The Data Daily

Jonathan Harris — A Silent Place

Jonathan Harris — A Silent Place

In the spring of 2015, I traveled into the remote canyon country of Utah with a professor named Larry Clarkson. Larry is a connoisseur of pictographs and petroglyphs, and often takes solitary expeditions into the American wilderness in order to find them. I was struck by the deep silence of the ancient images, which exist beyond interpretation — their meanings can be guessed at, but can never be known.

During our time together, I made a series of drawings on rocks. By responding to naturally occurring shapes, colors, and marks in the rocks, I hoped to express what felt like their “inner potential.” I used chalk pastels to make the drawings, so they would wash away in the rain.

For almost three years, I have been sitting with the photographs of the drawings I made, holding open the question of how best to use them. For most of that time, my idea was to make a project called “A(s)sign Language,” where the drawings would be presented wordlessly, and viewers would be invited to submit their own interpretations. By “assigning language” to the silent images, a new kind of “sign language” would be born. I imagined creating some kind of voice recording application, or a repository of submitted text, or possibly working with professional academics who study the interpretation of ancient images. But none of these approaches felt right. Somehow, they all felt too clever — they didn’t honor the deep silence of the places where the drawings were made.

Meanwhile, our collective relationship with the Internet has changed. The techno-utopian rhetoric that once prevailed has now given way to talk of addiction, fake news, electioneering, and the vast manipulation and monetization of human attention. The Internet has become a cacophony, and its promise of informational omniscience no longer feels plausible, desirable, relevant, or wise.

I have long been fascinated by the use of “oracles” in shaping human thought — including such devices as augury (in ancient Rome), the I Ching (in China), the Tarot (in Europe), and Rorschach tests (in western psychology). It is my understanding that such practices basically function as mirrors — by confusing the rational mind, they unlock the user’s subconscious, allowing insights to arise from within.

I began to wonder if the images I made in Utah could be a kind of pictographic oracle for the Internet — a Magic 8 Ball with no words, speaking out of the silence, helping people see what they already know.

I am happy to present A Silent Place — about as minimal as a website can be.

May it be a refuge and a mirror.

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