Hunched behind a dusty old computer, its virtual desktop littered with dozens of tiny manila file folders and surrounded by blueprints, scale models and books by Edward Tufte that litter his real-world desktop, architect Petar Perisic squints into the soft blue glow of his computer screen.
The man is exhausted. Up late last night painting the outside of four huge shipping containers by the light of a flickering street lamp, Perisic's been working nonstop on his latest project since he stepped off the plane from Machu Picchu last week.
And for the last year and a half, Perisic -- a suntanned, towering, earthy kind of guy who wears his long brown hair in a ponytail at the nape of his neck and prefers a friendly hug over a formal handshake -- has been working on and off, quietly but obsessively, on what he calls PERI_scope, a community center on 15th Street that he's constructed out of recycled shipping containers. He plans to use the space for informational exhibitions on global issues, particularly global warming.
'It's really about raising awareness about different issues that most people don't pay attention to on a daily basis,' he says, his huge paint-splattered hands clasped loosely in front of him, his thumbs shooting straight into the air every time he makes a point. 'It started out of an urge to effect change.'
When Perisic says things like 'effect change,' one can't help but believe him or -- as evidenced by the small army of volunteers he's amassed -- maybe even join his battle against mindless consumerism and unsustainable living.
'I'm working on a timeline over here, which I can show you,' he says, springing up from his roller chair, suddenly reenergized by talk of his pet project. 'It has the history of the universe. I'm formatting it in a way that compresses time logarithmically, so the last four years is about 4 feet wide and the 19th century is about two feet wide and it just continues to compress.' He walks the length of the rough-draft version of the timeline, scraps of scribbled-on paper taped to his office wall -- just one early examples of the type of multi-media, informational displays that'll eventually be inside the containers -- and points out things like the population explosion of recent years and the worldwide increase in carbon dioxide levels.
Perisic doesn't have kids, and his wife, a flight attendant, is often halfway across the country, which means he has extra time on his hands. He's been using his downtime to gather information on anything and everything that has to do with globalization. The folders on his computer desktop have labels such as 'starvation,' 'AIDS' and 'global warming,' and he has a series of folders called 'emerging cartographies' filled with all kinds of maps -- of everything from military bases to oil fields.
Taking his cues from Tufte, the 'Leonardo da Vinci of data, ' Perisic and a handful of people he's asked to participate in PERI_scope's inaugural exhibition -- artists and architects including Giacomo Castagnola Chaparro, Teddy Cruz, Rene Peralta and Helen and Newton Harrison -- will present the information he's gathered in user-friendly ways that let people process, compare and come to their own conclusions.
Perisic says PERI_scope is like global-warming films The 11th Hour and An Inconvenient Truth, but it has a third dimension, a permanent space, which he hopes will make the facts hit a bit harder. Movies, he complains, are temporary and never seem to offer solutions to the problems they present.
'You watch the film and then you go get in your Hummer and go on with your life, and the movie fades,' he says. 'I want people to change. My goal, maybe through their vote or through their pocketbook, they can start to slowly have these ripple effects in the economy, because I think people are going to have to start buying things that are local, things that are recycled, not wasting, using less energy, being more thoughtful about what they choose. You know, you can change the little decisions you make every day that, on a massive scale, become huge.'
Days later, Perisic stands atop scaffolding, finishing up the last layer of silver paint on the shipping containers. In the small yard in front of the stacked structures, a slightly rusted but otherwise nice iron gate leans against an adjacent cement wall. Perisic found the gate in an alley just a few blocks away from the site. Inside one of the containers, he stores the rest of his finds -- a dirty old globe, a charcoal barbecue grill and a rearview mirror are among a huge pile of things he found across the street at a place called SoCal Surplus. Almost all of the materials Perisic is using to construct PERI_scope are recycled materials he's found by using his downtown neighborhood as a resource.
'It's a little challenging when you start having to think in ways that you can't just go to Home Depot and pick up this stuff or that stuff,' Perisic says, 'but it's amazing what you'll find. Either I've been really lucky or I think everybody would be this lucky if they were open to looking for things.'
The biggest recycled products, the containers themselves, are prefabricated structures that work well as exhibition space with fairly minor adjustments, but that isn't necessarily the reason Perisic is using them. He rightfully describes the containers as 'what gave birth to globalization' and gets a thoughtful look in his eyes when he realizes they were invented just 51 years ago. 'How fast the effects of globalization have spread,' he says.
PERI_scope opens from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12, at 330 15th St., Downtown. www.peri-scope.blogspot.com or 619-338-0884.