Half a million years of U.S. history

[Image courtesy Matthew Buckingham]

“The Six Grandfathers, Paha Sapa, in the Year 502,002 C.E.” is the handiwork of Matthew Buckingham, an Iowa-born, New York-based artist, whose output, says his website, “questions the role that social memory plays in contemporary life. His projects create physical and social contexts that encourage viewers to question what is most familiar to them.” This particular image looks forward 500,000 years to a time when, according to geologists’ estimates, the likenesses of four U.S. Presidents carved into the granite of Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, will finally have eroded beyond recognition:

[It] asks the viewer to consider Mount Rushmore as a cultural, political, and social symbol by imagining Rushmore’s inevitable disappearance and slow return to “nature.” As its power to represent fades, the paradox of Rushmore’s meaning as a “shrine to democracy”—on land stolen from the Sioux and carved by an artist who was an active member of the Ku Klux Klan—intensifies.

In Summer 02002 the image appeared in Cabinet magazine, accompanied by a historical account of the area’s journey from obscurity to celebrity, via (genocidal) infamy. It includes this interesting side note about the apparent farsightedness of the monument’s chief supervisor:

[Sculptor Gutzon] Borglum worked on Mount Rushmore for fifteen years. [He] intended to carve the presidential portraits to the waist, but when he died in 1941 only the faces were near completion. The US government restricted further spending on the memorial, allocating just enough money for Borglum’s son, Lincoln, to finish the hair and faces on the four heads. Even then the likenesses were not actually “complete.” Gutzon Borglum’s design intentionally left three extra inches of granite on the surface of the sculpture so that nature, in the form of wind and water erosion, would finish carving Mount Rushmore for him over the next 20,000 years.

I have no idea whether that part of the story is true, but in any case, the 20,000-year forward view and the 500,000-year one, considered side by side, seem to have something to say:

However long your now, there’s always a longer one that eats it whole.

[Image courtesy National Park Service Gallery via Wikimedia Commons]

(via HTC Experiments. Thanks to Bryan Boyer for the tip!)

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The Long Now Foundation is a nonprofit established in 01996 to foster long-term thinking. Our work encourages imagination at the timescale of civilization — the next and last 10,000 years — a timespan we call the long now.

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