Naming the Unnamed

 

Steel, etched glass, blue and brown print slips, found objects, clay

2005

 

Naming the Unnamed is an interactive installation responding to a massive development project that was planned for La Cholla. The installation consisted of a bowl of audience takeaway blue and brown print slips, an etched glass map table, a walk-through steel structure and a table with illuminated specimen jars and video. The project borrows from a number of spiritual traditions to drive home how vital the threatened species and habitats were. The piece was meant to be a sort of evocation—a futile attempt to name as many species as possible that were in the way of the developer’s plans, as a way of giving them voice.

 

The audience was first asked to choose a slip of paper randomly out of a bowl and decide if it was a good or bad fortune for La Cholla. The brown print slips documented biodiversity of a defined site with a list of species or a photogram, and the blue print slips outlined the developer’s plans for that site. Each slip had a site number and GPS coordinates that corresponded to the site numbers on the glass map table and specimen jars.

 

After choosing a slip visitors could find their site number on the map and walk through the metal structure covered with tied slips that directed them towards the specimen table and video. The act of tying these slips to the metal structure was inspired by Japanese temple fortunes called Omikuji. When the fortune is anything less than desirable, they are tied onto special structures located outside the temples so their bad fortune will disappear. The audience could choose to tie their slip onto the structure if they decided it was a bad fortune, or take it home if they liked it.

A sort of apse was created at the end of this structure with a specimen jar table and video. The specimen jars were lit underneath to bear semblance to votive candles, and the same site numbers were etched on the jar’s lids. Each jar contained something collected from that site. The clay clamshells next to the specimen jars were inspired by Tibetan Buddhist tablets called tsa-tsas, usually constructed from clay from sacred sites and ashes from burial remains, and pressed into molds as offerings. These are traditionally left unfired so they eventually dissolve back into the earth. The “tsa-tsas” from this installation were made from the mud of Bahía La Cholla and the ashes from burned xeroxes of estuaries, dunes and mountains of the area that were in danger, and pressed into empty shells found in the bay. The video consisted of a slowed down version of waves crashing on a rocky beach—every finger of spray from the surf visible, a bird’s flight pattern broken down into clear movements. The hope was that the slow motion might encourage the visitor to become engaged in looking at the jars and contemplate the questions posed by the exhibit.