Tuesday, November 13, 2012

“Taking imagination seriously”

Janet Echelman “1.26″
The days are calm here in Indiana; bipolar weather shifts from warm and rainy to an alluringly sunny but cold week-span with a few snow flakes dazzled in-between—nothing to write home about. Else-where, not so much. I hope my friends on the east coast are faring well; for those in Sandy’s path, our thoughts are with you.

With more and more Frankenstorms achieving celebrity status, and more and more earthquakes on the horizon, the talk about climate change scares me; all of the recent political talks frustrate me. Just a few short days after a landslide election, I feel no significant enlightenment as to how we are to deal with these impending problems. But there is nothing more I can do aside from casting my vote for the most sensible politician in the race. At times I wished we had more options and we had better creative solutions to our pending problems. Times like these I find myself looking for imagination in whatever little hope that is left in the world.

My first refuge is China. It is a power-house both in terms of consumption and will-power. It can either take us to the brink of destruction or help reshape a global cooperation in adapting to climate changes. In the wake of its recent power transition, from afar, I have little to offer in terms of predictions. China’s governance still seems to keep to its usual things and the sense of change is still only on the margins. But on a more intrinsic level, where the people govern their daily lives, I have to hope more and more are finding their lives so entwined with politics that they must speak of this and make better of the situation. I have to believe in the Chinese people because they are my people; their capacity is my hope. Their progress is mine.

Ms. Xujun Eberlein recently wrote about a Chinese grassroots movement for change. On the Chongqing's Pedestrian Boulevard, where even water cannot seep through (水泄不通), Ms. Xujun finds vocal dissidents whose buoyant attitude claims if "[y]ou think asking for democracy is excessive . . . [then] your thoughts are so backward!" (Inside-Out China, Politics on Chongqing’s Streets).

According to Ms. Xujun,

“spontaneous gatherings . . . have appeared in several areas of Chongqing. On Yangjiaping's Pedestrian Boulevard . . . there are some regular speakers making intelligent remarks on current affairs and have attracted quite some audience. Again, most of the men are retired, and aging seems to instill a more urgent need in them to see a change in their country while there's still time.” 
Jiangbei Pedestrian Boulevard where mostly men gather to discuss affairs, October 13, 2012; photo from Inside-Out China, Xujun Eberlein

My second refuge is TED. I find that here, in the U.S., the same aging generation of baby boomers feel a more urgent need to see a change in the world while there’s still time. I often find solace in their wisdom; and mostly I find inspiration in their creative approach to things. As I drag myself through these years in law school, I often find my own creativity dulled and sheathed; I come to TED in search, at times, for the same capacity of my own hope.

Somewhere in between the civil discourse on Chongqing’s streets and Janet Echelman’s fishnets in city-scapes, there is the possibility that we can make it through a day like tomorrow.

Janet Echelman’s 230-foot-long aerial sculpture “1.26” suspends from the roof of the 7-story Denver Art Museum above downtown street traffic to commemorate the inaugural Biennial of the Americas. 

She drew inspiration from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s announcement that the February 2010 Chile earthquake shortened the length of the earth’s day by 1.26 microseconds by slightly redistributing the earth’s mass. Exploring further, Echelman drew on a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) simulation of the earthquake’s ensuing tsunami, using the 3-dimensional form of the tsunami’s amplitude rippling across the Pacific as the basis for her sculptural form. 

“1.26” pioneers a tensile support matrix of Spectra® fiber, a material 15 times stronger than steel by weight. Because this monumental sculpture is made entirely of soft materials, it is animated by the wind. Its fluidly moving form contrasts with the rigid surfaces of the surrounding urban architecture. At night, colored lighting transforms the work into a floating, luminous form while darkness conceals the support cables.

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