Spring 2013

Spring 2013 Editor’s Statement

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Arid environments exist in a delicate balance. Limited water and simplified ecosystems that respond quickly and disastrously to small changes puts these sensitive environments at the extreme edge of sustainability.  In arid environments, as on our freeways, one wrong turn can drive one weeks, months or years away from a desired destination, especially when these wrong turns occur in the realm of policy and planning.  This second issue, that we have informally called the ‘anti-utopia’ issue, is a collection of articles and works addressing some of our system’s breakdowns.  

For instance, Marina Zurkow’s critical design project, Gila 2.0 looks at the conflicts between ranchers and the endangered apex species, the Mexican Grey Wolf, by creating absurd solutions that serve to highlight prevailing and deeply ingrained metaphorical misunderstandings. The humor present in her work attempts to open a dialogue between various competing interests.  

The omnipresent utopian architectural imaginaries in the American Southwest are ironically seen breaking down in conversation with architectural designer John R. Donalds on the site of Paolo Soleri’s opus, Arcosanti.

Siobhan Arnold’s essay concerning her father’s extensive photographic desert work in remote environments continues with this theme. Cotten conducted much of his photographic practice in hinterland locations found throughout the arid Southwest where he explored and documented remnants of clandestine military operations and ‘gearhead’ subcultures found at the Bonneville Salt Flats along the Nevada/Utah border. Cotton’s site-specific experiments and collaborative installations with colleagues and students, known as Desert Test Sites—laid a conceptual framework for the HDTS developed by his former student, Andrea Zittel.

Water, or the lack of, appears again and again throughout this issue. Several comprehensive photographic projects focusing on regional water issues are included. Sant Khalsa’s installation project, Western Waters documents the ubiquitous water purifying stations found in strip malls throughout the southwestern United States. Catherine Ann Somerville Venart discusses innovative water resource management practices in the Atacama Desert region of northern Chile.

This focus on water will be continued in depth in our upcoming Fall 2013 issue that will investigate and explore the controversial and often contentious social, political and environmental history of the Los Angeles Aqueduct water conveyance system, which this year celebrates its 100th anniversary. ARID will post in the coming months further information on this commissioned issue. We hope you enjoy our second offering.

Tyler Stallings’ Aridtopia article in partnership with KCET Artbound

Posted on by admin1963 Posted in News & Events, Spring 2013 | Comments Off on Tyler Stallings’ Aridtopia article in partnership with KCET Artbound

Every issue ARID Journal selects a significant article featuring or authored by a Southern California cultural producer, artist, designer, architect or other interesting related theme for our publishing partnership with KCET Artbound.

Our Spring/Summer 2013 issue features Tyler Stallings’ Aridtopia’s Loop Writing: A Desert Language. Aridtopia is a speculative, utopian community in the Mojave Desert conceived and imagined by Stallings.

Click below to read the full essay:


Water Resources: A Documentation of Water Technologies in the Atacama Desert | Catherine Ann Somerville Venart

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The Atacama is a Desert region stretching from Peru’s southern border into northern Chile. In Chile this region is known as San Pedro de Atacama and is designated the driest desert on earth. These areas are known as “absolute desert,” so arid that little or no life can exist within them. The altitude and topography together with the presence of water determine to a large extent what areas humans and various species of plants and wildlife can survive within. In most cases it is the ability of a species to adapt to the severity of the environment that determines its success or failure. The balance between an ecosystem and a species, how many it can support and where they inhabit is a negotiated, cause and effect relationship between a species and its environment. Some adaptations are cultural learnings or based in experience, some are biological and some occur within the environment itself, due to the inhabitation of it. For example, the burrowing of animals in the earth, is similar to early dwellings, which are dug in and made of thick earth walls, both use the earth for its insular properties. The lizard skins scales, are a biological adaption, where small pockets created by the scales enables water to collect, within the surface of the skin. This surface modification is similar to the agricultural plots or Chacras or Hoyas [1], which are shallow excavations that create subtle shifts in topography where moisture for their crops collect due to temperature differential between night and day. All these adaptions to “place” enable plant, animal, and human beings to dwell within a given landscape. This direct knowledge has come about from centuries of understanding of the earth and its resources as well as observing the plants and animals that also inhabit it. In the small oasis villages and towns in this region, some of this knowledge is still being utilized. So, in the face of rapid change, the question is how to keep this knowledge of the earth and its resources alive; and yet be able to adapt, grow and develop without threatening ecosystems and causing desertification.

The region’s main geographical zones are: (1) the coastal zone, which is the most densely populated area in the region; from this narrow coastal ribbon, the land rises steeply through the (2) Andean foothills (precordillera) to (3) the Pampas. These dry lifeless plains cut by river gorges, rich in mineral sediments from the Andes and (4) alluvial saltpan basins, of which the Salar de Atacama is the largest in Chile. A series of (5) high altitude plains, or sub-desert grasslands, continue east to (6) the Andes (cordillera) with their snow-covered volcanoes reaching upwards of 6,000 meters above sea level. This extreme climate and the vast and impressive scalar dimensions of its landscape have a direct and profound effect on understanding of the temporality and fragility of our existence, and indeed any existence within it. The tenuousness of human beings’ ability to survive within this landscape is observed first in the scarcity of vegetation; the extreme temperature differences between sunrise and sun set; and in the elaborate systems of gathering, directing and holding water.


Figure 2: Map of the Salar de Atacama Basin

The present study will concentrate on the area directly east of the Salar de Atacama (Fig.2), where several oasis towns are located. It documents two methods for gathering and distributing water, tracing water from its origins to use in (1) the town of Socaire, whose agricultural fields are fed by seepage water and (2) the small oasis town of Toconao that uses water from a deep river gorge. Both towns utilize ancient water systems today.

In this area, all water from the altiplano or high altitude plains and the Andean mountains, including river gorges, seepage water and mountain run off or snowmelt, makes its way to the Salar de Atacama basin. There is no outflow of water into any other water basin or to the sea, making the Salar de Atacama basin a closed system, with water leaving the system only by evaporation or through use by plants, wildlife or humans. Therefore, any water extraction will have direct consequences on the ecosystems involved, both currently and in its future.

Figure 3: Irrigation System that transfers water from source to field via human made canals, ditches and diversion walls.

In the town of Socaire (Fig. 3 & 4) small scale agricultural practices, consisting of a pre-Hispanic patterning of small irregular-shaped chacras or holdings that use a communal irrigation system to grow alfalfa, vegetables, and cereals. Field techniques of terracing or excavation, and shallow sloped fields or patches, called hoyas, create pockets of moisture and warmth that protect and nourish the crops, and enable them to be less dependent on irrigation water. Complementary irrigation helps to accelerate the time the crop takes to mature. This system is created using ditches or canals, the edges of which are reinforced by building up using either earth walls or stones, and sometimes mortar or concrete. Each field receives water through a gravitational system that uses subtle slopes along a central canal fed from an up-hill source controlled by a water gate opened to irrigate the top edge of each sloped field. The size of the settlement makes the use of irrigation techniques vital to the quantity and quality of crops. Thus, settlements are dependent on channeling water from snowmelt streams or seepage run-off, and therefore must address issues of climate change as well as water management if they are to survive. The challenge then is to find methods of collecting and using water to maximize its usage, satisfying development needs without strong or possibly irreversible impact on the natural systems.[2]

Figure 4: Photos’ Documenting Irrigation Fields and Field techniques in Socaire, Chile.

The town of Toconao (Fig. 5) is an oasis ecosystem. Its primary water source is the deep river gorge of the Rio del Valle de Jere that cuts through the desert plain on route to the Salar basin. The town’s water infrastructure is an elaborate system of canals and earthen walled reservoirs, with water gates that control the water levels and the distribution of water to the town as well as the fountain in the main square.  Changes in water availability and land use can make the town and its ecosystem vulnerable. Changes to the demand being put on the system are very real as increases in population due to mining, tourism, and the large international teams of astronomers that come to observe the clear skies found in the arid atmosphere of the Atacama Desert make these issues imperative to address. These changes have already begun in many communities in this region, shifting their economies from agriculture and livestock to construction, mining and tourism. As seen in the town of San Pedro, this has occurred very quickly, where agricultural lands have been developed for tourism projects (hotels, resorts and expedition companies, etc.) instead of remaining agricultural lands. This comes about when agriculture and the “land” have no more cultural value. There are many ramifications, especially here,within a closed system, as it creates a system where a scarce and limited resource is traded for a “monetary” income that depends on sources outside the system for survival.  This disconnects the inhabitants from the earth and the knowledge held within working and living with the land. This break in the continuity of knowledge creates a loss of cultural understanding and the direct understanding of “place.”

Figure 5: Photos’ Documenting Water Infrastructure in Toconao, Chile.

In the late 1990’s the government of Chile passed the “Indigenous Law,” one that recognizes the indigenous peoples of this region, and titled this region the Atacama La Grande Indigenous Development Area. This has given “the Atacameños greater control over their ancestral lands and the use of public funds,” it combines a “concentration of government development initiatives,” with “large scale mining, an emerging tourism industry and globally relevant astronomy projects,” and creates a unique and difficult challenge for this region and its peoples. “There is a need to connect traditional activities of production (agriculture, livestock, craftwork) with tourism and the [larger] economy through diversification and technology development.”[3]

With an increasing demand being put on the water supplies of this region and the current practices of land use and water management, the gap of understanding the interconnectivity between ecosystem, development, and us will only widen. We need to acknowledge the cultural importance of this connection to the earth and an understanding of our place in it, recognizing indigenous knowledge, a knowledge that has enabled settlements to lived in harmony with other natural habitats and ecosystems for centuries. We also need to recognize that these same sets of knowledge need to adapt, such that the cause and effect of the larger scale of the natural systems (hydrological and ecological) as well as the localized sites of human settlements, are tested to see the effects of the local on the larger whole. The problem that is put to these communities, then, is two-fold: what are the limits to growth, i.e. “how much development can be sustained,” and how can we keep both ecosystems and hydrological systems in balance with development, so that “we” remain within the realities of “place?”

All images © 2013 Catherine Ann Somerville Venart.

[1] Denevan, William. Cultivated Landscapes of Native Amazonia & the Andes, Oxford UK, Oxford Geographical & Environmental Studies, 2001.
[2] Beatriz Bustos, G. & Hernán Blanco, P. “Patta hoiri and Likanantay people: rescuing the knowledge of the land”, RIDES (2005). Santiago, Chile pp. 8, 11-14.
[3] RIDES (2005). Bienestar humano y manejo sustentable en San Pedro de Atacama, Chile–Resumen Ejecutivo (Human well-being and sustainable management in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile–Executive Summary), Santiago, Chile: RIDES. Santiago, March 2005 RIDES (2005). p. 36.

Co-Evolving Pedagogies | Szu-Han Ho and Joseph A. Cook

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Our motivation for creating this course is to rethink traditional pedagogies in both science and art as wholly distinct from one another. We are interested in creating an environment for the exchange of ideas from both contemporary art and the biological sciences—to combine scientific methods of rigorous inquiry and analysis with artistic invention, criticism, and expansive thinking. Our aim is to encourage active inquiry and engagement with material that is both intellectually demanding and socially relevant.

As collaboration and communication between fields becomes increasingly essential within both scientific research and artistic practice, we see a greater need for interdisciplinary exchange between biologists, artists, historians, anthropologists, and other thinkers to share resources and methods for building collective knowledge. This form of collaboration enables researchers to explore the intersections between cultural history and natural history, to pose new questions, and to address these questions in a way that connects their diverse histories. This course aims to examine how education might begin to bridge the gap between disciplines that are traditionally segregated within academic institutions.

The course is offered to advanced undergraduates and graduate students in biology, studio art, and students from other disciplines. By learning to converse and work closely with peers in other fields, we are tasked to find a common language and thereby to articulate our own ideas more clearly. We hope to promote engagement through discussion, critique, peer presentation, experiential learning, and production through collaboration. These activities take place at various sites: in the field, in the lab, on the web, and in the wider public sphere. We work with the resources surrounding us, including the expertise and facilities of UNM and local field sites. The Museum of Southwestern Biology at UNM is one of the foremost natural history collections worldwide, a dynamic teaching and research museum that houses the largest mammal collection at a university globally.

Image 1: Felisa Smith gives a talk on paleobiogeography in the Museum of Southwestern Biology at UNM

A major theme of the course relates to the use of natural history collections to explore morphology and geographic variation, which can be understood as the relationship of form to place. Collection specimens offer the opportunity to work directly with the visual and tactile senses to understand natural history, evolution, and ecology; this is one of the great advantages of the use of a museum collection in pedagogy. CO-EVOLUTION is part of an effort led by faculty from both UNM Biology and Art & Ecology to connect students to their surrounding bio-geographical, historical, and cultural context through place-based, experiential learning. The state of New Mexico is a confluence of multiple ecological regions and cultural identities, providing important sites for the study of arid ecology, as well as for the layers of cultural production throughout its long history of human inhabitation. As a designated minority-serving and research-extensive institution, UNM has very active faculty and research facilities, and the course offers the chance for students to become familiar with the scope and activity of the UNM research community in areas outside their own field of study.

CO-EVOLUTION is connected and largely supported through a National Science Foundation Research Coordination Network in Undergraduate Biology Education called AIM-UP! (Advancing Integration of Museums into Undergraduate Programs), an international group representing multiple higher education institutions that are working to integrate natural history museum collections and associated web-accessible databases into undergraduate education as a means of rethinking science education. AIM-UP! also supports development of innovative curricula through annual meetings, working groups, and a growing number of teaching (or “dispersion”) modules developed by educators worldwide.

In 2012, CO-EVOLUTION included a weekly seminar web-broadcast to three other institutions with major natural history museums led by associate private investigators: Eileen Lacey at UC Berkeley, Steffi Ickert-Bond at UA Fairbanks, and Scott Edwards at Harvard University. Students from these institutions exchanged ideas through discussion and a digital learning environment. Students at UNM, UCB, and UAF worked on semester-long projects, in which they researched a topic related to one of two themes in the course, drawing on the resources of the natural history collection: “Climate Change” or “Morphology and Geographic Variation.” The projects, called “dispersion modules,” were developed in small collaborative groups with a mix of students from biology, art studio, and other fields and they were intended to enable students to explore and communicate content in a visually engaging, inquiry-driven manner. The final projects took the form of e-books, interactive digital publications designed for online dissemination. Within the parameters of a digital publication, students formulated their investigations utilizing the resources of databases or collections of natural history museums, addressing the following topics: “The Relationship Between Geographic Barriers and Divergence,” “Using Natural History Collections and Art to Communicate about Climate Change,” “The Rock Pocket Mouse Adaption by Natural Selection,” and “Specialized Plant Pollination Systems.” Students at UCB, UAF, and UNM presented ideas, drafts, and feedback to one another throughout the semester. Projects can be viewed on the course blog, under Dispersion Modules: www.unm-coev.blogspot.com.

CO-EVOLUTION also included three intensive workshops led by renowned artists Brandon Ballengée, Suzanne Anker, and Brian Conley. All three visiting artists were invited based on their work integrating biology with themes and practices in contemporary art, ranging from investigations in the history of science to collaborations with biologists in field-based research projects. These artists explore the intersection of the sciences and the arts in highly inventive ways that are compelling and relevant to interdisciplinary education and research. These collaborative workshops created access, dialogue, and artistic production around the role of natural history collections within scientific and cultural debate.

Each visiting artist delivered a lecture at UNM that was free and open to the public and then led a two-day workshop. Students met for twelve to fourteen hours over the course of two days with each artist to explore issues related to art and natural history. The workshops addressed each of the following themes:

  1.  Cataloguing Wonder: recapturing sense-experience in the empirical method
  2. Fluid Taxonomy: on the dynamic practice of classification and the politics of naming
  3. Morphology and Evolution: investigating change in nature and culture

Image 2: Brandon Ballengée leads students in amphibian development lab

Workshop 1: Cataloguing Wonder with Brandon Ballengée

Artist and biologist Brandon Ballengée led the first CO-EVOLUTION workshop in February 2012. Engaging communities with biological science and generating public interest in local biodiversity has been an integral part of Ballengée’s work as both a researcher and an artist. For day one, Ballengée gave a presentation of his work around bio-indicator species, specifically regarding European and North American amphibians. Ballengée, along with Tomas Giermakowski (Museum of Southwestern Biology Collection Manager of Amphibians and Reptiles), led the group in a lab to learn about amphibian development and observation by using museum specimens, dissecting scopes, and taxonomic keys. We learned a method of identifying amphibian development called Gosner staging, which differentiates metamorphic stages through close anatomic study. We also explored methods of observation through drawing, photography, and description.

On day two, we traveled to sites in Albuquerque and Los Lunas, New Mexico; the Los Lunas site has garnered national media attention in recent years for the large number of amphibian specimens found with deformities such as missing or super numeric limbs. With the help of UNM Biology doctoral student Mason Ryan, Ballengée led the group in a morning of collecting specimens from ponds, with the aim of introducing students to the biodiversity in their local environment. Upon returning to the lab, we discussed the ethics of collecting, looked at the collected specimens under microscopes, and debated possible hypotheses for the amphibian deformities. The workshop introduced students to ways of understanding food web relationships and their human impacts on the habitat.

Image 3: Collecting specimens at Talin Supermarket

Workshop 2: Fluid Taxonomy with Suzanne Anker

In March 2012, Suzanne Anker led a workshop on “supermarket DNA,” in which we traveled to an international food market in Albuquerque to discover the diversity of locally available fungi specimens and subsequently learned how to sequence the DNA of those specimens. In both her writing and art practice, Anker’s work has examined the relationship between scientific developments in genetic research and the artistic sphere of production since Modernism. On day one, we took a bus to Talin Market, where we purchased a sample of each type of fresh fungi available. We returned to the mycology lab at UNM to learn about DNA using PCR (polymerase chain reaction) and Sanger sequencing methods from Don Natvig, Professor of Biology at UNM. Professor Natvig provided a detailed lecture on the structure of DNA, how PCR works to amplify particular genes, and how to sequence the DNA of fungi. The students, many of whom had never stepped foot in a biology lab, had the opportunity to practice the laboratory procedures required for DNA-based investigations.

On day two, Professor Natvig lectured on the sometimes surprising exchanges between mycology and human cultural production, including the history of the appearance of mushrooms in art imagery. We then returned to the DNA lab to discover that the group had an over 60% success rate in sequencing the different species of supermarket fungi. We learned how to read, access, and interpret nucleotide sequences on GenBank, a massive, publicly accessible online database of DNA sequences contributed to by researchers around the world. In the afternoon, Anker gave a presentation on a history of modern and contemporary artists working with the “cut and paste” methods of collage that parallel or presage current practices in genetic engineering. Students presented their collages and discussed the implications of overlapping practices in art and science.

Image 4: Jon Dunnum uses mammal specimens to highlight evolutionary processes

Workshop 3: Morphology and Evolution with Brian Conley

Artist and educator Brian Conley arrived in April 2012 to lead the third workshop of the CO-EVOLUTION series. Throughout his teaching and artistic practice, Conley has been investigating the overlapping space of scientific episteme, artistic agency, and social communication structures. This workshop was organized around a series of interdisciplinary presentations and short student projects that involved the collections at the Museum of Southwestern Biology (MSB). The workshop explored ideas from complexity theory that examines interrelated sets of chemical, biological, mathematical, spatial, technological, and social phenomenon. Each of the presentations addressed pattern formation in complex systems, whose elements are in dynamic interaction. On day one, Luis Bettencourt from the Santa Fe Institute gave an introduction to complex systems and patterns with examples from neuroscience, material science, plant anatomy, and urban growth. Felisa Smith, Professor of Biology at UNM, discussed her research in paleobiogeography and using the museum collections to investigate the relationship between climate change and morphological change in mammals. Jon Dunnum, Collection Manager of Mammals at the MSB, showed specimens from the mammal collection to highlight visible evolutionary patterns and relationships found among taxonomic groups. Each student then spent time with the specimens to conceive and develop an art project that might draw from the ideas discussed during the day.

Image 5: Brian Conley and CO-EV students discuss the complex systems in art and biology

On day two, Conley gave a presentation on the diverse approaches by modern and contemporary artists toward engaging scientific content. The talk included selected examples of works by Marcel Duchamp, Dan Zeller, Natalie Jeremijenko, Critical Art Ensemble, the Center for Land Use Interpretation, and Brian Conley. Students continued working on their pieces before gathering for a roundtable discussion of their works and further possibilities related to thinking through art and biological systems. Conley closed the session with a lecture on potentially applying principles of complexity and self-organizing systems to art production.

As the creators of the CO-EVOLUTION course, our approach to these workshops has been open-ended, allowing for each visiting artist to develop the program according to their own interests and available resources. In many cases, the artists have used the workshop as an opportunity to push their own means of inquiry with the students, in turn affording the students the experience of being a participant in the artists’ own learning process. Being positioned in the midst of this process—rather than as the recipient of already-articulated knowledge in the form of textbooks, published papers, and lectures—has been an important part of representing the research process in art and biology as active, present, and in a continuous state of redefinition. The workshops have created an opportunity to work closely with artists who have developed an in-depth dialogue and engagement with other disciplines, and who are able to reformulate these practices into new questions through art production. The distinct approach of each artist provides an introduction to the many ways that art and biological sciences can inform one another. Students and researchers in science coming into the course have reported being unfamiliar with the ways that contemporary artists engage scientific content; likewise, art students have found themselves in new territories within the lab, field, and scientific discourse. Participants from these diverse backgrounds are part of a mutual process of investigation and experimentation. One of the main challenges of the course has been to develop a common vocabulary amongst a diverse group. Terminology used in both fields commonly carried wide-ranging meanings, e.g. the meanings of site, specimen, data, collection, and research range widely amongst the students and researchers. At the same time, the possibility for one meaning to inform another provides the basis for spirited dialogue, shared knowledge, and productive friction.

Image 6: Project by CO-EVOLUTION student Julia Anderson

We have been committed to allow the discussion of ethical issues, which are often overlooked or given anemic attention in science education, to be addressed as they emerged. The ethics of genetic modification, specimen collection, and anthropogenic climate change were amongst some of the concerns that have surfaced through the workshops and the seminar. These are concerns that scientists, who must carry the mantle of objectivity, often face difficulty in addressing through the given modes of scientific practice. Artistic discourse and practice, while varying widely, contains the space for calling attention to ethical and socio-political urgency, in direct or indirect ways. Throughout the course, the question of audience has surfaced in conversation between both disciplines. While scientific literature for non-specialist audiences does exist, professional literature tends to be specialized and highly opaque to lay readers. Works of art and exhibitions, on the other hand, have the potential to address a more inclusive audience. Of course, the question of who constitutes the audience always exists and is malleable for the artist. For scientists, the social consequences of technological development, urgent environmental crises, and the struggle with political will to confront these crises create a demand for greater public awareness and the dissemination of accurate information. The scientific community is currently under greater pressure by federal granting agencies to make research data more widely available to the public. In the case of natural history museums, this is accomplished through online digital images and databases such as GenBank, VertNet, and Arctos. Artists, not constrained by the formal guidelines of science, can address content armed with the possibility of communicating, questioning, and expanding on scientific knowledge. At the same time, accountability remains vital, and the rigor and precision required by scientists finds its unique translation in art.

Negotiating formal outcomes has been yet another significant and interesting challenge of the course. Scientists, who follow strict guidelines for publishing and communicating the results of their research, often cannot afford to question the form of a product, whether a peer-reviewed paper, a raw data set, or a conference presentation. These guidelines are an integral part of the discourse of science within a global community that produces and shares new knowledge. Artists work to bring new forms of mediation and representation into being. They are tasked to invent their own processes and forms by establishing parameters and by using or ignoring given constraints. Rather than dictating one process as more creative or rigorous than another, we are interested in confronting the challenge of incorporating aspects of form, content, and method from both disciplines in order to ask what each field can contribute to the other. To deny the fact that real differences between these fields exist would be to ignore their divergent histories, objectives, language, and methods. Our aim is to mine the significance behind those differences and to refashion distinctions between forms of knowledge, forms of experience, and forms of inquiry.

Banner image:  Sequencing DNA with Suzanne Anker and Don Natvig in the UNM Mycology Lab

To Become Visible: Archaic Petroglyphs in Oregon Country | Juli R. Brode

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The exhibit at the Jacobs Gallery at the Hult Center, titled, “To Become Visible: Archaic Petroglyphs in Oregon Country,” features four artists who present photographs as well as paintings of petroglyphs and pictographs of the northern Great Basin, a region that includes land in Oregon, northern Nevada, and northeastern California. The petroglyphs (incised into stone) and pictographs (applied onto stone) are valued by a diverse population and remain subjects of study that do not give up all their secrets.

The show might surprise the visitor in both its focus and the questions raised and but left unanswered.  Douglas Beauchamp, the curator, has been engaged in rock art studies and photography for some years, and he readily acknowledges that those “who carved the stones… have created and sustained a remarkable legacy of presence… within a changing landscape.” The subject matter of the photographs and paintings, the rocks and graphics, are undoubtedly beautiful and mysterious; they also provide a framework that asks the viewer to contemplate the pervasive complexity of the surroundings. Tim Ingold argues that landscape is not “land,” is not “nature,” and is not “space.”[1] Instead, it is a concept we engage, not abstractly, but physically and materially—the activities of our lives are not inscribed onto the surrounding land, so much as they form, in a bodily way, the collective landscape of which each of us is a part. In a post-modern sense, the landscape might also be considered a “text,” a condition that is socially constructed (written) and interpreted (read), though the interpretation fluctuates in relation to the interests, desires and agendas of its reader. This notion of the landscape as text coincides with the multiple and sometimes conflicting interests, claims and values that surround both artifacts and places.

Image: Fragment of the Ana boulder, north of Summer Lake and Ana Springs, eastern Oregon. © 2013 Douglas Beauchamp.

Above all else, this exhibit extends an invitation to the changing landscape, and the landscape into which one is invited is engaging and active. The exhibit includes close-up studies by Douglas Beauchamp and Gary Tepfer, where painterly surfaces reveal nicks, gouges, scores, colors, patinations, and polychromes; surfaces made some time ago but still animate. Tepfer’s interest in the “relationship of the carving to the material carved” is evident in abstract, painterly photographs that probe textured surfaces and explore colors, man-made or resulting from mineral oxidation and microplant growth. Adjacent and contrasting to these, Peter Goin places the petroglyphs in context, framing relations to the larger landscape—hard, earthen, riven and cracked forms of an older earth, subjected to weathering and geologic shifts; changes in topographies and vegetation types; or alterations made by contemporary infrastructures of highways and fencing. The selected works by Susan Applegate include assemblages and paintings, some of which are thick with built up surfaces that are, in their turn, scratched and inscribed, as if to reconnect to the stories relayed by playing the role of contemporary scribe. A Merleau-Ponty citing, paired with a Beauchamp photograph across the gallery, poses the notion that each thing exists beyond itself, each fact can be a dimension, each idea has its regions.[2]

Image: Petroglyph and Lichen at School Section. © 2012 Gary Tepfer.

As conveyed by the artists, the glyphs are decidedly human and storied, and the photographers and painter have rendered them audible (or nearly so). The markings whether pecked, carved, printed or painted, are intriguing as they make the past, present. Though the specific meanings may be elusive, the etching, writing, recording, signing that may mark routes, narrate stories, observe rites, are understandable in relation to our own daily activities. Together, the collection emphasizes a quality of landscape that we do not often think about, not daily, and that is not always visible—of time. These artists, with varying intents and tactics give visibility to space-in-time, most purposefully in the layer they themselves add. Peter Goin has captured the image of a stone, surface marked and etched, at a particular time of day, as the sun glances across the surface, as it has at this time of day, perhaps a handful of days a year, for many, many years. A person could observe this relatively few times in a lifetime, in comparison with the many times this stone has been raked in that light regardless of whether the horizon lifted or fell, whether a road or electric lines ran through the background.  Each artist here senses what may have been, what is, and what might be, and makes choices that communicate the temporal landscape to us.

Image: LandMarks, acrylic on plastered wood, triptych, each panel 11.5” x 16” to total length 36” x 16”, 1996. © 1996-2013 Susan Applegate.

To Become Visible: Archaic Petroglyphs in Oregon Country opened on Friday, January 25 and ran through March 16, 2013 at the Jacobs Gallery at the Hult Center in Eugene, Oregon. The exhibit honors and recognizes the beauty and importance of petroglyphs produced by Native Americans of many traditions and considered as archaic images and human markings within a changing landscape.

Banner image: Churchill County, 2004. © 2004-2013 Peter Goin.

[1] Ingold, Tim. 2000. The perception of the environment: essays on livelihood, dwelling & skill. London: Routledge.
[2] Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, Ted Toadvine, and Leonard Lawlor. 2007. The Merleau-Ponty reader. Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press.

Interview with John R. Donalds | Andrea Polli

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Arid co-editor Andrea Polli speaks with John R. Donalds, researcher in architecture at Syracuse University. December 26th, 2012, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Transcribed by Kellen Zelle.

AP: We just visited Paolo Soleri’s Arcosanti site as well as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West and the Paolo Soleri Amphitheater at the Santa Fe Indian School. So before we get into talking about the trip, can you tell me a little bit about your research?

JD: Yes, I’m currently exploring the interaction of network culture with architecture; so the idea is that architecture as space can be informed by, or be used as, a tool in people’s communication within networks, primarily in electronic networks (a global network architecture) but then also imagining how it can inform a local, more communal, network of people.

AP: So are you talking about how physical space changes or informs the way we interact with network space?

JD: Yes, I imagine primarily that architectural space can be used as a network tool. I’m not yet attempting to alter how people interact in that space, in a network communication, but rather how architecture can be used as a tool in that communication, or how architecture can more fully express how we live in a contemporary network—how our relationships are increasingly informed through network communication, a distanced, non-local relationship.

AP: What made you decide to research that sort of connection?

JD: It stems from my previous work in photography and video and working at Oberlin College to develop networks and shared media spaces for the Art Department in terms of video editing, collaborative classrooms and distance education; and from also wanting to produce thesis work that has some provocativeness to it that, as kind of a final frontier maybe or the next frontier I imagine we need to explore—how architecture may currently have these older, more traditional, methods of operating and is not really, in a networked way, addressing what I now see in relationships between people and communities, having been very completely informed by or changed by the development of a global Internet.

AP: So that’s kind of interesting to me in the context of this trip. You created this workspace, this collaborative workspace, at Oberlin, a series of workspaces; and that is something that really struck me at both the Arcosanti site and Taliesin West was how – that was really… Arcosanti, for example, was only a small percentage complete. It has about 75 people living there and they plan to have eventually 450. They’ve been building it since 1970, and the first spaces that he builds are these workspaces; this wonderful ceramics shop, metal shop and the Lab –which basically looks like it functions like a woodshop – and then you have the same sort of thing happening at Taliesin, which of course, was built for sort of a different reason. It was built for collaborative work where you have that long 96 foot–the biggest space I think, at Taliesin, is another lab space – the workspace –

Image: The Arcosanti Amphiteater as seen from the Sky Suite. © 2013 Andrea Polli.

JD: —The drafting studio—

AP: Yeah. So how does that play into—I mean, is that just an old way of thinking about architectural and community collaboration, or do you feel there are some things to be learned, or things that contemporary architects can take from those types of structures?

JD: I haven’t yet thought upon how those large initial workspaces are something that participates in my designs, except in that, I do see them as certain workspaces, as being fundamental to what I imagine in my initial design research to be a multi-family apartment type setting.

AP: So what kind of workspaces do you see?

JD: I can see shared kitchens, and child care, and laundry or general workshops; but then maybe those are things that are more traditional and typical to architecture, and it’s how they’re informed by technology and their special relationship to other programs of the buildings that will begin to push them forward into an investigation of a more, possibly, global or local intra-network communication.

AP: I mean it’s funny that Arcosanti didn’t have any shared kitchens, you know? It seemed like every apartment had its own kitchen, it seemed like there was that communal space where people had their meals, but that was a kitchen that was run by—I suppose that they share cooking duties—is that the kind of thing you are thinking of? Or are you thinking of a shared kitchen where people just go and make their own stuff and hang out with each other?

JD: Well, I mentioned this to you before: the idea, not as an isolation of an architect’s role, but rather a very particular segregation of my role that I would like to provide for myself—that I would like to provide a sense of agency to people. So, I don’t want to totally predict how a space can be used, but rather give it a certain flexibility so that, if it turns out that a society using a group of spaces chooses to go one way or another with it, they will have some option with that. I see at the spaces at Arcosanti began to do that; there was, if you remember that one kind of smaller kitchen in the library, the shared library I suppose, seemed to take on a lot of use, if you could look at the evidence of the pans, and the RO water system, and the laundry right nearby—that it became what maybe the architect had not completely intended, as a very strong focus for the community in terms of shared use, and it didn’t seem to be designed at the scale that could allow for all 70-some people to share it, but it was getting very heavy use. And then also the café in the base of the tower, a visitor’s center, seemed to have daily activity in terms of communal meals, dinners and breakfasts; but for the number of people we saw show up to those, it seemed like maybe the architect had provided an oversized kitchen, a more commercial scale kitchen, in there. It is interesting to see the choices that people made towards using a more commercially designed space versus a more domestic space—that the domestic one was getting a lot of heavier communal use, it seemed to me. So that was an interesting piece of evidence that I came back with; that maybe in shared spaces, there is a desire for a domesticity—a kind of extended family—that architecture can provide clues for, can provide the tools for.

AP: And that’s because that space was smaller and kind of more intimate like someone’s apartment?  It literally looked like they took someone’s apartment and turned that it into a public space—that there was no real intention on the part of the architect for that to happen.

JD: Right. So maybe that is evidence there that, at least in that kind of situation—in more of an artist commune in Arizona—with a lot of interesting landscape around it—there is a certain type of person attracted to that scene, who will be attracted to the domestic space regardless of the constraints that it may provide for them; the constraints—the closeness, the coziness, the compactness of people being together—may be something that that environment or that architecture is inspiring.

AP: So do you think there is something specific about the setting of Arizona—the Southwest? Or is it the people?  I mean, we talked to that one guy who said he kind of had an island mentality, and that living there—he had lived there for seventeen years—was almost like living on an island. Is that kind of what you…

Image:  Student project on the grounds of Taliesin West. © 2013 Andrea Polli.

JD: I took away that many people who go there look for a certain isolation—look to get away from the beaten path of society, and give themselves space in isolation to investigate themselves, or how they can develop a community at a smaller scale.

AP: So as someone who has a lot of experience at a lot of different places, traveling throughout several places in Asia, Europe, and the United States, do you think there is a special sort of case – having come from California and lived on the east coast – is the southwest a special context? Also, the same related question that I think about is: did Soleri think about that when he built Arcosanti? Is Arcosanti an urban laboratory? Is there evidence that he considered the context? What is that context from your experience in other places?JD: I wonder if his bells—the original structures being workshops and the foundry casting of ceramics; and his then ceramic and metal bells—give evidence to him considering the wind and topology of that area as something that his pieces wanted to interact in; he knew, or wanted also, people to be able to interact with too, that the wind and atmosphere of that space, moving through his architecture and his bells was something that was important. And creating a sonification of that movement through bells, would also interplay with his arched spaces, his vaults, his curved amphitheater designs for—not just for an actual performance amphitheater, but how all the apartments are centered now around that space—that there is a stage for the landscape to operate on along with his bells and his open courtyards and transitional spaces between buildings and balconies that—it’s very integrated into the land, along with his sense of use of excavation to burrow into the land.

AP: Right, it was so amazing the way you were on one level of the land, and as you traveled through his architectural compound you end up on another level, and then there is, yet still another level of that canyon that goes down, so it really echoes the very specific landscape; and I was really surprised as well about the sound that, within the different spaces you weren’t really encroached upon by the sound of other people that much—lots of thick cement floors I suppose—and then the vaults that have that incredible very long echo. Do you think—because we were talking about the kind of people that want to go there—do you think that workshop structure also helps to attract or supports more artists wanting to live in that kind of experimental situation, using the slow cement casting technique. What are your thoughts about that?

JD: Yeah, I’m reminded too about your previous question that I don’t think I addressed carefully, which is the type of person who may be attracted to that type of living environment—living and work environment. I believe Paolo Soleri seems—in selections of artwork and his own works; drawings, and sculptures, and the architecture—seems to know a good bit about the artists mentality that, I feel like, he’s considered very well what it is to not only be an artist, but to be an individual and working in collaboration with or around others in a community.

AP: What makes you say that? That’s cool.

JD: When we were talking about the structure and how it dug into the landscape, and the idea of interpenetrations of landscape and architecture, I was also reminded how that provided for a lot of private space, or just in general, the idea of an island—if our resident’s statement about desiring to live on an island or finding himself living on an island isn’t also representative of how that structure is dug in, like a bunker in ways, that there are actual physical ways that the building sinks into the landscape and provides some relief or some protection from the environment, but at the same time gives kind of a cultural or psychological protection in a mode of going in and hiding; burrowing. How do you say when you are—

AP: A cocoon?

JD: Cocoon—during winter, you’re hibernating in something, there is a certain psychological phase or phases that, in my experience, artists, as sensitive people, seem to go through; that they’ll have this need for community and be very outgoing and desirous of contact, and can have a very polar shift into wanting isolation and independence as well; and that building, Soleri’s structure, seemed to work along that line of understanding personalities, or shifting sides of the same personality.

Image: Creative settlement on the outskirts of the Arcosanti site. © 2013 Andrea Polli.

AP: Yeah, I never thought about that, but it really is like every apartment—even in his master grand plan for the 480 people—are all facing in towards this amphitheater, and I thought of it more like engaging with the other people – that it was a social kind of structure—but it’s really interesting the way you talk about—it’s also keeping other people out. Like it’s a focus on our community and keep others out—which is, really, totally different, I think, than what you’re working on—which is how to integrate the global community into a local community.

JD: Yes. Well it’s not like an open tap that one can’t control in my scheme either. I imagine it to have a great deal of adjustable security to it as well, I want to give people the tools by which to become hermits and maybe just have a unidirectional view of the world that they can choose the media that is coming to them, or the communications, or to go the opposite direction and be completely exhibitionist, or community participatory and be the life of the party or the focus of a much larger conversation—

AP: Right; like having the most hits on You-tube or whatever—

JD:  Right, all coming from your living room live. I would like to see it go either way. I guess, now as we talk about it, as in an artistic mentality—that one can have different sides of their personality, to be really open in one moment, and very closed in the next.  I also think a lot about the origins of the Internet and how it’s developed into a method of communication and information sharing between people in a very positive way, but then also its origins as a defense mechanism for the United States—North America—in connecting military assets, central intelligence, corporations and universities in the US—also located in that first Arpanet.  So, the idea that I’m beginning to express, at a very basic tectonic level, reflects the ways in which network architecture—the global network—has been initiated and has developed, I want that architecture – that actual structure and technology in it—to represent those multiple sides of network.  In architecture, in what I research and look to design, it’s not to continue using the word security in terms of my money and my objects, but rather to extend that idea of “security” to my every day moment of emotions, desires, interests in learning from others, or wanting to be cloistered away from them—that security, as network culture, I think, implies the idea that social networks have that underlying structure of “yes, protect my bank account that I operate with,” but also has the next level of security in terms of who I want to be friends with and how I want to interact with them.

AP: Yeah, maybe I’m getting the wrong idea here, but it sounds like, in a certain sense, you’re talking about freedom; and just to get back to Soleri, one question I wanted to ask you was—this idea of agency.  We were critical about his choices in terms of shared cooking and eating facilities and they ended up being re-adopted, maybe, in a different way than what was intended. So from your impression of the Soleri Arcosanti site, do you think that he’s giving the occupants agency? I’m just thinking about how I felt myself there, I felt a sense of safety like I might feel at a conference, or with people that I know and am familiar with, or that we’re all sort of interested in the same thing, but I don’t think that really had anything to do with the way the architecture was structured. So that’s a really rambling question…

JD: But the key point is, “did I see him providing any sense of agency to the occupants through his structures?” Yes, in that he was providing different types of spaces. Maybe not as many different types as would be necessary for full agency, but there were—if you can remember us climbing on the cube, the isolated cube that was at the very end of the structure, it was like where I imagine the holy man or the hermit goes to be outside of the group, but yet it is in proximity enough so that whatever visions they have, as that cube looked out very interestingly onto the landscape almost as the prow of the ship that is Arcosanti.  In that one small cube the isolated individual could go to be alone in nature. There were individual spaces like that, which suggested that certain levels of participation and community were defined, and participation in the environment was defined by a differentiation of habitable spaces.

AP: Right, so you go down and you find there a chicken coop, and turkeys, and then what looked like very temporary structures using what seemed like parts of Arcosanti, lots of these circular cement walls, but put up in a very temporary way off the grid—hand painted, handmade—So is that a representation of the outsiders, or is that an expression of people needing to have their own agency and making these bells and these flower pots that are all, there is creativity in it, but it’s also very much along Soleri’s vision.  Do you think these artists are just saying, “we have to build our own structures, we have to live our own way.”  What’s going on there?

JD: I suspect that it had a bit to do with economy, the economy of certain people; that there was maybe a lack of participation in the business structure of Arcosanti, as maybe more of a—as Soleri called it a laboratory—or, as we experienced it, a visitor’s center/tourist site, that there is a business economy and staff structure that I imagine certain people may not fit into, and how some may be required to participate in the community, then giving them access to one of the formally designed apartments.

AP: A hierarchy, you got in at the ground floor in 1970, and you were working with Soleri, or you were coming in twenty years later and trying to get yourself an apartment but they were all filled.

JD: Right. Or you’re not affording it because you have a need to only be temporarily outside of Scottsdale—that you have other agendas elsewhere in the region or the world that you have to go to, so there may not be the same commitment involved in the economy of Arcosanti that then requires one to be down the hill in a more transitory or temporary living space; but then secondarily, I see people’s need maybe to just be way more messy, to not live in that formal environment that may have certain rules of control because there are visitors coming through, that there’s a need for this space to advertise or to teach people what it is that the architect’s vision may be.

JD: Yeah, so to continue on the theme I was talking about with Arcosanti, the ideas of a formal architect, may be pushing aside or creating a boundary; a business of, or a structural boundary along which people can’t express themselves to the full degree within that space, within that architecture. I think that the Wright Foundation, that Taliesin West is doing a very similar thing, that by keeping these cells out of view, because we did notice the states of disrepair and the certain relaxation of pristine craftsmanship—That the Foundation and the school, yes, will work to craft the image of these objects with the students, so the student can’t just go out and build whatever he or she wants—on that site; they are getting steered, probably very strongly through their mentorship.

AP: Yeah, but I would argue that they have more agency than the people who were building outside Arcosanti, because they’re able to make these drawings and get help and assistance—I know what you’re saying that they’re being steered, but there were some much more original structures than those outside of Arcosanti. So your agency is being informed by help from your professors and from being exposed to Taliesin.

JD: Yeah, there are designers who, in my experience with architecture school, are being provided with a language as well. So yes, but they have agency to work within a very strictly defined language though; so while there was a continuation of Paolo Soleri’s language going on with the people with their own agency to do, more or less, what they wanted. There was a lot less of the language of Paolo Soleri going on in that fringe than there was the language of Frank Lloyd Wright on the fringes of Taliesin West.

AP: Right, but I think that being able to master a language allows you more freedom, in a certain way. I mean, compare that with a spoken or written language for conversation between humans, but also to take us back to technology, the computer languages and kind of being able to master and understand those—sure they’re extremely structured, but once you know those, you have more agency, right?

JD: To operate in a field, more agency to operate in a field that’s defined by that language. So, yes, I can agree. Yes, agency versus, maybe, freedom. That freedom to discover one’s own modes of language, or different structures of community I think are constrained by the requirements of learning, or only using one language. Say, the Frank Lloyd Wright language that’s imposed to a degree—

AP: Mhmm, they all had to have that stone, poured cement—

JD: [It was] cast concrete with the stone boulder inserts or filler.  So there were some [structures] that go along with your statements, that they were working within a certain language—the language of the school, but a certain number of the student structures were not using much, if any, of the traditional Frank Lloyd Wright language. That in the formalized, individual architect designed spaces, the legacy of the architect is being played out through that structure and how it’s inhabited; so there may be a certain type of inhabitation by people who are invested in promoting that legacy of the individual designer and the marketability of those designs, and the legacy—I do see a commodification of formal public living that, unlike in the fringe areas where there is not the same insistence on the legacy of those structures, those structures and the belongings that one keeps in them is more for the facilitation of a continued public experience; rather than using public experience to further the legacy and commodification of an individual.

AP: Wow. So, that just blows me away. I don’t have any more questions. Is there something that you want to talk about that you think we didn’t cover?

JD: That was a great conversation, thank you so much for your questions, and having me remember our great visits of architecture.

All images © 2013 Andrea Polli.

Gila 2.0: Warding off the Wolf | Marina Zurkow and Christie Leece

Posted on by admin1963 Posted in Practices, Spring 2013 | Comments Off on Gila 2.0: Warding off the Wolf | Marina Zurkow and Christie Leece

Cattle Armor System, Gila 2.0: Warding Off the Wolf

The Gila Wilderness was the first officially designated Wilderness in the United States in 1924; Aldo Leopold’s ecological holism was born here, while working for the US Forest Service as a predator hunter. The Gila National Forest, the Gila Wilderness and the adjacent Apache Forest constitute the 4.4 million acre area known as the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area (BRWRA).

These forests and high desert grasslands support a host of fauna: mountain lion, black bear, coyote, white-tailed and mule deer, reintroduced elk, abundant migratory and resident bird species (including the Spotted owl). They also support cattle. Ranchers homesteaded the Gila in the 1880s, and now utilize grazing allotments administered by the US Forest Service, which are rented at $1.35 a head (per cow and calf) per month; related costs of grazing on public land—fencing, water management, and predator control—are subsidized by tax dollars.

Now, after a forty-year absence, there are also wolves.

Talismans for the Gila and Apache Forests

Following Richard Nixon’s landmark passing of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, the notion of “the environment” as we knew it changed. With the realization that species are nearing extinction, creatures large and small require protection by the US Government. State and federal agencies—a dizzying array—have to navigate the interests of the animals, plants, loggers, ranchers, miners, and environmentalists. Everyone is angry; there are lawsuits and lug nuts loosened in parking lots to prove it.

Twenty-five years after the enactment of the Endangered Species Act, eleven radio-collared Mexican gray wolves were introduced into Arizona’s Apache Forest area with the intent that the wolves would spread into New Mexico’s Gila (which they did). The Mexican gray wolf is the most endangered subspecies of wolf in the world. These wolves are federally designated as a “nonessential, experimental population” in order to afford the government more managerial flexibility in capture, monitoring and relocation.  Federal public lands have many shoes to fill and mouths to feed. It is illegal to kill or injure a wolf, or even emulate wolf howls.

Cattle Armor System: Sound Collar with Cow Bell Image above: Unique prototype consisting of leather, embroidered nylon, brass, Arduino, piezo tweeters, plexiglass, 2012. Playlist soundtracks are available at the bottom of this page.

In addition to its endangered status, the wolf is a keystone predator, considered integral to the structure of a healthy ecosystem. There are approximately 58 wolves, 34 of which are radio-collared, currently in the BRWRA. Recovery program redesigns, ranchers’ and New Mexico state government’s resistance, and illegal shootings have crippled the program’s goal of having a sustainable population in this vast area.

Ranchers have suffered a difficult transition as members of the Gila ecosystem. They see regulation as a steady winnowing of their rights, and the wolf symbolizes both real and mythical perceptions of attack. Ranchers originally attempted to rid the land of all predators competing for their herds, and ran at least five times as many cattle per acre than are now permitted on public land. The return of the wolf bears the European symbolic burden of the monster-Satan narrative, which ranchers can add the wolf’s recent association with the Feds to.

Within these shifts in the cultural and ecological landscape, Gila 2.0: Warding Off the Wolf employs technology and design as a platform for research and dialogue, investigating the current state of the ecosystem and how it might be transformed.

Wolf Warder Staff: Modulating High-frequency Emitter with Talismans

Gila 2.0: Warding Off the Wolf consists of a “cattle armor system” of predator deterrent devices focused on the wolf; these are based on aversion and deterrent research conducted in animal cognitive behavior and predator control. Our research and design propositions offer a self-defense system for cattle using GPS, sound and olfactory output devices, video sensing, surveillance, and two-way communication. Gila 2.0: Warding Off the Wolf is a response to the grievance that wolf depredations are the cause of widespread livestock loss and intense emotional stress among the Gila’s rural populations.

Minimizing the wolf’s interaction with cattle—as long as they share public lands—ultimately benefits the wolf, whether that is accomplished by changing animal husbandry techniques, working with heritage breeds more suited to the desert ecology, or creating new human-animal relations via remote technologies.

This project was originally commissioned by ISEA 2012 and the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. Visit the project website at: http://www.o-matic.com/play/wolf/.

All images © 2013 Marina Zurkow and Christie Leece. All rights reserved.

Between Ecological Art and Design: Infrastructural Intervention | Catherine Page Harris

Posted on by admin1963 Posted in Pedagogies, Spring 2013 | Comments Off on Between Ecological Art and Design: Infrastructural Intervention | Catherine Page Harris

Sculptural Infrastructure, 2010

This spring, for the second time, I am teaching a course called Sculptural Infrastructure at the University of New Mexico.  The class tends to be small and this year has attracted exactly the mix of students I hoped for.  There are three graduate students in design fields (landscape architecture and planning), three undergraduate seniors majoring in art, and one older student who works in the theater department.  The course exists in a conceptual juncture—an interstice—defined by an observation I have made in teaching for several years in both art and design. In a general way, I can count on art students to imagine what they can make and design students to imagine what they can’t. Art students are obliged by a specific medium, despite its limitations.  Design students have rarely had the experiences to imagine whether a piece of tube steel or a solid rod is a better choice for this particular application.  The result is artists limited to a physical practice and not exercising their conceptual muscles while designers rely on off-the-shelf products or other people’s expertise to imagine material possibility.

I designed this course with infrastructure as its central spine—the theme around which we would all work.  Infrastructure encompasses function, social practice, sculptural form, and is oddly ever present and yet, often invisible.  In class, when we talk about water and energy, using concepts of energy literacy[1] and water consumption world wide, inevitably, it seems there is a sense of newness to the world we take for granted.  Quantifying the privilege of our birth in the United States shifts our understanding of resources.  How resources are engaged with, whether we use them wisely, how we develop change—these all become topics of discussion.

This course, like many I teach, hovers on the edge of conversation, rather than discussion.  If discussion is the structured analysis of a text and conversation is the sharing of ideas, perhaps oft aired but not inspected in light of these readings before, then we err closer to conversation.  I seek to intervene with my readings, my design ideas, my experiences, and then sometimes I listen and take notes on the spinning of a conversational juggernaut launched by an assertion.  “Invisible infrastructure” floated two weeks ago—which the class determined to be mind control, based on media’s domination of popular culture and then shifted to minds sharing resources like the Jung’s collective unconscious or Sheldrake’s rats[2] who learn to run mazes even if they are not experiencing the maze themselves.

The course is structured so that instead of a competition, we have collaboration.  The students propose projects and one of the often most onerous requirements I levy is to involve the class in building the piece.  Students are largely accustomed to working on their own and the amplification of effort is hard for them to imagine.  With eight of us, we can make much more in three hours than any single pair of hands can, but it involves a letting go of control.  It is also a challenge to the individual process of “making” as we talk about the project proposals and students talk about each project’s conceptual framework and offer alternative ways we might build them.

This week we are at the tricky juncture, when we move from discussing readings and looking at proposals, to actually building the projects students have outlined.  I am concerned, as usual, about losing the students into the chaos of building. I can no longer rely on some fun visual aids and interesting readings to generate conversation that I structure.  We have readings scheduled throughout the semester, but they will lag as we bury ourselves into each project’s parameters.  The engagement of hands and minds on the practical aspects of building will silence our cerebration.  Our learning will be on a Wendell Berry model of letting the work teach us.[3]  And, my role shifts.  I’m still in charge of keeping the course on track, but I am not in control of the content and from now on I am a pair of hands and a mind to be directed by the students.  At first I have helped to organize their projects into buildable pieces and we are now awash in the sea of making them.

As pedagogy, this course involves a hybrid of conventional educational methods —presentation, reading, discussion—and uses some more recent arrivals: collaborative community, collaborative “making”, check-ins before class.  I think the most valuable piece of the pedagogy, however, is the offering of agency.  Much of my definition of education is the effort to define parameters of a field and then to encourage a student to become steeped enough in the field to add to it and stretch those parameters.  This course stumbles, as all human approximations of what we imagine do, but it succeeds most, I think, in offering a direct experience, agency, in change.  In a basic sense, the course structure is to define an infrastructural function and then think of ways to change it.  For some students, the challenge is imagining how to change what they know.  For some students, the challenge is reining in their design for change, not based in knowledge.  For other students, the challenge is maintaining the mental position that change is possible in a world rendered so drear by the ever present darkness of climate change, terrorism, war, disease, water shortage, peak oil. And the value of the course comes in providing a place where we investigate, without prejudice, but also without ignorance, what does it mean to end the domination of the car, or the flush toilet, or the electrical grid, or or or?  How would that be built?  What changes would it take?

Image: From Sculptural Infrastructure, published in the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest, Fall 2010: http://joaap.org/issue8/8toc.htm.

[1] Saul Griffith, energyliteracy.com
[2] Rupert Sheldrake, “morphic resonance,” from interview in The Sun, January 2013
[3] Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry, 2003

Western Waters | Sant Khalsa

Posted on by admin1963 Posted in Policies, Spring 2013 | Comments Off on Western Waters | Sant Khalsa

Water is a scarce, natural resource that plays a critical role in the destiny of humanity as well as all living flora and fauna. Today, water quality and accessibility is one of the most important issues facing our planet. Dependence on natural water sources such as rivers, aquifers, and wells is being tested daily and we search for new innovative solutions to provide water to meet our most basic human requirement. As we look to the future, the privatization of our water resources seems inevitable but troubling. Historically, it was the import of water that grew the Southwest and it will be water that will decide our destiny.

My photographs and installation works develop from my continued explorations into the meanings, mythologies and metaphors associated with water—the ‘universal solve(nt)’. Many say that I am obsessed with water. I say, how can I not be?  I live in the desert. I need water to survive.

The idea for my photographic project Western Waters developed while I was researching the bottled water industry in 1998 for my NEA funded installation, “Watershed.” While web browsing the word “watershed,” I found a business named “Water Shed” located in Palmdale, California. Of course I was curious, so I got in my car and drove an hour and a half northwest to see what this business was. There I found a retail water store in a strip mall, selling reverse osmosis purified water from tap to bottle. Further inquiry and research lead to my awareness of the growing business of retail water stores throughout the southwestern United States. I was drawn to this subject because of the apparent necessity yet absurdity of these stores and the way these venues seek to represent the source of a natural experience. Of course, these stores are merely an entrepreneurial enterprise—a constructed site to provide the consumer with the most essential requirement for life and survival. Today, plastic bottles replace earthen vessels and polluting automobiles carry us to and from this fabricated representation of a river, well, or spring to fetch our water. Western Waters addresses the commodification of nature, water as consumer product, and human desire—a never-ending thirst.

I used the Internet yellow pages to locate stores throughout the Southwest. I was especially intrigued by the store names and how they referred to natural water sites, water quality, and spiritual aspects related to water. It appeared that the concepts in my previous installation artworks, Sacred Spring and Watershed had manifested themselves in the real word.

I decided to use a photographic strategy atypical to my photographic style to present the subject content in a more objective way. My approach was influenced by the work of several artists and photographers that I have long admired and have had a significant impact on contemporary photography. I considered the social documentary photographs of Walker Evans. His approach to storefronts and signage seemed perfect for my project. Also, the photo book projects of Ed Ruscha, which used a straightforward, even deadpan, anti-aesthetic depiction of his subjects.  I was specifically thinking about 60 water stores in a similar way to Twentysix Gasoline Stations.

And of course, the typology photo works of Bernd and Hilla Becher. I considered their gas tanks as they related to Ed Ruscha’s gasoline stations and more specifically their water tanks as they would relate to my photographs of water stores.

To create Western Waters, I went on pilgrimages to these water sites—numerous road trips across four Southwestern states over a period of several years.  Never knowing what I would find when I arrived at the location, each store provided some commonalities but each also provided an individual experience. Ironically, this was similar to the experiences I had wandering in India in the early 80’s seeking holy and healing water sites, but often just finding a spigot and a sign marking the site.

Western Waters establishes a framework for understanding how we view the natural world (especially water) as a commodity. There are hundreds of independently owned water stores in the Southwest and this contemporary phenomenon continues to grow throughout the arid states. The stores attempt to give the consumer health and happiness, as seen in ironic store names, such as “Pure Water” and “Happy Water.” My straightforward typology approach to the subject emphasizes the sites—the store names and other signage, architectural elements, and the mostly generic strip mall settings.

The success of these stores is based on consumer fear that their tap water is not safe to drink and providing a less expensive alternative to bottled water. Water stores are generally located in low-income neighborhoods, areas with large immigrant populations, retirement communities and/or in regions where tap water has a very high mineral content. The businesses utilize different combinations of water purification systems that produce water of varying quality and taste.

I have photographed nearly two hundred of these stores throughout Arizona, New Mexico, Southern California, and Southern Nevada. The photographs are typically shown in an installation pattern of 60 images that refer to geography and mapping—where the stores are situated in the four states in relation to each other and my road trip experience. These photographs will serve in the future as a historical document of either a fleeting fad or the foundation of what will become commonplace in our society.

All images © 2013 Sant Khalsa. All rights reserved.

For full portfolio of images please visit the artist’s website at: http://santkhalsa.com/Portfolio.cfm?nK=2543&nL=0&nS=0.

Cartography and the Cultural Terrain | Deborah Springstead Ford

Posted on by admin1963 Posted in Practices, Spring 2013 | Comments Off on Cartography and the Cultural Terrain | Deborah Springstead Ford

I began photographing these high desert grasslands of the Western United States in order to better understand how we define a “sense of place” and the roles of photographic images within cultural geography. In addition to making photographs of what has long been a contested landscape (a multiple use landscape in demand by a variety of stake holders), I gathered a great deal of visual and historical data including letters, documents and other artifacts from public and private archives along the way.

I read voraciously the diaries of pioneer men and women, historical and anecdotal data on the genesis of place names, as well as contemporary theoretical writings exploring the complex functions of land use within growing western communities and within the politics of a developing nation.

The information found in archives, both official documents and personal artifacts, hold profound stories of the individuals, families and groups involved with personal or political agendas that emigrated west in the early to late 1880’s. I discovered that much of this information revolved around the importance of human interaction with environmental factors related to farming, ranching, surface mining and other land use practices. This information, both visual and written, began to clarify many of the ideas I had surrounding the momentum of westward expansion; including the roles of women within local culture, and their part in the growing economy of pioneer settlements. I became more and more interested in the motivations, sacrifices and belief systems behind imperialism in general that later became the foundations of the American Dream and now plague us in our consumer-based society.

I became particularly interested in representations of place, cartography, its history, its language and the personalized (yet sometimes skewed) artifacts that result: maps. Historic maps usually reveal to us pictures of history as Eurocentric, but oftentimes, these same maps reflect more than the local terrain; the place names convey subtle and not so subtle insights into the values of these early communities, reflecting the cultural ethics of the dominant political power, or the historic knowledge of the local indigenous population, and even convey the “quirky” motivations of the time.

Through these darkroom constructions, I want to make the following visible: a rapidly changing landscape (amidst growing natural resource extraction and impending desertification) and a “sense of presence” of those individuals who have shaped or been shaped by their interaction with the terrain.

In addition to the socio-cultural questions about the westward movement, I began to pay more attention to how this expansion affected land use practices, species habitat, ecological sustainability and other conflicting cultural and environmental values inherent within notions of the American West. These issues gave rise to an exploration of the balance between the benevolent and malignant aspects of our intersection in nature and culture, while ultimately exploring the crossroads of science and art. Using photography I want to create a bridge of collaborative historic and contemporary visual narrative for a constructed and “constructive” look at the western region, sustainability issues and contemporary western space.  I’m hoping these photographic montages will act as “collective visions” that gain their veracity from the photographic details and authentic information used.

Our western habitats are under siege and surviving enormous deployment of energy resources, rising temperatures, pollution, drought and livestock grazing should cause us pause as we contemplate our roles in the solutions as well as in the problems.

I am not a scientist. I am a photographer in awe of the natural world, it’s processes and phenomena found within my sphere of experience. It is in this interaction with the environment, history and beyond, dovetailing with other ways of knowing (in my case, photography), that we are able to make sense of the world in which we live.

All images © 2013 Deborah Springstead Ford. All rights reserved.

For full portfolio of images please visit the artist’s website at: www.deborahspringsteadford.com.