8 Apr 2016

Canyon Correspondences Revisited

Due to a technical (hosting) meltdown elsewhere, I'm attempting to retrieve and piece together some remnants of a 'creative diary' - a rescue mission. These writings were originally assembled during, and soon after, a period as artist-in-residence at the Grand Canyon (Arizona) in 2011.
(Below is a combination of all the entries into a single blog-post; parts of the entries are currently missing. Perhaps the time has come to pick up some of these old threads?)

A journal of words and images, compiled as part of an artist-in-residence project at the Grand Canyon, 2011.
The activity of 'fossicking' is about sifting through, rummaging, prospecting, turning over stones, peering in the shadows. This sums up my approach to bringing a creative intent to this place. Assembled source materials include sounds, plus both still and moving imagery - from which something will be cooked-up over the coming months. 
Many other strands will be woven in, using a 'Deep Mapping' or geopoetic approach, which I view as ecologically-attentive practices attempting to combine a personal creative response with science, history, myth, legend, landscape. The term 'correspondence' is used here to suggest a relationship between the artist-investigator  and the place, as well as between different mappings and the site (or place/ territory/ landscape).

This residency was hosted by The National Parks Service (USA), and supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.


One of the outputs of the residency was this film piece

On Location: Sunday 21 August 2011
A unique opportunity to connect with, and respond to, a landscape largely unknown to me, and maybe unknowable. Here, the layering in the stoney physical fabric are visible like nowhere else. The cultural and ecological layers? - perhaps less so.
The image above was taken through the tiny hatch of the developing room at the Kolb Brothers studio. Their pioneering photography and film footage from a century ago form a core part of the inspiration for my project here at the Grand Canyon, so it was a rewarding experience to be present in the old studio space. Almost exactly 100 years, to the day, Emery set off from here to rendezvous upstream with his brother, and make the first 'motion picture' record of a journey down the Colorado River. He named his boat 'Edith', after his daughter, 4 years old at the time. 

The river here is a vertical mile below me.

Images from my visit to the Kolb studio space:

and from the archives:

Monday 22 August 2011

On the trail amongst the Pinyon pines, along the rim. An interestingly ambiguous 'Do Not Disturb' notice (above).
"The earth is spoken of as having always existed. In Hopi mythology the human race was not created, but generated from the earth, from which man emerged through an opening called the sipapu, now typified by the Grand canyon of the Colorado. The dead are supposed to return to the underworld...." Handbook of American Indians, 1906

Later, another sign is encountered - made much more interesting by someone's intervention of small attempt at erasure.

And some more Kolb-related jottings:

Emery Kolb piloted the USGS (Birdseye) expedition in 1923. This provides a link between the pioneering motion picture work, and the hugely significant and impactful early geological surveys on the river - two of my main threads of investigation of place, this place. 
A third interwoven thread may involve Emery's daughter, Edith, who - as a teenager - accompanied her father to the launch of the Birdseye expedition, and was on board for the first rapids. 
(Another Edith Kolb - Emery's baby sister - had lived just one month)
"Emery dearly loved his daughter, Edith; perhaps he gave too much love and devotion to her. He always dreamed of having a boy who could hike the canyons, hunt, fish and run the river with him. Subconsciously he forced his daughter into the role and in her younger years he called her 'Bill' and tried to treat her as a boy but Edith preferred to be a lady, maintaining the charm of her mother, a fact Emery never recognized. After Blanche died Edith spent some time with her father for the two needed each other during this period but due to their different temperaments they could not get along well together."
"...as a toddler, Edith was placed in a box lashed to the side of a mule on one trip, and rode a mule as an older child. Edith was all too happy to join her father at Lee's Ferry, Hance Rapid, and Hermit Rapid during the 1923 expedition..."
"By riding through Hance Rapid, Edith Kolb became the first woman to ride through a major Grand Canyon rapid."
According to the Coconino Sun (Sept 21, 1923) "this young woman seems to have inherited the intrepid part of her father and uncle"
A Biography of Ellsworth and Emery Kolb, W. Suran)

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Distant fleeting glimpses of the great Colorado River from points west on the south rim. 
Difficult to comprehend that this watercourse is one of the prime creators of this vast crinkled landscape (along with gravity, magma, uplift etc...helped by time...

The topography is beautifully revealed in all its glory in a large monochrome satellite remote sensing image at the Canyon geology centre. In a few days time, I will hike down to the bottom of the inner canyon, and the river dialogue can begin in earnest. 

There are new sound-words ringing in my head: Kaibab, Toroweap, Muav, Tapeats, Nankoweap, Supai, Vishnu, Phantom Granite, Cremation Pegmatite, Ruby Gabbro, Elves Chasm Gneiss, Zoroaster Schist...

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Hours cycling along the rim and into the forest - this time exploring to the east. No sighting of the river far below until late in the day, viewed from a place of calm and solitude - Shoshone Point, with its standing stone. 

No river fishing, but fish-eye lens on the menu.

The smoke from the fires burning on the north rim hangs in the canyon at the end of the day.

Thursday 25 August 2011

A change of scene and a change of scale.
The Ponderosa forest now is so still and silent, punctuated by strange bird calls and elk.
The blackened evidence of fires is ever present.

Meanwhile, I am learning more about the Sipapuni, and Hopi ritual salt trails, from the chronicles of Don C. Talayesva, as well as academic researchers.
Throughout the world, salt is cultural, nutritional, geological and much more; especially so at the Grand Canyon.
"The Hopi people know the Grand Canyon as Ongtupqa (Salt Canyon). Ongtupqa is a sacred place - home to ancestors who resided there in the ancient past, locus of shrines still revered in the Hopi religion, destination of an important salt pilgrimage, and an abode for Hopi people after death." Kuwanwisiwma et al. 2008

"As stewards, the Hopis are concerned about the continuing existence of endangered species, the protection of their ancestors' graves, and the overall ecological health of the canyon"

It feels we are extremely confined - in our relationships to place. We extract, produce, farm, develop, are tourists, photograph (...only  'landscape'' or 'portrait'..), drive (through), acquire, accumulate, eat. But where is nourishment, connection, healing, dedication to survival of the biosphere, being in the world (and all its deeper hidden layers)?

27 August - missing most...

28 August - missing most...

5 Sept - missing most...Phantom Ranch

6 Sept - missing most...water is life...

8 Sept - 'Desert View' symbolisms

15 Sept - missing most...Edith

28 Sept - missing most...

5 December 2011- missing most...

20 December 2011


Whilst sifting and assembling the vast amount of moving-image and sound material, I am also considering, and re-considering the theme and the theory underpinning this journey. As I have outlined elsewhere, there are some emerging ideas around 'deep mapping', and its associates 'un-mapping' and 're-mapping'. 

Now my predecessor at the canyon (August artist-in-residence Andrea Polli) has pointed me toward the topic of 'counter-mapping' which shares a lot of ground with my thoughts. Here are some quotes from a very thoughtful 2006 academic paper on the subject
"Related to (counter)mapping, it is provocative to imagine what other types of maps could be produced to complement standard representations, especially possibilities that might enable critical readings of conservation practice, highlight the urgency of species losses, or otherwise more readily convey power inequalities common to conservation practice."

"The idea of counter-mapping has since been taken up more generally to refer to efforts to contest or undermine power relations and asymmetries in relation to cartographic products or processes. We understand counter-mapping as any effort that fundamentally questions the assumptions or biases of cartographic conventions, that challenges predominant power effects of mapping, or that engages in mapping in ways that upset power relations. Stylistically, we write the term as (counter)mapping to invoke its double meaning: highlighting both the possibility of being counter, or against, mapping for conservation (given its inherent limitations described above), as well as exploring how mapping for conservation can be pursued in ways that counter-map in the more common usage of the term—using mapping to overcome predominant power hierarchies, interspecies injustices, and other power effects."

The concept has grown out of geographical, GIS and ethnocartography to embrace neogeography and bioregional approaches, but it has the potential to be incorporated as part of a creative, poetic place-based investigation strategy; to be a method in 're-translating' a site. Every term comes with much baggage, of course; to gain some more freedom of movement, perhaps the only option is to evolve ones own terminology? ('en/counter mapping'; 'ecophilic re-mapping'?). These efforts will no doubt continue to mutate, alongside my practice - at the core of which sits the threesome of geo/eco-science; landscape design; and immersive fieldwork/research (focussed and unfocused...looking awry).

At a very recent, and stimulating, PLaCE talk by Dr Rachel Sweeney & Marnie Orr (Sweeney & Orr 2011-12.pdf), they stated (in relation to their ‘live research’ landscape-based practice) that "the point of conjecture is the translation" - thus fusing two terms that have come to interest me greatly - 'translation' and 'conjecture'. Their work is very much about the body in the landscape; strategies of disruption of habit; cartography; choreography...
In the post-talk discussion, 'translation' (as a strategy) was equated to a kind of 'brokering', which resonates with me.

My own take on 'conjecture' veers towards the sense of 'visions for future possibilities'. This aligns with the views of Bertrand de Jouvenal (a 20th Century French philosopher, political economist and futurist) as presented in The Art of Conjecture and Human Futures: Needs, Societies, Technologies.
“It is vital that a large number of competing propositions be offered” 
"“We may ask where technological process is taking man in order to foresee his needs…we may also reverse the question and ask what needs, felt and gratified, will best contribute to man’s fulfilling himself" 
(de Jouvenel)

(En/counter) mapping, conjecture, landscape, pathways, ecology are common themes that I now realise have pervaded (and still pervade) all my residency projects over the past five years - including Donegal, The North Devon Biosphere Reserve, Somerset (Quantock Dreaming), as well as in Arizona. These are all, in a way 'dreamings; they are 'slow residency' projects; they cannot be rushed. This is one of the essences of 'deep mapping'. In the case of 'Quantock Dreaming', the 'dreaming' concept (as derived from Australia) offers a powerful 'counter' to command-and control-based mapping. Some of this is explored in the parallel diary for that project. (I find these journal-diaries now fusing thematically to such an extent that the only sensible course is to carry forward as a single journal)

Much of the above harks back to the seminal grass-roots 'parish map-making' as promoted by Common Ground since the 1980s in the UK and elsewhere. There is nothing new under the sun. What is increasingly clear is that one formidable challenge is the ability to successfully fuse digital/data, virtual mappings with the real, field-encountered, material world. Mapping has always been, to some extent, symbolic, simplified abstraction. However, there was - in the pre-digital mapping age - still a sensuous connection via materials, tactility, hand-craft and physical mark-making. The pre-pixel world is also a grounded world. During my Donegal 'Lovely Weather/WeatherProof' residency, I encountered such tensions. I quote here from the co-curator, Annick Bureaud:
"Antony Lyons is doing more than reflecting on the Donegal landscape and the economical, ecological and socio-political issues related to peat; he is bringing an actual sample of the "real" in the gallery space, un-modified. This irruption inside of what belongs to the outside can stand as the opposite of Land Art, revealing what it is: a cultural natural object. It is by bringing the turf-stack into the artificial settings of the gallery that it receives and unfolds all its meanings.
With Weather Proof, Antony Lyons gives climate change a strong and powerful materiality at a human scale, in so doing, he provides the possibility of a phenomenological perception that allows for an emotional, aesthetic and cognitive experience to occur." 

Questions that arise (for me) include:
How can there be a meaningful back-and-forth dialogue between mapped site and abstracted gallery/online installation or representation?
How can there be a back-and-forth between the physical and the digital/virtual? (aka 'how can we avoid the cold lure of the screen - 'la belle dame sans merci', leaving us 'alone and palely loitering'?)

These questions are also very much to the fore in my 'Confluence Project' collaboration with sonic artist Jon Pigott, in the North Devon Biosphere Reserve.

Monday 23 January 2012

image above taken of Will Tapia
plein air painter

FROM A DISTANCE 4  ('Intimacies' and 'Interferences')
The rummaging continues...
The materials with which I work are often sculptural, but in this case I am manipulating photography, video, sound and text. Nevertheless, the same core-processes are in operation - assembly, carving, juxtaposing, marrying, fixing, cutting, bending, shaping, reflecting, walking around, feeling, intuiting, imagining (possibilities), dismantling, bin-ing, searching, re-searching, visualising. This last is crucial - to both 'hard' sculpting and 'sculpting in time' (as Tarkovsky put it, referring to cinema). What is maybe lacking, till now, in this Grand Canyon operation is collaboration, which is usually my modus operandi. The mainly solo-effort is stumbling and dragging along. Perhaps there is a lesson there for any future phases of 'Colorado Conjectures'? (enhance the collaboration !). In any case, I'll soon be working on soundtrack elements with sonic-artist, Jon Pigott. 

All along, I have of course been involved in dialogues, conversations. Those that still resonate strongly for me include:
1)....with Martha Hahn (Chief Scientist, Grand Canyon National Park ). We covered a huge amount of discussion ground. One aspect that really stays with me is her exposition of the non-native fish culling project in the Colorado River - and especially the concerns voiced by Native Americans. (The project is officially called 'Non-native Fish Control Downstream from Glen Canyon Dam') 
"The purpose of the action is to minimize the negative impacts of competition and predation on an endangered fish, the humpback chub (Gila cypha) in Grand Canyon. The action is needed because [of] competition and predation by non-native fishes, and in particular rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and brown trout (Salmo trutta)..." 

The 'solutions' and attitudes vary, but suffice to say, there is fish-smoking going on a-plenty deep down in the Canyon. It was particularly interesting to become acquainted with the facts about the numbers of Native American tribes/nations that have a strong associations with the Canyon landscapes - from cultural, religious, and historical perspectives. (These include the Havasupai Tribe, Hopi Tribe, Hualapai Tribe, Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians, Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe, Las Vegas Paiute Tribe, Moapa Band of Paiutes, Navajo Nation, the Havasupai Tribe, the Yavapai Apache Nation, the Pueblo of Jemez, and Pueblo of Zuni). The Hopi Tribe, Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians, Navajo Nation, and the Pueblo of Zuni are especially concerned with the taking of life in the Grand Canyon, and particularly in the vicinity of the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers. In the case of the last mentioned:

"The Zuni have a familial relationship between all aquatic life and the Zuni people, and place traditional and historical importance on the Grand Canyon and the confluence of the Little Colorado River and Colorado River. "

High/low-flow regimes, sediment transport, turbidity, dammed water etc were also much discussed. The volume of scientific enquiry, trials and tests over the past few decades is enormous. Shelves are groaning under the weight of the reports. I'll return to this topic later when the 'dam' (and other intervention/extraction issues) come back into focus.

2)....with the (material) archives of the Parks Service (thanks to Kim, Sarah and others). Two abiding residues of these conversations are: 
Firstly, the 'EDITH' river-running boat which is now restored in the museum warehouse, awaiting a proper display facility. This encounter helped crystallize a number of emerging thoughts on some intimate stories of the place (including that of Edith and Emery Kolb); and secondly, unexpectedly, an encounter with the traditional metate+mano (mortar and pestle) corn-grinding equipment - both in the archives and in the field. These are such fantastic artifacts, rich with the stuff of life, and possessing a quality akin to the deeply-worn steps of a medieval cathedral; of millions of passages, each removing stone particles, one-by-one, abrading the stone block as a river abrades a rocky land. The acoustic qualities are important here too. I didn't have an opportunity to witness/record a genuine corn-grinding, but I was able to partly mimic one myself in the archive. I will add a link to this sound-recording soon. To me this is an example of an intimacy, a poetic connection with the culture, the daily grind....as I say 'the stuff of life'. At the Hopi Mesas to the east, I was invited into the home of a woman-potter, who talked of the "old way" of Hopi girls going through a coming-of-age ceremony marked by a four-day corn-grinding ritual. The girl would also receive a new name and would get the distinctive squash blossom hairstyle, a sign of marriageability...

The metate stones greeted me again near Phantom Ranch (at the base of the canyon, by the river), at atmospheric Wupatki National Monument south near the San Francisco Peaks and at Montezuma Castle, a cliff dwelling site by the lush Verde River south of Flagstaff. All these places left a strong imprint/memory/'spectral trace'...but the terminology doesn't matter. The reality is a sense of intimate relationship, and not its antithesis - intervention/interference.

3) ....with 'salt'. The salt conversation was possibly the one that was most 'ungraspable'. It certainly holds unrealised potential. The description of the Hopi ritual salt-route, from the mesas to the confluence of the Little Colorado and the Colorado - as set out in Don Talayesva's autobiography "Sun Chief" - is engrossing and profound. For me, this seems to be a key strand of the project, and I will, on this site, be adding more on this subject. 

4)...and with Kokopelli. This conversation started for me in the redwoods of Northern California (well before I even knew this figure's name or significance). This frequent visitor was/is a dark, but not malevolent, presence. In terms of 'intimacy', what Kokopelli brings is a polarity, a tension - light and dark. In California, St Francis (San Francisco) was the twin. Interestingly, San Francisco followed me to Arizona, in more ways than one. And this prompts me to record the next 'conversation' (below).

5) ....with the Navajo guide (at the Dinosaur Footprints). This site is very interesting and an important part of the narrative puzzle that is the geological interpretation of this stratified landscape. However, the more significant thread of this particular conversation relates to the San Francisco Peaks - and the concerns/objections of the Navajo (and Hopi and others) to the plans to use sewage effluent as water supply for an effort to create artificial snow. With changing climate, there is less natural snow here, and the winter-sport resorts are under threat. 
As well as impacting on a sacred/ritual landscape, this raises big issues about resource use, sustainability, interference. It is yet another example of a 'taking'; an extractive relationship is at play. (one could perhaps even widen this to the typical visitor relationship to the Grand Canyon - taking photos, ticking it off the destination list...) In the case of the Peaks, the gulf between this and an intimate relationship with the land is potentially huge - of Canyon dimensions. 
Is the Canyon then also an 'eco-symbolic landscape' metaphor for the almost unbridgeable divide between the two ways - intimacy and interference) of relating to the land? Is the creative approach of 'deep mapping/slow-residency' an attempt to form such a bridge?..to publicly re-frame the questions that many are posing; to be a shaman-like stitcher of worlds; to traverse the canyon? This last comment leads to another residual conversation:
6)....with Ribbon Falls. This was the furthest extent of my expedition towards the North Rim - a walk in fierce midday heat, to a special green, cool and misty location. I suppose I was lucky to be able to be alone at the Falls...to 'have' them to myself, and to freely 'take' photos? (again the extractive intervention?). According to oral tradition, the Zuni emerged from the womb of the earth near Ribbon Falls:
"Consequently, all of their first experiences in this world and the wonderful things they initially observed in the canyon are highlighted in Zuni prayers, stories and religious ceremonies; the place where sunlight first came over the rim; the plants, birds, and animals living along Bright Angel Creek and along the route followed to the Middle Place; and the sparkling minerals found in the canyon walls" LINK

There is a huge and deep 'counter-map' in existence - not written/compiled anywhere, but very much alive in Native American traditions, knowledge, lore and sensibilities. For me, it is hard not to relate this to the Dreamtime/Songlines 'intimacies' (of Australia). also uncompiled or drafted, but emergent, mushroom-like from the mycelium via stories, paintings, rituals.

And so, I venture on, with Kokopelli on my right and San Francisco on my left...

But not before documenting a couple of extra, fleeting, yet still strongly imprinted, conversations:

7)....with Eric (of Dine) at Canyon de Chelly, and with the place. The dreamlike walk, the brief interchange and purchase of an astonishing stone fragment, one of two he carved that day. (Yes, this was, in a sense, extractive.) Eric - with bloodshot eyes - sat in the quiet shade at the bottom of the canyon and told me of the corn-planting god, the tobacco pouch, the sun, the Dine, the four directions and more. I treasure this.

8)....with Jenna, in Phoenix, just after I arrived. She grew up at the Canyon, but we talked briefly about the Aran Islands, situated off the west coast of Ireland, and also possessing impressive, towering sheer cliff-faces. I was struck by both the differences and similarities between these two places. The Aran Islands standing isolated, elevated, in a vast Atlantic ocean - with their own deep and intricate 'dreamtime' (partly mapped in 'Stones of Aran', by Tim Robinson). The Grand Canyon - cut deep into a vast desert Colorado plateau. Both are stratified geological wonders, full of verticality, vastness...and vessels. 
Not just boats. Jenna spoke of an abiding memory of making butter, by hand, on the Aran Island. I see this now as a maybe twin activity to the corn-grinding - the stuff of life, and of mantra-like repetitive actions that engender intimacy.

7 February, 2012 - missing most...

13 January 2014

I am revisiting some past landscape explorations as part of my project Submerged (Drowned and Dammed Lands). The Colorado River being one of these, I'm interested to see that a drought situation is causing unprecedented variations in the water levels of the enormous reservoir of Lake Mead (behind the Hoover Dam).

"The sinuous Colorado River and its slew of man-made reservoirs from the Rockies to southern Arizona are being sapped by 14 years of drought nearly unrivaled in 1,250 years....many experts believe the current drought is only the harbinger of a new, drier era in which the Colorado’s flow will be substantially and permanently diminished."

The prognosis is not good, as populations and water-demand rises in these southern states. Meanwhile the delicate ecologies of the river basin continue to suffer huge disruption and declining health.