There is no such thing as a natural disaster.

“There is no such thing as a natural disaster. In earthquakes the architecture fails. If you’re out in a grassy meadow, it doesn’t matter how big the earthquake is: it might knock you down, but if nothing falls on top of you and nothing catches fire from broken gas mains or power lines, then you’re probably okay. Architecture is the first casualty of earthquakes, and human beings under the architecture are the casualties of the architecture. Even with a wholly natural disaster, whatever that might be—a tsunami, maybe—who gets help, who has resources to rebuild, who is treated as a threat or a malingerer—those are not natural but social phenomena. With Katrina you need to talk about the role of climate change in making the hurricane; of the crappy levees built by the US Army Corps of Engineers and not adequately maintained; of the lack of evacuation resources for the poor; of the demonization of those left behind; of the transformation of New Orleans into a prison-city preventing evacuation … nothing could be less natural. The natural disaster was the least of what happened to the people of New Orleans, if not the rest of the Gulf, that week.”

— Rebecca Solnit, interview with Astra Taylor, BOMB Magazine

Lover 9th Ward, from the New Orleans Suite, 2006. Photo by Lewis Watts.

Cropped

Simone continued our conversation about Eastern vs. Western landscapes…

She wrote about how she’s come to understand a traditional “western” landscape as: “devoid of people and buildings, and more focused on the grand narrative of NATURE and UNSPOILT WILDERNESS, as often associated with The West (in itself a falsehood – for instance, Ansel Adams cropped the tourists and souvenir stores out of his photos of Yosemite.)”

Cropping … selectively including what you want and leaving out the inconvenient details. So Ansel Adams, the father of American landscape photography, swept the dirt under the carpet.

Rebecca Solnit wrote:

By the time the definitive Adam, Ansel Adams, began photographing in the tradition of his Yosemite predecessors, the myth of Yosemite as an uninhabited place and the U.S. Army’s 1851 invasion as a “discovery” had begun to become dogma. Amazingly, the indigenous population never vanished, as Indians were popularly supposed to have done when they were remembered at all; they merely became invisible in this most visible place in the natural world. Invisible inhabitants of a small valley visited by millions annually, they became invisible in the public imagination of the relationship between nature and culture, perhaps because they had disappeared from the representations that mediated most people’s sense of the place.

The photo above is not by Adams, it’s by Lilledeshan Bose. I’m glad she left the tour buses in the picture.

The Atmosphere That Surrounds Solid Bodies

Chris sent me this photo of work in progress for his upcoming show at the Delaware Center for Contemporary Art.

He has yet to treat/color their surfaces. The cavern will be pigmented black, so it will be difficult to judge its depth. The sculpture will be a weird iridescent green that changes as you walk around it.

It reminded me of this Rebecca Solnit quote in which she describes a cave:

All forms were jumbled together in this underworld, as though this were a place where all the patterns for the surface of the earth were worked out, like a laboratory or a mine from which not materials but shapes and textures came. This sense of a raw, primordial workshop was enhanced by the lack of color. Other than the reddish formation in one of the shallower caves, there was no color but the slight variety from alabaster to amber to brown, with the deep shadows cast by the lights and the depths beyond the lights an inky black. But scale, texture, shape, depth, height, nearness, and distance were all there in infinite variation. There were places where the rock was so gleaming it looked like it was slimy or was a pile of slime. Sometimes the shallow pools reflected the stone above so that it seemed to reach far down into the depths, and a few of the depths fell into darkness that might have gone on forever. The forms were strangely stirring, both erotic and terrifying. Some places had flat crusts through which time and force had broken.”

Psychological Sewage

Rebecca Solnit has written, “If environmental problems are really cultural problems — about the nature of our desires and perceptions — then a crucial territory to explore or transform is the territory of the mind.”

I heard an NPR segment this morning about one of the myths we tell ourselves about water purity, which is actually counterproductive to our goals of drinking clean, safe water. Here’s a transcript. It’s written by Alix Spiegel.

Substance + Image

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For each new project, I always find a passage in Rebecca Solnit’s collection of essays, As Eve Said to the Serpent, which explains what I am trying to do more eloquently than I ever could. It’s a little creepy. Here’s a quote that’s relevant for my recent work, and for any artist who uses found materials, and really for every New Yorker who drinks coffee:

The artist Mary Lucier, whose videos deal with the representational traditions of landscape, once told a San Francisco audience, ‘You don’t understand–-for us on the East Coast, nature is in the past tense.”

A New Yorker who declares her alienation from nature might consider, while having morning coffee, that the city’s water comes from an Adirondacks watershed, one of the world’s first large nature preserves; consider the source of the milk in an outlying dairy farm and the coffee’s more distant genesis in Third World tropical highlands–might, in fact, recognize that the cup of coffee is a link to sublime, pastoral, and exotic landscapes in which the drinker participates, if only as an unwitting consumer; consider also that the coffee grounds and milk carton will probably end up at the Fresh Kills Land Fill on Staten Island, which recently exceeded the Great Wall of China as the largest manmade object on Earth; and should recognize that the cup of coffee is as potent a representation of–and more material tie to–absent landscapes than images could be.

Here it is not the landscape that is absent but the ability to read its languages, a lack artists have addressed in works attempting to speak in terms of substances and systems.”

For more on this subject, read her essay Dirt.

My collages, as I say in the press release, “unite image with substance, representation with presentation.” In every cup of coffee,  in every computer and city, there is a hidden landscape. Choosing not to see it is what got us into this mess, to put it bluntly. So I am trying to reveal it in one object: the New York phone book.

Here are some works by other artists whose materials tell a story:

Francis Alÿs’s The Collector, in which he walked around Mexico City with magnetic shoes and a magnetic toy dog, attracting & accumulating bits of metal.

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Ana Mendieta — Still from Blood and Feathers #2

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Simon Starling’s Shedboatshed (Mobile Architecture No. 2), for which he disassembled an existing shed, built the wooden planks into a rowboat, used it to travel down the Rhine to his exhibition space, and then reassembled it back into a shed.