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Fun with black and red ink and mostly non-alphanumeric characters.

I have an early memory of playing on a typewriter upstairs at my father’s office.  While I was old enough to have typed words or even a short story, my first impulse was to use the machine to layer and mix mostly non-alphanumeric characters (periods, brackets, commas, etc.), combining the red and black strips of ink to create what I proudly presented to my mother as “my own language”.  I knew then on some level that what I had created was and was not language at the same time.

In my recent art projects I have explored the visual output of both past civilizations in the form of petroglyphs, and contemporary computer coding languages in the form of obscure characters.  Both systems of glyphs are nearly completely unintelligible to the layperson and remain obscure even to the specialist.  Thus, these systems have an inherent relationship with semiotics, as the associations between the characters and symbols fail to create meaning.  While one function of code is to communicate, another equally useful purpose is to obfuscation (as in Morse code, etc.). Many children are attracted to this capability of code and language, evidenced by the marketing of secret decoder rings and fake spy gear.

Code Display

Solgonda Code Display

A basic principle of semiotics is that meaning is constructed through difference [1. Saussure, Ferdinand De, Charles Bally, Albert Sechehaye, and Albert Riedlinger. Course in General Linguistics. LaSalle, IL: Open Court, 1986. Print.].  In the world of computer languages, fragmentary, rigidly organized, intensely fragile components cannot even be understood in terms of difference, for difference is found in such abundance between coding languages and within any specific language that difference is completely stripped of its organizing power.  It doesn’t really make sense to call computer programming languages “languages” at all, in that while they have a metaphorical resemblance to human language, they are essentially data systems of commands that are not spoken nor written, save to transmit information to machines.  This misleading resemblance is what makes code so frustrating for the uninitiated and so intriguing for me visually.

Taking a huge leap back in time, petroglyphs or rock carvings are also systems of information but not necessarily language either.  When I first stumbled on some petroglyphs in and around Joshua Tree National Park I was struck both by their art-ness and their resemblance to written language.

Joshua Tree Petroglyphs - Great Basin Abstract Style


These symbols are often referred to as “rock art”.  There is an undeniable formal beauty in the line work and abstract renderings of these peoples, and it is easy to feel an artistic connection.

Most of the Joshua Tree markings belong to the Great Basin Abstract style and are believed to have been carved by by the Serrano or Cahuilla Native Americans several thousand years ago [2. Austin, Donald. “Serrano Petroglyphs at Coyote Hole, Joshua Tree, California.” Petroglyphs, Pictographs and Rock Art., 3 Jan. 2006. Web. 24 Mar. 2013.].  But beyond their physical appearance, we know little about them. There is no reliable way to carbon date a rock carving, since the carving is literally the absence of rock, and the rock itself predates humans.  Furthermore, sites may contain carvings from multiple tribes or carvings made at different times.  Most individual meanings of the markings are lost to time.

In my most recent web project I use JavaScript code to randomly generate an array of images of glyphs arranged into a grid.  Clicking on one of the glyphs advances the user to the next page, but the correct choice is a mystery.  While the grid evokes modernist notions of organization and understanding, the random placement of the glyphs underscores their unintelligibility.

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Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree National Park

well at a certain point in Joshua Tree i decided it was better to get out into the park and surrounding area and suck up all the experiences i could, rather than hole up in the house and write and try and make art. one can make art anywhere.  the experience of a time and place can be fleeting.

unfortunately i don’t know that i can truly explain with words the kind of pull that Joshua Tree has for me.  i do know that is is not for everyone.  but it is very special for me.  so it is with a small amount of sadness that have returned to more institutional surroundings and a mechanized lifestyle.  i managed to cram a lot of experiences into a couple weeks including an extremely eventful day with internationally recognized photographer Natasha Peterson.  First, we had a therapeutic and mind-expanding “sound bath” at the Integratron, a structure built with instructions from Venetian aliens and inspired by Tesla technology.  Then we visited Garth, a man who has lived in a stone tee-pee for 30 years while running a hippie commune called “God’s Way, Love“.  Finally, we had an extremely close encounter with a rattlesnake in a cave (my third and final)

so i am in Cincinnati now trying to wrap my head around a few ideas.  i recently completed this internet project,, about information storage, nostalgia and age, and technology.  in the desert, the things i was drawn to the most were the rocks, petroglyphs, and the stars.  i enjoy the strange joshua trees, the creatures like snakes and ringtail cats and gigantic beetles, the sunsets make me want to cry, the dirt, the eccentric people and their personal mythologies and conspiracies.  but the rocks, the glyphs, and the stars have this thing in common, this thing i am interested in–age and presence and mystery, a sense of gravitas.

so i am trying to think about why and how these threads run through my past work and what the next steps are for new works.

here are some more photos from my last few days.


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Abandoned Homestead Cabins and Photographer Kim Stringfellow

There are a lot of abandoned Homesteader shacks out here in Joshua Tree.  Here is one i stumbled on the other day.  Also, I had the great pleasure of meeting award winning photographer Kim Stringfellow, who did a great book project on these homes and shacks.  Here is a nice article, and accompanying video from KCET’s program Artbound, below.  I love the characterization of the aesthetic here as of “rustic bohemia”.


video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

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A Non-Linear Universe and the Power of Bronze Plaques

Krblin Jihn Kabin

Today I stumbled upon a historical site near the house I am staying just outside of Joshua Tree National Park.  I had read briefly about The Krblin Jihn Kabin online, one of many abandoned homesteader cabins in or near the town of Joshua Tree.  Realizing it was so close, I stopped by on my way home today to check it out.  After driving down a long dirt road, I found the cabin and began to read the plaque.  I was introduced to the world of Kymaerica, a parallel universe in which a group of displaced people founded their own Christian cult and fought a civil war.  Weird.  I learned that the cabin once belonged to Jihn Wranglikan, one of the founders of the Wranglikan faith.

Nine Pointed Kmpass (compass)

According to the plaque and accompanying signs, one of the weird beliefs of the Wranglikans was the idea that “the letters ‘c’ and ‘o’ were the most obscene letters in the alphabet–unfit to be spoken by God’s children,” so the Wranglikans created their own dialect.  Other odd beliefs included an intense obsession with the number nine, so intense that parents were compelled to remove one baby toe from each of their ten-toed babies shortly after birth.  I walked in to examine the Wranglikan Nine-pointed Kmpass, devoid of north, carved into the stone floor.  Then, I had the distinct sense that someone was watching me.  I left confused.

maybe you are thinking “this can’t be real”.  that’s what i thought too.  after spending some time googling Jihn Wranglikan, then puzzling over the websites and i came to realize that the entire story was made up by Eames Demetrios,”geographer-at-large”.  Eames Demetrios is apparently traveling the world setting up bronze plaques to commemorate events that never happened featuring people that never lived.  or at least, events and people who never lived in our “linear” universe.  These plaques exist at locations that are already intriguing.  Joshua Tree has plenty of these abandoned cabins, and plenty of strange religious groups too, so this is a natural fit.  Here is the lengthy, made up story.

here, you may be asking why anyone would go to all the trouble of creating these stories and then presenting them as if the stories were true.  it is extremely weird, i know.  having dabbled briefly in what i will hereafter refer to as “alternate reality art” myself in Erlanger, Kentucky, and now having been duped into experiencing a “piece” from the perspective of an unsuspecting audience member, i can provide three reasons for these kinds of projects:

1. it’s fun.  in a world where the most exciting thing that happens is one week of watching videos of sharks swim around on televisions, clearly every day life can be insufferably banal and lacking.  this is why god invented the prank phone call.  some alternate reality works are essentially cerebral pranks.  People have always derived a sense of gratification from having secret knowledge.  I think this is especially true of artists, performers, magicians and pranksters, who often invite their audiences into the truth or untruth of their worlds.

2. alternate reality art challenges institutional knowledge and power structures.  I already knew a bit about homesteaders and had never heard of the Wranglikans nor any of their strange beliefs.  But my brain, conditioned as it is to accepting wholesale anything engraved on a brass plaque, kept trying to fit this story into my existing historical framework, despite the extreme impossibility of the events described.  this left me questioning the truths of other plaques i had read at museums.  all of this is rather postmodern and deconstrucivist, to the extent that it indirectly raises into question the reality of our reality and the reliability of our metanarratives.  i’m not sure that this was Eames Demetrios’s intention, but it is a result.  This might be a good time to bring up the ideas of the hyperreal and the simulacra as discussed by postmodernist French social theorist Jean Baudrillard if i had time and i felt qualified.  but i don’t and i’m not so i won’t.  (but if was your girl.)

3. alternate reality art can expand our notions of media to include works that seamlessly bridge the gaps between our “real” physical world and the world of cyberspace, pushing the boundaries of what art and storytelling can be.  the Kymaerica website and other sites that connect online fictions with real places blur the lines of real and cyberspace.  corporations like google and facebook have already capitalized on these connections, whereas the art world has moved more slowly.  at most art schools the majority of fine art is created in physical space, or at least, ultimately shown in the physical space of a gallery.  fine art projects that exist online are generally contained there, and projects that exist in physical space generally only use the internet to promote openings.  written narratives and other works can now cross the old physical boundaries of place to transcend traditional categories of art and entertainment.  rather than continually try to only adapt old media (books, CD’s, etc.) to a new world, we also need new kinds of media that will compliment our new technologies.

4. Eames Demetrios has said that the goal of his project is “to look at the world fresh.  to try and imagine another way of seeing how this planet could be.” (from this talk).  Now, i know that i necessarily want to imagine a planet where a cult of wild-west baby-torturers lived up the street from me.  however, i do agree with his larger point that any challenging work of art involves creatively seeing and creative vision.  As a sidenote, (and speaking of creative vision) Eames Demetrios, the creator of the plaques as well as the creator of the Kymaerxthaere parallel universe, is the grandson of Charles and Ray Eames, the famous husband and wife duo who created the Eames Lounge Chair.  sometimes, vision runs in the family.

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Alternative Living in Joshua Tree

The Integratron – Rejouvnating Sound Baths

I have been thinking a lot about “living” lately, especially since coming here to the town of Joshua Tree. In the midwest it is easy to take for granted the amenities and burdens of suburbia–the structures we live in, the ways we organize our societies, and the groups and ideologies we adopt.  Here, there is still so much space (both for living and for thinking).  It’s not a given that there should be Dollar General store on the corner or that houses should be rectangular, built in close proximity, and have aluminum siding.  Or for that matter, that sundays should be spent at church rather than in The Integratron, a large tholos built in accordance to instructions from aliens from venus.

Even grass is a huge luxury that almost no one in the high desert can afford.  So out of necessity, life and living are different in the remote Mojave than in most parts of the country.  Or at least, that was the plan.  Joshua Tree basically sits just past the edge of the swath of urban sprawl coming from from Los Angeles.  Unfortunately the nearby towns of Yucca Valley and Twenty Nine Palms seem to be succumbing to American homogeneity, with Walmarts, a Burger King (although I do love burger king), Dollar General, etc.  Joshua Tree, sandwiched in the middle and as of now still separated by a few miles of desert, retains an independent local character that is rustic, charming, and of course refreshing.

In the surrounding desert there are many interesting buildings inspired by the natural building movement, an interest in sustainable living, new age spirituality or the simple American desire to be unique and creative.  Artist Bevery Doolittle’s home is a real work of art.  Even Frank Lloyd Wright designed a few buildings here in the town of Joshua Tree, to house the Institute of Mental Physics.

“Small Liberties” Wagon Station – Andrea Zittel with Jonas Hauptman, from Andrea Zittel’s blog


eco-dome, superadobe

The other day I passed two superadobes being built, as well as some interesting pod-like structures out on a hill.  I learned the pods were placed there by internationally renown artist Andrea Zittel as part of a series of collaborative experimental living structures called wagon stations or “Small Liberties”.  For an interesting snapshot of a true proponent of alternative living and “investigative living”, check out this interesting (if somewhat long) video below.  Zittel’s home, as well as the home I am staying in, is an upgraded homesteader house from the 1940’s or 50’s, a time when the government was giving a four acres of land away to anyone who promised to “improve” the land in some way.  As a sidenote, my great grandfather was a homesteader and helped to build the town of Cody Wyoming, with Buffalo Bill Cody and others.  Eccentricity, creativity, and an interest in self-sufficiency have always gone hand in hand (i know that’s three hands, they are alien hands).

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