2011 Land Arts Journey 2 Summary
Land Arts 2011 at Texas Tech concluded its second journey on Monday 24 October 2011 with the sense of purpose and dedication it began in late August due in large part to the dedicated participants: 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) proved pivotal as the Land Arts Program Assistant, and Chris Taylor continues to direct the program at Texas Tech.
Breaks between journeys always alternate between not enough time for necessary correspondence, bill paying, and deep cleaning, and too much time away from the immediacy of working and living in the field. Everyone was eager to return to the patina of the road as we ventured through West Texas to begin a slower pace voyage with a focus on sites to make work. We were out for twenty-five days and traveled around 2,500 miles overland. During that time we were visited by outstanding field guests: Design Build Adventure founder Jack Sanders, West Texas living legend and artist Boyd Elder, Land Arts 2009 alum Jose Villanueva, and PORK New Orleans designer and educator David Gregor.
Our second journey began in Marfa, Texas with the legacy of Donald Judd through visits to the Judd Foundation and the Chinati Foundation. A healthy wind storm also greeted our return, snapping a weak tie down strap and flipping the kitchen tent. Nothing major was lost and we were able to quickly reset camp. Jack Sanders met us in Marfa to tell us about the evolutionary design and construction processes developing El Cosmico. Learning first hand we also invested our efforts in the process by helping establish newly planted trees.
From Marfa we made the short trip west to Valentine where Boyd Elder and Jose Villanueva were waiting. Boyd’s family goes back to the origins of this small West Texas town and in recent years an old dance hall from the late nineteenth century has come under his care. While the building, called the Saloone (read Sa-loan), needs a great deal of work, it’s thick adobe shell is worthy of attention. Jose has been working with Boyd to get the project moving and lending the collective shoulder of Land Arts added to the momentum. The students got their hands dirty repairing adobe and adding mud plaster to stave off future erosion using a recipe with cactus juice and horse dung from Ron Rael. It was three days of serious work. On our way out of Valentine we visited Prada Marfa with Boyd in the early morning light.
En route to our next site we stopped in El Paso for supplies and to attend a fiesta for the students hosted by Jesse and Irma Larriva. This is the third year the Larriva’s have welcomed Land Arts into their home, fortunately this year Robert Gonzales, Director of the Texas Tech College of Architecture El Paso program was able to participate. On the road again, we rolled into Cabinetlandia at sun set as a cold front blew in. Rain to our east and west dropped the temperature precipitously and the stiff wind filled air, tents, and lungs with dust. The fierce weather broke quickly leaving us clear skies and cold nights.
Cabinetlandia is a project space of Brooklyn based Cabinet magazine and site of the Cabinet National Library. Located within the failed Deming Ranchettes development between Interstate 10 and a major east-west route of the Southern Pacific Railroad the site is an outstanding laboratory to explore and test the ongoing Land Arts conversation unfolding through our regular seminars.
David Gregor joined us at Cabinetlandia to share the aerial photographic techniques he used last summer in China. From New Orleans he brought a kite for sending a camera aloft, a sixteen foot tall stick for elevated points of view, and a series of influential books to share with the students. David was very generous with his deep connection to the land art sites throughout the American West and his reading of the priorities facing design, art and architecture education today.
With our fill of fine Chihuahuan Desert scrubland dust we said farewell to David and ventured into Deming to resupply our food stocks and do a bit of laundry. From there we turned north heading into the Gila Wilderness—straight to the Gila River and hot springs to extend the much needed cleaning. After a brief soaking we returned south to set camp along the banks of the Mimbres River. This was another work site and the students pursued their projects immediately. From hands on fabrication to various levels of mapping this was a very productive place.
On the road again we passed through Silver City then southwest out of the mountains. Mining casts a long shadow across our itinerary and we stopped for lunch at the beleaguered interpretive overlook of the Tyrone Tailings Reclamation.
Next, a site near the top of the Chiricahua Mountains in southeastern Arizona allowed us to experience how sky islands operate in the desert. We also gained first hand knowledge of the impact of last May’s Horseshoe Two Fire that badly burnt the Chiricahua Mountains shifting the focus of this site from work to interpretation. All structured campgrounds around Barfoot peak were closed. Fortunately our regular site did not burn completely and was safe to use. Students worked to make sense of the effects of drought, land use policy that minimizes sustainable cycles of fire, increased human interaction in fragile ecological territories, and shifting climatic patterns. Lessons were palpable in what came back from their excursions and folded directly into their work.
We extended the route to our final camp to rejoin the Gila River and follow it to the Coolidge Dam on the San Carlos Apache Reservation in Arizona. We stopped for lunch at this fantastic dome and buttress structure built in the late 1920’s. At Globe we turned onto Highway 60 heading north through the Salt River canyon and then east through Show Low, Springerville and Quemado. Working against the path of the sun we rolled into our camp on the edge of the Plains of San Agustin in New Mexico just as the last light was leaving the sky. The well seasoned crew set camp and started making dinner in no time.
The next day the group split in two so we could visit The Lightning Field by Walter di Maria. On the way we visited the Very Large Array to ponder astronomers making images with what they hear from deep space. Photography of The Lightning Field is still not permitted and both groups had outstanding visits indexing the daily balance of light with our senses.
Highway 52, the dirt road running along the east edge of the Plains of San Agustin and near our camp was busy with hunters pushing south into the Gila Wilderness for the beginning of elk season. It also seemed to bring poachers of pronghorn antelope as we witnessed a drive by kill site and found twelve abandoned legs. The spirits in the camp remained strong as we neared the completion of our field season and students focus on their work deepened.
With the first clouds we’d seen in two weeks it was time to load up. A bit dirtier and worn down, we packed into the vans one more time and rolled towards home, to clean up, and, to eat Los Tacos in east Lubbock. Now the students are completing their work on campus for the end of the semester critique on December 7, 2011 and the Land Arts 2011 Exhibition at the LHUCA Warehouses in Lubbock from April 7 to May 4, 2012.
West Texas Departure
Collecting mulch for the new trees at El Cosmico, Marfa, Texas.