Borings, Etchings and Tracks; Coprolites and Regurgitaliths

Some more very brief thoughts on what the other day I called “incisive” or “indexical” sound compositions, which do not attempt to orchestrate tone within time signatures or harmonic structures, so much as use sounds to carve into reality. Now that I’ve done a bit more thinking are reading, I’m tempted to call this sort of expression not poetics but “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
Kanab, UT
(120 Million B.C.)

My thought is this: that perhaps there is far too much concern with psychology and meaning in Art History. What if we were to conceive, if only by way of thought experiment, a completely different attitude toward art. Is it possible to imagine a theory of human intervention, of human expression, not based on any assumptions regarding intentional acts and the creative urge, but rather dedicated to studying and classifying the various ways in which our species has unconsciously stained and mutilated the earth? 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 imagine which featured in one of the finest photography exhibits I have every attended, this particular show taking place at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. Very strange to see ariel photographs of the destruction, or shall we just say modification, of the Utah landscape on display at a major fine-art museum in our nation’s capitol.

Emmet Gowin (b. 1941)
Off Road Traffic Pattern along the Northwest Shore of the Great Salt Lake, Utah (1988)
Toned gelatin silver print.
Courtesy of the artist and Yale University Art Gallery.

Have a look, also, at this recent award-winning study by UC Berkeley Art Historian, Whitney Davis.

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