This second half of my time with the fellowship has been marked by momentum, exploration, and maybe a little clarity! I have been amazed by how staying open to the lessons of the Digital Publishing Studio have nudged me in exciting but unforeseen directions, especially when I had imagined that at the very least, I knew the final form that my project would take.
Since my last update, I have dived far deeper into research on the typology and history of carceral spaces. I have been researching how the design of prisons and jails has changed alongside ideas about what the project of incarceration is in the United States. This philosophical history might be simplified as something like a path from ideas of public deterrence to individual reform to societal removal of those coded as “criminal.” This has been illuminating both as a reminder that there is nothing universal or eternal about our concept of imprisonment, and for understanding better how we have arrived at an ever increasing and extremely racialized prison population. What does incarceration mean to “do” to the incarcerated, what can be gleaned by simply looking at the conditions the incarcerated are held in?
I have also started working with the State Historical Society of Iowa, and owe many thanks to the incredible generosity of librarian Hang Nguyen. She put me in touch with one of the architects of the jail as it was constructed from 1979-1981, and I was able to meet with him to look at the architectural drawings together and discuss the history and design of the project. Through him I learned that a majority of the most crucial design decisions (thinking here of number of maximum vs medium or minimum-security cells, size and layout of cells, size of windows, types of detention hardware, surveillance equipment, acoustical materials, etc.) were decided based on national and state standards, so I am now down a new path of researching who makes those standards and how, how often they are reviewed, etc.
A surprising amount of my work this summer has been non-visual, non-product, and in a way, this feels the balance I needed from my normal production. It has been meaningful to take my time getting a much deeper understanding of the research and field, and to let that influence how I am thinking of visually working through these ideas. My breakthrough came in the final weeks of the fellowship, when I realized, I did not have to create a linear video, that there might be better ways to engage an audience. I have begun instead to begin testing out website designs through wire framing that could be interactive: spatial as well as time-based. This is an exciting and unpredicted and very new path for me, and I’m really interested in the parallel process of thinking about website architecture. Even as this summer fellowship comes to a close, I plan to continue to work with the Studio as I explore website design.