Faulting creates spaces that magma can intrude into, forming a new structure after cooling.
Sumo on Clay
Pictured is a fragment of a larger sculpture formed from Sumo on Clay, a performance at the Torrance Art Museum on March 26, 2011. During the match, two sumo wrestlers left impressions of footprints and other movements on a wet clay mat. Foye then used the mat as a mold for a sculpture.
The criteria for winning a sumo match are as follows:
The first wrestler to touch the ground with any part of his body other than his feet will lose.
The first wrestler to touch the ground outside the circle will lose.
A wrestler who uses an illegal technique will lose.
The loincloth becoming completely undone will also result in a loss.
A wrestler may be declared shini-tai (“dead body”), and will lose, regardless of the above rules, because he was placed in an impossible position from which to fight.
An interview with J. Lax, a 2020 US Census Worker. Edited for clarity.
What were your responsibilities as a 2020 US Census worker?
I went door to door verifying the mailed-in data. The Census breaks out the work into three stages. First, they collect the mailed-in form data; then, they define a control group within neighborhoods and send people out to verify the results; lastly, they verify the control group’s verification. It was very thorough. It can be trusted.
What was the Census work like?
We verified residences as well as the people who had counted themselves. Most of the time the counts were correct, but the residences weren’t specific enough. Like, I might notice pirated electrical lines, then follow them. Where do they go? Once I found a stand-alone lean-to that was someone’s dwelling. At another address,I discovered a converted attic. This data informs the next census mailing. The lean-to will get its own mailing, and so will the attic.
I’m reminded of Harry Potter and The Cupboard under the Stairs.
My supervisor would have to make the call on whether that was a separate dwelling.
Noted. Did you enjoy the Census work?
I felt that it was important work. But the solitary work—which generally accompanies most tasks that involve geography—confirmed that it wasn’t for me. You’re at your computer alone. You make the visits alone.
What’s your take on gerrymandering?
Gerrymandering disregards the Census’s authentic demarcation of neighborhoods. To me, it’s like Africa during post-colonial independence—drawing country’s boundaries with no regard for the tribes that lived there, their movements, and habits. How did that work out? Not well.
Because of your knowledge of geography, what do you notice generally, that other people may not notice?
I read the landscape. Instead of reading a book, you read what you see. We all do this, but most of the time it’s nonverbal. For me, it’s more conscious. For example, have you heard of Broken Windows Theory? If you go into a neighborhood and you notice a bunch of broken windows and a lot of signs saying, “Don’t Park Here,” or “No Loitering,” it sends a message subconsciously to anyone going through that neighborhood that it’s OK to commit crime, because it already exists there.
Wherever I go, I read the landscape. When I visited Panama, I noticed that they locked their trashcans in a cage above ground. Why?
[Editor’s note: In 2010, around the time that J. Lax visited Panama, the capital, Colón, had very few public garbage cans. Only six percent of the population paid for trash pickup, because it was too costly.]
What’s your favorite map or map type?
I like all the maps.
It could be a map made with string and nails. I don’t care.
If you’re bored, what do you do about it?
I look for rocks, pick them up, and watch them dry.
I like the potential in everything. What’s on the other side of the hill? Let’s go look.
When I was young, my father was often gone, traveling for business. I missed him terribly. He often returned with a small trinket for me, purchased in some distant airport giftshop. He gave me a pen with a plastic viewer of a boat floating inside it. I tipped the pen down and up, and watched the boat floating slowly down and up. He gave me a snow globe with a miniature beach and a palm tree. I shook it and watched the plastic snow pellets settle on the beach. Snow on a beach! I thought that was crazy. A keychain. A lot of keychains, from places I’d never heard of. I put the keychains and other treasures in my jewelry box, which featured a dancing ballerina who pirouetted in front of a mirror to the tune of Fur Elise, until it broke.
I examined my airport treasure when I was bored. I was often bored. After I was done, I would then go and review the contents of other drawers in other parts of the house. Often, I didn’t understand what I was looking at (for example, my mother’s douche).
Eventually, my father stopped traveling for work and started his own business. My collection stopped growing. My mother may have been relieved about this. She didn’t really allow knick-knacks any permanence. Our house was very uncluttered.
There were one or two exceptions. One surviving object, in particular, was a dog made out of flat brown rocks, held together with thick globs of semi-transparent glue. A plastic googly eye stood in for its left eye. The right eye was closed in a painted-on wink.
Rock Dog was out of step with almost everything else my mother owned. It appeared to have been purchased from a flea market. It had no pedigree and no status. It defied my mother’s unspoken rule that things and people needed to meet a high bar, if she was going to allow them to stick around.
Nevertheless, for many years, Rock Dog occupied a prominent position at the front of my mother’s desk, next to a severe fluorescent lamp. Her desk was made of steel. It was like a tank poised for battle. She forged the battle against household finance. This made her cranky. My father stayed out of the office as much as he could.
Her office was otherwise one of the prettiest rooms in the house, which was an old Hollywood fixer built in the 1920s. In the afternoons, the sun shown through floor-to-ceiling stained-glass windows, casting red diamonds down onto the desk and carpet. Outside, a Chinese elm waved hello in the breeze. Meanwhile, my mother gnashed her teeth over reconciling the checkbook.
I found out many years later that my Uncle Jim had given Rock Dog to my mother. Uncle Jim was born with one leg longer than the other. When he was in grade school, the doctor put a pin in his knee and left it there for a few years until his other leg had grown to be the same length. He also had very poor eyesight, and didn’t do well in school.
My aunt also had a birth defect: she was born without a neck. My mother said her siblings had these problems because of Rh blood incompatibility.
My mother let slip one day that she regarded herself as the perfect one, because she had no birth defects. Later, I learned that her lack of birth defects was due to the fact that she was the oldest. During birth, the mother’s and her firstborn’s blood may mix. If this happens, the mother’s body recognizes the baby’s Rh protein as a foreign substance and makes antibodies against it. That’s when the situation becomes fraught for any other babies conceived thereafter, if they have the wrong blood type. As the first child, my mother caused the inhospitable uterine environment for her siblings. She hadn’t really done anything to escape defects, except by being the first.
It was too bad that my mother didn’t know this, because if she did, she might have lived based on a different story altogether; after all, her perfection caused harm and imperfection.
When my mother and father downsized, they held a garage sale. Rock Dog sat on a table with other miscellaneous jettisoned items. I rescued it.
It was several months before Rock Dog found a home in my house. I had trouble easily identifying where things should belong. They moved here and there, lost and untethered. They regarded me with resentment until I had sorted them out.
Rock Dog found its home on my desk, of course. I realized it was a very good paperweight. But it was much more than a paperweight. Rock Dog always exuded irreverent cheer. Then, after its googly eye fell off, there was nothing but a white blastoma in its place. Its winking blindness made it look even more like an agent of chaos.
Later, when my son grew up and went to college, he told me he had trouble sleeping; or rather, he wasn’t letting himself go to sleep. He said he knew it was bad for him, but he resisted it. He wanted to have control over something.
I sent him Rock Dog and suggested he keep it on his nightstand. He needed it more than me.
Autobiography Using Stones
My grandfather built stone walls.
He was the youngest—an immigrant
with a point to prove and a hard, small
body that only allowed for softness
when he was dancing.
Such a good dancer, all his women said,
dresses unfurling in circles
and onto the floor. He taught my father,
and me, out on the terrace he built
with what came up from the garden.
We each learned, in our own time, to find
room in the spaces we made
between breast and navel and knee.
Did you know, he said,
in some stone walls built by
hand, there is nothing?
Nothing to hold the stones
but gravity, habit,
I didn’t know, I said.
I didn't know.
Rock cliffs on Anacapa Island, California, USA. Filmed by O. Skyrus.
Title: Definition of a Batholith.
Sumo: Wa-pedia: Sumo Wrestling
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