Public Lab Wiki documentation

Proposals: Grassroots Modernism

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Journal of Aesthetics and Protest Press: Grassroots Modernism

Submitted April 1, 2011

A Pop-Up Public Laboratory: creating a space for processes, investigations, and community documentation of civic environmental science.

The Public Laboratory began a partnership to document the effects of the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico on May 5, 2010, only two weeks after the Deepwater Horizon sank. We worked with local activists and residents to use cameras, attached to balloons and kites, to capture aerial images of oil along the Gulf Coast. This project -- and the broader activist mapping practice it is part of -- is known as Grassroots Mapping (

Since the start of the spill, we have completed over 70 mapping trips, worked with 130 local Gulf Coast volunteers, trained 15 trip leaders, collected approximately 100,000 images and have created over 50 maps from these images with more in progress. In keeping with our emphasis on low-cost, participatory, and community-led environmental investigation, we have helped residents map coastline areas spanning four of the Gulf Coast states including Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

Now we are faced with the challenge to close the information loop. We have worked to build alliances between activists, technologists, and community leaders, and have managed to curate a flow of information which finds its origins at the local level. Still, however, the flow of information tends upward and outward more than it serves to support change at the local scale. We propose two solutions to not only close this loop but enhance feedback throughout the community.

1.We aim to transfer the means of production closer to our community partners -- to attempt to seed local expertise and the capability to produce -- from start to finish -- information about toxins, environmental health and justice, within local communities. To address this challenge, we propose a mobile, modular “Pop-Up Public Laboratory” which will inhabit a communal space -- a church basement, a garage, a shed -- providing a space for such investigations to occur. This field station will house events, workshops, a map processing and printing workstation, and the equipment (helium tanks, cameras) which residents are already using to perform grassroots environmental monitoring.

  1. We propose a series of published maps, including commentary about local environmental issues and observations, a forum for the adoption and application of new techniques for gathering and interpreting data. Based the visual format of our illustrated guides (, this will engage local creative input and will provide greater transparency and skills transfer across our community.

With these two projects -- the map-based periodical and the pop-up laboratory -- we hope to yield written and visual material relevant to the goals of Grassroots Modernism. Our work is created through local volunteer networks and engages communities in the process of data collection. With the Pop-Up Public Laboratory, we will be bridge the gap between data collection, production and analysis in communities by creating spaces where both parts of the process can be implemented in the hands of locals.