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By Cassidy Bins ’22

The Wandering House

Inspired by unorthodox road movies like the animated Howl’s Moving Castle and the teen travelogue Microbe & Gasoline, cinema and media studies (CAMS) instructor Cecilia Cornejo wanted to find a way for community members to both experience the sensation of residential impermanence and reflect on notions of “home.” Inspired by the colorful, makeshift stilt houses associated with Cornejo’s native Chile in the 19th century, she decided to create an eye-catching, mobile recording studio out of an old ice-fishing house.

Over the summer, Cornejo parked her research project—christened the Wandering House—in Bridge Square, the Northfield Retirement Community, and other Northfield locations. Passersby were encouraged to step inside “the modern-day confessional” and record a brief oral history, which Cornejo hopes will “engage Northfielders in the production of collective, mutual knowledge while challenging the prevailing representations of rural people and immigrants alike.”

Beginning in mid-September, the Wandering House parked in Lanesboro for three weeks. “Similar to the act of ice fishing,” Cornejo told her hosts at Lanesboro Arts, “the Wandering House searches for the bounty that lies below the surface.”

A. Cecilia Cornejo: While Cornejo may help orient participants to the technology, she sits outside while they record, which typically takes 10 to 15 minutes. “We really are asking people to take the time to reflect, enter this space, and have a moment with themselves,” she says.

B. Questionnaire: Prior to recording, participants reflect on their answers to seven questions, including What made you choose Northfield as a place to live? and What would make Northfield a more welcoming place to you? The last question asks for ideas about how to present the final results. “My inclination is to make a film, or a series of video installations. But people may have better ideas than that, so I’d love to hear them,” says Cornejo.

C. Recording device: Participants’ answers are captured on a digital recorder, the TASCAM DR-100 MKII. Those who are uncomfortable communicating verbally can write out their responses.

D. Microphone: Cornejo’s microphone of choice is the sE X1 A model, a high-quality studio condenser mic. A wire screen, known as a pop filter, reduces environmental noise.

E. Student assistants: CAMS students Sergio Demara ’20 and Arya Misra ’22 (pictured), the Wandering House’s summer fellows, answer questions about the project from curious passersby and prepare participants for recording. As they go along, Cornejo and her students check the recordings for sound quality, organize them in a spreadsheet, and transcribe as many as they can.

F. Stained-glass window: Cornejo purchased the Wandering House’s stained-glass window on Carlslist. Renovator Scott Swanson created a space for it to “bring the house a sense of beauty, calm, and bliss,” to help people feel at ease while they’re recording.

G. Exterior: The house is 7 feet 9 inches wide, 11 feet 4 inches long, and 10 feet high. Organizations that helped fund the $5,000 retrofit include the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture and the Carleton Public Works Initiative.

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