BLOG: To Become Visible

Seeing
  • Eclipse Prequel: Shade and Shadow in Modoc Country

    What is it that fascinates us? Probably the deobjectifying flicker of things and the sudden glint of an object, the shadow cast temporarily by things (shade) as well as that projected on them by other things around them (shadow). What is atmospherically fascinating therefore is the ephemeral appearances. … These luminous quasi-things spread around a deeply immersive affective tone, not despite but thanks to their transience.  
    - Tonino Griffero. 2017. Quasi-things: the paradigm of atmospheres; translated from Italian by Sarah De Sanctis. 107

    To chase the shadows is illusory, yet they serve to indicate something there, present by its virtual absence, as a dark imitation or double, maybe spectral or real. While chasing shadows might be silly, the phrase ‘casting a shadow' is not. It signifies something portending, something that has irrupted and something to take notice of, for fear lurks in the phrase that an ethos has changed, where light no longer monopolises and dark, like a tide, has crept in.
    - Kieran Flanagan. 2017. Sociological noir: irruptions and the darkness of modernity. 32

    Jeremiah Curtin and Alma Curtin recorded Myths of the Modocs in the 1880s while he was employed at the Bureau of American Ethnology (later the Smithsonian Institution).

    Tsmuk is Darkness, appearing as a character in a number of the myths; his daughter lúnika is Twilight and she is powerfully present in the myth Wus and Tsmuk’s Daughter.  Here the Curtins' comment about another myth, Wus Kumush and Tsmuk.  This observation succinctly sums up the ambiguities of the life’s movement through days and nights, in darks and lights.

    “In this myth there is a fine description of Wus. He could make people old; he could change them to animals or to anything he chose. He was the greatest trickster in the world; he delighted in deceiving people. He made Tsmuk look toward the east; immediately Tsmuk's body became a black cloud. A west wind came and carried the cloud away; it was daylight. Wus said to Tsmuk, ‘You'll no longer be a person. You'll be darkness, and people will sleep when you are here. But I shall not sleep. I will sleep in the daytime and travel at night.’ The last part of Wus' declaration must be an interpolation, for Wus is connected with light. “

    Shade and Shadow in Modoc County: Photographs, August 2017, in the Lost River watershed, Modoc Country, east and south of the Klamath Basin, now the lands of south central Oregon and northeastern California.

  • Darkzones and Twilight Zones

    Art provides a potent haunting, both in its anachronic character and in the figuration of its own scandalous ephemerality.  Irene V. Small, Artforum, May 2017 [2]

    It’s blazing bright in the Great Basin. So, think  two caves in the Caribbean:  Cueva Vientos near the southern coast of Puerto Rico, and cave 18 on Mona, a small Island west of Puerto Rico.  Both caves embrace, protect, and project human expressions — art.  Light within the caves’ interiors is fundamental to display, to our way of seeing.

    First, to Mona. On this small island Alice Samson and Jago Cooper and colleagues have documented 70 cave systems of the 200 of the island. Many contain the thousands of indigenous figures they have documented as part of broader archaeological survey. “Extensive mark-making and extraction in the dark zones indicates engagement with the physical substances and psychosensorial properties of the caves. These practices created connections across generations, between people, ancestors, and nonhuman entities.” [Samson 2015]  In one, cave 18, they also discovered some 30 markings - Spanish names and Christian words and crosses —  from the early colonial period. [1]

    To Cueva Vientos.  In September 2015 the artist duo Allora & Calzadilla placed a 1965 Dan Flavin light sculpture in Cueva Vientos near the central south coast of Puerto Rico. This iconic Minimalist sculpture Puerto Rican Light (to Jeanie Blake) is comprised of three illuminated fluorescent tubes powered by solar energy.  It will be on view, with visits by reservation, until September 23, 2017. [2]
    - Jennifer Allora:  With Puerto Rican Light (Cueva Vientos) we want to rethink the dualistic split between inside and outside, here and elsewhere, and pursue instead unbounded interdependence and exchange.
    - Guillermo Calzadilla:  It is our intention that this project presents a dense interweaving of inter-generational art-historical exchange and postcolonial geographical dislocation. [Excerpts from the artists, who are based in Puerto Rico, from DIA 2015]


    Each visual event — a contemporary art installation and interpretative archaeology documentation — rewards contemplation; indeed, immersion.  Further, when both are considered simultaneously as forms of a geographical oscillation, an expansive montage shapes and pulsates. Each place makes sense; each cave embodies the sensual. In that state the human endeavor to image pervades visual logic. We join with others, feel our way in an enigmatic dark guided by faint glows.

    Coda.  Both of these intriguing, even astonishing, explorations of art and light inhere during a time when, as reported by Reuters on July 20, 2017, “Puerto Rico is in a historic economic crisis, with $72 billion in debt it cannot repay, a 45 percent poverty rate, and insolvent public pensions.”   This situation occurs, NBC News reports on May 10, 2017, as Puerto Rico's drinking water system is “on the brink of crisis” and where “elevated lead levels, bacteria, chemicals and lax adherence to regulations have created a toxic mix for the American territory's 3 million-plus citizens.”  Indeed, echoing Irene Small, a potent haunting.

    References and Links below.
    Below: Cave 18.  Photo courtesy Cavescapes, 2013.

    Above: Allora & Calzadilla, Puerto Rican Light (Cueva Vientos), 2015-2017. Installation view.  Photo Courtesy Artforum, May 2017, by Allora & Calzadilla
     
    References and Links
    [1] Mona
    - Samson, A.V.M. & J. Cooper.  2015.  History on Mona Island. Long-term Human and Landscape Dynamics of an ‘Uninhabited’ Island. New West Indian Guide 89: 30–60.  Recommended.
    - Samson, A.V.M., J. Cooper, et al.  2013.  Cavescapes in the pre-Columbian Caribbean Antiquity 87(338).
    - University of Leicester,  July 19 2016. Cave discoveries shed new light on Native and European religious encounters in the Americas.  (Noting, with gratitude, in this release, University of Leicester provides a link to an excellent collection of photographs and images.)   
    [2] Cueva Vientos
    - DIA. Sep 23 2015.  Dia Art Foundation Presents Puerto Rican Light (Cueva Vientos) 
    - Allora & Calzadilla.  Sep 22 2015. Artforum, 500 Words.  
    - Irene V. Small.  May 2017. Artforum.  On Allora & Calzadilla’s Puerto Rican light (Cueva Vientos)

  • It is tempting to envision

    Grimes Point is located at the western tip of the Lahontan Mountains. Here there are abundant petroglyphs pecked into basaltic boulders distributed along crude shoreline terraces formed by waves of Lake Lahontan.  The age of the petroglyphs is not known so temporal associations with lake levels cannot be made with certainty, but it is tempting to envision Native Americans lounging amongst the rocks idly pecking away after a nice swim or clam bake.
    Susan H. Zimmerman, Kenneth D. Adams, and Michael R. Rosen, 2015 [1]

    The last phrase in the above quote is highlighted so we may think with it for a moment.  Certainly it is tempting when encountering petroglyphs to attempt to envision indigenous lifeways at the time the stones were carved.  Envision means to imagine, to conjure a picture in the mind.  Such a picture will always be our picture, our frame, our composition, the cosmos on our terms.  If words such as lounging, idly pecking, nice swim, enter into our picture it is time to recognize we have conjured our fantasy.  Time to step back, way back, to sense this place’s presence. Look and listen. The stones abide; the petroglyphs resound.

    Recognize, too, in the 20th century the material reality for this place, these stones, has often been one of destructive impacts and disregard. Roads through the site, bulldozing, quarrying, boulders displaced, removed, damaged or destroyed, painted signs and graffiti. [2]  Beginning in the 1950s, the Grimes Point petroglyph area was used as a trash dump for Fallon, a few miles to the northwest. [3] Only since the 1970s have protective measures by the BLM encouraged care and respect. [4]  The stones abide; the petroglyphs resound.

    [1] Susan Zimmerman, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Ken Adams, Desert Research Institute, and Michael Rosen, U.S. Geological Survey.  2015.   From “Modern, Holocene, and Pleistocene Lake Locales in the Western Great Basin, Nevada and California.”  Trip 3, June 15–19, 2015, in the Field Trip Guidebook, Sixth International Limnogeology Congress, Reno, Nevada.  p67.   
    [2] Karen M. Nissen 1982.  Images from the Past: An Analysis of Six Western Great Basin Petroglyph Sites. PhD. Diss, UC Berkeley.  p294.  During two field seasons in the 1970s Nissen recorded or noted over 900 boulders with petroglyphs at Grimes Point.  
    [3] Robert Heizer and Martin Baumhoff.  1962. Prehistoric Rock Art of Nevada and Eastern California. p18.
    (4) Grimes Point Archaeological Area (BLM).   Online Nevada: Grimes Point (Alanah Woody)

    Photos at Grimes Point

  • Sinking into Earth

    At hand, the deeply dark petroglyphs near Carson Sink in northern Nevada. It’s tempting to peruse the boulders and images, then wind along my away. [1] Lingering, my thoughts imagine the possible landscapes – waters, plants, birds, animals - how this country may have varied when the peoples who carved these images resided in and traveled through. These wonderings wheel back to considering how the landscape appears today. And what the future holds.

    Sounds of the national anthem drift across the early desert. Loudspeakers a few miles away. I notice 8 a.m. The anthem sifts over the quiet land from the Naval Air Station near Fallon: “Home to the Fighting Saints of VFC-13, the Desert Outlaws of Strike Fighter Wing Pacific, and the Naval Strike Air Warfare Center, NAS Fallon serves as the Navy’s premier tactical air warfare training center.” [2]

    A scattered patchwork of five bombing ranges comprising 100,000 acres inscribe on the nearby terrain of Northern Nevada. [3] Though the rock art meanings may seem mute in this presence, the carvings induce listening and looking, as unfurling intimations - there and here, past and future. A necessary and material sense of change turns, refolds, embraces this earth.

    [1] Modern research on the region’s rock art began with Julian Steward (1929); enhanced by Martin Baumhoff and Robert Heizer (1958; 1962); followed by Karen Nissen’s detailed documentation in the 1970s (1982).
    [2] Naval Air Station Fallon
    [3] The Center for Land Use Interpretation

    View Petroglyphs Carson Sink

  • Beyond Parts and Wholes

    The whole is something else than the sum of the parts, because summing is a meaningless procedure, whereas the whole-part relationship is meaningful.
    Kurt Koffka, in Principles of Gestalt Psychology (1935)

    One of the three founders of modern Gestalt psychology, Koffka penned this to counter the misattribution of the common precept “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts” to him, Max Wertheimer, and Wolfgang Kohler.

    Why offer a fine-grained distinction in perceptual theory? To openly consider perception of configurations of marks on stone, I will assert. To encourage us to look beyond framing, beyond glyphs as elements, beyond summing, beyond the limits of our known world. We may then see-into relationships and allow this perceiving to constitute more-than parts, more-than whole. Or, as Philip Rawson suggests, seeing hidden in traces the gestalten of our universe as spatio-temporal rhythms. This whole will always be contingent, offering glimpses of a fleeting unitary beyond our moment within a multiplicity of appearances. The materiality of stone assures, as does weathering, and sensed duration.

    This gathering of photo-images of petroglyphs on a basalt rim in SE Oregon’s Owyhee country are part of a whole ever beyond containment. I rest, appreciating glimpses into the distances and depths.

  • Art. and Not. and Art again.

    Great art has the “ability to simultaneously command attention and confound interpretation.  Work like this draws us in but ultimately frustrates our attempt to reduce the experience to anything like a definitive reading. We might call it Zeno’s paradox of meaning: The closer we get, the more numerous and splintered our frames of reference become.” Jordan Kantor, writing about Jackson Pollock, Artforum, March 2016

    The Art in Rock Art has been and will continue to be an object of subjective debate. Pointedly, is “it” Art ? Or Not? Or something else?  If you are already feeling the déjà vu of circularity, then you know how these discussions usually proceed.  You may wonder, Well?

    I attempt to see the thingness, the raw materiality of the stone, the carved-away, the pigment, in various ways - as figure or field, as time or place, as mind or heart.  Certainly my seeing and imaging is very different from the intent, action, and gaze of the creator-maker –  the artist, if you will. Art. I do see and experience some rock art as Art.  Some as Artifact. Some as mysterious, or ambiguous, or even random, lines and shapes.  I often feel beauty in the relationship of the weathering markings to the aging, stained and patinaed stone, to the lights and shadows, the lichens and mosses.  

    The materiality of a petroglyph or a rock painting is exactly what it is. It simply is. How it appears visually will alter over time or with varying light and weather.  Significantly, how it appears derives from the beholder’s imaginings. The image results from our beholding, culturally and personally engendered.  Each of us brings a discrete frame of reference as we discover, look, and gaze. Move closer, embodied, and drift further away.  As we frame – literally, as we decide where “it” ends and begins – we may recognize how arbitrary what we think we know and what we expect limits and constrains the elusive truth of the image. 

    Here's the crux: how I see and label in no way affects the original.  It is free and so am I with respect for its inherent integrity and right to be. I will not touch it, I may photograph it (a reductive framing), I will go on my way often moved by what I’ve seen, that is, imagined.  Later I may study and meditate on the visual image, with research, share my photo and thoughts with others.  I may call it Art.

    Regardless, as Robinson Jeffers observes in his early 20th c. poem Credo:
           The mind
    Passes, the eye closes, the spirit is a passage;
    The beauty of things was born before eyes
       and sufficient to itself; the heart-breaking beauty
    Will remain when there is no heart to break for it.

  • 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.

  • Faster than the eye can see

    Everything perdures by ceaselessly generating fresh variants of itself, even apparently inanimate objects move faster than the eye can see. Kaja Silverman {1]

    The stone, the lichens, the images, indeed, the light slip by faster than I can see.  With this basalt rim in Lake County, instances of impressions shifting before my eyes. 

    I do not recognize the place in these fleeting moments as much as the place and its beings recognize me. Still, I will seek to interpret through the camera and later through editing, inevitably inhering a "grand capacity for deliberately forgetting."

    Photos:  https://plus.google.com/+DouglasBeauchamp

    Or:  Impressions 

    [1] Silverman’s consideration of Paul Valéry, drawing from his "Introduction to the Method of Leonardo," continues:  "The armchair decays in its place, the table asserts itself so fast that it is motionless, and the curtains flow endlessly away,” Valéry writes in an important passage.  The only way we are able to regain our "control" in the "midst of the moving bodies, the circulation of their contours, the jumble of knots, the paths, the falls, the whirlpools, [and] the confusion of velocities" is by resorting to our "grand capacity for deliberately forgetting." Kaja Silverman in Flesh of My Flesh (2009, p.35).

  • She Who Watches the Industrial Complex Corridor

    A wild disjunction reigns at an overview of what was the Columbia River.  She Who Watches gazes eastward over still backwaters, Lake Celilo formed by The Dalles Dam.   She peers over corridors of modernist motion along with a myriad of other spirit beings, images in stone painted and inscribed by the indigenous peoples of the mid-Columbia region. The high-water survivors of other innumerable images inundated in the 1950s.

    Coal trains regularly rock by with urgency, China awaiting delivery of raw power.  On the lake,  pushed and shoved, barges bear freighted goods up and down. On the hills and spanning canyons march power-towers with drooping wires and wheeling wind turbines.  Across the waters, Interstate 84 cuts through basalt cliffs, connecting all points west and east, Portland to Idaho, following the rough path of the old Oregon Trail. 

    We ask:  What and how now does She watch?  Do we see with her?  Or are we content to look into her face, her masking, her patience. And with due respect for her presence, seek a kind of knowing.

    Images:  [Link]

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • Traces: Multidimensionality in Modoc country

    This sensual small grotto, the base of a basalt rim, holds clear, well-executed petroglyphs. At the time of my visit in July to this place in Modoc County, NE California, I did not see rock painting. That morning I was entranced by the rock carvings and the fluid protrusions of the congealed lava of the central stone.

    Later as I looked at the photos on my computer I noticed some faint colorations. There is a tint to red ochre distinct from the variety of warm colors appearing in weathered, patinaed, lichened basalt. At such moments, even when faint, intentional marks as applied paint emerge – if you are attuned and lucky.

    Intrigued, an enhanced photo revealed an array of applied paints. Traces appeared. It was clear the once-bright ochre had been applied in relationship to and in some instances directly over the petroglyphs. When, why, and by whom, is unknown. Now on public lands, this place is part of the country occupied and traversed by Pit River and Modoc tribal peoples for millennia. It is likely peoples from the Great Basin also moved through this country in times past and possibly bands from the Shasta area or the distant Columbia Basin. A place of intersections. Rock art emerges as traces of those early inhabitants and travelers.
    To view larger versions:   
    Grotto Modoc County

  • The Probability Landscape

    Over the edges and horizons of the probability landscape, waiting for us, are the unseen, unthought forests and deserts of the visible. Finn Brunton [1]

    Brunton’s statement is a bit out of context, but I couldn't resist its topographic poetry. It called to mind a site visited earlier this year located near Lake County's Warner Valley. This selection of photographs of archaic petroglyphs attempts to capture an instance of a “probability landscape.” Warner Valley 

    [1] Brunton discusses visual analysis of paintings by computers using algorithms. The materials, strokes, lines, and marks are “decisions made against the backdrop of all others possible marks not made.” For him this means, “every painting becomes a landscape painting.” Hence, a probability landscape. This stylistic and material analysis leads to discerning authenticity, attribution, and dating. With rock art, variables may include pigments, application methods, pecking and abrasion, and the characteristics of the stone and its coatings. Finn Brunton, “The Hidden Variable.” Artforum, November 2014, p.120.

  • Chocolate-colored basalt and other impasses

    Ruiz and Pereira recently lamented the “arbitrary naming” to describe color in rock art, such as “wine-coloured red.” They also viewed the scales (including IFRAO’s) and charts used by rock art researchers as limitations and at an impasse. [1]

    Why is this important?  Well, they say, to create better understanding and to assist preservation.  All for the good.

    Still, as the science of color in rock art inevitably advances with digital technology, it seems to me this is a sweetly fitting moment to recall Heizer and Baumhoff’s 1962 call for further research in “determining the importance of chocolate –colored basalt in providing proper surfaces for inscribing petroglyphs.” This basalt was, in their opinion, an ideal material. [2]

    Plew described a similar distribution pattern in SW Idaho.  Many petroglyphs occurred in areas where chocolate-colored basalt was available and where it was “limited or absent, few petroglyphs occurred.” [3]

    So, may I offer – as an album of boulders from a Lake County rim - an indulgence of petroglyphs on richly-patinaed, chocolate-colored basalt? Best viewed with a cup of wine-coloured refreshment in hand.  All with fond remembrance to the subjectivity of “human differences/acumen in identifying colour.” [1]

    NOTES

    [1] Juan F. Ruiz and José Pereira. 2014. The colours of rock art. Analysis of colour recording and communication systems in rock art research.  Journal of Archaeological Science. Vol 50 (Oct 2014): 338–349.

    The authors propose, “a reliable solution for recording of the colours of rock art, ” with the aim to “ produce an objective description of colour are essential to describe rock art colour in an accurate and reproducible way, even in complex recording environments such as open-air rock art sites. Human differences/acumen in identifying colour will always lead to subjective and potentially non-repeatable identification in the field.” (348)  Pereira’s Digital Heritage website offers a rich portal into this realm:  www.jpereira.net

    [2] Robert Heizer and Martin Baumhoff. 1962. Prehistoric Rock Art of Nevada and Eastern California. University of California Press, Berkeley.  Of course, the term “chocolate–colored basalt” did not originate with H&B, though it’s likely they first applied it to rock art.  Indeed, the San Francisco Theological Seminary, built in the 1890s just across the Bay from Berkeley, was constructed of “stone of a chocolate-colored basalt.”  SFTS remains a distinctive 14-acre complex and is a favored setting for weddings.

    [3] Mark G. Plew. 1996. "Distribution of Rock Art Elements and Styles at Three Localities in the Southcentral Owyhee Uplands". Idaho Archaeologist, 19(1), 3-10.

  • 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.

  • Out There and the Right to Look

    The “right to look”… is not a right in the sense of human rights… it is the claim to a subjectivity that has the autonomy to arrange and rearrange the relations of the visible and the sayable. [1]

    The beauty of public lands, the greatness of the commons in the old and fine sense, is the access with implied respect. Anyone who has sought out and discovered rock art often crisscrosses modified terrains, channeled and dammed waterways, fences and gates, wild and domestic animals, and replaced or erased plant communities. In the BLM and National Forest lands of Oregon and Northern California, I am continually reminded every chunk of land is managed and has been or is being modified in some way.

    I can look and do so.  And in so doing and in looking, see strange things. This is encompassed within the experience of being out there.  It provokes arrangement of the visible and the sayable.  Then, arriving near a bramble-sheltered rim with a petroglyph facing east, or studying a deeply carved boulder on a slope near a waterway, looking deepens. 

    Petroglyphs from four locales in SE Klamath and SW Lake counties are pictured – and included with a few along-the-way looked-at crossings.  [1]  Nicholas Mirzoeff. 2014. “Visualizing the Anthropocene.” Public Culture 26, no. 2: 213-232.

  • What is an anthropomorph?

    Appearing to represent a human? Human-like in form? Human in spirit form? Does the commonly used term “Anthropomorph” reveal or distract?   I suggest the term misleads.  Forms indicating human-figure-like attributes reflect action, a place-specific performance understood as event. Perhaps “Action Figure” is a better way to characterize this presence.  Dashing figure, birthing woman, shaman, guardian, enemy, ghost, phantasm, or spectral being - all offer a presence, move as bodies through the animated life-world, heavy or ephemeral, actual or imagined, from the past toward futures uncertain.  

    Consider these six Action Figure images from a single extended basalt rim running north-south in the Hart Warner Uplands of southeastern Lake County.

  • Ways to Apprehend

    The eye that sees the things of today, and the ear that hears, the mind that contemplates or dreams, is itself an instrument of antiquity equal to whatever it is called upon to apprehend … and perhaps … we are aware of … time in ways too difficult and strange for the explanation of historian and zoologist and philosopher.  -Edward Thomas, writing in 1909 [1].

    Typical of many sites in arid juniper-and-sage basalt uplands in the northern Great Basin, Long Lake is a seasonal shallow lake pan, or playa, bordered on its western edge by a basalt rim, outcrops, and tumbled boulders. Within a six-to-eight mile radius of this place, dozens of other sites hold thousands of petroglyphs spanning many social and environmental phases. Long Lake, a rich and well-regarded rock art location, is located on public lands (BLM) between Warner and Guano valleys, and north of highway 140. (Caution: make sure you have a solid vehicle, lots of water, and optionally, a way to reach the highway by phone or foot.)

    Photographers and researchers during recent decades have recorded and studied this terrain, its places, stones, and images, with a variety of approaches and understandings.  However, the immensities – and intensities –  elude.  In part I think because boundaried and linear frameworks can’t contain the cyclic fusing of time and space.  An observer may choose to look, then see.  Further, may participate.  Then, hopefully, with a mind’s eye equal to the apprehension.

    [1] Edward Thomas, The South Country (1909), in the chalk hills of southern England, as cited by Robert MacFarlane in The Old Ways : A Journey on Foot (2012).

    Petroglyphs from two of the smaller lake rims north of Long Lake June 2014.

  • The Presence of the Visual: Rock Painting at Canyon de Chelly

    Two discrete sandstone walls in the remote areas of the upper wash of the main canyon of Canyon de Chelly hold distinctive rock paintings. They appear as markedly different traditions and expressions. Both are pigment with binders applied to the stone surface. Each is located in a sheltered curve of a smooth rock face. Both are present in place, melding material and gesture to arch across time.

    Sally Cole in Legacy on Stone* argues for the use of “rock painting” rather than the more common “pictograph.” I agree. Pictograph is the word usually put forth to distinguish painted images from petroglyphs. It seems to me the term risks misleading rather than illuminating. As does “picture writings,” in common use for decades. The language of rock art often struggles between art historical thinking and archaeological categorization. Interpretation, fantasy, and speculation bring along other rich veins of textual treatment. (For the moment I will set aside the most obviously problematic term - “rock art” – promising to take that up at another time.)

    Meanwhile, back in the canyon, the figurative, iconic or indexical, and precisely articulated rock paintings continue to resonate across centuries and the dry and watered lands. For now, let’s think not about what they say or how we wish to say it - let's simply see.

    Note: Photos from a week-long camp in the Canyon in 2007 coordinated by Gary Tepfer. Gary is a professional photographer who has guided this annual trip since 1990, though photography is not the primary emphasis. His next trip is mid-October 2014. He also leads a week in May in the Chuska Mountains, on the Navajo Reservation, under the guidance of Harry Walters.  Tepfer Trips.  Gary Tepfer's Southwest Rock Art.  “Legacy on Stone: Rock Art of the Colorado Plateau and Four Corners Region. 2009 (Revised and Updated).  A good overview: Campbell Grant’s Canyon de Chelly: Its People and Rock Art. 1978.

  • An Absence of Eyes

    Among the ten of thousands of petroglyphs in the Northern Great Basin you will not see eyes.  No human-like faces or forms with prominent eyes looking out.  Peering at you or past you. Yet, despite many rock art researchers obsession with typologies, styles, and motifs, this simple broad – even breathtaking - difference has not been studied or explained.

    The absence of eyes in the rock art of southeastern Oregon and contiguous regions in the Great Basin is a compelling visual cultural distinction, indeed perhaps a defining and characteristic difference, from the powerful presence of eyes in rock art and other art forms of the traditional cultures of Columbia River Basin and the Northwest Coast.

    Australian archaeologist Ben Watson offers an intriguing discussion, with a range of visual examples, of anthropomorphic faces with prominent eyes appearing in prehistoric rock art.  An emphasis of a frontal view with a high degree of symmetry derives from human perception and recognition, he argues. Watson highlights hunter-gatherer societies in many regions of the world and easily acknowledges faces with prominent eyes are comparatively rare in some regions [1].

    For decades anthropologists have studied cultural change and the dynamics of human movements and influences spanning many millennia throughout the intermountain realms of the Columbia Plateau and Great Basin [2]. I hope they will look more closely at eyes – or their absence [3].  Rock art, ever elusive, is there to be seen.

    [1] Watson, Ben. "The eyes have it: human perception and anthropomorphic faces in world rock art." Antiquity 85, no. 327 (2011): 87-98.

     (2] For example, the work of Luther Cressman, Mel Aikens and others at the University of Oregon and most recently the work of James C. Chatters, Kenneth Ames, Charlotte Beck, and George T. Jones, in books such as Meetings at the Margins: Prehistoric Cultural Interactions in the Intermountain West (2012) and From the Pleistocene to the Holocene: human organization and cultural transformations in prehistoric North America (2012). Also of interest: Don Hann’s 2013 paper “Is the Medium the Message?  Petroglyphs and Pictographs as Cultural Markers at the Interface of the Great Basin and Columbia Plateau in Oregon.” IFRAO 2013 Proceedings, American Indian Rock Art, Volume 40.

    [3] There IS a curious exception - in the northernmost Great Basin near Petroglyph Lake on the Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge.  See Eyes album.  More:  Eyes Petroglyphs along Puget Sound  and the July 19, 2013 blog.

  • 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

  • 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)

  • Cape Horn Pictographs Fading, yet Telling

    It is testimony to the patient observation and recording of the Lorings and of Woodward/Speciale in the 1970s that they were able to document a good sampling of the rock art at Cape Horn before it fades or erodes away. The pictographs are very faded, except for one that appears more recent with more thickly applied pigment. During a recent brief visit I found the rock art difficult to see well, or decipher, and many could not be found.  

    The stacked image below compares, from top:  an enhanced photo from a recent visit; the Lorings sketch (published 1982 as within Site 5); and Woodward/Speciale’s interpretative rendering (1982).  All the images are severely "displaced" for purposes of illustration and comparison - and to show the difficulty in seeing and documenting weathering rock art. And, by implication, the challenge of understanding the relationship of this site and its rock art within a regional context.

    The top image, dramatically enhanced (Aperture) and isolated for study purposes, is well above the high river mark on a basalt cliff face. It appears to be a shield figure, which would link it to the eastern Columbia Plateau; perhaps further south.  (I’ve seen a few similar petroglyphs in Owyhee Canyonlands.)  Woodward notes, “Unusual is the occurrence here of numerous elements that may be abstract representations of the vulva or shield motifs” (38).

    More photos:  Cape Horn, Columbia River

  • Now and Then

    All we presentists get from zooming out to ten-thousand-year time spans is vertigo. -Douglas Rushkoff, Present Shock

    Walking across interlocked cobble basalt at dawn, the air yet still.  Small sounds distant lightly move over the sage.  If I am lucky as the sun strikes this morning’s desert the first long golden rays will saturate the rim to glow with an old carving.  I will see it as form and shape and this light may help me look deeper into the field of its dwelling.  An abstract image residing in the real, this moment, spanning millennia.  

    The Ah Ha! of apprehension - the seeing, the hearing, the touching of the ground -  shape the sensual, physical space between.  A third space, cognitive, hovers in both Now and Then.  A space-time continuum, remembering and renewing.   Present and past with a slim thread to time beyond, the future.

    Morning Rim. See: Owyhee Canyonlands

  • Defined by Tides through Time: Three Puget Sound Petroglyph Boulders

     … pictures and poetry and music are not only marks in time but marks through time, of their own time and ours, not antique or historical, but living as they ever did, exuberantly, untired.  -Jeanette Winterson, Art Objects

    The three most significant petroglyph boulders in southern Puget Sound are of the tidal zones.  All three are glacial boulders, arriving on the shores millennia before the carvers marked them.  Two are granite erratics; another (Agate Point) is fine-grained gray-green sandstone.

    Surging tides, flowing water, wave action, and, in one case the physical relocation of the boulder, continue to reshape the markings and how they are seen and imagined.  Researchers have also affected physical change through rubbings, castings, and removal of barnacles - indeed, barnacles for decades have encrusted the Agate Point boulder to near obscurity. 

    Yet the clarity and power of these faces and eyes and other forms convey a compelling presence – … living as they ever did. 

    Marian Smith (1946), Edward Meade (1971), Beth Hill and Ray Hill (1974), Richard McClure (1978), Klaus Wellman (1979), and Daniel Leen (1981) have all devoted attention to these boulders and published photos or drawings of the petroglyphs. Leen’s overview in particular was a carefully considered and comprehensive summary.  

    The Squaxin Island and Suquamish tribes have more recently taken strong public interest in the cultural importance of the boulders.  One of three boulders, originally from Harstine Island, called the Love Rock by the tribe, is now a centerpiece of the Squaxin Island Tribe’s Veterans Memorial near Shelton.   

    See Puget Sound Petroglyphs gallery

  • Rock art and a climate of change

    It’s hot out there.  And dry. 

    Late June, camping and hiking within the Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge, I saw low lake levels, slow water flow.  While standing at a rock art panel, or on the rim above, and immersing in the view, I find it compelling to try to imagine how the terrain may have been experienced when the makers of the petroglyphs occupied or traversed this country.  And how changing climate and shifting geologic cycles discouraged, sustained, or enhanced travels and lifeways. 

    Rock art appears to me as a marker of movement, be it physical or psychic, practical or spiritual. The images reside in layers, simultaneously time-dependent and timeless.

    Today, I feel the acceleration of climate change and the rapid and profound warming of the air, water, and land.  Rock art does not offer a precise answer – yet it does help refine my understanding of place and change.

    Petroglyph panel, south of Hart Mountain, June 2013. Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge Petroglyphs

  • 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

     

  • Looking and Seeing at Petroglyph National Mounument

    Apprehension.   Approaching a basalt boulder at Petroglyph Monument’s Piedras Marcadas Canyon:  a face, a mask, south facing.

     

    Walking behind, I see the change of the angled planes of surface. The natural edge of the boulder becomes the forehead with ray-like, feather-like, extensions, adding complexity to the image. This site, on the edge of Albuquerque, offers many striking panels and images. Piedras Marcadas