The Fraught Landscape: Millenary Sands (2018)

ARCS5106: M.Arch 1 – Option Studio 1A //
Instructor: Ozayr Saloojee //

The desert is implicated by things outside of itself. It is not its own ontology. It is inflected (and deflected)
by wind and by the movement of air – currents, directions, velocities, perceptibility. Other circumstances,
likewise, do the same – other forces and energies, other wills and drives: the inhabitants who live above
and below – in tunnels and colonies, in cities and camps, in outposts and settlements; the desert’s
temperatures – climates and atmospheres that heat and chill – the desert both blisters and freezes; water
– the liquids that falls from all-too-brief rains, the wadis that rush, unexpected and roaring through once dry- watercourses, the oasis that brings, however fleetingly, an instance of colour: the green of Pistacia
Atlantica, the Persian Turpentine, the Arabic بطم(butum), important in combating soil erosion, the purple
and mauve of Polygonum equisetiforme, or horsetail knoxweed, common to Golan and Galilee, to the Dead Sea Valley and the Negev, to Eilat and Aravah, and the Pancratium sickenbergeri, with its sharp bladed white flowers, whose seeds are distributed by floodwaters in winter; the pink of Moricandia nitens, the bright, sudden yellow of Sternbergia clusiana, whose flowers “emerge before the leaves and create an unforgettable spectacle in the harsh environment.(” “A wild flower,” writes the poet Mahmoud Darwish, “grows in your deserted corner.” (Darwish, “If you Find Yourself Alone.). The fraught landscape is organic. It is the body of animals on and under it. It is a terrain that blankets the ground, and rises up in particles in the air. It is both form and formless. It is shape and shapeless. It is a chameleon and a trickster that erases the horizon from our sight with elemental forces. It picks us up and takes us elsewhere – into the air, into the past, into a future unknown, into memory. The fraughtlandscape shifts beneath our feet, and it, as a result, shifts in our cartographic consciousness. We sink into it, our footfalls difficult, and when we look back, the traces of our paths have vanished. We have to re-construct the history of our movements on this constantly displacing terrain. We use our maps, our cartography, GPS coordinates, LIDAR scans. We use history and historiography, archaeology and faith; the Map of Canaan, divided among the 12 Tribes of Israel was, for the Reverend Stackhouse, how God helped “to shew Moses the compass of the land.”5 We use our compasses and our protractors, our laser levels. We label. We name We erase. Villages appear and disappear, borders are drawn and re-drawn. We check points on our maps and orient. Re-orient. What appears distant on the map feels near in space. Geological time is compressed into an instant. The fraught landscape is a trickster that flips our sense of position and positionality. Because it is unfixed, because its baseline is always shifting, our measures of knowing this landscape must, by necessity, accommodate this fluidity. Our measures of knowing, must, by necessity be speculative, and above-all, speculation armed with empathy, compassion and a radical empiricism of the spatial, the historico-cultural and the geo-spatial. Our methods of knowing cannot be declarative, precisely because emphatic assurances have no place in the fraught landscape; our anchors and footings would disappear, our foundations would become ruins in in instant. Our registers and indices must take into account the vectors of uncertainty, ambiguity, openness, looseness, lightness. These measures cannot – must not – avoid the nature of this landscape as a place of agitation, a terrain attended by uncertainty, by conflict, by tension. The fraught landscape cannot be understood by aestheticizing its desert atmosphere, by fetishizing its beguiling and breathtaking landscape beauty over all else. The fraught landscape is complex, its geo-politics the stuff of hopeless nightmares and hopeful idealisms, of Sykes and Picot, of Herzl and Arafat, of Peres and Camp David, of embassies and intifadas, of Abraham’s Well and Eretz Israel, or Palestine, of the Negev and the Naqab, of blooming deserts and bedouin, of walls and temples. The fraught landscape is sought in instances both inside and outside of it. Our methods – our agency – is in the design politic, recognizing that making the invisible visible is, as the American writer Grace Paley observed, a political act. We took the fraught landscape and made a place of it, not in it. We took the fraught landscape and sought the possibility of a possible, alternative twin in order to act upon it (and with it) with the agency of a compassionate and speculative fiction. Amitav Ghosh, writes that “the great irreplaceable potentiality of fiction is that it makes possible the imagining of possibilities.” (Ghosh, The Great Derangement: Climate Change the Unthinkable, Chicago, 2016) We are, for these fraught landscapes, interested in the making of possible worlds.

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