lifeless is not motionless

“The desert is a huge paradox. Beneath its outward appearance of immensity and silence, are the sounds of various experiments, mysteries, and utopias. The setting of outrageous true histories, entertainment oases founded on consumerism and play, and the secret staging of military power, the desert is far from empty. Instead, it is full of activity: unexpected, uninhibited, and excessive. Not subject to barriers and seemingly free of the formal, ideological or cultural ties of global society, the desert cultivates alternate architectures, urbanisms, and built phenomena.” [source> actar]

American emptiness is the perfect breeding ground for bizarre experiments. As compiled in Desert America – Territory of Paradox (Actar 2006) in different thematic groups, the rough vacant landscape hosts an exceptional amount of urban laboratories. Promised Lands deepens into the US-Mexican border condition and ancient Mormon colonizing strategies; The Elements puts together a series of ways to control sun, wind, water and extract power, including both failures and wise moves; Eden gathers idealistic utopias ranging from firearm-oriented towns to +55-year-old-communities; Hostility describes dozens of obsolete military infrastructures showing a decadent pierced landscape by nuclear tests, or open-air collections of Cold War Rockets and unused airships; Other Worlds brings outer space watching and receiving installations together, adding ersatz natural environments underneath man-made structures; and Expansion describes ways to produce an instant city for modern nomads: the Burning Man camp site and Arizona’s RVs oases.

“The story of the American desert is fundamentally one of technology. What distinguishes it utterly from the other deserts to which it is superficially similar […] is this chemical reaction between the raw material of a landscape and the modern sciences that have occupied and acted on it, producing a hybrid space that is both the most natural and the most artificial of territories.”

It is astonishing how rural desolation can unleash such a variety of urban interventions. Land Art once extracted the best of these wastelands and Venturi squeezed Las Vegas neon-lights to the maximum, but the human yearn for colonizing a territory never supersedes the eccentric.

[1&2> Desert America – Territory of Paradox. Actar 2006] [3> abandoned Bombay Beach resort by Kim Stringfellow via greenmuseum] [4> Imperial Valley and artificial Salton Sea via earthobservatory] [5> Dead fish at Salton Sea via filmfestivalworld] [6> Sedan Crater nuclear test via radiochemistry]

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