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The Absence of Field

Amy Sara Carroll


Early October 2008, Adriene Jenik, then Chair of the Visual Arts Department at UCSD, approached Ricardo with a proposition: would *particle group* be willing to create some kind of sound poem/performance for the groundbreaking ceremony of UCSD's 11th Major Engineering and Technology Building, slated to house two Jacobs School of Engineering departments—Structural Engineering and Nano Engineering—while also providing studios and additional facilities for VisArts itself?1 The opportunity was too good to pass up, but also presented a formal challenge. Brett Stalbaum signed onto the project, offering his technical expertise and assistance. Preliminary discussions included the sci-fi inspired suggestion of unmanned drones' dropping poems (like some crazy Zapatista airforce), but quickly that idea was shelved in favor of a more ecologically-friendly GPS-driven cell-phone presentation. I wanted more details about the site of the ceremony; Brett described the location as "an open field." My immediate free-association: Mark Strand's poem, "Keeping Things Whole," its memorable opening, "In a field/I am/the absence of field."2 I began to weave lines from that work into Ed Roberson's dazzling personal reflections on the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, "I Don't See" of Atmosphere Conditions.3 One line of Strand would trigger another of Roberson, interspersed with waystations from Shakespeare's The Tempest and prevailing observations on nanotechnology/nanotoxicology. While students from Ricardo's and Brett's studio classes received automated calls (pre-recorded by me and Zé) and live calls from Ricardo to complete the text of the poem in a real-time performance, invisibility (the nano) ultimately dictated the work's Caliban-like methods. For, on the (broken) ground of the architecture-to-be, the poem's dial-tones triggered the inaccessible, but extra-sensory—the poem's own aerial double, a star-sound map, a concrete poem, letters like Nazca lines that spelled a single word (broken, too): "NA/NO."


1 For a trace of the event, peruse the article (accessed 6/15/09).

2 See (accessed 6/15/09).

3 Ed Roberson, Atmosphere Conditions (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 2000) 65–66.