Author: Scott Kildall

Reality Remix: Salon 1

I just returned from our first Reality Remix workshop in Dundee, Scotland. The prompt that we gave ourselves afterwards was to write up things that came up for us, returning thoughts and think about what is next. I write now on the train journey back to London.

The background is that Reality Remix is part of an Arts & Humanities and Research Council AHRC grant around Immersive Experiences and I am one of the “collaborators” (artists) — others include Ruth Gibson and Bruno Martelli (Ruth is the Principal Investigator), Joe DeLappe, Darshana Jayemanne, Alexa Pollman and Dustin Freeman. We are also working with several “partners”, who are in academia, industry and government to act as advisors and contribute in various ways. These are Nicolas Lambert (Ravensbourne University), Lauren Wright (Siobhan Davies Dance), Alex Woolner (Ads Reality) and Paul Callaghan (British Council).

The short project description is:

Reality Remix will explore how we move in and around the new spaces that emergent technologies afford. Through the development and examination of a group of prototypes, initiated from notions of Memory, Place and Performance and with a team of artists, computer programmers, fashion and game designers, we aim to uncover the mysteries of these new encounters, focussing on human behaviour, modes of moving, and kinaesthetic response. Reality Remix brings a unique dance perspective in the form of somatic enquiry that questions concepts of embodiment, sensory awareness, performance strategy, choreographic patterning and the value of touch in virtual worlds.

Within this framework, each of us will be developing our own VR/AR projects and possible collaborations might arise in the process.

Some of the reasons that I was invited to be part of this project stem from core inquiries about what we call “Gibsonian” cyberspace versus a simulated cyberspace. I find it odd that when we often depict virtual reality — and for the purposes of simplicity, I will treat VR a subset of cyberspace — as a simulation, a weak reproduction of some sort of physical reality. VR has immense possibilities that most people don’t tap into. With the dominance of first-person shooter games, reproductions of museums, and non-spaces such as TiltBrush, I have often wondered about how we can conceptualize VR landscapes in new ways. And so, this was my starting point for our first session.

Improving the functionality of the headset

However, technical skills are not a precursor to producing compelling work and, in fact, this is part of my artistic practice. I quickly adapt. For example in 2014, I quickly dove into 3D printing without knowledge of any real 3D modeling package and in the space of a few months, produced some conceptually-driven 3D print work that drew strong responses. I will easily pick up Unity, Unreal, 3ds Max or whatever else is needed.

It is with this lack of technical knowledge, that I can approach concepts with a beginner’s mind, a core concept of Buddhist thinking where you approach a situation without preconceptions and harvest a disposition of openness. Without deep investment in the structures of discourse, it is here that you can ask questions about the effectiveness of the technology such the nature of immersive spaces, the bodiless hands of VR and hyperreality.

For this initial meeting, we each have our own project ideas that we will be researching and producing in various forms. Some of my own inquiries stem from these Gibsonian landscapes. On the train I re-read Neuromancer and was still inspired by this seminal quote from Neuromancer:

Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts… A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…

I arrived with this general framework and began to ponder about how to incorporate threads of previous work such as physical data-visualizations and network performance. What about the apparatus of the headset itself? How can we play with the fact that we are partially in real space and partially out. And as one of our partners (Alex) pointed out rather than being immersed in VR, we are absorbed by it. Like a fish in water, we are live in full reality immersion. And when we talked about this, I chuckled to myself, remembering this David Foster Wallace joke:

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?

The first day was a full-out setup day, installing our Windows work machines, getting the Oculus Rifts working, Google Pixel 2 phones, Unreal, Unity and anything else. We all centralized on some specific platforms so we can easily share work with each other and invite possible collaborations. Fighting with a slow wi-fi connection was the biggest challenge here but within a few hours I got my Alienware work machine making crude VR on the Oculus.

Goodies! This is the Oculus Rift hardware that we will all be using for project production

I yearned to visit Dundee despite the cold weather but all of our time was spent in this workspace, supported by the NEoN Digital Arts Festival (where I showed my Strewn Fields pieces last November) and in the evenings, we saw some art lectures by our own Joe DeLappe and my friend and former colleague Sarah Brin. We are food and drank in the local speakeasy bar, chitchatting about ideas.

Lecture by Joe DeLappe

Within the first couple of days, what was previously a mystery to me now became more clear. While some of the collaborators had well-developed projects (Dustin and Bruno/Ruth), others such as myself, Alexa and Joe were approaching it from a more conceptual angle with less technical aptitude.

I kept in mind that our goals for this project are to create compelling proof-of-concepts rather than finalized work, which makes it more of a research-oriented project with a forward-face rather than something that will compete in the already littered landscape of the good, bad and ugly of the Oculus Store.

We started each day with movement exercises led by Ruth, reminding us that we all live in “meatspace”. Our minds and bodies are not separate as we hunch over the machines and then stand with a headset on and wave our arms around. We began experimenting with the technology. I vacillated between diving into Unreal or Unity, each with their own advantages. While Unity has more generalized support and is easier to learn, Unreal undoubtedly has a better graphics engine and is the weapon-of-choice by Bruno. So, solving the early technical challenges began to help coalesce my ideas.

Ruth leading us on some Skinner Releasing exercises

We soon entered into a vortex of artistic energy — some of us from performance, wearables, immersive theater with various conceptual practices and the parters from other organizations who had a less artistic approach but loads of experience in the gaming worlds, university community and impact studies. I knew this on paper, but in reality, the various talents of our Reality Remix dream team soon became apparent.

Twice a day, each of the collaborators led workshops related to their practices. Alexa treated us to her performance-based clothing which registered AR markers and asked us to do an exercise where we tried to perceive something through someone else. Bruno and I made a drawing where he wore the VR headset and I sketched on his back which he replicated on paper. The process was fun and predictability the drawing was unimpressive. The process was fun and predictability the drawing was unimpressive.


Ruth is wearing fabric created by Alexa while she shows us some of her responsive AR augments


Our collaborative drawing in response to Alexa’s prompt

Dustin led us on a prototype for a sort of semi-immersive experience where actors jump into various avatars. With his deep background of improv, theater and role-playing, I began to shift, thinking about how to involve people not in a headset, which make up the majority of people in a VR experience as essential players.

Darshana in the VR headset while Dustin demonstrates some ways in which “non-players” can interact in VR space

I am not wondering about intimacy and vulnerability in VR. There is a certain amount of trust in this space. You are blind and often suffused in another audio dimension. Then, could you guide people through a VR experience like a child in a baby carriage? What can be done with multiple actors? So many questions. So many possibilities.

One thing that I was reminded of was the effectiveness of simple paper-prototyping and physical movement. Make things free from technology; keep it accessible. Stick to the concepts.

My own orientation began shifting more into virtual landscapes and thinking about data as the generator. I asked people to brainstorm various datasets and come up with some abstract representations based on that earlier quote from Neuromancer. I do want to get away from the sci-fi notion of cyberspace since it is limiting and enmeshed in VR 1.0, but will still claim this as the starting point to an antidote to the often mundane reality-simulation space.

This was useful for my own brainstorming. Alexa brought in an interesting point of view because she was thinking about time rather than landscape and brought in conversations around anticipation, reality and memory, which reminded me of the work by Bergson. Her movements were around personal data and captured her attention.

Meanwhile, Ruth made marks on the wall, translating gesture to 2D. Bruno worked with abstract visual forms. Despite being a poor draftsman, the question arose: how can we incorporate movement into a system? My own perception is highly visual and orientation towards abstract patterns. The success of my exercise was based in the fact that some useful (to me) renderings were produced while I also quickly learned that the a line-based VR landscape doesn’t resonate with everyone. How can we incorporate movement into a system.

Drawings by Bruno Martelli in response to my workshop prompt

As a manifesto bullet item: the scriptedness of VR is something we would all like to break. With all the possibilities of VR, why are the dominant forms assuming a feeling of immersion. Why don’t we consider what can be done before rushing to produce so much content.

Where is the element of surprise? VR is a solitary experience. I’m reminded of Joe’s work with the military and what one can do with a gaming space. Could we intervene or somehow interfere with VR space?

Darshana, the theorist amongst the group, did a beautiful summary of the session. My head was spinning with ideas at this point, so I can’t even recall everything he spoke about but certainly ideas around how to both be engaging and critical in this space surface. He envisioned a nexus around abstract spatialization, performance, role play and the body that tied our various projects together.

Bruno, Ruth and Alexa wearing some of Bruno + Ruth’s Dazzle Masks

There is much more to write and think about. I made progress on the technical side of things, such as getting an OSC pathway to Unreal working, so that can begin playing with electronic interfaces into a VR world.

More importantly, I feel like I’ve found my people with this Reality Remix team: one where we understand the history of new media, subversion of forms, aren’t dazzled by simplicity. We got along so very well with mutual respect and laughter. I’m excited about what comes next.

Reality Remix group phptp

Sonaqua goes to Biocultura

Last month…yes, blogging can be slow, I traveled to Santa Fe with the support of Andrea Polli and taught a workshop on my Sonaqua project.

The basic idea of Sonaqua is to sonfiy — create sounds — based on water quality. As a module, these are Arudino-based and designed for a single-user to make a sound. I’m actively teaching workshops on these and have open-sourced the software and made the hardware plans available.

interested in a Sonaqua workshop? then contact me

My Sonaqua installation creates orchestral arrangements of water samples based on electrical conductivity. Here’s a link to the video that explains the installation, which I did in Bangkok this June.

Back to New Mexico..In the early part of the week, I taught a workshop on the Sonaqua circuit at one of Andrea’s classes at UNM, creating single-player modules for each student. We collected water samples and played each one separately. The students were fun and set up this small example of water samples with progressive frequencies, almost like a scale.

The lower the pitch, the more polluted* the water sample and so higher-pitched samples might correspond to filtered drinking water.

Later in the week, I traveled to Biocultura in Santa Fe, which is a space that Andrea co-runs. Here, I installed the orchestral arrangement of the work, based on 12 water samples in New Mexico. She had a whole set of beakers and scientific-looking vessels, so I used what we had on hand and installed it on a shelf behind the presentation.

A physical map (hard to find!) of the sites where I took water samples.

And a close-up shot of one of the water samples + speakers. If you look closely, you can see an LED inside the water sample.

My face is obscured by the backlit screen. I presented my research with Sonaqua, as well as several other projects around water that evening to the Biocultura audience.

And afterwards, the attendees checked out the installation while I answered questions.

Data Crystals at EVA

I just finished attending the EVA London conference this week and did a demonstration of my Data Crystals project. This is the formal abstract for the demonstration and writing it helped clear up some of my ideas about the Data Crystals project and digital fabrication of physical sculptures and installations.


Embodied Data and Digital Fabrication: Demonstration with Code and Materials
by Scott Kildall


Data has tangible consequences in the real world. Accordingly, physical data-visualizations have the potential to engage with the actual effects of the data itself. A data-generated sculpture or art installation is something that people can move around, though or inside of. They experience the dimensionality of data with their own natural perceptual mechanisms. However, creating physical data visualizations presents unique material challenges since these objects exist in stasis, rather than in a virtual space with a guided UX design. In this demonstration, I will present my recent research into producing sculptures from data using my custom software code that creates files for digital fabrication machines.


The overarching question that guides my work is: what does data look like? Referencing architecture, my artwork such as Data Crystals (figure 2) executes codes that maps, stacks and assembles data “bricks” to form unique digital artifacts. The form of these objects are impossible to predict from the original data-mapping, and the clustering code will produce different variations each time it runs.

Other sculptures remove material through intense kinetic energy. Bad Data (figure 3) and Strewn Fields (figure 1) both use the waterjet machine to gouge data into physical material using a high- pressure stream of water. The material in this case — aluminum honeycomb panels and stone slabs — reacts in adverse ways as it splinters and deforms due to the violence of the machine.

2.1 Material Expression

Physical data-visualizations act on materials instead of pixels and so there is a dialogue between the data and its material expression. Data Crystals depict municipal data of San Francisco and have a otherworldly ghostly quality of stacked and intersecting cubes. The data gets served from a web portal and is situated in the urban architecture and so the 3D-printed bricks are an appropriate form of expression.

Bad Data captures data that is “bad” in the shallow sense of the word, rendering datasets such as Internet Data Breaches, Worldwide UFO Sightings or Mass Shootings in the United States. The water from the machine gouges and ruptures aluminum honeycomb material in unpredictable ways, similar to the way data tears apart our social fabric. This material is emblematic of the modern era, as aluminum began to be mass-refined at the end of the 19th century. These datasets exemplify conflicts of our times such as science/heresy and digital security/infiltration.

2.2 Frozen in Time

Once created, these sculptures cannot be endlessly altered like screen-based data visualizations. This challenges the artwork to work with fixed data or to consider the effect of capturing a specific moment.

For example, Strewn Fields is a data-visualization of meteorite impact data. When a large asteroid enters the earths atmosphere, it does so at high velocity of approximately 30,000km/hour. Before impact, it breaks up into thousands of small fragments, which are meteorites. Usually they hit our planet in the ocean or at remote locations. The intense energy of the waterjet machine gouges the surface of each stone, mirroring the raw kinetic energy of a planetoid colliding with the surface of the Earth. The static etching captures the act of impact, and survives as an antithetical gesture to the event itself. The actual remnants and debris (the meteorites) have been collected, sold and scattered and what remains is just a dataset, which I have translated into a physical form.

2.3 Formal Challenges to Sculpture

This sort of “data art” challenges the formal aspects of sculpture. Firstly, machine-generated artwork removes the artist’s hand from the work, building upon the legacy of algorithmic artwork by Sol Lewitt and others. Execution of this work is conducted by the stepper motor rather than by gestures of the artist.

Secondly, the input source of data are unknowable forms until they are actually rendered. The patterns are neither mathematic nor random, giving a certain quality of perceptual coherence to the work. Data Crystals: Crime Incidents has 30,000 data points. Using code-based clustering algorithms, it creates forms only recently possible with the combination of digital fabrication and large amounts of data.


My sculpture-generation tools are custom- developed in C++ using Open Frameworks, an open source toolkit. My code repositories are on GitHub: My own software bypasses any conventional modeling package. It can handle very complex geometry, and more importantly doesn’t have the “look” that a program such as Rhino/Grasshopper generates.

3.1 Direct-to-Machine

My process of data-translation is optimized for specific machines. Data Crystals generate STL files which most 3D printers can read. My code generates PostScript (.ps) files for the waterjet machine. The conversation with the machine itself is direct. During the production and iteration process, once I define the workflow, the refinements proceed quickly. It is optimized, like the machine that creates the artwork.

3.2 London Layering

In my demonstration, I will use various open data from London. I focus not on data that I want to to acquire, but rather, data that I can acquire. I will demonstrate a custom build of Data Crystals which shows multiple layers of municipal data, and I will run clustering algorithms to create several Data Crystals for the City of London.


Figure 1: Strewn Fields (2016)
by Scott Kildall
Waterjet-etched stone

Figure 2:
Data Crystals: Crime Incidents (2014)
by Scott Kildall
3D-print mounted on wood

Figure 3:
Bad Data: U.S. Mass Shootings (2015)
by Scott Kildall
Waterjet-etched aluminum honeycomb panel

Playing with the e-mail scammers

When someone sends you an email scam, think of it as an opportunity for fun. They stopped replying to my emails after several responses.

Here is the exchange:


Good Day,
How is everything with you? I picked interest in your artwork and decided to write you. I will like to know if your artwork can be purchased and shipped internationally?. I can email the artwork of interest and payment will be completed in full once you confirm my purchase order with a quotation.
Kindly let me know when you are in office and ready to take my artwork order also let me know if you accept either Visa Card or Master Card for payment furthermore you can email me your recently updated website or art price list in your response.
Best Regards

Hi Yoshida,

Thank you for contacting me.

I’m curious which artwork you are interested in, I have available:

(1) Shoe-gazing — a 96-hour performance art video of me looking at my shoes. Audio track is optional.

(2) MDMA Buttplug — I think the title says it all. Leave it to your imagination.

(3) The Salmonella Experience — A crowdsourced experiment on Mechanical Turk, where I send people salmonella-infested eggs, which they ingest and document over a 4-day period.

Scott Kildall

Hi Scott,
Good to hear from you please can you email me the cost of three available pieces


Hi Yoshida,

Which one do you like best from my list?

That is the most important question. Price is secondary.


(3) The Salmonella Experience — A crowdsourced experiment on Mechanical Turk, where I send people salmonella-infested eggs, which they ingest and document over a 4-day period.


Hi Yoshida,

Thank you for choosing The Salmonella Experience.

I had thought that MDMA Buttplug would be more to your liking, for some reason. I do want to give you one last chance to reconsider. For, once we go down a financial path, then we cannot turn back and choose another artwork.

So, are you sure about The Salmonella Experience?

Question: What attracted you to this project over the other ones that were available?

Thank you,
Scott Kildall

<no response after this one…>

A friend of mine pointed me to this TED talk by James Veitch. So, obviously I’m not the first:

Self-guided Khlong Tour

When you get to a new place, get lost. Wander in space, wander in time. I adhere to the words of Rebecca Solnit in A Field Guide to Getting Lost and often find myself in the moment in a new city.

I finally had some free time at the American Arts Incubator program and set out the other day to the Thonburi district to see one of the temples. Here, I would have been amongst tourists snapping digital photos. Instead, I got distracted myself on a self-guided Khlong Tour.

 The khlongs are the canals in Bangkok, a city which used to be called the Venice of the East. Centuries ago, they were used for transportation, irrigation and flood relief. But, this was before concrete and pavement redefined the city.

Floods are now a huge problem as the rainwater has little place to go except into storm drains which quickly overflow. The stormwater drains often ends up into the khlongs.


The khlongs do have mechanisms to contain the water, which appear to be mini-dams that can be raised to open into the Chao Phraya. This stormwater, which is not clean water at all then flows out to the sea.

The khlongs are mostly stagnant and filled with garbage. Of course, they could be beautiful waterways and a source of community pride. Garbage cleanup would help, but ultimately a better drainage system would be needed.

Water needs to flow to be healthy. I’m not at all trained in civil engineering projects, but this seems pretty basic. We control the water and confine it and its health suffers.

Strangely, there is still a lot of fish in these mucky waters, which I believe is mostly catfish. And where there is edible fish, people will try to catch them, despite the health risks.

I saw many little things. Here are “soi dogs” (not those kinds!), but since Soi is the Thai word for street, these are street dogs or strays. They are skinny, though not malnourished. Mostly, they seem to want love. Don’t we all?

The narrow khlongs had small bridges to various houses. They were just…there, a neglected feature of this urban space. No tourists were in sight.

What was most certainly a lost cat sign.

And a hole in a corrugated steel fence with an offering in it.

Street art, like in every city.

 Why would a tourist come here when the temple was prettier? Still, I made the right choice. I noticed more in my walk than I would have in a temple. At tourist sites, you are supposed to look at certain things but when you wander through the landscape, your gaze is free.


Very hot, very cold

I arrived in Bangkok a couple days ago. Here, you cannot escape the physical effects of the place. It is humid and muggy outside and then you go inside, you get blasted by the air conditioning. Your sweat soon dries and you become very cold.

This is the dialogue I quickly experienced: manmade vs nature. Traffic is omnipresent and there are AC-cooled shopping malls everywhere. However, nature looms large with adverse weather, flooding and the Chao Phraya river itself.

On my first day, as I wandered, I also wondered. How many people actually have a relationship with the river that runs through Bangkok? How often do they think about the lifeblood of the river, which provides drinking water, transportation and, in the past, food?


The next morning, we visited visited the Huay Kwang community. This group of people have lived on the banks of the Chao Phraya for many decades and are low-income, often forgotten by the business and shopping districts. When it rains, the sewer infrastructure backs up and floods the river. Like many cities, the pavement and cement prevents water from flowing naturally into the ground.

This community is one of the most affected and they are currently developing a master plan to relocate their homes to higher shores. It isn’t easy. After all, no one wants to lose their home. The master plan also details widening the canal, dredging it and establishing a transportation lane for tourism and commerce.

I listened to the community leaders and their hopes for the workshop. I made several points, but one of the most important ones was to set expectations for what I can really do here. I’m only here for a month. So let’s think about sustainable projects and how we can make public art with water data.

And I also met my assistant, Ekarat, who is super-helpful and will be assisting me throughout the project. Without him, I can’t imagine how to make this project a success.

Yesterday, we spent an entire day procuring items. The best find were these small containers, which are often used for hot sauces, which we will use for water samples on the Chao Phraya. And they were a bargain at 10 Baht each!

Equitybot goes to Vienna

EquityBot resumes its world tour (Utrecht, Vancouver, Bilbao, Amsterdam, San Francisco, Columbus) with a group show in Vienna.

MOOD SWINGS – On Mood Politics, Sentiment Data, Market Sentiments and Other Sentiment Agencies

Curated by Sabine Winkler


dates and times
Mar 31 to May 28, Tue to Sun 13-20:00

Press Tour: Wed, Mar 29, 10:00
Opening: Thu, Mar 30, 19:00

It is moods rather than facts that are determining perceptions, decisions and courses of action to an ever greater degree. Mood data, in turn is a sought-after subject for analysis; emotions are being quantified and simulated. The exhibition “Mood Swings – On mood politics, sentiment data, market sentiments and other sentiment agencies”, curated by Sabine Winkler, focuses on the significance and radius of sentiment in politics, business, technology, media and art.

Antoine Catala (FRA)*, Xavier Cha (USA), Florian Göttke (GER/NLD), Femke Herregraven (NLD), Hertog Nadler (NLD/ISR)*, Micah Hesse (USA)*, Francis Hunger (GER), Scott Kildall (USA), Barbora Kleinhamplová (CZE), Tom Molloy (IRL), Barbara Musil (AUT), Bego M. Santiago (ESP)*, Ruben van de Ven (NLD)*, Christina Werner (AUT)
*Q21/MQ Artist-in-Residence

GPS Tracks

I am building water quality sensors which will capture geolocated data. This was my first test with this technology. This is part of my ongoing research at the Santa Fe Water Rights residency (March-April) and for the American Arts Incubator program in Thailand (May-June).

This GPS data-logging shield from Adafruit arrived yesterday and after a couple of hours of code-wrestling, I was able to capture the latitude and longitude to a CSV data file.

This is me walking from my studio at SFAI to the bedroom. The GPS signal at this range (100m) fluctuates greatly, but I like the odd compositional results. I did the plotting in OpenFrameworks, my tool-of-choice for displaying data that will be later transformed into sculptural results.

The second one is me driving in the car for a distance of about 2km. The tracks are much smoother. If you look closely, you can see where I stopped at the various traffic lights.

Now, GPS tracking alone isn’t super-compelling, and there are many mapping apps that will do this for you. But as soon as I can attach water sensor data to latitude/longitude, then it can transform into something much more interesting as the data will become multi-dimensional.

Views from 9000 feet

9000 feet in the air gives you entirely different perspective on the world. Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to fly in a single-engine Cessna with my old friend, Gary. His plane was from the 1970s and had similar instrumentation as my dad’s plane from the same era.

My father, coincidentally also named Gary, loved flying. When I was a kid, he took me up in his plane for countless hours. It’s been about 35 years since I’ve been in a small plane like this. It was comforting, loud, fun and magical.

Although I have no interest in being a pilot, I certainly appreciated the view. Moving slowly (130 mph) at 9000 feet, gives the opportunity to see the landscape at a slower pace and at such a low altitude, I saw dimensionality in the terrain unlike I’ve seen in a long time.

The folds of the hills, the washouts from snow melt and the various waterways fascinated me. The odd manmade structures and dirt access roads punctuated the depopulated desert terrain

I saw the acequias — community-owned irrigation canals for family farms, which delineated the parcels of land. As they say, water is life. There area has no agribusiness here, just family farms, often growing alfalfa on the side in addition to a day job.

I gazed at the results of the San Juana-Chama Project — which linked to the Abiquiu Dam that feeds the Colorado River through Rio Chama and into the Rio Grande so that Santa Fe and Albuquerque can have drinking and water.

The most fantastic sight was the Rio Grand Gorge near Taos. Here you can see how the Earth got split apart by tectonic forces. Rather than carving its own path, the Rio Grande trickles through the gorge because its the easiest way for the water to flow.

After a couple hours and a lunch stop, we landed back on the ground. I was again bound by gravity as I drove back to Santa Fe, along the highway that earlier that day I had seen from the sky.

Santa Fe River Walk

When you get to a new place, take a long walk. This is essential to ground yourself in that space. Rebecca Solnit writes about it; Guy Debord speaks of diverting the stream of capitalism with it; Richard Long incorporates it into his art practice.

Just after unpacking at a new art residency Water Rights at the Santa Fe Art Institute, I went on a walk up the Santa Fe River with two of my fellow residents, Christina Catanese and Megan Heeres.

Santa Fe is a new place with new people. Before jumping into studio practice, which can be a crutch for compulsive art-making, I wanted to engage with the physical environment. At the residency, the purpose will be to open the mind and the art practice.

We started at Frenchy’s Field and walked up the riverbed itself towards downtown.We walked, talked and observed.

At the head of the trail was a poem kiosk with laminated sheets of poetry and a little shelf full of rocks. The riverbed here was dry and sandy.

We began walking in the bed itself. Christina is a trained hydrologist and Megan knows much about plants.I know a little bit about geology after my Strewn Fields project.

At the start of the walk, we encountered a collection of heart-shaped rocks, obviously put here by humans. I love this organically-generated “land art”.

We wondered why these large rocks were stacked this way. Was it for humans? Or for the river? Christina later determined that it was to control the river flow, as future steps required tricky traversals.

Here I am with a backpack full of branches that I collected. Im specifically intrigued by the Salt Cedar, which is an invasive species that was brought to the area many years ago as a wind break for agriculture. Ooops, as is often the case, the introduction of a new species created more problems than it solved. The salt cedar is a water-sucker and consumes the areas most precious resource.

Here is the “rock penitentiary” maybe these rocks were bad and had to be put behind fencing.

And here is a rock that escaped. Fly away, be free!

Under a bridge, we found a rope swing. Wheeee!

As we traversed further, the salt cedar thinned out and we saw various grasses along the banks of the (dry) river.

And I found my own heart-shaped rock. A beautiful specimen, which looks like two geological samples that were grafted together.

We took a side path and disturbed two birds of prey who had been feasting on this treat.

Around the mid-point of the walk, we started seeing icy formations.

I love these alluring crystalline structures surrounding various stones.

And the ground was damp. We noticed various animal prints. What was this? I still do not know. The front foot matches the hind foot, which seems like an odd walking pattern.

Finally, we began to see actual water with this miniature waterfall.

As we approached downtown, there was more and more human-generated waste.

And one shoe? Who loses a single shoe?

At the end of the walk was a patch of rainbow in the sky.