The Former World
Introductory Video for The Former World / Presented at First Take 2017
Co-produced by The Industry and wild Up / February 24, 2017
Video produced by The Industry / Videography and editing by Ian Byers-Gamber
The Former World is a multi-media essay on ‘deep time’, geologic history, the environment, humanity, and the artist. The work uses two focal points: the life and writings of the artist Robert Smithson and the writer John McPhee’s tome on American geologic history, Annals of the Former World. Using the idea of Smithson's nonsites, The Former World reconfigures aspects of the American landscape into a fragmented series of pieces; pieces that represent the geologic record, the mark of resource extraction, and human created interventions. The work engages with how humans see the environment and how that environment records our presence. The work is also a documentary, a landscape written in time with audio, video, text, and objects. All these materials display a point in time, but also reference a larger time scale, one that was long before humanity and one that will last long after we have gone. Perhaps our time on this world will consist of a faint, thin, line pressed between layers in a future slice of rock.
The Former World manifests through a variety of means: a violin duo playing highly ordered pitches; an acoustic guitarist performing fractured, faux-Americana styled improvisations; 4 performers delivering a variety of text, from obituaries to high school text books; a 2-channel video that focuses on striations of rock and the human interaction on the landscape; mobile field recordings taken from road trips in the United States; roadside debris that serves as both a design element as well as percussive objects; sub-sonic frequencies that are more felt than heard. All these disparate parts fit into three discrete thematic sections: Time; STRATA; and Crystals. All these parts and sections are mutable and can be configured to suit a location or performance.
Research begets more research and ideas begin to spiral and eddy. The utter incomprehensibility of ‘deep time’ fascinated me; humans can only comprehend a length of about 5 generations. What do we make of hundreds of millions and billions of years? What becomes the lasting imprint? The Former World can be many things: the geologic record, but also the idea of “ruins in reverse”: our present day, already crumbling. Does time cycle, like people thought or is there an arrow of time? A combination of the two, perhaps. If the history of the universe is the movement toward greater intelligence, then humanity is certainly at an inflection point. Ideas, arguments, disagreements, get smoothed over time. How does the artist function? Not through object based ruination, but through thoughts and ideas and processes.