Day 10 – Bunker Archaeology

The Headlands is truly a remarkable place. On one of my exploratory meanderings last week I found myself up on the headlands above Fort Barry exploring the abandoned bunkers and gun emplacements. It’s amazing how much energy (and $’s) went into (and, of course, still goes into) defending the US from threats and attacks that never materialize. I am grateful that so much of the Bayarea that was dedicated to military purposes was never bought into action and was kept (or un-kept) in a more or less ‘natural’ state. So now that the military has finally abandoned their previous outposts, we can have some amazing parks and refuges that otherwise would have been turned into suburbia. And we have the picturesque, patinaed, remnants of the military establishment perched overlooking the peaceful Pacific.The aWay station is of course located in the former military barracks of Fort Barry. But all along the coast is a series of gun emplacements, observation posts, bunkers and barracks that were built from the Civil War onwards. Mostly the emplacements were rendered redundant before they were even completed and none were ever actually used in direct defense of the coast. During WW2 there were some massive 16″ guns installed – weighing 1,000,000 lbs each, capable of launching a 2,100 lb shell accurately to 27miles offshore. They were cut up for scrap in 1948, without ever being fired.

It’s haunting and provocative to wander the abandoned emplacements now.

Look out!

Knock! Knock!

Gun emplacement

Seeing the almost archaeological remnants reminded me of a book I read years ago – Paul Virilio’s Bunker Archaeology.

Virilio explored, documented and theorized about the German built emplacements along the Atlantic Coast – the Atlantikwall.

Virilio comments – “The immensity of this project is what defies common sense; total war was here revealed in its mythic dimension”

And asked – “Why this analogy between the funeral archetype and military architecture? Why this insane situation looking out over the ocean? This waiting before the infinite oceanic expanse? Until this era, fortifications had always been oriented towards a specific staked-out objective: the defense of a passageway, a pass, steps, valleys or ports. Whereas here, walking daily along kilometer after kilometer of beach, I would happen upon these concrete markers at the summit of dunes, cliffs, across beaches, open, transparent, with the sky playing between the embrasure and the entrance, as if each casemate were an empty ark or a little temple minus the cult.”

And later still – ” These concrete blocks were in fact the final throw-offs of the history of frontiers, from Roman limes  to the Great Wall of China; the bunkers, as ultimate military surface architecture, had shipwrecked at lands’ limits, at the precise moment of the sky’s arrival in war; they marked off the horizontal littoral, the continental limit. History had changed course one final time before jumping off into the immensity of aerial space.”

Here are some of Virilio’s images –

Channel Island observation post

Observation post revealed by the erosion of the dunes

'Barbara' firing control tower in the Landes

Day 1 – Herman Melville’s Birthday

August 1st, 1819 Herman Melville was born in New York City. Moby Dick was published October 18th, 1851.

Melville in 1860

To celebrate the birth of Mr Melville I hosted a Whittling and Scrimshandering Soiree at the aWay station, with 10 of my close friends and colleagues.

We embarked together on the first making project of my Headlands residency. Everyone selected a piece of wood from my collection of Australian and Californian woods – Eucalyptus nicholii (from my garden in Oakland), Huon Pine (from a board I brought with me from Australia in the 90’s), Monterey cypress (from the Headlands) and Redwood (from a beautifully aged, old growth slab).

The menu

Then we all began the wonderfully simple but nuanced exploration of wood, hand, tool and imagination.

Pippa and Scott a’whittlin!

Its amazing how smoothly time passes, sitting in a circle, working, talking, laughing, with the sounds of chips falling.

Production line

Barbara suitably protected

Here are some of the ‘finished’ pieces.

Barbara Holmes’ delicately textured Huon pine form

Lawrence LaBianca’s multi-media whittle.

Mike Bartalos’ totems

Pippa Murray’s “Magdalug”

In a future post I’ll tell you about what I plan to do with some of these pieces as aWay station continues.

Yvonne Mouser’s ‘bucket stool’ and ‘double wide’

A special thanks to Yvonne Mouser who has lent some of her bucket stools for the duration of aWay station. You can see them live  and take some home at the Museum of Craft and Design’s pop-up store in Hayes Valley until October 15th.

You can see some other images from this first soiree on Russ Baldon’s flickr site and at the Headldand’s flickr site.

Day 0 – aWay station

For the month of August, I am an artist in residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts in Marin, north of San Francisco.

It’s an exciting prospect for me and I’m really looking forward to weeks of focussed time to work on my new piece entitled aWay station.

I will post about it here on the blog, and also in a new section I’ve created on this website dedicated to the aWay station project.

To start my residency, I’ve invited 10 artist’s whose work I respect and who have strongly influenced my own work to come to the  aWay station for an afternoon, to work with me and to celebrate the birthday of Herman Melville in a ‘Whittling and Scrimshandering Soiree’.

aWay station Soiree #1

In preparation I have enjoyed browsing Moby Dick one more time.

I revisited one of my favorite chapters – Chapter 42 ‘The Whiteness of the Whale’.

This chapter always reminds me of the artist’s dilemma. As Meville’s narrator says –

“What the white whale was to Ahab, has been hinted; what, at times, he was to me, as yet remains unsaid.

Aside from those more obvious considerations touching Moby Dick, which could not but occasionally awaken in any man’s soul some alarm, there was another thought, or rather vague, nameless horror concerning him, which at times by its intensity completely overpowered all the rest; and yet so mystical and well nigh ineffable was it, that I almost despair of putting it in a comprehensible form. It was the whiteness of the whale that above all things appalled me. But how can I hope to explain myself here; and yet, in some dim, random way, explain myself I must, else all these chapters might be naught.”

Melville then goes on to one of the most gloriously rambling paragraphs in the book –

“Though in many natural objects, whiteness refiningly enhances beauty, as if imparting some special virtue of its own, as in marbles, japonicas, and pearls; and though various nations have in some way recognised a certain royal preeminence in this hue; even the barbaric, grand old kings of Pegu placing the title “Lord of the White Elephants” above all their other magniloquent ascriptions of dominion; and the modern kings of Siam unfurling the same snow-white quadruped in the royal standard; and the Hanoverian flag bearing the one figure of a snow-white charger; and the great Austrian Empire, Caesarian, heir to overlording Rome, having for the imperial color the same imperial hue; and though this pre-eminence in it applies to the human race itself, giving the white man ideal mastership over every dusky tribe; and though, besides, all this, whiteness has been even made significant of gladness, for among the Romans a white stone marked a joyful day; and though in other mortal sympathies and symbolizings, this same hue is made the emblem of many touching, noble things- the innocence of brides, the benignity of age; though among the Red Men of America the giving of the white belt of wampum was the deepest pledge of honor; though in many climes, whiteness typifies the majesty of Justice in the ermine of the Judge, and contributes to the daily state of kings and queens drawn by milk-white steeds; though even in the higher mysteries of the most august religions it has been made the symbol of the divine spotlessness and power; by the Persian fire worshippers, the white forked flame being held the holiest on the altar; and in the Greek mythologies, Great Jove himself being made incarnate in a snow-white bull; and though to the noble Iroquois, the midwinter sacrifice of the sacred White Dog was by far the holiest festival of their theology, that spotless, faithful creature being held the purest envoy they could send to the Great Spirit with the annual tidings of their own fidelity; and though directly from the Latin word for white, all Christian priests derive the name of one part of their sacred vesture, the alb or tunic, worn beneath the cassock; and though among the holy pomps of the Romish faith, white is specially employed in the celebration of the Passion of our Lord; though in the Vision of St. John, white robes are given to the redeemed, and the four-and-twenty elders stand clothed in white before the great-white throne, and the Holy One that sitteth there white like wool; yet for all these accumulated associations, with whatever is sweet, and honorable, and sublime, there yet lurks an elusive something in the innermost idea of this hue, which strikes more of panic to the soul than that redness which affrights in blood.”

I think that the ‘panic in the soul’ that Melville refers to is the classic artist’s or writer’s fear of the blank white page. The moment of poise before the creative act begins. The moment of fear when the muse has yet to appear. Or as he says the moment when “all these chapters might be naught”.

Entering into the wonderful Project Space at the Headlands for the first time was like this.

The blank white page!

But thankfully, the muse did appear and I have started to occupy and engage the space with the first elements of aWay station.

aWay station - iteration #1

And most importantly my friends and colleagues are about to arrive and get the energy flowing around the making side of things.

I’ll post more on the outcomes of the first actions in the aWay station next.