Wes Janz onesmallproject
Every human who has walked the surface of our planet has thought and acted in relation to the landscape. We have some understandings of these dynamics including Ansel Adams’ photography of the U.S. southwest, Frank Lloyd Wright’s design for Fallingwater, Jane Jacobs’ insights into the life of American cities, the New York City of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Chase County, Kansas as portrayed by William Least Heat-Moon in PrairyErth, and Maya Lin’s monuments, installations, and buildings. At the same time, there is much that we do not know about the connections that many of the Earth’s people have with their immediate landscapes today. One billion informal settlers (1/6 people worldwide) live in slums or shantytowns, twenty-five million people are currently displaced by war or natural disaster, and three thousand “homeless” people in Indianapolis will need a meal and a warm place to sleep tonight, every night. All of them, ALL OF THEM, inhabit the landscape, claim space, and make their way in the world. It will be argued that we have much to learn from their ideas, frameworks, and actions.
An exhibit being planned for the Sheldon Swope Art Museum in Terre Haute, Indiana in February/March 2010 will challenge our fairly conventional, middle class sensibilities regarding the landscape, and will document and interpret (and in some cases build) environments being occupied and small architecture being built in some of the most extreme, and simultaneously most common, landscapes in our world. The “American Regionalist” permanent collection of the Sheldon Swope is a pivot point for this project as it represents some of our current mainstream sensibilities, but, of course, from more artistic perspectives—works by the artists Grant Wood (“Spring in Town”), Edward Hopper (“Route 6, Eastham”), and Thomas Hart Benton (“Threshing Wheat”) are among the more impressive works held in the Swope’s permanent collection.
The leadership of the Swope contacted Wes Janz in summer 2008, asking him to curate a show of works related to his “OneSmallProject” website, blog, and wiki after finding online his recently completed grant for the Indiana Arts Commission. It is imagined that the Swope Show will include works from visual artists, architects, and writers around the world, as well as projects by students of design at Ball State University, Southern Illinois University, and IUPUI. In addition, a publication will be created (probably on Lulu Press), as will a blog, and a conference.
Wes Janz, PhD, RA is an associate professor of architecture at Ball State University. He was the recipient of the university’s Outstanding Teaching Award in 2006. In 2008, he was a finalist for the Curry Stone Design Prize, which is awarded to breakthrough projects that have the “power and potential to improve our lives and the world we live in.” In the past seven years, Wes has traveled to Argentina, China, India, Panama, Russia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkey, UAE, and Uruguay, as well as a dozen cities of the U.S. Rust Belt, documenting the living and working conditions of some of the world’s poorest people and their neighborhoods, sometimes building installations made of scavenged materials. He’s presented papers at schools or conferences in some of these places, talked with locals about their lives, and become familiar with professionals working on behalf of the poorest people. Along the way, he’s shifted from a curiosity in the power held by the world’s richest people and most prominent designers, to a belief that people in the world, in general, no matter how poor or apparently disadvantaged (based on our middle class standards), are fully capable of making their way in the world, and that it is often the case that interventions of well-intentioned people bring both opportunity and harm to the lives of local people.