A Wildness Distant
Program
Alpi
Of Mountains and Machines
we are opposite like that
For the Reversal of Up and Down
Up Next
Contributors
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Introduction
A Wildness Distant
Organized by the Arthur Ross Architecture Gallery at Columbia GSAPP, A Wildness Distant is an online program that explores landscape as a site of political imagination. It presents a selection of films by contemporary artists alongside new essays that offer fresh, critical readings of each work.

From Arctic glaciers to Alpine slopes, from a tropical forest in Puerto Rico to the wetlands of Egypt to the Australian desert: the constellation of landscapes featured in A Wildness Distant constitutes a filmic journey around the world at a time when a global pandemic has made such an itinerary near impossible. Yet, it is also a moment when climate change is connecting distant parts of the world in previously unimagined ways, producing a chain of environmental effects across continents and oceans that is intensifying the imperative of human migration. Though grounded on a shared earthly surface, the ways that we see, name, negotiate, and dream of its edges are not only radically divergent but also in constant transformation.

Alighting at points scattered across this surface, the films in this program confront the duality of landscapes as sites of memory and of political imagination. In these works, terrains are not cast in picturesque portraits of lands unsullied by human intervention. Nor are they stages for documentary scenes of resource extraction and ecological catastrophe. Instead, the environmental sensorium of varied topographies—icy, rocky, verdant, wet, dry—provides points of entry into the deep histories of landscapes on which the colliding legacies of colonialism, ideologies, and the Anthropocene have been indelibly inscribed. Probing and plunging into the geology, ecosystems, atmospheres, and sublime immeasurability of these sites, the films uncover competing and intertwined realities, both human and non-human, global and local. They engage poetry, music, fiction, interviews, archival material, and humor to nurture new realities, prismatically unearthing multiple pasts and futures.

Contributors to A Wildness Distant include Heba Y. Amin, David Hartt, Lucy Ives, Armin Linke, Shannon Mattern, C.C. McKee, Tuan Andrew Nguyen, and Himali Singh Soin, among others.

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“It is in vain to dream of a wildness distant from ourselves. There is none such. It is in the bog in our brains and bowels, the primitive vigour of Nature in us, that inspires that dream. I shall never find in the wilds of Labrador any greater wildness than in some recess of Concord, i.e. than I import into it.”

– Henry David Thoreau, Journal, August 30, 1856
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Overview & Schedule
Program
A Wildness Distant will unfold in chapters on this website throughout the fall. Each chapter will comprise a film, which will screen online for a two-week period, and a new essay. At the conclusion of film screenings, essays will remain available online as an editorial document of the program.

Schedule updates will be posted on this website. Additionally, follow @arthurross_archgallery for news and further content.


NOW SCREENING

October 19–November 1, 2020

FILM: Alpi (2011) by Armin Linke

ESSAY: “Of Mountains and Machines” by Shannon Mattern



UP NEXT

November 9–22, 2020

FILM: in the forest (2017) by David Hartt

ESSAY: by C.C. McKee



IN THE DISTANCE

Dates to be announced

FILM: As Birds Flying (2016) by Heba Y. Amin

FILM: We Were Lost In Our Country (2019) by Tuan Andrew Nguyen



PAST SCREENINGS

October 5–18, 2020

FILM: we are opposite like that (2019) by Himali Singh Soin

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Film — October 19–November 1 — NOW SCREENING
Alpi

Armin Linke
Alpi, 2011, 16mm, transferred digital file
stereo sound, 16:9, color, 60min

based on a research project by
Piero Zanini, Renato Rinaldi
and Armin Linke

Alpi is the result of seven years of research on contemporary perceptions of the landscape of the Alps, juxtaposing places and situations across all eight bordering nations and spanning the territories of four languages. In the film, the Alps are encountered like an island that is connected to various global transformations. We undertook many journeys in the alpine region, which, ironically, led us as far as Dubai. The film shows the Alps as a key location, owing to its delicacy and environmental importance, where one can observe and study the complexity of social, economic, and political relationships. In the Europe of today, the Alps are a hotbed for modernity and its illusions.

– Armin Linke, 2010


Going to the Alps? Thinking of trekking outdoors? Dreaming of skiing in Switzerland? Watch Armin Linke′s film first. Beware. You will always be inside, deep inside laboratories, factories, ski resorts, or Swiss bunkers hidden in the mountains. Armin Linke has succeeded in doing with film what he has been doing for years with photography: situate the envelopes inside which our existence unfolds. This is the most uncritical film ever made about the utter artificiality of the modern world. But “uncritical” has to be taken just as positively as “artificial.”

– Bruno Latour, 2011

Credits

Camera: Armin Linke
Sound: Renato Rinaldi
Editing: Giuseppe Ielasi

Editing consultant: Jan Ralske, Kal Karman
Sound editing: Giuseppe Ielasi, Renato Rinaldi
Sound Postproduction: Frank Halbig, Christian Heck, Giuseppe Ielasi, David Loscher
Title sequence, poster and packaging: Cornel Windlin & Gregor Huber
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Essay
Of Mountains and Machines
Sitting behind a desk is a middle-aged white man in a light grey button-down shirt and lanyard that identifies him as “Phil.” Phil, we infer, is a property manager with the Majid Al Futtaim Group, developers of Ski Dubai, an indoor ski resort in an arid city-state that rarely sees temperatures below 70°F. The resort is one of many locations scrutinized in Armin Linke’s film Alpi (2011), but it’s the farthest from the film’s title site. Inside the aggressively engineered facility, snow guns and fans distribute a light mist of powder amidst a cavernous roar. Skiers in identical red, blue, and black rental snowsuits dangle from a chairlift, watching their breaths condense in the chilled air. Vaguely Alpine facades, donning wooden lintels and balconies, surround the slopes, housing warmly lit shops and restaurants.

“We choose the landscape,” Phil tells us in British-accented English, by “studying other landscapes.” Eschewing a space that was “specifically Swiss or French or Austrian,” Phil and his colleagues instead imagined Ski Dubai as “a platform we could add decoration to—add food, add smells, add music, add theming on top.” The cold and snow and fir trees and white reflective light, discernable through Linke’s lingering interior shots, are all “decoration.” While its engineered slope does bear some abstract topographic resemblance to Alpine terrain, Ski Dubai is more of a multisensorial surround that evokes the Alps as theme, as ambience, as idea. Its landscape is a platform for a post-nationalist myth, both magical and machinic.

“We can create nature that is made just like it is in nature,” Phil explains with a seeming tautology. Ski Dubai’s “artificial” snow is indeed made of frozen water, just as it is on Alpine slopes, but there’s more to Phil’s simile. Nature, in Phil’s domain, is “made”: designed, staged, and painstakingly constructed. Emirati snow might feel “like magic,” but behind it all, Phil reveals, is “an army of technicians and engineers.” Indeed, the same is true outside the facility’s walls, in the terraformed landscapes—the sculpted islands and irrigated farmlands—of Dubai and the Gulf states. And even 6000 miles away, in the Alpine region that constitutes the resort’s topographic muse, a similar “army” is at work en plein air. The pristine wilderness of the much-mythologized Alps might exude magic, too, yet Linke’s Alpi shows us that these limestone and granite mountains are themselves both a hotbed for and a product of engineering.

The quiet, contemplative 60-minute film offers a montage of vignettes that collectively demonstrate how the Alpine myth is aggregated through multiple perspectives and scales of activity, from institutional operations to the work of human hands. Linke takes us to the University Centre for Advanced Studies on Hydrological Risk in Mountain Areas, in Trento, Italy, whose research is applied in water resource planning, risk prevention, the evaluation of protective infrastructures, and the “exploitation” of renewable resources. Throughout the film, we visit a few such infrastructures, including the Grande Dixence Dam in Sion, Switzerland and, a few hours away, the Pitztaler Glacier, where we see workers—outside in T-shirts on a sunny day—wrap the ice in massive sheets of white fleece to prevent further melting. Researchers at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) simulate relevant climatic effects on a scale model of the region, which is bathed in mist to replicate meteorological forces. The full-scale rocky analogues of those miniature mountains yield mineralogical riches, while their extraction exacerbates climatic transformation, necessitating new models at the EPFL.

Other stops on Linke’s tour include an iron mine in Erzberg, Austria, and a poryphyry mine, back near Trento, whose stones are often deployed in sidewalk and roadway paving—perhaps even the roads in Davos, where we watch fancy cars deposit business and political leaders at the World Economic Forum. In Turin, meanwhile, No TAV (No Treno Alta Velocità) protesters fight, as they have for decades, the construction of a high-speed railway that would connect them to Lyon and ostensibly reduce the time and environmental costs of freight delivery. Such contestation over border-crossings echoes long-standing debates over the borders themselves. In A Moving Border: Alpine Cartographies of Climate Change, Marco Ferrari, Elisa Pasqual, and Andrea Bagnato describe how the borders between several Alpine nations, commonly demarcated along watershed drainage lines, are themselves shifting as a consequence of anthropogenic climate change. Alpine political geographies—shaped by both solid and liquid forces—are adapting to new climatological realities.1

The mountains’ very geological materiality is harvested and engineered to facilitate the flows of resources and capital. Yet throughout Alpi our engagement with the Alps as image or experience happens not amidst the powdery snow and alpenglow—whether “natural” or manmade, as in Dubai—but indoors, mediated by screens and scaffoldings and servants. The Alps are modeled and mapped and captioned. We find ourselves on tour buses where human guides and screens provide multilingual commentary on the world outside. We gaze over the shoulders of visitors to the Segantini Museum, in St. Moritz, as they take in the landscape paintings. We follow crowds of tourists as they circumnavigate, and are enveloped by, a cyclorama painting in Innsbruck. Trains circle around us in Luzerne, but the tinny sounds and wiry trees soon clue us into the fact that these are mere model railroads at the Swiss Museum of Transport. We’re continually vacillating between miniature model and majestic sublime—and, over the course of the film, appreciating their mutual constitution.

Similarly, individual laborers emblematize how their trades and industries are engaging with larger political-economic, geologic, and climatological forces. We meet a dolorous Italian farmer, trapped by his “traditional” agrarian lifestyle, carrying a heavy load of hay on his back. His home is dark, unlike those artificially illuminated and animated touristic interiors. But as he tells us of his own compulsory rootedness in this place, a slice of light cuts across a slope before him. His hands pour water and wash bowls, they gesticulate and sit in pockets. They, too, engineer the earth, but gently. We contrast the farmer’s languid gestures with those of a mason whose body dances animatedly in sync with a contraption that splits stones—stones blasted from the quarries we visited earlier—into tiny slivers. Throughout the film, bodies serve as extensions of the models and machines that fashion the Alps.

Those mountains are, in turn, manipulated and extracted to promote the pride, security, and health of particular privileged bodies. The Swiss people, sociologist Gérald Berthoud explains, have historically held the Alps as a “patriotic symbol.” The Alpine population, he suggests, is “magnified and elevated to the position of the collective guardian of a sacred place for a culturally heterogeneous country.”2 Some late nineteenth and early twentieth century anthropologists regarded the Alpines as a superior Caucasian sub-race.3 Even after the decline of such spurious science, the region’s topography was thought to serve as both a purifying and protective force. As Berhoud explains, “The Alpine myth is a symbol for a Swiss nation as a retreat.”

In Alpi, we are told by a spokesman gesticulating toward a topographic model that the “recent exploitation of Davos goes back about 130 years,” when it was discovered that the local air was beneficial for tuberculosis patients, and clinics began to treat “mostly rich people, who came from around the world” to be cleansed and cured. Many of them stayed, and thus a community of “clever, innovative people” established itself, “bringing economic development to Davos” and the region. Their disposable income has undoubtedly played a large role in sustaining the Alpine wellness economy. Linke takes us to the thermal baths at Garniga, where visitors lie in beds of hay and grass to treat a variety of musculoskeletal ailments. In Aprica, we watch sinewy bodies cling to plastic grips on artificial mountains at the Climbing World Cup. And at Innsbruck, we stand behind a sveltely body-suited skier as he slides out onto a narrow rail and carefully slots his skis into tracks before zipping down the inrun, flying into the air, and landing on a grassy slope below. Again, we see terrain engineered to choreograph human experience and enjoyment. Both the Bergisel Ski Jump, designed by London-based Zaha Hadid Architects, and the slopes in Dubai, designed by Pasadena-based F+A Architects, are expressions of topography—or, rather, attempts to model the propulsive physics of Alpine topography—translated into structural engineering.

As we watch a skier shoot off a ramp like a rocket, we are reminded that the military, too, plays a role in preserving the Alps as a space of leisure, wellness, and retreat. The same fleece that blankets glaciers is also used to drape chain-link fences in Davos, allowing these security apparatae to blend into the wintry landscape. Armed guards patrol the World Economic Forum’s points of entry. We see throughout Linke’s film various emblems of defense and containment: portals and dams, barbed wire and police shields, tarps and wraps, blankets and barricades—all of which work collectively to secure the land, control movement within it, and protect the very idea of the Alps.

In this age of pandemics, populism, and protest, the idea of a protected, pristine wilderness holds particular appeal. As COVID-19 took its toll, many of my fellow New Yorkers decamped for weekend homes and summer shares in the Catskills or the North Shore, leaving behind the singularly-housed (or un-housed), essential workers, and communities of color, who bore the brunt of the infection. We came to learn—although some always knew—that even this “natural” pathogen follows engineered patterns of inequity, exacerbating disparities in access to health care and space to spread out and proper ventilation. In the United States, in particular, it was our non-“Alpine” populations who were forced to use public transportation to reach service jobs that required in-person interaction—in hospitals and grocery stores and post offices. Similar viral disparities were apparent in the Alpine region. In Switzerland, The Atlantic reported, a French-speaking Swiss with COVID-19 was 1.6 times more likely to die than a German-speaking peer, and an Italian-speaking Swiss was 2.4 times more likely to die than the German-speaker.4 There was no singular Alpine pandemic experience—for the same reasons that there is no universal “Alps.” Despite scientists’ attempts to model transmission, the virus and its geographic disparities suggested that there’s a wilderness—a wild, unpredictable place—living within each of us and in our own cities and countries.

For the past several months the world has lived in accordance with a topographic telos: to “flatten the curve,” to reduce the number of infections and deaths. The “curve” itself acquired mythical status. The Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, even made a model mountain that materialized the state’s graph of coronavirus cases. As Holly Jean Buck explains, the curve is an epistemology, an ontology: “It can provide a frame, an instruction set, a kind of prescription for what governance is needed. Policy is then set out in order to bring reality into conformance with the curve.”5 The curve, in a sense, engineers the future.

We see the curve again, Buck notes, in the rising and falling action of narrative form. While Linke’s portrait of the Alps eschews a traditional story arc, it adopts instead a topographic model: one following the mountains’ peaks and troughs. We begin the film by watching a motorcycle ascend a hill: a machine-aided climb. And we end with a wide shot: a ribbon of white flowing across a landscape, not unlike a river. The sounds of a trickling stream gradually mix with the tinkling of hundreds of bells. That river of white, meandering down a rocky slope, is composed of sheep traversing the Similaun Glacier, on the Austrian-Italian border, in their seasonal transhumance. The fleece has returned in animate form.

These herders are driving their animals between slopes and valleys, following seasonal peaks in pasture productivity. The ancient practice has played a profound role in shaping the mountainous landscape, creating heterogeneity in the habitat, promoting biodiversity, and preparing agrarian societies to adapt to climate change.6 This, we might say, is a form of geoengineering, too—one reliant not on snow guns or dynamite or dams, but on shepherds’ staffs and sheep bells and generationally ingrained ecological knowledge about the landscape. As the sheep and their human guides recede into the distance, what we are left with is a gentle tintinnabulation: the sound of a light footprint, of judicious intervention, of principled stewardship, of traditions and knowledges resonating across the ages and between the species, resounding off the rocks and through the valleys.
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  1. Marco Ferrari, Elisa Pasqual, and Andrea Bagnato, A Moving Border: Alpine Cartographies of Climate Change (New York: Columbia Books on Architecture and the City; Karlsruhe: ZKM Center for Art and Media, 2019).
  2. Gérald Berthoud, “The ‘Spirit of the Alps’ and the Making of Political and Economic Modernity in Switzerland,” Social Anthropology 9, no. 1 (February 2001): 89, 91.
  3. Griffith Taylor, “The Nordic and Alpine Races and Their Kin: A Study of Ethnological Trends,” American Journal of Sociology 37, no. 1 (July 1931): 67-81.
  4. Graeme Wood, “What’s Behind COVID-19’s Racial Disparity?The Atlantic (May 27, 2020).
  5. Holly Jean Buck, “The Tragic Omissions of Governance by Curve,” Strelka Mag (May 15, 2020).
  6. Elisa Oteros-Rozas, Ricardo Ontillera-Sánchez, Pau Sanosa, Erik Gómez Baggethun, Victoria Reyes-García, and José A. González, “Traditional Ecological Knowledge Among Transhumant Pastoralists in Mediterranean Spain,” Ecology and Society 18, no. 3 (September 2013); Anna Sidiropoulou, Maria Karatassiou, Georgia Galidaki, and Paraskevi Sklavou, “Landscape Pattern Changes in Response to Transhumance Abandonment on Mountain Vermio,” Sustainability 7, no. 11 (November 2015).



Film
we are opposite like that
Screened October 5–18, 2020

Himali Singh Soin
we are opposite like that
2019, video: 11 min 35 sec


we are opposite like that is an ongoing series of interdisciplinary works that comprises fictional mythologies for the poles, told from the non-human perspective of an elder that has witnessed deep time: the ice.

Pairing poetry and archival material, the video recounts the tale of the omnipresent anxiety in Victorian England of an imminent glacial epoch. The disorienting fear of an invasive periphery sent shudders through the colonial enterprise, the tremors of which can be felt in contemporary times. Here, an alien figure traverses the blank, oblivious whiteness, and undergoes an Ovidian transformation into glimmering ice.

This imagery floats above an endangered, soon to be mythical, soundscape: Inspired by field recordings, an original score for string quartet makes audible the sheets of Pancake Ice smashing into each other, the long drone of a boat, the hard timbre of the wind. The tempo is controlled by her shifting latitudes, the dynamics by the temperature variances between the late nineteenth century and her recent expedition. Melodic fragments of Victorian composer Edward Elgar’s The Snow (1895) encroach upon the image. The string quartet becomes a chamber of resonances, playing the polarity of a potential, post-human future, sounding an un-orientable, topological alarm.

we are opposite like that beckons the ghosts hidden in landscapes and turns them into echoes, listening in on the resonances of potential futures.

Credits

Original score for string quartet by David Soin Tappeser
Science history by Alexis Rider
Animation by Tiziana Mangiaratti
Strings played by Krystallos Quartet
Commissioned by Frieze London, Forma Arts and Channel 4 Random Acts
Curated by Diana Campbell Betancourt for the Frieze Artist Award


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Essay
For the Reversal of Up and Down
Would you know how to look at the Antarctic, if you were lucky enough to travel there someday? What would you expect to see? Probably you, like me, anticipate a frigid landscape of snow and ice (endless ice), dotted with penguins at its coasts. We may well imagine the North Pole—that non-place taxed by its incorporation into the modern consumer rite called Christmas—doubling it, attaching it to the other side of the globe, a twin, striped post opposite or upside down, as it were. Of course, whether you and I are aware of this, language has already invited us into this fantasy of symmetry: we are thinking of the anti-arctic, that which is opposite “the bear,” i.e., Ursa Major, the prominent constellation of the northern celestial sphere; we are thinking, too, thus, of the arctic, from the Greek arktos, “bear” and, via the magic of metonymy, “north,” from which the more familiar Latin ursus comes. But would we know how to look at the Arctic, either? I vaguely remember (likely this is apocryphal) a moment from grade school, right before a geography test, someone hissing, “Which is the one with bears, again?”

I know few people who have been to the North Pole—not a spot on land, we will recall. Fewer still have been to Antarctica—the one with land, no bears. When I was 23, I traveled by train between Sweden and Finland, stopping overnight in Kiruna, a Swedish town north of the Arctic Circle and home to one of the deepest iron ore mines in the world. It was July and remained light out seemingly at all hours. With some advance arrangement, a tourist could pay to travel down into the mine, but I am afraid of heights and had no wish to do this. A year later, I learned that the local government had decided to relocate the town.1 Human intervention had irrevocably altered the state of the ground; Kiruna had begun to sink. As of 2020, the movement of buildings and persons two miles to the east of Kiruna’s former inner city is ongoing and will continue for another two decades. In May of this year, the largest seismic event ever caused by mining, a 4.9 magnitude earthquake, was reported at the Kiruna mine of Swedish company LKAB. The scale and risks of this now more-than-a-century-old project, along with the sums of money involved, are dizzying, staggering, disorienting. Which way is up? I think. According to Wikipedia, in 2012 the depth of the mine attained some 4,478 feet, which is to say, around the height of many peaks in the North American White Mountains, some of which I can perceive from a window in the room where I am currently sitting, typing.2 I also think, losing my bearings for a moment: Am I above or am I below?

The artist Himali Singh Soin has created a lens and a language for seeing in such states—which may also be landscapes—of disorientation, where up and down cease to be opposed and commonplace direction founders. Her ongoing project, we are opposite like that, which is comprised of videos, an artist’s book, as well as a musical composition and performance, partly documents travel she undertook to uninhabited parts of the Arctic’s Svalbard archipelago and the Antarctic Peninsula. It is additionally a reading of the fantastically disoriented and disorienting way of regarding these parts of the world that grew up during the so-called ages of polar exploration, the periods of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when European men set off in boats and heavy woolen clothes, hoping to access frozen reaches where they would prove their autonomy and valor by planting flags in shimmering patches of snow and ice, which were then to belong to the nations from which they came. They went in quest of efficient global circulation, pursuing a Northwest Passage, also engaging in the industrial harvesting of ice—a project that may seem quite strange to us, given contemporary refrigeration technology.

Significantly, as Soin shows in her most recent video, produced in 2019, those who remained at home were not immune to the spectral lure of these otherworldly realms, where hallucinations, disappearances, and cannibalism on the part of Europeans who sought to stake a claim or find a passage were not unknown. A negative fantasy arose in Victorian England alongside scientific research into prehistoric glaciers: when the world ended, it would end in ice. As if persecuted at long range by the very recalcitrant icescape that had consumed Captain Sir John Franklin’s mission of 1845 to discover a Northwest Passage, Victorians pictured themselves as threatened interglacial beings in popular prints and culture. They imagined the ice appearing at their doors, polar bears menacing them on the weekends at their parks, their cities enveloped by a genocidal crystalline substance. In one 1868 print by caricaturist Gustave Doré, featured in Soin’s video, a “southern savage,” who is somehow unaffected by the collapse of civilization so-called, gazes out at an empty London whose inhabitants have not survived a freeze or other apocalyptic catastrophe.

At the center of Soin’s work is a figure portrayed by the artist herself. Dressed—and sometimes seeming to nest—in a cloud of silver emergency heat blankets, this being emerges from frozen masses or walks slowly across tundra, her reflective garments shimmering and loosening in the wind. She is ice, personified. She is still here. Her movements, focused gaze, and undulating attire act as stand-ins for what the art historian Maggie Cao, an expert in landscape painting of the nineteenth century, has termed ice’s “ever-present liquidity,” its liability to “fracturing, restructuring, and, of course, melting,” its “material contradictions.”3 We watch as ice, solid and slow and never not in motion, departs. Soin’s figure also harbors contradictions of political history: for the Victorian sailor or imperial captain ice was at once a living adversary and cherished lifeless property; ice was a place where nothing was, into which one was compelled to travel; it was a void to be filled, a glamorous screen, a phantasmagoria at once colorless and containing every imaginable color; a killer of and magnet for fantasies; nothing and too many things. It was feminine, other. We need, it seems, some way of looking at ice. We need a language—possibly multiple languages—to address her. We are already too late.

In 1895, the year of the earliest confirmed European landing on Antarctica by the Norwegian steamship Antarctic, a Swedish physicist named Svante Arrhenius was devising the first mathematical model of what we now call global warming, showing by 1896 that increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere could lead to dramatic heating of the planet. In spite of the appetite for coal in his industrializing time, Arrhenius was unalarmed and viewed his discovery as predictive of a relatively slow process of climate change, by way of which it would take thirty centuries for CO2 levels to grow by 50 percent, his marker for a planetary temperature uptick of five to six degrees Celsius. As we know, it has in fact taken a single century for CO2 levels to increase by 30 percent.4

In an email, Soin tells me, “When I finally traveled to both antipodes, they weren’t spaces, but places of loss that needed to quickly be written in order to be preserved in some way.” This sentence produces a vicarious immediacy for me: I realize that I cannot go to the North Pole, even if I do someday and somehow travel to the point in the Northern Hemisphere where, to employ the technical definition, the Earth’s axis of rotation meets its surface. Who knows how I might get there but, beyond this, who knows what sort of solidity I would be likely to encounter, what will remain of the ice in this place predicted to be passable by ship within the coming decade?

Thus I turn to the canvas-bound book that accompanies Soin’s video, hoping to orient myself in time and space via writing (a long habit with me). The book is also titled we are opposite like that, and it is taller along its spine than it is long across its pages, giving it the air and heft of a log book of some sort, a portable item that might fit in a large pocket.5 I think, speaking of writing and pockets, of the titular coat fabricated by Herman Melville’s narrator in his 1850 novel, White-Jacket; or, The World in a Man-of-War. This allegorical outer garment is a palimpsest, reinforced with whatever fabric comes to hand in an urgent situation aboard a ship headed for Cape Horn, “bedarned and bequilted” by the wearer “with many odds and ends of patches—old socks, old trowser-legs, and the like.”6 The jacket is a bound object, a sort of book with pages gathered from various sources but lacking writing: like the pale whale set to appear in Melville’s subsequent novel, the jacket is blank. It has, unfortunately for its wearer, not been waterproofed with tar—a foreshadowing of challenges to come—but, and moreover, its whiteness bespeaks the uncertainty and radical ignorance of the young sailor, who may himself be inscribed by events at sea. In book form, Soin’s we are opposite like that is also a palimpsest, but it overflows with writing from many sources and in varied genres and styles, from calligraphic poem to brief play to chart to litany to history. In one extraordinary essay, Soin makes an argument for thinking of the aurora as “a form of art writing,” for example; elsewhere, she provides a guide that may be used to “FOUND YOUR OWN LANGUAGE.” “Bequilted” into the center of the book, which may be read beginning from either cover, is a rectangular fragment cut from an emergency blanket.7 A reader familiar with Soin’s video might, coming to this silver page, have the sense of brushing the hem of ice’s raiment. The character, if not ice, is abruptly, materially present.

Maggie Cao advises us to read the history of ice as “reveal[ing] the intersection of environmental and political imperialisms that have long fueled our dreams and fears of entropy.”8 I think about this history as a force for reorientation; for replacing, rescaling the grid, much like the crossing, telescoping, turning lines I read in Soin’s book. I am learning some ways to look and read. I am learning that my own disorientation has language in it—for opposites, like hallucinations and distortions, come with, and from, language. And disorientation, like any language, must have a history.
The title of this essay borrows from that of a 2006 artwork by Tavares Strachan, Chamber with Ice: Elevator for the Reversal of Up and Down, an installation including ice harvested from Alaska, a refrigeration unit, solar panels, fans, flags, and a battery system, exhibited in Nassau, Bahamas. Strachan’s work is discussed in both of the essays by Maggie Cao I cite in the writing above.
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  1. The relocation of the city is the subject the exhibition Kiruna Forever, currently on view at ArkDes, the Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design in Stockholm.
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiruna_Mine.
  3. Maggie Cao, “Icescapes,” vol. 31, no. 2, American Art (Summer 2017): 48.
  4. Clive Thompson, “How 19th Century Scientists Predicted Global Warming,” JSTOR Daily, December 17, 2019.
  5. Himali Singh Soin, we are opposite like that (n.p.: subcontinentment press, 2020).
  6. Herman Melville, White Jacket; or, the World on a Man-of-War(New York: Harper & Brothers, 1850), from Chapter 1, “The Jacket,” https://www.gutenberg.org/files/10712/10712-h/10712-h.htm#chap01.
  7. I use the metaphor of quilting loosely here, as the silver page is not in fact bound into the book but is held in place by static electricity and the weight of the other pages.
  8. Maggie Cao, “The Entropic History of Ice,” in Ecologies, Agents, Terrains, edited by Christopher P. Heuer and Rebecca Zorach (New Haven and London: The Clark Art Institute and Yale UP, 2018), 267.



Film — In the Distance
Up Next
Screening November 9–20, 2020
David Hartt
in the forest (2017)

Borrowing its title from a chapter of Claude Lévi-Strauss’ 1955 memoir Tristes Tropiques, Hartt’s film investigates the relationship between ideology, architecture, and the environment by revisiting architect Moshe Safdie’s unfinished 1968 Habitat Puerto Rico project.
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Bios & Credits
Contributors

ARTISTS & AUTHORS


Lucy Ives is the author of the novels Impossible Views of the World and Loudermilk: Or, The Real Poet; Or, The Origin of the World, as well as editor of The Saddest Thing Is That I Have Had to Use Words: A Madeline Gins Reader. She is a frequent contributor to Art in America and frieze, among other publications. Her first short-story collection, Cosmogony, is forthcoming in March 2021.

Armin Linke is a photographer and filmmaker. For over twenty years he has explored the question of how humanity uses technologies and knowledge in order to transform the surface of the earth and adapt it to its needs. His films and photographs document human-made changes on land, at sea, and throughout the entire biosphere. Currently, he is guest professor at ISIA, Urbino, Italy and artist-in-residence at the Kunsthistorishes Institut in Florenz. In 2021, the Arthur Ross Architecture Gallery will host his exhibition Prospecting Ocean.

Shannon Mattern is Professor at The New School for Social Research. Her writing and teaching focus on media architectures and infrastructures and spatial epistemologies. She has written books about libraries, maps, and the history of urban intelligence, and she contributes a column about urban data and mediated spaces to Places Journal. You can find her at wordsinspace.net.

Himali Singh Soin is a writer and artist based between London and Delhi. She uses metaphors from outer space and the natural environment to construct imaginary cosmologies of interferences, entanglements, deep voids, debris, leakages, alienation, distance and intimacy. In doing this, she thinks through ecological loss, and the loss of home, seeking shelter somewhere in the healing power of performance and the radicality of love. Her speculations are performed in audio-visual, immersive environments.
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PROJECT TEAM


A Wildness Distant is organized by the Arthur Ross Architecture Gallery at Columbia GSAPP.


Curator and Editor
Irene Sunwoo, Curator of the Arthur Ross Architecture Gallery and GSAPP Director of Exhibitions

Web coordination
Shannon Werle, GSAPP Online Editor

Graphic identity
Estudio Herrera

Web development
Linked by Air

Special thanks
Andrea Bagnato, Sarah Herda
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