of light in Māori culture; both are active/actuality; not dark/potentiality.
Tika: to be correct, true, upright, right, just, fair, accurate, appropriate, lawful, proper, valid. Genuine.
Mana: prestige, power, attitude. Understanding of a person with mana of the implications of having mana; cv patronizing.
How was Tikanga Māori affected by colonization
One of my team commented that more words were created for concepts not used by Māori, e.g. “confiscation”. I had not known this.
We discussed the suppression of Te Reo Māori, and the impacts of Western-style education..
Changes to ways of thinking?
Interesting point from Dick: don’t fetishize colonialism, e.g. jumping to the conclusion that for Māori, “colonialization stole their Mana”; whereas a person of Māori descent might call bullshit to that, and say that their mana is their mana, but isn’t being fully acknowledged or understood.
We talked about the fundamental differences between the concepts of “Land” and “Whenua”. People often think of these words as a one-to-one translation, but that just isn’t the case. Land’s origins are geographical – defining areas of territory – whereas whenua can also mean placenta, which I guess brings connotations of origins and ancestry.
Representation in Art/Design
Didn’t really get to this…
Big Life Fix – group discussion
What ‘rights’ do the people we interact with have?
Respected (e.g. for their own definition of themselves)
Set your own boundaries
Space to speak
(and other basic human rights)
To what extents were the rights of Emma and James correctly taken into account?
Were they asked?
What effect did being part of a product have?
Use of language at some points was a bit cringeworthy, “so amazing”, “so brave”.
It’s easy to make an assertion that James’ rights were violated; he may have made a conscious choice to show his pain so that it created a visceral response in the audience.
There’s a cultural dimension in how the person is presented, personalization, privacy, and so on.
How can we know what is right for someone else?
Talking! Communication. You can ask them.
You can reference the community view; don’t forget the individual.
It was hard to get a lot out of this half hour. We did talk a little about what we’d learned. I don’t think that the tutors stressed hard enough in Session #1 that we needed to get stuck into the main project, “The Making Of”, as part of our independent study.
We did each talk a little about the places were had chosen or were thinking of choosing.
It was interesting to hear why people had chosen their places. For some, it was because it was where they’d grown up, so they felt a personal connection since childhood; for others, it was where they lived now.
I think we got a little more out of this part when we got back together. Again, interesting to hear why people had chosen their places. One guy had chosen a place in the UK because of an old family connection. People’s history seemed to play a big part in why they chosen. I’m at such a distance from the place I grew up, and even now the countries I’ve lived in previously, that I feel more connected to New Zealand, and to my chosen place, Days Bay.
On reflection, I feel even more connected to Days Bay now that I’ve read more about the history of the place. The Wellington region has been occupied for about 650 years, with Europeans arriving in any numbers about 180 years ago. Neither of those numbers seem very large coming from the UK, when it’s not that hard to find bits of 2000 year old Roman stuff around the place, and it’s maybe even easier to find 5000 year old stone circles like Castlerigg, below (there are known to be around 1300 in the British Isles).
So, perhaps I feel like my 13 years here are a significantly long time, particularly when contrasted with the 180 years of European settlement?
Part 2: sharing our walks
We broke out into the same groups again and talked about the walks we’d had and the enabling/disabling things we’d found. I talked about the tree I’d seen where blocks had been placed around it, but the tree was pushing them out of the way.
Later, when I showed this image to the whole group, Matthijs commented on the pixelated effect of the yellow paint on the blocks, and Dick said that the tree didn’t look very happy to be surrounded by Gobi Blocks.
I hadn’t known that those blocks were called that before! I know what they remind me of though: Dragon’s Teeth. That’s the nickname for a type of wartime fortification used against wheeled or tracked vehicles.
Gobi blocks must look like Dragon’s Teeth if you’re in a wheelchair.
Others in my group talked about their walks to the supermarket, and the ramps they’d seen. One of the other student had a photo of a ramp on a community centre, and it was a bit depressing to see, at the top of the ramp, a final step to get into the building.
I still find it fascinating that every design decision for a built environments is necessarily an active choice. It’s a choice between providing access to people who are mobility impaired or other disabled people, or, choosing to disadvantage them by denying or restricting their access. Two weeks into this course and I’m starting to feel pretty strongly about that choice, and I’m seeing the results of it everywhere.
Part 3: Curious Instances
We got into groups again to talk about the curious instances we’d found on our walk, and then took that back to the larger group. A couple of stories that stuck out to me.
One photo was of two basketball nets on poles. After a short conversation about them, another student posted in the chat that these weren’t both basketball nets; one was a netball goal. Nobody picked up on the fact that one of the nets was for netball; people just kind of talked about basketball. Dick challenged us on this and said that this was a patriarchal attitude – we put the male dominated item first. Not sure I can really agree that it’s entirely patriarchal – I think there’s a degree of sports knowledge in there too, because to be honest I’ve not watched either sport – but I take his point. It pays to look carefully at things, and to try to and see them with unbiased eyes.
Part 4: Why good urban design requires a better understanding of Tikanga Māori
Another interesting conversation related to Māori culture and its influence on urban design. A point that came up was the language used when talking about about this subject. One of the others students said, and I’m heavily paraphrasing here, something like, “I think we … and that they …”.
So… “we” and “they”. I knew what she was trying to say, but that’s pretty charged language, and Dick challenged us up on it. I think he’s good at that – he’s challenging, but not confrontational. Makes you think, as any good “teacher” does (and I’m using that word just to mean “a person who teaches”, not teacher as a profession).
We talked a bit about how Auckland is, and these are my words, “just another big Asian city”. I don’t mean by that, “a city with lots of Asian people living in it”, I mean, “a city that feels like other cities in the Asia region”. Meaning, lots of concrete, wide roads, a “standard” set of retailers, lots of traffic issues, a token “large tower-like structure”, and so on. Going to need to be a lot more careful with language on this course!
Auckland doesn’t feel like New Zealand, to me anyway. Then again, I’ve been to Invercargill, and that didn’t feel much like New Zealand either.
Why isn’t there more of New Zealand’s unique Māori culture represented in its largest city. Don’t know. I have been thinking about it a lot though, and came up with a difficult question:
Are many New Zealanders worried so much about Māori cultural appropriation that they miss out on the opportunity of Māori cultural appreciation.
New Zealand is locked down this week, because of the COVID pandemic. Our lessons shifted online and we attended over Zoom. There were about 35 of us, and it kind of worked. We were split into breakout rooms at various points, which are a pretty pale imitation of doing group work face-to-face, but we did OK.
I found it interesting that last week I was pretty nervous, and my young peers were quite chatty, but this week I was fine online, but my peers seemed pretty subdued. Perhaps because I spent all of the main NZ lockdown working really actively all-day-every-day in Teams, and you get used to it, so you wade in and get your point across because you have to. No idea. I doubt any of them are ever going to read this and clue me in.
Perhaps first year students don’t initially realise that, in any modern career, communications isn’t part of the job; it is the job. This is a hyper-connected world, and even if you’re not all that comfortable being thrown into a virtual room and told to work together with a bunch of strangers, just say, “screw it”, and get stuck in. In your entire career, you’re probably never going to come across as safe a place to do that as university.
If you can’t do it, then stand up, walk, talk. Sitting in front of a screen is a mode of existence designed for solo work, and being sat down in education in general comes with a strong sense of, “I’m about to be taught”, especially when you’ve been in formal education for over a decade. Hard habits to break.
Maybe “Communication for Makers” is their most important course of all?
I also thought about interviewing people for junior roles, which can actually be tougher than hiring for senior positions, although usually a lot less risky. I can’t really hire you for what you’ve done; instead, I’m trying to hire for potential. I’m far more interested in how you communicate. How do you take on information and process it? Do you restate what’s being asked so you’re sure you understand? How do you tailor your response to your audience? Did you assemble your thoughts into a coherent story before you open your mouth. And so on.
This morning I met my three final year project students, to talk about the app they’re building for me. They were really professional, engaged, showed up with a meeting agenda, took minutes (and sent them out afterwards!), and so on. We met, naturally, on Teams. Now, these are IT students in their final year, not Art students in their first year. There are many, many differences between them, and I’ve no idea what the key differentiator is. It could that be all three of “my” students have worked in a professional environment for a while, be that as an intern, during vacations, or alongside their studies. Then again, I’ve worked with a number of students fresh out of university that have the communication chops too though.
Let’s hypothesize that it’s university. I just haven’t figured out how yet.
I was interested in the comments on judgement versus being judgemental. Interesting point on consent. Consent should be given to be judged. We ask to be judged.
Q: by making Art, are we inherently asking to be judged? Do we seek criticism through the act of making Art?
Constructive criticism as an approach to judgement.
We watched a video on disability, considering it as a physical state and a social status.
I really enjoyed having the space to think through this topic.
Of particular interest was the concept of help/helping. Is “help” a human right? Should help be something we can expect from people?
In the video, Sunaura Taylor described her interactions in coffee shops. Considering how she could need help, and does ask for it, but also sees the difficulties in both asking and giving.
It’s interesting to think through the layers of context here. There’s the legal framework, like, a coffee shop may need to have an accessibility ramp; then, as this was a US-centric video there’s tipping culture, which could I guess act as either a barrier to helping (thinking reducing the number of server transactions) or may enable helping, although that feels like paying for help? Surely the US’s individual-centric culture itself also has influence.
Then there’s the individual themselves. How does the context of their upbringing, home life, good/bad experiences, education, and so on – their “character”, if that’s a thing – affect their willingness and ability to help.
On disability and appearance
I was really struck by the concept of “no ideal morphology”, and considering what the boundaries of being “human” are.
Reminded me of The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.
Note to self: read What Can a Body Do? by Sara Hendren
I perceive Sunaura as a “human being”, and don’t feel any nuance or shades of grey there – she is human. For full disclosure, I had written, “in every way that’s important”, at the end of that sentence? Should think more about that.
Conversely, when I’ve experience artificial human-like constructs, for example in the Miraikan in Tokyo, even though they have been noted by experts as being extraordinarily lifelike, I do not perceive them as “human beings”. The photo below hints at what’s missing, but don’t let the image fool you – there is something that’s just not there when you see one of these “things” move and interact.
This is coming too damn close to religion for this old Atheist, so I will need to ruminate on this further.
Q: Do humans have the ability to see a human “soul”? That word’s too overloaded with religious meaning, so let me rephrase is as, “can human beings perceive and assess consciousness?”
Then again, there are the human and animal-like robots built by Boston Dynamics. I experience feelings of pity or wrongness if one falls over or, worse, somebody pushes one over. They’re clearly artificial and “inhuman”, so why have I been hardwired to feel pity at their misfortunes?
Finally, in a class discussion we heard about caring as an evolutionary adaptation. Interesting to consider altruism versus selfishness. What’s the evolutionary advantage in selfishness?
Is disability more about designed environments than morphology?
Does, “can I get help?”, really lead to, “do we live in a society that helps?”
Where are the boundaries of “human”?
Do these things link together? Do people help others that are more (or less!) like themselves? So I guess I should ask, what’s the societal boundary? Do people, perhaps unconsciously, draw boundaries around people they’ll help versus not help? How do they do that?
Examined Life - Judith Butler & Sunaura Taylor
The Sparrow (novel)
What Can a Body Do? by Sara Hendren
Miraikan, Tokyo, "Android - What Is Human?"
Compassion helped Neanderthals to survive, new study reveals
Discourse Theory - some definitions
Quite an odd morning. Acting for my boss, who’s on leave, so my first meeting of the day was with his peers and manager; then, I met with three final year Weltec students whose project I’m supporting/sponsoring; then a few other meetings, a quick lunch, then off up to Massey to become a student again. Everything connects, somehow.
I left lots of time to get up to Massey, and managed to live the full fresher experience by getting hopelessly lost, but eventually got my student ID and found the lecture room with all of 5 minutes to spare, all hot and bothered.
Naturally enough, I am the old guy in class. Literally every other student, and there must have been 50 or so, is straight out of high school. I’m always amazed by how well spoken and grounded young Kiwi adults are, and this lot was no exception. Calm and thoughtful, chatty, witty – not at all what I remember being like at 18.
I did feel very out of place. There was group work along the,”think about a time when”, line, which is always interesting, but in this case also quite nerve-wracking. Being realistic here: I’m likely to have more experiences to draw on than the other students, so I feel like I should STFU and let the others talk. I badly want to approach university like I did at 18, but that’s probably going to be impossible!
Then, something really positive happened. We had a couple of minutes break, and one of the tutors, Matthijs, came over for a chat. He was so kind. He asked a little about my background, and let me know that I have just as much right to be in the class as anyone else, and that I should jump in and contribute. It doesn’t sound like therapy, but it helped a lot.
So, maybe I’m not out of place after all…
…and now I have homework to do, just like everyone else.