I left Wendover by car, heading south. By leaving this magical place called Wendover and saying goodbye to the Salt Flats and a town which I called temporarily my ‘home’. I met the people of Wendover: lovely people, open hearted and curious people; weird and unique people, full of stories and information.
I call the experience of being in the desert of Utah one of my most intense experiences of a landscape. The weather and the heat predicts how one feels and interacts with nature (and humans). One would stare at the vastness and the freedom—and SPACE goes on and on forever. But humans are just barely able to enter this space—it’s simply too hot for a walk. Even driving is exhausting in its very special way.
This intense experience of freedom led me to many observations and new expressions through my art and design. The typography used around Wendover has an intense taste of boundlessness, excess and passion: always too loud, too colorful and “in your face”. I also observed in the desert, that people are less hesitant to be themselves—they are whatever they want to be. Like this one guy down the road. He is having a beautiful backyard full of flowers and metal, running a small welding business in the middle of nowhere. Is it nowhere? Wendover seems to be abandoned, but it is not.
In Wendover, life seems to be more playful than life in Europe—or let’s say, in Germany, which is my home country. In Germany, I’ve seen people acting free at festivals. Festivals seem to be the official permission to be a child again. What a festival is in Germany, is the desert in America: I’ve been observing myself in Wendover being a child again—between the intersection of experiencing without any biases, and my thoughts going back to reflection and elevating conversations with myself and people. It is the space around me? Is it the sky above my head? Is it the vastness I am not able to understand?
Now, I am traveling through Utah—allowing myself to digest this experience out there at the Salt Flats. Distance helps to understand. I am not sure what I learned. But I know that I learned a lot. A lot of space is confusing as it is inspiring. Also, Utah is full of color. Are the Salt Flats more of a blank canvas (at least at the first sight) is the Moab desert area a blast of red, yellow and a play with the sunlight which I could never describe in words. The rocks are having shapes I do not understand; and no human being could ever create. As the opposed to the Salt Flats where there is simply nothing, no shade and no protection, the Moab desert with its canyons are giving the eyes some place to rest, to absorb and to explore. Shade is life and shade gives freedom; but rocks and canyons are also the borders I cannot pass without equipment, 5 gallons of water, cowboy hats or helicopters.
My project at the Center for Land Use Interpretation turned out to have many different faces. It is a play of pictures and videos showing passing clouds, changing colors, and natural and human made patterns and typography; also sound recordings of the Salt Flats (how does silence sounds like?) and the color of heat. Another project came out of a fun project: I started turning environmental pictures and portraits into movie posters. The reaction I’ve got was surprisingly positive. Movie posters are an old and traditional way of telling a story within a second. The landscape here makes me understand the american way of storytelling (and Hollywood) in a totally different way. Each picture has a story and each scenery allows space (is that metaphorical?) for interpretation, even if the visual elements might direct perceptions into a certain way.
The way I took pictures has changed. We are all travelers, and so am I. Being at a place where humans survived and spread culture and beliefs and images over thousands of years—ultimately inspired, framed and limited by a landscape, color and heat. All Americans share a country of intensity. Nature has so much power. It is not just sunny—it is hot. It is not just big—it is huge. It is not just wonderful—it is amazing. It is not just dangerous—it can kill. So what if extremes let people think in extreme ways? And thinking in extremes, how could one tell stories about just something? It rather does make people tell stories about the good, the bad and the ugly. To think big. To be more brave. And world needs more courage.
The Wendover, Utah, CLUI, landscape has had a resounding effect on me. Its vast open space make me ache with contemplation about life and death. Between the social constructs at play, military…the bomb, casinos…materialist commodity driven capitalism. Not to mention the obvious landscape constraints and possibilities. A dry, eroding town, on the edge of the center of America.
Death- literal and metaphorical is a starting point and an ending point. What happens after death is the story that makes for dynamic story telling. Death, a reflective lens or a perspective from which to triangulate your place in time and landscape. Some landscape suggest these thoughts more than others, this is one of those spaces. You are alive! Sure living with burdens and delights. Things- the environment, possessions, makes up and tells the story of our lives on this earth. The eyes, hands, mouth, ears, and smells inform you of place and time in the now. Having memories of those sensations and hopes for new ones of importance, past and future, put you squarely in the moment. These thoughts have been tumbling around my head for weeks now. When you are left with your thoughts in a place so large it condenses, expands, and erodes your physical and mental landscape. In my works, or experiments or contemplations with materials I desired to find this story of myself in this place. Taking materials from the landscape that have been left and forgotten, used and thrown away.
I feel a great sense of repair, to save these weathered pieces of wood, metal and foam. Patching, mending and reusing a memory with a material thread and nail. My thoughts and actions revolving around a process or a direction of devising an order to these memories and materials. A collage, totem or alter of different stories filling a singular form.
I think of my experience in Wendover, Utah as a magnified hour glass and the sands passing through the smallest part of the glass are the materials memories still here. The pieces that I have made are about those reusing material memories.
I feel that I have seen a closer version of the temporal nature of structures, bodies and landscapes here in Wendover. The temporal body and this enduring landspace. I say landspace because it is time that you are looking at when you look upon the world around you here and you cannot help but see yourself refracted upon its surface.
It’s over now. I packed my car full of rubbish to be converted to something else and headed back to Oregon. What a wonderful experience it all was. Upon crossing the border from Nevada into Oregon I was greeted by a heavy rain blowing over the high desert of eastern Oregon. Rain! I smiled broadly at these beautiful wash of water that I had taken for granted for so long and now has been brought so vividly into focus by Wendover’s hot dry climate. Cheers to CLUI! And to all the other residents of the time spent there too. Wow, memories to be shared for a life time.
All must align for something to happen and appear, destruction and change to further manifest. Planets, people, spaces, and not to forgo, history. We align ourselves with one or more of these forces at multiple points in life, both to orient, and navigate. Alignment is thought to be a state of equilibrium. That which we seek in our everyday life, or that which we escape our lives to achieve. In many ways Land-Art—or Environmental-art—seeks to disrupt this equilibrium, misaligning the spaces so we yet again stand as strange explorer confronted with an expanse of the unknown.
Paging Trevor Paglen
My artistic practice often co-mingles with my sincere personal practice of magic. For me magic is a way of instantiating moments of psychological transition—it’s a way for me to take a moment to reflect on what I’m experiencing and where I want to go from there. As my peers have noted, exciting experiences are in no short supply here. So to get my bearings, and begin processing what this experience might mean as we approach the end of our time here I performed a site specific ritual. I generally prefer not to show documentation of ceremonies in their entirety, and so In lieu of that I’ve provided a link to the soundtrack:
and a download which includes a poem read during the ceremony (PDF pages 396-403):
The rite was performed in the former nurses’ quarters on the airfield, although its most recent use was as a haunted house for a local highschool. (The pentagram, seen below, is a remnant from this time.) CLUI is presently in the process of renovating these quarters for use as future studio and exhibition facilities, however we were generously allowed to use them as work spaces during our time here. Like the highschool kids before me, I was drawn to the disquieting aspects of the space: a building dedicated to healing amidst a complex responsible, in part, for one of the greatest traumas in human history. In keeping with this, the reading above abstractly examines the ways in which we are changed by the systems we implement. Some photo documentation of the remnants is provided below:
For a few seconds no motors were running and there was a brief pause between the ever-present air conditioners’ hum; the diesel truck engines parked “next door,” just across the chain-link fence, were between trips to their construction site, an expanding runway of the Wendover airport. Horns sounded, muffled by the half-mile distance between the runway and the office trailer, our home away from home. Coffee drinkers wandered in and out of the office trailer, seeking shade in which to read and draw and write—outside work—prior to the heat’s full assault towards nine a.m. The shade on the porch narrowed predictably until someone inevitably remarked—with a combination of genuine and mock surprise—upon the thermometer’s arrival at ninety plus degrees. Last evening, during the group’s discussion of our recent camping trip to Spiral Jetty, the conversations turned to the subject of the calendar and all remarked on the upcoming events (more reading, writing, and making, only faster), and the fact that this our last full week in Wendover, Utah. One dedicated worker attested to the hard-won realization that in the desert it was all but impossible to work outside between the hours of nine a.m. and seven p.m. and that this was a realization to which she had only very reluctantly submitted.
In one way or another each of us has had to come to terms with these sorts of modifications to our normal work schedule (to say nothing of living in an office trailer with six other people), and many of these adjustments seem to be defined by our personal definitions of comfort.
The shade on the porch narrowed still again until it was a precious band into which all attempted to sit comfortably, and someone remarked “It’s good to be back in Wendover.” Suddenly, the air conditioner noisily kicked back on, and the day was off to its start.
Spiral Jetty, Robert Smithson
The Spiral Jetty, like the Sun Tunnels, brings people to places for an experience. An experience outside of the gallery or museum where the suspension of the world happens. The landscape is where the world happens.
At first glance the Spiral Jetty of dark rock pitted bowls with spins out into a lake of salt and mud.
Frozen waves of evaporated salt crystalized at the water’s edge. Salt forms of all shapes and sizes sparkle on the surface from a distance. Mirrors, diamonds, pyramids. Upon exploration of the Spiral Jetty you walk bare foot into the shallows. The salt water is slightly oily, but not unpleasant. In the warm water of these pools of jagged and rippling light the light I prize some of these magic pieces from there firm grip to the salt floor and inspect the linear nature of their crystal structure. Square in a place with so many eroded edges. Night approaches and the day was long and the heat intense. Camping at the lakes edge cuddled by the immense sky filled with endless stars refracting light a welcome sleep comforts me. The morning time is the best time to explore before the sun bites into you. The salty flats before you reach the lake are puzzled together by raised black mud berms which are soft and tender to the toe.
This creamy black mud is millions of years old. Soft, cream ooze creates natural pools for water to evaporate from the salt. Salt, stubborn, resistant, defiant to the heat and wind clings to the water so that the ground is moist and sticky. The muddy sediments pushes satin spar selenite crystals to the surface of the puzzled configurations.
At first, I thought this was glass left over from the drilling operation. These strange shaped fractured crystals with their layers and translucent white make a beautiful contrast and symmetry to the night black mud. Upon that reflection my thoughts reverberate on all the beautiful contrasting symmetries of this landscape. The browns stones, yellow grasses, light green scrub brush, and the graduation of the blue upon blue upon blue sky uninterrupted by trees or manmade inclusions into its expanse. The barren hills lazily hold this expansive sky and lake together, a vessel to both the sky and the lake.
The light refracts off me, the suns heat bores, drills and bites at my treasures, but my body stubbornly holds onto my water.
Further down from the Spiral Jetty are the remains of an oil drilling operation that went belly up long ago. Nothing remains of the exploits of these men’s labors in their search for the dark crude just below the skin of the lakes edge except for a few pilings.
The oil percolates to the surface and with the viscosity of boiled sugar it moves sluggishly to the lowest point. This oil of high gloss lakes and streams of night black tar form over the glittering salt. The black upon black upon black slowly licks at the salt with its sticky tongue. Poking at the tar only bruises it for a moment then it takes it shape back without concern, without hesitation, without notice of me. I’m just another curious man dumbfounded by its natural beauty.
The experience begun by the Spiral Jetty, a door, a window, into this landscape that changes you. It makes you a curious with a youthful exuberance that can be found in the new and different. The unknowing of a thing outside of your experiences or definitions. The landscape makes you physically small so that your thoughts and feeling can expand to fill it all in with an innocent love for the earth’s sublimely majestic treasures.
My stay in the Great Basin has been full of discovery and wonderment, accompanied by a strong feeling of serenity. It will be difficult to leave this place I have fallen in love with, and for the first time in seven years, I don’t miss home in Portland. During our last week here, we decided to make the expedition to Robert Smithsons Spiral Jetty, located along the northern shoreline of the Great Salt Lake.
We arrive shortly before dusk and the lake and jetty are bathed in orange and pink hues. I am told Salt Lake has particularly beautiful sunsets due to the pollution and particulates in the air. We walk out onto the jetty, which currently is completely exposed. The waterline is several hundred feet away. While impressive, I am more intrigued by the lake itself. Never have I encountered an entire lakebed composed entirely of salt. The shimmer of the salt crystals just under the surface of the water is alluring. The halophile bacteria living in the water contributes to the enchantment of this place by turning the salt pink. The dried portions of the lakebed are encrusted and foreign. Walking on the surface gives one the feeling of walking on ice; it is disorienting at times, thinking the salt will give way at any given moment, plunging one into some unknown below.
I walked out into the water, mesmerized by the colors and clarity of what lie beneath. I kept walking and walking, thinking the lake would eventually become deep enough to swim in, but the water never rose above my shins. So, I resorted to collecting salt crystals from the lakebed. The structure of the salt crystal is like a hollowed out pyramid. The refracted light from the prism-like sides of the crystals makes them easy to spot. One only need to reach down, grab hold and jiggle a little to pry a crystal loose. I found it reminiscent of pulling out teeth as a child.
Clay beds scatter the shoreline east of the jetty. Contained within these beds are more treasures. Translucent, smooth, vitreous-lustre crystals poked their way through the dark muck. We hypothesized about what they could be, not a geologist amongst us.
Upon our return ‘home’ to Wendover, after a few minutes of research, I learned that what we had uncovered was selenite, a variety of the mineral gypsum.
Selenite, it turns out, is quite the crystal. Here are some of the more interesting tidbits:
* Selenite is formed through an evaporative process
* If left in water, it will dissolve
* Selenite is sensitive and will fracture or break around extreme negative thoughts
* It can bring the fifth dimensional light into third dimensional matter
* It can cut the cords of dysfunctional energy from the etheric body
* It is emotionally stabilizing
sources: seleniteswordmaker.com, “Great Salt Lake: A Scientific, Historical and Economic Overview” by J. Wallace Gwynn, rocksandminerals4u.com
We learned a lot about the metaphysical properties of selenite, and decided that those amongst us not entirely enthralled by our find probably just couldn’t see the crystals. We were also told, from a source not-to-be-named, that: “Smithson was wicked into crystals .”
Were Smithson still alive, I should like to thank him for creating the Spiral Jetty. His work brought me to this magnificent place I likely would never have visited. Because of this work, I have experienced, researched and learned about the Great Salt Lake and the many treasures it holds. The same can be said for many other land-based art, and especially for CLUI. Were there no CLUI, how many of us would give even a second thought to Wendover? I have repeatedly been asked by people familiar with the area: ‘What the hell are are you doing in Wendover?’
In response, I smile, like I have some amazing secret about this place…because I do.
On a side note: here is a sneak peak of what I have been working on.
Words uttered about this place, expectations arising. Expectations of a place void of human interference, a place that can be written on, filled, and interrogated. But here, there is no silence, there is no boredom, but rather a vastness of human touch. This place is far from empty. It has ben interrogated again and again, until boredom and space is replaced by vastness and its inherit oppression.
I wanted to interrogate the emptiness of this space, let my actions become ritualistic actions interrogating the space. Alas, this place has already been interrogated, so much, that my plans as such, evaporated in the burning sun.
making word-making into meaning-making
I read the poetry of Hart Crane, I read Baudrillard’s America, interconnecting threads hoping to find something new, but keep digging up salt and actions done and performed.
If sadness could manifest itself into a physical form it would be a casino, if destruction was believed to have a history, you would find it here. Confronted with memory half forgotten and half remembered, half rebuilt and half in ruin.
This space is occupied.
So I turn my back to space, I turn to time. I turn to the sun, to the eternal ritual of sun rise, and sun set.
I packed my car full of tools and drove out from Portland to have an adventure. Hoping to be filled with wonder and new experiences. I always do a little ritual before I do a road trip. I roll all the windows down, reach into a pile of change next to my cup holder and grab a hand full of coins. I blow a wish into the coins and give thanks, then I throw the coins out the window of the moving car as the dust swirls around me. This has served me well on my journeys. I always know that the road will show me a new way of seeing the world.
Summer solstice at the sun tunnels seems a fitting beginning. A new start in a landscape that is so full of possibility. The breeze was blowing and the white dust was fine. People were climbing on the sun tunnels and walking through them and around them. Everyone gathered for the token photograph of the sun aligning with the tunnels it was a very interactive moment. I had this kind of ancient feeling of the passage of time and community. We were somehow harmonizing, connected with the earth and the solar system and each other and it was good, a celebration. Our group for the residency had all come through safe and sound and now it was time to eat drink and make merry.
My head was swimming with ideas that I had about what I envisioned making. I needed materials and information. One of the major obstacle of making something and bring it back to Portland was buzzing around my head like that fly that will not leave you alone. At this point, Matt Coolidge showed us around the buildings and trailer we would be staying. He is a head water to a raging river of knowledge about the surrounding terrain, the military history of Wendover, landscape art and just about everything else. Fortunately, there was plenty of materials from various abandon structures and vast lots of desert pavement and scrub bushes to pick over to find rusted metal, old brown and pitted wood, plastic jugs, tin cans, nails, creosote, foam, chicken wire, and of coarse salt. These are some of the ingredients of my desire to use the remains and castings of this place. I began to get my footing as far as having some of the materials I needed, but the story was still unclear to me as how these objects would ‘fit’ together. For the last week I have wrestled with a wide variety of materials attempting to pair materials with the impressions of the landscape and buildings. Being slightly over whelmed with thoughts and the potentialities of my materials I have begun to set up a system of limitations on some of the materials.
More desert meditations to come.
Turn that dial up to 11.
The imagery of the desert emerges into a large multi colored pattern of dust, sand, abandoned storage units, garbage of civilization, haunted ghost stories on the military bases, sun burned faces of Wendover citizens, proudly displayed and defended American flags, explosive fireworks on Independence Day, outlaw waste land and 100° Fahrenheit. The heat is all over and never goes away. Air Condition is our holy deity these days. Days are passing by so fast, although, at the same time it feels we’ve been out here forever. Perspectives are getting distorted entirely. Destinations seem to be close but it takes forever to walk to them. A morning run and forenoon expedition out to the unknown would just burn my brain away. It all has a price. Wasting hours and hours getting rid of sunstroke; I am learning to respect the desert as well as my physical and metaphysical body. What are we able to bear?
I am feeling the American West in its beauty and mercilessness. I am feeling the American way of life by experiencing its challenges and powerful force. Nature forms the way people think and act. How much does a brain expand in such a vastness? At the same time, it gets scattered, unfocussed and burned away—our offering to the sun which once created the first life on earth. No trees, no lawn, no shade, no grace. Sun, wind, dust and the world’s intensity concentrated at one spot. Thoughts about life and art and all important questions seem to be urgent and meaningless at the same time. What about just living as art—and the rhythm of every hour gives me time and space and meaning enough: to work, to create and to survive. Simplicity in its own beauty.
The desert is fast and unpredictable. Within one hour it can get incredibly and deadly hot, and within ten minutes there might be the next dust storm trying to get me. And luckily the desert even turns silly conversations and group dynamics into serious movie poster projects, which end up being actually amusing to others; telling the story of surviving in the desert. Permanent stress of the sun makes brains work differently. Makes communities work differently. Surviving is all we can think of—in a metaphorical way and for real. Getting water and getting inside (holy AC!)—getting productive in the evening and preparing food for the group. Diffusing between a burning desire for solitude, the artist’s madness and the embracing joy of being part of a community—a family. Home can be everywhere. Even in the desert.
I observe patterns and start to recreate my collections. Using tools and materials I’ve never used before (Salt and Wood), combining them with my previous practice (Photography, Film, Layout). I observe the colors of the desert and how they change hour by hour. I listen to the desert’s music. Never too loud, and combined with the heat (and loud running air conditioner) it creates its own world. I collected tons of images of typography and signs in Wendover: significant for people’s interpretation of their surroundings. Between bizarre and corporate I would find Coca Cola cans in the dusty dirt, next to flashy casino neon logos, right next to a hand made advertisement for a taco food cart. On top of that the desert puts everything in its warm-yellow light, heats it up with solar power and even green gets beige. As opposed to all the signs—examples of the brightest colors of the whole spectrum all advertisement seems to fight the yellow beigneness of this world. Delirium of colors and temperature. This is a story I am going to share once I am back to the Northwest.
In applying for CLUI I related a bit about my youth in Salt Lake engrossed in sci-fi, fantasy, and games. On a winter visit home I read about the completion of the Intelligence Community Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative Data Center (generally shortened to simply the Utah Data Center.) The Utah Data Center is, in short, a massive, controversial data farm which stores hoards of personal information collected by various federal agencies. With the installation of this immense, unsettling project in a place I grow up I experienced a sudden collapse of the dystopic cyberpunk fictions of my youth with real world politics. This merger of fiction and reality made me see my home anew.
To keep trying to reassess the familiar I decided to write works of short speculative fiction set in the tremendously evocative, and very real, environments in and around Wendover: bomb craters, biological weapons testing facilities, the Enola Gay hangar, to name just a few. I’ll close this post with one of these pieces but I also wanted to share a bit of a diversion I’ve been on since hearing CLUI director Matthew Coolidge’s enthralling orientation talk. He discussed an overarching principal of American geography of which I was completely unaware: that since the late 1700s the federal government had been sending surveyors westward to apportion the land into individual one mile squares. These mile squares were then broken into quarters of 160 acres as the initial basis for the Homestead Acts.
Shown is a small section of CLUI’s HUGE land status map on display in their orientation hall. This portion shows territory west of the Great Salt Lake. White squares represent privately owned land, orange corresponds to federal land, blue is state land, red is military land.
Once decoded, the map communicated as a kind of political bitmap wherein individual pixels begin to convey a sense of the area’s power dynamics. I have a hard time conveying the gravity of this realization for me. That not only is the entire 3,794,101 square mile area of the US divided into a rigid grid structure, but that there is a whole system at work for visualizing, at a glance, its controlling interests. I think this is a vital part of CLUI’s mission: to provide an opportunity for artists to commune with the sprawling, spectacular western landscape but also to recall a history of human imposition upon it, a history that we might often prefer to forget.
Being on the Nevada border, Wendover is primarily a gambling town. Seeing the land status map, and considering the imposition of a grid upon the landscape, put me to mind of another game: Minecraft. Minecraft is a guilty pleasure of mine, and like a number of my guilty pleasures I try to include it in my work so as to impart honesty, but also to afford time to indulge. I want to believe that gaming has a function beyond escape, or, maybe worse, economic control. Recognizing the increasing similarity between game and map interfaces I decided this crossover could help me get to know something about the the ways information systems allude to transcendence of physical geographies but inscribe themselves upon them, and upon our perceptions of them, none the less. What follow are selections from videos made here at CLUI. They are an attempt at getting to know the fundamentally ineffable landscape through information systems’ stuttering attempts at rendering it.
These thoughts and works are all nascent, and will hopefully come into focus in the last half of our stay here. I’ll leave you with one last video and a short piece of my writing.
“Hunter heaved the last of the yellowed CRTs onto the pile and with a quick skip hustled back to the truck. Nephi hooted, and hucked the remains of his Canadian Host onto the heap—shards careened off my Real Tree Wranglers. “Watch it, queer!” I hollered. Hunter returned with the gas can and doused the whole mess, flicking Nephi playfully with the dregs. The three of us watched in silence as the thing went up. Bubbling, belching plastic housings pooled on the parched quarry floor. Flames of impossible color threw long, lurid shadows onto the gravel mounds behind us, and the ground lit up like a CD in a microwave as the unwholesome light struck decades of bottle shards carpeting the place. A column of black carbon merged seamlessly with the night. We’d stay till dawn when the mess had cooled and the sunrise took over where the colors of the fire left off. With a bent length of rebar, Nephi stirred what didn’t burn; the copper cables would get us some beer money on the way back into town.”
Simparch on South Base design:
Click here—->(Clean Livin’)
“The project enables a broader audience to go to South Base and experience one of the most interesting and stark landscapes in America. Because it is located off the grid on the edge of a landscape void, the project is also about autonomy, isolation, making do with a bare minimum, making something from next to nothing and exploring the basement of one’s will…I see the project as about starting over from the ruins of the military, about the birth of the atomic age, and the possibility of global Armageddon. It’s about making lemonade from lemons.”
-Matt Coolidge, CLUI Director
From beginning to end, our first week’s experiences have exceeded all expectations. As others have mentioned, our group, comprised of seven members of the PNCA community, is here in Wendover, Utah, as resident-guests of the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI). C.L.U.I., or as Mack McFarland notes, “the Center,” is “dedicated to the increase and diffusion of information about how the nation’s lands are apportioned, utilized, and perceived,” a mission which at Wendover takes the physical form of a compound of outbuildings anchored by an office trailer, our temporary home—all perched on the flight line of Wendover Air Force Base, home to 20,000+ service men and women at the height of WWII. Right out our office-trailer windows sits the mammoth, rusting hulk of a hangar designed to house B-29 bombers, among them the Enola Gay, which ran test runs from Wendover with facsimiles of the Little Boy atomic bomb, destined to destroy Hiroshima. From Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnel memorial service to the hangar, the Great Basin of Utah and Nevada has astounded us all with its beauty—as well as its perversity.
What happens when a group of seven creatives/intellectuals/theorists/gamers/historians/pranksters/adventurers/Europeans/foragers/
wanderers/chefs all come together in a place seemingly void of other people and in a culture and environment drastically different from that which we are all accustom? Naturally, the conversation turns to cannibalism.
I am privileged to spend three weeks with absolutely incredible people, only one whom I knew prior to this trip. In just one week, the amount of stimulating conversations lasting hours upon hours and shared moments between others has been beyond rewarding, all afforded by being in this place and time. I have had spectacular adventures with these people, shared delicious meals and dreamt up fantastical science-fiction-esque scenarios whilst foraging for materials in dumping sites in the middle of the Great Basin. I have played croquet, baseball and the clarinet. The energy and creativity amongst this group is infectious. The wit, and sometimes juvenile humor (see Flarp), of this group has kept me laughing and smiling non-stop.
We joke about surveillance and creating a faux “Real World” style confessional video diary, but we all forget that we are constantly under the watchful gaze of the C.L.U.I. panopticon webcam attached to the tower in our backyard. We post to Instagram, blog and record video and sound. We are here, in this wasteland, documenting, experiencing and creating.
Our “survivalist” instincts are kicking in and we have begun crafting various tools, collecting materials and sourcing discarded resources. We are creating stories in our heads about what this town once was and the people who once lived here.
DIY washboard/makeshift laundry Hacked by Emilie Skytta
Refinished chair: towels and twine Hacked by Olivia Güthling
Slingshot: repurposed bike tube, duct tape, wood Hacked by James Rouse
Found discarded toys
The Center for Land Use Interpretation in Wendover, UT – this strange and unassuming haven, has brought us all together, and things are going to get weird.
Founded 1908. Named for “Wending over” the desert
“wend”: 1. to pursue or direct (one’s way); 2. to proceed or go; Origin: Middle English “wenden”, Old English “wendan”, cognate with German “wenden”
What does a landscape wants me to learn? What does a landscape wants me to see? What does a landscape allow me to do? Well so far I do experience and I do observe a landscape in the wasteland of Utah. The collection is growing: the dust devil making me be at one with the earth for a few seconds. The sun burning the edges of my shirt between my shoulders. The dry wind making me wanna drink more and more and more water. The heat—the dry heat and hot wind makes me falling in love. Overall, it’s just too much of everything. Too much absence of green, water and trees. Too much presence and too much space. Too much Casinos and too much religious restrictions. Too many clouds making the sky look ten times bigger than I’ve ever seen it. This ocean of salt—this ocean of salt right in front of me; more white than an ocean could ever be.
Learning to respect this environment by seeing vastness. Feeling its powerful energy which can both be elevating and destroying—and me in between those opposing sites: lost and found; passing out and waking up; sun stroke and getting tan. Learning to trust the deadly and the frightening; however, starting to have a relationship with it and become friends. Drinking too much coffee with too nice people after my morning run. The desert creates space but a certain kind of closeness. I am sitting on the porch and the warm wind is gently touching my legs. Love. Being calm and graceful. Graceful!
How blessed we all are. How human have always been adaptable to each and everything. The earth is our home and we will always be welcome here. A large pattern where the line between human and nature disappears and merges into a wonderful pattern telling us stories. I came here to try to listen to them, and to learn what the American South West wants me to teach; whatever unexpected direction it might take. The wasteland is becoming a living creature with a soul.
I am in Wendover.
Wow its been a content and dust rich days of orientation with Matthew Coolidge from The Center for Land Use Interpretation. We were able to spend 30 hours with Matt and Aurora Tang, who also works for The Center, in a literal tour de force which involved some roads less travelled, bright sun and even a few puns along the way.
First up was a trip out to South Base, an area of the still active Wendover airport where The Center maintains two buildings, one a quonset hut modified by the arts collective Simparch where deep off grid research and work can be done. To travel here one must check out a key from the airport management office. Our trip was further complicated by an Army reservists units who were playing a war game on this part of the former Airforce Base.
Then we traveled to a former bombing range to look for various treasures that could be incorporated into some projects. Beyond bomb parts we also found a geocaching tube. I will not spoil the surprise for any other seekers. One object I found was this set of blades we think were part of a inert bomb.
The final stop on this day was to Bonneville Salt Flats. Home to Speed Week and where from 1935 to 1970 was the place for setting the land speed record. In 1935 it was Malcolm Campbell at 301 MPH. In 1970 Gary Gabelich became the fastest human at 630 MPH in his Blue Flame. Even the vastness of Bonneville Salt Flats is not enough for currant land speed races. They are now held at Black Rock Desert where Andy Green holds the record at 760 MPH.
The salt was amazing to be on, and quite sticky. The experience was like no other I have had. Matt and Aurora have been so lovely to spend time with. They each carry with them a vast amount of knowledge and appreciation of this place. Making our time that much more rich. Though all of our heads are spinning from the amount of content we have taken in.
Oh and I would like like to make a correction, as I have learned that The Center for Land Use Interpretation does not use the shorthand CLUI, mostly said “cluey”, but for short they refer to themselves as The Center, or if marking their tools and maps, C.L.U.I.
I will add pictures from Utah and Nevada on my ongoing blog project “Merica”.
We began with a night in Burley, Idaho, followed by 18 hours at Spiral Jetty, sunset and sunrise, the only campers there.
Yesterday we drove from our one day camp at Sun Tunnels, in Lucin, Utah, where we attended a memorial for the artist Nancy Holt to The Center for Land Use Interpretation’s Wendover compound. After we arrived we had some food, some showers, (Sun Tunnels was dusty and windy) and then tours of the facilities and hearing some amazing stories of the land and its sorted characters. More on that and many other things to come.
My name is Travis Nikolai. I graduated from the MFA in Visual Studies program just this year. I’m an interdisciplinary artist, and the curator/co-director of Surplus Space().
I grew up in Salt Lake, and so had some awareness of the strangeness I could expect to find at a residency in Wendover, Utah. That said, only 2 days in the desert has exceeded my wildest expectations of peculiarity. We were part of a tent community pitched amidst a dust storm around the Sun Tunnels; We watched army reservists play war games in the neighboring abandoned airbase, and at the end of the day took a midnight tour of the plane used in the 1997 Nick Cage smash hit Con Air()
We have clearly crossed some sort of threshold. I can’t wait to see where things go from here.
A bit about me: I graduated from PNCA’s MFA in Visual Studies program in 2012. I currently work at PNCA in the MFA VS program as the Program Coordinator. I have also worked with faculty and mentored in both the the MFA and BFA programs.
Super excited to be in Wendover, UT for the Center for Land Use Interpretation residency.
But first there will be some stops along the way. If you don’t know me, I am Mack McFarland, Curator for the Philip Feldman Gallery at PNCA and I am about to begin a 12 hour drive to the Center for Land Use Interpretation’s() Wendover Compound.
If your not familiar with the Center for Land Use Interpretation(CLUI) they are “dedicated to the increase and diffusion of information about how the nation’s lands are apportioned, utilized, and perceived.” CLUI goes about this mission with a series of programs that involve exhibitions, bus tours, publications, speaking events, and the concern of this blog, a residency program(). Their headquarters are in Culver City, CA, where they currently have on display American Falls: Overlooking Urban Waterfalls(), which tracks and documents the remaining urban waterfalls in the United States, which became tools during the dawn of our industrial heyday.
We will not be seeing the Culver City space on this trip however, as we will travel southeast to Wendover, Utah where CLUI, in their words, “operates a residence program to support the development of new interpretive methodologies and ideas.” For three weeks, June 22 – July 13th, 2014, five graduate students, Olivia Guethling, Travis Nikolai, Emilie Skytta, Marius Moldvaer, and James Rouse will join two faculty Jodie Cavalier and Joan Handwerg at CLUI’s Wendover Compound on the old Wendover Airfield, situated a few miles away from the Bonneville Salt Flats and many other odd industrial and natural sites.
I will be with the group for the first few days of the residency conducing research for an exhibition that will examine the artists and projects conducted during CLUI’s 20 years of Wendover residencies. For me the first stop will be Twin Falls, Idaho, about a nine hours drive from Portland as I make my way to Wendover with a few stops along the way.