June 11, 2009


Here goes, for the sake of process, another attempt at the image... and yet another...

June 8, 2009


As we are struggling with the final image with all the words (below it's a first terrible trial), we may as well post some images from our trip. This should actually be organized into themes, such as: buildings, graffiti, and so on. But that sounds like a lot of work!
Hum... obviously related to our image for the Songline is the theme disaster :)
So here are some images of the disasters-to-be that pursued us along the journey.
There was the swine flu everywhere, Air Force One flying close to Manhattan for a spooky revival, tornado warnings and flash floods in Alabama, fires in California...

Listening at the news can be a frightful event for a traveler!

June 4, 2009

We must learn to hope in the absence of an expectation of progress

We've just updated the map of the Songline (in the title), making it coincide with our actual route. You can also grasp in that map the position where the words were built.
If you go to you can find the posts about the construction of the words in their right position in the sentence. Instead of being chronologically arranged.

June 3, 2009

Absence+Expectation+Of+Progress+We+Must+Learn+In the+To+Hope+Of an

After the construction of the words, the next task is to recompose their position into a sentence. The words were built in specific places trying to achieve a meaningful relation with those places: Absence in New York after 9/11; Expectation in Washington after the presidential shift; and so on. It was a conceptual relation, there's no univocal relation between the word absence and the destruction of the World Trade Center. It's a subjective meaning at best. Also, the construction of the words, their materialization, followed a rule of their own, dependent on the availability of materials, inteligence, humor; or the lack of all the previous.

Now the words will loose their independence and become part of english syntax and it's author intention: a new continent, so to speak.

We will try, in the next few days, to make a graphic composition of the entire sentence using images from our trip. We have already a recomposition of the songline map in the right order...

May 31, 2009


The final stretch of the journey was the return from San Francisco to New York by plane. There was still one word missing. In fact two: of an.
Hope was supposed to be the last word but we had skipped of an.

So, we had one more day in NY before returning home and no idea how to get the two words done.
NY seems to be a city in decay. This decay is not caused by the economical situation, or the collapse of the twin towers. Decay is part of the city, the same way as skyscrapers, the subway and cabs. It isn't a lacking of something, is an urban element in itself, brought about by use and time.

Trash is dumped on the sidewalks for collection early in the morning, pavements are uncared for, century old subway stations with peeling paint are packed with rats roaming through the lines. NY is becoming old and weary. Would we call it historical in Europe?

One thing we were always looking for when arriving in new cities was the historical quarter. That is obviously the European mind searching for the church square, the city council and the central cafe. The place of stability opposed to the unbounded continuity of the american strip. There's no such stability place in most US cities.
In NY there's the Grid and there's the river. The abstract continuity and the natural limit that forces an abrupt transition, a phase transition in the continuum: from homogeneity to intensity.

And there was money, lots of money for a long time, building up intensity, giving it a shape. The effort of building, the immense physical labor, stays hidden behind the skyline. Contrary to other historical buildings - the wall of China, the Pyramids, the Parthenon - what impresses most in NY is not the effort, the power over will or technical excellence, but the investment.
NY is a decaying monument to capital. A beautiful one, by the way.

We made our contribution. 7 dollars and 58 cents, to be more precise.

May 30, 2009


Is there a possibility for hope with reason, when there's no reason to hope? There seems to be a slight and subtle difference between faith and hope, even though they may appear as synonyms in the dictionary. In christian philosophy both are part of the three theological virtues: faith, hope and charity (or love). The first being a resolute ability to believe; hope being the capability of not giving up; and charity or love an unconditional compassion for life.

But can the capability of not giving up be reasonable? Or should it be tied up with faith, the resolute ability to believe. In the scientific mind frame we were taught believing seems awkward: we don't believe, we disbelieve until proof is made. To doubt, rather than to believe, is what we are expected to do. To hope, rather than having faith. To resist even though we don't believe.
The idea to build the word, was to bring a watering can to a beach and use water to darken the sand in the shape of the letters of the word hope. But the unsuspected plays part in our endeavors. The thing was that the Wallmart store we went to, on our way to Stinson Beach, didn't sell watering cans. And we didn't have that much time to get the word done. But they sell chinese umbrellas. You know, the ones in cocktails?

For sure there's no relation between a watering can and a chinese umbrella for cocktails. But in new Mexico we were given the idea of writing the word with ice cream cones. That was when we planned on traveling with an iranian architect to San Francisco. We thought that it would be nice to have the word written in Farsi and then Alexis found out that the Persians were the inventors of ice cream. So we would do the word in Farsi using ice cream cones. Ok, that may have been a twisted thought with a political innuendo.
But we were traveling alone and the idea of having chinese umbrellas for cocktails also seemed related to a certain idea of Californian lifestyle.

So we took three bags of umbrellas and went to the beach.

We laid a grid, the Grid, as referred to by Rem Koolhaas in Delirious New York, and populated it with umbrellas. They resembled little sundials or some sort of a parade. Each member of the parade becoming a sundial.

Then we opened the umbrellas in order to get the letters done. We could have tried to write hope in Farsi using the Grid. The Grid would allow for all languages to be written. Hope resides in Babel? Is architecture entitled to lay a claim on hope? How?

We are in an architectural journey and the Grid came in our rescue. Hoping with reason, when there's nothing reasonable to hope for.

May 26, 2009


In the previous post we were already out of our programmed route. After leaving New Mexico the Songline should have headed southwest towards Arizona. Instead, a shorter travel distance to San Francisco was taken, going through Colorado, Utah and Nevada. This was mainly for time sake given that we stayed longer than expected in New Mexico.

In El Rito we had already tested the construction of the word TO. The ambitious idea was to make a citation of David Hockney's Pearblossom Hwy, 11-18th April 1986. One road made of superimposed images, with funny details throughout the entire collage. The purpose was to make visible the deceptive goal of reaching a destination. Roads are traveled to go somewhere and to come from somewhere. They get us there and back. To and from can refer to the same place, every destination is a departure place as well. That is disturbing, even though is obvious, because it means that we are always missing the goal. Going to somewhere is always and at the same time getting from somewhere. The word to establishes motion in speech but not a destination. So the word to only makes sense as a process of dislocation, always undetermined, never really focused but diverging indefinitely.

After the word was done we waited for the wind coming in the opposite direction to blow the newspapers off the road to where we were coming from in the first place.

Apart from all this, the photo composition really needs to be worked...

May 25, 2009


Occasionally we stop to take some pictures, relax or eat. This time we stopped to make one of the words of the Songline. We were looking for a road with a view and this one, somewhere on HWY 50 - The loneliest road in America, seemed perfect.
The word was TO and the plan was to place newspapers in one lane of the road making the letters. It was windy and the newspapers were flying away as soon as we placed them on the pavement. After a couple of trials we were ready to give up. In fact we did give up and moved towards the car.

That's when we realized this dog, looking at us:

The dog was lying, didn't seem to be hurt, there was food around and an empty bowl. It seemed that she (we found out latter that it was a she) had been abandoned, with some food and water.
At the time we didn't notice some marks from tires on the asphalt.
Once we took the water from the car the dog stood up and started drinking as we poured it into the bowl. The entire gallon disappeared in no time!

As we were getting the car ready to take her with us, another car pulled over. The driver asked us if that was our dog - we said no. So, she said, let us take the dog, Mattie is her name, I have the contacts of the owner, there was an accident on the 15th and the dog has been lost ever since.
It seemed weird that two people suddenly appearing from nowhere would have that much information about a lost dog ... anyway, this seemed the best chance of getting the dog out of that place. So we gave our emails and asked them to send us some images of the dog with the owner.
We decided to make one word in this place. We still had some words to do. The word TO didn't seem appropriate, so we chose IN THE. There was some dog food in small squared shapes around that we used to make the word, as if it was a roman mosaic.

And off we went on our way across Nevada.
After some miles there was this small city called Austin. We decided to stop for a meal at a curious looking bar called International. As we were going in we noticed a sign in the old western way saying reward.
The description corresponded exactly to the dog we had just left. In the sign was also the name of the dog and the contact of the owners.

So that was how the ladies knew all that information! And the $1000 the likely reason for not having mentioned us the entire story ...

In any case, we called the owners informing them of what had happened and asking to please send us some images of Mattie.
We just got them. There's one image of Mattie recovering and another from the truck where she was going.
This was the time in our journey that made us most happy for just being here: in the right place at the right time.

May 24, 2009


After our previous failure at writing LEARN we tried again. This time was in Abiquiu Lake, close to El Rito. The idea was to get the word sank into the lake, suspended in the water, while maintaining its shape. The cardboard with which we cut the letters didn't hold that well the contact with water and was totally destroyed after just some second in the lake.
Here are some images of the "technical" procedures and the failed attempt to transport the word into the lake:

So, after our two previous failures at writing LEARN ... we tried again - that's what learning is all about, right? This time was in one of the islands in Abiquiu Lake, using stones. Ok, it wasn't that creative but we wanted to get the thing done! And a lot of effort (and even pain) was put into the word as the sand in the island was terribly hot from the sun.

So if there's a lesson to be learn from the construction of the word it may well be: why take so much time and effort learning something, when ignorance is immediate? (this is a lesson and a quote by memory from Calvin & Hobbes).

May 19, 2009


The Facade project is a concept to be formalized as an installation. The original idea was adapted (made site specific or, given that it uses local earth, specifically site) to the El Rito Campus. During 5 days we tried to achieve a perfectly spheric object made with straw and earth. There were many difficulties in attaining that goal, so the result may be considered a prototype for a future full scale piece composed of many spheres.

Find below an explanation of the concept and some images (all images and the above drawing by Alexis Elton):

Façade is intended to be an oversized broken strand of pearls made from earth and seed sprawling through the field near the observatory at Northern New Mexico College in El Rito, New Mexico.

This dry arid climate is far from where pearls are harvested. Encountering a series of large-scale pearls composed of organic materials in the desert challenges the symbolic meanings that society ascribes to these precious objects. Pearls are valued as jewelry — objects of value, beauty, and purity — and yet are also associated with decadence and excess.

Façade is an attempt to foster a dialogue between nature and culture, and the fictional, inflated value that we place upon beauty and permanence. By removing pearls from their ordinary context their relevance is put into question. Displaced, these naturally decomposing forms will become nothing more than a façade of what they once were, acknowledging that the cyclical force of nature renders everything obsolete. The conception of Façade derives in part from the seminal interventions in the land previously initiated by artists of the 1960s and 70s, including Robert Smithson, Agnes Denes, James Turell, and Walter de Maria to name a few.

The Façade pearls are made of mud and grass seed; they appear opalescent like a pearl. In agricultural terms, each pearl could also be known as a giant seed ball. Farmers typically use seed balls to distribute seeds, which are encased in a mixture of clay or compost, and are placed on the soil’s surface. As the mud ball decomposes the seeds find their way safely to the soil. This planting method has been used for centuries and is especially useful in dry and arid climates.

The seeds will produce grass, growing on, in, and around the remains of the decomposed pearl. The actual rate of decomposition of the pearls will vary depending on the heat, rain, and the interventions of small and large animals. It is a natural progression, earth to earth, or in this case, sea to earth. The pearls, from oysters that live in the sea, sprout grasses that will live in the high desert.


After 5 days of hard work we finally managed to finish the word Must. On Saturday rained a bit in El Rito but the walls were protected on time.
The walls aren't protected against the rain so ultimately they will dissolve (or be demolished).

Thanks to all the participants in the workshop for dispensing so much effort into the construction of the walls.

May 16, 2009

MUST . 4

These are some images of the construction of the final wall/letter.