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Distortions of Space

March 2, 2012

Distortions of space

I look out on the Playa this morning and see randomly spaced lumps on the frozen expanse. The air is so clear that, with binoculars, I can see details on the other side such  as the bath tub rings of the ever shifting water line. We have been told that the lumps are sheets of ice, driven by the wind into huge piles, sometimes reaching twenty feet in height. This is believable given that the wind can be so strong that walking around on a windy day requires a steady lean. The wind even moves rocks on the mud flats. What is so perplexing in this view of the Playa is that the lumps, while adding detail and points of focus to the otherwise blank field of greenish white that precedes the horizon, do not provide a reference of scale- rather, they confound any reading of space by their randomness, their unknowable form, their lack of orderly progression from large to small.

In drawing and painting, we transcribe the mechanics of seeing into a composition of scenes, either real or imagined. The simplest of compositions, for example, a Rothko painting, uses the horizontal line as a reference to a reading of space that is familiar: the horizon. An artist can build upon this horizon, which is either seen or implied, adding details of increasing complexity that create a spatial awareness. The composition may be depicting a scene from nature or it may be an abstraction, but the rules are the same; our eyes are programmed to interpret visual cues in a way that allows us to understand space. Our ancestor’s ability to gauge distance accurately meant survival. Contemporary humans increasingly rely on technology to gauge distance. When confronted with wilderness, devoid of human markers of scale, we become lost in the sea of the landscape. Distance evades comprehension. Isolation, as in not being able to see another sign of human life, takes on a new magnitude. The landscape has the power to overwhelm us.

I look out at the Playa now and sheets of ice which skitter about in the wind give off flashes of light as the sun plays on them. I want to walk out there and explore, to measure those piles of ice, to understand what I am seeing, to not be overwhelmed by the landscape but to become a part of it.


Walking with my snowshoes on the fragile layer of ice, which in places is no more than a slushy crust, the lumps visible from the height of my cabin are lost to the horizon. Each step is like stepping on a water bed; the surface flexes and briny water seeps out of windows to the mud. Rocks leave trails in the slushy surface, having been tossed about as if the wind had been playing Bocce Ball. I brave myself out further and further until the snowshoes break though, yet I never seem to be able to grasp the expanse. The far shore remains that: distant. I turn back to the space of the familiar: neatly arranged buildings, walkways, fences and roads.

On the way back I stop at the fresh water pond which has a fresh glazing of thin ice. I take stones and arrange them in my own game of Bocce, trying to create a distorted sense of space. Large stones I slide out farther, small stones I drop near the shore. The result, when framed through the camera, is like a negative of the night sky. The dark shape of the rocks create their own spatial plane against the blue green of the pond ice, the rule of receding scale has been turned upside down.


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One Comment
  1. Aodan told me today that he wishes he could see the stars and moon during the day. This reminded me of the conjunction of the Moon, Mars and Jupiter (I believe that was the roster) that occurred in the late ’80s. It was most apparent in the Winter months and I remember, one day at dusk, seeing the conjunction (the moon was full as well) and having an ah-ha moment when I suddenly comprehended the perspective and realized I was gazing out into space. Looking at your post today and seeing the photo of the distorted perspective pond piece was very satisfying…as if gazing out into space through a thin mist.

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