The accessibility of online archives such as the commons creates a dynamic set of media that can be remixed, appropriated, drawn from, or extended in a creative practice. As an artist and educator, I demonstrate how the commons is a potential for poetic sampling and recombination to produce an object, experience, or text that in turn reveals something about the dataset. I have played in the sandboxes of various archives to produce The Women of El Toro (with Dr. Daniel Sutko) and The Library of Congress, Remixed. For this post, I will expand on The Women of El Toro.
Caption: The Women of El Toro was released as an iOS app in 2016. It is available on the iTunes store.
The Women of El Toro (WoELT) is an iOS application I co-created with Dr. Sutko with the aid of a California Humanities, “Community Stories” Grant. WoELT used digitized oral histories from CSU Fullerton’s Center for Oral and Public History (COPH) to create a location-based augmented reality tour of The Orange County Great Park (OCGP), formerly Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) El Toro. Visitors to the park can listen to oral histories of female veterans and military wives who lived and worked at El Toro, transforming the space of the park into an educational and cultural experience of historical significance and intergenerational connectivity. We made this app to amplify women’s voices captured by COPH just after the close of the El Toro base in 2007. We read at least one thousand pages of interview transcripts to select quotes made by the women that we imagined could pair interestingly with various park locations and activities, including: the hot air balloon, Hangar 244, the carousel, the kids park, the soccer field, the reflection pond, and the visitor’s center atrium and restroom. Pedagogically, there is a cultural significance to re-asserting these women’s voices back into the geographical location where they were once assumed second-tier to the men who occupied MCAS El Toro.
Caption: For viewers without an iOS device, The Women of El Toro website features a Google Map that includes several of the locations and media files for in-browser viewing.
As a creative endeavor, my primary interest in developing this project was to create a poetic moment for the person at the park who engages in our cross-temporal tour. Imagine riding a horse on a carousel. The carousel is meant to be an entertaining park ride. However, it literally sends the rider in circles. After handing your ticket to the carousel operator, you are left to watch the park pass by, wave to friends or family, or, what I end up focusing on most of the time, staring at the back of the head belonging to the person sitting in front of you. If you ride the carousel at the OCGP you can open The Women of El Toro app and listen to Vera Nelson, who will speak into your earbud, “I loved it there at the college until I went into the post office that day in July of ‘43 and saw that picture of a beautiful Marine girl in uniform with the big slogan that said, ‘Be a Marine and Free a Marine to Fight!’ And I thought silently to myself, ‘I think I can free two of ‘em.’ So, I enlisted in August of 1943. I went to boot camp in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, in the fall. I remember October in North Carolina was beautiful. All the trees looked like a Persian carpet, yellow and gold and brown. But all I saw was the back of Millie Lancer’s head. (laughs).”
The Women of El Toro brings a collection of archived media that typically sits on the shelves of COPH in Fullerton, California to the public. It creates a new experience for park goers and recovers the voices of women who served during WWII, including veterans and wives of veterans, positioning them as the featured voices on the land where they once served our country.
The commons—I think, all public archives or datasets—holds a similar potential. One can find granular elements to unify across a single theme in order to reveal the set as a whole, or to recover or reposition parts of its data.