atta: Cinematic Landscape of Rural Texas
A presence sensitive installation by Carol LaFayette

Once a cattle ranch, this landscape is regenerating. Migrating, native, and roan animals live here: otter, bobcat, feral hogs. It’s difficult to reconcile ideas about “nature” — the cinematic code — with this liminal zone. Down the road the condos march closer, named for what’s gone (“Wolf Run”...”Civet Hollow”) and entire swaths become desiccated and flat as a plate.

A company developing “smart dust”— miniscule, remote spyware — claims, by the next century, it will build a “global nervous system.” I decided to create a “local nervous system” here, one that might reveal subtle interconnections through remote sensing devices.

I set up wireless video, fixed cameras to tree stumps, recorded data with remote loggers, and threw rubber ducks with my phone number on them into flash floods.

Later my attention shifted to the quiet industry of leafcutter ants. In a symbiotic relationship Atta texana cultivates a living fungus from vegetation: the fungus is dependent on the ant for reproduction; the ant wears antibiotic dust to keep the fungus edible. Experienced farmers, Atta limits the harvest to ensure a healthy crop the following year. Some colonies can be large enough to contain a 3-story house, and they are said to be able to swallow tractors.

I collaborated with a geoscientist to scan a portion of the Atta colony using Ground Penetrating Radar. Similar to sonar which records underwater objects, GPR can see what lies beneath the ground. The site was vast: about 30 feet square, but it’s only a small section of the entire colony.

The atta installation combines imagery from different kinds of remote sensing devices to paint a cinematic landscape of rural Texas. Relentlessly,the palindrome submerges and resurfaces, decomposing and recomposing the vista.

Carol LaFayette


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