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.
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.