Saturday, February 28, 2009

Reflections from the Gondola

The plan was to go to the (new) old souq (second two images): a labyrinth of narrow stone hallways under a traditional woven-bamboo ceiling. Vendors in crowded shops (some not much larger than a small bus) sell cloth, spices, housewares, tools, clothing. The souk was one of the oldest market places in Doha and much of it was torn down and later rebuilt to resemble the original structure. I saw this as an opportunity for them to observe and experience intimacy with each other, with the materials. Where the space is much like a retreat from the city outside and there might be hightened awareness of sound, color, light, and texture. An invitation to sensitivity. I think of what it feels like when you've been on a silent spiritual retreat and the world seems amplified when you reenter. Birds screech, the sun is blindingly brilliant, people shout. All the senses are re-sensitized, retuned to a sharper awareness.

But as we began to gathered in our classroom after lunch, Don and Barbara were concerned about the sand storm raging outside. It came up suddenly while we were at lunch and some were concerned about breathing the sand, especially those with breathing problems. Some argued that the project we proposed, to build slow knowledge about a specific place by carefully isolating the senses and recording our perceptions, could be conducted anywhere. I argued for the souq but eventually it was somehow decided --- I could see it was time to give up my attachment to the souk --- to go instead to the indoor luxury mall, the Villagio. It left me with dread, aversion, a little anxiety, regret, apprehension. I had been excited about the possibility of bringing the students into a quiet, dark, intimate space. The mall was anything but. I thought about the controlled recirculated air, enclosed vaulted caverns of shiny marble surfaces, seductive window displays. My opposition was less a moral issue about conspicuous consumption, more of a sensuous issue. Arguing that designers exist so much in the analytical part of their minds that how could we possibly learn to reconnect with a more visceral, tactile, and sensitive awareness of our environment, from such a sterile, artificial environment.

As much as I entered the mall with a sense of disdain, I was struck by Barbara’s obvious delight and excitement to open up to the space. Explore the faux painted clouds in the sky. The ersatz village shop facades. I complained about the acoustics. Don Crow said he loved them. Rick wandered across the bridge over the canal (over the replicated mini Venice canal complete with gondolas for hire), seemingly lost in a peaceful escape from the hectic conference. On our second pass under the bridge a student waves cheerfully. It was marvelous to see my friends transformed in this space, and so I was forced to confront my own fears and aversions, to reconcile my wish to control the situation and present an environment that was comfortable and soothing for me. I thought about the project I am working on with Sabot pre-school and the way Marty Gravett writes about one of the objectives of the school:
thought and the disequilibrium brought on by new ideas and familiar ideas made unfamiliar
are given time and importance.
In the presence of these values deeper understandings develop.

The first image is of the gondolier taping a video of Barbara and me, Barbara photographing the gondolier, me documenting the both of them.

I learned about reflection today. This is just the beginning. Tomorrow the project continues.


Doha, Qatar February 2009
Mousharaka is translated as collaboration. Yesterday Barbara Sudick + Frank Armstrong, Don Crow and I joined minds as we formulated our workshop for this weekend. BS and FA are invited presenters and set the foundation for this workshop based on their own presentation (tomorrow). The issue explored circles around Fast Knowledge and Slow Knowledge. This is fast knowledge. Slow knowledge evolves over time. What I write now will be slightly more integrated than what I may have written last night after several hours of engagement, questioning, dialogue. “Fast knowledge Frank writes in the brief,“is often acquired quickly and amplified by technology.” I would qualify this as expressly modern technology. He notes that, “Slow knowledge is a primary component of indigenous knowledge (systematic information preserved in oral tradition)” Does this include fiddle styles? weaving techniques? dance? Yes.It is the continuation of a deeply integrated knowledge that goes beyond the sort of mental processes that connect us to our laptop. Like right now. You use a very different part of your brain right now than you do when you’re swinging a hammer (for Jon and Don), or playing a tune, or drawing (which might include everyone else). There is deeply integrated knowledge that we draw upn when we are physically engaged with the making or creating of sound, mark, gesture. I write this as I think about playing music last night. It ground me after a jet-lagged day of connecting, responding, transformation. What happens when we come together for these intense few days (new connections, old connections). It's hard to sustain it, and I am grateful to all who encouraged me to pack my fiddle (and Don for that very nice lightweight case).

This workshop is an effort to engage. To invite the students to more fully engage their sense in the design process. Design can be rigorous, analytical, prescriptive. (as Keven Wooley just said when he sat down to chat) Especially graphic design which is so abstract. Especially as a print designer, we deal with a fixed object. As I sit in this space (I just stood up to take a photo. Image is uploading now as I write.) the light changes, color shifts. We respond to a physical space with our sense in a way that we cannot with implied or abstract space - a page.

That's nothing so new. You always want to ask, “What is new about this? what are we doing that integrates ideas, concepts, experience?“ In keeping with the thems of teh conference we are hoping students will first, com to a different way of knowing the souq (the market which will be the location for our study today). Asking them to concentrate on a sense: sound, smell, texture, sensation. To draw, notate, photograph, record WITH their senses if they can. And then to compile these (which we'll do tomorrow) ideally with a view to building knowledge as a shared activity. (Something I saw ALOT about documentary work).

More later. It's lunch time.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Brief Report

First day in Doha. Arrived last night and could not sleep after Skyping with Don and Henry. Took my fiddle and sat outside the hotel and played tunes for an hour. On a white plastic chair not more than fifteen yards from the sidewalk and the street. Little foot traffic but a few men in dishdashas (the long garment worn by Arab men) of varying colors and styles. Most white, the local color. Of cars. Or dust and sand. More dust on the streets, on the leaves of the date palms, the limestone and stucco buildings. Some stopped to listen. One man held up his phone and recorded the odd circumstance of a woman in pants playing a fiddle outside a hotel after midnight on a Thursday night.

Asleep by 2 am, but awake again at ten minutes before 5 am to the chanting of the first call to prayer of the day. Later, after breakfast, Stephen Vitello and I went out to walk and explore. I recorded/documented images, he recorded/documented sound. Men in robes and head scarves, some wearing sarongs, many in western clothing. Stray cats. A lot of them. No women out, especially in this area of the city of predominantly guest worker housing. I can see from my hotel window into the courtyard and perimeter structure where the men live communally. Men in sarongs and towels washing up, preparing for the day.

After winding through the narrow streets in the nrighborhood across from the hotel we found our way to the souq and sat at a cafe drinking something with green tea and ice, listening to the calls echoing off buildings, a muezzin chorus from loudspeakers mounted on minaretes. Across the way someone is sorting silverware, preparing for the swelling crowds later, after sun down. The souq is closed today, Friday their holy day, but will reopen at 4. Just a few tourists, wait staff at the restaurants, a couple locals in their shops. The image above is at a mosque on the way back to the hotel. Men gathered outside the mosque. Some rushing in even after the prayer had started, dropping shoes, washing feet, and standing beside the others, or tossing down a prayer rug.

Back at the hotel. A another change of shirt. Images are just now being uploaded to Flickr.

We gathered together again and drove out to VCUQ to meet the speakers with whom we will be conducting a charette workshop. I met Barbara Sudek and Frank Armstrong, and Don Crow. We began to strategize about the charette and took the meeting out to dinner.