Travel Notes 27.05.06: White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico

Living Utopia and Disaster: 2007 Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art
Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta
23 June - 9 September, 2007
Walter Phillips Gallery, Banff, Alberta
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 Park, directly adjacent to an active military range. In this work, landscape, tourism, and atomic history converge.

Established during World War Two, White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) is a military range that supports missile development, tactical and weapons testing programs for the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force. 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). In 1945 the world's first atomic bomb explosion took place on the range, at what is now called "Trinity Site," a relatively small parcel of land 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 and blown over millennia from the surrounding mountains. A distinctive ecology survives in this "desert within a desert" and visitors may explore the dramatic, blinding dunes where they picnic, fly kites, hike and sunbath.

The juxtaposition of beach-like behavior with the sinister history of the site's use is 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. Echoing a surveillance apparatus, visitors to the gallery peer closely to observe the moving images.