The time between the stones
Type Open-Ideas competition
Location New-Mexico desert (USA)
Program Creation of a marker to deter inadvertent human intrusion
into an underground nuclear waste storage site, for 10 000 years.
Director’s choice prize
Ever since I was a child I wondered about the stones…
What could be hidden in the space between them?
What could be so old,
yet so fragile,
that it could not go on without us?
we must gather here for a day of celebration.
We dedicate our entire strength
to the taking down of a single stone…
10 000 stones,
one stone per year…
No more, no less.
Later we rest,
stories from the oldest among us.
Stories of past landscapes filled with light,
filled with sounds none of us could imagine,
which dangerous power still echoes here.
Yet the stones are silent,
each engraved with the simplest of instructions:
the astronomical date of their removal,
the count of the stones already laid down,
and the count of those left.
Will someone, someday, give up?
There is enough time for that.
But as I stand on the ever growing pavement,
I feel weighing under my feet
the long effort of those who came here before us.
And I know
we will go on as they did,
next year and the year after that,
A few stones closer to the end…
So is now the measure of our world.
The time between the stones
There was the possibility to forget,
but we were asked instead to mark this place. Leave a marker to be found, a punctual memory.
Passive warnings: I thought of the tsunami stones in Japan, but those were forgotten or ignored by the people living around them.
Yet in Australia, ancient aboriginal stories have kept the memory of geological events dating back to 12000 years…
Memory is not a passive action,
to be understood and trusted it must be passed on rather than discovered.
In New-Mexico we should build a ritual, as a human way of carrying information.
To ritualize is:
to repeat, to repeat,
to progress in circles through the linear immensity of time.
This marker is made of 10 000 stones,
covering the dangerous ground for 10 000 years, placed regularly along an Archimedean spiral, 500 meters wide;
a clock architecture bearing the information of its own dismembering, one stone per year,
to the last one in the center revealing the main shaft, where it would be then safe to get in.
The stones are tall enough not to be covered by the desert,
and heavy, so that their manipulation could only be the collective enterprise of a society.
Each is engraved with the precise date when it should be taken down, using an universal calendar: the angular position of the five planets visible to the naked eye, relative to the stone.
This marker does not directly warn about the danger underground, but rather about the interruption of the ritual:
the message is to pass on the message.
In heaviness and length, it is an actual representation of the dangerous time we hid underneath.
We let the stones speak of that time, has we now share it with those who will live long after us, but we cannot know the rest of the discourse. Whether regretful or hopeful, space is left here for the message to evolve with them.