[Lyn Cassady, former secret U.S. military psychic soldier (…or was he?) tests his interrogative prowess by attempting to stare a goat to death. His successful attempt is authentically recorded by the video camera at his side. We, as viewer, see this as filtered through memories created prior to Cassady’s transformative ‘Jedi’ training, in which his body and mind is subjected to his commanding officers’ experimental application of new age concepts and paradigms; investigations which sought to articulate the ‘paranormal’ for military uses.But obviously this is George Clooney, not Cassady, and the image above is a staged promotional still from the comedic, semi-farcicle film, Men Who Stare at Goats. That film was quite loosely drawn from the non-fiction book of the same name by Jon Ronson. Published years earlier and billed as a ‘non fiction’ read, the work had to perform complicated social gymnastics to get access to military information in order to bring its story to light. As the above link describes, the film further inflamed the political dimensions of this arena. George Clooney was no longer Cassady, rather he was pulled back into his ‘real’ life actor-activist self, taking serious flack for who he was portraying and not crediting in his film. F.A.D. is also implicated somewhere in here, having détourned the film and book title for some nine different posts to talk about a migratory herd of goats on a vacant urban lot in Portland, but no one seems to have been bothered. In each of these congealed situations we encounter layer on layer of translational reality, each building off the one before it. Agency and authorship is contested and co-opted at each turn, rendering the situation novel and different. These articulations provide more applicable instances of the ‘paranormal’ (outside the normal as we perceive it) where the normal is being reconstructed over and over. So what if we encountered the events and metamorphoses described above as their own variety of para-normal activity, meaning what if those slippery, magic-like moments of reality shifting that occur around us all the time – mysterious and unpredictable – were included in what we conventionally think of as ‘paranormal’? As an experiment, what if we bifurcate the term and by ‘para-normal’ we now mean these very moments of reality drift and how they are re-articulated?] ……………………………………………………………
I never really finished documenting last summer’s urban field event here in Portland, perhaps because it took some time to digest it. There were also plenty of other agents reporting and intervening in their own way, so it seemed I didn’t need to. A plethora of other narratives provided different takes on was happening, such as this one:
The expanded field of goats also briefly moonlighted in one of Portlandia‘s skits (watch around second 57), which rather apropos, was loosely about the situated technology of smart phones and the expanded urban sociability they enable. The clip shows exactly how so many people have interacted with the space:
But it also gets more weird and a little dark. Like goat-napping:
I already made note of the field’s fenced perimeter as a lively semiotic territory, and that exchange of symbols continued to proliferate on its own enigmatic terms:
Other more convoluted things also happened that I’m not going to disclose, so as to retain the anonymity of certain characters in this story.
All the while this was going on there was a digital dialogue happening about ‘tactical urbanism and socially active design’. As much as some the themes of the discussion initially appealed to me, I found the encounter there a bit dry. The translational activity was ironically removed from the action it discussed, sort of wishing and para-normalizing from a curatorial distance with white gloves in a room without windows. Without the action and commentary feeding back and forth into each other, one couldn’t really engage it in the same way. This is where the para-normal slips back into the conventional paranormal: disembodied voices hovering about in the air, haunting us a bit. That said, I was preoccupied with the sub theme of design failure, which I continually am: failure as vibrant and democratic exchange with forces of landscape. Failure as the real made tangible and present. Failure as exploratory text. Failure as something that can engender a more robust design than if one is successful in the first go.
I tried to hold to this notion while encountering some confounding challenges with the project, like folks making off with goats in the middle of the night and such. There’s always got to be someone who’s carries the para-normal like a virus and messes with your best laid plans, right? We also just simply fail quite frequently in our efforts to work with or guide the para-normal, don’t we? I know I do. The experiential and material field is inherently indeterminate and constantly evolving. Isn’t that what makes these endeavors interesting as well as sometimes frustrating? The traction between the bodily engagement with the milieu and the milieu’s refusal to stay still or conform to that which we think we desire? Experiencing the para-normal as the wile translational processes whereby things coalesce and emerge can also assist in developing a richer palette for our frequent experiences of spatial absurdity.
All this may serve as a far too expansive introduction to the fact that iteration III of The Goats on Belmont is now underway:
We have a new herd out there this year and the field itself is coming up on three years of perennial goat pasturing, with no use of mechanized mowers. The composition of vegetation growing on the construction debris has also morphed during that time. I thick carpet of grasses now cover most of the field in the spring (below), more so than in the past. Is this due to the enrichment of the soil from the goat manure, just the manner in which the ruderal ensemble is developing, or a likely combination of the two? If there are any urban botanists out there who could offer their insight we would love to know.