digitalSTS and Design

June 27-28, 2013: Arnold Arboretum, Harvard University. A workshop by:
Yanni Loukissas, Laura Forlano, David Ribes and Janet Vertesi

Science as Spectacle

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Description (Account by Sara Wylie) 

With the goal of extending public engagement with the arboretum in mind, balloon mapping seemed like a perfect project and I’d been looking for a chance to try out Public Lab’s new Infragram. With the help of cfastie, who sent a Rosco #2007 filter my way, I made a Super Blue camera following Jeff Warren’s super helpful video. I went with taping a Rosco Blue Filter over the lense so it is removeable. Making the camera took two tries (subject of a research note to come). Though we battled with storms both days of the workshop we managed to get the balloon aloft with a two Cranberry Juice bottle rig I put together. The weight of the camera’s and light rain made getting the balloon high difficult.

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Bioprosthesis

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Description

Bioprosthesis is an interactive installation for the sonification of vital processes in trees.  Sonification is the representation of data through sound.  Bioprosthesis is a conspicuous technology that invites visitors and care-givers to listen, in a physical engagement, to a selection of vital data about the organism and the organism’s relations within the environment.  In the early stages of the project, these data include information about pH, hydration, light capture, and respiration.  These data include both audible processes to be amplified, and abstract information to be converted into sound.  As a theoretical engagement with the science of sonification, these data challenge what it means to make data sonically meaningful.

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Understories

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Description

Dictionary.com defines weeds as: “any undesirable or troublesome plant, especially one that grows profusely where it is not wanted.” Or, as Peter Del Tredici pointedly said to our group “ Weeds are a value judgment.”  They are vegetation out of place.

Largely, we are interested in weeds. Or more specifically, matter that’s present, but somehow doesn’t count. Matter that’s present in a space, but not part of the space—at least not officially. We use weeds as an analogy—both literal and figurative— to explore the layers of experience with regards to the Arnold Arboretum, integrating the official institutional narrative of the space with the multiple unofficial narratives that equally make up the meaning of the space on an experiential level. We do so materially by constructing multidimensional digital maps, layering stories of staff, daytime visitors, night time visitors, and those who do not visit. We suggest installing the maps in T stations, where multiple publics can engage with and contribute to them.

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The Decompository

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Description

The Arboretum Decompository is a repository and curatorial space for the collection, exploration and exhibition of Arboretum decomposition in its varied forms. Decomposition plays a critical role in ecology by converting once living tissue into nutrient-rich substrate upon which new life can sustain itself. Its smells, locations, processes, and temperatures are sources of information and media for creative knowledge production about urban, natural, and digital ecosystems. This project expands the curatorial practices that are already such a critical feature of the Arnold Arboretum to include all processes of decomposition so that the entire ecology of the park, and its facets – some beautiful, some dirty, many smelly - may be better understood. It provides a way to make them visible and utilizable by visitors and researchers.

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Science in the Pleasureground

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Description

“Science in the Pleasureground” is the historical subtitle for the Harvard arboretum and upon learning this, it was immediately adopted as the title of our working group. The phrase fit our interests, which can be summarized as an attempt to discover, understand, and communicate what—in addition to the familiar practices of science—one can do in the arboretum. Or put another way, we wanted to know, “What are the various pleasures of the Arboretum?” We heard much about the wonderful public programs of the Arboretum and ways in which the Arboretum functioned as a both a laboratory and a museum. To this we wanted to add the stories of other users, and uses, of the Arboretum — the children who use the Arboretum as a place of fantasy, those who jog the trails, those that surreptitiously picnic, the residents of the neighboring communities, the employees of the hospital that park along the edges. In discovering these stories, we wanted to share them with others, to incorporate them as part of the identity and legacy of the Arboretum.

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The Ailanthus Project

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Description

Our group focused on the distinctive knowledge-production possibilities offered by Bussey Brook Meadow, a site in the Arboretum where the neglect of urban open lands is studied. In the urban sphere, perhaps the example par excellence of the weedy pioneer species is Ailanthus altissima, the Tree of Heaven. To this day, the Tree of Heaven is found throughout the city, along lengths of chain-link fencing where mowers do not reach, or in the narrow, unpassable breezeways between triple-decker apartment buildings. Its pinnately-compound, sumac-like leaves and bracts of green flowers may be seen swaying along railroad rights of way, swept back and forth in the commuter trains’ turbulent wake. Colonizing sites prone to frequent redevelopment, dumping, or other disturbance, wild Ailanthus in urban settings tend to grow in small colonies of suckering clones, rarely reaching more than fifteen feet in height. In Bussey Brook Meadow, by contrast, where disuse is a means of cultivation and neglect is a carefully-managed gardening discipline, Ailanthus specimens reach great height, some likely overmatching a mature sixty feet. (Ailanthus is a “gap-obligate”—shade induces it to grow quickly towards openings in the canopy to attain maximum height.) Thus in Bussey Brook, Ailanthus makes for a curious exhibition of a species adapted to city life, flourishing and growing to heights rarely seen in “urban wilds” proper.

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