Stone Reading

Stone Read­ing
video, 6’55”

Video essay about life’s ori­gins, organ­ic and inor­gan­ic life, the soul and the uncon­scious.

vimeo video
Part 1
vimeo video
Part 2


The Longue Durée meets Deep Time: Marina Roy’s Entangled Worlds

By Randy Lee Cutler


In the ear­ly 1800s Alexan­der von Hum­boldt the Prus­sian­geo­g­ra­ph­er, nat­u­ral­ist, explor­er, and nascent sci­en­tist described the nat­ur­al world and man’s place with­in it as a com­plex web of life. Inter­pret­ing the nat­ur­al world as a uni­fied whole that is ani­mat­ed by inter­ac­tive forces, Hum­boldt became the first sci­en­tist to address the dev­as­ta­tion of the envi­ron­ment through explo­ration and col­o­niza­tion.[1] More than two hun­dred years lat­er we find our­selves inhab­it­ing a world rav­aged by human-induced cli­mate change. Today we call this the anthro­pogenic impact on the envi­ron­men­tor the Anthro­pocene[2], the cur­rent geo­log­i­cal age where human activ­i­ty is the dom­i­nant influ­ence on cli­mate and ecol­o­gy. With the seem­ing­ly end­less pro­lif­er­a­tion of dig­i­tal media from cell phones and com­put­ers to lens based prac­tices, the min­ing of met­als has con­tributed to this phe­nom­e­non. Life across the bound­aries of geol­o­gy and his­to­ry, art and cul­ture present a world order that is imbri­cat­ed, an entan­gled com­plex web of life.

For more than two hun­dred years we have endured the onslaught of rapa­cious indus­try and its impact on all liv­ing sys­tems from bio­mass and ener­gy to decay and extinc­tions. This extend­ed event or longue durée frames the larg­er tem­po­ral frame­work of our own time. The longue durée (orthe long dura­tion), an approach to his­to­ry employed in the 1950s and 60s by the French Annales School of his­tor­i­cal writing,looks at shift­ing pat­terns over longer time frames, like 100 or 200 years. The Oxford dic­tio­nary offers this def­i­n­i­tion of the term:

A per­spec­tive on his­to­ry that extends deep into the past, focus­ing on the long-stand­ing and imper­cep­ti­bly slow­ly chang­ing rela­tion­ships between peo­ple and the world which con­sti­tute the most fun­da­men­tal (and hence the least ques­tioned or analysed) aspects of social life, and incor­po­rat­ing find­ings from dis­ci­plines such as cli­ma­tol­ogy, demog­ra­phy, and phys­i­cal geog­ra­phy…”[3]

By look­ing at long term pat­terns and shifts in soci­ety rather than sig­nif­i­cant events or impor­tant indi­vid­u­als, deep­er back­ground rhythms to his­tor­i­cal change sur­face where invis­i­ble cur­rents frame not only the exis­tence of the human species but that of our liv­ing plan­et Earth. In this way the longue durée of human activ­i­ties folds into the larg­er frame of deep geo­log­i­cal time. Deep Time invokes a geo­log­i­cal, mul­ti-mil­len­ni­al time frame that is both his­tor­i­cal and mate­r­i­al. With­in these dis­tinct yet over­lap­ping time struc­tures, we find our­selves inhab­it­ing mul­ti­ple time scales where short and long term human time is expe­ri­enced through and with­in the deep time of geo­log­i­cal epochs.While this com­plex web of life is under­stood pri­mar­i­ly through the sci­ences, its poten­tial for expres­sive and poet­ic provo­ca­tion is simul­ta­ne­ous­ly nav­i­gat­ed through the social sci­ences, aes­thet­ics and the imag­i­na­tion.

I spec­u­late here on the braid­ing of the longue durée and deep time as a means to con­sid­er time and mate­ri­al­i­ty through var­ie­gat­ed time-scales that are inter­con­nect­ed. Accord­ing to Don­na Harawy in her book Stay­ing with the Trou­ble: Mak­ing Kin in the Chthu­lucene she con­sid­ers ten­tac­u­lar think­ing or ten­tac­u­lar­i­ty which is about life lived along lines –not at points, not in spheres.”[4]These lines form tra­jec­to­ries with a broad reach and tan­gled impli­ca­tions which ensure that we stay with the trou­ble, refus­ing both the nos­tal­gic angling towards an imag­ined past that nev­er was and the apoc­a­lyp­tic ori­en­ta­tion towards a future that may not be, or, at very least, isn’t yet. How do we draw these tem­po­ral lines of flight and fight? How do we make sense of the often sub­lime inter­ac­tions between human and nat­ur­al his­to­ries nev­er mind human and nat­ur­al time scales? These thoughts are ten­tac­u­lar ques­tions of learn­ing to live and of learn­ing to die in our cur­rent his­tor­i­cal moment. Look­ing through the longue durée and deep time is a kind of ten­tac­u­lar think­ing, reach­ing its ten­ta­cles across space and time, mat­ter and mem­o­ry. How do we endure this sen­so­r­i­al phe­nom­e­non of liv­ing in an increas­ing­ly tox­ic world?

Of course these ideas are not new. Indige­nous ways of know­ing and being with the land is atten­tive to the longue durée and deep time with its inher­ent respect for the nat­ur­al world. TheSev­enth Gen­er­a­tion Prin­ci­pleis based on Iro­quois phi­los­o­phy that the deci­sions we make today should result in a sus­tain­able world sev­en gen­er­a­tions into the future. The first record­ed con­cepts of the Sev­enth Gen­er­a­tion Prin­ci­ple date back to the writ­ing of The Great Law of Iro­quois Con­fed­er­a­cy, although the actu­al date is unde­ter­mined, the range of con­jec­tures place its writ­ing any­where from 1142 to 1500 AD.”[5]This prin­ci­ple, like approach­es of the longue durée and deep time, offers us the oppor­tu­ni­ty to rec­on­cile with the plan­et that feeds and sus­tains us. Impor­tant­ly, the Anthro­pocene is not uni­ver­sal­ly applic­a­ble. Many indige­nous schol­ars dis­miss this con­cept most­ly because the human impact does not reflect the prac­tices of indige­nous peo­ples. For instance Zoe Todd seeks to decol­o­nize and Indi­g­e­nize the non-indige­nous intel­lec­tu­al con­texts that cur­rent­ly shape pub­lic intel­lec­tu­al dis­course, includ­ing that of the Anthro­pocene.” In par­tic­u­lar her research high­lights how the cur­rent fram­ing of the Anthro­pocene blunts the dis­tinc­tions between peo­ple, nations and col­lec­tives who dri­ve the fos­sil-fuel econ­o­my and those who do not”. She adds that it is impor­tant to ask, “…whichhumans or human sys­tems are dri­ving the envi­ron­men­tal change the Anthro­pocene is meant to describe”.[1] These are nec­es­sary ques­tions, which aug­ment and inten­si­fy how we make sense of these trou­bling times.  And yet the term Anthro­pocene, fraught with cyn­i­cism and impre­ci­sion points to a glob­al plan­e­tary sig­na­ture. We are all invol­un­tary pris­on­ers.”[6]

a  b

A geo­log­i­cal-bio­log­i­cal-his­tor­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion per­me­ates the work of Van­cou­ver based artist Mari­na Roy whose cross-dis­ci­pli­nary prac­tice has been explor­ing the inter­sec­tion between mate­ri­als, his­to­ry, lan­guage, and biopol­i­tics from a post-human­ist per­spec­tive. Her exper­i­men­tal aes­thet­ic embraces the poten­tial of a restora­tive vs. extrac­tive econ­o­my that coun­ters the dic­tates of human­is­tic hubris and its entrap­ment with­in bina­ry pow­er dynam­ics where art acts as a bridge between cul­ture and nature, ethics and dri­ve. Roy’s recent prac­tice has focused on envi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion and ani­mal extinc­tion as an his­tor­i­cal real­i­ty. It speaks to the neg­a­tive trans­for­ma­tions in nature, large­ly due to human indus­try. A selec­tion of her work such Stone Read­ing(14 minute video) 2017, Mal de Mer, (45 minute video) 2016, Thy King­dom to Com­mand (25 meter mur­al and tree stump foun­tain)2016 andApart­ment(56 minute ani­ma­tion) 2018, demon­strate a sus­tained engage­ment in mate­r­i­al exper­i­men­ta­tion and the effects of human activ­i­ties on bio­log­i­cal life.

Stone Read­ingexplores these themes in the form of a video easy. The work begins with a slow pan of small objects on a win­dowsill accom­pa­nied by a low-key voiceover that speaks to deep time. It has been decid­ed that humans are a geo­log­i­cal force to be reck­oned with. The Earth is dom­i­nat­ed by human’s heavy pres­ence on the plan­et, an accu­mu­la­tion of their superstructure’s ruins and waste. So many indeli­ble marks left behind by the species.” As the nar­ra­tion unfolds we watch a pair of hands hold­ing and turn­ing over dif­fer­ent min­er­al spec­i­mens and asked to con­sid­er the anthro­pogenic effects of human activ­i­ty. The stones are a visu­al­iza­tion of the deep time of the Earth sig­nal­ing the lit­er­al depth of the tem­po­ral past and tech­no­log­i­cal present. The col­laged video is com­prised of things that the artist shot from muse­um arti­facts and bub­bling water in a hot tub to med­ical illus­tra­tions of the human body and objects lay­ing around her home. As she tells it these sequences have been cat­a­logued in a hap­haz­ard fash­ion to be recon­fig­ured lat­er in rela­tion to her writ­ten text which address­es geo­log­i­cal time, the spec­tral­i­ty of the pho­to­graph­ic medi­um, the search for the soul, as well as psy­cho­analy­sis and the uncon­scious. The effect is a visu­al impro­vi­sa­tion on the spec­u­la­tive mate­ri­al­i­ty of his­to­ry. Here Roy brings an inter­est in tech­nol­o­gy to reflec­tions on the imag­i­na­tion. The mimet­ic machines such as cam­eras bring to life the spec­tral­i­ty of our fleet­ing world help­ing us to dis­cov­er an opti­cal uncon­scious­ness made pos­si­ble by our inter­fac­ing with tech­nol­o­gy, open­ing up new pos­si­bil­i­ties for explor­ing real­i­ty and envi­sion­ing a new real­i­ty.” The cam­era work echoes this entan­gled ori­en­ta­tion with its mix­ing of fact, fic­tion, mimeti­cism, sto­ry­telling, and art. The geo­log­i­cal time sense high­light­ed here fur­ther col­laps­es sci­en­tif­ic, philo­soph­i­cal and infor­mal knowl­edge prac­tices and in the process points to new archi­tec­tures of time and mat­ter. This­ar­chae­o­log­i­cal dig across geo­gra­phies and his­to­ries works in a ten­ta­cled, non-hier­ar­chi­cal and somat­ic way. Roy con­dens­es and dis­places look­ing while elu­ci­dat­ing and trans­form­ing our felt sense of time. The diverse ele­ments and mixed timescales put the empha­sis on a diver­si­ty of lan­guages and dis­ci­pli­nary inter­ests that do not repro­duce the illu­sions of lin­ear coher­ence; Roy’s atten­tions are nei­ther ide­al­ist nor con­cerned with civ­i­liza­tion­al progress. This punc­tu­at­ed way of see­ing is a kind of emer­gent way of know­ing that echoes the tem­po­ral imper­a­tives of deep time.

Under­ground phe­nom­e­na and invis­i­ble to the eye are made man­i­fest through Roy’s hybrid gaze. In her large 25 meter mur­al and tree stump foun­tain Thy King­dom to Com­mand2016 she works with the sig­na­ture of deep time to explore the ongo­ing effects of processed mate­ri­als. Here latex paint and bitu­men, the sticky, black, semi-sol­id form of petro­le­um become the sym­bol­ic car­ri­er for inves­ti­gat­ing short and long time scales. Tak­ing the form of stra­ta, the mate­r­i­al is used to cre­ate a mul­ti­tudi­nous array of life forms from the micro­scop­ic to life size. Here deep time and the longue durée fuse into a spec­ta­cle of life forms across eons that are simul­ta­ne­ous­ly nat­ur­al and arti­fi­cial. The phys­i­cal scale of the work speaks to the sub­lime impact of our addic­tion to petro­le­um and petro­le­um prod­ucts. The work was com­mis­sion by the Van­cou­ver Art Gallery for Off­site, their out­door exhi­bi­tion space that is expe­ri­enced by pedes­tri­ans but also by dri­vers on their dai­ly com­mute across the city. The artist’s inten­tion was to make the con­nec­tion between car cul­ture, fos­sil fuels and envi­ron­men­tal cri­sis in a visu­al­ly strik­ing encounter. In many ways the nat­ur­al and man­u­fac­tured are under­stood as part of the larg­er process­es and rhythms of mate­r­i­al evo­lu­tion and mate­r­i­al degra­da­tion.

Roy’s prac­tice engages with a spec­u­la­tive geo-biol­o­gy, a morass of geo­his­to­ries and biopol­i­tics that call atten­tion to the invis­i­ble real­i­ties of the extrac­tion of coal, oil, and gas, and theirat­mos­pher­ic con­se­quences; the com­bus­tion of car­bon-based fuels and emissions;coral reef loss; ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion; soil degra­da­tion and the increas­ing rate of ani­mal extinc­tion. The trans­for­ma­tion of mate­ri­als brings nature into exquis­ite­ly haunt­ing images where human endeav­our via resource extrac­tion is framed with­in the longue durée of history.Drawing from the con­nec­tions between biopol­i­tics and her envi­ron­men­tal read­ings, Roy’s art­work often assumes the per­spec­tive of the more than human world whether stones, crude oil, micro­scop­ic virus­es or crea­tures from the wider ani­mal king­dom.  In her beau­ti­ful cell and col­lage ani­ma­tion Apart­ment(56 min­utes) 2008 a crea­ture­ly pres­ence frames a world out­side human clock time sug­gest­ing a post-human­ist per­spec­tive that imag­ines tem­po­ral­i­ty beyond the all too human. In this work var­i­ous ani­mals (horse, pan­da, bat, bee, rhi­nosaurus, squid, pig, whale, cow and micro­scop­ic virus) are jux­ta­posed with skele­tal forms and human fig­ures from his­to­ry. Unfold­ing through a slow, dreamy pace where time is not specif­i­cal­ly human, the video moves through a dilap­i­dat­ed apart­ment block. Each of the 100 rooms with their late 18thcen­tu­ry water­colour inte­ri­ors is revealed as a back­drop where ani­mals, human and oth­er­wise, per­form strange actions and ges­tures. As the work unfurls we learn that a mys­te­ri­ous virus has col­o­nized the build­ing and infil­trat­ed the con­ven­tion­al order of things.  Gra­ham Meisner’s sound com­po­si­tion fur­thers the eerie sense of an unfa­mil­iar place set in an uniden­ti­fied time. The fact that the ani­mals have tak­en over the build­ing sug­gests per­haps their resilience with­in and beyond this human made world.

Mal de Mer 2016, recent­ly shown in the Nanaimo Art Gallery’s exhi­bi­tion Land­fall and Depar­tures: Pro­logue is a time based work that con­sid­ers the sub­strate of the sea from a crea­ture­ly point of view. In this iter­a­tion, the piece begins on the seabed and looks up toward the water’s sur­face as if through the per­spec­tive of a crus­tacean crawl­ing on the ocean floor. Kafka’s trans­formed char­ac­ter Gre­gor Sam­sa into a scut­tling insect from The Meta­mor­pho­siswas the ini­tial inspi­ra­tion for the piece. By drop­ping a GoPro into the water in the Sal­ish Sea, Roy works with metaphors of fish­ing and hunt­ing with the cam­era. Explor­ing and under­min­ing its own machinic agency, the cam­era is also the bait dan­gling from a line in the water. The accom­pa­ny­ing audio by Meis­ner offers a vibrat­ing, often jar­ring sound­track that fur­thers the alien point of view. As the video unfolds we are immersed in the sounds of water and move­ment. Fish swim by and gold­en algae undu­lates across the creature’s field of vision. All vari­ety of sea life inhab­its this beau­ti­ful yet alien­at­ing world full of marine plants and fun­gi. At times the pil­lars from a wharf come into view encrust­ed with white lichen, orange and brown bar­na­cles and pur­ple starfish. The kalei­do­scop­ic effect is mes­mer­iz­ing tak­ing us out of time into a tem­po­ral expe­ri­ence that is per­haps more ani­mal than human. Through the camera’s eye we are sub­ject to an ama­teur almost alien aes­thet­ic that ques­tions the ontol­ogy of look­ing. Roy’s deskilled approach draws from con­cep­tu­al art and brings a more than human sen­si­bil­i­ty to the fetishized glossy image. Giv­en the artist’s long­stand­ing inves­ti­ga­tion of oth­er­world­ly, post human­ist worlds, Mal de Mer reads as an offer­ing, a win­dow into the two thirds of our plan­et that is, like us, pre­dom­i­nant­ly water.Informed by philoso­pher Eliz­a­beth Grosz’s book Chaos, Ter­ri­to­ry, Art: Deleuze and the Fram­ing of the Earth, Roy’s plan­e­tary inves­ti­ga­tions man­i­fest the expres­sive poten­tial of the forces of the plan­et and of art itself.

The forces of the earth (cos­mo­log­i­cal forces that we can under­stand as chaos, mate­r­i­al and organ­ic inde­ter­mi­na­cy) with the forces of liv­ing bod­ies, by no means exclu­sive­ly human, which exert their ener­gy or force through the pro­duc­tion of the new and cre­ate, through their efforts, net­works, fields, ter­ri­to­ries that tem­porar­i­ly and pro­vi­sion­al­ly slow down chaos enough to extract from it some­thing not so much use­ful as inten­si­fy­ing, a per­for­mance, a refrain, an orga­ni­za­tion of col­or or move­ment that even­tu­al­ly, trans­formed, enables and induces art.”[7]

Slowed down mea­sured ener­gies with their more than human artic­u­la­tion are echoed in the long dura­tion of Mal de Mer,sus­pend­ing the view­er into a nether­world that offers insight into a dif­fer­ent tem­po­ral­i­ty, a dif­fer­ent time sense. This is inflect­ed by our increas­ing aware­ness that our actions are push­ing the world’s oceans clos­er to the brink of destruc­tion. Sub­merged in this aquat­ic spa­cious­ness we are left to won­der about the del­i­cate bal­ance of this liq­uid realm which is usu­al­ly out of sight and there­fore out of mind. Humans as a glob­al geo­phys­i­cal force inform the move­ment and mate­ri­al­i­ty of Mal de Mer with its real, sym­bol­ic and imag­i­nary expres­sive­ness.  Even as the work cel­e­brates an aquat­ic world tin­gling with life, we are remind­ed of its pre­car­i­ous­ness with­in the longue durée of time. The Earth is alive, rhyth­mic, undu­lat­ing and mutat­ing in response to human activ­i­ty.

Much of Roy recent work reveals how an artist iden­ti­fies and rumi­nates on large scale tem­po­ral and unseen process­es and spec­u­lates on their affects through sound and image. This is afford­ed by an approach that devel­ops nar­ra­tives for this his­toric moment beyond dis­ci­pli­nary focus; informed by sci­en­tif­ic data, social sci­ence analy­sis and intu­ition Roy’s prac­tice seeks to share with the view­er the cos­mo­log­i­cal forces that con­nects humans to stones and ani­mals to tem­po­ral rhythms. Ori­ent­ing her gaze beyond shal­low time, Roy’s exper­i­ments engage with his­to­ry at mul­ti­ple time scale­sex­pos­ing the inad­e­qua­cy of the short view. Her broad inter­ests in phi­los­o­phy, his­to­ry, biol­o­gy and the nat­ur­al world inter­sect spa­tiotem­po­ral fields where­in a larg­er view is pro­duced, one that con­nects us to the entan­gled world that we inhab­it. Per­haps we need learn to col­lab­o­rate not just across species but also across time. This kind of ten­tac­u­lar think­ing reach­es its ten­ta­cles across space and time prof­fer­ing a human rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with the local, the imag­i­na­tion and the plan­et itself. It has been more than two hun­dred years since von Hum­boldt first described the nat­ur­al world as a uni­fied whole ani­mat­ed by inter­ac­tive forces. More recent­ly we have amassed abound­ing sources of big data that describe a new ecosys­tem, which draws on and incor­po­rates find­ings from cli­ma­tol­ogy, geog­ra­phy and demog­ra­phy to his­to­ry and geol­o­gy.

In this exper­i­men­tal artis­tic approach one must not be afraid to devel­op new process­es of work­ing, tak­ing up mate­ri­als and tech­nolo­gies that con­nect us to deep time. It calls for a rede­f­i­n­i­tion of bound­aries between dis­ci­pli­nary fields that entan­gle con­cep­tu­al and sci­en­tif­ic lan­guages where tem­po­ral­i­ties of ter­res­tri­al muta­tion reveal dif­fer­ent epis­te­molo­gies, alter­na­tive ways of know­ing. Per­haps these knowl­edge lim­its are the way for­ward toward a restora­tive per­spec­tive, one that takes into account the longue durée. Art, cen­tral to think­ing with and feel­ing through the Anthro­pocene, occurs at a num­ber of stra­ta and across var­i­ous time scales.Marina Roy offers a range of dis­cur­sive, visu­al, and sen­su­al strate­gies that exper­i­ment, record, mod­i­fy and recre­ate ways of imag­in­ing life.Through her gen­er­ous prac­tice we are asked toen­dure our encounter with plan­e­tary cri­sis and cat­a­stroph­ic loss on many lev­els by acknowl­edg­ing that we reside in, affect and are affect­ed by mul­ti­ple time scales. How do we inhab­it time, learn­ing to live and of learn­ing to die in our cur­rent his­tor­i­cal moment?


[1]See Indi­g­e­niz­ing the Anthro­pocene” in Art and the Anthro­pocene, Encoun­ters Among Aes­thet­ics, Pol­i­tics, Envi­ron­ments and Epis­te­molo­giesPaper­back, 2015

[1] Andrea Wulf, The Inven­tion of Nature, The Adven­tures of Alexan­der Von Hum­boldt The Lost Hero of Sci­ence, John Mur­ray Pub­lish­ers, 2015, p. 32.

[2] The term first pop­u­lar­ized by the Dutch chemist Paul J. Crutzen in a 2002 paper he pub­lished in Natureencom­pass­es var­i­ous anthro­pogenic effects, includ­ing, but not lim­it­ed to: the rise of agri­cul­ture­and atten­dant defor­esta­tion; the extrac­tion of coal, oil, and gas, and their atmo-spher­ic con­se­quences; the com­bus­tion of car­bon-based fuels and emis­sions; coral reef loss; ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion; soil degra­da­tion; a rate of life-form extinc­tion occur­ring at thou­sands of times high­er than through­out most of the last half-bil­lion years. H Davis and E Turpin, Art & Death: Lives Between the Fifth Assess­ment & the Sixth Extinc­tion” in Art and the Anthro­pocene, Encoun­ters Among Aes­thet­ics, Pol­i­tics, Envi­ron­ments and Epis­te­molo­gies, p.1–4





[7] Eliz­a­beth Grosz, Chaos. Cos­mos, Ter­ri­to­ry, Archi­tec­ture”, 2008, p. 3–4.