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Art imitates life at Yucca Mountain

Artist Michael Heizer, known for his monumental earthworks, was recently in the news for his threat to demolish his current project, City, if the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump were to go ahead.

He had threatened to bulldoze the project if the transport route for nuclear waste was to pass near the project. Fortunately for him, it appears that the Yucca Mountain project is stalled.

Michael Heizer's "City" in the Nevada desert

Michael Heizer's "City" in the Nevada desert

However, these two projects have far more in common than appears at first sight: when Yucca Mountain was first proposed, a commission of scientists and artists were tasked with designing a marker system that would warn about the dangers of the site, up to 10,000 years in the future. They proposed, among other things, impressive and ominous earthworks, reminiscent of Heizer’s:

Yucca Mountain marker project - Menacing Earthworks

Yucca Mountain marker project - Menacing Earthworks

That’s only one scheme of many proposed, all of them dramatic and monumental. Here is another:

Yucca Mountain Marker Project - Spikes Bursting

Yucca Mountain Marker Project - Spikes Bursting

The Yucca Mountain architects and Heizer share a concern for the future, expresssed in dramatic and poetic language. Here is the meta-message designed for the Yucca Mountain site:

This Place Is Not A Place Of Honor

This Place Is Not A Place Of Honor

Michael Heizer describes his goal for his project:

“I’m building this work for later.
I’m interested in making a work of art that
will represent all the civilization to this point.”

I wonder if he realized how tightly aligned his and the other project are? The Yucca Mountain team certainly did, citing James Turrell and Charles Ross as prominent land artists. However, Jon Lomberg, the one artist on the team, strongly recommended adopting a non-artistic approach:

Various members of the Marker Panel have expressed the view that the Marker should be designed so as to achieve maximum aesthetic impact, so as to be seen as a “gift from our century to the future” (Givens), involving contemporary artists working on large scale environmental sculpture (Sullivan), or using Jungian archetypal forms to create a mood of dread and danger (Brill) .
As a professional artist, I wish to register a dissenting view. I believe that the Marker should be designed purely on functional grounds, and that any attempts to make the Marker some kind of artistic statement are bound to confuse the clarity of the basic message we are trying to convey.

The presence of Heizer’s “City” nearby would certainly create confusion for future generations!

To be honest, I’ve always found the Yucca Mountain project, and the design of the 10,000 year marker system extremely moving and inspiring, and have produced artwork based on it. I feel slightly disappointed that it won’t go ahead.

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