Bermuda Triangle

Friday, March 15th, 2013

Already two hours of turbulence, and the only thing he’s thought about is drinking a cup of coffee. Take a seat, sir, the stewardess demands, with a voice so deep that rhymes with her heavy-custard lashes.

They’re flying over the Bermuda Triangle, and he thinks of being gobbled up by the sea, taken by extraterrestrials, seduced by paranormal activity. He concocts scenarios for these potential disappearances, but his more pressing craving, coffee, interrupts these attempts at narrative. If he would only be served a cup, he could be more concentrated.

The scene is of a modern orchestra in full performance, with an audience horrified by the uproar of its wind instruments. He can perceive the smell of vomit increasing. The drama. And now, aside from longing the aroma of fresh ground coffee, he yearns the scent of Brazilian Paprika… that perfume nestled in a miniature khaki-tweed bag packed in his carry-on, the fragrance he wears when he is in fact not in Brazil, a mnemonic device, Proustian madeleine, for his life there.

He only gets goose bumps when, at every jolt of the plane, his one aisle mate clings her nails on his arm; experiences dizziness by his other aisle-mate’s constant air tracing of the sign of the cross. Perhaps some coffee could induce in him a more appropriate level of anxiety, you know, to be more attuned to the spirit of the flight.

His calm body is sandwiched between these two nerve wrecks: one who’s probably never had a grip on life; the other who may have over-done it, confusing her religious ritual with air marshalling, wanting to guide something—this flight, the weather, their mortality—that she, that he, that all there, bound to seatbelts, wont ultimately get, at least this time around. Come on, one can’t even get a cup of coffee.

A ding-dong ring-tone marks survival. The aircraft has stabilized. The window shades are slowly lifted, and the light-blue hue of a clear sky illuminates the interior of the bird. Passengers slowly fall asleep from exhaustion, from their preceding edgy mood. There’s mostly silence, except for the stewards’ usher, their drink carts march. Coffee, sir? , she offers him. No, thank you, he replies decidedly, I’d actually prefer the drink pictured here.

Image: The June 11, 2007 magazine issue of The New Yorker, showing “Roy Spivey,” a short story by Miranda July illustrated with a photograph by William Eggleston.

Nevada on my mind, land art you are so kind

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

What is it about aerial photography that makes plain land so extraordinary, so marvelous? Is it the unusual perspective of something so familiar called the world? Is it the abstractness of it all? Aerial photography reminds me of how much there is to see, how much more there is to experience. No need for a hilltop or penthouse, to see a shot of these a day will do.

Footnote #1 – I took this photograph some days ago at the studio of the Parisian artist Pierre Leguillon. It is of a page-spread in an early-1970s issue of Harpers Bazaar. In this magazine issue is an image Pierre is working with for an art project—one of the best I’ve seen to date—and just pages behind it is a feature article by Bruce Jay Friedman on earth art, a new form of art making for that time. The earthwork figured is by Walter de Maria.

Footnote #2 – In a way, it was by coincidence that I got to this image. This encounter triggered a wonderful imaginary trip that passed through recollections of other stories and impressions far from the magazine until finally hitting a place: this image was so close to a satellite picture showing the abandoned and mysterious landing strip that inspired the recent construction of the International Airport Montello (IAM) by the artist’s group called eteam. Like de Maria’s chalk earthwork, eteam’s IAM is in Nevada. Can this image clue us into the history of the IAM airstrip?

Footnote #3 – Almost two years ago, I visited Michael Heizer’s Double Negative. Its monumentality is impressive. Its arrogance of form yet appropriateness to place is breathtaking. The visit there was part of a longer art-trip made with a group of colleagues and friends, all of who had experienced a flight-layover the day before at eteam’s IAM. And there, on that Sunday afternoon at the side of Double Negative, which is in the middle of nowhere, was The Independent British art critic Charles Darwent. He was on a road-trip across the American southwest on a self-designed Land Art tour. His article is published here, and is a great travel-guide and resource for that kind of trip.

Footnote #4 – Minutes after having published this entry, eteam sent me a note pointing out that this very day The New York Times published a review of the novelesque Spiral Jetta. A Road Trip Through the Land Art of the American West by Erin Hogan. The review is written by Tom Vanderbilt, one of today’s most adventurous and imaginative writers on culture. He is uthor of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What it Says About Us), released this month, and Survival City: Adventures Among the Ruins of Atomic America (2002), among other books and articles. Some years ago, Tom also wrote about his layover experience at eteam’s IAM. That piece was published in Modern Painters.

Camps—a nature-lover’s home, a temporary solution, a politically grounded space, an architectural structure of this century

Saturday, May 17th, 2008

I took the photograph above last month in Beijing’s popular art district, Dashanzi (a.k.a. 798 for its main street address), with the intent to share it with artists Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri, whose art project Camp Campaign (2006) I had worked on some years back. The image shows three of dozens and dozens of camp tents lined in 798. These are the temporary shelters and homes for construction workers that are quickly working on beautifying the city for this summer Olympics in China. Construction apparently has to be completed and tents removed by June 1st; and workers sent back to their villages and homes soon after. With the devastating earthquake in China’s Sichuan Province, it is unclear how reconstruction of that area will affect the building developments and urban renovations in Beijing. What seems clear is that shelter tents and temporary homes of this kind will take a whole different meaning right now in Sichuan than in Beijing.

In early 2005, when Ayreen and Rene initially discussed and sketched the ideas for Camp Campaign, they had drawn a travel route across the USA with stops in campsites primarily used by and for the military for detention and training. The travel itinerary also included stops at national parks with camping sites and visits to cultural institutions with summer camp programs. The artists were doing an expansive research on the variety of existing campsites in the country, and along the way campaigning against the most opaque and unpopular of them all, the one in Guantanamo. During their planning, Hurricane Katrina struck in New Orleans that summer, and the course of their future trip changed. Ayreen and Rene re-sketched their more than forty-day cross-country road trip, drawing a route that would also take them to this affected region, and to the different areas where relief camps had been installed and to buildings, like Houston’s Astrodome and Reliant Arena, that had provided temporary shelter for evacuees who had lost homes or were affected by the hurricane’s flooding consequences in New Orleans.

All this came to mind when I saw photographs of other, more temporary forms of camping—or, well, of an area at Sangatte in France’s Pas-de-Calais, where a refugee camp once used to exist. The photos were part of a series made by Bruno Serralongue’s Calais, which I accessed yesterday in the archives of his gallery Air de Paris. Closed in 2002 by France’s Minister of Interior of the time, the camp at Calais opened in 1999 in a building once storing machinery used to create the English Channel. (Calais borders the North Sea, and is the French port city closest to England.) The camp was managed by the Red Cross, and housed up to 1,200 illegal immigrants at once, mostly from the Middle East, on their way to England. At the camp’s closing and with no formal housing solution for the migrants that arrive to Calais, makeshift shelters have been appearing in the city’s surrounding area. Bruno Serralongue’s photographic series, which he began in 2006, has been shot in these so-called wastelands over the course of two years; you can see a selection of these photographs here.


To help support the relief efforts in China, or other regions in need, visit Global Giving or Doctors Without Borders.