BLOG: To Become Visible

Meaning
  • Worldings and Ontologies

    Though Adrian Ivakhiv recently pronounced “Ontology is in; epistemology is out,” at this week’s Rock Art Worldings conference in Sweden All is in.  The organizers frame three areas of attention:  Rock art chronologies, Rock art materialities, and Rock Art Ontologies. Chronologies and materialities continue to ask how we know what we know; epistemology alive and well.

    The question of ontologies and rock art compels:  What is the is-ness of rock art, its nature, its being-in-the world?  The conference says ontologies embrace such realms as  “ … the relational intra-actions between humans and other-than-humans, such as gods, spirits, the dead, animals, inhabitants of other cosmic levels, meteorological phenomena, plants, and occasionally even artefacts.”  An urgent provocation to keep open in the study of rock art.

    Worlding itself as word and idea gained momentum in the 1990s and now accelerates through multiple areas of inquiry.  Distracting, disturbing, and disrupting placid ponds of reflected knowing.  Crucially, what the aspiring “Worlding” means or does in “The Real World” of crushing change and staggering crisis remains to be known. What is, is; what becomes, will be.  

    In any event, I believe looking with rock art as articulations of being constitute a worlding ontology.  Below, RockArtOregon: One Worlding

  • Swallowing: The Tabasará River Petroglyphs

    In May 2016 the reservoir of Barro Blanco Dam, in western Panama, was filled for the first time as a “test.” Considered an illegal act by the indigenous Ngäbe Bugle people, the flooding followed over 20 years of rulings, negotiation, government and corporate corruption, coercion, and human rights violations, protests, and some deaths. This continues. Inundated were forest and farm lands and village dwellings.

    The rising waters also swallowed sacred petroglyphs on boulders of the Tabasará River.  The annual ceremony in early 2016 was last in the presence of the now inundated petroglyphs.

    The report of the registered archaeologist hired by GENISA the company identified only one “disturbed" site in the project area and neglected mentioning the petroglyphs. GENISA, a family-owned corporation, was formed in 2006 to build the Barro Blanco dam.  Project funding comes from two European development (investment) banks in the Netherlands and in Germany.

    This disturbing situation took a bizarre turn in early Spring 2017. Water levels in the reservoir unexpectedly receded. The petroglyphs remain buried under debris and sediment up to 5 meters deep. It appears GENISA drained for testing, then by early April completely filled the Barro Blanco reservoir.

    Petroglyphs always mark a specific place with cultural moment. Yet as emblematic figures they continue witnessing cycling realms of change. As motif, symbol, and artifact, the stone abides, signaling desire, hope, and pain.  Why ask what does a petroglyph mean?  Rather:  How does a petroglyph mean in the longue durée of the Earth’s endeavor?

    ALBUM: http://rockartoregon.com/tabasar-river-petroglyphs
    …………………………………
    REFERENCES
    Underwater: Barro Blanco Displaces Three Ngäbe Bugle Communities in Panama.  Jonathan González Quiel.  In Cultural Survival, Dec 2016.
    https://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/underwater-barro-blanco-displaces-three-ngabe-bugle

    http://chiriquinatural.blogspot.com/   See posts: June 9 2017 and January 20 2017.     

    Beatriz Felipe Pérez et. al., 2016. Rethinking the Role of Development Banks in Climate Finance: Panama’s Barro Blanco CDM Project and Human Rights. 12/1 Law, Environment and Development Journal. 1-17.  PDF http://www.lead-journal.org/content/16001.pdf  Highly Recommended.

    Sara E Bivin Ford. 2015. The Ngäbe-Buglé Fight to Maintain Territorial Sovereignty.
    PDF http://escholarship.org/uc/item/9qf03131

    Evans, Katharine. 2015. Tabasará Libre: A Case Study of Carbon Colonialism in Panama's Barro Blanco Hydroelectric Project. PDF http://wesscholar.wesleyan.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2523&context=etd_hon_theses

    Evans, Katharine. 2014. Tabasará Libre: A Case Study of Development and Indigenous Rights. PDF http://digitalcollections.sit.edu/isp_collection/1875/

    Barro Blanco Dam is one of 30 planned hydropower plants in Panama.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barro_Blanco_Dam

    Two photos below, for links to sources, see images in Album

    Petroglyph boulder in Tabasará River 2015.
    Last annual ceremony of the Ngäbe Bugle people with the sacred petroglyphs 2016.


  • TEN 2016

    Ten images from this year now passing.  Exploring Life and Non-life within the northern Great Basin. TEN 2016 Album

    In this Now, this cusp of Then Past and There Future, let’s think a Moment with Elizabeth Povinelli [1]:  

    Take Life or Nonlife in the Anthropocene and the Meteorocene. Geology and meteorology are devouring their companion discipline, biology. For if we look at where and how life began, and how and why it might end, then how can we separate Life from Nonlife? Life is not the miracle-the dynamic opposed to the inert of rocky substance. Nonlife is what holds, or should hold for us, the more radical potential. For Nonlife created what it is radically not, Life, and will in time fold this extension of itself back into itself as it has already done so often and long. It will fold its own extension back into the geological strata and rocky being, whereas Life can only fall into what already is. Life is merely a moment in the greater dynamic unfolding of Nonlife. And thus Life is devoured from a geological perspective under the pressure of the Anthropocene and Meteorocene.

    [1] Elizabeth A. Povinelli is the Franz Boas Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University. Excerpt from the final pages (176) of her recent book Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism. Duke University Press, 2016.



  • 10000 Years Plus or Minus

    Tao produced the One.
    The One produced the two.
    The two produced the three.
    And the three produced the ten thousand things.
          - Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching: about 2500 years ago [1]

    10000 years in the future.  What language do you speak?  How do you shape symbols, markers?  Gaze back to the Present.  How do you witness terrain?  What animals and plants do you see? How does the sky appear? 

    10000 years ago, early Archaic.  You are walking, what do you see?  How do you signal. Gesture? Gaze forward to this Present.  How would you make a Universal Warning Sign? 

    10000 years give or take, a blip in geologic time. Yet, an elusive temporal imagining for an embodied human. What image/symbol/figuration endures, holds meaning? How to chart it, graph it, digitize it, mark it, so… we get it?  As we inquire, we wonder - does it matter?  The Ten Thousand Things.  The eternal proliferation.  Back to square One of The Tao.

    Nuclear waste doesn't go away.  These are not simple questions with easy answers. Indeed they may be deadly important.  When Yucca Mountain, Nevada, was in serious consideration as a permanent disposal and containment site for “high level radioactive waste” (1987-2011) [2], how to warn future (human?) beings of danger spurred a design competition. A Universal Warning Sign was essential one that would be understood 10,000 years into the future. [3]

    The graphic image above is one part of the submission by Yulia Hanansen

    The first image below is a submission by Southwest Missouri State University's Brandon Alms.
    With the 2nd image below, not part of the competition, I offer as a counterpoint: a compelling art poster (1995) by Jaune Quick-To-See Smith.  She says, "I chose rabbits as an art icon because there is a cultural universality to them throughout the world."

    The 3rd image: a competition graphic by Yulia Hanansen.
    The final image: Archaic Petroglyph, Southeast Oregon, photo Douglas Beauchamp. 

    Notes
    [1] Lao Tzu, The Way of Lao Tzu, Wing-Tsit Chan, trans.

    [2] Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository
    [3] Universal Warning Sign competition (2002) for Yucca Mountain. Universal Warning Sign: Yucca Mountain.  Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman (2015), by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, provides a concise overview about the 2002 Universal Warning Sign competition for Yucca Mountain.

  • Character of the place

    The place can make us feel deeply at home. Yet it is not our 'own' . Its significance does not originate in an order created by us. What the place means to us does not depend on our activities - and their meanings. This fact strikes us when we attempt to define the meaning of the place by words - and these words escape us. When we feel that the place is near – it withdraws. The place rests in its own withdrawal.  Dag T. Andersson [1]

    High Lakes lava lands of eastern Lake County. East of the Warner Valley, west of Guano Valley, south of Poker Jim Ridge, north of the Sheldon Antelope Refuge on the Nevada line. And here I stand and walk in a space that runs to horizons.  Near places resting in withdrawal.  Late September 2015. 

    The makers of petroglyphs found rims, boulders, smooth surfaces often facing morning sun. Carved, pecked, abraded, or scratched images as a single act or layered over uncountable centuries interplay within the hard basalt, the earth. Perhaps functional or practical, yet more often appearing imbued with spirit world. 

    Beginning a few decades ago ranchers and federal agencies brought laborers and their tools -- bulldozers and backhoes -- to carve rough tracks, dig waterholes, push up berms for reservoirs. 

    In common, these human activities circle near water, attentive to seasons.   Meaning expressed in and through materials, the altered rocks, dust, dirt, wet and dry. Meaning now melding with the cycles and wrappings of nature.

    Album: Lake County East [Link]

    [1] Dag T. Andersson. Ontology of a space left over.  In Ruin Memories: Materialities, Aesthetics and the Archaeology of the Recent Past.  Bjørnar Olsen and Þóra Pétursdóttir, editors. Routledge, 2014.

  • 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 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.

  • What is an image?

    This rock painting is an image, faded, now barely discernible.  But where does the image begin?  And, where does it end?  In this case the image is not simply the lines of red ochre forming a design. It is also the distinct, slender triangle of basalt pointing downward.  It is the crevices that set apart this sculptural form.  By extension it is the surround, the place, image embodied as narrative relationship, moving inward and out.

    Image is an elusive word for concepts used by many to denote a range of meanings.  I will go with James Elkins who said, in The Domain of Images, for his purposes, “an image is patterns on surfaces, taken in by the eye.” He adds, an image is the same as a “visual artifact.” [1]

    The second image at work here is the photograph, another pattern on a surface. The diverse images in the album display selected framings of this singular rock painting.  Some with modifications of contrast and coloration to help “see-again” the painted image. The painter saw, made, lived in, and understood a context very different than I as I stood before it.  And very different than the one you view on the screen, as a digital rectangle. Together, the images tell a story in the present pointing to a time past and implying time forward.  Now it’s your story.

  • The Place of the Heart

    This design calls to mind the Pit River mythological being World’s Heart, te-ga-te-hataji, according to Floyd Buckskin, in a joint paper with Arlene Benson (Modoc 75; 1985). The authors describe the many ways the upper divided triangular motif, as World Heart with the connecting line(s) and the circles below, can be interpreted in Pit River myth.  They also note how this panel unites concepts of Pit River and Modoc myths. Photo Douglas Beauchamp 2013. 

  • The fundamental Earth is trembling

    The immemorial, fixed Earth, which provided the conditions and foundations of our lives, is moving, the fundamental Earth is trembling.  - Michel Serres, The Natural Contract (p. 86). 

    43 cupules on a solitary granite boulder face east beyond the Pacific Ocean’s Monterey Bay toward the hills and the rising sun. 

    Dense with cuppings, red-colored boulders in the marshlands at the southern terminus of Clear Lake, California’s largest natural lake. 

    Deep groves forming ovals and circles on schist boulders embedded in the rolling oak hills east of the Russian River. 

    The rocks, exposed nodes marked and eroding, in motion with our weathering sphere around the sun.  As with the stone, softly patinaed and lichened, we feel the old trembling, and the new.

    (Photos in the three Northern California albums noted above from November 2013. Below: Spyrock (detail), Mendocino County.  Serres quoted by Bruno Latour in “Which language shall we speak with Gaia?” (2013:4). To download this recent essay as a pdf: Gaia

  • Boulder on a pedestal bears many meanings

    A photograph provides an instant of a phenomenon, not the essence of the phenomenon. Representation is unapologetically interpretive.   -Scott R. Hutson, in Past Presented, 2013.

    During road building along the Klamath River in 1948 a petroglyph boulder was re-discovered.  Immediately moved from Gottville 20 miles south to the then-new Fort Jones Museum and placed on an outdoor pedestal, the boulder was the focus of an influential and oft-cited 1953 paper by Robert Heizer, Sacred Rain-Rocks of Northern California. The boulder is generally referred to as the Gottville rain-rock (Heizer 1953), or as the Gottville rock or boulder, or the Shasta rain rock.  Dixon (in The Shasta 1907) did not see it and does not name it or speculate on its purpose. 

    Alongside the dozens of cupules and the four or more deep linear carvings appear several  pairs* of carefully-placed, well-articulated and deeply grooved “bear paws” petroglyphs, very rare west of the northern Sierra Nevada. It so the only cupule or rain rock boulder I am aware of that includes bear tracks.  The distinct images disrupt, suggesting multiple traditions over an expanse of time.  (*Heizer notes three pairs, but examination reveals several, even with the extensive weathering.)

    As with many labels, “rain-rock,” has a certain ring and takes on a life of its own as a convenient, albeit limiting, functional category. And as with most labels and namings contains as a drop of truth.  However, anthropological interpretation and the popular culture have a way of exceeding label-limits regardless of whatever purposes governed the original makers’ intentions. Citing Goddard’s early 20th century Hupa ethnology, Heizer notes the Sugar Bowl valley boulder, connected with influencing weather, “is called by white people the rain-rock.” The Hupa name for it translates as "Thunder's Rock." The Hupa occupy the lower Trinity River area, above its confluence with the Klamath.

    Recently a local writer offered a sweep of speculations: the stone was used to “entice the Great Spirit to give rain” or, by filling the cupules with mud, to “politely ask the Great Spirit to stop the precipitation.” She continued, “Some Native Americans claim these were made by bears. Others say the scratches were made to produce a white powder which represented snow. …  others say the scratches were a plea for food.”   She concluded, “The mystery of the rock is left to an individual’s beliefs. But the massive boulder is loved and revered by most visitors as a symbol of earlier residents of Siskiyou County.”

    The three selected photographs via lighting, camera angle, cropping, and the inherent flattening, intentionally abstract - as instants of a phenomenon - the two-ton, richly dimensional boulder and its carvings.  Asking, where do we look?  How do we see?   For more photos of the boulder in present context:  Rain-Rock

  • A Glacial Erratic with markings. A Map Rock? A Sky Stone?

    In the spring of 1999 respected Salish elder Dobie Tom visited a boulder with markings on a hillside meadow near Bonney Lake, Washington, about 20 miles southeast of Tacoma.  Tom identified the markings on top of the massive glacial erratic, rediscovered during planning for a nearby housing development, as a map of the Puyallup Valley.  The bowl-like depression in the center of the top represented the original Lake Tapps to the northeast, he said. 

    The following year the property owner contracted two researchers from the community college. Using computer models Gerald Hedlund and Dennis Regan decided the twenty human made depressions (cupules? a mortar?) on the stone’s flat surface indicated the stone, with use sticks and cords, could have been an observatory for determining seasonal changes and predicting sun, moon, and star alignments and possibly as sight lines to mountains, including Mount Rainier.  They named it Skystone.

    E.C. Krupp, astronomer, director of the Griffith Observatory, and a specialist in the field of archaeoastronomy, said native peoples probably already knew when the solstices occurred by observing the heavens. "The site sounds to me like it's for rituals or an educational site," and added more proof is needed to accept Skystone as an old observatory. 

    The Puyallup Tribal Council called the find "an exciting rediscovery…considering the rock carving is located in the Tribe’s traditional usual and accustomed area" and called for a plan to protect "this fascinating cultural feature."

    Notably this petroglyph boulder is not identified in rock art surveys that include Western Washington (Lundy 1974, Hill and Hill1974, McClure 1978, Wellman 1979, Leen 1981).  I compiled the above summary through local newspaper stories (1999-2009) and fragments of references on city and tribal websites. So, ambiguity lingers beyond what can be recorded in this modest blog posting.  Isn’t that how rock art works?

    Photos (November 2013) and details:  Bonney Lake Skystone Petroglyph

  • 24/7: Through the Looking-Glass

    In 24/7:  Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep,  Jonathan Crary describes 24/7 as “a generalized inscription of human life into duration without breaks, defined by a principle of continuous functioning.”  24/7 means screens ever on, data ever flowing, infinite ever streaming.  No turning back.

    You peer into this frame and image at once an individual and a bearer of the social.  Through lensing, literally and figuratively, I looking-glass the gesture on the stone of the maker - an individual and a bearer of the social.  Each of our time-wrought facings curve the moments of who we are. 

    Sleep?  A time of vulnerability, a time to dream, Crary concludes, “sleep can stand for the durability of the social.”  Enough to keep you awake.  Or open dreamtime. (Petroglyph panel, Lake County, Oregon)

  • What It Is: the elusive persistence of rock art

    Dog Creek Cave is, Rick Colman tells me on our stroll Sunday to view and photograph the pictographs, a grotto. Located a few miles northwest of the famous Steamboat Inn on the North Umpqua River, it’s two miles north of the river on Forest Service lands. The meander to get here, though, includes a 12-mile drive on four forest roads and a two-mile hike on a well-done forest trail.

    Why pictographs here, when there are so very few sites in the western Cascades?  And why such a variety in the few dozen motifs and figures at this remote site?  Writers and researchers tend  to generalize - “Columbia Plateau influence” or a spirit-power quest location - or particulate - “it's an insect.”  Maybe. The truth feels deeper, more nuanced, reflective of a way of being-in-the-world difficult to grasp for this 21st century observer. 

    Answers elude.  Yet, consider the observations of the Lorings (1983) about the similarity of some figures at Dog Creek to some at Picture Gorge on the upper John Day River and other sites east of the Cascades.  Too, somewhat similar to possibly older motifs at Bottle Creek, an isolated and modest rock shelter overlooking the Umpqua River about 60 miles downstream from Dog Creek.

    Below, details:  Dog Creek (top). Picture Gorge (middle).  Bottle Creek (bottom).

  • Dwelling in a world of boundaries

    The eye and mind map surfaces, terrain, with borders and intersections. We imagine. The camera frames, including, excluding, with crisp delineation.  Descriptions and representations of rock art invoke boundaries, defining context.  But is rock art boundaried?  Bound by what terms? By what forms, lines or edges? The word bound originated in an old Norse word meaning to dwell.  Perhaps dwell spoke of a bounded space, a place of binding or of bonding.

    Petroglyphs mark place or sometimes suggest territories or traversals.  Some carved or pecked lines on stone seem to divide, delineate, or move across.   Some appear to move through to the other side, toward an unknown, an otherworld that disrupts the comfort of dwelling.

     "Unified Field Theory" A petroglyph panel from Lake County Petroglyphs East of Abert Rim

  • Petroglyphs as Social Media?

    The final paragraph of an article in this Sunday’s New York Times offers an odd linkage of petroglyphs and the compulsion of social media:  Geoff Manaugh said that although there was a big difference between street art and outright vandalism, it is all social media. The inscriptions left on rocks in the desert and petroglyphs “are, to some extent, the Facebook wall of an earlier era in human communication,” he said, “a kind of geoliterature left in place for others to discover.”  - Facebook Made Me Do It, The New York Times, Sunday June 16 2013, SR5, by Jenna Wortham. Mr. Manaugh blogs about urban architecture, the environment and technology.

    Photo:A Modoc County Petroglyph, March 2013

     

  • How is it?

    This image offers similarities to the two lobed figures I posted earlier, on May 1, one in Nevada, one of California. This, in Oregon, also with five twinned lobes (the lower lichen-covered), with a finial cupping, or blossoming, or offering.  The image may seem fixed. Our look, or the photograph, may make it seem so.

    The act of maker expressed experience of a way in the world.  The world continues, it opens, it moves. So to see and ask How is it? feels right in the presence of the image in stone, on the basalt rim, in this place, a playa south of Hart Mountain, facing east.