The long-term effect would likely be to drown the world’s coastlines, including many of its great cities. New York City is nearly 400 years old; in the worst-case scenario conjured by the research, its chances of surviving another 400 years in anything like its present form would appear to be remote. Miami, New Orleans, London, Venice, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Sydney, Australia, are all just as vulnerable as New York, or more so.
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The combination of plastic and campfires has formed a wholly new sedimentary rock recently dubbed “plastiglomerate” by the geologist-artist collaborative field study team of Patricia L. Corcoran, Dept. of Earth Sciences, University of Western Ontario; Charles J. Moore, Algalita Marine Research Institute, Long Beach, California; Kelly Jazvac, Dept. of Visual Arts, University of Western Ontario.
The new stone type, identified and collected from Kamilo Beach by the team on the southern tip of the Island of Hawaii, is made up of intermingled melted plastic from beach campfires, beach sediment, basaltic lava fragments, and organic debris.
In their published report, “An Anthropogenic Marker Horizon in the Future Rock Record,” the team explained that when plastic melts in campfires, natural sediments attach to the plastic. This makes the plastiglomerate heavy, and keeps it in place despite movements of wind and water. This increases the chance that the new rocks will be buried and preserved in the geologic record. And that means there is great potential that plastiglomerates will be part of the geologic record of the earth and act as a “horizon marker” of human pollution, “signaling the occurrence of the informal Anthropocene epoch.”
smudge/FOP decided to create a scientific illustration of this newly formed, discovered and named geologic material. Kelly Jazvac loaned us one of the plastiglomerate specimens she gathered from Kamilo Beach. This beach has become known as Hawaii’s “plastic beach” because it borders the Pacific Ocean current called the North Pacific gyre, which is now infamous for being the site of an enormous floating island of plastic trash from around the world. “A 2014 study estimated that 8 million metric tons of plastic trash enter the sea from land every year—the equivalent of five plastic bags filled with trash for every foot of coastline around the world.”
Plastic from the “pacific garbage patch” washes up on Kamilo Beach because of how the currents there push up onto this area of the island. There, the plastic is so prolific in the sand, it’s almost impossible to have a beach campfire without melting plastic and rock/debris together to form plastiglomerates. The research team found their specimens as they explored campfire pits.
We were curious about what new realizations, understandings, and aesthetic experiences of new material realities of life in the Anthropocene we might offer audiences by using scientific illustration to document and interpret plastiglomerates. Given our habitual ways of narrating ecological crises and disasters, to understand the significance of plastiglomerates to human and nonhuman lives and habitats often means being horrified, appalled, angered, frightened.
We wanted to experiment in offering a scientific illustration of the specimen that calls up something other than “objective observation” of “just the facts” of this new material — AND that also avoids emotions and conventions of “disaster porn” images related to climate change.
Might it be possible to create a scientific illustration that invites a viewer to “be with” this new, vibrant, consequential “thing” of the Anthropocene? To pause for a moment and take in its reality without denial or distraction? To be moved by the illustration in a way that leads audiences to keep the force of this new human-made thing in mind as they go about acting, making choices, and living in the Anthropocene?
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“In principle, coastal defenses could be built to protect the densest cities, but experts believe it will be impossible to do that along all 95,000 miles of the American coastline, meaning that immense areas will most likely have to be abandoned to the rising sea.”
Houston Ship Channel, smudge studio 2016
These words easily could be mistaken for a passage from J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World. But they appeared in a major article in the New York Times on March 30th, which details the (surprisingly) rapid breakup of the West Antarctic ice sheet:
With ice melting in other regions, too, the total rise of the sea could reach five or six feet by 2100, the researchers found. That is roughly twice the increase reported as a plausible worst-case scenario by a United Nations panel just three years ago, and so high it would likely provoke a profound crisis within the lifetimes of children being born today.
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Next week, a feral day is coming to a calendar near you.
Welcome to “intercalary day,” also known as a leap day. It arrives this Monday, February 29th. We are feeling very lucky that the calendars are aligning, so to speak, as this special day happens to occur during our Living Deep Time Year 000001 project.
Given our ongoing research on all kinds of time, we’ve been giving extra attention to anything that helps frame and illustrate the creeping misalignment of standardized human time. Our current 2000 year old calendar was instituted by Julius Caesar and refined by papal proclamation (by Pope Gregory XIII) in 1582 to include leap years. This innovation of the Gregorian calendar reflects one human attempt to keep our lives running steadily and “on time.” American colonies didn’t adopt the calendar until 1752.
It actually takes approximately 365.242189 days (or 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 45 seconds) for Earth complete one orbit around the Sun. That’s a number that doesn’t divide nicely into the 24 hour intervals that some humans have assigned to what we call a day. If we didn’t add a leap day every four years, our calendar year would “lose” 6 hours annually. After 100 years, we’d be “off” by around 24 days. Ironically, even with the complex system of leap years, the Gregorian calendar requires future humans to drop a day in about 3,000 years.
What we find most inspiring about February 29th, and leap days in general, is that they are “inserted” into the otherwise standard Gregorian calendar in an effort to materially re-connect our daily lives to their literal, spatial and temporal connections to the sun — and all the useful meanings that our planet’s location in space affords for human life and culture (seasons, months, myths, rituals, metaphors, etc.).
We invite you to take some leaps on Monday. Instead of pondering the leaky nature of calculated time, re-sync with the driver of our evolutionary temporal rhythms — the sun. You’ll realize that February 29 isn’t really a “bonus day.” There’s really no more time than usual in existence this month (even though if you’re working on Monday, you’ll be getting an extra day of pay this year). Consider astrophysicist Adam Frank’s point that “There are simply the Nows, nothing more, nothing less.” And take a moment to leap into the comments of zen master Dōgen (made 800 years earlier):
“Real existence is only this exact moment, all moments of existence-time are the whole of time, and all existent things and all existent phenomena are time. The whole of existence, the whole universe, exists in individual moments of time. Let us pause to reflect whether or not any of the whole of existence or any of the whole of the universe has leaked away from the present moment of time.” (from Chapter 11 of Dōgen’s Shōbōgenzō, “Uji”).
artist Yves Klein leaps into the void, Le Saut dans le vide (Leap into the Void);
Photomontage by Shunk Kender of a performance by Klein at Rue Gentil-Bernard, Fontenay-aux-Roses, October 1960
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digital copy of postcard dispatch #1, from Living Deep Time Year 000001
The first round of postcard dispatches for the Living Deep Time Year 000001 project are in the mail and should be reach their destinations soon, just in time for the start of the Lunar New Year on February 8th. This month’s postcard is the first of four that we will send out this year. And as promised, we are also sharing digital versions of these postcards to all, here on FOP.
The postcard dispatches are original works of mail art that share a practice that anyone can try out as possible ways to live, experience, and get to know new and wildly deep aspects of time. Each practice will be something that we have discovered during our year-long research process for the Living Deept Time Year 000001 Project.
As our last post explained, we’ve been thinking a lot about the multiplicities of time and have been attempting to pay attention to temporalities beyond those that modern clocks and Gregorian calendars track and calculate. This takes practice.
back of postcard dispatch #1, from Living Deep Time Year 000001
Over the past month, we discovered that we have a tendency to “come back onto” linear, standardized time each time we look at the clock on our phones. So, for this first postcard dispatch wecreated an artwork for each of our backers (and a digital copy for all FOP readers. It can be used as a home screen on smart phones. The image on the postcard visually suggests the multiplies of “nonhuman” timescales, temporalities, and timescapes that are entangled with the one represented on our clocks. It’s a poetic reminder that the time we’re calling here “human standard time” isn’t the only kind of time. For us, having this image appear each time we want to know the time has actually helped us practice new kinds of time. We hope it does for you as well.
postcard dispatch #1 as iPhone lock screen, from Living Deep Time Year 000001
The following two digital images are available as open source downloads. Feel free to share and distribute them widely. If you use one as your home screen image, let us know if and how it helps you tune into new and other tempos and realities of time.
all images FOP 2016
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the times of all things and beings pass around and through us
9 minutes, 44 seconds, one continuous line, 1-5-002016, smudge
When we first arrived at our residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute (SFAI),* we weren’t sure where or how to begin living out the first days of our year-long project, Living Deep Time Year 000001.
There was no switch that we could flip and suddenly make “deep time” accessible to us. So we began reading. Our list included Paul Kingsnorth’s essay “The Witness”, which appeared in Tricycle last spring. We had read the piece months ago, but now, on second reading, a particular section stood out. In the closing, Kingsnorth describes a personal question of what he could “do” in the face of so much environmental loss. A zen teacher offers him the following advice:
“… sit with it. Sit with what is, and what you are, and watch it. If you are concerned about the forest, go to the forest, sit with the forest, and pay attention. And then you may know what to do.”
We swapped out the word “forest” for “time.” Suddenly, this simple advice offered us seemingly obvious footing for how to begin our work this year. We copied out the following words and hung them at the entrance to our studio:
“… sit with it. Sit with what is, and what you are, and watch it. If you are concerned about time, go to time, sit with time, and pay attention. And then you may know what to do.”
Before we could make or understand anything about the project we were undertaking, we needed to sit with time itself and pay close attention to it.
In the past ten years we’ve thought a great deal about time, but always in relation to the challenges of designing for long spans of time, or the impacts human activities on planetary systems for deep geologic futures, or our attempts to imagine geologic histories. We often did this thinking while in motion, conducting research or driving through the American West.
Now, for this project, could we “just” sit with the on-flow of this moment? Hang out with the things and beings that were producing the human and non-human temporalities unfolding around and through us? Such an approach felt foreign, wide open, and fantastic.
Over the past five weeks, we’ve done a lot of sitting with spaces, silences, people and things as they produced their various temporal durations, speeds, scales, intensities, styles. We’re not sure that much of what has resulted constitutes “work.” But we are doing time in new ways. And days have felt meaningful and generative in new ways.
Some outcomes: A daily practice has emerged as the process of drawing one continuous line until a very long sheet of paper is filled. We time each line’s emergence as a way of “sitting” — and moving — with the minutes it takes to make the line. We’ve also “sat” with the concept and memory of “ten minutes” by writing the words “ten minutes” over and over until ten minutes expires on the clock. We’ve watched clouds in the New Mexico sky change shape and size radically from minute to minute, dissolve from freezing fog to crystalline blue. And we’ve intentionally witnessed a sunrise or sunset nearly everyday.
winter tree, one continuous line, 4 min., 10 sec., 12-29-002016, smudge studio
We continue to feel like complete beginners in our efforts to sit with various events of ongoing change that produce what we call time, and to “live time differently.” We quickly realized that contemporary American culture has taught us little about sensing timescapes that are other than our own habitual,”Western,” human-centric temporalities which are typically directed towards productivity, efficiency, deadlines, and punctuality.
One of our initial attempts to think outside of the steady stream of standardized time that is our usual temporal habitat was to research uniform time keeping. We realized just how arbitrary it is. The Western Gregorian calendar has been in use only since 1582. That’s just over 400 years out of the planet’s 4.6 billion year history. And it’s far from the only calendric system still in use. The wikipedia page for Gregorian calendar lists approximately 30 other calendars that are running concurrently with the dominant system. These other calendars are all, of course, human-generated as well. But their multiplicity reminds us that we humans have many, if not infinite, choices in how we might live and make sense of time. The Holocene calendar, for example, tells us that this year is 12,016 of the “Human Era.” This calendar places the first year near the beginning of the Neolithic revolution and “makes for easier geological, archaeological, dendrochronological and historical dating, as well as that it bases its epoch on an event more universally relevant than the birth of Jesus.”
Early in our residency at SFAI, we decided to make a concerted effort not to live solely on “human time.” This meant, among other things, disrupting our habits of looking at clocks and cell phones the first thing in the morning. We started to feel that morning glances at the cell phone inadvertently pulled us back onto human-centric time, that particular experience of time that is filled with self-referential narratives, rituals, functions and purposes which quickly take hold of our attention and go on to fill out the entire day in all the “normal” ways. But there’s more to time than this.
The day after we arrived in New Mexico, Roy Scranton’s latest opinion piece was published in the New York Times, titled: “We’re Doomed. Now What?” The short excerpt below made it onto our studio wall, and into our sitting with time process:
“…it’s at just this moment of crisis that our human drive to make meaning reappears as our only salvation … if we’re willing to reflect consciously on the ways we make life meaningful … and what we do every day, day to day, and how we do it … then it’s also true that we hold within ourselves the power to change our lives — wholly, utterly — by changing what our lives mean … We need to work together to transform a global order of meaning focused on accumulation into a new order of meaning that knows the value of limits, transience and restraint… Most important, we need to … understand that truth is found not in one perspective but in their multiplication, not in one point of view but in the aggregate, not in opposition but in the whole. We need to learn to see not just with Western eyes but with Islamic eyes and Inuit eyes, not just with human eyes but with golden-cheeked warbler eyes, coho salmon eyes, and polar bear eyes, and not even just with eyes at all but with the wild, barely articulate being of clouds and seas and rocks and trees and stars...” Roy Scranton, “We’re Doomed. Now What?” NY Times, December 21, 2015
Scranton’s words invite us to set out into our daily lives and boldly begin to question what meanings various kinds of time might offer to us. What practices and experiences might we invent to help us sense and hold connections to nonhumans and to the multiplicities of time that they produce both “for” us and without any regard to us? We began to sit with such questions as we sat with time.
We quickly realized we would never be able to “sit with the time of the golden-cheeked warbler” if we didn’t regulate how much we allowed ourselves to be consumed by one single version of time — human time. So each day, we set aside 30 minutes to an hour and attempted to think in terms of at least two non-human scales — one “ephemeral” and one “geologic/cosmological.” We did that by trying to attune to something other than the human world. We gravitated to the things before us that we typically overlooked or took for granted as affordances that seemed to require no attention from us. Suddenly, we had strange sounding questions to ask them, such as: “What is the time of this peanut I’m about to eat?” Turns out, peanuts have been part of the planetary system for over 7,500 years. Their leaves are highly attuned to the time of sunlight and close up at night (nyctinastic). We switched our attention and questions, then, to a less ephemeral, more geologic/cosmological temporal scale: “This air I’m breathing…what is the time of the atmosphere?” Unlike the peanut, the Earth’s atmosphere is nearly as old as the planet. It’s material makeup is intimately linked to the peanut, via nitrogen. The atmosphere is composed of 78% nitrogen. Peanuts fix some of that nitrogen to the soil they grow in, “enriching” it for plants. It seemed magical to serendipitously learn that the evolutionary systems of peanuts and the atmosphere are deeply connected by the slow, evolutionary force of time on this planet. But all beings and things share in that “magic.” Right now, the time of the Earth’s atmosphere is speeding up. The speed of the changes it’s undergoing seem likely to outstrip the abilities of more ephemeral things (like many plants) to co-evolve with it.
After several weeks of these practices, now, when we look at the clocks on our phones, a “feral” thought arises: “This digital clock is keeping ‘human standard time’ – but I’m not actually living only on that anymore!” Each glance at the clock is becoming more and more the occasion for making a choice: Will I re-enlist the participation of my brain and body in the production and living of contemporary habits of time (human standard time, Anthropocenian time)?
Living according to how modern technologies are producing contemporary human standard time can be extremely useful and meaningful. It allows us to connect and align with people, places and things that we care about deeply. But there are innumerable timescapes of things and beings other than ourselves that have the potential to be extremely meaningful to human lives. Some are undergoing disruptions and disturbances —fibrillations — because of intense temporal pressures from human timescapes.
And so, the practices continue.
We’ve begun to check email less often. We’re seeking less informational “instant gratification” from our digital devices and the internets. We’re choosing to take more time with the information that does make it through. Instead of speed-reading our emails and immediately, distractedly moving on, we recently tried out a different approach. We took 20 minutes and spent those minutes looking at just one photo from a large group that our friends had sent us from a trip to Newfoundland last summer. During their trip, they had documented icebergs that had broken off of Greenland and floated past the Canadian coast as they melted. We spent 20 minutes with the image below. We looked at this singular iceberg’s contours, its colors. We imagined the time that its changing was producing: a temporality that was now accelerating, disappearing. We thought about how our friends had been there in person to see this event of change-as-time, time-as-change.
iceberg off Newfoundland, image courtesy Valerie Triggs and Michele Sorensen
Other things and beings are producing other temporalities that are now unfolding around us, concurrently with “ours,” running alongside and through us and everything else. Many of our “modern” cultural activities don’t encourage us to meaningfully note or pay attention to how our individual life’s time is enmeshed in the wildly disparate times of others’. Our project is based on the hunch that the forces and effects of feral temporalities will command human attention more and more directly in the near future. Personally-felt pressures of others’ temporalities might encourage humans to wake up to the fact that the Anthropocene is not only about human impact on the planet. It is also about a great new humbling of humanity by non-standardized temporalities and changes which are now being produced by both domesticated and untamed planetary systems.
It takes time and effort to pay deep attention to what we often mistakenly think of as the rest of the world. When we do, at first, much of the world may appear to be mute. But the planet’s uncountable temporalities deliver into each present moment a great deal of information (potential knowledge) that humans might find useful, if not crucial, if we attend to it. Much of how we humans do time is a choice and habit, not a necessity. We are all beginners at living time in, and as, the Anthropocene.
*Sincere thanks to the incredibly supportive staff and residents at the Santa Fe Art Institute. The work and quality of time that we lived during our residency has set the foundation for this year-long project. Being in-residence made it possible for us to, literally, live time differently in incredibly productive and generative ways. We are grateful.
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Mt. Daimonji, Kyoto, Japan (大文字山), FOP 2015
We made it! The Living Deep Time Year project was a success and we thank all those who supported the project, spread the word and contributed so generously. We are about to begin a month-long residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute, and today, Winter Solstice, we start our research and experiments with time.
The exact moment of the solstice occurs at 4:48 UT, or 9:48 MT for us in New Mexico (confirm your time zone here). The etymology of the word solstice contains the Latin words for “sun” and “stationary,” as the sun appears to “stand still” in our sky at this time of year. This is the perfect day for us to begin living our deep time year.
Even if we can’t inhabit or visit a monument that celebrates and acknowledges our alignment with the Sun on this day (as many ancient peoples did), winter solstice is an appropriate day to make note of the sunlight that continuously beams our way. Here on Earth, if you live in the Northern Hemisphere, you’ve no doubt noticed the late sunrises, early sunsets, and low arc of the sun as it crosses the sky. Around the December solstice, you can see your longest noontime shadow of the year (and shortest in the Southern Hemisphere).
Earth will be at it’s closest point to the Sun in early January. This means that despite the short spans of daylight this time of year, our solar days, the interval from one solar noon to the next (which clocks don’t measure) are actually at their longest.
When we’re closest to the sun, our planet is moving a little faster than average in its orbit. That means our planet is traveling through space a little farther than average each day. The result is that Earth has to rotate a little farther on its axis for the sun to return to its noontime position. Hence the longer solar day. –EarthSky
Enjoy the extra 30 seconds!
For us, thanks to the Living Deep Time Year 000001 project, next month is a rare and precious opportunity to retreat. It’s time for us to turn off our phones and rethink how we do time within our daily lives. It’s time to pay close attention to rhythms of light and wild temperature fluctuations. It’s time to observe change unfolding around the world — and design aesthetic responses. And it’s time for us to give total focus towards building a calendar that can provide relief and wonder for everyday life in the Anthropocene.
For over ten years we have sent out year-end photo-based postcards to mark the change of year, typically with a theme pertaining to landscape, travel, and time that we sense might be inflecting our work for the coming year. This year’s card, seen above, is more interactive than usual.
We wish you the very best in discovering and living out what time is for.