Sky Island

Diverse works, THRIVE Exhibition, Houston, TX, Mixed Media Installation 2008-9

Floor to ceiling, three walls, ceiling is 12 feet high.

Sky Island connects photographs, video, and text from varying viewpoints and creates a biography of Mount Livermore. The video camera lens slowly searches on the ground for shadowy traces of movement in the grasses. The photographs vary in distance from aerial to macro. Descriptions relating to the mountain and surrounding landscape by archeologists, undocumented workers, US Border Patrol, astronomers and others who have an invested interest in the mountain were printed on notebook paper and push-pinned on two adjacent walls. Sections of the text are represented in my book, Slight Disturbances.

For thousands of years, people have migrated through the Mount Livermore area. Carved stones, cave paintings, pottery shards and arrowheads litter the area. At one recently used campfire site an archeology team dug straight down through layered ash proving its continual use for 5,000 years. Current drug corridors were prohibition corridors in the 1920’s and 30’s. Before that they were paths for indigenous people. People continue migrating through the mountains, canyons and high desert plains surrounding Mount Livermore, which is located 50 miles from the US-Mexico border in far West Texas. Presently Mount Livermore is a landmark for drug smugglers, undocumented workers, US Border Patrol trackers, scientists, and environmentalists.

In addition, Mount Livermore is designated a "sky island" having “supreme conservation value by the Nature. A “sky island” is a mountain ecosystem that is isolated by valleys and/or deserts. Ancient species that are unique in the surrounding area have been protected by the isolation. Scientists and environmentalists study the flora and fauna on the mountain. The Nature Conservancy owns most of the mountain (including the peak) and protects it legally by an environmental easement in perpetuity.

Because artifacts in Natural History Museums are fragile and light sensitive, they are often displayed through photographic reproductions. Fragile drawings are similarly preserved in Art Museums. More recently, original photography is regularly re-photographed and sometimes re-formatted in an effort both to preserve and to describe didactically the material for contemporary viewers in art exhibitions. For instance, photographs of a 1960s conceptual art performance might be handled this way. The original photograph of the fugitive event becomes itself an artifact that requires special handling and contextualization for the viewer. Replication preserves the original and distances us from it.

Wanting to make the least possible impact on Mount Livermore – just a slight disturbance – I reject the impulse to produce an artwork that damages or rearranges the site. I view all objects associated with the mountain including the mountain itself as artifacts and use photography, video and text in an effort to preserve them.

In turn the photographs, video and text are themselves regarded as artifacts, arranged into collections and placed within new figure-ground relationships such as a gallery, museum, catalog, or book. The changing and shifting figure-ground processes found in nature are never at rest. They are relentlessly continuous.

This mixed-media installation links the activity in the area such as data gathering antenna, photos of flora and fauna, digs of archeologists, dialogues with Border Patrol trackers, observations of biologists, data of astrophysicists and narratives from undocumented workers. The layers of meaning, embellishments, explanations, alterations and elaborations are creative ground for constructing interactions between fact and fiction, networks and associations, analog experiences and abstracted codes of visual language.