Oct 28

Rouzbeh Akhbari & Behrad on: woodworking, sustainability & social allegories

Over the summer 2014, the Office of Diversity, Equity & Sustainability Initiatives worked with OCAD U Students Rouzbeh Akhbari and Behrad, to create wood sculptures to share with incoming students and faculty during Fall Orientation. They were tasked with a challenging project: to come up with an object that conveyed the concepts of sustainability, diversity & equity through its structure or function, could be scaled to 1000 hand-crafted pieces, and was different from the usual orientation week ‘promo’ item. We reached out to Rouzbeh and Behrad to tell us more about the project.

[Image Description: photo of wooden sculptures that also function as tea-light holders] [Image Description: photo of wooden sculptures that also function as tea-light holders]

“New ways of retelling an already established narrative, of course, is precisely the intersection of political resistance and social allegories that we explore in these objects.”

SITE-SPECIFIC: How did you come up with the concept for the wooden cubes and how does that narrative connect to concepts of equity, diversity and sustainability?

ROUZBEH AKHBARI: The idea of re-purposing scrap wood came from a constant exposure to a culture of recycling and reusing that is prominently exercised in our studio in OCAD U. Lisa Hampton, the class assistant in the wood shop, has formed a fascinating practice that revolves closely around the obsessive acquisition of wooden off cuts and creating meticulously designed furniture and objects of art that contain a collective narrative. Her continuous encouragement for all the students, including both of us, to think more critically about issues around sustainability and waste management resulted in a form of awareness that positively informed our individual practices. When we were tasked to create a series of objects that could potentially be fabricated in large quantities, tie the notions of diversity and sustainability together and hold some sort of functional value we immediately thought of the common point in our practices, which is essentially the notion of handling disregarded or rejected materials in ways that facilitate the production of objects that tell new narratives by re-contextualizing old ones.

“To bring all these pieces together again in new compositional forms allows for a fresh way of looking at the “unwanted” and the “unseen” as they rearrange and historicize their original referent (that being the original project/piece they came from) within a totally separate context.”

New ways of retelling an already established narrative, of course, is precisely the intersection of political resistance and social allegories that we explore in these objects. Metaphorically speaking, when one looks at a pile of various species of wooden off cuts, it is quite easy to respond to it as simply put “just a pile of scraps,” which instantly subjects all these materials to a certain set of value systems and assumptions about their significance in the bigger economic scheme. They are almost always overlooked and thought of as an alternative option with complete disregard for the conceptual significance they carry, especially as rejected parts of other individual’s art pieces. To bring all these pieces together again in new compositional forms allows for a fresh way of looking at the “unwanted” and the “unseen” as they rearrange and historicize their original referent (that being the original project/piece they came from) within a totally separate context. That conceptual approach of analyzing and interpreting materials in connection to the way knowledge, narratives and histories are constructed is mainly what we intend the audience to receive from looking at these objects.

three students in the OCAD U Wood Shop creating wooden sculptural pieces [Image Description: Photograph of three students in the OCAD U Wood Shop creating wooden sculptural pieces. Right to left: Behrad, Rouzbeh Akhbari, and a friend assisting with inlay work]

S: How did you create 1000 individual hand-crafted pieces within less than two weeks?

A: To be frank, that required a tremendous amount of time dedicated to planning and figuring out the logistics before we began with even touching any physical material. After all the details were laid out in front of us we spent couple of hours constructing a few jigs, which functioned mostly as moulds for gluing up smaller pieces to fabricate bigger chunks that were more easily workable on heavy machinery. After the lamination process was actualized, all the pieces were mitered and prepared for a series of glue ups that took about 5 days to finish. To put it briefly, the whole process was a time-consuming repetition of cuttings and gluing back that allowed us to move from small off cuts to larger lumber and back to small cubes that were very close to the final results that we envisioned. After the structural construction of the cubes, we spent a few days working on the decorative inlays and sanding that lead us to the last step, which was finishing.

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May 01

Yijin Jiang, Julie Buelow, Arief Yulianto, and Taghreed Al-Zubaidi on: Reimagining Accessibility

“We must understand and practice an accessibility that moves us closer to justice, not just inclusion or diversity … We need to think of access with an understanding of disability justice, moving away from an equality-based model of sameness and “we are just like you” to a model of disability that embraces difference, confronts privilege and challenges what is considered “normal “on every front. We don’t want to simply join the ranks of the privileged; we want to dismantle those ranks and the systems that maintain them.”
– Mia Mingus, Changing the Framework: Disability Justice

Re-Imagining Logo Finalists with the Countess of Wessex, Lieutenant Governer of Ontario and Sara Diamond[Image Description: Reimagining Accessibility Design Challenge finalists with the Countess of Wessex, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario David C. Onley, and Dr Sara Diamond]

Yijin Jiang, Julie Buelow, Arief Yulianto, and Taghreed Al-Zubaidi, all students in the Inclusive Design Graduate Program at OCAD University, were finalists in the 2013 Reimagining Accessibility Design Challenge hosted by OCAD U. The design challenge’s intent was to create an inclusive logo to replace the traditional International symbol of access – a solid blue square overlapped with an image of a white stick figure – a wheelchair user.

International Symbol of Access[Image description: traditional International symbol of access – a solid blue square overlapped with an image of a white stick figure – a wheelchair user.]

Jutta Treviranus, director of OCAD U’s Masters of Design in Inclusive Design program, introduced the 2013 Design Challenge: “Symbols we use are not passive statements… (rather) powerful means of framing our attitudes and promoting specific points of view. Accessibility has a human face… it is active, social and requires our evolving creativity… something benefiting us all individually and as a society.”

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Jan 29

Syrus Marcus Ware on: intersectionality, story-telling, and disability arts movements

Syrus Marcus Ware is a visual artist, community activist, researcher, youth-advocate and educator. He is the Program Coordinator of the AGO Youth Program, Art Gallery of Ontario.  Read more about Syrus below.

Syrus

Image of Syrus Marcus Ware

SITE-SPECIFIC: What’s missing from mainstream discourses of disability? How does this play out within art and design spaces?

SYRUS MARCUS WARE: In my experience, there is a lack of intersectional analysis in mainstream disability discourse. For those of us who are part of multiple communities, who identify with multiple identities, it can be very limiting to articulate our experiences one-dimensionally. We need a disability discourse that talks about gender, that talks about the ways that we experience racialization, that talks about sexuality. We need this because this intersectional approach will make for stronger analysis, stronger research, stronger frameworks for understanding marginality. We also need this approach because it pushes the theory to be what we need it to be: something larger than one-sided analysis, something that helps us change the world that we live in, into something that is built by and for all of us. If we talk about revolution, social change, reimagining the world to look and feel different than it currently does- we need to all be part of that conversation to help imagine something new together. Theory can help push us to this place, but it is essential that it considers the ways in which structural and systemic oppressions are linked and connected.

Within art and design spaces, we can’t limit the discussion of disability to be a question of access. It is about so much more than access! We need to talk about the ways that art and design can help us imagine new possibilities for society, yes for physical spaces and objects- making them useable by all-but more largely to help us imagine completely new ways of interacting with each other and our environments. Art and design needs to be something that talks about difference, that helps us ‘relate across difference’ as Audre Lorde suggests.

S: In the past, you have talked about the importance of creating space for the back stories of artists’ lives in order to understand their work. Can you share your thoughts on the role of social/biographical context in the process of interpretation? What are some critical issues that we should be mindful of in thinking through the politics and ethics of personal narrative and disclosure in art making?

W: When hosting a community advisory meeting with disability communities engaged with the AGO, one of the participants stated that one of the problems with art galleries and museums around disability is that we don’t tell the stories of disability at the core of a lot of artists lives. We may have a large collection of work by artists who are psychiatric survivors, for e.g. but this is not part of the interpretation when showing their work. He urged all museums to consider how to tell stories of disability in our day to day work, when celebrating the lives of artists in our collections. I thought that this was a great observation and challenge to those of us working within these settings.

However, I also have been thinking about the ways that artists with disabilities are often expected to disclose about their experiences of disability as part of their art making process. The act of disclosing is not what is at issue for me- to be clear- but rather the idea that we ‘need to know’ that the artist is disabled as part of ‘understanding’ or ‘appreciating’ their work.

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Jan 20

Introducing January: Re-Imagining Disability

January 2014 – Site-Specific explores  Re-imagining Disability. What is our current definition and understanding of disability, and how does this limit us? Who do we leave out, and how can we move beyond limited understandings?

Guest Bloggers for January will be Renzi Guarin, OCAD U’s AV support Specialist on accessibility and digital communication, Syrus Marcus Ware, Program Coordinator for Youth Program at the Art Gallery of Ontario on intersectionality in disability studies, and OCAD U students and faculty showcasing how they re-imagine disability in their teaching and creative practice.