Ancient Structures

“In 1886, the French Orientalist and academic artist Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904) painted The First Kiss of the Sun, a serene early morning view of Giza from the east. In it, Ra’s rays have set aglow only the peaks of the pyramids of Khufu and Khafre, and the sun is not yet high enough to illuminate the shorter pyramid of Menkaure nor the squat sphinx of Khafre, whose head emerges from the mist in the center of the picture. Three camels mellow in the foreground, their positions mimicking the triad of skyward thrusting tombs beyond. It had been six years since Gérôme’s final trip to the Nile River Valley, but in working in the comfort of his Paris studio from a sketch made on site, he conveyed in startling coloristic chiaroscuro the way the rising sun’s rays reveal the ancient structures from the top down against the brightening sky. Gérôme gave a whitish cast to the apexes of the larger pyramids, although then as now only Khafre’s, the central and tallest one, still retains traces of the gleaming buffed limestone veneer that in the Old Kingdom would have covered all four sides of these ancient monuments.

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“Gérôme’s travels in Egypt were critical to his understanding of these wonders of the ancient world. He had to witness them in the light of dawn to better understand their power. It is the intersection between nature’s cycles and human presence that such monuments catalyze: they better connect us to our environment. They heighten our awareness, drawing us out of a focus on ourselves, and help us to define our lives and lifespans against infinite time. The Land Art of Walter De Maria (1935-2013) can be regarded as a contemporary crystallization of these ideas, inspiring equal parts unease and elation. But unlike The First Kiss of the Sun, they are not inert: they demand and repay the viewer’s personal presence and concerted focus. The intimate experience of his projects and the way that De Maria insisted that you must take only the visual and visceral experiences away with you is consistent in all his work. It may seem strangely controlling, but it is the only way to connect with artworks more often encountered via reproduction.

“It was at quarter to seven in the morning at around 7,150 feet above sea level in the desert somewhere near Pie Town that we first saw the top edge of the sun above the eastern ridge behind De Maria’s monumental outdoor sculpture. Seconds before, as in the effect in Gérôme’s 131-year-old painting, the stainless steel tips of the easternmost of the four hundred rods installed in a one mile by one kilometer grid in the summer and autumn of 1977 had begun to glow. At between fifteen and twenty-five feet high, they were earlier witnesses to the light of our nearest star. We swiveled around to see all the pole points beginning to shine. In the three minutes it took for the sun to fully reveal itself, each shaft stirred to gilded life, and the poles, the majority of which had been invisible in the crisp and eerily silent early dawn, now spread across the plane before us like golden light-saber beams emitting from the scruffy earth. The poles, like the Great Pyramids, are the conduits for an experience that links sky and land, light and form, human endeavor and endless time. The pyramid of Khafre is some 4,549 years old. The Lightning Field just turned forty…”

Text: Walter De Maria and The Lightning Field at Forty: Art as Symbiosis, The Brooklyn Rail. 

Image: Jean-Léon Gérôme, The First Kiss of the Sun, c. 1886.

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“That was kind of weird”

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“The harsh winter storm had passed. In its aftermath, parts of the airport were overloaded, jammed with planes that had been kept on the ground during the storm. But screens showed bright yellow airplane icons — incoming flights — approaching, with many more on the way.

“One by one they landed. Unused runways became parking lots, with planes waiting for gates.

“And still they kept coming. Hours and hours passed.

It was the failure to stop them, experts said, that turned a chaotic but manageable winter-storm episode into an airport delay for the ages.

“It was the international terminals that were hit hardest, forcing the Port Authority to finally shut down two of them to incoming flights until their occupants could undo the messy knot outside and within.

“A rolling cascade of emergencies brought about by human error and winter weather led to the nightmarish long weekend, as thousands of travelers from around the world found themselves trapped. And that was before frigid water from a burst pipe began raining from a ceiling in Terminal 4, pooling amid the luggage of the stranded.

“Virtually no foreign airline canceled any flights into J.F.K.” on Thursday, said Jason Rabinowitz, a freelance aviation blogger who tracked the cascading pileup as it played out. “They all launched their aircraft, but by the time they got halfway over the Atlantic, they found out they couldn’t land at J.F.K.”

“[…] Iberia Flight 6253,  got halfway to New York from Madrid before making a U-turn and going back to Spain: an eight-hour fight to nowhere. Norwegian Air Flight 7019 made a similar journey Thursday night en route to New York from France. “That was kind of weird,” said Mona Bismuth, 27, a passenger. “We turned around at the southern tip of Greenland.” A passenger on a different flight was sent back to Moscow — twice — because of what was happening in New York.

Inside Terminal 4, a line of hungry men, women and children like something from a Depression-era newsreel formed outside a Dunkin’ Donuts stand.

“There were queues and queues of people going nowhere,” said Mike Bedigan, 22, of Britain. “People didn’t know what it was they were queuing for.”

“Outside was no different, as arriving flights were forced to sit idle on the runways. “We were, like, in a weird little no-go zone,” said Ms. Bismuth, after her Norwegian flight from France eventually arrived in New York after having made a U-turn back to Paris. “The crew was exhausted. We were exhausted.”

“Another passenger, Eliott Ozeel, 25, landed at Kennedy from France at 10:30 p.m. on Friday. He fell asleep while his plane sat on the tarmac, only to wake with the dawn more than six hours later, still there…”

Text: At J.F.K. Airport, the Planes Just Wouldn’t Stop Coming, New York Times 

Pic: Warm Bodies, 2013.

Spiral Jedi

“This is a short mash up my friend Teddy Gage digitally altered for me. It is a snipet of footage taken from Robert Smithson’s film Spiral Jetty. I asked Teddy to “Star Wars Kid” it for me. Just as the original footage of a kid caught on video goofing around with a broomstick was altered by countless anonymous animators by added light sabers effects, Teddy has inserted a light saber into Smithson’s hand” – John Powers.

The Obvious

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“It is the obvious which is so difficult to see most of the time. People say ‘It’s as plain as the nose on your face.’ But how much of the nose on your face can you see, unless someone holds a mirror up to you?”
― Isaac Asimov, I, Robot

Pic: Bill E. Lytton, Red Telephone Box, from the series London Tourism, 2012. Created by layering thousands of tourist photos of typical London sites.

“C’mon, Dave, get back; we gotta load up.”

“On July 30, 1971, the Lunar Module touched down on moon’s Hadley-Apennine region, between a meandering gulley and a range of steep mountains. With Al Worden orbiting overhead, Scott and Irwin spent three days on the surface. During that time, Scott toured around in the never-before-used lunar rover; he describes himself as “the first licensed driver on the moon.”

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“His time on the surface was nearly finished before Scott managed to squeeze in a brief Fallen Astronaut ceremony. “I was going to drive the rover out, set up a TV camera to watch the liftoff, put down the little astronaut and the plaque, and take a photo,” he says. “On Apollo 15 we took over 1,100 photos on the surface of the moon, and all those are without any rangefinder or light meter. So that was another part of setting up the Fallen Astronaut: making sure I got a good photo of it, because nobody knew about it.”

Finally Scott found his moment, and he wanted to keep it private. Irwin distracted Mission Control in Houston with inane chatter while Scott took a few bounding steps north from the lunar rover and made Fallen Astronaut a citizen of the moon.

“He pulled Fallen Astronaut from his oversize pocket, placed it directly on the moon dust, and nestled the memorial plaque next to it. A spiritual man who keeps his faith private, Scott treated the dedication of Fallen Astronaut as a wordless funeral service. And a short one. “There was a big checklist to take care of first,” he says. “We had to stow all the rock samples and the cell samples, and there’s a lot of procedures you have to go through before you get in and close the hatch for the last time. So it was a brief moment, then Jim [Irwin] said, ‘C’mon, Dave, get back; we gotta load up.’ ”

Text & Pic: The Sculpture On The Moon, Slate.

 

“The alien, the industrial & the natural…”

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“In Dan Holdsworth’s latest series Transmission: New Remote Earth Views, he appropriates topographical data to document the ideologically and politically loaded spaces of the American West in an entirely new way. In his images of the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Mount Shasta, Mount St. Helens, Salt Lake City and Park City, we see stark, uninterrupted terrains where meaning is made through what it is absent, as much as what is seen. What at first appears to be a pure white snow-capped mountain is in fact a digitally rendered laser scan of the earth appropriated from United States Geological Survey data, a ‘terrain model’ used to measure climate and land change – to measure man’s effect on the earth. Belying his empirical methodology is the fact that each of these terrains has a rich and conflicting cultural legacy. Beginning with the idealised aesthetic of the Romantic sublime via the deadpan industrial frames of the New Topographics photographers a century later, each has been subject to the gaze of artistic, political, and sociological categories claiming this territory as their own. Extending ideas of the frontier and seeing anew, Transmission captures the world as if from space, functioning not only as a map of the land but as a mapping of the discourses that these lands have come to represent. Working outside of the wilderness myths that render the images from the photographic avant-garde the ‘after’ to nineteenth-century visions of Carlton Watkins’ ‘before’, Holdsworth opens up a working territory that is open to the ambiguous and ethereal, oscillating between realms of art and science, the familiar and the alien, the industrial and the natural…”

Text & Pic: Dan Holdsworth, Transmission: New Remote Earths, 2012.

Internal Logic

 

“At Kelly Richardson’s show ‘Legion’ at the NGCA in Sunderland we are presented with a number of major landscape works. Very quickly we become aware that these worlds operate under their own internal logic. For example in works such as ‘Exiles of the Shattered Star’ (2006) meteors fall from the sky like rain. In ‘The Erudition’ (2010) we are presented with a lunar-like landscape; across the terrain holographic trees flicker into and out of life. In this piece time seems to be elastic, the landscape is primordial (as it is elsewhere in the show) but the trees specifically suggest an unrealised future. Is there no such thing as a ‘real’ tree in this world’ Is it impossible to grow here’ If artists are generous in their visions then this is where the facade of Godlikeness will fade. It is the space that they leave for us where we can begin to add our own readings of what is going on. The strength of Richardson’s work is that the reasoning is left up to us….”

“Richardson continues these ideas in her major new commission ‘Mariner 9’ (2012) currently on display at Whitley Bay’s historic Spanish City Dome. This stunning 12 metre-long panoramic installation, depicts a dark vision of Mars. Here we find the landscape littered with the detritus, or more like, the dying, prostate bodies of previous explorer craft, twitching in their last moments of life. Presumably the current probe, ‘Curiosity’ will join this ‘elephants’ graveyard’ of human exploration. Again there is no reason given for the demise of these machines; it is up to us to decide if it was a Martian fight-back or a failed attempted at colonisation of the red planet. In a sense these attempted explorations, the desire to extend human knowledge (and therefore power), are Godlike attempts to capture information – to become all-knowing. But as Kelly suggests in this work, we are not gods; we are human, weak, full of hubris. But here, where the facade and the attempt to control our world falls away, it leaves a space for the unknown or unplanned to emerge.”

Text: James Smith, Mariner 9 and Legion by Kelly Richardson, This Is Tomorrow.

Pic: Kelly Richardson Mariner 9