All I Have Is This Shovel

MFA thesis exhibition installation at the ICP-Bard MFA studios in Long Island City, NY in March, 2013

In October, I went to New Jersey.  Joan Didion wrote once, “I am a thirty-four year old woman with long straight hair and an old bikini bathing suit and bad nerves sitting on an island in the middle of the Pacific waiting for a tidal wave that will not come.” I didn’t expect to take so many photographs. I thought recordings of the wind were enough, but it was really the stacks of inanimate, utilitarian objects that seduced me--the plastic bags of sand, the pipes penetrating the mounds of sand, and the bodies moving despite. The boards with their markings--meant to build a house from the inside out, not cover it from the outside in—vibrated. I wondered if the plastic bag floating high in the wind would still be fully composed somewhere, while the plywood would be uniformly splintered. Then I waited out the hurricane in my apartment in Brooklyn, and I never actually lost power. 

In December, I went to North Dakota to photograph along the Bakken formation. I mostly photographed the building materials used to construct a town quicker than its infrastructure evolves-- the billboards and the particle boards, and the details of life within the boom: the size 15 boots, the leftovers in the modular dorms in which workers reside, for a month, or for a year, on flat, frigid landscape punctuated by points on the horizon that could be fifteen feet, or 15,000 feet tall, TV dinners, Christmas ornaments, convenient sofas, and the taxidermied deer heads next to empty picture frames. I though I would obtain permission to photograph on a drill site once. I knocked on the door of the temporary tin shed on the premises and the foreman told me to come back tomorrow. I stalled for long enough to look at the writing on the dry erase board: A reminder that Robert and Jen’s wedding is Saturday next to diagrams of how deep, and at what angle into the earth the salt water will be shot. As he scribbled his boss’s Wyoming number on a business card, the television played a reality show about the Iditarod, as if it wasn’t cold enough outside. 

An economic boom is a sensational story, and I went because I like to get slammed on all sides by extreme precipitation. What are the details of a place that is scrambled its anticipation of its own future reshuffling? 

After I got back from North Dakota, I went back to New Jersey, but I didn’t take many pictures. It didn't make sense to make more, since everybody knows what Asbury Park looks like post-Sandy. I can add this: the little things survived more intelligible than the big ones. A Direct TV box hanging from its cord down from the second story. An unprogrammable shell. The bed made. Plants sit alive but truncated in their pots. Smoke alarms strewn along the beach. Half-legible home-warranty files.

The installation that juxtaposed these two took place in Long Island City in March, 2013. The sound clips are of my grandmother reading futurist Manifestos. My grandmother's presence in the show served as my alter-ego, a much older, calmer, wiser version of myself steeped in anxiety of quickly changing times, trying to reconcile the impotence of humans in the larger cycles of creation and destruction.