Field Trip: Traveling Desert Class
In November of 2017 I was invited to travel with a group of students from BYU (Provo, UT) to see Nancy Holt's Sun Tunnels (1973-76) near the Utah/Nevada border. Two fifteen-passenger vans of students made the eight hour round-trip into the middle of the Great Basin Desert. One van was filled with undergraduate art students and the other with graduate students. Their professor, Dr. Daniel Barney, asked me to ride with the graduate students in the early morning as we headed toward the Sun Tunnels and then with the undergraduates on the return back to Provo. He asked me to "hold class" with each of the groups in whichever way I saw fit during the four-hour treks. Coincidentally, the JORGELUCEROSTUDYCOLLECTION had just received a generous gift of old art periodicals from the art historian Jonathan Fineberg. Amongst that fifty-year archive was a 1977 issue of ARTFORUM wherein Nancy Holt describes--in detail--the process of making the Sun Tunnels happen. Within the robust discussion about art and the academy that the BYU students and I had as we zipped through the desert, I asked the students to read Holt's text aloud to each other. Two different things emerged from the reading performances. For the graduate students (on the way there) who hadn't yet experienced the artwork, curiosity and anticipation was piqued. The reading was a preparation, a slight concretization of the imagination. For the undergraduates (on the way back) analysis and reflection was engendered. A decompression occurred as information was ladled onto experience and the thoughts that were spoken by the students carried some "thing" indescribable but irresistible. For me, who witnessed the performance of the reading twice as bookends to seeing Holt's work, I was struck by how making and learning is informed by echoes. On the one hand, Holt's words--after hearing them aloud the first time--echoed in my experience while I was in the Sun Tunnels and on the other hand Holt's bracketing of the Utah desert (and my lived experience at the Sun Tunnels) echoed in my rehearing of of her words as the sun was setting and the undergraduates were getting sleepy. The enacting of the gesture (to ride there and back) and its subsequent becoming art and learning was made by all of us, but only made possible by their actual teacher, Dan Barney. Dan rode with the undergraduates on the way to the Sun Tunnels and then switched with me to ride with the graduate students on the way back. He never heard the piece read aloud and never heard me "guest-teach", yet he was integral to the execution of the performance/class. As he yielded from participating he opened up both the authoritative and actual space without which the piece couldn't have been made.