AS IF - Art & Science in the Field - is a new center and residency program located in North Carolina. As part of our partnership with AS.IF, we publish the words and work of AS.IF residents.
By Sara Rich
AS IF resident December 2017
In December 2017, I had the great privilege of a preview weekend residency at Art + Science In the Field: AS IF Center in western North Carolina. The Center’s director, Nancy Lowe, had come to the Art Department at Appalachian State University to discuss the AS IF mission in relation to bridging the arts and sciences. Because my visual art simultaneously informs and draws from my scientific work as a nautical archaeologist, I was intrigued as to what a residency at AS IF would offer my practice. However, my mission for this residency was fiction: that is, instead of making visual art, I was to write two short stories, both of which also relate to my scientific work underwater.
The first story, “The Spiral Sea,” had been started last September but remained unfinished. It is inspired by the Cerutti Mastodon Site in California, where archaeological excavations have strongly suggested that a mastodon was killed and butchered over 115,000 years ago – that is, about 100,000 years before humans are known to have been on this continent. If it was a people group who killed this mastodon, who were they, and how did they get here? And importantly, where did they go? My dark fiction short story posits a species of hominins that flee East Asia after being driven out by other hominin groups who subjected them to various forms of persecution. They leave their homeland in a fleet of logboats in pursuit of a better life, and after battles physical and metaphysical, the survivors make landfall on the western shores of the new land. However, all is not well for them. As the dying narrator explains to her son at the beginning:
“As I breathe my last breaths, my son, let me tell you our story. You will soon find yourself completely alone; may you at least understand why. Take my hand.”
In my work at the underwater Mesolithic site of Bouldnor Cliff (UK, ca. 8,000 years ago) and in Epi-Paleolithic Cyprus (ca. 12,000-10,000 years ago), I have become fascinated by the motivations for waterborne exploration and exodus alike, and how technologically sophisticated our prehistoric ancestors were. And the more we learn about Homo sapiens sapiens’ closest relatives, all of whom are now extinct, the more we realize that the stereotypes of all prehistoric hominins are really works of fiction too.
The second story, “Triangulorum,” is a three-part epistolary tale based more directly on my experiences working on the wrecks of Spanish ships that sailed during the Age of Discovery (16th-18th centuries). The first part is a fictional letter addressed to Christopher Columbus and written by one of his contemporaries, whose vessel did not succeed in its mission but who survived after being washed ashore an island in the Atlantic. The second section are the dive logs – complete with sketches made by these divers of their trench and dive profiles – of the archaeologists who are excavating this shipwreck and piecing together the nuances of its demise. The final segment is a newspaper clipping that describes strange detritus washing ashore on Bermuda. This short work of weird fiction addresses divides between religious and scientific epistemologies, and how the two play out in competing modes of understanding our rapidly-changing and increasingly uninhabitable world.
Following the writing of these two short stories during my residency at AS IF, I spent some time in the studio making visual artworks in relation to my current research project, Shipwreck Hauntography. To learn more and see what else came out of this residency, see https://shipwreckhauntography.wordpress.com/. My sincerest thanks to Nancy and everyone who made my stay at the center so pleasant and productive!
You can read my open-access literary works and view a selection of other visual artworks on my website, https://wracksandruins.wordpress.com. And if you’re feeling bold like a seafarer, you can link to my scientific research on shipwrecks and submerged landscapes from the same site.