Ontological art in slow decomposition
We all fight time, the conqueror. Though we strive for stasis, at least when things seem perfect, inexorable linearity prevails. Eventually we lose the illusory battle to halt what seems unnatural and unfair, no second can be reclaimed except what the firing neurons recall. There is some irony that what those cerebral chemicals in the hippocampus display are our best and at times most vivid art.
Still, we fight.
The basalt of time, on the way to Marfa. Larger version is here to see the graffiti.
How can we comprehend our own narrow slices of time when we see something that can't easily be measured by our slices? The volcanoes of ages past produce vertical basaltic dikes, and we try to ignore the immense meaning by marking territory, spraying out of a can as a substitute for ownership peeing. The once liquid solid doesn't care and doesn't know that millions, or tens or hundreds of millions of years have vanished beneath its slow change. The paint will flake and fall as will all the natural constituent parts of the seeming impermeable surface.
Steven Spielberg can make the skies and clouds move with violent alacrity while natural time goes on below in the same scene. Koyaanisqatsi mocks our seeming ownership of time, and brings to focus our lives out of balance. But Spielberg's video trickery and the Hopi concept of time point as metaphors of what ought to be. We ought to enjoy our time even as it screams past us. Create the art that memory will recall even though that art will return to dust in the immeasurable eons to come. Simply—love, live and make beauty. Don't worry that others might not know what that beauty you make means.
Looks like it was a BadYear. (An admittedly bad pun, the tires on the poor yellow John Deere are Goodyears). Larger view.
As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I was off on another road trip. The destination again was to be Santa Fe—a return to help a friend who owns a lovely tchotchke and gift store near the Plaza. It's only about 650 miles from Dallas to the capital of New Mexico, but I was taking the southern route and more than doubled the miles, racking up a leisurely 1400 miles by the time I arrived.
I take the back roads when I travel, only using an Interstate when there is no other option. (Surprisingly, there are sections of west Texas where an Interstate is the only route, not counting cow trails. Can you imagine that possibility, you east and west coasters? Of course, and not counting Alaska which doesn't really have a comparable highway infrastructure, Texas is the only state in the union where you can drive for 14 hours, much of it on freeways, and still be in the same state.)
The purpose of the southerly route was a different kind of revisiting. I read that one of my favorite pieces of public art was in danger of disappearing—succumbing prematurely to the ravages of time and myopic damage. The Prada Marfa store was once again vandalized and the local artist cum caretaker, Boyd Elder, said that the time may have arrived to stop repairing the quirky iconic art project.
The 15-foot-by-25-foot stucco cube stands alone along highway 90 in the West Texas high desert 40 miles further along from the art mecca of Marfa. The nearest town is Valentine, where with enough foresight, you can send your Valentine cards for the postmaster to mark your cards and letters. It's about the only industry in Valentine, though there is a red roofed church and a red themed Valentine Independent School District that operate amid the stucco and adobe ruins of the town.
Plug the following GPS coordinates into your Google Earth application and you can get a birds-eye view of the lonely outpost of the Italian luxury fashion empire: 30.60331252542824, -104.518436105387.
Of course, it's not really a store you can go into. It does have actual Prada purses and shoes inside (right-footed shoes only, vandals). The glass storefront is not actually glass, but a bullet-proof polycarbonate and the door doesn't operate. There are a couple of security cameras, one inside and one out, but the nearest sheriff station is 40 miles away. Cars are rare intrusions on the highway, rarer still at night. The only activity in the wee hours is an occasional yip of a coyote. However, the stars and clear and bright if you turn away from the store which illuminates the area with fluorescent lights set to a dusk to dawn timer.
Artists Michael Elmgreen from Copenhagen, Denmark, left, and Ingar Dragset from Trondheim, Norway created the Prada Marfa installation in 2005. In the image above they are standing in front of their 2008 work in Tiergarten park in Berlin memorializing the gay victims of the Nazi regime. The image is used by permission as a Creative Commons photo presented by ILGA-Europe.
After leaving Dallas well before dawn, I arrived at Fort Davis, a mountain village in the Big Bend highlands and home to the renowned McDonald Observatory. I had rented a cottage that was about 50 miles from my ultimate destination. It was late afternoon. I jettisoned some gear and a duffle and took off to check out the damage.
I was relieved. Though there was more damage than when I last visited, it was not as extensive as I had feared. There were bullet holes in the awning and bullets embedded in the polycarbonate plastic. A new layer of graffiti was on the west wall and on the back of the store and the bronze plaque on a stand was missing, apparently run over by a vehicle. I later learned that Elder was able to retrieve the sign that gave information on the artists and the project and will restore it when some contributing funds are donated.
Most boutiques, even inaccessible ones, would have mirrors in them. Here we have me reflected with my cam and tripod inserting myself in a sense into the store.
The Union Pacific rail line parallels Highway 90 from New Orleans to Van Horn, Texas east of El Paso. Much of it is lonely and spare, so it was no surprise that the engineer blew his horn and waved at me as he passed by.
A meta photo
So what will become of a beloved and quirky art installation? There have been a couple of comments on my previous posts about Prada Marfa that the graffiti (and I suppose the vandalism) is part of the art and should be embraced. It's a valid viewpoint, but one I reject and will not embrace for this installation. There is a time and place for graffiti, and an appreciation of a wonderful, at times breathtaking, art form. That doesn't mean it requires anti-contextual ubiquity—that the art itself excuses its presence.
There are exceptions. Take for example, the installation near Amarillo that has evolved to welcome the collaborative contributions of any and all who come by. The Cadillac Ranch has long since welcomed tagging artists, but even that isn't without problems. Even though there is a dumpster near the entrance gate, few, if any participants deposit their spent cans opting to drop them on the surrounding and still working farmland.
Larger view here and note the homage to OS.
A further problem—look at this image taken in August of 2007 and note No. 9 Caddy from the left.
Now look at a similar view taken less than a week ago in April of 2011and note that same No. 9 car.
Collaborative contribution is one thing, destructive vandalism is another. Someone removed the roof for a personal trophy, robbing those who would follow. You're certainly free to disagree, but I don't buy it. I believe wanton destruction is a cancerous narcissism, a selfishness that diminishes the collective experience.
In a Facebook exchange with The Big Bend Sentinel, the artist Elmgreen expressed his dismay and concerns with a representative of the Associated Press.
"If the county and the populations of Marfa and Valentine don’t think it is worth to protect the work and actively take over the responsibility of it in the future it might be necessary for us to reconsider the situation and maybe tear down the little but now rather famous building because it is even worse if it just stands there over sprayed with graffiti and bullet holes in its windows and looks like a ruin.
"It was always our intention to let the Prada Marfa disintegrate over time, but we hoped it would happen in a natural manner," Elmgreen told the AP. "There is not much entertainment along Highway 90 so, of course, the sculpture, which has become something of a landmark in the area, is an obvious target for bored vandals."
Michael Graczyk, reporting for the Associate Press said Elder explained that a recent lightning strike near the site knocked out an online video feed he monitors, making it more difficult to keep tabs on intruders. "We're going to readjust the cameras and spruce the place up," he said. "I'm hoping we're going to catch someone."
Image dedicated to mlh who still wishes upon stars with fervent faith, an endeavor outside of time, the conqueror. Larger view here.
The Prada Marfa store may go the way of the Stardust Motel, on the western edge of Marfa. The motel is now not much more than the high desert grass growing through disintegrating asphalt in a scraped empty lot. The love and pain, the lover's trysts, midnight romances and low-rent rendezvous of the now missing motel have disappeared as quickly as they occurred. Those heated exhaled vapors and desperate breaths, quick promises quickly forgotten have dissolved and disappeared into indifferent evening skies long past and forgotten. The winding stem on our own clocks only work in one direction. Time continues regardless of what we do or choose not to do. It's up to each of us to make of it what we can. Tempus fugit and things tend to decay and vanish. Get busy. Make beauty.
At some point the Prada Marfa store will disappear. I'm happy to have a personal record of it, an investment of affection and respect for public art that combines whimsy and passion with a searing social commentary even though it doubles my miles.
Your own mileage memories, of course, may vary.
My previous Marfa posts:
It was an urgent text from a friend saying "where are you?" when I learned that the day after I left the Fort Davis/Valentine/Marfa area that a wildfire consumed 200,000 acres and 40 homes. What became known as the Rockhouse Fire started not far west of Marfa fueled by a years-long drought and 40 to 50 mph winds. Those same conditions prevailed over more than half the state as well, taking more than a million acres, which prompted our secessionist governor, Rick "All Hat and No Cattle" Perry, to proclaim a "day of prayer" to last several days actually, over the Easter weekend for the Lord God and Master of the Universe to send rain and end the misery. Unfortunately, what began as a wet weekend dried up after the call was made which certainly must contain some sort of message, if only we could divine it.
Thanks to dear friend Julie Delio for the text message of concern and who knew where I generally was and didn't want me to perish and for the Texas Monthly link below.
This view is probably gone now, the Rock House Fire that came from the direction of the view burned 200,000 acres and took 40 homes. This is looking southwest from near the top of the road leading to the McDonald Observatory northwest of Fort Davis. Larger view here.
NASA Earth Observatory images of active fires:
Thanks for visiting friends, and for all your affirmation and support these past three years. April 25 is the third anniversary of my first post on OS, though I was a member in beta long before that post as I attempted to figure out what the hell I was going to do with this site. I can go on and on at times, but it's hard to find the words to express my gratitude and appreciation. Thanks especially to Joan, Kerry, Thomas, Judy and Emily for the opportunity to be a part. Thanks to the friends who have become a part of my world and, as painful as it is, thanks to the friends who have disappeared but who are still held close.
The non-profit that supports the site, and many other projects is the BallroomMarfa.org. There's no direct pipeline on the site to support the Prada Marfa installation, but there is a page describing the site, found in this link.
There is a Donate button on that page, but it leads to a request to call Ballroom Marfa to see how you can support. I called and talked to a delightful Nikki. She said that if you go to the main support page and scroll down to the bottom of the page, you'll see a listing for Additional Gift to Programming where you can enter any amount you desire. The drop down menu doesn't list Prada Marfa as a donation destination, but Nikki assured me that if you select General Support and send an email to email@example.com and say you just donated, with your name and amount, those funds will go to support the Prada Marfa store.
Thanks Connie for the suggestion...it's certainly something I should have followed up on without the prompt, so I really appreciate you getting me going on it.
all photos copyright © 2011 by barry b. doyle · all rights reserved
(except as noted otherwise)
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