The Re-tech of Noah Purifoy: an overture in detritus

K. Bradford

Noah Purifoy


I stood in a temple of toilets. It was open-air, roofless. Everything pointed skyward. I sat on a toilet and looked up as dusk fell. White streaks from two planes crosshatched the sky, dissolving in darkness. The temple was solid, and sturdy. The toilet bowls still reliable as seats. But I was surrounded by dissolution.

Out in the Mojave Desert lies a blueprint for a more lucid way of seeing our times. Noah Purifoy, renowned African American artist whose visionary work has recently received its wider due acclaim, left us a timeless offering on the desert floor: an installation of assemblage sculptures to walk through, sit in, meditate upon, tinker with and most importantly: to see through—and beyond. Within the desert elements that alter the shapes and sounds of the sculptures by day, by season cycle, stands a series of dwellings, vehicles, temples, and devices made of discarded objects—waiting for us to enter, and be transported.

It was early January—and the high desert more barren and vast for the chilling quiet of winter. I had walked through Purifoy’s Outdoor Museum for an hour, for the first time, without the map offered at the front entry. But there were instructions at every turn, in every object. Invitations embedded within each sculptural space and the passageways between.

No sign of other humans nearby, the space was emptied. I could have felt desolately alone, but instead I felt both comforted and electrified. I had stepped into a circuit of things, and everything was animated.

The air shook. The shifting light disbanded objects into shadows, into mini-mirages of other objects. Wheels turned, pipes and tubes clicked, wind whistled through metal innards, twisted tree roots swung from wire, umbrellas pointed skyward. Nothing was what it seemed, yet everything was just as it was.

All around, the bones of technology.

For the first time, the full arc of Noah Purifoy’s artistic career has been presented in “Junk Dada”, the groundbreaking retrospective at LACMA curated by Franklin Sirmans and Yael Lipswitz. Coupled with Purifoy’s Joshua Tree Outdoor Museum, “Junk Dada” makes the brilliance of Purifoy’s lifelong work crystal clear. What the white walls do, what the dust and wind of the desert do, are definitively different alchemies in dialectic with the complexity of Noah Purifoy’s socio-aesthetic work. What stands out from the thoughtful and timely curation of Sirmans and Lipswitz and the larger institutional embrace of LACMA, is the scale and reach of Purifoy’s vision. As Yael Lipswitz said, “First and foremost, the exhibit validates Noah Purifoy and highlights what a profoundly seminal and important artist he was. I think most people, if they knew his work, were not aware of the breadth and the trajectory of his work. I think of him as one of the more important and influential post-war sculpturists. Not just in LA, but when you look at what was happening internationally.”

Indeed, Purifoy was a heavy-hitter—as an artist at large and an agent of change in Los Angeles and California. He was a social worker, teacher, designer, curator, arts policymaker, and founding member of the California Arts Council where he was a pivotal force in advancing legislation and programming to move the arts into California schools and state prison systems. Hailing from the deep south of Alabama, offspring to sharecroppers, and coming of age as an artist and social thinker in the deeply racist epoch of the 1950’s and 60’s, Purifoy was a mover and shaker whose work on the streets and in museums, in community and out in the desert, has had a resounding impact. When I drive a wood bus (housed in a converted school bus) across LA to teach woodworking to kids in schools, I track the traces of Purifoy’s lineage in forging a space for arts in California schools.  Side Street Projects is certainly one of hundreds of organizations or initiatives within this  lineage.

Along with other seminal African American artists from Los Angeles, such as Betye Saar, David Hammons and John Outerbridge, Purifoy’s politics and aesthetics were shaped by and a catalyst within the emerging assemblage art movement in California in the 60’s. Co-founder and Director of the Watts Towers Arts Center, he was also co-curator of “66 Signs of Neon,” the revolutionary exhibition of sculptures made from the remains of the Watt’s riots.  The detritus of the destroyed ignited Purifoy’s artistic and activist practice. The coup of Purifoy is the astute aesthetics, high design, and resounding philosophy that emanate from his assemblage of “waste.” 

I walked as if through a shipyard. Vessels made of rusted machine parts, of discarded components, rose up amidst the dust and dusk. Made of yesterday’s technologies, Purifoy’s hybridized assemblages signal toward futuristic inventions.

I saw slave ships halted at the end of their apocalyptic voyages. I saw space ships waiting to launch new trajectories into outer hemispheres.

All of these vessels, with empty chairs and open captain’s quarters, appeared ready for liftoff, and simultaneously already ventured, just landed, newly abandoned.

Ghosts of our undoings swarmed. The not yet discovered flashed. I had landed somewhere apocalyptic yet latent.

What is clear, immediately upon seeing Purifoy’s work, is that he creates art as an encounter. We do not merely look at his artwork—even the pieces that hang carefully on museum walls. The dynamism of Purifoy’s assemblages stems from his intricate re-assembling of found objects from a myriad of often seemingly unrelated sectors of human life. At all stages of his art making, Noah Purifoy’s assemblage sculptures offer a re-imagining of things—the orbit of objects—that humans conjure, design, fabricate, consume, even cherish, and inevitably dispose of. To see Purifoy’s work at LACMA with the pristine walls, exhibition lighting and crafted curation, is to see up close the scope and dimensions of his compositional genius. As Sirmans said as we walked through the exhibit, “The exhibit puts the focus on objects in a way that is different than the desert which is about an entire experience. Not that you don’t leave here with an entire experience, but here you are being moved through a concentration on each and every object.”  During one of my many visits to “Junk Dada,” I stood nearby the sculpture, “Sir Watts II” reading the wall text. Purifoy’s seminal piece from the “66 Signs of Neon,” is a remake from 1996 that includes a computer circuit board as the inner organs of a metal torso—a war figure with a helmet. As I stood there reading, several young folks walked in and as they looked at the sculpture and then breezed past, one of them said “Yeah, that’s it, that’s what we look like inside.”

LACMA’s retrospective along with the steady, prescient stewardship of the Noah Purifoy Foundation, and Steidl’s release last summer of Purifoy’s High Desert Texts and Essays, couldn’t be a more timely convergence. In the wake of Ferguson, the Charleston massacre, church burnings, Black Lives Matter—aftermaths of the already-aftermath (Rodney King, James Bird)—Purifoy’s vision, is more legible, and necessary, than ever. The very transparency offered within his art—to look through, walk through, travel though—is an invitation to see: objects as the hard math of our histories, our grids, our machines, and yet, through the reassemblage of those same objects, the possibility of transcendence.  The removal of Purifoy’s desert works from their context in Joshua Tree into the museum setting foregrounds the extraction and dislocation; to look at his desert work inside, on the urban grid, is to half-see, and yet—to more deeply see Purifoy’s socio-aesthetic compositions of the discarded.  As Sirmans said, “He talked about being able to see beauty in a way that other people cannot if you have not been accustomed to a language that speaks of the discarded, what is left behind.” The sweeping view that Junk Dada reveals of Purifoy’s craft down to the micro-orbit of objects stands as an invaluable capillary to Purifoy’s luminous opus of large-scale environmental work out in the Mojave desert.

Noah Purifoy was a postcolonial gleaner. In the streets of Los Angeles, the alleys and urban innards of rioted remains, the back roads and junkyards of the desert, his practice was to rake cultural space as a field of already harvested crops.  More than junk, beyond trash, Purifoy created alchemies from the detritus of our industrial, technological, political times. Working with the materials from his environments—toilet bowls, computer circuits, keys, mops, television screens, computer keyboards, bowling balls, shoes—Purifoy listened to his found objects, letting them materialize as new forms. Dada strategies of assemblage and the readymade were central to his work as scholars have deftly revealed. Detritus was Purifoy’s medium, his primary currency: abandoned, forgotten objects and fragmented, disintegrated debris. He went head first into the aftermath of things. As with Watt’s, he worked with molten objects, just hardened black rage. Purifoy wielded technological parts, before and after they turned to ghost bits. His complex designs of discarded objects, tell the hard simple truth of postcolonial America and its discarded race. Slavery systematically positioned African Americans to be the “bottom-feeders” of America, in perpetuity. Purifoy’s gleaning from America’s leftovers, reveals the entrenched racism of a post slavery capitalist welfare system that keeps the discarded objects and discarded races on the proverbial bottom floor. Purifoy performs a masterful reassembling of detritus—the political apparatus of our times—and within that conversion lies a chance encounter of rebirth.

Indeed, to drive down the dirt corduroyed roads of Joshua Tree and to arrive at Purifoy’s Outdoor Museum is to enter a portal—not necessarily to another world, although that too, but to an unplugged network. A series of welcomes and entry points are just the start of a multi-channeled circuit waiting for those who venture off the grid. And there, stripped of electricity but endowed with a different kind of charge, lies an armature of symbolic technologies that Purifoy built and left for us to experience—and glean from.

A seemingly endless line-up of passageways (tracks, arches, walkways, ladders, doorways, stairs, etc.) reveal a moving world; embedded within these structures is an invitation to be mobile: to inhabit and even create the circuit as we move through it. And what we come across en route, out of the endless combination of routes within routes, is a series of vehicular sculptures—what could be ships, trolleys, wagons, trains—that invite us to be transported. Everything is in motion. And yet, also as we traverse, we enter dwellings—shelters, hideaways, forts, asylums, as well as theaters, carousels, temples, altars. A range of spaces lie in wait: from the sacred to the profane, from playful to tragic, technical to lowfi.

Part-way through Purifoy’s fourteen years on the Joshua Tree site, he wrote to himself a declaration of his sculptural intent—to make environmental sculptures that one can walk through [1]. Indeed, the Outdoor Museum is a labyrinth of walk-throughs: mythic mobiles and dwellings of detritus, of dust, of sky, of wind, of the desert itself. What’s striking about the sculptural coexistence of dwellings amidst vehicles, is the architectural gesture of stillness amidst mobility. The dwelling spaces invite us to pause while also being transported. The vehicles invite us to enter mobiles that are paused in latency. These are no ordinary vehicles, nor ordinary dwellings. We are invited into shifting space and time.

I see Purifoy’s Outdoor Museum as a “phantasmagoratory,” woven with the light and pulse of techno-poetics. The otherworldly structures are emblazoned, sometimes intricately, sometimes boldly, with openings and antennae, channels and signals—an ongoing assembly of objects that call us to see beyond. Through his unplugged symbolic technologies, simultaneously reminiscent of early machines and gesturing toward futuristic inventions, Purifoy takes us on a cosmic ride. He hijacks our consciousness with a phenomenological spin of object upon object whereby portals and phantasms animate the way.

Part laboratory and observatory, part test-site and launch pad, Purifoy’s Phantasmagoratory offers an aerial view and a skyward view all in one go. I would argue he creates an integrated media circuit by which we are grounded—in our earthly bodies looking up through the materiality and technicality of objects which Purifoy points with his phantasmagoric hand toward more infinite planes of existence. And yet, we are also up above; as Lipschutz posits “…the aerial view relates to Purifoy’s enigmatic interest in oceanic meditation, a metaphysical form of flight” [2]  Indeed, we are amidst wings, antennae, satellites and comets. In Purifoy’s techno-poetic time, we are down below sending signals or launching sky-ships and yet we also are transported into the airwaves and flight-paths.

I felt every bit of my bodily pulses, contours, limits—the gravity of being right here in this physical form. And yet, I felt everywhere, sent by phantasms into an altered state where everything expanded exponentially.

I felt fragmented, and integrated at once. I was digital and analogue all in one circuit.

“No Contest”, which was included in the LACMA retrospective, situates two bicycles on a diagonal track pointing skyward—on the rooftop of a dwelling. And at that, the dwelling is a single wall, a gesture of a building. With this assemblage, Purifoy unleashes the house from its four walls, and the two bicycles from gravity. The highest bike is upright, wheeling toward the infinite roadways of the sky. The bike lower on the totem-track, is upside down, turning gravity on its wheeled head.

No longer moving objects for us to ride on top of, the wheels turn in the wind. We look up through their spokes to clouds and sky, the wheels as devices steering us into a different curvature of space-time. What galaxy or over-world is the bicycle’s inverted gravity pulling it toward?  Or what’s more, has Purifoy created a time dilation where the two bicycles, though side-by-side, now exist in different time dimensions as the Space Shuttle is to GPS?  Does the inverted bike offer an alternate clock for us to live by?  Or, as the wheels spin in the desert sun, is the inverted bicycle a kind of heliograph sending flashes of light to outer hemispheres?

Indeed, many of the dwellings are open-air, roofless. While we are held by the various renditions of shelter and sacred space, we are also nudged to look beyond—to look out and through the structures that simultaneously contain. The brilliance of Purifoy’s walk-throughs is their transparency; a series of ever-evolving openings, invite us to look through the detritus and trash, out to the mountains and desert sky. As you sit in “Igloo” surrounded by tin panels and wire, you see through branches, through tech and nature combined, out to the desert dust and sky, and onward to the other inventions.

In 1997, when Purifoy wrote his self-evaluation as an artist, he laid out a series of goals. “My criteria for determining progress would be based upon (1) my need to loosen up (straight line syndrome) (2) further develop the idea of a sculpture within a sculpture concept because it may be the center of some growth possibilities and (3) to recognize nature as an intricate part of the creative process.” [3]. With his Outdoor Museum, Purifoy left the straight-line syndrome in the dust. Portal, within portal, his assemblages are like an ever-extending, intricate armature of nesting doll structures. Indeed, Purifoy’s shelters also function as open technologies—the apparatus of scopes and various mediums of seeing beyond purview, are embedded within structures. The intricacy of his labyrinthine circuit, where the structures open out to other structures and to the elements of the desert, opens the structures of our eye-mind. Not only did Purifoy create a “center of growth possibilities” for himself, but further, he incepted multiple nodes of imaginative possibility for the rest of us.  In the expanse of the Mojave an ever-unfolding we can, in perpetuity, expand the possibilities Purifoy left us because of the very collectivity of the infinite we.

When you come upon “Carousel,” an octagon shaped dwelling, the colors and shapes of the exterior invite you into a mode of play. A roadway of half-buried tires signals grounded transport—a world in motion, halted mid-action. A series of head-like, machine-like shapes atop wooden poles are lined up next to the “Carousel” stand as a lineage of guides. Past a perimeter of upside down umbrellas and a set of flying mannequin legs, are Joshua Trees, telephone poles, desert sun.  Many kinds of witness surround whatever just happened—is about to happen.   

Then you step into the innards of “Carousel”, a room of animated instruments—guitars angled upwards atop a mannequin hand, a pair of keyboards atop of a wooden pillar framing a window. Amidst a series of mini ladders, emptied machines spilling mannequin parts, and an empty music stand. An altar of books. A bed frame that says CREATE between its boards. The music machine of this carousel plays an open and unexpected score. A Dada cosmos operating on indeterminacy.

At the hub of “Carousel” is an inner room, more like an open-air cockpit, with a series of computers—monitors and keyboards strewn with wires and cables as in mid-operation. An empty, torn chair sits pushed back from the desk, showing the ghost-tracks of a previous command captain, yet also inviting you to sit and steer a cosmic carousel ride waiting to happen. With wry humor, Purifoy stages the spectacle of a hallowed headquarters. Here, we are asked to see past the spectacle of the screen—eyes traveling along the architectural upward arrows of white pillars and arches that frame this de-command center so that we look up through the unplugged, un-networked computers to desert sky.

A skyscreen to navigate our times. Skeletal technology, an open score.

Mechanical spirit guides oversee from the sidelines.

An unplugged network with no central command center, no central station, no main street.

A decentralized universe of side streets, byways, back roads, forgotten hemispheres.

Here lies an anti-empire.

With the trash transcendence of un-time machines, mythic mobiles, apoca-contraptions, and tech-temples, Purifoy offers us a crash course in altered consciousness. We are inundated with multiple views, unexpected questions, infinite equations, and latent discoveries. By stepping into Purifoy’s Phantasmagoratory, we are deemed co-cosmonauts mapping new trajectories of thought.

In Purifoy’s cosmos, we are launched into techno-poetics. Rippling through his work is a nonlinear time-space continuum, hybridized of the analogue and digital, dystopic and utopic, futuristic and old world, plugged and unplugged. Indeed, Purifoy transports us with techno-poetics which stream as a live digital yet lyrical pulse. We are here and there. In a third space, an infinite space, a time lapse of the just happened and the just about to happen.

We are sent skyward by symbolic antennae, phantasma-tropes, airwheels, and skygraphs—simultaneously on the ground, in the airwaves and outer hemispheres, we ride the waves and pulses of Purifoy’s techno-poetics. Akin to a telegraph hill, Purifoy’s Outdoor Museum stages a spectacle of signals—optical and sonic, invisible and symbolic, from the floor of the desert—that bottom-space that once was  an ocean floor.

The metal sculpture “Akua’ba” harkens to a Ghanaian ritual doll used to call forth fertility, with a round metal disk at the top which evokes the disk-head of the Ashanti people. Yet, placed atop a configuration of metal components “Akua’ba” also looks like the front of an engine or ship—either skeletal remains or the beginnings of a moving machine.

The airwaves of a future flying machine crosses the undercurrents of a sunken slave ship on the ocean floor.

African bones in the desert dust. In the middle of the desert, the Middle Passage.

An offering to the fertility of the sky. Metal parts we see through. Hollowed technology, ticking in un-time.

We are simultaneously pre and post. Surrounded by conditions of obsolescence and latency. Faced with the already undone, the already destroyed, and the already forgotten.

Within Purifoy’s phantasmagoratory lies a cultural graveyard. Totems, monuments, gallows, a giant shopping cart. We sense the larger dissolution of our times—the unsustainability we feel and know by its unravelings. The Outdoor Museum is a haunted space, gesturing back to apocalypses humanity has already instigated and survived and yet forward to those apocalypses currently underway.

The desert floor that once was ocean. Where bombs, where internment camps, where genocide.

In the desert, unrelenting re-ghostings.

To see with a desert eye. The stark, clear-eyed prism into all that was and is. And can be.

Through the discarded objects of our times, of invention and destruction, Purifoy invites us to mourn our undoings. To see, to remember, and so, to be transformed by the act of witness. Thusly, Purifoy incites radical presence.  As much as we are transported, the techno-poetic circuit of Purifoy’s phantasmagoratory also returns us to right here. And this is his insurrection.  

As the Invisible Committee states in their book, “To Our Friends”—we strive to protect ourselves “from everything reality contains that is unstable, irreducible, palpable, corporal, weighty, hot, or fatiguing by projecting it onto the ideal, visual, distant, and digitized plane of the internet, where there’s no friction or tears, no death or odors. The falsity of the entire Western apocalyptic consists in projecting onto the world the mourning we’re not able to do in regard to it. It's not the world that is lost, it’s we who have lost the world and go on losing it. It’s not the world that is going to end soon, it’s we who are finished, amputated, cut-off, we who refuse vital contact with the real in a hallucinatory way. The crisis is not economic, ecological, or political, the crisis is above all that of presence.” [4] 

Noah Purifoy’s phantasmagoric cosmos, a veritable launch pad of un-time machines and infinite portals, is a prescient kick in our civilization’s pants. I can hear Purifoy in the rattling pipes, saying look y’all—look at what we have right here right down to the bones of our technological, industrial, domestic waste and destruction. Stare through the toilet bowls and the gallows, the giant shopping cart and the asylum, to face—and feel—the depths and width of our apocalyptic times alongside the infinite beauty and limitless possibility.

As Jack Mesrine said, “There is no other world. There’s just another way to live.”  Purifoy’s techno-poetic apoca-dreamscape reveals the co-existence of many worlds, and he offers up the otherwordly. Through the score of clinks and whistles and flapping material, along with all of the inaudible signals and transmissions in the magnetic field Purifoy invented for us—I can hear him saying: what, my friends, are you going to do with this world?

Embedded within Purifoy’s highly intricate assemblages are cutting cultural critique and great generosity of spirit.  Within the complex relations Purifoy composes between objects of often juxtaposing realms and eras, lies a medicinal combination of mourning and wonder, ideological concision and whimsy, rage and rebirth. With a giant wink, Purifoy flips the bird—a societal F-you directed backward and forward in time that has forgotten neither joy nor humor. The challenge of our times as we seek sustainability is to equally see the hard math of materiality and the phantasm of possibility. As Sue Welsh writes in Junk Dada, Purifoy invites us to engage with art as problem-solving methodology. He does so by using the hard, concrete objects of our times as a means for us to imagine the world otherwise. Through artmaking Purifoy exemplifies the capacity to glean beauty from the ruins of dissolution, to post a prayer of possibility within a wasteland, to stage a spectacle of redemption with toilet bowls and flying mannequin legs. With unflinching reverent irreverence (and the inverse!), this trickster-shaman offers us a chance at rebirth.

“This is how insurrections continue, in a molecular fashion, imperceptibly, in the life of neighborhoods, collectives, squats, ‘social centers,’ and singular beings, in Brazil as in Spain, in Chile as in Greece. Not because they implement a political program but because they trigger revolutionary becomings. Because what was lived through shines with such a glow that those who had the experience have to be faithful to it, not separating off but constructing what was missing from their lives before.[5]

Akua’ba stood as a radiant figure at LACMA, taller and bolder for the spare gallery space. With the concrete floors and its place next to “Spaceman” and near “Washer Woman”, Akua’ba read as a monument-sized god/ddess more than a ritual doll. The beauty of the metal compenents melded softly into the cultivated urban space.

Stripped of the apoca-rebirth elements of the desert, Akua’ba’s pre-spacecraft, post-slave ship aura drifted in an after-before-life.

A Mojave dust trail still pooling in techno-poetic dervishes along the spine of the 10 in the Inland Empire.

Visiting “Junk Dada” is like entering the clockwork behind Purifoy’s Phantasmagoratory; to see up close the compositional master-mining of micro objects is to be moved by the machinations of his large-scale re-tech. Purifoy’s unplugged open network of symbolic technologies offers up a multi-channeled, poly-signaled circuit for our pluralistic times. Mirages, ghosts, hallucinatory possibilities rise and flash through the cracks and portals. Endless streams of data, messages, questions, and solutions float and pulse in the airwaves. His phantasmagoria sends our problem-solving, solution-building, imagination-spinning  capacities into a techno-poetic time curvature.  Whatever our voyage in and through Purifoy’s phenomenology, we return to the digistreamed, insta-tweeting cyber highways of our networked lives transformed by the rhythms of an eco-techno-poetic rebirth.   

Once returned to the Outdoor Museum, Akua’ba glimmered at dusk, shapeshifting. I looked for Akua’ba first, without the museum map, and didn’t find it until the almost dark.

Akua’ba was re-anchored in its original spot, next to a robust cholla and a dried up brush. The contours of its disk-face and engine-head, shifted in the liminality of dusk’s light and shadow animation.

What I saw that I hadn’t notice before was electrical sockets on the outer rods.  However on the grid Akua’ba had been at LACMA, once back at the Outdoor Musuem Akua’ba’s definitely unplugged sockets reaffirmed its hybrid status as ritual figure and symbolic technology.

It still seemed as if Akua’ba would imminently rocket skyward or had been halted on the desert-ocean floor long ago. Only, now that Akua’ba was one of the sculptures chosen to enter the esteemed grid of LACMA, the sockets seemed emptier and further from any possibility of being networked—in the past or future.

As Franklin Sirmans observed, Noah Purifoy lived under a DuBosian mask—his life, as an artist and an activist were often separate. But if there is one thing that Purifoy’s aesthetics and politics perform as a unified field, across the spectrum of his work, is the simple notion that we all would do well to heed: not a single human, nor a single thing is disposable. Purifoy was a true integrated media artist, before the term was hip and trendy. Purifoy practiced an aesthetics of incorporation, a politics of inclusion. He used everything at his fingertips in the different environments in which he lived and worked. Integrating the media of detritus, he incorporated the dis-incorporated, the dispersed, the disintegrated; and in so doing, his art upended the concept of discarded races and peoples.

A deep humanism and ecology runs through Purifoy’s art; he incorporated the many, the all, creating an eco-techno-poetics.  Though devices are often prosthetics in our tech-dominated times, Purifoy’s work is not anti-tech, but re-tech—he invited the synergies and dynamism between ecology and technology. Stripped of an actual functional digital apparatus, Purifoy’s symbolic technologies appear as both ghost and apparition. Rising from the desert floor as an unplugged song, composed from a score of the discarded, abandoned—of a terminated apparati—Purifoy’s re-tech, offers up an overture for our times. The frequencies and pulses, the waves and flashes of Purifoy’s large-scale, lofi re-tech assemblages of detritus propose a re-syncing of our place in the scheme of things.

Before I left, I looked at the back side of Akua’ba and found dried grasses and leaves hanging loosely from a pocket space between metal parts. Whether the nest was newly built, or long abandoned and now having made a SoCal trek, nature signaled Akua’ba’s power of fertility.  

I felt gratitude for Akua’ba’s recent public voyage and the return to its homeland. Because what I know about Purifoy after being an ardent Purifoy follower for several years, is that he would have wanted both for Akua’ba: its voyage away from and its return back to this holy, decaying space.

As with our pilgrimages to the Outdoor Museum or other off-the-grid spaces charting new courses for human sustainability and innovation, it is the rupture of removal that allows a return that is regenerative and even renewable. Hijacked by Purifoy’s eco-poetic un-time machines and phenomenon, we undergo a time dilation which hiccups the system—or at least our relation to the machine, the grid, the network. As Purifoy’s teachings foretell, it is the ritual of seeing that offers redemption and the chance encounter of the radical present.

In Purifoy’s enduring but ephemeral eco-cosmo-sphere, we are transported by larger force.  And upon reentering—a pause, a skipped pulse, a time-warp runs through us.

We are not quite the same. Not the same I or we. And neither is the dust, the antennae, the pipes, the sculptures, the birds or the sky—and if we are this open to Purifoy’s overture, even the networks we land in will shift.

“There was this search for a we, or the we, or this we, and we were seeking it in riot and in the swarm. Seeking the singular in the plural of it. Seeking a tenuous we. A more porous I. A we that emerges in the movement between the one and the many.” — emji spero  [6]

All parts in a techno-poetic feedback loop, resyncing with the ecology of collective, the indeterminacy of the one and the infinite.

Everything shifts, in this quiet revolution of dust and detritus.



1. Noah Purifoy High Desert Text, (Steidl Publishers, 2015), 1.

2. Junk Dada, (Delmonico Books, 2015), 54.

3. Noah Purifoy High Desert Text, (Steidl Publishers, 2015), 11.

4. Robert Hurley, trans., The Invisible Committee, To Our Friends (Semiotext(e), 2014), 31.

5. Robert Hurley, trans., The Invisible Committee, To Our Friends (Semiotext(e), 2014), 45.

6. emji spero, almost any shit will do, (Timeless Infinite Light, 2014), i.