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'EMPEDOCLES' by Lara Joy Evans Presented by Final Hot Desert at Whipple Cave, Lund, Nevada

Just off the highway south of Lund, Nevada there are several unmaintained dirt roads that wind their way to the foothills of a low, desert mountain range. We took one of these roads until it became too steep and rocky for our car to continue. There, the four of us unpacked ropes, harnesses, safety equipment, backpacks, and four sculptures. After a short hike along a foothill ridge, the ground sinks and swallows itself up into an enormous cave opening, split down the center by a natural arch. The dark cave’s vertical entrance looks like two massive, aged eyes staring into the desert sun.

We secure ropes and strap the large wrapped up sculptures to hang from our bodies while packing the smaller ones for the long descent. We rappel down the chasm one by one. As you work yourself down the 120 ft drop, your eyes begin to adjust to the different light and physics of this strange, semi-subterranean chamber. You still feel like you’re outside, but the sky is further away than you’ve ever seen it. Setting foot upon the soft earth of the hole’s floor you look around at your surroundings. Dead bats, snakes petrified in figure eights, pack rat shit, vulture nests, scattered vertebrae skeletons left over from hunts and misfortune. What’s most jarring, however, is the way your sense of direction is swallowed up by the earth. What appears level is exhaustingly steep, what looks walkable must be scaled. Once we’ve all reached the chamber floor our group moves together into the pitch darkness and through the massive, unending cave. All signs of life were left at the entrance, but as we journey deeper, our headlights catch the glossy movements of dropping water and glossy reflections dancing across calcified pillars. With four heavy sculptures on our backs, we crawl through caverns on our feet, hands, and our knees, passing the sculptures forward as we leap over large pits between boulders and crouch in between stalagmites and stalactites. When you knock lightly on the stalactites they ring like ancient xylophones. The disorientation increases. Further into the center, with a mile of stone above our heads, untouched mineral deposits sit waiting in pitch black darkness. We don’t know how long we’ve been down there. We don’t know how far we’ve traveled. We haven’t seen each other's faces for several hours. Time accelerates in this space devoid of light, radiation evaporates off the rock, the putrid smell of damp magnesium and ancient dust fill our lungs.

The sculptures we carry on our backs resemble the interior architecture of the cave. The two largest appear to be castle-like homes, with chambers connected by swollen passages leading to spiking columns and platforms. One resembles a figure in prayer that had spent so much time in solitude under water drops in this cave that they had become calcified themselves. The fourth sculpture an antenna, a strong stalagmite reaching toward the ceiling. Its weight distribution acts as a compass to orient the holder.

Our earliest ancestors as well as the sages and oracles of ancient cultures both found refuge in these spaces that occupy the thin surface film between daily life on earth and the massive layers of earth’s geological life. The refuge isn’t just one of safety. The way the air and dust touch your skin and kiss the lining of your lungs when you take a deep breath brings a sense of health and energization. The longer you spend down there the less aware you become of your invisible body and those of your companions. The interaction becomes one of space and stone, dry and wet, thought and sound. The shapes of the caverns are bulbous and womb-like. The subterranean architecture is the source of all of these sensations. This is the disorientation architecture that conditioned the minds of oracles. And it was to their minds and insights that heroes and kings of stories petitioned guidance and orientation in their lives on the surface.

“Primitive” man could ward off hurricanes in the South Pacific - long before chemtrails - with only the electricity from carved basalt, electric eels, and water. Similar to the energy that exists beneath the crust of the earth, these ruins can also influence the electro-magnetic circuitry of the brain to induce altered states of consciousness.

There was Empedocles, a philosopher, man of high vision. He jumped into volcano Aetna in Sicily because he knew he would be reborn as a god. Now imagine yourself in front of the rim of Aetna. It’s dry and sandy. You feel the heat but it is not like you thought it might be. It is not romantic. It is just hot, dry, you can’t breathe, and the smell of infernal sulfur and wet earth and even worse things triggers an old memory or instinct in you to run. You’re brought to face with a vehemence and brutality of rock and you start to feel dizzy staring in. So you pull away from it. You’re not reborn as a god, you remain a mule…


Photo by Hudson Kendall

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