[-empyre-] volume zero: expanding the circle: generative inquiry

dear -empyre-

GH writes,

'Both Isabelle and Marc talk about, starting from zero. Maybe the idea is to start from one and then expand the circle."

Reflecting on this zero ground, (ironically, after nine eleven), I'd like to talk about my own practice, which develops out of using new media/multimedia as a tool for generative inquiry.

I spent 20 years painting and drawing layered architectural landscapes, on paper and canvas, before this. My life situation was such, that I started over, in a sense, from 'ground zero' , in 2000. I did this as a way to 'mediate' traumatic memory and violence in my personal history and to renew my life. And to try to use media as a critical form of inquiry as well as sensuous performance. I sensed that the 'landscape of memory' was a psychic field that could be expressed through electronic/tectonic forms, in large scale cinematic arrays. I responded Louis Kahn's way of describing this, in design process, as "volume zero". (see http://www.worldviewcities.org/dhaka/ philadelphia2.html and http://www.worldviewcities.org/dhaka/ philadelphia2.html

Wonderful things have happened because of this decision. Not least, our conversations here; also, the opportunity to bring work to places all over the world, from Australia to Germany, London to New York, while I go on working in the 'outback' of California.

Today I develop site studies of cultural landscapes, resistance, and poetics of memory within a performance ethos, for installations using video and multimedia photography and the net. In California, I try to bear witness to the x factor, the non site; seismic memory in earthquake country, the psychic space of the net as an aphasic terrain, the continuing trauma of mudslide and debris flow in coastal communities.

I wrote recently for Manifesta, the following response to the theme "What's Left":

“What’s Left”’ : the theme speaks directly to the poetics of absence and the problem of meaning in the wake of trauma, in landscapes that have been neglected or left to turmoil and destruction. Aftermath interests me, as much as the event itself. How artists may work at the margins of the media culture still with the tools of it but without the constraints.

How we are both in utter poverty of spirit, having lost any hegemony of power and voice as we are subsumed like everybody into the global mix; and yet, how we still make work. What is this persistence, this resistance to giving up, to letting go, to forgetting? I may be aphasic, but I still speak: I may have to give up drawing for electronic media in order to communicate across borders, but I still draw. I have tried to develop conversations on related topics internationally on -empyre- throughout 2003-2006 (see www.subtle.net/empyre) including such themes as Neural Topologies of the Net, Border Crossings, Sites in Translation, “Whispering in the Dark” (on rematerialization of protest), inviting guests into the mix whose work and commmitment is to reaching across borders. It is an honor and a responsibility to participate in this discourse and with these artists because their work is witness, temoinage. Witness is the way of speaking to and of something incommensurate and sublime, through a visual or performative act, a kind of improvised ritual through its flat=out risk taking and direct approach. ...something to do with the degree zero of performance as witness.

Perhaps a way into my practice methods and theory is to offer you the remit for my current site study, a cinematic and photographic La Conchita mon amour (2005-2006) -- now interactive and in progress


(the site requires quicktime 7 and flash 6 or above, fast connection as it has a lot of movies in it).

La Conchita is a community in north Ventura County whose inhabitants have been subject to massive debris flow mudslides in 1995 and 2005, and persist under the threat of continuing and inevitable recurrence. The most recent event on January 10, 2005 caused the loss of ten lives and the destruction of a central part of the village. Since last spring 2005 I have been documenting the site of the mudslide through digital and medium format photography and digital video. My interest is to create a multivalent site study of the topology of disaster and trauma.

La Conchita remaps the problematic of living with disaster in California in immediate, raw terms, since the trauma is always already here. There is no escape, save leaving the place, a choice few seem able to make, since their properties are impossible to remortgage or sell. Conditions are likely to become even more precarious as global warming intensifies winter storms. You find everywhere spontaneous creation and maintenance of vernacular shrines to the dead on the site of the mudslide, quite massive and not cleaned up.

Chain link fences surround the extensive site of loss, where the rubble of roofs and play yards, swing sets and crushed cars alternates with spontaneous shrines to the ones who died in the flow. These are continually being rearranged, and embellished. The memorials are in a continuous condition of sublation, such that just as the remains are hidden by the debris mound, at the same time their presence and meaning is evoked through a persistent maintenance.

The works of art in this series consist in layering of multiple modes of information, as a palimpsest, within which alterity and disjunction integrate diverse kinds of visual information within a documentary series of site observations.

Thanks to the trust of people at La Conchita, I as a non-journalist, non-politician, am admitted to hidden spots, hard to access, places that are a kind of gift. A performative use of photography and video observes but perhaps also alters the lush life between ‘fact’ and subjective response: my presence is active, not neutral, partly trusted, partly suspicious, as I move through the town’s ruined spaces, once private, now partially exposed to the ravages of the public eye and to the weather.

The spirit of an always-already endangered space is glimpsed at the margins of endless views of the disintegrating houses, the omnipresent slide debris, and the poignant gardens, topped with an illegal squat, a teepee, and defiant signs calling the Governor to task. When you combine these with geophysical mappings and sequence them in time, the landscape of data loses all neutrality. Sometimes the community seems to be closed up like the little shell of its name.

The presence of an impossible to fathom, yet starkly obvious threat, in the mudslide aftermath, makes La Conchita a prime site for exploring the sense of the sublime using layers of data, as a palimpsest.

At La Conchita, grim geologic realities subtend the vernacular gestures of prayer and remembrance. Perhaps there are no terms of rapprochment with La Conchita’s ineluctable precariousness and impossible future, yet people keep trying to make it right, to make it a place of life, a place that matters. As do I, following in their trace. This paradox suggests a ritual site and reflection on documentary as performance.

Does art simulate, or stimulate, a zone of return -- moving across the site’s chain link fences? Performing its own
becoming, and at a remove? Is shooting the evidence like the hanging of a thing onto another thing, like a prayer flag
with a heart onto a chain link fence at La Conchita?

Compulsive, futile, and generative all the same, this is the process
of performing a site as you study it. “Wherever buildings are broken...their damaged states ...suggest new forms of
thought and comprehension, and suggest new conceptions of space that confirm the potential of the human to integrate
itself, to be whole and free outside of any predetermined totalizing system” (Lebbeus Woods).

Ritual involves actions through intentions to nurture a belief or value of something that you hold precious. As an action
of retracing the action, one further maintains that belief: it is through the recursion of the action that the ritual holds
power. In what sense is there a spirituality of La Conchita?

Something like a hope, that the world of art and of faith might share, that we are not alone. The whole town becomes a ritual site that desires to affirm “we are not alone.” Even when government fails to help; even beneath the agnostic skies of blazing blue sunny days and the fierce storms that hasten the crumbling rincons. People say to me, “I’m making this memorial because we want to do something good.” Remember the lost ones, redeem the site for the living, to assert an absolute freedom of spirit and body even in
the face of a certain catastrophic future.



This archive was generated by a fusion of Pipermail 0.09 (Mailman edition) and MHonArc 2.6.8.