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The history of collaboration between scientists and artists is long and deep. This public domain image of a Pleistocene landscape (from the USGS Annual Report of 1885) is the result of a collaboration between artist H. H. Nichols and geologist G. K. Gilbert.
Another example of an artist/geologist collaboration is the seminal Geological history of Lake Lahontan by Israel Cook Russell, 1885 (available for download on Google Books). Artist W J McGee accompanied Russell on his USGS supported field trip to study Lake Lahontan in the late 1800’s.
One contemporary example of scientist/artist collaboration that also responds to a Pleistocene landscape is Chris Drury’s Life in the Field of Death I. This work offers the public a new way of experiencing the complex and varied Pleistocene landscape of the Nevada Test Site (NTS). It breaks from the long and significant practice of scientific illustration. Yet, the resulting image-sensation only could have been generated through a collaboration between an artist and a scientist.
Lynn F. Fenstermaker, a scientist with the Desert Research Intitute (DRI) who recently collaborated with artist Chris Drury, writes in “From Finger Paint to Frenchman Flat: A Scientist Reflects” in Chris Drury: Mushroom | Clouds, Chicago: Center for American Places, U. of Chicago Press, 2009 (available for pre-order through the Nevada Museum of Art’s Store by emailing Jackie.Clay@nevadaart.org):
“His art provides an alternate way of thinking about the environment and viewing the patterns in nature as well as the impacts of human interaction with the environment on all spatial scales. While I examine spatial, temporal and spectral patterns in nature as part of my research, I have done so purely as a scientist and have not previously thought about how these patterns might be interpreted as art. I was also told that Drury was interested in soil microorganisms on the Nevada Test Site (NTS) and wanted to link the micro scale with the macro scale. Although I have not specifically studied soil microorganisms, they are a component of the bigger picture I have been studying at our climate change facilities located on the NTS. While the NTS was used extensively for nuclear testing, it still contains large tracts of pristine habitats and various research programs, such as our climate change study.“
See Nevada Museum of Art’s Center for Art + Environment for more information on artist/scientist collaborations.
FOP also has an interest in collaborating with scientists. But rather than illustrating scientific concepts, FOP activates aesthetic experience to open new ways of living in geologic time. We do this by inventing speculative tools for exploring the Pleistocene.
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Strandlines of Pleistocene Lake Lahontan. Now existing within the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation, NV
strand·line (strand′līn′) noun
a shoreline, esp. a former one from which the water has receded.
The simplicity of a line. Strandline as a form of geologic literature. The elusiveness of liquids. Shape-shifters. Hundreds of feet of water have drawn back and left their mark.
Two forces in contact, rock and water. A message has been written by the medium of time, drawn ever more distinct over thousands of years. Lapping becomes carving as a lake etches out its signal.
The earth is talking to us through these lines. Sending messages from a geologic epoch before ours. The strandlines are like a message in a bottle. Though we can’t hold the lines in our hands we can touch and “read” them. Once you start to look for them they appear everywhere. Their voices become louder. Physical, non-verbal communication via receded shoreline. One must access other layers of self and place to imagine these landscapes and sense their coexistence with the present.
To imaginatively inhabit the space and time of these ancient lakes, cognition must slip into dream-time. Discover the pleasure of happily sinking deeper. Setting sail to far away spaces and times. Finding solace in the quiet depths of forgotten inland seas.
These histories lap at the shores of present realities. They imbue the contemporary world with fantastical visions. Vast past meets present with all the spaces between chiming in.
It is an act of time travel to make contact with the strandlines. They are links to a deeply magical and mysterious past.
Pleistocene Lake Russell’s strandline obscured by the forest surrounding Mono Lake in 2009. Lake Russell once rose 130 meters above Mono Lake’s current water level.
A Bonneville etch. The strandline greets travelers arriving off I-80 as they enter the gambling town of Wendover UT/West Wendover NV
All photos in this post: Jamie Kruse 2009
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What if it was possible for humans to guide their own cognitive evolution in ways that other animals can not?
If we embraced the idea that we are indeed agents in our own cognitive evolution what might become possible? What do we wish we could finally get our minds around? Where would these new ways of thinking take us? Would we attempt to witness and activate our own transformative evolution on a cellular level? What would happen if we tipped our cognitive pathways towards deep geologic time? Towards a way of living that completely re-orients who we are in relation to the planet as a geologic force. It sounds a bit like a Ballard novel, but instead of reverting back to previous geologic times, such as the Jurassic of The Drowned World, we could also imagine forward, towards new epochs and who we might become as a species 10,000, 100,000 or even a million years from now.
Perhaps our evolution as a species isn’t about superficially “going green” or self-referential (self-comforting) lifestyle changes. What if we began to imagine and actually embody completely new ways of relating to the earth as a dynamic force that far exceeds us. What if the stepping off point for our efforts to “understand” and move in accord with the earth’s forces was a keenly felt sense of the reality of deep time? Friends of the Pleistocene is an attempt to create just such a starting place.
This Thursday FOP will be attending Cabinet Magazine’s The Art of Teaching at the organization’s Brooklyn space. Perhaps this event will generate additional insights to these ideas. We’ll report back if so.
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In the spring of 2010, Friends of the Pleistocene will focus on the Pleistocene Lakes of Utah for a project entitled BELOW THE LINE. For this project we will conduct research and design speculative tools for exploring and dynamically knowing ancient Lake Bonneville.
We are interested in creatively responding to the specific geomorphology of Pleistocene Lake Bonneville and the land uses that it makes possible. For example: Dry Pleistocene lakebeds create flat playas that make convenient bombing ranges and runways. Much military training is sited upon, and facilitated by, landscapes shaped by the Pleistocene.
“Military interest in playas has increased in the nuclear and rocket age. The world’s first atomic detonation, Trinity, occurred along the shoreline of a Pleistocene lake and modern playa near San Antonio, New Mexico. The bomber crew of the Enola Gay, the Hiroshima delivery B-29, trained at Wendover, Utah, adjacent to the Bonneville Salt Flats. Frenchman Flat and Yucca Flat are playas at the Nevada Test Site and were ground zero for several early above-ground atomic tests. Lop Nor, the site of some Chinese nuclear testing, is also a playa. Rocket testing at the White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico routinely involves flights of Pleistocene Lakes Otero and Trinity, adjacent playas, and sometimes into targets located on several other lakebeds“- From Military Geology in War and Peace, 1998
We will collect artifacts, design and make poetic objects, and produce graphic communication (newsprints, booklets, field guides, diary-maps). We will offer these as speculative tools for exploring and generating dynamic ways of knowing how Pleistocene landscapes and materials shape daily human life and experiences in the present, in the deep past and in possible deep futures. Friends of the Pleistocene will invite audiences to creatively appropriate these tools.
Our project will take place at the Center for Land Use Interpretation’s Wendover Complex on the Utah-Nevada border. We will use the journey form to explore and creatively respond to what happens when humans go out into the landscapes of Lake Bonneville prepared to greet the Pleistocene in/from 2010. We will travel the geologic lake line from Wendover to Bonneville salt flats, Utah Lake, Oquirrh Mountains, Sevier Lake, and Antelope Island. As we trace the ancient lake’s strandline, we will study, document, and creatively respond to how humans have used Pleistocene-shaped landforms and environments.