Dinh Q. Lê gives Artist Talk at CMU

On Tuesday, March 4, artist Dinh Q. Lê lectured students and community members in Kresge Theater at Carnegie Mellon University about his artwork in the final “Artist Talk” of the 2013 Carnegie International.

Lê, a Vietnamese-American artist, is one of 35 artists represented at the Carnegie International, and one of five to have been represented in the “Artist Talk” series.

“Over the past 20 years, I’ve been committed to the artistic process as a way of uncovering history,” he said.

His Carnegie International work, “Light and Belief: Sketches of Life from the Vietnam War” (2012), includes an exhibit of drawings and paintings by Vietnamese artists depicting life during the Vietnam War that were curated by Lê, and a documentary about some of the artists who made the works.

Lê was born in South Vietnam, but he and his family escaped by boat and relocated to southern California in 1979 when he was 11 years old to avoid the aftermath of the Vietnam War.

“America was never home,” said Lê. “When I [went back to Vietnam for the first time] in 1994, even though I was totally Americanized, I knew that this was my home.”

He has been living in South Vietnam since 1997.

Lê’s art career began in 1998 with his work “Mot Coi Di Ve”, a quilt-like curtain of old family photographs abandoned in Vietnam.

Lê had begun collecting old family photos in hopes of finding the ones his family had left behind when they fled their home. “These photographs became surrogate family photographs for me,” Lê said. “They remind me of my childhood.”

Although Lê has not found any of his own family photos, he felt it important share his collection with the public. “Most of these are happy moments,” said Lê.  “I want the world to see this side of Vietnam.”

Another of Lê’s major works is “Damaged Genes” (1998), a commentary on the effects of Agent Orange used by US troops in the Vietnam War on civilians. The chemical Agent Orange can cause deformities in people who are exposed to it. It affects people on the genetic level, and health problems can be passed down through generations.

According to Lê, the United States and Vietnamese governments have almost entirely ignored the issue, and Vietnamese citizens treat the topic as taboo.

“We keep moving away from all these very ugly subjects that we don’t want to deal with,” Lê said.

Lê opened a kiosk in a Vietnamese shopping mall and sold souvenirs (including disturbing two-headed baby doll figurines and clothing for two-headed people) to start a conversation about Agent Orange’s damaging effects.

According to Lê, about half of the passersby ignored his kiosk.  One-quarter stopped, looked, and walked away.  The rest stopped, looked, and began asking questions about his work.

Lê’s is also concerned by Hollywood’s depiction of the Vietnam War. “I had always felt that Hollywood had left us out in their films,” said Lê. “Over the years, I started to insert regular [Vietnamese] people into the Hollywood history.”

Lê has done so in his work “From Vietnam to Hollywood” (2003-2005) by “weaving” imagery from popular Hollywood films about the War with images of Vietnamese citizens, many of which came from his collection of abandoned family photos.

Another of Lê’s works deals with the perception of Vietnamese emigrants. “Erasure” (2011) is a response to Australians’ general disdain for “boat people,” or refugees who flee their country by boat and seek asylum in more stable countries.

“These people are people, and most of the time they don’t want to leave their country,” Lê said.  “In the discussion about the boat refugees, a lot of people forget about that.  I want people to look at this on a more humane level.”

This work is set up like an excavation site, with pits brimming with family photographs that people can pick up and examine.  Archivists are in the process of logging the photos on a website so they can be viewed around the world.

Lê’s main goal as an artist is to give a voice to his home country through his art. He said, “I’m trying to understand each perspective [of the United States, North Vietnam, and South Vietnam], and at the same time preserve some aspect of the southern side of the War.”

 

Journalism and literature collide in Susan Minot’s “Thirty Girls”

In 2012, a campaign entitled “KONY2012” went viral, taking this nation by storm and motivating people into action against the Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony. Kony, who is known for kidnapping children and forcing them to serve as soldiers in his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), is responsible for thousands of deaths and atrocities throughout Uganda and central Africa over the past several decades, and it is with this in mind that Susan Minot chose the central theme of her latest novel “Thirty Girls”.

Minot, who herself travelled to Africa to report on the horrors of Joseph Kony and the LRA, put her journalistic knowledge to use in this novel. Basing the plot on a 1996 incident in which 139 girls were kidnapped from their boarding school in northern Uganda by the LRA, Minot recounts how the headmistress followed the kidnappers into the woods and succeeded in bargaining for the release of 109 of the girls, with the stipulation that she leave the 30 healthiest girls behind. After a graphic telling of this encounter, the narrative picks up with the story of one of the girls form the school– fifteen-year-old Esther Akello–and her experiences serving as a child soldier for the LRA.

9781482958522_p0_v1_s260x420

While this is a dramatic departure from Minot’s usual romantic fictions, she does not abandon her typical theme entirely. Running parallel to Esther’s, in alternating chapters, is a storyline involving a thirty-something American journalist by the name of Jane Wood, and her experiences as she travels to Africa to report on the incident with the 30 girls. Jane, who is attempting to escape from the memory of her deceased, drug-addicted, ex-husband, soon finds herself traveling through Africa with an eclectic group of adventurous young adults.

In the midst of concerns regarding her inevitable loss of youth, Jane eventually becomes romantically entwined with a much younger man, named Harry, whose free spirit and adventurous nature serve to counter her usually reserved and withdrawn personality.

While Jane’s storyline is interesting, and the search for love/purpose is more relatable to the reader than the other aspects of the book, she inevitably ends up coming off as slightly superficial when placed as a contrast to the tragedies that Esther experiences throughout the novel.

When it comes down to it, the strength of this novel lies with Esther, and the strength that she shows in the midst of such horrific circumstances. Minot should be commended for her ability to voice Esther with such emotional depth and accuracy.  She makes it clear that Esther is simultaneously a strong and brave young women being forced to commit acts that no one should ever have to experience, and also a girl who wants nothing more than to have someone comfort her. Even in the rehabilitation camp from which she tells her story after her escape from the LRA, Esther’s residual anger, and the moral conflict she experiences regarding her actions in the LRA, is told with unabashed honesty.

“Thirty Girls” is an interesting mix of genres, and Minot finds a way to blend them, while making sure to treat both subject matters with the respect that they deserve.  This book is very difficult to read at times, as Minot does not shy away from describing the horrors of war, but for any reader who is willing to experience that, this is a beautifully written story that should not be missed.

Little Red Riding Vogue: Release your inner animal

There are plenty of fads that I pick up from other cultures and employ in my own style, but my favorite has to be the Japanese 着ぐるみ (kigurumi). Being a fan of anime and manga, I have always had an interest in Japanese trends like Lolita, but lately I have really started setting my sights on Japanese street fashion. It’s cute and edgy and all around fun.

It all began when I found fashion blogger Irodohieru on Tumblr. She’s Swedish, but totally devoted to street fashion. She has her own shop and a YouTube channel where she does hair and makeup tutorials too. From there, I was smitten. Street fashion was everything I wanted in a trend: TUK Creepers, sometimes frilly dresses, sometimes baggy street clothes. The thing about street fashion was that it was whatever you wanted it to be. If you wanted to be cute that day, be cute! If you want to look edgy, go for it! Street fashion was about standing out and looking fashionable while you were at it.

It was only a matter of time before I found kigurumis. Stars like Chloë Grace Moretz were posting pictures of them on Instagram and Humans of New York was capturing pictures of people wearing them on the streets of the Big Apple. They looked comfy and adorable and absolutely necessary. Luckily, they were one of those trends that was in the right place at the right time. You could find them at conventions and online at Urban Outfitters. Suddenly everybody realized the capital potential for kigurumis and wanted to keep them well stocked for the hungry masses.

So what are kigurumis? The word “Kigurumi” comes from a combination of two Japanese words: kiru (to wear) and nuigurumi (stuffed toy). The word used to refer to the performers wearing them (think Disneyworld employees or sporting event mascots), but recently it has come to mean the costume itself. Kigurumis are like footie pajamas without the covered feet. They have hoods and more than likely will look more like an animal costume than your average pajamas. Kigurumis are a lot like Snuggies—but actually adorable and fun to wear.

At this point, I have two kigurumis: a skeleton and Rilakkuma, because, yeah, you can usually get kigurumis modeled after your favorite Japanese characters. I have seen Totoro, Pikachu, Hello Kitty, and plenty more.

If you are interested in buying kigurumis, then let me be the first to say you have plenty of options. First, there is the Kigurumi Shop by SAZAC. They sell licensed kigurumis and those are probably the ones you will find at conventions (like the upcoming Tekkoshocon). Next, like I mentioned, you can find them at Urban Outfitters. The Kigurumi Shop’s prices are generally $50 and Urban Outfitters jumps to $80—neither of which is a small sum of money.

However, if you feel comfortable enough shopping online, and you know how to identify scammers when you see them, definitely aim for eBay. A lot of Chinese and Japanese sellers on eBay have lower prices for the same quality—just make sure you choose a trustworthy shop. Follow my advice and no matter the route you choose, you will end up with the comfiest set of pajamas you will ever own.

Foodie on the Half Shell: Review of Butcher and the Rye

A bitter cold evening during rush hour doesn’t sound like any fun on a Thursday night in downtown Pittsburgh, but the warm atmosphere in Butcher and the Rye had me forgetting the sub-zero wind-chill. The food is robust and hardy, and their whiskey selection is like nothing I have ever seen before. Put your big-girl or big-boy pants on, because the tastes and atmosphere are anything but tame.

Their menu is half drink and half food. The food menu is of average size, but has a great variety. There are many options for their smaller plates and just as many for their larger plates. The smaller plates are not too small, though! They are a heaping bowl full, which makes a great deal with an average of $8 for the small plates. The larger plates are a little expensive, but all of their ingredients are of great quality and their meats are handled beautifully.

I was enjoying my dinner with my beautiful mother and her fabulous friend, who were going to the theatre. They ordered some bourbon drinks that were made with some smoky whiskeys. My mom, who does not drink bourbon usually, really enjoyed her surprisingly citrusy and light drink. Her friend said her bourbon was fantastic.

We all shared three different small plates and then ordered a not-so-normal caesar salad. We had the Brussels, the shishito, and the cauliflower (which is actually an option on the larger portion side) but we treated it as a small plate to share. The Brussels are deep fried Brussels sprouts, with melted parmesan and some aioli on the side. It is greasy, but so delicious. The only thing I would say is ease up on the salt in that dish. I think that the dish would have been addictive, but it ended up being too salty to eat too much of it. Which is maybe a good thing, since it is deep- fried!

The shishito is a plate full of little middle green peppers with a Siracha cream sauce. They were nice and charred. As for the cauliflower, it was nothing compared to the other dishes. It was dilly and well cooked, but my taste buds weren’t exactly dancing. Finally we had the ceasar salad, that was made out of kale. It had a garlicky and crunchy crostini, and some sweet little compressed tomatoes.

Altogether, I was very satisfied and the waiter was pretty awesome as well. He was knowledgeable about the food and drinks, and totally reminded me of a more handsome version of Ben from Parks and Recreation. Great food and attractive service! I love this place!

The ambiance reminded me of an explosion of Pinterest gone right. It has the perfect combination of arts and crafts and Victorian era. The wallpaper is feminine but is surrounded by wood walls and floor and buck heads on the wall. I forgot to even be offended by them, because it all looked so good! The chairs and eclectic chinaware were perfectly mixed and matched and made you feel at home. The only thing about the interior that might put someone off is what the ladies have to deal with in the restroom. I’m not going to give this surprise away, but I will tell you that I thought it was hysterical, while others may find it offensive.

This restaurant if full of surprises when it comes to their tastes, their two different floors with different styles, and even their bathrooms. I encourage everyone to try this new place out and to also try their sister restaurant: Meat and Potatoes. The creators really know what they are doing, and I look forward to seeing what else they have up their sleeves.

“Miss Representation” perfectly represents women in media

On Thursday, February 27, students, faculty, and staff gathered in the Eddy Theatre to watch the documentary “Miss Representation”. The event was sponsored by the Pennsylvania Center for Women & Politics (PCWP) and co-sponsored by Her Campus Chatham.

The event began with an introduction by the Executive Director of PCWP, Dana Brown. Brown read some upsetting but true facts about women in politics, specifically in Pennsylvania. Brown said that 82 percent of legislature is made up of males in Pennsylvania and that Pennsylvania has never had a female senator or governor.

The film started with the audience being bombarded with various images of how women have been represented in the media. One scholar said that images are impacting our lives and that girls get the message that the most important thing is how they look. Guys then get the message that that’s all that matters about girls. The story then begins with the narrator revealing that she’s pregnant with a girl and mentions worry about her growing up in this society. Then, she talks about her childhood and how a coach violated her and after that traumatic experience she then developed an eating disorder.

The film then goes on to talk about the ideal image of beauty and Jean Kilbourne said that it would not ever be attained and advertising creates problems for men and women. The film mentions that self-objectification has been seen as a national epidemic for women. Next, it talks about how women are distracted from making a difference because they are worried about their bodies.

The main purpose of the film was to touch on how women do not often have leadership roles. Typically, female leaders in movies are the catty bosses. The film went on to show clips of men talking about women in politics in negative ways. They were talking about their appearance and stereotypes that trivialized women. The film then talked about how Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin were discussed in the media during the 2008 election. Hillary Clinton was perceived as bad and more masculine. On the flip side, Sarah Palin was heavily sexualized throughout the election.

The film also talked about how women are treated as objects in music videos and film. Dating violence was also talked about and various statistics about dating violence were mentioned. It talked about how society should teach boys to express emotion and one scholar went as far to say that men are emotionally constipated and that there should be a spiritual healing for guys.

The film ends with the narrator in the hospital giving birth to her daughter and discussing that she hopes that the world gets better for her daughter’s generation. After the film, there was panel for Q&A.

The film was an eye opener for all women and shows how badly they are misrepresented in the media and how there needs to be a change that not only the media, but also individual men and women need to make. “Miss Representation” is available to watch on Netflix.

Waiting for Intermission: Review of “The Monuments Men”

Check out George Clooney’s IMDb page and one will find a laundry list of acting credits. Notable roles include a vampire hunter, a suave casino thief, a 1930s Odysseus, and an animated fox with a midlife crisis. Within this established career, Clooney has added directorial credits to his resume with his debut film “The Monuments Men”.

The film tells the story of a little-known WWII mission involving recovering art stolen by Hitler during the occupation. Art historian turned lieutenant Frank Stokes (Clooney) leads the mission with a motley  crew that includes an architect (Bill Murray), a French pilot (Jean Dujardin) and the curator of the Met (Matt Damon).

Clooney’s directorial debut suffers from split personalities, unsure of whether it’s a comedy or drama. Stylized technical choices and the saccharine quality weaken the hilarity and chemistry between the actors. The film becomes the WWII version of “Ocean’s Eleven”, but with more cliché music and less Steven Soderbergh.

The first half of the film is arguably the most entertaining for the audience. Clooney presents the film like an episode of “Hogan’s Heroes” or “M*A*S*H”. Fantastic veteran actors such as Murray and Damon develop an assembly of colorful personalities. No one actor steals the show and audiences feel the playful chemistry develop between their characters.

The first half divides itself into a series of anecdotes as the group separates into their individual sub-missions. Clooney constructs these scenes in a humorous matter, whether it involves being pinned down by a child sniper or ousting a Nazi collaborator for housing stolen art. Fresh dialogue informs the humor in these scenes through the seamless witty comebacks between characters.

With the tripping over foxholes and discussions over who will be the distraction for gunfire, one almost expects Hawkeye to appear with a sharp one-liner (although Murray makes a reference to the character with his purple robe, helmet, and untied combat boots). Quick pacing also accompanies the first half, enhancing the light-hearted nature of the film.

At the same time, cheesy stylized effects also mark the film’s first half. Ominous violin music signaling those ‘pesky Germans’ and overt patriotic symbolism can cause some cringing. These flaws potentially accentuate the hilarity of the film when interpreted as a comedy. The first half does not take itself seriously, and neither does the audience. Suspension of disbelief through comedy would have made this film ultimately successful.

Except the tone changes dramatically in the second half. Clooney attempts the emotional pull of war by transforming his comedy into a war drama. Instead of the powerful message, audiences feel as if they are watching a completely different film. Pacing grinds to an aching halt and the characters begin to lose their sense of flavor. The oncoming Russian forces from the east serve to manufacture tension, but they end up becoming a predictable moot point in the film.

Clooney could have rationalized this sudden shift by abandoning the stylistic elements of the first half. Absence of bombastic music would signal to viewers a new realism reminding them about the horrors of war. Unfortunately, these elements remain, culminating with a Disney-esque ending fueled with naïve optimism. Clooney drew us in with the comedic theme, but his infusion of drama only leaves us confused by the end.

If you were able to only pay half the movie admission and watch the first hour, I would recommend seeing this film. The first half is the only part of the movie worth watching.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Rea Coffeehouse goes back in time to the 1920s

With the Rea Coffeehouse cleanup occurring on Saturday, March 1, the Rea and Laughlin Residence Hall Council (RHC) decided to increase interest in the space by using it to host the event “Roaring 20s in Rea Coffeehouse” on Friday, February 21.

The space–which was decorated with string lights, fake alcohol bottles, and tall round tables covered in blue and white table clothes–was filled with people milling about as jazz music played from the speakers on the stage. In keeping with the theme, first year Abby Beckwith stood behind the bar making mocktails with inventive names like the “Bees Knees” (lemon, honey, and orange juice), “Beer with Root” (root beer), and even “Hard Cider” (regular apple cider).

In the main room, people–dressed to the nines in sparkling shirts, flapper dresses, and headbands–stood around socializing and enjoying the atmosphere. When asked where she got her 1920’s themed outfit, First Year Margaret McGovney enthusiastically praised the usefulness of thrift stores for finding such clothing items.

Among all of the socializing, some students chose to take advantage of the music and danced–showing off their talents for swing dancing in the process.  In explaining why the event appealed to her, First Year Sarah Bangley explained that she used to go to a swing dancing club, where she learned some moves, and that this event “seemed like a good excuse to go swing dancing.”  “Also”, she said, “it just sounded like fun.”

Senior Birtie Yarroll echoed her sentiments, and went on to explain that she would take “any excuse to come down here and look at the angry feminist graffiti.”

Both were glad that the Rea and Laughlin RHC was making use of the Rea Coffeehouse, and they agreed that there should definitely be more events like this one in the future.

Tahmina Tursonzadah, First Year Rea and Laughlin RHC member, and one of the people in charge of the event, later explained that the point of the event was to get people interested in the Rea Coffeehouse in preparation for its official opening. As she said, they were trying to “get the juices flowing in this place.”  In addition to that, though, it was also just a normal RHC event to allow Chatham students to get together and socialize, explained Junior Emily Kocian.

Kocian, who also helped to plan the event, explained that she did so because she, “really like[s] being part of the community and being part of the planning process.” She also emphasized that the planning was really a collaborative effort among the entire RHC.

One of the ideas that Kocian and the RHC came up with was a makeshift photo booth consisting of a white sheet strung up against the wall.  First Year Alice Shy stood near it to take people’s photos, either with or without the fake lips and mustaches.

Other activities included a station for making headbands, with materials including sparkling elastic bands and feathers, as well as hot glue to hold everything together.

The participation and enthusiasm at the event made it clear that McGovney was not alone in her opinion when she enthusiastically exclaimed, “the 20s are awesome!”

Chatham’s Student Affairs celebrates students’ birthdays

Zauyah Waite, Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students, always finds ways to reach to her students. She said their goal is to, “let them know that [we] are glad that they are here at Chatham University.”

This time the recognition and appreciation Student Affairs is showing to students is by inviting them over to the Carriage House to pick up some treats for their birthdays. “What happens is that once a month we send an email to students who have birthdays all throughout this specific month, and we say that this is our time to recognize all of these birthdays, and ask them to come and pick up their treats” said Kathleen Ayers, Executive Secretary to Dean Waite. According to Ayers, it is also a way to get new students to come to the Carriage House and meet the people in the Student Affairs Office who they do not always get to see.

Students’ birthdays have not been celebrated by Student Affairs before. However, according to Dean Waite, every year she finds a way to reach out to students. In the past, for example, she has had a series of activities, such as Dine with the Deans, Tea with the Deans, and last semester she facilitated a few activities in the residence halls.

The Student Affairs Office normally plans the activities for each semester beforehand, and last semester was when Dean Waite came up with the idea, in preparation for this semester. This makes February 20 the second Birthday Special of the semester, after the January birthdays being celebrated on January 16.

The treats for January were Soft Pretzels from The Pretzel Shop on the Southside, while the treats for this month were cookies from Nancy B’s. “It’s also a way of trying to highlight some of the good snacks and treats that Pittsburgh has to offer” said Ayers.

The Birthday Special is a “first come first serve” kind of operation. The students come in and pick up their treats depending on their schedule. The email goes out in the morning around 9 AM, so they are made aware of it the same day in a personal invite email, in addition to the previous advertisement usually put on MyChatham Happenings and the student calendar.

The treats were picked up from the front desk at the Carriage House from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on February 20 by about 10 students.

“The New Birthday Special activity is a small way for us to celebrate our students on their special day and we will be doing this for the entire year of 2014” said Dean Waite.

By the people, for the people: CSG discusses going coed

Tensions at Chatham University ran high this week in reaction to the news that Chatham’s Board of Trustees is considering a proposal to make Chatham College for Women a coeducational institution. In response to the outpouring of opinions from the student body, the Chatham Student Government (CSG) encouraged students to attend their meeting on February 20 in order to express their thoughts on the subject. Despite the meeting’s 7:15 a.m. starting time, approximately 15 students made their way to the PCW room to voice their opinions, and hear what the Senate proposed to do about the issue.

Also in attendance at the meeting was Dean Karol Dean–Dean of the College for Women–as well as an alumna, who was politely asked to leave so that the meeting could be a closed forum for current students of Chatham University. This was in an effort to allow the senate to operate and discuss the issue before being exposed to any outside opinions, explained Zauyah Waite, Dean of Students.

Dean Waite also encouraged students to remember that this is just a proposal, and that now is their “opportunity to give feedback and be creative”. She mentioned that there will be more meetings throughout the semester, and that student’s can always sends their concerns to chathamfeedback@chatham.edu.

Jenny Schollaert, CSG Vice President, answered the main question at hand–what should be done about the issue–early in the meeting.  She explained that the CSG intends to present multiple (three to four) proposals to Chatham University President Esther Barazzone, on behalf of the student body, either outlining ideas for alternate courses of action, or in support of the move to a coed institution.  Multiple proposals would be necessary in order to accurately present the opinions of the entire student body to Barazzone and the Board.

One point that was brought up was the possible reactions from the student body to students with unpopular opinions, including those who support the change. To avoid any backlash, the idea of generating a campus wide survey was considered, though no decisions were made.

Of course, the question of how to maintain Chatham as a haven for women, even as a coed institution, was on everyone’s mind. Ideas included working to maintain traditions, having the entire student body take compulsory women’s studies courses, and creating a women’s leadership minor.

At the other end of the spectrum, the question of how to bring in more students if the proposal is voted down, was also widely discussed and included marketing more to transgendered students, as was mentioned by sophomore Rosemary Davies, and emphasizing Chatham’s accepting atmosphere. Davies also brought up the point that, although only two percent of female students are interested in an all-female college, those institutions make up only 0.1 percent of higher education institutions in the United States.

Senior Courtney Druzak also suggested talking to students and alumni about what brought them to Chatham–and how it made them better people–and using that to market the school.

One big conclusion of the meeting, however, was that more research and feedback from the students and faculty is necessary before the Senate can proceed with any of its proposed ideas.  One idea for research was to study other colleges who have gone coed and learn from their successes and mistakes. As Sarah Jugovic, CSG Vice President of Communication, joked, “obviously we don’t want to turn into a Carlow”.

Jugovic also mentioned petitioning the Board of Trustees to gain access to the research that they have conducted on the subject for the past two decades.

Other ideas for gaining information from the students included another Town Hall meeting, advertising the CSG meetings more, and the aforementioned survey; which would provide hard facts from the students.

Tahmina Tursonzadah, CSG Class of 2017 President, brought up the point that 2015 is much too soon for the transition, suggested that it be pushed back a few years in favor of further research.  The question however was where the money would come from in the meantime.

The final conclusions of the meeting were to move forward with proposals and research, and reach out to the student body to determine their thoughts on the issue. Efforts will be made to reach out to alumni at a later date, but only once the planning and proposals are complete. “Otherwise,” said Mareija Bibbs, CSG Executive President, “it would be a disservice to the current students”.

Regardless of people’s differing opinions, Caiden Fratangelo, CSG Class of 2014 President, emphasized the need to work with administration, not against it, saying, “This is a time for action, this is a time for solutions.”

“TINY: A Story About Living Small”

Bertrand Russell said, “It is the preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents us from living freely and nobly.” In a world full of Kardashians and supersizing, we as a culture tend to think bigger is always better. As a general rule, many assume that the more things they have and the bigger they live, the happier they’ll be.  However, in recent years, there are those who are pushing back against the idea that having more stuff will make you happy.

““TINY: A Story About Living Small”” is a documentary about a man named Christopher Smith with the simple desire for a home. An army brat who, after living in 20 houses in 30 years, is faced with the dilemma of never feeling at home. In this situation most people would probably purchase a house, but Smith, with the help of his girlfriend, decided to make one–but not just any home: a tiny home.

Tiny houses tend to be anywhere from 300 to 500 feet and can cost anywhere from $20,000-50,000. It’s important to note that, for some, living smaller just means using space wisely, but 500 feet is the blueprint. Why would anyone potentially spend $50,000 to have so little space? Well there are a variety of reasons aside from a nervous breakdown. After introducing Smith, the film presents others who have chosen to live smaller.

Although there were a few who embraced the tiny house movement in the 1990s, it has really taken off in recent years partly because of the recession. “It’s a perfect storm with environmental issues and economic issues coming to a head.” Smith said. With all of the turmoil in the housing market, the idea of paying fewer bills appealed more.

Beyond the financial reasons, some choose tiny houses because they find that all the stuff they have does not fulfill them. “I think we’re encouraged to do more and have more”, said one woman who had previously been unhappy with the “stuff” provided to her by a job she “hated”. Like her, Dee Williams–a longtime environmentalist in the wake of being diagnosed with heart failure–realized that time is a non-renewable resource, and decided she needed to make a change. “I built my house because I wanted to exercise my values differently,” she said.

In the end, Smith does get the home he’s always longed for, something the audience will rejoice in after watching the ups and downs of his search for home. It was a project that he ambitiously predicted would take one summer, but ultimately took an entire year. Even if one decides that 500 feet is just not enough at the end of the film, viewers will find themselves questioning what really makes a home a home.