- YOU'RE HERE This sign is how you're sure that you're at the Center for Land Use Interpretation complex in Wendover, Utah.
The man who created it, Matt Coolidge, is speaking at Seattle University tonight at 6. (Note to SU's PR department: This talk is a big deal. I've been told it was organized at least a couple weeks ago. Releasing the news yesterday was not cool.)
This is my description of Wendover from 2010:
At one point in my year of traveling the country, I find myself at the Center for Land Use Interpretation's base in Wendover, Utah, walking into an abandoned house full of bullet holes—bullet holes in the walls, in the flung-open door of the microwave, in the needlepoint duck on the wall, and all through the mannequin sitting on a destroyed couch. Rows of torsos stand out in the sun, ready for target practice.
CLUI (pronounced "klouie") was founded in 1994 by Matthew Coolidge as an ongoing research and education project, under the belief "that the manmade landscape is a cultural inscription that can be read to better understand who we are, and what we are doing," and Wendover is patently one of the craziest places in the world. Here, U.S. soldiers practice busting into homes for their tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. At its height, during World War II, it was one of the largest military bases in the world, surrounded by millions of acres of secret test sites, gigantic mines, and hazardous-waste dumping grounds. It's not far from the Bonneville Salt Flats; the earth crackles like ice underfoot, and next to the base, in the middle of the desert, acres of ground are covered by sparkling, aquamarine ponds created for industrial mineral collection.
The town of Wendover is a half-Mexican, half-Anglican casino town with a line drawn down the middle of its main street—the border with Nevada. This is where Utahans come to give up their money. Coolidge tells me the fanciest hotel is Montego Bay, and it stands like Valhalla, white and flashing with neon and dark mirrored glass. Inside Montego Bay is the perpetual night of every casino. The restaurant is wallpapered with great big glowing light-box transparencies of tropical-beach photographs. I ask at the front desk if they know about CLUI. They have never heard of it. It is across the street.
A former military Quonset hut at Wendover has sides dotted with patches over bullet holes. Not a hundred yards away is the simulated shoot-out house. Across the base, at CLUI's main exhibition building, there aren't guards or attendants. Most of the time, there's nobody at all in the converted barracks. To get in, you call a phone number listed on the door, pick up the door code, and walk in. Anyone can go, and it's free. Inside, the walls are lined with captioned photographs of every building and landmark on the base and in the area. Maps, too, and details. For artists to have a place here at all is an accomplishment. In this small, weird universe, the role of the land artist is simply to make you see what's on the land.
As the land appears, the art and the artist disappear. The word art is nowhere in CLUI's self-description, and the tone of all CLUI materials is informational. (100 Places in Washington is the opinionless title of CLUI's 1999 book made for Seattle's Center on Contemporary Art.) CLUI smuggles in politics.
There's a red-and-white 50-foot radio tower outside the exhibition hall, a piece of art made in 2004 by Deborah Stratman and called Power/Exchange. Go up to it and turn the dials, and you can hear what people in Wendover are ordering at fast-food drive-through windows, or the security guards talking at the local casinos, or the police scanner—all these are frequencies that are publicly accessible. It's land art as citizens' radio. People will tell you to go to Spiral Jetty, or The Lightning Field, or, soon, Roden Crater. But if you have to pick just one, go to CLUI Wendover. It is the most unbelievable of all earthworks, by pointing back from art into the world.
See you tonight, or just explore CLUI's Land Use Database to get a sense of the intentional and vigilantly policed objective voice of the project, and which places it emphasizes, from jails to lakes to land sculptures. A whole photo tour from my visit to CLUI Wendover is on the jump.
- All by JG
- Empty. CLUI Wendover is on a decommissioned military base. It was once one of the largest military bases in the world.
- Whatever happened here, it also didn't need cleaning up and hauling away. Things just sit and stay at Wendover.
- We do know what happened here. This is the hangar where the Fat Man was loaded onto the plane headed for Japan.
- Inside one of the former barracks is a CLUI exhibit of photographs and factual descriptions of area locations. The town of Delle is one of them.
- This is a photograph of another of the CLUI exhibits in a former barracks, and the photo happens to feature a sculpture the Seattle artists Lead Pencil Studio made and installed at CLUI several years ago.
- This is where I ate, by myself, in Montego Bay. I stayed in the hotel upstairs. The room was nice. I vomited. I think it was altitude sickness.