Philadelphia's Magic Gardens

As a New Yorker, I have to admit that neighboring northeastern cities were never something I deeply yearned to visit nor places that most of my friends recommended to travel too. So, though I only live a two hour drive away from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the only time I ever visited that city was for a brief college tour when I was seventeen. Aside from the campuses I saw, I really don't remember much about the city. More recently, a friend suggested we visit Philly, a city she happened to grow up just outside of, for the 4th of July - where coincidentally the events that lead to the creation of the holiday took place. I was down to go. I was eager to leave New York for a little while and a destination so convenient to get to and new to me seemed like a good option...and it was.

There are many amazing things to do and see in Philadelphia, but what struck me the most was the amount of interesting and uniquely creative street art along its infamous South Street. At any random corner you might find something the city's residents referred to as a "mosaic bomb" - a mural crafted of several hand-made tiles and glittering mirrors. They make Philadelphia's streets a lot more interesting and beautiful in such a distinct way. These tiled murals reminded me in some way of the mosaic architecture of Antoni Gaudi found throughout Barcelona, Spain. And like Gaudi, the artist behind these mosaic bombs left his city an entire, impossible to replicate, building crafted in the same way as his murals. This place is known in Philadelphia as The Magic Gardens.

According to the destination's mission statement, "Philadelphia's Magic Gardens (PMG) inspires creativity and community engagement by educating the public about folk, mosaic, and visionary art. PMG preserves, interprets, and provides access to Isaiah Zagar's unique mosaic art environment and his public murals." From floor to ceiling, the space is entirely crafted by the artist, Isaiah Zagar's, beautiful mosaic art. It's unlike anything I've ever seen before with the sparkling mirrors and hand-made tiles weaving beautifully into boldly colored glass bottles, bicycle wheels and folk art statues. In addition to serving as an inspiration hub of Zagar's work, the space also houses an art gallery that features similarly colorful work of other artists. 

I truthfully could've spent the entire day there and still felt that I had not soaked in enough of the amazingness this place holds. Even more incredible then the space itself is the amount of time and dedication it took to build it. Starting in 1994, Isaiah Zagar spent fourteen years excavating tunnels and grottos, sculpting multi-layered walls, and tiling and grouting the 3,000 square foot space. To give that much of your life to a project that is entirely an expression of you is beyond admirable; even more so when you closely inspect the level of detail involved in every square inch of the Magic Gardens. Both its beauty and what it took to create it are extremely powerful and inspiring.

You can learn more about Isaiah Zagar and Philadelphia's Magic Gardens on the organization's website here. If you're ever in Philadelphia, I highly recommend a visit to this incredible place. 

 

Yoko Ono's One Woman Show

In 1971, Yoko Ono announced a solo exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art—a one-woman show that she mockingly titled Museum Of Modern (F)art. However, when visitors arrived at the Museum there was barely any evidence of Ono's work. Outside of the Museum's entrance, a man wore a sandwich board affirming that Ono had released a horde of flies and that the public was invited to follow their flight within the Museum and across the city. What's evident now is that Yoko Ono was way ahead of her time. 

Fast forward over 40 years later and the Museum of Modern Art proudly announces 82-year-old Yoko Ono's One Woman Show, an exhibition whose title is inspired by that of her original unauthorized exhibit at the museum. The show brings together approximately 125 of her early objects, works on paper, installations, performances, audio recordings, and films, alongside rarely seen archival materials. This is the first exhibition at MoMA dedicated exclusively to the artist’s work. Yoko Ono: One Woman Show, 1960–1971 is organized by Christophe Cherix, The Robert Lehman Foundation Chief Curator of Drawings and Prints; and Klaus Biesenbach, Chief Curator at Large, MoMA, and Director, MoMA PS1; with Francesca Wilmott, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Drawings and Prints.

I had the opportunity to preview the exhibition and attend an informative press conference surrounding it before it's official opening. As someone who honestly did not pay much attention to Ono's work before or during her marriage to John Lennon, I have to say I was in great surprise of her artistic capabilities and the ways in which her mind functions to develop works through a variety of mediums and creative pursuits. Walking through the exhibition, which is curated in chronological order, I felt somewhat proud of Ono. A woman who was brilliant and legendary in her own right, was clearly overshadowed by the art her famous husband produced, finally had the spotlight on her at age 82. This is not to say that Lennon did not have a strong influence in her work, because he did and vice versa, but Ono's creativity ultimately wasn't all related to her relationship with Lennon and this exhibition makes that more clear.

The first section of the exhibition focuses on Ono's Chamber Street Loft Series (December 1960- June 1961). At that time Ono had rented out a loft, located on the top floor of a building at 112 Chambers Street in Downtown Manhattan. Originally intended to be used as a studio, it also became a space to present new music and ideas, unlike any other venue in the area at the time. She transformed the dull aesthetic of the grey walled and low ceiling space by creating make-shift furniture out of discarded crates and borrowing a friend's baby grand piano. In those six months, Yoko Ono and composer, La Monte Young produced numerous events that featured artists, dancers, musicians, and composers. Several works combined music, performance, and visual art blurring the distinctions between the mediums, something Ono continued on to do throughout her artistic career. These events were successful in their reach. On most nights, there were as many as 200 guests, including famous figures in the art world such as Marcel Duchamp, Peggy Guggenheim, Jasper Johns, John Cage, and Robert Rauschenberg. The rarely seen programs and archival photographs from the events at the Chambers Street Loft are on display in Yoko Ono's One Woman Show

After the end of her Chambers Street Loft series and her first solo show at AG Gallery in Manhattan's Upper East Side (July 1961), Ono continued to extend her reach as an artist and her creativity in a variety of mediums and concepts. She flew back to Japan in 1962, where she produced a variety of interactive works now on display at her One Woman Show. Pieces include a poem rightfully titled, Touch Poem #5, which encourages viewers to touch a hairy book of Ono's poems. 

In another gallery, performance facilitators are in the galleries during select hours to aid visitors in performing Ono's iconic Bag Piece (1964), which consists of visitors entering into a cloth bag, becoming completely enveloped. This work premiered for the first time in Kyoto in the summer of 1964, at the same concert in which she premiered Cut Piece. Also on view in the exhibition are photographs taken by George Maciunas of Ono's performance of Bag Piece in the Perpetual Fluxfest in new York in June 1965.

Assembled in the following gallery, which seems to be the focal point of the exhibit, are several works inspired by the sky, including To See the Sky (2015), a new work created by Ono specifically for the MoMA exhibition. The sky is a central and recurring subject in Ono's work. Her fascination with it dates back to her childhood memories of being displaced from Tokyo during World War II and finding safety in the countryside.

"That's when I fell in love with the sky," remembers Ono. "Even when everything was falling apart around me, the sky was always there for me...I can never give up on life as long as the sky is there."

Continuing through the exhibition, it's clear that as an artist, Ono's work relies heavily on viewer participation or imagination to complete her artworks. This becomes evident in pieces from her 1966 solo exhibition in at Indica Gallery in London, some of which are on display in the MoMA exhibition. Add Color Painting (1961/1966) and Painting to Hammer a Nail (1961/1966) require a viewer's intervention, whereas Apple (1966)(seen at the exhibition's entrance) comprises of a solitary fruit, devoid f the artist's hand beyond its placement on a Plexiglas pedestal affixed with a brass plaque. The night before the show opened, John Lennon stopped by the gallery. Moved by Ono and her artistic concepts, he was the first person to sign the exhibition guest book, including his middle name, Winston, and his home address. In the years that followed, Ono worked in close collaboration with Lennon, producing films, initiating global peace campaigns, and launching the Plastic Ono Band.

The Museum of Modern Art doesn't fail to mention the musical efforts of Ono. The exhibition includes an audio room dedicated to the music that Ono produced with the Plastic Ono Band. Around 1968, Ono decided to create a band "that would never exist...that didn't have a set number of members...that could accommodate anyone who wanted to play with it." The name of the band was inspired by a piece John Lennon created in response to Ono's idea - a small three-dimensional work composed primarily of transparent plastic objects. Although conceptually Plastic Ono Band had no members, in practice it had a flexible lineup. For a performance at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival Festival in 1969, the band consisted of Yoko Ono, John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Klaus Voormann, and Alan White. The band continued releasing records through the mid-1970s. In 2009, Ono revived Plastic Ono Band with her son, Sean Lennon.

Overall the exhibition left me feeling quite a bit. I was immensely impressed by Yoko Ono's artistic capability and the concepts derived from it for works such as Touch Poem #5, Apple and Cut Piece. I loved her push on utilizing imagination, which as adults I think we often neglect, and her pursuit of so many different mediums such as film, writing, photography, music and sculpture. Along with the use of various mediums, I also appreciated Ono's ability to fuse them. She was for so many years, as this MoMA exhibition brings to light, a brilliant and often overlooked artist. 


The exhibition is on view at the Museum of Modern Art from May 17–September 7, 2015. Don't miss it!


THE BEST OF SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST

South by Southwest has already come and gone, but I'm still very much lingering in the wonderful memories I made in Austin that week. It was my first time ever attending the widely talked about music festival and I can confidently say, it will definitely not be my last. South by Southwest provided all kinds of adventure. I had the great opportunity to savor in the best chicken and waffles I've ever had the pleasure of devouring (shoutout to Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill). I visited an array of cool, quirky bars and music venues around downtown Austin (my favorite was Stay Gold). And if all that wasn't awesome enough, I got some good hang time in with my best girl, Nicole. Though of course, what really made the South by Southwest experience an inimitable one was the incredible roster of entertainers, both established and still emerging, who came to perform. There was never a time of day where you couldn't see or hear music. It was such a delight to be able to watch so many artists perform live and for some, even spend time getting to know personally. It was a trip I'll likely never forget. So, in South By Southwest 2015's lively memory I created a playlist that celebrates some of the amazing music I had the absolute pleasure of discovering there. Subscribe to it on Spotify here

DAY XXI • THE ARTISTS PLAYGROUND

October 3rd, 2013

5:00pm - El Cosmico Campground, Marfa, Texas

Why exhibit your artwork in a small and crowded gallery space when you can present it on acres of open land instead? The obvious answer is the access to people. Collectors, dealers, and scholars are all abundant in major cities like New York. So, if you’re able to showcase your pieces in a gallery there, then you’re more likely to make a bigger impact on the industry. Though, if you’re already famous enough, you might be able to pull off a destination art installation. Well known land artists like Robert Smithson, Nancy Holt, and Walter de Maria have all proved that taking the risk of presenting a work of art in distant isolation is often rewarded with great critical acclaim and a long lasting statement. Together, these influential artists created the Land Art movement that surfaced towards the end of the 1960s. Their campaign served to link the natural earth with art works, which were presented in various landscapes around the world.

In the early 1970s, artist Donald Judd followed suit with his contemporaries and escaped the hustle and bustle of New York in favor of barren land in southwest Texas. Initially attracted to the clean and empty deserts of the area, he found solace in a peaceful environment far away from the hectic life he led in Manhattan. What started as an occasional retreat soon became his permanent residence and Judd eventually settled into a rented house in Marfa, Texas. With growing admiration for the area, he started to purchase more of its land and vacant buildings, including a 60,000 acre ranch known then as the Ayala de Chinati. Initially developed by Judd and the Dia Foundation, today the ranch has transformed into a private art museum run by what became the Chinati Foundation. Earlier today, we had the chance to take a guided tour through its galleries, gain some insight into the mind of Donald Judd and hear a bit about what life is really like in Marfa, Texas.

Chinati can be best described as a Disneyland for artists, which with its building’s basic architecture isn’t easily apparent until you explore the grand property. Prior to Judd’s purchasing it, the Ayala de Chinati was an abandoned United States Army base. The former base is filled with many simple looking buildings that feature subtle yet very unique attributes- a line of U shaped buildings with gardens filling the space between their curves, massive one floor units with round silver roofs, and more. But what’s really special about these many buildings is what’s to be found inside them. Once Judd’s residency began, he invited artists from around the world to come and contribute their creativity to the property. In this massive space, the possibilities seemed endless and the results varied dramatically. Specifically, the line of U shaped buildings held some of the most interesting artistic concepts.

The first six U shaped buildings were gifted to minimalist artist Dan Flavin, who’s famous for his installations made out of fluorescent lights. To our amusement, these buildings housed the same type of sculptures Flavin became well known for. Using only four neon colors- pink, orange, blue and green, Flavin utilized the connecting spaces in the linear U shaped buildings to create a series of vividly lit tunnels. Each building featured a different color combination and set up that evoked a variety of patterns against the interior’s white walls. At first, the buildings were fun to go through, but after the first three they became a bit predictable and redundant. Although I appreciate minimal art, I kept imagining alternative uses for the buildings that housed Flavin’s sculptures. I’m sure at night, these neon structures are more powerful. It would be amazing to host an event in these clean white spaces, with only Flavin’s bright colors decorating the space. In a way, they reminded me of the lights in Times Square- so busy, so bright, so tacky, but in the best way possible. Here, they were presented as works of art hidden in a large gallery space. It was an interesting concept, one that seemed both misplaced, but just right at the same time.

The end of Flavin’s series of works were clear when a U shaped building with an unkempt garden appeared next in line. In place of Flavin’s neatly trimmed grass and trees was a mess of weeds, broken branches, wild vines and more. Our tour guide assured us inside would not be much different. This space held the creative vision of Russian artist Ilya Kabakov, who designed it with the intention of it looking like an abandoned school house of the former Soviet Union. These walls were not clean and white like Flavin’s, but instead were painted bright blue- chipping, cracked and old. Broken desks appeared turned over; there was dust everywhere, and papers and vintage toys littered the creaky floors. Not being able to read Russian, most of us did not understand the majority of it. What we could comprehend came from the few black and white images and what looked like child drawn paintings. A schoolhouse that may have been strict and tidy before was now lost and forgotten. Had it been in the location it meant to historically represent, this space could have very easily fooled many into thinking it once served as a school rather than an international installation prepared by an artist. I thought it was brilliant. It could’ve been part of a Russian history museum; instead, it was a message left by Kabakov for art aficionados visiting Marfa, Texas

Moving on from the U shaped buildings, we visited a much larger space, with tall ceilings and round silver roof, filled with the works of Donald Judd. These works were an untitled series of 100 aluminum boxes. From a distance, these boxes all looked similar, but a closer look allowed you to notice that they are all different. How Judd could come up with 100 variations of a sculpture is beyond what I could fathom, but I found its simplicity to be grand and beautiful. We visited this building once in the morning and will be back for sunset. Like the other Land Art works we’ve visited, Matteo and Alex promised a different view on the works when the sun was fading at the end of the day. If they were this amazing now, I can’t imagine how they’ll look at sunset.

The property held so many different buildings, featured a great variety of artists and creative mediums; it was such an amazing experience to have the opportunity to view Chinati. As our tour guide finished taking us from building to building, she extended us an invitation to stop by her own art studio. She told us that she and her husband decided to move to Marfa for the inspiration it provided and the support artists had here, but what puzzled me about it all was the statement she made on the amenities available in this small town. “It’s seven hours to the closest hospital,” she repeated after receiving a surprised look from the crowd. Seven hours? That’s a huge health risk for the love of art. It made me wonder what else Marfa has in store for us. With so many works of art and artists in residence here, it must be something special.

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Photography Credit: Matt Firpo

Matt Firpo is a passionate film maker and co-founder of Vanguard Ltd. Vanguard Ltd. is a full-service creative firm. With offices in New York and London, they specialize in commercial, fashion, and narrative projects worldwide. Founded by a team of award-winning filmmakers and visual artists, Vanguard Ltd. provides a handcrafted, boutique production experience for every client.

Originally published on Promote & Preserve

DAY XX • GAS STATIONS & PRADA STORES

Monday, October 2nd, 2013

3:23pm - On the Road from Roswell, New Mexico, to Marfa, Texas

Something I’ve come to find surprisingly interesting while on the road are the numerous pit stops we’ve made at different service terminals. What’s so exciting about a gas station, you might ask? Don’t they all look the same? You would definitely think that, but you’d be wrong. They are not all the same, and like every piece of art that we admire, the beauty of a gas station lies in its details. Although these edifices serve to supply gasoline, what you are also guaranteed to come across is an accompanying convenience store. This store often sells snacks, cigarettes, and other regalia you might need for long drives. In many gas stations you might also find souvenirs like postcards and key chains that celebrate the area’s culture. That aspect of the many stops we’ve made has amused me. I’ve found it to be very telling of the area that we’re in. For instance, in Utah what first caught my attention was the price of cigarettes. At only four dollars a pack, they were nearly three times less than the average price of the same brand sold in New York. That alone allowed me to understand that the cost of living here was far less than the big and bustling city I hailed from. It helped me see that Utah was a land of miles and miles of innocent, beautiful nothingness and not of materialism.

In Arizona, the most prominent aspect of their gas stations was the amount of Native American made accessories for sale. Everything from dream catchers to turquoise jewelry was clearly visible in almost every station we happened upon. What’s more intriguing is that these items were sold in a way that seemed to trap tourists; I personally fell for it. I bought a pair of earrings and a variety of bracelets for an exaggerated price. I mean, what gas station sells $35 dollar earrings? They seemed worth it to me, especially if they were helping the Native Americans living in the area. From what I saw and heard in Arizona, that ethnic group was consistently subjected to racism and was undervalued as a result. One night while at a bar in Page, Arizona, a member of the group had intruded a high school reunion in which the guests were playing a game of “Cigarettes and Secrets,” a pastime which involved smoking outside while talking about things you were ashamed to make public in any other circumstance. The most common secrets related to Native American people, specifically sleeping with them. Apparently, it was very much frowned upon to have a relationship with someone of Native American descent in Arizona. This sentiment wasn’t at all surprising after observing the way in which Native American items were segregated from the rest in Arizona service stations.

Now that we’ve stopped in Texas, I can already deduce what they may value here. The first thing that caught my attention was the barbeque restaurant attached to the gas station. As I walked into the store, a large man exited while stuffing his mouth with a heap of juicy brisket. With his blissful facial expressions, some of the Land Art members soon followed his lead. Taking a nibble from a friend’s portion I was amazed at how delicious gas station brisket could be. However, I decided to further venture into the shop in search of a healthier snack. Walking by rows of large cowboy hats and the greatest, most diverse display of beef jerky I have ever seen, I quickly believed the large sign that greeted us when we first arrived in Texas. Everything really is bigger here.

11:07pm - El Cosmico, Marfa, Texas

We caught Elmgreen and Dragset’s sculpture, Prada Marfa, right as the sun was beginning to set. Sitting at our new campsite and reflecting, I can definitely say that this piece has felt the most relatable to me. The sculpture, meant to look like an exact model of a Prada store, is installed in yellow grass and tumbleweed. Going with the popular Land Art theme of isolation, the sculpture is surrounded by nothing but open space. What you see is a Prada store, on the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere. At first, it doesn’t really make sense, but the more time you spend considering it, the more you understand the meaning behind the piece. Likewise, only two days after leaving New York Fashion Week in heels, I was camping in receptionless Utah in leggings and a Patagonia pullover. I was in disbelief; it didn’t feel right and my friends couldn’t imagine it. I felt just like a Prada store, left barren in the rural southwest. Now three weeks into the Land Art Road Trip, I feel like I belong to this group much more than I did when I was initially thrown into it, as I’m sure this sculpture feels to Texas residents who’ve lived alongside it for the past eight years.

Very recently, the state of Texas attempted to knock down Elmgreen and Dragset’s most well known work. Claiming the piece is an illegal advertisement, the government believes it should never have been installed back in 2005. Without considering its purpose, someone might think that. But with time and proper education, it’s clear that the Prada Marfa provokes intelligent thought on pop culture in America- specifically the role materialism and brand names have in it. A Prada store does not fit here. This land serves as a peaceful, natural environment, not to be distracted by merchandising. American consumerism, however, is taking over our country. Money is our nation’s prime concern. What was once open land a century ago may now very well be a shopping mall. We value business and we ruin our environment by letting it replace what’s natural. It’s a difficult concept to see in New York, but here in southwest Texas it’s apparent. That’s the point of Elmgreen and Dragset’s work. How far are we going as a culture before we replace everything that is supposed to be here with more, unnecessary retail locations?

The Prada Marfa is important and its role is to show its visitors the plight of American consumerism and materialism. This is something visualized right outside of Marfa, but something I’ve personally experienced throughout the duration of this epic trip. Aside from my relationships, the things I value most are all material. Although I love fashion and will never cease to, I would never want it to take the place of nature. Clothing is replaceable and easy to obtain. Rivers, trees, grass and wildlife are not. Dear Texas, please don’t knock down the Prada Marfa. It’s an important piece that is illustrating exactly what your state has dreadfully become.

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Photography Credit: Matt Firpo

Matt Firpo is a passionate film maker and co-founder of Vanguard Ltd. Vanguard Ltd. is a full-service creative firm. With offices in New York and London, they specialize in commercial, fashion, and narrative projects worldwide. Founded by a team of award-winning filmmakers and visual artists, Vanguard Ltd. provides a handcrafted, boutique production experience for every client.

Originally published on Promote & Preserve

DAY XIX • GOVERNMENT SHUT DOWNS & ALIEN INVASIONS

Sunday, October 1st, 2013

Land Art - Journal Entry No. 12

10:37pm - Bottomless Lake State Park, New Mexico

The government shut down, and American citizens are both laughing and livid. How could elected politicians disagree so much that they can’t make a decision based on the greater good of the people? Now their inability to get along is affecting millions. Hundreds of thousands of government employees are not in office because they’re not getting paid to be there, which means that seemingly less necessary areas of their purview, like national parks, are closed for the time being. Unfortunately, that includes New Mexico’s White Sands, which we were scheduled to see today and- to our dismay- no longer can. We’re all really bummed about it. This was one of my most anticipated stops and one of the few I was aware of before hearing of the Land Art Road Trip. I’ve seen beautiful photographs of the area online, which promises gorgeous mounds of white sand that perfectly contrast against bright blue New Mexico skies. Luckily, with the leadership of Alex and Matteo, along with a team of educated creatives aboard, we were able to come up with an interesting alternative.  

Instead of visiting the White Sands, we found another attraction that the government had absolutely no power over: the small, yet well known town of Roswell, New Mexico. Roswell first came to prominence in the late 1940’s when an airborne unidentified object crashed into one of the town’s ranches. This small incident resulted in a massive amount of press, a variety of theories, and a great deal of national attention. The most outstanding speculation about the event is that the object was a spacecraft containing extraterrestrial life (yes, aliens!). Although there has been a lot of evidence disproving that notion, this conspicuous belief quickly became the small, middle of nowhere town’s claim to fame. Throughout the decades, it has spawned television shows, movies, documentaries and most of all a new tourist interest in Roswell. To this day, Roswell remains obsessed with aliens and nearly its entire economy is dependent on that little, over exaggerated occurrence.

It’s weird. It’s comical. It’s almost desperate. Roswell is made up of numerous alien themed gift shops that sell all kinds of UFO paraphernalia: t-shirts, key chains, stuffed animals, mousepads and more. Even the local liquor store offers a few varieties of alien beers and wines made right in town. There’s so many interesting spots throughout Roswell. However, our main point of interest was its renowned UFO Museum, which guaranteed an explanation of the spacecraft crash and alien spotting. For a good laugh and out of general curiosity in the town’s obsession, we entered the brightly painted building. The museum’s entrance alone alluded to what we should expect. Life size, hand painted alien cut outs were placed throughout; a cranky sales girl sat at the ticket desk. “There are no student discounts here,” she grumbled when one of our members presented his ID. Of course there isn’t. This museum has nothing to do with the government’s education system, so why should it offer its clientele a discount on entry?

The museum was basically one large space with a giant diorama bordered by a series of partitions at its center. Basically, the entire thing looked like it was created by an 8th grade class. The funniest portion of the museum, the diorama, was comprised of a few alien models standing in front of a crashed, disk-like space shuttle. According to Adam Brochstein, who had been to the museum before, there was usually fog that accompanied the piece. When he asked the ticket girl about it she whined, “Um, it’s broken.” Yet, Adam saw that it wasn’t actually broken; the power cord was just disconnected. The ticket girl could care less.

Walking through the series of partitions was just as intriguing. Each one showcased a different piece of “evidence” behind the UFO crash. This included a wall of artistic renderings of the occurrence, which basically looked like a bunch of children’s drawings. Another wall had all of the newspaper clippings from the date of the happening, which were more interesting than they were comical. Each wall just had bits of supporting documents tacked on in a very simple, elementary way; to be honest, a few of them did look legitimate. All in all, it was difficult to decipher if the UFO Museum was a gigantic joke, a fool’s tourist trap, or a real attempt at proving that what happened at Roswell was real. Needless to say, we enjoyed it and many of us bought alien inspired souvenirs to commemorate the experience.

Luckily, despite the government shut down, Matteo and Alex were able to find us a suitable camp site for this evening at the Bottomless Lake State Park. Aside from the mosquitos, it’s been a pleasurable camping experience so far. There’s a small lake where a few of the artists have gone for a dip, the Austrian DJs are free to bump their music as loud as they desire too, a warm fire is blazing, and in tradition of today’s events one of the group’s videographers is playing around with a drone. The smell of the mushroom risotto Evie cooked earlier tonight has lingered on to provide us with a delicious aroma. Everyone’s relaxing and having a good time. As I write this at the picnic table by the fire, Alex Getty and Alex Gerson are having a conversation on how this trip has changed them. Gerson, a known cellphone addict, has admitted to feeling free without technology. Getty is in agreement and now I feel it necessary to interject my own thoughts and gratitude. Writing my thoughts in this Moleskine as opposed to my Facebook, Twitter, or e-mail has been a blessing and I love this group for making the best out of situations. Even the government can’t stop us.

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Photography Credit: Adam Joseph Brochstein 

Adam loves eating five cheeseburgers a week. To be honest, sometimes its more. It's a fairly terrifying sight. But he only enjoys a cheeseburger after he makes pictures. That comes first. He completed his B.F.A. at the Art Institute of Boston. He now resides in San Francisco, CA where he recently completed his M.F.A. in photography at the California College of the Arts. He formerly lived in Boston, MA where he relocated from south of theMasonDixon line, by way of Boulder, CO. Adam is available for editorial & commercial work and is actively pursuing his personal work as well.

Originally published on Promote & Preserve

DAY XVIII • ON THE ROAD WITH GEOFFREY OWEN MILLER

“How can I celebrate him? I took it on myself to do everything that he should have done in this world, I tried to carry that a little bit myself. That’s when I took on his name as my middle name.”

— Geoffrey Owen Miller, Multidisciplinary Artist

Monday, September 30th, 2013

On the Road: Journal Entry No. 5

Santa Fe to White Sands, New Mexico

Although the majority of Land Art Road Trip participants started the journey together in Salt Lake City, there were a good number of artists who joined later on in the trip. I’m not sure exactly how that difference may have altered their experiences, but I did notice that forming the connections that majority of us had quickly established may have been a bit more difficult for those who came later. This is understandable considering most already felt a bond with someone after camping without any amenities in the middle of nowhere. That experience is very different from when you are just driving out from a lush airport to meet those who had participated in the aforementioned activity. Of course, the newer members eventually settled in to the Gerson Zevi family. If you could hang in a fly filled van for a while without complaining, you were golden. Yet some made more memorable entrances into the group then the others; one of those instances was the night that Geoffrey Owen Miller met the group.

Geoffrey joined us at the Apache National Forest in New Mexico, arriving late due to his full-time job out in New York City. Calm and collected, he initially made a quiet entry into the group until the day turned to dusk. For reasons unknown, Geoffrey made the bold decision to camp out on the roof of one of the two trailers. This might not seem odd knowing that some artists slept beside, inside, or on top of some of the Land Art works we had visited, but this was different. Despite warnings that he might “freeze his ass off,” Geoffrey stuck it out. Entranced by the stars and wooded surroundings he seemed to care less about the frigid temperatures. That was the interesting thing about Geoffrey; if something seemed to interest him, he dove right into it.  

In a way that is unique to Geoffrey, his passion is apparent as soon as you first speak to him. He always seems to have an encyclopedia of information stored in the event that there is a perfect time to share it. That may come from being both an avid learner and also a professional teacher. His knowledge of art comes from a wealth experiences and a deep interest in educating himself in the field. The opportunity to explore the South West, an area he had already been a bit familiarized with both from growing up in New Mexico and reading on the artists’ work we were traveling too, meant the world to him. Despite his commitments in New York, he made the time to get out here and the group was incredibly happy that he did. With a smile always on his face, Geoffrey exudes a certain kind of positivity that makes you believe that everything is perfect and nothing can go wrong. Yet, after sitting down and speaking to him about his work and the experiences that have inspired it I learned that the person he presents to the world is so much braver than his seemingly confident exterior suggests.

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Q + A W/ GEOFFREY OWEN MILLER

MULTIDISCIPLINARY ARTIST - NEW YORK, NY

Sarah Mendelsohn: Well, I saw on your CV that you have been doing this for a really long time.

Geoffrey Miller: (laughs) I’m the oldest person in the group. Mentally, maybe not.

SM: You went to college for art, right?

GM: Basically, I had gone to college not knowing what I wanted to do and I ended up getting the chance to live in Spain. So, I went there, made some friends and when I came back I changed my major to Spanish so I could go back on purpose. I studied Spanish, finished a Spanish degree and was going to graduate and it was right about then that I found out that my brother ran away from home and committed suicide. Then I basically just stayed in school so that I could do a second major. I did illustration, painting, graphic design- everything that had to do with visual communication. In my mind, if I was going to take this seriously I wanted to really explore the physical side of it as much as possible; the undergrad school I was in was excellent at this aspect. Then I could go to grad school and think about the history and the context. So that’s what I tried to do.

SM: So, after your brother passed away, is that what you did to express yourself, to deal with what happened?

GM: Yeah. I made a bunch of really terrible pieces of work that were sort of supposed to deal with that issue. It’s cathartic, it makes you feel better to have something that expresses that. I was tasked with designing his grave stone. That was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. For a job you want to get right, that was just one of those jobs where you don’t want to think about how you didn’t do a good job.

“That was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. For a job you want to get right, that was just one of those jobs where you don’t want to think about how you didn’t do a good job.”

SM: Is that something you decided you wanted to do or were you asked to do it?

GM: Since I was the creative one in the family, they asked me if I wanted to do it and I felt like it fell to me. That was my task. Being his brother, I was the closest one to him in the family. We ended up doing something that I thought was really brilliant in a way. We just took his name, we scanned it from one of his signatures and they lazer cut it into the stone. When you see the stone, you just see his signature and it has so much of his character. He was such a great kid, so smart and funny. That personality comes through.

SM: That’s very sweet that you did that for him. So you decided to make that your major in school after all of that happened?

GM: Yeah, I have wrestled with suicide myself and that’s why it was always surprising that he was the one that went through with it. We always thought that he was the one who had his shit together. I thought I could die for whatever reasons or I could do something meaningful with this time. Also, how can I celebrate him? I took it on myself to do everything that he should have done in this world, I tried to carry that a little bit myself. That’s when I took on his name as my middle name. When I was born, I had that name. I had two middle names because my parents liked those names and when he was born he took that name. So, I took that name back on, thinking of him being a part of me now.

SM: So after you received your art degree and left college, what did you do?

GM: When I finished undergrad in California, I knew that I wanted to live on the East coast. Having lived in Spain, I understood that you receive so much education just from being somewhere else. The little things that other people do, the decisions they make and the way they see the world is so informative; I knew that I needed to live on the opposite side of the country to see how people thought about things there. I ended up in upstate New York because of a girlfriend at the time, living in a small town north of the city and just working odd jobs. I installed drywall one day, transported materials the next day, whatever I happened to get. They always talk about freelance as being this happy go lucky job, but it’s just stressful and you never know when you’re going to get paid. 

“Having lived in Spain, I understood that you receive so much education just from being somewhere else. The little things that other people do, the decisions they make and the way they see the world is so informative; I knew that I needed to live on the opposite side of the country to see how people thought about things there.”

Around that time, I started substitute teaching at the elementary, middle school and high school over there. One day it would be elementary art and the next day it was middle school PE. I was all over the place. It was really interesting because you get a sense of all the grade groups. You go from sweet, but totally clueless elementary school kids to out of control middle schoolers to high schoolers who are starting to understand the world a little bit, but still don’t quite understand what they’re doing for their own benefit. It was really interesting. Through that, a Spanish teaching job opened up. The Spanish teacher got pregnant and they couldn’t find a substitute that they liked better than me, so they ended up hiring me full time for that semester. I ended up teaching three different classes, all sorts of kids, everything from freshmen with disabilities to seniors that were getting college credit. They wanted me to keep going, but that spring I got accepted to graduate school and I started to get back into art.

l did that and was in Massachusetts for three years. When I finished, I ended up back in the city, freelancing and working at a Turkish restaurant. You know, I’m not very good at selling myself. I was never like, “Oh yeah, I can do anything!” I was more like, “Okay, yeah, I think I can do it.” But it fed me for a few months and I had a job, where many of my peers who had got out of school at the same time were having difficulty finding them. It was a shitty job, but one none the less.

SM: Yeah, you seemed to graduate at the wrong time. The start of the recession was tough.

GM: Yeah, it didn’t last long, though. I soon began working for an artist as an assistant. That was really educational. I don’t know if I want to say who he was because I just have bad things to say about him. The thing is, you realize what desperation does and you also realize that New York really functions off of people using other people. I said I’d work for him for five bucks an hour.

“The thing is, you realize what desperation does and you also realize that New York really functions off of people using other people.”

SM: Oh my god, but you can’t live in New York on that much.

GM: No, but it was experience and I was trying to get something going. The truth is when you’re working really hard for somebody, you can get other jobs really easily. So that did get me other jobs at wood shops and other things like that, but I think badly of it because I did so much hard work for him and he was so ungrateful in the end. It soured that relationship. At the time, I was proud to have helped him on his projects.

SM: Did you learn a lot from that experience regardless?

GM: I learned about the personalities that operate in the art world and how they get as far as they do. There’s a lot of things about him that I didn’t like, but he had a very strong personality. He was really good at making people feel appreciated when he wanted something and I saw that first hand. It’s not something I learned from as if I could do that, because it feels very antithetical to my character, but I got a bit more of an understanding on how that functions.

SM: What happened after you fell out of that?

GM: It got worse and worse over a period of years and then during that time I started working for another artist that the first artist actually mocked. This artist made his work out of Legos and he took it very seriously. It’s kind of ridiculous.

SM: That sounds really cool, though.

GM: Oh, it was amazing and I learned a lot from that job. I learned organization. I learned how to deal with people and having managerial skills. This guy came from designing software for the Lehman brothers and started this small business designing these large scale Lego sculptures. He did everything from inventory to the building to the sculptural process and the iteration of long term planning and time sheets; he gravitated towards computer designing later on when his work became more complex. It was a fantastic experience. I left it to teach again and I’m kind of sad about it. It was one of the most flexible jobs I’ve ever had. He was very understanding about taking time off for other things.

SM: So now you’re balancing teaching and doing your art work.

GM: Yes, now I’m working two part time jobs. The thing that’s difficult about teaching is that it’s hard to put boundaries on your time because you could always do more and spend more time on each of the children. They deserve as much as you can give, especially the ones that are receptive. Some you kind of clash with, but the sweet ones, especially the younger kids, you want to give them all you can so that they can be as good as they can be.

“The thing that’s difficult about teaching is that it’s hard to put boundaries on your time because you could always do more and spend more time on each of the children. They deserve as much as you can give, especially the ones that are receptive. You want to give them all you can so that they can be as good as they can be.”

SM: So now you’re balancing teaching and doing your art work.

GM: Yes, now I’m working two part time jobs. The thing that’s difficult about teaching is that it’s hard to put boundaries on your time because you could always do more and spend more time on each of the children. They deserve as much as you can give, especially the ones that are receptive. Some you kind of clash with, but the sweet ones, especially the younger kids, you want to give them all you can so that they can be as good as they can be.

SM: I want to talk about your work. You’re a painter. That is your medium, right?

GM: I’ve started doing sculpture, actually. I haven’t put it online because I’m not sure of how to present it yet. In the last year, I’ve done a lot of sculpture. I’ve done box-like structures out of wood and I’ve gone back into that, using different forms of chemistry to play with the age of objects. It’s something that water colors have made me think about, this idea of the accumulation of time. It’s very appropriate on this Land Art trip because you drive through New Mexico and Arizona and you see all the strata. That’s something that’s sort of burned into my head: the way that you’re driving through time. There’s history in the land and the way that it sort of builds into these physical sculptures. Erosion and accumulation is what creates present day land.

SM: Why did you decide to make the transition from 2D to 3D?

GM: Partially, it’s nervousness about trying to understand the medium I was working in. I thought I was an oil painter and that’s because oil paint is a fantastic medium. It’s super flexible and there’s this great tradition. For me to understand something, sometimes I need to look at something else in order to compare it. Often when I’m working on one project I get stuck and I need to do something else. I don’t know why I started playing with 3D things, but one thing kind of leads to another and sometimes it gets totally excessive and I’m playing with something that’s just totally random. Like, I was growing crystals this summer. I don’t even remember how I got there, but I had a lot of fun doing it.

SM: Are you going to present that work? Those sculptures?

GM: Yes, but sculpture is harder to place and deal with. So, most of the time when people come to look at my work, they’ll look at it and they’ll like it, but it’s so much easier for people to look at and accept 2D work. It’s something I’m going to continue doing until it gets to a point where I think I can’t. I’ve been playing with plaster, wood and found objects a little bit and also casting. I taught printmaking and the idea of multiples, the way that they’re similar, but different and so casting is another form of that that’s just natural. I also worked for Allan McCollum for a little bit and he did the plaster surrogates. I think he’s really intelligent in the way that he mines culture and finds these interesting things; that sort of thing of how one thing bridges to another has always been interesting to me. When I first experienced his work in undergrad, I didn’t like it. When I came to understand it, it became some of my favorite work. To get to work for him was such a treat; he’s such a sweet man.

SM: That’s really cool. So sculpture is what you’re currently working on?

GM: No, that’s the thing- I jump from thing to thing. I was in a residency this summer in France and I did some watercolors and washes that will go with these large scale paintings that sort of use the docs I’ve been using, that language and create these forms that are like crystals. I had this experience with this Michael Heizer piece at the Dia Foundation, Beacon and it really resounded with me in a way that I was able to translate into this very colorful, pop-like painting. I think it will receive a lot of attention. At the same time, I’m working on implementing this system with these modules and this idea of multi-panel paintings that aren’t painted with a plan previously. Sounds like a rhyme, ha. They’re assembled later so it’s more about chance. It’s the accumulation of error to a point where it comes together into something that unites. It goes in line with the way life functions. They look sort of like cells in some ways. At the very beginning, they were based on eyes with the idea that eyes are the window into a person’s mind. I’m thinking about making them into these quilts and I’m really excited about it. It’s just about finding the time to make a bunch of bad ones so some good ones come out.

SM: So you seem to be inspired by a variety of things. I heard you once say something about video games giving you an artistic idea.

GM: Yeah, all over the place. I worked with this guy, Shane Campbell, on developing a video game. He also influenced me to work on these large scale narrative paintings of Moby Dick because he was also working on narrative paintings. He’s an artist I really respect and I’ve worked with him since I was in undergrad.

SM: You’ve done a lot of work with other artists and also by yourself. Do you like collaborating?

GM: I do with the right artists. When I work on projects with others, I tend to struggle in the beginning. Even with the Lego jobs, after I had done three or four of them I had no idea of how I was going to get to the end. I was just overwhelmed. Somehow, you get to a point where all a sudden it just starts clicking and it’s this amazing sensation of creating something.

SM: Do you plan to ever pursue your career as an artist full time and leave teaching behind?

GM: I’m just trying to buy myself more time to work. You live such a short amount of time. I just had a great conversation with this fabulous artist named Oliver Herring and he was desperate to not waste time on frivolous things. We really don’t have that much time to work. The difficult thing for me is that you learn so much from every event that happens in your life and then it gets integrated into your being. It’s like Ernest Hemingway could only write his novels because he was living life as Ernest Hemingway. So, at what point do you say no to things in order to work, to be a Producer? At what point do you say yes and grow and learn from something?

“The difficult thing for me is that you learn so much from every event that happens in your life and then it gets integrated into your being. It’s like Ernest Hemingway could only write his novels because he was living life as Ernest Hemingway. So, at what point do you say no to things in order to work, to be a Producer? At what point do you say yes and grow and learn from something?”

SM: So you must really like residencies then.

GM: They’re new to me, but yeah. The last one was fantastic and my ideal situation is to surround myself with people who feel that pressure of needing to do something, but at the same time want interaction. Some people aren’t accepting of that. If you’re not totally present with them because you’re distracted by something they don’t have the same understanding sometimes. I’ve lost friends that way, which is really sad.

SM: What have you taken from this opportunity thus far?

GM: The land art works that I’ve gotten to see, you don’t really understand until you get to see them. That benefits me as an artist to see them and also as a teacher to be able to talk about them. It’s entirely different experience than to read about it. Also, having conversations with the people here is very fruitful. I’ve started to have more deep conversations with people about the world and how they personally operate and what they’re hoping to accomplish. To talk to other people in your professional stage and to hear about what they’re doing is priceless in a lot of ways. There’s no other source; I mean I guess you could read about it in interviews like this, but they’re often edited for certain reasons.

SM: Your words won’t be altered, by the way. 

GM: It’s like you want to be heard by people. You want to be paid attention to, but at the same time there’s something so comforting about anonymity. I don’t know. Like I said, I’m just trying to figure out how to buy time to make work. Some people feel like you can just get a normal job and do it on your own and that’s enough, but there’s a social component that’s important to me where I want enough of myself that’s public so I can attract or be attracted to people with similar ideas and then focus on the work. I’m not an artist that tweets or Instagrams everything. I use those things very infrequently, but I do want to find other creatives. I think those mediums are great for interacting with people of like minds, and I think that’s one of the beauties of this world.

“It’s like you want to be heard by people. You want to be paid attention to, but at the same time there’s something so comforting about anonymity.”

SM: That’s a hard thing to transition into, though. You’re old enough where ten years ago, people didn’t Facebook everything. That’s an entirely new medium to every industry, including art. Today, people equate having a ton of Facebook likes to being established. You’re old enough where you were pursuing a career in the art industry where that didn’t exist yet. Has social media becoming so prominent in everything that it’s become difficult for you at all?

GM: I’m not a fish in water with it where it just feels totally natural and it automatically feeds me. If I get a like or two, I think, “Oh, that’s great.” That’s the thing about being an artist; you have to do everything at some point. The famous people, if they know what they’re doing, they’re in control of everything. That’s part of our world. Some people can make it a thing to not be about the internet, but I’m certainly not mysterious enough to do that.

SM: You are a bit mysterious, though. You have this cool, easy going vibe about you. Then I sat down and talked to you and you laid down some real shit. Another question unrelated to that though, I know you teach Spanish and you lived in Spain for a little bit- are you inspired by that culture at all?

GM: I could talk for hours about every body of work; it’s almost excessive. There’s a quick thing where I relate two experiences in Spain directly. One was living in Cordoba, Spain; they had this tile work, these beautiful patterns. They’re not depicting anything, they’re just patterns describing the beauty of god and nature. Looking at that was different for me because I come from the western tradition where depictions of things are very prominent either in the religious iconography or the commercial iconography. So, that was really wonderful. Then there was also being in the subway in Madrid. You would stand in this curved, dome tunnel and on the side walls they would have the advertisements like they would in New York. The difference was at the time they were using printers that were made for billboards that should be seen at a distance. The pixels were very enlarged, whereas with printing, the pixels should be smaller if you’re looking from a small distance. So if you looked from across the station, you could see them perfectly, but if you stood right next to them they just disintegrated into these patterns made of light and color. I was really amazed in the ways that those things came together to form information, a message, content, images and things like that. It happens again and again in our culture. Morse code was created by Samuel Morse, an artist who lost his wife because she couldn’t receive information in time. He worked with an engineer and they created this system where you divide language by dots and dashes. When you put those together, you get messages. It’s incredible how these multiples developed into a whole depending on the certain code that you’re using. I was really interested in how visual language worked, from computer graphics, to bronze casting to traditional life painting and color theory. My imagery went from figurative to more and more abstract, from objective to non-objective. How do you communicate information? If you want to be a great artist you have to be able to evoke at so many levels. That question just became an interest in itself, what it takes to make meaning.

“I was really interested in how visual language worked, from computer graphics, to bronze casting to traditional life painting and color theory. My imagery went from figurative to more and more abstract, from objective to non-objective. How do you communicate information? If you want to be a great artist you have to be able to evoke at so many levels.”

SM: One last question for you. Has there been any experience or event on this trip that has inspired you the most or made you feel something you hadn’t before?

GM: I feel like every day there has been something incredible to hold on too. Just that pilgrimage to the Lightning Field and seeing that life happening around it. In some ways, the Lightning Field was almost as special to me as finding those prehistoric animals living in a mud pond at the base of it. That really reminded me of how that’s always been something in my life that’s been incredibly important, being able to share with the people around me the beauty and the strangeness of not only the poles in this field, but the creatures that are living there.

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Working increasingly in the vernacular of abstraction, Geoffrey Owen Miller works in varying materials, including oil, watercolor, wood, and plaster. Works are project-based and take shape depending on the necessities of each idea's ideal form.

Originally published on Promote & Preserve

DAY XVII • WHY YOU SHOULD MOVE TO SANTA FE

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

Land Art - Journal Entry No. 11

11:36pm - Motel 6, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Yesterday, after nearly a week of camping at the Apache National Forest, we finally left the depths of rural New Mexico to head back into civilization. There were a few stops made along the way, including a snack break in Pie Town, a short visit to the Windmill Museum, and an in depth information session at the Very Large Array. Not only did these breaks make the long commute to Santa Fe enjoyable, but they also provided an interesting outlook on the state of New Mexico. Our first stop in Pietown was only a few miles away from where we took off. Throughout our time in Quemado, many locals strongly suggested that we pay a visit to the neighboring town’s most well known dessert shop, The Pie-O-Neer. As the name obviously suggests, Pietown was established after word spread of the area’s delicious pies. As more people became aware, more pie shops began to populate the little town; soon after, an annual Pie Festival, comprised of numerous related events, activities, and of course, a pie baking competition followed. Although we missed that festival by a few weeks deciding to drop by one of the best pie shops in the area gave us an unbelievably delicious taste of what Pietown stands for. The Pie-O-Neer’s friendly staff was happy and ready to serve us a great variety of warm, mouth watering pies. My personal favorite was a unique apple jalapeño pie. The interesting combination sent my taste buds on a delightful ride that was equal parts sweet and spicy. It was an eating experience I will never forget; with a mother and brother with a passion for cooking, I knew my family of self proclaimed foodies would appreciate a place like this. Like most of my colleagues, I opted to buy postcards at the adorable shop and mail them to my family. I wished more than anything that I could have them there with me, but if they weren’t able to enjoy the pie I was having, at least they might smile knowing that I thought of them while savoring it.

Further into our drive, we visited a different space that promised what Matteo called “The Very Large Array.” This part of New Mexico looked straight out of a western film. There was nothing but grass for miles and miles and the most beautiful, open road I have yet to see. After driving on that road for a while, we suddenly came across hundreds of large, white satellites. This happened to be the Very Large Array we were promised. As soon as we noticed them, we made the next right turn onto a narrow, dirt road leading to the VLA’s information center. We learned that these strategically placed machines are used to detect outside life (yes, aliens!) and that the government selected this land for its quiet isolation and dry atmosphere; an environment we’ve become accustomed to, as many Land Artists are attracted to it for the exhibition of their works. We were in the middle of nowhere again, but as of late, I’ve found it increasingly interesting to see the many different utilizations of these landscapes. They make me wonder why more people haven’t settled out here. These vast, barren locations are the best for unlimited creativity and discovery. We’ve viewed the work of many artists, scientists and other talented individuals who’ve succeeded in presenting their projects here. With all of this potential, why haven’t more people taken advantage of this seemingly unlimited available space?

After considering that notion and the many different things we saw on the way, I was excited to finally arrive in Santa Fe. Admittedly, I didn’t know much about the city other than from a reference made in a beloved Broadway musical. In the musical-turned-film,Rent, the main characters all struggle to keep their heads above water in New York’s expensive economy and its effect on their Alphabet City neighborhood. In one scene, they begin to sing “Santa Fe,” a song on leaving their miseries behind in New York to open a financially prosperous restaurant in the sunny Southwestern city. One of my favorite verses is the opening of the song where a college professor sings, Well, I'm thwarted by a metaphysic puzzle and I'm sick of grading papers that I know. I'm shouting in my sleep, I need a muzzle. And all this misery pays no salary, so let's open up a restaurant in Santa Fe. Oh, sunny Santa Fe would be nice. Let's open up a restaurant in Santa Fe and leave this to the roaches and mice. As I hummed the tune in the van, I would soon realize that these lyrics would become a thought I would have myself. But how can a true New Yorker really consider leaving the Big Apple to go south? Well, when you visit Santa Fe, the appeal makes much more sense.

This morning, we got to see the city in daylight. It had all of the beautiful attributes of the Southwest- buildings made of the red sandstone we had seen in the Valley of Fire State Park, cultural influences of the cowboys, Native Americans, and South Americans, blissful sunshine, and perfectly warm temperatures. Another thing that added to the city’s beauty was a strong art presence. Not only are the music filled streets decorated in boldly painted skulls and animal bones, but there are art galleries and museums everywhere. After a great breakfast at the Tune Up Cafe, which also housed a few Georgia O’Keeffe inspired murals, we passed  many different galleries on the way to our first museum stop, which happened to contain her works. Georgia O’Keeffe became a prominent artist in New York City at the beginning of the 20th century. Later on in her career, she relocated to Santa Fe where she lived and worked until her death in the 1980’s. O’Keeffe is recognized as the mother of American modernism with her famous large scale works of enlarged flower blossoms. It was clear, both from the small museum which housed some of her more abstract pieces and personal photographs, that her influence in this community was great.

What struck me the most about our visit to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum was a quote by the artist plastered on the wall at the museum’s entrance. It read:

“Where I was born and where and how I lived is unimportant. It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of interest.”

— Georgia O’Keeffe, American Visual Artist

These two sentences made me think about New York and how so many of my peers decide to live there only to work uninspired jobs just to pay the rent. Granted, in New York you can make the right connections to succeed in whatever path you chose, but people easily lose that in favor of financial prosperity. Georgia O’Keeffe made a name for herself in New York, but she made a legend for herself in Santa Fe. What she had done in this city is admirable, and considering Rent’s song “Santa Fe,” it’s clear that this city offers its residents a comfortable environment in which to lead the lives they want to live. Georgia O’Keeffe proved that.

We spent the rest of the day touring many museums, including the New Mexico Museum of Art, The Museum of International Folk Art, and a lesser known James Turrell skyspace. The day also included a beautiful lunch in a park in the center of town before spending some time exploring the city’s vintage shops and clothing boutiques. Finally, the night ended at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, a restaurant with live country music, the most delicious frozen margaritas and the best exotic Tex Mex I’ve ever had in my life. The group had such an excellent time in Santa Fe and I think many of us wished we could stay longer. All in all, it was an amazing city and one that I hope to visit again soon. I can even imagine myself longing for it once I get back to New York City.

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Photography Credit: Rosanna Bach

Rosanna Bach photographer, writer, and storyteller was born in Switzerland in 1990. She completed a BBA in Design Management at Parsons the New School for Design in 2012. After completing her degree, Rosanna moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina where she lived for five months working on a personal project, "Fear Builds Walls." As a result she is fluent in English, Spanish and German. In 2013 Rosanna graduated from the Documentary and Photojournalism program at the International Centre of Photography. She now lives and works in New York City.

Originally published on Promote & Preserve.

DAY XVI • ON THE ROAD WITH SHEENAGH GEOGHEGAN

“People would ask me all the time if my parents wanted me to go into nursing or be a teacher, do law or medicine. Never. My parents have always supported me in what I wanted to do my entire life.”

Sheenagh Geoghegan, Visual Artist

Saturday, September 28th

Sheenagh Geoghegan was the first person I met on the Land Art Road Trip. We sat quietly beside each other in the shuttle from the Salt Lake City Airport towards our hotel. Her eyes were tired with a sense of relief, which, I found out later, was the result of a series of flight delays forcing her to travel for 24 hours. Despite that, she was incredibly kind and continued to remain that way despite many personal difficulties she faced on this trip. Before making it out here, I had assumed I would have the most trouble adapting to sleeping outdoors, but surprisingly I wasn’t. Up until this point, Sheenagh had developed severe insomnia and could not find peace within herself to fall asleep at night, no matter if we were sleeping in a tent or a motel room. I wasn’t sure how she was making it through, but I became proud of her never giving up despite the pain her body was giving her.Taking longer to adapt, she tried her absolute best to seek comfort in this ever changing environment. Although she greatly appreciated the beauty we were exposed to, I don’t think that did her any good at night. Instead, she found her happiness in the people she had the opportunity to meet, not only in the group, but at many of the places we visited.

Claiming to be shy, no one in the group would ever describe Sheenagh with that adjective. She is a great listener, an open talker, a highly educated artist with a large heart and an immense capacity for love and adoration. She cares for everyone in the group and is able to communicate with all of us in an honest and understanding way. As our journey continues, she has started to feel like an older sister to me. We have quickly formed a very close and trusting relationship, which we both find incredibly interesting with our age difference. Sheenagh is ten years older than me and in a completely different stage of her life. She has already done multiple international residencies in Italy, Ireland and Canada. She has participated in many shows and has just recently received a master’s degree at the Slade School of Art in London. Sheenagh is also one of the few on this trip who has not worked with or even heard of Gerson Zevi before being offered a spot on this amazing trip. She was scouted by curator, Alma Zevi at her final show at the Slade School of Art. Her work is what got her here and her work is what she never ceases to do no matter the situation. Even in unfavorable environments, Sheenagh has been painting, sketching, writing or taking photographs. She has often taken found pieces from the places we have visited and used them to create a collage, anything from a wrapper to a scrap of paper. She never stops creating and has even opted to pass up certain sights to take the time to do her art work. That is dedication.

Sitting on the floor surrounded by the many works she has already created halfway through the trip, she presents each of her pieces, which were done with a variety of tools: water colors, fountain pens, and scraps collected on our travels. I was in shock of how much she has done. It seems that out of everyone, Sheenagh has been affected by the Land Art Road Trip the most.

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Q + A W/SHEENAGH GEOGHEGAN

VISUAL ARTIST - TIPPERARY, IRELAND

SM: Have you just been responding to everything that we’ve seen on this trip through your art work?

SG: Yeah, it’s been really important for me. Before I got here, and for a very long time now, I’ve always been very interested in the idea of one thing countering another. Not necessarily in a balanced way, but I love opposition. I love the idea of opacity beside translucency, geometry beside organic lines. It’s not like they’re having a fight or anything, but sometimes one wins over the other. There still has to be that dialogue, though, because I think so many of us- we’re one, but there are so many conflicting elements to us. Sometimes there’s one thing you like, but then there’s another that completely opposes that. So, my work is very much like us.  I hope that they’re dynamic and I hope that they encompass all of the paradoxes that we all have. What I always love are layers and the idea that we’re all kind of like an archive of experiences. Each minute, each hour, we’re somehow gaining more. I like to think about the residual, the things that we absorb that we’re not even aware of on a conscious level.

“What I always love are layers and the idea that we’re all kind of like an archive of experiences. Each minute, each hour, we’re somehow gaining more.”

SM: You’ve also been writing a lot of songs while you’ve been here. Are those related to the paintings and collages you’ve been doing, or are they separate entities?

SG: I feel like for people in general, everything they do informs everything else they do. I think it would be naive for me to say that they’re separate. So many of my art works are rhythmic to me; I think that music and painting, and I’m sure music and all forms of art, are really similar. Particularly with music, you have harmonies, which you can have with color and rhythm, which equate to pattern. So both my songs and paintings have something that could be seen as pattern. The songs that I’ve written here weren’t done on purpose, like they weren’t a conscious thing. I wasn’t like, “Oh, I’m going to write songs here!” It’s just when Adam [Brochstein] bought a guitar while we were in Nevada that I felt that I’d really love to play. Part of me wishes that I was braver about it and I was good about performing, but unlike the paintings, that’s something that you can do in private. You can hang paintings or chose not to hang them; either way, you can step away from them. With music, I find it so hard performing because it’s you and you can’t step away from it. So, it makes me really nervous. I always feel like I’m such a better singer when I’m on my own.

SM: Yeah, I remember when you were singing in the Sun Tunnels. Were you aware that everyone was listening to you?

SG: I totally was aware that Chris [Willcox] was. While we were at the Sun Tunnels I knew that it was something I had to do because the acoustics there were so heavenly, literally just amazing. The circles in them, not only were they invigilating a million views of the landscape and the stars, but also being inside the tunnel, it was a musical instrument. The artist behind the work, Nancy Holt, is a musician herself, and I just knew that she would have wanted someone sing in them or enjoy them. Each of them sounded different. I was really nervous, but at the same time I was kind of like, fuck it. I’m just going to do it and get the hell over myself.

“While we were at the Sun Tunnels I knew that it was something I had to do because the acoustics there were so heavenly, literally just amazing. The circles in them, not only were they invigilating a million views of the landscape and the stars, but also being inside the tunnel, it was a musical instrument.”

SM: I’ve noticed that you’ve overcome a lot of your fears on this trip. In the beginning, you seemed very uncomfortable with sleeping outdoors and now you’re more calm about it.

SG: That’s actually been amazing because I really do have a completely irrational fear of snakes. It’s completely irrational and I know that. It’s just something I’ve had a fear of since I was a very young child; maybe it was Indiana Jones or something. What really bothers me is that I really love animals and I like being around them. I particularly think that snakes are really beautiful and incredible in the way they move, but they have just always freaked the hell out of me. To be honest, I’ve been okay. Matteo [Zevi] has been the best because when I was really gripped by fear our first night at the Spiral Jetty, everyone else was just sweet and really kind, understanding and supportive. Matteo just gave me a really strong look and said, “There is nothing to be afraid of. They are more afraid of you.” Somehow it really shook me. I don’t know if it’s because he said it with such conviction or just the pure fact that he’s 23. He’s 10 years younger than me and he’s like my dad! How pathetic am I!?

SM: That helped you though?

SG: Yeah, it totally helped me. It helped me because I realized how silly it was. The real things, the things in life that we should be terrified about are our worst nightmares. Things like losing a parent, a brother, a sister, a boyfriend, a girlfriend- that is the worst. Everything else is silly and pointless to let it take such hold. On our first night when I went to go sleep in the van, I just felt so low about myself and how I was allowing this completely irrational thing to completely govern my state of mind. I think this whole experience has been so enriching because it’s really made me think that life is for living. Sure, we’re all afraid of things, but we shouldn’t allow them to stop us from enjoying life and pursuing the things we’d like to do.

SM: What else have you taken from this experience? You’ve done a lot of artwork on this trip, probably more than most. I feel like you’ve made it a priority.

SG: It was freezing the night we went out to the Lightning Field. The next morning I got up and I was just like, “I just have to work. I have to work.” I found a piece of paper, I couldn’t believe it and was overjoyed. I could not wait to work. I have just finished my MA in London and I’ve kind of been to-ing and fro-ing a lot all summer. I just haven’t had the opportunity to work, and when I work everything else goes away. It’s such a cliche, not necessarily in that it’s cathartic in an obvious way, it’s like a tic. It’s like a compulsion. I love playing around with shapes and colors, drawing; I love all of the materials. Simple stuff like what that blue can do with that red, how this red can make this look even pinker. I’ve always been like that. One of my earliest memories is holding my brother, Shane. He is one of my favorite people in the world. Mom and Dad bought us to Dublin and we were doing a day of shopping. First, they brought us to this shop and bought me this Crayola set, which was in a suitcase. I just sat in the car. The whole day, I didn’t want to leave the car. They were like, “No, we’re going to see Dublin,” and I was like, “No, no, no, I’m not.” I wanted to stay and draw. The joy from the potential of materials like paper, crayons, paint, you can just take it anywhere. You know that from writing. Words can take you anywhere.

SM: How old were you then?

SG: Maybe three or four? No, I couldn’t have been. They wouldn’t have left me in the car. I can’t even remember what happened. I think the deal was they were like, “Okay, well, we can’t leave you in the car, so we’ll just bring the box around with us all day.” I was also quite OCD, like not wanting to open them either. I was like, “Can I just look at them?”

SM: That’s really funny. So you’ve always been artistic then? From when you were a young kid?  

SG: Yes. My father’s a carpenter, my mother’s a nurse. So they’re both really creative. They’re both really good with their hands, but they’ve never had the opportunities that I had to even do art in school, nevermind-- study it at university. When I told my parents I was applying to art college, they just looked at me and said, “What else would you do?” It was never a question. I get it a lot at home because I’m a country girl. People would ask me all the time if my parents wanted me to go into nursing or be a teacher, do law or medicine. Never. My parents have always supported me in what I wanted to do my entire life. As a child I had really bad eyesight, so I had an operation on my eyes. I wore a patch and I’ve worn glasses since I was four, which I still should wear all the time. People are quite baffled by an artist who doesn’t wear her glasses, but I always feel that I see enough. I mean, I wear them reading so I don’t get a headache. I wear them sometimes for drawing, if I can find them. If I can see where they are! I was a really awkward kid and there was never a time where I didn’t love coloring. It was always my number one favorite thing to do.

SM: So trips like this where you get to just focus on art. I mean this is different because we’re constantly moving and camping, is probably really special for you.

SG: I think if I lived a hundred years I could never really find the words to say how much I loved this trip, how much I owe Matteo and Alex. All artists are quite shy, not shy, but reticent. We need down time. We need to be alone to do what we do. There’s been such a respect for that. Also,  there are such fascinating people here. People who are just easy company. I’m quite insecure and I feel like a lot of the time I have quite a heavy, hard internal monologue that’s quite mean. I’ve been just so happy here and we’ve seen such incredible things. Nothing prepared me for what we’ve seen. It’s the people, though. Not only the people in this amazing group, but like people we’ve met at the pubs here. People who we’ve just randomly met who have just really touched me. Some of my favorite parts were driving through some of the most beautiful landscapes that I’ve ever seen, but also  I love the dichotomy of leaving them and then driving through these areas where there are these shacks.

SM: I’ve noticed that. You always photograph the really lame, barren neighborhoods that we happen to pass through.

SG: They are my favorite things to photograph because there you see the things that I love: geometric shapes set against the sky and how the colors look there. I keep saying it, but I feel like so many things I’ve seen in those towns remind me of album covers. So, just taking them as ideas for color combinations but also because I love the opposition. The natural with the unnatural, the rigid beside the messy. I always love that. I love conflict and opposition. We’re all both Yin and Yang.

SM: Has there been a specific piece that we’ve seen on this trip that you really loved or that has affected you more than the other ones?

SG: To be honest, Double Negative was my favorite for a while. I thought it was really profound that we made such an amazing journey to see something that had been taken away. Then the Lightning Field, when the sun went down that night and it sparkled for a split second. I looked over at one of the poles and it caught that sparkle. The Lightning Field, that whole experience, it’s a really incredible piece. So many of the pieces we see, everytime you go back you see something different. They perpetuate, which is such a beautiful thing and so strong.

SM: What do you plan to do when you leave this trip?

SG: I’m going back home to Ireland. I would love to show these pieces in London or New York. Just a small pop-up show would be nice.

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Originally published on Promote & Preserve.

DAY XV • WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE

Friday, September 27th

9:00 pm - Apache National Forest Campsite, New Mexico

After almost an entire week of camping at the Apache National Forest, we have finally reached the end of our stay here. With a few complaints I can confidently say that I’m proud of the progress I’ve made as a camper. Although I've become quite accustomed to basic living, I still find certain aspects of this environment a bit difficult to live in- namely, its incredibly cold nights. High altitude and climate drops are some things we have definitely experienced before, most notably at the Grand Canyon, and I’ve discovered that those specific conditions don’t always provide for a calm night’s sleep. Luckily, I didn’t have any wild nightmares while I’ve been here, but what I and the other Land Art road trip members had to face was finding a way to create warmth in frigid overnight temperatures. At night, the Apache National Forest drastically transforms from pleasantly warm to uncomfortably cold. We have attempted to deal with it in a variety of ways. My solution included doubling up on sleeping bags and wearing multiple layers of socks and leggings. Regardless of having those extra amenities, it has remained difficult. I’m not the only one having a hard time with it; I've woken up in the middle of the night to see each person in my tent hidden in layers, knees to chest, curled up in a ball.

Despite its complications, there have been positive outcomes of these weather conditions, one being that we have increased the amount of people sleeping in our teepee in attempts to create more body heat. I'm not sure how well that has worked out, but I can't say that it hasn't been fun. There's about seven of us staying in the same teepee and every night has felt like a giant sleepover. We've been watching movies on laptops, eating junk food, and hanging out, treating the tent like the college dorm room of a best friend. Through sharing this limited space, I feel that I've gotten to know the people in it a lot better. I mean, how could a good friendship not develop when you're clinging to someone for warmth at night? It's been a way to realize the way in which we depend on each other whilst living in the wilderness just as much as we rely on the environment. It makes camping much easier when you’ve become closer to the people you’re doing it with. Group efforts and groupthink produce better outcomes and, in short, a more successful stay in the dark, cold woods.

I realized this newfound dependence earlier today when I went on a hike with Chris andAdeline. Our campsite overlooked  a vast, glittering, green lake, which from up above always seemed to beckon us closer. It was a beautiful, sunny day and, eager to exercise and explore, we all decided to take a long walk around the glorious Lake Quemado.  As we made our way down the wooded hills, I quickly came to find that any route leading to the lake would be a difficult one. It was rocky and quite steep, but I bravely decided that my platform Converse sneakers could handle the terrain. I just needed to keep my confidence the way Chris and Adeline did. They glided down this land as if it wasn’t a big deal, so I figured that I may just be overreacting. Some time later, we finally made it to the rim of the lake.

As we took a tour around the lake, I was really happy with my decision to join Chris and Adeline on this hike. We came across many interesting plants and animals along the way. Throughout the area, there were thousands of furry caterpillars crawling on pieces of grass and resting on rocks. They were so funny looking, resembling bushy old eyebrows. The more we noticed them, the more we agreed that they resembled Adeline’s fur sculptures. Later on, we reached a shallow portion of the lake where a beautiful silver snake was praying for its next meal. Kneeling down next to it, we stared as it gracefully moved around the stones. Suddenly, out of nowhere its bright red tongue shot out and caught a tiny guppie. With ease, the snake swallowed the baby fish and we watched as a bump descended down its tail. As we made it full circle, we found skeletons of all sorts, from crawfish to mice and even a larger animal we assumed to be a deer. It seemed that many walks of life called the Apache National Forest home. It was the first time on this trip that I was able to get so close to wild animals. It all felt so safe and natural, unlike the mice I once had to combat in my Brooklyn apartment. I wasn’t scared at all.

However, what happened next was far more frightening than any of the creatures we came across on our walk. While making our way back up the mountain, we underestimated the incline of the rocky hill that would get us there. The farther we advanced, the more I  understood that this wasn’t a hill; it was a small cliff. Towards the top of it, its angle was so steep that it felt more like climbing than it did walking. Chris and Adeline seemed to make their way up with ease, but as I fell behind them, so did dozens of stones. My shoes were unable to really grip the land and small slips had me clinging to the dirt walls for dear life. I felt sweat dripping down my cheek and panic in my heart. As Chris offered me a helping hand, I knew that I had to remain calm.  I paused, suppressing my fear. I couldn’t get myself to continue because I knew that if I made the wrong movements I could easily fall down the cliff and severely hurt myself. Adeline and Chris attempted to calm me down with words of encouragement. I looked up at them, reaching for Chris’s hand when I knew that I had to do this alone or I could also harm him in the process. With a deep breath and an extra ounce of power, I brought myself up over the cliff to flat land. “Oh my god, we’re not doing that again,” I said, relieved, and brushed myself off.

Finally getting back to camp, I felt a sort of satisfaction in the hike we had just accomplished. With Chris and Adeline’s encouragement, I was able to brave certain terrains I would have never dared to explore solo. I needed their company, their support and their friendship. It was helping me believe in myself in a way I never thought I could. For the first time in my entire life, I felt like a brave, outdoorsy type and I definitely wanted to do it again. Who would’ve ever thunk it?

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Photography Credit: Rosanna Bach

Rosanna Bach photographer, writer, and storyteller was born in Switzerland in 1990. She completed a BBA in Design Management at Parsons the New School for Design in 2012. After completing her degree, Rosanna moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina where she lived for five months working on a personal project, "Fear Builds Walls." As a result she is fluent in English, Spanish and German. In 2013 Rosanna graduated from the Documentary and Photojournalism program at the International Centre of Photography. She now lives and works in New York City.

Originally published on Promote & Preserve.

 

 

 

 

 

DAY XIV • CUDDLE FUDDLE

Thursday, September 26th

Land Art - Journal Entry No. 10

1:38 pm - Apache National Forest Campsite, New Mexico

By now it’s apparent that almost all of the places we’ve visited induce an overwhelming sense of romance. From watching the sunset at the Grand Canyon to sharing a glass of wine on the porch at the Lightning Field, one would assume and expect that certain relationships would take form. Interestingly enough, I’ve found that most of the Land Art Road Trip members are in pre-existing relationships and came unaccompanied by their partners for this long journey. Without much alone time, internet access or cell phone reception, how does one maintain a long distance relationship for an entire month? It’s not easy and being in one myself, I’ve understood the difficulties on both ends. He can rarely contact me, and I can’t speak openly with him no matter the setting. For the artists joining the trip from Europe, there’s the added difficulty of a large time difference and the expense of international phone calls. Yet regardless of long distance love, there’s been internal tension developing throughout our travels. Last night, it seemed to have dissipated in favour of a massive shift in the group’s attitude. Now everyone feels comfortable enough that the fear of being judged has dissolved. It all started last night at Snuffy’s Bait and Tackle.

Snuffy’s is a charming little tackle shop and restaurant across from Lake Quemado in the Apache National Forest. It is the closest piece of civilization to our campsite, providing a bit of culture in lush New Mexico. The shop consists of a tiny store front with snacks and fishing supplies for sale. On its side is an outdoor deck with tables, chairs and two adorable tabby kittens roaming around it. There you’ll find an entrance into a modest sized restaurant and bar. The dining space is definitely quirky, with forest green printed wallpaper and vintage paraphernalia hung all over the walls. An elderly man with a warm smile tends the bar while a sweet lady of the same age serves restaurant goers. Tonight, Snuffy’s is entirely reserved for members of the Land Art Road Trip. They were happy to have a large group come in and we were excited to enjoy their famous Snuffalo burgers and reasonably priced drinks. Needless to say, it was the perfect combination and no one left that building without a smile on their face.

A warm campfire and many drinks later, the perfect party began to ensue at our campsite. Flirtation escalated beyond trifling; it wouldn’t surprise me if some individuals made decisions that would upset those waiting for them back at home. No one judged and no one really had the right to. Life throws many curveballs, especially when you’re young;  in this circumstance, it’s easy to remove yourself from the people involved in the life you’ve grown accustomed to. We’re very far away from that, with a group of new people, experiencing something that will change us all forever. I don’t know what will happen to these people and the new situations they’ve created, but I do know that I am not making that mistake. It’s not that I haven’t fallen into that trap before; I’m no saint. Sadly, I’ve deceived people I committed myself to on my travels in the past. No one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. I’ve learned from a similar experience that no matter how beautiful the stars in the sky are tonight, I’m not burning the bridges I built in New York for them.

I borrowed a friend’s phone and sneaked away from the group. Luckily, I was able to get a few minutes to talk privately with my boyfriend. Thus far, the distance and lack of communication have been very frustrating for both of us and tends to lead to conversations that are normally short and straight to the point. As a result, we always end them unfulfilled and dissatisfied, which has left us both with further feelings of loneliness. Despite the disconnection, one of the things that makes our relationship easier is that we genuinely have each other’s best interests at heart. We understand that our professional growth is something we both individually really want, so being apart so that I could invest in a project like this was a no brainer. That is what I really love about dating him: he will never stop me from succeeding, he will only assist me and that goes for me to him as well. Tonight, I came to fully understand and value that aspect of our connection. It’s so important for a strong willed, career oriented woman to have a partner that supports her dreams. With a man like that, you can have the career you want and the love you desire. Seriously, what New York City female does not want that? That’s something I just can’t give up for some lustful night in the woods. 

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Photography Credit: Rosanna Bach

Rosanna Bach photographer, writer, and storyteller was born in Switzerland in 1990. She completed a BBA in Design Management at Parsons the New School for Design in 2012. After completing her degree, Rosanna moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina where she lived for five months working on a personal project, "Fear Builds Walls." As a result she is fluent in English, Spanish and German. In 2013 Rosanna graduated from the Documentary and Photojournalism program at the International Centre of Photography. She now lives and works in New York City.

Originally published on Promote & Preserve.

DAY XIII • ON THE ROAD WITH CHRIS WILLCOX

Wednesday, September 25th

On The Road - Journal Entry No. 3

I always feel that first introductions can tell you a lot about a person. Aspects of the way in which we conduct ourselves when interacting with someone new will carry on throughout a developing relationship. I found this notion especially true in my initial conversations with artist, Chris Willcox. I first met Chris in Salt Lake City at the starting point of the Land Art Road Trip. After loading the trailer with our belongings, I realized that I needed something to keep me warm in Utah’s rainy weather. I returned to the trailer where Chris was experiencing a similar response to the temperature. After exchanging a few words, I struggled past the mass of newly added paraphernalia in the space. “I have a really warm sweater you can borrow,” he offered when he noticed that I foolishly placed my things in the depths of the trailer. “It’s a really nice one. I know I’ll be jealous that you’ll get compliments for it instead of me.” In a way, it was like Chris spoke ‘fashion.’ Without even seeing his sweater, he convinced me to wear it. Within minutes, he pulled out a bright red cardigan decorated in equally colorful details. He was right; it was definitely warm and, as he predicted, it garnered many compliments from the group.

I soon found that the jealousy he predicted to accompany this loan was clearly a joke. He seemed happy to have helped me, a stranger he met minutes ago, to keep warm. Further into our relationship, I found that he behaved in the same way when it came to his work. Chris loves sharing his art and the difficulties he has faced which have inspired it. In fact, right before this trip, Chris was in Washington, D.C. celebrating an immense exhibition that he headlined at the world renowned Smithsonian gallery. Volkswagen had rewarded his talents as an artist with disabilities by gifting him a generous career-boosting grant and space on the walls of their offices. He shares his passion despite his severe dyslexia in ways that are heartwarming and inspiring. That goes for anything he loves, including yoga, massages, and his girlfriend back in New York. He invites you to share his joy, no matter what form it takes. 

Luckily for me, I was able to see the way in which he maintained peace, created his work, and interacted with other artists. Even in uncomfortable situations, Chris kept cool and was always there to provide comfort and support for those who needed it. As we continue our travels, he remains stress-free while also preparing for his first solo show. Organized with Gerson Zevi, it’s set to take place only a few weeks after we return from this epic journey. With a lot of time in Quemado, I had the opportunity to speak to Chris in more depth on the process behind his paintings, his struggles and successes.

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Q + A W/CHRIS WILLCOX

VISUAL ARTIST - NEW YORK, NY

Sarah Mendelsohn: So Chris, how did you first develop an interest in art?

Chris Willcox: Well, it’s so hard to pinpoint because it happened so early. I have pretty severe dyslexia, so I was doing very poorly in school and art was sort of a thing I was able to do. It was a place where I could succeed and I could show myself, my teachers and my family that I was capable of something. So I really think that was the first major thing that pulled me towards art. It was also a tool by which I could experience a catharsis for all of the frustrations that I had with my learning disabilities.

SM: So did you end up pursuing art when you went on to college?

CW: I did. Eh, yeah. Well, my family is definitely a bit more conservative than many other artists’ families, I think. So it was very important for them that I attend a university. I went to Washington University in St. Louis, which is a really good school that also happened to have an art school. So I majored in art there. I double majored; I got a degree in philosophy as well.

SM: Oh, wow. Now in addition to being an artist, you’re also working in the science realm. Is that right?

CW: Yeah, neuroscience. I don’t actually conduct experiments; I’m more on the journalism end of that world. I produce a television show called the Charlie Rose Brain Series. It’s sort of a round table format with a couple of people discussing different aspects of neuroscience. Anything from diseases of the brain like schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis to things like creativity, aging, movement and position making. The brain is a really immense topic, so we have a lot of material to cover.

SM: Is neuroscience something you’re also interested in?

CW: I’m absolutely fascinated by it. It goes back to having learning disabilities as a kid. The relationship between the brain and the mind is something that has always been of interest to me. My philosophy coursework was very much focused on something called the philosophy of the mind, which focuses on questions like: what is the relationship between the mind and the body?

SM: Is that something you worked on with Infinite Earth, the project you recently exhibited? I know you told me they chose artists with disabilities. They obviously see the connection between art and learning disabilities.

CW: Yeah. For me, there’s a main parallel that I tried to address in that exhibit. It was having a lack of control. I try to set up my paintings so that I don’t have too much control over them. They are sort of just products of circumstance and many accidental things. Being out of control is something that I’m intimately familiar with from having these disabilities like dyslexia. I was out of control with my ability to learn, so I implemented that same feeling in my work.

“I try to set up my paintings so that I don’t have too much control over them. They are sort of just products of circumstance and many accidental things. 

... I was out of control with my ability to learn, so I implemented that same feeling in my work.”

SM: Can you tell me a little bit more about your creative process? You said you don’t put too much control over it and you just let it flow naturally.

CW: Yeah, I mean there are some painters who drip paint and let it slide to the bottom. That’s not really what I’m doing. I paint the canvas a single color, a gradient or something. Then on top of that, I’ll just overlay liters of paint. I sort of slash around with really big tools. I use a lot of different tools like rags, brushes, big knives, squiggies. One of my favorite tools is this hand held concrete leveler that I use to paint. It makes the most beautiful marks; my best paintings are made with that concrete leveler. So that’s the process, and the accidents come from the tools I use. It’s not that I’m manipulating the material to do different types of things. I just move it around so that these little accidents happen by the physical property of these fluid mechanics. It gives it a much more interesting touch.

SM: I’m very interested in learning more about your exhibition at the Smithsonian. They claim you’re an emerging artist, which we talked about before, but how did you get involved in this program? Did you apply or something?

CW: Yeah, it was an open call, so I applied. It was an essay and images of my work.

SM: I’m curious. Now that you’ve won, are you going to leave the work you’ve been doing with the television show?

CW: That’s sort of plan, to phase it out. I’m in no rush. I really do enjoy working on the program and it’s been really exciting, a real adventure. I’ve learned a lot about composition from working on that show. I’m used to composing in two dimensions, or three. Whatever you want to call it. My images stay the way they are; they don’t change over time. They are never four dimensions, which we do on a television show, and I think that’s very interesting. It’s all the same principles: moments of tension and building up a release that exist in a painting, but doing it over time has been really interesting. It’s fun.

SM: I also noticed that color is a really important factor in your paintings. You use a lot of bright and bold colors. How do you decide on what color you will use? Does it come from an emotion or feeling?

CW: I wouldn’t say that I’m trying to tap into a specific emotion. It’s not like, “Okay these two colors are sexy together. These two colors are frightening. This is calming.” It’s more the intensity that they have to them. I’m after the charge that they have. It’s sort of more a question of optics than emotion. I also find that a limited palette can be more dramatic and allow you to focus on just the intensities of those colors.

“I wouldn’t say that I’m trying to tap into a specific emotion. It’s not like, ‘Okay these two colors are sexy together. These two colors are frightening. This is calming.’ It’s more the intensity that they have to them. I’m after the charge that they have.”

Painters typically have several variations of blue in one painting, which I think is beautiful, but I also think there’s something equally striking about using one variation of a color without yellow on top of that. I pick my colors very specifically and I pay attention to how they interact. It compliments the method that I’m using: one color on top of a different color. It would be difficult to involve more than one hue of a color doing that. I have tried it at times, but it’s a much more complicated kind of painting. I wouldn’t say worse. In my experience it can be better to have fewer variables to play with.

SM: I’m very interested in learning more about your exhibition at the Smithsonian. They claim you’re an emerging artist, which we talked about before, but how did you get involved in this program? Did you apply or something?

CW: Yeah, it was an open call, so I applied. It was an essay and images of my work.

SM: I’m curious. Now that you’ve won, are you going to leave the work you’ve been doing with the television show?

CW: That’s sort of plan, to phase it out. I’m in no rush. I really do enjoy working on the program and it’s been really exciting, a real adventure. I’ve learned a lot about composition from working on that show. I’m used to composing in two dimensions, or three. Whatever you want to call it. My images stay the way they are; they don’t change over time. They are never four dimensions, which we do on a television show, and I think that’s very interesting. It’s all the same principles: moments of tension and building up a release that exist in a painting, but doing it over time has been really interesting. It’s fun.

SM: I also noticed that color is a really important factor in your paintings. You use a lot of bright and bold colors. How do you decide on what color you will use? Does it come from an emotion or feeling?

CW: I wouldn’t say that I’m trying to tap into a specific emotion. It’s not like, “Okay these two colors are sexy together. These two colors are frightening. This is calming.” It’s more the intensity that they have to them. I’m after the charge that they have. It’s sort of more a question of optics than emotion. I also find that a limited palette can be more dramatic and allow you to focus on just the intensities of those colors.

“I wouldn’t say that I’m trying to tap into a specific emotion. It’s not like, ‘Okay these two colors are sexy together. These two colors are frightening. This is calming.’ It’s more the intensity that they have to them. I’m after the charge that they have.”

Painters typically have several variations of blue in one painting, which I think is beautiful, but I also think there’s something equally striking about using one variation of a color without yellow on top of that. I pick my colors very specifically and I pay attention to how they interact. It compliments the method that I’m using: one color on top of a different color. It would be difficult to involve more than one hue of a color doing that. I have tried it at times, but it’s a much more complicated kind of painting. I wouldn’t say worse. In my experience it can be better to have fewer variables to play with.

SM: For sure. What’s also interesting about you is that you do a lot of yoga; I’ve witnessed this as I’ve gotten to know you. I heard you say once that since you’ve been doing yoga more frequently, you’ve seen an improvement in your artwork.

CW: Yeah, there’s a difference. I’ve only been doing yoga for a little over half a year, so I can’t speak on the longevity of practicing it. It does a lot for me, though. It helps me find calmness, a stillness which has an effect on my painting. I can’t make a good painting if I’m scatterbrained or nervous. Those emotions would take over the painting and destroy it, which makes it very complicated for me when something is going on in my life. I had a friend die and I couldn’t do any work. The yoga’s been really helpful because it’s given me that peacefulness. I also really like the relationship to the body that you develop through yoga. I’m definitely more a cerebral person and yoga helps balance it out a bit more. I’ve been trying to make work that’s more about this bodily response other than an intellectual, conceptual response.  

SM: Also, on this trip you tend to do yoga in the landscapes, sometimes on top of or next to the artwork. Has this process impacted your feelings and if so how?

CW: Certainly with the environment. It’s a great way to engage with the environment because it’s quite meditative and you are subservient to the elements in that case. Doing a sun salutation when you can see the sun is really different when you’re doing it in a studio in Chelsea in really dingey conditions. Yeah, the exhibit I have that’s currently in the Smithsonian is very much about the way my art relates to the earth. So being here has taught me a lot more about that. It’s been really inspiring and a bit too much for me to wrap my head around sometimes, the immensity of the spaces.

“It’s a great way to engage with the environment because it’s quite meditative and you are subservient to the elements in that case. Doing a sun salutation when you can see the sun is really different then when you’re doing it in a studio in Chelsea in really dingey conditions.”

SM: For sure. Has there been any place we have visited so far that has resonated with you?

CW: The most dramatic was Spiral Jetty: just the beauty of the environment was like nothing I have ever experienced before. The texture of the salt, the warmth of the water, it was also my first night here so there was a lot of excitement about that place. We went for a swim in the Salt Lake and the water was just so beautiful. We were only in about six inches of water, but we just laid down and it held you up like a mother cradles a child. It was amazing. I’ve never been in water like that. It gives you a real sense of place. It’s an interesting experience.

SM: What have you gained from this experience, either personally or artistically?

CW: I think it’s seeing the art, which is so unbelievably ambitious. It’s really exciting to me. Painting in the grand scheme of art is generally less ambitious. That’s maybe not the right thing to say because it’s not always true, but painters can be very intimate, so it’s making me reconsider the role of ambition when it comes to the  size and scale of a piece. It’s tough to draw lessons at this point because I’m still in the midst of it. I’m just trying to soak in all of my feelings.

SM: You also have a lot of paintings with the colored mirrors at the bottom.

CW: Yeah, the colored mirror is something that I’ve been using a lot of for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it’s the visual impact that it has. Mirrors are really gorgeous objects, totally beautiful. I didn’t even intend to use them in my art. I just bought them at Canal Street Plastics and put them in my studio because I thought they were so gorgeous. Eventually, I decided a painting just wasn’t working. I was looking at this beautiful blue mirror and I thought, “Wait a second, there’s a relationship here.” So I put it on it and immediately went back to Canal Street Plastics, got them custom cut and then glued it on. The visual impact of it is really nice. On that note, there’s also a quality of light to them that is similar to that of the paintings. A lot of them have this sort of backlit quality. Mirrors, of course, reflect light back at you. I think it was the consistency of light in the paintings and in the mirrors that enabled them to works so well. Also, we were talking about accidents, we were talking about chance. I think many artists use mirrors in that way. Mirrors tap into that dialogue of chance, something you can’t control; it’s similar to the way I can’t really control the way the paint splatters or falls. I can’t control who walks in front of the mirror and what actions they take while doing so.

“Mirrors tap into that dialogue of chance, something you can’t control; it’s similar to the way I can’t really control the way the paint splatters or falls. I can’t control who walks in front of the mirror and what actions they take while doing so.”

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Chris Willcox's current exhibition, Superpositions, is available to view in Washington, D.C. by appointment only in December and January.

Contact info@gersonzevi.com for more information.

Originally published on Promote & Preserve.

 

DAY XII • HERE COMES THE SUN

Tuesday, September 24th

Land Art - Journal Entry No. 9

1:55 pm - Apache National Forest Campsite, New Mexico

Although I was visiting the Lightning Field with five other people, I still had an immense feeling of individual confinement. That’s in part due to the nature of this place, which is so vast and open that its bordering mountains appear to be miles and miles away. With such an endlessly seeming environment, venturing off could quickly and easily lead to a distanced isolation. With a desire to explore and gain a bit of privacy, I decided to do exactly that. Walking farther away from the little log cabin, feelings of solitude steadily increased. I initially approached the closest edifice- a tall, metal rod that glistened beautifully in the sunlight. At this time of day, the poles were barely visible unless you walked right up to them, which made it really difficult to deduce how many actually filled the space of this enormous field. The imminent lightning rod however, was close enough to entrance me in its shine. I found the relationship of the rod and its surroundings interesting: the sun seemed to have such a powerful effect on it. I continued walking around the field towards the next rod, suddenly paying more attention to the land I was walking on. It was dry, cracked dirt with bright yellow daisies sprouting from it. Its blossoming flowers suggested that this dead land could actually cultivate new life. Scanning the flowers, I discovered more activity- many bold-colored red and black beetles creeping through the dirt’s dark crevices. They popped against the ground like tear drops on a human face and were just as lively in their movements. I bent closer to the ground attempting to catch one with my fingers but, wanting nothing to do with me, the beetle quickly crawled away.

I can’t remember the last time I actually interacted with the earth in this way. Thinking about it now, it must’ve been during my childhood. Growing up, whenever my mother let my brothers and I roam around outdoors, we always felt empowered to unleash our imaginations and create our own adventures. Though, with age and progression into the internet era, I completely lost touch with that pastime. Favoring my childhood memories, I suddenly felt sorry for children growing up today who may never experience something like that. Today, they’d rather play on iPads and Game Boys than in grass and leaves. It’s unfortunate, because that restricts one of the greatest gifts we have as human beings: our imagination. This field would have been perfect to play in, and as I came to this realization, creativity came to me. As I continued to walk around the field, admiring the lustrous lightning rods, I had the sudden urge to sing out loud. Now, although I do appreciate theSound of Music, I’m not some nut who runs around open fields singing show tunes. However, this moment required immediate creative release, and so I quietly started to hum The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun.” It fit the exact mood this radiant setting exuded, and soon that hum transformed itself into words, those words sung over and over again in growing confidence. “Sun, sun, sun, here it comes.”

Finally exhausting my Paul McCartney impression, I walked back to the cabin to rejoin the rest of the group. I found that all the artists had smiles painted across their faces, very pleased with de Maria’s work. It seemed that in just a few hours, the Lightning Field had affected us all. Noting the sun’s decline, we decided it would be the best time to have dinner. Alex Getty kindly warmed up the prepared enchilada left in the home’s refrigerator. The rest of us set the table and took our seats for the evening’s meal. I felt comfortable in this company, as I think we all did. Sitting at a dinner table, sharing our thoughts, made it feel like we were a family regrouping after a full day of individual activities. Although we all had different experiences in this setting, we all had the same emotions for this piece. Just like the guest book in Dia’s office promised, the Lightning Field was amazing.

After dinner the group headed back outdoors to catch the sunset. The view was incredibly striking with burnt orange and bright purple clouds encompassing the field. Like the sky, the lightning rods were also radiant. In the middle of the day, you could barely see them, but during the sunset they were bold and prominent contrasting beautifully with the sky’s warm colors. Hundreds of lightning rods stood tall, glittering in the sun’s final rays. The scene’s overwhelming beauty hit us all. Now I understand how insignificant lightening really is to Walter de Maria’s Lightning Field. It is light that the piece’s remarkability depends on. Yet, Luke assured us that this field is just as beautiful when light is entirely absent from it.

We lit up the fire place in the living area, enjoying each other’s company over glasses of red wine. It was all so relaxing and I found it healthy to have a short break from the larger group. Being around that many people all the time is definitely something you need to get used to, and I’m not sure I am there yet. We all agreed that, unlike the other Land Art pieces we have visited, camping overnight here would not have had the same effect as it did with this small, secluded group. It wouldn’t have been as easy to appreciate isolation in the way that each of us had with more than 6 people around. The coziness of the house only added to the work’s enjoyability.

When the sun had completely set, Luke insisted that we turn off all of the lights in the house and go outside. We took the suggestion, and it turned out to be an excellent decision. In absolute darkness, the field felt more immense than ever. That was a result of the sky’s drastic transformation. Without the sun in the sky every single star was visible, even the Milky Way, which was the most prominent I had ever seen it in my life. I didn’t feel like I was on earth anymore, but instead a miniscule part of a massive, never ending galaxy. Millions of stars sparkled like diamonds in the midnight sky. It made me feel so small and insignificant. What’s one person out of 7 billion? What is one small planet in a solar system? What’s a solar system in a galaxy? Seeing a sky so large, filled with millions of stars like that makes you question the little things. What’s important in life? In the grand scheme of things, is it really worth it?

In the morning, most of us woke up early to catch the sunrise. As we expected, dawn had an altered effect on the grid of lightning rods. It was almost like an entirely different work of art at each position of the sun. When I last saw the lightning rods at sunset, they were bold and powerful, but at the break of dawn they seemed delicate against a light pink sky. It was so beautiful. Sadly, we only had a few remaining hours at the Lightning Field. Someone would be picking us up at exactly 11am to drive us back to Quemado.

As I waited for breakfast, I thought of de Maria’s piece and its artistic intention. Many with a basic knowledge of art would not be able to see how a field full of rods could be classified in that realm of creativity. However, art is subjective, and its meaning is far too convoluted to even bother to debate it, but I know you would have to definitely consider the Lightning Field in a certain way. If a piece can make you feel something or think in a different mindset, than it has served its purpose as a work of art. The Lightning Field has accomplished that; but going deeper the piece does have a very obvious medium. It’s not just the metal poles and how they’re strategically placed, but also how they interact with the land and sky that surround them. Those two other aspects of the Lightning Field are vital to the piece. These classic elements of life create the medium on which de Maria’s work is mounted on. They work together to create art impossible to accurately depict in a painting, photograph or any other creative interpretation. It’s a sculpture, an interactive installation, a painting, a photograph: it is all of those things. They just derive from each person’s individual understanding of the work, and that’s what makes it so powerful. No individual experience will be exactly the same.

In our final hours at the Lightning Field, we enjoyed a lovely breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and fresh orange juice prepared by Sophia and Tomas. It was so nice to have this mini retreat and to feel close to people I barely knew. I didn’t really want to leave. After cleaning up, I decided to make my last venture into the Lightning Field. My emotions differed from yesterday and so the song that came to me this morning was Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone,” a sad goodbye to de Maria’s amazing piece. I sang it over and over again until I was called in to the house. It was time to go. As we packed the car, a few others were humming the song I sang on the Lightning Field. I guess I wasn’t as alone as I felt at the moment, but it was alright. I know, I know, I know I oughta leave this thing alone, but hey, ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone.

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Photography Credit: Alexander Getty 

Alexander Getty is a San Francisco based photographer with an immense passion for what he does. Having started at a very young age, Getty honed his craft learning from mentors, family members, and professors in Rome, London, and New York. He began his career in New York where he attended the School of Visual Arts while balancing a job at Getty Images. Today Getty lives and works as a professional photographer in San Francisco, California. His work has been featured in galleries and publications internationally.

Originally published on Promote & Preserve.

DAY XI • CONQUERING CURIOSITY

Monday, September 23rd

Land Art - Journal Entry No. 8 

11:07 am - Apache National Forest Campgrounds, New Mexico

Whenever you leave a meaningful place or special person behind, you often think of them while advancing towards your next destination. You consider certain events and interactions, analyzing those moments in an entirely different mindset. As a result, we’re able to dissect our thoughts with a new perspective and see the occasion for what it actually was. In films, this moment of clarity is often portrayed by a character’s gaze out the window of a moving vehicle, music playing to set the mood. Reflecting after these memorable periods is common, natural, and beneficial to appreciating them. Undoubtedly, you would expect this trip to provide many instants like this. However, at this moment, I’m not sure if my frequent reflection is as constructive as it could be. My mind has received an overload of stimulation since I landed in Salt Lake City over a week ago, and I’m beginning to find it difficult to organize my thoughts. I’m excited, inspired, and motivated while also being nervous, overwhelmed, and exhausted. We’re on the road for a long time, but we’re moving at a very quick pace. We have not settled in any given space for more than a night or two. So, it’s been troublesome to find the comfort of stagnation, a place to spend time to think about each location we’ve visited so far and conclude to what they each really mean.

Fortunately, our arrival in New Mexico promised a slightly longer stay. After a lengthy drive out of Arizona, we arrived at the Apache National Forest where, with the exception of one night, we would be camping over the next week. It’s a beautiful location that seems to encompass all of the positive attributes we enjoyed at some of our other campgrounds- isolation in the wooded mountains, yet 20 miles outside town in the event we may desire anything from civilization, a picnicking area, flowered grass, crisp smelling trees, and above all, a toilet (yes!). I’m also content in disclosing that at this point camping has become somewhat second nature, building a tent is a no brainer, and a burning fire is- to my great pleasure- always guaranteed. I am excited to spend the next week here, writing, reflecting and as usual, becoming more comfortable with nature, however that will be temporarily on pause. Tonight, I am sleeping elsewhere.

While mingling around the campfire last night, Alex and Matteo announced the groups that  they had arranged to attend Walter de Maria’s famed Lightning Field. I was unaware of why only six of us could visit the field at a time, but I would soon find out. I was part of the first group to visit the Lightning Field along with San Francisco based photographer, Alexander Getty, and London based artists Sophia Starling, Tomas Downes, Yana Naidenov, and Luke Hart. I’m really excited. This trip will be entirely a surprise to me, as I have no idea what to expect. With the exception of Alex, I also haven’t really gotten to know any of the other artists I’m staying with tonight, which I’m sure will only add to the adventure. We shall shortly see. We’re set to drive into town in less than an hour.

5:32 pm- Walter de Maria’s Lightning Field, New Mexico

As Alex drove us through the Apache National Forest towards the small town of Quemado, we all laughed and shared mutual excitement over our next journey. Luke Hart had already been to the Lightning Field a year earlier, but from what he expressed, it was difficult to verbalize what we should anticipate. Once we made our way into Quemado, we stopped at the quaint Largo Cafe before heading over to the Dia office, where we were expected at exactly 2pm. Quemado is a very modest town comprised only of two motels, a gas station, two small restaurants, and a convenience store. It’s slightly odd in that both when we stopped here for gas last evening and mid-afternoon today there was virtually no one on the roads. Even the Dia office holds that same peculiarity subsisting of a large, old, white walled space with cracked wooden floors. There’s not much inside the office, but a ping pong table, desk, and a few scattered chairs. One small table supports a guest book where everyone who visits the Lightning Field signs their name and lists their thoughts on the piece. Together, we flipped through the pages of the book. Every single name had “Amazing!” or a synonym of the word written aside it. Luke flipped through to find his name written from 2012. Like all the other visitors, he had expressed the same sentiment: amazing.

A few minutes later, we were outside the Dia office loading our things into a dirt ridden jeep. Its driver, a friendly young man donning a white cowboy hat and shoulder length sandy blonde hair. As he drove us through rural New Mexico he told stories of his last visit to the Lightning Field, earlier this month. Not much before our Land Art trip began, the artist behind the Lightning Field, Walter de Maria, had passed away. The driver told us that many Dia employees made the trek out to Quemado to commemorate the artist at his most well known piece. During that period, they had seen lightening strike the field’s metal rods. To those like myself who had been unaware of the history of the work, this didn’t seem like it should’ve been a big deal. The group had sensed my confusion and explained that although the field was chosen for its location, lightening rarely struck the area in the time since de Maria’s installation had been constructed. Less than a handful of times has a visitor seen lightning at the lightning field. Consequently to the driver, seeing lightning strike the piece on the same night as the Dia Art Foundation chose to honor its artist was surreal. The foundation believed that de Maria was responding to their memorial of him and was joining them in spirit that night. As he continued to share his passion for de Maria’s work, I began to find the driver’s appreciation of the artist refreshing. Most, wouldn’t understand why someone would move to such an inactive area like Quemado only to assist an installation, but our driver believed de Maria’s work to be so compelling and inspiring that he was happy to drive a group of strangers to it seven days a week. His job here was vital to the success of the piece. As the road became less and less defined, and the surrounding area became increasingly barron, my expectations rose.What exactly was going to happen at the Lightning Field?

When we finally got to the Lightning Field, I was almost in disbelief of the setting that was to be our home for the next 24 hours: a small, whimsical looking log cabin sitting on a gigantic field covered in hundreds of metal rods. This is really living in isolation. There is absolutely nothing nearby- no neighbors or consumer amenities in sight. We quickly unloaded the van, walked into the little log cabin and fell in love with it immediately. Houses like this seemed only to appear in fairy tales of romantic getaways. It’s structure is basic, but there is beauty in simplicity. The entire home was made of oak wood. One of the first reactions came from Alex who was so stunned by what he saw that he quickly dropped all of his things and announced, “I need to photograph all of this. Like, right now.” In a matter of seconds, he had his tripod set up, making sure everything was set in place to photograph perfectly. I was almost just as amused by the house and walked around exploring everything. There was an adorable little kitchen with a neatly stocked refrigerator maintaining tonight’s dinner, a prepared enchilada, and tomorrow’s breakfast: eggs, bacon and orange juice. Through the kitchen door was a an open living and dining area. The dining area contained a wooden table, already set for six. Light poured onto it from the overlooking window and created an artistic looking grid shape upon it. It allowed for the bowl of shiny red apples decorating its center to sparkle, the only glimmer of color in the entire room. Further into the space was a vintage style furnace with chairs strategically scattered about, an inviting setting to sit and relax as a group. Walking a bit further led to a wooden deck that overlooked the massive field. It held two benches and a rocking chair, again a welcoming area for all of us to gather.

The other rooms in the house were just as charming. To right of the living room was the only bedroom to overlook the Lightning Field. It contained a full size wooden bed made in delicate white covers, obviously romantic and set to accommodate the group’s couple, Luke and Yana. Opposing the loveliness found in all the other rooms, was a large hall in the center of the house that looked like it came straight out of an Alfred Hitchcock film; it had no windows or any regalia for that matter aside from a white spiral cord phone with a small note attached to it. The note advised the visitor  to dial *67 (making the call anonymous) before calling and to only reach out in the event of an emergency. It was the strangest and least appealing space in the house, but I’m positive that was its point. The Lightning Field was all about isolation and being able to contact the outside world would have ruined that. Through that room, was the bedroom I chose to sleep in that night. It had two twin beds with dreamy white sheets laid on them; at the foot of each was a thick, red wool Navajo printed blanket, again the only pop of color in a neutral, monochrome space. In the far corner of the room was an antique wooden, desk with an old hunter green lamp placed on top of it. This was the desk I had been yearning to write on this entire trip, and so I quickly rushed over to it and set my Polaroid camera and Moleskine neatly beside the lamp. It was a room I was excited to inhabit and weirdly, couldn’t wait until I would be able to sleep in it.

After I set my things down, I decided to finally venture outside to view what we were here to see- the lightning field. Yet, I already felt so inspired and intrigued in the short time that we’d been there. The rocking chair on the porch also looked so incredibly appealing. So, now I sit here, writing in my notebook in the warmth of New Mexico’s September sun. In the distance, I can see Yana walking through the field. As I write this, she seems to advance farther and farther away until finally, I can no longer see her. Where did she go? How deep is this field? It’s now captured my immediate curiosity. I need to put my notebook down and find out.

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Photography Credit: Rosanna Bach

Rosanna Bach photographer, writer, and storyteller was born in Switzerland in 1990. She completed a BBA in Design Management at Parsons the New School for Design in 2012. After completing her degree, Rosanna moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina where she lived for five months working on a personal project, "Fear Builds Walls." As a result she is fluent in English, Spanish and German. In 2013 Rosanna graduated from the Documentary and Photojournalism program at the International Centre of Photography. She now lives and works in New York City.

Originally published on Promote & Preserve.

DAY X • PETRIFIED WOOD, PETRIFIED MOOD

Sunday, September 22nd

Land Art - Journal Entry No. 7

9:05 am - Motel 6 Courtyard, Holbrook, Arizona

It’s amazing how time can really change a person; especially when its length is just a mere ten days. Yes, this short time period has already given me an altered perception of my life in New York and as I become closer to the artists in the group and continue to embrace this unfamiliar setting, I am confident that I have become a better person as a result of it. It’s the small things I’ve begun to notice in my day to day interactions. Just yesterday I left the Grand Canyon in hopelessness, feeling both distant from the life I’m used too, but also unsatisfied with the duration of our stay. It felt too short and I didn’t want to leave that soon; I desired more time to connect with that incredible environment. But as my thoughts wallowed in negativity, I decided to limit my expression of them to my moleskine. So I wrote all of my feelings down and afterwards began to reread them to myself. Ungrateful, was the first word that entered my mind. What I compiled was a list of unjustified and thankless complaints, yet after considering them I understood the reality of the matter: I was gifted with the opportunity to view the Grand Canyon and I am incredibly lucky to have done so. Whether it was for five days or five minutes is completely irrelevant by reason of having the chance to experience it at all, an amazing part of this country that many others never will and for that basic truth I should feel especially appreciative.

After a full day of driving we finally arrived in Holbrook, Arizona, where our motel would be that evening. Given a few minutes to unload and relax before dinner, I laid across the bed and talked to Naomi as she was preparing herself for dinner. Her eyes were fixated on a mirror, applying makeup, trying on different outfit options, and retouching her hair. Observing her during our conversation, I started to think about my own actions. Like many women, I would freshen myself up in the same manner Naomi was - mascara to eyelash, blush to cheek, gloss to lip. Except, strangely, for the first time in a while I didn’t really care too much about what I looked like. Granted I upheld good hygiene and wanted to look presentable, but after ten days I seemingly abandoned the strong attachment I had for mirrors, which anyone who knows me would acknowledge as an entirely unpredictable occurrence. Throughout my young adulthood many of my friends and family would often point out that I couldn’t walk by a mirror without glancing at it and although I hate to admit it, they were right. It was somewhat of a priority of mine to monitor my appearance throughout the day. So how has a week on the road affected that? Well, we have been camping for the majority of our trip thus far and like toilets, showers, and concrete shelter, mirrors were almost completely absent from the setting. By virtue of the situation my priorities have altered from upkeeping a veneer of accentuated beauty to maintaining my cleanliness. In some locations like the ninety degree environment in the Valley of Fire, looking cute wasn’t even an attainable option nor, as I realize it now, was it really ever that important.

I have made some great friends on this trip and as obvious as it sounds maybe my appearance was never really a factor in a person’s ability to enjoy my company to begin with. It’s not that I was ever that superficial, but that notion is just a rarity in the industry I work in. In fashion, your appearance is more often than not valued more than your mind. That is as short sided as it sounds, but that ideal is not just limited to the fashion industry. American media in general tends to highlight the irresistibly good looking over the resourceful intellectuals and its constant presence greatly influences the ideology and behavior of females in this country. It took me living in nature without a mirror to finally acknowledge that and to truly understand that confidence really is the most valuable beauty product that you can possess.

7:22 pm - On the Road, Holbrook, Arizona to Quemado, New Mexico

The group divided itself based on two separate locations today. One half traveled to Albuquerque to run errands in metropolis and the other visited the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert. Not far from our motel in Holbrook, the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert are national parks known for their incredibly rare fossilized trees and unique, beautifully colored mounds of easily erodible stone. Both are aspects of land that are aesthetically stunning and highly uncommon. Always interested in seeing new landscapes, I decided to go with the latter. After a hearty breakfast at the local Denny’s we proceeded to head in that direction. A few minutes in the van and we were there.

When you think of a forest you generally expect to see a tall mass of trees, but the Petrified Forest is almost the complete opposite in description. Found on little dirt hills, the wood that gives the park its name comes in the form of a short stump or a small chip, scattered throughout the land. Our group walked through the park, amazed by the stone’s age and singularity. Each was a variation of the same color theme, shaped like wood, but appearing as stone. We spent some time walking throughout the park admiring them when I bent down to get a closer look. Despite there being signs and notifications everywhere that this wood was not to be lifted from its environment, I had the strong desire to take a small sample for myself. Later on when we had departed towards New Mexico I spent some time considering my thoughts on stealing the petrified wood. Taking it would have been selfish, greedy and above all illegal, yet the thought never escaped me. With that analysis in mind I suddenly became disappointed in myself. The purpose of every place we’ve visited was to inspire and affect many people, not just singular Sarah and yet I was purely thinking of my own gain. Contemplating all of this I developed an after thought: I had really learned and have grown from this trip. In the past my selfishness and greed for personal acquisition would have never even crossed my mind.

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Photography Credit: Rosanna Bach

Rosanna Bach photographer, writer, and storyteller was born in Switzerland in 1990. She completed a BBA in Design Management at Parsons the New School for Design in 2012. After completing her degree, Rosanna moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina where she lived for five months working on a personal project, "Fear Builds Walls." As a result she is fluent in English, Spanish and German. In 2013 Rosanna graduated from the Documentary and Photojournalism program at the International Centre of Photography. She now lives and works in New York City.

Originally published on Promote & Preserve.

DAY IX • GREAT DEPTHS AHEAD

Saturday, September 21st

Land Art - Journal Entry No. 6

11:15 am - On the Road, The Grand Canyon to Holbrook, Arizona

After a short overnight stop in Page, Arizona, we were quickly back on the road towards our next destination. Considered one of the world’s seven natural wonders, the Grand Canyon is the most well known land art piece on this road trip; I was incredibly excited to visit. However, “grand” doesn’t even begin to describe what this canyon really is. The 277 mile long and 18 mile wide landscape boasts an impressive 6,000 foot long depth that promises amazing views, an intense visual history of the earth’s rock formations, and various species of wildlife. It inspires many and over 5 million people from around the world visit each year. It’s a place I’ve always wanted to see, and yesterday I was finally able to do so.

After a five hour drive, we finally made it to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim where we would be staying that night. This location is exactly what I imagined camping would be like: surrounded by tall, pine trees and air that smelled like campfire. As soon as we secured our campsite in the national park, we hurriedly headed over to the Rim’s edge to catch the Canyon’s brilliant views before sunset. To no surprise, even the path leading to the Rim was picturesque. Comprised of adorable log cabins and carefully carved wooden signs, its charm was felt immediately. Through the trees, we began to see the multi-colored rock, and as we did, the group headed there with more haste. Once we finally made it there, the majority of us were quickly at a loss for words.

As I made my way beyond the trees, I caught my first open view of the Grand Canyon. I stood completely still and gazed out at what I immediately realized to be the most unbelievably beautiful view I have ever been fortunate enough to see with my own eyes. The Canyon’s depth is so vast that it almost appears to be endless. Beautiful dark violets, warm reds, and a culmination of other earth tones seem to blend together and create a striking contrast against the bright blue Arizona sky. I reached for my iPhone and quickly snapped a dozen photographs. When I looked through them, I immediately understood that a cellphone camera definitely didn’t have the capability to capture the beauty of this landscape. I made a second attempt, this time with my DSLR camera. Again, I was completely dissatisfied with the product. Even that development couldn’t express the greatness of what I was looking at. It really is something you need to physically experience to completely appreciate. No picture or word can do it justice. Sorry, the internet cannot help you with this one.

1:03 pm - On the Road to Holbrook, Arizona

Although I was impressed beyond belief by the Grand Canyon, I felt a bit differently about our location after spending the night there. This morning was a completely different story than the beautiful evening it followed. After a night of s’mores and stories by the campfire, I was really enjoying the Grand Canyon camping experience. As much as I was excited to sleep in the North Rim’s beautiful high altitude woods, unfortunately, my mind was not. I had some of the most intense, vivid dreams I’ve ever had in my life last night. They were so powerful that they have, unfortunately, negatively impacted my entire morning and are still haunting me while I’m writing this in the van, already miles away from the Canyon. As personal as it was, I dreamt of the death of one of my immediate family members. It was incredibly strange. In my dreams, I was crying and filled with strong emotions of  both sadness and anger. I seemed to be the only one who really cared. It was so intense that when I woke up in the middle of the night, my face was soaked and I was rightfully petrified. It took hours to shake off most of the feelings and fall back asleep, sadly to only re-enter the nightmare.

When I woke up for the day, I took a walk away from the campsite to gather my thoughts. I needed to call my family members but, as always, I didn’t have any reception. I had been on trips where I was unable to easily contact them in the past, but for the first time the disconnection I was so pleased with on this trip had the opposite effect. Something felt wrong and I felt powerless against it. When I walked back to the campsite, we were all packed up and ready to head out. As we headed towards the van, I started talking to another artist on the trip who began to explain a vivid nightmare she had also had last night. I listened and explained my own. I wasn’t the only one having horrible dreams. In fact, a small group of us did. Alex Gerson overheard us and confirmed, “The high altitude here is known to give visitor’s really vivid dreams, often nightmares.”

Knowing that information didn’t really move my thoughts away from the dreams I had last night. As I sit in the van waiting for cell phone reception, I strongly feel the desire to hear any of my family members’ voices. It has been an absolutely amazing experience so far, and I understand that you occasionally need to completely leave your comfort zone in order to appreciate the life you have lived as well as your present. That sometimes includes being separated from those you have always felt comfortable around- your friends and family. But it’s important not to forget them, not to disconnect yourself from them. The trees wouldn’t stand so tall and beautiful in the Grand Canyon were it not for the strength of their roots. Likewise, I wouldn’t be able to experience this life altering opportunity were it not for the friends and family who have assisted me in getting here. In this moment, all I want is for all of them to have been able to accompany me at the Grand Canyon and share this experience with me. They deserve it just as much as I do.

 

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Photography Credit: Adam Joseph Brochstein 

Adam loves eating five cheeseburgers a week. To be honest, sometimes its more. It's a fairly terrifying sight. But he only enjoys a cheeseburger after he makes pictures. That comes first. He completed his B.F.A. at the Art Institute of Boston. He now resides in San Francisco, CA where he recently completed his M.F.A. in photography at the California College of the Arts. He formerly lived in Boston, MA where he relocated from south of the MasonDixon line, by way of Boulder, CO. Adam is available for editorial & commercial work and is actively pursuing his personal work as well.

Originally published on Promote & Preserve.

DAY VIII • LESSONS FROM WEEK I

Roadside Reflections - Journal Entry No. 3 

Friday, September 20th

It has only been a week into the trip and I already feel that I’ve learned an incredible amount about art, nature, and just generally have become more appreciative of the luxuries in my regular life. The uncertainty I entered this trip with is far gone and I am now very comfortable with the ever changing environment and the amazing artists I have befriended on this trip. I know the lessons learned, experiences had, and friendships formed will only continue to develop and strengthen, but as I reflect on the first week I already feel eternally grateful for the opportunity to be a part of Gerson Zevi’s Land Art Road Trip.

  • From my interview with Alexander Getty and conversations with some of the other artists I better understand that there is not one way to pursue your dreams. Everyone goes about it differently and everyone gets to where they want to be in their own way and time. You should never compare yourself to others, just focus on being the best artist you can be. Stay patient, driven, and focused and eventually you will get there.
  • Nature can provide a certain kind of peace and serenity that the city just can’t deliver. Spending time at the Spiral Jetty, the Sun Tunnels, the Bonneville Salt Flats, the Valley of Fire, and Double Negative made me really appreciate the beauty and power that nature has. We have to take care of these beautiful places. If we continue to mistreat our earth, we will lose them.
  • Camping is not THAT bad….You get used to it. It also serves a major purpose on this trip as it allows us to experience the land art works in their entirety. It also personally helped me appreciate the luxuries of my regular life. Most of us take things as simple as running water and air conditioning completely for granted. We are lucky to have those basic comforts. Unfortunately, there are people in this world who live life without any access to them.
  • In my interview with Adeline de Monseignat, I was amazed to hear about her upcoming project for Dramatic Need. The purpose of the work is to help individuals in strife. It made me realize that art can actually do more than just inspire and educate, but also has the power to change the world. You just have to find a way to do it.
  • You can find a purpose or place for anything if you believe in it. Nancy Holt took acres of baron, previously useless land to house her Sun Tunnels. Today, people from both near and far travel to this dead, dry land to view and appreciate her art work.

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Photography Credit: Rosanna Bach

Rosanna Bach photographer, writer, and storyteller was born in Switzerland in 1990. She completed a BBA in Design Management at Parsons the New School for Design in 2012. After completing her degree, Rosanna moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina where she lived for five months working on a personal project, "Fear Builds Walls." As a result she is fluent in English, Spanish and German. In 2013 Rosanna graduated from the Documentary and Photojournalism program at the International Centre of Photography. She now lives and works in New York City.

Originally published on Promote & Preserve.

DAY VII PART II • NEGATIVE SCULPTURE

Thursday, September 19th

Land Art - Journal Entry No. 5

8:33 am - Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Last night before dinner, Chris Willcox had invited me to partake in some moonlit yoga. I had been watching him and Adeline practice it at almost every natural landscape we’ve been to thus far; it began to look incredibly appealing, so I gladly accepted the offer. Together with a few other artists, we walked over to plot of red sand elevated next to the picnic tables. Five of us formed a circle as Chris instructed us. Downward dog buried my fingers and toes into the cool sand; I looked up at a sea of bright stars in the dark night sky as I slowly moved towards cobra pose. After nights of sleeping in a sleeping bag on the rocky ground, the stretch felt amazing. The atmosphere, however, was far more impactful.

In New York, I occasionally head to the East Village’s popular Yoga to the People, a donation-based yoga studio available to everyone. On stressful nights, I get there half an hour to forty five minutes early to guarantee a favorable spot towards the front of the room. As it gets closer to starting time, the room quickly fills up. Once the class begins, the studio’s wooden floor becomes nearly invisible and occupied with as many people as the room can accommodate. As the instructor starts and the class advances, the room steadily heats up and a distinct aroma of anti deodorant-wearing East Village hipster fills the air. Sometimes there may also be that obnoxious yoga girl, disturbing the peace with loud gasps and moans at every new pose. Yet, as a New Yorker, these things are familiar and you become used to them. You feel at peace laying on that wooden floor as the teacher sounds the gong, and you leave far more relaxed than when you entered.

Still, yoga at the Valley of Fire was something else. An old, cracked ceiling does not at all compare to a constellation-filled sky. The seemingly exfoliating texture of the Valley’s sand is far easier on the toes than a sweaty wooden floor. A small group practicing yoga for the sake of interacting with nature acts in a completely different way than a packed New York City Yoga to the People class. When it was over and time for dinner, I knew I would sleep well that night. Both the guidance of guru Chris and the Valley of Fire’s engaging atmosphere enabled me to have the best night’s sleep of the trip so far.

4:31 pm - On the road en route to Page, Arizona

After packing up camp, we left the Valley of Fire and made our way to Michael Heizer’sDouble Negative. On the drive there, Chris read an incredibly lengthy and detailed New York Times feature profiling the artist. Admittedly not knowing much about Heizer beforehand, I was very intrigued. As he’s described by the publication’s chief art critic, Michael Kimmelman, Heizer’s character seems familiar in another popular creative form more Americans understand: hip-hop music. If we were to relate Heizer to a rapper, he would be the Kanye West of Earth art. To back up the comparison, one must acknowledge the fact that Heizer insistently claims his work, specifically his most well-known piece,Double Negative, to be absolutely genius. He also informs Kimmelman that his former friend and contemporary, Robert Smithson, had stolen his ideas to create the popular Land Art work, the Spiral Jetty. Even the breadth of his work- massive, yet minimal in notion- constitutes Heizer’s need for vast and dramatic earth art. His pieces both instill awe and fear and, like almost all earth works, create a strong feeling of isolation. Needless to say, the New York Times piece added to the excitement of seeing Double Negative.

To get there, you must drive up a rocky mountain in a remote area of the Nevada Desert. The road up was nearly non-existent and so shaky that the vans had to leave the trailers behind to venture up. Surrounded by a terrain of dirt brown mountains, we slowly bumped our way to it and jumped out of the van as soon as we were close enough. However, we soon felt that this landscape wasn’t as inviting as the locations of the Land Art pieces we had seen in Utah. The ground was comprised of rocks that made it difficult to walk, and the surrounding air emitted a very dry, hot heat. This work also varied from the others in that it wasn’t literally adding anything to the land, but subtracting from it- hence, Double Negative. To create this work, Heizer and his team constructed two massive gashes facing each other in the Nevada Desert’s Mormon Mountains. When they were originally presented to the public, the gashes appear to be impressively shear 90 degree angles. Decades later and unmaintained, they are no longer shear, but looking at them still immediately invokes a great feeling of intimidation.

This immense and deliberate man-made subtraction from Earth doesn’t even begin to describe what this piece actually feels like. It is something that you can’t really appreciate through pictures; it really must be viewed directly to comprehend. (That goes for all Land Art pieces, but this one even more so.) Leaving Michael Heizer’s amazing work, I realized even just seeing it wasn’t quite enough. We were able to camp by the Spiral Jetty and the Sun Tunnels, which allowed us to better understand the work, but we did not camp byDouble Negative; we never got to see it in a different light. Now more of the decisions made on this trip start to make sense. Sure, part of the reason we were camping was due to it being cost effective and convenient based on most of our locations, but it’s so much more than that. Living by the work provides an experience you can’t get in a museum or an art gallery. Land art simply cannot be completely understood with a short trip. This comes in understanding that Earth’s natural light is an incredibly vital aspect to appreciating it. For all of these works, each changed depending on the time of day and unfortunately, that didn’t become apparent to me until we were already halfway to Arizona.

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Photography Credit: Adam Joseph Brochstein 

Adam loves eating five cheeseburgers a week. To be honest, sometimes its more. It's a fairly terrifying sight. But he only enjoys a cheeseburger after he makes pictures. That comes first. He completed his B.F.A. at the Art Institute of Boston. He now resides in San Francisco, CA where he recently completed his M.F.A. in photography at the California College of the Arts. He formerly lived in Boston, MA where he relocated from south of the MasonDixon line, by way of Boulder, CO. Adam is available for editorial & commercial work and is actively pursuing his personal work as well.

Originally published on Promote & Preserve.

Day VII • On The Road With Alexander Getty

Thursday, September 19th

On The Road - Journal Entry No. 2

My introductory conversation with Alexander Getty took place after our first night of camping at the Spiral Jetty. As you would assume, I was irritable and unsure; he on the other hand was incredibly positive and overtly friendly. He saw me struggling to figure out how to get a large, fluffy red sleeping bag into the small fabric container it came from and immediately offered a lending hand. Helping me roll up my sleeping bag, he briefly discussed himself and the work that he came on this trip to do. The conversation lasted about 10 minutes, but it was enough for me to deduce the core of his character. Alexander Getty is a passionate photographer and an incredibly caring individual. Those two traits combined enabled us to have our very own photography teacher, amazing photographs to document our journey, and a great friend. He often assists us in selecting the perfect aperture, angles to shoot, and in my case- kindly housed my impossible project film in an iced cooler and gave me advice on how to best preserve it.

His positive personality was so infectious that along the way many of us had to consider the dreaded thought, “What will we do without Alex Getty?”. He’s only leaving for four days and then rejoining the trip, but our seeming dependency on him guarantees that his presence will definitely be missed. We act as if he’s our father going away on a business trip. Although he’s around the same age as most of us, he carries himself like an intelligent and experienced adult. His wisdom and kindness allude to a history of different events that helped shape him into the commendable man he is today. Interviewing him on the road, I found that the allusion is his actual reality.

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Q + A W/ ALEXANDER GETTY

PHOTOGRAPHER - SAN FRANCISCO, CA

Sarah Mendelsohn: Alright, Alex, so how did you first develop an interest in photography?

Alexander Getty: I think it was through my mother. She was an avid photographer, and she would always build small dark rooms in every home that we had. We moved house a lot because she would flip them. As my parents climbed the housing ladder, we also climbed the dark room ladder and created more of them. I just always saw them around my home; when she judged that I was of age, she taught me how to develop and shoot. This was in the early 90’s.

SM: How old were you?

AG: I was probably nine.

SM: Oh, wow. So you started very young.

AG: Yeah, I always liked building stuff. I had workshops that I made in all these houses, so I was always good with creating things and building it all. I was one of those kids who played with little planes and things like that. Photography was very similar because you could really build something; you got to use tools and it was fun. If you do one thing, something happens. It made perfect sense to me. I think from a young age it was just always really fun for me.

SM: So you started with analog photography? Digital wasn’t a popular thing back then.

AG: No. It didn’t exist.

SM: You use digital now, obviously.

AG: I use both.

SM: But what is your preference?

AG: Analog. I would like to always use film for anything I’m showing. For work, I use digital because it’s faster, cheaper, and actually, honestly it’s better.

SM: Why is it better?

AG: It’s better because you can make mistakes and in work, I can’t deliver a mistake to a client. I can make mistakes on the job and still deliver a really good package whereas for personal stuff, I really don’t care.

SM: Well, since the 90s, everything has gone digital. Today, people are saying everyone’s a photographer with their cellphone. You’ve seen that change.

AG: Yeah, I have. I actually think that’s a byproduct of film. If you look at cellphones and all of the filters that we have now, all they’re doing is emulating film. At the end of the day, I think it’s just the renaissance of film which has lead to the cellphone camera. I don’t know what the statistic is of how many people actually filter their photos, but let’s just be honest - most people do. I’m not afraid that phones are going to put people like me out of business because it’s still completely different. It’s instant.

“I actually think that’s a byproduct of film. If you look at cellphones and all of the filters that we have now, all they’re doing is emulating film. At the end of the day, I think it’s just the renaissance of film which has lead to the cellphone camera. I don’t know what the statistic is of how many people actually filter their photos, but let’s just be honest - most people do. I’m not afraid that phones are going to put people like me out of business because it’s still completely different. It’s instant.”

It’s actually very hard to answer that question. I don’t think of photography like that. I usually shoot and then I develop and then I don’t even look at the photographs for a few months. I like doing that because I like looking at them fresh without that kind of impulse to see them immediately, whereas on a phone I can’t wait to post it on Instagram or Facebook. It’s so much fun. Those are completely different ends of the spectrum. So, I think there’s a place for each, which is really handy because hopefully it means that I’ll have work for a while.

SM: Yeah, I found it interesting- I was reading up on the history of magazines and publications. They were predominantly illustrations before photography was introduced in the 1930s. Now you rarely see illustration in magazines. I feel like in the same way, people are not using film as much anymore. Do you think that people will ever stop using film?

AG: Yeah, I do. A hundred percent, I really do. I think there’s enough accelerating technology out there to put film out of business in the next 10 years. You can emulate it and sensors in cameras are getting so good. If we had this conversation in five years time, I think it would be completely different. I know a handful of photographers who stockpile film, me included. I have a fridge dedicated to it. It’s kind of sad, but that’s the end of it. Once it’s all gone and the production ends, it’s not cost effective anymore.

SM: Yeah. Did you go to school for photography?

AG: I didn’t. I really got into it when I was in high school. I went to a high school with a strong art program and a dark room. You could concentrate in photography and that’s all I did for five years. I spent everyday in the dark room and I spent days and days shooting. I actually received my first digital camera as a gift. My dad went on a business trip and a bank gave it to him. It was one of the first ever-digital cameras. It was amazing, but it was so primitive that you couldn’t use it for anything. I still had to shoot film and I’m so glad that they were so primitive because without that, background I wouldn’t have the understanding that I do today.

I did a lot then and then I went to college in Birmingham for a year and dropped out. I was doing Italian studies, which was like a last ditch effort to get into college. It was the last class they had open and I was like whatever, I’ll take it. I did that and I didn’t take it seriously. I probably should have just taken time off in between high school and college. Then I decided to move to the States. My dad said, ‘You know what? If you’re going to move to the States, you go there on one condition and that is that you get a job.’ I said, ‘No problem, how about I do an internship for you?’ He agreed and I worked for his company, which is a stock imaging company. I worked for three months and then got friendly with my boss.

I’m so happy I had him as a mentor in my life; I actually credit him with a lot. He ended up hiring me and he said it wasn’t because I was the CEO’s son, which I don’t care if it was or wasn’t. It was great. I worked there for three years and I learned a lot. I assisted a lot of shoots and I learned the commercial business of photography. It was absolutely brilliant. At the same time, I went to college. I applied to SVA (School of Visual Arts). I threw together a quick photography portfolio and I got into the school on a fast track thanks to my boss. Good mentors are really good people; they really believe in you. After two and a half years, I dropped out of there, too, but I did a lot of photography. I was an advertising major, but I focused mainly on photography.

SM: You said he was a good mentor. What did he teach you that was so valuable to you?

AG: He taught me life lessons. He taught me that if you want something, you need to take it. I was a very shy kid. For example, if there was one spot to be taken in a college and there was a kid who came from a poor neighborhood, I would just let him take it. He taught me that, that’s nice and all, but the fact of the matter is there are lots of spots and everybody deserves that chance. You should use the means that you have at your disposal to further your career and I think that he was right. I just think that’s the way life is. I think you need to do as much as you can and make the most of all of your connections. Sometimes it doesn’t work and sometimes it does. I didn’t know that when I was 19. I was very humble.

“You should use the means that you have at your disposal to further your career and I think that he was right. I just think that’s the way life is. I think you need to do as much as you can and make the most of all of your connections. Sometimes it doesn’t work and sometimes it does.”

SM: Are you still in touch with that mentor?

AG: Yes.

SM: Cool. So why did you decide to drop out of school?

AG: I got out of a very messy relationship and I was very depressed. That was one reason. During that long deconstruction of the relationship, my grades just went through the floor. I went from a 4.0 to a 2.0 and just struggled so much. I also made the mistake of valuing my job at Getty Images more than I did school. I shouldn’t have worked because I would go to school at 8 in the morning, go crosstown to 21st and Lex, and go to school. School was over at 4:30-5, at which point I would go straight to work. I started to work at 6 and ended at midnight and then we’d go out. So that was the mistake I made, but I was 19.

“During that long deconstruction of the relationship, my grades just went through the floor. I went from a 4.0 to a 2.0 and just struggled so much. I also made the mistake of valuing my job at Getty Images more than I did school.”

SM: True, that is very young. Did you feel that you learned more in the classroom or at Getty?

AG: I think the classroom taught me a lot about skills, but I think work taught me a lot about life. I had a lot of disagreements with my teachers. I’m a very linear thinker; I think very formulaically. That’s just the way I’ve always been for a few reasons. I have diabetes, and I’m very rigid about how I do things because I just have to be.  I think that affects my thinking, and my teachers always wanted me to let go and express myself, but that just wasn’t me. I struggled with that, but in the workplace that was fine because formulaic thinking was actually a positive thing.

SM: So you dropped out of school and then what did you do after that?

AG:  I dropped out of school and without telling anybody,  I immediately packed up my apartment and moved to Los Angeles. My cousin harbored me for about five months, which was very nice of him. I didn’t have any family in New York or and I didn’t know many people there. I mean, I knew some people, but I’m very family centric. LA had a lot of family, and I needed that at that time, so I moved to start over again. My years in LA were a discovery period marked by multiple jobs in various industries. 

“I didn’t have any family in New York or and I didn’t know many people there. I mean, I knew some people, but I’m very family centric. LA had a lot of family, and I needed that at that time, so I moved to start over again. My years in LA were a discovery period marked by multiple jobs in various industries.”

SM: You had a long-term job there, right? You told me about it before.

AG: It wasn’t very long term. I worked for an audio visual installer because I’m kind of a dork and I love building things. I would install home cinemas and build them. Then I started doing that on my own. I started a company with a friend of mine that went bust after a year and a half in tech support. We just didn’t work well together; he’s just a difficult person to work with, as am I.

SM: Why do you think you’re difficult to work with?

AG: Because I’m really stubborn. So I always work alone. I got a job through a connection working for a company up in Berkeley, California. I was the business development person for them, which really meant wearing a dozen different hats. They hired me because I lived in Hollywood and they wanted me to recruit talent for their company. That was just not me; I steer away from talent. I worked for them for a very miserable year. After that, I was like, ‘You know what? I’ve had so many bad jobs and I really want to do something I like. I really don’t care what people think anymore.’ So I went back to what always makes me happy, which is photography.

“After that, I was like, ‘You know what? I’ve had so many bad jobs and I really want to do something I like. I really don’t care what people think anymore.’ So I went back to what always makes me happy, which is photography.”

SM: So you went out on your own then?

AG: Yes, that was 2011.

SM: Was that a struggle to do?

AG: Yeah, it was. I had been with my girlfriend at the time for three and a half years. She was in grad school and I was jobless, so I felt terrible. I was determined to somehow make it. I was wondering which route I should take and I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll just do art photography and I’ll figure it out.’ I embarked on that and realized you really can’t just do that; you need to meet people and the way to do that is to meet them through working jobs. Very slowly, I found people who were willing to pay me nothing to do something. I did that for a long time. Everything started to pick up when I moved to San Francisco because San Francisco is a much more accepting city of young, new talents. It’s a small city with a small population of very educated people. It’s an amazing place, it really is, whereas LA was a big city of a huge population of very uneducated people who are swayed by Hollywood and entertainment. I find that really disgusting, so I never wanted to be a part of it. 

“I was determined to somehow make it. I was wondering which route I should take and I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll just do art photography and I’ll figure it out.’ I embarked on that and realized you really can’t just do that; you need to meet people and the way to do that is to meet them through working jobs."

Very slowly, I found people who were willing to pay me nothing to do something. I did that for a long time. Everything started to pick up when I moved to San Francisco because San Francisco is a much more accepting city of young, new talents. It’s a small city with a small population of very educated people. It’s an amazing place.”

SM: So out of all the cities you’ve lived in, you really prefer San Francisco out of them all?

AG: Yes. It’s a great place.

SM: It wasn't until the other day that I realized your direct relation to Getty Images. Have you ever wanted to use that familial connection for work? 

AG: No. I always wanted to do it on my own. It’s wrong to think that because I should use every opportunity I have.

SM: But you don’t want people to think that you’re just making it because of your family.

AG: Yeah. Hence, I don’t syndicate for them. I don’t do anything for them.  I have my own company. It’s very humble and it’s very small, but I make do. I  like it and it’s great. I could pretty much do whatever I want. I can make time to do a show if I want. I couldn’t participate on this trip if I was working for somebody else.

“Yeah. Hence, I don’t syndicate for them. I don’t do anything for them. I have my own company. It’s very humble and it’s very small, but I make do. I like it and it’s great. I could pretty much do whatever I want. I can make time to do a show if I want. I couldn’t participate on this trip if I was working for somebody else.”

SM: If anyone else wanted to be a photographer now, what advice would you give them?

AG: I would say shoot a lot. I notice that when I don’t shoot, nothing happens, so just keep shooting. Get involved with groups. I get involved with a lot of groups; I’m a part of the Adobe group in San Francisco and I spend a lot of time at their headquarters here. I help influence the way in which their software works. Their software is the life force of the business, it really is. Social networking has been helpful, in some respects. You have to dedicate a huge amount of time to it, but it’s been useful.

SM: You have a lot of fans on Facebook.

AG: Yeah, I do. I don’t know why. I think more than anything there have been some really great people in this field that  I’ve met over the years. Some people have really big egos and that’s just the way they work. I’m sure if they were any other kind of professional, they would have the same kind of ego. Some people don’t. Take Adam; he has no ego, he’s a very good photographer who wants to share his fun and his passion. People like that really help the business. Through collaboration, you can do incredible things and anybody getting into this business should be open to it. Don’t hog anything. Enjoy yourself. Don’t take it too seriously. Taking photographs is not hard. The people are harder.

SM: Great advice. Last question. You’re leaving the trip tomorrow, right? What have you gained from this experience or enjoyed most?

AG: The people. I have met some of the most incredible people, so many like minded individuals, and I’ve had a hell of a fun time. I’ve seen some fantastic art. What’s not to like? It’s amazing.

SM: Is there any particular art work that we saw that inspired you in anyway?

AG: The Valley of Fire blew me away. It just makes sense to me. It’s geometric and I love that.

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Originally published on Promote & Preserve.

DAY VI • BLIND MATERIALISM

Wednesday, September 18th

Land Art - Journal Entry No. 4

10:48 am – The Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

We were sweating our asses off in that little tent last night and each of us woke up gleaming in a thin layer of perspiration. Stretching my body from underneath a heated sleeping bag, I quickly reached for the tent zipper and pulled on it with force. Once it was completely open, I stuck my face out of the vessel. Refreshing air hit my face and poured into our warmed tent. It felt amazing. Maybe sleeping in a tent in this weather wasn’t such a smart idea, but sleeping outdoors has become a learning experience. Every day has gotten easier and less uncomfortable; the more you do it, the more it starts feeling natural.

Feeling groggy, I slowly made my way to the breakfast area. From the kitchen, I could smell a delicious and familiar aroma. Evy, our resident chef, was making pancakes that she introduced to those approaching her as “an American breakfast.” I grabbed a plate, loaded it with fluffy pancakes and fresh fruit and took a seat at one of the picnic tables. Our campsite at the Valley of Fire has a very nice eating area that consists of a neatly lined row of metal picnic tables housed by red sandstone.  Alex and Matteo announced that we would have a brief group meeting after breakfast.

The ensuing meeting promised a short trip to Las Vegas, primarily for Evy to buy food and cooking supplies, but also to allow anybody interested in driving down the infamous strip a chance to view it. I was definitely going. Though I hate to admit it, after a few days of camping in the wilderness, visiting a city like Las Vegas where cell phone reception and Internet existed sounded completely desirable and absolutely necessary.

11:42 am – The Valley of State Park, Nevada

During the day, for lack of better expression, the Valley of Fire is incredibly hot. There are no clouds in the sky for temporary relief from the tenaciously beating sun looming above the park until it decides to set for the evening. As I learned, this part of Nevada receives an average of 4 inches of precipitation the entire year; in the summer, temperatures elevate to a scorching hot 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Today, it was in the 90s, and regardless of there being no proper showers at this campsite, a large group of us decided to engage in a game of Whiffle ball. The game was an interesting selection due to the fact that the majority of the participants were British.  Most of them were completely unaware of the rules of baseball, which added hilarity to the sport.

The heat and lack of defensive success on both teams resulted in a two-inning-long event. As it ended, I decided to take a break from the sun and joined Chris Willcox in the shade of the eating area’s red sandstone. I started to write in my notebook when he asked if I was interested in seeing his work.  Of course I was. I had not really investigated the work of most of the artists on the trip before coming here. I thought it might be more interesting and insightful to learn about the artist by actually meeting and living with them. So, having the opportunity to hear about Chris’s work in his own words was an instant treat. With his computer out, he happily clicked through images of his brightly colored paintings and also informed me of his latest exhibition. Prior to Land Art, Chris was at a very important reception in Washington DC. He took part in a highly anticipated exhibition at the Smithsonian that highlighted the works of artists with disabilities. Chris happened to win the grand prize, an amazing grant that would enable him to jump-start his career as a full-time artist.

I was a bit confused at first. Chris didn’t seem to have any visible disabilities. He must have sensed my misperception and explained, “I am dyslexic and have ADHD.” Through our conversation he expressed the way in which his disabilities had an effect on his self-perception growing up, describing that art had empowered him to show others that despite his learning infirmities, he was good at something. He had talent, and he proved it in his artwork. This lead into an inspiring discussion on how art has the power to liberate by allowing people to express themselves in a nourishing way.


I was a bit confused at first. Chris didn’t seem to have any visible disabilities. He must have sensed my misperception and explained, “I am dyslexic and have ADHD.” Through our conversation he expressed the way in which his disabilities had an effect on his self-perception growing up, describing that art had empowered him to show others that despite his learning infirmities, he was good at something. He had talent, and he proved it in his artwork. This lead into an inspiring discussion on how art has the power to liberate by allowing people to express themselves in a nourishing way.

6:28 pm – On the road, Las Vegas to the Valley of Fire State Park

I think I was the only one in the group who had previously visited Las Vegas and actually enjoyed the city.  Like most Americans, I have an unabashed love for luxury hotels, gigantic buffets, nightclubs, and good shopping. It’s awful, I know, and the more of this trip I have experienced the more I realize how materialistic the things I enjoy actually are. The Europeans who came along for the ride were excited to see Las Vegas, but had interesting expectations. They presumed Las Vegas was this dirty city driven by sin and lust for sex, drugs, and money. They were accurate in their assumptions; however the city was seemingly much cleaner than they thought it would be.

As we drove down the strip, the Europeans in the van commented:

• Oh my god, this is so corporate-looking! I thought it would be a quirky-looking shit hole, but it’s actually an even worse kind of shit hole. It’s a corporate shit hole.

• This is so awful, it’s gross!

• I can’t wait to get back to the campground. I can’t take all these people and buildings right now.

My internal thoughts went more like this:

• Ah, I would kill to lay on Mandalay Bay’s man made beach right now.

• Dinner at the Cosmopolitan is amazing. I’m almost salivating thinking about it.

• It would be so lovely to spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing on a gondola in air conditioning at the Venetian.

Once a princess, always a princess, I guess. As we left out of Vegas and started towards the Valley of Fire, I reflected. Somehow, I became excited to go back to the emptiness surrounding the state park, spend time outdoors in peacefulness, and rejoin the Land Art group. My desire for overt luxury quickly faded and an appreciation for the earth and land immediately resurged. I realized that there is more to life than these human-derived edifices; I forgot that driving through Las Vegas. Craving greedy portions of food, overpriced shelter, and an excess of affluence, it’s rapacious. It’s the dream we’re forced to believe we want by the media and I fell into it, but thanks to the Land Art Road Trip, I can finally see it clearly.

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Photography Credit: Alexander Getty

Alexander Getty is a San Francisco based photographer with an immense passion for what he does. Having started at a very young age, Getty honed his craft learning from mentors, family members, and professors in Rome, London, and New York. He began his career in New York where he attended the School of Visual Arts while balancing a job at Getty Images. Today Getty lives and works as a professional photographer in San Francisco, California. His work has been featured in galleries and publications internationally. 

Originally published on Promote & Preserve.