I'm packing for an impromptu spring break trip to Chicago, to check out Theaster Gates' Dorchester Project and other community-building and earth-reconciling art, architecture, and urban projects that are growing there. It's a happy thing. I'm looking forward to kicking it in Chi-town with this crew--folks who are at once musicians, artists, architects, planners, gardeners, entrepreneurs, neighbors, strangers, classmates, friends. And looking forward to the ways in which I expect the next few days will inspire and challenge me to develop my work and life, in relation to the built environment, to social life, and in a way, to myself.
At the same time, some part of me is paralyzed by grief over what's happening in Japan. Last year, when the BP oil spill happened--and kept happening, like a slow-motion nightmare--like many people I experienced cognitive dissonance. The images were heartbreaking, and it was clear that an unfathomable level of destruction was playing out. Some of the damage was probably irreparable; parts of ecosystems were dying, a social and economic structure was dying along with it, and we knew that some of these things would not ever come back.
And yet, my own life was better than ever: I was at Harvard, surrounded by new friends, learning, exploring--and looking forward to a summer of work and travel that would be fun, rewarding, and at least semi-impressive on my resume. I was in a good place, doing work that was good and, in my own small ways, finding ways to do good. Like many people, I experienced the oil spill through images, text, and video, and it never became a material reality for me. Like many people, I read the news, talked it over with my friends, experienced a socially appropriate amount of grief and outrage and doubt, and moved on. I wondered, at the time, if some part of us dies every time we move on like this, or if this is what we need to do in order to keep on living.
And now, the earthquake, tsunami, and--at the moment--potential nuclear meltdown in Japan. The toll on human life is higher, and more direct than the BP spill, making it even more difficult to wish away as an abstraction or technical problem. That this country that lifted itself up, painfully yet doggedly, from the ruins of the last world war should have to face destruction at this scale--with another of the world's biggest nuclear disasters, to boot--is something that I don't know how to describe. To say that it's unfair misses the point.
When I was there this past summer, I marveled at the efficiency of their trains; the mind-boggling, yet calibrated density of their cities; the beauty and strangeness of their material life and rituals. I was also welcomed by family members I had never met (or had only met as a young child), and I recognized some part of myself and my upbringing in this country that was at the same time profoundly foreign.
Since then, and especially over this current semester, Japan has been on my mind. I studied the Shimokitazawa neighborhood of Tokyo with my studio team, watched Japanese films at school and with friends, and was enchanted by the first installment of this semester's Japan-centric lecture series (the series is called 'A New Innocence'; the first lecture was delivered by Sou Fujimoto). Our studio team has, deliberately and enthusiastically, been modeling many of our proposals on Japanese urbanism and architecture. For us, Japan has figured as the culture that, despite its problems and injustices, produces sublimity, beauty, and novelty amidst a seemingly simple-minded or stoic loyalty to its own ways. It has been an object of fascination and admiration, and we have sought to learn from it as much as possible.
Because of all of this in some way, I suppose, I cannot bring myself to think that it would be OK to avoid learning something from this recent disaster. Not learning in the quick sense, but in the sense of an indelible, formative realization or understanding.
But it will be a long time, I think, before I know what that means.
I'm not usually one for prayer, but tonight it is impossible for me to not think of these lives on the other side of the world--and of the fate of the Fukushima nuclear power station, which holds so many other things in the balance.
Thanks for praying, for being there, or for whatever you are doing tonight.
Lectures and exhibitions, news and events, now primarily from the Bay Area! Please note that all live blogs are abridged and approximate. If you want to see exactly what happened, in many cases a video of the event is posted online by the event's hosts.