Exponential – Desert Dairy Art Residency

‘Exponential’ Site-specific installation at Desert Dairy in Twentynine Palms, California.
Created between January 18 – January 25, 2020.
Materials: found objects on-site, twine

Exponential Installation
Extraction/Fabrication/Pollution – the infernal cycle our civilization is based on.
Made with found materials on a decaying structure.

As an eco-artist, I am deeply concerned about our human predicament. After a long period of exponential growth and the environmental degradation that has accompanied that growth, human civilization is facing the possibility of a systemic collapse within decades. Some stages of this collapse are already underway, but it is still possible to change the course we’re on. However, if we do not face the reality of the situation we have created, and if we do not realize that every system on our planet is connected, we will lose our chance at a future. 

Faced with impending disaster, I feel compelled to create art that draws attention to our
misuse of the very systems that nurture us. The symptoms of climate change tell us that our behavior is not sustainable, that we are destroying our own habitats. According to Dennis Meadows’s World 3 Model—a 1972 report whose predictions prove accurate several decades later—the trends of exponential growth in human behavior ensure an adverse impact on the planet’s ecosystems and their interconnected resources. This impact will be cataclysmic for humans. Like Meadows and other scientists, we need to think horizontally—to emerge from our silos and recognize that the damage we cause locally reverberates across the globe.

My installation Exponential grew out of my conviction that in a finite world, there is no room for infinite growth. Created on an abandoned dairy farm in the Mojave Desert, the piece was erected in the same week that Wuhan was locked down—a moment that has since grown into a global pandemic. Just as COVID-19 reveals the fragility of the world’s systems, the pandemic tests our resilience and asks us to consider how our own survival depends on the planet’s health.

To create Exponential, I worked in solitude and silence, waking with the sun, assembling my pieces outside beneath the changing light of an extraordinary landscape—just a few miles away from the Joshua Tree National Park. But while that region has been conserved and maintained with care and attention, areas outside of the protected zone have not thrived. The deserted dairy farm became a dump for some time; although it has since been cleaned up, it is still possible to find objects and garbage buried close to the surface.

The center of Exponential is a decaying structure on the old dairy farm. At first, I felt like an archaeologist of the Anthropocene, unearthing plastic and metal objects as I cleaned around and inside the structure. Eventually, most of these exhumed objects became integrated into the installation. For instance, I covered the outside wall with discarded everyday objects—symbols of our misuse of the earth’s resources. The outer wall therefore acts as a legible surface, one which asks: how does our use of materials harm our habitats? By over-extracting resources and creating waste and pollution, we have created the conditions of our own destruction. We have cut the branch on which we sit.

Meanwhile, the inside of the structure represents a complex system, suggesting the increasing fragility of our globalized economy and culture: a single collapsed thread can produce a chain reaction that destroys the whole system. On the interior shelves, a concrete “rock” collection signifies a shortage of marine sand, which is stolen from beaches to create building materials.
Completing the installation is an ensemble of delicate cyanotypes made with native plants.

As a whole, Exponential remarks on the threat to civilization by our acquisitive habits and our unending extraction of resources. Through dilapidated walls, repurposed with discarded waste, we can see the sky, the desert, and the trees—glimpses of beauty and fragmented scenes of the world we must protect if we want humanity to survive.

Before and during the creation of Exponential, I listened to several podcasts and read many books and articles related to a possible collapse of the thermo-industrial civilization within the next 50 years. This research helped me connect dots and understand the link between economies, resources, energy, industrialization, agriculture, and health. Below is a list of just some of the research that inspired my art-making. These materials have helped me understand that the best way to approach the possibility of the end of the world as we know it is to do everything we can to prevent it:

In French/podcasts:
Presages Podcast
Sismique Podcast
In French/YouTube channels:
Partager C’est Sympa
From Thinkerview:
Jean-Marc Jancovici
Jouzel et Larrouturou 
Philippe Bihouix  
Edgar Morin 
Aurelien Barreau
Jancovici et Bihouix 
Pablo Servigne 
Vincent Mignerot
In French/Books:
Pablo Servigne and Raphael Stevens “Comment Tout Peut S’effondrer”
Pablo Servigne, Raphael Stevens, and Gauthier Chapelle “Une Autre Fin du Monde est Possible”
Fred Vargas “L’Humanite en Peril”
Aurelien Barrau “Le Plus Grend Defi de l’Histoire de l’Humanite”
Cyril Dion “Petit Manuel de Resistance Contemporaine”

In English/books:
Jared Diamond “Collapse”
Edward O.Wilson “Half-Earth”
Dennis and Donella Meadows “Limits to Growth the 30-Year Update”

Please visit desertdairy.com, a blog by @amstump
SHORT VIDEO of the installation, by Ted Meyer.


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