Fall 2012

Fall 2012 Editor’s Statement

Posted on by andrea Posted in Fall 2012 | Comments Off on Fall 2012 Editor’s Statement

Welcome to the first edition of ARID: A Journal of Desert Art, Design and Ecology!

ARID is the result of a new partnership between University of New Mexico’s Art & Ecology Program, Desert Initiative at Arizona State University, Arid Lands Institute at Woodbury University and others who have recognized the need for a creative and scholarly venue for contemporary works addressing desert culture, environment and landscape. Developments in desert art and ecology are not confined to formal art and scholarship, but also extend to new pedagogic practices, research methods and methodologies, and social and activist modes of engaging with the arid landscape.  This inaugural issue begins to define the scope of the journal, offering a variety of important works and research that range from contemporary explorations to historical reflection.

Our focus is global. Each issue will include selections from other arid places around the world. The links that connect those of us globally within our unique desert ecologies are tied to the phenomena of ‘aridity,’ the severe lack of available water within a particular environment or climate that is in itself distinctive, specific and noteworthy. Arid places across the globe face unique challenges and we believe we can learn from each other.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), deserts have been warming at an average rate between 0.2 to 0.8ºC per decade, much higher than the average global temperature increase of 0.45ºC per decade.[1] In July 2012, the Unites States Department of Agriculture declared our current drought the largest natural disaster area in U.S. history.[2] An increase in severe and prolonged droughts, destructive fires of unprecedented scale, decreased vegetation and massive extinctions are already a part of the new desert.

Desertification is increasing globally.[3] Within desert regions, increasing urbanization and rapidly expanding populations are placing new demands on the environment, calling for radical urban planning, especially with regard to water allocation and accessibility. These conditions, in turn, exacerbate demands on other environmental and ecological resources – potentially leading to political and social unrest – as witnessed along the U.S./Mexico international border.

These issues are potent subjects for investigation by artists, designers, architects, scientists, researchers and other cultural producers. What creative solutions and innovation can be fostered through an interdisciplinary approach to these issues? How can cultural producers help promote and educate diverse audiences in creative sustainable practices through their work? How can new pedagogies promote understanding of these issues related to our particular needs in this very specific environment? These questions are among the important issues explored through ARID and its contributors.

We hope you also enjoy the inquiries and investigations in this launching issue, and join in future issues, investigations and conversations!

[1] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2172931/Drought-devastating-26-states-largest-natural-disaster-U-S-history.html. Accessed August 27, 2012.

[2] IPCC (2001). “Climate Change 2001. Working Group I, Third Assessment Report”. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

[3] Ibid.

The Desert Studies Project: More From Less Than Zero | Dick Hebdige

Posted on by admin1963 Posted in Fall 2012, Pedagogies | 1 Comment


“In a landscape where nothing officially exists (otherwise it would not be ‘desert’), absolutely anything becomes thinkable, and may consequently happen…”

—Reyner Banham, Scenes from America Deserta [1]

One weekend in March 2010, students from seven University of California campuses (UC Davis, UC Irvine, UCLA, UC Merced, UC Riverside, UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego) gathered in Wonder Valley with friends and collaborators from outside the UC system in the shadow of Joshua Tree National Park between the Pinto and Bullion Mountains adjacent to the 925 square mile Twentynine Palms Marine Base on the eastern edge of the Mojave desert to install artworks guerilla-style in the abandoned jackrabbit shacks and surrounding terrain for an audience that comprised local community members, regional media and other interested parties, many of whom had traveled hundreds of miles to participate. The weekend event which included screenings and performances at the nearby Palms Bar and Restaurant and which ended with the opening of an exhibition of wall works at UC Riverside’s Palm Desert Graduate Center eighty miles to the west on Frank Sinatra Drive, a world away from the rough and ready Palms, in the golf-and-condo world of Palm Desert, was the last of three roving workshops (what we call “Dry Immersions”) that together represent the culmination of the first phase of the Desert Studies project organized by the University of California Institute for Research in the Arts (UCIRA).


The Wonder Valley site looked like an outtake from a Weather Channel special on tornados. Sculptural installations mounted on exposed foundation slabs or stuck directly in the dirt in the empty spaces between the shells of long vacated homesteads found a temporary foothold in a landscape strewn with construction debris—the shrapnel of exploded, unsustainable domestic arrangements.

A piece by Elcin Joyner (UCSB) concretized this feeling of precariousness: 16 cinderblocks each with four caster wheels glued to its base were stacked to form a “Mobile Ziggurat” – a diminutive echo of the first pyramid at Ur in the Sumerian desert in what is now Iraq. Erected in the shadow of the nearby US Marine Base, the modular, mobile, easy-to-assemble structure appeared to stymie any fantasy of precedence or permanence (the Ozymandias effect: Empires come and go).

Other works engaged head on with the institutionalized framing of the desert as spectator sport – In “Desert Die” (The Unmanned Minerals Collective: Jared Stanley [UC Merced], Matthew Herbert [San Diego State] and Gabie Strong [UCI]), we were offered a discombobulating alternative to the educational interpretive displays available in national parks. When visitors lifted and replaced the metal cube housed within a replica park trashcan, a mechanism was activated which triggered pre-recorded commentary on everything from  mirages to military history.

Other pieces used technology to explore and expose hidden features of the landscape. “Trace: Resonance Field,” a sound installation by David Wicks, Peter Hawkes and Elaine Hu (UCLA) used a device concealed beneath ceramic plates reminiscent of desert tortoise shells to translate the constant thrum of low level seismic activity deep under the earth’s surface into audible form.

Meanwhile Masha Lifshin (UCSB), positioned at a table next to a sunk-in-upon-itself pitched roof equipped with a brand new U.S. flag, dispensed freshly squeezed orange juice and handouts detailing a local 1950s scam that had realtors tying fruit to Joshua trees to draw in gullible aspiring citrus farmer pioneers.

The permeability of fact and fancy also drove “The Deuce Nine is a Ghetto,” a docu-fiction video installation by Claire Zitow, Elizabeth Chaney and Ash Eliza Smith (UCSD) screened on laptops inside a ruined cabin strewn with costumes, stills and props. Part ethnographic document, part improvised communal performance, the video featured escapist fantasies acted out by local residents, most notably by Chris Nelson, a sixteen-year-old with shoulder length hair, marooned in family quarters on the Marine base, assisted by his skate park posse. Tropes of entrapment and arrested motion – at one point Nelson’s crew annex an old wooden speed boat sunk into the sand – alternate with scenes of break out and magical transcendence as the idea of elsewhere merges with the mirage of anywhere but here.

As the sun began to set on the Saturday evening, with a late winter storm blowing in from the west, the screech and throb of improvised noise accompanied spectral images projected onto the three sided remains of what had once been someone’s (second?) home in recent UCI grad, Gabie Strong’s “UR Rituals”. As night fell, the lit up walls of the dilapidated structure at the center of the circle formed by the ten participating artists and musicians appeared suddenly animated, brought back from the dead  thanks to the rickety 16 mm projectors in a profane or holy resurrection – Dracula or Jesus? – feedback-heavy Second Coming shack attack.[2]


Desert 101: (Re)Boot Camp

The Desert Studies project is an ongoing pilot program in interdisciplinary, California-embedded, arts-centered research, experimental pedagogy, immersive curriculum design and process —curating organized by UCIRA. The idea is to articulate remote location immersive fieldwork to issues of contemporary concern via research-based art works, exhibitions and performances.

So what’s the project about and why deserts? ARID subscribers don’t need reminding that deserts are significant environments in terms of their character, variety and sheer planetary stretch.  But our students are subjected to a Desert 101 resume that includes the following facts and figures: There are deserts on every continent except Europe, the majority, contrary to the popular stereotype, composed of dirt and rock not sand. The Sahara at 350,000 square miles is the world’s largest sand desert though it’s dwarfed beside the 5.5 million square mile Arctic and 4.5 million square mile Antarctic, both of which are classified as cold deserts. California alone has 25,000 square miles of desert terrain straddling two distinct systems—the Mojave and the Colorado. In addition to the almost 3,000 square mile Death Valley National Park, located east of the Sierra range, and the 1,234 square mile expanse of Joshua Tree National Park in the state’s southeastern corner, California’s protected desert lands include the 2,500 square mile Mojave National Preserve, wedged between Interstates 15 and 40, and  California’s  largest State Park, the 500 square mile Anza-Borrego spread across San Diego, Imperial and Riverside counties. Introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein in 1994, the California Desert Protection Act protects 7.7 million acres of the state’s arid BLM and National Park land. With this much designated desert wilderness on their doorsteps, even metropolitan Californians should need little introduction to what a desert looks like and how much of it there is though beyond the park boundaries California’s deserts host sizeable urban populations of their own, most conspicuously in the unbroken line of development yoking LA to “Indio and Other Desert Cities“ (as the freeway signage has it) along the 1-10 corridor.

Depending on the criteria used, deserts take up between one fifth and one third of the earth’s surface and are home to between 500 million and one billion people – between eight and fifteen percent of the world’s population. The wide variation in these figures derives from competing criteria on what constitutes a desert though there’s general agreement that a desert is any place that gets less than ten inches of rain per year or where more moisture is lost through evaporation than falls as precipitation.  The word ‘desert’ meaning “empty, barren place” is then fundamentally misleading: the Desert capital ‘D’- as opposed to actually existing lower case deserts in the plural – is an ideological category or non-category: an imaginary non-place against which actual places get to define themselves. This discrepancy between actual and imagined deserts is what gives the ultra arid landscape its peculiar strategic value and significance for us as artists and teachers because the D/desert can serve as a conceptual as well as an actual place to retreat to, regroup, rethink everything we take for granted: a place where we are always challenged to start again from scratch. The Desert capital ‘D’, when approached bi-focally in tandem with the actually existing lower-case deserts we study and immerse ourselves in, serves as a conceptual and practical boot camp (or re-boot camp) where we get a refresher course in basic social, survival  and what the Disney people call ‘imagineering’ skills.  So while we want to get beyond the ‘Desert’ to see how complex, fragile and resilient actual deserts are, we also want to take advantage in this project of the ‘Back to Square One’ factor – to use the d/Desert as an opportunity to review and revise fundamental principles and modes of operation.

As a growing global consensus around paradigms of environmental crisis combines with mounting evidence of human geological agency to highlight the finite nature of planetary resources, the desert biome has shifted from the margins to the center of attention. Concerns with conservation, bio-diversity, resource management and the impact of expanding populations on sensitive wilderness areas pull deserts everywhere into focus as dynamic but fragile eco-systems that need to be studied not just in terms of what and where they are right now but symptomatically, in terms of what may or may not be coming down the pike in the future. While scarcity and epidemic drought ensure that water will soon rival crude as the benchmark commodity, conflicts in oil-rich desert regions continue to constitute many of  today’s political hot spots. Closer to home the arid Southwest serves as the rehearsal site for the US contribution to some of those militarized encounters in other deserts while the sealing and securitization of the southern border around Tijuana has pushed the war fought between illegal immigrants, the Border Patrol, professional ‘coyotes’ and vigilante groups farther and farther east into the Sonoran desert with increasingly deadly consequences.

As currently constituted Desert Studies as an interdisciplinary endeavor has tended to be weighted towards the environmental and agricultural sciences with major input from geography and engineering, with sociology, anthropology and history generally taking a back seat and very little space reserved for the arts beyond the usual minor decorative or alarm bell sounding ‘consciousness raising’ functions. The arts haven’t generally been integrated at a substantive level into the research process. It is that exclusion we’re seeking to redress.

Historically, of course, deserts have played a major role in the big culture and civilization narratives, as the starting points where the major monotheistic religions and cuneiform writing were first introduced. In a more complicated way, the desert has figured for millennia not just as home to diverse nomadic and urban civilizations, but as a screen for contradictory human projections. The desert is pictured variously as:

  • • starting point (‘natural’ home to paleontology) and End Game (Armageddon)
  • • sanctuary and dumping ground
  • • next frontier of leisure and refuge of last resort
  • • unspoiled wilderness and irradiated hinterland
  • • existential, spiritual, military, technological and artistic test-site
  • • precious irreplaceable resource and dirt-cheap real estate development opportunity

As such, the desert is as much a jarring cluster of contradictory metaphors, myths and images as it is a set of distinctive eco-systems or social systems. The need for an expanded interdisciplinary and collaborative effort to grapple with the multiple complexities and challenges contained within the actual deserts of the world and within the no less complex idea of the ‘Desert’ – one capable of incorporating insights from as many stakeholders and relevant fields of expertise as possible is more urgent now than ever.  This drive towards spirited and inclusive convocation is what animates the Desert Studies project.

Dry Immersions 1 and 2

The installation and performance event in Wonder Valley and Palm Desert described at the beginning of this report was preceded by two earlier roving workshops. Dry Immersion 1, co-organized by UCIRA, the Palm Desert Graduate Center and Luminous Green, a European-based arts and media collective, took place over three days in February 2009 in the Boyd Deep Canyon Reserve, a UC Riverside-owned research facility adjacent to Palm Desert, primarily devoted to longitudinal studies of the impact of real estate development on the indigenous flora and fauna. Faculty and students from four UC campuses (Davis, Riverside, Santa Barbara and San Diego) together with UCIRA staff and visiting activists, and tactical media artists from Europe and California held a series of workshops over the three days on various topics including GPS-based art work, Native plant lore and sustainable design. Before dispersing, the group adjourned to the shores of the Salton Sea forty miles east of Palm Desert for a swim-dive performance by Long Beach-based endurance eco-artist, Sierra Brown. Brown’s piece titled Honolulu Club drew attention to the history of failed utopian aspirations which led in 1908 to the inadvertent creation of the ultra-saline thirty-five mile long inland sea and to its subsequent development as a now desolate and largely abandoned resort community.[3]

In 2009, Tyler Stallings, Director of UCR’s Sweeney Art Gallery in Riverside received a $10,000 UCIRA grant in partial funding for his proposal to mount a year-long series of public events, readings and screenings to be staged across Riverside County and the Coachella Valley. Tyler’s program was a response to the Institute’s Desert Studies proposal document circulated earlier that year. The initial call invited faculty and students from the nine UC campuses with arts programs to submit proposals for works engaging issues ”related to actual deserts and to the no less contentious bundle of historical projections made onto the idea of the Desert.”

The program was originally planned to culminate in a symposium organized in tandem with the exhibition of solicited art works on land adjacent to the Palm Desert Graduate Center.  However, issues of land use and a competing and previously approved plan for a sustainable garden on the undeveloped site forced us to jettison our initial idea and in effect, to reverse the order of events so that the symposium would now precede by several months a more de-territorialized (at least multiply-sited) exhibition.  As often happens, unforeseen circumstances forced us to rethink our founding premises and to come up with a creative solution more in keeping with UCIRA’s stated commitment both to research-based embedded artworks and to innovative exhibition and conference/symposium formats than the original plan.

The symposium now scheduled for four days in October, 2010 and centered around a rental property in Wonder Valley was reframed as a research and networking opportunity for potential art makers from across the system and beyond with focused discussion groups, presentations by a range of invited speakers and side trips to local points of interest including:

  • • Joshua Tree National Park
  • • Pioneertown, a community  northwest of Yucca Valley based around a 1950’s TV Western stage set
  • • Noah Purifoy’s sculpture garden in Joshua Tree
  • • local architectural non-profit, Eco Shack
  • • a privately owned museum of retired motel signs in Twentynine Palms
  • • the Integraton geodesic dome in Landers
  • • a guided tour of the nearby Twentynine Palms Marine Base (including a simulated  Iraqi city constructed out of shipping containers) organized by Lisa Tucker

More than sixty participants, including students and faculty from seven UC campuses attended this Dry Immersion 2 which ended with a guided tour by UCR- affiliated conservation biologist, Dr. Cameron Barrows of protected dune and oasis systems in the lower Colorado desert. Attendees were invited to submit proposals, together with requests for limited expansion funding to cover materials and installation/performance costs to the Sweeney and UCIRA and the resulting art works were exhibited and staged the following March in Dry Immersion 3. Comprehensive documentation of this process and work produced including photographs, podcasts and media coverage is available on-line at the Sweeney Gallery web-site: http://www.sweeney.ucr.edu/exhibitions/mappingthedesert/.[4]

While the guerilla installations in Wonder Valley were dismantled and removed the following day, the exhibition at the Palm Desert Center stayed up into the spring. Works included 30″ x 30″ abstract canvases by Flora Kao (Otis College of Art and Design) based on frottage data collected at various sites in the upper and lower deserts; designs for fantasy prototype all terrain desert vehicles by Ken Ehrlich (UC Riverside/CalArts); and a series of photographs by Christopher Woodcock (UC Davis) of the simulated Iraqi city on the Marine base taken with a wide format camera.

“Scrap Matters”, an inventory/archive of the deteriorated texts found stuck to desert brush  collected by Desiree d’Allessandro (UCSB) and J.R.Venezuela (UCLA) during excursions to Wonder Valley delivers the Last Word in and on this summary of works produced for Dry Immersion 3.  Blown up to epic scale and digitally enhanced, the arbitrary pages torn from random books (including in one instance, a page from the Old Testament) form part of an archive composed by desert winds in collaboration with the cacti of half-filled out forms, supermarket receipts, foreclosure notices, incidental jottings, fragments of maps and newspaper ads: a geo-graphic testament to the brevity of history and to our fleeting purchase on the planet: a statement from the dry mouth of the Valley.

To return to the opening quotation, as desert denizens everywhere, human and non-human, know full well, the dictionary definition of the desert as a landscape where nothing exists is palpably false and misleading. Nonetheless we believe as the late Reyner Banham put it, that the desert is a space in which “anything is thinkable and may consequently happen.” The openness of that consequential horizon between what we can, in hope or dread, imagine and what may actually come to pass is in itself, to say the least, forbidding. Our task is to facilitate the varieties of thinking that may help to move us forward beyond the current impasse where we stand as a collective at a crossroads, poised between inertia and apocalypse.

Postscript: Get Lost

As the launching of this journal amply illustrates, UCIRA’s Desert Studies project does not stand alone. Instead it forms part of that more general geographical turn within the arts, humanities and social sciences which is driven by a worldly concern for the planet and the places we inhabit and a more considered assessment of our modus operandi as a species. The mapping trend evident across the spectrum from surveillance studies to the new low impact land art is facilitated in turn by the GPS and digital technologies, which are themselves transforming our experience of space and place. More locally, Desert Studies takes its inspiration and its cue from well established arts-based programs like High Desert Test Sites (now incorporated into the LA Biennial) and the exemplary research, open-source archiving, exhibition, publication and teaching initiatives sponsored by the Culver City-based Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI). It continues to evolve through the emphasis on an ethos of immersion and committed indirection signaled in the very terms we use i.e. ‘dry immersion’ and ‘roaming workshop’. Both phrases reflect our commitment to the idea of moving art students out of the studio, the library and the familiar rehearsal areas into ‘real world’ field-trip settings not simply to install but to undergo a potentially transformative experience. The stress on immersion comes from our belief that art and arts-centered research needs to be immersive as well as discursive – that new work and new ideas can be seeded through a mix of programmed content (the presentations/lectures/guided tours/site-visits, etc.) and un-programmed encounters with friends, colleagues, strangers and ourselves in the stunning if unfamiliar settings that the desert can uniquely provide. We believe that students can learn valuable lessons not just from dialogues with credentialed desert experts or from launching water-powered rockets made out of recycled pens equipped with ‘nose cones’ mounted with discarded cell phone cameras into the vast uncluttered horizon visible from Iron Age Road east of Wonder Valley as Misha Lifshin did one afternoon on Dry Immersion 2 but from talking, and more importantly listening to the veteran desert rats who frequent the Palms Bar and Restaurant way out there on the Amboy Road who live on the just about habitable outer fringes of the Mojave, who know the desert inside out and who on a daily basis make something viable and valuable (i.e. a culture) out of next to nothing. The education is, in other words, socially immersive too – designed to take the subject in every sense beyond itself in a return to criticality defined as the necessary crisis through which practice has to pass.

The phrase ‘roaming workshop’ refers to the resolutely nomadic questing nature of the project. It also refers indirectly to the new communications infrastructure in which we’re all enmeshed. Even in the desert we carry our laptops and cell phones most of the time and whether consciously or otherwise we end up witnessing the endless procession of the satellites that enable them to function as we gaze up in wonder at the star-clogged night sky even in the farthest reaches of the wilderness. On our field trips we move across the landscape like a cell phone in roaming mode – waiting to pick up whatever signals are available in the remote locations we find (and lose) ourselves in.  And on this latter point it is no coincidence that the course I teach at UCSB in Desert Studies is titled “Mapping the Desert, Deserting the Map.” At a moment when technology and hubris may tempt us to imagine that we know exactly where we are at all times, getting lost becomes an essential,  i.e. a vital, part of the exercise.

[1] P. Reyner Banham, Scenes in America Deserta (MIT Press, 1989)

[2] Shack Attack was a federally-funded program (1998-2005) administered by San Bernardino County that provided funds for demolition of derelict homestead cabins originally built to satisfy dwelling requirements for the Small Tract Act of 1938. For more info visit: http://www.jackrabbithomestead.com/primer.html.

[3] For “Honolulu Club,”  artist, ‘Hotshot’ wildfire fighter and lobster boat captain, Sierra Brown waded into the sea in a vintage 1960’s wet suit and did a series of dives during which she surreptitiously exchanged the empty net she’d been carrying with a previously planted net containing seven live lobsters (the recreational bag limit in California) as workshop participants sat eating a lobster bisque lunch shore-side.  After removing the lobsters one-by-one and measuring each animal to establish that it met the minimum size limit (3 and a quarter inches) she declared the catch legal. A CBS 2 Local TV crew recorded the performance and interviewed workshop participants and the artist for a segment broadcast later that day on local news program, Eye on the Desert. During the course of the segment the presenter identified the principal ingredient of the bisque as “lobsters from the Salton Sea” though Sierra had at no point made that claim. I rang CBS the next day to rectify the error and a correction was broadcast at the end of that evening’s show.  The performance was triggered by the incongruous spectacle of live lobsters in a tank at an upscale supermarket in Palm Desert during a research trip the artist had made to the area some months earlier. Honolulu Club forms part of a series  of works made by the artist dealing with the environmental, ethical and political implications of global maritime trade and (over)consumption. For more information and documentation of other works see http://www.sierragbrown.com/.

[4] I would like to  take this opportunity to thank the entire team at the Sweeney especially Tyler Stallings, Director and Shane Shukis, Assistant Director who in addition to providing a solid institutional framework to work within, spent incalculable hours brainstorming/shepherding the project to completion and Georg Burwick, the Sweeney web designer who did a great job with the documentation and archive. I would also direct interested readers to Steven Biller’s review of Dry Immersion 3 in the July, 2010 issue of “Palm Springs Life.” My own account of the work presented owes a lot to Steve’s observant and insightful essay.

Ur Rituals was an immersive site-specific performance created by Gabie Strong, featuring artists Ted Byrnes (drums), Kelly Coats (flute), Helga Fassonaki (pedal steel, effects), Steve Kim (bass, effects, violin), Gregory Lenczycki (keyboards, electronics), Jorge Martin (turntable, trogotronics), Albert Ortega (resonant electronics), Ron Russell (bass, effects), Andrew Scott (guitar, stylophone), Jonathan Silberman (soprano saxophone) and Strong (bass, effects, films). Co-sponsored by UCIRA/UCR Sweeney Art Gallery for the exhibition Mapping the Desert/Deserting the Map: Dry Immersion 3.

Banner image: “Ur Rituals” (performance), Gabie Strong, 2010. Photograph by Christopher Woodcock. © 2010 Gabie Strong.

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Interview with Jack Loeffler | Andrea Polli

Posted on by admin1963 Posted in Fall 2012, Perspectives | Comments Off on Interview with Jack Loeffler | Andrea Polli

Jack Loeffler is a bioregional aural historian, producer, writer, sound artist and musician. Since 1964, he has conducted field recordings west of the 100th meridian and his archive now holds thousands of hours of recordings of interviews, music and natural habitat, and well over 3,000 songs of indigenous and traditional peoples. Loeffler has also produced over 300 documentary programs for radio, scores of soundtracks, albums of music from diverse genres, films, videos, folk music festivals and museums. He has authored five books and is currently working on several projects including the Thinking Like a Watershed aural history project. He is the recipient of a 2008 New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.

I first met Jack during a retreat at the Sevilleta Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) site in New Mexico where we listened to and watched an incredible flock of snow geese pass through together. I wanted to learn more about the history of coal mining and other energy extraction and production in the four corners area. I knew Jack had some personal history with the subject. He was kind enough to grant me an interview in 2012 at his home archive and studio outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Little did I know what else I would learn…

The following interview excerpt highlights Jack’s perspective on water issues facing the arid Southwest and the complex interrelationships between hydrological, geological, cultural, political and economic forces around the Colorado River, in particular the controversial Glen Canyon Dam, from his on-the-ground recollection.

JL: I mean, the complexity of this, Ms. Andrea, is unbelievable. At any rate, going way back in time, actually, I’m going to do that. But in order to do that I’m going to go back to the start. The last part of this book of mine is a transcription for a radio series I did on the Colorado River. The upshot is, in the early 20th century, people who had moved into Southern California from east of the 100th Meridian had wanted to really commence agricultural practices. And so they started looking at the Colorado River. Subsequently they dug a canal from the river to irrigate part of Imperial Valley thinking that during the winter months the river would go down enough so that it wouldn’t flood. And, well, it did. It was an El Niño winter, I guess. The river jumped the bank. The whole river went into the canal and that is what formed the Salton Sea. Did you know about that?

AP:  No, I didn’t know it was part of that.

JL:  It took two-and-a-half years. And it took everybody and his dog plus the Southern Pacific Railroad to get the river back into its supposed channel. Now the channel shifts over geologic time, but that is what resulted in [the formation of] the Salton Sea. It also set the tone for plumbing the Colorado River. Subsequently, in 1922, a group of people from the seven states that are adjacent [to the Colorado River], that are in the watershed, met at Bishop’s Lodge and Tesuque. They were presided over by Herbert Hoover, who was then Secretary of Commerce. It was determined at that point…that the river yielded about 17 million acre-feet[1] per year for purposes of dispersal of [the river’s] waters, which is what the whole thing was about. That it be divided between the Upper and Lower Basin. The dividing line was to be at Lee’s Ferry, which is west of where Vernon’s house is.

AP:  That’s near Glen Canyon.

JL:  Yes, eighteen miles downstream from Glen Canyon Dam. As a matter of fact, those eighteen miles are what is left of Glen Canyon. Now I had hiked down into Glen Canyon back before it filled. I have a dear friend, Ken Slipe, who is now getting up there, who had been a second generation river runner through Glen Canyon and, boy, he was really blown away. Ed Abbey was totally blown away.

AP: Everyone I’ve talked to at the Grand Canyon thinks the Glen Canyon Dam was just the worst thing possible.

JL:  Yes, but the whole thing is so tied into each other. What happened was in 1922. What was implicit in that Colorado River Compact which determined the Law of the River, as it is known, was California. They were the ones who instigated this meeting, according to Stewart Udall, who really clarified enormous amounts of all of this stuff for me because he was one of my best pals. And, Jesus, what he had to say blew me away. At any rate, Herbert Hoover was in all likelihood California’s agent. In getting all of this stuff together, it was determined that California would get 4.6 million acre-feet of the 7.5 million acre-feet of the Lower Basin, Arizona would get 2.8 million acre-feet and Nevada would get 300,000 acre-feet. The Upper Basin states would divide the waters amicably between themselves. Arizona didn’t go for this and it took forty-one years, until 1963, before the U.S. Supreme Court actually voted in favor of Arizona receiving its 2.8 million acre-feet plus the tributarial inflows, which basically at that time was only the Gila River which enters the Colorado River at Yuma. However, it was stipulated that Arizona’s [allocation] was junior to California’s, which means that if the river did not yield what it was supposed to, California would get the water and Arizona would not. In the meantime, I just talked to my friend Bill deBuys who is an incredible writer and a good friend. He and Stewart had had a conversation at one point which was very similar to the one that Stewart and I had. Stewart said, “Implicit in the 1922 Colorado River Compact was going to have to be the Colorado River Storage Compact which meant that upstream, in the Upper Basin above Lee’s Ferry, there would have to be a reservoir in order for the Upper Basin states to ensure that over a ten-year period 7.5 million acre-feet per year would come down to the Lower Basin. That meant 7.5 million acre-feet per year, but because the river fluctuates, they put it over any ten year period.” [This] was known as the Colorado River Storage Project (CRSP), and that made necessary and inevitable the Glen Canyon Dam.

AP:  Interesting. So the Glen Canyon Dam wasn’t as much about the hydroelectric power as it was about satisfying this water [guarantee].

JL:  That was its first [purpose]. The second thing was the hydroelectric power. Actually, the first hydroelectric dam in the West [is] called the Roosevelt Dam at the Salt River Project, which is at the confluence of Tonto Creek and the Salt River, down in southern Arizona. That was a hydroelectric dam and that really worked. That whole project was [also] established in order to create real irrigation projects down closer to what was to become Phoenix, Mesa, Tempe.

AP:  Some of the people I’ve talked to about what is happening now, about the problem of Glen Canyon Dam, is that people are just too dependent on the power for it to be taken out. Many people agree that it should be taken out water-wise, and for the ecology, but the power, that’s the problem.

JL:  Well, here is another problem, and this is much later in the story. [William] deBuys, in this book, it’s an excellent book…

AP:  Oh, you’ve got it. I’ve got it on my wish list, “A Great Aridness.”

JL:  I’ve given one to Wendell Berry, one to Gary Snyder. One is going to Gary Paul Nabhan. This one goes to Evon Bond who transcribed all of these things. And it is an amazing book. At one point, Bill, for this book, interviewed the Chief Operating Officer of the Central Arizona Project (CAP) who revealed to Bill that there is a strong likelihood that by 2026, a fifty percent likelihood, and with an increasing likelihood each [subsequent] year, that both Lake Powell and Lake Mead will be dry in fourteen years. It could take longer than that, but the upshot is…that is what they are thinking. But to go back to 1956, and the Colorado River Storage Project, I interviewed Floyd Dominy who was responsible for that dam for my radio series “Moving Waters: The Colorado River and the West.” Dominy told me that a lot of people had thought that by getting rid of the purpose up at Echo Park, Dinosaur National Monument, the swap off would be creating the Glen Canyon Dam. He said that’s not true. The dam had to be as close to Lee’s Ferry as possible, that lake, in order to ensure the runoff to the Lower Basin. So it went online. Now what happens with Lake Mead is that it is within fifteen or twenty feet of the surface. If it gets twenty-five or thirty feet down, it will be below the intake for the hydroelectric [function].

AP:  Really? And it’s already fifteen?

JL:  Yes, and it is really close. The same is holding true with Lake Powell. So what would make an incredible research project is the relationship between hydroelectric power and water in the West or electricity and water in the West. [To] people after the Second World War, it was obvious that the Southwest was going to be growing and it came to be regarded as the Sun Belt. So a consortium of power mongers, power plant people, started proposing a whole overlay of coal-fired power plants. We did this map in this book, this magazine article. I wouldn’t even have this, except when my parents died, this was in their…

AP [Looking at the map]:  Whoa, and they’ve done [all] this practically.

JL:  They did the San Juan, the Four Corners, the Navajo. They didn’t do this. That would have been the enormous one, Kaiparowits. But I’m nervous that they might.

AP:  Really? They’re still pursuing this coal-fired power plant?

JL:  Well, just imagine if both Glen Canyon Dam and Hoover Dam stopped generating electricity. What is really ironic is this is one of the great natural gas basins in the world. Natural gas can be fired right into these power plants without screwing up the mechanisms [or] the technology [with] the power to produce far less carbon dioxide in the emissions. Economics is so tied into this. It’s incredibly tied into it. I’ll never understand how tied into it it is, but it is grim.

AP:  The coal industry.

JL:  Yes, the Peabody Coal Company. I just really detest them with everything that’s in me. But the upshot is that they already were looking to the Southwest for mineral resources. So to go back to the story. In 1930, Hoover Dam went online, and also the All American Canal and the California Aqueduct that came out of the Colorado River a little further south, pumping water into the great valleys for irrigation and also up and over the mountains into the Los Angeles Basin for drinking water. Arizona wanted its project from way back when, probably in 1922, when all this stuff was going down. The idea came for the Central Arizona Project (CAP) which would allow water to be pumped up and over the mountains into the central valleys of Arizona, ostensibly, according to Stewart (and I believe him, this is what he believes), for irrigation for agriculture. But I interviewed Dave Brower. Do you know who Dave Brower was?

AP:  No. Sounds familiar.

JL:  He was an incredibly important environmentalist of the 20th century. Some people think he should get the award for the all-time greatest environmentalist. This [photo] is Dave Brower and me, actually. But Brower was with the Sierra Club back in the 1950’s and he was so key to this. He actually voted in favor of the Glen Canyon Dam and [later] regarded that as one of the worst mistakes of his life. I recorded him. He was an old pal. We used to go backpacking. But at any rate, by 1963, it was decided that indeed the Central Arizona Project would work. The way they would get their water would be from hydroelectricity [generated] from two more dams on the Colorado River, one just at the north end of the Grand Canyon and one just at the south end of the Grand Canyon. It was Dave Brower and Martin Litton who stopped that with the Sierra Club. That was their first huge victory because what that would have meant was partial flooding of the Grand Canyon.

AP:  Right. I seem to remember that in the article there was a compromise. Is that true?

JL:  Well, the compromise was where to get the power to fire up the power plant if they couldn’t have those dams. They called them cash register dams. Floyd Dominy [who] was the head of the Bureau of Reclamation [from 1959 to 1969] put in dams all over the place. He was regarded by me an arch enemy back in 1970 because he was really screwing up the works.

AP:  Did you interview him?

JL:  I did. He was, by then, 90-something. In 2001, I went back to Virginia and interviewing him, I ended up liking him. We ended up liking each other which was a surprise to both of us.

AP: Did he regret what happened?

JL:  No, no. But where it came from was that he’d been born in Nebraska and watched the Dust Bowl happen. He realized, following the thinking of John Wesley Powell decades earlier, that if people were going to inhabit the West, there were going to have to be dams built in order to provide irrigation water. So he took that as his cue and his greatest masterpiece was the Glen Canyon Dam. When I interviewed him, there was this awful painting of the Glen Canyon Dam hanging right above him on the wall. It was incredible. He was the Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner when Stewart was Secretary of the Interior. He also served under several different secretaries before he finally retired. The only other solution to providing electricity for the Central Arizona Project was this huge coal deposit in northern Arizona known as Black Mesa. The way it would work would be to construct the Navajo Generating Station on the banks of Lake Powell. This is what we fought tooth and nail for three years. It was really a heavy duty three years, I’ll tell you, to try to stop the whole shooting match. It was Arizona plus national politics plus economics versus a handful of Hopi Indians, a handful of traditional Navajo Indians and us at the Black Mesa Defense Fund. We were regarded in those days as the anarchist group in the environmental movement.

Additional excerpts from this interview will appear in future editions of Arid.

Andrea Polli interviewed  Jack Loeffler of Lore of the Land in 2012. Transcribed by Russell Bauer. Copyediting by Greg Esser.

[1] An acre-foot is a volume measure unit of water equal to the surface area of one acre at a depth of one foot.

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Canyonlands: Edward Abbey and The Great American Desert | Roderick Coover

Posted on by admin1963 Posted in Fall 2012, Practices | Comments Off on Canyonlands: Edward Abbey and The Great American Desert | Roderick Coover

Born and raised in the Appalachian hills of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, Edward Abbey (1927-1989) served in the military in post-WWII Europe and attended universities in Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Scotland. After the publication of his second novel, The Brave Cowboy (1956), which was later made into the film Lonely Are The Brave (1962), Abbey returned to the West and worked as a seasonal park ranger and fire look-out. His first job was at Arches National Park near Moab, Utah and in subsequent years, he worked at numerous western parks and forest-lands including Sunset Crater, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Lee’s Ferry, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Coronado National Forest, Grand Canyon North Rim, and Glacier National Park. Abbey warned about the perils of industrial tourism, road-building and dam construction in the American West – most notably speaking out against the building of Glen Canyon Dam, which plugged the Colorado River at one of its most stunning locations.

The late 1950s was a period of rapid change for the arid American West propelled by the availability of air-conditioning and refrigeration, the accessibility of abundant water and electricity provided by successive dam projects and the development of a national infrastructure of roadways and media. These changes also threatened the delicate ecological balance of the deserts. Abbey gave witness to these changes through letters, essays and novels, and his works call on individuals to be responsible for what they see taking place – to make choices and take action. His writings provoked new ways of thinking about nature and inspired the formation of environmental groups such as Earth First!

Canyonlands explores landscapes through Abbey’s writings – landscapes shaped by the forces both of nature and of human intervention. The project features original recordings and archival montages along with interviews with legendary figures of Abbey’s generation including Jack Loeffler, Jim Stiles, Ken Sleight, Katie Lee, and Kim Crumbo. It is one section of the Unknown Territories project which also features an interactive project about John Wesley Powell’s exploration and representation of the Colorado River (1869-1873), original photographs and other items.

Canyonlands was co-produced by researcher-artist Roderick Coover and by literary scholar and river guide, Lance Newman, and it grew out of conversations had between the two producers while boating on the Green and Colorado Rivers. This conversational origin shapes theories behind the interactive structure of the work, and it explores analogies with walking in deserts (for more, see A Dialogue about the Desert, Electronic Book Review, 2010.

Form and Structure

In its interactive form, Canyonlands offers a new kind of documentary film—a cinemascape in which users navigate through a landscape of videos and supporting materials. A primary path offers visitors one possible route through the materials—approximately a 60 minute documentary. Followed sequentially, users advance more or less chronologically from Abbey’s arrival at Arches National Park in the late 1950’s until his death in 1989. But users may also make their own paths. The cinemascape can be explored in any order or direction at once or over many visits. By letting users select a particular set of clips and supporting materials, the spatial structure of this and other cinemascapes offers users the opportunity to follow how arguments are built out of experiences and may be constructed with poetry and visual imagery as well as through exposition. The structure is designed to engage users in creative conditions of exploring and ethical positions of choice-making.

Canyonlands is built around three themes 1) the idea of wilderness, 2) the battle over Glen Canyon Dam, and 3) writing as a monkey wrench. The first section connects Abbey’s texts about life as a ranger at Arches National Park with interviews with Jim Stiles and Jack Loeffler, who discuss changes in the American West that were exacerbated in the 1950s and 1960s by the spread of air-conditioning, industrial tourism and car culture. The second section concerns the damming of Glen Canyon, which became a rallying point for change; this section includes interviews with Ken Sleight, Katie Lee and Kim Crumbo. The third and concluding section considers Abbey’s book, “The Monkey Wrench Gang” as a provocation; while Abbey’s books imagined sabotage and civil disobedience as forms of protest, it is the writing itself that was his true monkey wrench.

Canyonlands is part of the larger Unknown Territories Web-based project: www.unknownterritories.org.

Video/image: © 2012 Roderick Coover.

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Fence for the Amargosa Desert | Chris Kallmyer

Posted on by admin1963 Posted in Fall 2012, Practices | 1 Comment


Fence for the Amargosa Desert is made up of 210 glass bottles salvaged from the desert in Rhyolite, Nevada. The bottles hang on a fence adjacent to a barn owned by the Goldwell Open Air Museum. The Fence is activated by the omnipresent wind that blows through the Amargosa Desert, producing sound or lying silent depending on the prevailing weather patterns. It sits on a site looking west across the broad desert plain towards California and the Funeral Mountains that separate the Amargosa from Death Valley National Park.  The piece is a product of living and working in the desert as an Artist in Residence at the Goldwell Open Air Museum.

In June of 2010, I left Los Angeles and set out for Rhyolite, Nevada – a ghost town on the eastern edge of Death Valley, just over the border from California. Rhyolite is at the northern end of the Amargosa Desert, sitting at 3,800 feet above sea level on the eastern edge of Death Valley. The broad flatness of the Amargosa is dominated by creosote scrub, a slow growing plant with a small, resinous flower. On the average June day, you can smell the creosote’s musty medicinal sweetness while looking onto a near silent plain eighty miles across the desert with this yellow-green scrub as far as you can see.

Living near Rhyolite in the small town of Beatty, the heat of the day would reach 115 degrees, and I soon learned about the rhythm of living in the Amargosa Desert. Mornings were spent writing, hiking, listening and sketching my impressions of the landscape.  This included a practice of taking field recordings to document the local soundscape, although most of my recordings turned out to be nearly silent. If they weren’t silent, then they were ruined by the pervasive wind. Through all of this, I continued to find objects from early mining practices like cans, ceramics, parts of old camp stoves, and glass bottles. These objects were left behind by the residents of Rhyolite, Beatty, and the Bullfrog Mining District.

The town of Rhyolite came into being during the gold rush of the early 1900s. A gold vein was found running in the Bullfrog Hills that soon brought thousands to the Amargosa Desert. The town of Rhyolite grew from a two-man camp in January 1905 to 2,500 people that June. The town grew into a city by 1907 with a population somewhere over 6,000 residents. At its peak, Rhyolite had “concrete sidewalks, electric lights, water mains, telephone and telegraph lines, daily and weekly newspapers, a monthly magazine, police and fire departments, a hospital, school, train station and railway depot, at least three banks, a stock exchange, an opera house, a public swimming pool and two formal church buildings.”[1] When the vein ran out and the stock of the mining company devalued, folks moved on. By 1910, the population dropped to 675 residents, and by 1916 the town was all but abandoned. I was really surprised to find so few buildings left in Rhyolite – but wood is valuable in the west. Much of Rhyolite was disassembled board-by-board, packed onto wagons and moved to the next claim. Other buildings were moved to nearby Beatty to become bars, homes and a schoolhouse. Many of these buildings stand to this day.

I spent much of my time hiking around Rhyolite, walking the land and tracking down old mines. These hikes were pivotal in my understanding of the desert, encountering both the naturally occurring ecology and the altered landscape. In the Amargosa, manmade mountains stand right next to naturally occurring geology. One mountain shows the geological strata organized age by age, while the other is a jumble of crushed stone, one paleolithic generation next to the other. You can hike across each noticing the change of texture underfoot. As you hike further into a site you often find a deep canyon, also manmade. This is where they removed gold from the land. Being an environmentally mindful person, I anticipated a lot of discontentment about the mining in the local area, but rather it became part of a complicated relationship that residents have with their land. I saw large hawks that called these manmade canyons home. During my time at Rhyolite, I grew into a solemn comfort with the desert. Mountains surround the Amargosa, and some stand as artifacts from the mining process while others remain unaltered. No one mountain is more true or present in their patience over the land, permissive to man’s actions. The tracks of trucks that tore through the desert hauling ore have created highways of changed ecology, but the desert is slowly growing back. It seems equally unstoppable as it is fragile.

On the outskirts of Rhyolite near the location of the fence, there were a series of encampments for wayfaring prospectors and more nomadic types. These 100-year-old tent sites compacted the land in such a way that the local flora still can’t grow there. Nearby these camps you’ll find small trash dumps; manmade gulches that have found new inhabitants in jackrabbits, birds, snakes and a variety of lizards that call them home. These impressions on the land are the most humble and intimate marks that I found during my time in the desert. So much of man’s actions in Nevada involve large invasive actions, but the presence of a body resting against the ground has affected the local scrub in such a way that we can still see their imprint 100 years later. I suspect the fence might end up like these sites; an intimate imprint on the land, a crumbling presence, a density of broken glass, a collection of wire tied around bottlenecks.

[1]  “Rhyolite, Nevada.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 18 July 2012. Web. 31 July 2012. < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhyolite,_Nevada>

Video/Audio: © 2012 Chris Kallmyer.

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Smoke & Mirrors | Sean Deckert

Posted on by admin1963 Posted in Fall 2012, Practices | Comments Off on Smoke & Mirrors | Sean Deckert

Haboob derives its meaning from the Arabic word for violent or strong wind. The term is now being used to describe the massive dust and sand storms plaguing the city of Phoenix during the summer monsoon season. The increase of these types of storms is directly related to global warming and the escalated heat indexes on the valley floor – especially within the downtown Phoenix business district where this most concentrated and developed area of the city features intersecting arterial roads, freeways and overhead flight paths. The phenomena is referred to as the Urban Heat Island.

As the sun’s rays beat down on the city day after day, the heat is absorbed into the roads, buildings and other infrastructure materials. At night, these heat-saturated materials release their concentrated warmth into the atmosphere, in turn increasing local temperatures. With the rising sun, the cycle repeats itself in a timeless loop long before the city is able to cool off before night sets in. In certain areas of Phoenix there is no place to escape the sun while outdoors. The combination of concrete, mirrored glass, steel buildings, asphalt, and the constant movement of vehicles becomes a heat signature for the city; negatively affecting the local ecology and causing the city’s few pedestrians to hibernate indoors throughout the day.

Smoke & Mirrors addresses Phoenix’s Urban Heat Island phenomena through a recreation of the epic urban dust storms using still photographs taken in downtown Phoenix. The photographic prints are combined with a lenticular photographic print process incorporating a series of convex lenses mounted parallel to each other directly on the photographic image. A holographic print if you will. The mounted lenses change what can be seen on the print based on the viewer’s angle of sight, in turn creating a dynamic layering pattern effect that allows the lens to reveal new perspectives from a variety of viewing angles. As the viewer moves around the image a subtle animation-like effect occurs although most of the image remains static. The dust storm is recreated as viewers walk past the mounted print. A soundscape is included in the installation of recorded street sounds and other urban ambient activity to compliment the viewer’s experience.

The project’s goal is to render a vision of such a fleeting experience of heat and also reveal statistical analysis that expands the knowledge base of urban design in extreme climates.

Image/Video: © 2012 Sean Deckert.

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Inside ALI: Slow Reveals, GIS Trajectories, and Watercourse Urbanism | Jennifer Bonner

Posted on by admin1963 Posted in Fall 2012, Pedagogies | 1 Comment

Slow Reveal

The political, geographical, and ecological acts inscribed in the desert landscape by the land artists of the 1960s – a key historical precedent for Arid Lands Institute’s curriculum – ask students of architecture participating today in the desert west questions about visibly staging the forms and processes of occupying dry lands.

The Arid Lands Institute (ALI) is an applied research center of Woodbury University School of Architecture, dedicated to issues of aridity, climate change and the design of the built environment. Based out of Los Angeles, ALI and its Summer Field Station use the 500,000-square-mile interior west as classroom and test-bed for design innovation.

Beyond the physical artifacts left behind at these earthen works – piled basalt rock (Smithson), carved sandstone (Heizer) and formed concrete (Holt) – the land artists also documented the construction (and deterioration) process as a performance. Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty”, a time-based film, recorded the sequence of dump trucks as the landform evolved over time. Likewise, works like Heizer’s “Double Negative” are designed as observatories for their own slow processes of transformation, decay and disappearance.

This slow reveal combined with an ecological proposition is the basis for a project by Stepan Andreasian entitled “Toxic Island”.  What Andreasian proposes to reveal is both the (slow) construction process and the (slow) process of ecological restoration it is designed to accomplish.

In Andreasian’s proposal, there is a strong desire to promote public participation within a civic park during the staging of a fifteen-year remediation strategy for a post-industrial site in the City of Burbank. Initial mapping research by ALI charts a territory of migratory toxic plumes in Burbank’s ground water – the legacy of Lockheed Martin “Skunk Works” facility and the aerospace industry – and a depleted aquifer. Andreasian chose a challenging remediation site – a concrete-capped ‘island’ land-locked by freeways in the heart of Burbank.

Three large site plans labeled “Years 1-5, Years 5-10, and Years 10-15” illustrate Andreasian’s manipulation of a new public ground. By calling attention to the subterranean plumes otherwise “out-of-sight” and allowing opportunities to witness remediation, public space manifests in the form of drive-thru inflatables during Years 1-5 when toxicity is at its height on the construction site. During Years 10-15, the inflatables are removed and recreational spaces are implemented, slowly allowing the public to re-occupy a larger portion of the site. A visual, time-based proposal emphasizes water scarcity yet also fits into the arid West’s heritage of infrastructure as art form and art form as infrastructure. This slow reveal or unfolding of the past (Lockheed Martin’s occupation of the site), present (derelict concrete plinth deemed a Superfund site by the EPA) and future (a re-constructed landscape) found in Andreasian’s work differs from Land Art as a mark about time as subject. Rather time is part of the medium – a requirement of the architecture and landscape design itself.

Andreasian’s proposal arranges space into an appropriate sequence of processes and public occupation while also cleaning and recharging the aquifer. The project claims to not be merely a technical fix to the water contamination, but promises more out of its performative landscape. However, I’m not sure we are convinced. Architects would benefit from a stronger marking of a similarly symbolic territory that Heizer, Smithson and Holt accomplish so elementally. This generation of students, those that were coming-of-age during 9/11 might also benefit from using more politics and agency in their work, or else we are slowly left with piles of pragmatic, appropriate and polite productions of architecture and landscapes. Yes, they are “functioning” and “fixing problems” (as observed in the architect-as-landscape-urbanist projects), but they are lacking the confrontational potency that the Land Artists still own.

Beginning with a different historical precedent, the following project suggests how ALI might further develop a pedagogical position within a GIS-based (Geographic Information Systems) trajectory.

GIS Trajectories

Drawn by visionary surveyor of the American West, John Wesley Powell, the map of “The Arid Region of the United States, Showing Drainage Districts” (1890) boldly envisions the settlement of municipalities and agricultural zones to fit within hydrographic basins. Powell’s watershed map represents an ideological framework with traces of a “meta-project” (Jeffersonian grid) but most importantly advocates for a “meta-particular-project” (proto-GIS) – one that is hyper-local and with specificity.[1]

This map is a strategic starting point for much of ALI’s messaging – be it to a public audience or in the classroom. By understanding the limits and possibilities of human inhabitation given changing hydrologic conditions, a water and climate GIS trajectory allows ALI teams to rethink capacity, scale, processes and forms of inhabitation.

Taking clues from Powell’s provocation, graduate researcher Cesia Lopez proposes her own version of a meta-particular-trajectory regarding the role of water infrastructure and public architecture in the city of Los Angeles.

Lopez’s thesis work began by charting a vast regional scale – the California State Water Project and the Colorado River Basin – combining specific variables such as water and energy, water and climate, and water and topography. Next, through a series of tightly-focused methodologies, Lopez mapped water and gravity, water and public space, and water and culture. She looked at historical precedents in Rome and Istanbul, and at three disparate sites in Los Angeles: Pershing Square, Dodger Stadium, and the headwaters of the LA Aqueduct.

This combinatory act of placing hydrological data, topographic elevations and civic space together into a singular drawing challenges the way we might view a city, thus alluding to Powell’s radical re-survey of the arid west. The potential in a GIS trajectory lies in the curatorial decision of the author to combine variables or data sets otherwise separated and studied in isolation. In Lopez’s proposal, she recognizes a semi-arid Mediterranean climate within the city (and hydrography) of Los Angeles and encourages gravity fed water systems to fulfill a larger role in the public realm, noted in a series of large urban geographical sections.

Critical to Lopez’s proposition is a subset of drawings that count, sort and catalogue less desirable points, lines and surfaces of the city’s infrastructure including maintenance holes, storm water pipes and catch basins. These offer a visual taxonomy of specific and local sites in the urban fabric where water infrastructure and public architecture might co-exist. Meta and particular, this body of work understands the full range – from the regional scale to the overlooked storm drain – of a large gravity-based infrastructure.

Using Powell’s map as a throw-down, ALI has developed a pedagogical position enabling a variety of water and climate trajectories amongst its participants and through academic outreach. I believe this position is already well underway within the Institute; studio by studio, the GIS research is forming a territory for designers to express their Powellian voice, curiously and innovatively.

Watercourse Urbanism

Seventy miles south of Paolo Soleri’s Arcosanti community (1970), Jesus De Anda gets to work on envisioning a post-sprawl, post-foreclosure Phoenix and constantly struggles with the historical baggage that is associated with such tabula rasa projects. De Anda proposes to raze Phoenix and its poor housing stock completely, but carefully embraces the historic and modern day canal infrastructure.

At first glance, the project entitled “Canal Adjacencies” resembles a bad version of Arcosanti, but a more careful reading of the proposal reveals the contemporary relevance of a watercourse urbanism. Similar to the landscape urbanists, there is a direct correlation between the performance of landscape and the organizational quality of infrastructure, which in this case yields a potentially productive urbanism.

De Anda does this by repositioning the role of waterway. Stepping away from the historic role of waterway as idyllic, scenographic or industrialized-utilitarian, the canals some perennial, some ephemeral, some natural, some manmade – are accepted as the basic fabric of desert urbanism: both sustenance and civic space. By adopting a ground-zero scenario of nothing-but-the-canals-remains, De Anda then generates a set of rules for desert city- and building-design. The project contends that architecture must behave, above all, as a topography shaped, like soil itself, by hydrography. Housing topography is a series of surfaces shaped to control, direct and collect water. Exaggerated extrusions of space in section create deep shade and cooling air flows. In the context of De Anda’s selective tabula rasa conceit, architecture is re-drawn to serve water rather than water drawn to serve architecture: a reversal of industrialized urban production in arid lands.

De Anda mined a singular history (canals) yet disregarded context (the existing city). This risk he took put aside the political, economic and cultural implications of erasure in favor of conducting a thought-experiment. It is important that drylands pedagogies leave room for experimentation that just might result in these fundamental reversals.

These notes taken from Inside ALI suggest there are multiple positions percolating within the framework of the Institute.

[1] For further clarification, the Jeffersonian grid is used as an example of a meta-project, one that is totalizing and operates regardless of changes in climate. Respectively, GIS exemplified here as a meta-particular-project places emphasis on local specificity and case-by-case scenarios.

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NukeNOtes | Eve Andree Laramee

Posted on by admin1963 Posted in Fall 2012, Practices | Comments Off on NukeNOtes | Eve Andree Laramee

Social sculptures allow new conjunctions of history, social and political events, raising essential, sometimes subversive, ideas that can infiltrate the everyday. NukeNOtes is a social sculpture that transforms my anger into public interruptions asserting a participatory ethics for reconfiguration. The project addresses the rich history of tourism and outdoor recreation centering on the grand landscapes of the National Park System. Yet historically many of these pristine public lands and their surrounding areas have been tragically exploited by extractionary industries – including uranium mining and milling. Using art and design as vehicles, I am creating and distributing a series of printed “alternative fact sheets” (based on NPS brochures originally designed by Massimo Vignelli), that deal with the health, environmental and economic impact of nuclear legacy sites adjacent to specific National Parks. NukeNOtes draw attention to the use, misuse and commodification of our public lands by activities that produce serious environmental and health effects.

What at first appears to be a NPS brochure for Arches National Park, upon closer examination reveals information about the Atlas Uranium Mill, now a Department of Energy UMTRA site [1], located across the road from Arches in the Colorado River floodplain between the park entrance and the town of Moab. The mills unlined waste piles and tailings ponds contained sixteen million (16,000,000) tons of radioactive materials that had leached into the river and surrounding terrain for decades. The clean-up cost is estimated at one billion forty-three million dollars ($1,043,000,000). The funding schedule provides for “complete removal” by the year 2028.

What makes the timing of this project relevant is the fact that the U.S. Department of Interior (backed by several members of Congress) recently proposed a new multi-state National Park celebrating and memorializing the Manhattan Project’s creation and use of the first nuclear weapons. This formal joining of National Parks and our nuclear legacy raises an alarm that requires address. This artwork communicates with an international audience far beyond the traditional art audience. Through rigorous research of scientific and government documents, this project shares information, maps and photographs providing public awareness and involvement over short-term and long-term time frames. Urgency and necessity drive this work; strategic timing and placement are critical. When fully funded, the project will encompass a series of events engaging communities in directly addressing these issues, providing educational outreach in the form of creative workshops on health, and DIY water filter projects in the Parks’ gateway communities.

Disposition: a person’s inherent qualities of mind and character. Small local actions and interventions at strategic sites can unsettle cultural blind spots, leading towards reconfiguration into a disposition of caring and healing. We need an ecology of practices and behaviors that are sustainable and in sync with complex systems and life forms in the desert. Again, Massumi’s words come to mind, “A very small intervention might get amplified across the web of connections to produce large effects – the famous butterfly effect – you never know. So it takes a great deal of attention and care and abductive effort of understanding about how things are interrelating and how a perturbation, a little shove or a tweak, might change that.”  Through exploring the desert over the years, alone and with others, on foot and in long road trips, it has taught me about the interconnectedness of systems, nested scales of phenomena, the correlation of above and below. The desert teaches us about its resilience and our own folly. Listen to its secrets. The present dissolves into geological time. Our bodies are part of the invisible aquifer below, the one that owns us.

[1] UMTRA, Department of Energy, Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action. http://www.gjem.energy.gov/moab/

Images:  © 2012 Eve Andrée Laramée.

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Finding Francisco Martinez Espinosa | Paul Turounet

Posted on by admin1963 Posted in Fall 2012, Policies | 2 Comments

Francisco Martinez Espinosa from Tabasco, Mexico

Near mile marker 42 on Arizona Highway 286 between Sasabe, Sonora, Mexico and Three Points, Arizona, United States.

Found walking alone and dehydrated after being separated and abandoned from a group of ten other migrants, whom he believed were all dead. After hiding under a mesquite tree and hearing the story of how he had gotten lost in the desert, he eventually said, “I just want to go home.” It was the first time he tried to cross the border and had paid $1500 to a smuggler to take him to Phoenix. No sooner did we emerge from under the tree and back to the highway, when a young Border Patrol agent intercepted us.

Email from Unnamed Border Patrol Agent about Finding Francisco Martinez Espinosa:

August 10, 2004

Dear Paul,

Just a quick note to thank you again for helping out with the alien that you found on the side of Highway 286. I just wanted to let you know the resolution of what happened that day (to the best of our knowledge).

After you left, we had a flyover of the area west of 286 and north of the ranch at milepost 31 by the Arizona Army National Guard OH-58 that was supporting our operations. Usually they have at least a Borstar agent on board along with the 2 man crew. Approximately 8 agents from our shift and another 4 – 6 from the following shift worked the area that he had told us that the group was at. Basically, after interviewing the guy, we were able to match his footprints to a series of footprints that were running east – west and back again on one of the ranch roads about 3 – 5 miles from 286 approximately across from milepost 36 – 38. The alien was asked to step directly next to one of these tracks and they matched exactly in terms of size and pattern; so it was pretty conclusive that they were his sign. He had apparently gotten disoriented at some point that night and had backtracked at least twice trying to find his group. From that point, it is approximately 7 miles due north to highway 86 and even closer to a very popular load out spot at the southernmost end of Coleman road. From what we could figure from what he showed us; his group had been pretty close to one of the water tanks for the cattle near the eastern edge of the Baboquivari Kitt Peak area. (They couldn’t have gotten much water from the ones that I saw that day; and if they did drink it, they would have possibly gotten sick from the fecal contamination).

I’ve gotten somewhat familiar with the area myself and if you hug the side of the mountains, it adds a bit of walking but by going straight, you will end up just a half mile or so from Coleman Road. Coleman is about a 2 1/2 mile long north south road so it is possible to miss it by walking parallel to it;  but even if you did, you would eventually hit the 2 lane east west highway 86. Coleman is a big load out for aliens now; in the past MJ backpackers used it too but not too much lately. Either way, if the group got to Coleman or 86, they got picked up by someone…either smugglers, friendly folks or us. He didn’t recognize anyone at the station as belonging to his group; so my guess is that after he left to find water, the others left once they thought that he wasn’t coming back. Probably the entire time that he had been searching for water for them, they were moving to be picked up on the highway and might have already been in a drop house by that time.

In any event, fortunately, so far we haven’t made any discoveries of any group that size in the 1100 area west of 286 that had died from the heat. Since that day, neither BP nor aliens have reported any large numbers of dead out there in that area…if there had been reports, we would have heard of this, probably by now. Unfortunately, the agents in the Gila Bend area did find that group a few days ago with the five aliens that had died. In fact, it is averaging still about 1 a day throughout the sector. (You do remember how we talked that one of the reasons that there are so many aliens being found dead has as much to do with having more agents in helicopters, atvs, and horseback as it does with the heat and the number of aliens crossing…you don’t really know if some of them have been dead for 10 years but they are all counted in this year’s tally.

It is truly amazing everyday; today I caught a girl on her 16th birthday. Her group had left her just 1/2 mile or so in the US. She was at a minimum, barely past a 7th grade education, if not borderline retarded. I’m not sure that was one of the reasons that they let her fall behind. She had a 1 gallon jug of water, a small bottle of pedialyte when the water were to run out, a plastic garbage bag for the monsoons (if they occurred), a change of clothes, a hat, some food, and the clothes on her back. With her inexperience and the distance she would have had to cover completely alone, there is no doubt in my mind whether she might have made it. She was on the other side of 286 right down near Sasabe. Basically on that side, there is only the Buenos Aires Reserve road system, Arivaca Road at milepost 12 and a ranch road about milepost 16. If she weren’t able to make either of those roads to be picked up, or if she stubbornly kept on going when she ran out of water, there isn’t anything till milepost 30 or so. The saddest thing was that after an interview with the Mexican consulate, she got back on the voluntary return bus to Nogales, Sonora…we couldn’t put her on the airplane to send her back to Chiapas since she was an unaccompanied minor and the current rules don’t allow us to do that, even though in my mind it would make a lot more sense to get them as fast as possible to their home. (Of course, there is probably a very good reason that she left home in the first place!). One common theme that most of these southern Mexicans have is that nobody wants them here and nobody wants them at home either.

Anyway, I appreciate your thoughtfulness and concern and the help you gave us that day. A lot of people wouldn’t have stopped. I hope that your projects are going well and that you get a chance to come out this way again sometime. I wanted to be sure that I was putting out what the best info that I could get about this situation.


Finding Francisco Martinez Espinosa is part of Turounet’s larger, interdisciplinary project, Estamos Buscando AWe’re Looking For. Visit the project’s website at: http://paulturounet.com/estamos-buscando-a/riveting-photographs for additional works and Spanish translation.

“As the quest for a greater sense of personal identity, purpose and meaning is universal to our collective existence, viewers are invited to reflect on the anxiety and uncertainty of the migrants, and contemplate that emotional place we all must face when we leave behind the known for the unknown. Regardless of the demarcation lines of country and culture, we are all migrants in search of something profound and meaningful to our being. The bright border light forces a pause in this transitory experience for the migrant. At that very moment, their faces intimately reveal an unsettling and knowing sense that something is being lost and sacrificed in anticipation of something gained once nightfall finally arrives.”

Images: © 2012 Paul Turounet.

Like this one? Read our first publishing partnership article, Under the Green Moon with Paul Turounet for KCET Artbound by ARID editor, Kim Stringfellow:
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Arid Lands Pedagogy: Art in the American West | Bill Gilbert

Posted on by admin1963 Posted in Fall 2012, Pedagogies | Comments Off on Arid Lands Pedagogy: Art in the American West | Bill Gilbert

Is there such a thing as an arid lands arts pedagogy? Should there be? If so, why is it necessary and why is it different from art pedagogy in other climatic zones? There is an assumption operating in most university art programs in this country that the Euro-American canon is a universal that is equally applicable in all regions of our country (if not the world). What, then, is the argument for an art education based in geographic, socio-political and environmental place?

At the University of New Mexico (UNM), we are developing an example of a pedagogy based in place. We undertake this initiative despite a near perfect storm in mainstream academia against the implementation of such a place-based pedagogy. The recent attempted firing of the president at the University of Virginia for resisting the rush to “distance learning” and STEM [1] disciplines is merely the most visible expression of the imposition of the corporate model on academia. In this model, cost is the factor that trumps all others. The “external university” with its digital delivery of course content is by far the most cost effective. One faculty member can enroll huge numbers of students with no limits imposed by the size of the classroom. There are no costly buildings to maintain, students are required to provide their own computers as the one essential tool. In a budget model that counts Student Credit Hours as all equal, traditional “face to face” classes become a luxury. No doubt, there are now programs that present themselves as being place-based while delivering their content entirely through the virtual sphere. Place-based programs that involve the physical transportation of students to engage directly with the topic are seen as prohibitively expensive.

In the larger time frame, the place of the arts in academe has been and continues to be tenuous. It is really only since the end of World War II that the arts have become a ubiquitous part of university rosters nation wide. The efficacy of the MFA as a professional degree remains in question, the utility of graduate programs in studio art in doubt. As a result, art professors are amongst the lowest paid in the academic hierarchy, their discipline regarded as secondary. In other countries, Colleges of Fine Arts have attempted to address this second-class status with the addition of a PhD in the creative arts. This initiative has been slower to gain traction in the U.S. Here the move towards the corporate model has been accompanied by an ever-increasing focus on the STEM disciplines to the exclusion of the humanities and arts. Science, technology, engineering and math are the disciplines that connect students with the best/highest paying jobs and that is now the sole purpose of  “higher” education.

And yet, we are now seeing the beginnings of a shift from STEM to STEAM [2] and the inclusion of the arts as an essential catalyst for creative thinking. As the tide has rushed so strongly towards the standardization of a STEM education in the digital sphere the need for a placed-based pedagogy situated in a particular socio-environmental context has become ever more acute.

A place-based pedagogy in the arts weds content and context. It takes a fundamentally different stance on how it is that students in the arts learn. By making physical place and human interaction a core part of the learning process it offers an alternative educational approach aligned to how art is actually made in that it requires an engagement of the entire being, an integration of both body and mind. It re-empowers body knowledge and sensory perception to establish a balance with the abstract and theoretical.

In a place-based pedagogy, students’ education is informed by the particular characteristics of their geographical/environmental context. Across time, geographical and social place have heavily influenced the practice of art. If the history and contemporary practice of art in Albuquerque, New Mexico is different from that in New Haven, Connecticut, a place-based perspective would argue that an education at UNM should then differ from the one at Yale. Many would counter that this is not the case, that the language of art is universal. In the digital age, students nationwide have access to the same cannon. The same images and texts regarding Richard Serra and Maria Martinez are available worldwide. Students work in essentially similar sculpture, photo, printmaking and other studio facilities. It is only by accepting a definition of the university that extends beyond the physical confines of campus to include surrounding communities and ecologies that the differentiation of a place-based pedagogy makes sense.

For those of us situated in the arid lands of the American West, a pedagogy based in place reflects a particular socio-political and environmental context. At UNM, we start with the consideration of our location at the nexus of cultural diversity in the American Southwest. On a cultural level, New Mexico encompasses elements as diverse as the traditions of twenty-two federally recognized tribes, the history of the Camino Real, a vibrant contemporary arts scene and national centers of innovation for science, defense, and energy.

From the environmental perspective, we realize that the common perception held by Americans from other regions of the country is that New Mexico is one vast desert. In fact, New Mexico, and the Southwest as a whole, is one of the most environmentally complex regions in the country. Our place-based program provides art students with time living and working in an intimate relationship with the full range of alpine, mesa, low desert and riparian eco-niches.

Perhaps most important is the direct physical engagement Land Arts provides. Our culture is largely cut off from the environment. Fewer and fewer of our students have any real knowledge of Albuquerque’s place in the ecology of the Southwest. They have a political understanding of the importance of the environment, but it is not rooted in any real intimacy with place. Land Arts takes them out into the variety of ecological niches that together comprise the Southwest and encourages them to explore and create their artworks in direct response to place.

We take the same approach to our study of the traces of cultural interventions present in the landscape. Spiral Jetty is an entirely different work of art when students walk out onto it from the shore of Rozel Point from the one they experience in a photograph. The understanding they gain of the Ancestral Puebloan site Moon House as an architectural presence situated in the landscape after hiking to it through slick rock canyons and climbing from the arroyo bottom to a precarious ledge is fundamentally different from the one gained from a book.

Our efforts at UNM to develop an appropriate pedagogy began with field programs at Acoma Pueblo and Juan Mata Ortiz, Chihuahua, Mexico. These early experiments focused on traditional potters whose practice is based entirely in materials available in their home environments. Under the leadership of Mary Lewis Garcia at Acoma and Juan Quezada in Juan Mata Ortiz, we spent days wandering the local environs in search of viable clay sources, pot shards to grind for temper, mineral sources for paint and cow manure for firing. By the time we began to make pots the interweaving of practice and place couldn’t have been more obvious.

To broaden the scope of our developing pedagogy to include disciplines beyond ceramics, I started the Land Arts of the American West program in 1999. From its inception, the Land Arts program has been place-based. We have worked to make the institutional walls of academia more permeable by providing students with direct physical engagement across the time frame of a full semester with the ecological environments and social communities of our region. From the very beginning, the Land Arts program has invited professors from a range of disciplines, non-academic artists, and elders from local cultural groups to participate with us in the field.

For the first run of the Land Arts of the American West program we chose a set of eco-niches and cultural interventions that would enable students to position their practice in relation to the history of cultural interventions in the land from pre-contact Native American through to contemporary American cultures and establish a dialog between their ideas and a variety of environmental contexts. Our list of investigative sites was largely comprised of Native American architecture (Chaco Canyon, Moon House, Wupatki and contemporary Earthworks (Double Negative, Roden Crater).

In this initial run of our experiment it became apparent that our place-based pedagogy would have to transcend the disciplinary boundaries of art. To more fully develop an understanding of place we began to expand the frame. Chris Taylor was invited to join the program thereby adding the perspective of an architect working in the context of a design program. We started to look not just at architectural and artistic marks in the land but the full range of human interventions from the large gestures of the U.S. military and federal infrastructure to the subtle traces left in a landscape that tends to preserve all marks great and small. Our thinking in this evolution from “Land Art” to “Land Use” was strongly influenced by Matt Coolidge, Director of the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI), through our annual workshops with Matt at CLUI’s unit in Wendover, Utah.

As our time spent each year at sites such as Wendover Airforce Base, Lake Powell, Bingham Mine increased and the days logged on our nation’s interstate highway system accumulated, another fundamental issue arose. In our pursuit of an arid lands pedagogy centered in the investigations of land use in the west, we had created a bifurcated model of investigative and work sites. Our approach to the investigative sites was essentially touristic, our time at work sites a more actively engaged dialog.

In collaboration with my Land Arts program partners, Erika Osborne, Catherine Harris and Jeanette Hart-Mann, we have begun to bridge the two definitions and involve the students in collaborative projects in our investigative sites. Essentially, we have evolved into a program of all work sites, some in remote environmental locations, others in settlements. We now design our journeys around particular themes that seem pertinent to developing an understanding of place. Our arid lands pedagogy is structured around a set of conceptual emphases, site-based partners and visiting artists/scholars such as The Foodshed with Hobo Ranch, Hogwaller Farm and Sangre de Christo Agricultural Producers Cooperative.

In this move towards a more project-based model engaged with community partners we have entered into a different mode of a contemporary art practice. In these site-based projects, Land Arts operates as a temporary collective providing students with an introduction to a collaborative approach. Contemporary students come to us with a fundamental understanding of the diversity of American society. It is the world in which they have grown up. As a result, they are comfortable working in groups whose members represent diverse cultural backgrounds, genders and age groups. They respond positively to the openness of an interdisciplinary dialog and a collaborative process.

This new collaborative aspect of our pedagogy helps prepare students to move outside of the modernist, solo artist model by teaching them the skills necessary to successfully work as a group in dialog with community partners. Students begin to acquire the skills they will need to work alongside other professionals in the public and private spheres after graduation.

Changes in the Land Arts of the American West program have been paralleled by another initiative. As the scope of our Land Arts program expanded it became clear that one program alone could not successfully cover the full curriculum necessary to support a comprehensive place-based, arid lands pedagogy. We needed a conceptual center recognized as a structural entity to create the frame for this pedagogy within our home in the Art and Art History Department and to act as the agent for interdisciplinary programming with other disciplines/departments.

In 2008, Art and Ecology was added to the roster of areas in the Art and Art History Department to serve this function. Originally the brainchild of Basia Irland, this new area was conceived as interdisciplinary from the very beginning. With the addition of faculty members including Catherine Harris, Jeanette Hart-Mann, Szu Han Ho, Andrea Polli and Molly Sturges, Art and Ecology has established partnerships with Landscape Architecture, Biology, Computer Science, Social Practices and Museum Studies. We are now well positioned to develop an integrated arid lands pedagogy. There is much to be done to weave these diverse interests together into a coherent whole. It is exciting times at UNM. We’ll keep you posted as this next chapter in our experiment plays out.

[1] Studies in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
[2] Interdisciplinary Studies in Science & Technology interpreted through Engineering & the Arts.

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