My residency at MASS MoCA has come to a close, and with it a wind down of my research for the time being. I've managed thus far to map most of the areas surrounding the crater, though not to any great detail, and to locate 4 research bases. Additionally I have identified soil samples from 2 quadrants, and uncovered the code revealing how the researchers label samples. I am hoping this will lead to a better understanding of the area under investigation as well as make known the how and why of what samples were collected and when and what they show.
As I investigate the societies area map, piece it together, and try to make sense of it I am reminded of James Corner's essay The Agency of Mapping, and the power of maps in "uncovering realities previously unseen or unimagined." I feel as though I must be careful, not to put too much of my own emphasis on the social trails, base locations, or to put too much weight on the center as Corner warns: "The conditions around which a project develops originate with what is selected and prioritized in the map…"
The Agency of Mapping: Speculation, Critique and Invention
Mapping is a fantastic cultural project, creating and building the world as much as measuring and describing it. Long affiliated with the planning and design of cities, landscapes and buildings, mapping is particularly instrumental in the construing and constructing of lived space. In this active sense, the function of mapping is less to mirror reality than to engender the re-shaping of the worlds in which people live. While there are countless examples of authoritarian, simplistic, erroneous and coercive acts of mapping, with reductive effects upon both individuals and environments, I focus in this essay upon more optimistic revisions of mapping practices. These revisions situate mapping as a collective enabling enterprise, a project that both reveals and realizes hidden potential. Hence, in describing the 'agency' of mapping, I do not mean to invoke agendas of imperialist technocracy and control but rather to suggest ways in which mapping acts may emancipate potentials, enrich experiences and diversify worlds. We have been adequately cautioned about mapping as a means of projecting power-knowledge, but what about mapping as a productive and liberating instrument, a world-enriching agent, especially in the design and planning arts?
As a creative practice, mapping precipitates its most productive effects through a finding that is also a founding; its agency lies in neither reproduction nor imposition but rather in uncovering realities previously unseen or unimagined, even across seemingly exhausted grounds. Thus, mapping unfolds potential; it re-makes territory over and over again, each time with new and diverse consequences. Not all maps accomplish this, however; some simply reproduce what is already known. These are more 'tracings' than maps, delineating patterns but revealing nothing new. In describing and advocating more open-ended forms of creativity, philoso- phers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari declare: 'Make a map not a tracing!' They continue:
What distinguishes the map from the tracing is that it is entirely oriented toward an experimentation in contact with the real. The map does not reproduce an unconscious closed in upon itself; it constructs the unconscious. It fosters connections between fields, the removal of blockages on bodies without organs, the maximum opening of bodies without organs onto a plane of consistency ... The map has to do with performance, whereas the tracing always involves an 'alleged competence'.
The distinction here is between mapping as equal to what is ('tracing') and mapping as equal to what is and to what is not yet. In other words, the unfolding agency of mapping is most effective when its capacity for description also sets the conditions for new eidetic and physical worlds to emerge. Unlike tracings, which propagate redundancies, mappings discover new worlds within past and present ones; they inaugurate new grounds upon the hidden traces of a living context. The capacity to reformulate what already exists is the important step. And what already exists is more than just the physical attributes of terrain (topography, rivers, roads, buildings) but includes also the various hidden forces that underlie the workings of a given place. These include natural processes, such as wind and sun; historical events and local stories; economic and legislative conditions; even political interests, regulatory mechanisms and programmatic structures. Through rendering visible multiple and sometimes disparate field conditions, mapping allows for an understanding of terrain as only the surface expression of a complex and dynamic imbroglio of social and natural processes. In visualizing these interrelationships and interactions, mapping itself participates in any future unfoldings. Thus, given the increased complexity and contentiousness that surrounds landscape and urbanism today, creative advances in mapping promise designers and planners greater efficacy in intervening in spatial and social processes. Avoiding the failure of universalist approaches toward master-planning and the imposition of state-controlled schemes, the unfolding agency of mapping may allow designers and planners not only to see certain possibilities in the complexity and contradiction of what already exists but also to actualize that potential. This instrumental function is particularly important in a world where it is becoming increasingly difficult to both imagine and actually to create anything outside of the normative.
I am now two weeks into my residency at the Studios at MASS MoCA, and thought it would be a good day to step back from what I have been terming 'the screen printing time slip' or that thing that happens when you work several 12+ hour days in the studio and forget that daylight happens and that there are other reasons you are here. I took the morning to catch up on emails and to do prep work for upcoming financial wellness seminars I am participating in (the first, Financial Training (aka bootcamp), will happen tomorrow, and three others are scheduled over the next few weeks). I also made an attempt to plan the remainder of my time here as to make the most out of the next two weeks, which is why I found myself playing with dirt and magnets.
As part of my proposed plans for the residency I am developing a project involving meteors, tektites, the extraterrestrial, and a society of researchers of pre-biotic compounds and life on earth. In the initial phases of the project, I spent time conducting research on meteorite and tektite formation, meteorite composition, strewn field geography and mapping, etc, as well as collecting field samples of soil and rock from the American southwest, where the societies headquarters are located. Today I have finally started working with the soil samples:
The hooded jacket and jumpsuit samples are complete, with some minor issues to be worked out in sizing… I botched the crotch stitching on the jumpsuit making the fit uncomfortably tight in the hips, butt, and legs. I think I'll be removing some stitching later this week in order to try attaching the legs again. Hopefully some more careful sewing will help with the fitting. I may also need to add length to the torso, but I'm going to try adjusting this piece before cutting a new pattern altogether. As for the jacket, the fit is great, and aside from spending a few hours learning how to sew on facing, it was really very easy. I'll be sewing it in the gold/brown fabric hanging on the wall (pictured) as soon as I get another zipper.
Mountains sit low on the edge of the desert, their view almost completely obliterated by the heat haze on the horizon.
A hooded person sits with a listening device, headphones, binoculars, looking— (faintly at first, then growing in clarity "temporary darkening of the sky" plays over the radio).
A storm is approaching.
She moves into the base.
"The transmission was playing again."
"I couldn't reach the other bases."
Sand and dust kicked up by the wind tick at the surface of the building. White noise.
Base 1, Quadrant 7,5-7,6
(geo coordinates undisclosed)
We are here to "gain a sense of vastness, of extremes, if only for an instant. To latch onto the contrasts, the before and after, the speck verses the mountain…" But we have a lot of work to do to even pretend what this stuff is, what it all means. They asked us to find the substanent meaning. Substanent: "means of living, sustenance, livelihood," from latin subtinentia, "endurance".
What is the nature of existence? The why, if you will?
Rational civilization has destroyed itself searching for the answer, for a chance at knowing. Yet we look, too. Perhaps not to answer the question, not immediately, but for the speck.
The universe that surrounds us is vast, and we are so very small. When we reflect on the vastness of the universe, our humdrum cosmic location, and the inevitable future demise of humanity, our lives can seem utterly insignificant. Many philosophers assume that such worries about our significance reflect a banal metaethical confusion. They dismiss the very idea of cosmic significance. This, I argue, is a mistake. Worries about cosmic insignificance do not express metaethical worries about objectivity or nihilism, and we can make good sense of the idea of cosmic significance and its absence. It is also possible to explain why the vastness of the universe can make us feel insignificant. This impression does turn out to be mistaken, but not for the reasons typically assumed. In fact, we might be of immense cosmic significance—though we cannot, at this point, tell whether this is the case.
As we complacently go about our little Earthly affairs, we barely notice the black backdrop of the night sky. Even when we do, we usually see the starry skies as no more than a pleasant twinkling decoration. In one sense, what we see is not very different than what Neolithic or Medieval people saw when they looked up. But we inhabit a different universe.
We can repeat the figures scientists tell us, though, mercifully, we do not entirely comprehend them. Scientists tell us, for example, that the universe is more than 13 billion years old, and that the diameter of the part of the universe that we are able to observe is at least 93 billion light years, though for all we know the universe might be infinite in volume. Our own planet circles a star that is located around two thirds of the way out of the centre of the modest Milky Way galaxy, which contains 100–400 billion stars. This isn’t very much: according to the latest calculations, the observable universe contains around 300 sextillion stars. These figures are, well, astronomical, but they are also misleading. On the whole, our universe is almost entirely empty, an unending cold intergalactic night.
We float in this immense cosmos, Carl Sagan writes, “like a mote of dust in the morning sky.” Stephen Hawking delivers the news more bluntly. We are, he says, “just a chemical scum on a moderate-sized planet, orbiting round a very average star in the outer suburb of one among a hundred billion galaxies.”
The universe is immense, and we are so very tiny. When we contemplate the vastness of the universe we inhabit, our humdrum location, and our inevitable future doom when the sun implodes, or later on, in the heat death of the universe, human life can seem utterly insignificant.
This sense of cosmic insignificance is not uncommon. Pascal famously wrote,
When I consider the short duration of my life, swallowed up in an eternity before and after, the little space I fill engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces whereof I know nothing, and which know nothing of me, I am terrified. The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me . . .
Many take our insignificance to be an obvious, undeniable truth. But are we really cosmically insignificant? Why should we be insignificant, just because the universe is so vast? Over forty years ago, Thomas Nagel remarked that, “[r]eflection on our minuteness and brevity appears to be intimately connected with the sense that life is meaningless; but it is not clear what the connection is.” This connection remains unclear. And the same could be said about the supposed significance of our humdrum location, or the inevitable future extinction of human life.
These questions about our significance do not receive much philosophical attention. Many contemporary philosophers, if they even notice such questions, consider them an embarrassment to be avoided, the product of a simple metaethical muddle. The very idea of cosmic significance is ridiculed.
We shall see that this gets it all wrong. The experience of cosmic insignificance has little to do with metaethics. We can make good enough sense of the idea of cosmic significance and its absence. And we can see why our minuteness compared to the vastness of the universe can make people feel insignificant. This impression does turn out to be mistaken, but not for the reasons typically assumed. In fact, it turns out that we might be of immense cosmic significance, even universally central, in the only sense that matters. But as I will later explain, whether or not we are cosmically significant is still an open question. There is also, however, an important sense on which we clearly are insignificant. But again, this is so for different reasons than those usually assumed.
The full article by Guy Kahane can be found and downloaded here. Though, for my purposes I'd like to contemplate only the abstract and introductory paragraphs, as not to complicate my thoughts with a metaethical argument on value and human (in)significance. I'm concerned more so with metaphysics, and, in the case of this project, ontology and rather Gauguinian questions: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?
Humans have the extraordinary habit of constructing meaning from all kinds of signs and symbols, to piece together stories—stories of origin, of afters, of imagined futures, dystopias, mirror societies, skewed realities, of virtual parallel nows. What is it that we're after? A deeper understanding or sensation of significance? Is it that our underlying metaethical feeling of insignificance drives us to create… significance? I do not know, nor can I even begin to try to explain the phenomenon of storytelling, of meaning making. Perhaps it is one of those things that can be categorized as "human nature". And, I, like so many others, am caught in perpetuating the tradition.
Something out of nothing. I wonder about origins, origin stories, where we came from, how we came into being and what exactly our relationship is to the utter vastness surrounding us. The question of cosmic insignificance has never really weighed on me heavily, and I can think on only a few times when I've felt genuinely punched in the gut by the enormity of the cosmos. Yet, I can't help but link the unstoppable human desire to make meaning out of nothing and the collective tradition of storytelling to prove significance of some larger, grander connection to that great expanse: the universe. In all kinds of myths, fables, religious books, etc., humans have tied themselves to the stars. Why is this?
In the spirit of humanity, and in not knowing, I am embarking on telling the story of a society of meteorite researchers, and their attempts to explain our cosmic connection, our beginning, and our desire to seek answers to the grand, mysterious, and unknowable. I'll be sharing parts of the story here, in the blog, in my next post and sporadically after that with updates from the studio as well as posts similar to this one mixed in to the lineup.
More of Gauguin's works, his bio, exclusive articles, and up-to-date Gauguin exhibition listings can be found on Artsy.
On Friday I traced the sewing patterns for sample jumpsuits on a muslin fabric. I have selected this Vogue sleeveless, hooded jacket. It will eventually be rendered in a quilted fabric (like in the picture). I'm also tracing the pattern for a long jumpsuit, which will be made in a lightweight fabric, good for the desert, in its final iteration. The short jumpsuit has been waitlisted until it is no longer bitterly cold. Though not exact the styling is as close as I could come to standard issue 'uniforms' of the society I've been researching.
Today is my first full day as Artist in Residence at the Studios at MASS MoCA, and I am already busy at work. The 'bomb cyclone' and a bit of a head cold have delayed some of my work as well as my first visit to the Makers' Mill, a local creative space that I have access to during the residency, but I am hoping to get there tomorrow to start in on my sewing projects and screen printing.