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2018 CCA Biennial

The Crystalline Basement

(Collaboration with Karen Pinkus)

Scientists and facilities managers at Cornell are currently preparing to drill a series of geothermal wells that could – one day – be used to heat campus buildings. These experimental drill sites will reach depths of over 4 kilometers yet are only 15 centimeters in diameter. This highly invisible system (for it exists almost wholly in the subterranean) brings to mind a series of fantasies about the subsurface, deep time, scale and duration. When geothermal wells are bored, they traverse geological strata formed over many millions of years of time in the distant past. Geothermal energy itself is the result of the billions-year old chaotic interstellar collisions that formed the planet Earth.The Cornell boreholes will terminate in a portion of the geological profile that dates from the Precambrian Era, which would make it among the oldest extant material on the planet Earth.This threshold is known as the "crystalline basement".

In the process of completing this project, we visited extraction sites of geological significance in the greater Ithaca region. We moved over 2.5 tons of local soil material by hand to create a custom-poured earth mix that comprises much of our sculptural intervention. This earthen mass frames specimen W17, a massive chunk of metamorphic garnet amphibolite formed in the Precambrian. The material composition of W17 is likely similar to the geological strata of the crystalline basement found some 4 km beneath the surface. We have deposited ancient pteridophytes around the earthwork and geological specimen that will decompose over the duration of the installation.

The film that accompanies this piece emphasizes the strange, disjointed relationship between the surface and subsurface. The left panel of the screen depicts a four kilometer walk – the distance from the surface to the crystalline basement. This portion of the film terminates at the site of our installation on the Engineering Quad. The right panel shows video footage of several locations through which the walk passes: a seismic testing truck, a parking lot, “sustainable” housing, a former coal-fired power plant.