Showing posts with label weather. Show all posts
Showing posts with label weather. Show all posts

Saturday, 29 March 2014

perpetuum mobile

Three animated maps:

Firstly, an exquisitely layered visualisation of global weather conditions, forecast by supercomputers, and updated every 3 hours (Cameron Beccario). See here for link to the animation ...

Secondly, Perpetual Ocean (NASA/Greg Shirah & Horace Mitchell), which used ocean flow data to map the surface currents of the earth's seas over a two-and-a-half-year period from June 2005 to December 2007. (For further details on the NASA site, and a 20-minute version at 30 frames per second, see here):

Thirdly, 1945-1998, by Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto, an animated time-lapse mapping of the 2,053 nuclear explosions since Alamogordo, averaging one nuclear detonation every 9.6 days over this 54-year period. See here for link to the animation ...

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

shuttle 17: rocking (in time)

'It was the high point of his morning. Change the canaries. Feed the mule. Stand transfixed for half an hour' 

(Sam Shepard, Motel Chronicles & Hawk Moon, London: Faber, 1982)

'"The blur of technology, this is where the oracles plot their wars. Because now comes the introversion. Father Teilhard knew this, the omega point. A leap out of our biology. Ask yourself this question? Do we have to be human forever? Consciousness is exhausted. Back now to inorganic matter. This is what we want. We want to be stones in a field" ... 

Every lost moment is the life. It's unknowable except to us, each of us inexpressibly, this man, that woman. Childhood is lost life reclaimed every second, he said. Two infants alone in a room, in dimmest light, twins, laughing. Thirty years later, one in Chicago, one in Hong Kong, they are the issue of that moment. 

A moment, a thought, here and gone, each of us, on a street somewhere, and this is everything. I wondered what he meant by everything. It's what we call self, the true life, he said, the essential being. It's self in the soft wallow of what it knows, and what it knows is that it will not live forever ...

The landscape began to seem normal, distance was normal, heat was weather and weather was heat. I began to understand what he meant when he said that time is blind here. Beyond the local shrubs and cactus, only waves of space, occasional far thunder, the wait for rain, the gaze across the hills to a mountain range that was there yesterday, lost today in lifeless skies'. 

(Don DeLillo, Point Omega, London: Picador, 2010)

Bill Viola - ‘In 1981, I made a videotape in Japan, Hatsu Yume ('First Dream'), in which there is one sequence where a fixed camera views a rock on a mountainside over a long period of time. When it comes on the screen, the images are moving 20 times normal speed, and gradually, in a series of stages, it slows down to real-time, and eventually to extreme slow-motion.

People usually describe that scene by saying, “ … the part where the people are all slowed down while moving round the rock”. What I looked at in that scene is the rock, not so much the people. I thought it would be interesting to show a rock in slow motion. All that is really happening is that the rock’s time, its rate of change, exceeds the sampling rate (the recording time of the video), whereas the people are within that range. So the rock just sits there, high speed, slow speed … it doesn’t matter.

I think about time in that way. There are windows or wavelengths of perception. They are simultaneous and interwoven at any one moment, but we are tuned only to a certain frequency range. This is directly related to scale changes in space or sound, proportion in architecture and music. A fly lives for a week or two, and a rock exists for thousands or millions of years’.

From Bill Viola (1995), Reasons for Knocking at an Empty House: Writings 1973-1994, London: Thames & Hudson / Anthony d’Offay Gallery, 151

'Hatsu yume' is a Japanese term for the first prophetic dream in the new year. Viola: 'I was thinking about light and its relation to water and to life, and also its opposite - darkness or the night and death. Video treats light like water; it becomes fluid on the video tube. Water supports the fish like light supports man. Land is the death of the fish; darkness is the death of man'.

Photo at top: Ansel Adams, 'Rock and Cloud, King's River Canyon' (California), 1936. 

Left: Glen Baxter drawing
“I was thinking about light and its relation to water and to life, and also its opposite — darkness or the night and death. Video treats light like water — it becomes fluid on the video tube. Water supports the fish like light supports man. Land is the death of the fish — darkness is the death of man.” - See more at:
“I was thinking about light and its relation to water and to life, and also its opposite — darkness or the night and death. Video treats light like water — it becomes fluid on the video tube. Water supports the fish like light supports man. Land is the death of the fish — darkness is the death of man.” - See more at:
“I was thinking about light and its relation to water and to life, and also its opposite — darkness or the night and death. Video treats light like water — it becomes fluid on the video tube. Water supports the fish like light supports man. Land is the death of the fish — darkness is the death of man.” - See more at:

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

shuttle 16: drawing

'Drawing figures, is figured.
Drawing pulls, pushes, tugs, drags.
Drawing is friction, gravity.
Earth draws, is drawn, draws maps.
Sun draws, draws shadows, photos.
Moon draws tides'
(From Roberto Chabet's exhibition Lines on Drawing, 1999)

'A line, an area of tone, is not really important because it records what you have seen, but because of what it will lead you on to see' (John Berger, 'Life Drawing', in Jim Savage (ed.), Berger on Drawing, Cork: Occasional Press, 2007)

'On an ancient lake bed located on the western side of Death Valley National Park, boulders that weigh up to 700 pounds sail across the almost perfectly flat terrain, leaving grooved trails in their wake ... Each of these furrows chronicles a rock’s journey, ranging from a mere few inches to nearly 3,000 feet. Some tracks manifest in straight bold lines, while others coil back on themselves in sinuous arcs.

Despite a century of scientific investigation, this curious phenomenon has confounded the geological community and park visitors alike. To this day, no one has ever seen the rocks move. But in lieu of eyewitnesses, countless theories have been put forward over the years in an effort to explain the reasons behind the migrations.

One early suggestion was that the rocks were driven by gravity, sliding down a gradual slope over a long period of time. But this theory was discounted when it was revealed that the northern end of the playa is actually several centimeters higher than the southern end and that most of the rocks were in fact traveling uphill.

Though no one has yet been able to conclusively identify just what makes the rocks move, one woman is coming closer to solving the mystery. For the past ten years, Dr. Paula Messina, Professor of Geology at San Jose State University in California, has made it her quest to understand what has bewildered geologists for decades. “It’s interesting that no one has seen them move, so I am kind of sleuthing to see what’s really going on here,” says Dr. Messina.

Many scientists had dedicated much of their careers to the racing rocks, but the remoteness of the area kept their research limited in scope. No one had been able to map the complete set of trails before the advent of a quick, portable method known as global positioning. Dr. Messina was the first to have the luxury of this high technology at her fingertips.

In 1996, armed with a hand-held GPS unit, she digitally mapped the location of each of the 162 rocks scattered over the playa. “I’m very fortunate that this technology was available at about the same time the Racetrack captured my interest,” she says. “It took only ten days to map the entire network — a total of about 60 miles.” Since then, she has continued to chart the movements of each rock within a centimeter of accuracy. Walking the length of a trail, she collects the longitude and latitude points of each, which snap into a line. She then takes her data back to the lab where she is able to analyze changes in the rocks’ positions since her last visit.

She has found that two components are essential to their movement: wind and water. The fierce winter storms that sweep down from the surrounding mountains carry plenty of both.

The playa surface is made up of very fine clay sediments that become extremely slick when wet. “When you have pliable, wet, frictionless sediments and intense winds blowing through,” offers Dr. Messina, “I think you have the elements to make the rocks move.”

At an elevation of 3,700 feet, strong winds can rake the playa at 70 miles per hour. But Dr. Messina is quick to point out that sometimes even smaller gusts can set the rocks in motion. The explanation for this lies in her theory, which links wind and water with yet another element: bacteria.

After periods of rain, bacteria lying dormant on the playa begin to “come to.” As they grow, long, hair-like filaments develop and cause a slippery film to form on the surface. “Very rough surfaces would require great forces to move the lightest-weight rocks,” she says. “But if the surface is exceptionally smooth, as would be expected from a bio-geologic film, even the heaviest rocks could be propelled by a small shove of the wind. I think of the Racetrack as being coated by Teflon, under those special conditions.”

In science, hypotheses are often based on logic. But over the years, Dr. Messina has discovered that on the Racetrack, logic itself must often be tossed to the wind. “Some of the rocks have done some very unusual things,” she says. In her initial analysis she hypothesized that given their weight, larger rocks would travel shorter distances and smaller, lighter rocks would sail on further, producing longer trails. It also seemed reasonable that the heavier, angular rocks would leave straighter trails and rounder rocks would move more erratically. What she discovered surprised her. “I was crunching numbers and found that there was absolutely no correlation between the size and shape of the rocks and their trails. There was no smoking gun, so this was one of the big mysteries to me.”

What appears as a very flat, uniform terrain is in fact a mosaic of micro-climates. In the southeastern part of the playa, wind is channeled through a low pass in the mountains, forming a natural wind tunnel. This is where the longest, straightest trails are concentrated. In the central part of the playa, two natural wind tunnels converge from different directions, creating turbulence. It’s in this area that the rock trails are the most convoluted. “What I think is happening,” proposes Dr. Messina, “is the surrounding topography is actually what is guiding the rocks and telling them where to go.”

Some people have suggested attaching radio transmitters to the rocks or erecting cameras to catch them “in the act” in order to put an end to the speculation. But as Death Valley National Park is 95 percent designated wilderness, all research in the park must be non-invasive. It is forbidden to erect any permanent structures or instrumentation. Further, no one is permitted on the playa when it is wet because each footprint would leave an indelible scar.

As for Dr. Messina, she is content in the sleuthing. “People frequently ask me if I want to see the rocks in action and I can honestly answer that I do not,” she says. “Science is all about the quest for knowledge, and not necessarily knowing all the answers. Part of the lure of this place is its mystery. It’s fine with me if it remains that way.”

From 'Life in Death Valley: The Mystery of the Racing Rocks', Nature

For a Wikipedia entry on the 'sailing stones' of Death Valley, see here. 'In a study published in 2011 it is postulated that small rafts of ice form around the rocks and when the local water level rises, the rocks are buoyantly floated off the soft bed, thus reducing the reaction and friction forces at the bed. Since this effect depends on reducing friction, and not on increasing the wind drag, these ice cakes need not have a particularly large surface area if the ice is adequately thick, as the minimal friction allows the rocks to be moved by arbitrarily light winds'.

Friday, 21 June 2013

shuttle 5: duster

'Between the earth and that sky I felt erased, blotted out' (Willa Cather)

'Dust allowed him a perception of time as a kind of seamless duration in which past and future could not be sundered' (Carolyn Steedman)

'Dust storms in three shapes. The whirl. The column. The sheet. In the first the horizon is lost. In the second you are surrounded by "waltzing Ginns". The third, the sheet, is "copper-tinted. Nature seems to be on fire" (Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient)

'Nobody knew what to call it. It was not a rain cloud. Nor was it a cloud holding ice pellets. It was not a twister. It was thick like coarse animal hair; it was alive. People close to it described a feeling of being in a blizzard - a black blizzard, they called it - with an edge like steel wool ... 'Did you see the color of that monster? Black as the inside of a dog' ... 'The earth is on the move'. 'Why?' 'Look what they done to the grass. Look at the land: wrong side up' ...

The rains disappeared - not just for a season but for years on end. With no sod to hold the earth in place, the soil calcified and started to blow. Dust clouds boiled up, ten thousand feet or ore in the sky, and rolled like moving mountains - a force of their own. When the dust fell, it penetrated everything: hair, nose, throat, kitchen, bedroom, well. A scoop shovel was needed just to clean the house in the morning. The eeriest thing was the darkness. People tied themselves to ropes before going to a barn just a few hundred feet away, like a walk in space, tethered to the life support centre. Chickens roosted in mid-afternoon ...

Many in the East did not believe the initial accounts of predatory dust until a storm in May 1934 carried the wind blown shards of the Great Plains over much of the nation. In Chicago, twelve million tons of dust fell. New York, Washington, even ships at sea, three hundred miles off the Atlantic coast - were blanketed in brown.

Cattle went blind and suffocated. When farmers cut them open, they found stomachs stuffed with fine sand. Horses ran madly against the storms. Children coughed and gagged, dying of something the doctors called "dust pneumonia". In desperation, some families gave away their children. The instinctive act of hugging a loved one or shaking someone's hand could knock two people down, for the static electricity from the dusters was so strong ...

On the skin, the dust was like a nail file, a grit strong enough to hurt. People rubbed Vaseline in their nostrils as a filter. The Red Cross handed out respiratory masks to schools. Families put wet towels beneath their doors and covered their windows with bed sheets, fresh-dampened nightly. The sheets turned a muddy brown ...

A Sunday in mid-April 1935 dawned quiet, windless, and bright. In the afternoon, the sky went purple - as if it were sick - and the temperature plunged. People looked northwest and saw a ragged-topped formation on the move, covering the horizon. The air crackled with electricity. Snap. Snap. Snap. Birds screeched and dashed for cover. As the black wall approached, car radios clicked off, overwhelmed by the static. Ignitions shorted out. Waves of sand, like ocean water rising over a ship's prow, swept over roads. Cars went into ditches. A train derailed ...

'It was like I was caught in a whirlpool. All of a sudden it got completely dark. I couldn't see a thing'.

That was Black Sunday, April 14 1935, day of the worst duster of them all. The storm carried twice as much dirt as was dug out of the earth to create the Panama Canal. The canal took seven years to dig; the storm lasted a single afternoon. More than 300,000 tons of Great Plains topsoil was airborne that day ...

At its peak, the Dust Bowl covered one hundred million acres ... '

Extracts from Timothy Egan, The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl, New York: Mariner Books, 2006

For driving music on this day of the summer solstice, see here: Gillian Welch & David Rawlings, 'April the 14th (Part 1)' - a song that weaves together disparate events that happened on 14 April, 'ruination day': the assassination of Lincoln, the sinking of the Titanic, Black Sunday

Friday, 12 October 2012

song & dance

"Gary Winters and Gregg Whelan say the idea for The Boat Project first emerged during a cycle of performances called The Days Of The Sledgehammer Have Gone (1999-2005), in which they had explored the human body’s connections with water, and its intimate imbrication in weather systems and the hydrological cycle. In material, poetic and comic ways, these performances activated the body’s own meteorology of sweat and tears and playfully merged them in circulatory exchange with the circuits and flows of river, sea, cloud and rain. In related ways, a boat casts the body into a dynamic relational matrix of materially active elements, energies and rhythms and invites it to improvise: wave, tide, current, wind, wood, salt, sound, weather, sky". (From the introduction to David Williams (ed.), The Lone Twin Boat Project, Chiquita Books, 2012)

In the wake of a sail on Lone Twin's Collective Spirit yesterday, with Olympic yachtsman Mark Covell at the helm,
today my body still hums with sensations. In seas off Hayling Island, with the wind gusting to 20 knots, we passed through intermittent bursts of rain and sun. At speed, riding the surf, the boat itself 'sings' a particular tone, an audible vibratory hum of its own. 

On water the gravitied mass of the boat flies, it becomes all lightness and movement. Its weight is translated.

I was intrigued by how sensitively Mark reads with his peripheral vision what's at play, in particular the wind, deciphering its imminent arrival and implications on the sea's surface, its energetic trajectories. Also his reading of waves, the impact of patches of sunlight on wind ('puff'), the lightness of touch on the tiller.

Sailing, one feels part of something much bigger than oneself. Dynamically transforming systems, processes, agencies, unpredictabilities. To sail is a dance of relations, response-ability and im/balance, a choreography in which one's body is all eyes and ears. 

Despite my clumsiness at trying to tie a reef knot (some lingering memory about a tree, a bunny and a hole - but no idea how to tell that story with a rope), it's a while since I felt so awake.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

a new fire (unknown fields)

'The sun. The desert. The sky. The silence. The flat stones. The insects. The wind and the clouds. The moon. The stars. The west and east. The song, the colour, the smell of the earth. Blast area. Fire area. Body-burn area'

(Don DeLillo, End Zone)

Am just back from a wonderfully provocative and engaging day-long symposium at the Architectural Association in Bedford Square, London: 'Unknown Fields: from the Atomic to the Cosmic' - an open forum prelude to an adventurous 'nomadic design studio' field trip for architecture students and others, taking them from the Chernobyl exclusion zone and Pripyat to the Baikonur Cosmodrome and on to the Aral Sea. The fourth in a series of annual expeditions organised by Liam Young & Kate Davies (as Unknown Fields), this year's journey marks the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's first manned space flight and the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. Earlier Unknown Fields 'trajectories' involved field trips to the Ecuadorian Amazon and the Galapagos Islands (2008), the Arctic Circle (2009), and the West Australian outback (2010).

The symposium, shoe-horned uncomfortably and bum-numbingly into the Architectural Association's tiny library, brought together an intriguing group of presenters - artists, writers, film makers - to discuss the legacies of technologies' past optimisms, cultural manifestations of the possibilities and fears around nuclear power and space travel, and some of the emerging scenarios in our collective environmental and political future(s) and imaginings.

Leading off in the 'Atomic' section of the symposium, the Oxford-based environmental anthropologist Peter Wynn-Kirby described Japan's evolving cultural relations with nuclear power - the continuing paradox of fear and need - with reference to Godzilla movies and other stagings of post-war nuclear trauma, performative workings-through of what Susan Sontag called 'imagination of disaster' (in a 1965 essay in which she explains fantasy functionally as a process of 'inurement'). Wynn-Kirby touched on the horrifying story of the Japanese tuna trawler the Lucky Dragon no. 5, unwittingly caught in a blizzard of radioactive ash in March 1954 after the vast 'Bravo' thermonuclear test by the American military in the Pacific near Bikini atoll in early 1954, and the radioactive trail they took back to port in their contaminated catch, boat and blistered bodies. He also provided invaluable contexts for contemporary reworkings of anxiety in the wake of the Tohoku/Fukushima disaster via accounts of the fear induced by radiation's uncanny invisibility, default governmental and industry denials and cover-ups, the discourse of nuclear power as 'clean and green', the problems of waste disposal (Zonabend's 'filth everlasting', Hall's 'ultimate litter') in the light of most people's 'forward time horizon' of approximately 100 years, rather than the thousands of generations that constitute a nuclear half-life. After tracking the volume and trajectories of trans-national flows of nuclear waste, he offered a terrifying listing of disposal and dispersal strategies for such waste adopted or proposed thus far, including sea dumping/ejection into space, dumping on the Antarctic ice sheet, insertion into tectonic plates, embedding in 'inert silt' at the bottom of the Pacific, and long-term 'containment' in repositories such as Yucca Mountain in the USA.

The poet Mario Petrucci, author of the brilliant act of re-membering Chernobyl, Heavy Water, presented an intellectually energised paper entitled 'Chernobyl and the stories of knowledge', touching on e.g. denial as a synergy of four factors or 'pests' - the 'destructive meme', 'radical inertia' (deeply ingrained resistance to change, adapted and modified from Ivan Illich), the 'framed question' (with an agenda, assuming only certain possible 'answers'), and 'unaccounted positive feedback' (the nuclear industry as an accelerant on resource requirements); art as transformation with the potential to dent radical inertia, shed light on unaccounted positive feedback, create 'meme-proof' experiences (irreducible to single meanings, thriving on ambiguity) - art as something that might help us 'bear it' and 're-boot consciousness'.

As well as a critique of short-termism and free-market economics, Petrucci was exploring how artists might 'understand' Chernobyl in all of its actively destructive psychic gravity; he posited a model of knowledge as qualitative, engaging intellect, imagination and a responsibility to bear witness (to re-member, so that those who have been 'exposed to the invisible should never become so'). If both art and science contain 'alertness nutrients' and 'psychic nutrients', he suggested, we might approach them with the quality of attention Levertov demanded: 'poets must give us imagination of peace to oust imagination of disaster'. He quoted the Australian poet Les Murray: 'Only poetry recognises and maintains the centrality of absolutely everywhere'. Petrucci's final words were a request to us to expand skepticism to include skepticism towards our own doubts, and a loop back to a quote from David Bohm he had cited earlier: 'Studying the distractions is part of the process'.

Next up was the film maker Michael Madsen, whose recent documentary Into Eternity focuses on the Onkolo Nuclear Waste Repository in Finland. Madsen provided contexts for his remarkable film about Onkolo (which means 'hiding place'): as a self-monitoring construction design to contain some of Finland's nuclear waste, intended to last for up to 100,000 years, and thus 'possibly the first post-human structure' (a quotation from a critic's review of his film); the finite life-span of our own civilisation, and the impossibility of imagining that far into the future (and therefore of acting wholly responsibly). Madsen went on to offer a swift history of radiation since the 1880s, with 'knowledge' at every point assumed to be 'complete' before new unforeseen elements were discovered to destabilise the parameters of the known. Before showing the trailer to his film, with its bewildering account of this peculiar subterranean 'afterworld', he talked of nuclear waste as 'a new kind of fire', the first humans have encountered in our species' history that is inextinguishable (quoting the nuclear physicist Dr Hans Bethe?); and of the emergence of a 'nuclear priesthood', 'protectors' who 'know' and act on our behalf.

Will Wiles, author of Care for Wooden Floors and a forthcoming book Toxic Tourism, explored our culture's fascination with such places as Chernobyl, Pripyat, Baikonur and the Aral Sea, referencing Christopher Woodward's In Ruins and Brian Dillon's notion of 'ruin lust', from the Romantics' sublime apocalyptism to a post-industrial return to the monumentality of ruins in the work of, for example, Robert Smithson and Gordon Matta-Clark - Spiral Jetty as a 'dialectical ruin' projected into the future in deep geological time. Wiles alluded to Virilio's Bunker Archaeology (with its analysis of 'aberrant monuments' reflecting a loss of faith in modernism), the Mir Space Station ('ruins of the future', the discarded waste products of civilisations and ideologies), the work of Jane & Louise Wilson, and the wave of urban explorers and art photographers (e.g. Christopher Payne's abandoned asylums). Discarded systems and technologies, and a sense of loss at their passing, with an attendant appraisal of current systems: the rust belt, old mental health infrastructures, and the grander ruin of Soviet civilisation (with its grand project of 'taming nature' - and class), with Pripyat as 'the Vatican of ruins'. If (Soviet) modernism's sense of control - its huge-scale interventions 'to make the world a better place' - was now lost, then an outline of the post-human seems to inhabit the devastated ruins of control.

After a short and frankly borderline bonkers presentation by Oliver Goodhall ('Nuclear is good'), an anomalous pro-nuclear presence in this company who looked so far out of his depth that for much of his presentation I, and others, took it to be a not-very-good parody by a rabbit caught in the headlights (was this an adventurous, dialogic choice in terms of the event's curation, or a ludicrous misfire? hard to tell, although Oliver wasn't really up to the task of a genuinely provocative counter-discursive intervention in the context), it was on to the extraordinary Swiss scientific illustrator and activist artist Cornelia Hesse-Honneger, one of the core reasons (along with Petrucci, Madsen and Louise K. Wilson) for my presence at the symposium on this first day of my annual leave.

For many years, Hesse-Honneger has been making detailed taxonomic drawings and paintings of mutated insects, their deformities the result of exposure to mutogenic chemicals, in particular low-level radiation. As well as detailing the ways in which true bugs (her 'favorite' bio-indicators) and other insects have been 'disturbed' - deformed feelers, wings, eyes etc. - she mapped the evolution of her own work before and after Chernobyl, and in particular her systematic projects around nuclear power stations in Sweden, the Swiss Alps, France, the Ukraine, the UK etc. These ongoing studies focus on the gathering of quantitative data and the production of qualitative material in her exquisite paintings of insects and plants in those areas where the weather trajectories down-wind of nuclear power stations and reprocessing plants overlap.

In 1990, she spent just 10 minutes in Pripyat, in a silence without birds, with only the music from loudspeakers.

Hesse-Honneger was at pains to differentiate between the toxicity of low doses of 'artificial' (man-made) radiation and 'natural' radiation (e.g. in the granite-rich geologies of South-West England or the Alps), and to point out the degree to which the 300,000 + publications by independent scientists about the harmful effects of low-level radiation from Chernobyl have been systematically devalued and ignored by state- and industry-sanctioned scientists, and the funding of those researchers rendered 'difficult'. Ultimately she brought her presentation to a close with a series of wholly alarming images of facial deformities in Iraqi children, the victims of the obscenity of depleted uranium weaponry, and a forceful account of the degree of such contamination (and resultant deformities) in Afghanistan and areas of the former Yugoslavia, as well as in uranium mining communities in Africa, Australia and the USA. Nuclear waste, she suggested, was now dispersed and located within human beings, to calamitous effect.

The 'Cosmic' section of the symposium felt significantly curtailed, an after-thought in the shape and weight of the day; a number of advertised speakers weren't able to attend (artist Alicia Framis, designer Regina Pledszus, 'experience designer' Nelly Ben Hayoun), and the looser-than-loose managing and chairing of earlier sessions meant that the day was hours behind schedule, time was running out on the room, the energies of those attending were flagging, etc. The critical mass and gravity of the 'Atomic' presentations created a kind of imbalance overall, and we never really made it off the ground in this second part.

Nonetheless there were three engaging contributions, beginning with a short and quietly enthusiastic presentation by comic illustrator and animator Paul Duffield, reflecting on the impact of Carl Sagan's series Cosmos and continuing SETI research on his approach to visual storytelling, in particular in his visual poem Signal. Then on to Mark Pilkington, 'UFO folklorist', curator, editor of Strange Attractor, occasional contributor to the Fortean Times, and musician, who sprinted through some of the core ground of his stimulating and often hilarious road trip book Mirage Men: A Journey into Disinformation, Paranoia and UFOs. From the development of covert military technologies during the Cold War, via Kenneth Arnold's sightings of UFOs in 1947, and an increasing number of flying saucer stories and films (including The Day the Earth Stood Still, 1951), to a perceived intelligence and security problem, the classified RAND document of 1950 entitled 'The exploitation of superstitions for the purposes of psychological warfare', the CIA's increasing involvement, and the planting of stories in the media triggered by the RAND proposals (e.g. the April 1952 issue of Life magazine with its cover shot of Marilyn Monroe and the title 'There is a case for interplanetary saucers'). A heady and hugely entertaining cocktail of institutional paranoia and psy-ops disinformation strategies, 'black' military technologies research, conspiracy theories, ufologists and popular culture forms. One sensed he could have gone on for days.

Finally, the British artist Louise K. Wilson offered a brief introduction to aspects of her own work; sensitive to the fatigued overload of her audience, Louise cut her presentation short while still managing to cover a lot of ground and articulate a number of generative ideas. The notion of an artist's 'passport of admission' to sites, many of them contested or largely inaccessible; Kim Sawchuck's notion of 'bio-tourism', trajectories into internal spaces through e.g. MR scans and dream registers; Virilio's 'museum of accidents', and the body's own flaws and faultlines; Steve Goodman's 'sonic warfare' and 'the politics of frequency'; 'auralisation', as a sonic equivalent to visualisation; the stimulus provided by Danish sound artist Jacob Kirkegaard's Four Rooms CD (2006), recorded in abandoned social spaces in and around Pripyat - a swimming pool, a church, a theatre auditorium, a gymnasium - using a version of Alvin Lucier's mirroring acoustic techniques to explore these spaces' psycho-acoustic qualities, the spectral traces of inaudible and invisible dangers.

Louise described her approach to locations via something akin to auscultation: an attentive and patient listening in to an architectural body, a documenting of the specific acoustic signatures of ruins, a gathering of reverberant 'impulse responses' often from derelict Cold War sites: a decommissioned Cumbrian missile site, Orford Ness and the National Trust's 'continued ruination' policy, Woomera and Nurrungar in South Australia, Aldermaston.

As we left, almost 3 hours after the scheduled ending of the symposium, Louise was setting up a contact microphone workshop for the Unknown Fields trajectory travelers, who were leaving the following morning; she played some recordings of limpets moving in hyper slo-mo on a rock, liquid and percussive sounds like the accelerated machinic groans and cracks of icebergs - them limpits are sure as hell busy. Cornelia Hesse-Honneger stood up to formally warn the travelers that Chernobyl still posed very real risks to health, and that they should take every precaution - air filter masks, clothes and shoes to be abandoned on emerging from the site, etc.: 'Don't touch anything'. Liam Young and Kate Davies smiled, said it's fine, every person will have full kit, a protective body suit, a face mask, gloves, we're on top of it, it's all fine. On my way out, in the doorway one of the students was asking Hesse-Honneger for some final advice: 'So do you think it's possible to take samples from the Chernobyl site? I'd very much like to'.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010


Recently a British performance journal asked me to write a short text in response to the following question: 'What book or books have most influenced you in your career?' Leaving aside any questions and misgivings I might have about notions of a 'career', let alone the possibility of collapsing a life time of reading into what would inevitably be a reductive fiction, this was my response:

One of the most influential books for me in my early forays into performance making doesn’t actually exist. For it’s one of Prospero’s 24 volumes in Peter Greenaway’s film Prospero’s Books – ‘A Book of Motion’:

‘This is a book that at the most simple level describes how birds fly and waves roll, how clouds form and apples fall from trees. It describes how the eye changes its shape when looking at great distances, how hairs grow in a beard, why the heart flutters and the lungs inflate involuntarily and how laughter changes the face. At its most complex level, it explains how ideas chase one another in the memory and where thought goes when it is finished with … It drums against the bookcase shelf and has to be held down with a brass weight’ (Greenaway 1991: 24).

So, an imagined conflation of the complex systems of oceanography, aerodynamics, meteorology, gravity and biology, that also traces the unpredictable trajectories of the dance of remembering and forgetting in the processes of thought. The very notion of such a book excited me, drawing my attention to something of the infinite array of kinds of movement, phenomenal and ideational. It was a kind of wake up call into the dynamic motilities within which we are always already swimming.

In the first Addams Family film, Christopher Lloyd’s Fester lifts a related book from a shelf in the family’s gothic library, then opens it to unleash a storm that strikes him full in the face and fills the room. This magical volume contains a virtual tempest within its covers that can only be calmed by snap-shut closure, replacement on the shelf, return to the orderly and the contained.

All books, all writing should be tempest-machines. Vortices of energetic overflowings, generating new winds away from home. Why else would one write? Why else would one read?

Greenaway, Peter (1991). Prospero’s Books, London: Chatto and Windus

Monday, 11 January 2010


did you ever want to run around with bandits -

to see many places and hide in ditches?

it's not always easy, it's not always easy

when the winter comes and the greenery goes
we will make some shelter

when the winter comes and the greenery goes
we will make some shelter

(Midlake, 'Bandits')

Sunday, 6 September 2009

patient pulse

A walk along the coastline towards the former fishing community of Hallsands, part of a series of walks to bid farewell to Devon and the sea as we prepare to move to the city. Torcross to Beesands to Hallsands, the Start Point lighthouse in the distance as our guide line.

The village is perched on the rocks at the sea's edge, long since deserted and all but erased by a storm in January 1917. A few houses still standing, two of them intact and inhabited; one of them is called, erm, 'Seaview'. Most of the structures are now no more than shattered shells. A pathway disappears abruptly into an abyss above the water.

The sea's like oil today, barely moving. Hard to imagine its ferocity.

Below is a fragment of a long text I wrote for and with Cupola Bobber, as part of series of 'waves' that are reproduced in Stephen Fiehn and Tyler Myers's poster-sized 'reading companion' to their current performance Way Out West, The Sea Whispered Me.

The trigger for this fragment was Hallsands, a place that has lingered in my imagination since childhood when I first visited this coastline with my parents.
Elsew/here a fleet of steam dredgers remove tons of granite and flint shingle from the seabed beneath the cliffs to provide material for a new sea wall further down the coast. God-fearing fishermen with furrowed brows look on from their village at the foot of the cliffs, wondering what repercussions this might have, this ‘tampering with nature’, this modern arrogance to dream of ‘playing god’. No good will come of it, they say. Look at them: they couldn’t navigate a turd around a pisspot, they say.

Some years later ferocious winter storms whip the sea into a frenzy, and the slate sky is thick with spindthrift, like a snow storm. As dusk falls, towering black waves blast away at the unprotected village. Never seen anything like it, they say, like the end of the world. Overnight most of the community’s buildings are devastated, gouged and pulped to dust by the walls of driving water. The whitewashed slate-roofed fishermen’s cottages, all of them decapitated and ground down. The small grey stone inn, its fireplace doused forever. The workshop for making lobster pots and mending nets. The stables and piggery. The chapel. The tiny Post Office shop. The village hall, for community meetings and wedding receptions and evenings of songs and shanties.

Remember? ‘I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky / And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by / And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking / And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking’.

All dust now, carried away tirelessly by the sea. Even the beach is gone.

Every now and then deep in the churning bay, minute sandy particles and splinters fleetingly reconfigure to form the skeletal outlines of what they were once part of – a shed, a kitchen, the furniture of a bedroom – before a fresh undersea gust tears through these ghostly outlines, shattering them anew, and the grains disperse and disappear into the ocean’s depths.

On this journey, there is time but not a thing by which to tell it, save the passage of the sun, the phases of the moon, and the patient pulse of the sea’s pull and give.

Cupola Bobber's Way Out West, The Sea Whispered Me premiered in Chicago earlier in the summer, and will be performed at PS122 in New York in late September. It is due to tour in Britain next year. For further details of Way Out West, The Sea Whispered Me: A Reading Companion, and to order a copy, see here