Archived entries for deserts

Enewetak Atoll, J.G. Ballard & Robert Smithson

Runit Island (part of Enewetak Atoll)

Beneath this concrete dome on Runit Island (part of Enewetak Atoll), built between 1977 and 1980 at a cost of about $239 million, lie 111,000 cubic yards (84,927 cubic meters) of radioactive soil and debris from Bikini and Rongelap atolls. The dome covers the 30-foot (9 meter) deep, 350-foot (107 meter) wide crated created by the May 5, 1958, Cactus test. Note the people atop the dome.

via Ballardian & Wikipedia

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The artist as site-seer; or, a dintorphic essay (1966-67)
Robert Smithson

The system of megaliths now provided a complete substitute for those functions of his mind which gave to it its sense of the sustained rational order of time and space, his awareness kindled from levels above those of his present nervous system (if the autonomic system is dominated by the past, the cerebrospinal reaches towards the future). Without the blocks his sense of reality shrank to little more than the few square inches of sand beneath his feet.

J.G. Ballard, Terminal Beach

Once we are free from utilitarian presuppositions we become aware of what J.G. Ballard calls “The Synthetic Landscape,” or what Roland Barthes refers to as “the simulacrum of objects,” or what Tony Smith calls the “artificial landscape,” or what Jorge Luis Borges calls “visible unrealities.” What do these four persons have in common? Not assumptions or beliefs of any kind, but the same degree of aesthetic awareness. For them the environment is coded into exact units of order, as well as being prior to all rational theory; hence it is prior to all explanatory naturalism, to physical science, psychology, and also to metaphysics…

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“It was the writer, curator and artist Jeremy Millar who became convinced Smithson knew of Ballard’s short story, The Voices of Time, before building his jetty. All Smithson’s books had been listed after his death in a plane crash in 1973 – and The Voices of Time was among them. The story ends with the scientist Powers building a cement mandala or “gigantic cipher” in the dried-up bed of a salt lake in a place that feels, by description, to be on the very borders of civilisation: a cosmic clock counting down our human time. It is no surprise that it is a copy of The Voices of Time that lies beneath the hand of the sleeping man on the picnic rug in the opening scenes of Powers of Ten, Charles and Ray Eames’ classic 1977 film about the relative size of things in the universe.

Smithson understood the prehistory of his site. Beneath the Great Salt Lake was, for some, the centre of an ancient universe, and his jetty could have been an elaborate means to bore down to get to it. As if understanding this, Ballard wrote in the catalogue text: “What cargo might have berthed at the Spiral Jetty?” He elaborated later to me in a letter: “My guess is that the cargo was a clock, of a very special kind. In their way, all clocks are labyrinths, and can be risky to enter.” The two men had a lot in common, and Ballard believed him to be the most important and most mysterious of postwar US artists. My interest in time, cosmic and human, future and past, as well as the analogue spooling of the now, has Ballard at its core.”

The cosmic clock with Ballard at its core,
Tacita Dean

Petrochemical America: Richard Misrach + Kate Orff (SCAPE)

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Introducimos por primera vez en el blog un libro-investigación de enorme interés, Petrochemical America, no sólo por centrarse en el paisaje del río Mississippi, uno de los intereses fundacionales de este blog, sino por la propuesta y las personas que la desarrollan. Richard Misrach, fotógrafo norteamericano conocido en España sobre todo por sus fotografías del desierto norteamericano en la serie de los Desert Cantos, inicia el camino con un recorrido fotográfico por el tramo final del Mississippi, en Louisiana, donde los antiguos terrenos de las plantaciones se han convertido en una sucesión de industrias petroquímicas y alimentarias que han llevado a bautizar esta zona como Cancer Alley. Al igual que en obras anteriores Misrach busca el diálogo con otra mirada, en este caso con la arquitecta norteamericana Kate Orff, directora de la oficina SCAPE de NY. Juntos desarrollan una conversación en forma de ir y venir entre fotografías y cartografías que define un formato de investigación novedoso y de gran profundidad, cuyo mayor valor sin embargo es utilizar con la mayor honestidad y claridad las herramientas propias de cada disciplina, fotografía y arquitectura del paisaje, para expresar toda la complejidad de la situación presentada sin por ello rechazar ninguna de sus dimensiones ni abrumar al espectador con un trabajo excesivamente técnico. Al contrario, el recorrido a lo largo de sus más de doscientas páginas va dibujando progresivamente la situación envolviendo al lector con la fuerza expresiva de sus imágenes y la claridad expositiva de sus temas, acabando además con un interesante “esto debe continuar” en forma de caja de herramientas de la oficina SCAPE.

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“Petrochemical America features Richard Misrach’s haunting photographic record of Louisiana’s Chemical Corridor, accompanied by landscape architect Kate Orff’s Ecological Atlas—a series of “throughlines,” speculative drawings developed through research and mapping of data from the region. Their joint effort depicts and unpacks the complex cultural, physical, and economic ecologies along 150 miles of the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, an area of intense chemical production that first garnered public attention as “Cancer Alley” when unusual occurrences of cancer were discovered in the region.

This collaboration has resulted in an unprecedented, multilayered document presenting a unique narrative of visual information. Petrochemical America offers in-depth analysis of the causes of decades of environmental abuse along the largest river system in North America. Even more critically, the project offers an extensively researched guidebook to the way in which the petrochemical industry has permeated every facet of contemporary life. What is revealed over the course of the book is that Cancer Alley—although complicated by its own regional histories and particularities—may well be an apt metaphor for the global impact of petrochemicals on the human landscape as a whole.”

See more at: aperture.org

Petrochemical America - Kate Orff

Petrochemical America - Kate Orff

“Americans know what the oil and gas and coal landscape looks like – but do we really? There is a hidden side to America’s material prosperity. Most of its harmful manifestations are literally invisible – benzene and dioxins “disappear” into the air, while waste chemicals are pumped underground into injection wells. PCBs, Mercury, and Lead, toxic in the most imperceptible but potentially devastating amounts, persist in our bodies, in river sediment, in soils. Commonly used petrochemicals that are all around us and seemingly impossible to avoid have the potential to re-wire our bodies’ endocrine systems. Carbon dioxide, which has precipitated the global climate crisis, is largely invisible. We all seemingly benefit from fast-flowing oil, and cheap consumer goods and foodstuffs, but the profound negative effects and associated wastes remain localized, often in poor communities. On a regional scale, especially along the Louisiana coast, thousands of miles of canals, pipes, and oil platforms criss-cross the gulf and reach deep into the countryside, blocking animal migration paths. These channels cut for oil and gas pipelines lead to erosion and provide direct routes for salt-bearing tides, killing freshwater wetlands, which are disappearing at the rate of a football field every thirty-eight minutes, transforming inland communities into coastal towns. Even the mighty and mythical Mississippi River has been transformed in its lower reaches into a de facto waste pipe, receiving massive quantities of farm chemicals, sewage, and industrial waste, creating an eerie, temporarily lifeless expanse of water off the coast of Louisiana called the “dead zone.”"

via Kate Orff: Petrochemical America: Toward a New Energy Landscape



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