January 5, 2015
The tideline is one of the richest biological regions on earth. It is also a fluctuating, fractal line that rises and falls each day and over thousands of years. Today, as the sea is receding, we will walk along the tideline to the westernmost point, a series of rocks called the Boneyard. Along the way we will stop at 7 stations to consider the intersection of tideline and timeline and forms of sense, presence, and absence in this particular landscape.
A 1972 photograph of this shoreline shows only this building, the Ocean Shore Canning Company, and 7 houses occupying this area, the rest being open meadow. Before that, this site was a farm owned by a Japanese family until World War II, one of many Coastside families who lost their homes to the internment laws. For several thousand years before that, until the Spanish missionaries arrived in 1769, around 50 Chiguan Ohlone people lived here in a settlement called Ssatumnumo. They were nomadic people, going up to the hills for the acorn harvest and coming down the sea for the salmon run, but this salt marsh and the shelter of this headland, was home base, and one of the richest, unexcavated archaeological sites in California lies with a few hundred yards of here.
Today’s low tide, which is at 4:19, is one of the lowest of 2015, and the lowest this year that coincides with a full moon. These spring tides – so called because they spring up – nearly all take place in the winter months, due to the alignment of sun and moon and earth, a celestial pattern called a syzygy. In turn the lowest ebb generates the highest flow, and in 6 ½ hours the tideline will be about 6 ½ feet higher than it is right now.
A chart of sea levels over the past million years looks like a graph of breathing, a predictable rise and fall during which the water withdraws 400 feet below its present level as the climate cools and ice builds at the poles, and then rises to our current level as the ice melts. This has taken place every 100,000 years, an EKG of the planet. However, the rise happens quickly, over just 20,000 years, while the cooling period is much slower, because ice melts more easily than it forms. On the timeline of ice ages, we are living in the pause that occurs between the last rapid melting and the next slow cooling phase. We call this the Holocene Epoch, and it has coincided with the emergence of all human societies, though whether this is coincidental is a matter of debate.
“My questions do not aspire beyond the earth. They aspire toward it and into it. Perhaps they aspire through it.” Wendell Berry
Mined from ancient seabeds, salt circulates through both geological and genealogical systems, moving seamlessly from visible to soluble: just add water.
In this project, I distributed agricultural salt bricks in public locations, asking that recipients share a photo, drawing, or notes about how they transformed the salt.
The results are still coming in.
Donning hip waders or rain boots (depending on the season), I walk in local streams from outlet towards source, taking with me:
a pruner (for thickets)
a plastic bag (for treasures)
a pocket camera (for impromptu sculptures)
a waterproof notebook (for obervations).
Estranging myself in familiar landscapes, I experience presence and absence in new ways.
Trash is abundant in these streams. Sometimes it is beautifully abraded by the water and the stones and I have to search patiently, sometimes it announces itself as foreign, like me.
Hauling 50-pound salt blocks into local streams and tidal zones, I watch as time and flow animate each stone, bringing to the surface histories and rituals. Gravity and chemistry make the work, while I accompany and observe the process.
After a fixed amount of time, the interaction—the performance—ends, and I remove the salt, which has become a remnant of its former self and a new relic for contemplation. The sculptures vary in size, from thumbnail to toaster.
Gale force winds and ice-pellet rain met us on our arrival at Lysuholl Farm in southwest Iceland. We only saw an hour of sunshine in 2 weeks, though it was light 23 hours a day.
In the studio, tideworn volcanic stones, hard-boiled eggs, and biological slide dyes became tools with which to explore chance and change.
Salt water is associated with both healing and ritual cleansing, especially in the earth-centered religions. From sacred springs and Roman baths to 19th century spas, mineral waters have long been sites of restoration and renewal, even though the medical effects are doubtful. Copper is essential for both biological life and all modern electronic and telecommunication devices. Open pit mining, acid leaching, and froth flotation are among the processes that currently bring 19,000 tons of copper to market each year.
In this piece, water collected from the Pacific Ocean continually corrodes the copper vessel, creating verdigris, the beautiful yet toxic patina whose scientific name is copper chloride. Viewers were invited to place their copper token from the Carbon Confessional in this vessel, along with an accompanying intention.