exist

to say that you have some sort of disorder or that you’re confused? That’s not a Native perspective on gender expression… Hawaiians don’t come out: We simply exist.

– Kumu hula Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, “Above all else, I am kanaka.” Yes Magazine, no. 85 (Spring 2018), accessed March 17, 2018,  http://issues.yesmagazine.org/issue/decolonize/theme.html#13thArticle

People should not have to fit into some category of white, heteronormative, “scientific” invention. Difference intimates plurality, flows, multiple dimensions of time, and the re-imagining of space.

into my roots

It doesn’t matter how many pieces make up my whole; rather, it’s my relationship with those pieces that matters — and that I must maintain. Simply saying “I am this” isn’t enough. To truly honor my heritage, I found I must understand and participate in it.

– Kayla DeVault, “Native and European — How Do I Honor All the Pieces of Myself?” Yes Magazine, no. 85 (Spring 2018): accessed March 16th, 2018, http://issues.yesmagazine.org/issue/decolonize/theme.html#13thArticle.

I say I am Chinese-American, but I don’t even know what American means… except perhaps less Chinese. And less Chinese I certainly feel – illiterate and detached from my heritage.

There are everyday practices, small, aesthetic remarks, which are just poignant enough to stick in my brain. Using chopsticks, making dumplings, reusing plastic wrap, receiving red bags, and never leaving any food to waste lest the heavens strike me down. But having grown up in an urban center, drastically detached from the earth, I have not greeted nor tended the land – a land which I feel I have no right to be on.

While most of my elder relatives on my mother’s side reside in the northeastern parts of China, Héběi and Hénán, I recently found out that many of my ancestors were merchants of some kind from as far as what was Persia to the Uygur lands of the Xīn Jiāng province in northwest China. I hope one day I can travel back to revive parts of my heritage that may have been lost as my ancestors found their ways to city centers, and then, to the United States.

It is my duty to delve deep, into my roots, to “understand and participate,” as Kayla DeVault aptly noted, in the traditions and relationships which have sustained my growth and germination. I must be critical and radical in my work to learn to give back and respect the earth.

 

re-value

Hypercapitalism [‘a system that celebrates materialism, consumption, and status’] depends for its very survival on materialistic values… The more that people and societies prioritize materialistic values, the less they care about promoting well-being, fair treatment of others, and environmental sustainability.

– Larry Gonick and Tim Kasser, Hypercapitalism, 2018, 3

The statement above may sound matter of fact, but it’s worth reiterating and one with radical implications. If capitalism depends on materialistic values, and we begin changing or eliminating these values altogether, this leads to the dismantling of the oppressive, racial capitalist system that we often claim to be impossible to unravel.

Critical values, intentions, and priorities are what often tip the balance in favor of empowerment over disempowerment. As a designer, I always need to be re-valuing, re-prioritizing, and re-designing for each context and community.

uncovered flows

 

responding to:

Anita Berrizbeitia and Karen M’Closkey, “Criticality in Landscape Architecture: Origins in 19th Century American Practices,” 2015.

Diane Harris, “The Postmodernization of Landscape: A Critical Historiography,” in Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 58, no. 3 (1999): 434-443.

Rosalind Krauss, “Introduction” and “Sculpture in the Expanded Field” in The Originality of The Avant-garde and Other Modernist Myths by Rosalind Krauss (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1986): 1-6, 276-290.

Elizabeth Meyer, “The Expanded Field of Landscape Architecture,” in Ecological Design and Planning, eds. George F. Thompson and Frederick R. Steiner (New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1997): 45-79.


In “The Expanded Field of Landscape Architecture,” Elizabeth Meyer, a landscape architect, theorist, and historian, articulates a set of methods and strategies for the creation of landscape architectural theories, which she presently describes as lacking or misread due to its non-binary nature beyond the scope of historical modern art and architectural discourses.

Based in the context of the landscape architectural profession of 1997 in the United States, she claims that landscape architecture “is not a practice that can be adequately described as either this or that” and argues that

Landscape architecture must be allowed to speak a language that, first, avoids binaries and operates in the spaces between the boundaries of culture and nature, man and woman, architecture and landscape; and, second, allows us to questions the very premises upon which our knowledge of landscape architecture is based (51)

Meyer’s text assumes that the reader has an understanding of modern landscape architecture in the Western world, familiarity with Rosalind Krauss’s use of the Klein group diagram, and ideas of poststructuralism and postmodernism as a base to understanding the constraints of modern discourse, and new responses to or further development of postmodern theory. She sets a narrative and reflective tone to distribute her more direct, didactic ideas by posing rhetorical questions throughout, exposing the limits of binary thinking, and proposing new categories of thought through an unpacking of a Klein group diagram, which ironically appears to be a very geometric, confined, and one could say “modern,” diagram representing “the expanded field of landscape architecture” (52). Anita Berrizbeitia and Karen M’Closkey might say Meyer’s is both a projective and critical approach (“Criticality in Landscape Architecture,” 2015) to framing the field of landscape architecture in that it works within a set of established systems, “landscape-field” and “architecture-figure,” to develop new areas, “minimal garden,” and “figured ground,” for example (Meyer, 1997, 52).

Rosalind Krauss, in reference to critical writing, states that criticism is best understood “through the forms of its argument, through the way that its method, in the process of constituting the object of criticism, exposes to view those choices that precede and predetermine any act of judgement (Introduction to The Originality of the Avante-garde and Other Modernist Myths, 1986, 1). If we understand modern to be the historical, predominant theoretical framework which embodies strict, “logical” ideologies of binaries; postmodern to be “the broad range of theoretical developments that… stress the contextualization of texts; feminist and postcolonial theories that focus on recovering the voices of the oppressed,”; and understandings of landscape that have been repressed through modernist discourse; and poststructuralism as a philosophy which “works to unmask the pretended neutrality of physical space” then we can begin to comprehend and critique Meyer’s method of describing new categories of landscape architecture through the use of the Klein diagram and categorical descriptions (Diane Harris, “The Postmodernization of Landscape,” 1999, 434).

Looking specifically at the graphic representation of the Klein diagram and following categories of the “expanded field,” it appears that the professional field of landscape architecture takes on a constrained, ordered, territorial property, and while Meyer clearly mentions the possibility other categories and that she is focusing on breaking the binary relationship between architecture and landscape, I feel that through her re-categorization and re-presentation, she effectively ties landscape architecture down to another binary-like condition—one that is confined to the geometric territory of the Klein diagram. To be clear, I am not necessarily critiquing her ideas, as I tend to agree with the dismantling of binaries and restrictions imposed by modern discourse, but rather her method of representing the shift from binary to categorical and her use of the phrase “expanded field,” as I believe they limit the deconstruction of modern interpretations of landscape architecture theory.

I think it would be more useful to graphically describe the “nature of difference” in landscape architecture through a representation of flows or rhizomes that are not “expanded,” but uncovered gradually over time as people begin to better understand the natural, cultural landscape that is always changing and has always existed (Krauss, 5). Rather than thinking territorially through the “expansion” of a “field,” perhaps we should think adaptably and openly through the uncovering of flows—looking not to multiple distinct categories across a surface, but to the interconnected roots underneath, which ground our ways of thinking.

sagging pants and moose hats

Bans on sagged pants and other racializations of adornment are a way of forging distinctions that enable indirect attacks against people on the basis of race, class, age, gender or other identities… These matters range from anti-queerness, and racist and classist surveillance, to policing desire, and imposing normative gender and sexual identities and expressions upon people… An analysis of clothing politics shows that we can and must build coalitions of interconnected justice against entities that persist in criminalizing fashion choices, and indeed public displays and observances of religious and spiritual identity and expression.

– Eric Darnell Pritchard, “Sagging Pants: Criminalization and Racialized Adornment,” The Funambulist 3 (January-February 2016)

It’s hard to hear that even efforts to overthrow bans on sagging pants by the very communities that are being criminalized still view sagging in a negative way. Whether its neighborhood policing or state policing, it’s still policing, and it’s the policing – not the sag – that we need to rid ourselves of.

Recently, in my own personal experience, I fell victim to these policing forces. What was I thinking walking into a Harvard career fair with sweatpants, sneakers, a wrinkled plaid shirt, and a moose hat – antlers, nose, and all – to boot?

I was kindly asked in multiple, “polite” ways to remove my hat “as a courtesy to my colleagues” before entering the room full of employers. While this instance is very mild compared to the fines and imprisonment for sagging pants, it is a significant everyday barrier for individuals seeking employment. Those who attend or get hired from Harvard, or anywhere for that matter, obviously don’t wear moose hats – they are the paradigm of professionalism – and would never admit to attending an institution where students would dare share their love of cute, plushy animal hats. I can’t believe I failed to realize that a moose hat is clearly an accurate metric of my integrity, skill, intelligence, and human value, and a malicious device for embarrassing my peers. Lesson learned. Thanks Harvard.

“definitely not white”

Asian Americans have still not achieved full equality in American life… they occupy unique and constantly shifting positions between black and white, foreign and American, privilege and poverty.

– Erika Lee, The Making of Asian America, 2015, 8

Erika Lee cites historian Ellen Wu as she explains how Asians have been, and to this day are, treated as “definitely not white” (7). Even the so called “good Asians” or “model minority” are not exempt from this discrimination. Below are some ways Erika Lee has revealed as part of today’s masked racism (6):

colorblind racism: assumes that race no longer exists and in doing so ignores the pervasive racial discrimination that still infects us today
cultural racism: supplants race with culture and judges people based on oversimplified perceptions of beliefs or behaviors, which are claimed to determine the group’s overall superiority or inferiority.
micro-aggressions: everyday insulting actions towards people of color

I learned the other day, from Joy Buolamwini, a panelist on MIT’s live webcast of Cornel West’s lecture, “Speaking Truth to Power,” that racism even takes place in the coding of our software, specifically in the making of AI recognition technologies. Just how deep do these malicious energies flow? I am grateful knowing that we have people like Joy critiquing and revolutionizing new technologies. I hope, that through my work, I can de-create harmful values and find respectful ways to revolutionize design that are –  accessible, equitable, multiple, and – “definitely not white.”

critically critical

 

responding to:

Anita Berrizbeitia and Karen M’Closkey, “Criticality in Landscape Architecture: Origins in 19th Century American Practices,” 2015.


Writing within the context of the recent decade of “attacks” against critical practices in landscape architecture, Anita Berrizbeitia and Karen M’Closkey suggest, through a questioning of the “critical” and analyses of critical practices in the 19th century, that the profession’s proposed alternatives, projective or post-critical practices, may include aspects of criticality, and that all critical practices are in fact, to some degree, projective.

The authors’ main assumptions include those of the origins of “critical practice” and “landscape architecture.” Looking to the emergence of American landscape architecture in the mid-19th century and tradition of 1930s “critical theory” in the Frankfurt School of thinkers from primarily Germany and Austria, they necessarily trace the practices and understandings of the “critical” and “post-critical” from white male dominated Eurocentric ideologies (Berrizbeitia and M’Closkey, “Criticality in Landscape Architecture: Origins in 19th century American Practices,” 2015, 2). While these assumptions necessarily exclude non-western ideas of criticality and landscape architecture practices, they are made loud and clear in the title and thesis, and serve not to maliciously discriminate, but rather to focus the discussion as a means to express and delve deeper (or “critically”) into their personal western-based ideas of criticality—ideas, I think, that could be built upon and altered by future contribution of non-western thought.

M’Closkey and Berrizbeitia directly address the practice of landscape architecture in the United States, as well as the broader European discourse in their examples. They call for “questioning its methods, its boundaries, its field of influence” as a way to encourage more critical practices in the globalizing world. The way the authors present their ideas is extremely clear in content, yet deceiving in structure. It is a well-told persuasive narrative which leads readers to slowly uncover and realize at the very end what the authors’ main takeaways are: that the critical is actually projective and that we should continue to be critical in our drive towards criticality.

I believe all practices, including critical ones, are projective to certain degree, in the sense that they all start with pre-existing tools, whether or not they are found within the profession or in other disciplines, and are grounded in the memory and preconceptions of the designer. Criticality can be either a layering/constructive/complicit or delaminating/deconstructive/resistive process. A complicit criticality is more projective; it involves working with existing tools and techniques (e.g. CAD, ArcGIS, orthographic projections, mapping) in new ways, but one that accepts current value systems and works “within its frameworks” to reform existing practices (18). A deconstructive or resistive criticality is one that is premised on decolonial and anti-oppressive values, which questions the very tools and techniques themselves. It seeks not to reform, but to abolish or revolutionize existing practices, and involves the imagination and positioning of new frameworks.

While “the critical is activated in specific ways to provoke, define, and structure change found in the bounds imposed by the material and institutional,” I would like to participate in critical practice “by questioning its methods, its boundaries, its field of influence,” and propose that designers must deconstruct the “historically determined” context which Berrizbeitia and M’Closkey claim defines “criticality” (19). I believe that designers must seek to be “critically critical,” and engage criticality as a mission of decolonialization and anti-oppression, as does non-western critical social theory, which is a way to say, “that which was critically critical (that which sought to decolonize and defy oppression) in the past is still critical today and will always be.”