As one of our central theses we are viewing the industries of popular culture as producers of interpretational formats by which our environment is framed for human interaction, allowing for an easy appropriation for its predisposed use. When enacted, human behavior corresponds with those formats, often producing an expected experience. Its peculiar artifice and fictional content is widely accepted and fundamental to our construction and functioning of reality.2 Identities are no longer tied to history or place, rather they are open to reinterpretation in contextual settings for which film not only plays a leading role in contemporary culture but also offers a useful approach to understanding.
As a strategy to test our hypothesis, we translated our research project into a film plot, which allowed us to move into the script we wrote and investigate and experience its capacity to design spatial relations.
In the script we became landscape design entrepreneurs who moved to Los Angeles to establish a business. Eventually, however, we escaped to the Californian desert to beat the high cost of living. Although intrigued by this iconic landscape, it did not leave much for us to do until we met locals who shared their desert stories with us: stories from which the desert terrain emerged for a promising approach to landscape design.
By applying Michael Bakhtin’s concept of the chronotope, we traced how writers produced the experience of time and space in fiction.3 This formed the foundation, allowing us to produce “storyscape designs” from the stories we had heard to portray yet uncharted realms of the Mojave Desert.
Our plan to document these stories in a series of short films simultaneously led us to explore techniques and formats of the film industry as the most obvious story generator. This included casting stories and scripting plots for the social roles of our storyscape designs. We built film set models and scouted locations for the final realization, leading us to dry lakebeds, ghost towns, bombing ranges and wind sheltered canyons.
The project was realized in three phases based on the polyphonic exploration of transdisciplinary perspectives also published in our bi-annual Landscape Magazine.
Our web and onsite desert portrait presents a grid of standardized projections in cinemascope format which reconstructs the landscape as a sample of its trans-local counter-cartography and counter-demography, including questions about schemes by which territories are assessed and governed and about unpredictable measures4 within patterns of desert life narratives.