September 7, 2011

Utopian Architecture thread

This first part of our semester is focussed around an exploration of the particular, or peculiar brand of utopian architecture and settlements that have developed here in the Southwest. Though we have done some reading on the subject before leaving, there has been no formal discussion on the subject, and it is interesting to try and pinpoint when and where our investigations have begun - to locate the thread of that conversation within our journey so far. Perhaps it was at the Spiral Jetty, in the act of banding together and deploying the cook/technology tent up for the first time - extracting the carefully packed poles, tarps, tables, stoves, cookware, solar panels, laptops, etc. - and beginning to inhabit the modular home-base that will provide a comfortable living and working space throughout the course of our itinerant journey.









Or maybe it began at the Sun Tunnels where we immediately colonized the art because it invited us to do so, and spent the day inhabiting the cylinders in numerous creative ways. The surrounding landscape burst into sublime displays of color and light at dawn and dusk, but for most of the day it is oppressively bright and hot here. The tunnels are surprisingly hospitable spaces in a not so hospitable place - cool, shaded and curved in a way that cradles the body. The fact that there are four of them and some distance between them allows a certain welcome sense of privacy and retreat, but mostly the site prompted a flurry of collective projects. The group was primed for this experience - we’ve been getting along rather well so far, and it seems that the tunnels just channeled that sense of communality and allowed it to manifest itself in more concrete ways. Their scale is human, welcoming, protective, open and they all point towards a central plaza-like area.


In that one day, the tunnels alternately served as napping quarters, reading room,yoga studio, movie set, workspace and concert hall. At night, after an etherial Tibetan bowl concert performed by Melodie, we laid out our sleeping bags and mats inside the concrete tubes and went to sleep - sheltered from the howling winds but able to gaze up at the densely starred sky, beautifully framed by the concrete oculi.





















After the Sun Tunnels, we headed for Wendover where we have been staying at the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) Residency Support Unit, which is located on a semi-abandoned airforce base. There is much to be said about the military history of Wendover, it’s proximity to the Boneville Salt Flats, to the Great Salt Lake and to nuclear testing and radioactive waste sites - more than can be adequately adressed here. In a nutshell, as Matt Coolidge, CLUI director shared with us today, the Wendover residency provides a context for artists and anyone interested in the relationships between land, land use and the built environment to investigate, engage with and to propose innovative forms of interpretation of this fascinating place that exists on the edge of the void.








Here we met up with Steve Badgett and Matt Lynch, core members of artist collective Simparch, and who, as the name suggests, investigate simple architecture and DIY approaches to building, amongst other things. Originally drawn here by the residency program, Matt and Steve have spent the past 8 years developing a satellite facility at South Base, a few miles south of the unit. Clean Livin’ is an on-going, constantly-evolving experiment in low-tech, sustainable building technologies and has allowed for a different kind of human presence to evolve out of this once-abandoned site. It is a place where the line between dystopia and utopia is not so easy to draw.






Because it is located off the grid on the edge of a landscape void, the project is also about autonomy, isolation, making do with a bare minimum, making something from next to nothing and exploring the basement of one's will...I see the project as about starting over from the ruins of the military, about the birth of the atomic age, and the possibility of global Armageddon. It's about making lemonade from lemons" - Matt Coolidge - from Simparch’s website.



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