“What’s it like there?” We all field the question — from friends, family, or even a stranger on the plane. How do you answer it?
In the fall, photographer Garrett Hansen ’02 challenged Grinnellians in his Landscape Awareness course to draw from every sense and discipline to define their answers.
Hansen, who is also a studio art instructor, was enthusiastic about developing the four-week short course. “I really love working with a more diverse group. I knew the students would be coming from many different disciplines and I wanted it to be challenging for each, but in different ways. We had fantastic conversations. It was not a class with answers; it posed questions.”
Hansen says a discussion with Jackie Brown, professor of biology, helped him understand how much of biology “is about pattern, is about being able to recognize forms.” Artistic training helps you “pick up on patterns, color, and form much more quickly,” he adds, and says he wanted “to see if that was universal; if you're going to experience a place, you have to experience it on a sensory and a conceptual level.”
Students tackled readings from experts in art, architecture, cartography, geography, philosophy, ethics, and ecology. They then used and challenged what they learned while exploring the campus, the town, and the Conard Environmental Research Center.
Their final projects reflect the diversity of the students’ ideas and approaches. Examples include:
- Survey maps that test campus stereotypes. (Yes, athletes are more likely to live near the fitness center, but science and humanities majors are evenly distributed across campus.)
- A three-dimensional map that charts a student’s Saturday in both time and space.
- An avid knitter’s map that uses yarn to identify Iowa farms that produce the fibers she loves.
- A double map that stymied Hansen at first. The student, he says provided both an original map of campus and one where she subtly reoriented buildings based on her interactions with them. The secret, Hansen learned, was to experience the differences between the two.
Using a readily available map of town, Dana Utroske ’13 decided to focus on the unmapped places. “I realized that all of my favorite places — parks, empty lots, public spaces — were all just big white squares. My map shows no buildings, no streets, and no railroad tracks; this let me focus on all of the space in between,” she explains. “I hope to go into environmental education in the future, and this class really made me question some of my strongly-held assumptions about the environment and my relationship with it.”
And that, says Hansen, was his goal.