At some point this year, Corpus Christi residents may have wandered past street signs indicating, “Sea Level Rise Zone” or “This Block Will Be Under Water in 2050.” It’s plausible that Coastal Bend inhabitants walked by and didn’t take a second glance. For the ones who did, however, it raises questions of whether this is truth, and if it is, what do we do about it?
That’s the point of Joshua Duttweiler’s artistic installations. An assistant professor of graphic design, Duttweiler’s work uses strong, extensive research to ask difficult questions and place the viewer within the scope of understanding and reacting.
“I do think [it] ties back into my teaching philosophy in a lot of ways,” Duttweiler said. “With teaching, I see myself as a facilitator. It’s not that I have all the answers, and I try not to come into the classroom that way, but that I can provide you — the student or the audience — with the tools to figure it out on your own, to interact with a piece, to be encouraged to discover a new place, dig deeper, walk around, in hopes that you take that info and do something different, hopefully better, with it moving forward.”
Duttweiler moved to Corpus Christi in the middle of the pandemic, and it’s the places he finds himself that provide the inspiration for new work.
“I’m really inspired by place in general, so no matter where I am, my world revolves around that,” Duttweiler said. “I was already interested in place, spaces and how people interact. I’m a designer, so the design of a place is interesting to me. So coming to Corpus, I got to spend some time in the pandemic observing what it was and how it was and how it worked here, and coming to respond to that, which was really exciting.”
One of Duttweiler’s latest pieces, “Northside Bingo,” sheds light on the Northside of the city, digging into its founding in the ’20s as a whites-only neighborhood before the expansion of the highway and white flight indicated a shift of the city looking at the neighborhood as a means for profit, rather than home for those who lived there.
The piece was an installation where people could touch black circles, and the heat from their touch would uncover pieces of history about the neighborhood. According to literature for the piece, “The only winners were those who would make economic gains from the Northside’s demise. Unfortunately, these residents are not alone. Communities of color in cities are the ones who bear the brunt of infrastructure projects all over the United States.”
So when it comes to Duttweiler’s installations, it’s not enough to just observe. It challenges the viewer to interact, to become part of the community represented, to use their own touch, their own voices. However, this isn’t to say that Duttweiler’s lens of the Coastal Bend is marred by iniquity or only the dark parts of its history. He’s always trying to find the good with the bad, and encourages others to do the same.