Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Creative Projects

Last week in Space, Land and Concept in Art of the American West, we critiqued the creative projects that were made in response to what we learned this semester. Below is a brief synopsis of the five students' artwork, a culmination of two months of study.



Dan Martens created a photo collage and video of "intriguing places where I haven't been and probably will not visit but am pleased to know that they exist.




Noelle Weigand built a circular frame and felted an abstract landscape, using porcupine quills to depict the movement and occupancy of Western Civilization.




Ashley Vandervelde produced 75 Attempts at Understanding the Spirit of Place by visiting a new location every day, documenting her experiences. From her artist statement: "A culmination of persistence, faith, and humility led me into some of the most familiar, yet unfamiliar territory. The mundane became interesting. The exciting was brought down to earth."



Nikki Stacey was inspired by Inuit whale bone carvings initially viewed at the Eiteljorg Museum and baked several heads made from homemade bread recipes. A highlight included eating a chunk at the beginning of critique (it tasted like cardboard).


Nicole Nikas painted a series of propaganda posters based on our readings in Lucy Lippard's Undermining and "the role of and affect of industry in the West; the numerous articles and discussion on Native American culture and the European influence on it; and the environmental impact our nation is having on the American West."

[All images by the artists.]

Jacinda Russell

Monday, April 20, 2015

Atoms, Aliens and the American West Now


MET 22 Kilotons, Nevada 1955

First, Noelle began a discussion of the article "Atomic Theatre," written by Kerry Brougher. We started off with the poem in the beginning of the article, and then moved on to the broadcasting of atomic detonations. A majority of our classmates were disturbed by how interested and captivated they were by the detonations, and we came to the conclusion that the broadcasting of the detonations was, "America flexing its muscles in the mirror." Death and war were both discussed to an extent, causing a majority of class members to become introspective and quiet rather than animated and willing to voice their opinions on the topic. We discussed the entertainment value and beautiful aesthetic of mushroom clouds, and our responses to them as a spectacle event. Also, we briefly talked about the atomic culture in movies.


Jean Tinguely, Study for an End of the World No. 1, September 22, 1961

Next, we began to discuss Jean Tinguely, a leader in kinetic art and self destroying machinery. The topic of self-construction and self-destruction was discussed thoroughly, which our classmates considered to be a way of understanding and coping with the atomic bomb. We discussed over exposure to gruesome and grotesque images and how we have become immune to their impact and effect. The class then viewed A Movie, by Bruce Connor, which in our opinions emotionally drained the class.




Richard Misrach, Desert Croquet, 1987

Alyson started her discussion with Otherwise Known as the Human Condition, a discussion of Richard Misrach and his photography of the west. The topic of landscapes and its effect on Misrach's work was discussed heavily. As artists, we talked about what draws us to landscapes as well as why artists feel compelled to visit nuclear test sites or bomb detonations. We decided that humans are curious beings, and the documentation of "secret places" is always something we are interested in doing. Containing the desert's emptiness and silence was also discussed. A lighthearted contemplation of the Imagination Station in Dooby's Vision helped brighten the mood of the heavy topics of bombs, death, and war.


Portrait of Peter Goin

Also, a majestic portrait of the handsome Peter Goin in a Hawaiian shirt brought laughter to the room and was compared to "everyone who teaches in the animation department." Peter Goin's article The Nuclear Past in the Landscape Present was the next topic of discussion. Past images of locations effected by nuclear testing were compared to more recent images of the same locations. We discussed the importance of preserving the images of atomic bomb testing, its impact on the landscape, and its role in history. The educational opportunities these images provide to teach children about our past, and where these images could be kept (museums, galleries, textbooks) to ensure they are never forgotten.

We did not have very much time to talk about aliens, so we thought it would be nice to provide the links suggested to us by our classmates for futher consideration.

The Aurora Texas Crash of 1897

The Aurora Cemetery

Ghost Particle

Ten credible mermaid sitings

UFO Found on Ocean Floor

Noelle Weigand and Alyson Walbridge

The Spectacles of the Spectacular West

Last week we talked about The West, Westerns, and American Character. With that we discussed Western legacy, and the journey of the west through popular culture. At the American West's beginning as a "myth and symbol," Thomas Cole's The Course of the Empire series "shows a civilization in balance with nature."


The paintings depict life in the Roman Empire, comparing the United States conquering of the west with Rome's conquering of Eurasia. The idea of the "American Hero" comes from a powerful nation that conquered the west. The idea of the "American Hero" tamed the land, the animals and the savage natives in order to set out and live his destiny. But Thomas Cole's idea of the West is one that, like the Roman Empire, inevitably reaches an "imbalanced relationship with nature" that leads to "decadence, decay, and death."


We then talked about Westerns and their place in American culture. In the book Six-Gun Mystique, John Cawelti states: "Westerns must have a certain kind of setting, a particular cast of characters, and follow a limited number of lines of action. A western that does not take place near the west, near the Frontier, at a point in history when social order and anarchy are in tension and that does not involve some form of pursuit, is simply not a Western."


In our discussion on Westerns, and the American Hero, we discussed how "American" can the "American Hero be if the most famous cowboy movies were made in Italy, with a European crew, and based off a Japanese movie that came out years prior. We then discussed what similarities the Samurai and the Cowboy have in common.

Afterwards, we added suggestions to our "Movies About the West" list (seen on the sidebar to the right).

The article, “Ruinopolis: Post-Imperial Theory and Learning from Las Vegas,”, discussed a post imperial idea of Las Vegas based on the building’s architectural design. To summarize the basic idea of the article and what it was trying to portray is a quote from the reading, The external world is symbolically swallowed up and brought home to Las Vegas. Bringing the world’s capitals, monuments and great buildings ‘back’ to the US and rescaling them to fit into a single city is a symbolic gesture of world domination—however ironic the gesture.”

Friedrich Ratzel was an important figure within the reading, he was the founder of political geography, he had idea about imperial geopolitics and capitalism which lent towards the article. He felt that Las Vegas was a “ruinopolis” and becoming the next Detroit, due to the progressive aging. Ratzel felt that as a population grows it requires a larger Lebensraum. That states will become tense and cause friction due to the growing. He also observed that the United States does not build items that last very long, that everything is appropriated and commodified, aiming towards profit maximization.

Due to bankruptcy and a pause in construction a new source of entertainment has grasped Las Vegas. Tourists can pay to drive excavators and bulldozers, moving basketballs and digging deep holes. We discussed in class if this was a “proper” use of the land or if it could be used for better things. Some felt that it was a great change from the crazy city of Las Vegas and others felt that it could be used to make more jobs instead of only employing 10 people at this attraction.


 The Dunes Hotel and Casino, 1950s

Casinos are a major attraction in Las Vegas, many of the newer casinos built during the 1950’s evoked a north or sub Saharan feel. Examples are the Desert inn, the Sands Casino, and the Algiers Hotel. We watched the destruction of the Dunes Hotel, as it was celebrated as it was blown up in front of thousands of viewers. We discussed that this would never happen due to 9/11.

The short book “Learning from Las Vegas” by Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour is an analysis of Las Vegas through the lens of symbolism and landscape. The text explains that it is a study of method, not context, which means that the reader should ignore the gimmicky, consumerist undertones of Las Vegas and absorb the place as a “place”. What this means is that the reader should see past the “marriage chapels, credit cards accepted” side of things and start noticing how the billboards create their own landscape within the city. The graphic sign in space has become the architecture of the landscape.

Emphasis is placed on directional space in the design and layout of the buildings, specifically on the strip. Las Vegas is spaced out (with distance between buildings and billboards) because it was designed to be “read” through the window of a moving vehicle. They are far apart so that they can be comprehended at high speeds. We discussed this in relation to the graphic quality of the signs and the buildings, as mentioned before. The book periodically shows diagrams that explain this connection. One example of this is “the big sign and the little building”, where the duck-shaped structure functions as the building and the sign. The symbolism and signs in Las Vegas are what gives it its character and if the signs are taken away then there is no “place”.

Grif Williams, Kyla Tighe and Nikki Stacey

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Space, Land, and Concept Not Only in the American West

Agnes Denes

Hungarian-born in 1931, Agnes Denes and her family relocated to the United States. She studied painting at Columbia University in New York. Denes spends a lot of time on the philosophy and concept behind her work. She is also interested in ecological and environmental concerns.

To set the stage, Kristina started off by listing just how accomplished Denes is as a woman artist. She has received many notable awards, fellowships, and grants. Through her drawings and prints, she explores her interest in mathematics, philosophy, geography, science and other disciplines.


Agnes Denes, Wheatfield--A Confrontation, 1982

The class spent time with her well-known piece, Wheatfield—A Confrontation, 1982, New York, New York. Wheatfield is a field of golden wheat on two acres of what would be prime real estate near Wall Street and the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. The growth and harvest of wheat brings ideas of the natural cycle of growth and regeneration.  The juxtaposition of wheat against a concrete landscape brought attention to national hunger and mismanagement of resources.

Agnes Denes, Wheatfield--A Confrontation, 1982

Maya Lin 

Maya Lin has created a number of intriguing, thought provoking, significant, and responsive pieces of art. Her influences, themes, and conceptual reasoning behind her earthworks include: environmental activism; concern for humans’ affect on nature; balancing opposites; using technology to reinvent an audiences’ way of viewing her art and thus the landscape around it; incorporating time in her work; creating an environment that can affect a person and make them think about the topic at hand. Her concepts are strong throughout her pieces, and this is one of the main reasons why I admire, connect with, and find interest in her work.

Lin with her design for the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial, Washington, DC, 1981

Unlike many other artists we’ve talked about thus far, Lin’s work is placed in urban, populated areas in which humans can readily interact with and get to fairly easily—considerably so when compared to Holt’s Sun Tunnels, for example. She creates work that makes us reconsider our environment, perhaps one that we are all too familiar with. But after seeing Lin’s art piece within the environment, we are able to come to a new conclusion about the land.

Maya Lin's Confluence Project

Some of Lin’s work combines historical evidence, environmental concerns, and draws attention to the balance of opposing themes. In her Confluence Project, she created many sites that used text from Louis & Clark’s exploration journals, Native American traditions and beliefs, and natural materials. She created a pier and basalt structure with engravings of Native America lore and Louis & Clark’s documentations. A second piece used old cedar driftwood pieces to create a kind of sanctuary setting while also highlighting Native American beliefs. A third piece of this project was a large wooden-slat suspended structure that incorporated wildlife facts from the explorers’ journals and recent scientific data about the species the two men discussed two hundred years ago when they charted the same area. Time, history, science, art, and activism are all essential to the reasoning behind the many pieces of wonderful work that Maya Lin creates for us, as viewers, to see, experience, explore, interact with, and react to.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude 

Christo and Jeanne-Claude were a married couple who worked together on environmental earthworks. They also shared the same birth date of June 13, 1935. The late (she died on November 18, 2009)


Jeanne-Claude took the more business manager, art dealer role, but was right there with Christo when creating these large earthworks. Growing up, Christo was exposed to the arts at an early age, including Russian theatre. This is important, because many art critics question if his work is related to theatre. The class agreed that maybe “theatre” is not the best word to describe his work, but “performance” seems more suited.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude, The Umbrellas, 1984-91

He’s early works are know for “wrapping,” but the one we spent the most time discussing was The Umbrellas, Japan-U.S.A., 1984-91. He usually includes the amount of time each project takes from idea to realization in the title of the works in order to put an emphasis on how much time and planning goes into each project.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude, The Umbrellas, 1984-91

Besides the grand scale of the pieces, another disguising factor in Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s work is that they fund the projects completely by themselves. They do not receive grants. They do not work with artist originations, such as the DIA that the class has encountered in the past. This allows Christo and Jeanne-Claude to work freely with their ideas, which shows in their realized projects. There is much discussion over how to categorize their work, conceptual art or environmental art? But what always prevails is that their work is a spectacle that gives people from around the world a reason to travel.

Nicole Nikas & Mikayla Carpenter

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Severe Drought in the West


Damon Winter, Golf course in the Sun City Palm Desert Community [image via]

Here is a fascinating story by Adam Nagourney, Jack Healy, and Nelson D. Schwartz outlining how California's severe drought could affect the state's growth and lifestyle. It is particularly relevant after reading about Las Vegas this week.

A highlight includes this passage: "Can Los Angeles continue to dominate as the country’s capital of entertainment and glamour, and Silicon Valley as the center of high tech, if people are forbidden to take a shower for more than five minutes and water bills become prohibitively expensive? Will tourists worry about coming? Will businesses continue their expansion in places like San Francisco and Venice?"


Damon Winter, A housing development in Cathedral City, near Palm Springs [image via]

Also see this link for information on the ground water crisis.