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Materiality Baby!

The last week has been an absolute whirlwind of information and travel. I will warn you that this blog may be a little longer as I will give a brief review of my trips to Cinque Terre, Rome and Siena while trying to reflect on any observations or realizations that may have come to me along the way.

So Cinque Terre, if you ever have the opportunity to visit this wonderful section of the coastline, pretend you are training for a marathon when it comes to attire and hydration. The day was spent climbing, descending and exploring with very little direction, but the vistas are breathtaking regardless of rain or sun. Of course all of the cool landmarks, like the quaint little chiesas (churches) and forts are always at the top of the cliffs. A a little pre-emptive research into the importance of the various sites might be a wise idea. If you are offered the option of lunch included during your tour, don’t take it! There are so many great cafes to choose from at each town. Other than the wonderfully coloured houses on the hilltop, it was really interesting to see the mountains of white Carrera marble on the way to the coast. They made me think about materiality and the countries use of local resources during the Renaissance.

Rome is big in every way! Beyond the big piazzas, huge architecture, gigantic monuments, extensive parks and monumental amount of historic sites, it was also the first time I felt fashionably under dressed. Fashion is huge here and I wanted in! It was also here that I began to really comprehend how intertwined and layered culture is. Etruscan ruins neighboured buildings commissioned by the fascist regime and roman marble sculptures were echoed in graffiti on windows. The one thing I regret not squeezing in is a full day in the Forum. I wanted to get in there and document every little shadow of these unbelievable artefacts.

After two days trouncing around the big city, Siena felt like a lovely escape to the country despite its very own feats of engineering and cultural artefacts. The winding streets up the hill to the Duomo provided many wonderful geometric shadows and the Campo Piazza really captured the closeness of the community. The Museo Civico also provided some delightful symbolic surprises at the end of the day, making the wait for my yoghurt gelato bearable. What I found inspiring and relevant in Siena was their recognition of good and evil within their symbolism. Indicative of both their dark and glorious past, Siena’s crest is black and white and the mythical Shewolf suckling the twins Remus and Romulus (good and evil), serves as their animal emblem. Their intricate mosaic floors with Escher like patterning also spoke to the balance of these two forces as visualized through the dark and the light marble, with each needing the other for their existence or recognition. While reviewing the Allegories of Good and Bad in the museum, I reflected with Martha Ladly about there only being 6 virtues and 7 sins. I wondered if this is why our world seems to be in constant strife. Do we need to discover, identify or perhaps just embrace one more virtue to balance the playing field?

With regards to all this travelling and my photographs exploring light and dark, I would like to start by clarifying that my interest in shadows is not my primary topic of my research, but is rather the method in which I aim to visualize my research. My intent is to create an illusionary minimal aesthetic using all white materials that appear peaceful and beautiful in their simplicity of colour and form, letting the shadows point to the underbellies of the visual facades presented to us.

Up until now I have been throwing around the words agency, interconnectivity, interdependency and rhizome to speak to the global landscape we live upon. In that all of these topics are infinite, I will eventually need to narrow my focus in order to master my understanding of the information I will present for my defense. There are many ways I could work to shrink my investigation, but I am toying with choosing one material that would work to communicate how the world’s economies and therefore ecologies are extremely interwoven. I actually came up with a word today to speak to this network that often binds or connects us to environmental and / or ethical concerns. ECONOMOLOGIES!

There are two materials I have been exploring to date. The first material I started to play with was plastic in that we have been living in the Anthropocene era as the industrial revolution developed new materials for mass production. This means that the geological makeup of our earth now consists of a dense layer of metals and plastics. The amount of packaging and molded plastic one sees in a simple drugstore is sickening and exponential. This really hit home for me when I went to buy some razors before my trip. You would’ve thought I was buying an electronic device the way my five blade, flexible head and rubber gripped, pink razor was all sealed up. As we all know plastic is a global concern, however I don’t really see a connection between the history of Florence, Italy and the history of plastic.

Cotton, on the other hand, has a rich history within these parts. Although Italy stopped producing cotton in 1991, “Italy was the first Christian nation to understand the significance of cotton, and began marketing it from the 12th century onwards.” Able to clothe the general population while keeping production costs low, The Popolo Minuto, Florence’s poor during the Renaissance, “obtained employment in the area’s cloth industry and went hungry when, as frequently happened, the shops closed down in times of war, plague or business depression.” (Brucker, 213) Able to still see the textile industry on the market streets surrounding every Italian piazza, the larger textile industry that caters to the masses, not only continues to enslave workers around the world, it also wreaks havoc on the environment due to the amount of water consumed during its production. Additionally, “All major processing stages along the cotton value chain such as dyeing, bleaching and finishing use large amounts of chemicals of various toxicity and hazardousness.“ What I find interesting is that Canada does not grow cotton and yet it is our main textile of consumption. We do grow linen and hemp! Environmentally it would make a lot more sense if we were to embrace our local fibres and decrease the environmental and ethical shadows of the textile industry.

Feel free to share your ideas or impressions about plastic or cotton in the comment section of my blog.

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