Situated Practice




I grew up in Phoenix and first participated in a border immersion workshop in Ciudad Juarez in 1998. We toured a Siemen’s maquila along with visiting families living informally outside the city. Currently, I am a Master in Fine Art student at UC San Diego with a focus on public culture. During the beginning of my program I worked in this area, Colonia San Bernardo, under a collaborative community oriented project focusing on gardening. My research as an artist often focuses on sculpture and public space; insomuch as the border between Tijuana and San Diego is a very public concern, I've been drawn to better understand how it functions, and who is participating in its daily formation as the world’s most trafficked and policed border. More specifically during my time as a Fulbright grantee, I am collaborating with the grassroots collective, Ollin Calli, a multilateral binational front acting in support of workers’ rights in the region. They provide a legal accessory, run a craft store, host tours of important industrial sites, and more broadly, act in the absence of independent unions in the factory industry. 


As you can imagine this is a very tall order. The capacity for labor dispute and collective bargaining in Tijuana has suffered greatly following the failed Han Young Strike of 98. More presently, maquila jobs have become increasingly competitive, and often require references as well as job-specific work history. The present goal of Ollin Calli, and what we are working on most directly as a situated collaboration, is a public survey of factory employees. The interview is designed to generate a database of mixed methods, sociological data about the factories and the people who work there. The complexity of such a survey can be found in the extreme diversity of the industry. It is difficult from the micro level to speak of the “maquila” as a specific entity, separate from manufacturing or even seasonal agriculture, as employees invariably move from one sector to the next. On the macro-level, yes, we can begin to characterize Mexico’s primary export relationship to the U.S., but hyper-globalist projections often miss many of the very localized structural aspects of border trade, especially in locations such as Tijuana, where factories often exist as twin enterprises of nearby “American” plants. The question remains: how do we understand the local conditions of labor in a post-NAFTA economy with increasingly transnational capital investment?


After Ollin Calli’s first round of interviews they have come to face the problems in isolating that question. Two trends, however, may be generalizable:  increasing production for the medical supply industry, and a larger frequency of “outsourcing” scenarios. In the latter instance many of the minimum standards of hiring and firing practices suffer greatly at the further distancing of workers to capital. Guarantee of employment in these settings is the most tenuous, and often lacks such bare advantages as living nearby to the factory where you are employed, or having access to a human resources department. As we continue with the interviews the collective operates as it does best, with shifting orientations and recursive negotiation of correspondent needs and input.



Evidently, how does all of this become an artwork? 

For me the research period thus far has proved to be extremely challenging, both with regard to my projected plan as an artist, but also my sense of what constitutes the discrete elements of the project, itself. Ill equipped as a sociologist I have struggled to formalize my research in the area, and, as a collaborating artist and activist in Ollin Calli’s agenda, I have equally experienced divergent orientations to their collective work. In many ways I have realized that the impetus for my research remains embedded in certain, perhaps, idiosyncratic concerns within the arts, these being relatable to the role of aesthetics and moral encounter. If the arts are to successfully mediate representation of social fabrics, we must further situate ourselves as artists within those settings. This calls for increasingly situated investigations which test the artist’s ability to operate from the immediate practice of social configurations. The greatest obstacle I experience in that process is what I would describe as “transferability” and the potential for consolidation of social practice into symbolic orders. Placing, as I have done, video footage and testimony in the domain of art making renders a nearly inescapable collapse, in which the subjectivities of participants on either end of the camera become fixed actors. While it is often art making’s goal to erode those explicit boundaries, it is difficult to say who benefits from exposure to the knowledge produced under such criteria.
Dr. Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, Bauhaus Weimar Summer Program, Cultural
Landscapes and Urban Resilience, lead by Philippe Schmidt. 2014.
         

Aesthetics of Collective Action

07.09.2014

One of the most important concepts coming from the Crozier and Friedberg publication, Actors and Systems: The Politics of Collective Action, is the demonstration of power as relational. And thus to speak of social organization as the construction of discrete negotiations, we see the emergence of power as fundamentally between two parties. This reading makes necessary an understanding of power’s reciprocal albeit imbalanced structure. 

             It’s a highly phenomenological reading, but gives an important correction to the static understanding of power as objective. For the artist endeavoring to work within social aesthetics this correction is paramount, especially as we see the artist invested in multiple relationships, and by this I mean diverse constructions of power within varying groups. Here we see a sort of golden triangle afforded the social artist: his or her ability to move between distinctions of economy and pedagogy, audience and institution. It’s important to stress that beyond those categorical shifts exists more concretely a diverse portfolio which allocates them a maximum mobility within a structured social field.  This is a power over zones of uncertainty, which Crozier and Friedberg establish as one of the fundamental constructive apparatuses behind power and its relations. Introduced more critically in differing waves of Feminist production, we would have to talk very different about this anti-epistemology, and particularly the time factor in relations of power. The creation of alternative time structures should not be immediately read as a social practice, and must be understood within discourses of dominance. The social mobility of the artist is a differing concern, primarily, because of the very potential risk to see the artist as outside of the social construction of power they seek to intervene within; this risk ultimately makes them key arbiters within the structural implementation of power.

This may seem self-evident if we look backwards to the history of the collection, both as public or private for there is no inherent bias, nor distinction, as an objectification of class. Surely we can imagine relational aesthetics’ nascent program, however, to counteract the collection, and more rhetorically the commodification of art. This is the real danger behind relational aesthetics, for in order to produce a horizontal frame for its production to set up within, it must forgo the rationality of the individual. In attempting to dissolve class verticality, it may only resist that formation through erasure. It becomes much like a scientific discipline with its own objective system, a lens on the social organism en masse. The artist and audience disappear into the public sphere, the collection becomes the public itself, and power is rendered invisible.

French sociologists were highly critical in this sense of the American schools, as post-structuralism found its development in the eighties. It’s odd to consider then that Nicolas Bourriaud would not capture this transition, and later, Bishop would revert it back to a sort of Modernist program of formal autonomy despite its basis in antagonism. The failure to understand power as the means by which both social organizations and individuals operate risks a diversion into their endless particularities without the requisite rational framework behind individuality. Contrary to conventional social aesthetics, to read from the basis of the individual actor towards a constructed exteriority prevents imbuing the artist with an almost neo-religious order in society, behind which the only God is capital. This underscores the extreme difficulty of exposing capital as both the material work done by social organizations, and meanwhile, resisting a commodification of the social apparatus. Ultimately, it’s much easier to replicate the social structure through a machinic assembly, as with the case of early cybernetics, but also with the important projects of Teresa Margolles and Santiago Sierra. Despite these efforts towards antagonism we are not able to move past a transcendent tautological modelling of society reinscribed by the reversal. The outcome is reversed in its order, but remains the same. If the artist is to invest themselves publicly the formal outcome must inscribe a tension between mediation and negotiation as constructions of power, not as a counteraction to privatization. Better to construct the private within the public, not as means of autonomy, but for its necessary acknowledgement of the production of power. If the formal outcome can maintain this legibility we may begin to access the process of collectivized action so often reputed within social aesthetics.

--

Written after the workshop “Cultural Landscapes and Urban Resilience” organized by Dr. Philippe Schmidt at Bauhaus-Weimar Universitat. Additional acknowledgements are given to Dr. Hassan El-Moehli and Dr. Mohamed Abdel-Aziz for their contributions on urban sociology and participatory development in Cairo; Melinda Guillen for her writings on administration and temporal dissonance in Feminist artistic production; and theorist, Mariana Botey, for her continued examination of Marxist sociology and aesthetic production. Special thanks is also given to the COMEXUS Foundation Garcia-Robles Fulbright Grant which supports my research period and the Visual Arts Department at UC San Diego.






please, 

ain’t 
never 
opened 

both 
lips 
against 
cold 
kisses,

Milky bone blossoms riveted to
black stairs keyed up and
queer suite ladder
to nowhere.

can’t be heard after the transmission of
our male voices aloud and pale, boney
fingers punching out scales
And ticking off time
whimpering out bound feet to
echoing tune. 

A stage to perform, things in movement.
quick to crash and fade and tremble when
it starts and when it ends.

And force towards the heavens, radio black night
flickering stars and their glittering decay broadcasted from within.
Punch and shake with a tightened jaw,
eyes beyond sight sparkling and dead.


Posing Nothing
Conrad Prebys Music Center - UCSD, San Diego, CA
April 12, 2013

Artists: Todd Moellenberg, Matt Savitsky

for the full review please visit http://dodoeditions.com


untitled, 2012

Recall a book store from your youth, a girl behind the counter
in Boston, perhaps now a mother, deceased
Perhaps still a child
disemployed, singular and vacant.

You fell in love with her or
her mind grasped in yours
You held all of the books at once and
the incandescent light of the street
and cool night warmth

You made a pact never to return
A plant springing up from the earth, dropping seeds of itself starving with lust.




“No amount of fill, you can create....”
-Ricardo Dominguez

“The tenacity of the soul – as an act of the intellect upon the body – in conserving its
inner parts brings life to the universe as an intelligible principle. Yet this insistence on 

survival or remaining introduces decay and negrido into both intelligibility and vitality.”

The Corpse Bride: Thinking with Negrido, Reza Negarestani


Palaces



Dominic Paul Miller



These fucks NEVER shut THE fuck up!! One time they can’t stop stammering about quanta, quanta, quanta. All day. Monitoring, electrodes up the anus, shaved scalps, quilts lined with oscillators, quilted oscillators, feedback dampeners stitched on to the cuffs of their greasy pajamas. The selfers dream of numbers and the feedback is harsh. Once they picked up on it they started weaving away with their neurotic hands, tearing at strands of thread, bits of code, “uh,uh,uh that algorithm, it, uh...yeah that one, once we splice that one in, oh yeah, smooth sleep, erotic dreams, again.” Screens, these fucks want one screen after another. But its all mirror and they know it! No scream-breath, they want screen-breath, fog up the glass and drift into sleep, terrabytes of wolves attacking a small boy, your neighbor saw a coyote once when you were five, you wanted to find its hole by the creosote stands just past the fence. I saw one at the end of my driveway in the moonlight, staring into the window through the blinds, I swear it looked into me. Opened up the sleepy eyes. Anyways, no more of that, just numbers moving higher. Once cache coherence, Gordon Bell, back in the eighties crystallized, the quantified selfers started clawing their way up from their multicores. And when the snooping traffic started to die down, people started noticing ONE thing...Gaps. Gnawing gaps that you suck at, suck the marrow straight from top, make a small incision at the top, and then do just the opposite of scream, suck, harder than ever before. So its constant noise out there, either the high pitched slurping, or the hu,hu, hu, hundreds and thousands, gflops, terraflops, cut the sides of the face back and scream down the tube. Never look at a tube the same way again. Never look, just glance over the shoulder, then the other, suck, repeat, scream.
This bottom up aggregation, one selfer fucking another in the mouth, is everywhere. One word between them, hyperbolically imploding, slowly, slower, slower, just, like that. Once they started the infowars for the kids it was over, not stitching up the children, you cannot “self” a kid, its not in the program, I mean it is and isn’t. A parent can’t self their own kid, or else they wouldn’t have one in the first place. BIOS(lite), though, the kids got swept up right away so it didn’t matter. The kid came to visit the parents not the other way around. And again, NOT everyone is THERE. Outside the gap, because its not a horde, the mass is defined by an extruded body; we’re way past that, no working class! Infoworkers don’t gather around each other, unless it’s to compare numbers, then they shout about numbers and someone’s always right, nearest to the data, surfing the sine tightest and taking a picture of themselves with the front mounted board cam, it’s about yay big and feeds to GIS sensors. Even the waves aren’t outside the gap, you have to go to the desert. All sun, no talking, with lots of beaders there, you can “buy” necklaces cheap, they don’t care really though, all they do is buy more beads, or crush more sand, old microchips and processors. The beaders took me in when I was eleven. We ate mushrooms and peanut butter and talked about sheep. Wool is an aggregate of loose ends, not a rhizome, nor is it funicular, it doesn’t spread, or span, or traverse, it clings and saturates and knots. BIOS(lite) was new on the market then, the old gen were there already but those that got it, REALLY got it. JOBS. lots of them. STEVES, CARLs, NGUYENsss, whatever. What did they get? What the selfers wanted, and that’s to make a lot of noise carry. Cables, you get that end over there, hurry, okay now pull, tighter, alright now plug it into the wall, and, good, now, go into the other room. Which one? The one marked with the higher number, yes higher, to the right, somehow they figured out how the next one is always on the right. So when you leave, close the door, and open the one on the right, and close that one.

Next you wake up five years later strung out on Diet Coke, inhaled aluminum.

But the point is Gordon Bell, his various corps, bits extended across the divide (don’t use that fucking word “liminal” goddamnit!) Done for, the only thing liminal is your bank account, it’s in the alloalgo realm, hypochondriac’s nightmare. You bought twelve hours of sweatshop plabor this morning:
 
Just in case you didn’t see Arnold Schwarzenegger’s eyes bugged out of his face when you were nine, Bell co-authored a book with the same title, Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything, including how you remember Philip K. Dick’s We Can Remember It for You Wholesale. Holes for sale. I won’t bore you with the details, your parents die, come back from the dead, and then cannibalize your forearm. In the sequel, however, we get this: "(My concern then and still is on maintaining high signal to noise ratio - quieting the mind to achieve the zen of pure signal.)" - Robert L. Blum, PhD, MD. At this point we've got to follow the tetrahedron to the pentachoron, a "5-cell", don't think I'm making this up. First think of the tetrahedron, Bucky Fuller, then plug in a shit-ton of alloalgo realm, and you've got a fourth dimensional object. Which, again, don't take my word for it, but really what you're looking at is the fourth dimension which is the UI. It's infinitely expandable because one facet is the connecting/cannibalizing interface, bone sucker.  






I’m gonna punch you in the mouth if you don’t listen. How can you listen to a fist, put it in the mouth as close possible to the ear channel, just below the sinus. Now talk. Real feedback loop. Noise happens when you boost something, amplify it, noise is the detached, uncanny message. Claude Shannon was the signal to noise ratio essendi or perhaps the war was, or if we don’t want to cast petty blame on a man serving his country (nation-self) we might say the code was there all along, and what becomes the most terrifying result of WWII is not the atomic bomb, but algorithmic communication. A leviathan of roving code. David McNally talks about the “superintended inscription” through the mechanism of the anatomy-stage. What about a homeless person drinking Monster energy in the parking lot above the freeway. Is there really any difference? I don’t want to perform some high/low gymnastics, I want you to look the homeless person in the eyes and tell them they’re wrong. Not for being homeless, not for defiling their body. But for owing themselves to a self state. You’re going to balk of course, the pauper was innocent! crushed under by the weight of the gears, years of schizophrenic transgression was too much for society to bear, let alone that pore, singular soul. The neoliberal state is a woolen cloak for the porous body exiled to the manicured eucalyptus stand cupping the shopping mall. In the night when the fog rolls in and the air is purely damp the cloak becomes a sponge, sopping wetting to the bone. You want to scream but it suffocates you and pours into your throat, so naturally you start swallowing. 

That’s a type of inscription. Self-inscription. We are all transmitting outward and inward, grasping the hole emphatically. Rimming it, so that as we draw nearer to the center it becomes pushed away just a bit further, squeezing the corpse for one last drop#. One more pulse rattle before bed. Towards what are we extending our neuroplasticity, however? Imagine a field of ravens with two young children playing in the center. Beyond them is a dry lake bed, alkali-rich mud, flowing lobes of black mud bed, or, they are in it but it also stretches beyond them. As each child dies proceeding the other, the ravens are stitching up the one beside.  It’s happening so rapidly that a jittery song starts to palpitate. That’s the space above them: a woolen tapestry of migrant corridos. So what you’re really seeing is the movement of the ravens casting about beneath the blanket, hopping and swooping their beaks low to the ground, then higher up, nice and snug, taut lines, tautological sutures. Because the song follows the dance there is complete believability to the narrative and when you’ve thought one line to be something persistent it’s already dissolved into the body, ingested plasticity.

What then of Metcalfe’s Law, as the number of users increases so does the value of the interface. Lines become circulatory, information aspirated. Screen breath redoubled in the informatics telecom strata, zombie planet encrusted with a stratum of algorithmic telemech, a smoldering infection of retro leather bike seats, concrete palaces, concrete ramps, concrete speeds, war speeds invisible flexibility. The zen of war empties the self in favor of the state: “ [if ordered to march]:  tramp, tramp and shoot: bang, bang.#” Act as a vehicle: drive.  In this moment of crystalline growth what does the ethernet amplify? The signal to noise cancellation costs are high; every spam email generates .3 grams of CO2. Of course you might say that’s merely a micro-industry tagging along for the ride, parasites are a natural organism in any system, more anti-bug ointments over the counter, respirators for your computer(s), “Oh, I just have Mac, I don’t worry about viruses, my partner and I don’t have problems like that.” Foxconn riot two months ago, see what kind of plabor that gets you.#
The signal to noise ratio becomes a matter of consumption and proliferation, decay and lustful procreation. As the propagation of informatics surges and Moore’s hyperbolic doubling enacts the humanization of the planet, the anthropocene aestheticizes a notion of the living corpse bound to itself and not, in fact, the rules of “nature”. We see then not a living corpse, however, but a living grave, the space of death and decay wholly annexed within culture. Death may only be seen as erasure without return. While the anthropocene does not exist as a radical motif outside a natural temporality, homo sapien’s fear of the night/void becomes transmuted into a frozen iterative articulation of the sign under which being consistently enfolds. There is only the synthetic glow of the present remaining.

Edgardo Aragón, Efectos de familia, PS1 MOMA




Efectos de familia (Family Effects,) 2007-9, was on display this summer at PS1, curated by Christopher L. Yew for its solo projects series. Edgardo Aragón's thirteen video sequences in the piece range from depicting acts of labor, endurance, and play to ritual, torment, and reenacted violence. Through short duration and unaffected actions the films casually portray biographical events surrounding Aragón's experience growing up in Oaxaca amidst drug violence and a suburban landscape. At the same time the narratives eloquently pass down a legacy of family history to his younger counterparts cast in the performances. We discussed in an interview his making of the films:


DM:  Este ciclo de videos enfoca en actos blandos los cuales pasan por la narrativa como sucesos en un tablero. La realidad es que la narrativa es derivada de tus experencias familiares. ¿Como llegaste en el uso del video para conectarlos y hacer un puente entre ellos?

EA: El uso del video es una herramienta, me interesaba sobre todo la accion, el performance de los personajes, el video ayuda a registrar la obra de una forma mas clara que la fotografia por ejemplo, hay una narrativa dentro de cada uno de ellos, son secuencias que estan narrando varias historias, era impresindible recurrir a este medio porque de otra forma hubiera resultado complicado hacer la estructura de la obra.

DM:  Este ritmo estructurado de los videos invita una lección sencilla de las escenas. Empiezan y terminan sin el movimiento de la camara. ¿Por qué recuentas las historias así?

EA:  Cuando hice los videos pensaba en tres cosas como regla, algunos serían con camara fija, otros con camara en mano y en plano secuencia, sin cortes, esto devido a que me interesa no agregar un comentario mas o una reflexion más alla de lo que sucede dentro de las acciones, llevarlo a un plano más cinematografico habría entorpecido de algún modo la lectura, son episodios pequeños vistos más como una coreografía que como un guión. El referente en estos trabajos de camara fija tienen la referencia de Vito Aconcci en sus acciones de los 70. Los videos con camara en mano están realizados así porque son eventos de indole documental, es decir, estos recrean eventos del pasado entonces la diferencia esta marcada por el sequimineto o acompañamiento de la accion, en este cas o es importante marcar la diferencia entre esos dos aspectos, entre los que son invenciones y los que provienen de un hecho pasado verifacable.

DM:  Unas de las escenas parecen tan abstractas que no ocurrirían exactamente. Pienso en la cual dos niños hacen un cuadro con espaldas por el suelo y tiran tierra al chavo en el medio. Tambien, en otra escena un niño vadea en una poza y se lava con jabón. ¿Hay elementos imaginarios que incluyes con la narrativa?

EA:  Por supuesto, la imaginación es importante, hay que recordar que la niñez se caracteriza por eso, por inventar con nada un mundo alterno, esos videos a los que refieres son en realidad ritos, inventados específicamente para que ellos los entiendan y aprendan. En algunos hablo del trabajo como tal, en otros de la fuerza bruta masculia de la violencia, al mismo tiempo de la purificacion de esa misma violencia contenida o desatada, ellos segun la narrativa de la obra estan aprendiendo a ser hombres, por lo tanto están sometidos a aprender de una o de otra forma con sus propias reglas.

DM: Si no se ha leido sobre los videos por adelantado todavía sería facil imaginarse que estás escribiendo un programa dentro de esas escena con sus proprios sucesos particulares. Paracen ocurrir como performance art. ¿En tus pensamientos existen las actos como simbólos o más como la historia material?

EA:  En efecto, el real fondo de la obra es performance art, es el objectivo inicial, así fue pensado el proyecto. El problema con la ejecución de los performances en vivo en alguna galeria o museo, radicaba en que no tendrís el contexto, el lugar que es donde yo jugaba cuando tenía esa edad. Pienso que la obra se comporta de una forma simbólica en su mayoria, hay algunos videos que no son tan simbólicos sino mas bien narrativos o metafóricos, es una combinación de muchas cosas, creo que si no están junto al menos tres de los videos la pieza carece un poco de sentido, es necesario que se acompañe de otros, es una narrativa que brinca de un capítulo a otro, como la novela Rayuela de Julio Cortazar, donde hay dos maneras de leerla una siguiendo la secuencia, y otra seguir un mapa que te guia por diferentes capítulos dentro del libro de modo que necesitas cada uno para entender la obra.

- -

DM:  This cycle of videos focuses on bland acts which pass through the narrative like events in a tableau. The reality is that the story is derived from your familiar experiences, however. How did you arrive at the use of video to connect them and make a bridge in between?

EA: The use of video is a tool, I was interested by all of the actions, the performance by the characters. Video helps register the work in a form more clearly than photography for example, there is a narrative inside of each one of them, they are sequences that are narrating various histories, it was essential to make use of this media because another form would have made the structure of the work too complicated.

DM: This structured rhythm of the videos invites a straightforward reading of the scenes. They begin and end with movement of the camera. Why do you recount the stories in this way?

EA: When I made the videos I thought of three things as rules, some would be with a fixed camera position, others with camera in hand, and in a sequence shot, without cutting; in this way I avoided adding greater commentary or a reflection more complex than that which occurs within the actions, bringing it to higher level of cinematography would have hindered the reading in some way, they are small episodes seen more as a choreography than a script. The referent in the works done with a fixed camera points towards Vito Aconcci’s actions during the ‘70’s. The videos with camera in hand are made this way because they are documentative events, that is to say those recreate events from the past, therefore, the difference is marked by the following or accompaniment of the action, in this case it’s important to note the difference between these two aspects, between those which are invented and those which proceed from a verifiable fact.




DM: Some of the scenes appear to be so abstract that they would not have occurred exactly in this way. I'm thinking of the one in which two boys make a square on the ground with shovels and throw dirt at the kid in the middle. Are there imaginary elements included in the narratives?

EA: Of course imagination is important, it’s necessary to remember that childhood is characterized by that, by inventing without anything an alternate world, those videos to which you refer are in reality rites, invented specifically so that the characters understand and learn from them, in some I talk about labor in this way, in others about masculine brute force, of violence, at the same time the purification of that same violence contained or unleased, following the story of the work they are learning to be men, therefore, they are subjected to learn from one form or another with its own particular guidelines.

DM:  If you haven't read about the videos in advance it would still be easy to imagine you writing a program inside of those scenes with their own particular events. They appear to occur like performance art. In your thoughts do the acts exist as symbols or more as a material history?

EA:  Really, the true source of the work is performance art, it’s the initial object, this is how the project was conceived. The problem with the execution of the performances live in some gallery or museum is you wouldn’t have the context to locate it, the place, which is where I played as a kid when I was that old. I think through its majority the work acts like a symbolic form, there are some videos that are not as symbolic but rather narrative or metaphorical, it’s a combination of many things, if at least three of the videos aren’t grouped together I believe the piece lacks a little feeling, it’s necessary that one accompanies the others, it’s a story that jumps from one chapter to the next, like the novel “Rayuela” by Julio Cortazar, where there are two ways of reading it, one following the plot and the other by following a map that guides you through different chapters inside the book, in either case you need each one to understand the work.

The exhibition, por amor a la disedencia, will be on view until January 13th, El Museo Universitario Contempáreno, Mexico City. Aragón's piece, Tinieblas, 2009, is on display.

Vermont Studio Center, Residency, February 2012






Fire burns; that is the first law.
When a wind fans it the flames

are carried abroad. Talk
fans the flames. They have

maneuvered it so that to write
is a fire and not only of the blood.

...
                  -W.C.W’s Paterson



      Originally, I though we might have to pack handfuls of snow into the radiator of Mary’s car to keep it from overheating as it started acting up in the hills above Bennington. We stopped there for the first time as co-resident, Mary Schwab, noticed the heater had gone out in her car. We assessed the situation coolly as a man pulled his own station wagon off the road ahead of us and marched back confidently to the open hood of our vehicle. Mary was running various contingency plans through her mind and phone so I stepped out to greet the tall Vermonter. We exchanged a few words as he approached before he stepped directly to the radiator cap which had been leaking steam minutes ago. He removed it, decided to check the reservoir also, and immediately discovered the unlikely residue of petroleum along it walls. Both of his daughters had Subaru’s; he’d seen it before: head gasket. The scenario was unclear but evidently grim and one of no clear direction to arriving in Brooklyn where Mary’s return to reality was waiting. The residency at VSC had unburdened us all of our daily routine, but by now it had come knocking sharply. I joked that we should contact Loren Tinsley Alliston who had arranged a truck and was headed to Yaddo with Ana Esteve Llorens. Getting Mary’s sculptures, computer, and life in general back to Carroll Gardens was becoming a growing concern. The unknown Vermonter filled the radiator with fluid and said to follow him as long as we could. It didn’t last, however, as he pulled off shortly towards North Adams. Our original plans to visit MassMoCA, there, on our return from the center had now become less a concern than making it out of the snowy mountains. We headed forward with success as a stream of texts poured in from residents taking the train into Manhattan or Connecticut. Uttica rest stop found us in good spirits, stopping to replenish the radiator and eat. In the bathroom I assumed the extent of my exhaustion had coalesced in hallucination as Loren appeared aside of me. Swearing in exacerbated surprise as I confirmed it was in fact he, I immediately felt bad for the young kid urinating next to me. We had converged randomly only to separate again after sharing consolations and images of the short time apart. It was another hour or so afterward that the real, near meltdowns began, at mile marker 68 to be exact. I walked alongside the freeway to determine which sign post we had come to as Mary telephoned AAA. Unable to secure the tow truck due either to the inexperience of the telephone agent or Mary’s hysterical conviction that I had been struck down by a passing car on my walk, we decided to rally to the next rest stop before admitting full defeat.



The climb up the range of Bear Mountain had drained the radiator again. And after yet another refill we pulled out, reluctant of the looming hills. Mary grew up near here in Paterson and moved further up into Oakland, New Jersey the last two years of high school. She spoke of William Carlos Williams’ epic poem and the Jackson Whites who populated the Ramapo Mountains. The first of Williams I had read came from In the American Grain, much of which informed my work with the Navajo tribe and their experience with uranium mining. Mary’s interest in the West had brought her through the diffuse belt of land art monuments, mines, and roadside attractions capable of stringing out an unparalleled road trip. She spoke of breaking into Roden Crater on the cusp of a flash flood having managed through topographic maps, Google applications, and all-wheel drive to narrow the list of craters northeast of Flagstaff. She and her travelling mate (either Thelma or Louise) encountered javelina and then a revealing perimeter fence just as a caravan of white service vehicles overcame them heading into the compound to escape the approaching storm. Rewarded for their perseverance they were escorted into the crater along with the team. I imagined Jen there among the captors, Turrell’s daughter who grew up with my friend Roy in Prescott, AZ. I, myself, spent two years in Flagstaff while beginning university. I recall driving north of town with a friend, Candy Tracey, to visit her family in Chinle. She was the first Navajo to tell me of the legacy of uranium mining within their nation. We drove through the night as she pointed out houses constructed of leftover ore from mining. Returning the same evening the memory remains as a sort of negative-positive image in my mind. A few years later I would work closely with Daniel Neztsosie, also Navajo, as a land surveyor in Phoenix. Daniel’s family was based in Cameron, northeast of Flagstaff on the way to Tuba City; his mother herded sheep in the hills near their home during his childhood. Unknowingly traveling from open pit mines which had collected rain water and served to provide her and her cattle with water, she was exposed to radiation during two of her pregnancies. Daniel lost two of his sisters as a result; Laurie passed in 2008 while my research project dealing with the issue was culminating. I remember vividly him calling me in New York to tell me and despite the project having cultivated multiple interviews with tribal members, I could never attempt to collect his deposition. Sadly, it’s not an uncommon story to pass down in a generation of Navajos cut off from grandfathers who worked in mines or mills crushing ore in places such as Mexican Hat, UT.


Mexican Hat Long Shot, 16"Hx85"L, archival print, 1/1, 2010.

I visited that site in 2008 and photographed one of the world’s largest landfills for radioactive by-products associated with the leaching process. Shaped roughly as an enormous trapezoid, the feature occupies a valley just east of Highway 8 if you're headed south from Mexican Hat towards Monument Valley. The grim irony of the structure à la found land art didn’t strike me until much later, originally considering the photographs and oral history interviews I was generating to be purely documentative. I couldn’t refrain from drawing parallels, however, from the opening of the West through various economic initiatives to the eventual annexing of space and raw material by New York galleries. This also comes at a time when Michael Heizer nears completion of his “Levitated Mass” at LACMA.



The brokers of the west, its landscapes replete with horizon and bloodied sunsets, knew well that fortune lie in wait. Originally in search of vanadium, a component of steel used increasingly during the manufacturing boom of WWI, speculators encountered abundant surface-level uranium ore on ancestral land of the Navajo, Hopi, and Hualapai tribes. After its formation in '46 The Atomic Energy Commission gave rise to legislation which opened all resources capable of preventing foreign supremacy to public domain. This gesture would have such long-term systemic impacts on the area that those responsible could not have imagined their legacy. Ultimately, tribes continue to battle claims to reinstate mining activities on their land as vast efforts remain to remediate contamination (see the recent New York Times article by Leslie Harris.)

The work I continued during my residency at the VSC sinks further into the remote territories of the West seen anew as the annexed countries of Latin America. Now in the advanced stages of capital circulation initiated by NAFTA, Special Economic Zones have sprouted up in countries such as El Salvador and Guatemala. Seen as a form of “Double Negative,” themselves, these zones produce a drain on rural settings along with their diffuse structuring of location. Almost through a process of distillation the factories reduce labor to a grotesque machinic energy, the concentration of which spans the hand and eye. What is the remainder of this drift from a decentered landscape? The flow of workers into the nowhere time and place of the SEZ’s has long been a part of my memory if I can venture to call it that. We toured a Siemen’s maquila operating in Juarez during a high school service trip in ‘98. Visiting under the guise of an economics class, we viewed first-hand the production of inexpensive electrical switches for which workers would be compensated 50 USD weekly. Our guide explained the necessity of such a wage as the natural condition for a class of people too uncivilized to earn more. Presently, I’m concerned with employing similar individuals, women affected by the garment industry, in production of an installation documenting the collective migrations of those individuals. The overall means of production will take my own process of drawing into a directed relationship. As a combined approach the installation will advance the pierced line work of my two-dimensional pieces into an environmental framework.


untitled. 15"Hx20"W, acrylic on archival rag paper, 2009.

The pierced line drawings go back to 2008 while I was living in Brooklyn and interning for The Drawing Center. Exhibitions by Elanor Mikus and Zoe Keramea had a substantial influence on my questioning of the material nature of drawing. Incorporating this, the pierced line became a both an absence and recorded movement on paper. Over time the works have cultivated both a filiation to productive systems and the body's relative proximity in general. Through the incorporation of others into the performance, the project will push further towards a collective memory of negation. More specifically as a platform of gender labor advocacy the networked signifance becomes grounded and complex. The direct and long term means of compensating the eventual participants remains unclear, meanwhile, and will fundamentally direct interpretation of the artwork. Just as importantly, and unresolved for the time being, will be the means by which the artwork records the personal narratives of the participating individuals. Its original conception foresaw a portrait book series documenting the workers. This now falls short of the project’s ideal capacity to render haptic the flow of people and materials into the void of the SEZ’s. The potential to integrate a sort of topographic modeling of the migration has become the next iteration of the project’s structuring. Not without pure chance, the advancement of the pierced line in my abstracted works towards one of a hovering geographic vector underscores this direction. A cross-over to web or digital media may eventually allow for dissemination of installation formatted materials generated by the complex labor arrangement. Following that configuration, what long-term platforms may emerge to cyclically draw attention and perhaps financial support to the assembled participants?


untitled, installation shot, dimensions variable, steel and acrylic on archival rag paper, Vermont Studio Center, 2012.





Host and Factory; Cuidad Juarez, Chihuahua, 1998


Our trip to Juarez in high school was meant to facilitate most generally a sense of Christian service; I can’t fully recall my own expectations, however, for going there. I grew up in a Hispanic community in Phoenix and spent a considerable amount of time in various parts of Mexico. As president then for the social action group participating in the trip, it seemed a natural thing to do. At that time in ‘98 the greatest danger in Juarez was being being one of the many females in an anonymous class of economic refugees. I suppose the Jesuits running our Catholic prep school thought it safe enough for us to go and look around. We visited a number of foundations operating along the border: a political asylum with Nigerian aliens, a women’s shelter, and a church inside the colonias on the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez. The most memorable exchange, however, brought us inside a Siemen’s maquila under the guise of an economics class, studying the flow of goods across the border. Seperate from the tour but altogether poignant was a lunch hosted by a family living in the colonias. Beyond humbling the moment was further intensified through our first-hand experience of the severity of their working conditions. The manner in which they were viewed by their employers drastically explicated the adversity of their plight. I remember quite well the setting of their home as you would recall that of a close relative who although related by blood occupies a very different walk of life.

After returning to Phoenix our group worked together to reconstruct a “casa de carton,” indicative of the living conditions we encountered. While the attempt felt mild in certain ways to redirect others to the profound destitution of their situation, the effort was not far from my present concerns as an artist. My sense of form and labor in the context of art making stems from the same margins of region and trauma encountered by the individual. The notions of space and occupation performed by the body in general centralize my work. In her book, “The Body as Material Culture: A Theoretical Osteoarcheaology,” Joanna Sofaer writes, ”Furthermore, the divide between the living body as cultural and the skeletal body as natural cannot be sustained as bodies will always be both...”[1] Looking back to the maquiladores, I see a torn condition, ramified in the experience of these dual mechanisms of identity. My work as an artist in this regard seeks a material investigation activated both by ethnicity and technological imperative. Ethnicity in this sense culminates through the numerous facets of identity associated with the body. In many ways I’m curious of the role the artist plays as host to both spectator and setting in this described context. How the artwork facilitates an extension of the spectator body reveals the complex instability of identity.

1. Sofaer, Joanna R. The Body as Material Culture: A Theoretical Osteoarchaeology. New York, Cambridge University Press. 2006. Print.


27th Avenue Transfer Station, Christmas, 2011

Ever since a young age my trips to the city landfill have been exciting. Its a relatively short drive by modest terms from the house where I grew up, a straight shot north along 19th Avenue to Lower Buckeye and a mile west to 27th Ave. This location is roughly south Phoenix, although more particularly it occupies a larger industrial belt south of Interstate 17's dogleg, southwest of downtown Phoenix. If you were headed away from downtown along 19th Ave once crossing Lower Buckeye, the north border of the 27th Avenune landfill, you would pass along an open stretch of land about a half-mile in length on the east edge of the broad thoroughfare. This was also an active landfill up until the early eighties. In 1979, a flood of the Salt River caused multiple systemic problems to the waste site as it sits directly against the river and spans both its north and south banks. The location was identified by the EPA as a National Priority in '83 and remedial action began six years later. Coincidentally, a leech pond in Churchrock, NM also failed in '79, spreading 94 million gallons of uranium tailings waste (reports indicate it as the largest low-level nuclear release in the U.S.) I visited that site in 2008 while researching uranium mining on the Navajo Nation. It's interesting that a Superfund site was also being created by flooding, just miles from my own home. The 19th Ave Landfill site, however, was removed from that status in 2006 after its remediation was completed in 1997 and two, 5-year cycles of evaluation. Currently gas generated by the remaining debris is processed and ground water monitored for contamination.

Both locations have long-since entered into the somewhat magical history of my childhood memories of the city and its infrastructure. Today, waiting in line to unload I snapped this photo of two mirrors, perhaps salvaged from disaster; this event is generally looked down up if not discouraged altogether. The adage, "One man's trash...." could easily bring the entire operation to a stand-still. The text, not uncommon to Christmas or the predominantly Hispanic community which thrives in south Phoenix, went unnoticed until I reviewed the captured image. It's interesting that the statement is written in English given that Spanish is spoken both by the itinerant workers outside the landfill, waiting for a quick job, and the employees within the staging area running the show. The commonality of the city landfill has always attracted me although, admittedly, as a child the roving machinery and vulnerable excitement of the adventure were more apparent. Its constant hive of activities, both human and microbic, make for an interesting anthropological portrait. As a site it seems as necessary of evolution and initiative as our classrooms and bureaus.

11mins. Narrative rezRadio

This project began with my interest in uranium mining on the Navajo Nation. Uranium was extracted from the region in support of nuclear weaponry for the Cold War. Unknowingly playing a lead role, Navajos have inherited three decades of environmental devastation. After conducting oral history interviews and photographically documenting the area I created a website for the compiled materials: http://www.turbinesongs.net/. While traveling throughout the area, however, I became interested in the diffuse and wandering broadcasts from tribal radio. They seemed to echo the surreal impact mining has left behind in its wake. I recorded excerpts of the radio programs and later edited them together in the form of an audio collage. Working with solar energy I hope to project the reconfigured audio through an outdoor installation. The proposed location for this installation is Wendover, Utah. The Center for Land Use Interpretation is sponsoring a residency there to explore the project’s configuration. The area contains a decommissioned military base along with a number of facilities related to mining and nuclear production. By introducing the audio collage to the space of Wendover the project will engage technology and social investigation through a hybrid landscape. Please activate the quick-time application below to hear a condensed version of the audio.

South Base, Wendover Airfield


Temporary installation of a solar-powered audio system in South Base. The site is a waste pile near the original buildings used in the construction of "Little Boy" and "Fat Man". Click the image for an expanded version.

Germ-Line Mutation



One full sequencing of the broadest components. The idea is scanning the Southwest, its regional inhabitants seen as they collide with surmounting economic and technological forces. Cultural identity folds in the collision as religious and secular traditions become permeated by foreign matter. The insertion of vast technological directives results in germ-line mutations. These newly formed biological components carry the genetic coding of the parent organism along with new, heteromorphic data. As a carriage system the individual acts as the armature for entropic forces, rupturing the lines of existing social parameters. In the case of the recorded participants these initiatives remained highly determinant. Familial relationships were most impacted by the forces surrounding uranium mining; secondary mutations progressed through this domain. Initially, lexical morphology was most expected, wherein the evolution of word forms was triggered by radical shifts in the environment. Despite the suffocation and isolation of the region there was also corresponding emergence of community and native bilingualism. This overlap of emergent languages to accommodate old suggests an equally fragmenting push on the individual as new forms strive to exist within the native model. While a polarity between social initiatives and root language may eventually find constructive outlet, there is nonetheless an elemental shift occurring. As the shift proliferates its circular dispersal widens, connecting more individuals with an oppositional stratum. Its manipulated territory lies in contrast to the traditional, homogenizing tendencies found in cultural performance. In place of communal participation, emergent forms are so altering as to rend social fabric.

Wendover (New Backyard)



Wendover, Enola Gay Hanger Seen from CLUI Residence Building (Tower View)

In the expanded version of the photograph you can see a perimeter fence that surrounds the residence building yard, something which is a new addition as I was told by Steven and Jen. They met me the night of my arrival at the Salt Flats Cafe as my official liaisons to the center. At night you could feel the emptiness surrounding the cafe east of town about a mile. I imagined the truck stop sitting on the edge of the white expanse. We stayed a few nights together at the Residence Support Unit while they prepared to continue on their way back to Minneapolis. The following day I took these pictures from a tower, located in the yard of my building, watching as the massive cold front passed through. It was interesting to hear that previously you could walk directly to the hanger.

The runway, photographed middle above, is still active, bringing in gamblers from other states for whirlwind weekends amidst the nowhere space of Wendover. The small-time casinos on the Nevada side are just a half-mile or so from the base. Beyond the air strip itself lies more original architecture, notably the workshop for "Little Boy" and a simulated tower used in the filming of Con Air. I'm particularly interested in the "igloos", faintly visible on the horizon looking south beyond the runway. Each functioned originally as a munitions cache but are now leased out individually. Their height only reaches two stories or so, but what's impressive is the soil bladed over their tops. They appear like fairly natural although disproportioned hills. On South Base there is an area between the eight rows of "igloos" that, while facing east, occupies the periphery of your sight in a repeating interval running towards the flats.

Plateau to the Great Basin






Audio- 11 Minutes Narrative (Cold War Eulogy)

Circular base with coal

Army corps photos well water study

Black Mesa Chapter House

Shed Enclosure with printed interweaving (2d KTNN)

T-shirt and wall display series (Model Navajo and nuclear reactor)
Project Description:

This project began with my interest in uranium mining on the Navajo Nation. Uranium was extracted from the region in support of nuclear weaponry for the Cold War. Unknowingly playing a lead role, Navajos have inherited three decades of environmental devastation. After conducting oral history interviews and photographically documenting the area I created a website for the compiled materials:
http://www.turbinesongs.net/. While traveling throughout the area, however, I became interested in the diffuse and wandering broadcasts from tribal radio. They seemed to echo the surreal impact mining has left behind in its wake. I recorded excerpts of the radio programs and later edited them together in the form of an audio collage. Working with solar energy I hope to project the reconfigured audio through an outdoor installation. The proposed location for this installation is Wendover, Utah. The Center for Land Use Interpretation is sponsoring a residency there to explore the project’s configuration. The area contains a decommissioned military base along with a number of facilities related to mining and nuclear production. By introducing the audio collage to the space of Wendover the project will engage technology and social investigation through a hybrid landscape. Please activate the quick-time application below to hear a condensed version of the audio.

Sculpture Design Proposal


Audio Tower Schematic


click image for enlarged version