The Measure of All Things

A collaborative project with Seth Ellis


The Measure of All Things is an interactive installation that uses the vara, the Spanish measuring tool used in early colonial New Mexico, as a focal point of an exploration of New Mexico as historical territory, across time and cultures. The agricultural history of the landscape as cultivation is revealed as users place the several varas—physical tools like yardsticks—down upon the projected surface; the measurement of the tabletop “landscape” reveals video footage and historical text, in combinations that vary with the placement and orientation of the tool. Different placements extend across temporal and/or cultural borders—Native, Spanish, and English; pre-Columbian, colonial, and modern. Each new measurement of the territory creates a new, generative collage of sampled history and field recordings of the real landscape, as shaped by, and viewed through a lens of, human cultivation.

This proposal is an instance in a series of projects with the umbrella title Placeholders, that use artifacts as the foci of narrative installations. It explores the changes to communities and landscapes wrought by technological and social change. In installation, reproductions of the objects act as “keys” to access alternate storylines in the viewer-activated environment. These individual stories are determined by the identity and placement of the objects encountered by the viewers, with each set of viewers creating a unique recombination of possible narratives. Early examples of Placeholders have been exhibited at the ISEA 2014 conference in Dubai, U.A.E., at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and at the ASAP/7 conference in Greenville, SC in 2015.

Documentation of an earlier Placeholders installation, exhibited at ISEA 2014, Dubai, U.A.E.


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