Instructor Reflection – The Art of Trespassing (8.1)

By Crystal VanKooten

Justin Graffa composed “The Art of Trespassing” within our first-year writing course at Oakland University during the fall of 2017, and I love how the composition turned out for a lot of reasons. First, there is lots of visual and aural evidence that Justin was engaging and experimenting with processes and themes that were at the heart of our coursework: writing, inquiry, finding and compiling materials, primary and secondary research, and multimodal composition. One of my comments to Justin when he turned in the final draft during the course was that I was so impressed with the juxtapositions and collages he authored throughout the video: the sound collage of reporters speaking about Detroit’s decline, for example, or the visual layering of city imagery and alphabetic newspaper headlines. In a way not often seen and heard within first-year writing, Justin truly picked up, ran with, and extended some of the aural and visual rhetorical techniques we discussed in class.  

Justin also does a seamless job of weaving his primary research into the video using audio along with other modes. He conducted a phone interview with Tony, owner of an urban exploration YouTube channel in Detroit, and beginning at 5:35, he presents a masterful sequence that combines screen recordings, voice over narration, found and borrowed video footage, music, and the audio recording of the interview to present Tony’s view of urban exploration as documentation of history. Justin then uses the interview to lead into the closing section of his video, where he brings the audience to a complex conclusion: perhaps Tony is right, and it is a good thing that ruin porn photographers and videographers are documenting abandoned buildings and empty lots for posterity. But by beginning each phrase of the closing voice over with “maybe” as he makes his way to this conclusion, and then ending the piece simply with one last spoken “maybe,” Justin reminds us that the issue is complicated and multilayered, and he leaves the ultimate conclusion up to us.

There is one additional element that makes “The Art of Trespassing” engaging and instructive: Justin composed this video using on-campus computers, as he mentions in his student reflection, and he was able to work and edit only when the lab was open during daytime hours before 5 PM. Thus as his instructor, I saw and heard smaller pieces of the video as he drafted them, and we had conversations as he worked about what the video could be and where he wanted to take it. I’m very pleased in the end how it all came together, and I give Justin credit for composing this piece using limited resources.

As you watch and listen to “The Art of Trespassing,” be sure to interact with the responses by Glen Southergill and Kyle Stedman, as well. They offer interesting perspectives and analysis that have further deepened my understanding and appreciation of Justin’s work.