Temporary Expert – Reflection

Here is my final reflection on my Temporary Expert project!

What It Is

My final project took the form of a Conversation Map about climate change, meant for myself and a Brooklyn resident I meet at the Brooklyn Central Library. The map is inspired by the recent 12 year deadline that the United Nations’ panel of scientists recently reported back to governments and citizens around the world.

Together, my partner and I talk about climate change by asking ourselves if the work to limit climate change within 12 years might actually might be exciting, moving, a relief, ordinary, or astounding?

To me, this is how I feel about the 12 year deadline, after reading the UN report which says that global goals such as poverty, hunger, and education are shown by research to limit global warming. This message sounds like a deal of some kind… 2 for 1! (… if I can reduce the message that much!).

The conversation with my partner is prompted by a map and physical objects that I’ve designed to use no digital technology and only biofriendly materials when possible, such as mycelium and bioplastic. At the end, I invite my partner to write down an action towards limiting global warming.

You can find my final presentation deck here. This describes my process in a more linear way, and is perhaps the clearest description of my journey.

 

You can see my conversation map design files here. This along with three cups made of glass (next time out of mycelium), a block and bowl made of mycelium, and titles (next time made of mycelium of bioplastic) make up my project. I also experimented with natural ink from plants as a way to stencil text onto my mycelium.

Jonathan, who I met at the Brooklyn Central Library.
The beginning portion of my conversation map.

 

 

 

My documentation of my process is over here. There you can find my research on climate change, interviews with experts, materials research into biofriendly materials, and user testing during my 7 day practice.

 

 

My Reflection

I began this 10 week project by asking: How I might address climate change using the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, to help people tackle huge problems in the next 12 years?

  • At the same time, can I make stopping climate change seem approachable to people?
  • Can I give people more ways to be motivated to stop climate change?
  • And can I do it with relevant materials?

I stayed close to this question during my research. I found it to be straight-forward and action-oriented from the beginning, which ensured my final project would definitely engage the public with my question.  For the most part, my question still allowed me to research bigger concepts. I will admit, though, that I was a little jealous of some of the more philosophical or conceptual research that others did as part of their projects. With more research under my belt, I can draw a much wider systems map that might take my project in additional interesting directions.

As for lessons learned, becoming a temporary expert on a topic within a whirlwind timeline will go on to influence my future projects. I will be bringing a much larger lens to any of my projects, whether short and fleeting, or long and permanent. Setting aside time to do systems thinking grounds creative intuition and inspiration in real context. This context provides a necessary structure upon which to hang the semiotics, epistemologies, and visual communication tools you choose to create your projects with. Do your chosen materials and metaphors actually support your concepts? If not, think again!

Because of this class, I now attribute the suspicion, disregard, or just plain disinterest by people who interact with a creator’s work to the disconnects between the maker’s ideas and their chosen form factors, materials, installation space, etc.. Systems thinking sets the ground work for creators to make rigorous and informed decisions about the physical forms they choose for their ideas. Ultimately, people need to perceive the links between your ideas and your project’s physical form. This connection is what allows people to trust and engage with your work’s form factors, and ultimately your ideas.

I accomplished some of these rosy goals, but not all, which is reasonable considering a 10 week timeline and the endless form factor possibilities we are capable of using at ITP.  Choosing the right materials and visual communication tools is biggest challenge of the class. Most other ITP classes give you room to pick the idea but the medium is already mostly decided. In this class, we pick the idea and the medium. Time consuming!

In my case, before I knew it my project called for no digital technology! On one hand, this ensured my ideas of climate change were not compromised by using materials that were an antithesis to my project, such as hardware, plastic, automation, and instant gratification. On the other hand, it was a very slow process to grow or cook my own materials, such as mycelium or bioplastic.  In the end I found myself wishing I had researched pop-up books, origami, and other paper-based interactions. These might help create interactive objects more quickly that later can turn into mycelium or bioplastic.

In terms of feedback from my conversation partners at the library, they responded positively and at times came up with really interesting climate change actions. They already had a lot of information about climate change, but in only one case (a vegan chef), seemed to be doing anything consistent about it. Mostly they were apathetic in the beginning of the conversation, but by the end, they were more engaged and interested in where the project would go. Other times, I could tell they thought the physical interactions were too simple. And I agree with them! It would be nice to make the interactions a little more surprising or clever. This would match my overall question, which is whether limiting global warming might actually make us feel better in unexpected, surprising, or delightful ways.

From our in-class critics, I received positive encouragement that I was going in the right direction. I agree with Nancy N that I can likely cut the overly specific U.N. goals and instead focus on the emotional switch of asking if stopping climate change can be personally interesting or make us feel better. I suppose said another way, I really actually do find a lot of the work that stops climate change to be interesting, and I wonder if that is a way to frame the conversation that way.

As I mention in my presentation deck, I had to take long breaks from this project because it IS depressing to learn the endless ways that humans are greedy, short-sighted, dangerously ignorant, or otherwise too poor or lacking the resources to stop harming the climate (… like as of 250 years ago when the Industrial Revolution started).

However, just today I came across this quote below from Eleanor Roosevelt, while I research what I else I might do about climate change to inform this project I’ve started:

“Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down.”
Eleanor Roosevelt  from You Learn By Living
 It is this kind of sentiment that I find the only option when facing something like climate change, even if every now and then dip in and out of despair. For me, I really respond to attempting to not live in fear and denial, even if I only do half the things I set out to do.
For example, at the moment I’m looking into joining the Citizens’ Climate Lobby or the Climate Justice Alliance organizations listed in this amazing article (in which Kali Akuno of Cooperation Jackson says “We need to critically analyze some of the shortfalls of the capitalist logic embedded in this plan [the New Green Deal].” – hear hear). Maybe between work like this and continuing with this project, I can learn more myself and continue to work with others.

I also mention in my final deck some of the next steps I have in mind. Certainly, my conversation map needs to be a little smaller to fit on a normal table. I’d want to research paper interactives, by which I mean pop-up books, origami, etc. This can also extend to any analog interactive… puzzles, Rube Goldberg Machines, scales, etc.  I also need to do more research into the psychology of climate change, so that I can better place my admittedly incredibly optimistic approach on a spectrum of known strategies and possibly pull from others.

In the end, I would like to continue with this, especially if I have a collaborator of some sort. This could be an equal peer, or specialists who can contribute a little work in one area or another. Of all the changes I can make, I’m most motivated by changing the last part of my conversation map, where people choose an action around climate change. This moment might be more genuine if people choose from each other’s actions, which are built up over time and begin with mine.

Open to any other feedback!

Thanks for a great class, Marina!