WENDOVER, Utah — Best known as a quick getaway for Utah's gambling set, Wendover — both Nevada's West Wendover and the Utah town that shares its main street — is not on many art lovers' list as an artistic destination.
But Brooklyn-based installation artist Will Lamson saw something else when he visited the now-derelict buildings — remnants of the town's World War II-era aviation history — that pepper Wendover's south side.
To Lamson, the abandoned buildings, surrounded by the geologically complex salt flats, were a tantalizing combination.
"(The site provided a) built environment that could continue indefinitely, or at least considerably longer than a traditional gallery or museum exhibition,” Lamson said in an interview.
From 1940 to 1946, Wendover was home to a vast military infrastructure, including training and recreational facilities, a hospital, armaments buildings and, most famously, the hangar for the Enola Gay, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber that was the first aircraft to drop an atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Japan. According to the Historic Wendover Airfield Museum, 21 bomber groups and over 1,000 aircrews completed training at Wendover Airfield during the war, including crews that participated in the strategic bombing of Germany, supported operations at D-Day and conducted combat operations around the world.
Now, some 70 years later, Lamson has constructed on the site a thoughtful and uncanny art installation titled "Mineralogy" — a multiyear project highlighting the interplay between nature and relics of human intervention.
The project is the result of a collaboration with the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI), a nonprofit research organization "dedicated to the increase and diffusion of knowledge about how the nation's lands are apportioned, utilized and perceived," according to its website.
Lamson placed his installation in what was once the bathroom of the former Armaments and Inspections building. To access the installation, visitors are invited to use a nearby key to open the door to the exhibition. Using a code provided on the artist's website, individuals can obtain the key from a black box directly next to the exhibition's door. Inside, the illuminated installation awaits behind plated glass. The installation exists as a smaller room within a larger dark room, heightening the dramatic effect of the exhibition space.
Once inside, visitors will find a room that resembles a small cabin filled with a bed, bookshelves, a kitchenette and side tables.
While such items appeal to the viewer’s immediate recognition, the room also houses more unconventional objects: curiosity jars, bowls and containers overrun by salt. Indeed, it is here that the artwork’s title, "Mineralogy" — defined as the scientific study of minerals — becomes apparent.
Once filled with salt water, these vessels' contents have hardened over time, leaving behind intricate salt traces and crystalized patterns. A solar-powered irrigation system outside of the building helps accelerate the crystallization process.
Lamson started experimenting with salt water in 2013.
"I came out to Wendover and I set up a small experiment that involved simply filing a few bowls and cups with the supersaline brine I had collected from the Great Salt Lake,” he said. “I expected salt crystals to form inside of the vessels, but what happened is the salt crystals totally enveloped each vessel, continuing out onto all the adjacent surfaces. This phenomena, I thought, was something more akin to a living organism than a geologic growth.”
The result is a tantalizing visual metaphor of both time and nature, equally unrelenting in their quest to overtake that which humans have endeavored to preserve.
Disproportionate to the installation’s small scale are the abundant visual novelties contained within. Similar to the ghostly aesthetic of the surrounding area, the room’s furniture appears old and worn. The sink of dirty dishes, a rocking chair and a jacket hanging from a hook on the wall give the haunting impression that the room’s inhabitant may return at any moment.
Two prominent bookshelves flank two of the room’s three walls, replete with pictures, trinkets and books.
“I definitely wanted to create a scene (that) implied a lived-in condition with objects and tools that suggest work,” Lamson said. “I was hoping that the lived-in condition followed by the slow geologic accretion would connote some kind of cataclysmic event that would require the character to leave suddenly.”Comment on this story
"Minerology" invites viewers to spend considerable time pondering its significance, on both a macro and a micro level. For example, various books on the bookshelves bear the word “future.” Lamson took these books from the library of his sociologist father, who Lamson said maintained an interest in topics such as the future, political philosophy, democracy, cold war, environmentalism and “other topics that might pose an existential threat to the U.S. and the world.”
For Lamson, "Mineralogy" proffers a link from past to present.
“From the Cold War threats of nuclear annihilation, to concerns about democracy, to global warming, we have come to a place where these past threats are now immediate and perhaps more likely than ever before.”
If you go …
What: William Lamson’s “Minerology”
Where: Wendover, Utah; map coordinates 40°43'42.6"N 114°02'10.3”W
When: Open anytime