For a month in Spring 2012 we were based in Kyoto, Japan and engaged in a cross-continental collaboration with DodoLab, the Canadian art and design program. DodoLab was continuing their project on infrastructures of mineral extraction in Sudbury, Ontario.
The name of our shared, ongoing exploratory endeavor is Amulets for Infrastructure or インフラ の御守 (infura no omamori) in Japanese. The project is predicated on the acknowledgement that all human-designed architecture and infrastructures never have been, and never will be, immune to forces of change.
Our project is inspired by omamori, small pouches that many Japanese people use in ways similar to how some Westerners use talismans (from Greek ”telein” which means “to initiate into the mysteries”). Omamori are made sacred by religious rituals that transform them into busshin (spiritual offshoots) or kesshin (manifestations) of the deity. They are objects that contain the spiritual essence and powers of a deity or buddha, and they are usually carried on one’s person, backpack or purse. These small amulets can be purchased at shrines and temples all over Japan. They offer their owners protection and good luck. It’s common for students to secure at least one before taking exams, or for a new one to be purchased at the start of each year. Some omamori are designed to provide traffic safety, others to ensure a safe pregnancy.
For us, the Amulets for Infrastructure project is less about the idea of “luck” sometimes associated with the concept of amulets or talismans, and more a reminder of ancient knowledges that tell of the power of nonhuman forces to shape and sometimes unseat human plans, including human-built structures and infrastructures. With Amulets for infrastructure, we hope to help extend awareness that future infrastructures and built environments need to be designed and used with geologic earth forces in mind.
Our trans-cultural collaboration and creative interpretation of omamori will be a humble, material acknowledgement of the reality that our planet is full of dynamic forces capable of serving up compounding impacts that can overwhelm and out scale our best attempts at infrastructural design. Our complex and networked infrastructures of daily life put us in relation to forces much larger than ourselves in fundamentally new ways. Through Amulets for Infrastructure we ask, "Together, how will we meet this new reality?"
Over the course of two weeks in early April smudge studio and DodoLab staged talisman/omamori projects in our respective locations. In Sudbury, the project was called Amulets for Sudbury. While in Japan, smudge studio worked with a group of students at the Kyoto University of Art and Design to develop a series of personal Amulets for Infrastructure. This included the soliciting of images (photographic, diagrammatic, poetic) and stories pertaining to infrastructures that Japanese students wanted to have protected (infrastructures that carry a particularly personal meaning or site-specific proximity). “Things” suggested for inclusion in the “amulets for infrastructure” project include: elevators, mine shafts, cars, bridges, roads, post offices, heating pipes, internet cables, the electrical “grid,” nuclear power plants, and perhaps even infrastructures to come, such as deep geologic repositories for nuclear waste.
Selected documention of projects at the Kyoto University of Art and Design, April 2011
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Read more on the Friends of the Pleistocene (FOP) blog:
01.22.11 "Amulets for Infrastructure"