Well, I'm very happy to say that I presented my thesis just over a week ago, and it went well. I gave the following very short preamble:
There’s a termite in the southern hemisphere that lives in a colony, that builds a mound, that acts as an external lung. The mound—which, after all, is a pile of dirt—manages gas exchange for all the termites in the colony. A single termite cannot live without either its or colony or its mound; for this reason, physiological ecologists such as J. Scott Turner have argued that the termite is socially, physiologically, and cognitively extended in a way that makes it impossible to say where the organism ends and where its environment begins.
As humans, our tools are more complex, but they’re also so inherent to our everyday lives that we often take them for granted.
For example: A person moves differently if they are wearing shoes or barefoot. Of course, the shoes we make depend on the surfaces we create to walk on, so there’s an immediate and physical reciprocity between bodily acts, our built environment, and the other artifacts we create.
We can also see this reciprocity over a longer time span. The biological anthropologist Richard Wrangham has argued that our evolution into Homo sapiens depended on our mastery of fire. That is, it depended on the digestive changes cooking brought to our anatomy and our use of time—but also the changes it brought to our social organization and our use of space. We normally think of biology as the more stable substrate on which culture is layered, but the influence runs both ways.
In this thesis, I’ve been interested in how we, as humans, are extended within our built environment. How we rely on our surroundings continually to draw out certain body states and behaviors from ourselves, and how this requires that we draw out certain qualities and conditions from our environment in turn. And how, like the termite, it’s impossible to say where the organism ends and where our environment begins. The project isn’t an attempt to produce or represent scientific findings; instead, my thesis is in the form of a kind of illustrated essay that aims to draw out these ideas in the kind of rich context in which architecture operates. It lasts 12 minutes and after it plays I look forward to discussing it with you.
And then I played the video, which was installed like this on three screens:
Sometimes the screens showed three different images, sometimes it showed a continuous image across all three screens, and sometimes it showed a hybrid. A smaller and compressed version of this video is posted here. I hope you enjoy--just bear in mind that it's not quite the same seeing the video on a laptop as in the immersive context of a large, triple projection with sound that fills the room.
I had the following stills posted in the room, and the great pleasure of having Michelle Addington, Elena Manferdini, Zynep Celik Alexander, Kiel Moe, Sanford Kwinter, and Faye Hays on my jury, as well as my advisors, Danielle Etzler and K Michael Hays. A great group of critics can really get you to see how the end result of the project at hand is really the beginning of the next project--and this group certainly did that. So I'm really grateful to all of them.
Thanks for reading!
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.