Dust and Shadow
Sonoran desert 020170517 to 020170527
We had arrived in the Sonoran desert. A place of desiccated time, layered time, geological, vegetal, human time. Time kneads the Earth’s crust into deep folds, cracks and canyons. Plants lay dormant through cycles of drought or grow slowly for centuries, bursting into blossom after the first rains. Humans come and go. Blown through the ages like tumbleweeds. Things don’t really decay here. They shrivel, dry up or slowly rust, yet remain present, as they gradually erode into dust. A thick, dusty atmosphere of things that were, things that are and things that might be. Densities and intensities coagulating on a larger than human scale, illuminated by stark light or lurking in the deep shadow.
Our first experience of Phoenix was that of sprawling suburbia, a seemingly endless grid of ordinal numbers and presidents. A city of three million people keeping the desert at bay. Yet the desert refuses to be tamed. The dust from the big “beyond” blows across the streets on the hot wind. It covers all surfaces, forms a thin crust and penetrates everything. A reminder that the heart of darkness is our neighbour. Hidden beneath otherworldly rocks. A vast expanse with “outstanding opportunities for solitude” protected by the Wilderness Act and it’s own indifference. A vastness that remains incomprehensible despite the many attempts to focus and frame it, from early Hohokam sites to contemporary land art. James Turrel’s “Air Apparent” frames the intense blue of the sky within a metal square. The ruins of the Casa Grande are host to an array of sky-holes focusing sunlight and moonlight. Lines and openings to mark solstices and equinoxes. One of them only illuminating each 18.6 years during the lunar standstill. An inert architectural element activated during an event of ritual significance. From place to time, from earthly to cosmic.
Read more in the Field Notes #1 on Medium
Sonoran desert 020171123 to 020171206
We spent two weeks on and around ASU — immersed in university life and surrounded by urban sprawl — inquiring about the relationships between people and the desert. Uncovering the mythical foundations of contemporary lifestyles. Seeking out counter-myths more closely attuned to the desert environment. Exploring the topological spaces of bodies as fields, bodies as listening devices. Creating propositions, designing experiments and publications. Conversing. Reading. Listening. Aligning. Futurecrafting. Socialising. Falling asleep and waking up to the sound of airplanes and air-conditioning. From time to time we would follow the edges between city and desert. Searching for sites of dust and shadow, where the city-desert and the wilderness-desert entwine.
Phoenix and its environs simultaneously fascinate and distance.
Our daily walk between the anyplace AirBnB and Lab for Critical Technics (LCT) offered a brief opportunity for casual ethnographic study. We were greeted warmly each morning by “Mexican” construction workers. The traffic light (with frog-like certainty) ordered us to “WAIT” for the endless multi lane procession of cars (single driver and driverless predominantly). The dispersed choir of homeless veterans from the endless war droning in refrain under their most inventive shades. “Spare any change for a vet?” Nearby, the Salvation Army Cafe serves Matcha Latte while half-finished buildings advertise their future as generic condos.
On campus, The Biodesign Institute grows new copper-clad extensions, while the English department is shuffled further from the daylight. ASU is offering exchanges with an Australian university to study cancers affecting the Tasmanian Devil. We enter the Synthesis Center, where clouds and simulated plants dance in responsive patterns around us. Outside, students are rushing to-and-fro fuelled by coffee in take-out cups. In front of a strip mall, cars are left running to keep the heat at bay. Arriving at our temporary studio in LCT, we watch as our hosts unload a pack of plastic water bottles. Tap water quality is troubling, they inform us. Here we are, working on a project funded by the Global Institute of Sustainability, looking at environmental issues in the region. Even our short commute across Tempe suggests that environmental issues are an inextricable part of entangled social, economic and political realities. As China Miéville points out “Arms trading, dictatorships and murder are environmental politics.” They cannot be separated from pollution, climate change and renewable energy targets.
What are the environmental politics in the North American Southwest, specifically to life in the desert? What are the implications for the people, plants, plastics (etc) and the environment they live in? What peculiar futures or parallel presents exist in this “Valley of the Sun”? What new worlds can emerge from a region swayed by the unpredictability of heatwaves, poor water distribution and over-enthusiastic promises of the tech industry?
Read more in the Field Notes #2 on Medium