DOUBLE NEGATIVE POSITIVE

From I-15, Mormon Mesa appears just another bland, scrub-covered chunk of desert, a handy place to shoot at refrigerators or dump an inconvenient body. But it's much more than that.

It was on Mormon Mesa that Truman Bethurum conversed with beings from the planet Clarion back in 1952. Perhaps the Clarionites were drawn to the mesa by its remarkably flat top, covered with a calcified soil that took 2 million years to form, or by the fact that, from space, Mormon Mesa looks like the beak of a crazy bird.

The day after my failed attempt to find Double Negative, I return to that terrestrial bird beak, this time following the directions right up to the sculpture's edge. It's not marked in any way, and is barely visible from most angles. That no one has plummeted into this man-made gorge while on a motorized midnight bender seems miraculous. Erosion has rounded its once-squared edges and even taken a huge chunk or two out of the walls. I enter carefully.

In the depths, it is calm and cool. It still reminds me of a road cut, but that's not a bad thing. I know of two road cuts, parallel to one another and about 10 miles apart, in southeastern Utah. They slice through the burgeoning sandstone wave of Comb Ridge in such a way that the westward traveler passing through them feels as if he's slipped through a portal, into another time or reality behind the Slickrock Curtain. One of them was even a villain in Abbey's Monkey Wrench Gang. I think they are wonderful.

Then again, I'm not particularly upset that Bright Source Energy has asked the BLM for permission to build a glimmering concentrated solar thermal plant on Mormon Mesa not far from Double Negative. It seems like a part of the bigger story -- a land sculpture that just keeps growing.

The sky is outrageous today, with big clouds flying across the blue like the "skows" that Bethurum saw so long ago. When the Clarionites return in 2052, what will they think of Double Negative? Will they see it as art or as a mass grave -- an abandoned road cut or another piece of the landscape? Will they ponder its dimensions and note that it is almost perfectly aligned with true North? Or will they even notice it, dwarfed as it may be by a huge array of mirrors directing sunlight into a turbine on top of a tower, a circle of shiny worshippers channeling the sun's power toward a 200-foot-tall phallic deity. Clearly a cultural and religious site: a cathedral, perhaps, of the Anthropocene.

Maybe the alien visitors will see the artwork as signposts of sorts, guiding visitors to see this landscape with all its intrusions in another way. That's what Robert Adams said he hoped to do with his photographs: Show us "a landscape into which all fragments, no matter how imperfect, fit perfectly."

For more information and directions to land art:
diacenter.org | clui.org | lacma.org | moca.org | doublenegative.tarasen.net