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MILF:05 “The Best Things In Life Are Free”: Selections of Feature Films from the Internet Archive
Swamp Women, directed by Roger Corman

Le voyage dans la lune (dir. George Méliès, 1902)
This short film from the earliest days of the cinema follows a group of astronomers on a journey to the moon.

Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) (dir. Robert Wiene, 1920)
The great Expressionist classic with Werner Krauss as Caligari, the fairground showman who hypnotizes his servant (Conrad Veidt) into committing murder at night.”

M (dir. Fritz Lang, 1931)
“A series of schoolgirls are murdered by a psychopath who terrorizes a large city and is hunted by the police through a network of beggars. Inspired by the real-life 'vampire of Dusseldorf,' Fritz Lang's great film is one of the key films of German Expressionism. Peter Lorre's performance as the murderer is one of the great screen performances of all time.”

Things to Come (dir. William Cameron Menzies, 1936)
“A global war begins in 1940. This war drags out over many decades until most of the people still alive (mostly those born after the war started) do not even know who started it or why. Nothing is being manufactured at all any more and society has broken down into primative localized communities. In 1966 a great plague wipes out most of what people are left but small numbers still survive. One day a strange aircraft lands at one of these communities and its pilot tells of an organisation which is rebuilding civilization and slowly moving across the world re-civilizing these groups of survivors. Great reconstruction takes place over the next few decades and society is once again great and strong. The world's population is now living in underground cities. In the year 2035, on the eve of man's first flight to the moon, a popular uprising against progress (which some people claim has caused the wars of the past) gains support and becomes violent.”

Swamp Women (dir. Roger Corman, 1955)
“The film follows undercover police officer Lee Hampton after she infiltrates a prison, befriends three female convicts, and helps them all escape. In reality, this planned escape is part of a larger plot to find a diamond stash hidden deep within the swamps of Louisiana.”

Atom Age Vampire (dir. Richard McNamara, 1960)
“A stripper is horribly disfigured in a car accident. A brilliant scientist develops a treatment that restores her beauty and falls in love with her. To preserve her appearance the doctor must give her additional treatments using glands taken from murdered women. His unexplained ability to turn into a hideous monster helps with this problem but does nothing to win her love. The doctor's woes multiply as the police and the girl's boyfriend begin to close in on him.”


Feature Films / Internet Archive


MILF:04 The World
MILF:03 Nanoscapes
MILF:02 Spatializing the Marvelous: The Musicals of Busby Berkeley
MILF:01 Figures in the Field
MILF


MILF:06 Thick City
Prunings XX
Herman van den Boom


On Derek Jarman's garden.

On some crazy bike lanes. More here.

On the security features of the newly redesigned Washington Monument grounds.

On London's guerrilla gardeners. From the BBC: “Striking at night, armed only with shrubs and plants, they set out to brighten up roundabouts and verges.”

On NYC garbage. Real garbage. For just $50.

On a design research study for the reuse of Silverlake Reservoir in Los Angeles.
Cellular Terrain
Plant Cellular Anatomy



More Gardens-in-a-Petri
Microscopic Wood Anatomy
Proto-mississippian hydroengineering

Are these Rube Goldberg machines or the playthings of future hydroengineers?



Vicksburg Harbor Project
Notes on Some Selections from the Visual Images Database of the Mississippi Valley Division of the US Army Corps of Engineers
Theatrum Machinarum
La Machine de Marly

Waiting
Some amazing photos of pay phones in Africa from The Payphone Project. In some places, they can be quite active communal spaces.

Pay phones

Pay phones

Pay phones

Unfortunately, it's a different story in the U.S. and elsewhere. They're dead spaces.

Pay phones

Pay phones

For some reason, I've come to associate pay phones with architectures of waiting. Or landscapes of waiting. The anticipation of a call, or the prank call, ticking silently but surely like a bomb counting down to an as yet unknown detonation time. You can even watch Colin Farrell sweating, quivering, crapping his pants, waiting to see if Kiefer Sutherland shoots him in the head, all the while an entire New York City block erupts into pandemonium. And of course, all it takes to neutralize the anxious terrain of Metropolis begins with a phone booth.

Pay phones

Pay phones

Much has been written about architecture as event. Frequently cited as a classic example are those flying buttresses keeping so many gothic cathedrals upright. From a very early BLDGBLOG post: “They're events of gravity channeled downward toward the earth's core; they're the building always on the verge of falling apart – and then not falling apart.” I suppose Hoover Dam can be described as an event: tons of concrete and the entire Colorado Plateau in a delicate dance for equilibrium (and counter-equilibrium) with hydrology and gravity.

But can you situate architecture as event in the larger context of landscape as waiting? Can we say that Notre Dame Cathedral was built to ride out tourists and lost Dan Brown fans, biding its time until its buttresses reach a critical structural point and collapses in on itself? And Hoover Dam ticks and tocks away the centuries until the Colorado River has eaten away the canyon walls?

Last I've heard, the Army Corps of Engineers will rebuild New Orleans's levee system, this time bigger, stronger, and better, whatever that means. No doubt they're anticipating another Katrina or an even more damaging one. Judging from precedents, however, it won't be entirely immune. So a city waits. Perhaps somebody decides to build levees of levees. Are there levees of levees of levees? The landscapes of waiting.

Meanwhile, how do quaint Swiss villages wait for the next avalanche? How is Tokyo waiting for the next big earthquake? San Francisco for Los Angeles? Yellowstone for the next major wildfire or even for the impending cataclysmic eruption of its supervolcano?

Pay phones

Pay phones

Ultimately however, I'm more intrigued by the idea of a landscape in which you're perpetually waiting. Godot finally arrives, even Guffman and the Messiah, and yet you keep on waiting. And while you're waiting, you go and tend to your garden, plant some cucumbers, prune some trees, water your roses. It doesn't come, whatever it is. You're waiting. Still. So you decide to build a pergola, go to TruValue, and buy some lumber. It's a beautiful pergola, the best in the neighborhood. But rather than admiring it, checking out the views from inside, you take a look at your watch. Twice. And twice again. The summer solstice arrives. And here comes the winter solstice at last, finally. But you only stare at the horizon. Summer and winter again. You harvest your crops. Everything else wilts and dies. But still you and everyone else wait, tense, ecstatic, and apprehensive. Speculating. North America returns to the equator. New landscapes, new species. You wait. The sun becomes a red giant. You wait.
Tornado Alleys of Mars
Dust devils in Mars
Landscapes as Diagnosis
Star Pruned commenter e-tat has a new blog. There are only three posts so far, but what it lacks in frequency, it makes it up in sheer speculative brilliance. In the most recent entry, e-tat takes on Semantic Landscape, a biomedical information retrieval and visualization tool using the language of geography. Data mining, literally.

Semantic Landscapes

Here's the most succulent bit: “Distinctions between the body and landscape will be blurred in the new practice of geomedicine and the related science of medical geology. Spa treatments and garden retreats will be internalised, with microbiotic centres of horticultural therapy (also). Conversely, parallel or complementary practices of landscape surgery, medicinal gardening, pharmo-remedial therapies and other site-specific modes of treatment will be established and treated as symbiotic aspects of whole-person medicine. Patients will inhabit the relevant landscapes, and the landscape will be subject to regimes of health, cure, and where relevant, mortality. Consequently, existing medical procedures will have to take on the symbolic aspects of geography: transplants will be regarded as relocations, with attendant vehicle hire and organisation of removals; surgery will be regarded as an exclusion or death in the family, with attendant funeral services; and, routine checkups will be regarded as terrain mapping exercises, bringing us back to the images above, and their implication for the discourses and practices of remediation at previously unexplored scales.”

Semantic Landscapes

But what happens when these symbolic terrains start to resemble actual landscapes?

The geography of lung cancer, for instance, matches the peaks, valleys and biomass color gradient of Yosemite Park. And the cartography of AIDS corresponds with the dizzying contours of the Grand Canyon.

Will people stop visiting these treasured national parks for fear of contracting a fatal disease?

Semantic Landscapes

Or how about imagined landscapes? What happens when long considered paradisiacal terrains become the classic diagnosis for the plague? Or after an abortion, your biomap now looks like the Garden of Eden.


A bit about landscapes as therepeutic devices here
Future Sky
For those eager to find out, the correct answer to the Landscape challenge #3 is D — the perfect venue to witness the Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxies coalescing into a new galaxy. And here is a fantastic preview of that intergalactic collision from astronomer John Dubinsky and composer John Kameel Farah.

Future Sky by astronomer John Dubinsky and composer John Kameel Farah

Future Sky by astronomer John Dubinsky and composer John Kameel Farah

“The harsh reality of the distant universe with all of its violent interactions seems remote from our human existence and all might seem to be quiet and normal in our home the Milky Way. But it seems likely that in a mere 3 billion years, our neighbouring galaxy Andromeda and the Milky Way will fall together and have a close collision. They will likely merge and be reborn as a single giant elliptical galaxy over the course of another billion years or so. How might this metamorphosis play out and what might you see if you looked up at night over the next 4 billion years!”

Future Sky by astronomer John Dubinsky and composer John Kameel Farah

Future Sky by astronomer John Dubinsky and composer John Kameel Farah

And I have to ask: can landscape architecture, whose mastery of time distinguishes it from architecture and most other related fields, concern itself with time scales in the billions?

Vicksburg Harbor Project
US Army Corps of Engineers

My favorite group of images downloaded from the now defunct Visual Images Database of the USACE Mississippi Valley Division.

US Army Corps of Engineers

US Army Corps of Engineers

US Army Corps of Engineers

US Army Corps of Engineers

All of which begs the creation of an Artist-in-Residence Program at the Army Corps of Engineers. Imagine what hydrological labyrinths would Mary Miss have constructed. Or what cryptographic alluvial hagiography of the Mississippi would Robert Smithson have written; the encryption key is in the meanders. Michael Heizer in coitus at Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory meets John Deer meets ThyssenKrupp Fördertechnik. And perhaps Cai Guo-Qiang in collaboration with Naoya Hatakeyama might be permitted the use of a small nuclear warhead.


Notes on Some Selections from the Visual Images Database of the Mississippi Valley Division of the US Army Corps of Engineers
Landscape challenge #3
A multiple choice question this time. What is the function of this concrete protrusion on the plains of the Negev Desert in southern Israel?

Dani Karavan

a) An ancient observatory for equatorial auroras.

Dani Karavan

b) A twenty-first century 10,000-square-meter “contemplative space” used by horny teens and meth junkies.

Dani Karavan

c) A twentieth century freedom sculpture commemorating an Israeli war victory.

Dani Karavan

d) A future astronomical viewing platform for the coming galactic collision between the Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxies.

Dani Karavan

e) All of the above.

(Answer)


Is Dani Karavan a cargo cultist?
Landscape challenge #2
Landscape challenge #1
Is Dani Karavan a cargo cultist?
Dani Karavan

Two things discovered saved in the same folder during a recent spring cleaning of my archives: a set of images of the large scale works of the Israeli artist Dani Karavan; and an essay by J.G. Ballard titled, “Robert Smithson as Cargo Cultist,” which according to my notes, appears in Land and Environmental Art by Jeffrey Kastner (1998). The images and parts of the essay are reproduced here.

Dani Karavan

On Smithson's most celebrated work, Ballard asks, “What cargo might have berthed at the Spiral Jetty? And what strange caravel could have emerged from the saline mists of this remote lake and chosen to dock at this mysterious harbour? One can only imagine the craft captained by a rare navigator, a minotaur obsessed by inexplicable geometries, who had commissioned Smithson to serve as his architect and devise this labyrinth in the guise of a cargo terminal.”

Dani Karavan

And now you must be thinking: What intergalactic tourists had commissioned Dani Karavan to design interstellar runways in the guise of an esplanade and a boulevard...in the guise of a sculpture in the guise of a peace memorial?

Are those lasers just some sort quantum communication devices, beamed from watchtowers stationed along his axial trails?

Dani Karavan

Ballard wonders further: “But what was the cargo? Time appears to have stopped in Utah, during a geological ellipsis that has lasted for hundreds of millions of years. I assume that that cargo was a clock, though one of a very special kind. So many of Smithson’s monuments seem to be a patent amalgam of clock, labyrinth and cargo terminal. What time was about to be told, and what even stranger cargo would have landed here?”

But what about Dani Karavan? What awaits at the end of his pilgrimage route, what will countless benedictions invoke? Peace? No, too shortsighted. Karavan operates in deep time.

Dani Karavan

Ballard again: “Fifty thousands years from now our descendants will be mystified by the empty swimming pools of an abandoned southern California and Cote d’Azur, lying in the dust like primitive time machines or the altar of some geometry obsessed religion. I see Smithson’s monuments belonging in the same category, artefacts intended to serve as machines that will suddenly switch themselves on and begin to generate a more complex time and space. All his structures seem to be analogues of advanced neurological processes that have yet to articulate themselves.”

Fifty thousands years from now our descendants will also stumble upon Karavan's concrete allées, but rather than bewildered, they'll walk themselves into a feverish pace as if some genetically encoded instinct had kicked in, up and down, going and returning until delirium sets in, visions of primeval landscape architects, up and down, arriving before leaving, and then finally...
“What time is it?”
William Blake

It seems that the Big Bang, Einstein's space-time continuum, the US Department of Transportation, the US Department of Commerce, Pope Gregory XIII, and my parents have all conspired to make this day, my birthday, an extra special one.

At three seconds past one o'clock two a.m., the time and date will be --

1:02:03 04/05/06

Holy numerological, Batman!
Notes on Some Selections from the Visual Images Database of the Mississippi Valley Division of the US Army Corps of Engineers
Visual Images Database of the Mississippi Valley Division of the US Army Corps of Engineers

1) Vicksburg Harbor Project, Warren County, Mississippi. Operation of East Retaining Dike Spillway Hydraullic Fill Control Sturcture, with 35 logs in place. Elevation of top of logs, 105.5, MSL. Pool elevation, 101.2, MSL. Photo taken by U.S. Army Engineer District, Vicksburg, Corps of Engineers, February 3, 1960. Photo file #A9/1145.

Visual Images Database of the Mississippi Valley Division of the US Army Corps of Engineers

2) Vicksburg Harbor Project, Warren County, Mississippi. Construction of industrial fill, habor and approach channels by hired labor and leased dredge. Outlet end of Hydraulic Fill Control Structure. Six stop logs in place, 36 inches high. Dredge leased from: Jahncke Service, Inc. Contract No. DA-22-052-CIVENG-59-450, dated 13 February 1959. Funds: Flood Control, Mississippi River & Tributaries. Allotment: 1255-09. Photo taken by U.S. Army Engineer District, Vicksburg, Corps of Engineers, January 11, 1960. Photo file #A9/1140.

Visual Images Database of the Mississippi Valley Division of the US Army Corps of Engineers

3) This post has been on queue for months, gathering a thick layer of dust. And it looks as though I've waited far too long to write it, since the Visual Images Database of the USACE Mississippi Valley Division is now defunct. Perhaps it's been relocated or maybe undergoing some maintenance, but its link on the homepage has certainly been deleted. It was listed under Information > Documents & Photos, but it's gone. I've sent several emails, of course, but have yet to receive a reply.

If it seems as though I'm freaking out, I am, because the archive contained some of the best publicly accessible, i.e. free, historical B&W photographs of hydrological engineering out there. Or simply the best B&Ws. And at print-ready high resolution! In fact, one could easily confect a high caliber museum exhibit to make fans of Edward Burtynski and David Maisel catatonic with awesomeness.

Visual Images Database of the Mississippi Valley Division of the US Army Corps of Engineers

4) Fortunately, I've downloaded quite a few images, of which fifteen appear here. And you can check out all the originals on Flickr Pruned where they are titled according to their file ID number.

Unfortunately, except for two labels shown above, I didn't think to copy and paste the others. So now I'm not sure which project is which.

Visual Images Database of the Mississippi Valley Division of the US Army Corps of Engineers

Visual Images Database of the Mississippi Valley Division of the US Army Corps of Engineers

5) Still, there is no substitute for the original archive. You can't recreate the joy of witnessing the Mississippi — and all its arterial tributaries, streams, and rivulets, its watersheds, floodplains, and wetlands — barricaded, recontoured, rebared, channelized, angled, and tiled with merely the force of will of the Army Corps of Engineers into a network of levees and dams. An intricate choreography between concrete, earth, water, and gravity. Indeed quite possibly the greatest Theatrum Machinarum in the world. (Or should that be one giant Rube Goldberg contraption — a single misalignment and the entire intercontinental infrastructure suffers complete critical failure?)

Visual Images Database of the Mississippi Valley Division of the US Army Corps of Engineers

6) But in the event of a catastrophe, monitoring stations and several detachments of scouting patrols — proto-nervous and immune systems, if you will — up and down the length of the river should alert central command immediately. Which leads me to wonder: 1,000 years from now, when the entire expanse of the Mississippi River Valley has been fully mechanized and automated, its constituent drainage basins computerized and overseen by a central Pentagon AI, will the entire thing suddenly become self-aware? After shaking off some trees, cows, and people, will it just get up and go? The long captive bastard child of Mary Shelley and the Army Corps of Engineers, creeping about the earth with only vengeance on its mind. Or perhaps a benevolent Alluvial Ent, off to visit his good friends the Yangtze, the Nile, the Rhine, the Po, and the Ganges-Bhramaputra, all by then as roboticized as the Mississippi. (Peter Jackson, are you reading this? Email me.)

Visual Images Database of the Mississippi Valley Division of the US Army Corps of Engineers

7) And another thing: what would remain? A post-glacial, pre-Clovis Man landscape in which stormwater and groundwater go into a non-stop, frenetic search for lesser contour lines? Two things are for certain though: a) the Army will be there to start defying gravity and geology all over again; and b) Pruned will also be there to blog it all.

Visual Images Database of the Mississippi Valley Division of the US Army Corps of Engineers

Visual Images Database of the Mississippi Valley Division of the US Army Corps of Engineers

8) Meanwhile, here are three quotes that seem to have collected themselves in this post as it awaited publication:

a) In his book The Control of Nature, John McPhee quotes James B. Eads, who the author describes as “probably one of the most brilliant engineer who has ever addressed his attention to the Mississippi River”: “[E]every atom that moves onward in the river, from the moment it leaves its home among the crystal springs or mountain snows, throughout the fifteen hundred leagues of its devious pathway, until it is finally lost in the vast waters of the Gulf, is controlled by laws as fixed and certain as those which direct the majestic march of the heavenly spheres. Every phenomenon and apparent eccentricity of the river—its scouring and depositing action, its caving banks, the formation of the bars at its mouth, the effect of the waves and tides of the sea upon its currents and deposits—is controlled by law as immutable as the Creator, and the engineer need only to be insured that he does not ignore the existence of any of these laws, to feel positively certain of the results he aims at.”

Visual Images Database of the Mississippi Valley Division of the US Army Corps of Engineers

8b) But apparently these engineers are not of the god-fearing sort and so undertook a frontal assault against the Creator: “This nation has a large and powerful adversary. Our opponent could cause the United States to lose nearly all her seaborne commerce, to lose her standing as first amongst trading nations... We are fighting Mother Nature... It's a battle we have to fight day by day, year by year; the health of our economy depends on victory.”

Visual Images Database of the Mississippi Valley Division of the US Army Corps of Engineers

8c) BLDGBLOG explains it a little clearer: “It's too easy, not to mention slightly vindictive, to blame all of hurricane Katrina's catastrophic impact and aftermath on the Army Corps of Engineers; but it is worth remembering that New Orleans – in fact the near totality of the lower Mississippi delta – is a manmade landscape that has become, over the last century at least, something of a military artifact. To say that New Orleans is, today, under martial law, is therefore almost redundant: its very landscape, for at least the last century, has never been under anything *but* martial law. The lower Mississippi delta is literally nothing less than landscape design by army hydrologists.”

Visual Images Database of the Mississippi Valley Division of the US Army Corps of Engineers

Visual Images Database of the Mississippi Valley Division of the US Army Corps of Engineers

9) One final thing: looking at all these monumental earth-moving hydroengineering, is it possible that entire mountain ranges from who knows where, maybe Canada, Peru or even China, may have been blasted to bits and then shipped off to the Midwest? A futures market in mountains, something to exacerbate debilitating trade imbalance with China? Maybe not, but I particularly like the image of a whole Andean mountain passing through the Panama Canal on a Panamax supertanker. Ghosts of dead Land Art artists haunting its slopes. Rolling boulders up to the summit. And of an entire Chinese mountain, 1/10000th of the Himalayas, holding back the Mississippi in the guise of a Native American burial mound.

10) So whether it is a hydropolitical war or a religious war or a trade war or whatever, Visual Images Database has documented it all, making it one of the greatest repository of photojournalism out there.


POSTSCRIPT #1: The database is back online.
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