Hard Sun

“I love movies when the entire plot is “it’s the hottest day of the year and everyone is fucking upset."

“Waking into weird weather as a list

Inventory to-do verbs first panic

Inventory insufficient tether [...]”2

The artist Francis Alÿs, in Paradox of Praxis 1 (Sometimes making something leads to nothing) pushes a block of ice through the streets of Mexico City.

Early on, when I started to work at the library of an art academy, I would recommend books on or by Alÿs whenever a student asked a vague research question I didn’t know what to do with.

“Sometimes making something 

leads to nothing.

Algunas veces el hacer algo

no lleva a nada.

Às vezes fazer alguma coisa

não leva a nada.”3

The act of reading a text is akin to following a stream. The English words I know well flow downstream, while the Spanish words I’m only familiar with turn this flow into a meandering stream. Finally, the Portuguese words I don’t know trickle down drop by drop before I jump over this puddle – and onto the next paragraph. The flow stops completely as I try to reorient, back to the known. But, you see, this way of reading only on the surface can totally betray you.

“Medical Journals Blind to Racism as Health Crisis, Critics Say”4

“This is another instance of the use of blindness as a pejorative metaphor. The Times, and writers who regularly use blindness in this manner, want to think that the metaphor is legitimized by decades of use this way. It’s in the Webster-Meriam Dictionary, definition number 3: “blind: having no regard to rational discrimination, guidance, or restriction.” But it’s clear the intent of the use of the phrase is meant to connote a lack of considered, or rational thought, and it does this by referencing a physiological state of being that is a reality for hundreds of thousands of blind people in this country. You really don’t know what an insult is until you realize the body you own and the body that owns you is being used as a metaphor for ignorance by the largest newspaper in the USA.”5

For years, the Bruce Nauman poster my partner picked up for free at a Dia Beacon exhibition was hanging in our kitchen. It’s an instructional poster for the 1974 piece Body Pressure. “Press very hard”, Bruce says, “and concentrate.”

“Press very hard and concentrate on the image pressing very hard.”

“(the image of pressing very hard)”

When we repainted the kitchen, we took down the poster and saw that exposure to the sunlight had impressed thumbtack sized dots onto the corners of the poster.

Dia Art Foundation meticulously maintains a number of artworks in order to preserve “the vision of artists.”6 The logistics this requires are quantifiable: the foundation has 216 employees, an annual revenue of $29,697,3257 and maintains sites in Beacon, New York City, New Mexico, Utah and Kassel. Yet we most often see reports highlighting the visible, romantic labor this maintenance work requires, as seen for example in the 2016 New York Times profile of Bill Dilworth, ‘A ‘Keeper of Earth and Time’. Dilworth has been the caretaker of Walter De Maria’s Earth Room for 33 years and “waters, rakes and occasionally weeds the lumpy black dirt, but mostly sits behind a desk in an adjacent room, buzzing in visitors and answering any questions.”8 The article further describes how Dilworth, an artist himself, uses “a flat-edged marker to make four squiggly marks in a notebook he uses to tally the visitors. The method resembles a hieroglyphic code that denotes the time and size of visiting groups, and other details.” Similarly, Robert Weathers has been the caretaker of De Maria’s The Lightning Field for decades. A visit to The Lightning Field must be reserved well over a year in advance. Visitors first report to the Dia office in Quemado, New Mexico and are then driven to the field where they stay overnight in a cabin. Linens are provided.9 When lightning strikes one of the 400 polished stainless-steel poles installed in a grid array measuring one mile by one kilometer, it chars the earth around the base, as well as the pole itself, which then needs to be replaced “to maintain the pristine visual of the field."10

“I’m here, but I can’t find them. Overlook Park, at the Marshes of Glynn, in Brunswick, on the coast of Georgia, in the southeast of the US, just off Highway 17.”11

In contrast to the hyper-visibility of the artworks in various sites maintained by Dia Art Foundation, Beverly Buchanan’s Marsh Ruins (1981) have been produced in harmony with its environment and the process of ruination in mind.

“I don’t want to be part of a tourist attraction syndrome’, she explained. ‘You know, “put it where lots of people can see it”’.12

“Buchanan referred to the work as an ‘environmental sculpture’. Part of what this meant was that the shifting rhythms of light, season, weather and climate would determine how it appeared at any point in time.”13

“The mounds were already in a fairly advanced stage of ruination when Buchanan visited the site in 2003, and she chose not to interfere. It seems that the task, then, is to try think instead about how deliberately impermanent works can live on through practices of attention, appreciation and remembrance. If Buchanan’s work was studied and taught more, for instance, preservation would be reinforced in a more immaterial sense – in the domain of cultural memory.”14

In box 50, folder 30 of the Terence Sellers Papers at The Fales Library & Special Collections, a handwritten note by Duncan Smith:







“I tend to stay away from too much sun because it’s so hard for me to tan with ease, unless I’m methodical, but then that becomes tiresome. Even my name Duncan Howard Smith can become totally anagrammatized into Can’t Do Hard Sun Whim.”15

Construction paper is available in a variety of vibrant colors but because of the synthetic dyes used to produce them, the color will fade away when the paper is exposed to sunlight for any extended period of time. On the surface of my desk lies a short and narrow strip of construction paper, the color on the top of the strip has faded away. This makes it look similar in appearance to a chemical test strip where the surface, laced with a reagent, has changed color after a chemical reaction has taken place. I’ve already long ago removed the strip of paper from the book it was marking so I’m not sure anymore what text it reacted to.

On the window sill of my studio, a supermarket receipt is fading into invisibility, the only thing left is the faint trace of a barcode on the bottom and an almost painterly ‘X’, off center on top of the receipt, a leftover from the supermarket’s name, MAXIMA.

The process by which substances change color due to exposure to a change in temperature is called thermochromism. A receipt is printed on a thermal printer, which uses tiny electrically heated elements to expose the thermochromic coating on thermal paper to turn black when exposed. It can continue to turn black by further exposure to the indiscriminate heat of a lighter, kitchen stove or a fingernail running over the surface and creating heat through friction.

The heating in our apartment was out for two weeks in the middle of winter, after it was fixed, the two weeks felt like they had disappeared.

“Outside it rains; the gutter leaks in the tap, filling up the sink, dripping on the carpet. Meanwhile, the radiator waves, and a dog looks through a wet window.”16

The artist Bastien Gachet produces environments that are scaled for humans and are furnished with objects that can seemingly be used by humans, yet the humans are never there. This is especially true when we see the photography and film documentation of the spaces. On the artist’s website, these images are complemented by written descriptions.

“Some hair on the shelves of an industrial fridge, a marble desk with LEDs, salt water in a drawer, an oil-painted portrait, an airport bench and pink plastic beads. A silicone spaghetti in olive oil and flies. Some crumpled vinyl sticker. The sound of a vent.”17

“A coffee maker stands on a hot plate, a pipe connects it to the main waters, unstoppingly making coffee, boiling, steaming, overflowing, blemishing.”18

“A resisting wire short-circuits the phases of a wall plug, generating heat.”19

“The cops blamed the collision on the silver color of Little Bastard, Dean’s Porsche race car, which in the California dusk blended with the highway. The driver of the Ford, who was making a left turn, didn’t see Dean’s oncoming car. Little Bastard was bleeping in and out of visibility. James Dean was cruising along BLEEP James Dean’s neck was broken.”20




1 Tweet by Mr. Thank You @c0mmunicants 12:30 AM, Jun 21, 2021.
2 Wake to Dread: September 22, 2017, Dean Street, Morning / by Gregg Bordowitz. IN: Triple Canopy
issue 24: Risk Pool, published on April 01, 2019.
3 [title card] Paradox of Praxis 1 (Sometimes making something leads to nothing) / Francis Alÿs. –
1997, 5:00 min.
4 Medical Journals Blind to Racism as Health Crisis, Critics Say / by Apoorva Mandavilli. IN: The New
York Times, June 2, 2021.

5 Instagram post by Joseph Grigely, June 7, 2021, https://www.instagram.com/p/CP0P76llraj/
6 ‘About Dia’ https://www.diaart.org/about/about-dia
7 $17,369,675 after expenses. Source: Dia Art Foundation Form 990 (2019), submitted to IRS, January
21st 2021.
8 A ‘Keeper of Earth and Time’ / by Corey Kilgannon. IN: The New York Times, October 7, 2016.
9 ‘Visit our locations’ https://www.diaart.org/visit/visit-our-locations-sites/walter-de-maria-the-lightning-field
10 Visit Taos New Mexico https://taos.org/
11 Beverly Buchanan: Marsh Ruins / Amelia Groom. – London : Afterall, 2020, p. 13

12 Groom, p. 14
13 Groom, p. 13
14 Groom, p. 67
15 ‘Australis’ / Duncan Smith. IN: The Age of Oil. – New York : Slate Press, 1987, p. 51

16 ‘Novembre’ (2019), https://bastiengachet.ch
17 ‘Room Tone’ (2020)
18 ‘On Not Coming Back’ (2016)
19 ‘Chauffage’ (2016)
20 ‘Chase scene’ / Dodie Bellamy. IN: Bee Reaved. – Los Angeles : Semiotext(e), 2021, p. 200



Previously published as part of Catalog issue 20, 'Hard Sun'. 
Catalog is a serial publication about cataloging, written by Lieven Lahaye and designed by Ott Metusala.