Unreal Nature

August 18, 2012

This Is Not a Passive Form of Love

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:08 am

… The world lies ahead. Anything could be ahead. At the front is the narrator, off to the side of the big picture window of where we are going. The narrator’s job is to be the matrix that holds the parts together, providing continuity, thematic structure, and consistency to the experience. The narrator must set people at ease so that their defenses are down and they are ready to absorb, and to prepare fertile ground that allows for the growth of new ideas. But the narrator is not the subject, only a medium, a shaman. The point is the thing pointed out, not the pointer. And people shouldn’t be too comfortable, as the purpose of the journey is not recreation, but inspiration. To keep things exciting, we have to all be in the same experimental boat of possibility, and people should be on the edge, ready to jump. It is research.

That, above, is from an essay, ‘The Bus Tour as Inverted Vitrine: Engaging with the Material Culture of the Museum of the American Land’ by Matthew Coolidge in the catalogue to the traveling exhibition Experimental Geography: Radical Approaches to Landscape, Cartography, and Urbanism (2008). Continuing from later in the same essay:

… Unlike most museums though, where the artifacts are insulated from direct contact by glass cases, or the established safe-distance for people from pictures on the wall is monitored by watchful guards, the museum of land allows for full contact and immersion with the subject. In the American Land Museum, not only can you touch the artifacts, you can be in them and on them. You can be surrounded by them, enter their spaces, ingest their dander and odor. This receptive exchange is the final and deepest link in connecting people to experience. Once you have been there, you have done that. It stays.

The next is from another essay ‘Experimental Geography: From Cultural Production to the Production of Space’ by Trevor Paglen in the same catalogue:

… Geography is a curiously and powerfully transdisciplinary discipline. In any given geography department, one is likely to find people studying everything from the pre-Holocene atmospheric chemistry of northern Greenland to the effects of sovereign wealth funds on Hong Kong real estate markets, and from methyl chloride emissions in coastal salt marshes to the racial politics of nineteenth-century California labor movements. In the postwar United States, university officials routinely equated the discipline’s lack of systematic methodological and discursive norms with a lack of seriousness and rigor, a perception that led to  numerous departments being closed for lack of institutional support. The end of geography at Harvard was typical of what happened in the field: university officials shut down its geography department in 1948 as CUNY geographer Neil Smith tells it, after being flummoxed by their “inability to extract a clear definition of the subject, to grasp the substance of geography, or to determine its boundaries with other disciplines.” The academic brass “saw the field as hopelessly amorphous.” But this “hopeless amorphousness” is, in fact, the discipline’s greatest strength.

… Contemporary geography’s theoretical and methodological axioms don’t have to stay within any disciplinary boundaries whatsoever (a source of much confusion at Harvard back in the mid-1940s). One can apply them to just about anything. Just as physical geographers implicitly use the idea of the production of space when they inquire into the relationship between human carbon emissions and receding Antarctic ice shelves, or when human geographers investigate the relationships between tourism on Tanzanian nature preserves, geography’s axioms can guide all sorts of practice and inquiry, including art and culture.

… Instead of asking “What is art?” or “Is this art successful?” a good geographer might ask questions along the lines of “How is this space called ‘art’ produced?”

This next is the artist’s statement of Ilana Halperin in the same catalogue:

Please explain this impulse to me — attempting physical contact with geological time.

Recently, I have been spending time in the “oddities” drawer of the geology department at the Manchester Museum. In it, I came upon a very fine collection from Mount Vesuvius of lava medallions — magma pressed between forged steel plates to form an imprint. Imagine a waffle iron that makes use of lava instead of pancake batter. In the same drawer, a small stone relief sculpture which appeared to be carved out of pure white alabaster was in fact revealed to be a limestone cast made through the same process that forms stalactites in a cave — the residue of a high-velocity calcifying process.

I have been thinking about physical geological time — the fast moving lava flow vs. slow time inside a cave. The impulse to understand geothermal water through boiling milk in a 100 degree Celsius sulphur spring in the crater of an active volcano.

Ilana Halperin, Boiling Milk (Solfataras), 2000

I spoke with a paleontologist who told me a fossil is the presentation of the moment of death, that trace fossils record an action — eating or walking, but not the organism itself.

Jim said to me, a volcano buries itself. It perpetually erases its own history.

A volcanologist explained the nature of love to me. He said, you love what you get to know, what you pay attention to and therefore become more aware of. This is not a passive form of love.

This is how I feel about the volcano.




  1. > …‘The Bus Tour as Inverted Vitrine’…

    As an elephant pain in the derrière,I am unable to resist pondering on how this post relates to your previous “” Waiting for the Bus” of 6th June 2008…

    Comment by Felix — August 18, 2012 @ 9:07 am

  2. It’s a trick. He tries to get me to think that the bus (or “vitrine” — such a lovely word, compared to BUS) is one with the land: ” … creating a museum atmosphere inside the bus bubble, and taking it out to the land. The bus is the vitrine (and the tourists are part of the subject, too). ”

    That last parenthetical bit doesn’t work until one has been de-bubbled, de-bused or de-vitrined.

    Comment by unrealnature — August 19, 2012 @ 7:21 am

  3. Or … (an alternate view, to which I — of course — parenthetically incline) … not a trick but true magic which doesn’t work unless and until one has been vitrined?

    Comment by Felix — August 19, 2012 @ 6:08 pm

  4. [tweety bird momentarily seems tempted by the diabolical machinations of putty tat] ………. nah ….. you’re just trying to give me vitrine-envy.

    Comment by unrealnature — August 19, 2012 @ 7:36 pm

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