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s(extant)

 

….I’ve been working on a new installation called (s)extant. I’m looking at early mechanisms for surveying and navigation, & their relation to borders and orientation in a post-GPS world. I’m using modern technologies (mini-gyros, arduinos and surround sound) and connecting them to older ways of getting about (the sextant), and getting the audience see and actually use these devices.

s(extant) started with research into two histories: My grandfather Somerset took nautical devices and started sailing around the world—porting goods in Gibraltar, chicken-farming in the Bahamas, and eventually settling in Tahiti. I’ve been poring over his diaries, which show a growing obsession with Tahiti, then nautical navigation, and scribblings of how to make the trip (provisions, directions on finding longitude). I never met him, but I got his sextant.

I’m currently using the sextant, understanding nautical almanacs and making trips (such as to Statue of Liberty State Park, where a slice of horizon is visible under the Verrazano). After a lot of math and star observation, I’ll determine—well, I’m in New Jersey. If you’re interested in joining these trips, upcoming this Spring 2019, send me an e-mail.

A second, more tentative part of the piece is based on techniques of land surveying. Another grandfather Gee (a brigadier general) helped draw a boundary in British Guiana in 1936, some of which remains a tentative, dotted line to this day (some say the Guyanese government chose to plant Jonestown there as a buffer zone). This part is more in research than anything else at this point…

Eventually, I’m transforming navigation and surveying technologies through modern miniaturized sensors—people will have to see, touch, and use them, to get a sense of the oceanic and dense thickets where the surveying was done. Modern sound techniques will be used to reflect on what are sometimes called “absence-of-field” effects—the kind of disorientation that happens when you don’t know where you are sonically. I’m using psychoacoustic tricks as well as surround-sound installation to play with the way the listener/participant places themselves in the space. As the sea rises, and yet everything is google-mapped, how do we again lose our sense of space and time?