Thursday, June 01, 2006


Sunday, May 28, 2006

All the trouble in the world is caused by a person’s inability to be alone in a room.

I'm on it.

The Lightning Field at Sunset

The Lightning Field, Quemado, NM

Friday May 26, 2006

The long drive out to Quemado is overpoweringly beautiful. I’ve covered hundreds of miles and the infinite space is so still your complete presence is required. Javier calls on the phone to let me know he will be arriving in Albuquerque airport tomorrow at 3pm. I don’t want to linger on the phone, the drive is so luxuriously rich with peace and silence, and I want to return to my thoughts. The rocks, the colors, the verdant hills, the boulders on the hillsides, the soft grayish sage green of desert vegetation, it’s all so subtle and profound. The desert is so extreme, life and death. The shrubs hold onto every drop of moisture, taking nothing for granted. I’ve always loved the desert for clarity. There is no clutter, the answers are yes or no, hot as day or cold as night. Protection from the harsh elements, scorpions, and tarantulas, poison is only a defense. I am thinking of what to build back in Joshua Tree, learning to weld, working in metals, a shade shelter, gold screens, palm fronds, filtered light, elements of the earth, wood, stone, salt, metal, rough and smooth textures…

Highway driving is one thing but coming down the 117 to Pie Town and Quemado is something else. The powerful emotions fluctuate between brimming with emotion at the raw beauty to wondering what would happen to me if I happened to swerve off the road since there is no cell phone reception and not another car for miles. I am going deliberately into the depths of isolation, into the feared middle of the country, for, of all things, an art pilgrimage.

Years ago when I first decided that I had to experience this work, in my mind, the trip had already begun. Once that conscious thought has crystallized, and there is already a space in your mind for making an art pilgrimage, then in effect it has already happened, the you that existed before has already shifted and you have already changed. Making the reservation with Kathleen at the Dia Foundation months ago was the beginning of the manifesting of the trip, as well as driving out to Taos to see Larry Bell. The experience has already begun.

I pull into Quemado and see a real live cowboy in front of the only white building, leaning on a black truck, this must be the place. I get in and we drive another 20 miles off the road.

It’s pleasant chatting with Robert and learning that he has been with the Lightning Field since its inception, 29 years ago, he lives 2 miles from it and has seen it through every kind of season. I remark charmingly that he must be the foremost expert on the work, and he replies humbly that he is not an expert in anything. It is a rare opportunity to spend time there alone, it is even now booked almost through ‘til August. This opportunity is a gift.

Robert Weathers has now dropped me off at the cabin of the Lightning Field and while the isolation is profound and beautiful, I’m also happy to know that he can be reached at the following numbers. 82-772-2520 or 2691. The only other time I have felt this level of aloneness was in Bocas del Toro, Panama when a fisherman took me out to one of the thousands of tiny islands, and left me there. Unsure of whether my Spanish had effectively communicated to him that I also wanted to be picked up again later in the day, the resultant hours of solitude were splendid and tortuous.

The cabin is exquisitely simple. The rough-hewn wood lacking in adornment provides the perfect setting for one’s own experience. The setting is blank for the insertion of one’s own thoughts. The back door is variously painted in evenly striped layers of thicker or thinner white paint, leaving more or less wood revealed, resulting in subtle tonal differences in a monochromatic elemental regular pattern. Its simple poetry stands out against the Spartan monotone wood cabin.

I’ve been driving for over 5 hours from Santa Fe, and the first thing I do is head directly to the refrigerator. I pour myself a glass of orange juice and heat up some green chile enchiladas with sour cream and beans for an early supper on the back porch sitting on the rocking chair facing out to the Lightning Field and beyond. This is another world from Andrea and Javier’s in Santa Fe, that gorgeous and luxuriously appointed mud palace in Cerros Colorados, near the governor’s mansion, where I enjoyed morning coffee poured out of a sterling silver carafe. I can hear Andrea now, “They don’t just drop you off there with some pasta do they?” I retorted in undisguised defense, “You’re going there to see Art, it’s not a hotel!” And indeed, in the inlaid cupboard within the countertop, is trail mix, pasta, and Prego. I opt for the vegetarian enchiladas and they are delicious.

Birds float in the strong gusts of high winds, a scattering of brilliant white clouds hover in the expanse of blue horizon, bunnies hop along tumbleweeds and silver steel poles that look like needles poke out of the ground in a strangely man-made grid. I’m wearing open-toe leather sandals from a trip to Costa Rica and decide to head out into the field in them. The terrain is flat and if I do come across a rattler, it’ll be sure to let me know when we are close enough. I prepare to take a sweater and walk out, as the winds have now kicked up, I realize that there is no distinct moment where they begin or end, sitting on the rocking chair, I’m already a part of the work, walking into it will also be a part of the work. I think to myself I will look for the invisible line where the grid of the poles begins and attempt to ascertain whether there is a point of entry, or as I’ve thought while driving through California, Arizona, and New Mexico, that the whole trip is in fact part of the Lightning Field.

"The invisible is real."

"Isolation is the essence of Land Art."

After walking into the field and amongst the poles I realize the immense luxury of experiencing this work as it was meant, with the land, without other humans, perhaps with occasional high desert wildlife. I’m compelled to photograph over and over, although they are beginning to become repetitive. Stepping carefully on the ground in my open-toed sandals inflicts the occasional burr or splinter, but this is well worth it for the ease and breeze of getting as close as possible to au naturel freedom.

Just as I am sitting contemplating all the machinery that was used to forge/weld/install this work so that we can enjoy man’s subtle insertion into nature, two desert bunnies come tearing down full speed ahead through uncharted paths directly towards me. I lift up my feet, they appear as though they are going to run right into me and they dart under the house. I have no idea what that was about.

I am constantly brought back to considerations of nature and culture and coexistence of the two. I think back to the amount of culture that is required to be able to go deeper into nature comfortably, 4-wheel drive, underground water wells, and electricity generators. As I photograph these steel cultural signifiers amidst dirt and sparse vegetation I am compelled to insert myself into the photographic documentation of the experience. I consider my shadow as I walk the field, my reflection in the glass of the cabin’s windows. The cabin is so still and again I am overwhelmed at how lucky I am to have this experience alone. I thought I heard someone whistle, of course it is only a bird. I can see hundreds of miles in every direction and there is no sign of other human life.

Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, Great Salt Lake, UT, 2005
Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels, UT, 2005
Christo and Jean-Claude’s The Gates, Central Park, NYC, 2005
Walter De Maria’s The Lightning Field, Quemado, NM, 2006
Donald Judd’s Chinati Foundation, Marfa, TX, 2006
Larry Bell’s Studio, Taos, NM, 2006

Thinking back I’m aware of my growing fondness for traveling to see art. Pilgrimage as part of the viewing process. I flew into New York for less than 24 hours to see the Gates and get back to my teaching job. I’m thinking again of the possibility of organizing groups to view art. Small highly specialized groups. And yet, selfishly and happily, before taking anyone else, before sharing the experience with another soul, I have it all to myself first.

Life Follows Art

The drive and the journey have been an essential part of the appreciation of this work so much so that I see the art as the breadcrumbs that lure us out of the city into the country. These art destinations were but points of interest, dots to connect, just an excuse to take a long drive out into the vast desert expanse. As city folk and high art aficionados and connoisseurs “going out” tends to mean to an opening. This reversal translates “going out” as in “out of doors”, “the great unknown”, “out there”. And of course, with going out, we are confronted with the possibility of being shut out, outsiders, not in. But, as the great exodus from the city center happens when the city reaches a maximum capacity or density, those who can escape, do. Land and earth artists were beginning to speak to this same notion decades ago. The rich leave the city they built and the poor populate the remains of the inner city. Eastern philosophy advises meditation, solitude and inner peace, so do these works require contemplation and being present with one’s own senses and surroundings. Going out to go within is the paradox that situates the delicate balance between nature and culture, being and doing, acting and accepting.

My night in The Lightning Field

Amidst The Lightning Field and fresh thoughts of Larry’s works and his influence, I take a moment to think about my own. I feel on the verge of discovering what’s always been there.

I’m trying to unclutter all the stuff to get to that single grain of truth, every great person’s life work can be said in one clear statement. What is my artist statement? I’m about riding the line between nature and culture, light and dark, reflection and refraction, transparency and invisibility, movement and time, Zen and physics, yin and yang, masculine and feminine, animal behavior and human psychology.

Why am I going to Joshua Tree? To work with natural light and permanent architectural installations. So, my mind is made up, that is the project that I will begin upon my return. I don’t need to fuss with unfinished projects, I can let them fester in downtime. I need to create something spectacular.

The installations and sculptures are delicate and ephemeral instruments of shadow-creation. They act in the space between light and shadow, in the origami cranes, and the fighting fish pieces. That is the shadow world, where mankind lives, between light and dark. The transitional and unpredictable state when a door is ajar and is halfway open and halfway closed, and passage or retreat is equally possible, speaks to me of infinite possibility. The immaterial, infinite, and impermanent are states of being that imply a larger meaning that I am seeking. Cranes in steel, precious metals, metallurgy, geomancy, it's elementary.

This moment as I write, Nature has come too far into my Culture, the mice in the cabin are biting my toes as I type at the table. I have to keep my feet up otherwise they chew on me, I jump and scream, and it’s a horrible collision of nature and culture.

Sunrise at The Lightning Field

I awoke at a quarter to 6am, before my alarm, which is highly unusual for me. The Lightning Field is stunning in this light, which is surprisingly already bright. While the light is already strong the temperature is still quite cold. The glint of sun on the needle sharp tips of the poles is bright as a tiny flame. The row closest to me glows softly until gradually, all the way down the line, they begin to disappear in the light. They are as if an army of barely invisible lines of white light standing at attention for a brief moment before they disappear into the brightness of the noonday sun. They become an index of time and distance from the moment and global position of visual contact.

The Lightning Field is behind the cabin so that while looking out from the back porch towards the poles, the sun rises from the east, the left, and sets on the right, the west. It is only 6:30 am and they are beginning to disappear. They begin to emanate their own electric power that extends far beyond their physical field. They are quite thinly spread out, more so than I expected to see. Rather than creating a condensed area of steel rods, they become antennae-like along a larger distance, each pole thus becoming a singular moment of experience, with large empty space in between. It’s all about the empty space in between.

I had to come all the way out to Quemado NM to be alone with my art intention. I know what my work is about, It’s about polarities and being in the center of them. Perhaps it’s from being Eastern and growing up Western. Perhaps it’s from being ballsy and also being feminine, knowing when to be strong, and when to be soft. The 24-hour experience of the Lightning Field was absolutely necessary to understand them and their cycle. Really probably a 365-day experience is probably necessary but that is another story. To see them glimmer and then disappear in the span of 1 ½ hours is profound. It is in the subtle loss of the poles that the poetry comes forth. As in Lord Byron’s poem She Walks in Beauty, an old favorite that I still know.

She walks in beauty like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies

It’s only 7:30am and the poles have lost the glint of their needle sharp pointed tip to the dull gray that is the reflection of broad daylight. The sun is starting to warm the air and the winds have begun as if in concert. The harsh rugged climate creates a further mystique to the work that also must be experienced.

What am I interested in doing myself? Stainless steel seems the material of choice so far, but I don’t know how connected I feel to it. Chinese zodiac materials are metal, wood, water, earth, fire, and wind. Western zodiac elements are air, earth, water, and fire. What about bulletproof glass? Steel powder, is that the pigment I have in that can? Can anything really be done in painting anymore?

400 highly polished stainless steel poles with solid pointed tips
An average height of 20 ft.
One mile by one kilometer and six meters or 5280 ft. x 3300 ft.
Rectangular grid array 16 x by 25 spaced 220 ft apart
A walk around the perimeter takes 2 hours.
Installation of the poles was carried out from June through October 1977.

The sum of the facts does not constitute the work or determine its esthetics.

Dust Devil

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Thursday may 25, 2006

Left Taos, some relief from the altitude, and am now out in Cerros Colorados waiting for Andrea, Javier’s roommate to come home one windy road over from the governor’s mansion and quite spectacular. Hillsides of extraordinary mud huts that for the color would fade into the earth, but the angular shapes distinguish them as man-made.

Salon art party with Andrea, meet Jeff and Tommy. Walking around plaza, Jeff remarks that this is the 2nd largest art market in America, and I respond, yes, but it’s a different kind of art, as we walk past a wooden assemblage of cartoon coyotes howling in the wind. We walk further into the plaza past a shop window full of ceramics and he says to me, "What about throwing pots?" I say, “I’d like to throw some pots into a Hummer’s windows.”

Larry Bell's Studio in Taos, NM

Wed. May 24, 2006

Larry is an elegant host. Optimism keeps things rolling – "Trust yourself and not your demons."

Larry is an inspiration and a lesson. The glass requires rigorous and scrupulous care and cleaning. The crew wear white lab coats and face masks. Everyone loves Larry. He is in the studio every morning til every night. He is focused and a disciplined hard worker. His words are truisms that walk the line between modern physics and contemporary art, “The angle of inference is always equal to the angle of reflection,” I can hear him say in his reflective tone. He doesn’t claim to have discovered these principles; he does however make them accessible, interesting, and beautiful.

The Cabin in Joshua Tree

Saturday May 20, 2006 Joshua Tree

The cabin is the perfect respite.
Sounds of machining, welding, shaping metal keep me company and I know there is creative energy buzzing in our little compound.

Baby rosy boa in Isaac’s house 2 nights ago…the night Tony and I spent looking at stars, talking about changing the world.

Silvery russet rose-silver clouds stretch long on the horizon.
Sundown fades light quickly bunnies hopping searching for scraps garden hose leaking water for them to drink.
2 bunnies meet on the desert patio.
I am finding peace in knowing that they come so close to me I must be emanating love.

Feeling the elements, heat, wind, nightfall, cold.
Being present – haven’t checked email since Wed. don’t miss it.
Haven’t talked to anyone on the phone either, only being present.
Enjoying conversations in person, eye contact.
Brown bunnies fade into rosy dusk haze.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Transition, ebb and flow

Organizing the subletting of my apartment, $1000 worth of maintenance to make my car road-worthy, and packing for a long road trip and subsequent stay out in the desert, becoming very aware of space and what it means to trade/change/move through spaces. The freedom of the road awaits. A rolling stone may gather no moss, but a stone that is still is hardly alive. To be involved in great change is to be a part of the process of life. Leaving, anticipating, approaching, entering, settling into, discovery, deepening, and then finally moving on again, and so it continues.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The World Is My Studio

It is the vastness of the desert landscape that makes a new artform seem undeniably possible. It's related to architecture and shaping space and the development of art forms that surround and become your environment. It guides the human experience within this structure which can be physical or conceptual. I realize it's my personality type that I must talk about, write about, and make art about my experiences as I have them. It's not enough to simply live an exciting life, no that would be too selfish. Experience in a vaccuum denies the interconnectivity of the human experience. The process must be documented and communicated. New York, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Sydney, Los Angeles, all offer a different flavor of cultural stimulation. Koh Phangan, my favorite remote tropical island in the Gulf of Thailand, the rugged coastline of California and Baja, pristine beaches of Costa Rica and 1000 tiny islands of Panama, present a different kind of natural stimulation. Seeing the Spiral Jetty, Sun Tunnels, The Gates, The Lightning Field, inspired a wholly different kind of interaction that hovered between nature and culture. Peering into the void and finding something simple yet profound, subtle yet unexpected.

Who says artwork has to be made in a studio? As a conceptual artist, I am conceiving of artwork in my mind at all times. It's a 24/7 running machine. Thanks to cyberspace communication is possible while working remotely. Physical location is no longer relevant. Leaving town does not mean leaving the scene, but rather broadening the definition of the scene. I neither proclaim to be the pioneering first nor the trendiest latest to leave the city for the mythic southwest. What I am doing differently is documenting my own process from the city to the desert in a long road trip punctuated by art destinations, with an end goal of a small one-room cabin in Joshua Tree rented for the rest of 2006. Traveling is not abandoning the work or the studio, it's simply claiming the whole world as my studio.

At the Onset of an Art Pilgrimage

Rather than objectifying art, and metaphorically oneself, by creating works of art recognizable in discrete 2, 3, or even 4 dimensional objects, the next step is to expand one's vision and work with space, environments and places. When art blurs the distinction between interior and exterior, we get to the place modern architecture has been trying to lead us for decades. Installation art is an attempt to take work off the walls, sculpture off the pedestals, and create environments that viewers can participate in and walk amongst.

This has been done in Hollywood for years in the form of movie sets and exists in landscape architecture of some highly elaborate gardens in history. Artists are again taking it outside. Noah Purifoy's desert museum is one of the greatest testaments to art that breathes fresh pure high desert air. The city has become claustrophobic, gas prices and traffic stifle movement and there is a staid monotony to the resultant hegemony when artists influence and re-influence one another in regurgitory and mutual adoration manner. If breathing and living are limiting how is inspiration possible in a high-density living situation? New York has become too saturated, molecular migration prohibited by lack of porosity, no where to move, run to, or hide. Los Angeles is developing a similar problem.

Minutiae clutter whole days, hours are lost to running errands and returning phone calls, our soul's energy is nickel and dimed til evening hours when we are left wondering where did the day go? Piles of reading that I have to do compete with piles of reading that I want to do. Quality of living in LA has become so expensive and exhausting that the laidback casual fun in the sun stereotype no longer applies. Who has time? Something drastic had to happen. Leaving LA to go on an art pilgrimmage to the desert seems like the only sane thing to do. I made a list of art destinations: Joshua Tree, Sedona, Santa Fe, Larry Bell's studio in Taos, Walter De Maria's Lightning Field in Quemado, The Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas - outlining an exploratory scouting expedition.

There are some things that I'm planning on seeing and things that I don't know yet that I'll find. I've called ahead to the Dia Foundation to schedule a day and night to stay at their cabin at the Lightning Field, advance reservations are de rigueur, and of course in the one-horse town of Marfa. ETA's are considerate to your hosts and for that reason only the trip is taking some form of itinerary. Aside from that I plan on a good road atlas and a cell phone as essential tools of the trade. There are a lot of unknowns and variables, one thing will lead to another and the trip will take shape organically.

The traditional studio model just doesn't seem to fit anymore, at least not in the city. I think better out there, the light, space and air are infinitely more inspirational, and I don't have to fight an uphill battle with the city just to maintain livelihood. I'm going out to scout sites to make art, to focus on my work and create new ideas and works with the unknown variables which I have yet to encounter but I feel are out there. I'm listening to my gut, it's something I've been wanting to do, and it feels right. My recent forays into the desert have left me yearning to go deeper.

Journeying into the Southwest region, there's something I will find out there. Possibly an inspiration for an as yet uncategorizable art form that can only come from the vast unknown and the void without and within. It's true, I don't need to go anywhere, you can find whatever you need inside yourself, and ultimately I believe all that. But open spaces and new air, new environments, produce new ideas. It's about the edge and getting really close to it, engaging in brinkmanship always with oneself and the way we relate to the world we live in. Learning, living, loving, growing, stretching. What else is there? And so the seeming paradox, if I knew what I would find, would I really need to go out there and look for it?

In NY, LA, Paris, Berlin, there are real distractions. In the desert, there is nothing but clarity. Maybe by going out there I'm spending enough time in solitude to face my demons. Maybe the city is the distraction and the escape.

"The hero's journey always begins with the call. One way or another, a guide must come to say, "Look, you're in Sleepy Land. Wake. Come on a trip. There is a whole aspect of your consciousness, your being, that's not been touched. So you're at home there? Well, there's not enough of you there. And so it starts. The call is to leave a certain social situation, move into your own loneliness and find the jewel, the center that's impossible to find when you're socially engaged. You are thrown off-center, and when you feel off-center, it's time to go.

This is the departure when the hero feels something has been lost and goes to find it. You are to cross the threshold into new life. When one thinks of some reason for not going or has fear and remains in society because it's safe, the results are radically different from what happens when one follows the call. If you refuse to go, then you are someone else's servant. When this refusal of the call happens, there is a kind of drying up, a sense of life lost. Everything in you knows that a required adventure has been refused. Anxieties build up. What you have refused to experience in a positive way, you will experience in a negative way.

If what you are following, however, is your own true adventure, if it is something appropriate to your deep spiritual need or readiness, then magical guides will appear to help you. Your adventure has to be coming right out of your own interior. If you are ready for it, then doors will open where there were no doors before, and where there would not be doors for anyone else. And you must have courage. It's the call to adventure, which means there is no security, there are no rules."

~ from Joseph Campbell's Reflections

Security is false. Ships are safe in the harbor. But that's not what ships were built for. Soldiers' fears disappear as they reach the warfront. Traveling is such a deep part of living for me. I don't think it means I'm running, I don't know, in many ways it still feels like a home and possessions are just anchors. I haven't been thinking of finance, I've been thinking of art and philosophy. Some people travel and some people stay put. Maybe in different parts of your life the same person can do both.

This trip feels very ambitious and obviously I also have deeply personal feelings about it as well. I feel torn. I see young artists developing relationships with young dealers and they've developed a style & a schtick. And yet I keep searching further and further outside of the scene. True, I return with widely ranging new inspiration and source material, yet they've created relationships and set programming. "What if I disappear off the radar?" is my big fear as I wander off into the I-10. And yet, if I stay, I don't feel satiated by the same scene that I know too well. Working in galleries while still an undergrad at UCLA, maybe I knew too much too soon and now I'm just not impressed with the same scene anymore. What is my overall vision? Do I know the answer and/or should I construct an easily palatable one to use for media and small talk purposes? I'm struck by so many questions as I begin to go out on this journey. It's exciting, and begs the documentation of the process itself.

What form will the new works take? Large-scale outdoor installations are seductive and indeed possible in the wide-open desert expanse. Origami cranes can fly through open space creating a path in a void. Painting is always a pleasurable, and easily accessible method of entrance and re-entrance. And beauty of course, never dies.