The thread increasingly surrounded by darkness Riding out the winter (decline) of industrial civilization


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A landscape architecture professor I took a class from in college referred to the California Aqueduct as “the river that flows uphill.” His words left such an impact that they still resonate years later.

Stream crossings.

Pumping stations.

Ran on saving a look at our time for people of the future.

This goes back to the subject of saving information for the future: the most valuable thing you can save is a glimpse of what it's like to live in another world, and therefore, what other worlds are possible.

This is one of the project’s main concerns—that a look at what we built—how the industrial world operates—be preserved for future generations. Can the DVDs accomplish this? Not really—they wont outlast the
University and park—7:30
Another category is history. On the broad scale, it will be obvious to everyone that we mined all the metal and built giant steel-framed buildings. But what about medium-scale history, the stuff historians write about? If we find it helpful to read Herodotus, people of the future will want to know the same kind of thing about us.
What I find most interesting is human-scale history. If you imagine going back in a time machine, what exactly is exciting about it? Most of us are not looking for the technical details of Damascus steel. We're wondering what it's like to live in a different time. And if you could go thousands of years in the future, what would you want to talk about? And what would they ask you about?

Diane points out that everyone will know how wasteful we were by digging up our landfills. But will they know how we felt about it? Will they see us wallowing in hedonistic pleasure, or will they know how many of us were depressed? Will they know that people went to jail for taking food out of the garbage, because the authorities were envious of people living outside the waste economy, but could not admit it consciously? Will they guess that at the all-time peak of energy consumption and individualism, so many of us felt individually powerless?

Will they know what made us happy? That's too big of a subject! But I can't think of anything there that's easy to send into the future.
In the future, even if there isn't a collapse, there will be no crude oil from the ground. Records will exist of it, but future people will have no material example of the substance our society runs on. Crude oil might be seen as a mythical, magical substance, something made up.
Corollary: what non-renewable resources might precursor civilizations have used up that we'll never know about? What "mythical" materials actually existed but don't anymore?

The recession-depression-whatever-you-want-to-call-it that we're now in is going to be a long, gruesome slog, perhaps an abiding condition ushering in a new dark age. Without an ever-increasing supply of energy resources, the operations of compounding capital growth cease. This much is already self-evident, despite the dazzling accounting tricks of the big banks, the Federal Reserve, and the government agencies that abet them.

A few centuries from now, the memory of today's normality will seem like the most exotic wonder that the human race ever produced. But most of it will be gone.
Neil Weismiller and I chat about photography, art and post-apocalyptic aesthetics while he paces me through a sunset shooting session. Neil lives in this aviation scrapyard just off Davis Monthan AFB and makes furniture from aircraft fragments. The walls of his open-air shower are aluminum wing sections and the floor is paved with concrete tiles: little green plants sprouting in the cracks between them.
Clips are ordered chronologically and the audio remains synched with its corresponding video. As you can probably tell, Neil and I got along well.
Return Email:
Hello all:

A clipped version of Stage Three is complete and I find myself in Tucson selling plasma for coffee money. But the desert yielded some rapturous moments. Please have a look:
‘stage three: overture’ is archived here.
The three-month stint on the road produced thirty-three video vignettes. These are my favorites:
Salton City

Ray Mine

The Boneyard
Copies of the stage three DVD will be mailed in the coming weeks. If you’d like one let me know. Also, please get in touch with comments or questions. The Illuminated Thread will remain on extended hiatus until funds for the next stage are secured.


From Yusef Komunyakaa’s 1984:
The year burns an icon

into the blood. Birdlime

discolors the glass domes

& roof beams grow shaky as old men

in the lobby of Heartbreak Hotel.

Purple oxide gas lamps light

the way out of this paradise.

We laugh behind masks & lip-sync Cobol.

We’re transmitters for pigeons

with microphones in their heads.

Yellow sky over stockyards,

& by the grace of God

rockets hum in white silos

buried in Kansas wheat fields

or nailed to some ragged hill

zoned as a perfect fearscape.
Flagstaff is a 4 or 5 day ride.
Joseph Tainter, The Collapse of Complex Societies
Pick up poster from Katie’s place
Stage Three DVD:

Salton City

Salton Sea Geothermal Plants

Salvation Mountain

Slab City

Bombay Beach

Sun City Palm Desert

San Gorgonio Pass Wind Array

Lockheed Rocket Test Site

Aviation Parts Warehouse Inc. Scrapyards

Tehachapi Wind Farm

Rio Tinto Borax Boron Mine

London Bridge

Parker Dam

Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station

Ray Mine

Biosphere 2

Titan Missile Museum

Twin Buttes Mine

ASARCO Mission Mine


The Boneyard
Sub-Headings-- categories

Cities That Aren’t

Aircraft Scrapyards (metals recycling)


Energy Production


Pilgrimage Sites
Regional categories:

Include times for each section.
Salton Sea (6) – “toothed fish”
Salton City

Salton Sea Geothermal Plants

Salvation Mountain

Slab City

Bombay Beach

Sun City Palm Desert
San Gorgonio Pass (2) – “mountain turbines”
San Gorgonio Pass Wind Array

Lockheed Rocket Test Site
Mojave Desert (3) – “India aircraft nose”
Aviation Parts Warehouse Inc. Scrapyards

Tehachapi Wind Farm

Rio Tinto Borax Boron Mine
Lower Colorado River Valley (3) – “homes on havasu”
London Bridge

Parker Dam

Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station
Arizona Upland (6) – “tri-colored drifts”
Ray Mine

Biosphere 2

Titan Missile Museum

Twin Buttes Mine

ASARCO Mission Mine

The Boneyard

Extras: (5) – “power plant lapse”


NASSCO shipyard

South Bay salt works

El Mirage Introductions

Sundt Station
What is American Power?

Energy tourism

Snazzy website

Run in’s with law enforcement

Photographer Mitch Epstein’s multi-year photo essay on energy production and consumption in the US. Epstein’s knows that to understand energy is to better understand, “the relationship between American society and the American landscape.” There are some exceptionally beautiful images in this set—take your time.
1984—109 (poetry fragment for future post or return email)

Yeah, I saw a lot of theses (mines)

Each site seems to have its own source for that hum, that buzz. The Green Slime, the wires, the mountain side?

The sites remain in the order I experienced them along the route.

Tied to assemble an audio track that would work with each site. Something else to unify the group.

I think the second one (a fresh wound) because of all the red suggests flesh—especially in the fist two clips—

like the skin of some beast has been cut and torn away: exposing the muscle underneath.

a feeling of violation—filleted

A tailing is anything leftover—the residue of a process.

Clips taken at these six mining sites wouldn’t support a vignette so they’ve been dropped in with the rest to form something more substantial.

Turns out to be a great series—each with its own distinct textures and atmospheres to compare with the others.

Six of the nine mines I visited—lumped into one piece. They’re not identified individually to boost group cohesion.

The audio track has a menacing low end so get yourself a subwoofer or shove those buds in deep.

I came to this site expecting an abandonment. To my complete surprise, a team of contractors were putting the finishing touches on the facade of a brand new building. Apparently several months before they'd razed the derelict yacht club and rebuilt it from scratch. What? Likely the only construction project being undertaken in the Salton Sea region, the questions were obvious. Who's funding this and for what possible reason? Does Albert Frey, the building's designer, have a society of deep-pocketed architecture buffs preserving his career highlights? With brackish foul smelling water lapping at its shores, fish and pelican carcasses rotting in the desert heat, and literally nothing of interest for miles in any direction, whom do they expect to come here? It'll be especially ironic when the second version of this bizarre building befalls the same fate as its predecessor, becoming another ruin at the edge of a dead sea.

This piece was shot at two separate sites: one on the fringe of Southern California Logistics Airport near Victorville, and the other in the tiny town of El Mirage. The same guy owns both yards. A lot of chunks are sold to Hollywood movie studios for use in films (one of the latex python models from Snakes on a Plane was dangling from a nearby tree). Other pieces are shipped to far off lands, mostly Europe and Asia, to become wacky architectural features. Imagine some themed Shanghai restaurant or hotel lobby you enter through a 747-fuselage. During our visit they were preparing to ship the last piece of an airliner to Malibu, CA where one very wealthy woman is building a home out of it.
408 230 (72) dimensions for DVD menu images
Imagine lake mead dries up (projected to by 2021 at current rates) the dam produces no energy, it’s abandoned, the gates are made permanently open—the Colorado river squeezes through a deteriorating concrete wedge in a dramatic dessert canyon. Crazy ruin.
Stage three DVD recipients:




Fullerton House


Brett CC



Karen Kubey

Jessica Lah

Christopher Smith


Matthew @ CLUI

Only my return to you will be a sweeping epic story of struggle and triumph, love and beauty. And you get to watch it unfold before you on HD DVD’s sent to your doorstep.

That Davis tower is a really special thing—you don’t get acoustics like that very many places. It’s a finely tuned instrument of immense size—the perfect shape to produce extremely activated sounds.

Then you read her mind—she said “---not into it” in your head on that wild noisy dance floor.

Dancing so much you bruised your foot.

And Alex steps in with the just enough of a push to commit to staying. Don’t interrupt the project. An improvised life—move like water—no pushing, move instantly to fill up any space.
Three arenas in which you are rapidly improving: sex, dancing, (the third one is the hardest).

I feel the same way, and not just about techniques for attracting women, but any techniques for influencing people on a subconscious and senseless level. The better it works, the more I despise them, and I don't want to spend my life among people I despise. If I'm applying for a job, and I hear that wearing a certain kind of pants will make them more likely to hire me, I have a strong urge to wear exactly the wrong pants to wake them the fuck up.

But it also occurs to me that this is a luxury. If your kids are starving, you're going to wear the hypnotic pants. We live on a planet of zombie monkeys, and we have to choose our battles, and compromise between meeting our needs and making the world better.
Ran’s straight and patient road of not-seduction. Here's a little list of rules:
1. Be Transparent. Show what you're feeling; say what you're thinking. Offer and accept communications at face value. Do this from the beginning, and the bad relationships will run from you like shadows from the light. Now, this doesn't mean you can't use non-verbal techniques to make people feel better -- but here is the test: If you were to explain everything you are doing and why, would the other person feel exploited, or honored?

2. Become Skilled at Being Single. Learn to make good food, pay your bills, motivate yourself, stay sane, and get sexual release, by yourself and with help from friends. Then why do you even need a partner? Exactly. But you might still appreciate a partner, which is a stronger position.

3. Embrace the Friend Zone. Having friends is a good thing. The suffering of the "friend zone" is an illusion created by desire. Let go of desire and the prison becomes paradise -- or the false friendship is exposed. Of course, you might still fantasize about another kind of relationship. The key is that you are not holding tension between where you are and where you are not.
4. Broaden Your Standards. Typically, guys who complain that women are attracted to assholes, are themselves attracted to asshole women. (Actually, this explains a lot about pickup artist culture.) Remember that nice person who you rejected for not being sexy enough? That's karma: you must follow the rules you make. At the same time, nobody wants to be settled for. Practice valuing qualities that are valuable.
5. Be Like Water. Do not push anything, but move instantly to fill any opening. This will not generate nearly as much sex as aggressive seduction, but it will make it better, by filtering out sex for the sake of proving something, and leaving only sex based on strong mutual attraction.
6. Sex Is Not the Goal. There is no goal. There is only the process: be who you are, and engage with what you encounter on that road.
Notes for brownlands audio:
Keep it out of the loud end of the spectrum—distortions and unevenness in your voice becomes detectable
Add “no exit” to reading list.

Start photographing your favorite bikes in town—photo series.

Settling in post—barracks—like living on a really casual submarine.

Free store

Tuesday night rides

80’s night—the white Michael Jackson’

shooting the hip/hop promo for Pauhouse
The Black Demon

And the prophet delivers the news

A black demon called oil.

The planet is bleeding oil
When a toxic soup of water, oil, and dispersant is picked up by a hot swirling mass of air a hundred miles wide and hurled with great force against every structure In its path, coating everything with a flammable brown sheen
A biblical catastrophe.
A cascade of global extinction emanating from the Gulf of Mexico dead zone spreads across the planet leaving us the last miserable species on the planet to contemplate what we’ve done. It’s the ecological apocalypse.
“The human species needs to be brought to its knees”
Think about the 1950s, everything was new, new gadgets, new buildings, new roads. The sky was the limit. So growth was accelerated—it was delivering untold gifts—it was assumed by most that the party would continue indefinitely.
Fine tuning the dumpster pursuits.
Framing neil and the bone yard as a pilgrimage site, how it already functions that way. How the site and the objects within it complicate the images taken there—both intellectually and visually.
Boneyard dance vid— out on the wings with no waivers and no insurance.
DVD’s for sale—good practice for screenings—living room screenings, consider it fine to wander in and out of the room, ask questions. I might talk over some, I might just let others play through.
Image of the apocalyptic novel poster at the airport

“energy without limits on the cover of Discover magazine—fucking irresponsible

you drivers are feeding that demon—it’s past time the kick the habit.
speaking of irresponsible behavior, the tow biggest are: having a child and driving a car. Because it’s the automobile drivers who are feeding the demon in the gulf.
Avery new child puts us farther in into carrying capacity overshoot and should be considered a liability. No more people. Name the movement.

Get used to wearing those microphones. Start photographing your surroundings—parts of the hostel, the table, the storage locker, your stuff there.

The hostel dynamic, as a living organism, changing and evolving with the people in the house.

A communal living model

One more relationship not based on money (which overwhelmingly is the norm) and it’s a big one: shelter.
David Aguirre/Dinnerware Artspace
Hi David—
I’ve been meaning to get in touch for a while now—just had to get myself squared away first. Tonight, assuming I can get into the building, I’ll be leaving two disks in your Shane House mailbox. The first is a DVD with twenty vignettes shot and edited on the last stage of the tour and the second contains a quicktime video: The Joy of Infinity: part two, which features an un-tampered with audio track I recorded inside an abandoned watertower back in my hometown of Davis, CA. The mp3s on the disk are from the same recording session. Audio is best heard through headphones or good speakers.

Dino may have mentioned a bit about the umbrella project for all this work. It’s called The Illuminated Thread and I started it immediately after graduating from the University of Chicago’s MFA program in 2008. It’s a globally scaled bicycle-mounted multi-year look at the glory and tragedy of the industrial age. Basically what I’m doing is cycling from one industrial site to the next taking video and audio recordings and editing them into 3-5 minute vignettes. The archive, which contains something like 70 sites now, is intended to show the industrial world at its most hectic and troubled moment still chugging away on fumes, and to preserve this image into a period of prolonged contraction. It effectively highlights many of the often-missed connections between seemingly unrelated pieces of industrial infrastructure. For example: in a screening I might begin with the California Aqueduct before showing images of the remote concrete plant that provided its primary building material, as well as the power plants that produce the energy required to keep its pumping stations humming. For a more comprehensive explanation of the project’s goals have a look at the website’s “about the project” page.
And here’s the recently archived page with all the content from the last leg:
My plan for the summer here in Tucson is to put together at least one artist’s talk/screening (more if possible), maybe a gallery show, and to secure funds for the project’s next stage. When the desert cools in the fall I’ll continue east across the Deep South then up the Eastern Seaboard to NY. The rust belt will cap off the US circuit, leaving me in Chicago where I started. From there it’s off the Europe.
I’d love to meet for coffee and hear any suggestions you might have. Items at the top of my to-do list include securing a screening/exhibition space, and generating some income. I’ve got lots of skills: videography, writing, design, bicycle maintenance, interior painting, etc. If you know of anyone who might need help within these arenas, do let me know. Also, I recently helped Eric Firestone pack up his galley for the Hamptons. You mentioned you’d be moving your space soon so if you need another hand…
I’m at 530.902.9300 but email is a good way to reach me.
thanks in advance,


What all this implies, in a single phrase, is that the age of abundance is over. The period from 1945 to 2005 when almost unimaginable amounts of cheap petroleum sloshed through the economies of the world’s industrial nations, and transformed life in those nations almost beyond recognition, still shapes most of our thinking and nearly all of our expectations.

The European Christian monasteries that preserved Roman culture through the Dark Ages did not offer anyone a middle class lifestyle by the standards of their own time, much less those of ours. Neither did the Buddhist monasteries that preserved Heian culture through the Sengoku Jidai, Japan’s bitter age of wars, or the Buddhist and Taoist monasteries that preserved classical Chinese culture through a good half dozen cycles of collapse. Monasteries in all these cases were places people went to be very, very poor. That was the secret of their achievements, because when you reduce your material needs to the absolute minimum, the energy you don’t need to spend maintaining your standard of living can be put to work doing something more useful.

In a contracting economy, it becomes easier to notice that the less you need, the less vulnerable you are to the ups and downs of fortune, and the more you can get done of whatever it is that you happen to want to do. That’s an uncongenial lesson at the best of times, and during times of material abundance you won’t find many people learning it. Still, in the world after abundance, it’s hard to think of a lesson that deserves more careful attention.
You’ve reduced your material needs to a minimum so that you can move freely and lightly through the world with plenty of time to observe and document the breakdown of the industrial world.
Bisophere 2 as both a failed ecosystem and a failed utopian venture.

If there’s one lesson history teaches, it’s that human societies are organic growths, and trying to invent one to fit some abstract idea of goodness is as foredoomed as trying to make an ecosystem do what human beings want.

Failed utopian society as well as a failed ecosystem.
Listen to what a baby hears
The industrial age is coming to an end.

Here’s what it looks like

Growth is dead
The industrial world we’ve built over the last 200 years with the power of fossil energy is about to enter a period of prolonged contraction/disintegration.
The diminishing returns of ratcheting complexity.

Peak energy

themes of the day: (almost always occurring in pairs)

Wed. June 9, 2010

That strange collection of chairs at the hangar
Yellow shirts:

Ben the Frenchman and the computer users at shot in the dark

improper use of scarves

tied around your handlbars

Tucson in June

Vibram five finger shoes—on Kate, and mentioned by Justin—another daily double reference.
chasing the train through Tucson. Falling star over the congress hotel.
The trigger effect—film to see
In a moment of rage, throwing your wet shorts at a passing car.
We met out front of Mishka’s Café a couple months ago. I wanted to say hello and run a proposal past you.
You may know of the former Hunts cannery property north of Covell Blvd. and east of F Street. When they razed the industrial complex to encourage property speculation, they left an enormous steel liquid storage receptacle, presumably to live on as a feature of the residential/commercial development slated to next occupy the site. The development fell through and almost a decade later, the white cylinder with the funnel shaped bottom stands alone on a weedy stab of concrete.
While dramatic from the outside, the structure’s most interesting feature is the sound altering qualities of its internal geometry. Difficult to describe, I’ve attached an mp3 file of a recent recording made within the space. A pair of binaural in-ear microphones was used and no filters have been applied. An authentic playback requires headphones.
I’d like to propose a class, perhaps for next year, with this industrial relic at its center. I imagine students would spend the quarter performing and recording original compositions within the structure—elevating the giant receptacle into a musical instrument (you sit inside). Work produced by both art and music majors would fall across the spectrum, from more traditional musical structures to ambient recordings where wind and weather activate the object.

Of course official permission from the property owner would have to be secured, but I foresee weekly class meetings at the site along with a classroom component where recordings would be reviewed, edited and critiqued. The class would also cover skills related to audio field recordings: balancing levels, file handling, microphones, post-production and mixing would all be part of the curriculum.

My ultimate goal is to save the site from development—to highlight the value in its disorder, to watch the foundations slowly crumble as the decades pass. It affords a certain set of activities that cannot occur in the ordered spaces of the built environment.
If there’s promise in the idea I’ll develop it further and create a provisional syllabus. Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Brett Tracy
additional recordings can be found here:

I’m attracted to the site—feral, disordered, in-between functions. Nature is having its way with it—designing it according to its rules. Transforming it into a mythic ruin, a spiritually rich place.

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