Isle of Sauromalus

A collaboration between artist Heather Green and scientist Taylor Edwards

as part of the project 6&6: Six Artists, Six Scientists.

 

Letterpress on handmade paper, engraved mica, glass, steel, found objects and audio.
2018

Punta la Cholla is a granitic outcropping along the narrow headland of La Cholla located in Sonora, Mexico. Nestled within this rocky mountain there exists a rich diversity of life—one side of the mountain pushes the limits of survival in a severe, arid environment; the other abounds with the Gulf of California’s ultramarine shore. Counted among its inhabitants is the common chuckwalla, Sauromalus ater; a saxicolous (rock dwelling) lizard that occurs in disjunct, rocky environments throughout the Sonoran and Mojave deserts. Like many of the residents of Punta La Cholla, chuckwallas had contact with neighboring populations in the past, but now are hemmed-in on one side by the sea, and enclosed by human development on the other. Through analyzing the DNA sequencing of this small, sequestered population, Heather and Taylor were able to better understand their origins and connectivity to other populations in the surrounding landscape. They found that La Cholla chuckwallas are in the process of becoming a subspecies due to this isolation, evolving on a geologic scale; their story is told in the rocks and in their unique DNA.

Along the walls of the installation, the chuckwalla's DNA sequence is engraved upon sheets of mica that are pinned to the wall, creating a texture of cast shadows. The three unique letters in the sequence are highlighted in orange. Below, a series of nine shelves display open spreads from an artist book, Isle of Sauromalus, where Heather and Taylor share a narrative about their experience searching for these elusive creatures, and the increasing impact of human development that is compounding their isolation. There are three places in the narrative that are punctuated with metal tabs indicating the times that chuckwallas were sighted. Printed on handmade paper, the spreads feature images of different views of the landscape from Punta La Cholla, and prints on the backside mirror the mica DNA sequence.

Another smaller book, A Lexicon for Punta La Cholla, is located at the end of the vitrine field table, and tells the story of the flora, fauna, and past and present visitors of the mountain where the chuckwalla live. It also serves as a kind of homage to the mountain, or ‘isle’ itself—describing its magnificent and idiosyncratic natural and cultural history. It is a quarto folio book structure, printed on both sides so that as you turn the pages, you get a glimpse of an owl, a plant, the surface of the water or the texture of rocks. The paper was made with Hesperaloe parvaflora, a type of agave. The endsheets have inclusions of Bebbia juncea, one of the chuckwalla’s favorite plants to forage.

The vitrine field table displays a sampling of natural and man-made objects collected on the headland and also featured in the text, and an ambient soundscape in the background helps portray the setting of Punta La Cholla’s unique desert-sea environs and some of the obstructions surrounding it.

Audio: MICHAEL HENDERSON

Composed especially for this installation using field recordings from Punta La Cholla. Some of the sounds include song birds, osprey, dirt bikes, ocean lapping on rocks, cactus spines, broken glass from the dumpsite, Mexican radio, insects and fragments of Tohono O'odham music.