Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Dear Ed Ruscha,

My friend & collaborator Nancy Douthey and I recently completed an earthworks pilgrimage throughout the Western US. We spent three weeks traveling through Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas making art in response to the site-specific works we saw. In addition to being inspired by Robert Smithson, Nancy Holt, James Turrell, Michael Heizer, and Walter De Maria, we were also influenced by you.

How does Ed Ruscha fit into the genre of Earthworks? Much of our project deals with what lies "in between" - the landscape and the concept of "place" (literally as seen in the motels where we stay and figuratively as in our roles in each location). This is where your artwork makes its most prominent entry.

My main point in writing you is admittedly a little self-aggrandizing. If I may be so bold, I would like to invite you to take a look at our blog documenting the journey & our sources of inspiration (all to be developed into finished works of art in the immediate future).

At the following link, you will find that Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass became a study in swimming pools and fake doughnuts. Ideally I am searching for a large, fake, chocolate cake (in the style of Wayne Thiebaud) and plan on photographing that as soon as I find the perfect one. Nancy and I wanted to combine an object with the pool that was just as unlikely but less threatening.

Of particular interest is this link where Nancy and I spend our day at Bryce Canyon searching for you and eventually obtain your autograph. That remains one of our favorite projects of the entire trip and certainly opened my mind to exploring new avenues in the art making process.

Your artists’ books have always been an influence long before I catalogued Ian & Fredericka’s collection at Texas Gallery. Nancy and I are making a series of half a dozen booklets documenting the “in between” and publications like Thirty-four Parking Lots are certainly something that we aspire toward.

Although this has nothing to do with Nancy’s and my collaboration (but since this is my one time chance at telling you), your Untitled painting from 1986 of an elephant trudging up a hillside is my all time favorite work of art. I first saw it at your retrospective at the Fort Worth Modern and it continues to haunt me to this day.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and for being such an inspiration for both of us.


J. Russell & N. Douthey

Thursday, July 23, 2009

ART 21 on Conservation and Spiral Jetty

Check out this article.

Of particular interest is Francesca Esmay explaining how contemporary documentary photographs are made to monitor the Jetty: "To photo-document Spiral Jetty, we used a tethered helium balloon about 8-10 feet in diameter, attached to a digital camera that would take an image every few seconds until the camera’s memory card filled up. Each of us let out string from a spool and sent the balloon up anywhere from 50 to 600 meters, depending on what we were trying to capture and other factors such as wind and amount of helium to give lift."

Here is one image with more available to see on the link above.

Esmay also explains that horrendous roped off area we were wondering about during our visit:

"There have been unfortunate examples of visitors being insensitive. We recently had a college art professor who invited their students to make an interpretive artwork at the site. They cast a concrete pad and erected a viewing station with a didactic sign pointing towards the Jetty. It is sort of unimaginable to me that someone could be so insensitive, but we do not have oversight on location, so it is impossible to supervise visitors while they are there."

Tyler Green posts new information on the threats to Spiral Jetty this week as well.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Earthworks Diorama Take 2

[Hannah contemplating mathematics & scale]

The diorama is huge! Hannah and I had plans on working on it throughout the next few months on her sun porch. WRONG! It won't even fit in the front door = should have seen that one coming. Chet has an idea to rig a pulley system in the woodshop that will elevate it out of the way when we aren't working on it. So here are the sides that will be firmly attached when we are all back to work on it in the woodshop/sculpture area at the end of August. I predict a group photograph with all of us inside.

[Hannah inside the diorama & Chet's hands holding it together]

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Food Shark - Marfa, Texas

I just found this commercial for the Food Shark in Marfa after trying to find a link to post with the photograph below (how cool is the Food Shark? This is the change I received after purchasing my Marfalafel).

Of special interest, Takako Tanabe provides the vocals (she works at Chinati and assisted us with our self-guided tour).

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Earth Art in the News

Check out Sarah S. King's article "The Earth Sublime" in this month's Art in America. King provides a synopsis of LAND/ART New Mexico which will "explore relationships of land, art, and community through exhibitions, site-specific art works, lectures, and a culminating book."

One of the most interesting pieces is Bill Gilbert's Matter of Fact: Walk to Work in which he walks for three days from the Galisteo Basin to the University of New Mexico. The website describes that he walks "along a path that parallels the commute to work he has made for the past 20 years. Following as straight a line as the topography and legalities allow..."

which of course reminds me of Richard Long's Ten Mile Walk, England, 1968.

Art of the Great Eastern Sun: Chogyam Trungpa Style

I wanted to post this passage Mark read to us the day we visited Chinati. Certain aspects of our project were indeed met with trepidation. I was very nervous the week leading up to our departure yet once we were on our way, I questioned why I possibly could have doubted. Working with Nancy has allowed me to be a little fearless, to approach the way I create art from a very new perspective, and not stop to question but just BE. Mark wrote, "Thank you for expressing what needs to be expressed" as the subject line when he typed this passage and emailed it to me. Thank you Mark for your support and believing in all those ideas including the Jonald Dudd pool jump that hasn't quite happened.

[It's almost the size of these dumpster pools in NYC. I'll avoid mentioning the potential filth factor with both of them.]

Art of the Great Eastern Sun. “The three principles of Great, East, and Sun have specific meanings. Great means having some kind of strength, energy, and power. That is, we are not fearful or regretful in presenting our expressions or our works of art—or for that matter, in our way of being. That power is absolutely fearless. If we were cowardly, we would have a problem in trying to handle an object, or even thinking of touching it or arranging it, much less in arranging our life or our world. We would be afraid to do any of that. So the absence of that fear is fearlessness, which develops out of delight. We are so delighted that we spontaneously develop that kind of strength and energy. Then we can move freely around our world without trying to change it particularly, but just expressing what needs to be expressed or uncovering what needs to be uncovered by means of our art.”—Chogyam Trungpa, The Essential Chogyam Trungpa.

McDonald Observatory & Rebecca Solnit's "Excavating the Sky"

This entry is for the evening we spent at McDonald Observatory in Ft. Davis, Texas watching the International Space Station fly by at 18,000 MPH, or perhaps for the meteorite Nancy saw but Mark and I missed that illuminated half the sky, or for the "twinkling" of the airplanes, or for Jupiter and it's four moons that I could have cupped in my palm they were so diminutive in the microscope. Maybe it's for Saturn and it's barely visible rings or for staying later than 90% of the crowd to watch the waning moon rise. Mainly it's for the memory of seeing a night sky so unbelievably clear that I haven't witnessed since lying in the middle of Excelsior Road at midnight on Stewart Island, New Zealand looking at the Southern Cross.

Rebecca Solnit is one of my favorite authors who writes about the Western landscape, the influences of photography, and Richard Misrach who had a profound impact on me my first semester of graduate school. Here are two of his photographs: Jupiter at Massacre Lake and Polaris Over Lake Meade and below a few highlights from Solnit's "Excavating the Sky."

"Stars are made of flaming gases, but constellations are made of stories. Stars are the things themselves, constellations the way we connect those things to each other and ourselves through words, names, stories. Every culture has read constellations into the night sky, perhaps because we remember things and beings by their names; and calling people, places, things by name is how we establish a relationship to them at best, claim them as property at worst. Constellations connect the stars to each other, but in a way that no longer speaks of stars but of animals, goddesses and heroes. Constellations are an essential metaphorical construct - or one might say that metaphor is an art of making constellations, of constellating."

"Seven stars slightly west of due north conjoined make something wholly different than stars, a dipper and the dipper makes the sky navigable - but it also makes the sky offer up a metaphysical drink and a recognizable earthly object. Runaway slaves called the constellation "the drinking gourd" and followed it north. Farther west, the Zuni also saw it as a drinking gourd, but the Hopi saw it as a 'star thrower,' the Northern Paiute and Western Shoshone as a rabbit net, the Chumash as seven boys who became wild geese, the Isleta Pueblo as a cradle, and the Tohono O'odham as a cactus-gathering hook. The same stars make up entirely different maps."

"Clouds drift, stars rotate, and sometimes the shortest distance between two places leaves out the most important sites."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thanks Frederick Barthelme!

One interesting facet that has come from this blog is learning that other artists do indeed google search themselves and visit websites such as this (Whew! I am not alone in this potentially narcissistic activity). Recently, my student Shannon posted an entry about her trip to Niagara citing Alec Soth as an inspiration and he sent her an email in response (by the way Alec, if you happen to read this, thanks for introducing me to the concept of "Googlegangers" - a term I've used often in the past couple years). In addition, Frederick Barthelme found our blog and declared the Spiral Jelly sentiments as "sweet" which made my day somewhere in the middle of Utah when Nancy and I first learned about it.

Nancy made a video about peanut butter and Spiral Jetty - an ode to Frederick Barthelme in a sense. There aren't any stills from it as of yet so here is the first thing that came up in a google search when typing in "peanut butter spoonful." I cannot quite bring myself to interact with peanut butter on any level after making that video so maybe one day in the far future, I will replace this one with an image of my own.

The mere fact that people I admire and refer to on this blog may actually find themselves here one day, interests me greatly. So just in case one particular artist does not, I've decided to write him and inform him that he inspired us on multiple occasions over the past few weeks. Why not publish one more "artist fan letter" after the James Turrell fiasco? This road trip has taught me that I don't have much to lose so I should go for it...

Soon.... Dear Ed Ruscha,

(not Perry AKA Ed Rowlands as Ed Ruscha).

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Earthworks Polaroids

Nancy had 12 Polaroids left and we were unable to locate any more film before or during the trip (predictably so though hoping small town Walgreens would still have some on the shelves). We only had one opportunity to capture the earthwork and the "vacation" photograph in front of it. There weren't any other options as this is what we have whether it's Nancy's moustache falling off and me grimacing at the mosquito biting my hand at Sun Tunnels, sideburns barely visible at Amarillo Ramp or we are squinting into the sun and can barely see a thing at Double Negative. This is the last of the Polaroids - a dying photographic form not too disimilar to the earthworks left to disintegrate in the elements.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Packing, Cameras, Photographs...

As I contemplate unpacking (which incidentally takes ten times as long as packing), I am reminded of the question Mark asked me in Marfa. Was there anything that Nancy and I brought that we did not use? Since we had an entire library (albeit condensed), nine cameras, and "performance gear" which we ended up using for the most part, this is a legitimate question.

The one thing that I never mentioned that is my greatest tragedy (I am possibly still in denial) is that I bought a carry-on suitcase to haul two cameras - my Canon 5-D took up half the space and the Pentax 6x7 and 22 rolls of film took up the other half. I took a couple practice rolls with the latter and knew that it was in working order before leaving. UNFORTUNATELY, the very first photograph I took of the Spiral Jetty, the shutter stayed open permanently. My big plan on taking photographs and developing/printing the film to look aged so far beyond the 1960s was foiled.

The camera resided in the suitcase the whole trip and it wasn't until I watched security tear open every single roll of medium format film in the El Paso airport, did I realize how much of a loss that was. After the fact, I realized that Nancy and I were so busy spending 1.5 - 21 hours at each location, it seemed insurmountable to also include this task. Honestly I don't regret it too much - if anything, I learned that I take far better photographs of landscapes when there are objects and people interacting with them. The images I would have taken on the 6x7 would not have included that, which is why I can convince myself that it isn't too large of a loss. [I do realize that I could have found a camera store along the way but I could not imagine the series minus Spiral Jetty and there was no time in our schedule to return].

We did return a little lighter (though I don't know if Nancy's 73 pound suitcase fits that category) by shipping the nesting boxes and a large parcel full of most of the outfits and objects collected.

Tip #002: Flat rate shipping works great for sending back dozens of rocks from the Bonneville Salt Flats. Highly recommended!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

You know it was a successful trip when there were...

This is not the end...

We survived! It wasn't until eating dinner at a chain restaurant in Amarillo did we realize that we did indeed see all we set out to do these last three weeks. Last year Nancy and I decided to make our own residency and do something that neither one of us would do on our own. Check this off the "Before I Die List!" We feel a great sense of accomplishment. Now that our trip is coming to a close, we also can't help but feel melancholy. While driving from Marfa to El Paso today, we inventoried everything we've done and realize that we have months of work to complete ahead. As we wrote a week before starting this journey, this blog does not end with the trip. We will continue to hash out ideas and see where we can take the artwork we create from this project. In many ways, I feel our work has just begun. This is the beginning of something far bigger than the act of taking this road trip. We will not be writing daily but will continue this blog with periodic updates. We have Polaroids to scan, maps and photographs to print, videos to edit, objects, artist's booklets, and text pieces to make. This is indeed the never ending search for the center and all that falls between. Thanks for joining the ride... it's not over yet.

Nancy & Jacinda at Balmorhea State Park, Texas

Saturday, July 11, 2009


Thinking of Ed Ruscha's nine swimming pools and a broken glass, we went for swimming in pools and dreaming of donuts.

Photographs from the Dan Flavin Installation at Chinati

Blue Bear Performance Stills at Chinati

Final Burial at Chinati

I have intentionally not revealed anything about the objects that were buried at each earthwork, preferring to keep silent on the issue. I planned one object for each space hoping they would reveal themselves as to which one would be buried where. One did not feel right the night before and the thought kept nagging at me as I was digging the hole. After the photo shoot, I unearthed it and brought it to Marfa and buried it near this location with only these two photographs to show. Nancy filmed a video which will be included with the series later. This was the hardest one - the object I was least willing to let go but now that they are all gone, there is relief in knowing that I left them all in a very memorable place.

Videos at Chinati Foundation

No more guided tours. We have the keys!! Thanks Fredericka, Rob and Takako!

Sound recording of door slamming in Artillery Shed 1.

Sound Recording in Artillery Shed 1.

Readings: Carl Andre

Chinati Foundation - Marfa, Texas

As far as we are concerned, the best way to view Donald Judd's work is in both of the Artillery Sheds on the grounds of Chinati. The reflections of the outdoors (including the concrete sculptures in the distance) make this experience unforgettable. The sculptures themselves are amazing but the sound of the space is nearly as powerful - from doors slamming, to voices reverberating, to the scuffing of our feet across the floor.

Our favorite John Chamberlain sculpture (besides the couch) in the Chamberlain Building downtown. Thanks self-guided tour!!!

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Best Part of the Thunderbird Hotel, Marfa, Texas

9 feet deep with a shelf on the deep end to sit on and no one in sight the two times Mark, Nancy, and I went swimming in this 97 degree West Texas weather. One of the best parts is rising out of the water seeing the ocotillos that surround the perimeter reaching toward the blue sky. Tomorrow we are shooting for three separate swimming pool jumps- morning, afternoon and evening. Fake doughnuts will be involved.

(What do you know... we've acquired a tan).


For anyone looking for this installation, the exact location is nowhere near the outskirts of Marfa. It can be found two miles West of Valentine, Texas on Highway 90 about 37 miles west of Marfa.

When we arrived, we were surprised to find an outline of rocks around the building holding down business cards. Some looked like they had been there for several months or years, deteriorating in the elements. We decided to finally use our business cards, a handwritten, simple light blue card with our blog address and names.

Expecting the interior to be lit, we returned six hours later. We had seen images of the store glowing from within and wanted to see it in the darkness of the Marfa night. Again our researched information came up short; the store was nowhere to be found in the middle of the night as it stood camouflaged in the dark. It wasn't the night-light we had seen in photographs.

Upon our arrival we quickly noticed, as we went to photograph our business card on the left side of the building, that it was gone along with all the other cards that had been there that afternoon at 4:00. It seemed tragic in that brief moment of discovery but seconds later we turned away from the store just in time to witness the moonrise on the Northeast horizon. This unexpected moment ultimately became the thing that we drove out there to see.