La Conchita mon amour (2005-2008) is a site study on the aftermath of a deadly debris that occurred in 2005 in the tiny coastal town of La Conchita, California, about one hundred miles north of Los Angeles.   A 1995 debris flow is thought to have released only ten percent of its potential mass, and that the 2005 flow is possibly a remobilization or sequelae to the 1995 flow.  This community, just north of Los Angeles on Highway 1/101, is built on an ancient mudslide and has been subject to periodic massive debris flows. The most recent, in 2005, buried 10 people and many houses in a mudslide. Every winter, intense rains threaten to mobilize the delicate angle of repose at the site. Since 2005, La Conchita lives with a huge mass in the centerof the village that has not been removed.  Residents have covered the mudslide with shrines and improvised gardens and even tipi dwellings in defiance of the county's order to keep out.  For  eighteen months at one month intervals, I shot medium format and digital photographs of the disaster’s vernacular shrines to the dead on the site of the mudslide—chain link barriers a rubble of mud, destroyed house frames, roofs, retaining walls, play yards, swing sets and crushed cars. I record video and audio in these site visits at quiet times of the day, developing a time based record of the cyclical power of the tides, the freeway sounds, and the voices of residents who would sometimes guide me into precarious parts of the ruin.  I drew debris flow predictive movement studies in graphite and ink. It’s impossible to see La Conchita without being inside the trauma, which is itself invisible, or at least, continually moving away from becoming visible. What are the practice implications for the artist faced with the ethical issues of cultural production within these conditions of 'bare life'?  How does the intervention of the artist or designer in traumatized sites of 'bare life' implicate an ethics of exposure?. La Conchita remaps the problematic of living with disaster in California in immediate, raw terms, since the trauma is always already here. Global warming appears to be accelerating the danger. Without resources for healing or leaving, La Conchita lives on in abandonment. The plight of residents at La Conchita is a microcosm of the conditions of bare life in post-911 material culture.  Given the impossibility of representing trauma, montaged images may reach through obsessive layers of visual data towards an integration beyond the material facts of the site. The large-scale images that result from this process reference topologies of absence and recovery. Like the prayer flags they record, the images are performance gestures, signaling an attempt to remain in touch with hope and life in the face of indifference.

Artist interview: “‘Bare Life’ and the Traumatic Landscape” interview by Amy Wiley with Christina McPhee, Documenta 12 Magazine Project,