Cultural Byproducts and Imagining in Human-Environmental Interactions

By Delcia Orona

This collection aims to capture a glimpse of the traces present in Isla Vista, on the UC Santa Barbara campus, and general surrounding area. With this collection, we can begin to recognize the commonly unseen or forgotten, and reimagine our influence on the environment. We can imagine an experience of a person in the environment, and imagine a history present at that space or location. We can explore the historic and imaginary possibilities of the means by which the trace came to be, as a ‘cultural byproduct’ of our existence in the world. These photos allow for personal exploration, discovery, and imagination, and hopefully inspire a sense of wonder, curiosity, or encourage rethinking our material surroundings. With practice, we can begin to practice “mindful looking”, and see the intrinsic value in the traces we often leave out of artistic, cultural, and academic spaces.

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What is a trace?

“An indication or evidence of the presence or existence of something, or of a former event or condition; a sign, mark” (Reimer 2010).

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“. . . traces help us to explore the materiality - not only in the narratives - that resides at the intersection of the seen and unseen - sound and silence - the coming into being of the social and its recession . . .” (Napolitano 2015).

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Where are they found?

Traces are found just about anywhere that humans have been - the most simple being through a footprint. We leave something behind everywhere we go.

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What do they mean?

They have a number of meanings, while also meaning nothing at all. They are open to interpretation. They live a life of their own, existing and disappearing, changing over time. They indicate an experience, a history, and a presence in the environment. Each trace is unique in its meaning.

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Are they intentional?

Not necessarily; they are neither intentional or unintentional. We are leaving traces every time we interact with the material world, and we are often unaware of doing so.

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Are they harmful?

In this context, no. Many harmful traces have been recognized, and we tend to be conscious of harmful traces (i.e. the impact of tracts in a preserved area). However, sometimes we forget the future life that they may have, so it is always worth being conscious of our traces.

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Do they ever go away?

Some do, and some don’t. Some have been around for a number of years, some maybe even made by the photographer. Some must be maintained by interaction, others washed away by interaction. Their existence tells a story

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When seeing these traces, we can recognize that what is left behind is telling a story “underneath the surface” of what appears. We can ask: what happened here?

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Cultural byproducts

A cultural byproduct can be understood as something ‘leftover’ from culture; something that has occurred or materially manifested from our presence in our environment. However, unlike other material products of culture, a byproduct can be seen as what has happened ‘in between’, with no necessary intentionality but unpredicted in its existence.

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Because the past life of this trace is not or may not be fully known, that allows the viewer an imagining of a past presence in this space, and an imagining of an experience. Because of that, imagining can also be an empathetic practice.

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Often times, these marks are ‘looked over’ or simply not recognized in our day-to-day lives. By highlighting them, we can learn to analyze the intrinsic value of these traces and cultural byproducts all around us as having a rich history, life, and presence in our environment, and learn to continue ‘investigating’ our environment in this same analytical way.

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Being present in our environment

‘Seeing’ and understanding our environment acts as an almost meditative practice. It allows us to explore our own individual presence in our environment in new ways, as if reimagining our influence in the environment, and how it is intrinsically undetachable from us.

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Explore these tools to learn more about how you can identify, interact with, and evaluate the traces you encounter in your environment.

"The Visual Toolkit"

Meet the Artist:

Delcia Orona

Delcia is anthropology major and linguistics minor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is originally from Parachute, Colorado, and hopes to attend graduate school in Europe for anthropology and sociology, or contemporary art and curatorial studies.

Current Projects

Seniors honors thesis: “Food politics and ethnography: oral histories and ‘story-telling’ in building a picture of local food networks in rural Colorado communities”

SOC130A: “A Day in the Life of an IV Student (ft. Sustainable Food Practices)

View her Work:

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