Travel Notes 27.05.06: White Sands Missile Range, NM

Travel Notes 27.05.06: White Sands Missile Range, NM

Utopia and Disaster: 2007 Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art
Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton AB
23 June - 9 September, 2007
Walter Phillips Gallery, Banff AB
26 October, 2007 - 6 January, 2008
[Collection of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts]

6 channel video installation

Travel Notes 27.05.06: White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico presents a sequence of wall-recessed video screens, each with images of weekend tourists engaged in leisure activities at White Sands National Monument, directly adjacent to an active military range. In this work landscape, tourism, and military history converge.

About White Sands Missile Range (WSMR)

Established during WWII, White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) is a test range whose main function is to support missile development and test programs for the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force, NASA, other government agencies and private industry. Formerly known as White Sands Proving Ground, it is one of the largest military facilities in the United States, covering an area of about 10,400 square km (4,000 square miles).

On July 16, 1945 the world's first test of an atomic weapon was conducted here, at what is now called "Trinity Site," open to the public two days each year.

WSMR is located in the Tularosa Basin of south-central New Mexico, between the Organ Mountains and the Sacramento Mountains. The "white sands" are gypsum crystals that have leached out over millennia from the surrounding mountains. A distinctive ecology survives in this 'desert within a desert,' which is astonishingly beautiful – and looks remarkably like parts of Northern Canada in mid-winter. Visitors may explore the dramatic, blinding dunes located in the range. During a long weekend visit, the strangeness of the place was heightened by the presence of many vacationers – photographing, sliding on crazy carpets, flying kites, sunning, picnicking in the fantastic white landscape. The juxtaposition of beach–like behavior with the sinister history of the site's use was striking – a juxtaposition underlined in the video piece. Embedded like a sequence of tiny luminous windows into the wall of the gallery, each video runs a looped series of images, slightly slowed. Echoing the gaze of voyeur or surveillance system, visitors to the gallery must peer closely to see the moving images, which reflect on questions of land use, the tension between public and private zones of history and memory, and nuclear and atomic tourism.

WSMR is on U.S. Interstate 70 between Alamogordo, New Mexico and Las Cruces, New Mexico, and the highway may be closed without notice for safety reasons while tests are conducted on the missile range.