Sulfur Piece raises questions about the visibility of supply chains and the risks they traffic in. It tries to dramatize metropolitan attitudes towards the industrial sites through digital editing techniques, mutating the pixels that index the place where the sulfur pile resides to render capitalist distortion of space. It documents four trips that a dancer and I took to Calumet for the simple purpose of looking at sulfur.
Sulfur Piece appropriates the digital editing technique of chromakey to trope the sulfur pile. Chromakey erases a particular color from film footage. The chromakey algorithm, processing footage, searches each frame in turn for pixels that match a particular color, and then erases those pixels, making objects in the shot that used to be that color transparent, so that other footage can show through the windows left behind. (As an overdetermined commercial film technique for erasing a green backdrop to digitally place characters in distant or imagined locations, even experimental uses of chromakey cannot help but invoke the visual approach of pop culture to space and place.)
A dancer and I brought a large piece of yellow fabric to the site of a sulfur pile owned by Gulf Sulphur Services in Calumet. The fabric was precisely the same color as the sulfur; when I digitally erased it, the sulfur pile disappeared as well. Beneath the layer with the erased fabric, I placed footage from the same spot, this time without the dancer or the fabric. The empty footage that shows through where the fabric was erased was taken ten minutes later. The future of the place shows through wherever the fabric was, producing a strange multiple temporality.
In the video, the dancer is being swallowed by invisible fabric. The fabric serves as a conjoining and delimiting membrane that complicates the relationship between person and place. It causes the industrial site to recess and become a tableau, the ground for the dancer’s movement. At the same time it animates the air, producing a transparent vibratory presence that is diffuse, visually incomprehensible, sometimes multiple. The dancer negotiates the obstacle of this unresolved amorphous presence as both an interlocutor and a prop. The erased fabric seems at times seems agentic and human and at other times like an atmospheric anomaly. Able to eat away at the dancer’s body, it is both an agent and an object of erasure. Occasionally it is the object of what looks like the dancer’s affection: can intimacy be one genre of relationship with a third landscape? The fabric also personifies the commodity fetish.
It is also a barometer of the wind that lifts fugitive dust off of the pile. The fabric’s movement is the visual medium that registers the presence of particulate matter. If bringing the fabric to the site makes the wind becomes visible, the fabric’s retroactive digital erasure performs the dust’s disappearance. The fabric leaves a trace of its erasure in the video: its convulsing shadow that asserts the presence of an object in the field that we cannot see.