Dear James Turrell,
I have thought long and hard about how to compose this letter over the past few days. The fact that your address was acquired illicitly makes me believe that I should tell only the truth (leaving my co-conspirator to reveal how she obtained it if she deems appropriate).
Like many people, I have dreamed of making the artistic pilgrimage across the West beginning with Spiral Jetty in Utah and ending at Amarillo Ramp in Texas. Last summer while standing in Robert Morris’s Untitled Reclamation Project in Kent, Washington, I decided that it must happen and the sooner the better. Four summers before while ascending Spiral Hill above Broken Circle in Emmen, The Netherlands I had that same urge, but life passing and brutally changing in the years between, shoved that thought aside. Last year my dear friend and artistic collaborator, Nancy Douthey, and I decided that this would be the summer we would complete the journey.
Over the past few months, Nancy and I have brainstormed several ideas on how to visit Roden Crater. “Plan A2”, as it is now known, was to show up in a white truck, dressed as construction workers with a Styrofoam cooler of beer as a bribe. There was a lot of debate between ice cold beer vs. ice tea and we finally decided on both. Plan B features calling a pilot in Sedona who would fly a banner over the crater and your house asking permission to visit. We could be included in the flight for $300 and though that is a bit steep for our budget, we considered it. Plan C involves writing you a personal check for an exorbitant amount of money, knowing full well that it would bounce if cashed. Plan D involved perusing a satellite photograph of the crater and all the Forest Service Roads in the immediate vicinity with my stepfather who has a vast collection of Geological Survey maps. He outlined what he thought would be a good trek away from the main road. I don’t feel comfortable with Plan D but thought I would investigate anyway.
I have endlessly researched how other people have obtained access. I even emailed Suzaan Boettger, author of Earthworks: Art and the Landscape of the 1960s and asked for her advice. A couple of my acquaintances at the Center for Creative Photogrpahy were involved in a legitimate tour through the Museum of Northern Arizona. I heard about a group of high school students getting in, friends of your children, and so on. I have also read the appalling accounts of people sneaking in to find closed doors and leaving footprints all over the carefully combed interior. I am not interested in repeating the latter.
This weekend it dawned on me that Plan A1 should have been to simply ask. I imagine you have heard every plea and excuse under the sun to entice you to allow entrance into Roden Crater; how the experience will transform people’s lives if they could only see it. Part of me wants to tell you that and to express how profound every visit I’ve ever had to a Skyspace has been. On the opposite end, you are the only artist whose work I have ever viewed that has physically made me ill (the Pleiades at the Mattress Factory induced nausea). I want to tell you about two small details that occurred while immersed in the Skyspace at the Friends Meeting House or The Light Inside (both of which I visited regularly while living in Houston) but I realize I am falling into the same category of all the other people that must contact you and request permission.
Nancy and I have emailed the Skystone Foundation but am hoping that direct contact with you will prove to be more helpful. I cannot offer much in return except a promise to abide by any restrictions you may have as to what is published about this visit. I realize that I am not asking months in advance either and for that I apologize. We would be open to the 29th or 30th of June or the 1st July 2009 if at all possible.
Thank you, Mr. Turrell, for considering our request.
J. Russell & N. Douthey