2011 Land Arts Journey 1 Summary
Land Arts 2011 at Texas Tech concluded its first journey on Wednesday 21 September 2011. The expedition amplifies the growing momentum of the Lubbock based program. The exceptional group of participants from architecture and art are: Alexander Bingham, Luis Bustamante III, Will Cotton, Winston Holloway, Richard Klaja, Celeste Martinez, Zachary Mitchell, Carl Spartz, Rachael Wilson, and Bethany Wood. Adrian Larriva (Land Arts 2009 Alum and TTU MARCH graduate) is the Program Assistant, and Chris Taylor continues to direct the program at Texas Tech.
From the wonderfully multivalent introductory site in the shadow of White Sands Missile Range to the remote archeological remains of Moon House our itinerary traversed significant physical and conceptual territory. We were out for twenty-seven days and traveled around 3,500 miles overland. During that time we were visited by outstanding field guests: geologist and Laguna Pueblo tribal member Curtis Francisco, documentary filmmaker Sam Douglas, art historian Ann Reynolds, CLUI Director Matt Coolidge, SIMPARCH member Steve Badgett, and Rob Ray.
Considerable heat welcomed our departure as much of West Texas has been scorched this summer. It remained with us punctuated by epic rain events tempering the extremes. From White Sands we ventured northwest to Chaco Canyon to experience the escalation of architectural impulse in North America and to become aware of the complexity of narratives attempting to make sense of the place. From there we traversed the Grants Mineral Belt, aka the uranium mining epicenter es, stopping at the New Mexico Mining Museum in Grants to gain perspective. Our usual site in Cebolla Canyon was unaccessible to use in our vans because of washouts through the deep arroyo. We adjusted and found a nice site up Sand Canyon. The following day was spent with Curtis Francisco touring the reclaimed Jackpile Mine at Laguna Pueblo. Jackpile was the largest open pit uranium mine from the mid 1950’s until the 1980’s. Ground water contamination continues to be among a host of issues and Curtis was encouraged to tell of recent traction towards Superfund status.
Our next top was another adjustment. As we departed Lubbock Tom McGrath phoned to followup on our inquiry to visit the Roden Crater Project by James Turrell. It seemed that timing was right and we swapped the North Rim of the Grand Canyon for a Roden Visit. This meant an opportunity to explore a new base site in the Coconino National Forest and spend an afternoon and early evening in the crater–a significant highlight for the students.
Venturing further west our next stop was Mormon Mesa, Nevada and the site of seminal earthwork Double Negative by Michael Heizer. We arrived to intense heat, as usual this time of year, so dips into an elevated Lake Mead were especially welcome to cool down and do a bit of laundry and bathing. While we were at Double Negative we were joined by Sam Douglas of Big Beard Films who is working on a new project about land art tentatively called “Moving Mountains: Land Arts of the American West.” Sam and his crew of David Hartstein, David Layton, and Ben, joined us to document the field operations of the Land Arts program.
A scheduling opportunity brought art historian Ann Reynolds to our group a day early so we made another itinerary adjustment from Goshute Canyon to South Base in Wendover, Utah to take advantage of the fine SIMPARCH sound system for the screening of Sam Douglas’s last documentary “Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the spirit of the Rural Studio.” The other serendipity was that the University of New Mexico Land Arts crew was in Wendover then so we were able to invite them to the screening and spend an evening swapping stories from the road.
Up early the next morning we were off around the top of the Great Salt Lake stopping at Sun Tunnels by Nancy Holt along the way to Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson. I was particularly surprised with the new road extending all the way to the jetty. What had been before a gradually slowing drive across an increasingly rough road, the last mile at a snails pace carefully picking ones way around large rocks, has become a wide built-up road bed. Now it’s possible to zip all the way out there without pause. Seems a tour bus could even turn around at the end the bright pad is so large.
The Great Salt Lake was at a wonderfully elevated level so the Spiral Jetty was visible as a mirage in the surface of the water with only the highest rocks breaking the surface. The condition meant that it was a work to be apprehended by walking, or “seeing with your feet” as one of the students said. Understanding this work beyond its character as a visual image is essential and a powerful lesson of land art.
It was great to be there with art historian Ann Reynolds and a wonderful seminar took place on the afternoon of our second day there. Given the time to experience both the work and the larger context of Rozel Point and the oil exploration jetty to the south opened several lines of dialog. Sam and his crew also made good use of there time with us.
The next morning was another 8:00am departure heading the rest of the way around the lake. Our first stop was the Bingham Canyon Mine, an open pit copper mine so big they boast it can be seen from space. (It is often challenged as the largest excavation by the copper mine in Chuquicamata, Chile.) Since Robert Smithson has proposed works for the bottom of the pit it was particularly relevant to be there with Ann Reynolds. In the visitors center parking lot we bid our farewells to Ann, Sam and his crew as they set off for the Salt Lake airport and back to Austin, and we went on to Wendover, Utah to meet Matt Coolidge of the Center for Land Use Interpretation.
CLUI Wendover is always a highlight and given this season’s action packed start it is our first concentrated work site. Students have become eager to have time to make their own works and to reflect on the range of conditions and topics we have been exposed to thus far. They are also eager to do proper, well almost proper, laundry. We begin our time in Wendover with a lecture about CLUI from Matt and a day of touring the Wendover facilities and landscape conditions. The following days are spent with people working across the airbase and town, out on the Bonneville Salt Flats, and out at South Base where Steve Badgett and Rob Ray are in residence. Time in Wendover always seems to evaporate and energy levels draw low with long days and short nights. It is a fascinating and intensely productive landscape.
After Wendover our last work site for Journey 1 is Muley Point on Cedar Mesa in the far southeastern corner of Utah. The drive is long and epic across the top of a nearly full Lake Powell, with our usual camp site occupied we set up further west at a site much closer to the 1,100 edge of the mesa overlooking the goosenecks of the San Juan River. The sky is active to the north and southwest so we pitch camp quickly. As dinner concludes a big storm rolls in from Monument Valley dropping a significant amount of rain and lightning. Within an hour the sky calms and people retreat to their tents.
The remaining days were spent both exploring the landscape of Muley Point with filled tinajas and working. We also spent one day hiking out on Snow Flat to the archeological site of Moon House. The new trail remains strenuous however it is much safer than the old one. After the hike we went down to Mexican Hat for a cool down swim in the very muddy and swift San Juan River. The level was so high that there was essentially no bank and it was nearly impossible to walk across the river. So our efforts to float a bit of the river had to be limited to short distances. Still, and even with all the mud, it was refreshing to get in the water.
Our return route included a stop over at the Red Dog Shed in Madrid and the following day a visit to Bosque Redondo in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. This was the destination site of the Long Walk of the Navajo and Mescalero Apache. The audio guide and other programing are particularly moving.
Once back in Lubbock we unloaded the vans and dig a major cleaning and sorting of the gear to make it ready for our departure on Journey 2 on Thursday 29 September 2011. Look for more Field Reports whenever we have the ability to make remote posts. A select group of images from Journey 1 are included below.
Loading up in Lubbock
Twin Buttes, New Mexico
White Sands National Monument
Traveling to Chaco Canyon
Jackpile Mine, Laguna Pueblo
Roden Crater Project
Big Beard Films
Bingham Canyon Mine