The circulation project was one of the more challenging assignments I undertook in this course, and I think the difficulty stemmed from the physicality of the project – real people had to come in contact with a real object – and the ambiguity of the assignment – both who the people were and what the object they came in contact with was up to my interpretation. As I began to shape my goal, I knew that I wanted my audience for this project to have a tactile experience with some component of a bridge. For most people, bridge corrosion and disrepair is something vague and abstract, not often thought about, and the responsibility of somebody else. I wanted to eliminate some of that abstraction by forcing people to actually hold a piece of bridge and perhaps through that, shift some of the responsibility of their city’s infrastructure onto themselves. Attaining a piece of a bridge turned out to be rather unfeasible (and dangerous) so I settled for a metaphorical piece of bridge: a chunk of concrete that my civil engineering friend brought back from one of his classes. Despite that slight adjustment, my goal remained the same: to compel people to hold and touch a substance that composed a typical bridge and become more aware of Pittsburgh’s infrastructure situation.
My ideal audience for this project was women, specifically young women at the University of Pittsburgh. Most of the people who are intimately aware of how bridges are built, how they corrode, and what dangers they pose to the public are engineers, especially civil engineers. However, less than a quarter of civil engineering degrees are awarded to women; therefore, I felt that women students were at a particular disadvantage when it came to being exposed to knowledge about the infrastructure they interact with every day. The fact that I was conducting my circulation project at the University of Pittsburgh afforded me an interesting opportunity to reach women students: through sororities. My roommate is a member of the almost all-female band sorority Tau Beta Sigma (TBS), and took the piece of concrete with her to several meetings. The TBS community allowed me to reach a large group of women within a relatively short amount of time. The piece of concrete had a note tied to it showcasing some statistics about structural deficient bridges in Pittsburgh and a hashtag that I created. My documentation of the project was therefore through twitter, as I asked people to take a picture of themselves holding the piece of concrete and post it using the hashtag. This method was relatively easy to implement, available to lots of people – though, admittedly, excluded those who didn’t have twitter – and made it simple for me to track the progress of the project.
Although only eleven people posted pictures of themselves on twitter, confirming physical contact with the piece of concrete, I know that many more people were exposed to it and the information attached to it. The reach of the project, therefore, feels limited but successful to me. I know that I influenced, at least for a few moments, the thoughts of people who may have otherwise never considered such a far-reaching and important issue. I also circulated the concrete around people on my floor and can vouch, at least for them, that the project sparked some conversation about the topic, which I definitely hoped to create. Overall, the fact that the project was physical, on-the-ground circulation made it more challenging to reach large groups of people but made the experience for the people whom it did reach more meaningful and significant. Many people said, “oh, I didn’t know concrete was this heavy!” or “Is this what it really looks like inside?” Those sorts of involvements are contingent on the physicality of the project and added a dimension that would not have been possible to achieve digitally.