Princeton Underground: 2020 Alan Chimacoff

September 10 - January 3

Princeton Public Library | It will happen again. It is inevitable

chimacoff2It will happen again. It is inevitable. Storms with big winds, big rains and big snows will snap and uproot trees, knock down power lines and power poles, and leave us in the dark. Unless you happen to be in the center of Princeton or on the Princeton University campus, where the utilities are underground.
 

In the late 19th century, the telegraph and telephone revolutionized communication. Single wires strung between series’ of wooden poles enabled the most technologically advanced communication and stood as signs of progress. Today, a hundred fifty years later, the same poles are overloaded with literally tons of wires, cables, splice boxes, light fixtures, cell booster boxes and myriad additional devices.
 

Overloaded so heavily and asymmetrically, the poles bend and can break, even without a storm. Many are held upright with steel guy wires to keep them from overturning under their burden. Broken poles often are not replaced but reinforced with a second pole lashed to the first with yellow plastic rope—a caricature of a broken clipper ship mast (also of the 19th c) repaired in a storm at sea.
 

Misguided new solutions have added taller, fatter, stronger wooden poles without removing the older, shorter ones, and now we have twice the number of poles. Lines, cables, boxes and devices proliferate at an alarming rate and irrational “linesman’s art” creates grotesquely beautiful wire sculptures. But buildings are obscured, the sky is obliterated, and trees are “sculpted” to accommodate. And what will happen after the next generation of storms…and poles? Will we have three poles side by side by side?
 

The most common form of tree butchery is the “vee-gash” where a “V” is cut through the tree crown to let wires pass through. The most dramatic is the “half-slash,” splitting a tree vertically through the middle from top-to-root, removing half of an entire tree to permit the wires to pass alongside. There are the “limb trim” and other, unnamed works. A chain saw in the hands of the “arboreal technician” works artistic miracles.
 

A simple solution: put it all underground and eliminate our regular power outages. Eliminate the cost of importing tech crews and tree crews from around the country, and eliminate the need for restoration and repairs that continue, years after Irene and Sandy, and a year after a painfully disruptive winter—and eliminate the need and cost of doing it again and again.
 

Expensive? Of course it is. Can we afford to do it? Can we afford not to? Can everyone afford the cost of auxiliary power generators for their homes?
 

And who gave THEM the moral and aesthetic authority to make it all look so bad?
 

The twenty-five photographs in this exhibition are a small fraction of the photographs taken, which is an even smaller fraction out of probably tens of thousands of similar grotesqueries in Princeton.

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