The Cave Protection Act of 2013 explores the meaning we insert into situations where direction in the form of signifiers is missing.
The idea for the project came from a documentary about Centralia, Pennsylvania. This mining town was destroyed when an underground fire broke out, creating sinkholes and sucking the town into the earth. I reference these events in the text, “The community of Centralia, Pennsylvania became unified after the emergence of the sinkholes./It started with a mine fire. The hot ground opened up and swallowed the town. The townspeople vaporized, condensed and came out pure–a distilled version of their former selves./They began to ask, ‘WHAT IS COMMUNITY?”
I respond to how Centralia developed a strong identity because of its erasure. This sense of identity from erasure–of absence speaking volumes–struck a nerve since I had been through the 2011 Tuscaloosa, Alabama tornado and saw how the town was simultaneously put on the map (in terms of media coverage) and wiped off the map (in terms of lost lives and property).
I worked from the text of The Federal Cave Protection Act of 1988, an oddly poetic bureaucratic document created to give sanctuary to bits of earth no longer present. Using this document as a point of departure, I created an inquiry into absence, domesticity and memory. The piece’s aesthetic echoes that of government documents in its tabbed pages, hierarchical information organization and machine generated illustration.
Michelle Ray is a traditionally trained book and letterpress artist featured in collections internationally. Ray’s pieces have been showcased in a variety of publications, including Lark Book’s 500 Handmade Books Volume 2 (2013). She has taught workshops and university courses, and holds an MFA in Book Arts and an MLIS with a focus in preservation.