the sum of the facts does not constitute the work or determine its esthetics

The Lightning Field measures one mile by one kilometer and six meters.
There are 400 highly polished stainless steel poles with solid, pointed tips in the work.
The poles are arranged in a rectangular grid array (16 to the width, 25 to the length) and are space 220 feet apart.
A simple walk around the perimeter of the poles take approximately two hours.
The primary experience takes place within The Lightning Field.
Each mile-long row contains 25 poles and runs east-west.
Each kilometer-long row contains 16 poles and runs north-south.
Because the sky-ground relationship is central to the work, viewing The Lightning Field from the air is of no value.
Part of the essential content of the work is the ratio of people to the space: a small number of people to a large amount of space.

Some facts, notes, data, information, statistics, and statements:

The Lightning Field is a permanent work.
The land is not the setting for the work but a part of the work.
The states of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and Texas were searched by truck over a five-year period before the location in New Mexico was selected.
The region is located 7,200 feet above sea level.
The Lightning Field is 11 ½ miles east of the Continental Divide.
The sculpture was completed in its physical form on November 1, 1977.
An aerial survey, combined with computer analysis, determined the positioning of the rectangular grid and the elevation of the terrain.
The poles’ concrete foundations, set one foot below the surface of the land, are three feet deep and one foot in diameter.
Engineering studies indicated that these foundations will hold poles to a vertical position in winds of up to 110 miles per hour.
The shortest pole is 15 feet.
The tallest pole height is 26 feet 9 inches.
The total weight of the steel used is approximately 38,000 pounds.
Diagonal distance between any two contiguous poles is 311 feet.
If laid end to end the pole would stretch over one and one-half miles (8,240 feet).
The plane of the tips would evenly support an imaginary sheet of glass.
During the mid-portion of the day 70 to 90 percent of the poles become virtually invisible due to the high angle of the sun.
Only after a lightning strike has advanced to an area of about 200 feet above The Lightning Field can it sense the poles.
On very rare occasions when there is a strong electrical current in the air, a glow known at St. Elmo’s Fire may be emitted from the tops of the poles.
No photograph, group of photographs or other recorded images can completely represent The Lightning Field.
Isolation is the essence of Land Art.

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it’s electrifying

The landscape in and around The Lightning Field is a varied mix of desert scrub, powdery soft – almost pulverized, really -  sand, and hard-baked patches of petrified earth. Spidery sections of cracked soil appear at random and seem so alien that it leaves me to wonder if lightning has at times avoided the lightning rods altogether, striking the ground instead – or if it’s some by-product of electrical strikes hitting the rods and the resultant run-off cooking the soil into unrecognizable – from my perspective – geometric patterns, like fractals.

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panoramic perspectives

Of course, I couldn’t resist – despite the limitations of not only the medium but also my technique. Click each panorama – then click it a second time in the new window – for a sense of scale far greater than I would have thought possible.

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the lightning field

No single image could do justice to The Lightning Field, Walter De Maria’s epic land art installation. It’s just too big – conceptually as well as physically – to be contained inside the boundaries of a frame. Yet at the same time there is something in human nature which begs to try to capture it in some way, shape, or form. So, I thought I’d include a series of individualized perspectives. Taken together they might amount to something, but until film and photography develop multi-sensory properties, it’s not even close to experiencing it as both participant and observer at once. For greater detail, click each image.

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all’s quiet in quemado

Three hours due west – then south – of Albuquerque is the town of Quemado, home to the Dia Art Foundation‘s field office for The Lightning Field. It’s where you deposit your car and wait to be ferried another hour further into the desert by the caretaker. There is not much to the town; in quick succession there’s a magistrate’s building, el Serape diner, a gas station, the Largo Motel and an ATM. (This is why you make a point of stopping at the liquor store in Grants.) If you make it to the end of the road – and one assumes, the town limits as well – you’ll learn that Quemado is the Spanish word for burned. You’d be forgiven for doing a double-take and reading the word as burnt, however, because Quemado appears more than just dry – it looks scorched.

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looking for lightning

I’m off this Memorial Day weekend into the desert of Quemado, New Mexico to take part in Walter De Maria’s monumental land art project, The Lightning Field. Without cell service or internet I’ll be spending quality time in a simple hut, interacting with the art and the remote landscape. So, no live blogging but expect a full report next week. Fingers crossed for lightning. Not that it’s essential to the experience: it’s about the journey and not the destination. Even when it’s all about the destination.

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