Il canto nella terra

di Andrea Cortellessa



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The surface of the Earth has been reduced to a gigantic pile of radioactive waste, human beings have been forced to live below ground, and the victors are carrying out experiments on the vanquished. Since they cannot make use of space, scientists underground try to use the dimension of time. They use prisoners as guinea pigs, sending them back into the past in the hope that they can recover resources that may be useful for the survival of what remains of humankind. If all goes well, they will help repopulate the surface of the Earth by extending a present in which the future may already have taken place and the past may yet to be defined.



In order to safeguard the history of our civilization and to preserve its memory, fighting against collective amnesia, the Digging-up - Atlas of the Blank Histories project intends, over time, to create an archive of samples of the soil extracted from many different parts of the Earth. The project is led by the concept of narration by subtraction, where nothing new is created: through the core drilling process, existing layered subsoil is recovered and, by storing it, the memory that it contains is saved. The core drilling keeps the DNA of the places, their sampling, which will allow to reproduce it in the future, thus overturning the past into a "memory of the future" imprinted in the material extracted from the bowels of the Earth, giving life to an imaginary archaeological museum where its own survival and its transmission to posterity are guaranteed.






The starting point of the project is a research that will take place in Aspen's territory, including its surrounding areas, in search of specific grounds for subsoil extraction. The selection of these more restricted areas will not be through physical exploration, but by consulting professionals such as geologists, archaeologists and historians, as well as writers, researchers and locals who are not experts on the subject, interrogated as storytellers of ancient stories often unknown to a greater public, inextricably interwoven with the memory of those places. The aim is to map a map of sensitive areas, where underground, hidden traces of these events will be brought to the surface by practicing core drillings. These are the forgotten, minor facts of "lateral" stories that run alongside History, and which, with it, have remained imprinted, settled on the matter of earth. Through a detailed quest to explore the territory and its past, explored athwart the most diverse points of view (scientific, literary, philosophical, economical, historical, but also science fiction, cinematic, musical and social), all the stories traced will be handed to a committee formed by professionals, in order to reach a selection of the most significant for the project’s purpose, and to make them physically re-emerge from the subsoil through the core drillings.

Once identified, they will form a new map of Aspen and its surroundings made up of tales and testimonies, memories and anecdotes; a paper to be placed on top of that geophysical, and which, together with it, will become a tool for research, offering an unusual, unique knowledge of the territory.

The telling of these stories, stored in memory as in the ground, will be granted to a subtractive gesture, materialized in the compression of the core drilling.

In order to carry out the core drillings, a map will be produced that shows exactly where they lay, indicating their geographical coordinates, all the different locations chosen where the extractions will take place.









The length of the drill should not be less than six meters, although the depth of the extraction can vary to reach a maximum of ten.

Once extracted, each core must be placed inside a box suitable for storing it. These are standard containers, commonly used by engineers to preserve core drillings.

On the cover of each container, the date and geographic coordinates of the extraction site, along with some data provided by a geologist, will be indicated, once the material is examined. Each core will be examined by a specialist who, through an analysis of the organic and inorganic materials found within it, will be able to provide a reading and an interpretation, tracing the history of the subsoil layers. As the age of the tree can be traced back through the number of rings, by reading the layers of extracted material it is possible to identify different temporalities: a horizontal reading transforms the core into a timeline, it is a spatial materialization of time passage.

The geologist's reading is fundamental as it makes possible a future re- creation of the same chemical composition of the earth belonging to a particular geographic area at a certain time, and which also contains in its DNA a trace of the events, of the stories that shaped it. By projecting into a hypothetical post-apocalyptic future, the core will assume the role of relic, as guardian of its DNA, and at the same time a guinea pig of matter to be investigated and tested with.






Each hole in the ground, resulting from the drilling, must be sealed with a metal plaque. Each plaque must be made with the metal most commonly used in the region. The plaque must cover the entire hole and must be fixed to the ground, filling part of the cavity. There is no unique method for the placement; it can be determined from time to time in accordance with the methodologies of the local workers, depending on the location of the core and the quality of the soil.

Each plaque will be signed with specific information regarding the core drilling that it seals. The information is as follows and will be written in your local language:

• The title and logo of the project

• The date of extraction

• The number of the core drilling within the group of extractions carried out in that region, following a chronological order

• The geographical location details in detail: state, region, province, city, locality

• Extraction depth






Once the exhibition has been concluded, the cores will be stored in a special iron container to be preserved for the future. Once completed, this container will be sealed and buried, thus transforming into a Time Capsule. At the point where it is buried, a plaque will be placed, made of any local stone on which the date of burial and the expiration date (a century after) will be engraved on. The tombstone will have the same size as one face of the buried container, as its shadow projected on the Earth's surface.

The Time Capsule data will be transmitted to the International Time Capsule Society (ITCS), an institution founded in 1990 in Atlanta, Georgia, with the purpose of promoting the study of Time Capsules: containers used to convey to posterity the memory of a determined historical period, through a selection of objects considered representative of life at that certain time. In this case, the Time Capsule is not in charged of the transmission of a memory linked to a specific period through emblematic objects, but to the posterity is delivered a "fossil" memory through subsoil samples where it has been settled, recorded, a black box coming from remote times.

The International Time Capsule Society (ITCS), where the container storing the cores will be registered through a compilation of a detailed form, keeps the database of all the time capsules on the planet.

If all the cores are assembled in a single container, buried at a specific point to be established, the plaques sealing each hole left by the drillings will be spread over the surface of the Earth, forming a constellation, which traces an original mapping. It is a map that does not follow geography, but is the result of a choral story, an atlas of blank histories. Each core is a portrait of a place taken to the surface, making it possible to reconstruct the history of a city's identity by following the stages that over time have led to the situation we now know.






Among the material that will be on the web site, a collection of essays that offer possible reading keys and unprecedented interpretations of the core drillings will be included. Various personalities, from a science fiction writer to an astronaut, will be invited to contribute with the production of an original essay that explores and develops the concept of core drilling away from the traditional notion and from peculiar points of view. The most visionary, abstract, and towards future scenarios readings, will be encouraged. A place's DNA custodian, for example, a core allows reproducing the qualities of that particular place in an entirely different context, physically and historically. Moving even farther, considering the core as the guardian of Earth's DNA, it will be possible to reproduce our planet’s characteristics on another one, in a now-days no so utopian space conquest.

Numerous definitions and interpretations can be given from different perspectives to the core, especially considering the short-circuit between space and temporal dimension, and between the past, the present and the future it represents.

The aim is to bring out the complexity, the polysemy of the core drill and its self-sufficiency through the complete reading of the various elaborated definitions: a palette of the history of humanity, to which everything can be retrieved.


Included, a presentation of a small anthology of texts to show a possible semantic extension of the core drilling.

The following four summaries were suggested for the project in Pompeii. For every chapter of the project, different intellectuals, from diverse fields should be invited to write about themes and suggestions brought up by the motion of digging-up.





“[...] ‘So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so long will London flourish [...] this is London Stone as the ur-stone that binds the nation to its discarded origins deep in the foundational moments of Western civilization; binds the present time of heroes, gods, and giants, binds it to the pre-history of the nation; the originary nation that rose up from the salty eddies of the ancient Iapetus Ocean, that warm and shallow sea across which, eons before the arrival of Brutus, the British Isles were finally formed.’ [...]”

Foundations, 2014



London Stone, that legend says King Brutus laid, founding the Capital, Cannon Street





“Experimenting quite literally with a sociological imagination, this piece employs speculative methods through a series of field notes [...] The aims of this experiment is to explore the relationality of innovation and containment—who and what is fixed in place, corralled and coerced, so others are free to fabricate the future? In the process of designing ideal genomes, what versions of humanity are potentially discarded? Producing speculative field notes as a methodological exercise is a way to fashion possible futures and probable pasts, enabling analysts to critically reflect on the present. In experimenting with the line between fact and fiction, we can begin to question the assumption of inevitability that surrounds technological development [...] After all, why is it that we can so readily imagine growing heart cells in a lab, but not growing empathy for other human beings in our everyday lives?”

Designer and Discarded Genomes, 2016


Electron micrograph of one mitochondrion within a mouse liver cell (hepatocyte),

photographed by Dr. Monsrs; overlaid onto a 1644 map by Willem Janszoon Blaeu “Africae nova descriptio.” Copperplate from the second volume of Blaeu’s Le theatre dv monde; ov Novvel atlas contenant

les chartes et descriptions de tous les païs de la terre (Amsterdam, 1644). Rare Books Division,

Princeton University Archives.





This essay talks about a decorative lintel from the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela that failed to fulfill its role in the construction project and decorative program [...] it found another function offering a visual statement of a more philosophical sort [...] The unfinished block reveals a past progression but also a future regression, when the human markings will once again be erased from the stone [...] The periods of art history, from Paleolithic to Renaissance, become indistinct on the face of the granite. The stone imposes sterns rules that carvers have followed through ages.

Style-Eating Granite, 2014



Lintel, Santiago de Compostela Cathedral Museum, ca. 1200. Copyright Santiago

de Compostela Cathedral Museum. Photo: Ovidio Aldegunde





“[...] the immense girth of the Giant Rock was not simple a geological happenstance but a sign portending mystical significance [...] it became a locus of a strange episode in the twentieth-century of American West: the second land owner, Van Tassel, created the Proceedings of the College of Universal Wisdom and in a few years he emerged as a central figure in atomic-era ufology, [he] created the instructions to build a Time Machine, The Integratron, an amalgam of architecture and machine with the purpose of eliminate time’s effect on the body; it produced time, rather than sucked it away [...]”.

Mass Effect, 2014



Giant Rock today. Photo: Sasha Archibald





The locations and the executions of the core drillings should be photographed in an exhaustive way during all the operational steps:

- The lookout – the photographic documentation must include the spot of the extraction and it’s surroundings

- Archeostratigraphic survey, positioning of the machinery, and the core drilling extraction

- The moment when the extracted material is laid inside the conservation box

- The positioning of the metallic plaques that seal every hole created in the ground

- The display of the core drillings during the exhibition

- The digging and the burial of the Time Capsule

- The placement of the gravestone at the place of burial





The conservation boxes will be exhibited horizontally and on top of single tables that will have the same surface measurement of the conservation boxes. For each core drilling, the information extracted from the matter that they contain, would be made visible to the public, written in the lid of each box. The information included will be as follows: date of extraction, details of the geographic spot – state, region, province, city, and location. Besides that, it will be also shown to the public the analysis made by the geologist, the space/ time coordinates of the extraction, and a more thorough reading of the material that complies each core drilling.





Parallel to the physical execution of the project, there will be a virtual counterpart: a web site that, besides following the status of the work, will function as the container for all the collected material. The data will be chronologically divided and articulated according to the different chapters that create the atlas.

The web site will contain all the histories selected, that are the motivation of the core drillings and determine the places where they are done, with their textual sources, being oral or iconographic, and the pictures taken during the lookout, the extraction, the placing of the material in the conservation boxes, and the positioning of the metallic plaques, in order to have a wholesome documentation. Besides that, the documentation from the exhibition to the moment when all the core drillings, placed and sealed in the conservation boxes, are inserted inside a big metallic container, sealed for their conservation: the Time Capsule, will be buried in a place that is yet to be established, and its geographic coordinates will be as well included on the web site.

In addition to offering a testimony of the different chapters of the project, the web site, thought of as a dynamic platform that is continuously updated, should be a place for reflection and study about the different themes, theories and suggestions that are at the base of the project and in the meanwhile, it is hoped that the material here collected could stimulate new researches, thoughts, ideas and narrations.





In order to ensure the proper execution of the project, in respect of all the phases described above, it will be asked by the institution which intends to support it to sign a contract with the artist, drawn up in collaboration with a lawyer. Given the time extension, the contract is necessary to ensure the completion of the project in its entirety, up to the resurgence of Time Capsule over a hundred years.