Notes on a Drive
In the summer of 2009 I went on a road trip to visit NASA spaceflight centers and the pre-Columbian ruins that scatter the southwestern continental United States. I paired these two seemingly disparate historical sites to experience their similarities. The ruins and NASA are both time capsules for cultural moments in a shared technological history. Geared toward the contemplation of the heavens, each site represents an engagement with cosmic ideas through ephemeral and physical spiritualism. What occurred to me after visiting them was unexpected.
I wanted to understand the technology that pursues the abstraction of space, and to gain a physical encounter of a place in this era of virtual ease. This interest is derived from an engagement with issues surrounding the preservation of ideas through technological artifacts. When thinking about NASA and advanced science in its eventual obsolete state, they become future artifacts of the present. The thought of the future as a ruin lying in wait makes for a fruitful leap in thought. I was making objects that specifically referenced prevservation and I felt a disconnect with using these ideas without seeing them in person. I needed to visit these sites to fully unerstand their significance within my practice.
The influence of these sites in my work actually comes from the ideas surrounding the site rather than from the experience of seeing it. Working in the manner of direct referentiality of historical objects and ideas, experience is a borrowed enterprise. The activation of certain sites, objects or ideas can occur without a full understanding of them. One cannot time-travel to activate the zeitgeist of a past age, but the ideas produced during those times are embedded within the objects that remain. I wanted to see how my work would be modified from the experience of physically seeing and engaging with these historical and technologically advanced places. I wanted to travel back into our generational past and touch the margins of the anticipated technological future.
My journey began in the desolate landscapes and strangely familiar crumbling structures of the Southwest. In these altered and unfamiliar landscapes the presence of a rich history has a distinct weight. The picturesque ruins fade away and the experience of a place takes hold over all preconceived notions. There was a surreal feeling of nostalgia and sympathy for these places. The structures were unfamiliar yet I felt a close ness to them.
When presented with the ruin we are confronted with our potential (inevitable) destruction. We are forced to consider the destruction of ourselves in the uncertain future. The built object carries the trace of humanity in every mark. Natural forces usurp the cohesive built structures of ancient civilizations and elicit terror within us. It is in all cases a matter of sympathy for the past. We recognize the passing of humanity in crumbling walls and eroded structures. This sympathy entices an existential consideration to our own ruinous future.
Visiting is no longer necessary when one can walk down any street in Google Earth, or stitch the experience of the site after multiple images of its location are viewed online. These specific physical sites contain a much different trajectory of meaning than the mundane location that is easily arrived at through viewing pictorially. I became fully interested in the reactivation of an aura, seemingly gone missing from much of our current experience. !!
After my exploration into these locations of archaeological significance, I looked into locations and sites of technological importance aimed at the future of anticipated posterity. I arranged tours of the NASA hubs speckled along the coasts, got chased by unmarked vehicles after wrong turns at Government missile ranges and broke into abandoned aircraft graveyards where planes sat in disarray with weeds emerging throughout. This was an investigation into the ruins of the contemporary.
The launch pads of Cape Canaveral, FL are the doorways into the frontier of space and the infinite expansiveness of the sublime. They sit like complex scaffolding waiting for the missing underlying structure. They embody a connection to pure virtuality. It is the entryway to a location of no-location. This location of nothingness that space represents is the sublime. The infinite possibility of space is the sandbox of creative thought and expression. Being presented with these technological artifacts of awesome power brought into focus their significance through a lens I had not been able to understand before. In a similar vein to the comprehension of outer space, I could not fathom the greatness of these locations. To walk the length of a Saturn V rocket lying horizontal cannot be repeated through any medium. Seeing these sites was the closest I could get to the exploration of space. Just like the enchantment of a meteorite, these locations held a power of the otherworldy and embody a trangression from the possible to the impossible.
The landscape that contains the launch pads to the Kennedy Space Center are flat with little to no natural markers to grasp one’s own location. It is barren, save for the occasitional buildings spread along the few roads that lead through the site. Weather has a minimal (at times) effect on the scheduled launches of spacecraft, the terrain is mostly flat and the vast ocean that surrounds it allows for the safe recovery of expelled aircraft for re-use.
Driving through the desolate landscape of the frontier to space exploration, I had a realization after seeing a pristine structure. Sitting like a perfect Judd in the far and open plain was a cube-like structure of enormous size, proportion and magnitude that could be seen from miles away. This structure was the Vehicle Assembly Building where rocket parts bound for space are assembled before they are rolled out to one of the two launch pads a few miles away.
The massive cube sitting on the horizon became a site of specific importance for me. It was the beacon of my collective interests. It was the last connection to the terrestrial. It was in all cases a metaphor for the death of progress, a mascot of our contemporary cynicism and despair towards the future.
It was in this moment of fixating on this structure as I drove through the landscape that the sublime effect of a sacred experience erupted within me. This structure spoke to me through an ancient connection of ritual and devotion. It is our collective temple for the physical transcendence of experience. With each launch we touch the face of death thus betraying the law of life. My accessing this structure was parallel to the experience the ancients must have had upon encountering the Sacred temples of Tenochtitlan or Chichen Itza. Emerging from its doors, humanity is bound for nothingness and the infinite expanse of incomprehensibility that is characteristic of the sublime.