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  • It's All Good
  • Phil Ross, Artist

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A dispatch on the arts, technologies and cultures in the metropolitan community served by the San Francisco airport.

A friend of mine recently compared living in San Francisco to lying in the tub with hot and cold water being added at the same time. This tub is home to a volatile mix of climates and cultures, where the eco and techno mingle, occasionally harmoniously. Eddies and pockets mix together, forming bracing and exhilarating conditions more easily felt than seen. In the Bay Area it is not that strange for an orthodox environmentalist to have a day job on the fringes of pharmacological genetic engineering. The anarchist destroying corporate lobbies in one of our perennial protests may easily be a trader on the stock exchange. As the creepily amoral local saying goes, "it's all good."

While bathing in the heroic aesthetics of the local geography one can witness a globally unique techno-culture that is evolving along its own bleeding edge. The career mobility of experts and engineers in Silicon Valley has been compared to similar information sharing in the early Renaissance technical guilds of Europe, where an individual working on watchmaking could make a lateral career move to producing weapons, and then move on to designing automata for the prince's fountain. These social conditions allow for a rapid sharing of information and professional techniques among unrelated businesses and disparate fields of research. In our local breeding pool, a programmer working at George Lucas's new digital arts complex in San Francisco's Presidio might also end up writing code at University of California, San Francisco's new biomedical research campus on the other end of town. It is perhaps bracing, rather than exhilarating, to think that the person working on the JarJar-Binks Christmas special might just as easily end up working on the design of your new baby's genome.

This hybrid technoculture is hosted within the equally unique and dynamic geography of the Bay Area. We are home to turbulent and persistent forces that interconnect, producing abundance and apocalypse in equal measures. In San Francisco, although the grizzly bear is now extinct, one still faces a (slim) chance of being eaten, or at least mauled. Sharks, raptors, poisonous snakes, mountain lions and most recently black bears (sighted in the Marin Headlands) stand their ground in habitats located just a few minutes outside of the city proper. Just beyond the waters of the Golden Gate Bridge is the Crimson Triangle, breeding ground of the great white shark. The local surfers, rather than fearing this presence, consider the trumping of food chain privileges a noble exit strategy. The land itself persists in its calamitous path, indifferent to human construction as the North American Plate and Pacific Plate grind against one another. These forces cause earthquakes, landslides and a rapidly eroding coastline. The famous hills of San Francisco are an artifact of this compression. While the diversity and grandeur of the local environment is stunning, it is also home to many pernicious new forms of pollution. The miraculous productions of Silicon Valley are planted in a bed of abundant and tragic Superfund sites, which are often ignored at best.

These local conditions give rise to regional artists who easily conjoin their interests in natural sciences, social activism and the culture of technology. This is not pursued as a strategy or a position as much as it is a way of existing within the local ecology. Rather than exploring the gaps between the nature/ culture divide, there are many here who have dissolved this distinction (or simply ignore it) and are forging ahead to a post-natural understanding of the world. Like the Chinese mitten crabs that have recently invaded the Bay, these edge-dwelling scavengers are thriving within the castoff refuse of the scientific-industrial complex.

silt (comprised of Keith Evans, Christian Farrell and Jeff Warrin) is a collaborative team that stages multiprojector experiences within the very landscapes they have previously recorded. While processing the film stock, the artists expose it to the same organic media that also serves as their subject, enfolding filmic...


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pp. 180-181
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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