A Desert Mirage
Knee-deep in mud at the Salton Sea
INVESTIGATING ALUMINUM WITH JOHN PARK
When John of Toh Studio reached out to me about collaborating on a shoot I took it upon myself to investigate Aluminum as his chosen material with a deep dive online at 2am and flipping through art books collected from my curator days. I allowed myself to pull from my intuition, quite literally a vision in the night, and lean in to that way of crafting my concept instead of self-referencing other advertising tropes. I am a huge fan of Richard Misrach and have been following his work since I learned about his impact on the fine art color photography community in the 1970s, which included Stephen Shore and Eggleston. Richard always felt artful with a documentarian taste. Often he talks about troubling realities or political topics all the while making a beautiful relic. His landscape work usually has a grain of human intervention piercing the otherwise pristine location. This rings true in his Desert Cantos body of work that has haunted me since college.
“I’ve come to believe that beauty can be a very powerful conveyor of difficult ideas.” -Misrach
In Desert Cantos, Misrach documented the area around the Salton Sea in the 1970s and 80s. The imagery alone is strikingly beautiful. I can’t seem to forget the images of the sea with the tops of submerged gas stations and telephone poles poking through an otherwise perfect mirror to the sky. The story of this place on Earth is melancholic, however. Upstream in 1905 there was a breach of a canal along the Colorado River that subsequently caused the flooding of this 227-feet-below-sea-level basin leaving optimistic developments like Bombay Beach to be drowned. The written history is that it was a tragic mishap, until recently discovered obvious science that this was anything but an accident. Someone didn’t do their job and miscalculated.
"The Creation Flood story has resulted in the ingrained but mistaken view that the Salton Sea is accidental and unnatural," she wrote in her paper. The piece of history that's truly unusual, she said, is how much the Colorado River has been hemmed in by dams and levees ever since.”
Something that’s interesting in this area of Californian history is the negative public perception of the Salton Sea fed by misinformation. We try to dam up and control the forces of nature that, obviously proven with this massive body of water, will happen as it should eventually.
Back to furniture. Deciding on this location had many forces at play. In my research on aluminum I learned that is is the most readily available element on earth. It’s applications however are often in highly industrial situations, situations that overpower nature because of it’s strength. I wanted to bring the pieces back to basics but to a location with a natural/unnatural friction. It’s a divisive location. Surreal almost. Is it real, or is it not? Like a mirage. Because of their rounded edges, this informed a weightlessness of the pieces and I decided I wanted to suspend them above this glass-like surface of the Salton Sea. They are within the landscape, just above it, but not submerged. Like a mirage.
Thank you, John, for trusting me on this production.
Are you all enjoying reading about my direction behind the work that I share? You can always reply to these emails with your thoughts. Happy to hear it, always.
Unrelated. Here’s a song I really like right now / Spotify
Loved this newsletter. Incredible writing and photos... as always!