A Seedless Grape

Natalia Domínguez Rangel (in collaboration with James Beckett & VHSUHF) in the curatorial context and in collaboration with Gabriel Lester.

A decade ago, a former Pentagon official claimed the U.S. spent $20.2 billion a year on air conditioning for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan¹ – an amount that tops even NASA’s annual budget. Typical of this infrastructure are so-called “field deployable environmental control units” – deceptively simple looking modular bricks, which are powered by generators to cool insulated tents. What has been an inherently alien presence in foreign countries and climates; the units are now steadily being decommissioned. These two units were purchased on auction in 2021, just months preceding the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, and are presented here in their fitting state of resignation.

These ‘modular bricks’ are approached by VHSUHF & Natalia Domínguez Rangel as a composition in space – considering the objects’ original acoustic signatures and imposing presence. As sound artists, they explore these redundant machines from an inward perspective of ‘systems on the brink of collapse’. With a combination of both digital and analog synthesis, an internal sound installation of micro-rhythmic oscillations recreates a ghost of vibrational force. As one comes into closer proximity, a looming sense of threat is outlined.

Air-conditioning is here entertained as ‘artefactual event’ ² – an ephemeral entity, which is manufactured, distributed then dispersed. As opposed to an artefact in the tangible sense, such as an object of archaeology we can hold, air-conditioning is quite intangible, although of course reliant on a very real infrastructure or network of apparatus.

This showcasing of air-conditioning is the latest iteration in an on-going project of artist James Beckett, titled “A Seedless Grape”. His studio building in NYC is the first space to be truly air-conditioned in the world, back in 1903. This invention was attributed to Willis Carrier, a young engineer who was tasked with the removal of moisture from the air of what was then a printing house. This practice proved key to modern industrial air-conditioning technology, also known as dew-point regulation.

1) “Among The Costs Of War: Billions A Year In A.C.?” 

NPR special series, “The Impact of War” - June 25 (2011)

2) “Making Objects and Events: A Hylomorphic Theory of Artifacts, Actions, and Organisms” Simon J. Evnine - Oxford University Press UK (2016)


For more info: https://www.ohm.guide/James%20Beckett





Nov 28
Sep 23

Last two images © Giovanni Nardi