Nancy Baker Cahill's Margin of Error and Revolutions (both 2019) were both visible in the specialized Desert X feature. These augmented reality works in the Coachella Valley create awareness of past, present, and impending environmental disaster leaving no physical trace.
Margin of Error, 2019
Located at the Salton Sea Recreation Area Visitor Center, Salton Sea, Mecca, CA
The Margin of Error AR drawing/experience once floated above the water at the site of the Salton Sea Recreation Area, a site marked by terminal, toxic environmental damage. Imagined as a “hyperobject,” a phenomenon whose scope and impact we can scarcely comprehend, the Salton Sea’s rate of evaporation must be constantly mediated to avoid tipping into a full-scale, airborne environmental catastrophe. With no stabilization outlets, the Salton Sea has already destroyed much of what was once a natural habitat for multiple species of birds and fish. The drawing refers to this razor-thin line which, if crossed, will have even more devastating biological, chemical, and geological impacts beyond our imagination.
As the drawing swirls and pulses above the sparkling water, Margin of Error asks the viewer to consider the ungovernable nature of Nature itself, artifice, magical thinking, particulate life (and death), peril, and beauty. With original marks inspired by fish carcasses, agricultural runoff, particulate phosphorus, salts and minerals, the drawing is animated at a dizzying pace.
It attempts to suggest organic, inorganic, and biological forces trapped in an unnatural, ongoing and unpredictable murmuration. It leaves no trace but will act as an otherwise invisible, unsettling, and ineffable poetry in space.
Located in the background of Palm Springs Wind Farm, Tipton Road, Whitewater, CA
The Revolutions AR drawing/experience imagines the Palm Springs wind farm as a monolithic, AI “garden,” which was “planted” to help harness energy from the natural wind corridor of the Valley. While clean energy is far preferable to fossil fuels, the wind farm underscores the inescapable human effects on the land. The turbines remind us of the degree to which we have crossed a rubicon for what we have done and will continue to do to the desert landscape in order to mitigate ongoing damage there and elsewhere.
Inspired by richly chromatic, natural desert blooms, a series of animated “blossoms” rise above the turbines. Over the course of roughly two minutes, they expand and shatter as if they had just been plucked, thrown up into the air, and buffeted against the sky.
Revolutions asks viewers to imagine the fate of desert life and lives when (often sacred) land is razed in the interest of development. Some particulate fragments of the exploding blooms gesture South East toward the Salton Sea, as if to call or respond to its AR partner hovering above the polluted water. As the blossoms float and dissipate, they nod to airborne pollutants in the Valley. These AR blossoms churn at their own pace in conversation with––but also in subtle defiance of––their revolving, man-made relatives below.