Taylor Stevenson

Taylor Stevenson is a graduate of U of O. She is an aritst and waste researcher. Her artwork, which is created from reused materials, is inspired by people around the world who survive from garbage or who, similar to garbage, are rejected by society. She founded a program called Live Debris which demonstrates reuse as a tool for social integration and personal growth. She has taken this project to Brazil, Lebanon, Myanmar, the US and now Japan, where she is studying at the Rotary Peace center in Japan to earn a Master in Peace Studies.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The subject of screens returns to this blog entry, as I had a strange sighting on one recently, while visiting my hometown, Portland, Oregon, for a Rotary peace conference.  Television in the USA may well be the one thing that gives me culture shock in my own country.  While in the US one evening, I ended up one at a gathering in a house with the CBS TV show Dogs in the City playing in the background.  TV is a curiosity for me, and one which helps me understand (and at times fear) my own culture.  This viewing induced the latter reaction, when I noticed that behind the head of the show’s perky host was a small framed photograph of what clearly depicted a bloody woman with her face wrapped in plastic.  As the host advised a woman on training her blind dog, we were provided close ups of the disturbing image hanging by his head.  At a certain point in the show, the image changed to that of a dog, more akin to the other photos in the room.  If you have on demand, or some other way of watching reruns, check it out for yourself: 6/13/12 episode of Dogs in the City, blind dog episode. Weird weird weird. 

Among other cultural surprises, I was shocked to return home and discover that my childhood soccer field had been Astroturfed.  Over the past thirty years, my parents’ neighborhood has become increasingly affluent, enabling the local community to easily raise funds for a new plastic field.  Some neighbors complain that implanting an expensive soccer field is a slap in the face to other schools in Portland, which are downsizing and even shutting their doors.  My complaints about the field are more personal.  First, the obvious: a natural grass field has been replaced with plastic and rubber.  Those who know me need no explanation as to why I oppose this.  Apparently, a plastic field is preferable to a natural one because parents don’t want their kids getting dirty in the rainy fall season.  I grew up playing soccer on that field and I recall getting dirty as one of the best parts about playing soccer.  The kids in my neighborhood don't play in the forest or the dirt the way my friends and I used to.  They are living in an increasingly sterile and convenient world, exacerbated by plastic green spaces.  If we can't get our hands, and feet, dirty playing soccer, we won’t be willing to get our hands dirty composting, digging in the garden or appreciating the natural world that produced us.  Furthermore, visit the field and you will see red signs prohibiting pets or food on the field.  What was once a community space for people to picnic and watch one of the world’s largest annual migrations of vaux swifts (which roost in the chimney visible in the background of my photo below), is now a sports arena that leaves the entire area stinking of rubber. 

I will end my complaints here as the field was implanted in dedication of a teacher who recently passed away.  I mean no disrespect to him or the people who helped pay for the field.  This entry is not really one of complaint but, rather, to express my sadness over the loss of a natural space that I have enjoyed over the past 30 years.  In my remorse, I did what any impassioned artist would, I made something.  I created weeds from plastic and rubber and planted them next to the field.  While I suspect that my esoteric prank will merely confound rather than enlighten the general public, it was the least negative, most cathartic response I could think of during my short trip home. I hope that it will at least spurn people to give a little more thought to the act of astroturf.

My trip home was not merely one of shock and strange encounters.  Rather, I spent two weeks in the company of Rotarians and peace fellows exploring the idea of peace at a Peace is Possible conference.  It was one of the more valuable experiences I have had since joining the ranks of Rotary Peace Fellows, and I am grateful to have been able to participate.  Many thanks to Rotary district 5100 for holding the event.  In a few days I will say ‘sayonara’ to Japan, and ‘oai’ to Southern Bhutan. 
Happy trails, Taylor

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Okay, so it should be pretty apparent by now that I am not the world’s best blogger. In addition to my constant confusion over the formatting settings on this blog, my posts are infrequent at best, and perhaps a bit banal (except when I’m talking about worms). I promise to ramp up the excitement in the coming months-- starting today, with a tragedy. First, though, let me give a mediocre excuse for my seeming lack of devotion to this blog. I find that time spent in Tokyo is inversely correlated with my tolerance for sitting in front of a screen. In large cities, particularly this large city, it is easy to spend great portions of the day consumed by some form of screen, whether it be a computer screen, television screen, digital book screen, ticket sales screen, camera screen, train advertising screen, phone screen, video screen, bank teller screen, vending machine screen, toilet flushing screen or the like. The last thought on my mind at the end of the day is to sit down to talk at you at you through yet another screen. But then, here I am doing just that.
I promised you a tragedy. Though it might sound more like a horror story to some. The latest in the composting worm tales is that tails are scant. Tails of my red worms, that is. The millions of tiny white worms I previously mistook for the babies of my worms were, in fact, intruders… The deaths came suddenly. One day last week I checked on my worms. They seemed quite content, stirring about alongside their tiny white babies. But the next day when I peeled back the net lid of my box I noticed a fetid smell that only a worm composter would recognize: rotting worms. In a matter of 24 hours, my beloved red worms had melted into a mass of mush in the middle of the box. My mimizu! Their supposed babies, however, seemed quite alive. The internet later revealed them to, in fact, be pot worms, which love acidic conditions. My red worms did not. Most people would feel repulsed by such an experience. Rather, I was guilt ridden, and lonely from the loss of my only pets, as any loving caretaker would be. Further investigation on the balcony lead me to a likely culprit: soil I’d purchased from a local Itoyokado. I had supplemented the worm bin with this soil just days before the die off. This soil also turned out to be infected with a fungus (which prefer acidic soil) that has eaten the roots of my desperate beet seedlings. While my thumb may never have been green, it is looking a little gray these days. Despite the tragedy, I am inclined to see the positive side to my fitful and rather short lived experiment with red worms in Tokyo. I am now experimenting with a new way of composting namagomi (organics) on my balcony. Now that I have sealed off the lid, it seems to be composting fine just with the bacteria introduced by the food. When there is sun. As for winter composting, I am going to have to find another solution. More on that as the months pass.
A piece of the famous Hiroshima Panels, at the Maruki Gallery in Saitama
In other news… Rotarians will be interested to know that I spent a few days in Hiroshima on a Rotary-funded peace field trip. The experience was both enlightening and disturbing, as one can imagine. The result of this trip is that I made a new work of art in the studio of Tomoyo Hiraiwa, a local metal artist and Rotarian who has taken me under her wing and is currently helping me experiment with metal food cans. Thank you Tomoyo san! It was refreshing to see a city so dedicated to peace and the eradication of nuclear weapons. My friends back home worry about me living in Japan after the recent disaster and current threat of radioactive contamination. I must remind people living in the Pacific NW (USA) that the defunct Hanford Nuclear site, which produced the plutonium for the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, currently holds most of the US’s nuclear waste and is the largest, most contaminated nuclear waste site in the Western Hemisphere. Read up on the site’s continued struggles to contain its nuclear waste. Folks in the US should be just as concerned about our own country’s nuclear proliferation as we are about that of Iran or North Korea.
The famous Hiroshima Dome, which survived the bombing. And below is Sang Falsus, my latest work made from used food cans. I will be exhibiting the piece the weekend of June 23rd at MercyCorps' Action Center during Rotary's highly anticipated Peace Conference in Portland. My work will be shown alongside two amazing nuclear bomb installations made by Yukiyo Kawano from her grandmother's old kimonos. Yukiyo is a second generation Hibakusha (nuclear bombing survivor) from Hiroshima. Here is a link to her Fat Man performance: http://vimeo.com/36885934. Okay, I can't get that link to work. Sorry, copy and paste, folks. Here is my description for Sang Falsus: Mushrooms and meat, spinach and seafood, green tea and dairy…such foods are most susceptible to radioactive contamination. Living in Japan today, we know this. But suspicion of the very food we eat is not a unique condition. Headlines just in the past month revealed that 70% of Indian milk is contaminated with fillers like fertilizers and detergents, that shiitake mushrooms grown near Tokyo were found to be highly radioactive and that most ground beef sold in the US contains “pink slime.” The illusive search for food that is definitively nourishing has grown akin to that for the Holy Grail, the Sang Real. What distinguishes food from waste, holy from ordinary, real from false, saying grace from a simple act of faith? These are mysteries requiring more effort to unscramble than most are willing to put forth. So raise your glass, ladies and gentlemen, to the new era of nutritional chance, tricks and illusions, wonders and edible mysteries.
Finally, to leave things on a lighter note, I have confirmed my summer internship. Starting in July, I will spend three months in Southern Bhutan assisting the Jongkhar Initative (http://sji.bt/) with their new zero waste initiative. I am honored to be their first intern, and look forward to joining them in July. So, as promised, this blog is soon to get a bit more interesting or, at least, slightly less tragic.
A wall made from broken roof tiles (Matsuyama, Shikoku).
A window frame made from wood scraps (Kyoto).
And Zori sandals, traditional Japanese sandals that I learned how to make from old sheet scraps (Tokyo).
Waraji Sandals at a temple in Kamakura were proof that I can, in fact, find shoes my size in Japan.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

More dirt on Tokyo...

My lack of recent blog posts isn’t a sign of lazy fingers. Rather, I have been busy typing reports for my new career as a graduate student. My Project Management class entailed less writing and a little more doing. Shocked to learn that Japan’s recycling rates are not what they had been led to believe, the class opted to organize a project around waste management and, naturally, selected me as their manager. The highlight of the class (for me, at least, was the recycling and composting workshop that I gave (see photos) which resulted in me befriending a compost-eager Japanese woman named Chieko, with limited English skills and more enthusiasm for composting than I think I may witnessed anywhere (expressive enthusiasm is one of the most endearing qualities of Japanese women, I am discovering). My composting worms have been eating and reproducing at such a rapid rate that the bin has grown quite heavy, and I was unable to take it to the workshop. Instead, I invited Chieko to my house, where I gave her a couple of bags of worms and taught her all she needed to know to make a bin of her own. I knew she was fit for the job when, upon seeing the tiny white baby worms, she shrieked “Kawaaaaiiiiii (cute)!” –a typical Japanese response to cute, fuzzy things, but not one I have ever heard in reference to worms, composting or anything of the like. The only technical task in making a worm bin is to drill small holes in the bottom of the liner bin, for which I lent her my electric drill. Teaching her how to use an electric drill was one of the more hilarious and gratifying experiences of my trip thus far, inspiring me to teach every woman I know how to use an electric drill. I definitely won’t forget the drill at my next workshop!

My belated mentor, Ray Mitchell, always said “don’t let school get in the way of your education.” While I love the reading, writing and occasional teaching that my classes require, I am not letting it get in the way of a well-rounded education. Here is what I have been up to lately beyond the classroom. My friend Kazuko invited me to volunteer helping to make a straw bale building for a local Buddhist temple in Totsuka. There, I learned that straw bale is a traditional Japanese technique, for which they ferment the mud/straw mixture for up to a year before applying it to the building. One of the builders spent some time with me explaining the structural requirements of building in Japan, including diagonal supports for earthquake proofing. Below are some photos of Kazuko and me scooping, hauling and applying the mud.

Another photos shows my friend Houko giving a workshop on making things with discarded umbrellas. Check out her CASA Project here: http://casaproject.com. And, finally, one of the most inspiring and fitting scenes I have seen of Tokyo: Tokyo Tower looming over the famous Zojoji Temple.

Finally, a little bit about my fellow peace fellows. Details about our work will soon be distributed in the latest ICU Rotary Newsletter (I will include a pdf link as soon as I have one). Beyond that, I can say that we have become fast friends and have created something of a family for ourselves. Never have I met a group so genuinely dedicated to getting along and doing good for the world. Rotary, you chose well.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Wiggler Struggles and Other Learning Experiences

Over the past month I have been learning a great deal both inside the classroom (yes, classes have begun) and outside. First, a few updates on previous blog posts... my valiant attempt at living a relatively ecologically sound life in Tokyo has been slow moving. Two recent typhoons all but wiped my entire crop of vegetables growing on the balcony. It's time to find smaller planters that I can bring inside during typhoons. While I had previously giggled at people's dramatic warnings about typhoons in Japan, the last storm helped me to understand what the big deal is all about. As the typhoon hit Tokyo, classes were cancelled, public transportation stopped and our apartment shook so hard I thought the windows might blow out. Peace fellows holed up at my house and watched movies while the storm raged. Before I carry on about how much I love the company of my fellow peace fellows, I should give an update on my much anticipated worm shipment. I enjoyed keeping worms in the US, but I had never started a box from scratch, purchased worms over the internet, or kept worms in the sweltering climate that is Tokyo in the summertime. When my worms arrived, I put them in their box with the correct mixture of soil and coconut husk. Apparently worms can become disoriented after shipment and will sometimes leave their box in search of... what, I'm still not quite sure. So upon returning home one day I found a mass exodus (meaning hundreds) of worms wiggling their way across my kitchen floor. How a legless creature can scale the side of a deep plastic container, I do not know. My response was to secure a lid on the box but, the next day, I found that the worms had amassed themselves into a massive ball and managed to push their way out of the box and promptly dry up and die all over my apartment. One live worm ball still dangled from the box, and the remaining survivors are currently consuming our food waste. They seem to have given up on apartment adventuring. The sweet and patient woman who sold me the worms has generously offered to send me some more, as this experience has apparently been a learning experience for her (and me!). Most people in Japan purchase an escape-proof worm bin with their worms. I, of course, had to make my own. RIP, little mimizu.

In other news, I am happy to report that the class 10 peace fellows are all getting along beautifully and integrating well into life in Tokyo. I am sharing a few photos. To the left is my roommate, Weaw, and me at farm near Kamakura. Some energetic and incredibly welcoming Japanese folks invited us out there to help them build them a wall for their new herb garden. Below is a photo of peace fellows with Rotary International's incoming president, Mr. Tanaka, who we had the pleasure of meeting with one afternoon. The other class 10 peace fellows are from different parts of the world (Thailand, Taiwan, South Africa, Canada, Niger, Argentina and the US) but we can all manage to find common ground. We share classes with Japanese students and South Asian fellows here through the Japanese government. So we are able to debate current issues with people from a variety of social, economic, professional and cultural backgrounds. In recent classes we have been exploring the psychological roots of violence, US involvement in Japan and resource scarcity in Asia.

Peace fellows with Mr. Tanaka

Finally, for those of you who read french (or who can make sense of internet translations), here is a recent article written about me for a Tokyo-based news website:

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Japanese Classes, Birthday Celebration and Worms

August has been a busy month as most of the new peace fellows and I have been taking an intensive ‘survival’ Japanese class. I call the class ‘survival of the fittest’ Japanese since Japanese is not one of the easier languages to learn. Atama ga itai desu! I am loving Japanese, though, and will continue taking classes during my time here. Our final Japanese assignment is to give a two minute speech on a topic of our choice. My topic is, as you might guess, gomi! Garbage. Speaking of which, I am progressing with my in-home composting experiments. Unable to find reasonably-priced worms in Japan, I resorted to buying a bag of composting bacteria. Apparently some people here do compost in their homes, usually with the help of fermented rice husk pellets that are sold at some local gardening stores. The pellets are expensive and smell like a used litter box. They do seem to help in composting food waste (nama gomi), but, as you can see from my photo, my food waste is getting pretty moldy. I figure that in two years I would spend more money buying bacteria pellets than I would if I just ordered some expensive worms, so I have placed my order with the only worm breeders I was able to find. They will arrive in the mail next week. Roll out the red (worm) carpet! Here is their contact in case anyone in Japan needs red worms (mimizu): ij9t-skn@asahi-net.or.jp. But in a few months I will have enough baby worms to save you the expense!

Fortunately, my fellow peace fellows are open minded enough that they don’t find my composting obsession completely insane. I feel fortunate to have such a great group of automatic friends here. A few days after everyone arrived, I celebrated my 30th birthday in the company of the peace fellows and other international friends. I have never had happy birthday sung to me in 10 different languages before, it was very cool! My Rotary counselor and her daughter also surprised me with gifts and treated me to a nice dinner-- they have been incredibly gracious hostesses. I am blown away by what an amazing and unique opportunity this fellowship is and I can’t thank Rotary enough.

(failed) Compost Experiment: red worms are on the way!

Bag o’ Bacteria—fermented rice husks used for bucket composting of organic waste

Hatano san, Mami and me at a rooftop party for the Ebisu Rotary club. These women are great, I have a lot of fun with them.

Balcony garden update: My plants are growing so fast and attracting some interesting large insects.