Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Internal Fringes of America

[Image: One of five practice targets used by the Navy and Air Force in the Imperial Valley. Photo via The Center for Land Use Interpretation, and the New York Times, 2006.]

You can add this one to my bookshelf, to be sure.
CLUI (Center for Land Use Interpretation) has published a new book, a sort of field guide to their own intrepid and curiously vast survey of the American landscape over the last decade. We're talking military bombing ranges, a cathedral canyon, the Ave Maria Grotto, abandoned solar power plants, radioactive film location sites, surreal military training grounds, an Art Farm, historic ruins of secret WWII radiation labs, a ghost town theme park, and so on. Vast exurban tracts of industrial wasteland, clandestine military real estate, from black site cities to abyssal brownfield disaster zones, avant garde land art to subterranean networks of hydrological antiquity. Anyway, you get the picture. It's a tattered internal patchwork of America that goes on escaping the public eye.

[Image: The Desert Center. Photo via CLUI.]

Truly interested? Dive in to the database right here. "In researching the manmade environment," this recent New York Times article writes, "the center is often drawn to the frayed edges and forgotten margins of human sprawl: ghost towns, grim industrial zones, decaying waterfronts. At other times the group appears to be trying to locate and describe the precise middle of nowhere, somewhere out in the vast, open spaces that America sees fit for use only as hazardous waste dumps and nuclear test sites."
Come on, if you haven't already spent hours surfing CLUI's site, it's a fascinating glimpse of all sorts of secret real estate battles waged under the public's nose, or sometimes even right out in the open, and reads more like a performance art encylopedia of land use freakshows than a simple archive. It's the cult classic of American novels the average Joe never even knew about much less bothered to read; a constellation of bizarre landmarks, informal cultural heritge sites, and overlooked historic monuments that not only were designed to elude the radar altogether, but which depict the psychic underbelly of the American landscape where secrecy is the law of the land, and where refuge serves as a sinister camoflage so that nature's sublime becomes a surreptitious canvas for a whole unsuspected typology of 'out of sight, out of mind' geomorphologic renditions. It is the America that's been left up to an odd breed of crypto-geographers to reveal the hidden complexions of a built landscape and natural environment braided and functioning together as one evolving landscape narrative of inevitable human impact.
Speaking with with Matthew Coolidge - the CLUI founder and editor of the book entitled "Overlook", he says, “I suppose it can seem idiotic, but our approach really is to stumble across something and say: ‘What is that? What is it for? How did it get there?’ We try not to draw conclusions. A conclusion is the end of the journey. Learning happens along the way.”
Well, sorry if I pretentiously drew any conlusions, but don't let that stop you from checking out the book should you come across it on someone's bookshelf one day.


Post a Comment

<< Home