What is community? From participating and learning about the unique ecology of Project Artaud, to being displaced throughout my childhood, to being witness to the struggles of immigration facing my friends and family, I see the formation of community happen by circumstance, will, common interest, and locality. Friendships take on the role of "family," a diverse range of relationships form, and systems are developed contingently to allow people to come together yet retain a space of individuality.
In the current moment of disintegrating social and material infrastructures, the rapid transformation of San Francisco's urban spaces, and the feelings of incoherence and social isolation that follow, community is a pressing social question. Yet the positive connotations attached to the word community are not always justified. To rephrase Nietzsche, community is a fat word standing in front of a skinny question mark. Thus I've tried to develop to a visual language to imagine its complex entanglements, its forms of belonging and exclusion, differently. This is my visual language for exploring the (dis)arrangement of community.
My curiosity about community set the scene for this event-specific project during Fall 2012 Open Studios. I used the tumbleweed as a platform to explore questions about social structures, relationships, and interactions within our natural, social, and built environments. In this project, the tumbleweed operates as a metaphor that helps us re-imagine community beyond its romantic connotations. The tumbleweed describes varying forms of proximity and distance, and an open-ended community-in-formation, rather than a taken-for-granted entity. It replaces roots with diaspora, the singular with the multitude. It describes our environment for social interaction in a way that recognizes struggle, alienation, and loneliness, of gaps as much as connections, through which community forms. In contrast to the tree, with its rooting and hierarchical organization, the tumbleweed points towards the weedy (dis)order of community. It draws on the representation of locations that are dry, desolate and often humorless, with few or no occupants. The imperfect tumbleweed becomes transformative and open. The physical space, ever moving, ever changing, fragile yet resilient is about adapting and interacting, converging and diverging. It's form is messy and weedy yet becomes desirable and transformed in this case, through a common interest, art.
I photographed the tumbleweed with a 4x5 large format camera. I digitally photographed approximately 150 people during Fall 2012 Open Studios and then methodically composed each person into one of four images. The prints are 44"x55". Without community, this project would not exist. And as the tumbleweed is a diaspore, aiding in the dispersal of seeds and spores, I've also printed "Diaspores," sections of the tumbleweed images at 17x22".
*Thank you to John Marlovits for helping me translate my vision into words.