There’s this mountain in New Mexico - not that mountain - Yucca Mountain. It’s where the Federal Government have decided to locate a tonne of nuclear waste underneath the mountain. And they’ve charged a group of scientists and environmental agencies to come up with a series of warnings and messages that can cross linguistic barriers. Basically warding off future generations from going anywhere near the mountain’
(PLEASE LEAVE (a message), 2021)
I don’t remember how we came across Yucca Mountain. It was most likely online. Perhaps, through a half watched documentary buried deep somewhere on YouTube. Or a thread amongst the thousands of others waiting to be excavated on Twitter. I don’t remember, only that It was stubbled upon by accident.
I’m reminded of Matthew Goulish’s remarks (after the French theorist, Paul Virilio) that “each new technology produces [with it] an infinite new subset of ‘accident’” (Goulish, 2004: 257). How the invention of the locomotive created with it the ‘accident’ of derailment. Or how the ease and instantaneity of contemporary telecommunications have too, the adverse (and rather ironic) effect of keeping us apart (Vrilio, 1997: 42).
So, along with the discovery of the Yucca Mountain, we also uncovered a series of ‘long term nuclear waste warning messages’ designed to alert generations in the far future.
I remember using the found message in a task put to the company which simply asked ‘to modify, rearrange, or combine what was previously separate’.
A week later, we were due to share a fragment of our work with our fellow peers and collaborators. We hadn’t been able to find space for the task but we decided to preface what we would share (a short video projection and movement sequence) with the information we had about Yucca Mountain (outlined above). It was unscripted and little preparation went into the exact words that were said.
With little thought, I made passing reference to the projected desktop image behind me. A generic apple desktop image titled, ‘Desert Peak iOS 14.2 wallpaper in Light Mode’. I turned mid-sentence to clarify, ‘not that mountain’.
Much of the discussion afterwards concerned the performative function of these three words. By accident, we had stubbled upon a means of drawing attention to the illusion upon which all theatre acts are founded, namely, “the foregrounding of (a) truth…within the conditions of a lie” (Bailes, 2011: 19). It swiftly became apparent how much accidents can “proposes a generative and often humorous ground for artistic expression” (Bailes, 2011: 66). And this is only one example of the countless accidents, mistakes and failures throughout the process we would retroactively declare as intentional.
As a company we continue to nurture “a comfortability with failure” (Goulish, 2007: 403) and a newfound pleasure in the incidences of error, or indeed, accident.
Bailes, S. (2011). Performance Theatre and the Poetics of Failure: Forced Entertainment, Goat Island, Elevator Repair Service. London: Routledge
Bottoms, S. and Goulish M., eds. (2007). Small Acts of Repair: Performance, Ecology and Goat Island. New York: Routledge
Goulish, M. (2004). ‘Peculiar Detonation: The Incomplete History and Impermanent Manifesto of The Institute of Failure’ in Hemer, J. and Malzacher, F., (eds.), Not Even a Game Anymore: The Theatre of Forced Entertainment. Berlin: Alexander Verlag Berlin
Virilio, P. (1997). Open Sky. London: Verso