Sea Salt and Moonshine
Nina Karavasiles and Allan Kaprow in inSITE94
by Kraig E. Cavanaugh
Artweek November 3, 1994, Volume 25 Number 21
After a recent pilgrimage
through inSITE94, two pieces which seed to me to utilize their sites
for some greater purpose with the greatest
success were Nina Karavasiles's "Saline" and
Allan Kaprow's "Muezzin". Located at the Stephen Birch Aquarium,
overlooking the ocean along Scripps Institution of Oceanography and its pier
by the La Jolla campus of the University of California, San Diego, Karavasiles's
black trough filled with pieces of solar-evaporated sea salt are visually humble;
the rather dirty-looking gravel-sized pieces of salt are derived from separating
impurities from sea water.
Ironically, "Saline", with its reference to the impurities of sea
water, also refers to a Federal lawsuit with may force the City of San Diego
to comply with certain guidelines in the Federal Clean Water Act. The Act requires
secondary sewage treatment for effluent discharge into the ocean, and the primary
scientific adversaries of compliance are Scripp's oceanographers. These
scientist believe secondary treatment to be unnecessary because current discharge
allegedly has an insignificant impact on the environment.
The artwork displays information to the contrary. Because it affects the brittle
star, a relative of the more common starfish and a low level barometer of ocean
pollution, the sewage outcall would appear to have an impact upon the ecosystem.
With an extreme economy of means, Karavasiles's installation presents
the salt-making process as a striking critique of Scripps Institution scientists
and prompts reflection upon continued ocean dumping.
Meanwhile, Kaprow's "Muezzin" makes use of a Moorish-style
minaret situated in the steelyard of Tijuana's Centro Escolar Agua Caliente.
This architectural confection originally was built as part of the old Agua Caliente
resort. The title itself refers to the crier who call Muslims to prayer five
times daily from a minaret. On a similar sort of schedule, clouds of combustion
exhaust erupt from the work throughout the day. This smoke, rising from the steelyard,
once a playground for rich gamblers, superficially reads as a rocket lifting
towards the moon. But perhaps we "see" it as a rocket ship because,
as Americans, we are subject to our own imperialist indocrinations regarding
Kaprow's statement about the work, however, published in the inSITE94
guide, reads, "Minaret no muezzin pop song? Daily liftoff to moonshine".
This seemingly lighthearted remark seems somehow prophetic, The reference to
moonshine elicits a drunken vision: the exhaust from the fantasy spaceship could
instead signify a class struggle to come. With the recent election of Ernesto
Zedillo, yet another PRI presidential candidate, as well as the recent Mexican
assassinations, it seems that the decisive division
between Mexico's haves and have-nots will continue beyond the PRI's
already four-decade old reign. Thus the work becomes a dar, sobering prophecy
of the revolutionary pyres of an uprising among Mexico's deeply divided rich