Making the Invisible Visible

About three weeks ago, I got up early on a Saturday morning to do laundry. The campus laundry facility closest to my house backs up to the backyards of the “party street” on Wesleyan’s campus. The Fountain backyards–named for their location on Fountain Avenue–are a gathering place for students each Friday and Saturday night. Come midnight on a weekend and you’re guaranteed to find a couple hundred students milling about in the Fountain backyards, drinks in hand. I add this detail about the drinks not because I want to draw attention to the behavior of Wesleyan students, but because drinks in hands means cups in hands. And what I discovered as I pulled up to do laundry that Saturday morning is that after the couple hundred students disperse and head to bed, their couple hundred cups (and other items of trash) are left strewn across the backyards to be dealt with later. I took in the sight, frustrated with my peers’ inability to put their cups into the trash instead of throwing them on the ground, and went inside to do laundry.

When I came back out an hour or so later, the backyards were suddenly pristine again. I almost didn’t notice it–I am so used to seeing the yards clean during the week that it took me a minute to remember the sight that had greeted me when I arrived. Had it not been for the single university employee getting ready to haul off two bags full of red solo cups he had just collected, I might not have realized what had transpired.

One of the things I think the artistic work of Forklift Danceworks does well is “making the invisible visible,” and it is no secret that this idea plays deeply into the company’s mission and how we think about and represent the work. My work with the company has made the practice of seeing the invisible systems that sustain my community part of my everyday experience. When I walk by a construction site or a grounds crew or a custodian, I now make a point to really see the people working there and notice what job they are doing. Once you start looking for the invisible, you notice that it’s everywhere. After the Think Tank’s recent trip to the campus Power Plant, where we learned about all the pathways that carry water and steam to heat and cool the entire campus, I think we all felt like we needed to jump up and down

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