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S01 E21

 
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A Few Clues From
Looking at the Moon
By 
Tei Carpenter
Let’s look at the moon. Prior to the first human landing in 1969, the US Geological Survey set out to produce a Geologic Atlas of the Moon – combining base maps from the US Air Force’s Aeronautical Chart and Information Center, photographs from the US Air Force Photographic Lunar Atlas, and visual observations from Earth-based refracting telescopes. The Geologic Map of the Julius Caesar Quadrangle of the Moon (Plate I-510) drawn by Elliot C. Morris and Don E. Wilhelms at a one to one million scale, describes the Julius Caesar crater inundated by lava, alongside smaller craters dimpling the lunar surface and encircling a series of snaking escarpments. The map represents the moon through a composite of color-coded stratigraphic diagrams, a subterrestrial index map, two keyed cross sections, and methodological metadata.

The representation of past-unknowns offers clues for seeing and drawing the most significant unknown of today: environmental transformations that are too slow to see. While we might conceptually grasp the “slow violence” of climate change in the rising sea levels and layers of plastic, radioactive waste, techno-fossils, and carbon, these changes are imperceptible to the human eye. [1] The immense scale of these transformations, in both space and time, has rendered slowness invisible – an invisibility reinforced by representational norms that depict the ground as surface, divorced from time, narrative, and material. [2] So what does Plate I-510 tell us about making visible (drawing) the invisible (slow-time)?

1. Following the conventions of a terrestrial geological map, the image uses color to record the relative age of moon rocks simultaneously with craters, rims, and floors. This stratigraphic system links subsurface with surface, registers the unseen, and links temporality with materiality. It hints at a way of drawing not only the geological register of Earth but also the built environment, material resources, energies, and life cycles.

2. The map follows lunar time, based on six epochs corresponding to major events that altered the moon’s surface. These impacts provide an index – a narrative lens – to the geological and temporal qualities of the moon’s surface. If we drew Earth this way, we might see it differently through specific events and their effects. Does binding cause and effect create the possibility of reversing the course of events that are still happening?

3. Any representation of the moon in 1967 triangulated a diverse set of drawings, early photographs, and visualizations of seemingly nonspatial histories – fundamentally, they were an exercise in extrapolation and necessary speculation. Perhaps looking at the moon hints at ways to see the world anew and at tools that help locate sites and spaces of speculation. 
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[1] Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011).

[2] Artists are already experimenting with visualizing climate change, for example John Akomfrah’s film Purple (2017) or Amy Balkin’s piece A People’s Archive of Sinking and Melting (2011-present).

Image: Elliot C. Morris and Don E. Wilhelms, Geologic Map of the Julius Caesar Quadrangle of the Moon (Washington, DC: United States Geological Survey, 1967), plate I-510 (LAC-60).
 
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