Discovering Columbus

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2 This catalog is published in conjunction with the exhibition of Robert Ladislas Derr s Discovering Columbus in Across the Sea, a two person exhibit, Swing Space Gallery, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, October 22 - November 16, 2012 Photographs by Robert Ladislas Derr 2011 Robert Ladislas Derr Performance views by A L Foglesong Cover: NASA, Blue Marble, 2012 Printed in the US


4 INTRODUCTION A result of Robert Ladislas Derr s Discovering Columbus, this publication includes six essays and Derr s work. Interested in the semiotics of a group of towns sharing an appellation, Derr discovers the ten towns in the United States named after Christopher Columbus. Given Christopher Columbus' use of the stars for ocean navigation, Derr utilizes the constellation as his course and subject, in a quest of discovering the 15th century explorer. The constellations of the day each town was incorporated are transposed to the streets to provide Derr s route through each town, as he records with four video cameras attached to his person for Part I: Cities. For Part II: Parks, Derr used the points of the constellation to create an obstacle course, and traced his kicking of a globe. In his iconic polo shirts, the shirt colors correspond with the color generally associated with each Zodiac of each constellation. The series of color photographs visualize the constellations with instances of Derr dribbling the globe through the obstacle course. Wanderlust by nature, the iconic explorer was Derr s point of departure. The ten towns include Columbia, Maryland Columbia, Missouri Columbia, South Carolina Columbiana, Ohio Columbus, Georgia Columbus, Indiana Columbus, Mississippi Columbus, Ohio Columbus, Wisconsin Washington, District of Columbia. 3


6 Scorpio (Columbia, Missouri), constellation site 5

7 Scorpio (Columbia, Missouri), performance view 6

8 Scorpio (Columbia, Missouri), 2012, color digital print, 36" x 36" 7

9 Scorpio constellation superimposed on the map of Columbia, Missouri 8

10 The Scorpio Trail: A Racial Storyscape of Columbia, Missouri by Kristin Schwain Perhaps the most representative visual product of the Western Age of Exploration was the map. Created by European cartographers who drew heavily on the navigational charts of Christopher Columbus and other explorers, world maps did far more than depict coastlines, harbors, and islands. They translated the cultural encounters that gave rise to this information into particularly Western and Christian ways of knowing by systematizing the natural world; establishing trade routes for the economic exchange of goods and peoples; and classifying civilizations into cultural and racial hierarchies. 1 Robert Ladislas Derr explores the city of Columbia, Missouri, by projecting the Scorpio constellation onto the city s streets. The route that results from this intermingling of happenstance, astronomy, and decades of urban development directs him through the heart of Columbia geographically and historically. The Scorpio Trail begins at a corner just west of Cemetery Hill; snakes around areas once known as Flat Branch, Sharp End, and West End; and ends two blocks before Railroad Row. These appellations may not be familiar to residents today, but they refer to the original city center, and later, the hub of African American economic and cultural life for over a century. 2 (fig.1)while Derr s path marks this historic boundary between white and black space in the city, the only traces of the legal, economic, and social battles over it appear in personal memories, communal stories, and contemporary race relations. The terrain itself and the contemporary maps that represent it yield little evidence of this contentious past. Columbia s founders situated the city s business center Market Square in Flat Branch, a bottomland near Hickson and Flat Branch Creeks. Leaders soon deserted the floodplain since the water that ran through it made the roads nearly impassable in wet weather. When they relocated the business district to its current location on 8 th and 9 th Streets, free blacks moved into the deserted area and created an African American commercial and cultural hub. In the ensuing decades, the area became increasingly divorced from Columbia s white community and riddled with poverty and disease as officials failed to pave roads, blocked access to city services, and utilized Flat Branch Creek as part of the sewer system. In the 1950s and 1960s, the City of Columbia initiated urban renewal projects that cleared over 126 acres of land in Flat Branch and Sharp End areas that housed black families and businesses, including law firms, doctors offices, hotels, taverns, bowling alleys, and restaurants. In the process of forcing the two creeks underground, tearing down homes and buildings, and rerouting major thoroughfares, the city destroyed the physical remains of Columbia s original city center as well as the heart of the city s century-old African American community. The Scorpio Trail does more than follow the border that divided white and black space in 19 th -20 th century Columbia; it also crosses the site of the most dramatic and violent encounter between the two communities. In 1923, a steel and concrete bridge connected the University of Missouri with a white, middle-class neighborhood with large modern houses that were wired for electricity and connected to city services through underground gas, water, and sewer lines. Stewart Bridge, as it was called, also crossed Flat Branch Creek and the MKT Railroad, the southernmost part of Columbia s black community. That year, the fourteen-year 9

11 old daughter of a university professor was assaulted by an African-American man on the bridge. The police arrested James Scott, a janitor at the University s School of Medicine and highly respected member of the city s black community. Despite considerable evidence that Scott was not responsible, preeminent city leaders led a mob of over a thousand residents and university students to the jail where they broke through a steel door with sledgehammers and a blowtorch; forcibly dragged Scott to the site of the alleged crime; and lynched him amid Scott s repeated assertions of his innocence and the pleas of a preeminent judge, the prosecuting attorney, and the girl s father. 3 Although Stewart Bridge is now Stewart Road, and the same urban renewal project that decimated the black community in the 1950s and 1960s eradicated any material signs of Scott s lynching, the event continues to haunt the Columbia community. In November 2010, Scott s death certificate was officially amended; the primary cause of death is now listed as asphyxia due to hanging by lynching by assailants, and the secondary cause has been changed from committed rape to never tried or convicted of rape. 4 In May 2011, one of the city s historically black churches, Second Missionary Baptist Church, held a memorial service for Scott, after which people processed to Columbia Cemetery where he received a military funeral and a new gravestone that replaced the concrete block that once marked his burial site. In the ceremonies and memorials that accompanied these events, the racial history once visible in the city s infrastructure arose in the memories of individual citizens and the black community generally. It is appropriate that the Scorpio Trail navigates the history of race relations in Columbia, since its movement through the heart of the city resurrects what urban development eradicated. In one version of the Greek myth, Orion boasts to Artemis and her mother, Leta, that he could kill every animal on earth. Artemis sends a scorpion to kill Orion. When the scorpion stung and killed the hunter, Zeus raised both to the heavens as a warning against excess pride. Consequently, as Scorpius rises in the sky, Orion flees beneath the horizon. In transposing the constellation onto the streets of Columbia, Derr creates a map that conjures the city s past. While not present on the terrain or on a map, the history remains alive in individual memory, family history, and communal lore, consistently appearing and reappearing as Columbia continues to wrestle with the influence of this legacy on contemporary race relations. While Christopher Columbus s explorations participated in cataloging the natural world, systemizing knowledge, and classifying peoples, they did so from a single point of view that ignored the beliefs and values of the cultures he encountered. The maps that resulted exhibit this Western imposition and reveal its assumptions. Considering the Scorpio Trail as a storyscape that overlays geological, historical, ethnographic, and cosmological histories onto one another showcases how each has the potential to ignore and even eliminate the past without constant protest from the others. 5 10

12 1 A number of scholars have discussed the ways in which geography and mapping are embedded in practices of colonization. See, for example, Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (New York: Routledge University Press, 1992); and Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (London and New York: Zed Books Ltd, 1999). understandings of space, or counter-maps, into an analysis of place. 2 Jason Jindrich, Our Black Children : The Evolution of Black Space in Columbia, Missouri (M.A. Thesis, University of Missouri-Columbia, 2002). I reference his map of black neighborhoods in Figure 1; his appears on page Douglas Hunt, A Course in Applied Lynching, The Missouri Review 27, no. 2 (Summer 2004): Alan Scher Zagier, Mo. corrects record on 1923 collegetown lynching, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 8, 2010, accessed September 21, 2012, record-on-college-town-lynching/article_c4f5c44e-eb9c- 11df-9ab bc8b.html. A number of local newspapers covered these events extensively, including The Columbia Daily Tribune and the Columbia Missourian. I have relied heavily on their reporting. 5 I am thankful to Mark Palmer in the Department of Geography at the University of Missouri-Columbia for introducing me to the idea of "storyscapes as a means to decolonize the practice of geography; bridge knowledge bases and systems; and introduce personal and communal 11


14 Cancer (Columbia, Maryland), constellation site 13

15 Cancer (Columbia, Maryland), performance view 14

16 Cancer (Columbia, Maryland), 2012, color digital print, 36" x 36" 15


18 Aries (Columbia, South Carolina), constellation site 17

19 Aries (Columbia, South Carolina), performance view 18

20 Aries (Columbia, South Carolina), 2012, color digital print, 36" x 36" 19


22 Leo (Columbiana, Ohio), constellation site 21

23 Leo (Columbiana, Ohio), performance view 22

24 Leo (Columbiana, Ohio), 2012, color digital print, 36" x 36" 23

25 On Discovering Columbus by Navjotika Kumar In his project Discovering Columbus, Robert Ladislas Derr complicates the notion of discovery in so far as this entails encountering something for the first time, or being the first to find out about a perhaps already existing but yet unknown reality or subject. By attempting to discover the Great Discoverer himself, or by taking on an ostensibly well known and widely and variously elucidated subject, Derr s project not only examines what is already known, thoroughly scripted and re-scripted, but thereby also reframes the idea, the act, of discovery itself as being always one of rediscovery. Inherent in this reframing, self-consciously enacted by him from the vantage of the present, the year 2011, is more than a conception of discovery as an ongoing process that is continually reshaped by the perspectives of different eras and socio-cultural frameworks. While surely this, discovery is reframed too in his project by a questioning of the very idea of origins, of intact, authentic, inviolable, stable, and enduring beginnings, of the firsts, that are seemingly intrinsic to it. That Derr s undertaking is evocative in this regard of what Foucault called a genealogist is because it too seeks to reveal disjunction and dispersion, disparity and overlay, at the origins of things, of whatever is discovered. Indeed, by seeking to discover the complex, multi-faceted, and ever-malleable figure of Columbus a figure variously (re) constructed as myth, icon, symbol, and anti-hero for over five centuries it opens onto and operates on a field of entangled and confused parchments, on documents that have been scratched over and recopied many times. 1 The entangled documents upon which Derr operates are comprised of ten US towns and cities with place-names inspired by Columbus. Travelling to these geographically and culturally distinct places linked by their shared appellation, the artist immerses himself within each by the act of walking through its streets with four video cameras. Using as his guide, as he says, the points of the constellation of the day each town was incorporated, he charts and transposes these peripatetically, indeed captures a city or town s life flow from the numerous vantages yielded in the course of performing its stellar morphology with moving cameras pointed in different directions. 2 By thereby mapping and traversing each town named after the fifteenth century explorer through the navigational device that enabled his voyages, Derr symbolically appropriates its space-time by forging and imposing new trajectories or modalities for mediating its experience. By ultimately presenting his mediation as an amalgamation of the dispersive views captured by his cameras, his practice renders his incursions, the process of discovery, legible from the vantage not of what Michel de Certeau called a god-like solar Eye, but rather multitudinous, fragmented, shifting, conflicting, and thoroughly imbricated perspectives. 3 Thus, as manifest in each channel of his four-channel video installation entitled Part 1: Cities, the layering of multifarious images to crisscross, veil, and traverse in multiple directionalities, utterly dispels the notion of a single, unified, and fixed pointof-view as an effective basis for regarding either the figure of the discoverer or the subject of discovery. Likewise, the interspersion of his imagery with the variously overlapping voices, lyrics, timbres, and rhythms of the towns different vocalists singing Guy Mitchell s Christopher Columbus a song that seamlessly sutures myth and history, the fictional 24

26 and factual - underscores too disjunction and concatenation, the divergence and collision of perspectives as an important means in his project for constructing what Foucault called an effective history. If an effective history refuses retracing the past as a patient and continuous development or, conversely, assumes discontinuity and the absence of constants as foundational to the delineation of its subject, it is produced by Derr s pervasive use of cuts or scissions, of segmenting and suturing, to instill a profusion of disjunctive spatial, temporal, auditory, and somatic perspectives within his video imagery. 4 Their conjugation, experienced as the intersection of varied slices of space-time that insubstantially dissolve and morph like their very cadences which seemingly evoke the rhythm of moving water, generates less a comprehensive vision than what Derr calls a chimerical landscape. 5 Connoting what is dreamlike, otherworldly, or imaginary, such a landscape is more than an effect of a complex tracing and conjoining of ever-shifting and mythical constellations to discover an equally phantasmagorical figure. As evoked by the mélange of ghostly video imagery percolated by a bedlam of voices and disparate spatio-temporal realities, this landscape is analogous to the very space-time of memory, of the unconscious, where disparate things and truisms co-exist seamlessly so nothing is ever lost or destroyed, 6 and the distinctions among the past, present, and future cease to be as nothing is ordered temporally. 7 By thus conflating what is outside and inside, the real and unreal, Derr s landscape suggests how the chimerical figure it seeks to render is, like memory itself, not localizable, 8 indeed possible to reveal neither readily nor fully but only in the details and habitus of the ordinary, or in what the artist calls the psychogeography of everyday life. 9 Considering then, as de Certeau wrote, that there is no place that is not haunted by many different spirits hidden there in silence, indeed there is a sort of knowledge that remains silent so only hints of what is known but unrevealed are passed on, Derr s ritual of walking the streets of his chosen cities segmenting and reconstituting their space-time becomes a means for probing the repressed, the unacknowledged and persistent meanings, hinted at by their names. 10 As such, the act of walking serves a similar function as the literal plotting by Derr of each constellation associable with a city upon the ground of its park in Part II of his project entitled Parks. That is, while the first act entails variously slicing the ten cities space-time with cameras and overlaying these cuts in a video assemblage, the second is also a somatic enactment of cutting into a cities fabric, of staking the constellation associable with it into its very ground. Generative of site photographs that provide panoramic views of the staked-out ground bearing the name of its city preceded by that of its particular constellation, this part of the project is also rendered in the form of two twenty-channel split screen videos that bring together views of the artist kicking a globe through the mazes of stakes, the flags of Columbus, planted in various city parks. Clad in shirts whose colors evoke those of the zodiac associated with each constellation, his maneuverings of the world, shot from three separate angles and a camera he carries, appear in different speeds on differently sized screens arranged to echo a constellation s gestalt. By orchestrating a collision here too of disjunctive temporalities and terrains that, like the very turnings of his globe and body, voids a sense of stable and enduring coordinates of both nature and self, of vision and beholding, Derr s installation enhances his construction of an effective history which likewise posits that knowledge is not 25

27 made for understanding; it is made for cutting. 11 Contingent then on his various acts of slicing and splicing, our knowledge of how Derr s cities constellate based on their place-names, or what they reveal in doing so about Columbus, is powerfully visualized in the ten photographs that also reference his performances in their parks. Taken at select moments in the course of his maneuverings through his plotted constellations, these photographs depict him in different colored shirts as he twists and turns to kick the globe in varied directions in a pristine, white, space. While replicating his stellar configurations, his various orientations in a blank space bereft of spatial and temporal co-ordinates suggest more than just a state of levitation, of suspended animation. In evoking the latter, these photographs freeze-frame his earlier mobile and shifting performances of constellations as if to scrutinize their phantasmal character. In doing so, or foregrounding the groundlessness of these configurations, these photographs, like Derr s project as a whole, reveals how neither Columbus, nor indeed the world is ultimately [a] simple configuration reducible to their essential traits, their final meaning, or their initial and final value. Rather they are a profusion of entangled events whose true historical sense confirms our existence among countless lost events, without a landmark or a point of reference

28 1 Michel Foucault, Nietzsche, Genealogy, History, in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, edited, and with an introduction, by Donald F. Bouchard (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University, 1977), 3 Michel de Certeau, Walking in the City, in The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1984), Foucault, 6 Mary Ann Doane, Temporality, Storage, Legibility: Freud, Marey, and the Cinema, Critical Inquiry 22 (Winter 1996), Ibid., Ibid., 155. Works Cited Certeau, Michel de. Walking in the City. In The Practice of Everyday Life Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, Derr, Robert Ladislas. Doane, Mary Ann. Temporality, Storage, Legibility: Freud, Marey, and the Cinema. Critical Inquiry 22 (Winter 1996): Foucault, Michel. Nietzsche, Genealogy, History. In Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews Edited, and with an introduction, by Donald F. Bouchard. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University, de Certeau, 10 de Certeau, Foucault,


30 Capricorn (Columbus, Georgia), constellation site 29

31 Capricorn (Columbus, Georgia), performance view 30

32 Capricorn (Columbus, Georgia), 2012, color digital print, 36" x 36" 31

33 One Hundred Eyes by Keri Watson The only true voyage of discovery, the only fountain of Eternal Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds, that each of them is; and this we can contrive with an Elstir, with a Vinteuil; with men like these we do really fly from star to star. Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past: Volume 5 The Prisoner (1923) What does it mean to discover? Is it the actual discovery or the adventure of the voyage that drives the human desire for exploration? Should Christopher Columbus, one of the first Europeans to encounter America, be celebrated with his own holiday and memorialized in the names of streets, bridges, and towns, or should he be remembered as a not-so-honorable colonizer? As with many questions, the answers depend on your perspective. And as the epigraph by Proust contends, the truest discovery is not one of foreign lands, but one that enables us to appreciate alternate perspectives. In these politically polarized times the ability to see and appreciate other points of view is increasingly important. In this vein, Robert Ladislas Derr s latest video and photographic project, Discovering Columbus, provides the viewer with multiple and simultaneous Americas. Created from video, sound, and photographs shot in the ten U.S. cities and towns named for Christopher Columbus, Derr s project invokes constellations, mapping, and performance to investigate issues of identity, place, discovery, and democracy. Part I: Cities is a 56-minute four channel video installation that combines the voices of local performers singing Guy Mitchell s 1950 pop hit Christopher Columbus with video shot simultaneously from four cameras Derr wore mounted to his shoulders as he walked a predetermined course through each city. The footage from each town was then edited together to create the four-channel video installation. Through the flickering layers of multiperspectival footage, cars drive by, dogs cross before the lenses, and passersby come in and out of the multiple frames as the cacophony of the unseen singers dissonant voices reaches a disturbing crescendo and mixes with the ambient sounds of street life. The refrain, Let me fly, fly, fly stormy water/let me walk on the bottom of the rollin sea/let me run, run, run around this great and fertile land/ Cos this world ain t big enough for me, echoes discordantly as the multiple horizon lines of the layered videos crest and crash like the ocean s waves. The viewer is jostled up and down and back and forth on an aural and visual journey that evokes Columbus trans-atlantic voyage. Part II: Parks provides an ironic and meditative respite after the chaos of the city/ship journey. To create this twenty, two channel split screen video, Derr set up obstacle courses in public parks in each city based on the shape of that city s astrological sign. He then used multiple cameras to film himself kicking a globe around the courses plotted flags. The viewer is offered multiple paths to follow and various perspectives to privilege as simultaneous perspectives flick across the two screens forty channels. Although the number of images may seem overwhelming, the steady thump of the ball being kicked and the swish created by the movement of Derr s body as he 32

34 successfully navigates the course creates a calming and harmonious rhythm. Viewed in succession, Cities captures the frenetic energy of urban life, whereas Parks envisions a space for amusement and relaxation. The irony of the park is that it is the place one goes to be active in the midst of an already active urban environment, a point not lost on Derr. Viewed together, the videos offer simultaneous perspectives that deconstruct notions of singular point of view and challenge the viewer s ability to determine a consistent vanishing point. They ask viewers to consider how they and others negotiate the spaces and obstacles of their daily lives. The exhibit also features a series of ten 36-inch by 36-inch photographs, one for each location visited, that depict a series of stop-action shots of Derr kicking the globe. Here again, multiplicity is stressed, as clones of Derr and the Earth repeat to form the shape of each city s astrological constellation. With blank white backgrounds, these digitally-constructed images are abstracted maps that point back to the ambiguous spaces created in and by the videos. In all cases, locations have been divorced from their traditional referents. The only remaining marker of civic identity is the titular, Columbus. But do these municipalities share anything but a name? Derr traveled to eight states (five in the North and three in the South) and the District of Columbia for this project (two of the cities named for Columbus are in Ohio: Columbus and Columbiana). Looking at projections for the upcoming election, five of the eight states are red (Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Indiana, and Missouri), two are blue (Maryland and the District), and two are swing states (Wisconsin and Ohio). One of the cities included in Discovering Columbus is Columbus, Georgia, located in a state that is currently red but that could be blue by Like many states, Georgia is undergoing economic and demographic shifts that could have significant consequences. Once a frontier outpost, Columbus is now Georgia s third largest city, after Atlanta and Augusta. Located on a bluff overlooking the Chattahoochee River, Columbus was an important Native American and then Antebellum trading center that connected the New World to the Old. Plantation owners brought their cotton to Columbus to ferry it down the river to New Orleans and then on to England. An important munitions manufacturer during the Civil War, it is one of several Southern cities that claims the last battle of the Civil War. Following Reconstruction and into the mid-twentieth century, Columbus was an important textile center, but like many U.S. cities, it went into a period of decline in the post- WWII suburban boom. It has made a conscientious effort at downtown revitalization, however, and today Columbus is home to the State Theatre of Georgia, several nationally acclaimed museums, and boasts an impressive 15-mile long River Walk and urban white water rafting course. Columbus State University, whose main campus sits at the edge of the city, has recently purchased a number of historic buildings downtown and relocated some departments there further energizing the city center. Despite its efforts to set itself apart, however, Columbus, Georgia is not that different from any number of historic American downtowns and other Columbuses. Looking at this city s representation in Discovering Columbus it is impossible to glean whether it is Northern or Southern, old or new, red or blue. The divisive and derisive signifiers have been stripped from the various Columbuses as the cities are layered together and left with only their constellations and a metaphorical blank slate. Discovering Columbus offers an antidote to the monotony of American towns and the polarity of the populace. It provides 33

35 an opportunity to see beyond one s own perspectives and view the world through multiple lenses, emphasizing that the best vision of America s future is one that values all individuals. Columbus, as synecdoche of America, is not a series of big box stores and strip malls, it is a sense of community, one created by fostering diversity and appreciating alternate points of view. The opening of Discovering Columbus marks the 520 th anniversary of Columbus s historic landing in the New World. Are towns named for Christopher Columbus, the discoverer of the Americas, more American? Can visiting these towns, none of which Columbus ever saw, teach us anything about Columbus, discovery, America, democracy, or ourselves? Proust thought that the only true voyage of discovery was to see through the eyes of others. In Remembrance of Things Past, this enhanced vision was made possible through art, through the paintings of Elstir and the music of Vinteuil. Does Derr s postmodern deconstructive combination of music and moving pictures succeed in providing us with multiple eyes with which to behold the universe? I think it does. Discovering Columbus asks the viewer to meditate on the many perspectives that create our sense of place and identity. It challenges us to see beyond our own circumstances and view the world through multiple lenses. The voyage is not always easy or pleasurable, but it is worth the effort. 34


37 Pisces (Columbus, Indiana), constellation site 36

38 Pisces (Columbus, Indiana), performance view 37

39 Pisces (Columbus, Indiana), 2012, color digital print, 36" x 36" 38


41 Aquarius (Columbus, Mississippi), constellation site 40

42 Aquarius (Columbus, Mississippi), performance view 41

43 Aquarius (Columbus, Mississippi), 2012, color digital print, 36" x 36" 42


45 Aquarius (Columbus, Ohio), constellation site 44

46 Aquarius (Columbus, Ohio), performance view 45

47 Aquarius (Columbus, Ohio), 2012, color digital print, 36" x 36" 46

48 Time Traveling by Jack Richardson A succession of instants does not constitute time any more than it causes it to disappear; it indicates only its constantly aborted moment of birth. Time is constituted only in the originary synthesis which operates on the repetition of instants. Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition In May of 2000 civilian GPS (Global Positioning System) devices became more accurate. Prior to that date calculation errors were inserted into GPS transmissions received by civilian GPS devices to offset the data that determined location, thus registering location accuracy only to within 100 meters. With the error removed location accuracy was refined to within approximately 20 meters. While GPS devices can determine one s location anywhere on the earth s surface, this exactness is a direct function of time. That is, it records exactly where and when you are at a specific point in the world. Thus in order to render public GPS devises less accurate than their military counterparts a timing error was inserted. For the now almost inconceivable accuracy of these devices the GPS satellites that constantly circle our planet must keep accurate time to within 14 nanoseconds and must adjust for a leap second that occurs every 18 months. The ease and comfort with which many 21 st century individuals interact with GPS belies the almost inconceivable precision necessary for its almost effortless use. It is with this in mind that Robert Ladislas Derr s piece, Discovering Columbus, can be engaged and explored. Christopher Columbus did not have the luxury of atomic clocks and satellites to assist in his voyage. Indeed, navigation for Columbus did not rely primarily on time at all as a chronometer sophisticated and accurate enough to be used in navigation was not developed until the 18 th century. Without the assistance of such a device, Columbus, and other explorers at the time, likely used more primitive means of measuring time and distance such as a float attached to a long rope that would be thrown overboard at the same time that an hourglass was inverted. When the sand in the hourglass had emptied into the bottom, the rope was retrieved and measured to calculate how far the ship had moved in one turn of the hourglass. Each piece in this exhibit can be viewed as a sort of meditation on exploration as experienced through the unorthodox measurements of time and space employed by Derr. The quote at the beginning of this essay is from the text Difference and Repetition by the philosopher Gilles Deleuze. In this work, he suggests that time is not simply experienced as chronological movement from past through present to future, but rather as a compression, or what he terms a synthesis. That is, our perception of time is not simply the conscious acknowledgement of a past registered in our present experience and an awareness of an unpredictable, but anticipated future. Rather, the experience of time is passively, or unconsciously, conceived as a simultaneous contraction of past and future into what Deleuze calls the lived or living present. It is within this living present that we come to know the world through the unconscious and non-rational synthesis of both material (objects, people, architecture etc.) and conceptual (movement, memory, sensations etc.) elements that surround us into something new where they are retained differently and lead to different expectations of forward momentum (p. 47

49 41). That is, the fusion of these elements in the mind produces a new and idiosyncratic field of experience intimately connected to the unforeseeable future it produces. Derr navigates the landscapes of the 10 cities in the United States named for the explorer Christopher Columbus. Yet, the unconventional navigation procedures that he utilizes are not intended to provide a path towards a particular place, but rather, in themselves, ensure an unpredictable and chancefilled encounter of the process of discovery as it occurs. What Derr presents us with here is an experience of time retained differently. In Part I: Cities, we witness a 4- channel video of Derr s navigation of each of the ten cities he explored with his unorthodox yet calculated methods. In this work, Derr navigated each city wearing a device that would record his movements simultaneously from 4 perspectives. The apparatus configures the four cameras consistent with the four cardinal directions, North, South, East, and West. His maneuvers through the city were guided by a map produced by overlaying the city with a schematic of the constellation that corresponded with the zodiac sign associated with the actual date of each city s original incorporation. The work is presented as a 4-channel projection that surrounds the viewer. Video has the capacity to record and present the passage of time, yet on each of these screens time is nearly impossible to assess as images and sounds are layered and fractured. Standing in the center one becomes immersed in a sort of dissolved sense of place as images vibrate and move in ways that indicate yet destabilize one s sense of movement. A cacophony of sounds composed of both singing and ambient noises further disrupts our sense of equilibrium. Experiencing this continuous aural and visual stream alludes to both the actual passage of time (time spent viewing the work) and a representation of time passing (Derr s video documentations of his movements through each city) neither of which comes to any sort of cohesive conclusion. We sense simultaneously a compression and expansion of time. The unsettling event of witnessing this work produces a kind of anticipation of what might come next but provides too much information to predict what that might be. Considering this work in light of this exhibition, this sense of disorientation perhaps approximates, in some way, the experience of Columbus and those with him as they navigated across the ocean. Part II: Parks further confounds our experience of the nature and perception of time and place. As in Part I: Cities, Derr uses the constellation as a structure (a map ) through which to configure his movements. Yet rather than expanding the pattern of the constellations rendering them invisible, Derr makes them visible as patterns in open grass areas in a park in each of the cities. Around and through these constellations, marked by posts inserted in the ground and each topped with Columbus flag, he navigates their pattern kicking, in the manner of dribbling a soccer ball, an actual globe. Again, this work is presented to the viewer in a manner that renders both directional movements and representations of time inscrutable. Two monitors each present 20 channel split screen videos, 40 videos in total. The multiple images present the performance as filmed from three stationary positions and one moving consisting of a handheld camera focusing only on the movement of the globe and providing brief glimpses of the artist s feet. The simultaneous presentation of these fractured images coalesce as a singular representation of Derr s performances. In Part I: Cities the cameras faced away from Derr s body allowing the viewer to assume Derr s perspective. In Part II: Parks, in 48

50 addition to experiencing Derr s movements from his perspective, through the handheld camera angle, other cameras point inwards positioning us as voyeurs to Derr s experience. In a sense we become both participant and witness to the navigational process. Whereas Part II: Parks provides more concrete forms (the globe, the artist s feet, the stakes marking the constellation), their presentation as an array of discrete and narrow perspectives denies sufficient visual structure to experience or perceive time passage in any linear way. Simple perception is further complicated by Derr s slight alteration of the speeds of various shots. The narrow focus of the images combined with the repetitive nature of Derr s motion presents to us movement as such as the focus of the work. Thus we are compelled to disregard historical notions of starting and endpoints allowing us to experience the very process and experience of discovery itself. In effect, Derr has produced and presented in Discovering Columbus a living present, a synthesis of time and space that does not correspond to expectations, but presents a conceptual space open to new possibilities. This space is a present uninformed by a specific past and unconditioned by anticipated futures. It is a space presented to both Derr, as he works through the various performance elements of his work, and the viewer as he/she engages with and attempts to reconcile what they see with alternative possibilities made available when one cannot predict what comes next. As such, Derr does not present a map of each site. Nor does he give any indication of the objective goal of his journey. To cite an oft-used expression first coined by Alfred O. Korzybski in his 1933 essay, An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and Evolution of Consciousness, a map is not the territory. That is, while Derr s movements are indeed derived from a kind of map, its use does not and cannot reveal the full experience of navigating by its structures. It is the unexpected and unknowable nature of this experience that is represented in the work. Derr generously allows us to determine our own journey and experience our own conclusions by offering us a space to experience and enjoy the very process of discovery without the obligation of an expected outcome. 49


52 Capricorn (Columbus, Wisconsin), constellation site 51

53 Capricorn (Columbus, Wisconsin), performance view 52

54 Capricorn (Columbus, Wisconsin), 2012, color digital print, 36" x 36" 53

55 Navigation Points: Robert Ladislas Derr s Discovering Columbus by Michael Jay McClure, PhD More delicate than the historians' are the map-makers' colors Elizabeth Bishop, from The Map 1) You Are Here A few facets of location seem, at first glance, inarguable. Topography, relative coordinates, geological makeup, and climate: these appear as facts. Often, we want to argue those facts contrast a given terrain s subjective, historical, and cultural features. However, I want to argue, perhaps counter-intuitively, that there is no part of place that is objective, or beyond interpretation. To that end, and because it inspired the argument, I want discuss Robert Ladislas Derr s radical exploration of site in his multi-part project Discovering Columbus. In this piece, or these pieces, Derr travelled to approximately a dozen towns named Columbus, documented the terrain, and played a game that looks like a hybrid of croquet and soccer where he outlined different zodiac constellations. The process inspired a number of products. One encounters a multi-channel video where different grassy expanses, from different Columbuses, overlap one another. The camera, held at a low level, rattles with the movement of the cameraman (in this case Derr) as he walks. The game that Derr played was set up with a series of stakes in a field, each of which mimicked a star in a particular zodiac constellation. Each town got a different constellation. Derr would dribble a soccer ball, actually a globe, around them. Derr documented the game with a series of photographic prints; each print is a different zodiac sign, showing multiple images of Derr as he kicks the ball by each stake. The whole background, the grassy field, is dropped out and replaced with a uniform white slab; Derr, then, becomes those celestial points which, when imaginatively drawn together, create an animal, a supposed personality type, and a sign. 2) Piece/Process One of the things that might be obvious, but remains imperative to note, concerns what this work of art is, or, even, where it is. Certainly, at one point in the history of art, a work of art was synonymous with a particular object. Èdouard Manet s Olympia (1863) is a painting; Constantin Brancusi s Bird in Space ( ) only refers to the polished brass and stone base that create the sculpture of a luminous bird blurred by the vector of flight. i Although there are earlier examples, in the mid-1960s, certainly, a work of art could exceed a particular object. Eva Hesse s Contingent (1969), consists of multiple pieces of cheese cloth dipped in latex; the work, its multiple pieces, engages the literal space of the gallery, whose currents sway and bend the whole. More radically still, conceptual artists began to think about the immaterial, or dematerialized, aspects of art: creating instructions, or presenting data from certain thought experiments and investigations. Thus the material of art became a kind of run off from the idea that generated it. ii Without rehearsing too much art history here, I want to turn the form of Derr s work. Some of the work is concrete a video, a print while other parts of it remain elusive. First, all of the objects cannot be held in the same visual field. We might encounter the prints, say, or the video, 54

56 but at every turn the panorama would be withheld. We can t even see the video all at once it consists of a four channels shown on four walls of a room thus we must turn from screen to screen, lose part of the work in order to see another. However, it is not just the actual pieces that we cannot see as a synthetic whole. Part of the objects here are those different towns called Columbus, which can only be seen together, and seamed together, conceptually. Beyond that, there is a process here which might not only be immaterial, but be enacted again and again: find a Columbus and go to it, stake out a space, then play a game that you imported from somewhere else. Although not, by any means, entirely immaterial, material of Discovering Columbus proliferates, dovetails with a plan, with a process, with a wide geographic zone, and remains partly staked out and yet only completable using imaginative resources. In this way the work refuses to stand still: one can pick up its conceptual game again: try to hold its pieces in common long after one has left the gallery. 3) Coordinates/Coordination Thus far, however, I have only talked about the form of the piece, without engaging its content. However, even that distinction must be questioned. The form of the piece is already content: without knowing that this is about Columbus, the city, the person, and the navigational history, one could still say that this piece is predicated on a certain relativity and a certain ritual of discovery, and is, formally, about staking out spaces imaginatively and trying to document, or map, them using systems that might not be endemic to the terrain itself. The form, in other words, holds content within it. Of course, what happens in each place that Derr visits, and what happens in the gallery when the spectator sees its documentation, must be dealt with more specifically. Let us start with the gallery experience. I would categorize each one of Derr s pieces within Discovering Columbus as that most prized of new world discoveries: a map. Of the many charges that Christopher Columbus (c ) had (perfecting the spice trade, spreading Christianity, etc.), certainly one of them was cartographic: figuring out where Spain, Europe, and Asia were on the spinning, round globe. Although Columbus, himself, would only discover the island of Hispaniola and parts of Central America minute points of a global geography he could not possibly comprehend the goal was clear, to fill in the globe, and to make a map that could reduce the dimensional planet into a readable plane. Why would I say Derr produces maps, then? One the one hand, they do not deliver what a map is supposed to: a comprehensive system by which we might understand where we are. On the other hand, they reveal exactly what maps falsify, despite their supposed precision. Let me explain: Discovering Columbus presents views into landscapes which confuse places, or combine places with ritual, or which try to make sense of a sense of a place through a decidedly alien measuring system. That would seem antithetical to what a normal or scientific map would do. And yet And yet we might start with the name Columbus, an explorer who came late in America s history, who never came as far North as his name would spread, an Italian who became a subject of Portugal and then Spain, who began laying down the alien system of European colonization, religion, and trade over and despite the indigenous population he discovered. Even the name, Columbus is relative, cultural, reliant on an invisible and highly subjective history. 55

57 So when shown on a map, the fact of a Columbus, Ohio, say, is not objective. That place is imbricated with culture. The name hovers over the place weirdly, even in a normal map form. iii Thus, rather than give us maps that would make a place comprehensive, which would fit a variety of places into a coordinated system, Derr makes places and their relationship with one another disjunctive. He shows places, still, as relatively situated, like a map does, and he shows places within a coordination system (namely the astronomical and astrological) and yet those systems don t seem inevitable, or natural, or coldly scientific, but improvised and arguable. In this way, Derr s project might, at first glance, seem to be eminently postmodern. In this line of thinking, we would note how the signifier of a place its name, position, video documentation, or astronomical coordinates sits only awkwardly over the experience or idea of the place. Certainly, Derr exposes a gap between how one might depict a place and what it is. We get a sense of a still enigmatic set of towns, out there, spiking the American landscape. However, what I would call attention to is not just this general breakdown of representation in this work, but Derr s plaintive emphasis on individual apprehension, and moreover on individual point of view. Note, for instance, how the camera, even if not at eye level, indexes the particularity of Derr s walk, or how the idea of the game played in each location meets the personal way in which that game was played out, there. I think, to of the fragility of the actual globe kicks; in order to not destroy it Derr must act with care. Thus, a place, or the task of describing a place, becomes filtered through the subjective and somatic intelligence of this artist. Why is this important? I am not arguing that Derr s personal journey is the preeminent, final one. Instead, I see Discovering Columbus as offering a charge to its spectators. When we encounter a place and its representation our experience can matter. Moreover, one might argue there is not a place without a representation, without a name that describes it, without a system by which we separate it from another place. Thus, we might feel the disparate systems by which we understand a place jostle in relation to another we might feel the disparity of our location through the places we have been, the weather we have previously experienced, as they work within the present. Instead of seeing a place, laid out like a fact, we receive it through the complicated sieve of the self. Therefore we come closer to knowing how we know what we know about where we are. Finally, what excites me about such mapping is its open-endedness. Thus, the difference between coordinates, which would suggest a stable place, and coordination, which would suggest the dynamism of living spaces at they relate us and one another. 4) Discovery/Recovery When I think of the flawed, brutal narrative of America s discovery, I somehow always imagine process as nautical. And my imagination is helped by two resolutely cinematic images: one of the bobbing prow of a ship as it slices through the ocean, and the other of the wake of the ship and the crisscrossing vectors of disturbed water. Starting out, then, and immediate aftermath. Such is the double movement of Discovering Columbus. At first glance, what we have here are highly unreliable maps that point out where Derr has been. How a 56

58 landscape met his journey. And we receive this work as a kind of aftermath, his sensory and particular documentation of a place. So like archaeologists, we might try and fail to piece those places back together. This the wake: his light stamp on those points of a map, and his disorientating documents that we might conceptually place over our once stable sense of location. We recover his journey. The more we look at it, however, the more Discovering Columbus asks us, I would argue, to set forth. To make the abstraction of place felt, to feel a location s oddity and conjunction with what we have known. And I leave the work with two images: one of the game whose rules are inscrutable but whose goal seems to be to put myself and how I move into my sense of where I am. The other is of a camera, hovering over the grassy landscape that appears oceanic nevertheless resolutely facing forward and shocked with traversal. And by thinking of recovery and discovery together, like this, I feel the pull of responsibility I might feel when entering a place, the consequences of describing it, as well as the opportunity to feel my way into where I am. Would that all processes of discovery were so generative and generous. 57

59 i This example shows how the uniqueness of modern sculpture might already be suspect. There are multiple versions of the Bird in Space; however, each of them was supposed to be unique, and they were made out of different materials, including a somber marble. See Anna C. Chave, The Object on Trial: The Bird and the Base in Space, in Constantin Brancusi: Shifting the Bases of Art, London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993, pp Culture, (New York and London: Routledge), pp ii Lucy R. Lippard and John Chandler, The Dematerialization of Art in Lucy R. Lippard, Changing: Essays in Art Criticism, (New York, 1971), originally published 1968, from which we may quote p. 259, This final post-aesthetic phase supersedes [ ] self-critical art that answers other art according to a determinist schedule. ( ) Dematerialized art is post-aesthetic only in its increasingly nonvisual emphases. The aesthetic of principle is still an aesthetic, as plied by frequent statements of mathematicians and scientists about the beauty of an equation, formula, solution Benjamin H. D. Buchloh helpfully reminds us that, despite Lippard s Utopianism, some conceptual art operated outside such aspirations. See Conceptual Art, : From the Aesthetic of Administration to the Critique of Institutions, in Conceptual Art: A Critical Anthology, pp., Alexander Alberro and Blake Stimson, eds., (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1999) esp. pp iii For an excellent discussion of how the colonial signifier works in a colonized landscape see Homi K. Bhabba, Signs Taken for Wonders: Questions of Ambivalence and Authority Under a Tree Outside Dehli, May 1817, in The Location of Culture, (New York and London: Routledge), pp. 58


61 Cancer (Washington, District of Columbia), constellation site 60

62 Cancer (Washington, District of Columbia), performance view 61

63 Cancer (Washington, District of Columbia), 2012, color digital print, 36" x 36" 62

64 Washington, District of Columbia by W. Ian Bourland Washington has always been a place apart, of exemption, of projections both roseate and paranoid. Locals inhabit a strange in-betweenness as they bustle around the old federal capital. The city itself is a study in contrasts, between streets lined with neat row-homes transected by the grand radial avenues named for each of the United States, and laid down some two hundred twenty years ago by the Frenchborn architect Pierre Charles L Enfant. On the one hand, D.C. feels like a small town, especially on summer evenings when the air is thick and heavy, and people linger on covered patios and stoops. On the other, the imposing neo-classical government buildings that enclose the National Mall are a constant reminder that much of the structure of the city references an altogether different time and place. Those colossal stone structures concretize a set of ideals drawn from antiquity but forged by the European philosophy of the eighteenth century. In this respect, D.C. could have been built anywhere, built as it was to mirror the rationality of the Enlightenment, rather than the organic happenstance of the medieval village. Initially, at least, D.C. did not arise naturally, from its environment. Several alternate sites were proposed a parcel on the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, for example. But, as with so many of the inaugural decisions by that first American government, the 1790 location of Washington on the marshy banks of the Potomac on a square parcel carved out of Maryland and Virginia was an exercise in delicate compromise. The Residence Act balanced the demands of the populous and wealthy south against the established power centers of the north. Georgetown University, perched on a hill overlooking the river, still bears the colors blue and grey, a constant reminder that the city sits at the confluence of north and south, Union and Confederate. Through all this, it is easy to forget about the Columbia in the District s name. Then as now, Columbia was a widely used poetic term for and personification of the nascent federation, and it is from this poetic usage that many American towns took their name. D.C. s specific Columbianness is worth considering though: from its very inception, the city both stood apart from the states that sent delegations to govern there and yet, somehow, belonged to them. To the extent that Columbia is synonymous with the fractious and expansive American constellation itself, to the extent that it invokes and brings a United States into being, the District of Columbia could never be its own sovereign. And while the country s ambivalence even disavowal of the city owes its character to a deep history of suspicion towards centralized authority so central to our national mythology, today that suspicion has reached remarkable potency. Washington is shorthand for beltway hucksterism, pork barrel spending, and disconnection from an authentic American that exists somewhere in the hinterlands. And every four to eight years, much of the population of the city is shuffled as one party takes power and another briefly recedes. For all that, D.C. has a very specific sense of place. True, Congress controls the city s pursestrings, and its three electoral college delegates were only awarded by constitutional amendment in 1961 (license plates still feature the motto taxation without representation ). But, anyone who lives there can tell you that leaves falling on the cobblestones of O or P streets in Georgetown are unsurpassed; they can recall the motley history of one of America s finest post-punk scenes, centered around Dischord 63

65 records; they remember when H and U streets were grand avenues and centers of the politically and musically immersed black middle class. It is appropriate, then, the D.C. is depicted here under the sign of Cancer. It is during the middle months of summer that the city is fully itself: with the to-and-fro of pilgrims from the midwest cheek-by-jowl with wide-eyed interns, and with lingering, sultry evenings enlivened by saxophone solos and samba music, drifting into the roadways from exposed terraces and open windows. The placement of the Cancer constellation in the National Mall is also particularly important. In Discovering Columbus, we have photographs and video channels that create a sort of imaginative remapping. Many Columbias share a name but they remain geographically discrete, in these images they are brought together in a visual and sonic palimpsest. And yet, some of that work is done by D.C. itself its Columbianness bespeaks the Columbianness of the entire United States. The national mall, made evident by the buildings of the Smithsonian and the Washington Monument in the distance, is often described as the country s collective front yard, a place of protest and celebration. This terrain, marked by its stellar flagpoles, is the precise center of land the belongs not just to D.C., but to Columbia itself. This particular spot reminds us of an underlying bond shared between every other Columbia, nay, every other city and town in this restless country. The National Mall, in other words, is bounded and insulated by the bustling city streets and grand avenues. Those streets have changed not once but several times, and taxation notwithstanding, wealthy professionals have flocked back into the city. Those professionals speak a kind of standard American English, and they are, block-by-block, scrubbing away the last vestiges of ethnicity. In its place they bring a studied, post-regional professionalism, a lack of affect. And yet D.C. s buildings have good bones and old ghosts, and the bars and restaurants in Adams Morgan and Dupont are alive with the chatter of youthful NGO and congressional staffers, interspersed with stray bits of Spanish, Arabic, or French. It is less like a district than a insular citystate now, a murky, gothic welter of transients and lifers who live in the symbolic center of the Columbian enterprise itself, and somehow just beyond it. In this sense, it is fitting that it is invoked here in Discovering Columbus, as both the wellspring of our Columbian project, and as an interwoven part of a larger constellation. 64

66 Discovering Columbus, 2012, installation view 65

67 Discovering Columbus, 2012, installation view 66


69 Part I: Cities, 2012, installation view of four-channel video 68

70 Part I: Cities, 2011, forward, left, right, and rear video stills representing one, five, and ten layers of video, 56:20 69


72 Part II: Parks, 2011, video stills of single-channel video representing one, two, five, and ten layers, 07:45 71

73 Part II: Parks, 2011, video stills of two twenty-channel split screen video, 07:16 72