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kottke.org posts about Virginia San Fratello

Imagining a Covid-19 Pandemic Memorial

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 25, 2020

Covid Memorial

Even though we’re still in the midst of it, The Atlantic commissioned three designers/artists to design hypothetical Covid-19 memorials. Ian Bogost writes:

So this might seem like a strange time to imagine memorializing the pandemic in a formal way. A premature time. Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial was conceived in 1981, six years after the United States had withdrawn from the conflict. Michael Arad and Peter Walker’s 9/11 memorial broke ground at the site of the World Trade Center in 2006, almost five years after the attacks.

But there are downsides to waiting. A traumatic event is an author of its own memorial; as a famous anecdote attests, when a Nazi soldier asked Pablo Picasso if he had made Guernica, the famous painting the artist created during the month following the Luftwaffe’s bombing of its Basque namesake in 1937, Picasso replied, “No, you did.” The feelings, facts, and ideas available during a calamity dissipate as it ebbs. The temptation arises to contain tragedy in a tidy box, closing the book on its history.

Each of the three ideas is intriguing in its own way. I liked how Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello (who made those border wall teeter-totters last year) explained their thought process (which Rael elaborated on here).

Quarantine has limited our ability to use smell and touch for communion, so she and Rael became interested in finding a way to replicate the experience. That’s where pennies come in: Copper is an antiviral — a quality with obvious symbolism in the moment — and one that evolves over time, developing a patina as it interacts with water and air. So the pair latched on to it as a material.

Rael San Fratello’s first idea was a pragmatic one: a traditional memorial made of copper molded into a bulbous, organic wall. The copper material would invite the touch lost to quarantine. Outdoors, it could develop a green or purple patina. “If touched constantly,” San Fratello said, “the patina might never occur, and the memorial will remain shiny.”

See also the design for a pandemic memorial already in the planning stages in Uruguay.

Borderlands, Communities Connected Across the US/Mexico Border Wall

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 13, 2019

You may remember the Border Wall Seesaw implemented by activist architects Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello earlier this year; they installed seesaws through the US/Mexico border wall, enabling people from both countries to play together on them.

Border Wall Seesaw

This short documentary called Borderlands follows Rael to three communities along the wall — San Diego & Tijuana, Brownsville & Matamoros, El Paso & Juárez (where he installed the seesaws) — where the connections between the US & Mexican sides persist and flourish despite their artificial separation.

Rael is well aware that, not too long ago, the boundary between the United States and Mexico, which is now delineated by more than seven hundred miles of fencing, was an open frontier, dotted with stone monuments. His book “Borderwall as Architecture” makes clear that the billions of dollars the U.S. government has spent on curbing migration and enhancing border security have done little to deter those intent on crossing by foot, using wooden ladders and ramps, or through tunnels. Decades of flawed policies suggest that the building of a grand wall is entirely divorced from the reality on the ground.

See also Best of Luck With the Wall, Josh Begley’s satellite image tour of the wall from the Pacific to the Gulf.

The Border Wall Seesaw

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 12, 2019

I realize that many of you have probably seen it already, but I ran across this while away on vacation and thought it was one of the most clever, moving, and powerful creative projects I’ve seen recently. Working off of a concept from 2009, activist architects Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello installed three seesaws through the US/Mexico border wall near El Paso which allowed children on both sides of the border to enjoy playing together.

Border Wall Seesaw

Here’s video of the seesaws in action (from Rael’s Instagram post):

Brilliant. Damon Stapleton says that the seesaw has a “gentle anarchy” to it.

Their beautiful intention was to bring people together through design. As you may have guessed, I really like this idea. It has power, playfulness, humanity, humour and simplicity in equal measure. But most importantly, it has a gentle anarchy at its core. Great ideas like these have this essential creative point of view. There are no rules. Reject the world as it is or how others tell you to see it. Realise you have the ability to make the world the way you want it to be. And, it will be fun or at the very least, unboring. Gentle anarchy. This point of view can be scary for many. But without it, almost nothing will change or move forward.

The plans for the seesaw are on the cover of Rael’s 2017 book, Borderwall as Architecture: A Manifesto for the U.S.-Mexico Boundary, in which he documents similar projects like Burrito Wall, where the border wall is converted into a small restaurant.