further to the previous post about the geometric imaginary… john roloff’s geological imaginary: draft. AND, in relation to my posts on paul demarinis, with only a nod so far, to bernie lubell [more to come on his work]

and where my arcane historical/philosophical discourse meets the more important embodied practice, and my previous posts about paul DeMarinis, in this case, in the very visceral and performative sculptural work of john roloff:


roloff was trained first as a geologist. then he became an artist. so of course his work combines art with geology. not dissimilar to B’s refusal to submit to conventions of modernism. or karen’s upending of the modernist grid. or lubell’s reinterpretation of mechanization through the inevitable use of deliberately cheap pine to make his wooden machines fail. or, demarinis’s engagement with all these themes through his cynical, in the philosophical sense of cynicism, of electronic and digital reconfigurations of technological, musical and political histories all i the spirit of hayden white’s sense of possible historiographies.

from Hayden White’s essay, “The Burden of History,” of 1966:

Such a conception of historical inquiry [in which the historian and scientist organize facts through tentative metaphoric approximations] and representation would open up the possibility of using contemporary scientific and artistic insights in history without leading to radical relativism… It would permit the plunder of psychoanalysis, cybernetics, game theory, and the rest…. And it would permit historians to conceive of the possibility of using impressionistic, expressionistic, surrealistic, and (perhaps) even actionist modes of representations for dramatizing the significance of data…. [p. 47]

so, to roloff:

Spatiotemporal Practice, Aesthetic Judgment, and the Geological Imaginary in the Work of John Roloff


The premise of this essay is that spatiality cannot be conceived apart from temporality.

I will focus on the work of the remarkable American artist John Roloff, (www.johnroloff.com) I will examine the rich, myriad ways in which spatiality may be linked to specific temporal frameworks and radically break free of the aesthetic discipline so powerfully maintained by the market’s dominance over aesthetics and art practices. Roloff is committed to the tradition of environmental and ecological art, has a considerable knowledge of science, particularly geology, which has been a profound source of inspiration for him. Aesthetically, his interest in systems make him most kin to Robert Smithson and Helen and Newton Harrison, philosophically, to Gottfried Leibniz and Deleuze, and poetically to J. W von Goethe and Samuel Coleridge. Roloff may be described, to use a geological metaphor, as an aggregate of intellectual influences resolved to lumpy coherence through his distillations of unexpected associations in a landscape rife with differences that have allowed him to create a remarkable, school-defying, body of work. His path is nothing if not ingeniously, laterally, transversal, where the transversal itself is a vector that measures his political commitments.

To elucidate Roloff’s aesthetic philosophy, I begin with François Lyotard’s assessment of abstract art’s theoretical significance:

…[Barnett] Newman judged surrealism to be over-reliant on a pre-romantic or romantic approach to indeterminacy. Thus, when he seeks sublimity in the here-and-now he breaks with the eloquence of romantic art but he does not reject its fundamental task, that of bearing pictorial or otherwise expressive witness to the inexpressible. The inexpressible does not reside in an over there, in another world, or another time, but in this: in that (something) happens. In the determination of pictorial art, the indeterminate, the ‘it happens’ is the paint, the picture. The paint, the picture as occurrence or event, is not expressible, and it is to this that it has to witness. (Crome and Williams, 2006, 92-93)

Lyotard’s interpretation of Newman is half stop and half yield sign, cycling between history and theory. The inexpressible, the central object, substance and jurisdiction of abstract art is, in his terms, not the surrealistic reach for a precondition, the infantile arche that unpredictably shapes the unthought (and therefore indeterminate) past event as the ‘it happened,’ a retrogressive constitution of the picture plane as an associative slip-of-the-brush; but it is the Greenbergian form that expresses, indeterminately, the noumenal paint in-and-of-itself and both constitutes, and is witness to, its static, immediate presence. Newman’s painting, Lyotard claims, as representative of the modern avant-garde, is a witness, and as such yields to the inexpressible, which, as an ‘it did not happen’ (an inexpressible ‘event’), is a negation of time. “The avant-gardist task remains that of undoing the presumption of the mind with respect to time. The sublime feeling is the name of this privation.”

For Lyotard then, the task of avant-garde formalism was to negate the passage of time in order to evoke the emotional immediacy of something felt, a something that because both timeless and inexpressible (in thought) remains unknowable to reason, and because incomprehensible, produces in us a state of apprehension that he allies with the Romantic sublime. Abstract art restricts reflection to the domain of the Kantian (pre-reasoned) understanding where corporeal sensory intuition is the only judge of a subject’s immediate, atemporal, aesthetic experience. The politics of Lyotard’s abstraction then, is predicated on its restriction of aesthetic judgment to spatial perception, stripped of its historical, temporal dimension, to a material reduction to the primacy of paint perceived as a singular event without duration. The political is aesthetically constructed as a negation of a ‘realism’ managed by a reifying narrative of representation; viewers are constructed as witnesses to the event of painting, residing out of time, and thus subjected to an ‘abstract’ possibility of some other world that lies outside the narrative, historical realism that seeks to construct them in its, and only its, terms. But what Lyotard has not considered is an art that refuses to abandon a positive abstract aesthetic encounter, as event, in which the inexpressible is made determinate through an expressible parergon, a frame that exposes what it contains by its interpretive force; an encounter in which privation, or negation, becomes historically actualized, in which the indeterminate does concretely ‘happen’ as an aesthetically knowable event in time. Other types of anti-object, anti-representational avant-garde work exist, in opposition to Lyotard’s narrow reading, which go beyond formalism’s embrace of only the negative affirmation of inexpressivity. Roloff’s work is of this type, driven by the converse impulse. His work rejects the narrow, Kantian humanism that is the foundation of the Romantic sublime that has led directly to the negation of a social relation to what is non-rational, yet literal. Instead, as Lyotard describes Newman’s political strategy, of restricting aesthetic experience to the purely spatial jurisdiction of sensory intuition, for which paint is the sovereign “something happens,” to counter rationalism’s dominance; Roloff insists on a geological aesthetics of spatial and temporal events comprised of both organic and inorganic, human and nonhuman forces that expand our spatial understanding to a planetary scale that is the very condition of the thing we call Earth.

Manhattan/Franciscan Formation (1998) is a photographically executed conceptual work that makes my theoretical discussion thus far aesthetically concrete. Using Photoshop, Roloff here digitally compresses within the figure of a ‘frame,’ an image of a Californian cliff face that exposes a minute geological section called the Franciscan Formation, to contain an “empty” or negated, white center, where instead of some expected content, we find the literal, physical presence of a wall of New York City’s gallery architecture. ‘Compression’ is here an aesthetic principle as well as technique, and requires us to imagine the juxtaposition of geological scales of space and time, (spatially so enormous and temporally so slow as virtually to reside outside human perception), to architectural scales of space and time. Symbolically, the Pacific tectonic plate (the Franciscan formation) comes to rest against the Atlantic plate (the Manhattan Formation), and geological spacetime (the time of the cliff’s formation) is juxtaposed to urban spacetime (the time of the building’s formation). Roloff has not read Derrida, and I quote the latter here only to elucidate a principle of boundary marking that is profoundly at work in most of Roloff’s work:


What is incomprehensible about the edge, about the à-bord appears not only at the internal limit, the one that passes between the frame and the painting, the clothing and the body, the column and the building, but also at the external limit. Parega [frames] have a thickness, a surface which separates them not only… from the integral inside, from the body proper of the ergon, but also from the outside, from the wall on which the painting is hung, from the space in which statue or column is erected, then, step by step, from the whole field of historical, economic, political inscriptions … No “theory,” no “practice,” no “theoretical practice” can intervene effectively in this field if it does not weigh up and bear on the frame, which is the decisive structure of what is at stake, at the invisible limit to (between) the interiority of meaning… and (to) all the empiricisms of the extrinsic which, incapable of either seeing or reading, miss the question completely. (Derrida, 1987, 61)

Derrida’s and Lyotard’s Kantianism are in sync as both assume that it is in the frame, the decisive structure that passes between reason (the interiority of meaning) and understanding (the empiricisms of the extrinsic) that the inexpressible, that which is incapable of either seeing or reading, emerges within aesthetic judgment. Aesthetic judgment is the human faculty the very function of which is to ‘reflect on,’ in order to frame, reason’s meanings and the empiricisms delivered to it by understanding’s sensory intuitions. Judgment is both the analysis of the contents of its subordinate faculties, and their synthesis in a framework that determines our integrated (sociopolitical) human action on the world. But ‘to judge’ aesthetically is better modeled by the idiom ‘to judge the quantitative distances or qualitative differences between things’ than by the discernment of truth-values. Judgments of this type, judgments of the thicknesses and surfaces between things, for the physicist Kant, were reliant on the very Newtonian conceptions of absolute space and time his three critiques aimed to justify, in order to preserve the most fundamental concept of mechanistic philosophy, causality. Causality for this cornerstone of Enlightenment rationalism, was the very definition of God. For that, (for Him) he was willing to sacrifice all human knowledge of the world in-and-of itself. But such an extreme (Puritanical) sacrifice is not necessary, in my view, if instead the self-same absoluteness of space and time (and God along with them) are sacrificed to their relativized synthesis in spacetime, a concept always uniquely determined by the comparative contexts, frames of reference, in which aesthetic judgment encounters them. Causality for contemporary science, and contemporary scientific realism generally today, is but a lower order law, subordinate to its opposite, chance and indeterminacy, to a world recognized as unpredictable, described at best by probabilities and complexity patterns whose abord are only loosely determined, fluctuating, dynamic events resistant to complete description, and therefore to some degree always inherently inexpressible. The problem this state of scientific affairs raises for aesthetic judgment, and specifically for any account of spatiotemporal practices, is to establish, to express, the paradoxical lawless autopoeisis of the world in the context of relativistic frames of reference.


Franciscan/Manhattan Formation is exactly the kind of “theoretical practice” that is capable of effective intervention because it functions as a model of aesthetic judgment adapted to causeless, lawless scientific realism. Not only is it directly about the àbord, the frame, the parergon, but it passes between the body proper of the building’s wall that is the photograph’s integral inside, and what so centrally defines the continental USA – it’s west and east coasts and all that they represent in cultural, economic, and political terms. The central USA is figuratively elided, and the cultural centrality of the ‘east coast/ west coast’ ‘edgy’ urbanity made explicit. But it also passes between the discourses of art and science, between the latent fascia unconsciously tying image making, architecture, and geology together. By negating the center where the work would usually lie, the white field negatively recalls the materiality of the architecture; the visualization of geological compression – the Californian coastline cliff transformed into a ‘frame’ – forces the association with the compression of brick that makes the building possible. Architecture is here rendered as geology; while the art market is made to subtend the enormous expenditure of resources, economic and material, of a building in midtown New York; raising the question of the art market’s location and dominance by refusing it any other ergon (work) than its own, non-salable, non-negotiable gallery walls. Art as frame is the mediating link between what Spivak has proposed as an alternative term for ‘globalization,’ the planetary, and one of the most trenchant creations and symbols of modernity, the city. (Spivak, 2003, 21-102) Roloff’s negative aesthetics provocatively raises the cultural stakes of modernity to a planetary perspective, one that carries us far beyond both rationalist and nationalist borders. He requires that we radically readjust our interpretive lenses to the spatial and temporal scales of a geological aesthetics in order to recognize that the Earth itself is literally, materially the spatial compression of time.





I now turn to Roloff’s photo/process works to show how he is able to reverse the negative affirmation of inexpressivity of the modern avant-garde, and instead affirm an aesthetics of negative expressivity. Rather than negating the representational index as Newman does in his abstract painting, Roloff takes photographs of highly symbolic and historically significant objects and events, and subjects them to a temporal process of negation. In works like, Metabolism Study (Falling Knight), Metabolism Study (Yamishiro), and Robes I & 2, we discover not a temporal nihilism, but the elision of the durations between different temporal moments in order to make historical comparisons. The first work [Top] takes the romantic figure of the knight, at the moment of death, as symbolic of all defenders of state power, subjecting this indexical icon to the organic processes of chemical entropy as the citric acid of orange slices undermine the image fixed in the photo paper’s silver nitrate substrate. The second image [Middle] performs the same negation of the equally iconic World War II Japanese battleship, and by metonymic implication, the war’s entire global event. The third work [Bottom] takes art history itself, and its mode of realist depiction of the period’s powerful elite, in order to make the comparative alliance between three distinct historical frames of reference and their distinct modes of representation. Rather than using abstraction as a human process of negation of indexical realism (Newman’s authorial painting-event), Roloff’s uses the scientific, natural processes of chemistry to express the very process of decay, and its erasure of representation, itself. The indexical, realist space of photographic representation is subjected to the temporal process of chemical entropy. Historical periods, their icons, and their representations of power are subordinated to the temporal inevitability of material death.

If Lyotard’s Newman displaces the Romantic sublime from standing before nature ‘over there,’ to the act of painting itself as event, then the sublime has been brought out of nature and into the human sphere; though in its specifically atemporal, spatial dimension, and as a record (a witnessing) of the historical encounter between painter and the inexpressible. The elements of time Roloff engages are, in contrast, both the completed past event (the death of historical icons) and an indeterminately futurist one (the chemical catabolic reactions between photographic and organic materials). His work compresses the time of a cultural memory of medieval Europe, the Renaissance , and World War II, and some complex and unpredictable future moment when the entropic, chemical processes completely efface the photographic trace of a spatially fixed temporal moment.

Roloff’s photo-process works are simultaneously an object and an event. On the material level, the work is an event in which the ordered, negentropic photographic image is then chemically fused with the entropic, chemical process of oranges decaying. On the semiotic level, history and memory, (the figures of the knight, war ship, and Van Eyk paintings) as ephemeral textual episodes – oranges as symbols of the Golden Horde, as portals into mortality and beyond, as subatomic events, as the star systems that fuel life and which will eventually exhaust themselves – erode by the same material forces that generate them. Embodied signs empty themselves of rational meaning with the passage of time, as the sensory image is destroyed by catabolic, molecular events, and the art work is itself the frame within which aesthetic judgment is made. Time is that which runs out, not merely psychically, but materially; not just individually, but cosmically. These metabolically expressed ‘privations’ are concretized events happening as long as the work happens. By literally embodying time and entropic forces, the literalization of the negative moment, Roloff affirms an aesthetic judgment that assumes the form of negative expressivity.

But such an aesthetics has value only in the negative distance between the terms it sets in opposition, between space and time. This distance has collapsed in Roloff’s work. His aesthetic practice aims to erase the distinctions between a series of terms that each depend on a more fundamental one; between organic, physical processes and the human-as-autonomous; between indexicality and abstraction; between history and the present; between signifier and signified; between the synchronic and diachronic. Each of these dualisms is possible only in an Enlightenment regime of common, perceptual sense grounded in the false separation of space and time. How are we to comprehend that part of the ‘image’ where citric acid temporally unbinds the silver nitrate molecules and disorders the spatial indexicality of representation? What do the orange slices and their entropic chemical, image-destroying traces signify? What else but what they literally, factually are – metabolic breakdown, the something happening in time, which is the negation of representation itself? But happening to something else, the photographic images of the dying knight, the sinking ship, the inverted Renaissance elite. What Roloff is able to powerfully, literally express in a ‘work’ of art, is the ‘work’ of negation of an aesthetic that assumes that space and time are independent of each other. I emphasize the figure of ‘work’ here to suggest labour, production, the bringing of something into existence. The raw material of this labour is not simply citric acid and photographic paper, but the spatial image imprinted on it, and then chemically obliterated, in time. In Roloff’s ‘work,’ space and time reciprocally negate each other by abandoning their absolute self-sameness, and difference from the other, and their absolute independence. What comes to be positively expressed is an entirely other animal – the co-creative object-event of spacetime.

What we witness is nothing like Newman’s static, atemporal painting event; but the spatio-temporal event of our normative, 19th century geometric imaginary exhausting itself, incapable of submitting to the sole judgment of sensory intuition. The knight’s death is reenacted, in our imminent present, as its semiotic and symbolic dimensions are erased, subordinated to the temporal process of chemical erasure. Because Roloff embodies as natural process the interaction between physical and semiotic systems, the artwork becomes an autonomous, autopoetic object-event, in which historical, Enlightenment anthropomorphism is itself the object of entropy. If, as Lyotard suggested, “The avant-gardist task remains that of undoing the presumption of the mind with respect to time” then, Roloff’s work suggests a radical solution to ‘undoing the presumption of the mind with respect to time that undoes the learned, space and time conventions of the Kantian mind. The avant-gardist task is not the mere passive witnessing of emergent proto-subjectivities of perception, but their very invention, the invention of a geometric imaginary commensurate with the shifting, changing, self-different frames of spacetime relativism.

My comments so far have aimed to contextualize some of Roloff’s aesthetic and philosophical principles necessary to comprehend his work. To repeat what I’ve said above, his works constitute post-Enlightenment, aesthetic judgments of spacetime that collaborate with physio-chemical processes and interactions between natural and human systems, where the artwork becomes an autonomous, autopoetic object-event, and anthropomorphism, human action on the world, is viewed in anti-representational terms, destructive and entropic. Roloff inverts 19th century Romanticism that took ‘nature’ to be a transcendental, creative and sublime force; for him, the human-nature relationship is imminently, tragically, catastrophic. What I will continue to elaborate is how his work shifts from negation of the regime of representation explored in his photographic work, to landscape and architectural works in which spacetime imaginaries are raised to full four-dimensionality at a literalized planetary scale that constructs viewers as geologists and meterologists, as those with an uncommon perceptual imagination able to comprehend spacetime scales measured in such trans-human units as climate, millennia, and terranes.[i]



A considerable part of Roloff’s art practice has been devoted to complex, large-scale public art projects. \] My analysis turns now to Seventh Climate: Paradise Reconsidered (2006-8), commissioned by Seattle’s Public Art program in 2006 for the I-5 Colonnade Park in Washington, USA. This work, like his radical, sculptural treatment of photography, breaks with both Rosalind Krauss’s taxonomy of sculpture in the expanded field, and that of public art, commonly sieved into the categories of plop, site-specific, and site-generated public art. (Krauss, 1979) Though the I-5 project might be described as some combination of the latter two categories, as we will see, it expands the ‘field’ so far that a description of this sort soon proves pointless. Krauss’s spatial metaphor – the field – and the art practices she famously used in her semiotic square to deconstruction it, are far too discipline-specific, and far too art historically predetermined to account for Roloff’s public works. The ‘field’ in Krauss’s use in deliberately polysemous, referring to the field of art history and theory, to the ‘field’ of artistic practice, and to the ‘field’ of semiotic analysis. None of these ‘fields’ is adequate to account for Roloff’s aesthetic use of climate. The one connotation of ‘field’ that would be serviceable here, that of ‘force field,’ escapes her analysis. A force field, the essential instrument for describing and understanding spacetime, is the general description of the ‘site’ to which Seventh Climate is specific, and from which it is, literally, generated.


On initial visual inspection, Seventh Climate (Paradise Reconsidered) is an elegant and relatively simple work. Developed from the concept of a palm tree forest spreading among the ‘forest’ of highway columns,  Roloff radically simplified his original design to a dramatic, almost science fictional vignette, a biological play taking place in the cavernous concrete theater of the I-5 colonnades. Consisting of just four species, the imported Asian trees are representative migrants each from different climates, biomes and terrains alien to those of contemporary Seattle, planted to form a ‘single,’ suggestively mutated arboreal organism growing wondrously up through a ground plane consisting of recycled concrete, where roots, trunks, branches and leaves morph in mutual accommodation, and share the same futuristic, urban, newly emergent ecosystem – the 7th climate. Roloff uses space here as a transmutation of time, in a hermeneutically quite rich way; the concrete ground plane refers simultaneously to three temporalities – to its biological present moment as the young trees grow to maturity, to the imagined inevitability of a future entropic demise of the freeway above, and to the construction materials of the neighborhoods that were destroyed in 1959/1960 to make room for I-5’s mega-structure.

It is important to recognize though that the imaginary, symbolic registers of the work are subordinated to its empirical, literal conditions; the work’s success entirely depends on that of the genuinely experimental planting of the four species of biotically different trees in a general climate (that of Seattle) alien to them, and one that is particularly hostile to flora of their type, the freeway’s desiccated, dark and shadowy underspace. In order to overcome this inhospitable environment, Roloff was required to provide the water and light necessary for Seventh Climate’s survival. His solution was not simply pragmatic, but the main aesthetic principle of the work. To sustain the sole multi-species denizen of this ‘paradise,’ he chose to also stage, or rather restage, the temporal setting in which this seventh climate is “reconsidered.” After determining that I-5 was built in 1961, Roloff installed precision, elevated mist/rain emission and solar and moonlight lighting systems controlled by a complex computer program, to simulate the weather patterns for Seattle during the entire year 1960. In effect, he theatrically expanded the aesthetic field to include ecological and Gaian principles, materials and their agents – interdependency, homeostasis, the urban gardener, and the technologist – as the protagonists of an environmental polemic, and a moving tribute to the victims of “urban renewal,” staged beneath the relentless flow of the mechanical, environmentally destructive highway traffic above, and the spread of Seattle’s cityscape that forms the work’s backdrop. Collectively, these agents define the parameters of the force field that is the parergon of this complex work.


We find in Seventh Climate all of the themes discussed above in the photo works. Here he uses the elevated roadway and the space beneath as a 3D parergon to create an anachronistic 4D spacetime warp. The cumulative effect of the year-long light and precipitation simulation is a symbolic and actual form of his negative aesthetics; in Roloff’s words, Seventh Climate “dissolves” or “makes-transparent” the freeway above the work’s main mise-en-scène by restoring the climate of precipitation and illumination that existed before the freeway’s construction. His work temporally displaces the site, negates its present environmental conditions both symbolically and literally, by returning it to its meteorological past. He intervenes in the historical, economic, and political ‘fields’ of inscriptions by refiguring this urban mise en abîme in a double sense; as a traumatic memory, and as an optimistic, possible return to ‘paradise.’ The work is therefore not only a monument of tragedy beneath a monument to the ideology of progress; Seventh Climate is simultaneously an invitation to “reconcile and engage with each other, to form new relationships across bio-geographic, meta-ecological boundaries and languages, and to question cultural, industrial, and natural interdependency, collaboration, and production.”


Roloff’s works express a radical ecological consciousness of the networked fabric of all energetic systems, within a parergon that is powerfully and poetically figured as an historical, spacetime object-event. Its theatrical structure and its dramaturgy construct a new type of spectatorial gaze, one that must be expanded to that of the geologist, ecologist, and meteorologist, an agent whose perception is that of time traveler with a god’s-eye-view akin to an astronomer able to perceive in the spatiotemporal units of planetary dimension and epochal duration. Roloff’s intent is to force us to contemplate just how limited and inadequate is our inherited Enlightenment sensorium when compared to the temporalities and spatialities of ecological, geological and meteorological spacetime. Spatiotemporal scale shifts of this magnitude, in Roloff’s hands, expand the sculptural imaginary all the way to infinity. Infinity is in fact the àbord, the edge against which paradise must be reconsidered, because in fact, humankind are now firmly up against it, up against very finite climatic limits that are quickly diminishing. Enlightenment spatiotemporality makes a forceful argument for just how imaginary, ephemeral, and artificial human territorializing has been, and is. Roloff’s work is an aesthetic expression of what Freud once called the Copernican revolution: just as Copernicus argued that the universe was heliocentric and that the apparently stationary earth moved around it; just as Darwin placed humans in the evolutionary chain of chance operations of natural selection; and just as Freud himself decentered and destabilized human psychology and consciousness by placing it in an orbit controlled by the Id’s love and death drives; so Roloff’s avant-gardist task is the undoing of the presumptions of the mind with respect to spacetime, in order to displace us from the narrow perceptions of a world in which space and time are narrowly conceived only as absolute, independent, abstract entities.


I will end with a brief reflection on an earlier work, Metabolism & Mortality/O2, (1992) that consists of two opposing, spherical, sculptural forms; an only apparently empty greenhouse (Metabolism), and a kiln (Mortality/O2) that figures an exploding star. Roloff’s describes the work in this way.

Sited along what was the drip line and furthest lateral extent of a large, now dead beech tree… are the project’s two principal elements: Furnace Element and Greenhouse Element. These two instruments symbolically represent the beech tree’s past life and current death systems on both macro and molecular levels. Furnace and Greenhouse were envisioned as ions of an oxygen molecule (O2) separated by the primal and arboreal forces of entropy and dissolution but are still united and activated by similar thermal processes: the Furnace by ignition of fossil fuels developed by the photosynthesis of sunlight in ancient forests and their subsequent geologic distillation, and the Greenhouse by collecting and demonstrating the present fluctuations in contemporaneous solar energy. The solar heat within the Greenhouse is measured differentially from the outside atmosphere by its internal thermometers.



The àbord, the parergon, the edge and the frame, are given particularly elegant form here. Roloff’s entire spatiotemporal practice achieves a taut, minimalist resolution in the two temperature gauges. Almost every aspect of his work is condensed in them; allegory, narrative, environmental contemplation of the invisible, continuously fluctuating forces of nature, negative aesthetic judgment based on spacetime, the interpolation of subjectivity as caught in the aporia between organic and inorganic, global systems that suspend anthropomorphic egoism, and the interactive connectivity of all things and its imminent demise. Roloff’s entire experimental oeuvre finds a fitting representative in this particular work that ironically implies a fundamental refutation of Protagoras’s famous claim: man is NOT the measure of all things. For the aesthetic philosophy that informs his practice, he has coined the term, synthetic ecology, with which I conclude:


Synthetic ecology strongly argues against the concept that nature is “unknowable” or even at many levels distinguishable from humanity. Synthetic ecology morphs into trans-scientific forms of empathetic vitalism/aesthetics, über-deep ecology, and themes of alignment, indivisibility, and equilibrium between living and non-living systems.

Roloff here suggests that ‘our synthetic planet’ is knowable through empathy, through our latent ability to emotionally identify with our inseparable spacetime Other, nature, and constructs us as Seventh Climatologist-Witnesses to the force field fluctuations of the temperature gauges in the Greenhouse as the Furnace burns on the drip line beneath the dead Beach Tree. His aesthetic judgment is that spacetime in our ‘enlightened’ anthropo(s)cene is quickly running out.

Reference List:

Crome, K., and Williams, J, eds., 1996. The Lyotard Reader and Guide. New York: Columbia University Press.

Derrida, J., 1987. The Truth of Painting. Translated from French by G. Bennington, and I. Mcleod. Chicago: Chicago Univeristy Press.

Krauss, R., 1979. Sculpture in the Expanded Field. October, Vol. 8., Spring issue, pp. 30-44.

Spivak, G., 2003. Death of a Discipline. New York: Columbia University Press.

[i] Reads are alerted that the term “terrane” is a geological terms distinct from its homonym, terrain. A terrane is an often very large fault-bounded area or region with a distinctive stratigraphy, structure, and geological history, sometimes referred to as a proto-continent.



further to the previous post about the geometric imaginary… john roloff’s geological imaginary: draft. AND, in relation to my posts on paul demarinis, with only a nod so far, to bernie lubell [more to come on his work]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s