Alexa Hoyer, Santa, 2015, Archival pigmented print on Dibond
The Barrick’s Research and Education Engagement staff member, D.K. Sole, is inspired by Ed Fuentes’ commentary on Alexa Hoyer’s photographs. She writes –
Seeing the Ed Fuentes review of Alexa Hoyer’s Santa, 2015, and the other photographs in her Targets series, 2013 – 2017, I remembered Lee Cannarozzo and an essay he was planning to write before he left for New York State in the middle of the year. The text was going to be based around three places he knew. The first was Jean Dry Lake, a desert area he used to visit with his friends while he was growing up in Las Vegas; the second was Ugo Rondinone’s Seven Magic Mountains, between the Lake and the Interstate 15 highway, and the third was an unregulated firing range where Hoyer worked on the Targets by photographing the domestic objects that shooters had gone to the trouble of piling together in rough statues so they would not feel they were firing bullets aimlessly into the gap of the landscape, a problem for anyone who goes out with a weapon but no enemy.
Everyone knew the range, Lee said; you pass it on the I-15 before the Mountains come into view. Of course this Rondinone had not been in place when he was younger. Growing up, he went to the Lake for fun (I think he told us), but later he discovered that groups of artists had performed experiments out there in the ’60s and ’70s by digging, scratching, or decorating the earth. Did Lee feel that the actions of those artists had echoed or prefaced the actions of himself and his friends? I never asked. Anyway, Jean Dry Lake had revealed itself to him as a significant historical location. Doubtless he heard or read that Jean Tinguely blew up seven junk assemblages on the bare surface in 1962, calling his action Study for the End of the World no. 2, a performance for NBC, Life Magazine, and several other news or entertainment organizations that had already covered the explosions of atomic bombs in other parts of the desert farther away from town.
Lee was going to write about the ontological conjunction between those three familiar places and what they meant to him as someone who had been raised here. He would also tell us how he came to make his own art practice on top of Jean Dry Lake. It strikes me that Jean Tinguely had the same name as the location where he blew up his seven collections of Las Vegas’ discarded junk, though the town of Jean is of course not named after him but after a woman named Jean Fayle who had married the man who was the postmaster there in 1905. Tinguely was born in Switzerland twenty years after the town of Jean received its name.
Rondinone, also born in Switzerland, wanted to do something with pyramids when he received the Nevada commission but they talked him out of it. Perhaps during his European childhood he had imagined the nearby sand of North Africa decorated with the giant tombs of Egypt. You can speculate happily like this, especially when you recall that Tinguely also compressed North Africa and the American West together in his mind. “I need a place where I can build as big as I want, and destroy as violently. The only two settings I can think of as appropriate are the Sahara and the American Desert,” he told the Saturday Evening Post, April 21, 1962.
I believe Lee said he was not a great shooter himself but he accompanied friends who went out to the firing range. Later, as a student, he was able to connect the region to Michael Heizer, the artist behind Double Negative, 1969-70, City, 1972 – , and Levitated Mass, 2012, an upstanding rock balanced across the lips of a trench near the main entry to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the La Brea Tar Pits. Surely he was in the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art auditorium when representatives from the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno spoke to the seventy-five-year-old photographer Gianfranco Gorgoni, who had been brought to Las Vegas so that he could tell us stories about the days he spent photographing the creations of Heizer and other early Land Artists on Jean Dry Lake? If Lee had not already known that a simple tower was constructed in those long-ago times so that Gorgoni could photograph the lines and trenches from above then he learnt it that night.
Myself I felt tense because the photographer was quiet in his chair for most of the evening, as if he had fallen asleep. When they probed him directly for a reminiscence then he described a day when something went wrong, trapping him on top of the tower for hours in the oven of the sunlight, unable to get down. He seemed newly animated as he described his potentially fatal adventure. I may even have a memory of him laughing.
Habits repeat themselves and it is possible that even in Tinguely’s time the shooters of Las Vegas were taking their extra rubbish to the desert and building assemblages there. To them it might have seemed that the practice of the Swiss man was similar to theirs, but with more publicity around it and a different sense of time in that they changed the shapes of their statues piece by piece with successive bullets and not all at once with dynamite. Tinguely, impressed by the new atomic bombs, might have imagined that the end of the world would arrive suddenly, dramatically, and not through the creative effort of chipping – not envisioning a figure inside a block of marble and trying to release it for everyone to see, like a Michelangelo, instead allowing matter to reveal an explosion, as if a block of marble had spent a moment telling you that a chisel was hitting it.
There it is, it says.
Its language is not the same as that of the figurine in Hoyer’s Santa, who speaks by standing. Meanwhile the figures in other images have parts that suggest a person who is standing, lying, and sitting simultaneously. In real life they must be somewhat near one another but in the photographs it is impossible to tell because she makes each one announce itself starkly in the center of the frame with nothing else around except hills, small plants, and brightly-colored shell casings. These things are dissimilar to the target – therefore I can say the figure is “alone.” Of course I can’t write that without recalling the microscopically tremendous gaps between the tiny bits of matter that constitute us and everything and how we are made of something that is not even air. I had been paying attention to the lone objects for so long that it was surprising to hear UNLV’s recycling manager Tara Pike say she saw trash all the way to the horizon when she looked at a photo like Santa, insisting that the multitudinous body of the shell casings was the most significant aspect of the subject matter, not the erect mass of plastic, wood, fruit, or whatever else the recreational shooters had put together.
I recall, now, the people from the Reno museum mentioning the permits they had to obtain before Rondinone could have Seven Magic Mountains built in the desert between the I-15 and the Dry Lake – permits that did not exist when Tinguely was destroying his machines, or when Heizer and the other Earthworks or Land Art people were drawing lines, digging trenches, and so on; and nor do the shooters behave as if they exist. First the NMA had to commission a map of the separate plants and other objects on the ground there, even old tin cans, because anything that has lain in one spot in the desert for more than fifty years is officially designated an artifact and its placement becomes historical evidence. This means that the shell casings will become artifacts if they are not moved, and so will the objects that Hoyer has photographed, though not the Santa figurine since one of her Las Vegas friends took it from the firing range and mailed it to her New York apartment as a surprise after she had flown home from Nevada. Though upright, like the Mountains, it must not have been so emphatically fastened to its spot on the earth since it was able to easily swap it for another one. Away it flies. Heizer’s Levitated Mass at LACMA – also very upright – teases you with the idea that one day it might change positions, crack out of its straddle and tip down the trench on top of someone. Today he plays with the idea of disintegration but his earlier works were earnest with it, all built to vanish. At this point in his essay Lee would have observed that we change as we age. Gorgoni, safe in his chair, is down from the tower. The moment before he discovered he was unable to save himself is lost forever. From the Mountains you can see bulges of dust following the invisible vehicles that people drive around on the Lake surface that offers them little resistance. You assume it is the feeling of no resistance they are there for since they do not appear to be traveling anywhere with an aim.