this blog will be a collection of images, writing and other media that has influenced or is relevant to my art and research process. i see it as a kind of scrapbook for my ideas, thoughts, criticisms, ruminations, etc. take a browse, add your comments, enjoy.

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from Wikipedia:

Salvation Mountain is an art installation covering a hill north of Calipatria, California, near Slab City and just several miles from the Salton Sea. It is made from adobe, straw, and thousands of gallons of paint. It was created by local resident Leonard Knight, and encompasses numerous murals and areas painted with Christian sayings and Bible verses.

I recently came to Salvation Mountain with my best friend and fellow photographer Jessica, and these are a few of our crude iPhone shots (I’ve yet to develop the film ones). I think it might be the only “visionary” landscape I’ve ever visited, and it exceeded my expectations.

It truly was a spiritual experience, and I am not a spiritual person. I suppose there’s a canon for writing about the spiritual and the visionary in the desert (ie. Carlos Castaneda), but the thing about Salvation Mountain is its 1970s biblical essence. It’s easy to see it as garish and tacky in pictures, but visiting Knight’s landscape in person proves differently. While the structure itself isn’t huge, it’s certainly monumental. It stands in stark contrast with its flat, beige surroundings, and the patches of “waterfalls” cascade across the rippled face of the adobe. With caution (and the right shoes), one can climb the mountain up to the cross on top, and survey the land for miles around. On its side, there are small, chapel-like huts that you can enter; their vented ceilings and shade instill a peaceful cool air. Walking through these nooks, you can find an unexpected and unexplained assortment of treasures— photos of the mountain pressed into the adobe, trophies, bibles, and the like. There’s no museum-like plaques to tell visitors anything about this site, which is fine. Salvation Mountain seems to be more about imbuing a sense of spirituality and love (in that 1970s aesthetic mentioned before) than asserting itself as a “piece” of “art” (cue mega-eyeroll). 

Though Knight is currently in eldercare and not working on the mountain himself, community members and volunteers help with the maintenance of it. Jessica and I met Sam, a cassette-label owner from Portland, who had been living in a trailer in front of the mountain and caring for it for the past two months. He’d found out about it when his friends had gone down to work on it, and he decided to skip town for three months to do so himself. He asked Jessica and I if we’d like to help him make mud, and after a split-second hesitation, we jumped at the offer. And so we made the mud to patch up cracks in an area of the structure. We worked at it for maybe 30 minutes; Sam says he’s there making mud and painting about eight hours a day. We shared stories about ourselves and our lives while breaking apart dirt clods with giant metal pipes and mixing straw into the wetted earth. I especially enjoyed the final part of the process, in which we splatted globs of mud onto the cracks. Having my hands in the mud just felt so good; it reminded me of being an Outdoor School counselor in high school, teaching 6th graders about soil and making loam with them. Jessica asked Sam if he believed in God or Christianity, and he told us that he believed in the mountain. Sam also had a very small puppy he adopted from a resident of Slab City, the nearby squatter colony which he later took us to; he named it Sal, in honor of the mountain.

I am 24, and though I feel lucky to have had as many opportunities and experiences in my life as I already have, I hope that I can have more like this one. I don’t know what it is— the desert, the mountain, driving in the vast expanse of the southwest with my best friend— but it was a really beautiful two days. Jean Baudrillard wrote in America (1986):

Driving is a spectacular form of amnesia. Everything is to be discovered, everything to be obliterated. Admittedly, there is the primal shock of the deserts and the dazzle of California, but when this is gone, the secondary brilliance of the journey begins, that of the excessive, pitiless distance, the infinity of anonymous faces and distances, or of certain miraculous geological formations, which ultimately testify to no human will, while keeping intact an image of upheaval.”

And while I normally think Baudrillard is a bit of a prick, I can relate to this brilliance of journey. Leonard Knight’s man-made mountain easily defies Baurillard’s classification of the geologically miraculous. As I sit at my work desk on a gloomy Friday in downtown Manhattan, with a hundred other compartmentalized buildings staring out onto my window, the sound of sirens and traffic and indignant toddlers whirring below me, I long for that amnesiac state; the oft played-out notion of the wild west, the open range. Salvation Mountain is the discovery to have been made on this trip, and I’m itching to find the next one.