28 June 2010
Report: Elliot Anderson's "The Monuments of Silicon Valley"
"The mountains surrounding the San Francisco Bay are an abundant source of mercury, which was mined from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century...Mercury and other heavy metals continue to leach into creeks, which eventually empty into the bay. Mercury is always with us in one form or another. It is a bioaccumulate where each organism in the food chain accumulates mercury in its tissue from the organism it eats. The food chain eventually leads to us.
Superfund sites dot the American landscape as the monuments of progress. How do we remediate these sites? One method is the replant these places with species of plants hybridized or genetically modified to purge the toxicants from the soil and water. Is the 21st century American sublime a cultivated landscape of toxification and remediation?"
This last question prompted Laura Moriarty to ask whether the project has a pastoral element, which lead to a conversation around the notion of "reversibility," where the promise of remediation becomes its own pastoral ideal. Elliot mentioned that a common reaction to the work is a sense of relief that, because plants can be genetically modified to filter groundwater, the problem is "solved."
After reading Smithson's "A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey," Elliot displayed a slideshow of the Superfund sites he's investigating in Silicon Valley and we continued the conversation around the problem of remediation and the promise of reversibility. Smithson's image of entropy at the end of the article seems especially apropos to the conversation: