Last night thanks to the ASU Desert Initiative, Greg Esser, and Kim Stringfellow we held a launch party at the CB1 Gallery in downtown Los Angeles for the new Arid Journal hosted on our SMW server in partnership with our Art & Ecology program. Kim’s fantastic photography and design in conjunction with Greg and the rest of the editorial board’s great ideas attracted a pretty decent crowd to venture out to the funky side of downtown LA from the futuristic convention center area where everyone was attending the College Art Association Conference. Since it was the last day of the conference (I presented on a sustainability panel that afternoon), we were all eager to unwind a bit and brainstorm future projects. Submissions for the first issue of this online multimedia journal will begin April 1st with a deadline of June 1st, and proposals related to desert environments are welcome from anywhere around the world.
This weekend the Social Media Workgroup traveled to Window Rock, Farmington and Shiprock to document interviews, record sounds, check out potential project sites, and record gps data for android development. Our collaborator Venaya Yazzie joined us on one leg of the journey.
During our trip, we had the incredible good fortune to visit with and interview Navajo artist, author and teacher Blackhorse Mitchell and his apprentice Damien Jones. Blackhorse’s book Miracle Hill: The Story of a Navajo Boy has been highly popular continuously since its first publication in the 1960′s, and made Blackhorse the first Navajo author on the New York Times Bestseller List.
Both Damien and Blackhorse have spent a significant amount of time in the Czech Republic, and here’s Damien on youtube singing the Czech footballer chant ‘Banik Pico’ (it’s a long story…)
I spent the weekend with Simon Whetham, a UK-based sound recordist, performer and model-maker who is spending the year of 2012 traveling the world listening for interesting sounds. You can hear some of his work here http://simonwhetham.co.uk/ and follow his travels here http://simonwhethamtravels2012.blogspot.com/. We visited Chaco Canyon and Navajo country, and Simon used his hydrophones to record beneath the surface of the San Juan River and Jackson Lake. He’s performing tonight in Austin where the audience may (or may not!) hear some of these sounds.
I’ve been traveling through Navajo Nation with my collaborators Esther Belin and Venaya Yazzie to find two locations for our public art and media project: Yádíłhił ‘béé’as’łló (Bound Sky). This artwork will take audiences on an audio journey through the area to two lookout points along the roadside. These points, in addition to serving as resting places for people experiencing the work, will also provide comfort to the many hitchhikers and independent merchants who use these spaces.
I’ve been traveling through the Navajo Nation for the past two days doing research for a public art project, and during this time connected with my friend and fellow artist Teri Rueb and she introduced me to her collaborator, Navajo archaeologist and artist Carmelita Topaha. Yesterday Carmeilita generously took the time to show us some sacred places here including Fort Defiance, Window Rock and an incredible drive over the mountains through Crystal.
Carmelita and Teri at Fort Defiance, the place from which over 9000 Navajos were forced to leave on a long journey to Fort Sumner and permanently relocated. At Defiance, Carmelita shared some of the stories of her ancestors on the long walk that she was told as a child.
Carmelita is the granddaughter of Hosteen Klah, a famous Navajo medicine man. Frances Newcomb worked extensively with Klah in the 60′s and 70′s and published some of his stories in many books including Hosteen Klah: Navaho Medicine Man and Sand Painter. Because of Newcomb’s relationship with Klah, there is a place in Navajo Nation called Newcomb, and this is where Carmelita is from originally, although she spent many years in California and across the Southwest.
Carmelita and others told me about the political and bureaucratic difficulties and complexities of the reservation structure from a Navajo perspective. For example, she said that the Tribal Councils that were put in place by the US government to allow more effective communication between the two sovereign nations creates conflicts because the council forces a Western linear thinking, while the Navajo way of thinking is non-linear. Some also say the councils were put in place to make it easier for the US government to exploit native mineral and other resources.
While we were headed back to Farmington from Window Rock, we noticed the glowing lights of the APS and 4 Corners power plants in the distance and observed the ever-present plumes from the smoke stacks as they drifted to the South. So, we decided to try to get close and found ourselves almost inside the APS power plant. The plant seemed deserted yet was alive with churning and pumping sound and smoke. These plants will become a subject of the public work I will create in collaboration with Navajo artists Venaya Yazzie and Esther Belin.
I had the great honor to interview Jack Loeffler a few days ago. We spoke in depth about the history of the Black Mesa Defense Fund, an organization he helped found in the 1970′s with Hopi leaders and others to address the threat of coal extraction of Black Mesa and coal-fired power plants in the four corners area.
In Confessions of an Eco-Warrior, Dave Foreman cites the Black Mesa Defense Fund as one of the inspirations for later activist organizations like Earth First! The Black Mesa Defense Fund existed for about 3 years and in that time was able to gain international attention for the previously unrecognized environmental problems. Members of the Black Mesa Defense Fund went on to play important activist roles both locally and internationally, and the current Black Mesa Trust started by Vernon Masayesva remains active addressing water rights of the Hopi and Navajo. Jack moved on from the Black Mesa Defense Fund to extensively document and publish on a variety of environmental, social and cultural concerns in the area (see links in the previous post), which he continues to do today at a breathtaking pace.
Most of the full audio interview is posted here, some highlights for me besides getting familiar with the history was our discussion about how an individual should approach activism. Jack talked about how a full understanding (including an understanding of who you might consider your ‘arch-enemies’, who Jack often got to know well and became long-time friends with as you will hear) is necessary when you approach this kind of work. He defined the term consciousness for him, which clarified my confusion evident in the earlier posts. He also used the term conscience, which for me is something that helps to tie together a disconnect between the interior and exterior.
I will be heading out to the four corners area tomorrow for a few days to learn more.
Listen here (unedited, partial):
Inevitably, once I’ll write something on this blog, I’ll find that it doesn’t sit well with me and have to look at it from another angle. Such is the case with the previous post’s ‘most important commons may be consciousness’ statement. Although the idea might be evocative from a singularity point of view, it’s important to have a reality check. There are real, physical commons on this Earth that are in peril (for example, wilderness), and we should be careful of losing sight of this while glorifying human consciousness. In Confessions of an Eco-Warrior, environmental activist and co-founder of Earth First! Dave Foreman discusses ‘the arrogance of enlightenment’:
I have heard it said that a wise man can find wilderness in a courtyard garden, can see a Grizzly Bear in a hothouse flower. Perhaps…this kind of ability is undoubtedly healthy for modern people. It allows one to rise above the tawdry mess of civilization, to find unity with Nature…it prevents ulcers and high blood pressure.
But what does it do for wilderness? What does it do for the Grizzly?
Where is the real world? What is reality? Is it within ourselves – in our minds, our consciousness? Is reality only what we perceive? Are our minds paramount, with no reality apart from our heads?
No! The real world is out there – independent, autonomous, sovereign, not ruled by human awareness. The real Grizzly is not in our heads, she is in the Big Outside – rooting, snuffling, roaming, living, perceiving on her own. Wilderness is not merely an attitude of mind; it is greater, far greater, than ourselves and our perceptions of it.
In our work with social media and technology, we get caught up in idea of the ‘Internet as commons’, which is important for the free exchange of ideas (and ‘consciousness’), but we should remember that this is only a metaphor and that the original commons was and continues to be the land and its preservation through wilderness, as Henry David Thoreau said:
In wilderness is the preservation of the world.
Without which there would be no Internet, no consciousness and no humans. What to do? How to approach this crisis of disappearing wilderness? Perhaps first read Confessions of an Eco-Warrior and then to go further google Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching.
I spent a weekend at the Sevilleta (Sev) Long Term Ecological Research site with colleagues from UNM’s Biology and Art & Ecology programs and sound recordist/folklorist Jack Loeffler. Jack has been continuously recording since 1964 and his project Lore of the Land has many of his amazing recordings you can listen to here. These recordings are only part of his long history of environmental activism in the Southwest, having traveled throughout the country with his good friend Ed Abbey while Ed was researching and writing the classic Monkey Wrench Gang, been a friend and collaborator with Stewart Brand and conducted extensive interviews with E.O. Wilson. He is working with the UNM Museum of Southwest Biology on a project to audio document the prestigious history of the museum (which includes Wilson).
I’m still processing much of what I learned from Jack that weekend, we discussed issues represented by the title of this blog post and how this ideology relates to technology and the natural world, the secularization of habitat versus sacred habitat, P.J. Proudhon’s ideas about ‘property as theft’ and the idea of the commons, and how the biggest (and most important) commons may be consciousness. We also enjoyed the sounds and sights of an amazing gathering of snow geese and cranes, this image shows only a tiny tip of the crowd:
I’m looking forward to reading Jack’s upcoming collection of essays Thinking Like a Watershed on UNM press and hope to conduct an audio interview with him soon. Some of his other books are available here.
Feeling festive, I wanted to dedicate a post to the amazing work of La Machine, a group which began by working with the French performance art and puppetry troupe Royal De Luxe. Starting in 2008/2009 they have had a permanent workshop/exhibition space on the Isle of Nantes. Here are some workshop images:
They have built these fantastic creatures of reclaimed wood and steel:
La Princesse (Liverpool 2008)
The Sultan’s Elephant
British artist, activist, founder of irational.org and urban climber Heath Bunting is presenting his project ‘Woman’ as part of the Tracing Mobility exhibition in Berlin this season. I had the pleasure of exploring the outskirts of Brussels with Heath a few years ago and learning about his work examining the edges of contemporary identity and urban mobility.
Image by Heath Bunting
‘Woman’ constructs an ‘identifiable being’ out of bits and pieces of data (like an identifiable mailing address, credit cards, etc.) as a way of creating virtual mobility through a new legal identity. One of his workshop descriptions explains:
Financial and environmental chaos will require flexibility and mobility to survive. Don’t die for the luxury and comfort of the socia-pathic rich! Acquire some solid assets, a weapon and an exit strategy. Disappearance requires good negotiating skills, strong social network and multiple identities. To help with your escape we can provide you with some useful maps and a new off-the-shelf identity with British nationality. Our workshop provided a building ground to create or obtain a new legal persona and plan an escape route. Don’t be content with rioting and looting, its time to really get even!
Creating these identities also allows him to create maps like this one showing a web of this ‘Woman’ in society:
His own data self-portrait can be seen here: http://status.irational.org/visualisation/portraits/self_portrait_of_heath_bunting.pdf