Unless you’ve been to war or are close to someone who has, you probably have a mediated experience of war. Most Americans do. This experience is complex: while reading or watching the news informs audiences about critically important and violent events, civilians can also feel like war is distant and immaterial. This makes it challenging to engage compassionately. Incendiary Traces takes on this challenge through a combination of experimental art, research and media. The project directly involves participants in visualizing war through outdoor drawing events in militarized sites around Southern California. In tandem, and in collaboration with Artbound, we publish reports on these experiences along with images and essays from diverse contributors on related topics. The goal is to lessen that gap -- to make the war we read about on the front page more tangible.
Incendiary Traces began in 2012-13 with a thematically linked series of outdoor drawing events and Artbound publications centered around four exemplary types of Southern California landscapes: urban, coastal, desert and international border. The events were held at militarized sites where participants could learn something new about picturing war from people who do this professionally. We went to Northrop Grumman Space Park Drive Aerospace HQ, took a fishing boat around San Clemente Island Naval Weapons Testing Range, visited the 29 Palms Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, and San Diego’s Border Field State Park. Participants spent time drawing and otherwise observing these sites where military professionals, border patrol agents and fishermen visualize international conflict. Artbound published reports on these events, and related essays on technological viewing, military visions of the Pacific islands, the Southern California desert as a stand-in for the Middle East, and lines of sight and site along the U.S. Mexico border. We are now embarking on a second series, building upon the insights gained from the first one.
While the first series surveyed various types of landscapes in our region that serve as the backdrop for picturing war—in other words, where the military does this—in the coming months we’ll focus on the methods Southern California professionals use to visualize international conflict – that is, how the military does this. We will primarily expand upon the themes of technological viewing and lines of sight. Historian Celeste Menchaca will provide a survey of various forms of visual practices used to control immigration at the border in the first half of the 20th Century. In a segment on high-tech simulated battlescapes and their effects, writer Toro Castaño will contribute an exploration of some of the science of perception related to immersive technologies. Incendiary Traces will report on the USC Institute for Creative Technologies, and a 6-mile tour with the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol of the para-DMZ between San Diego and Tijuana. More will follow in the summer and fall, including explorations of drone views, war zone navigation methods, and landscape imagery handmade and technologically rendered by artists and other specialists. Focusing on the “how,” this phase emphasizes critical observation and drawing on site as ways civilians, like the military, can palpably visualize war.