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In early February I asked my mom to go and watch the sunset and make a video. She did this from the Palos Verdes Peninsula, where I used to watch the sunset when I lived in California. She made the video with her iPhone taped to a metal barrier that protects people from falling over the cliffs.
At the same time as her, in synchronicity, I too was looking at the sun and making a video. From my perspective the sun was rising. I had calculated where the the sun would be seen as rising at the exact same moment it was seen as setting in Los Angeles. In early February this was the Maldives, a location which may not exist in the near future due to the rising of the seas.
As my mom watched the sun set into the Pacific Ocean, I was watching it rise over the Laccadive Sea. Synoptic is useful term here. It comes from the Greek syn, meaning "together", and optic, meaning "seen". Though separated by thousands of miles, we were watching the sun together.
The title, The Distance of a Day, is a reference to the idea of the journey. Originally, journey meant the distance one traveled in a day. Here, the spatial distance that separated my mother and myself was not defined by the distance one could travel in a day, but by the day itself. By the delimitations of a day - where the sun rises and where the sun sets.
Phones were chosen to make (and display) the video because they are devices that orient us spatially and temporally. They are like contemporary pocket-watches (and calendars) and compasses that we carry with us. They coordinate and synchronize us, as well as subject us. They broadcast moments instantaneously across distances. Or, what seems to be instantaneously. There is always some delay.
The same two phones that were used to shoot the videos, that were once on opposite sides of the world, are now used to display the videos. They are now only inches away.
Right now somewhere the sun is simultaneously setting and rising. Someone or something is probably bearing witness to this.
There are a group of Chinese Elms in eastern Colorado that I think frequently of. They grow at the former site of the Amache Internment Camp. My grandmother told me that when they arrived at Amache, the land was barren and empty, and that those interned in the camp had planted the trees that now stood. Knowing this, when you look at the trees you see the history of the place and the people who were once there. But the trees have no plaques. And if you don't know this, they are just trees in a landscape.
The day after Sandy hit New York City I rode my bike with some friends through downtown Manhattan to look at the aftermath of the storm. After biking over the Brooklyn Bridge we made a brief stop at Zuccotti Park. During the previous months I had been collecting the fallen seed pods from the fifty-five Honey Locust Trees that decorate the park. The storm had brought down most of the pods that were still hanging on the trees.
To germinate a Honey Locust seed you have to mimic the digestive process of an animal. This can be done using hot water or sandpaper. The tree has co-evolved with animals for the dispersal of its seeds. An animal eats the pod (which is also edible to humans). The outer layer of the seed is broken down in the animal's stomach and intestines. The seed is defecated on the ground. A tree grows.
I am thinking about the temporality of a tree. And the tree as something present, as able to bear witness (fifty-five Honey Locusts bearing witness). The slowness of their pace is not subject to the world of the instantaneous and the immediate that we live in. Their rhythms are seasonal, following the sun. These trees can live up to 150 years, longer than any of our lives, but relatively short compared to other trees. When an #OWS hashtag is no longer trending, they will continue to grow slowly in time.
At the Clocktower Gallery I have begun to germinate the seeds, and to take care of the little trees. At the end of the residency the trees will be taken to Franklin Street Works in Stamford, Connecticut, by a Metro North train from Grand Central. Each tree will be carried by one person. They will first be carried to Zuccotti Park to see their parents, and then to Grand Central (contact the Clocktower Gallery if you would like to carry a tree). In Connecticut they will continue to grow during Franklin Street Works' summer exhibition. In the future, when they are ready to be put into the ground, they will be donated to various organizations and individuals.
I imagine 150 seasons for these trees. 150 times their leaves turning a golden hue. And those who will witness this.
Fifty-five Honey Locusts bearing witness. And their seeds. The trees will be planted without plaques.
I want to write you a letter about distance. Or maybe it is about the length of a certain distance. The distance to the furthest visible point. That is, the distance to the horizon. So this letter is also about visibility. Distance and visibility.
I recently found an image online known as the Flammarion engraving. Its oldest known publishing is in the 1888 edition of the French astronomer Camille Flammarion's L'atmosphère: météorologie populaire. It depicts a robed figure crouched down on the ground under a solid sky filled with stars. This sky is almost touching the ground. There was a time when people believed the sky was a solid impenetrable substance. The robed figure holds a cane in his left hand. This shows that he is on a journey, that he was walked to where he is. The book's text describes the story of a voyage taken by a missionary of the Middle Ages. This missionary had claimed he had found the horizon, and that he discovered a part where the sky and Earth were not touching, where if you stooped down, you could pass under the sky and see beyond.
But the horizon is not reachable. It always exists away from you at the furthest possible point. It is an impossible place of arrival.
And so this letter is also about that impossibility.
Over the past few weeks in Berlin I went on daily walks each morning. In each walk, always starting from the same location but heading in a different direction, I attempted to walk across the horizon line. This was 4.7 km away, though the actual length of each walk varied since there are no straight lines in the city. I wanted to walk the exact length of visibility from where I started. And, to just slightly cross this point. As if to disappear out of view.
But it is the horizon that seems to have disappeared. In the city the buildings obscure the possibility of looking into distance. Just as light pollution obscures the visibility of the night sky, losing a nightly relationship with the infinite. But it is not just the view of the horizon that is lost. Much of the world we see is through screens only inches away from our eyes. Images stream instantaneously from all over the world. How do you stare into vastness with our attention continuously being invaded? How do you ground yourself? The horizon no longer defines the distance of the visible. It is the remnant of a lost distance.
Did you know that there are three kinds of dusk? Civil dusk, nautical dusk, and astronomical dusk. The second, nautical dusk, marks the moment when the horizon disappears into the darkness of the coming night. It is called nautical because it is the moment when sailors can no longer navigate at sea using the horizon. Have you ever seen this? The disappearance of the horizon? If you stare out at sea after the sun sets, slowly the sea and the sky become indiscernible from each other. It's hard to notice the exact moment it disappears. But at some point you realize it's not there anymore.
I made some photographs for you from my walks. An apple in the sunlight in Volkspark. The stem is sticking up like the gnomon of a sundial (the part that casts the shadow). If you point the stem in the direction of Polaris, the North Star, the shadow will tell you the local time (different from clock time). The redtwig dogwood. In America this is what dreamcatchers were made out of. Some Linden tree seeds found on the ground. The leaf serves as a sail, utilizing the wind for its dispersal (like radio waves flying through the air). The site of murdered sailors in March 1919. The wall was recreated. And some skies, looking straight up, as if distance collapsed in on itself to form a flat surface. A place you can still stare into the vastness of space. A place where our attention can take shelter from brief moment.