an ongoing collaboration between Rebecca Mir Grady + Sonia Grant
We recently wrote an essay describing the foundation for our collaboration for an artist lecture at Montana State University, and here an excerpt:
A landscape is land or sea, or where the sea meets land, or where mountains meet sky, or where particles of dust suspend in the air, or at the entrance to a sea cave. It is a visualization, a situated view. A landscape is created - it is spatially and historically specific. It is not a passive backdrop, but rather a device for making visceral sense of our own partial perspectives, and for thinking and feeling our way through climate emergency.
We recently watched a PBS documentary series about geological time called Australia: The first 4 Billion Years. Filled with special effects, it gave an overview and explanation of the continent’s history through the geologic ages. As an introduction to the concept of geological time, host Richard Smith drove his jeep with its topdown through dirt roads in Western Australia, and, in a sense, through time itself. He created an imaginary “deep time drive” button and turned back the dial, setting his “time-shifted GPS” to 4 Billion years ago. We watched as a montage played - of tectonic plates moving, lava flowing, dinosaurs roaming, dinosaurs dying off, and new forms of life appearing. Smith drove his jeep back and forth across the country and continent in search of remnants and examples of what the landscape looked like across the ages: from Hamelin Pool in Shark Bay to visit stromatolites - living examples of what was around in the Precambrian age - to Kalbarri National Park to see tracks of the some of the oldest animals on land.
This driving through time reminds us of driving through our own west - the American West. The first time we drove through the high deserts and of the Four Corners region, we learned to think of geological time more viscerally. We saw the layers of sedimentation in the rocks, encountered bits of petrified wood on hikes, and imagined this landscape as the Western Interior Seaway long, long ago.
Watching the documentary’s high speed montage of cataclysmic geologic events is dizzying. And also strangely familiar. Over the last ten years, we have seen the noticeable effects of climate change increase, as ocean and temperatures rise, coral reefs bleach and die, and sea ice disappear. It is as if our own time has sped up. This shift in temporal understanding is unsettling. It is reminiscent of, and yet distinct from, the temporal disjuncture brought on by globalization in the mid-to-late 20th century, when advances in communication and transportation technologies began to allow capital, goods, information, and services to circulate around the globe at faster and faster speeds. While this “time-space compression” (Harvey, 1989) continues, today there is greater awareness (and of course, scientific consensus) that the planet’s geophysical processes are themselves speeding up. Moreover, the rapid circulation of information and disinformation makes it easier to tune in - or out - of these processes. We are able to conjure the Australian Outback on Youtube, wherever there is wifi. We can pause, rewind, and skip ahead to the next geologic age. Across technoscience and the planet’s geophysical makeup, there is a felt compounding of acceleration.
Landscapes are capable of showing us the past, present, and future all at once. We can look out at a mountain vista, see our current surroundings, see the rock formations of a past age, and see the storm that is headed our way. Landscapes are flexible objects. As scenes that link what we have come to think of as three planetary “strata” - the atmosphere, the earth, and beneath - landscapes present us with specific “cross-sections” of a global situation.
What happens to how we think and feel about climate change when we expand the dimensionality of landscape to encompass three primary strata: the atmosphere, the earth, and the beneath?
The atmosphere is the gaseous envelope that surrounds the planet. It is air, the medium through which organisms circulate, inhale, exhale. It is sometimes hard to see, though at other times it becomes perceptible as smog, dust, or as storm clouds rolling in. The earth is the planet’s surface, both land and water. The beneath is everything below. It is the sea floor, the layers of sandstone and shale, the molten core. How do these strata stack, overlap, and intermingle? What can we learn from their connections?
We are just as interested in the particularities of the three strata as we are in attending to the interstitial spaces between them. There are multiple modes of overlapping: temporal overlap, as with accruing geological formations; the connections between the layers themselves, as when lava bubbles up from the beneath and hardens at the sea’s edge; the cyclical flow of substances through each strata and back again, as with carbon and water cycles.
With Strata we are setting out to explore these forms of overlap through installation, photography, and writing. The installation component of the project is a microcosmic landscape that invites viewers to interact with the different layers. Hovering above a small wooden platform with stratigraphic etchings along the sides, is a cloud stitched out of reclaimed materials and suspended from the ceiling. Viewers are invited to sit at the platform on rugs woven from old textiles. From here, they can do a reading with a custom deck of Earth cards that depict earthly phenomena, as well as current and likely future effects of climate change. To the side, hand renderings of earth, ice, and atmosphere cores hang from the wall.
The installation will be accompanied by an artist book that presents accompanying essays on loss, clouds, sea, and layers. The book will bring together original drawings and photographs of the landscapes we imagined and visited during the research for Strata - including landscapes of: Nova Scotia, Maine, Oaxaca, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Montana.
 This documentary was made before the popularization of the Anthropocene as a term to describe the current geological era