The Mojave National Preserve is a special place, and has come to feel like a home to me as I’ve focused my work there throughout the past few months. I’ve been keenly interested in parts of the Mojave ever since learning of its particular landscapes from Dr. Mark Sweeney, a geologist who studies sand and dust. When I arrived in the Mojave myself and saw the huge Kelso Dunes with my own eyes, a particular area of study that Sweeney focuses on, I suddenly became as inspired to understand them as any scientist. My interest is not only driven by geology but a passion to represent the natural world with an emotional honesty.
I’ll start at the dunes, because that’s as a compelling place to start as anywhere. When you drive upon them, no matter which direction you’re coming from, or what time of day, they are imposing. Massive and glowing, they stand apart from the surrounding mountains like a beacon. The dunes are formed mostly from the sand that travelled from the ancient Mojave River, with a slightly rosy tinge. Accumulating over thousands of years, these giants have nowhere to go, so they just keep growing, staying mostly in place in the basin between the surrounding mountains. When I saw it on a map, it didn’t immediately click, but standing in the fan from the Providence mountains and looking toward the dunes, I clearly understood why they were there. The dunes are stuck, and have nowhere to go but up, and no place to migrate except in small little movements. Lots of new vegetation is helping to keep them in place now, too.
Looking at these landforms gave me a feeling of immediate excitement, and curiosity still echoes through me. Did the ancient people who lived near and drank from the Mojave River see these dunes when they were half this size? What did they think of this massive land feature? Am I seeing something that is only a fraction of the size it may be in the future? I think a lot about the way that humans interpret the land and especially make meaning out of it. For me, the time and special circumstances it takes to build dunes like these is a unique offering that the Mojave captures.
In my exhibition, I pursue the same complexity of how time works within the Mojave and how we interpret it. The exhibition title, Tracing the Former World, is inspired by the writer John McPhee’s Annals of the Former World. It is a collection of his writing that assembles his insights with his ride-alongs with geologists into the field. The concept of a “former world” is one that I use to frame the past, and to help me structure my work in the realm of scientific thought. Geologists are very good at peeling back layers of the present in order to reveal a past topography. In my work, I want to share the ideas of a time and place that may not have occurred, or which only happened in the mind. There are parallels in this realm that I find compelling and I return to the science of geology to create a terminology for my landscapes. Places that you travel to in your mind, or revisit through pictures or memories, are not only intangible but are just fossils to the lived experience of the era that existed. I love the idea of the past, but I feel as though I spend my life trying to understand it and extrapolate from it. The work that I did in the Mojave was a scraping back of a thin layer of dust.