Project: Nomadic Dwelling

A participatory collaboration exhibited at three sites across four weeks at Miami University

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LIke many good projects, this started with one idea and then morphed into another. At the beginning of the Fall term of 2012, the Miami University Art Museum had just launched Grass Routes: Pathways to Eurasian Culture. For the exhibition, they had ordered a Yurt (Ger) for the main gallery, but when it arrived it was discovered that it had dry-rot. As a solution. I offered to guide my beginning sculpture students in the fabrication of a yurt, as i had made one in 2007 when i was teaching at Ox-Bow. We had agreed to replace the rotten structure with the one my students would make and display it in the museum.

The project was to be used to guide their inquiry-based research of the issue of nomadic dwelling (my assignment), so we started with a charrette. Students began researching the reasons people would move their homes. These included homelessness, hunting/gathering, camping/recreation, climate migration, natural disasters, agriculture/grazing, and freedom/mobility. They fashioned the yurt support structure by lashing together and mortise-tenon joining willow saplings, and for the skin they taught themselves to sew together wool blankets ordered from a prison supply company. A door and threshold were made so that viewers could easily enter and exit. 

Students building yurt in the Miami Sculpture studio

A week into the project, the Museum administration reconsidered the relationship in an effort to maintain the curatorial integrity of the Eurasian exhibit. The new offer was to put the yurt outside and totally enclose it, which was not of interest to the students who were hoping for a participatory project. instead of abandoning the project, they shifted it. The reason behind the shift was what some would call a problem, but we saw it as a point of enlightenment.

Because of the change, I guided the group through a second charrette where students creatively brainstormed, researched, and sought out their own resources. Their solution: A) Make the yurt truly nomadic and install it at multiple sites on campus making the installation/deinstallation part of the event, B) turn the research on nomadic shelter into a video, C) screen the video in the yurt, thus inviting the university community to experience what was learned, and D) create welcome signs in multiple languages to encourage participation and to communicate the global nature of nomadism. 

 Transport of the now nomadic yurt

Transport of the now nomadic yurt

lashing the frame

Skinning the structure

Each student wrote a 5-minute long script that creatively told the tale of their particular research topic on the issue of nomadic dwelling. Topics included: FEMA shelters, Southwestern US colonias, N-55's Snail shell system, Aisslinger's Loftcube, Krysztof Wodiczko's vehicles, Simon Starling's Shed-boat-shed, McMansions, the small house movement, and the floating Neutrinos.  The Miami Sculpture woodshop was transformed into a video studio for  few days where they performed their script in front of the green screen and then supplied still images to be plugged in behind them in post-production.  All 5-minute segments were stitched together into one long video that looped when screened inside of the yurt.

 Students performing scripts in front of green screen

Students performing scripts in front of green screen

 in-studio post-production

in-studio post-production

 A glimpse at the video inside of the yurt

A glimpse at the video inside of the yurt