This Land Is Fucked Land
Two Art Projects I Can't Help Relating to the Mudslide
Courtesy of the artist
Water breaks through the floodgates of the Grand Coulee Dam with the unthinkable ferocity associated with disasters, like the Oso mudslide I can't get out of my mind. But that water also generates my power. Plug something in—your vibrator, Molly Mac says—and you hook up to a grid at the far end of which is the Grand Coulee Dam. Just think of it: your pleasure and your power in one unbroken line.
Seattle artist Mac is in a yearlong woman-dam relationship. She first visited the dam at the end of a solo road trip around the nation, when she got nostalgic for something she never had: a simple love of country. The dam is a prime emblem of American brashness, ingenuity, and exploitation. Finding out how to relate to it became her project.
In research, she noticed a resemblance between pro-dam propaganda in the 1930s and a contemporary ad for a "female massager" that's "never louder than an easy hum." She used the slogan as the title for her immersive gallery installation of large video projections accompanied by a sound composition and a map.
Her writing is overlaid on her videos. She speaks in several voices. We're given dry facts and personal stories, sharing the screen as equals. It reminds me of the feminist tactic to make the personal political, and how difficult and radical that remains. When Mac takes a group tour to the dam this summer for a performance, they'll watch the nightly laser show that appears on the actual surface of the dam, which is a mile long. Mac wishes she could show her own video there. It would be as close as she could get to consummation.
Land art in the wet West is always flickering and fading, never static. It changes. Try to harness the elements and they will find a way to roar back, another lesson from the mudslide and another basis for a new work of art, this one by Hans Baumann.
With grant money from 4Culture, Baumann and a construction crew poured 50,000 pounds of shiny black biochar on two acres of ground at Cougar Mountain. You can visit anytime, but go soon, because shoots are overtaking it already. The piece is called Black Forest (29,930,000 Tons); that's how much coal was extracted there until mining stopped in 1963. Then came the gravel pits. The biochar is placed in one of these pit bowls.
It looks identical to coal but has the opposite function of mining, insulating carbon for thousands of years rather than extracting it. The paradox is not unlike the one between you, your vibrator, and the Grand Coulee Dam, since the only reason Cougar Mountain is a park is because it was a coal mine. You can't build houses on ground full of holes.
Never Louder Than an Easy Hum is at METHOD through May 10. Black Forest (29,930,000 Tons) is at Cougar Mountain until it disappears.