Tesserae of Venus 2009-2012
Tesserae are folding-forms: instead of seismic tectonics, generative land building on the planet Venus happens through tesserae, or folds. In my backyard science fiction lab, I build tesserated sculptures from heavy papers and paint. Photograph them, then set them into my photographs of locations in remote California energy production sites (geothermal and petroleum). Imagine the carbon atmospheres of our planet, if greenhouse gasses were to saturate it as is the case on our sister planet. This body of photomontage, video and drawing works was first shown with Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco in a solo exhibition in 2009.
Excerpt from BOMB interview by Melissa Potter
Melissa Potter: I’m fascinated with the contradictory implications of Venus’ uninhabitable atmosphere as the inspiration for this body of work. It operates in these pieces both as a symbol for the earth after what you suggest is the inevitable moment of carbon saturation and as a fantastical shelter from this storm, something you’ve coined, “tesserae tents.”
Christina McPhee: I started thinking about using the tesserae—complex ridged folds—of the surface of Venus, as a simple visual analog for carbon intensification in our atmosphere. It’s thought that Venus may once have had water, even oceans, but that there is no carbon cycle on Venus, so there can’t be any absorption; there are no oceans to take up the excess carbon. The planet is in a deeply entropic process. Most of us are wondering how much longer the carbon increases in our atmosphere can go on before there is massive loss of coastline, dramatic changes in ecosystems, and then what about us? So I was trying to imagine improvised shelters at, or inside, these neglected areas, often alluvial or littoral swamps, marshes or riverbeds; I thought of intimate spaces on the scale of the waterfowl and the rushes: a mammal’s-eye view in contrast and immediate proximity to alternative and tradi- tional petroleum energy-producing plants on a huge scale.
I was out shooting still and video footage in sites like these, at the edge of cities or in the desert and felt that there was an invisible assemblage going on, maybe on account of Venus-like intensifications of carbon in the air. I started to imagine how, as we try to quickly build and go online with alternative energies, at the same time we might not be converting away from carbon emissions fast enough...
I am really fascinated by how abstraction is a kind of tactical move to deflect attention from the literal reportage of a photograph, and I am involved in exploring that lag between the image recognition (the documentary moment) and the sense of an overwhelming dynamic system, something that can’t be described by direct reportage..You can’t really visualize what the world is going to be like if the Arctic sea ice melts. You can imagine drowning cities and things like that on a grand scale, but what about the intimate detail, the less obvious byways?