The Possibility of a Tree

Really exciting project by Patricia Dominguez.

Browse the website/log of the project:

Experiment: Can one create a ‘sacred space’ by investing time, energy, and attention into a site? I’m not sure what vocabulary Pati uses to talk about this project. She might use a different term than ‘sacred space’, but you get the idea.


This is a Photoshop sketch for a possible opportunity to install the Shrine for Old Pens in a shipping container outdoors. In the sketch, I used images of Chinese incense holders, but for this project, the incense would be replaced with pens.

Non-Producing Ocean Structures

Source: Schmahl/FGBNMS

I love this post on the Discard Studies blog, guest written by Josh Lepawsky. Go read the whole thing. It’s called Discard Studies and the Non-Human.

What is it to be entangled with such structures – and the profusion of nonhuman life they attract – with names like High Island 389-A? Structures that the Interior Department enacts as “nonproducing ocean structures”? That the oil and gas industry enacts as “idle iron”? And that marine scientists enact as “habitat”? I love this about discard studies, this ontological undecidability, that sites like High Island 389-A generate. What is this thing and its constellation of nonhuman life, the agency of which transforms the thing again and also into ‘island’ and ‘reef’? How might we orient ourselves to the ethical relations it generates? Is the impending demolition and recycling of these structures also habitat destruction?

Proposal: Shrine for Old Pens

Just submitted this proposal to Flashpoint Gallery in DC. A few new things since the last proposal I sent out:

The 2nd paragraph, about a Shrine for Old Pens, is an idea for a way to bring something of the shrines into a gallery setting.

I fretted over the last paragraph. It’s hard to explain briefly about Shrines & Animism without it sounding spooky. Hopefully I pulled it off.


My relationship to the places and things around me is one of the driving forces behind my practice. I make art not by creating something new, but by reordering what’s already there. I primarily use found materials widely considered to be worthless, celebrating their unique sculptural properties as well as historical, cultural, and environmental resonances.

Near the entrance to the gallery, I would like to create a shrine to old pens. In Kyoto, there is a shrine called Fudezuka, where the calligraphy brushes of famous painters and writers are buried. I will invite the public to contribute their old pens, which will accumulate over the course of the exhibition. The main structure of the shrine will be shaped like a small house, which I will construct from a wide variety of materials and textures, possibly including tree branches, scrap wood, intricately woven reeds, plastic bags, and discarded appliances. The eaves of theroof will extend upward, crossing above the peak, and downward, nearly touching the ground. This roof style echoes the construction of Japanese Shinto shrines and symbolizes interconnection and integration of the shrine with its environment. Vessels filled with sand will be placed in front of the shrine for visitors to stick their pens into.

In the back of the gallery, I would like to show photographs and screen a documentary video about Erie Shrines, a special public project I’m now working on in Jersey City, NJ. The Erie Shrines are dedicated to a mile-long, abandoned rail line running through the Erie Cut, an excavated corridor which I discovered in the heart of Jersey City. The cut, a significant technological feat of the time, hosted an active railway from 1910 to 1959. Since then, it’s fallen into ruin. Barely visible from street level, it’s now overgrown with tall weeds and is home to several animal species. It runs beneath the city like a parallel, forgotten world—or a miniature oasis.

I am using materials found on-site to construct and maintain a network of shrines dedicated to this pocket of urban nature and the railroad infrastructure of Jersey City. My process is one of paying consistent attention over time, of growth and accumulation through repeated visits. I will ultimately lead public tours, which will function as pilgrimages. These shrines will act as focal points in the landscape and establish symbolic and ritualistic connections between participants, the natural environment, and the built environment. I will create a documentary video and a series of photographs to chronicle my process and show how the shrines develop and grow over time. To convey the unique energy of the site, the video will be accompanied by lush, high-quality audio recordings of sounds from within the Erie Cut, including birds calls, insects, rustling vegetation, cars and sirens from the city above, the rumbling of nearby trains, water dripping, and cave-like echoing under bridges. This project will function as a meditation on place; focusing on the overlay of ecology, history, and technology onto current land use.

In many cultures, shrines are traditionally dedicated to natural phenomena, such as rivers, trees, and mountains. However, our fates are no longer shaped by natural forces alone. I believe we would do well to honor our relationships to certain synthetic objects and infrastructural systems. Furthermore, as political theorist Jane Bennett wrote in her book Vibrant Matter, “to begin to experience the relationship between persons and other materialities more horizontally is to take a step toward a more ecological sensibility.” This horizontality is precisely what I aim to cultivate by building shrines: a non-hierarchical relationship, defined by respect. And what would it take to regard an object, system, or ecosystem with respect? According to religious scholar Graham Harvey, “All it might take is for someone to address the [object] as a ‘Thou’ rather than an ‘it’.”

Electrical and Breathing Networks

Listen to this 99% Invisible podcast.

I have a couple of theories about why pneumatic tubes are magic. I think they inspire wonder because they’re alive or it feels like they’re alive. They’re reaching out through the city they have tendrils and tentacles and they breathe and they throw things up and they feel much much bigger than we are. I also think they inspire wonder because they manifest communication. For us today, when we think of communication, all the 1’s and 0’s and digital things that we move don’t feel real tangible to us anymore. but i also think that they felt pretty magical to people back then too, that they were electrical and breathing networks of communication. You could scent a handkerchief and send it to your loved one via pneumatic tube, and it would still smell like you. So I think that we’re romantic as well and I think that’s part of the wonder today too.

So in a sense they’re both alive and mechanical. both high and low tech. and there’s also something to be said about the journey of a tube canister. You can imagine it snaking its way through these underground passageways, carrying your message. And so this idea of being able to go somewhere where you wouldn’t otherwise be able to go is amazing.

Glacier Prayers

About 50 people set out on foot from the Swiss village of Fiesch at dawn on July 31. As the sun rose over 13,000-foot (4,000-meter) Alpine peaks, the procession moved slowly up a mountainside and into the cool of a pine forest, stopping at a tiny church.

By 7:30 the group had swollen to around a hundred—too many to fit inside the chapel of Maria Heimsuchung, or Mary of the Visitation, so a makeshift altar was erected outside.

“Glacier is ice, ice is water, water is life,” intoned priest Toni Wenger, before beseeching God to stop the glaciers high above them from melting.

By changing a few, crucial words in the liturgy, Father Wenger reversed a Catholic ritual that for 350 years had implored the heavens to push back the glaciers.

The Vatican had approved the change as the effects of global warming became all too tangible in the Alps…

…We prayed for the ice to recede, and our prayer worked—too well,” said Herbert Volken, mountain guide and mayor of Conches, the district that includes Fiesch.

Read more at National Geographic, article by Laura Spinney.

Also read a blog post by Andrew Revkin on the subject.