Location: San Diego, California, United States
After moving to the US to study at the University of California San Diego, we were perplexed by how unsustainable the lifestyle and the built environments are designed here. Because the cities are built around cars, the streets are wide and the houses are low. Due to this, there is an elevated need for cellular base stations to be built as towers in order to provide telecommunication services. This infrastructural necessity, however, collides with suburban ideals of living close to domesticated nature and can destroy the value of private property. As a result, in 1992, Larson Camouflage, a company formerly working for the Disney theme parks, manufactured the first disguise for a cell tower and started an industry that spread around the States. There’s no good data on how many of these “trees” now exist, but in 2013, the industry estimated 1000 to 2000 in the US. During our research in 2020, we found more than 1000 just in Southern California. They are most often built in suburbs, where residents have the time and urge to war with companies over new towers, and there’s enough incentive for carriers to invest in “trees.” Disguising a cell tower by adding plastic and fiberglass “leaves”, “branches” and “bark” can add up to $100,000 or so to the baseline $150,000 cost of a tower. These bizarre structures seem to be a metaphor for how a neoliberal relation with nature is determined by the idea of utility.
The images from the series Second Nature show the artifacts of the digital age that became a part of the Southern California landscape. These camouflaged communication and surveillance infrastructures are, in Amy Clarke’s words, a “social preference for fake aesthetics over ugly reality".