Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Science Club: The Boy's Room, Now, Forever, Then, part 1

Erika Wanenmacher, a New Mexico based multi-media sculptor, reveals a provocative exhibition entitled “The Science Club: The Boy’s Room, Now, Forever, Then, part 1.” A Santa Fe resident, Wanenmacher has long been intrigued by the atomic history of the American West, particularly the nuclear saga of neighboring Los Alamos laboratories.

Rapt by a mixture of fascination and horror, Wanenmacher reacts to the appalling history of “human radiation experiments” executed by scientists in Los Alamos between the forties through nineteen seventies, the most shocking of which involve government doctors dosing their own children with radio-isotopic iodine.

In this elaborate installation, which took nearly ten years to compile, Wanenmacher explores how nature, culture, science and technology merge in America’s atomic legacy. These themes intersect as Wanenmacher juxtaposes a child’s bedroom—decked with sixties-era furniture, toys, comic books, magazines, and subversive paint-by-number bomb décor—with an office arrangement consisting of period equipment, fallout distribution maps, and field apparatus appropriated from government surplus facilities. A seemingly haunted atmosphere is fashioned as this invented domestic space is coupled with authentic artifacts from the offices and laboratories of Los Alamos.

Surreptitious details embellish the nostalgic components of the bedroom; delicately quilted atomic figures adorn the bedspread, an X-ray of damaged bone becomes a lampshade, and a comic of Atomic Superboy suggest how deeply embedded atomic culture is to our experience and condition. The fully black and white exhibition is interrupted by one moment of color, a tiny glass of fluorescent yellow-green liquid sitting on a T.V. stand before a monitor running a classic cartoon short.

Wanenmacher seeks to both expose this dark history and pay homage to the victims of these crimes and experiments, reminding us of the possibilities and perils that stem from technology’s pursuit of progress. Yet, the piece is also a spell cast for the future, to bring light from the dark and contemplate our own standing at this critical moment in history. If we “bring to public consciousness” the consequences of the past, we can “change consciousness at will,” Wanenmacher suggests.

Erika Wanenmacher has been widely exhibited throughout the US. Her two most recent one-person exhibitions were featured in New York at the Claire Oliver Gallery and in New Mexico at Linda Durham Contemporary Art. Another notable exhibition, "Grimoire" was featured at SITE Santa Fe in 2001, curated by Louis Grachos. A 20-year survey of Wanemacher works was shown at the Center for Contemporary Art, Santa Fe in 1996. Her work is in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe, Museum of Albuquerque and the Fisher Landau Center, New York.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Richard Serra at Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle WA

While attending the first annual Steampunk Convention ( in Seattle, WA I had the opportunity to see Richard Serra's 2004 work entitled Wake. The work consists of several two inch thick S-shaped steel plates placed together defining wide undulating passageways between them. It is the horizontal dimension of the plates that forms the S while the vertical dimension remains straight. The lack of vertical modulation lends this Serra work a much more static and less imposing feel than that of the torqued ellipses or large listing plates for which he is so well known (see Dia:Beacon). The thrill of a Serra, for me, has always been in its ability to totally engulf the viewer, to challenge and fight our natural uprightness by gradually encroaching on our horizons. My favorite way to amplify this experience is to run through or closely past the arrangements making it harder for your brain and balance to compensate for the disconcerting lean of the huge pieces of steel as they rush past. Viewing the sculptures from a recumbent position is also quite exhilarating. Wake never tempted me into either of these activities though it's location did not promote unorthodox viewing strategies. The work is placed in an oddly private public setting without the camouflage of a crowd or the freedom of solitude. In addition SAM, the Seattle Art Museum, placed Wake in a large excavated garden of sorts. Thus, the work is surrounded on all sides by concrete retaining walls (despite being on the waterfront) that actually towered above the height of the steel plates, reducing their perceived scale and sapping their power. Rather than defining the space Wake seemed to be defined (confined) by the space around it. The decision to place the work in a hole is odd given the sweeping views of the bay from other locations within the park. The work's wide spacing, nonconfrontational shape, and placement made Wake the least successful Serra I've seen, though making several 30 ton steel plates unintimidating is a feat in itself.

See the work at the Seattle Art Museum website here.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Roadside Oddities of the Pacific Coastline

It was a long an winding road, but well worth the spectacular sights...
Here are a few of the stranger places we wandered to during our journey.
I had my hopes set on finding this out of service gas station (a pun on the Harding "Teapot Dome Scandal"), located just outside Yakima in Zillah, WA, though we ran out of time and didn't make it! Nonetheless, a quirky roadside jewel to seek next time.
And now I'm also told of this one, also narrowly missed! Java Jive Dive lives on Highway 99 outside Tacoma. As far as I can tell, still in operation despite its state of mild disrepair.
The tiniest church I've ever seen. I think it was somewhere in the Olympic Peninsula? (Don't hold me on this one.)
The State of Washington seems to be enamored with monumental steel cattle constructions. This pair was just one of many roadside installations encountered, though the subject matter kind of sucks. (Bad pun, I know, but couldn't help myself...)

We ate breakfast in this town, and upon entering the diner the record scratched. The locals occupied surrounding tables and faced us, so that we were gazed upon while we consumed our meals. I'm just glad we didn't run into the "rowdy rebel," since my car still has Yankee plates.

Drive-by dinos on Highway 101, Oregon. Feel a little bit guilty for not stopping for a painfully cheesy tour, but I was broke and it was terribly chilly.

Chelsea returning to sea level, an alarming transformation.

Oh yeah, Granger, WA has dinosaurs too.

Somehow I didn't expect to see this as I entered a National Park. However, it was a pleasant surprise. The fifty foot statue is dwarfed by the Redwood trees.

To be continued...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Integratron

In 1947 George van Tassel, a former aircraft mechanic and flight inspector for Howard Hughes, moved to Landers, California where he purchased “Giant Rock,” a massive 7 story freestanding boulder. With the intent of launching a tourist attraction, van Tassel opened a café and airport near the rock, which happened to be a sacred site revered by the Native Americans. Years before, a prospector named Frank Critzer excavated a series of tunnels and caves beneath the sacred rock. Critzer was considered somewhat of an eccentric, and as he was a German immigrant “mining” beneath the Rock during World War II, he came to be suspected a spy. He was tragically killed in a police siege at the base of the Rock in 1942. Van Tassel occasionally worked with Critzer in his uncle’s garage and learned of Giant Rock through him.
After acquiring the site, van Tassel began to regularly meditate within Critzer’s caves. In 1951 he claimed that during meditation he had “astrally projected” to an alien spaceship orbiting the earth, where he met the omnipotent Venusians (travelers from the planet Venus). Purportedly, after several “astral” visitations, the beings from the “Council of the Seven Lights” visited him on earth and instructed him to build a structure to “extend human life.”

Van Tassel began building a wood and fiberglass structure that he deemed “The Integratron.” The design was based upon a domed machine he allegedly encountered while aboard the Venusian flying saucer. Van Tassel proposed that the Giant Rock site was a powerful vortex, and that a domed building would concentrate the earth’s natural energy. Human visitors could harness this energy and focus their own electrical forces to create “resonance” and recharge their cells like a battery. He did warn his followers to exercise caution when telepathically communicating with the “Space Brethren” inside the Integratron ….due to the potential of over-stimulation resulting in spontaneous human combustion.

Van Tassel founded a research organization known as the “Ministry of Universal Wisdom,” and began hosting an annual UFO conference called the Giant Rock Spacecraft Convention (1953-1978). Needless to say his airport and café were never more successful. He continued to make slight alterations on the structure until his death in 1978.

Post: In the early spring of 2002, Giant Rock split in two. The structure now exists as a roadside tourist attraction, though there have been several proposals to convert it into a Joshua Tree disco. A loosely organized UFO-cult called the Ashtar Command now claims to have resumed van Tassel’s original vision.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Land Arts of the American West

In 2000 professor Bill Gilbert, initiated an “interdisciplinary field program” at the University if New Mexico. Land Arts of the American West soon became a collaboration with professor Chris Taylor from Texas Tech University. Each year students involved in this extended course embark on a fifty day-10,000 mile road trip, with the objective of “expanding the definition of art through direct experience with the full range of human interventions in the landscape, from pre-contact indigenous to contemporary.” The group visits sites such as the Wendover Complex, the Roden Crater (Turell), Grand Canyon, Double Negative (Heizer), Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI), Spiral Jetty (Smithson), Chinati Foundation in Marfa TX (Judd), Lightning Field (De Maria), Chaco Canyon and more. The semester is spent traveling and camping with guest scholars, whose expertise range from archeology to critical theory, design, sculpture, art history, and architecture. Students also respond and interact with their environment by making artistic gestures and leaving their own mark on the landscape.
Chris Taylor is a Harvard-trained architect who teaches architecture at Texas Tech University. In conjunction with the Architecture Workers Combine, he explores the direct and interstitial forces creating landscape with built work in New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, and Pennsylvania.

Bill Gilbert holds the Lannan Chair in Land Arts of the American West in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of New Mexico. His art practice explores the dialogue between environment and cultures in the Southwest. He has exhibited his work in the United States, Ecuador, the Czech Republic, Canada, and Japan.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Cabinet National Library

While designing the 2003 spring issue on "Property", Cabinet Magazine (a non-profit publication on art, sculpture & culture) purchased a 1/2 acre of land on Ebay for a mere $300. The property was a lot from the Sunshine Valley Ranchettes, an unsuccessful suburban development project from the 1960s.

The small New Mexico lot-- situated outside Deming, was subsequently dubbed "Cabinetlandia." Magazine -sized quadrants of the property were sold for one penny to Cabinet readers upon request. Cabinetlandia soon bragged of domains such as Readerlandia, Nepotismia, and Editoria, and other sectors within the greater motherland. Most importantly, however, Cabinetlandia became home to "The Cabinet National Library."

The Cabinet National Library is fittingly housed in a filing cabinet lodged within a cement wall. The top drawer of the library holds a card catalog, guestbook, and local service information. The middle drawer contains back issues of the magazine (open for public view, of course) and the bottom drawer serves as a snack bar.

If you plan to visit Cabinetlandia it is recommended that you contact Cabinet's editors beforehand, so that you can obtain recent issues of the publication for restocking the archive.

From Deming heading EAST:
- Take Route 549 East from Deming.
- Approx. 10 miles outside Deming, turn LEFT onto Lewis Flats Road (Luna County B041).
- Pass dairy farm and 3 sets of gates. Take the overpass over Highway 10.
- At the end of the overpass, turn immediately RIGHT on first DIRT road (parallel to Hwy 10).
- When you reach the end of that road turn RIGHT (toward Hwy 10).
- Take your first LEFT (parallel to Hwy 10).
- When you reach the end of that road turn RIGHT (toward Hwy 10).
- Turn to the RIGHT on the THIRD dirt road.
- About 200 yards down the road, the Cabinet postbox and Library should be on your LEFT

From Las Cruces heading WEST:
- Take Hwy 10 West from Las Cruces.
- Exit Route 549 West toward Deming.
- Approx. 10 miles outside Deming, turn RIGHT onto Lewis Flats Road (Luna County B041).
- Pass dairy farm and 3 sets of gates. Take the overpass over Highway 10.
- At the end of the overpass, turn immediately RIGHT on first DIRT road (parallel to Hwy 10).
- When you reach the end of that road turn RIGHT (toward Hwy 10).
- Take your first LEFT (parallel to Hwy 10).
- When you reach the end of that road turn RIGHT (toward Hwy 10).
- Turn to the RIGHT on the THIRD dirt road.
- About 200 yards down the road, the Cabinet postbox and Library should be on your LEFT.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Michael Heizer, City

Tom Vanderbilt's article Desert of Dreams posted on Oct.3 by Chelsea reminded me of Michael Heizer's current project located somewhere near Yucca Mountain, Nevada. The project consists of several massive structures built of stone, steel, and earth. Some of the structures are 80 feet high and a quarter mile long. Heizer began construction on City in 1970 and is expected to finish by 2010. Currently the site is closed to visitors.

Heizer's structures imitate the cold war structures Tom Vanderbilt mentions in his article Desert of dreams. The large, blank facades of earth reinforced with sterile concrete indicate a defensive function, similar to a bomb shelter. In the second image, the arangement of narrow spaces between huge concrete wedges resemble the slots in castle walls from which archers could fire while being protected, or shields designed to deflect a blast.

City was begun in the early seventies as an attempt to distil everything that had come before it into a single work of art. It is meant as a sort of relic to convey the accomplishments and feelings of humanity to later generations. Int his way the structure is defensive. It is designed to defend itself against the attack of time and possible warfare.

Relating to the defensive posture of City, I would also like to comment on Donald Judd's Marfa, Texas. Marfa is a small town near the Mexican border in west Texas. Beginning in the seventies Donald Judd, a well known sculptor, began to purchase buildings in Marfa including an old bank and a decomissioned air force base. Judd eventually bought most of the town turning the buildings into galleries for like minded artists to install their work permanently without interference. Dan Flavin, David Rabinowitch, and John Chamberlain are among the artists featured in Marfa.

Judd has since died but Marfa remains... exactly as he left it. Judd left New York in search of a place where he could place art works that he deemed valid permanently on view. Judd was a strict minimalist. He is best known for making variations on a box in various materials. As he watched tastes change and art that he considered bad gain popularity he resolved to create "stronghold" where pure minimalism could live on. When visiting Marfa one gets the sense that tha artwork is quietly waiting to be reborn, weathering the storm until a time when people realize their mistake in turning away from the purity of Judd's boxes. Though Marfa has none of the mega-structures of City or any accoutrments of a millitary installation (even the air force base has glass walls where concrete used to be) the protectionist ideology is still felt.