In the 1920s, Xul Solar translated his visions into Neocriollo (a language of his own invention designed to unite all of Latin America), which Daniel E. Nelson heroically translates into Spanish in the book Los San Signos, Xul Solar y el I Ching, an excerpt of which I translate into English here.


october 9, 1925


i enter in the form of a great amoeba, into black shadow, i probe before me with pseudopods at mid height, unhappy. all is crags and conical mountains like diorite. serpents conceal themselves everywhere about the uneven ground. in front of me in the distance is a fine twilight. i arrive at a sad sea of crystalline stillness, apparently depthless, with only the odd aquatic snake. i creep, i start to fly, i thrust, but i can’t get across, whereupon i complain at length until finally come two great black eagles to lift me in flight with their beaks and heads to a space of dark clouds over the ocean, and there they leave me, fluidly loose. at different points about me are great ovoid heads without bodies, whom I salute sacredly and question, and one says to me, “this is a region of affliction and despair. continue, ascend. above are gods.”


i go inward, i mould myself into something more like a human being and, with a plume of light on my forehead, i traverse cloudy labyrinths, floors and passages, each one darker than the last until i reach a too black expanse. i stop and suspect some great being is in front of me. i venerate it and ask the way, and then he appears to me, i see him clearly—immense, smooth, of a light so black that he stands out brilliantly from the murk like a hieratic statue, dressed in a truncated gown of patchy grey clouds, with two dark eyes in a smooth face of the greatest blackness and lucidity. he doesn’t speak but the words emerge from him on all sides, they halo him—i read them and it seems to sound as if i were speaking. (here i forget something.)


he says, “i am a darkness so dense that i vanquish light. all light i receive i absorb and condense—i reflect it only when i want to.” with his smooth hand he throws a beam of white light and opens his shining eyes in two distinct and dazzling beams, and where the three beams meet there is nothing empty or dead—until the distant stars and intersecting galaxies illuminate swarms of beings, emanations, gestations of worlds and phosphorescent nebulae in rotating constellations.


then he closes his eyes and there is no more light. he says, “i am the blackest you have ever seen, i am all light, and my name is lux, that is, xul in reverse.” then i say, am i you or are you me, as my name is yours? he says, “you are everything, i am everything, everyone is everything.” i ecstasy in him and we are joined. much later i regain myself and ask, why am i so lazy, so reckless, so petty—why do i forget in the world? and he responds, “i will write my name on your chest, that you will remember from the burn.”


and his hand writes in red fire alongside my heart “xul,” in great heavy letters that inflame me with pleasure and joy. then he insults me, “vile, negligent, cowardly, despicable…” and more that i forget, and he cuts or tears scraps from me like bits of rind that fall deep to the sad sea, which opens and swallows them. and my body is left other, no longer black but a crystalline blue over a golden aura with a golden plume.


the air lightens to an opaque silver, and at the same time the angel goes something like a blackened silver with pale silver eyes. and throughout ranges and revolves a fog of stuff, other worlds, shoals of living forms, so golden; with no relation to us, who, in our fixed stillness, see all as liquid. i ecstasy upon his chest.



(Drumming played in video by Geo





i. joanna marie beaumont stramaglio
ii. river saxon stramaglio
iii. jeremy patrick stramaglio



Amy Balkin (*1967) is a San Francisco based, interdisciplinary artist working on the interaction between climate change and capitalism. Her research-based approach aims to develop critical interventions on an international level, for instance in relation to carbon markets (Public Smog, 2004), or in her effort to declare the earth’s atmosphere a UNESCO world heritage site (2012).

Felix Bahret: California is in its fourth year of a devastating drought. The New York Times recommends recipes that are supposed to be water-saving – but it hasn’t crossed their mind to ban meat from their readers’ plates. In your view, is it a taboo to talk about lifestyle in art?

Amy Balkin: It reminds me, I think it was a couple of Biennales ago, of a project by Gustav Metzger. It was called Reduce Art Flights. There was a dialogue about what it means for people who are involved in culture to be flying and engage in activities with a large carbon foot print. I wasn’t at that conversation, but a friend of mine was. The question is: Where does it take us when the dialogue circles around consumption?

In the past I have been asked about flying myself and it begs this broader question of energy and energy use. What is mobility? Who is it for? What is the future of oil extraction? And what does it mean in the context of an acceptance of a continued global militarism? And yet, that energy expenditure!

You cannot ignore these questions about energy use, access to lighting or even toilets, which are maybe not an energy intensive infrastructure, but are ultimately about global equity. When those questions become couched in this idea about consumption, I don’t think that they drive the conversation, or the work, in a way that addresses the most pressing issues. So I think we arrive at the wrong place.

F: Back when you relocated to San Francisco, your research revolved around land ownership in California. Was this how climate change became a priority for you?

A: Climate change has been a very late priority of mine and I can only chalk that up to my lack of attentiveness to what was already a well-known problem. I didn’t begin making the first work that was dealing with climate change until 2004, when I started my project Public Smog. I had been spending time in rural California looking at landscape and thinking about property, exclusion and dispossession. So the way that I began to think about climate change was that I was reading about the first prototype carbon market. I had been looking at parks and the function they serve, and also, at an early stage for me, about commons. How do people share what might be called, by some people, common pool resources? Although I wasn’t able to articulate it in those terms at the time, it was through my research into land and colonialism and how it produced California that I began to see emissions trading as a comodification of the atmosphere. And so that’s how I began to think about climate change.

F: Public Smog is a park in the atmosphere which is created through the acquisition of emissions rights and by hereby blocking their access, even if only temporarily, to polluting industries. Due to its intangible nature, the park relies on representation via a website. Would you agree that the work’s components relate to one another like Smithson’s site and non-site?

A: I did not say, when I started this work, that I would be looking at Smithson and producing a non-site. I don’t anticipate this reading of the work while my projects are developing, as the shape of my interest and also as the conditions change. I am not sure if this is a weakness of how I represent the work but at the time, in 2004, it was a way for me to make information or documentation about the work known on the web. Since then, people have written about it saying: Oh, this is actually a website – while for me it’s really important that the park is produced and this only occurs through activities that open the park. And even if those gestures only create a very small opening, the park is not virtual! Rather than using a language of site/non-site – just because I feel a bit shy about stepping into Smithson’s terrain – I would just talk about it in terms of: It’s a park that exists, a park that’s difficult to inhabit, because it’s an atmospheric park, although we are breathing it when it’s open. It might even be that the park inhabits us.

But there are also other activities which might not produce the park in such a literal way and I think it’s up to other people, if people chose to participate, to open the park through gestures that they see. Also, I can imagine claiming other activities that people have done, to open the park, even if they haven’t been done with that intentionality.

So, the park opened in 2004 over the South Coast Air Quality Management District, through the purchase of the right to produce and emit 24 pounds of NOx gases; later on, above the EU, through the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), with the purchase of the right to emit 51 tons of CO2. This was a regulated emissions market so I wasn’t able to make those purchases myself. Although I wouldn’t raise it to the level of investigative journalism, and there are of course also questions about what artists’ research means, this process proved to be very insightful. Especially being able to get copies of  Excel spread sheets from the broker that show who else is involved in these markets, whether it’s BAE or local oil companies, or whether it’s brokers who are looking to capitalise on these markets which came out of the agreements of Kyoto!

I opened it once again in a non-regulated market when the Chicago Climate Exchange was collapsing and at that time I bought, through a charity, the right to emit 500 tons of CO2, reflecting the desire, over the last few years, to set a floor price for carbon – and we will see how that goes.  Back in 2004, the price of NOx was 4 Dollars a pound, later on, the price to emit a tonne of CO2 was between 7 and 10 Euros. In contrast, when the Chicago climate exchange was closing, it was 10 cents a tonne.

What kind of space is produced by global capital? Since I opened those parks, I have moved away from emissions trading as the main mechanism and started looking at other mechanisms, including my ongoing effort, through an increasingly emergency-oriented set of requests, to inscribe the Earth’s atmosphere in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

F: This brings me to another important aspect of your work: the notion of rhetoric. This effort, to have the atmosphere listed as a World Heritage List, is not something you could expect to happen any time soon…

A: You never know.

F: …nevertheless I find it very intriguing how you choose your language, your aesthetic means, to achieve a certain effect.

A: It remains to be seen what the social function of the work is. Those things are very hard for me to see as I continue to work on it. For example, in the context of documenta13 (2012), it made sense to think about soft power and the claims that might be produced by large state-sponsored cultural exhibitions. And whether or not it may be possible to achieve a ‘diplomatic compromise’ by trying to push forward the nomination of the atmosphere through examining states’ claims to act on behalf of their citizens, or rather their population, in the context of climate change. With the support of documenta’s curators and staff we approached the German state, because the German state was sponsoring documenta, to see if we could get some leverage and the minister of the environment…

F: …Peter Altmaier

A: It was Peter Altmaier’s predecessor Norbert Röttgen, who was axed by Angela Merkel, and he said no. So there seemed to be this opportunity, using the financial and administrative support of that institution to then ask all states (parties to the World Heritage Convention) to support the nomination. When that failed, I decided to ask the audience members of documenta13 to petition Altmaier and to push forward this nomination on an emergency basis. So there are a bunch of questions about that: What is the value of diplomacy? What kind of diplomacy could be undertaken by an individual lacking state power? What does an audience mean and what are its uses? And can it be a proxy for other places where social demands are made? Can it be a kind of proxy-politics or not? Now, 100 000 people signed these postcards. There were 800 000 visitors. How do I assess that? And what came of it?

On the one hand, there was a response letter from Peter Altmaier saying: ‘Thank you! We are aligned together in fighting climate change.’ It was a neat and smart response of him to make, to say that we are aligned. And on the other hand, what can I take away from 100 000 people who signed the postcards? Do I take away 700 000 people who did not? I am not sure.  Whether or not you look at documenta-goers as a particular kind of demographic, who might be more inclined to have leftist politics around climate change, it represents a position, and a position by a public. Something came out of it even though it’s very difficult to see and it’s something I need to bring forward more in the project. It is just doing what is already there. It’s representing a demand that already exists and I think it’s just one more venue for that demand to be made.

F: You mention Mierle Laderman Ukeles’s maintenance art. Instead of engaging in grand manly gestures or having clever ideas in the context of conceptual art, there is care as a concept. Has anything changed since then? Have the things that she would address and oppose at all changed? Or has there been a certain continuity?

A: I look to Ukeles’ maintenance manifesto as being as relevant now and as critical and important as it was when she wrote it. Especially when thinking about the relationship of reproduction and maintenance in terms of invisible labour of care in the every-day.

At the same time, I have been interested in the precautionary principle which is very different in an American context than the precautionary principle in a German context. There, it has to do with housekeeping and other ideas about hygiene which are not applying in an American context. Here, it comes out of civil rights organising and it is about economic and racial justice, about healthy places to live. But it’s complicated, too, this question about domesticity, about the domestic sphere.

Also, being a Chicagoan, I am also very interested in Sandburg and “big shoulders”. And then, through my experience at Stanford, having gone there during the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003, where the art building was right next to the Hoover institute, I became aware about of the scope on which states act. So I became convinced of the necessity, and it may not be a masculinist gesture, of artists to act and take on this work on the scale on which states operate. Because, who is going to organise the future? If I am not going to organise the future somebody else who I am opposed to is going to do it for me.

This is why Mierle Laderman Ukeles is so central. And there are other people who were working at the same time, whose concerns have only become more vital: a multi-level operation of addressing these questions. This may not simply be a problem of modernity. I heard this phrase of somebody saying that ‘oil is weather’. Because we are breathing extraction, the post-WWII idea of the United Nations; that we were going to have this equitable society that was going to be produced by modernity, has failed. Climate change will affect post-colonial relations in a way that we are going to see an increase in inequity, social injustice and climate injustice, unless things are different.

Whether or not I am able to have the Earth’s atmosphere listed, and what the implications of that would be if it happened, the question remains: What does that gesture mean versus a kind of everyday gesture that is done locally and can be repeated and produces a different kind of effect? And I am not necessarily talking about a network effect of local work. But I think this question is bound up with the question of history and how history is produced, and what that produces in the present. There is oil which has become our weather. These inequities, they are going to be driving what Rob Nixon says is a slow violence.

Thank you to Amy Balkin for her exceptional generosity, to Isabel Mallet for inviting me and extending the deadline and to Francesca Hawker for her help with the editing. I am very glad that, after almost four years, this finally sees the light of day.

Felix Bahret, Brussels, 6 May 2019