alexandra regan toland

research narratives in artistic ecology

Preferential Flow

The concept that best describes my residency at Taliesin-West is Preferential Flow, a term borrowed from the field of environmental soil physics which describes the flow of water along “preferred” pathways, or the path of least resistance. My work focused of a series of collages and a video installation celebrating the determining factor of life in the desert – water.

Project Site and Duration

Arts Research Residency at Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, Taliesin West, Scottsdale Arizona, USA March 2008

Materials and Methods

For three weeks in March 2008 I spent my days exploring the desert around foothills of the McDowell Mountains and taking part in community activities and educational offerings of Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter residence and graduate school for architecture.

Historical Profiles

Soil profiles are used by soil scientists for surveying and educational purposes. By digging a few inches to several feet, layers of pedological history are uncovered in the form of “soil horizons.” These archival layers of sand, silt and clay provide clues to soil fertility, arability, past use, drought cycles, and geological transformations. By transferring the vertical wall of an open profile, the soil type and its unique characteristics may be preserved for documentation and educational purposes – a standard in soil science departments and natural history museums. The profiles shown here document aridisols typical of the Sonoran desert. As these soils have been appropriated by diverse cultures, appropriated images from historical librarys such as the Frank Lloyd Wright Library have been montaged via acetone photocopy transfer into the profiles. The frames were handmade in a frame-making workshop offered by Wright’s grandson and furniture artist S. Lloyd Natof.

Evaporating Petroglyphs

The dark shiny coating on the surface of desert rocks is known as desert varnish. Made up of 75% clay minerals, the dark color is due to oxidized manganese and the shininess to microbial activity on the surface. Early cultures scraped off this varnish to create petroglyphs on boulders and large-scale geoglyphs only visible from the sky. I went about the desert on a dowsing quest, spraying the alchemical symbol for water, an inverted triangle, onto rocks, concrete slabs and soil surfaces, creating temporal petroglyphs that vanished immediately in the burning sun. These were edited into a 12 minute video collage to document the symbolic dowsing process.


This entry was posted on March 15, 2008 by .
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