The Desert Die, 2010
Presented at Mapping the Desert/Deserting the Map: Dry Immersion 3-Desert Projects, March 6 2010, Wonder Valley. Sponsored by UCR Sweeney Art Gallery and UCIRA. Photographs by Gabie Strong and Matthew Hebert.
Created by collective Unmanned Minerals--Jared Stanley, Matthew Hebert and Gabie Strong--The Desert Die is an interactive sculptural way-finding device that interrogates how language mediates landscape. The Desert Die subverts the notion of stationary wayside interpretive literature, and instead uses the visual and verbal vocabulary of interpretive literature against its original intention to orient the spectator within the landscape.
The Desert Die is a six-sided die, 1' cubed in size, and rests on a pedestal. Designed and fabricated by Matthew Hebert, the die is constructed of steel, with milled aluminum placards bolted to each side. Each placard features an engraving by Gabie Strong, conceptually depicting an imaginary desert narrative written by Jared Stanley. The die can be picked up and held, so that each face of the die can be seen and touched by the spectator. Each time the die is "rolled," a switch within the die triggers one of six audio narrations describing an imaginary desert independent of the place where the Desert Die is actually sited. Because the sculpture is both interactive and speculative, The Desert Die unhinges the spectator from the landscape, decoupling the sublime from spectator's perceived image of the land. In typical wayside literature, the marker formalizes the viewer's experience into a one-point perspective. The Desert Die provides an additional five-point perspective for any singular vista, and in this way, the spectator is able to investigate how an object can limit and manipulate his/her own experience in the landscape.
From the perspective of the writer, there is a continuing problem of writing about and through landscape since representation in language, and in books, demands an immediate abstraction of forms into description. In this project, we wanted to work through language, as well as the visual and sculptural vocabulary of the wayside exhibit, in an attempt to interrogate the relationship between intellection, space, and the imagination. From the Cold Mountain poets of the T'ang Dynasty in China, through contemporary writers like Gary Snyder, Rebecca Solnit, and many others, the problem of writing about landscape has always found its resolution in a book or scroll on the shelf, inside a room.
This movement, from experience in a landscape, to description via writing, to reading within an enclosed space, has always vexed us. We have always been more interested in public and quasi-public language, its uses and abuses, and in the ways language directly interacts with landscape. The Desert Die is deliberately problematizing its framing of the view, describing things which are manifestly absent; further, because each placard represents a different imaginary element of the landscape, the piece resists making definitive interpretations of a view, wherever the object is placed. The Die serves as a map through an imaginary desert, and each of the 'sites' described by the project are described in terms of the die itself, for example, "50 feet to the Southwest," etc. This way, when the desert is abandoned, and the temperatures rise, the tourist of the future will merely roll the die.
The Desert Die was temporarily installed in the Wonder Valley area on March 6 as part of the greater Mapping the Desert/Deserting the Map event.Video of the The Desert Die at the &NOW Festival of New Writing, UCSD:
The Desert Die, 2011 from Matthew Hebert on Vimeo.