ABOUT

Diacritics

Selected Photographs from Codex Gunnison


Codex Gunnison is a mediative engagement with a unique and understudied ecological condition - the northern extremes of the Great Salt Lake. Known as Gunnison Bay, this remote landscape is an apparently lifeless expanse of salt flats, otherworldly hues and indecipherable material accretions.

Gunnison Bay was formed in the mid-20th century by the construction of a railroad causeway that effectively bisected the Great Salt Lake, thus cutting off the northern arm of the lake from any fresh water inputs. Due to evaporation, the salinity in this portion of the lake has steadily increased over time (it is currently almost ten times saltier than ocean water), and the water appears pink due to massive populations of an extremophilic phytoplankton - one of the only organisms that can survive in this environment. According to the scientists that study the bay, its anthropogenically induced ecosystem is valuable because it acts as a refugia for rare geobiological organisms that are likely the ancestor to every known life form on this planet.

Known as “microbialites,” these entities are essentially living stones and appear to the untrained eye as large boulders in the lakebed. Part biology, part geology, microbialites inhabit the liminal space between organism and inanimate matter and implicitly undermine the supposedly binary relationship between these phenomena (i.e. life vs. matter).  Microbialites reorganize our understanding of the biotic/abiotic divide and suggest that the biosphere – humans included – is less a collection of discrete organisms and more an interpenetrating flow of life forces between diverse material conditions.

Codex Gunnison is an effort to reimagine artistic practice as a speculative and vibrantly humanistic material science capable of interacting with and enriching conventional modes of objective inquiry. The project does so by reframing representation as a process of critical engagement with the methodological frameworks employed by the scientists who study Gunnison Bay, with the artist manipulating the scope, aims, and outcomes of formal research. In this sense, Codex Gunnison operates not as an authoritative singular endpoint, but as a process of accumulating information, experimental outcomes, and direct sensory experience into an intellectually coherent but materially diverse whole; an aspatial “nonsite” for endless cognitive excavation. The formulation of knowledge and documentation of the unknown are radically creative acts that require no further embellishment or abstraction.

Codex Gunnison is currently on display at the Center for Land Use Interpretation in Wendover, Utah. The project was conducted in collaboration with the Great Salt Lake Institute, Utah Geological Survey and Westminster College.