Monday, 18 June 2012

Future Events


The region of Galveston, Texas is a region on stilts. It is home to the bird of that name: the Stilt uses long legs and a long beak to navigate and feed in its coastal wetlands habitat. The flatness of the land, water, and horizon line here is set off by the verticality of long-legged birds and long-legged houses.

From Galveston we board a ferry. On the upper deck, looking down, I watch a couple and their camera as they watch a flock of Laughing Gulls. The woman gives a signal to the man to let him know the camera is on. The man throws bread into the air and the gulls squawk and swarm. After the bread is gone the man performs a sweeping gesture with his arms that might be intended to show the birds he is out of bread, but might also be a bow, for the birds, or, for the camera. A perfect performance: the birds have been fed, the couple watched the birds as they were being fed, and later, in the car, or perhaps in their living room, the couple will watch a screen on which the man will feed the birds again, and perhaps, again and again. I can't shake the impression that the latter was in fact the point of the entire production. That the fabrication of a memory, through the documentation of an event, was more important than the event itself.

On the Bolivar Peninsula, where the ferry lets us off, the architecture is on stilts. When the hurricanes strike, the wind destroys what it can and then the water comes to carry away the ruins. This region was devastated by floods following the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, the Galveston Hurricane of 1915, Hurricane Alicia in 1983, Hurricane Allison in 2001, and Hurricane Ivan in 2008.

After Hurricane Ivan, nine out of ten structures were re-built on stilts between eight and sixteen feet off the ground. These structures have finally accepted the inevitability of disaster. They are designed for a future event and every day when there is not a flood is superfluous. On the day of the flood the purpose of the design of these buildings will be fulfilled: they will become houses and churches and businesses on top of an ocean, elevated structures for the safekeeping of people and property. As Joan Didion said about wildfires in Los Angeles, the same applies to floods on the Bolivar Peninsula: she said, "when, not if." I feel as though I am under an ocean now; the water line is somewhere between eye level and the bottom of these homes.

The mascot of Galveston High is the Hurricane.

Chris Engman (Foam Magazine #24/Talent)

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