Nancy Baker Cahill's Lifelines
Permanent Art Project
Lifelines by Nancy Baker Cahill is an animated, monumental, augmented reality (AR) installation of ecological imagination.
Geolocated in the Prime Desert Woodland Preserve (PDWP), a protected, historic desert in California’s Antelope Valley, Lifelines appears as three colossal Joshua trees surrounded by a ghostly murmuration of birds. Rich with wildlife and home to many species of insects, reptiles, mammals, and birds, this fragile ecosystem remains imperiled. The ongoing precarity offers an opportunity to reframe our interdependent relationship with this natural ecosystem and modes of planetary knowledge erased or ignored by the progress of modernity. The Antelope Valley, like so many other regions, bears witness to a somber past. This history subtly reminds us of the challenges and narratives that have shaped this land over the years. Human appetites for exponential growth and advancement have caused enormous harm: ecological, historical, and cultural.
Lifelines underscores the majesty of Joshua trees in the form of towering, breathing trees that rhythmically expand and contract. They have been rendered digitally with glowing interiors, glimpsed with each exhale, to imply a mythic grandeur. By scaling the trees to colossal proportions, Baker Cahill challenges human exceptionalism. AR as a medium allows viewers to re-embed the human experience in nature without harming local flora and fauna, and to embrace new modes of perceiving. Unlike other forms of land art, AR is distinct in its ability to be both present and absent, to reveal what otherwise goes unseen, unheard, and unimagined.
An elegiac melody, which weaves together five native bird songs, ambient desert sounds, and breathing, plays throughout the experience—at once celebratory, melancholy, and resilient. Bird songs are essential to Lifelines not just because of the plurality of songs heard today, but because of the traditional “Bird Songs” of the region’s First Peoples, social and funeral songs that tell migration stories, shared memories, and histories. To move through the PDWP is to encounter its enduring planetary intelligence, above and below ground. It offers a rare glimpse into how a protected desert ecosystem might thrive when treated with care and respect. Lifelines invites new considerations for its troubled past, imperiled present, and modes of inherited knowledge, which present the possibility of regenerative futures here and beyond.
Nancy Baker Cahill
Soundscape by Anna Luisa Petrisko
Production by Shaking Earth Digital