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Incendiary Traces: Investigating the Representation of Battlespaces

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Incendiary Traces is a conceptually driven, community generated art project conceived by artist Hillary Mushkin. Incendiary Traces is holding a series of site-specific draw-ins taking place across Southern California, as well as collecting related historical and contemporary materials. Artbound is following the draw-ins and publishing related materials as the project develops.

Could this watercolor be an inscription of war? Reporting from Southern California, Incendiary Traces is an experiment in picturing landscapes of contemporary war, starting with our local geography. Begun in 2011 and lead by artist Hillary Mushkin, Incendiary Traces brings together artists, writers, scholars and others to investigate the representation of battlespaces in seemingly remote war.

Unless you've been to war or are close to someone who has, you probably have a mediated experience of war. Most Americans do. This experience is complex: while reading or watching the news informs audiences about critically important and violent events, civilians can also feel like war is distant and immaterial. This makes it challenging to engage compassionately. Incendiary Traces takes on this challenge through a combination of experimental art, research and media. The project directly involves participants in visualizing war through outdoor drawing events in militarized sites around Southern California. In tandem, and in collaboration with Artbound, we publish reports on these experiences along with images and essays from diverse contributors on related topics. The goal is to lessen that gap -- to make the war we read about on the front page more tangible.

Incendiary Traces began in 2012-13 with a thematically linked series of outdoor drawing events and Artbound publications centered around four exemplary types of Southern California landscapes: urban, coastal, desert and international border. The events were held at militarized sites where participants could learn something new about picturing war from people who do this professionally. We went to Northrop Grumman Space Park Drive Aerospace HQ, took a fishing boat around San Clemente Island Naval Weapons Testing Range, visited the 29 Palms Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, and San Diego's Border Field State Park. Participants spent time drawing and otherwise observing these sites where military professionals, border patrol agents and fishermen visualize international conflict. Artbound published reports on these events, and related essays on technological viewing, military visions of the Pacific islands, the Southern California desert as a stand-in for the Middle East, and lines of sight and site along the U.S. Mexico border. We are now embarking on a second series, building upon the insights gained from the first one.

While the first series surveyed various types of landscapes in our region that serve
as the backdrop for picturing war -- in other words, where the military does this--in
the coming months we'll focus on the methods Southern California professionals use
to visualize international conflict -- that is, how the military does this. We will primarily
expand upon the themes of technological viewing and lines of sight. Historian
Celeste Menchaca will provide a survey of various forms of visual practices used to
control immigration at the border in the first half of the 20th Century. In a segment on
high-tech simulated battlescapes and their effects, writer Toro Castaño will
contribute an exploration of some of the science of perception related to immersive
technologies. Incendiary Traces will report on the USC Institute for Creative
Technologies, and a 6-mile tour with the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol of the
para-DMZ between San Diego and Tijuana. More will follow in the summer and fall,
including explorations of drone views, war zone navigation methods, and landscape
imagery handmade and technologically rendered by artists and other specialists.
Focusing on the "how," this phase emphasizes critical observation and drawing on
site as ways civilians, like the military, can palpably visualize war.

Stay tuned, and contact Incendiary Traces at the project website for more information and upcoming events.

Related: Watch the Incendiary Traces-led draw-in at the 29 Palms Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center.

Throughout its history, the natural beauty of California has inspired artists from around the world from 19th-century plein air painting of pastoral valleys and coasts to early 20th-century photography of the wilderness (embodied famously in the work of Ansel Adams) and the birth of the light and space movement in the 1960s. Today, as artists continue to engage with California’s environment, they echo and critique earlier art practices that represent nature in “The Golden State” in a particular way. Featuring artists Richard Misrach and Hillary Mushkin.
S9 E6: No Trespassing - A Survey of Art & the Environment in California

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