Saturday, October 4, 2008

Day 106: Immersed

view of Michael Light's installation of 100 Suns in the Discovery Room at the NMA

Blogging for 8 hours straight is an intense, yet rewarding experience. People attending the Conference seem to be very intrigued about our motivations and incredibly supportive. The project is going well overall, despite grappling with the time zone change. We are certainly grateful to have the chance to participate. Our writing today should be more coherent as we "arrive" more fully. Check out the archive and join in today if you are so inclined. You an also check out our daily summaries on Metropolis Magazine's P/O/V.

I am finding myself surrounded with others who are deeply invested in the topic of land use and environment in the United States. It is incredibly refreshing to have aesthetics and art be the way into these discussions and how they are creatively addressed. I am thrilled that the Nevada Test Site is a reoccurring point of discussion- a topic that I find is basically off the radar on the east coast.

Yesterday during one of the panels Michael Light, of 100 Suns, (who actually has another exhibition currently on view at the NMA, Some Dry Space) showed a series of images of the final "burn" that concludes the annual Burning Man event in the Nevada Black Rock Desert each year. The images turned out to initiate a bit of a polemic discussion. Burning Man seems to be thought of as somewhat of a local event in Nevada, and several audience members have attended and had differing views than Michael's. In the last two years, he sensed that there had been a change, a driving up, of the degree of "spectacle" in the event. He described this as a desire by attendees for "more and more sensationalism". He showed images of the final burn spanning from the late 90s up to 2007. It was quite provocative to see what looked like a large celebratory desert fire become something, that in 2007, looked like a miniature nuclear explosion.

An audience member commented that Michael, with the Test Site residing closely in his visual awareness, could quite possibly be seeing something in this concluding fire that simply wasn't there. Yet, Michael adamantly stated that he found it problematic that "responsibility" for this image, and its similarity to an atomic bomb, has not been taken up by the organizers. Crimson Rose, the art director of the event and co-panelist with him, didn't see or seem to want to accept the similarities.

So, I am left with a series of general and specific questions- what are the responsibilities of image/art making? How does site contextualize image/art making? Is it impossible to make images/art that are able to be separated from context and site? Is it just in highly contested locations that site must be acknowledged? Is there something about art making in the West that is more cognizant of how image/art can't be seen out-of-relation with place and history? Would this image/event, if it took place somewhere other than Nevada, be seen and experienced differently? Even if the final burn at Burning Man was modeled after an atomic test, would it be bad, or could it be seen/experienced as a signal of a cathartic release enacted by "the people" on this very same landscape as the "real thing"- instead of by the government? Is it too taboo to admit that consciously or not, people are entranced by our nuclear history, and this burn might be a creative trace of this, and this is neither good nor bad, but a signal of another kind?


Wyatt Hough said...

What do you think the response to this show would be in New York? Is it more powerful because the imagery and subject is the local environment?

I just saw this large piece at the moma of tiny tiny shapes of clouds and explosions on a large piece of paper, but in the exhibition which covered 40 years of contemporary art, I felt like the intention of the piece was altered.

Wyatt Hough

jamie said...

Hi Wyatt,
Thanks for the comment. I think this show would be treated historically in New York. Much like the exhibition that you mentioned. I get the sense that it is both a living history and contemporary reality in the West. I just don't sense that people in New York are aware that what happened in the NV on the Test Site still shapes life today.
What was the name of the show that you saw?