Into the Breach  About the Project

The premise of China Miéville's urban fantasy novel The City and the City is that different cities exist at the same time in the same physical space. Despite the colocation, people are conditioned to "unsee" and pretend the other city doesn't exist. Those who rebel against this mandate create a "breach" between worlds, a space where everything is visible at once. The book invites thinking about visibility and its potential as a rebellious activity.

My inspiration for this assignment is a 1975 United States Geological Survey report on mineral resources in the Bay Area; though I have lived here for decades, I was almost completely unaware of the extent of mining and extraction in my backyard. To counter this gap in knowledge, I created a map of hyperlocal craft which defines and breaches three Bay Areas based on three layers of craft visibility. The map exposes ways craft is valued: as an expendable resource, as basic infrastructure, and as evidence of creativity. The format attempts to replicate my own exposure to the sites, offering the map-viewer a chance to also feel amazed, surprised, upset, or confused.

Structurally, the map mimics craft's presence in public spaces; the icons represent an elevation view, from above ground to underground, and are colored according to their visibility. Each stop's annotation echoes my own experience exploring, whether on foot or online, and is communicated through a combination of text, spoken and written narration, found sounds, found images, and my own photos.

The most familiar layer, Craft On Display, shows the map-viewer places where craft is intentionally made visible. I visited a carefully curated, researched, and advertised exhibition on Edith Heath at the Oakland Museum of California. I also went to the Albany Bulb, a decommissioned landfill and former homeless encampment that is now the site of an ever-changing display of found art. I combined sound recordings and first-person oral narrative to portray what I saw and felt during my visits, with minimal visuals, to test if hearing stories about craft is as intriguing as seeing images.

Craft Detected locates craft objects of the everyday that are literally underfoot but at the periphery of awareness for most. The locally-produced steel, concrete, and ceramics I detected represent the kind of work that is "crafted" but not necessarily considered "craft." I used the same oral and visual tools to annotate these sites but added what I learned from online research that helped orient me to kinds of craft that we often take for granted.

The final layer, Craft Unseen, looks at the raw materials of craft - oyster shell, mercury, sulfur, coal, sand, and stone - and their sites of extraction from land or water. Mining these materials has permanently changed the landscape but the evidence is not always obvious, and the history of these overgrown, depleted, or remediated sites requires some level of investigation. I changed tactics to describe these sites which are spread over 100 miles, pulling text and images to make a patchwork impression from the Internet. I am curious if a map-viewer will be upset at the invisibility of information that has allowed damaging cultural and environmental repercussions to pass under the radar. Will rebellion about lack of visibility lead to action?

Representing sites through a mashup of Google search results with personal photography and narrative serves two purposes. I am exploring multi-sensory paths to "seeing" and their potential to reinforce or obscure visibility, borrowing techniques from Kate Pocrass, Georges Perec, and Janet Cardiff. At the same time, I am commenting on how public and private data are complicit in which histories are made legible.

Decay and development have encouraged us to "unsee" our surroundings but mapping instances of all kinds of craft can bring the richness and complexity of the Bay Area into view. By following along as I walk, look, and listen, map-viewers are invited to venture into the breach with me and reconsider how "place" is made when craft is made visible.