BLOG: To Become Visible

Stone
  • 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)

  • Turning sideways into the Earth

    As a world opens itself the earth comes to rise up. It stands forth as that which bears all, as that which is sheltered in its own law and always wrapped up in itself. World demands its decisiveness and its measure and lets beings attain to the Open of their paths. Earth, bearing and jutting, strives to keep itself closed and to entrust everything to its law. The conflict is not a rift as a mere cleft is ripped open; rather, it is the intimacy with which opponents belong to each other.  Martin Heidegger [1]

    “From now on, everything will be called The Middle, everything will be called The Seam…”  Lisa Robertson [2]

    Stone adheres, marking the firm line between living and dead.  This spectator gazes on fugitive monuments holding absence present.  The passage thin; stone softens; the boundary delicate. As the stone is cut, earth reveals -  intimacy.  This Double Negative of quarry and tomb cut, excavated, buried, sealed, eroded, robbed, excavated, emptied. 

    Absent the living, absent the Etruscan dead, in Populonia, Tuscany, near the Tyrrhenian Sea.  Present now, turning, the stone and its void, at this spectral gateway, mulling choice, I walk the trail, down, away, soon pass a Madonna bearing flowers among the oaks and corks, baring new bark.

    Album: Populonia Tuscany/Etruscan rock-cut Tombs

    [1]  From The Origin of the Work of Art in Martin Heidegger: Poetry, Language, Thought. Collected and translated by Albert Hofstadter, 1971 (Orig. 1950).
    [2] From “The Seam” in the book of poems 3 Summers, 2017.
    ... with a glance and nod to the title of Michael Heizer’s iconic and monumental 1970 earthwork Double Negative located in Nevada’s Great Basin.

  • 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.



  • Grimes Point of View: One boulder, a worldview

    Art engenders becomings, not imaginative becomings - the elaboration of images and narratives in which a subject might recognize itself, not self-representations, narratives, confessions, testimonies of what is and has been - but material becomings, in which these imponderable universal forces touch and become enveloped in life, in which life folds over itself to embrace its contact with materiality, in which each exchanges some elements or particles with the other to become more and other. Elizabeth Grosz [1]

    Grimes Point Archaeological Area, an extensive, fully accessible, and signed field of dark boulders with archaic petroglyphs, is adjacent to Highway 50 east of Fallon.

    The locale looks west and south over the Carson Sink, a terminus of the Carson River, in Churchill County, Nevada. Well-managed by the BLM, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

    Some boulders bear arrays of deeply patinaed cupules. These ancient “conical pits” associated occasionally with lines or grooves led to Baumhoff and Heizer’s in 1958 (and 1962) typing the “pit-and-groove” petroglyph style. They conjectured that this style represented the earliest petroglyphs in a wide expanse of the Great Basin. Though they cautioned their proposal as tentative pending dating, many rock art writers in the ensuing decades reified this style as fixed truth. I do believe these cupuled boulders are, in many of the instances I’ve seen in the northern Great Basin and Columbia Plateau, early Holocene (7,000+ years before present time [BP]). However, the designs and configurations are not rightly constrained as fixed cultural “elements,” while solid dating remains elusive. A worldview beyond grasp. What we have is the beauty of the densely-colored, dimpled desert boulders recalling watery eras – a sensible materiality. 

    This is one boulder: Point of View

    [1] Elizabeth Grosz. Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth (2008) p.23

  • Bullets, Stupidity, Beauty

    For untold centuries this muted earth-red boulder, sloughed off the basalt rim above, displayed a complex array of archaic petroglyphs.  The winds, dust, rain, and snow of the Summer Lake basin patinaed this roughly textured stone and its carvings. White explorers and settlers for nearly 200 years left it untouched, in peace.  Recently intentionally shot with a gun, four times, the surface now marked with bright gray bullet pits.  This complex place and its boulder now become witnesses and bearers of stupidity and arrogance.  In addition to offering its deep beauty. 

    Two Before-After sets below. (Photos Douglas Beauchamp 2010-2012 & 2016)  

  • 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.

  • Rock Paint Lake

    This collection of rock paintings from Lake County, Oregon, represent a variety of places, designs, and expressions. In most examples some of the context is shown, then a close-up.  All the close-up painted images have some digital color enhancement.  This abstracts and distorts their appearance. Yet it may open a better understanding of the original painting.

    OK, this is about as technical as I will get.  If you simply wish to enjoy the pictures, click Rock Paint Lake and take look. 

    I use Aperture* to adjust because I can maintain some sense of the natural stone.  However, two remarkable enhancement software tools are available and both can produce wonderful benefits. They are intended for paintings, though not all will be happy with the sometimes garish, contrasty colors. Nonetheless, they are frequently used as study tools and can be quite revealing, even delightfully shocking. I will welcome a comparison of the two.

    DStretch, the classic for PCs by Jon Harman, is now available as iDStretch for iPad and iPhone for $20.  www.dstretch.com/iDStretch/index.html

    LabStretch & LabStretch2, recent –free- offerings for iPad and iPhone from Rupestrian CyberServices, was developed by Robert Mark & Evelyn Billowww.rupestrian.com/labstretch.html

    I now use the iPhone 6s for all photos in "normal" distance and find the results excellent. iPhone zoom photos are not useful**.  So, now I will use the light-weight ultra-zoom Canon SX60; sensor is small, but with RAW and JPEG capability. (All the photos on this album are with a Nikon D5100.)

    * A note on Aperture. Apple has ceased further development though v. 3.6 works fine.  I am switching for simplicity to Apple OS’s newer PHOTOS and work on an iMac. If you love full-frame DSLRs and Photoshop my choices will not work for you. But for excellent results for online networking with some print capability, iPhone and PHOTOS is nicely integrated. (** iPhone 7 promises to go even further toward DLSR/zoom capabilities.) 

    Click this deep-shadow image to see photos.

  • 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).

  • Black Glyph

    Beautiful baffling petroglyph.  Black. Appears as natural aging of the stone, not paint. With dots, an old glyph.  In the second of the three images here, it is easy to see two ochre paint markings, enhancing dimensions of this place.
    Hart Plateau, Lake County, Douglas Beauchamp 2014.

  • Diagrams: Finding out in the Oregon desert

    Carl Jung relates the story, in a larger context concerning transformation, of an old man, reputed to be a sorcerer, who sought refuge in a cave, “seeking to know what it was that he did not know, but which, he felt certain, was always happening. After meditating for a very long time on that which is beyond meditation, he saw no other way of escape from his predicament than to take a piece of red chalk and draw all kinds of diagrams on the walls of his cave, in order to find out what that which he did not know might look like. After many attempts he hit on the circle. ‘That’s right,’ he felt, ‘and now for a quadrangle inside it!’ - which made it better still.” [1] 

    Is it fair to invoke Jung and Euro-tales when considering indigenous rock paintings, red ochre on black desert basalts in the Great Basin? It is a lingering question I will always consider. Yet Jung’s concept of the underlying structure of human consciousness – and the unconscious – offers for me one avenue to deeper understanding of predicament: to find out what that which he did not know might look like.

    To the degree the human mind is a part of a naturalistic, animated universe, the stone, the ochre, the image reveal presence immemorial through the mind and hand of the painter.

    [1] Selected from Concerning Rebirth (1950) in C. G. Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Bollingen, Princeton University Press, 1959.  p.129 para 233.

    Diagrams: Finding out in the Oregon desert

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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.

  • Traversing the Oregon Badlands

    Where else can you leave one of the microbrew centers of the West, drive half an hour and hike right into an official Wilderness? Well, Bend to the Oregon Badlands.  Where else can you traverse a dry river that during the wetter years of the Pleistocene was a rushing river cutting a gorge and narrow canyons through the basalt. Millennia of churning water also ground hollows, often called tinajas in desert areas, which can hold water long after the a seasonal river disappears.  These modest water catchments were an attractive, even essential, water source for desert dwellers and travelers.  And places where painted or carved symbols or signs may appear.

    One such rock painting is located on an oval rock face near bedrock tinajas in a Dry River slot canyon in the Oregon Badlands Wilderness, east of Bend.  Though now faded, the simple design is precise, even poised.  Whether marker, a prayer, a signal of gratitude, or perhaps recognition of the power of place, I delighted in the beauty of this quiet congruence.

    Note: This general area, along the Dry River Trail, is known as the Bombing Range, due to its use as a gunnery and, yes, bombing range in WW II.  Big Bad Lands. This pictograph place is thus so named in the Lorings’ compilation as site 83. There is another rock painting locale a few miles to the southeast within the upper Dry River Canyon (Lorings’ site 84), on adjacent, non-Wilderness BLM lands. 

    About the Badlands:  ONDA -  an organization instrumental is the 2008 designation of Oregon Badlands Wilderness by the then-do-something-good US Congress. 

    Below, tinaja in canyon's basalt near Dry River rock paintings

  • Held still and moving through time

    As we look with rock art, how do we experience the multiple dimensions? Perhaps start with this from Edward O. Wilson

    “The basic goal of activity mapping is to connect all of the processes of thought – rational and emotional; conscious, preconscious, and unconscious; held still and moving through time – to a physical base.” [1]

    I find this provocative and expansive in a way that challenges me to see-with and perchance open re-cognition. Wilson’s statement references mapping brain activity. It suggests to me a wider landscape of attention.

    When we see an apparent two-dimensional human-made image it is always already in the third dimension of material and place.  Though flattened and abstracted by the photograph, we can yet imagine this textural and spatial dimension.  Further, “held still and moving through time” introduces the fluidity of the fourth dimension – from the action of making to the changes of the stone and its environment, with the possibilities of subsequent markings and narratives.  “Connecting all the processes … to a physical base.”

    The image below: From a rim edging a seasonal lake-playa in the High Lakes region of Lake County, Oregon. Click for Album

    [1] Edward O. Wilson.  “On Free Will.”  Harper’s Magazine, September 2014, 49-52.

  • 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.

  • The Geometrical Act of Grounding

    The life of the desert lives by adapting itself to the conditions of the desert … And so it happens that those things that can live in the desert become stamped after a time with a peculiar desert character … The struggle seems to develop in them special characteristics and make them, not different from their kind; but more positive, more insistent.  John C. Van Dyke

    The recognition of gravity prepares the geometrical act of grounding, making the ground ready to raise screens to other forces: light, wind and rain.  Ãlvaro Malo

    To other forces: Stone, Gravity, and Barren Valley petroglyphs

    [1] John C. Van Dyke, The Desert: Further Studies in Natural Appearances. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999. [2] Ãlvaro Malo, A desert land ethic: aesthetic research, 2003.

  • Mysterious…

    Mysterious… when we know little, when we confront an unknown.  Often I become skeptical when a sentence or a title begins with mysterious.  Yet it is the word that emerges when I discovered this spring these two images as happenstance from separate threads of my research. How can this be, I thought as I looked, then studied the designs.

    The first - a sketch of a sloping rock on the edge of river gorge in central India by Mr. Rivett-Carnac, an officer of Britain’s Bengal Civil Service. The drawing was one aspect of his investigations and published in the 1877.  The second - a photograph I recorded in April during a journey in the Owyhee River Canyon in eastern Oregon. 

    The stone in India has 291 cup-marks, two of which have circles, arrayed in near vertical and slightly curving parallels.  The Owyhee boulder has similar number of cup-mark pits, similarly arrayed. It has one cup-pit with a circle.  It is striking that these complex arrays are each distinctive from other design-clusters among the thousands I have viewed and studied.  Yet exhibit a powerful resonance with each other.

    To see a large version, click on the image below, you arrive at the Cup-Dot-Pit page, then zoom in.  May you enjoy the mystery!  (Noting, these two images are for visual comparison and are not to scale.) Your Comment – and insight – is welcome; please use the above tab.

  • The Wallula Stone Abides

    Jorge Otero-Paulos recently noted, “preservation has looked at art to expand the aesthetics of memory, cultural trauma, historicity, and temporality.” [1]

    It is impossible to show the entire two facets of this boulder as it sits within the closely-installed, tall iron fence's lurking surround. The Wallula Stone is somewhat irregular, so there is no single perspective that can capture it. A magnificent massive fragment of basalt column tumbled from the cliffs of Wallula Gap, or perhaps arriving from upriver, as a local erratic, during the ice age. Then carved.  And, now, far from its mother river. 

    The reflective light of the morning sun illuminates the hard basalt’s deeply patinaed surface with a soft sheen, the ancient polish of the stone itself, natural or human made, from wind, water, perhaps rubbing hands.

    As now placed, its sheer mass is visually constrained, gridded by the fence and memorial enclosure. However, it is protected and honored.  It's surprising the stone or its carvings show little noticeable modern disfigurement. Well, except for the anchored-in bronze plaque, which the Tribes left in place [2]. Odd, had not the railroad fellows hoisted it on a flatcar in 1910 (the tracks were happily nearby), it may have been submerged in the mid-1950s under a hundred feet of water, inundated by the McNary Dam’s Lake Wallula!  

    [1] Jorge Otero-Paulos defines preserved artworks as “transitional cultural objects … for looking back at our immediate future from the point of the view of a distant future … a temporal expression … as the future anterior.”   (“Remembrance if Things to Come, ”ArtForum, April 2014:115-116.)

    [2] A ten-ton monolith, originally located on the Columbia River near Wallula Gap on the Oregon border, the Wallula Stone was displayed in outdoor courtyard of Portland City Hall from 1910 until 1996. The basalt petroglyph boulder became the centerpiece of the newly constructed Nix-Ya-Wii Warriors Memorial of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, in Mission, Oregon, on July 26, 1996.

  • 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.

  • Freeing The Rocks: Four Potentials

    This last day of this wintry month - let’s elevate the season, beyond reason. Top down.

    Rock on Top of Another Rock, a large-scale sculpture by the artist duo Fischli/Weiss, is an installation in London’s Kensington Gardens, courtesy Serpentine Gallery and The Royal Parks.  Hurry – it’s in place until March 6, 2014. (Then what?)

    Levitated Mass by Michael Heizer is called “ongoing” by LACMA. Really. A 456-foot-long concrete slot bearing a 340-ton granite megalith, it resides on the museum’s “campus” with “no admission ticket required.”  The cap boulder, famously trucked through four California counties in early 2012, was blasted out at the Stone Valley Quarry near Riverside (or, if you are inclined to the poetic, between Palm Springs and San Diego).  You may recall Michael is the son of renowned UC archaeologist and rock art fellow Robert Heizer.

    The Kempe Stone, ten feet in height, is an Irish megalithic portal tomb about 10 miles east of Belfast. In 1884 The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland estimated the capstone at 17 tons. Go take a look or simply Google or Bing – it's storied.

    Oregon’s own meta-lithic, a shelter near an old lakebed in the southern Warner Valley, Lake County, holds faded red pictographs. Massive capstone about six feet above ground level. (Photo: Douglas Beauchamp)