UNKNOWN TERRITORIES SERIES
An interactive series about the exploration, exploitation and transformation of the American West.
Following works by John Wesley Powell and Edward Abbey, filmmaker Roderick Coover creates actual and virtual explorations into the places they wrote about, the landscapes they imagined and contemporary land use.
When John Wesley Powell first navigated the Colorado River in 1869, much of the great American desert was marked on U.S. government maps as an "unknown territory" -- unmapped lands known only to native cultures. His works name, narrative and mythologize the West and his encounters within it. Ironically, later, as U.S. Geographer, Powell came to recognized perils of unsustainable development, but his calls to restrict growth to natural watersheds were rejected.
Writer Edward Abbey moved to the Canyonlands region of the Great American Desert in the late 1950s at a time when air-conditioning, access to abundant water and power from massive dam projects, a cold war boom in uranium mining, and an automobile-driven boom in tourism were transforming the landscape. Abbey worked as a ranger and fire-lookout in Utah and Arizona, and he wrote about what he saw: beauty, destruction, and rising communities of resistance. Abbey's words ignited debates about the role of direct action and free speech in local and national discourse, and they helped to forge new ways of thinking about communities, deserts, and protest.
The Making of Unknown Territories
I created Unknown Territories in stages 2004-2011 following a series of river trips and hikes in the desert southwest, including explorations with poet, scholar and river-guide, Lance Newman. The works also built upon experiences I had in the early 1990s; I read Abbey's works while working as a forest ranger in the North Cascades and subsequently bicycled across the Southwest following historic maps to find out what had happened sites described in frontier logs. Unknown Territories was initiated with grants from the LEF Foundation, the Art Institute of Chicago, and California State University.
Voyage Into The Unknown incorporated both site-specific research, based on locations depicted in Powell's logs, and historical research, including research based on the photographic collections of the United States Geological Survey. The work was coded in Adobe Flash Action Script 2. It was officially released and exhibited in 2007 and published in 2009 in the Electronic Literature Collection Volume 2.
Canyonlands, Interactive, similarly grew out of both site-specific cinematography and documentary research. The preparations included creating a series interviews with Ed Abbey's peers, park employees and river guides. The work was coded in Adobe Flash Action Script 2 and first shown in 2009. It offers an example of a then emerging form of interactive documentary film/media arts. The work also functions as a kind of story-board for a lyrical film that can be constructed in various ways. Canyonlands is published in ARID Journal of Desert Art, Design and Ecology and in Reconstructions: Studies In Contemporary Culture.
Canyonlands, The Movie, offers one arrangement of the sequences as a feature documentary film.
Works of the Unknown Territories Project have been exhibited internationally at film and art venues such as Subito Gallery(CO), Kipp Gallery(IN), FILE 2009 (Sao Paulo), Painted Bride Gallery, The Art Gallery (MD), Hidden Cinema of the Southwest and Mexico(AZ) as well as through invitations to prominent university venues such as University of Idaho President's Symposium on Sustainability, the University of Utah Environmental Humanities Center, and the Arizona State University Center for the Humanities and the Western Literature Association, and peer-reviewed selections to meetings of the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment, Indianapolis, the Electronic Literature Organization, The American Anthropological Association, and the International Visual Sociology Association and elsewhere.
PUBLISHED INTERVIEWS FROM UNKNOWN TERRITORIES
• Film Transcript: Interview with Ken Sleight
• Film Transcript: Interview with Jack Loeffler
• Film Transcript: Interview with Jim Stiles
SELECT ESSAYS CONCERNING UNKNOWN TERRITORIES
• 4-Way Discussion with Larry McCaffery, Lance Newman, Hikmet Loe and Roderick Coover. Published in in The Electronic Book Review.
• "Digital Panoramas and Cinemascapes" in the book Switching Codes, eds. R. Coover and T. Bartscherer, University of Chicago Press, 2011.
"Ambiguity, Cinema and the Digital Documentary Image." Images, Ethics, Technology. Edited by Sharrona Pearl. New York and London: Routledge Press. 2015.
• "Picturing the Great Unknown: John Wesley Powell and the Divergent Paths of Art and Science in the Representation of the Colorado River and Utah Canyonlands." Writing With Photography. Edited by Liliane Weissberg and Karen Beckman. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013.
For more, visit www.roderickcoover.com