The Logic of The Trace: Borings, Etchings and Tracks; Coprolites and Regurgitaliths

Some very brief thoughts on incisive” or “indexical” sound compositions, which do not attempt to articulate meaning within semantic structures so much as use marks and sounds to carve into reality. This sort of expression involves not a poetics but rather an “ichnotics.”

Ichnotaxon: (plural ichnotaxa) Defined by the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature as “a taxon based on the fossilized work of an organism”. Ichnotaxa are names used to identify and distinguish morphologically distinctive trace fossils. They are assigned genus and species ranks by ichnologists, much like organisms in Linnaean taxonomy. These are known as ichnogenera and ichnospecies, respectively. Ichnotaxa include trace fossils such as burrows, borings and etchings, tracks and trackways, coprolites, gastroliths, regurgitaliths, nests, leaf mines, and bite and gnaw structures, as well as secretions such as eggs, cocoons, pupal cases, spider webs, embedment structures and plant galls.

Ichnology: The branch of paleontology that deals with plant and animal traces. These traces are useful because they often hint at the behavior of the organism. The division of ichnology dealing with trace fossils is paleoichnology, while neoichnology is the study of modern traces. Parallels can often be drawn between modern traces and trace fossils, helping scientists to decode the possible behavior and anatomy of the trace-leaving organisms if no body fossils can be found. In a case in which there are trace fossils but no body fossils to represent a given species, an ichnospecies is erected. Ichnotaxa follow different rules in zoological nomenclature than do normal taxa (see trace fossil classification for more information). Ichnological studies are based off of the discovery and analysis of biogenic structures: features caused by an organism while it was still living. Therefore, burrows, tracks, trails and borings are all examples of biogenic structures. A cast or a mold of a dead organism’s body is not an examples of a biogenic structure and is therefore non-important to the study of ichnology. (read more here)

*
“But is it art?”

Anonymous Dinosaur
Tracks
Kanab, UT
(120 Million B.C.)

Allan McCollum
The Natural Copies from the Coal Mines of Central Utah, 1993
Enamel on cast polymer-modified glass-fiber reinforced gypsum

My point is this: perhaps there is far too much concern with psychology and meaning in art history and literary history. What if we were to conceive, if only by way of thought experiment, a completely different attitude toward cutlture. Is it possible to imagine a theory of human invention, of human expression, not based on any assumptions regarding intentional acts and creative urges, but rather dedicated to studying and classifying the various ways in which our species has unconsciously stained and mutilated the earth, left traces upon it? Could such a field of inquiry be considered a branch of Art History. If so, why? How might a scholar working in such a field help us to view established masterpieces differently? For what it’s worth, below is an image which was featured in one of the best photography exhibits I have every attended, this particular show taking place at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C.


Emmet Gowin
American (1941- )
Copper Ore Tailing, Globe, Arizona, 1988
split toned gelatin silver print
24.1 x 24.3 cm.

Consider, for instance, this recent award-winning study by UC Berkeley Art Historian, Whitney Davis.

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