Paul Catanese, Hybrid Media Artist

Visible from Space
2009 - Present | Multi-Modal Artwork

I was invited to be the featured artist for Leonardo Electronic Almanac's Digital Media Exhibition Platform which launched in the September of 2010. The exhibition program delivers daily artworks via a wide network of social media platforms, for which I created a series of thirty images. Additionally, Vince Dziekan and Lanfranco Aceti, from the curatorial team, conducted an online, text-based interview with me.

...exhibition platform. I'm wondering if you might like to start by giving us a bit of background about the site that you are responding to in this work (namely, Death Valley and in particular the Goldwell Open Air Museum)?

Paul Catanese: Thanks, Vince – this is definitely an interesting format; I was very intrigued when approached regarding how a series of 30 (or 28 or 31!) images would be released one-a-day, glad to be part of the inaugural launch...

In terms of the site of Death Valley, and the Goldwell Open Air Museum - its an interesting place with a lot of history. Goldwell sits at the head of the Amargosa Valley in western Nevada. Its at about 3000' in elevation, and the valley is several dozen miles long. From the residency site – a former mining barn – you can watch storms roll in for hours. There's a sculpture park, and its also the site of a few ghost towns: Rhyolite has a number of standing masonry structures and is just behind the barn, and the Barn itself is essentially right on top of the site of the town of Bullfrog (named for a spectacular green mineral all through the area) – the only things left of Bullfrog are half of a jail, 1/8 of an icehouse, and tens of thousands of rusting cans. Just behind the barn are a few very steep mountains, but they've all been open-pit mined... to the east and south are huge tailings. It gets incredibly dark – the milky way is clearly visible, and the glow from Vegas, about 90 miles away, is the only urban light pollution you'll find. Its also important to note that the Nevada Test site is about 20 miles east (also east, Area 51 about 50 miles as the crow flies), and Death Valley just over the western ridge-line – about 6 miles.

I specifically wanted to work out there in the summer, in the hot month of June, when temperatures can soar – and did! What I was perhaps the most stunned by, more than the rugged geography,

high temperatures, or vastness of the chemical desert – was the silence. I mean stretches of silence where you might hear a fly buzzing 10 or 12 meters away. For this thought experiment, it was critical to be located where my activities would be no more contradictory than any other activities in a desert – but the silence provided a dimension of retreat that I did not anticipate.

I am stunned by the natural beauty and vastness of the land. Immediately I noticed the silence; a quietness that I found intensely refreshing that allowed me to truly get into my head and observe the world and my thoughts in it. I often found my eyes stunned by the landscape – how quickly it could change, how dunes could disappear into haze, or mountains seemingly flattened, erupt with great sculptural form and drama under the shadow of clouds. Death Valley itself was much more varied than I anticipated; I began understanding the location less as a singularity, and more as a unique component of a larger system of valleys, of north/south mountain ranges, of rift after rift. in spite of a veneer of desolation, everything seems to have been tread upon, touched, turned, tunneled through.

I learned about my companions: the Silver Cholla and the Desert Mallow, about how delicious the first morning light is on the valley, how my methods of collection and observation via the overhead projector were at home in the harsh environment, and how the exploration of space yields results that are puzzling. Goldwell was most definitely the correct location – of that, I am certain. Needless to say, it was a very good place to work.

Vince Dziekan: You speak of being struck by the incredible depth of darkness and the unexpected dimension of silence. These descriptions beautifully resonate with the opening passage of your artist's statement, where you mention paraconsistent logics...

Research and development for 'Visible from Space' was supported by a month-long residency in June 2010 at the Goldwell Open Air Museum, just outside of Death Valley. Additionally, this project was chosen by the Leonardo Electronic Almanac to inaugaurate their Digital Media Exhibition Platform in 2010. Continued development provided by Anchor Graphics, a program of the Art+Design department at Columbia College Chicago, the College Art Association Services to Artists Commitee and Video in the Built Environment’s scan2Go exhibition, as well as the Kasa Gallery at Sabanci University in Istanbul.
The Central School Project in Bisbee, Arizona has supported devleopment of this project through extended Artist Residencies in 2009 and 2013.