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Q&A with David Buckley Borden

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David Buckley Borden is an interdisciplinary artist and designer in residence at the Harvard Forest in 2016-2017, collaborating with world-class ecologists on boundary-shattering projects involving creative cartography, speculative design, and landscape installations.

We sat down with him in January 2017 to ask a few questions about the goals and influences for his year of work at the Forest.

For your fellowship, you'll spend a full year at the Harvard Forest. What sparked your desire to apply?

I was drawn to the Harvard Forest for a couple of reasons; the research community, the place itself, including the Forest and the on-site facilities, and the Forest's history of supporting the arts and humanities within their science practice. I think the most convincing reason, was a strong alignment between my creative mission and that of the Harvard terms of education, conservation, and making a contribution to our collective understanding of the environment.

Tell us about your design studio on the edge of the woods.

Yes! I have a really sweet shingle-clad 700SF studio on the edge of the woods. Everybody in ecology knows that the most interesting stuff happens in the "edge condition." Right? The same could be said for the creative world. So, yeah, the studio is my creative lab. It is where I experiment with ideas, materials, and representations. Its also the place where I share my work. I am a big believer in the open studio practice. I always welcome anyone and everyone to visit the studio.

On your website, you describe a hope for an informed public with a shared ecological awareness. In a perfect world, what environmental issue would people be more aware of?

If I had to pick one, I think it's critical that people realize we are all part of a shared ecological system. I often say that the the biggest environmental issue is not one of ecology, but rather a cultural issue.

Who are a few of your art/design influencers, and why?

Well, I definitely draw from a diverse group. A few of my design influences include Claude Cormier for his creative humor, Jon Piasecki for his reinterpretations of historic landscapes, and Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby for their speculative design work. From the art world, I would say Maya Lin for her conceptual creativity and Ian Hamilton Finlay for his creative play with history and culture. I'd also add some contemporary visual artists such as KEMS, John Cronan, and Jack Byers for spurring my interest in letterform and super graphics. And, I'd add a number of scientists including Richard Forman and Peter Del Tredici. Both made lasting impressions on my understanding of ecological systems and inspired my creative direction. That's more than a few...

In your Landscape Futures project, you're visualizing possibilities for tomorrow's landscape. What's the feeling, when you do that? Hope? Despair? Something in between?

I like to explore the full range of the emotional map, but hope is always the prevailing attitude. I intentionally avoid making work that falls within the mode of "doom and gloom" environmental messaging. Although hope is the foundation, its really not enough. I think my most effective work moves beyond hope; I'm really trying to spur positive action, not just hope.

How does humor play a role in your art and design?

I really do love to use humor in my work. And, It's not that I am making light of the issues...and I'm certainly not interested in being the court jester at the interdisciplinary table. I just find humor to be a powerful tool for entering challenging conversations.

Social media seems pretty central to your process. Does it help people to engage with environmental issues in ways they ordinarily would not?

As someone who's creative practice is focused on making ecological issues accessible to the general population, I'd be silly not to engage social media. Being relevant isn't limited to accessible narratives and visuals, it also includes how people communicate. So, really, to be successful the work needs to be relevant to how folks receive and share information.

That said, I realize that although social media has a broad reach, its typically a very shallow experience. Given this weakness, I still think its extremely important to invest in creating moving IRL [in real life] experiences with public installations and exhibitions.

How would you describe the relationship between your practice and science?
That's a good question. In the past I would dive into an ecological issue, gather information and then develop work based on the research and the audience. Now, its more of a feedback loop in which I am getting direct, multiple rounds of input from the researchers as the work develops. Not only are the scientists the content-drivers, but they're also now editors. Now we're co-authors and work is all the better because of it.