Exhibition and research project
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Planetary Home Improvement: From Just-in-time to Geological Time
VI PER Gallery, Prague
December 17, 2021 — February 2, 2022

Partially funded by the 2021-22 RISD Professional Development Fund
The home improvement store is a geological site on demand. Rockwool, Sheetrock, Quikrete Stucco. Materials are processed into products, packaged, stockpiled, stacked, and sold across global DIY supply-chains, from Home Depot to Bauhaus and OBI. Basalt, gypsum, limestone. Material economies are severed from mineral entanglements with millennia of rock, fossil, plant, and stone. It takes 1 day to install drywall; it takes 299 million years to form gypsum.

What planetary urgencies, temporalities and extractions undergird products of just-in-time geology? Rewriting shelf life and collapsing the ancient and the instant, this research project takes stock of the terrestrial home via the big-box DIY store, as the home improvement industry continues to boom and propagate rocks in anthropo-convenient forms. The store is the modern quarry. This exhibition examines the geological life of product accumulation, installation, and instruction through both physical and digital gallery artifacts. If the Eames’s Powers of Ten organized the universe by relative scale, Planetary Home Improvement redesignates its earthly substrates by relative temporality—from the planet to the point of sale.

The exhibition includes a stratigraphic stack wall of reused local materials, a geological soundscape, deep section drawings, a tabletop palindrome How-to video, DIY unbuilding instruction sheets, and a slow-scrolling website.

Co-designers: Christine Giorgio, Amelyn Ng, Gabriel Vergara
Collaborating composer: Nathan Davis
Graduate assistants: Remi Qiu, Ellie Cody, Sarah Chriss, Carrie Li

Full credits here

Print & online
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Stay-at-home Stress: A spatial survey of low-income households in Houston’s Fifth Ward during COVID-19
Grant funded by Rice  COVID Research Fund, 2020
COVID-19 stay-at-home orders have disproportionately disrupted the domestic lives of Houston households, particularly low-income families with children. This pilot study of sixteen qualitative interviews identifies  spatial, social, and environmental impacts on daily home life during and after the stay-at-home order period.

Taking a local approach, the project collaborated with the Center for Urban Transformation (CUT) to connect with families in Houston’s Greater Fifth Ward. The spatial survey and research hopes to provide local organizations, community homebuilders, and broader research community with qualitative feedback on Fifth Ward residents’ existing home conditions, site concerns, and domestic experiences under COVID-19 circumstances.

Related work:

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Uneven Runoff
Grant funded by the Diluvial Houston Initiative (Andrew W. Mellon Foundation funding), Rice University, 2020-21
Uneven Runoff seeks to investigate the uneven geographies of industrial pollution and flood risk in Harris County. The research project uses GIS and open-source urban data to map relations between former and current industrial sites and Houston’s most flood-vulnerable neighborhoods.

Map layers include industrial parcels, impervious surface density, drainage types, FEMA floodplains vs Hurricane Harvey modeled flood extents, water wells, and type and volume of chemical releases to waterways since 1987. These datasets are visualized and combined in an interactive public webmap for communities and local organizations to explore (typically opaque) industrial data in one’s own neighborhood.

This project is the collective research effort of Rae Atkinson, Mike Wissner, and myself (combining backgrounds in data science, geography and architecture), in partnership with local organization Texas Health and Environment Alliance (THEA) and Rice University’s Spatial Studies Lab.

Exhibition & video installation
Installation, Rice Architecture, January 2021
Screenspace is a temporary installation for collective weather-watching; a rumination on the politics of the weather report. It re-interprets James Turrell’s climate-ambivalent Skyspace in Houston, for more troubled skies.

Today, our prevalent sky-monitoring optic is that of the infrared satellite image: used to capture both fast and slow temporalities of weather and climate. The 16:9 aspect-ratio regulates a large blackout fabric cloud, suspended overhead for upward projection. Slightly baggy, it may be the first screen to acknowledge gravity.

Plug-and-play: faux berm recliners take variable configurations under this projection canopy, and can be wheeled outside in good weather. Sunrise and Sunset screenings feature stock sky screensavers and weather channel footage, spliced with Houston’s past hurricane infrared imagery.

Related publications:

Screenspace, Part2
Original installation intent
Screenspace was originally meant to be performed inside an actual Skyspace. In early 2020, I pitched a proposal to the committee managing the Twilight Epiphany Skyspace on Rice Campus, to temporarily unfold this extra-large blackout fabric across the void from the viewing gallery above. The 16:9 cutout in the middle of the quilt would temporarily reformat Turrell’s symmetrical square sky as a rectangular screen.

The proposal was promptly rejected, on the grounds that “James Turrell expressly forbids any physical intervention in the Skyspace. It is part of our legal agreement with the artist that Rice not modify or alter the artwork itself in any way, even temporarily.” This rejection revealed a fascinating insight into the artist’s absolute ownership over the space—including aesthetic rights to a piece of Houston sky. This graphic sequence shows what the forbidden act of reformatting Turrell’s sky would have looked like.

Related projects:

© 2022 Amelyn Ng