Museum of Contemporary Craft

A Growing Return

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Jody Dunphy '12 reflects on Design for the Other 90%: CITIES at Museum of Contemporary Craft.

In my conversations with Jody Dunphy, MFA ACD ’12, the phrase “making special” often comes up. When she uses it, she’s referencing Ellen Dissanayake’s book Homo Aestheticus: “Overwhelmingly what was chosen to be made spacial was what was considered important: objects and activities that were parts of ceremonies having to do with important transitions, such as birth, puberty, marriage, and death;” finding and growing food; public meeting places, schools.

I see Dunphy weekly at Museum of Contemporary Craft, where she works as a Gallery Attendant. I’ve often envied her the time she gets to spend with each exhibition, learning to listen to the work, and hearing the conversations and connections between the various vitrines, podiums, and walls. The only people who have spent more time with the exhibitions at MoCC are their curators. Maybe. So it seemed appropriate, second nature even, to have Dunphy share some of what she’s absorbed during her time with the CITIES exhibit.

Design with the Other 90%: CITIES runs at Museum of Contemporary Craft until July 28, 2012. The Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11am – 6pm. You can view Dunphy’s work on her portfolio and on her blog.

- Killeen Hanson, MFA ACD ’12

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An installation photo of Dunphy’s MFA Thesis work. Photo courtesy of artist.


A Growing Return

As a maker of objects, I have taken it upon myself to bring things into the world that have the potential to give back to humanity and to the environment in real, tangible ways. I achieve this goal by using seeds as material and metaphor. I sow ideas and initiate seed dispersal in public spaces during Dispersal Happenings are informal events during which seeded adornment objects – onion brooches, a sunflower seed necklace, and chamomile boutonnieres are examples – are given to willing participants. In return, I ask participants to go forth and plant the seeds contained within the objects in their neighborhood landscapes. From each object comes increased beauty and productivity.

Seeds embody and represent immense latent potential. They multiply virtually endlessly and contribute, literally, more than they take. Consider an experiment by 17th century Flemish scientist Jan Baptist van Helmont: van Helmont planted a willow sapling in a container that held 200 pounds of soil. For five years, he gave it nothing but water. At the end of the five years, the tree weighed in at 169 pounds and the soil in at 199 pounds 14 ounces. From just two ounces of soil had grown 169 pounds of tree! As this experiment illustrates, certain generative objects have the ability to provide exponentially. This is the case with many of the projects featured in Design With the Other 90%: CITIES, now on view at Museum of Contemporary Craft and Mercy Corps.

As an Exhibition Attendant at the Museum, I spend approximately 200 hours with each exhibit over a typical three month exhibition period. This time affords me the opportunity to get to know the work quite intimately. After sitting with the Design With the Other 90%: CITIES exhibit for several weeks, I find that it is the Platform of Hope (Ashar Macha) project that draws me again and again. What makes this project especially appealing to me is its simplicity, and its quiet, elegant answer to the fundamental need for a public gathering place. Ashar Macha is a comparatively small project. It is a simple 18’ x 36’ covered platform made of locally grown bamboo and constructed by community craftspeople. The platform is situated on Gulshan Lake in Korail (pop. 120,000), an informal settlement within Dhaka, Bangledesh. It is aesthetically appropriate to the Bangladeshi culture and landscape, and can be used in a variety of ways. The project is the fruit of a three-year collaboration between architect Khondaker Hasibul Kabir and the Pervez family, on whose land the platform is built.

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Top: A local carpenter and bamboo worker help construct the platform, Korail informal settlement, Dhaka, Bangladesh; Bottom: Platform of Hope, built over Gulshan Lake, with Dhaka in the background. Photo courtesy of the Cooper-Hewitt.

Everyday, people relocate from rural areas to urban areas like Korail because the city provides more employment opportunities. The population of Korail is thus extremely dense, living conditions are severely constricted, and public space is a luxury. With no place for the community to congregate, there are few opportunities for shared dialogue, social mingling, or for public learning. Sociologist Ray Oldenburg calls public spaces such as Ashar Macha “third places.” The first place, according to Oldenburg, is home, and the second place is work. But he suggests that third places, places devoted to or available for public gatherings, are the center of a community’s social vitality and are the foundations of a functioning democracy. Platform of Hope responds to the lack of gathering places in Korail by transforming the shore and space over the adjacent lake into a third place.

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Children gardening on the new bamboo platform. Photo courtesy of the Cooper-Hewitt.

The platform also adjoins a newly constructed community garden. A beautiful, productive, and lush gathering place now stands where there used to be mud, litter, and garbage. Many activities take place on the platform. Children play and learn. Adults relax, gather and share knowledge. Since its construction in 2009, the Pervez family has added a library. Ashar Macha has propagated new ideas: “With knowledge shared on the platform, nearby dwellings are slowly transforming with better lighting and ventilation,” says a local resident. Residents also say that the platform has encouraged a “habit of living in beauty,” and has sprouted hope within the community for living in a cleaner, greener, more beautiful space. Despite the ever-present threat of eviction in Korail, Ashar Macha represents a new promise by residents to improve their environment from the ground up. Like a seed – small, but laden with immense potential – Ashar Macha exhibits a blossoming of hope. Despite its simplicity, or perhaps because of it, the platform is proving to be an object of great potential.

Ashar Macha is not a social band-aid, but an intervention to a broken system. It empowers people with the space and the knowledge to transform their everyday lives. In the big picture, this may be a minor change, but do not be fooled by its small physical scale. In my own work, I utilize public spaces because they are fertile places in which to sow ideas. The Korail platform, like a seed, is a generative object, and its contribution to the community is expansive. Ashar Macha teaches an important lesson: small and simple can be immensely potent and transformative.

You can watch a short video about the Platform of Hope below, or on the the Cooper-Hewitt’s exhibition page. Design with the Other 90%: CITIES is on display at Museum of Contemporary Craft and at the Mercy Corps Action Center from August 17, 2012 – January 05, 2013.

by Jody Dunphy, MFA ACD '12

— Posted on 10/01 at 01:03 PM

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