Fall 2014

Fall 2014 Editor’s Statement

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Welcome to the Fall 2014 issue of ARID! This fourth installment of ARID features a wide variety of writings and artworks from photography and video to dance/performance and sound and radio art. Art/science collaboration features prominently in all sections, especially with regard to sustainability. In fact, during the planning and production of this issue, the ARID editorial team became very engaged with the idea of sustainability at both a macro and micro scale. Here we have chosen works that address the sustainability of arid environments in a broad sense, and in a smaller way behind the scenes we have begun to look seriously at the long-term sustainability of the ARID journal itself.

First, the micro-view: the production of the journal has been an overwhelming labor of love. Scholarly publishing is a difficult industry, and publishing an online, free publication does not provide its own means of support. Thanks to a small grant from Metabolic Studios secured by our co-editor Greg Esser over a year ago, ARID has been fortunate to have some production support, and we have been able to make the most of it. The Metabolic Studios funding has allowed us to support promotion, editorial, writing, design, professional copyediting (thanks to Marilyn Welch for this issue), and the exhibition After the Aqueduct at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE) organized by Kim Stringfellow in Winter 2015 featuring the work of Kim, Chad Ress, Lauren Bon, Nicole Antebi, Alexander Robinson and Barry Lehrman. This temporary support has been a watershed for ARID, but how can the journal move forward in the long-term? How can we allow for some (or all) free content, while helping those who undertake the massive job of producing and promoting each issue? Can we continue to self-publish? Behind the scenes, we are in discussion with three scholarly publishers internationally who each offer very different models for an online or hybrid online/print journal.

While we haven’t made any radical transformations yet, we have made some significant changes. Most dramatically, with this issue, we are officially transitioning to a yearly publishing schedule. A new ARID will come out once a year. Subscribe and look out for our submission deadline in the spring and new issue each fall. This new schedule allows us more time to find high-quality submissions and to sustain a formal peer review. Which brings me to another change: with this issue we have formalized our peer-review process. Using the open-source ejournal platform generously provided to us by the University of New Mexico libraries, two expert reviewers from our editorial board, William L. Fox and Bill Gilbert, along with co-editors Kim Stringfellow and I, volunteered time to provide scores and feedback on each and every one of the excellent submissions we received. We will continue this review process for future issues, and hope to call upon outside reviewers from our extended family of ARID editors and authors.

For me, the formal peer-review process not only helps to distribute decision-making and labor, making ARID more sustainable in the long-term, but the conversations it inspires helps to define ARID as a reflection of global environments and cultures, giving us a macro-view of the landscape. As the reviews unfolded this summer, a picture of the diversity of visions of ARID’s purpose and future became clear. This diversity is representative of arid regions in general: we are geographically vast and ecologically varied and encompass a great range of ideas and perspectives.

What this multiplicity of vision means to the art and design communities that thrive in arid environments is discussed in the Perspectives section in this issue in an engaging interview with art historian Libby Lumpkin. Libby served as a curatorial consultant for the High Desert Test Sites (HDTS) 2013, an ongoing series of exhibitions and events initiated in 2002 in Joshua Tree by Andrea Zittel. For the first time last year, HDTS expanded across the deserts from Joshua Tree to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Although challenging to manage, the expansion of HDTS allowed Libby and others to gain a bird’s-eye perspective of art, design and culture in the context of the arid landscape of the American Southwest, and what emerged was a patchwork of styles and processes as diverse as the cities and towns that hosted the works. It seems impossible to describe a unifying aesthetic of the contemporary American desert Southwest, and even more daunting to contain those creative impulses that fearlessly cross disciplinary boundaries.

When you connect to Libby’s interview, you will see another small change in the journal inspired by the cross-pollination between disciplines and practices that defines the ARID mindset. Within this issue, some contributions link and cross-reference between the four sections: Perspectives, Practices, Policies and Pedagogies. In the interview in Perspectives, Libby discusses the HDTS work of artist and educator Ellen Babcock, and in the Pedagogies section, we feature Ellen’s detailed discussion of her project Trade Winds Sign Rally (that I had the pleasure of participating in!) including the contributions of university and high school students across disciplines and a wonderful video documentation of the culminating collaborative performance at the Octopus Car Wash located in the rapidly transforming International District of Albuquerque New Mexico.

As we reviewed submissions for this issue, we started to notice more and more of these cross-sectional connections. For example, we have linked William L. Fox’s review of Tyler Stallings’ new book Aridtopia in Perspectives to Tyler’s contribution to the Practices section, Becoming Wordless for a Moment. We received an independent submission from Australian artist Sarah Jones called Flamin’ Stars, and later learned that Sarah produced this work while a Dutch Art Institute participant in the TAAK Summer School in Marfa. So, while we feature Sarah’s work in the Practices section, we have also linked it to a sub-section organized by TAAK director Theo Tegelaers in the Pedagogies section. In addition to Sarah’s fascinating work, TAAK offers us five recent works by emerging artist-participants in the Summer School this year.

I had a chance to visit TAAK and stay with the group of over 20 students and faculty in Building 98. Part of the barracks housing Donald Judd’s work managed by the Chinati Foundation, Building 98 housed German POWs during WWII and still contains murals rumored to have been painted by the prisoners. This summer, the tiny courtyard was filled with nearly 20 small green popup tents, home for young artists who traveled to Marfa from places in Europe, Scandinavia, across the U.S., Mexico, Australia and the Middle East to share meals, ideas and produce works in response to the unique landscape and communities that captivated Judd and many other artists throughout history.

We initially created the Pedagogies section in part because the majority of our editorial team is based at educational institutions, but more importantly because we see very exciting new field-based pedagogies emerging in desert environments. As with the TAAK Summer School, these field experiences regularly attract students from all over the world, especially those from more densely populated urban areas hungry for big skies and open spaces. Because the fragile ecologies in desert environments are changing so rapidly with anthropogenic climate change, long-established art and design field programs like Land Arts of the American West have naturally integrated ecological research with aesthetic practice. Unfortunately, the effects of climate change are now becoming clear in temperate environments that were thought to be more stable, and educators creating art, design and ecology programs worldwide are looking to the lessons learned in field programs established in arid environments, including those in the north and south polar regions.

Responding to rapid climate change through art and design research inevitably leads one to consider art/science collaboration. While we don’t see art/science collaboration as a requirement for inclusion in ARID, we have found that many of our contributors are crossing that great divide, almost as easily as they transverse disciplines within fine art and design, and that the results are challenging our perceptions of arid environments. We originally designed the Policies section to highlight the role that art and design has played in the creation and evaluation of policies related to arid environments. As submissions came in, it became clear that many projects that related to policy involved art/science collaboration, and that in many cases, rather than draw a line clearly advocating for one or another specific policy, the projects served to express the complexity of the issues.

The Edge of Light in this issue is a good example of the kind of complex questions ARID’s Policies section highlights. Although on the surface one might think this work was created in response to the issue of light pollution, in conversation with the authors, it became clear to me that the real political undertone of the project is the economic division between Wendover, Utah, and West Wendover, Nevada. The artificial light reveals this division. The incredible glow of the West Wendover casino strip and its suburban-style streets contrasts with the near darkness of the structures clustered around the former Air Force base in Wendover. Economic decline manifests itself in relative darkness, and according to the authors, looking at artificial light serves as a metric for the differences between two conjoined towns.

Peter Goin and Scott Hinton’s contribution Visualizing Post-Fire Landscapes very clearly illustrates a way in which art/science collaboration can help communicate the important and often politically controversial issue of fire and its aftermath. The project brings up the issues of photographic evidence, making a strong case that art does matter to environmental research. In contrast, The Discarded Museum in this issue illustrates a different approach. In this case, the author defines the project as art/science due to a close collaboration with the environmental team of the City of Palmdale, but emphasized to me that despite a large amount of overlap, the outcomes of this project are more heavily arts-based than science-based. Can we say then that the science matters to this arts-based research? Many of our authors might agree, for example Paul Catanese’s Visible From Space project in the Practices section is emblematic of the influence remote viewing of the landscape has had on the aesthetic development of arid environments. The historical land artists Smithson, Turrell and even Judd have all referenced the profound effects of an aerial perspective. Undoubtedly we will see more contributions to ARID related to space science and industry as hacked personal drones become ubiquitous in our terrain (especially in the border region), and as the first commercial spaceport in the world, Virgin Galactic in New Mexico, launches artists and designers into space.

Ultimately ARID is a journal of art, design and ecology. While we have received several very high-quality scientific submissions, we make sure that every article or project we publish is at its heart a work of art and/or design, and every section adheres to that focus. As educators in art and design we don’t see a need to separate teaching or curriculum design from art-making. In fact we know that the most effective way to teach art and design is to provide opportunities to experience, make and do it in the world. We see a mutualism between art and science: art matters to science as easily as science matters to art, and both can have important impacts on policymakers. We also understand that just like our ecologies, all these perspectives are constantly in flux and to truly represent the arid experience, ARID needs to change and transform. In future issues, look for more invited guest editors, possibly section editors that our ejournals platform adapts to easily, and know that we welcome your feedback, proposals and ideas about how ARID can best represent and serve our communities.

Andrea Polli, Managing Editor, ARID Fall 2014

[1] The Purdue OWL. Purdue U Writing Lab, 2010. Web. 27 May 2014.


TAAK Summer School Marfa Marfa: Second Edition

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Photo: Andrea Polli 2014

Photo: Andrea Polli 2014

TAAK Summer School Marfa 2014 finds 20 young artists (17 nationalities) and their instructors in Marfa for a three-week field trip and fieldwork studio. These graduate students study at the Dutch Art Institute and the Sandberg Instituut, both in The Netherlands, and California College of Arts (CCA) in San Francisco. This year’s edition of the annual project is organized by Amsterdam-based cultural platform TAAK, in close collaboration with instructors from each institute: Shaun O’Dell and Lindsey White (CCA), Curdin Tones (SI) and Renee Ridgway (DAI).

Summer School Marfa aims to expand contemporary discourse, social practice and politics in art; to create a unique experience and opportunity for emerging artists to gain an understanding of the dynamics and social impact of art in public spaces. By examining the transformation of Marfa, students are engaging in a critical analysis of the value and use of public art utilizing fieldwork methods.

To learn more visit TAAK Summer School Marfa.

This program is supported as part of the Dutch Culture USA program by the Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York.

Selected projects from TAAK Summer School Marfa 2014 (click link to view):

Julieta Aguinaco: Rear View Mirror or What Happens When We Walk Backwards?

Arnar Asgeirsson: Fly High, a hypnosis

Sarah Demoen: Claim Letter

Anneke Ingwersen: Chasing Shadows of Schlemihl’s Zoo

Sarah Jones and Ben Burtenshaw: Elevating Marfa

See also: Sarah Jones with Julika and Ivan Martinez | Flamin’ Stars



Rear View Mirror or What Happens When We Walk Backwards? | Julieta Aguinaco

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Rear View Mirror

New analysis of the language and gesture of South America’s indigenous Aymara people indicates a reverse concept of time.

Contrary to what had been thought a cognitive universal among humans— a spatial metaphor for chronology, based partly on our bodies’ orientation and locomotion, that places the future ahead of oneself and the past behind—the Amerindian group locates this imaginary abstraction the other way around: with the past ahead and the future behind.[1]

I have been working on a project that took the shape of a walkable correlated timeline of the history of The Earth. The first of this series of walks was done last June, in Marfa, Texas.

I am interested in the contemporary concept of progress. Not so many decades ago, in the middle of last century, the tectonic plate theory as an explanation for continental drift was still considered impossible by many. At that time the idea of progress was exemplified by modernity: canned food and microwave TV dinners to mention just one example. Today we seem to have realized that it may not be a feasible path. Some are starting to look backwards in the constant quest towards progress, many western communities turn to the past; seemingly craving a more “natural existence.” For these people, the latest idea of progress is no longer that of the canned food but that of the organic food. Things like microwave popcorn are now thought to contain high levels of poison that cause cancer. The new trend says that the more unprocessed our food is the better. So we have changed our minds about many things and look towards the past in search for clues to some savior answer on how to continue to advance forward.

Some look for sources of inspiration into our primitive past, and some into a digital future, to find a way in which to come to terms with nature. And, since we ARE nature, what we are really looking for is a way to come to terms with ourselves. But we are still chasing progress, or perhaps I should say we are still being chased by progress.

We also seem to be afraid. Since the moment we realize we are alive, there is a fear that we are going to die, as individuals, as civilizations and as a species. We know that we do not stand a chance against the next imminent massive volcanic activity period, as the unstoppable geological clock of our planet continues its course. Some people use religion as a solution for this seemingly universal fear. Others long for new possibilities, for a change of perspective, and make symbolic tryouts of what this could be.

What Happens When We Walk Backwards?

I am looking for a change of perspective. This collective performance is an attempt towards the possibility to consider new ways of thinking and knowing under the symbolic act of a new way of walking. I am not sure if physically and mentally we got anywhere near succeeding in this, but so far I am satisfied with the metaphor that exists in the action of ambulating backwards. If I am trying to find ways to experience things differently in order to see if it is possible to think of ourselves in another way, then this idea searches for a subtle transformation of our experience of the world and suggests that another way of knowing, living, being, going, walking, is possible.

The act, physical in itself, defies our intrinsic body motion, in an attempt to also defy our long-ago embedded and inherited but not intrinsic mental motion. As we evolve, our physicality adapts to our technological creations and our mental capacities and needs. I wonder if, by deliberately challenging such inherited mentality we could be capable of choosing the direction of what we may become.

This change of perspective is not only an allusion to the Aymara people’s conception of time, in which we “walk” into the unknown, the future, with our backs. Often jumping into conclusions of what and who we are without knowing, and many times also without the slightest interest in asking ourselves, about the consequences of our steps. Walking backwards is also an attempt to give up the illusion of an idealized progressive project, to give up what we can see far in the vanishing point that we usually face and aim at. Each step is about the instant when it is taken, and not about the goal that our sight can spot in the horizon. To arrive somewhere walking backwards is to arrive without having foreseen where one is heading. To arrive humbly.

More than being concerned with experiencing or trying to experience time pass in another way, this experiment is about trying to experience the present and paying attention to it—about not living for the future, or in the future, as we mostly do. And paradoxically, at the same time it is about looking at, remembering and learning from, what we walked through in the past, as we either aim for a safe next step wishing there is no snake hole, or just accept and embrace the potential risk that comes with it. Walking backwards is about having much more respect and caution for what is to come.

If extinction is a fact of life, from what I know, it can come suddenly as a steep fall, or it can fade into evolution as a very flat, unabrupt, sandy desert road. To accept the possibility of the imminent cliff would be to stop being afraid. Acknowledging our place in this world, understanding when and how it started and when and how it might end, could help us come to terms with nature. That is being with ourselves.

backwards2

Photo: Vika Ushkanova.

Can There Be Progress Without Forwardness?

I try to reprieve from progress, to stop wanting it, thinking it. Ambition can take away the fun and affect in anything we do; still, without it, we might not manage to get anything done. Which is fine maybe. I don’t know. What I do want to know is if I/we (today’s humans) are truly capable of playing without wanting to win. If we are capable to keep going on without motivation as we know it. What would happen if we stopped wanting to go forward? If we stopped wanting to get better, to know more, to do more, to have more? Faster, bigger, better…and always using way more than we need and having way more than we can handle.

The Aymara people seem to have opened up that possibility. I am extremely happy to have learned about them and their endangered “other” and “radically different” way of thinking about time and about everything.

Often elderly Aymara speakers simply refused to talk about the future on the grounds that little or nothing sensible could be said about it … The consequences, may have been profound. This cultural, cognitive-linguistic difference could have contributed, Nunez said, to the conquistadors’ disdain of the Aymara as shiftless—uninterested in progress or going “forward.”[2]

Such is the evidence that our way of thinking time can be less vast than, let’s say, the gap between our feet instead of the length of the distant vanishing point that our eyes can see and our minds can imagine in the horizon.

This makes me fantasize further, to try to imagine an even more drastic shift, a humanity that could give up directional progressiveness and embrace the idea of perpetual change in a nonlinear way. A vector-less repeating instant of constant flux as the way in which we understand ourselves… Without history, in which this walkable timeline, or any kind of timeline, could not exist.

But is it our choice to look for a new way of walking? Can we provoke through our deliberate actions the taking of a new direction of thought in which we understand ourselves differently? Is this shift of perspective up to us or is that beyond our decision and only in the hands of this planet’s evolutionary destiny?

In the words of Elizabeth Ellsworth and Jamie Kruse for their introduction of the book Making the Geologic Now:

Such a move has the potential to turn Western-encultured humans (once again?) toward what is most real about human life on this planet: we are not simply “surrounded” by the geologic. We do not simply observe it as landscape or panorama. We inhabit the geologic. We live within it. This means that humans are always forced to come to terms with earth forces, eventually.[3]

I very recently realized that geology is not something we study in the quest for making history, but something that we are part of. That volcanoes are as alive, or not alive, as us. The promise of a radically different human existence should be possible. Perhaps some day we could see ourselves as mini-volcanoes, as nonliving entities, like viruses. Like weather—rain, wind or solar rays. Maybe we are not that different from other agents of erosion. If we do not only observe the geologic and do not only inhabit the geologic, but are the geologic, then humans are one of such an Earth force. So what humans are always forced to come to terms with is, again, ourselves.

Deep Nostalgia

I wonder why I cannot seem to stop thinking about the far future, daydreaming about the day when we will all die. I also seem to dedicate a big part of my time to thinking about the past. The pleasure I find in imagining how the world looked like in the Cambrian or Pleistocene is strangely comforting. Maybe this explains why I have heard so many times that I am a very nostalgic person. If geologic time is deep time, I would like to call this kind of nostalgia deep nostalgia.

But the moments I enjoy the most are actually the scarcest ones—the instants in which I achieve to be in the present. Nostalgia and motivation are enemies for those who are looking for a way to withdraw from sequential time. Yes, I am probably idealizing a sort of life without the thrive for progress. And this brings me to question how far have we actually advanced as a civilization.

We are the only animals that can melt and forge metal, and still we do not stand a chance against the climatological adversities of our world. Volcanoes are not considered an animal, but they can also melt and forge metals. Humans and volcanoes are two things on Earth that are known capable of emitting so much carbon dioxide in such a small period of time, and so induce abrupt climate changes. The categorization and differentiation between volcanoes and humans, between the living and the nonliving, seems obsolete after acknowledging that we do not really know where one thing ends and the other starts. If we do not understand life, if biology is not the study of life but an instrument for totalitarianism, then maybe we are not the only animals that can melt and forge metal in this planet.

The day I learned that viruses are not alive (at least within the contemporary biological categorization) was the day that I could think of volcanoes in a truly radically different way. The manner in which we address volcanoes took a whole new meaning in my head. A volcano can be dormant, can wake up. A volcano can be active or can be dead. A volcano can have mood swings. Accepting that the line we place between the living and the nonliving is an imaginary one is already very helpful.

At the same time this makes me even more annoyed about the fact that we don’t seem to be sharing this with each other. Instead we teach and we are taught some pretty big lies. We keep telling each other that biology is the study of living organisms and that geography is the study of the physical features of the Earth and its atmosphere. National History is a mandatory subject in most high-school educational programs; philosophy or Theory of Knowledge are not. If we were taught as kids that we know nothing, and that the scientific and technological advances in the history of human knowledge have brought many questions for each answer, perhaps humanity would be less troubled and less ill. Perhaps then it would not seem so impossible to “come to terms with each other.”

I wish I had learned from an early age that we do not understand life, that we do not know where it starts or ends, and that the idea of living and nonliving is, to begin with, a human concept whose boundaries are constantly being redefined.

They say that everything changed since mankind went to outer space and saw the planet from the outside. I suppose that having the technology to obtain data from the soil at the bottom of the oceans or deep under the polar crust, and invent complex tables to interpret and “discover” the past has also contributed to the change. The fact that we can now determine the age of our planet and map out its changes has probably also altered our cognition forever.

Things have changed. The world we live in is different. Perhaps this explains why the Aymara—as with most other indigenous peoples—world views and ways of existing seem to be on their way out. We can say that they are either heading rapidly towards extinction or evolving into the western globalized progressive way of thinking that seems obsessed with deciphering the past in order to control the future.

Photo: Sofia Ocana Urwitz

Photo: Sofia Ocana Urwitz

Enter the Anthropocene, Age of Man

As we walked through this correlated timeline of the history of The Earth, we crossed several red chalk lines, which represented important historical events of my choice. For example, the period from which the oldest known exposed rock Acasta dates, or the time when life moves from water onto land. Five blue lines demarcating the five massive extinction events that are known to have occurred on our planet were also drawn.

The sixth blue line is present in its absence. It is a matter of time, for there might be extinction for as long as there is life. So in one hand, it may be easier to just step into it with our backs when the time comes. On the other hand, the blue lines that we have walked past; those previous ones which are fading into the horizon that we face when walking backwards, are constantly reminding us of what we learned from past experience.

It looks like we are trapped between two horizons. The horizon of the past, that which we face and are walking away from. And the horizon of the future, that which we cannot see and are heading to. It is now when I consider if it might actually not matter how we walk—backwards, forwards, up, down, blinded, rapidly, slowly, running.

But if this linear and chronological way of existing and understanding time has not always been the same for our species, then it might be in our hands to look for other ways of thinking. We know of the possibility now, we can find examples in the elderly Aymara people and in the beautiful thoughts of Walid Sadek when he speaks about the necessity to move beyond hope and into possibility:

Each time a collectivity convolutes itself into a maze, the journey into the labyrinthine must again be set afoot.[4]

Walking Backwards in the Desert Can Be Many Things:

—A metaphor for the retrograde state of the political and social moment we are living.

—A symbolic act of solidarity to the thousands of undocumented migrants who cross a border illegally. Walking backwards in an attempt to leave misleading footsteps for the border patrol officers who are hunting them.

—A silly attempt to suggest a change of perspective and look for new ideals.

—An homage to the Aymara people of the Andes who will probably arrive at the sixth extinction way before the Western people.

—An actual call for support for the Huichol people. One of the last seminomad groups left in the lower Chihuahuan Desert, who pilgrim across it every year in search for peyote—their source of nourishment, both spiritual and physical. Their route has recently been blocked because of the concession of vast chunks of land to Canadian mining companies by the government of Mexico.

—A farewell to the last nomadic Mongols of the Gobi Desert that still inhabit our planet.

—An act of meditation, individual or collective, for living in the present.

—A contradiction in itself: Walking, even when done with the back facing the direction of flow, is still an exercise in which there is a point of departure and a point of destiny. We are still going somewhere. In that sense, unless we stand still, we will always be progressing. The important thing then becomes how to progress, with which point of view.

—A search for liberation, if understood as an exercise of spirituality, for a person or group of persons who are confused and want to hang out with other confused people.

Let us think of these words on the walk that happened June 12, 2014 in Marfa, Texas, as a moment dedicated to “respond to the geologic depth of now.”


[1] Kiderra, Inga. “Backs to the Future. Aymara Language and Gesture Point to Mirror-Image View of Time.” UCSD News. 12 Jun. 2006. Web.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ellsworth, Elizabeth, and Jamie Kruse. “Making the Geologic Now: Intro and Conclusion.” Making the Geological Now. Dec. 2012. Web.
[4] Sadek, Walid.“Beirut Open City.” N.p., 2013.


Claim Letter | Sarah Jones and Ralph McKay

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To Donald Judd; To the Chinati Foundation’s Board of Directors and Staff; To the Concrete Buildings.

On April 1969, Donald Judd wrote in Studio International Journal of Modern Art:

I haven’t written anything in quite a while; I have a lot of complaints. Most of these are about attempts to close the fairly open situation of contemporary art. There are a lot of arguments for closure: a whole aesthetic or style, a half aesthetic or movement, a way of working, history or development, seniority, juniority, money and galleries, sociology, politics, nationalism. Most discussions of these aspects are absolute; something is the only true art and something else has to go. (“Complaints: Part I Collected Writings,” 197)

In the blazing midday sun—for there is a chance of rattlesnakes when it cools down—we stand here before the concrete buildings at the Art Museum of the Pecos to say that we have a lot of complaints. The fairly open situation of contemporary art you were referring to no longer exists. The situation is hermetically closed.

You had plans for this part of the land. This project would be your magnum opus. Tired of reworking old buildings, you started designing the ten Concrete Buildings, which were to become the only buildings you ever proposed.

You said about them in 1989:

For the work in storage I planned new concrete buildings placed on a grid. The site is high and as usual the view is long. The land is apparently open rangeland but in the grass there are the foundations and walks—even a couple of little rock gardens—of a complex which housed prisoners of war from Germany during World War II. The land was already used and damaged, and will be cleaner when the new complex is finished than when it began. The buildings are placed directly on the rangeland without any border or transition and the drainage of the roofs is conserved so that the buildings are not bordered by weeds. The ten buildings are centered on ten squares of twelve, the two in the middle remaining empty. Narrow walks on a grid determined by the doors of the buildings connect them all, making two grids, one major but not linear, and one minor but linear. There is no reason to enclose the complex since it is away from town. Two buildings will each contain a large steel work on the floor, two will each contain three vertical pieces, four will contain three horizontal pieces, and two will have two stories containing offices and living spaces. These are completely new buildings under construction. (Architektur, 1989)

At this moment on June 12, 2014, we don’t see ten buildings, but only one and a half. One building seems finished, but is on the verge of collapse. The other one is under heavy construction, metal is sticking out and the wooden frame to pour the concrete is deteriorating. The failure is imminent and we feel that we are meeting you at your weakest point. The potentiality of the unexpected is so great it might become uncontrollable.

At least for you.

We know you wrote in the Chinati Foundation catalogue in 1987:

It takes a great deal of time and thought to install work carefully. This should not always be thrown away. Most art is fragile and some should be placed and never moved again. Some work is too large, complex and expensive to move. Somewhere a portion of contemporary art has to exist as an example of what the art and its context were meant to be… The best (art) is that which remains where it was painted, placed or built.

With all due respect, we think you have enough buildings to execute this plan. However, for your final experiment of uniting art, architecture and nature, we would like to add a fourth component, namely the development of a shared site.

In the blazing midday sun, at the highest part of Chinati ground, we have an overview of the magnitude of the space, the mountains in the desert landscape, the open sky and the yellow grass. We stand before the Concrete Buildings to say that we claim these constructions. Not just the one-and-a-half-structure that is visible, but all ten of them. The whole grid. Small, medium and large.

We claim the existing plans, and the ideas for the future. We claim the restriction put down on working here. We claim the private outlook of these buildings to make them public. We claim the whole of the concrete ruin that flickers mysteriously on the skyline. Without negotiation; for a new collaboration.

We believe we have the right to claim them. The plan for the Chinati Foundation was and is more than “an aesthetic testament: it is a manifesto challenging the economic and institutional structure of the art world” (Texas Monthly, Aug. 1984). Judd withdrew to Marfa in search of new possibilities in an autonomous location. However, time has shown that the idea of Marfa as an independent site is no longer applicable. It looks like the Judd legacy functions as an unmovable rock in an increasingly complex landscape. Today it seems that this place of artistic freedom has become a strictly regulated site that we have to trespass to start over again. We are confiscating this lost freedom to turn it into a place of options.

The buildings are now ours.

They will be used for future projects by non-artists and artists, off or on the multiple artworlds’ map. Off or on the multiple worlds’ map. By those who want to drop out, disappear or research new forms. By those who need it. By the storytellers and the liars, the claimers and the occupiers and the squatters. By those with a plan and those in refuge. By we the people who are claiming this site. And just like the plans of others, Judd’s plan as well will be validated. From now on, these constructions will be open to possibilities.

We are standing here before you in the blazing midday sun to say that you are being claimed for basic needs, experimental thinking, research and other things related to potential. You will become part of the commons, a place where no one will profit individually. Neither privately owned nor state-owned, you will be freely available to everyone. Judd’s idea about openness of space is translated into openness for us. So be ready.

Read on the fence of Ranch Road 2810, outside the Chinati property, on Thursday, June 12, 2014.

Witnessed by Sarah Jones and Ralph McKay.

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Fly High, a hypnosis | Arnar Asgeirsson

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This is a hypnosis, especially written for desert environment. It is a journey into the desert, the desert inside your own head, to see the mirages of your mind.

Imagine traveling inside your mind, you might then think about a train or Mark Twain and recall that he said, “I have traveled more than anyone else, and I have noticed that even the angels speak English with an accent,” and it is true.

Now allow yourself to close your eyes, maybe you are already there. Nothing can keep you from a peace of mind. Allow yourself to liberate your mind completely, because it is untied to the circumstances of your surroundings and of your body.

Arnar Ásgeirsson

Video by:
Arnar Ásgeirsson

Hypnosis script by:
Magna F. Birnir, Nurse MSc, Clinical Hypnotist, and Jóhanna Helga Þorkelsdóttir

Read by:
Magna F. Birnir

Commissioned by:
Arnar Ásgeirsson


Chasing Shadows of Schlemihl’s Zoo | Anneke Ingwersen

Posted on by admin1963 Posted in Fall 2014, TAAK | Comments Off on Chasing Shadows of Schlemihl’s Zoo | Anneke Ingwersen

Shadows1

Schlemihl stands in the desert. The cicadas are screaming like man-made sirens. The sun is slowly pushing the shadows of the cacti around their own axes. The occasional windy ghost of sand, dances around him like a whirling dervish. Walls of former houses are crumbling. The processes of ruination are all around him but he holds on. He has become united with the natural forces of light, wind and earth; yet he stays focused, standing as still as a salt figure. He holds a device in his gloved hands, trying to catch the shadows of the invisible aliens that trespass the horizon.

A long time ago, Schlemihl lost his shadow in a transaction with the devil. He traded it for a bottomless wallet, endless financial resources. He saw his shadow as futile, as a source of lost income, so he was rather delighted when the devil proposed the bargain. After his loss, he was surprised to discover to what length people would go to, to avoid him. It seemed as if they had developed an unconscious aversion to him. Apparently, those around him ranked his shadow more highly than he did.Even his closest friends rejected him. People sensed a certain absence around Schlemihl, but no one could name what it was. Even his civil rights as a member of the community started to go unrecognized. Every time he went to deal with some bureaucratic formality at the city hall, he was neglected and his requests went unprocessed. Everyone besides Schlemihl seemed to recognize some unspoken inner truth: Those who want to be integrated in human society must have a shadow.

Schlemihl decided to immigrate. To try to find another community that would accept him, but everywhere the same thing would occur. He was a man rejected by love and law. He lost sight of any possible connection with civilization. He was an outlaw, a pariah.

Finally Schlemihl decided to move away from the civilized world to find refuge in nature. At first Schlemihl felt freed from his bonds with the pressures of society. Was he now truly free? He had become a real Schlemihl—a person hiding away from society. Let’s look more closely at his activities out there.

The first signs of his activity are apparent in a wooded region in the North West of Mexico. In the dark forest Schlemihl adjusted to the loss of his own shadow. In the darkness of that space in which every shadow fades away, he could experience a comfort with his loss. He felt united with his surroundings, his individual identity was sucked up in a greater whole, the interconnected shady space of the woods. Traces of his time there were tracked and recorded by the experts: holes of light were suddenly appearing in certain spots. Like blind spots, they looked like fluorescent drawings. And when somebody moved close to one of these blind spots they would notice their shadow alter.

Schlemihl, however, grew more and more unsatisfied in his self-imposed exile from public life. He began searching for ways to reform bonds with society. He wanted to share something in public, something that needed to be shared. The next signs of Schlemihl and his altered behaviour were tracked and recorded by Agents of the Border Patrol in the Southwestern part of the United States, in the desert,around Marfa, Texas.

Experts are divided in the discussion around the symbolic meaning of Schlemihl’s transition between the antithetical spaces of the forest and the desert. Schlemihl felt himself that he had changed upon moving into the frontier of the desert—he felt empowered. Through his transition to the open fields of the desert—where the sunshine retraces, phantom-like, the contours of every object or creature—Schlemihl’s loss became more obvious than ever. The desert space continually reminded him of his absolute loneliness as the only creature without a shadow. Through this confrontation with the absence of his shadow, he became aware once again of his difference. It was there in the desert that he recognized his special abilities to trace the shadows of others.He had found a new project.

shadows2

In the arid space of the desert, along the remote border region, Schlemihl noticed an odd occurrence: A caravan of camouflaged animals, wearing masks representing other animals, trespassing along the endless horizon. The masks made the animals unrecognizable. They utilized their strange disguises and slipped through the control mechanism of the state machine. They were unidentifiable; they became hybrids. But their shadows remained unaltered. This was where Schlemihl found his project. It was only Schlemihl, in his obsession with shadows, who could still recognize the animals’ true forms. However detailed and profound the creatures’ invented masks were, however great their success in misleading the Border Patrol, Schlemihl—the Shadowhunter himself—could still see them for what they really were.

Schlemihl stands in the desert. The cicadas are screaming like sirens. The sun is slowly pushing the shadows of the cacti around their own axes. Schlemihl the Shadowhunter is holding a screen. He is tracing and hunting for the animals’ real shadows. Schlemihl senses the shadows of hidden creatures. He knows what it means to be invisible. He feels an affinity with them, these so-called Aliens, and he recognizes the other Schlemihls of his time. He begins to track the animals.

We could call Schlemihl The Man of the Frontier Space. He knows how to move in the space outside of civil order, in a space of transgression, along the borderline. He thinks beyond the boundary—he is not intimidated by the strict and static lines formed by nation states. He is familiar with the transitional zone of explorers, smugglers, pioneers and settlers.

A special department of the Border Patrol is now investigating the kind of devices Schlemihl uses to hunt the animals’ shadows. The results were for a long time a well-kept secret, only recently becoming known to the public.The screen of the Shadowhunter, his main device, registers shadows via an optical-sonical system developed to detect activities which the untrained human eye would fail to register. It senses the intangible differences in light and mediates these differences into a drawing of the truth of the shadows. Schlemihl’s eyes, helped by the prosthesis of the shadow screen, are able to detect the undetectable: The shadows of disguised creatures. The device shows the outlines of their hidden identities.

Even during the night when the stars and the moon shed only scarce light, turning the shadows bluish, Schlemihl’s screen depicts the original shadows of trespassing creatures very clearly. The screen also functions as a kind of camera. Schlemihl’s screen captures the silhouettes on a special paper. He exhibits the registrations of the true silhouettes on public boards in nearby settlements. The papers seem, at first glance, to be a mixture of WANTED posters issued by the police and death notices, surrounded by a black square, published in the newspaper. Schlemihl has never been sighted sticking the posters on the boards or during a shadowhunt. There are only traces, which can be read by the spaces, the small fluorescent drawings, the blind spots, like shattered pieces of shadow on the ground.

His motivation for his activities has been unclear until now. Some say that he wants only to register shadows, to share them publicly, instating his status of a conscious pariah, that he wants to engage with the community around him, by making visible that which society tends to forget. Others believe that he is in charge of the United States Border Patrol, and his aim is to control the border region, to secure the territory of those who own a clear and true shadow.

But Schlemihl does not hinder the caravan of camouflaged animals. He lets them trespass. He simply registers—observes—saving outlaws from a life of invisibility and total absence. The task he ascribes himself seems rather endless. Like Sisyphus pushing the stone up the mountain. Like tracing your shadow in the sand.


Interview with Nina Dubois | Claude Smith

Posted on by admin1963 Posted in Fall 2014, Perspectives | Comments Off on Interview with Nina Dubois | Claude Smith

Drawing on the legacy of modular and unconventional architecture, design and Do-It-Yourself (DIY) culture, Nina Dubois’ trans-disciplinary approach to art making seeks to question our perceptions of the built environment and the ways in which it influences and shapes our understanding of place. Through her investigations of the phenomenological, Dubois offers prototypes or experimental models for a variety of forms and structures that, through their reconfiguration and deployability, offer a variety of opportunities for itinerant place making. On the occasion of her MFA thesis exhibition PROTOPIA: almost a place at SCA Contemporary in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I interviewed her regarding this latest body of work. Conducted via e-mail in January and February 2014.

Claude Smith: Looking at several of your pieces in PROTOPIA, I’m immediately reminded of the counterculture movement of the 1960s. But while the counterculturists explored the notion of place-making through DIY experimentation and communal living, you seem to offer somewhat of a divergent path and perhaps much more of an individualist approach.

Nina Dubois: I am definitely looking back at the counterculture movement and DIY experimentation, especially with the structures that are low-tech appropriations of Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome design. The counterculture movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and the current DIY culture, are rich territory for looking at how the adoption of certain forms and unconventional building methods can embody and maybe even engender alternative possibilities. One of the things that is so fascinating about the Southwest is its long history of alternative settlements. On the one hand, the beauty and openness of the landscape are awe-inspiring and represent kind of a tabula rasa that has enticed many generations of utopians to attempt to build their version of an ideal world out here—from the Mormons in Utah and the counterculture communes of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, to the high-tech and space-bound Biosphere II in southern Arizona

That being said, I wouldn’t necessarily frame my interest as individualism versus communal living. What these pieces are really about for me is taking this iconic reference to visionary architecture as a departure point for exploring the possibility or impossibility of translating utopian and transformative ideals into built form. The smaller, single-person structures point to individual desires for freedom and autonomy, while the bigger forms, such as Hive and Colony/Bench, point to shared desires for community and connection.

CS: Hive and Deployment Exploration Units I and II seem to suggest a more ephemeral, itinerant exploration of the intersection of the built environment and nature. What was your impetus for their construction?

ND: Before I returned to the University of New Mexico for graduate school, I had been making these delicate, gossamer structures out of tracing and tissue paper. I made versions of these, for indoor and outdoor spaces. The goal was to amplify some of the more discrete and subtle forces at play in a given environment. My choice of working with paper and creating ephemeral installations was in part a reaction to the monumental scale and permanence of the works I visited with the Land Arts of the American West program. It was also a way for me to think about architecture and built forms as mediating spaces between human needs and desires, and the larger environment. And with that, I became very interested in understanding what and how built forms communicate and give shape to certain ideals.

My interest in modular and itinerant forms of architecture was a direct extension of that exploration and an attempt to frame my work within both a personal and shared historical context. The geodesic dome was a natural place to start, having grown up in Montreal, in proximity to one of the largest geodesic domes ever designed and constructed by Fuller and which served as the U.S. Pavilion at the [World’s Fair] Expo in 1967. For my parents’ generation, the futuristic and visionary architecture that was showcased at Expo 67, and the geodesic dome in particular, represented a much-needed break with the past and carried the promise of the bright future that would follow as a result of modernization and new technological developments. The pavilions housed a series of exhibitions under the theme of “Man and His World,” and together with the radically modern forms of the pavilions themselves, painted a picture of a near-future in which cultural and national boundaries would be broken down and give way to a technologically enhanced global community. By the time I was born, most of the pavilions had been dismantled or fallen into disrepair—Fuller’s dome is one of the few remaining structures, minus the original acrylic sheathing, which was consumed in a fire in 1976—but as I was growing up, through the mementos and printed material that my parents had collected from that period, I got a sense of the idealism of the period and what a turning point it represented for the city and for the country as a whole.

For me, the geodesic dome and its subsequent appropriation into counterculture experiments came to embody a sense of lost optimism and naiveté that today is viewed both critically and with longing by people of our generation, concerned as some of us are with how to live in the world in light of the ever-looming environmental crisis and failures of modernism, of capitalism, and technocratic systems. And because my starting point was lightweight, gossamer and phenomenologically based structures, I have tried to maintain that relatively light-handed and even provisional approach. In contrast to the idealism of the 1960s and early 1970s, I think it speaks to the uncertainty and precariousness that a lot of us feel when thinking about the present and the near future.

CS: How do you see these structures occupied or experienced over time?

ND: It is important that they be tested and experienced in different contexts, but none are designed to stand up to the elements or to be occupied for an extended period of time. This is partly why the documentation comes into play. I can display the structures in a gallery setting, and this shows you how they are made, their scale, and that they are more like emergency shelters than permanent dwellings. And then staging them in different settings and creating these different kinds of sci-fi inspired, dystopian scenes through photos and video shows perhaps a more open-ended and ambiguous sense of their deployment and potential occupancy in different contexts

CS: At some point, your materials were more than likely used in the packaging, shipping, and protection of goods and objects during transport. How does the lifecycle of the media inform your work?

ND: Decisions about what kinds of materials make it into the work are based more on ubiquity and familiarity than on any kind of virtuous aspirations. I choose these materials—cardboard, shipping pallets, etc.—because they are familiar to me, they are banal, the stuff-of-the-world as I know it and that I have access to. I enjoy the challenge of taking something so unimpressive as a shipping pallet or a stack of cardboard and seeing how I can incorporate it into something that has to do with a more visionary and utopian, non-vernacular sensibility. There is already a quality of standardization and a certain kind of order and modularity that comes with these materials. I am just reworking it a little bit so that something maybe a little more unexpected emerges. And, yes, there is this transient, always-in-flux quality that is inherent in the fact that these materials are typically used for shipping and packaging, and I like that about them.

CS: Are there instances where material boundaries limited what you were able to accomplish?

ND: What I am attempting to accomplish is intrinsically linked to materials and their possibilities, and usually I am pretty good at being able to anticipate the result somewhat and to explore the edges and push the material beyond what it is supposed to do. But in some cases, I fall short. For example, when I came back from participating in the Land Arts of the American West program, I made a portable, two-part, press mold, a toolkit designed for producing individual clay bricks. The idea was to allow myself and other users to fashion interlocking, standardized building blocks out of locally sourced clay. The stylized geometric form of the brick module was an abstracted representation of the various forms we encountered in the field—from mountain ranges to the fantastical architecture of Biosphere II to Arcosanti, the experimental settlement envisioned by Paolo Soleri. So while the brick form ended up being pretty satisfying visually, the whole kit and getting the clay to release from the mold proved to be quite difficult and not ideal for public participation. I made only about a half-dozen bricks with the kit before I gave up. It operated in a different way than I had intended. But in a way, the failure of the kit resonates with some of the problems and failures that have plagued a lot of utopian projects like Arcosanti. The commitment to a radically different aesthetic and to alternative, idiosyncratic building processes can be the biggest impediment to realizing the vision of an alternative settlement. When you visit Arcosanti, you get the sense that they are kind of trapped in a Sisyphusian loop, trying to get new buildings and systems off the ground while scrambling to patch up and repair the original structures that now are starting to lose the battle against entropy. It’s an interesting predicament, reminding us of the imaginative struggle to make what we want of the world, no matter what limitations and boundaries seem to press down on us.

CS: Lucy Lippard once described Land Art by saying, “At best it can be simultaneously a spectacle and a very intimate experience.” I think in many ways, this characterizes several of the pieces (or their potential) in PROTOPIA, despite the fact they are functioning in the context of the gallery. How important is it for the viewer to understand the original context or intent behind the artwork? Does it matter that they were created to function within—or for—a particular landscape, or does the variety of possibilities enhance the meaning?

ND: None of the works in PROTOPIA were designed explicitly for or directly informed by any particular place or context. Some of the pieces, such as Algaeic Infrastructure and Hive, have been shown in specific outdoor contexts, but the original impetus behind all of the work and what ties everything together is more the exploration of modular architecture as a means of working with a particular set of functional and conceptual problems related to how our habits of dwelling shape us and how this, in turn, shapes the world we inhabit. So what is important, I think, is more that these structures can and have been set up in different kinds of contexts, that they have this instrumental quality that is defined more by their deployability and less by the particularities of place.

But, I suppose there also is something of the spectacle in terms of how I have chosen to stage and document some of the works in the landscape. The photographs of Deployment Exploration Units I and II, for example, show the structures in relation to these kinds of surreal and even post-apocalyptic environments. This has perhaps less to do with the sublime—which is where the spectacle quality of some of the Land Arts works lies—and more to do with the speculative and future-looking world of science fiction and dystopian fantasies.

Frederic Jameson talks about dystopianism in the work of classic sci-fi writers—such as H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Ursula K. Le Guin and Phillip K. Dick – as a powerful way to think about the possible shape of the future by considering the consequences of changes that could be made in the present, for better or for worse. He talks about the power of sci-fi as being in the way it constructs an almost banal parallel present that results from a merely mild realignment of current conditions. This is definitely something that is on my mind when I am thinking of placing my structures in relationship to the landscape around me.

CS: With respect to Land Art, I typically think of monumental gestures meant to last for long periods of time, yet you seem to advocate for a more delicate or even mindful way of incorporating into your practice some of the same tenets. Did you have to wrestle with the ideas of temporality and itinerancy, given that the predominately male-centric genre tends to measure success in grandiosity and permanence?

ND: We have come a long way from the monumental and grandiose gestures of the 1960s and 1970s Land Arts movement. There was definitely something valuable that these artists developed in terms of bringing the experience of the environment and of embodied space into the realm of art. But there also was something decidedly esoteric and apolitical about their conception of the environment as a blank canvas of open space.

In terms of art-historical precedent and inspiration, I think that what Gordon Matta-Clark was doing at the same time contributed to generating a much more complex and layered sense of art in relationship to the complexities of place. His exploration of urban conditions, of the absurdities of real estate development and the leftover/liminal spaces that it generates, carved a path that moved away from binary, nature/culture, people/environment thinking toward an effort to expand the definitions of the environment to include constructed urban spaces and social spaces, as well as wilderness. Yes, his Building Cuts displayed a certain machismo also present in the work of the predominately male-centric Land Artists, but works such as the Fake Estates and Food paved the road for other artists, such as Fritz Haeg, Nils Norman, Amy Franceschini and Futurefarmers, the N55 collective, and many others to further investigate and challenge the arbitrary distinctions between art/life, artist/viewer, and artist/architect/agent of the real world.

So even though much of my early references for thinking about art in relationship to the environment came from looking at the American Land Art movement of the 1960s and 1970s, I have come to really appreciate and identify with this other branch of art in relationship to place. Temporality, itinerancy and scale become less about taking a position vis-à-vis Land Art and more about having more fluidity and a more direct and responsive way of considering notions of space and place.

CS: Where do you see your practice headed?

ND: I enjoyed putting together the work for PROTOPIA and got a lot out of the experience of seeing all of these itinerant structures together and reframed within the context of the gallery. Part of me enjoys working within the boundaries of that kind of contained experience. Part of me is also really interested in working in a more open-ended way, introducing temporary and modular structures within the infrastructures of everyday life—in spaces that intersect more directly with different kinds of cultural, social and political activities, and where it might be possible to experiment with new models of “social space.” I’m not sure what that might look like exactly. I’ll let you know!


visible from space | Paul Catanese

Posted on by admin1963 Posted in Fall 2014, Practices | Comments Off on visible from space | Paul Catanese

visible from space is a thought experiment. It is an open series that exists in multiple materials: video, prints, installation, projection, handmade paper, artist’s books, found objects, notes, interviews, essays and site-specific events

The desert is a site of remote testing where paraconsistent logics are first considered feasible. Mistakenly construed as the opposite of the ocean, the desert teems with depth—it is also its own mirror.

I am conducting a thought experiment about the phrase visible from space, which erupted from a fanciful supposition to create drawings on the Earth so large they would be visible from the moon. For such a feat, the stroke width of the line would need to be close to 60 miles wide in order for barely a hairline to be visible from that distance. It is charming to think that the Great Wall of China is visible from space—but this is merely a popular mythology. It is difficult to resolve an image of the Great Wall even from the International Space Station with the naked eye (which orbits about 250 miles above the Earth), let alone from outer space or nearby celestial bodies. Of course, with military and even civilian imaging technologies, much greater resolution can be achieved as evidenced by what are now commonplace tools such as Google Earth.

Simultaneously, I have been thinking about L’Arbre du Ténéré, a lone tree that lived in the Saharan desert in Niger, the last of a stand of ancient acacias desperately isolated in an encroaching hostile landscape. The ancient tree was well-known as a caravan-route marker and can be found as a single tree indicated on maps in the middle of the vast desert. Oddly, this lone and ancient tree, which shirked the reality of the desert, met with its end after a truck driver ran into it in 1973. That lone tree of the desert, an odd single blip on the map—much like our geosynchronous satellites—occupies less than a pixel’s resolution worth of expanse when viewed from a distance.

While it is significant that we are able to achieve these feats, modern satellite imaging and a proposal to create a drawing on the Earth so large it that could be seen from the moon are similar in the fact that both actions require a wealth of engineering and a lack of humility. Viewed in this light, the requirements for surrogate vision depend on how we define visible, and where we define space. As I contemplate these requirements, I am reminded of L’Arbre du Ténéré, whose monument—a large metal sculpture of a tree—is not even the corpse of a tree.

Chemical Desert, Olfactory Desert, Visionary Desert, Redacted Desert—distance and space are functions of speed and time.

Floating, the expanse of scrubland synchronizes into punctuated dun. Glowing salmon-flesh talc hovers, circumscribing both value and volume. Embellished with blankness, desert devils swirl their columns 70 miles into the sky while the disorganized, vulnerable, convenient desert is perceived from far away.

This project is rooted in deserts, where contradictions regarding the role of land proliferate; where divergent visions of sanctity and utility overlap and confound. I am captivated by how popular myths of a homogenous “desert” as blank canvas collide with competing narratives of test site, backdrop, cloak, archive and cathedral; how these visions intermingle and are inscribed on the land. These thought experiments are a point of departure for speculative practices meant to evoke the paradox of “desert” while celebrating its terrifying majesty.

Since its inception in 2010, visible from space has received support from a number of residency programs: the Central School Project in Bisbee, Arizona; the Goldwell Open Air Museum near Death Valley; and upcoming at the Playa Artist Residency at Summer Lake, Oregon. This program is partially supported by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency. Artworks from this project were first exhibited by the Leonardo Electronic Almanac to inaugurate their online exhibition platform. Since then, component artworks have been exhibited and screened at a wide range of festivals and venues including at the Claudia Cassidy Theatre at the Chicago Cultural Center; as part of the exURBAN Screens festival through the Frankston Art Centre in Melbourne; Kasa Galeri in Istanbul; Video Guerilla Festival in Sao Paulo, Brasilia and Rio de Janiero; Luminaria festival in San Antonio; Re-Imagining Paper and Fiber International Invitational in Hilo Hawaii; and the 2014 Festival Internacional de Linguagem Eletrônica (FILE). I will additionally be presenting this work at the 20th International Symposium on Electronic Art to be held in Dubai in November 2014, and I will be continuing development on the project during my Spring 2015 sabbatical.

Website: www.paulcatanese.com/


Rosemont Ours: A Field Guide | Kimi Eisele and Ben Johnson

Posted on by admin1963 Posted in Fall 2014, Practices | Comments Off on Rosemont Ours: A Field Guide | Kimi Eisele and Ben Johnson

Rosemont Ours: A Field Guide (2013) celebrates the plants and animals of the Santa Rita Mountains of Southern Arizona and its nearby riparian areas, featuring movement meditations of over 20 species—from Coleman’s coralroot orchid to jaguar—performed by modern dancers. The project was born in response to the construction of Rosemont Mine, an open-pit copper mine proposed by a Canadian mining company. If built, the mine would impact over 4,000 acres of land in Southern Arizona, including critical habitat for nearly a dozen species federally recognized as threatened or endangered as well as precious riparian areas and groundwater resources. By “replacing” plants and animals with human beings in reverential and playful ways, the film invites us to consider our role as both stewards and consumers of nature. The video is a project of NEW ARTiculations Dance Theatre directed by Kimi Eisele and filmed/edited by Ben Johnson. An original musical score was composed by Vicki Brown and David Sudak.

As desert dwellers of the Southwest (Tucson), we are interested in the ways video and dance/movement can enter a conversation about conservation and resource use. Our project considers the fragile environs of Southern Arizona, investigating visually and kinesthetically the plant and animal species that depend on particular habitats to survive and thrive. While we recognize our dependency on copper and copper products to propel our ideas and ourselves through landscapes, we also question certain aspects of resource extraction—how it happens, where it happens, and by whom. We wanted to create a quiet reflection of this dilemma by bringing attention to the plant and animal species of the region and to use the human body as a way to tease out those questions. The result is Rosemont Ours: A Field Guide, which aims to venerate some of the species in residence here as well as to invite consideration of our very human relationships to those species, the land and its resources.

Websites:

KimiEisele.com
benjohnsonart.com



Elevating Marfa | Ben Burtenshaw and Sarah Jones

Posted on by admin1963 Posted in Fall 2014, TAAK | Comments Off on Elevating Marfa | Ben Burtenshaw and Sarah Jones

We stand at the highest point in town. That point from which in every direction you can still see the tops of the mountains. Tiny disconnected black triangles at midday that turn a dusty purple as the sun drops in the evenings. We remember when we could see the bases of those mountains. The space between the Davis Mountains and the foot of Emory Peak. When every ridged stripe bled a different shade of lilac against orange, toward the floor of the original plain. When every crevice was a different blue, yellowed in contrast by the evening light, Oligocene and Eocene; undivided. The sheer magnitude of those mountains dwarfed our will to leave. Our lust for height filled us with the kind of satisfaction that can only come from the illusion of presiding over the grandeur of a landscape that one did not invent, and has not yet destroyed.

There was a comfort in that fortress ring of mountains around the town—we lived inside of the mountain’s crown, kings and queens of the railway track that severed the town.[1] Waving to the tourists who came for the sculptures, the coffee, the ice-cream, the desert. But now the landscape is blind and featureless but for the tower and the uncanny peaks. The small black hillocks, like a trail of insect bites on the endlessly flat ground, are the ruins of the small town’s mountain fortress. They lock us here in a present that we could never have imagined as our future. There are no more tourists, there is nothing left to see. The coffee, the ice cream and the sculptures are underground. Petrified. Everything has risen to flatness and the train tracks are fossils deep below the tower. Our town is only the tower now.

Long before the fall the tower stood taller than the town hall. Taller than the courthouse, the neon signs on the gas stations. Dwarfed only by the distant ring of mountains, it shone endlessly in the desert. It shone with the silver of a star, ignored and distant. Holding our water but not our imaginations; a monument to the benign. It still shines, but it shines here on the new ground, the risen ground. The glittering sunspot is our obsession. We stare into its blinding light and tell it over and over again of our tragedy. We tell the shining tower, with a virulent regret, of how we gave it our train, our trees and our mountains. We feed the tower the ghosts of everything it has already swallowed. And the shining tower, in whose shadow we kneel, the shining tower who took our town, is all we have left. It casts its shadow inside of us and out, it is our only shade. We sit in its darkness now and the sounds we make are echoed and reuttered for us by our tower.[2] We whistle into its darkness. It masters our voices as we retell its story. Everything is smaller now. One hundred miles between lilac and silver,[3] reduced to a diameter of 40 feet of steel.

Since we lost the things we loved to see, we have started to listen. Sound is something else without the amphitheatre of the lost mountains. It’s something close to us that lives with hot breath in the empty silver belly of our tower. We empty ourselves into the tower; confessionally we flood its emptiness, as it flooded ours. We talk about events that preceded the flood but the time lines have fallen apart, our memories collide and collapse into one another. We can no longer date the sculptures or the storms. We remember the explosion and we remember the flood. Everything else is evaporating history and we know that as our stories dissolve, our past straightens out into a fine line. First the explosion, then the fall. The tower holds these things for us. Nature eats everything else.

Some people say that the explosion was our unheeded warning, that had we heardreally heard the explosion, we could have predicted the fall.[4]They say it was a warning sign, an omen. Others say that it was the explosion that caused the fall. That the explosion scared the tower. That the shock of the echoing bang, the kind that you feel in your chest before the crack racks your ears, striking backwards into your jaw, terrified the fragile tower. The tower flinched. It took a short sharp breath in panic and its spine spiked upwards an imperceptible fraction and it hit its silver head on the perfect blue sky above the town. And the bleeding began. The tower wept for the explosion, for the ruptured monument. And the crown of the desert began to fill with what should have been soft warm tears. But wasn’t.

It’s possible that the last of the water was what caused the explosion, perhaps in this way, it was a sign. The last water that I remember was from the rainstorm, the freak storm that rained down from here to Colorado Springs. Ten inches of pouring rain in the first hour, twenty-two inches in the second hour.[5] That was where the last of the water came from. And the sculptures were soaking up the water, and the tower wasn’t. The last of the rainwater moved into the sculptures. It permeated the imperceptible imperfections in their concrete faces. The rising damp bruised the edges of the pale grey. Blossoming black, unfurling its fragile dark petals. An inversion of our desert nights; black stars in a silver sky. The monumental sculptures seeped toward the beginning of ruin. Nature crept inside. We watched as the water disappeared, but we didn’t listen, we just let it go. We were concerned for the sculptures and not for the water.

And then the fall. The tower began to spill. Its small tin hat cracked from its silver body and the dust began to pour. What should have been waterfalls were instead snakes of desert dust. They languidly split their own skins as they burst from the sky. They raced and slithered without end, downwards from the perfect blue sky. The choking dry earth, dragged from the long emptied aquifer, flowed hot like lava, dry like sickness.[6]Bloody, rasping clouds exploded from the earth like snakes as they smashed their lithe bodies against the railway tracks, the buildings, the bushes, the streets and the trucks. Wallowing, the town was choked and suffocated.[7]

The sculptures appeared as if they were sinking into the earth, slowly interred, cutting a deep diagonal against the sky, dust pulling down on their thick sides. We watched the burial in horror, the erupting silver tower’s burning breath on the backs of our necks. The fall was flattening out the creases in history where doubt hides in darkness. The dust raced in its murderous embrace. Its smothering came with heavy breath and a rhythmic pushing on our chests. It wished the sculptures deathwards as it climbed their faces. The dust wept dissolution.

We ran for higher ground, we stood atop the sculptures, we climbed on to our burning tin roofs. The amassing dust swirled beneath us, pushing us upwards. We made our way, eyes burning, skin stinging, to the tops of our mountains. The tower, tapped into the burning dry earth, spewed out dust for forever. Thick like ash. A blinding cloud. We couldn’t see, we were forced skywards. The screaming of silent dust ringing in our ignorant ears. Our consumption consumes us now. Enacting a dual cannibalism, out of time, the snakes swallow us, as we swallowed them.

I know we were the cause of the swallowing fall. I know that it was our greed and our disinterest that covered our mountains and our train tracks. If we hadn’t stolen the water, the fall might have been a flood. If we had paid heed to our tower, our monument to our everyday, instead of to our sculptures, our monuments to moments, we would not walk 3,000 feet above the ruins of what we had. If we had elevated the status of the water, the tower would not have filled to bursting with the ashes of our greed. I know that it was our deaf theft that has left us with only dust and small black triangles. And the tower; our ruin.

And we stay beside the tower now, anchored to its hollowed belly and the waxing, waning circle of shadow. The silver tower waves the sky on without us, telling it not to wait, and leaving us here as weight. We drag as mass about the body of our monument, trapped in its orbit, becoming ignorant of our own. Turning towards it and away from ourselves. Does the moon know the pull of the sun in the embrace of the earth. Could it know a turning, beyond tidal locking, in the arms of its lover?[8]

The tower lies on its side. It seems to exert a downward force. Not into the ground as if to be subsumed, but away from the sky. It is as if neither the swallowing earth nor the open sky wants this ruin. The tower cannot run away with us and into the sky. It no longer reaches upwards in the dark, trying to match its silver with the desert stars. The tower can only ground us in its authored form.

I whistle into the throat of the tower as I recount this part of the story. I lean into the lion’s mouth, sucking in the tower’s stale breath. I whistle to the tower and not to you. I enter a third turn; to the other, through the tower.[9]

The small slice of sound is hot as it skates off the backs of my teeth. Alive, it sings forward and lays like a string of insults into the toppled tower. It hits the tin walls with all of the force of hurt, and the angle of incidence prepares to double itself. The hollow tower refuses to heed to a thin whistle, to something lean in its living, given, pleading. The cylinder steals something before the sound can angle back in a perfect reflection. It turns the sound on itself. Hurt echoes off the tin as bitterness and returns cruel. What should have returned as it left, a desperate pitched call, remains unavowed as if screamed into shadow. The sound touches death and comes back ringing dead. It razors my nape and I no longer recognize what left my chest.

I whistle because I know that when we did not listen, we traded all of our sight for these echoed sounds. The sounds of our own voices, the voices I hear now as I tell the story of the fall, once again, into the empty tower. I know that I whistle, in the most futile way, into a darkness that I complicity let fall.


[1] In 1882, “Marfa, Texas, like most of the towns out here, was founded on a single thought: get the railroad through” (Browne). Through Marfa’s various economic and social transformations, the train passing through has been a consistent and powerful line running across the desert town.

Browne, Byron. Driving Southwest Texas: On the Road in Big Bend Country. The History Press, 2011. Print.

[2] Monuments and ruins act as “sentinel[s] of historicism” (Sadek) within society, keeping the process of history making on a linear trajectory. They intervene in the process of remembering and forgetting. However, only monuments utilise a remembering-forgetting in order to sustain a perpetual forward motion regardless of the ramifications. They do not implore an amnesia but instead, an assignment of the present to the past, or a putting on record. This is manifested in the use of commemoration over memory that removes the wound of the event, but maintains honour or potential for revenge.

Unlike the monument, the ruin dutifully retreats to allow an object to act as “aestheticized dilapidation” (Sadek). This object holds “two opposing tendencies of ruination and edification, of life and death” from here we can either enter into the commemoration of past events, mechanised through nostalgic formalism, or we can “stand outside nostalgic formalism and recognize in the ruin the synthesis which overcomes the terms of a false and ancient enmity.” In order for the ruin to convince us to commemorate, it is fundamental that it is not current. Being in the past removes the ruin from a heightened state of urgency. “In this form [the ruin], we thus feel the vitality of those opposing tendencies and, instinctively sensing these antitheses in ourselves, we notice, beyond everything merely formal and aesthetic, the significance of the configuration in whose serene unity they have their synthesis” (Simmel 381). Like the monument, the ruin, stepped back from urgency, is capable of commemoration over memory, which is fundamental in the maintenance of a linear history.

“Ruins perform their historicist role most fully when employed to expedite the withdrawal of the negative from the present. In other words, the catastrophe that may inhabit the present and bind it tight to the crushing weight of its own unyielding presentness must be swiftly evicted and efficiently framed as a ruin, lest our resident belief in a planned and better future be hindered and jeopardized” (Sadek 1). Here, Sadek describes how the ruin expedites the negative from the present and into the past by masking the ramifications of past events.

Reza Negarestani’s analysis of a ramification in relation to a commitment to human can be used here to explain the nature of a ramification on the present from the past: “By eroding the anchoring link between present commitments and their past, and by seeing present commitments from the perspective of their ramifications, revision forces the updating of present commitments in a cascading fashion that spreads globally over the entire system. The rational structure of a commitment, or more specifically, of commitment to humanity, constructs the opportunities of the present by cultivating the positive trends of the past through the revisionary forces of the future” (Negarestani). If one compares this orientation of the ramification—here through reason, rather than through the disregard that takes place within Sadek’s definition of a monument or ruin—the anti-revisionary potential that Sadek sets out above is exposed by Negarestani’s commitment to human. The present is “cultivated” through its connection to the past, rather than through commemoration, which masks the past and in turn the ramifications of the present.

Negarestani, Reza. “The Labor of the Inhuman.” E-Flux Feb. 2014. Web. June 2014.

Sadek, Walid. “The Ruin to Come.” The Labour of Ruin. Brussels: erg. 18 Oct. 2013. Reading.

Simmel, Georg. “The Ruin.” The Hudson Review Vol. 11, No. 3 Autumn (1958). Print.

[3] Between 1883 and 1942 the Shafter mines near Marfa produced 30,290,556 troy ounces of silver [U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Shafter, Texas]. But between 1946 and 1947 minimal production was recorded due to “increased production costs, a shortage of miners and an attempt to unionize those who were employed, [so] the American Metal Company simply shut down the operation.”

“Shafter, Texas.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation 06 June 2014. Web. 08 June 2014.

Smith, Julia Cauble. “Shafter, TX.” Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Print.

[4] Francesca Esmay was the Chinati Museum’s Conservator between 2001 and 2006, overseeing the conservation of 15 untitled works in concrete, 1980-1984. The conservation process saw the concrete works lifted from the ground and restored to the state that Donald Judd intended for them. Esmay describes “inherent flaws such as cracks and losses throughout” (Esmay) the works as well as “horizontal dark bands” and “lift lines” on several of the panels. They were initially amended by the first fabricator CRS, by casting the panels vertically and “since it was not possible to fill an entire mold up with one pour, it was done in stages or ‘lifts.’ There are also numerous instances where the reinforcing steel was too close to the surface of the concrete, leading to immediate cracking,” (Esmay 27) that caused imperfections in the concrete faces.

In October of 2001, Esmay “learned of a violent explosion that took place in the field at one of the corners of the concrete works, piece No. 3. The cause of the damage was not immediately apparent, but it was clear that an enormous force was exerted given the displacement of large pieces of concrete, which were scattered up to 20 feet away” (Esmay 29). Furthermore, some of the blocks were found to be sinking into the desert soil beneath them.

The earth pulling down on these once-were-monuments, the point at which nature begins to take control or become the master over man, is the fundamental point at which the maker is met with an equal weight of assertion; the assertion to respond to the landscape is challenged by the landscape. But when the conservator’s hand reaches down to lift the monument from being swallowed by the earth, the reclamation is a slight to the earth that pushes down. A heavy-handed pushing down of nature in the pulling up of the monument.

Esmay, Francesca. Chinati Newsletter 15 2010: p. 26-31. Web.

[5] In May of 1935, ten inches of rain fell in an hour at Woodward Ranch near Marfa, Texas. The water was reported as being “chocolate brown.” During the resultant floods, 21 people died.

“What Is the Most Rain to Ever Fall in One Minute or One Hour?” Weather Underground. N.p., 02 June 2013. Web. 08 June 2014.

[6] “From August 2010 to June 2011, Texas received its lowest rainfall in 117 years.” Marfa depends heavily on groundwater from an igneous aquifer that is recharged by rain. “It’s not an underground river but a slow-moving part of the hydrological cycle,” explained Kevin Urbanczyk, from the Rio Grande Research Center.

Butcher, Sterry. “Marfa, Presidio fare better than some amid drought.” 28 July 2011.

[7] “The 1930s were times of tremendous hardship on the Great Plains. Settlers dealt not only with the Great Depression, but also with years of drought that plunged an already-suffering society into an onslaught of relentless dust storms for days and months on end. They were known as dirt storms, sand storms, black blizzards, and ‘dusters.’ On Sunday, the 14th of April (‘Black Sunday’), a mountain of blackness swept across the High Plains and instantly turned a warm, sunny afternoon into a horrible blackness that was darker than the darkest night.”

“The Black Sunday Dust Storm of April 14, 1935.” National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 June 2014.

[8] Roger Caillois explains acts of mimicry performed by certain organisms as moving beyond the biological (or magical) intermediate steps of the mimicry of a surrounding milieu. In the final stages of this process of assimilation, the organism itself must activate the process, be it by pure automatism or “temptation by space.” This extreme temptation he designates as “legendary psychasthenia.”

Caillois positions psychasthenia as a tropism (a turning in only one direction towards a stimulus). However, if we consider the milieu as the “body” towards which the mimetic “body” turns, and if the milieu is darkness, then the darkness that consumes is also the darkness that is consumed. If we are to acknowledge the perspective of the organism, it is also possible that within a “temptation by space” there could conceivably be “desire.” As in the affective event, both bodies, in the coming of the two together, act upon one another. Darkness is what one turns towards, as it turns to consume. Darkness is not only space or milieu, darkness is body, force and movement. Darkness is the space between bodies in which the actioning of the third takes place, and in being so, darkness is an active body itself. It does not simply make space for the turn, it is the turn.

Caillois, Roger. “Mimicry and Legendary Psychasthenia.” Trans. John Shepley. October Winter 1984.

[9] Jan Verwoert posits the “witness” to art as someone who “must dare to be targeted, affected or moved by the feelings and thoughts of others” (Verwoert). Witnessing involves the externalisation of an unresolvable emotion, whereby the witness is called upon from “outside” of the process of transference. This third person can be asked to bear witness, and it is this gratuitous witness through which reality (and art) can be experienced. This invitation for another to bear witness takes place in the “zone of sentience” where “art and writing come into their own” (Verwoert).

It is from the threshold of the zone sentience, upon which art and writing are created that they must also be cast. This is the space of affect; the space of feelings and emotions that leave no quantifiable or tangible trace of the act of witnessing, regardless of one’s perception of it as reality. Verwoert writes, “When it relates to occurrences in the sphere of sheer emotion, there is no answer to the haunting question: ‘Can I believe that what I saw that night was real and not just fantasy?’ If the occurrence witnessed remains disavowed or disappears, the one who witnessed it will always lack—and therefore compulsively be in search of further witnesses to confirm their account” (Verwoert).

Since there can be no real witness upon whom all of the joy and sorrow of another can be cast, there is always the potential that a witness account may be perceived as fallacious. Verwoert suggests the ghost as the perfect witness. Unseen and unavowed, the ghost who lives in darkness (in the affective space of the zone of sentience) is the perfect recipient to whom we (artists) whistle, as “whistling in the dark is a way of relating to something out there like it was there and not there” (Verwoert).

Verwoert, Jan, and Vanessa Ohlraun. Tell Me What You Want, What You Really, Really Want. Rotterdam: Piet Zwart Institute, Willem De Kooning Academy, Rotterdam U, 2010. Print: p. 268-269.