This page is a supplement to the print version of On Site 29: geology, Spring 2012.
In order of appearance, below (after the cover and the contents):
1 Douglas Moffat and Montréal Phonographe
2 Doug Aitken, Sonic Pavilion
3 Etienne Turpin, Stainlessness: a review by Matthew Blunderfield
4 Ted Landrum, Tunnelling
5 Plant Architect Ltd, Hidden Stratum
Last December Douglas Moffat sent me, in the mail, Montréal Phonographe, a full size vinyl 33 1/3 rpm record – a delightful thing; the material culture that is the vinyl record liveth.
He describes it thus: The record you now hold is a rough approximation of how the island of Montréal might sound if played on a vast turntable. It is a record of what might be heard as a needle traces across the island’s varied surfaces, cuts through its snow banks and jumps its highway barriers. It is a document of a landscape transduced into sound.
For those of you without the record, on the Montréal Phonographe website is a soundcloud version of what playing Montréal sounds like.
In this issue [p61], Nick Sowers told us about three quite wonderful sound events: the Horn Antenna built by Bell Labs in 1964 – a huge device sitting out in a field in New Jersey listening to the universe, Bell Laboratories' Murray Hill anechoic chamber of 1947 that John Cage had sat in listening to his own body, and Doug Aitken's Sonic Pavilion of 2009 built at the Instituto Cultural Inhotim in Brumadinho, southeast Brazil. There is a pretty full explanation of this project in AnOther from 2010.
Part of the pavilion was a mile-deep drill hole with a microphone sent down it. It sounds like this:
Etienne Turpin has been working on a major research project, Stainlessless, which narrates the history of labour in the Anthropocene. It includes a limited edition set of prints made from etched plates that have been touring as an exhibition, and various essays from a book to be published by the Journal of Aesthetics and Politics Press (Leipzig and Los Angeles).
One such essay was in Fuse 35.1, and can be downloaded from the Stainlessness webpage. It includes this paragraph as it sets out its terms:
Whether one is pacing the promenade leading to Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Music Hall in Los Angeles, cautiously approaching Ned Kahn’s undulating kinetic façade that skins Swiss Science Center Technorama, or finding one’s bearings among the gluttonous consumption of Michigan Avenue beneath Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate in Chicago’s Millennium Park, we witness how our current epoch reiterates a pernicious but pervasive value: metallic surfaces are synonymous with progress. The more polished, refined, expansive and contiguous these metallic surfaces, the greater the representational carrying capacity for our most lauded but least considered civilizational value—stainlessness.
What force compels this aesthetic of mineralization?
The set of etchings are of maps overlaid with the history of resource extraction necessary to the production of stainless architectural surfaces. The prints were recently in the exhibition, Another Atlas at RAW Gallery in Winnipeg, and are currently at the Convenience Gallery in Toronto. Matthew Blunderfield reviews the Convenience Gallery exhibition below.
Etienne Turpin: Stainlessness
May 10 – July 7, 2013.
a review by Matthew Blunderfield
On the north-west corner of Seaforth and Lansdowne Avenue, four metal slabs float behind the windows of Convenience Gallery. Apparently tarnished or eroded, on closer inspection the large square pieces display compositions of seemingly disparate images: urban plans, fluvial patterns, architectural forms and human portraits are etched into the metal surfaces, coalescing in a textured aggregate of material, event and environment. These are in fact the plates for artist Etienne Turpin’s new print series and book project Stainlessness, which takes into account the entangled histories of geology and society, deftly mapping one onto the other.
Each plate corresponds with a particular city, and while Turpin maintains his inspiration is the architectural capriccio, his images are more oddly cartographic in nature – a kind of pictorial conflation of a situationist collage with a Diego Rivera mural. Far from celebrating the achievements of industry and mass production though, Turpin exhumes stories of labour struggle coinciding with industrialisation particular to the cities of Sudbury, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Detroit, reinscribing their faded histories of political struggle in the process.
While industrialisation is the common denominator of these places, it is more generally the process of ‘mineralisation’ that Turpin is drawn to – what he describes as simply “the movement of mineral deposits from the subsurface to the surface of the earth”. Mineralisation, for Turpin, is the fulcrum of labour struggle, and with each city he traces an incisive cartography of geological and social upheaval.
Take Sudbury for example, a major site of nickel extraction located 400km north of Toronto, its bizarre topography a result of a major asteroid collision nearly 2 billion years ago. Turpin connects the rich nickel deposits to the formidable force of the United Steelworkers union, and links the opening of the city’s most significant mine on May 1, 1886 with the implementation by the Federation of Organized Trades and Labour Unions of the eight-hour workday. This movement for labour reform marks a cascade of actions enframed in Turpin’s plates, including the militant protests outside the McCormack Company plant, the Haymarket riot, the Battle for Homestead and the Ford Hunger March. As Turpin explains, “In the long struggle against the coercion of the State and the exploitation of labour and environment by private industry, many other battles, strikes, lockouts and marches must be studied and remembered.”
The busts of such anarchist figures as Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman, are depicted as well as their nemeses Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Carnegie, yet the sense of either lionisation or demonisation at play is vastly outweighed by the sheer expansiveness each plate exhibits. Individuals are subsumed by crowds, which themselves become abstracted flows of passion and unrest: alongside such processes as erosion, sedimentation and tectonic movement, humanity itself becomes a kind of geologic force.
Another concept central to Turpin’s work is that of the anthropocene – a term proposed to describe the earth’s current geological and biological epoch. First coined in the 1980’s by the biologist Eugene Stoermer, and later popularised the chemist Paul Crutzen, the anthropocene draws attention to the myriad ways that humans have irrevocably altered the earth’s surface. For Turpin, it is foremost a conceptual tool for speculating on geology and its human contingencies, enabling deep geologic to time to intertwine with more recent histories of both mineralization and political upheaval.
It is fitting that the plates, not the prints, are on display - Turpin’s focus is on labour, and each plate stands as evidence of the artist’s own industriousness, the taxing processes of etching and printmaking. What’s more, with the metallic slabs effectively strung up for inspection, we’re given a kind of artifact of mineralisation itself. Of course, the real digging for Turpin occurs in the way he extracts from obscurity key narratives of political struggle and reform. Etched in metal, these stories become both about and of their material, recasting a politics and history within the shiny metal surfaces of modern life.
References: all quotations are from the following:
Etienne Turpin and Westrey Page. “To Have and Have Not” (Halle 14 interview): http://www.halle14.org/fileadmin/files/documents/allgemein/Bilder/Veranstaltungen/2013/20130414_Halle14_ETurpin_Interview.pdf
Author: Matthew Blunderfield is a student of architecture at the University of Toronto
Ted Landrum reads his poem, 'Tunnelling Through' [p53, 29:geology], recorded for the Thin Air Winnipeg International Writers Festival audio archive, Say the Word/Dites les Mots. He is pictured in an anechoic chamber [see 2. Nick Sowers, above]
'Hidden Stratum' [p50, 29:geology] is the description of a 2012 Plant Architect Inc project to transcribe in map and photograph, walking tour and plaques, the history of Mill Creek which over the past century was moved progressively underground. There is a good website for the project here at www.millcreekgalt.ca, which includes some wonderful historic maps and photos that we couldn't include in the print version.
The project was commmissioned for Cambridge Galleries' 'Common Ground' exhibit in 2012.
Galt was the old name for what is now Cambridge, Ontario. Strangely, having learned our Canadian geography somewhere in the middle of the last century, I recognise Galt as a once-important Ontario city — but then all Ontario cities were deemed important. However, hadn't heard the name for ages until this article when I realised I hadn't heard it because it no longer exists. Cambridge is an amalgamation of the city of Galt, the town of Preston and Hespeler and the hamlet of Blair. Why this amalgamation would be given the seemingly irrelevant name of Cambridge is not clear: perhaps tiny nomenclature turf wars. There is, perhaps, much to be recovered in Cambridge, and not just the creek.