Cumulus landscapes, or, aesthetics in abeyance



Publication Details

Turpin, E. & Hirmer, L. (2013). Cumulus landscapes, or, aesthetics in abeyance. Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting United States: Association of American Geographers.


Because it would be unbecoming to merely eject our waste from industrial processes into just any haphazard form, industrialized human societies have developed the compositional trope of the pile, or heap, to both preserve the semblance of order of materials, in the event that they could be reinscribed with utility at a later moment, and to hint at this possibility of reinscription as an imminent order to come. Neither disturbingly disordered nor perceptibly punctilious, the heap operates at the aesthetic limit of purpose: heaps and piles take on the mechanical dimensions of their becoming-piled (the size of the train car that dumps them, the capacity of the loader that pushes them, etc.), but in so doing they outstrip there instrumentality by revealing the strange mobility and stalled momentum of the earth itself. This paper presents research on the Sudbury Basin - the site of deposition for nickel delivered during the impact of a bolide that collided with the first supercontinent, Columbia, over 2 billion year ago - and its singular cumulus landscape. The essay considers the promise of purpose, signaled by the orderly disorder of the heap, which holds in abeyance any judgment regarding the consequences of mineralization. We contend that the partially-sorted heap operates as a promissory temporal signal; in this regard, to help think the necessity of a terrible (post-sublime) aesthetic of the anthropocene, we consider the mineralization of the human as tellurian hyperforce through this curious cumulus visual economy.

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