Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Fragmentation and Alienation

The following is a montage of some quotes I found in the web about the eruption of the Tambora volcano and the so called "year without summer".

The place was Sumbawa, Indonesia, the year was 1815, and the month was April. Everything was set for one of the most explosive events in human history. Sumbawa Island is home to the volcano called Tambora which has an elevation of 9,348 ft. (2,850m) and a diameter at sea-level of 38 mile. On April 5th of 1815 the volcano, which had lain dormant for more than 5,000 years, began to erupt.

The mountain had been experiencing small eruptions before it exploded in 1815 and the April eruption left a deep summit caldera where the previous stratovolcano stood, causing earthquakes as far away as Surabaya (a distance of 500 km) in reaction to the collapse. Ash exploded from the eruption and was carried as far as east Java, approximately 900 km from Tambora. Thunder-like sounds were heard up to 1,400 km away and the entire eruption is estimated to have had the volcanic explosion strength of seven. The eruption column itself was roughly 44 km high vertically and produced numerous pyroclastic flows. Tsunamis were generated as a result of both the flows and the shock waves from the collapsing caldera. In total, the volcanic eruption lasted for two days and ejected about 50 cubic km of magma. The eruption was the largest that had occurred over past 1,000 years, with an immediate human impact of 92,000 deaths.

The explosion obliterated one civilization in particular. The Tamboran kingdom of Sumbawa disappeared in 1815. Not much is known about the civilization, which was unknown to the Western world before the early 1800s. The first Dutch and British researchers to visit the island were surprised to find the inhabitants speaking a language unlike any other in Indonesia. Some believe the 10,000 Tamborans spoke a language in the Mon-Khmer family, resembling those spoken in Indochina. Most evidence of the civilization was lost to the ash and stone of Tambora's pyroclastic flows.

In Indonesia, over 100,000 people died shortly following Tambora's eruption Some lost their lives in the deadly whirlwinds and tsunamis that followed in the summer of 1815, while others succumbed to famine and disease. Add to that number victims of typhus and cholera, and one is aware of the far-reaching power of this nearly 200-year-old natural disaster.

As far-reaching as the immediate outputs of the volcanic explosion were, the full effects of the eruption had yet to be felt. The year after the eruption, 1816, is often titled "the year without summer," due to significantly cooler temperatures throughout Europe and other reaches of the world, resulting in such unusual phenomena as snow in June in the northern hemisphere and cyclone tracks being pushed to the south, bringing unusually wet weather in many areas. Crop failures and famine abounded the world over, marked by higher death rates that exceeded anything on Earth in the past 10,000 years. "The year without summer" is not a complete mystery, however, for its causes are the typical results of a large volcanic explosion, such as the Tambora eruption. There are many who would disagree with this hypothesis, claiming that the effects of a volcanic eruption the size of Tambora could not be as far-reaching or as destructive to cause "the year without summer."

Global cooling caused crop failures, summer snowfalls, famine, floods and epidemics in 1816. Temperatures in North America and Europe dropped an average of five to six degrees Celsius, producing widespread crop failure, with disparate results. Winter and spring in Quebec and the eastern United States were near normal, if a little dry, giving no indication of the unusually cold summer to come. Although daytime highs remained relatively normal, extreme drops in nighttime temperatures led to frosts in April and May that killed or damaged corn and fruit crops. The surprising snowfall on June 5 and 6 that blanketed New England was an indication of what would follow that summer. Further frosts through the usually temperate months killed corn, fruit and vegetable crops from Maine to North Carolina. Animals, particularly birds and newly shorn sheep, died of exposure in Vermont. The poor weather conditions had a notable result: food shortages drove many New England farmers westward.

Conditions in Europe were worse. The altered weather had adverse effects on French crops, greatly reduced the food supply. Wholesale failure or late harvesting of grapes due to frosts resulted in a practically nonexistent grape harvest. Food riots broke out in Britain, Switzerland and France triggering the looting of grain warehouses. Widespread famine in Switzerland caused the government to declare a national emergency and release instructions for distinguishing edible plans from poisonous ones. That year, the British government abolished income tax because of severe food shortages.

Perhaps Ireland endured the most dismal consequences of the changing climate. An exceptionally wet summer, with rain falling 142 out of 153 days, led to a wholesale destruction of wheat, oat and potato crops. An estimated 60,000 people died of famine or famine related diseases in this, Ireland's first major potato failure. A wave of emigration followed.

The lowered temperatures and particularly moist conditions also played a pivotal role in the rampant spread of disease in 1816. Scientists frequently blame Ireland's rainy summer for the typhus epidemic of 1816 to 1819. The epidemic later spread to Europe and ultimately claimed the lives of 200,000.

I´m vividly touched by the fact that an entire people desapeared at the initial explosion of mount Tambora and it´s language was gone as well at that moment. My visual poem try to suggest a way of experiencing the material destruction of the language. The poem is fragmented and confusing. The words and letters proced disjunctively, like some fearful dream, while the fractured syntax articulates the proposal of its own destruction. The fragmentation of the poem proposes to alienate the reader from the lecture itself. There isn´t a lecture. There isn´t something to be read. There isn´t reasons to understand something. There is nothing. Life is gone! The language is missed. Nobody knows the name of the stars. Nobody knows the names of the fruits. And the name of the river is missed. Nobody will say it again.

These elements can be interpreted as reflecting a wasteland of language. Grammar is barren and meaningless, sentences are dead husks and the occasional tattered bit of coherent meaning waves aimlessly about in a dry wind of purpose. As a result, the "reader" cannot claim familiarity with the basic mechanics of the language. The fragmentation of the language alienates the reader further. The desolation and confusion that the poem presents to the reader is balanced precariously by the sheer wealth of knowledge and history behind the piece.

The folded surface was produced with Ron Barnett´s Formula Tracer with the formula variation Cayley Cubic. The coloring formula is Texture Raytrace, both of them among my most favorites tools. And the words in Portuguese (what an exotic language!) are created with Photoshop and processed into UF with Mark Townsend´s, Sprite.

There is a vivid description by Lord Byron of the "year without summer", wich you can read here.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

From catastrophes, some art can survive more or less intact. The Pompeii works for example.

In some cases, ruin confers added presence. I suspect that the Venus di Milo with arms wouldn't have nearly the same effect. Incidentally, an effect probably not intended by the sculptor.

12/29/2006 2:03 PM


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