I was struck by a line in an article I read for my Harvard class, “Modern Speech and Other Kinds of Testimony,” by historian Megan Vaughan. The class, Themes in Modern African History, is taught by the formidable Caroline Elkins, who is generous with her time despite her demanding schedule, for which I am very grateful. The article is about the slippery nature of historical consciousness, and the ways in which the historian can unwittingly manipulate her subjects’ “identity.” Vaughan is interested in the missing pre-history of the Creole community in Mauritius, of which she writes:
“Creole intellectuals make the very valid point that their history begins on the island—their origins lie in métissage, in creolité itself, and not in a mythic origin moment which came before.”1
This sentence resonates with my own struggle to decipher and iterate my own historical identity. Like many Americans, I like to delve into the various family histories of past generations, which extend to many different ethnic and geographical origins. Yet despite the “truth” of this mixing, it is always assumed I have a European origin, and further it is assumed that I will myself have chosen a preferred ethnicity with which to identify. In the quote above, there is freedom: forget the past; you’re an American, with all the mixing that implies.
The incoming architecture graduate students at the University of Hartford were treated to a day in New York City on August 26th. I led this third annual tour of the city’s cultural institutions, joined by 17 students and 3 other faculty from the department. This tour was similar to the previous two, though I attempt to make variations with each iteration. Our itinerary included the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, and the Center for Architecture. We ended the day at Saigon Grill on University Place, having worked up a healthy appetite.
The images above are of the installation by the Starn brothers on the Met rooftop titled “Big Bambú.” I tried to see it earlier in the summer but was turned away due to rain, so I was really excited to finally visit the growing structure-as-art looming 50 feet above the roof. You can walk along the pathway built into the structure with special, get-up-at-7am-to-wait-in-line tickets, so long as you meet certain criteria (over 4’10”, under 400 lbs) including not being drunk. The only irony there is that alcohol is readily bought and sold on the Met rooftop. Big Bambú is really fantastic, and working on it has to be the best summer job ever. It’s not built the way an architect or engineer would build it—it’s not efficient. Rather, it’s highly fetishized, with extra bits of string hanging down from all the lashings, footings rendered useless by continued construction that leaves them dangling a half-inch above the ground, reams of cloth tied up to provide shade to the mountain-climbers-turned-builders, and wrapped objects likes stones embedded into the bamboo network. It is awesome. And it’s only up until October 31st, so go see it.
The first year grads will be working on an addition to the Whitney Museum, the one Renzo Piano tried to do directly adjacent to Breuer’s building, but the neighborhood said “no” too many times. Read More