Roadside picnic
Aluminum ceiling tiles, foundation remnants, rocks, bricks, cement, terra cotta shard, aluminum bowls, water, pistachio shells, cigarette butts, shrimp tails, marking paint, grounding rod, electric wire, clamps, screws, nails, masonry line, barbell, metal can, potted plant, wood bowl, work light, porch light, color gels, painted ball

Roadside picnic
September 25 – December 13, 2015
Arroyo Seco Garden Golf Classic
Abode, Los Angeles

I. An energy exists in ruin. When a glass of milk falls off the counter the material residue of the moment takes several chronological, if not contradictory, sensorial forms: the sound of glass shattering, the sight of milk sprawling across the floor, the taste of milk on linoleum with days still before its expiration date, the smell of the rotting milk over a week, the touch of dried milk after the wetness evaporates. Some of these senses last only a moment, others for days weeks years. The relationship between the sense used and its window of being sensible is not totally fixed but does live within a relative spectrum of human sensibility.

II. “A picnic. Picture a forest, a country road, a meadow. Cars drive off the country road into the meadow, a group of young people get out carrying bottles, baskets of food, transistor radios, and cameras. They light fires, pitch tents, turn on the music. In the morning they leave. The animals, birds, and insects that watched in horror through the long night creep out from their hiding places. And what do they see? Old spark plugs and old filters strewn around... Rags, burnt-out bulbs, and a monkey wrench left behind... And of course, the usual mess – apple cores, candy wrappers, charred remains of the campfire, cans, bottles, somebody’s handkerchief, somebody’s penknife, torn newspapers, coins, faded flowers picked in another meadow.” (1)

III. The final version of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker is a film of a film based on the novel Roadside Picnic. After a year of shooting, the relationship between Tarkovsky and the film’s cinematographer Georgy Rerberg soured. Upon returning to Moscow, the footage, shot on a new Kodak film stock not yet familiar to Soviet film laboratories, was developed incorrectly. With a year’s worth of footage destroyed, Rerberg was fired by Tarkovsky. The Soviet film board grew anxious of financial shortages and moved to shut everything down. Salvaging the project by shooting a two-part film with additional deadlines and funding, Tarkovsky hired the cinematographer Aleksandr Knyazhinsky and proceeded to film again. Supposedly, the first version of the film remained faithful to the Strugatskys’ story, while the second version relied heavily on allegorical solutions.

IV. “But these remains, which testify the absolute indifference of the aliens to human existence – for we ourselves are precisely those ‘animal witnesses’ – are also the traces and the marks of superhuman pleasure, which individual humans can scarcely imagine.” (2)

V. Outside the window in front of which I am writing a line of cars, half of them black, roll their way left to right across the window and down the street on their way to a funeral.

VI. “At any rate, the ultimate lost object of desire of the Stragatskys’ Zone turns out to be, not some brilliant technological equipment utilizing utterly incomprehensible, physical processes, but rather a magical object of a unique kind: ‘a mythical artifact located in the Zone in the shape and form of a gold ball that grants human wishes’. It is this Golden Ball for which the stalker protagonist of Roadside Picnic searches: and the reader has the feeling that the success of the quest is somehow dependent on the quality of the wish itself.” (3)

VII. A garbage truck rolls into the window picture from the left and stops in the middle of the window frame at the sidewalk. A man wearing a neon orange shirt walks around from the back of the truck left to right across the window plane looking for a trash can. The same, but different man wearing a neon yellow shirt retraces the first man’s steps in reverse, right to left. A minute later, the man in orange follows the man in yellow’s steps, right to left. The garbage truck rolls off to the right, seemingly without either of them. A minute later, a second garbage truck, off screen to the left, starts its engine and moves across the window down the street left to right.

(1) Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Roadside Picnic: Tale of the Troika (Best of Soviet Science Fiction), trans. Antonina W. Bouis (New York: Macmillan, 1977), 107.

(2) Frederick Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions (New York: Verso, 2007), 75.

(3) Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future, 74-5.