BLOG: To Become Visible

Category
  • Lake Abert: Spirits as Witness

    A place is deeper than the sum of its aspects.  My thought as I travel the 15 miles of US Highway 395 curving along the east shore of Lake Abert. 

    The indigenous peoples who inhabited the lakeshore adjusted the location of their dwellings as the lake expanse fluctuated over many millennia. Rick Pettigrew’s archaeological scoping reveals dynamic cultural change. He analyzes the surface archaeology – rock features and rock art - demonstrating sequential occupations linked with lake elevations. [1] 

    Today people – and birds – find the lakeshore uninhabitable. 

    “Under Oregon law, Lake Abert has no legal right to any water at all.”

    In 2014 for the first time is 80 years Lake Abert is - completely dried. [2a & 2b] A migration stopover for millions of birds that rely on the brine shrimp and alkali flies, the lake offered nothing.  Significant among many converging factors are the human manipulations and extractions of the Chewaucan River, the terminal lake’s only steady replenishment. 

    Beyond the reality of the region’s multi-year drought, is the strange story of the aptly-named River’s End Ranch, or perhaps better: Lake’s End Ranch.  Not only is the private ranch reservoir thick with 25 years of land- and water-use conflicts, the property owner’s dam-and-dike building in the 1990s ignored protection requirements and severely disturbed ancestral remains linked to four recognized tribes. [3]

    This year, 2015, looks to be the same to me during my mid-July visit to a few of the dozens of rock art sites distributed on the Lake’s east shore. [4]  Spirits emerge as witness as they have since time immemorial. And as they will when humans abandon the arid basin-and-range valleys as global heating accelerates.  [5]  

    [1]  Pettigrew, Richard M.  Archaeological investigations on the east shore of Lake Abert, Lake County, Oregon. Department of Anthropology, University of Oregon, 1985. 

    [2a] Lake Abert Dries Up, a 15-minute video from Oregon Field Guide (OBP), April 2014. This webpage also includes links to some source documents.

    [2b] Oregon’s only saltwater lake is disappearing, and scientists don't know why.”  July 3 2014. Oregonlive.

    [3] Klamath Tribe near remedies over disturbed ancestral remains.”  May 2000. Indian Country Today Media Network. (Note: the Tribes concluded an agreement in late 2001.)

    [4] East Lake Abert Archeological District, encompassing 6000 acres, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.   This greatly expanded the 1974 nine-acre “Abert Lake Petroglyphs” NRHP listing. 

    [5] Warming Pushes Western U.S. Toward Driest Period in 1,000 Years

    Photos: Spirits as Witness

  • Ambiguities in Forms and Realities

    Something can be whole only by having a hole.  Bernhard Siegert*

    Two red images painted on light stone. Or a single image – the animal-like figure and the circle-form, each attending to the other. Circle unstable, perhaps a sphere. Or hole?  If so, emergence, entrance, or in-between?  Animal, shifting into spirit? Looking, the fading, slowly dissolving, oscillating painting provokes in me a presence compressing time into now.

    Stepping back expands the physical presence of the placement, the place, the space. To the left on the dark basalt petroglyphs appear - pecked markings by indigenous peoples, perhaps others, arriving, departing before or after the painter of animal/circle-spirit/sphere. Did each artist-maker look and wonder at those markings, recognize intent and being? Together the images, the stone, the sky expanse, and the distant valley all conspire to infuse the place with story, a changing narrative as yet becoming.

    Other photos: A Rock Painting

    * From "Material World," Bernhard Siegert in conversation with Geoffrey Winthrop-Young. Artforum, Summer 2015, 324-333.
    Note: Image below is digitally enhanced to better show the painting’s forms.

  • Places Of The Actual

    Rock art photos, mine included, tend to frame a timeless presence.  Sure, most petroglyphs have been in place for centuries, many for millennia.  The stone itself has changed in ways simultaneously revealing and obscuring a subtle sense of time, altering the sense of the original markings and layerings. A latent beauty. Yet the surround - lands and waters, plants and animals - are often heavily disrupted, most profoundly in the recent 150 years.  A blip, rapidly in flux. Profound change impinged, more forthcoming. 

    These cultural and aspirational changes foster a measure of economic success – logging, damming, grazing, draining, channeling, pumping, piping, powering.   Most anyone who's lived in or traveled through this country can see and knows the score.  Most profound to me is the killings, direct or indirect. For example, native mammals fearfully classed as Predators or Competitors – coyote, cougar, bear, rabbit, prairie dog, for example, are trapped, shot, poisoned with relentless abandon. Plants too are attacked. Most visible these days in the arid west are the acres upon acres of clear-cut Western Juniper, including many mature trees in place before arrival of the Euroamerican culture in the 1800s. Sometimes the logic of cut lands demands a burning, seared to the ground.  Rock art as witness. 

    This collection of 24 photos from a trip this month in Three Corners – the border intersection of Oregon-California-Nevada - navigates places of the actual as a way of looking, of being present in old time and new.

  • The Eye is the First Circle

    “The eye is the first circle,” Emerson writes. “The horizon which it forms is the second; and throughout nature this primary figure is repeated without end," with each new thought composing a new circle, wider than and containing those coming before it. Just as the nucleus is at the center of the atom, with each larger orbit whirling concentrically around it, including and surpassing in complexity and capacity the smaller one preceding, so the eye of a person, like a pebble dropped into a pond, emanates outward its interpretive horizons, the most powerful visions proving the most potent stones, generating strong and multitudinous ripples.

    - Eric G. Wilson, from Keep It Fake: Inventing the Authentic Life (2015)

    Related June 2015 photos:  Water Rock Rim

  • To create a sensible reality

    In every ritual operation, the seeking after a specific end is never but one amongst a number of its operators’ motives: these motives derive from the whole of reality, its religious and sensible (aesthetic) sides alike. In every case they imply what has always been art’s purpose: to create a sensible reality whereby the ordinary world is modified in response to the desire for the extraordinary, for the marvellous, a desire implicit in the human being’s essence. Georges Bataille, Lascaux or the Birth of Art (1955). 

    Sensible Reality: One Place

  • Encountering A Petroglyph Place

    To recognize leads to representation of what is already known. To encounter fosters new experience.  According to Simon O’Sullivan, encounter challenges our typical ways of being in the world.  Encounter “produces a cut, a crack.” This “rupturing” is also, in the same creative moment, an affirmation. This conjunction is “a way of seeing and thinking this world differently.”[1]  With gratitude and without need of explanation or interpretation, I will add.

    [1] Simon O’Sullivan.  2006.  Art encounters Deleuze and Guattari: thought beyond representation. Palgrave Macmillan. At the book’s outset, O’Sullivan cites Deleuze: Something in the world forces us to think. This something is an object not of recognition but of a fundamental encounter(In Deleuze G. 1994. Difference and Repetition. Trans. P. Patton.)

    Encountering A Petroglyph Place

  • Charged with the rush of time: Michael Heizer at Gagosian

    When a thing is seen through the consciousness of temporality, it is changed into something that is nothing. This all-engulfing sense provides the mental ground for the object, so that it ceases being a mere object and becomes art. The object gets to be less and less but exists as something clearer. Every object, if it is art, is charged with the rush of time even though it is static, but all this depends on the viewer.  Robert Smithson, 1968, from “A Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth Projects.”

    Michael Heizer’s current exhibit “Altars” at Gagosian New York includes “negative wall sculptures featuring metamorphic and igneous rocks.”  Heizer, son of renowned California archaeologist Robert Heizer, is best known for his massive landscape modifications - “land artworks.” Along with Robert Smithson and a few others he transformed how we modernists encounter landscape. These interventions often were/are of huge scale and scope.  Or, as Heizer reminds us: Size is real. Scale is imagined size.

    Spectacularly sized and imagined, Heizer’s Levitated Mass moved across California in 2012 to be permanently installed at Los Angeles County Museum of Art: See rockartoregon post January 31, 2014:  Freeing The Rocks: Four Potentials

    Michael Heizer.  Potato Chip, 2015.  18-ton granite rock in stell (sic) frame. 172×106 ¾’×92 inches.  Photo by Rob McKeever courtesy the Gagosian website

  • Meanders and Dams: Lost in Modoc country

    Between the limited volume of water stored in Clear Lake Reservoir, the low inflow forecast, and estimated evaporation and seepage rates, Reclamation cannot make discretionary releases from Clear Lake Reservoir during 2015. 
    - Bureau of Reclamation, April 2015

    A basin in the Modoc country of far northeast California gathers the inflowing water of Willow Creek from some million acres from the south and east. Prior to completion of the Clear Lake Reservoir Dam in 1910 the water flow made a sweeping turn through a lake called Tchápsxo by the Modoc.  Magically it became the beginning of Lost River. The river crossed north into Oregon, undulated northerly and westerly for a hundred miles, and eventually flowed into Tule Lake as that basin’s major replenisher. Today, for management purposes over a million acres of Modoc County is known as the Upper Lost River Watershed, a California segment of the Klamath Project.

    Rock art of the Upper Lost River is not well-documented or well-understood. In this extreme drought year, I wonder does rock art bear on the future of  productivity and well-being –even survival– of the people, animals, and plants of Modoc, Siskiyou, and Klamath counties? Directly, no, it does not. Yet, as a sideways reminder of time and change, seems to me it may. Walking the canyons, standing at the dam, I witness meanderings, a profound circle of season, and the vast cycles of this expansive lava plateau. Feeling time returning in curves immemorial. As with all the clear lakes and lost rivers of our journeys, we ask will it always be so?

    Some Petroglyphs of Upper Lost River

    [1] 2015 Annual Operations Plan, Klamath Project, Bureau of Reclamation, April 2015, p.3

    Note. The immediate Clear Lake area holds a tense and painful historical legacy.  Modoc villages for centuries until the mid-1800s. The Applegate Trail crossed to the north in the mid 1800s.  Modoc native peoples relocated to the Klamath Reservation in 1864. The last days of the Modoc War in 1873.  Carr’s ranch and walls held area, 1870s-1890s.  Diversions of Lost River from the 1880s to the dam completion in 1910.   President T. Roosevelt proclaimed the Clear Lake National Wildlife Refuge in 1911. Lost River sucker and the shortnose sucker listed as Endangered Species in 1988. Into the 21st century: increasing drought as symptom of global heating.

  • Crook Motif: Ever the More

    Last year I posted a consideration of the “Crook” motif as seen in Lake County, Oregon. [1]

    This simple and distinctive motif appears at times in association with other figures on panel and oft times as a “floating” figure absent any obvious referent.  Other than usually facing a water source.

    At their most concise, the abstracted form appears as a symbol:  a half circle arching upward with a brief extension on one side.  Perhaps it is better to not call them “crooks,” or hooks, or any name. 

    Recently I discovered paper by Bernard M. Jones, Jr [2], which to added new depth to my thinking about this form. I find his thoughtful investigation of power, or “powerscapes” as he proposes, quite provocative. Most of his examples include associations with anthropomorphs, as do the references I noted in my earlier post.  However, forms of the petroglyphs in the northern Great Basin vary wildly and generally depart from any anthro-association: Crook Motif: Expanded

    [1] By Crook or by Hook: Abstract petroglyph motifs in Lake County. Feb 18 2014

    [2] Bernard M. Jones, Jr. 2012. The Shaman's Crook: A Visual Metaphor Numinous Power in Rock Art. In Utah Rock Art Vol XXX, URARA.

    Look closely:  Two Crooks emerge, with dots and other figures - an old petroglyph as are most of rhe "floating" crooks in Lake County, Oregon

  • The Pit River Tribe vs. The U.S. and Calpine Corporation

    100 years ago this month, April 1915, the U.S. Reclamation Service issued a 200-page report on the Pit River Basin.  The purpose being “to assess the feasibility of constructing works for the full utilization of the waters of the river and its tributaries… for the highest public advantage.“ The Report makes no reference to native peoples or tribes. Among the considerations was a 25-mile aqueduct to enhance the river from Clear Lake, which flowed north as the (rechanneled) Lost River to the Klamath River.  This did not happen. [1]

    Last month, March 2015, the Pit River Tribe and their allies were in court to protect the Medicine Lake Highlands from geothermal destruction and desecration. The Pit River, Wintun, Karuk, Shasta and Modoc Nations hold the Medicine Lake Highlands sacred, and have used the region for healing, religious ceremonies and tribal gatherings for thousands of years. [2, 3].  Calpine Corporation,  a Fortune 500 company, was founded in San Jose, California, and has based in Houston, Texas, since 2009.

    Both aquifers contribute the Upper Sacramento Headwaters of California’s the Central Valley Project. [4]    Rock art is one of many testimonies to the continuous presence of indigenous peoples within the Pit River and the Modoc Plateau watersheds for many millennia. 

    [1] Report on the Pit River Basin. April 1915.  U.S. Reclamation Service Office, Portland Oregon.
    [2] Pit River Tribe Rallies to Protect Medicine Lake March 13 2015. by Dan Bacher.  An excellent and timely news article.
    [3] Central Valley Project per Wikipedia
    [4] Protect Medicine Lake website 

  • Free to be Wild. Again.

    Their survival means more than a wild animal among us.  Their survival, I am convinced, guarantees the tangible truth of our imaginations.  Ellen Meloy [1]

    In December, a group of Bighorn Sheep ran free in the Klamath River canyon after relocation and release by ODFW [2].

    Bighorns populated central and southeast Oregon’s mountains, rims, and scarps until arrival of euroamericans with domestic sheep herds (competition and disease) and an efficient passion for killing wild ungulates.  Given a very few decades, Bighorns were extinct in Oregon by the early 20th century.  In the 1950s Bighorns were re-introduced into the basalt rims of Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge in Lake County. [3]

    Petroglyphs lakeside west of Hart Mountain attest to the special place Bighorn Sheep held in thought and expression of indigenous peoples.  Petroglyphs appear on the capping basalt blocks tumbled from the high rims, the preferred terrain of the sheep.  These selected petroglyphs, from a rich and varied tradition, are probably late Holocene, the last 1000-1500 years.

    Bighorn Sheep petroglyphs at Hart Lake

    [1] Eating Stone: Imagination and the Loss of the Wild (2005).  Ellen Meloy’s journey with the spirit of Desert Bighorns inspires through adventure, patience, and humor infused with a deep caring. Highly recommended. -DB

    [2] ODFW release notice with video (2 minutes), December 2014: http://www.dfw.state.or.us/news/2014/december/120514.asp

    [3] 1983 Bighorn Sheep report (10 MB download) provides habitat analysis for SE Oregon: http://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/pubs/pnw_gtr159.pdf

    Coda. As noble as restoration has been, and as tenacious as these sheep can be, the new normal of extreme drought in SE Oregon may result someday in petroglyphs speaking to a dry and silent world devoid of most of the creatures we now treasure. -DB

  • Rock Art/Rock Features Symposium at NWAC 2015

    2015 Northwest Anthropological Conference: March 26-28 in Eugene OR at Valley River Inn. For downloadable schedule with abstracts:   NWAC Conference    

    Rock Art and Rock Features Research in the Northwest.
    Invited Symposium.  Douglas Beauchamp, Lead Organizer. 
    Co-Organizers: Stephen Todd Jankowski and David G. Lewis.

    Friday, March 27, 1:30-4pm.  Willamette East room.

    An emphasis on rock features and rock imagery within a landscape context offers a range of research potentials. This symposium will present and extend research with attention to recent collaborative efforts about traditional land and resource uses. Presentations indicate locational to landscape relationships. This includes rock imagery on boulders, basalt panels and escarpments, and stacked rocks, cairns, walls, blinds, circles and rings. This research demonstrates the need to enhance understanding of changing environments and climates over the millennia and into the future. Preserving and protecting rock features and rock imagery in cultural contexts and archaeological landscapes is emphasized.

    Petroglyph boulders on the Rogue River at Two Mile Creek: Intentions and Actions, 1974-2015.
    Douglas Beauchamp, Arts Consultant

    Isn’t That Just Another Rock? An overview of Rock Features classified or known as Singularly Placed, Pedestaled, Window, & Boulder Feature types. Perry Chocktoot, THPO/Cultural Resources Director-Klamath, Modoc, & Yahooskin Paiute Tribal Nation & Stephen Todd Jankowski, Archaeologist- USDA-Forest Service, Willamette National Forest

    SACRED SITE OR CURIOUSITY…?Esther Stutzman, Komemma Kalapuya and enrolled member of The Confederated Tribes of Siletz

    Heiltsuk and Wuikinuxv rock art: reminders on the landscape. Aurora Skala, MA candidate, University of Victoria, Department of Anthropology

    Upper Klamath Rock Features: “Rain Rocks.” Joanne Mack, Professor Emerita, Notre Dame

    Overview of Stacked Rock Features at Cottonwood Canyon State Park: Examining and Expanding Criteria. Nancy Nelson, Archaeologist, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department

    Using image stitching software to display complex glyptic images located at Pine Bar, Hells Canyon NSA, ID: A field experiment.William Schroeder, M.S., R.P.A, Archaeologist/Cultural Resources Manager, Reiss-Landreau Research

    Cascadia Cave Rockshelter. David G. Lewis, Anthropologist, Ethno-historian, Archivist, Educator

    Click to view: Rogue River Rock Art

  • Checkerboarding and the place of Rock Art

    BLM has its hands full.  From trickle down rules to bubble up attitudes.  And worse.  As it evaluates, plans, decides, implements, we sometimes notice bits and pieces of reference to rock art clinging to places swept along the margins. 

    After traversing public lands earlier this month on the lava flat west of Fish Creek Rim, an expansive zone between Warner Lake Basin and Drakes Peak, I am thinking about the situation.

    Checkerboarding frames the various overlays of uses and jurisdictions in this somewhat invisible and silent zone. This home of wildlife, sage and juniper, BLM characterizes as  “dry, scab rock flats with low sagebrush.”  Significantly nearby ranchers use it seasonally for grazing cattle.  We found ourselves pluck in the middle of the Lynch-Flynn Grazing Allotment I later learned.  881 AUMs (Animal Units per Month) allowed annually, falling between April 1 and mid-July. A few hikers find their way to Lynch’s Rim, a scenic overlook, and may spot the resident herd of Bighorns reintroduced from California. BLM field personnel probably cruise through time to time to monitor or augment resource studies. We saw no one. Edging the allotment are power-towers, a major BPA line, with a wide swath of right-of-way, streaming unrelentingly straight for California, or maybe Las Vegas.  

    Water as always in the dry west water drives action.  Certainly it did for eons of ancient inhabitants, those in the rhythm of seasonal rounds that based their activities near these upland springs. At least one spring site has been occupied by peoples for as long as 11,000 years ago, early Holocene. This one, and other springs, was used intermittently for seasonal procurement.  Hunting in earlier days (11,000-7,000 BP) is conjectured. Later, plant gathering dominated sustenance activity. 

    BLM says two of the springs have rock art they call Great Basin Carved Abstract (GBAC), an archaic style exemplified by the famous buried glyph panel at Long Lake in the uplands to the east, the other side of Warner Basin. No GBCAs were obvious - at least to the caliber of that at other locales we've seen in the Northern Great Basin. Since BLM doesn’t provide images, or substantiate its claim of 50 sites with Carved Abstract in Lake County, we have no way of knowing,

    As we explored the spring sites, shallow draws, and desiccated washes, this terrain emerged as territory as one segmented and mapped out by BLM: the Lynch-Flynn Grazing allotment of 23,060 acres (of which 18,800 is BLM) overlaps to east the Fish Creek Wilderness Study Area (WSA) and the related Fish Creek Rim Natural Resource Area.   To the north an array parcels are called, yes, Checkerboard (SE, etc.).  Also one named Monument for no obvious reason. (In 2010 these were deemed to lack wilderness characteristics.))  Near one fenced-off spring water filled a cattle water trough. Reading allotment study brought to mind a recent article reporting, “Grazing is the chief cause of desertification in North America.”  Whether this broad truth applies to this particular region, I do not know. Probably, despite BLM’s best efforts to sustain natural soil and native plant communities.  In any event taxpayers hugely subsidize cattle grazing on public lands.  That’s not likely to change even as these lands continue to desiccate with global heating over the next several decades. Here, it is the wildlife and the native plants that will feel it most acutely as they slowly disappear. Rock art will remain, patient testimony to cooler, moister eras.

    At night coyotes spoke across the sage vastness.  Morning sun illuminated a line of pronghorn moving slowly along, single file, keeping their distance, wary to see humans in their country in early March.

    The petroglyphs we discover trail the seasonal water poolings and flows, seemingly at random and in various styles and ages.  Some glistened on water-polished black basalt. Some struggled for clarity on achingly dry basalt, befriended by stunning arrays of lichen.  Beauty unfolding.

    To inquire about sources for this post, email:  douglasbeauchamp AT gmail.com

    Photos:Fish Creek Rim petroglyphs

  • The Sinking Earth

    “Dudley Patterson is known to be wise. So … I put the question to him: ‘What is wisdom?’ Dudley greets my query with a faintly startled look that recedes into a quizzical expression I have not seen before. ‘It’s in these places,’ he says.  ‘Wisdom sits in places.' "
    -Keith H. Basso. Dudley Patterson is an Apache horseman of Cibecue, Arizona. In: Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache. University of New Mexico Press. 1996.

    Block cave mining thousands of feet below the surface will result in a cracking and sinking earth in the Oak Flat region of Arizona. A crater two miles wide and up to 1000 feet deep will result.

    Federal land given in December for the world's largest copper mine, a joint venture Rio Tonto and BHP-Billiton, will block access to and eventually damage and destroy many petroglyphs, Hohokam sites, the best documented Apache archaeological sites and many sacred places.

    The land in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest, signed into law as a rider in December 2014, sidestepped environmental impact assessment. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) slipped the transfer into the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the must-pass military spending bill.  

    Five minute video overview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAptwpX-03E

    Clear explanation of the industrial mining process: http://www.azminingreform.org/sites/default/files/docs/Impacts%20of%20Block%20Cave%20Mining.pdf

    Current politics:  http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2015/02/04/yavapai-apache-chairman-oak-flat-holy-sites-are-central-apache-spiritual-beliefs-159016

    The archaeology: http://www.archaeologicalconservancy.org/planned-arizona-copper-mine-put-hole-apache-archaeology/

    facebook page: Saving OAK FLAT Campground

  • The Necessity within the Circle

    There is a difference of feeling between saying "the circle is a scientific or philosophical idea" and saying, "the circle is an archetypal idea." Archetypal adds the further implication of basic root structure, generally human, a necessary universal with consequents. The circle is not just any scientific idea; it is basic, necessary universal. Archetypal gives this kind of value.  James Hillman [1]

    We arrive to circles with a point of view.  A tension arises. Circle scribing universal form. Circle embodying a particular meaning for the people of a specific time and place.

    The value Hillman alludes to arises not from interpreting. Instead, holding close to the image. This allowing is to enter the circle. We may intuit a commonality emerging from the shared heritage of our human minds. Beyond that, as he says: “An archetypal quality emerges through (a) precise portrayal of the image; (b) sticking to the image while hearing it metaphorically; (c) discovering the necessity within the image; (d) experiencing the unfathomable analogical richness of the image.” [1]
    [1] James Hillman, “Inquiry into Image,” Spring, 1977, p 82.  (As cited in A Blue Fire, edited by Thomas Moore, 1989. 26-27.)

    Album: Petroglyph Circles
    Below, "Necessity within the Circle"  Hart-Warner Uplands, Lake County

  • So many words! So few millennia!

    In the next four months groups at three gatherings will present research and discuss rock art.  So many vistas! So many words! So few millennia!

    The Northwest Anthropological Conference NWAC 2015, March 26-28 in Eugene, includes a symposium devoted to Rock Art & Rock Features Research in the Northwest.  My research presentation: Petroglyph boulders on the Rogue River at Two Mile Creek: Intentions and Actions, 1974-2015. Image below: Detail from displaced boulder, now in Agness.  Photos of Selected Boulders

    The Society for American Archaeology’s Annual Meeting, San Francisco, April 15-19, includes a rock art via a forum, two symposia, and a general session, involving over 70 individuals.   SAA 2015 Annual Meeting  
    - Caring for Knowledge on Stone: Rock Art Co-Management with Indigenous and Local Communities
    - Rock Art Research: A Regional Analysis
    - Methodology and Interpretation in the Archaeology of Rock Art
    - Global Studies in Rock Art Analysis and Interpretation

    The American Rock Art Research Association’s annual conference, May 22-25, is in Laughlin, Nevada, on the Colorado River. Deadline for submissions is March 1. (I intend to discuss the implications of a rediscovered petroglyph boulder from the Columbia River.)  ARARA 2015 Conference

  • Of Slicks and Glyphs

    One’s experience deepens when encountering bedrock boulders with grinding slicks and attendant petroglyphs. The dimensional surfaces of the in-place stones reflect material processes of habitation. Which came first, how and why, is not as important as recognizing these as layered markers of peoples living in and moving through this landscape.

    Photos: Slicks and Glyphs

  • Dark Shape Swimming

    Dark Shape Swimming

    A Stone Age painting
    on a Sahara boulder:
    a shadowy shape that swims
    on some ancient river.

    With no weapon, and no plan,
    Neither at rest nor hurrying,
    the swimmer is parted from his shadow
    which is slipping along the bottom.

    He has fought to get free
    from millions of sleeping leaves,
    to make it to the other shore
    and join his shadow again.

    - Tomas Tranströmer [1]
    This poem, written in the 1950s, may reference images in a Wadi Sura cave, on the Egyptian border near Libya - the Cave of Swimmers. [2]  

    [1] From: The Half-finished Heaven: the Best Poems of Tomas Tranströmer, selected and translated by Robert Bly, 2001, Graywolf Press

    [2] Cave of Swimmers figures prominently in the 1992 book The English Patient and in its 1996 film adaptation. The cave shown in the film is not the original but a film set created by a contemporary artist. Fame has taken a toll as an increase in visitors has increased damage to the cave’s paintings. 

    Photo by Roland Unger, all rights reserved. Detail of swimmers, Wadi Sur

  • The Long Count

    In a refreshingly straightforward essay James Rauff, a professor of mathematics, considers North American rock art tallies from a mathematical point of view. [1] “Tallies represent a count of something, ” he says, and recognizes, “the ambiguity between artistic choice and tally.”  And notes, “As we study the tallies on rock art, a particularly difficult question arises: How is one to distinguish a tally from a design.”

    Rauff’s thoughts and sketches provoked me to think more carefully about series of marks, lines, dots, strokes, and figures as possible sequences and patterns that may be instances of tallies. The question is not so simple. I may be seeing linear, or what I perceive as logical progressions, as universal counting. A mistake to do so. I conclude there is no pure tally given the marks’ (and the makers’) own internal and obscure meanings. There may be an accounting of objects or a marking of time intervals, but the visual configuration of a petroglyph on stone is always an image with various signs and/or symbolic elements. [2]    

    As I identify possible tally marks, I see the complexity of notations merging as symbols or figures. Yes, the visual sense of counting in the sense of mathematics lends a density to inherent meaning. Further, I think of the possible use sequential marks as a form of re-counting, as memory-making, as a mnemonic. This remembering manifests as re-collection and storytelling, bridging realms.

    Rauff elegantly sums up his position, “Ultimately, the bulk of the interpretations of tally marks are pure speculation. My favorite interpretation is that of George Bull Tail. He is quoted as saying that the tally marks were made 'by the Little People to keep track of numbers or something' ".

    Photos possible Tallies:  Rock Art Tally Marks

    [1] James V. Rauff. "Rock Art Tallies: Mathematics on Stone in Western North America." Journal of Humanistic Mathematics 3, no. 2 (2013): 76-87. Bull Tail quote p.85. Available as a PDF at   http://scholarship.claremont.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1103&context=jhm
    [2] The complexities of notation, or schemata, and pictures as images are well elucidated by art historian and theorist James Elkins in his numerous books and papers.
    Further reading. William Breen Murray, "Numerical representations in North American rock art," in Native American mathematics (1986), 45-70. Michael P Closs, ed., University of Texas Press.

  • Presence of The Dark

    Awakening to the night opens a dark eye into the invisible world.  James Hillman [1]

    With the shadows I am trying to represent the will of each stone. But at the same time, it's a reflection of the visitor’s own thought, an invitation to enter an imaginary world.  Lee Ufan [2]

    Ruminating into the shadows during this season of the longest night, I think first of those passionate people who examine, record, and document petroglyphs. All manner of illumination may be employed, even obsessively, to “capture” the carvings’ forms and precise details. For many years this has included chalkings, paintings, scraping moss and lichens, rubbings, and tracings, followed by photographs or drawings.  When timing a  precise angle of the light was not adequately revealing, the stone and marking may be wetted or, inviting shadows, photographed at night strafed by studio lights. Now 3-D laser scans, cameras drooping from balloons, and hovering drones simultaneously leave no stone untouched and do not touch the stone. What is the contained residue of this research? Designs, motifs, elements, floating signifiers.

    What is missed in this sharp looking? I say the elusive whispers of the muses of imagining who with respect may emerge from the realm of shades. Or pull us toward, within. We can choose to follow, along the edges, bearing light and night, bright and dark, each in mind and heart. The photographs here seek to open to the presence of the dark. Through the images, to feel the elusive depths of being human.

    Shadow Glyphs

    [1] From the essay “Waking at Night” in The Force of Character (1999).
    [2] June 2014 interview quote from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCiAZwLXUTM.  Lee Ufan, cofounder of Japan's Mono-ha (School of Things) movement, displayed ten new sculptures from his "Relatum" series on the grounds of Louis XIV’s 17th century royal palace Château de Versailles, outside Paris, summer and fall 2014. Views of the sculptures: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ooT07R_ExU