Neither here nor there: Eyjafjallajokull ushers in an Era of Erratics
04.22.2010, 4:21 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

a traditionally erratic scene, image, FOP 2010

We, along with thousands of others, had become contemporary erratics, transported immense distances from our places of origin, set down firmly, apparently never to move again. –FOP

1. irregular in performance, behaviour, or attitude; inconsistent and unpredictable
2. having no fixed or regular course; wandering
1. (Earth Sciences / Geological Science) a piece of rock that differs in composition, shape, etc., from the rock surrounding it, having been transported from its place of origin, esp by glacial action
2. an erratic person or thing
[from Latin errāticus, from errāre to wander, err]
erratically adv

Geologic force has become vividly contemporary once again over the past two weeks.  With the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland, air travel for a large portion of the world has become dramatically erratic. We here at FOP  have had a particular fondness for the word erratic for some time. It not only aptly exemplifies our own artistic process, but also illustrates the results of a particularly amazing geologic event which was quite common during the Pleistocene.

Humans have lived in relation to geologic erratics for more than 10,000 years. The Geological dictionary characterizes this geologically rooted term as:
Erratic: A rock fragment carried by glacial ice or by floating ice, deposited at some distance from the outcrop from which it was derived, and generally though not necessarily resting on bedrock of different lithology. Size ranges from a pebble to a house-size block.

from Erratics: A Genealogy of Rock Landscape, currently on view at Harvard’s GSD, image courtesy Claude Cormier Architectes Paysagistes

While on our Pleistocene Modern residency several weeks ago, we took a field-trip to document and experience a real glacial erratic.  Our visit to Doane rock gave us a direct experience of the connections between the word “erratic,” our erratic process as artists, and the material-reality of erratic-ness.

Doane rock, a glacial erratic currently residing in Eastham, MA, image FOP 2010

Doane rock, also known as Enochs or Enos rock, is a glacial erratic located in Eastham, MA. It’s a space and time traveler from the Pleistocene, left behind by the Laurentide ice sheet between 12,000-18,000 years ago.  As the largest rock on the Cape, (measuring 18ft high and extending another 12ft below ground) it is erratic in multiple senses.

In the past week, the connection between large, glacially transported erratic rocks and the contemporary human became much more than a matter of metaphor.

Last week while in Spain, we were told our flight back to NYC had been canceled and the next scheduled departure from Barcelona would be six to eight days later.  But of course, we had no guarantee that the volcano would allow departure even then.  At that point, we began to suspect that erratic was taking on a broader, more experiential definition for contemporary life for thousands of people. Might erratic aptly describe the current status of human / geologic relationality?  Given that our fragile infrastructures rely increasingly on a need for geologic forces to remain stable and oddly unchanging–perhaps erratic becoming the new norm.  Air travel, one of the most monumental achievements and inventions of humankind,  had transported us easily 3600 miles across the ocean just a few days before.  Now, suddenly, it was rendered useless.

We sensed the width and barrier of the ocean that stood between between us and NYC viscerally, and in ways we hadn’t when we flew across it to Spain.

the space of crossing between here and there

At that point, the volcano was showing no signs of letting up. The ash cloud was only getting bigger and more expansive. Would we be residing in Spain indefinitely? Should we try to take a train to Lisbon and attempt to fly from there? How much time did we have to make decisions?

consistently erratic behavior:  ash rising above Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull glacier, AP Photo/Jon Gustafsson, April 19, 2010

contemporary erratics, April 17, 2010

We, along with thousands of others, had become contemporary erratics, transported immense distances from our places of origin, set down firmly, apparently never to move again.

Before learning the fate of our canceled flight, we has visited the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona. On view was Armando Andrade Tudela’s film, Marcahuasi, sited in an ancient geologic landscape in Peru.

“Marcahuasi is a plain to the east of the city of Lima (Peru) that extends across four square kilometres in the Andes. It is a remarkable stone formation of volcanic origin situated at more than 4,000 metres above sea level. The rocks, which are impressive not only because of their size but also because of their extraordinary forms, have prompted bizarre theories concerning their origin and given rise to evocative names. In the mid-1950s, Daniel Ruzo, regarded by some as an eminent archaeologist and by others as a prophet and cryptographer, wrote an essay in which he declared that the stones are ‘sculptures’ created by what he termed Masma Culture or the ‘Fourth Humanity’ more than 10,000 years ago…They take their place once again in history, not just as exponents of a technologically advanced culture but as the die from which all other cultures are cast; as the primordial tribe.” – from the MACBA website

film still from Marcahuasi, 2010, Armando Andrade Tudela

The film makes mesmerizing connections between Pleistocene humans, geologic time, art making, AND volcanoes and the mystery of the ongoing, erratic, relationality between all of these forces.

We returned to New York only 14 hours later than originally planned.  Random luck and a cabbie willing to drive us 600km from Barcelona to Madrid allowed us to catch a special, newly scheduled flight.  Once back, we read Michio Kaku’s thoughts words in The Wall Street Journal as a timely reminder:  Humans need to find ways to move in accord with geologic time and force, not in spite of their unpredictability, but because of them – and because of our deep entanglement with them:

“Unfortunately, our institutional memory lasts a few decades at most, while the cycles of mother Earth are usually measured in centuries or millennia. So for the future we have to appreciate that we humans will be pushed around like pawns as the earth slowly but inexorably changes and shifts.

We may think of volcanoes now as villains. But they are also givers of life. Much of the air we breathe and the ground we walk on can be traced back to ancient volcanic eruptions. And the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago (which paved the way for the coming of humans) might be traced back to a one-two punch caused by an asteroid collision and simultaneous volcanic eruptions.

The fact that humans are about 99.9% genetically identical could, according to one theory, be traced back to the Toba eruption in Indonesia roughly 70,000 years ago. That eruption might have killed off most of the human race, leaving only a few hundred of us to populate the planet. We might, therefore, owe our evolution and very existence to volcanoes.”–Michio Kaku

1 Comment so far
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Right on! We are not only evolutionary products of volcanos, but the ice ages!
To wit: The climate and environment of the world caused us to evolve to what we
are today………..And, I fell this evolution is still doing on.

Comment by Roy C. Wolf

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