be working in right now have an aversion to design, so you can either try to overcome that or you can just embrace it and use it to say—yeah, we’re really crazy but we do really cool stuff so maybe we could try it with you! I think defining that difference opens up more avenues than trying to pretend that design is something that it’s not.
three weeks and then come back with a slideshow of pictures.
JA: The first reading that we did in our class is this well-known speech that Ivan Illich gave in the late 1960’s [To Hell with Good Intentions]…
EP: You know, I don’t really know. Mostly because I’m so immersed in it. It’s really difficult for me these days. The other funny thing about Bertie County is that it’s this weird, black hole where time and space stand still. You loose all connection to anything going on outside of Bertie—which explains why our students didn’t know about the BP oil spill until six months after it happened. It’s just a very insular place. So it’s kind of difficult to know what: a) is going on in the design world in the first place; and b) what our role is in that conversation. We still try and go to conferences and attend conversations where it is relevant to keep engaged with that conversation but I honestly don’t know. I’d like to think that we’re proving a point in a way. I hate to say this but a lot of the decisions I have made in my life personally, and also within Project H, were well intentioned but were also very much about proving someone wrong—someone who had told us that you’re doing something the wrong way, or you suck, or this is never going to go anywhere. So in some ways, I want to prove that we can live in a place and be really rooted here and call it home and make incredible changes. So there’s a lot of that. I’d like to think that we are proving that point and proving people like Bruce Nussbaum wrong that were not imperialists. I define myself as a Bertie County resident and I am building this farmer’s market as much for the community as for
EP: Oh, one of my favorites! JA: That line, To Hell with Good Intentions, really resonated with us but there’s this other line—about why we should make a commitment to communities that are our own, that you live in and that you’re a part of. He says, because there at least, someone can tell you to go to hell! EP: That’s one of my favorite lines. It’s true though. Eighteen months ago, when we’d been in Bertie Country for only six months, someone could have easily made the same argument. I’m from California and my partner is from West Virginia—what the hell were we doing working in this place we know nothing about? You can kind of make the same argument there, but now two years into it, we have a house here and we live next door to the mayor and I call it home—even more so than California at this point. I have no intention of leaving, unless of course we’re run out of town, which could always happen. But yeah, what he was getting at and what I totally agree with is that it’s a matter of commitment. I have no problem with people wanting to work in Uganda or wherever but go and live there for ten years, don’t go for
ESW: So I’m curious, we’re so bombarded with all this designer do-gooder-ism. How do you think the work you’re doing is changing the conversation around design and social change?
It’s never been about money for me, to a fault. I’ve just sort of accepted that. I trade in a different currency. That’s the best way I can explain it. myself. So there’s a point to be made there, but it’s obviously a point that will be better made in a year or two or three years from now. We’ve been here for two years, which is a long time but I don’t think long enough. But I also think that the point I hope we’re making, that people can identify and resonate with, is just that you have to shut up and go and do the work. There’s all this idle chatter and I think the best rebuttal sometimes, is just to be doing the work. Like, we can talk about it later. We can talk about it a year from now once we have a lot to talk about, but let’s not sit around and criticize designers for wanting to do good before they’ve even had a chance to go out and figure out how to do it. That’s my biggest frustration and one that I hope we can bring to the greater conversation. I’m more than willing to talk about it but I also have a lot of work to do, so let me go and do that and then we can talk about it.
JA: We’re sitting here sort of chuckling to ourselves, because of course, we totally get that. This really resonates with us in terms of the thesis process we have undertaken. It’s been incredibly difficult for us to be doing that work and then reflecting and reporting on it, all at the same time, and under the pressure of thesis advisors and department requirements, while trying to really push the edges of what’s expected. That’s been hard. We’ve wanted to say, just let us do the work and we’ll talk to you a year from now when we’ve had time to reflect, but we’re having to do it all at once and that’s tricky. EP: You know, I talk to students a lot who tell me how hard it is to do this work on a semester schedule—how do they expect me to get anything done? And then you have to move on to another class and you’re like, wait, I don’t want to leave that project behind. I feel for you. A lot of the work we’re doing now is very much a rebuttal to my own education because I didn’t get to do any of this work. On one hand, that’s terrible but on the other hand maybe it’s OK because I would have had to do it within that structure, and I don’t do so well with structure. So I totally understand the academic constructs that you have to try and fit this into. Maybe it’s beneficial from a research perspective, but I’m sure you find it a little rigid at times. JA: Yeah, we definitely see both. I do think it’s beneficial to really confront it, I think we’re learning a lot. But you know, you described yourself as a rabble-rouser, I don’t think we could do this any other way either. So we take the good with the bad. We see you as someone who is exhibiting a lot of agency in your practice and in defining the kind of work you want to do. One of the questions we’ve really been looking at