Holy the Firm
"What if an artifact functions... not as an object but a window through which we might view other worlds."
- Jacques Vallee
“I don’t know who’s building it, who’s got the technology, who’s got the brains, but there’s something out there that was better than our airplane.”
- David Fravor, Navy pilot
“I have let myself come to rest in the question, and found there what is truly holy ground: a mystery that can neither be ignored nor solved. To me the question is what G I Gurdjieff called ‘holy the firm’: that is to say, the only firm ground in human life is the uneasy ground of question...”
- Jeffrey Kripal, religion scholar
Since the 2017 release of AATIP, the US government’s Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program acknowledging the existence of unknown objects appearing regularly in the skies, reports of UFO sightings by trained observers have begun appearing in the news media more often, with less ridicule. While UFOs behave in ways current technology can’t account for, what they are remains a source of profound speculation. Many who study the phenomenon believe that at the very least, it’s likely UFOs aren’t green men from space. Gaining insight into their nature and origins may catalyze paradigm shifts in many areas of human understanding, from physics and religion to the nature of consciousness.
This piece imagines an in-process museum installation of artifacts, images, and texts related to the UFO phenomenon. The provisional, early-stage installation reflects the nature of this unstable story, open for speculation, shrouded in layers of mystery and evolving in real time. The tools and daily detritus left by people scattered among the artifacts reflects the fallible, messy process of constructing a narrative that seeks to control or make sense of the story, complicating traditional hierarchies and taxonomies. The provisional nature of the display also mirrors my own ongoing research process.
Research around contemporary sightings of UFOs, particularly those which contextualize these encounters within the framework of folklore and religion, have informed this project. Jacques Vallee’s influential book Passport to Magonia proposes that UFOs are a modern manifestation of a phenomenon which has occurred throughout recorded human history, which in prior ages was ascribed to mythological or supernatural creatures. Vallee, popularly known as the inspiration for the ufologist in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, is a proponent of the interdimensional hypothesis, maintaining that UFOs involve visitations from other dimensions which coexist alongside our own. “I would be disappointed if it turns out UFOS are simply visitors from another planet; I think it could be so much more interesting,” Vallee writes. “When witnesses describe something that comes out of nowhere you have to ask what about our ideas of time and space. We know those ideas are very limited and in fact we know they're wrong - the universe couldn't possibly be a neat little universe with three dimensions of space and one dimension of time - that doesn't make sense any more.”
This body of work explores why UFOs have such a hold on popular imagination at this moment in time, and how the complicated history of government obfuscation in America surrounding UFOs sheds light on broader themes like institutional power and authority, the history of conspiracies, cultural unease with uncertainty, and contemporary mythmaking.
We say that the hour of death is uncertain, but when we say this we think of that hour as situated in an obscure and distant future. It does not occur to us that it can have any connection with the day already begun or that death could arrive this same afternoon, this afternoon which is so certain and which has every hour filled in advance.
- Marcel Proust, In Search Of Lost Time, Vol III - The Guermantes Way
Tis a fearful thing, to love what death can touch.
- Yehuda Halevi
This series of sculptures is based on photographs I’ve taken of real-life roadside memorials, layering homage upon homage. This project explores how collections of objects in memorials offer a powerful language of loss, love and memory. Roadside memorials are often temporary and collaborative spaces of mourning which function as collision sites, where hierarchies are flattened between the sacred and mundane and private space blurs with public space. This series explores how these places for negotiating grief and trauma become portraits of the deceased, as well as those they have left behind.
Left to its own devices, vision...overlooks ninety percent of the world in order to follow the tracks laid down for vision by the world’s definition of spectacle, and by its own desires. [...] Still life loves the ‘so what’.
- Norman Bryson, Looking at the Overlooked: Four Essays on Still Life Painting
- Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space
Every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector's passion borders on the chaos of memories.
- Walter Benjamin, Unpacking My Library
These bedside collections speak to universal themes, from memory and self care to sex and dreams. But they also create complicated individual portraits of their owners, in contrast with the more idealized and narrowly curated collections one might find on a coffee table or other public space in a home. We spend about a third of our lives asleep: what are the last things we want to see or touch before drifting off, and what do we want watching over us or within arm’s reach when at our most physically vulnerable? This work catalogues a daily world where routine meets consumer culture and personal history.
- Nola Taylor Redd, Space Junk: Tracking and Removing Orbital Debris
I saw two shooting stars last night, so I wished on them but they were only satellites, is it wrong to wish on space hardware...
- Billy Bragg, A New England
I am old. Everything is old. The planet is old. & there's no way to get rid of all this plastic. & we're shooting the shit into space. I used to want to go into space. For what? To see all this garbage floating by.
- Yuji Agematsu
There'd be time for that later; time to throw condensed-milk cans in the proud Martian canals; time for copies of the New York Times to blow and caper and rustle across the line gray Martian sea-bottoms; time for banana peels and picnic papers in the fluted, delicated ruins of the old Martian valley towns. Plenty of time for that. And he gave a small inward shiver at the thought.
- Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles
It does not prevent me from having a terrible need of, shall I say the word - of religion - then I go outside in the night to paint the stars.
- Vincent van Gogh, letter to Theo
Lying on our backs, we look up at the night sky. This is where stories began...
- John Berger, And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos
Constellations of cut, painted paper are installed directly into the wall with pins, referencing natural specimens and creating an architecture of shadows. Works in a recent series are composed of objects drawn from the mythology of specific constellations, celestial movement, and inventories of daily life. This work is informed by research into how space junk is rapidly accumulating in the earth's atmosphere, out of sight like garbage in landfills but not gone.
space junk quotes, cont.
Do you remember how the night sky of Ischia horrified me? You all said how beautiful it was, but I couldn’t. I smelled an odor of rotten eggs, eggs with a greenish-yellow yolk inside the white and inside the shell, a hard-boiled egg cracked open. I had in my mouth poisoned egg stars, their light had a white, gummy consistency, it stuck to your teeth, along with the gelatinous black of the sky, I crushed it with disgust, I tasted a crackling of grit. Am I clear? Am I making myself clear?
- Elena Ferrante, The Story of the Lost Child
We in comparison to that enormous articulation - we only sound and look like badly pronounced and half-finished sentences out of a stupid suburban novel... a cheap novel. We have to become humble in front of this overwhelming misery and overwhelming fornication... overwhelming growth and overwhelming lack of order. Even the - the stars up here in the - in the sky look like a mess. There is no harmony in the universe. We have to get acquainted to this idea that there is no real harmony as we have conceived it.
- Werner Herzog, The Burden of Dreams
- Luke Sharrett, Roswell's Mysteries are Life's Mysteries
Until the aliens arrive and we have a non human outside to be solitaristic against, we have a problem about the species at the level of solidarity.
We're going to Mars because it gives us a reason to change.
- Nikki Giovanni
I think it's important to have a future that's inspiring and appealing. Like why do you want to live? What's the point? What do you love about the future? If we're not out there... if the future doesn't include being out there among the stars and being a multi planet species... I find that incredibly depressing.
- Elon Musk
At Buy-N-Large, space is the final funtier.
I think the moon is vulnerable to humanity and I think we have an analogy there with the high seas and space debris... human exploitation goes much faster than legal provisions.
- Joanne Wheeler, space lawyer, CMS
I, for one, do not want to go to sleep by the light of a Communist moon.
It's only a paper moon, sailing over a cardboard sea... It's a Barnum and Bailey world, just as phony as it can be. But it wouldn't be make believe if you believed in me.
- It's Only a Paper Moon, written by E. Y. Harburg and Billy Rose
The moon goes through its phases as its breathing hole gets successively opened and stopped up.
- Anaximander, quoted in The Moon and the Western Imagination, Scott L. Montgomery
LACK OF SPACE
STARING INTO SPACE
- Species of Spaces and Other Pieces, George Perec
4, 3, 2, 1: Earth below us, drifting falling, floating weightless, calling calling home...
- Major Tom, Peter Schilling
Eco: Homer's work hits again and again on the topos of the inexpressible. People will always do that. We have always been fascinated by infinite space, by the endless stars and by galaxies upon galaxies. How does a person feel when looking at the sky? He thinks that he doesn't have enough tongues to describe what he sees. Nevertheless, people have never stopping describing the sky, simply listing what they see. Lovers are in the same position. They experience a deficiency of language, a lack of words to express their feelings. But do lovers ever stop trying to do so? They create lists: Your eyes are so beautiful, and so is your mouth, and your collarbone … One could go into great detail.
SPIEGEL: Why do we waste so much time trying to complete things that can't be realistically completed?
Eco: We have a limit, a very discouraging, humiliating limit: death. That's why we like all the things that we assume have no limits and, therefore, no end. It's a way of escaping thoughts about death. We like lists because we don't want to die.
- Umberto Eco interview in Das Spiegel
Everything happens today/ and we're out here in space/ and I don't know where we are all going/ Baby I love you today
- Spiritualized, Ladies and Gentleman We are Floating in Space
quotes re: "how does one commemorate the ordinary?"
Tantivy's desk is neat, Slothrop's is a godawful mess. It hasn't been cleaned down to the original wood surface since 1942. Things have fallen roughly into layers, over a base of bureaucratic smegma that sifts steadily to the bottom, made up of millions of tiny red and brown curls of rubber eraser, pencil shavings, dried tea or coffee stains, traces of sugar and Household Milk, much cigarette ash, a scatter of paperclips, Zippo flints, rubber bands, staples, cigarette butts and crumpled packs, stray pencils, an empty Kreml hair tonic bottle, lost pieces to different jigsaw puzzles showing parts of the amber left eye of a Weimeraner...
- Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow
Because it was done principally on wood, nothing remains of Greek painting from antiquity / In 1889, the Spanish demand Goya's remains, dead and buried in Bordeaux in 1829; the body, without the head, is returned to Spain / The first, unfinished version of Jean Giono's The Song of the World was stolen from him in 1933 / On December 10, 1853, a fire ravaged the warehouses of Harper, Herman Melville's publisher, and destroyed the entire stock; demand was weak and no novel by Melville would be reprinted in his lifetime...
- Henri Lefebvre, The Missing Pieces
The earliest small book was the Diurnale Moguntium, printed by Peter Schoeffer in Mainz in 1468. From the beginning, the miniature book speaks of infinite time, of the time of labor, lost in its multiplicity, and of the time of the world, collapsed within a minimum of physical space.
- Susan Stewart, On Longing
The "living" [curiosity] cabinet, like the knowledge it so aptly represented, was, to paraphrase Foucault, a thing of sand. It was the context from which one could interpret and track the flow and movements of these resemblances and similitudes.
- David L. Martin, Curious Visions of Modernity
How are we to speak of these ‘common things’, how to track them down rather, how to flush them out, wrest them from the dross in which they remain mired, how to give them a meaning, a tongue...
- George Perec, The Infra-ordinary
The complexity of things - the things within things - just seems to be endless. I mean nothing is easy, nothing is simple.
- Alice Munro
When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.
- John Muir
Get to know your garbage.
- Don DeLillo, Underworld
The sourball of every revolution: after the revolution, who’s going to pick up the garbage on Monday morning?
- Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Maintenance Art Manifesto
Like the bear who went over the mountain, I went out to see what I could see. And, I might as well warn you, all that I could see was the other side of the mountain: more of same.
- Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
But then I see a horse lying on the side of the road and think You are sleeping, you are sleeping, I will make you be sleeping. But if I didn't make the ham flowers, how can I make him get up? I made the ham flowers. Get up, dear animal. Here is your pasture flecked with pink, your oily river, your bleeding barn. Decide what to look at and how. If you lower your lashes, the blood looks like mud. If you stay, I will find you fresh hay.
- Matthea Harvey, Implications for Modern Life
I don't know exactly what a prayer is / I do know how to pay attention / how to fall down into the grass / how to kneel down in the grass/ ... Tell me, what else should I have done? / Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
- Mary Oliver, The Summer Day
He lay down behind the blade of grass
To enlarge the sky.
- Noel Bureau, Les mains tendeus
"Oh," I say and fumble for my wallet. The oil cans stacked against an old truck tire are wordless, hard, collusive. But the triangular plastic flags strung at one end of the island flutter and ripple in the wind, flapping to get my attention, my compassion, like things that seem to want to sing but can't, things that almost tear themselves in trying to fly, like rainbow-colored birds, hung by string and their own feet.
- Lorrie Moore, What is Seized
"You probably need to eat something," the baker said. "I hope you'll eat some of my hot rolls. You have to eat and keep going. Eating is a small, good thing in a time like this," he said.
- Raymond Carver, A Small Good Thing
"Little things really belong to you," she said, folding the fan. "They don't have to be left behind. You can carry them in a shoebox."
"Carry them where to?"
"Why wherever you go. You might be gone a long time."
- Truman Capote, In Cold Blood
When we saw the pattern, we took the kids out of school. Broke out the special water. Two churches linked by a sudden alley through the corn. As the Hopi myth fortells. A massive loss of technology. A spider leaves a string between two points. Think about it. From the duster it appears a thing of glory. Makes you reconsider the whole idea of property. Stems inside formations have blown nodes. Explain that, Mr TV. Part of the confusion involves words. We wake up with mud on our feet. The other part is just the way we are. Scared of the new when it's thousands of years old. If you have never seen a sleeping toddler crawl beyond the lip of porch light, zip it. If my meaning is clear, it's already too late. For God's sake, people. Open your hearts.