Friday, May 13, 2011

Struck by Lightning


Visiting The Lightning Field, an art installation in the New Mexico high desert, was the trip destination we most looked forward to.  Melvin and I of course mentioned our planned baseball road-trip to those who have expressed interest in the past, but it was The Lightning Field that the three of us spoke about most frequently and expectantly.  It was even more moving than I imagined, which is why I am adding my thoughts to Melvin's comments about visiting The Lightning Field and the following day.

Simply put, as Wikipedia does, "The Lightning Field (1977) is a Land Art work in Catron County, New Mexico, by sculptor Walter De Maria. It consists of 400 stainless steel poles with solid, pointed tips, arranged in a rectangular 1 mile × 1 kilometre grid array. It was commissioned by [the] Dia Art Foundation, which also maintains the work. It can only be visited by making an advance reservation for an overnight stay in the simple accommodations at the site. While the title and form of the work suggest that it is a frequent target for lightning strikes, they are actually fairly infrequent."  (Paragraph breaks eliminated.)

late afternoon

The polished poles interact with light according to the position of the sun, the weather and other influences.  When we arrived at the site in mid-afternoon, transported there from Quemado in a truck by Dia staff, the sun was relatively high in the sky.  Nearby poles were clearly visible but those in even the middle ground blended into the landscape (above).  As the sun set, the conical tips reflected brightly, brighter than the poles, somewhat reminiscent of candles.  Just before sunset, and again the next morning after sunrise (top), the poles shone brightest and the array was most wholly visible.

There was also more subtle visual phenomena.  When the sun came up, it hit the poles sequentially, causing "the sun to rush in the wrong direction" as one observer put it.  At another point, with the sun behind me, the portion of the poles below the horizon were reflective but above appeared black against the brighter sky, despite being uniformly lit.  If these visual effects were all there was to the installation, it would still be an engaging work of art.

However, walking through the grid stimulated a range of other, less obvious reactions.  One of the most curious experiences I had occurred when I unexpectedly walked beyond the grid and felt my scrotum tighten as I left the loosely defined space for what by comparison felt like the void.

My visual and auditory perception was sharpened.  The flat pasture isn't flat.  Animal (including our own) paths become more evident and then obvious.  When cows lowed in the dark, it sounded like they were standing right next to me.  I became more conscious of the effect of light on objects other than the poles.


The most interesting phenomena for me was how The Lightning Field affected time.  Most obviously, the 20 hours we spent at the site (roughtly from 3:15 pm to 11:15 am) forced us to slow down.  Our daily itineraries tend to be some variation on drive-tour-drive-tour-drive-baseball-sleep and this did not conform.

fruta y piñatas en el IGA
en Safford AZ
More inexplicable was how the time at The Lightning Field annexed the time before and after our visit, made it part thereof.  We had driven from Tucson and stopped for groceries at Thriftee Food & Drug in Safford but later that seemed like a part of the experience despite preceding it and taking place miles away.  By the time we reached Albuquerque, I felt like we had been at The Lightning Field for days.

the cabin
After we left The Lightning Field, it traveled with me.  This feeling was reinforced by the fact that Bud and his "good wife" (his phrase)—who had shared the cabin and the experience (and their Belgian beer and ale) with us—also continued on to Pie Town, New Mexico.

Bud and Jennifer got to the Pie-O-Neer Café first.  Melvin, Norton and I got there as they were leaving, their having learned it was closed.  We took some pictures and were doubling back to the Pie Town Cafe (formerly the Daily Pie Cafe) when Jennifer and Bud returned, we thought possibly with new information.  We circled back, purposefully on one hand, but also drunkendly.  But drunk on what?  We all ended up at the Pie Town Cafe.

Melvin, Norton and I had two slices of pie each .

We continued east on US 60, which was not so much the route to Albuquerque, but the road from The Lightning Field.

We stopped briefly at the Very Large Array.

At the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History
I was most interested in abstraction.

I started to feel a little more grounded in Tinkertown.

We arrived at beautiful Isotopes Park
as the national anthem was being sung.
Oh, yes, I could see by the dawn's early light.

 A Note About the Photographs of The Lightning Field

 The Dia Art Foundation website states:
"The Lightning Field is protected by copyright. Photography of the sculpture and the cabin is not permitted. Sets of seven postcards of commissioned, copyrighted images of The Lightning Field and other works by Walter De Maria are available. To purchase a set of postcards send a check for $10 to our Corrales office in New Mexico or contact the bookshop at Dia:Beacon or"
It is the belief of the author that inclusion of the four photographs is permissible according to the "fair use doctrine" of copyright law pursuant to the following criteria:
  1. The use here is non-commercial and part of critical commentary.
  2. Only a portion of the copyrighted art work is portrayed and photography can only very partially convey the experience of viewing it.
  3. The potential market for higher resolution images of the art work, as well as the value of the installation per se, is not diminished by the inclusion of the small, low resolution images herein.

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