November 29, 2018

on edge(s)

nicholas b jacobsen
on edge(s)
White Sands (National Monument/Missile Range)
November 7, 2018

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"The White Sands dunefield fits the description of what the National Park Service sought in prospective sites: 'economic worthlessness and monumentalism'" (White Sands).
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*clears throat* 
Let me start again.

"Like a mirage, dazzling white sand dunes shimmer in the tucked away Tularosa Basin in southern New Mexico. They shift and settle over the Chihuahuan Desert, covering 275 square miles--the largest gypsum dunefield in the world. White Sands National Monument (WSNM) preserves more than half of this oasis, its shallow water supply, and the plants and animals that live here" (White Sands). Those plants and animals that wander across into the other half do so at their own risk, as they enter the "Department of Defense (War)'s largest, fully-instrumented, open air range, provid(ing) America's Armed Forces, allies, partners, and defense technology innovators with the world's premiere [sic] research, development, test, evaluation, experimentation, and training facilities to ensure our nation's defense readiness," in White Sands Missile Range (WSMR). 

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        I walked to this line in the white sands, to try to understand this divide. How did the Department of War, (as the DoD was known when WSMR was first developed), choose this site? What were the reasons to divide "one of the world's great natural wonders" (White Sands)? I want to understand how we can so easily split our land values. How is this land half National Monument and half National Sacrifice?

        A focal question of my research practice is "How is that Western humans believe themselves to be the peak of natural selection and the only unnatural force on earth?" This line, where federal land is divided from federal land, is a living, corporeal example of this split consciousness that we all carry around concerning our collective body, earth. 
        Frankly, I didn't learn much here. The sand isn't different. The plants and animal tracks didn't change. Maybe I didn't walk far enough, maybe in another hundred yards, or couple miles the land is less unique, dazziling, or naturally wonderful. Maybe "our nation's defensive readiness" (ready for what?) is more valuable than our nation's ecological sustainability. Maybe I am looking at this backward. Perhaps, the values through which I read this situation are not our nation's values. Maybe the national monument is the national sacrifice. Did we sacrifice some of our more-valued national defense for our less-valued ecology? This would seem to be the case as even our WSNM's website perpetuates a narrative of escalated violence as linear progress. "From atlatls to missiles, the glistening gypsum dunefield of White Sands has witnessed the steady advancement of human history, technology, and engineering. For thousands of years the people have called this place home" (White Sands) Not only does this equate weapons for food to weapons for war (but then from an imperialist perspective, are they not both technologies for the acquisition of resources?) but also alludes that attempted genocide and forced removal of peoples from their homelands is all part of a "steady advancement of human history." 
        As part of this attempt to understand edges, especially the psychological justifications for these divisions, I made series of images using panorama pictures from three different boundaries we visited during this year's Land Arts tour: WSNM/WSRM, United States of America/Estados Unidos Mexicanos, and Rio Grande National Forest/Weminuche Wilderness. Overlaying these images (which themselves overlay the lands depicted) are bits of found language used to describe these places--different names that create different boundaries, expectations, values, responsibilities, and norms for these spaces. 

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"WSMR, White Sands Missile Range." Nov. 7, 2018.
"White Sands National Monument." Nov. 7, 2018.

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