Hydrologies represents two interventionist projects set in opposite hemispheres in which the reciprocal acts of adding and removing water from the landscape become catalysts for generative works. The Atacama Desert in Chile blooms every two to twelve years as a result of unusually high rainfall that accompanies the El Niño weather phenomenon. Hydrologies Atacama involved irrigating linear sections of the desert in the hopes of activating the dormant seeds and creating a line of flowers across the landscape. Between May and August of this year, I worked with a team of Chileans to irrigate three sites on a flat gravel plain near the coastal town of Caldera. Using a rolling irrigation device that I constructed, we walked back and forth across the fifty meter strips for eight hours a day pushing the apparatus and carrying a 100m hose that connected it to a water truck. The slow procession back and forth to awaken dormant seeds felt like a ritual, preparing the earth for a resurrection – a funeral in reverse. What grew on these sites however, was not the dense and highly visible line of flowers that I had imagined when starting this project, but a constellation of delicate Cristaria and Cryptantha seedlings spread throughout the irrigated areas, and which are only visible upon close examination of the rocky soil.
In Hydrologies Archaea, I performed an inversion of this action by removing gallons of super saline water from the Great Salt Lake near Spiral Jetty and installing it in an array of glassware at UMOCA two months prior to the opening of the exhibition. The pink color of the water is caused by the dense concentration of halophilic organisms blooming in the warm temperatures of late summer, a phenomenon which Robert Smithson described as an important factor for siting his 1970 earthwork in the lake. As the water evaporates, an uncanny process begins: the salt crystals move over the edge of the glasses and down the sides, enveloping the vessels in a thick layer of salt that continues to spread out onto the table until all of the water has evaporated or a layer of salt seals the vessel closed. As this happens the halophiles living in the water become trapped in the crystals, suspended in an indefinite state of dormancy until a time when water dissolves the crystals and they are reanimated. Like the calcified remains of pottery found in caves after thousands of years, the glass installation appears to have undergone a similar geologic process in a fraction of the time. The crystals which covered these objects in a span of just weeks had been collecting in this terminal lake since its creation 14500 years ago, suggesting a concept of geologic time that is not slow, but elastic, encompassing events on both a short and long time horizon.
With both of these projects my intention was to engage the material agency of an ecological system and its geologic and cultural history. The dormant halophiles within the crystals are part of the animal kingdom Archaea, and are thought to resemble the earliest life on earth for their ability to thrive in harsh environments. Similarly, the Atacama is the oldest and driest continuous desert on the planet, and through the mechanism of seed dormancy the plants here have evolved to survive decade long droughts. While this long evolutionary and geologic history makes salt, seeds and microorganisms behave predictably in a closed system, within a larger framework this deterministic causality becomes less apparent. The NOAA Climate Predication Center’s current forecast has the chance of El Niño through the fall and winter of 2015 at between 60-65%, which is up 15% from their prediction in March of this year but down 10% from July. As I write this, there are fields of violet flowers growing in the Atacama desert 60 KM south of our site. The heavy rains that fell in May and activated these seeds I witnessed firsthand while driving to the location one morning. When I arrived I could see the ground was hardly wet. The heaviest rains had missed us but what remained on the horizon was a broken rainbow, a sight almost as rare in the Atacama as a field of flowers.
This project was made possible with the generous support of the Guggenheim Foundation, The Shifting Foundation, The Utah Musuem of of Contemporary Art and The Center for Land Use Interpretation.