Parks peeks at Usdan patterns
For his senior thesis, Evan Parks '10 has prepared maps of people's movements through the Usdan Student Center lobby based on hours of video footage. The video and the maps are currently on display in the lobby.JustArts: How did you decide to focus on Usdan for your research?
Evan Parks: I'm writing about European modernist architecture in my larger thesis work, and there's something singular about modernist architecture that tries to at once reduce space to absolute function, only provide basic human needs but also enhance or liberate or allow the inhabitants of spaces some sort of distinct personal identity. Usdan struck me as a case study on campus to look at a space that flows very functionally and has a very prescribed order but also purports to be a mouthpiece of the student body. It is at once dictating how students navigate it and the university, and endowing students with a sense that they are voicing their needs and interests.
JA: Had you thought about that before, or was it only after learning about modernist architecture that you started to see it that way?
EP: I've always felt very uncomfortable in that space. I've done some research in the archive and looked up the philosophies behind it and the functions behind it. ... There was rhetoric about it being a living room, about how it was the first building on campus that was entirely devoted to student life. ... It really struck me, the contradiction between the idea that this building is a living space and its actuality as a space that never leaves you quite comfortable. Every room puts pressure on you suddenly to move on or to go to another room. Even the dining halls and the game room, and particularly all the entrances and open forum areas, never let you settle or congregate. It wasn't until I started looking at it critically after thinking about modernist architecture that I was able to see it as having these two functions at once.
I'm in [Prof.] Chris Abrams' (FA) architectural drawing and design class, and I've gotten the opportunity to draw floor plans and sections and elevations of the building. Once I was able to look at those it was more clear to me that the building had an ideology. ... I think that there's a tendency when you walk through spaces to not think about them or not think about the fact that you're in a new space, but really I think that buildings are narratives. ... There's a voice there and it's encouraging us to think and behave and I guess I see my project somehow trying to raise people's awareness that there is a voice, a particularly strong one in this case.
JA: What do you think that voice is? How would you characterize it?
EP: Well I think that this building is very radical. There's this campus lore-unsubstantiated so far as I've been able to research-that the building was designed in response to student protests in the '60s. ... And whether that's actually true or not, I think that there's certainly an element of the space that encourages a thoughtless circulation that I believe reflects a larger shift in the university experience. The space that I'm working with, the opening room, which is the upper Usdan lobby, where my installation takes place, is a space that has, I believe, a fundamental contradiction between a plaza or forum ... [for] spontaneous interaction, and a corridor with intensely directed pathways of circulation.
JA: What do you hope your installation will achieve?
EP: I'm hoping that there's going to be something really disconcerting about this installation. For one thing, I'm going to have these videos screening and I'm going to place them right in the middle of the room so that a) it disrupts pathways of circulation and b) makes people just stop and look at and think about how people circulate and go through that room. It's remarkable, I took hours and hours of footage-I'm only going to screen about an hour and a half-but almost no one, maybe one or two people in all of the footage I took, noticed that there was a camera in the space filming. ... So I think that there's going to be something disconcerting about people seeing these videos, often perhaps of themselves, and thinking, "Wow, when was this video taken? I thought I had some sort of familiarity in this space, but I'm not really aware of what's happening here."
The video intends to accentuate a sense of surveillance, because I think that this building is in a certain sense about monitoring student activity and ensuring that students have a meal plan and get funneled through these university businesses with the illusion that they are making their own decisions. I'm also going to have these charts posted, and I think that it is a little disconcerting to see your actions reduced to these very scientific-looking data points.