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.