Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Sun House in Haiti

I'm working on a rendering for a building in Haiti this week, which makes me wonder about the architecture there. What kind of building should we propose for the people and environment there as Haiti remains the poorest Caribbean country?

I found The Sun House, an earthbag building project at Pwoje Espwa in Southern Haiti. Father Marc Boisvert, the founder and director of Pwoje Espwa (, has dedicated his life to serving and helping suffering children. This project not only houses over 700 children, but has an agricultural project, three schools, carpentry and masonry facilities, and an arts and crafts program.

The finished building is quite charming especially after the local artists' decoration. What a perfect fusion of the sustainable building techniques and the unique Haitian art and culture! More process photos can be found here:

The website offers comprehensive information on earthbag construction, and I learned a lot about the advantages of this building technique. First, earthbag building is very low-cost and easy to build. Second, earthbags function well as either thermal mass or insulation, depending on what the bags are filled with. Third, earthbag structure can be fairly strong if properly constructed. Fourth, earthbag technique works better with non-rectilinear shapes, thus becomes a great tool for creating unique sculptural forms. I'm so tempted to build one myself!

As my Haitian dream continues, I watched Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti, an unfinished documentary made by Maya Deren filming the voodoo rituals in Haiti. It's remniscent of Eisenstein's unfinished masterpiece ¡Que viva Mexico! which captures the soul of Mexican culture and its tragic history.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Tara Dononvan @ CAC

I’ve always been impressed with Tara Donovan’s vision of transforming ordinary everyday materials (such as styrofoam cups, paper, scotch tape, pins, toothpicks) into extraordinary artwork. Her sculptures invent a world between artificial compositions and natural landscapes. So when I learned that her works are on exhibition at CAC, I was thrilled and went with Ian yesterday. Perhaps I shouldn’t have taken such a long ride at this moment, but I just couldn’t resist the opportunity and hopefully this experience would spark some artistic cells in my little darling’s growing brain ^_^

It was at least my third time in Zaha’s building. This time the lobby ceiling becomes part of the exhibition with Tara’s famous cloud-like hanging piece. Before then, I only saw photos of this piece hanging in an empty minimalist space where the sculpture exhibits a pure and overwhelming gesture. But here it quietly integrates with Zaha’s dynamic interior, which reflects Tara’s idea of making the sculptures grow out of architectural space.

The magical part of seeing the real works lies in the shift of scale. It offers the viewer a fascinating process of discovery as you move around the sculptures. One of my favorites is a wall piece called ‘Haze’. At the first sight, it appears to be an icy and spongy surface with naturally formed bumps. When you walk closer, it seems softer and more translucent. The reflection of your moving body also makes the surface alive. When you get real close, you are amazed that the material is nothing more than clear plastic drinking straws – thousands of them! Another phenomenal piece is made of tiny metallic film tape rings which form huge organic patterns filling up three consecutive walls. I looked at a small portion and then looked up at the large pattern, the rings suddenly appeared to be shiny water bubbles glowing and expanding endlessly in front of my eyes.

Most of the sculptures are so large, which makes me wonder how they are shipped and assembled for each exhibition. My best guess is that each piece is kept in several parts in which the units are glued together. These parts are then put together on site, and necessary adjustments are made to make the piece fit into the specific exhibition space. Even like that, it still requires a huge amount of time to prepare for the show.

Unfortunately, photos are only allowed in few areas. But this unique experience Tara brought to me was permanently imprinted in my head. When we walked down the fancy stair to the first floor, we found the lobby was fully packed due to a performance. We watched for a while, soaked in the festival atmosphere rarely found in downtown Cincy, and then headed for IKEA for some baby stuff. It was a gorgeous feel-like-summer day filled with satisfaction…

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Encounters at the End of the World

Werner Herzog's latest documentary Encounters at the End of the World is one of the most impressive films I watched lately. From the wilderness of Alaska in his Grizzly Man, he traveled to an even remoter area this time, Antarctica! The most visually compelling part of the film is absolutely the miraculous views beneath the vast Antarctic ice land. The underworld surprisingly resembles the outer space with divers moving slowly like floating astronauts.

The film is far more than a scientific documentary showing the exotic sceneries and wildlife in Antarctica, it touches me all the more with its human dimension. Herzog did many interviews with the people who live and work there. Besides scientists such as glaciologists, physicists and vocanologists, there are a very interesting group including a philosopher + forklift driver, a filmmaker + cook, a musician + expert diver and a linguist + computer expert. These ‘professional dreamers’ came to the end of the world to fulfill their dreams. They contribute to the research base by providing the needed skills while maintaining their poetic and idealistic mindset rooted in their professions. How can you not love them?!

I’m starting to dream about Antarctica and imagine a life like the professional dreamers’…