In October of 2016, I was reading my campus newspaper and saw the most unbelievable headline.
"University to launch satellite time capsule into orbit for upcoming bicentennial." A team of engineering students was planing to launch a time capsule into earth orbit for a century in honor of the bicentennial. I couldn't believe it. This was like our very own Voyager Golden record! I emailed the Michigan Bicentennial Archive team (M-BARC), excitedly pitching ideas for what they should include in the time capsule, and they emailed me back welcoming me to come to a meeting.
When I got there, I realized that I was the only artist, and only non-engineer, on the team. Their work was focused on the logistics of getting this satellite to remain in orbit for 100 years, and rightfully so. But I urged them to reconsider how they were approaching the contents of this time capsule, especially in light of what the people of 2117 would care to learn about us.
For our time capsule to be sent up into space, the contents would need to be just as ambitious as the efforts of the engineering team. American Culture Professor Kristin Hass was brought in to lead a group of students from all academic background in deciding what would be included in the time capsule.
Time capsules are notoriously disappointing. When our class visited the Bentley Historical Library to look at time capsules 7 or even just 2 decades old, we found all the time capsules disappointing, lacking curation and any focused message. However, we also saw the various scrapbooks left by students from a century ago. Although these were far older, they were far more compelling than the design-by-committee time capsules, in that they were not made for some distant future but for the present. They were personal. Students wrote about dances, celebrations, bad campus incidents, and mundane parts of life. These scrapbooks made the people of the 1910's feel as human as we were. We realized that, in a time where even 5 years in the future is unclear, our goal would have to be the same– to show the people of 2117 that we were people too.
2016 was a politically tumultuous year, and combined with the Bicentennial celebrations, it was a moment of reflection both nationally and locally on our collective history, and how we tell or fail to tell those stories. Above is an image from the Stumbling Blocks exhibit, a pop-up exhibition meant to call attention to ignored parts of our campus history. Our team went to many Bicentennial events, and discussed a critical question: As a Bicentennial time capsule, is our project meant to address 200 years of history, or just this specific year?
What we decided to do was create a Bicentennial Ball– a dance in the Union. Like our team itself, this event was meant to draw in students who would have never even heard of this time capsule to contribute to its contents. We aggressively documented the event, through a custom Snapchat event, a photo-booth, video testimonial area, and scrapbooks that we would later donate to the Bentley Historical Library, alongside digital copies of the time capsule contents. We also curated a selection of songs to include in the time capsule, and wrote personal reflections on why we each chose the songs we did. We also included a glossary to define terms that the people of 100 years might not understand. The people in 100 years might not know of these dusty old songs, but they should connect with the reasons why we chose them.
This project was the culmination of a great amount of collaboration between the M-BARC team, the Bicentennial Committee, and amongst ourselves. I can't be grateful enough that I got the chance to be a part of this.