American Mine

[Image: "American Mine (Carlin, Nevada 2, 2007)" by David Maisel].

[Note: The following essay was previously published under the title "Infinite Exchange" in Black Maps by David Maisel (Steidl), as well as in Cabinet Magazine #50].


1.
In a 2011 paper on the medical effects of scurvy, author Jason C. Anthony offers a remarkable detail about human bodies and the long-term presence of wounds.

“Without vitamin C,” Anthony writes, “we cannot produce collagen, an essential component of bones, cartilage, tendons and other connective tissues. Collagen binds our wounds, but that binding is replaced continually throughout our lives. Thus in advanced scurvy”—reached when the body has gone too long without vitamin C—“old wounds long thought healed will magically, painfully reappear.”

In a sense, there is no such thing as healing. From paper cuts to surgical scars, our bodies are catalogues of wounds: imperfectly locked doors quietly waiting, sooner or later, to spring back open.

[Image: "American Mine (Carlin, Nevada 5, 2007)" by David Maisel].


2.
The Carlin Trend was discovered in north-central Nevada, near the town of Elko, in 1962. Some fifty years later, at this time of writing, it remains one of the world’s largest actively mined deposits of gold ore. In fact, the region has become something of a category-maker in the gold industry today, which describes analogous landscapes and ore bodies as “Carlin-type” deposits. The Carlin Trend is a standard, in other words: a referent against which others are both literally and rhetorically measured.

The trend’s discovery and subsequent exploitation—and the extraordinary negative landforms that have resulted from its exhumation—has been a story of nineteenth-century U.S. mining laws, legally dubious provisions governing public land, extraction industry multinationals, advanced geological modeling software, specialty equipment few people can name let alone operate, and genetically modified bacteria mixed into vats of gold-harvesting slurry.

[Image: "American Mine (Carlin, Nevada 1, 2007)" by David Maisel].

Writing in 1989, John Seabrook of The New Yorker pointed out that, in the previous eight years alone, more gold had been mined from the Carlin Trend “than came out of any of the bonanzas that feature so prominently in our national mythology, including the California bonanza of 1849.” That’s because gold in the region is all but ubiquitous, peppered and snaked throughout Nevada:
There is gold in the Battle Mountain Formation, the range that runs southeast of town; gold in the alluvium to the west; gold in the Black Rock Desert to the northwest; gold in the Sheep Creek Range and in the Tuscarora Mountains to the northeast. The Tuscaroras are especially rich. Along the Carlin Trend, a forty-mile stretch of this range, are twelve deposits. Some people believe that a much richer swatch of ore, a deposit to rival South Africa’s Gold Reef, runs unbroken under the Carlin Trend, perhaps three thousand feet down—more than three times as deep as the deepest mines there now go.
“Some people believe”: more is hidden in the apparent neutrality of Seabrook’s phrase than we might at first suspect. Mining for gold—the actual, violent excision of waste rock from the earth, searching for ore—is never a question of finding a perfect, shiny lump of solid metal and carefully, surgically removing it from the planet. Gold is diffuse. It is now more often mined as particles, not blocks or even nuggets. Like glitter, it is scattered throughout the rocks around it.

In fact, the presence of gold, in many cases, can only be inferred. The angle at which local rock strata dip back into the planet, the direction water flows through the landscape, or the complex of other minerals and crystals locked in the rocks underground: these all, to varying degrees, act as telltale signatures for the famously coy king of metals.

[Image: "American Mine (Carlin, Nevada 18, 2007)" by David Maisel].

Looking for these signatures entails a peculiar mix of local folklore and verified science, and the hunt—sometimes life-consuming, sometimes maddening—for signs is exhaustively documented by what Seabrook calls “prospecting paraphernalia: geological reports, assay figures, maps, contracts, aerial photographs, electromagnetic surveys, gravitometer readings, lawsuits, letters from people who think they have gold on their property, letters from people who know people who have gold on their property.”

Gold is less discovered, we might say, than interpreted.

The Carlin Trend has thus served as a test site, now in its fifty-first year, for various interpretive techniques, both scientific and superstitious. Specialty journals refer to the region’s “geochemical patterns”—only fragments of which are available to them to analyze for “the characteristics, signatures, and genesis of Nevada’s world-class gold systems”—the idea being that these might be found again elsewhere and thus be more instantly recognizable. Geologists track concentrations, contours, “metal zones,” and mineralized fractures; they build models of “stacked geochemical anomalies” in the earth below, hoping to piece together an accurate model of the gold ore’s location.

[Image: "American Mine (Carlin, Nevada 8, 2007)" by David Maisel].

Where the gold came from in the first place is yet another interpretive preoccupation. A paper—forthrightly titled “Is the Ancestral Yellowstone Hotspot Responsible for the Tertiary ‘Carlin’ Mineralization in the Great Basin of Nevada?”—suggests that the gold of the Carlin Trend is actually a thermal after-effect, or geochemical ghost, of the still-nomadic Yellowstone hotspot that once pulsed and geysered beneath Nevada.

The language used to describe these deposits is often extraordinary. We read, for instance, that discontinuous ore bodies apparently produced at different “stages of mineralization” in the earth’s history might, in fact, be “part of a single event that evolved chemically through time.” That is, one state-sized geological event—with titanic embryos merging and splitting inside the earth—delicately infused into the landscape from below as slow pulses of mineral-rich magmatic fluid freeze into spidery veins of precious metal. Or we read about “anomaly-related mineral assemblages,” millions of years’ worth of “mineralizing events,” and “geochemical halos in this part of the Carlin Trend.” Industrial descriptions of the earth’s interior lend an unexpected poetry to the act of mining.

Another way of saying all this is that mind-bogglingly large terrestrial events, occurring invisibly below ground in rock formations we can only measure indirectly—scanning the earth for hidden signatures—produce ore bodies, the excavation, dismemberment, and eventual global distribution of which shapes human economic history in turn.

[Image: "American Mine (Carlin, Nevada 10, 2007)" by David Maisel].

In any case, the form of a gold deposit itself must be mapped and clarified before excavation can begin. The shape of the ensuing pit is not the result of frantic, directionless digging, but of a carefully controlled design process. The word “design” is used deliberately here, even if the shape of the pit is orchestrated not by aesthetics but by the needs of financial rationality. Using proprietary graphics software—similar in function to visual effects programs used in film, gaming, and architecture—the ore body is predictively 3D-modeled.

Mining, at this point, becomes less an act of extraction than of physical verification: machines and their profit-minded operators pursue the outlines of a virtual form by gradually expanding the mine’s target zones, in effect checking to see if the geologists’ models were right.

As architect Liam Young suggested in a recent interview, conducted after he returned from leading a group of design students on a research trip to the gold mines of Western Australia,
mining engineers are basically designers. They develop all these fragmentary data into models, which become the design of the pit itself. … But then what happens is, based on gold prices, the pit model changes. In other words, if the gold price or the mineral price is higher, then the pit gets wider as it becomes cost-effective to mine areas of lower concentration. This happens nearly in real time—the speed of the machines digging the pit can change over the course of the day based on the price of gold, so the geometry of the pit is utterly parametric, modeling these distant financial calculations.
In essence, Young suggests, mining engineers produce and explore speculative models of gold distribution in the rocks below ground. Using surprisingly low-res data taken from seismic tests and weighing that data against equipment availability, labor costs, and, most importantly, the internationally recognized price of gold, the extraordinary ballet of machines can begin.

This then becomes predictive on a much larger scale, as well. By constantly refining their models of how exactly gold forms in the first place, and where and how it can be mined most effectively, geologists can understand where—and, to some extent, predict when—future ore bodies might accumulate. Interestingly, these future deposits will appear on a timescale that far exceeds human civilization—so, while human miners most likely won’t be around to exploit them, it’s nonetheless intriguing to know that serpent-like veins of precious metal are incubating in the darkness beneath us.

[Images: (top) "American Mine (Carlin, Nevada 12, 2007)"; (bottom) "American Mine (Carlin, Nevada 13, 2007)," by David Maisel].

Here we return to Seabrook, who warns that “there is a good deal of poetry in these figures,” of ounces mined and subterranean veins discovered. “They are based on statistical models, a kind of three-dimensional game of connect the dots played by a computer.”

These are then treated explicitly and formally as works of art: Seabrook points out “a computer-generated three-dimensional picture of the ore body, dry-mounted and framed,” hanging on a geologist’s office wall. Call it the new Subterranean Romantic:
Mining people have a habit of stretching the metaphor when they talk about their ore bodies. They say how beautiful, how satisfying, how tantalizing their ore body is, they make hourglass shapes with their hands, knead with their fingers, smooth with their palms as they talk.
These gorgeous bodies, removed from the earth, leave scars: precisely designed but roughly implemented holes—exit wounds of temporally contingent value—clearly and deliriously visible from above.

[Images: "American Mine (Carlin, Nevada 12, 2007)" by David Maisel].


3.
The very idea that gold has value is a funny thing. Aside from a few basic industrial uses, gold’s value is almost entirely ornamental—that is, it is agreed upon by financial traders and metals futures markets, even if no actual gold changes hands. Gold comes out of one, very carefully designed hole in the ground—whether in Nevada, South Africa, or Western Australia—only, most likely, to be interred again in another part of the world in a bank vault or federal reserve, where it is precisely gold’s removal from direct exchange that augments its value and its mystery.

Mystery is not used lightly. In his odd but insightful study of the various symbolic entanglements between gold, cocaine, violence, and colonial labor in South America, anthropologist Michael Taussig writes, with suitably mythic overtones: “How perfect is gold, the great shape-changer, the liquid metal, the formless form.”

This “formless form,” however, undergoes a strange—we might say alchemical—transformation, from shining metal to the rarefied super-object known as money. In a long description based on a memoir by Captain Amasa Delano, Taussig recounts the nineteenth-century process of minting coins from gold bullion:
The gold ore was wetted and kneaded by blacks treading on it with their feet on a paved brick surface after which they put mercury on it so as to separate out the gold. Then the metal was heated, becoming red as blood. To get the liquid metal to run from its crucible, the spout was touched with a stick with a piece of cloth around it. When this stick made contact, there was a flash and the metal began to run in a stream not much thicker than a pipe stem. The bars of gold formed were subsequently squeezed flat by rollers until the thickness of a dollar or doubloon, by which time the bars had become sheets four feet long. A powerful press cut coins out from these thin sheets like a cookie cutter, and the pieces were turned to receive a milled edge. Then came the weighing.
For Taussig, this process reveals the machinations “both mysterious and everyday” by which a mineral becomes money—that is, how “gold and silver coins become enchanted, material things, aglow with a power emanating from deep within.” This base matter has been transformed, given exchange-value through formal regularity and sent off to participate in a global system of monetary transactions.

Gold coins are thus but one of the “minutiae in which the supernatural is secularized”: a haunted mineral is pulled from the earth and given an uncanny second life elsewhere.

[Image: "American Mine (Carlin, Nevada 22, 2007)" by David Maisel].

The spectral mathematics that can turn reserves of gold into abstract instruments of monetary exchange—into financial products and debt instruments, derivatives and funds—operates through a barely comprehensible carnival of surrogates flashing back and forth through the global marketplace. Until the end of the Bretton Woods system in August 1971, when the US dollar was unilaterally decoupled from the international gold standard, gold served as a reliable, universally recognized equivalent for economic exchange.

Gold, in the words of Jean-Joseph Goux, himself citing Marx, had value precisely because it could so effectively disappear into the “circulation of substitutes.” This is a logic of exchange by which Object A can be traded for Object B, as long as we agree that Object B also refers, off-stage, to something else entirely: some standard or reserve for which it acts as a practical surrogate.

Before 1971, that off-stage presence—that silent original, sleeping in a state of eternal reservation—was gold.

[Image: "American Mine (Carlin, Nevada 20, 2007)" by David Maisel].

To say, then, that there is an “economy” is thus to use shorthand for what Goux describes as “a regulated process of equivalents and substitutions,” whereby stand-ins, equivalents, and acceptable replacements all interact in occulted reference to an absentee original. The natural hard matter of gold, artificially extracted from the earth, thus becomes caught up in a supernatural system of objects: coins, bills, and derivatives—future duplicates and doubles.

In this context, the ongoing attempts to return the United States to the gold standard—by, for instance, perennial Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul—can be seen as an almost folkloristic attempt to put the genie of infinite derivative exchange back in the bottle.

Sites like Nevada’s Carlin Trend thus serve as base points for this process, emitting endless phantasms in an economic fiction of equivalents—derivative products that refer to one another in a superstition of indirect exchange referred to as the economy—to such an extent that we might say these mines can never be refilled. Or, more accurately, they can only be overfilled, stuffed beyond capacity with the carnival of substitutes their hollowing-out has, however inadvertently, unleashed.

[Image: "American Mine (Carlin, Nevada 7, 2007)" by David Maisel].


4.
In 2007, David Maisel began work on a group of photographs called “American Mine,” part of a larger and older series known as “The Mining Project.” These images document, in extraordinary abstract swaths of color, the emergent geometries of mines along the Carlin Trend.

Scattered across Maisel’s images is a forensic survey of cuts and incisions—wounds that will outlive us, scars that won’t go away—older surgeries through which modernity has, in effect, been created. The mines of the Carlin Trend remain unhealed—in fact, year on year, they are growing—a raw scurvy of rocks exposed on a scale so monumental that geologists estimate mines, not cities, will be the final trace of humanity left visible in a hundred million years’ time.

[Image: "American Mine (Carlin, Nevada 17, 2007)" by David Maisel].

Vast terraced bowls step down—and down and, impossibly, further down—tracking dead faults and mineralization fronts on a scale only made clear when we notice 16-ton trucks like specks of dust on canyon walls. Discolored oceans of chemical runoff wash across vehicle tracks with acid tides. Retaining walls and stabilized slopes loom over assembled superscapes of mine detritus, abandoned shells of industrial insects dwarfed by the world they’ve helped create.

In these scenes, geotextile mats have all but replaced the earth’s surface, offering instead a deathless, replicant topography. Artificial hills, each uncannily and exactly like its neighbor, roll from one side of the frame to the other, shifting in tandem with commodities prices, their malleable geography thus forever resistant to mapping. The mines grow and metastasize as voids: storm fronts of negative space exploding with their own slow thunder into the planet.

[Image: "American Mine (Carlin, Nevada 14, 2007)" by David Maisel].

What is of particular interest in Maisel’s “American Mine” series is its revelation of the injuries at the start of the commodity chain: planetary wounds, seemingly beyond the breadth of nature, out of which commodities have been extracted for later exchange.

The production of economically recognizable objects can thus be seen as a kind of terrestrial focusing: out of the chaos of the mine site, with great lakes clouded by geochemical effluent and abstract landforms like ritual mounds from human prehistory, pristine products eventually emerge, assembled from these heavy elements torn so roughly from the ground. Out of the carcinogenic discord of rock dust, circuit boards appear.

In a sense, it is surprising that the computers, phones, batteries, television sets, and other mundane electronics that fill the markets of the world are so free of this fallout, so astringently cleansed of the geological evidence of their own creation. Or perhaps we might say that it is precisely this stripping-away of a product’s elemental birth that gives it its later value and utility. Such products are ironically de-terrestrialized: washed of the very planet from which they came.

• • • 

I owe a huge thank you to David Maisel and editor Alan Rapp for inviting me to participate in the Black Maps book, which is an absolutely gorgeous compendium of Maisel's work, as well as to Sina Najafi for his editorial feedback before this essay ran in Cabinet Magazine. You can see some photos of Black Maps over at the publisher's website.

For those of you in Los Angeles, meanwhile, Maisel has a new show opening this spring—on March 26th, 2015—at the Mark Moore Gallery. Check back at this link in the weeks to come for more information.

Finally, if you would like to read some previous posts here on BLDGBLOG about Maisel's work, don't miss "The Fall" or "Library of Dust," among many other short posts; and be sure to read the interview with David Maisel published in The BLDGBLOG Book.

Buy a Skyway

[Image: The skyway-to-nowhere while it still spanned the street; photo via the Star-Tribune].

Continuing our irregular look at oddities in real estate, you might be interested to know that you can now buy a skyway.

The 280,000-pound steel structure was originally designed by architect Ed Baker, a man apparently also known as "the father of the skyways," according to Greg.org, and as a "skyway visionary," as suggested by his 2006 obituary in The Journal.

The structure itself is still intact, although it no longer spans a street or sidewalk; rather, it sits empty in a nearby lot, devoid of both purpose and context, like an architectural prosthetic discarded, half-forgotten, by the city.

But it's no ordinary skyway.

[Image: The skyway sitting in its dusty lot; photo via the Star-Tribune].

“It is a piece of Minneapolis history,” architect Ben Awes of CityDeskStudio told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “To demolish it would be a significant waste of resources, the waste of an object that is both extremely practical and has tremendous creative potential.”

The back-story is complex:
The saga of the grounded skyway, which once ferried shoppers in climate-controlled comfort over S. 5th Street between the J.C. Penney and Powers stores in downtown Minneapolis, began more than a decade ago when the Powers store was demolished, leaving the abandoned skyway perilously projecting over 5th Street.

When work began on the 5th Street LRT line in 2002, the University of Minnesota bought the skyway to nowhere for $1. Plans to repurpose the elegant network of zigzagging steel tubes and trusses never materialized, and in 2006, CityDeskStudio bought it for $5,000 at a blind auction and wheeled it to a weed-strewn field near the U’s Twin Cities campus.
And it has sat there ever since.

When CityDeskStudio bought it, they initially envisioned transforming the structure, in one, architecturally coherent piece, into a modern lakeside cabin somewhere in the wilds of Minnesota. Until the economy got in the way.

[Image: The skyway as lakeside retreat; rendering by CityDeskStudio].

Technically speaking, the thing is not even for sale: in fact, CityDeskStudio will pay you to take it away from the site. But the moving costs, insurance, and whatever other associated site-preparation fees you might face before planting it in the woods somewhere could be quite considerable.

Any takers?

(Spotted via Greg.org. Previously on BLDGBLOG: Buy a Fort, Buy a Lighthouse, Buy an Underground Kingdom, Buy a Prison, Buy a Tube Station, Buy an Archipelago, Buy a Map, Buy a Torpedo-Testing Facility, Buy a Silk Mill, Buy a Fort, Buy a Church).

The Conqueror Worm

[Image: Photo by & courtesy of Trackrunners, used with permission].

A group of friends, their faces rigorously hidden from public view, find a huge borehole leading down into some tunnels beneath the city.

Not content to just lie there, straining to see more than 260 feet into the deep and merely wondering what might be down there, they do what any enterprising team of explorers would do.

They don mountaineering gear and descend into the pit.

[Images: Photos by & courtesy of Trackrunners, used with permission].

It's like scaling Mt. Everest in reverse—"descending black ropes," in their words—swinging ever closer to the entrance to the tunnels, their headlamps and cameras at the ready.

Plus, some weird new myths have been circulating around town: that there's a monolithic machine down there, something massive and temporarily abandoned beneath the city. It is "the toughest of all the machines. A dormant juggernaut that lies underground."

They want to find it, to see if the rumors are true—and, who knows, to discover if the machine might still be operational. Imagine what you could do with a discarded tunneling machine seemingly forgotten in the deepest basement of the metropolis. Imagine if you could bring it back to life.

[Image: Photo by & courtesy of Trackrunners, used with permission].

Thus begins the next phase of their subterranean quest to find the so-called "Worm Maiden," this conquering machine-animal lying dormant in its lair somewhere under the streets.

"Hitting our helmets and our backpacks on almost everything we found on the way," they inched forward on foot.

[Image: Photo by & courtesy of Trackrunners, used with permission].

They soon drop their ropes and progress through a series of excavated tunnels and industrial caves, as if puzzling some new route into a pharaoh's tomb—an Egyptology of urban infrastructure with its own secret chambers and traps.

And, incredibly, they actually do it: they actually find the machine, realizing that the rumors were both true and strangely inaccurate.

That is, the machine is even larger and more extraordinary than they'd been led to believe. It is a sprawling and tentacular presence that blocks the tunnel with the dark bulk of its old valves and pipework, like some ancient engine that wanted to hide itself in a cocoon of its own making.

[Image: Photo by & courtesy of Trackrunners, used with permission].

"Walking through the sleeping beauty, through her corridors amongst rust and spiderwebs," we read, "she looked much bigger than we could have imagined. She didn’t seem to have an end. Eventually we reached a point where we couldn’t go any further, it was full of pipes and unknown mechanisms but the end was intuited."

The machine was so complex, in other words, that they couldn't find the other end of it, having to negotiate their way through all its internal doors and control panels.

[Image: Photo by & courtesy of Trackrunners, used with permission].

It could be the ultimate joyride—Grand Theft TBM—driving a stolen machine literally through the foundations of the city, carving your own maze through bedrock.

But a way forward was eventually found, and the Kubrickian monolith of this now-stationary drill head was revealed up ahead like some Mayan sculpture in the darkness. Abandoned for now and just lying there: a machine-ruin rusting away in the underground world it had made for itself. The conqueror worm.

[Image: Photo by & courtesy of Trackrunners, used with permission].

"It was much better than I had imagined," we read. The text is like an archaeological report made possible by climbing gear and GoPros. "A twelve meter diameter of pure love just in front of us, was bestial. I couldn’t stop staring at HER. I could see the strain on her, the hard work she had done. The dirt in every part of the face. Pure beauty. All the space around her was filled by a foot of dirty water. A mixture of sand, dirt, water and oil. This mantle of fluids that covered everything was perfect, the vapors fogged my camera lens but the effect was delightfully dramatic. Go and use a filter to look like this. I can see the new Instagram filter now... TBM vapors effect!"

But that's literally only half the journey. They've mountaineered into the planet, like reverse-Alpinists of the inferno—and they go so far as to discover an artificial lake beneath the city, a brackish reservoir that "shone under the light of our torches"—but now they have to get back out, which is not nearly as easy as it had seemed.

There are dozens of other photographs over at Trackrunners, and a much longer version of how everything happened that day; go check it out (and don't miss their other stories, such as the disused stations beneath Barcelona).

(Thanks to Charles Bronson for the tip!)

The Moving Mountain, or Terrain as Spectacle

[Image: Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA, via KCET].

Nathan Masters remains one of the more interesting chroniclers of life and landscape in Southern California, as evidenced by his "L.A. as Subject" blog for KCET. I could (and should) just link to all his posts, to be honest—lost hills! buried rivers! conflicting grids!—but last week's installment, albeit short, was particularly interesting.

"For a few days in late November 1937," Masters writes, "it was the Southland's greatest attraction—a landslide in slow motion, 1.5 million tons of an Elysian Park hillside creeping toward the Los Angeles River bed."
Sensational news reports, printed in papers and broadcast on radio nationwide, described it as a "moving mountain," and tourists came from afar to witness the geologic curiosity. One Oklahoma City police officer took a leave of absence to watch the slide. Two boys hopped freight trains from New York to see it. Some 10,000 sightseers came by the hour. Spectators pressed against police barricades along Riverside Drive, and enterprising vendors worked the throng like a baseball game, hawking peanuts, popcorn, and soda. Some even sold field glasses.
Even local astronomers showed up, telescopes in tow, in order to study the mobile mass, this blob of geology suddenly making a move into town.

After a catastrophic lurching of the slow-motion mountain, the terrain appeared to come to a standstill. "The next day, an estimated crowd of 500,000 converged on the site, munching on popcorn and hoping the mountain would move again."



This pent-up dramaturgy of the landscape—the possibility that its newfound agency would continue—crawling, oozing, rolling, forcing its way into public consciousness—remains strong today, even if subsumed into other contexts.

In other words, I'd suggest that many Angelenos are still, in a sense, "munching on popcorn and hoping the [landscape] would move again," and that this is the dark fascination of seismic instability, of what it means to live in an earthquake zone: that the land itself is active, motivated from within by a kind of a slow-motion sentience, a mineral energy that is as much an invigorating spectacle as it is an existential threat.

Read the rest of Masters's post over at "L.A. as Subject."

Low-Poly Tectonics

[Image: A "wooden textile" by Elisa Strozyk].

You've undoubtedly already seen these, but the "wooden textiles" by designer Elisa Strozyk are a beautiful and surprisingly simple rethinking of the idea of a textile—and they have some interesting implications for terrain modeling and even gaming.

First, though, what are these things?

[Image: A "wooden textile" by Elisa Strozyk].

Strozyk writes that she wanted to find "a new tactile experience" for wood, which she achieved by producing wooden tiles that "are then attached to a textile base. Depending on the geometry and size of the tiles each design shows a different behavior regarding flexibility and mobility."

[Image: A "wooden textile" by Elisa Strozyk].

These "different behaviors" can be seen in the following images, where the shape and size of the tiling system dictates the types of ridges and forms that result; while this is obviously interesting from a material standpoint, thinking of these as landscape-modeling exercises lends them a fascinating terrestrial applicability in representing different topographies.

[Images: A "wooden textile" by Elisa Strozyk].

In other words, you start with what appears to be a carpet, but very soon thereafter, with just a few adjustments, you have a mountain range, a moor, a midocean ridge, a series of rolling hillsides. It's tectonics at work, from a flat plane to a folded landscape, like a storm pulsing through the world from below.

[Images: A "wooden textile" by Elisa Strozyk].

As Strozyk points out, "there are various possible applications, for example as floorings, curtains, drapes, plaids, upholstery or parts of furniture."

Her site thus shows these atop beds, on floors, and spread across other objects.

[Image: A "wooden textile" by Elisa Strozyk].

But I can't help but wonder what you could do with this in very different contexts: in a student landscape design project, for example, or even as an Arduino-actuated, live-action game board, something tweaked, ridged, and uplifted to form the polygonal backdrop of a new strategy game.

Consider all of the recent excitement over Earth Primer, for example. "Like a deity in training," Wired effuses, "you can sculpt mountains, summon rain storms, and move tectonic plates with your fingertips. It’s a novel way to learn about our planet, certainly. But it’s also an inspiring design experiment, and a reminder that interactive media is a young and undeveloped world itself."

Something at least as conceptually exciting, yet more tactile and physically immersive, could also be achieved using Strozyk's wooden textiles—even if only as a somewhat expensive luxury item, sure, but the possibilities for developing a textile-based deformable game board, either for personal entertainment or for in-class pedagogy, is a pretty wild thing to think about.

[Image: A "wooden textile" by Elisa Strozyk].

Imagine teaching kids geology using intricately woven, planet-modeling blankets, or producing a landscape-intensive strategy game that can be warped in real-time using semi-solid, geometrically complex textiles.

The result would be far from an aesthetic outlier.

[Image: A "low-poly" landscape by Timothy Reynolds created for Amplify].

In a virtuoso history of landscape art, from Modern painters such as Claude Monet and Paul Cézanne to today's digital polygons, Tim Schneider suggested that artists such as Timothy Reynolds have been experimenting with so-called "low-poly" landscapes as a way of deliberately foregrounding the possibilities (and limits) of the digital medium.

"The sharp edges, vivid colors, and obviously geometric modeling put the polygon itself on view," Schneider writes, and this is done on purpose, "despite the fact that more traditionally realistic visual styles are available."

Indeed, low-poly art such as Reynolds's has "highlighted colorful lighting, sharp edges, and the geometric re-interpretation of organic forms as particular draws of the aesthetic. Each of these was [also] explored by more than one icon of early Modern artwork en route to their positions in the canon, and in some cases, their status as present-day household names."

[Images: A "low-poly" landscape by Timothy Reynolds created for Amplify].

This has never been an easy career path. "While the academies viewed these unrepentant stylizations as naive, childlike, or simply vulgar," Schneider reminds us, "Modern artists recognized the possibilities in this new brand of visual honesty."

[Image: A "low-poly" landscape by Timothy Reynolds].

"Counterintuitively," he adds, "what they realized was that individual expression held more power to connect with an audience than fidelity."

[Images: A "wooden textile" by Elisa Strozyk].

In any case, Schneider's 3-part essay can be read in its entirety if you click these three links, but my own over-riding interest here remains with the potentially half-digital, half-analog nature of Elisa Strozyk's wooden textiles, wondering how they—or objects like them—might potentially be used as platforms for narrative content.

Multimedia Phantoms And A/V Ghosts

[Image: Courtesy FakeTV: The Burglar Deterrent].

Just a quick note that I've got an article up over at New Scientist about how a "fear of crime and a desire to prevent burglary are transforming the domestic interior into an uninhabited multimedia environment, an immersive videodrome playing randomised loops that can be mistaken for human behaviour."

Check it out if you get the chance.

Among other things, the piece looks at various new tools designed specifically to make your home appear inhabited when it is not; these include the so-called FakeTV, which is basically exactly what it sounds like, as well as an album that describes itself as a collection of "hundreds of professionally recorded interior house sounds to give the realistic impression that someone is at home." It's the brave new world of home protection audio.

That kicks off a new monthly column for New Scientist exploring "how technology and design are changing our cities, homes, the built environment—and ourselves."

Algorithms in the Wild

[Image: Jasper National Park, courtesy of Parks Canada].

There's an interesting article over at Highline Magazine about a lost hiker named George Joachim whose subsequent behavior in the landscape was so spatially unexpected that he eluded discovery for ten days.

He was a "behavioral outlier," we read, and his mathematically unpredictable actions forced a revision of what is, in effect, the search algorithm used by Parks Canada for tracking human beings in the wild.

[Image: Jasper National Park, courtesy of Parks Canada].

From the story:
Parks Canada uses a statistical model to help predict where the lost person might be. The model uses data collected from similar lost person cases to learn the size and location of the search area. Combining the experience of the searchers and research on the lost person, the model then suggests the likelihood the person will be in various locations based on how previous people in their situation have behaved.

Joachim unintentionally misled searchers by listing his destination incorrectly in the climber’s registry, and then behaved so unlike other people previously have in his circumstance that he was repeatedly missed in the search. Parks Canada’s search and rescue community considers his case a valuable learning experience and have since tweaked search protocols to account for other behavioral outliers.
Put another way, this hiker exceeded the agent-based mathematical model used to track him. As a result, his searchers were forced to develop what the author calls the "Joachim profile," a kind of makeshift simulation that, in theory, should have been able to predict where he'd pop up next.

The idea that human movement through the wilderness corresponds—or not, as the case may be—to a mathematical sorting algorithm is fascinating, especially when that model diverges so drastically from what a person really does out there.

In fact, it's worth speculating that it is precisely in this divergence from accepted mathematical models of landscape use where we can find a truer or more "wild" experience of the terrain—as if certain activities can be so truly "wild" that no known algorithm is capable of describing them.

[Image: Jasper National Park, courtesy of Parks Canada].

In any case, it's by no means the world's most gripping story of human survival, but it's a great example of human landscape expectations and the limits of abstract modeling. Click over to Highline to read the whole thing.

The Electromagnetic Fortification of the Suburbs

[Image: A drone from DJI].

It's hardly surprising to read that drones can be repurposed as burglars' tools; at this point, take any activity, add a drone, and you, too, can have a news story (or Kickstarter) dedicated to the result.

"Why not send an inexpensive drone, snoop in your windows, see if you have any pets, see if you have any expensive electronics, maybe find out if you have any jewelry hanging around," a security expert wonders aloud to Hawaii's KITV, describing what he sees as the future of burglary. Burglars "can do all that with a drone without ever stepping a foot on your property line."

"So what's a homeowner to do?" the TV station asks.

They suggest following the drone back to its owner, who, due both to battery life and signal range, will be nearby; or even installing "new expensive high-tech drone detection systems that claim to detect the sounds of a drone's propellers." This is absurd—suggesting that some sort of drone alarm will go off at 3am, driving you out of bed—but it's such a perfectly surreal vision of the suburbs of tomorrow.

Fortifying our homes against drone incursion will be the next bull market in security: whole subdivisions designed to thwart drone flights, marketed to potential homeowners specifically for that very reason.

You go home for the weekend to visit your parents where, rather than being enlisted to mow the lawn or clean the gutters, you're sent you out on drone duty, installing perimeter defenses or some sort of jamming blanket, an electromagnetically-active geotextile disguised beneath the mulch. Complex nets and spiderweb-like antennas go on sale at Home Depot, perfect for snaring drone rotors and leading to an explosion in suburban bird deaths.

[Image: A drone from DJI].

This news comes simultaneously with a story in Forbes, where we read that drone manufacturer DJI is implementing a GPS block on its products: they will no longer be able to fly within 15.5 miles of the White House.

The company is issuing "a mandatory firmware update to all Phantom drones that will restrict flight within a 15.5 mile radius centered around downtown Washington D.C. Pilots looking to operate their Phantom drone will not be able to take off or fly within the no-fly-zone."
Based off a drone’s GPS coordinates, the technology to geo-fence drones from entering a particular airspace, especially around major airports, has been around in Phantoms since early last year. The new update will add more airports to its no-fly-zone database as the 709 no-fly-zones already in the Phantom’s flight controller software will expand to more than 10,000, with additional restrictions added to prevent flight across national borders.
This is remarkable for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that firmware updates and geography now work together to disable entire classes of products within a given zone or GPS range. Put another way, drones today—but what tomorrow?

Geofencing or "locationized" firearms have already been discussed as a possible future form of gun control, for example, and it would not be at all surprising to see "locationized" smartphones or geofenced cameras becoming a thing in the next few years.

All a government (or criminal syndicate) would have to do is release a (malicious) firmware update, temporarily shutting down certain types of electronics within range of, say, a presidential inauguration (or a bank heist).

[Image: A drone from DJI].

More to the point of this post, however, GPS-based geofencing will also become part of the electromagnetic armature of future residential developments, a new, invisible layer of security for those who are willing to pay for it.

Think, for example, of the extraordinary geographic dazzle effects used by government buildings to camouflage their real-world locations: as Dana Priest and William Arkin wrote for The Washington Post back in 2012, "most people don't realize when they're nearing the epicenter of Fort Meade's, even when the GPS on their car dashboard suddenly begins giving incorrect directions, trapping the driver in a series of U-turns, because the government is jamming all nearby signals."

If half the point of living in the suburbs is to obtain a certain level of privacy, personal safety, and peace of mind, then it is hardly science fiction to suggest that the electromagnetic fortification of suburbia is on the immediate horizon.

You won't just turn on a burglar alarm with your handy smartphone app; you'll also switch on signal-jamming networks hidden in the trees or a location-scrambling geofence camouflaged as a garden gnome at the edge of your well-mown lawn. Drones, dazzled by invisible waves of unpredictable geographic information, will perform U-turns or sudden dives, even racing off to a pre-ordained security cage where they can be pulled from the air and disabled.

The truly high-end residential developments of tomorrow will be electromagnetically fortified, impervious to drones, and, unless you've been invited there, impossible for your cars and cellphones even to find.