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2.1: Sound, Image, Site

4.023, FALL 2019


Our introduction to the site we would be working on for the remainder of the semester was framed as a challenge. We were tasked with using video to represent the essence of the site, a small wetland reserve close to campus. Points of interest could include its status as wetlands, its proximity to large roadways and infrastructure, recreation, inhabitants, and accessibility.

In 1630, Cambridge MA as we know it today did not exist. It was a salt marsh that was gradually filled in by the trash of the towns living and growing on its banks (butcher's refuse played a surprisingly important role in making up the land that MIT now stands on.) As the waterway of the Charles River narrowed and was canalised, wetland areas decreased, the soft land-water boundaries replaced by hard seawalls. The site we were given represents one of the few areas in Cambridge that has not been built up yet. It is home to several local plants and trees, and provides nesting grounds for the migratory Canadian Geese.

A particularly interesting — and tragic — aspect of the site, which some of my friends investigated with great success, was the homeless population living there. It is a relatively popular campsite for communities who have nowhere else to go. They remain for much of the summer until police cause them to move away in the autumn. For them, the site represents transient safety. It is a place they can take care of their friends and the geese, and feel secure for a short period of time. 

About a week after we visited, the homeless were evicted from the site for the year. We do not know where they went. 


I made my video before learning about all the above complexities, consequently, my footage focused on the sensory experience of being in nature. Even though the site is close to campus, we seldom venture into that area, which is relatively inaccessible from the road. I deeply enjoyed being among trees and hearing the sound of nature and bees, and wanted to celebrate that. On the other hand, there is a distinct tension between humanity's presence in the wetland and indigenous nature. By using the human character in the video as a proxy, I attempted to represent that relationship and the fragile truce with the human world that the future of the wetland depends on.

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