Cities are built foundationally on maps, and those maps survive as the urban fabric often beyond they do otherwise as documents. Portland’s first map, drawn in 1844, set up the city’s layout, but was itself lost and forgotten outside of the street grid it laid out within the city’s first two decades.
Drawing inspiration from Jorge Luis Borges’ “On Exactitude In Science,” Schumacher mapped the site of what was intended to be the city’s first permanent structure—a small shanty situated at the northernmost edge of the grid—and reprinted the landscape at its actual scale, representing the place that is itself the last piece of evidence of the lost map as its own map.
Like that first cabin, which had been carried away in pieces by floodwaters, visitors to the lecture could pull spreads from the book and carry them off with them to their respective cities, dissolving the map and the cabin again much as Borges’ fictional map was dissolved into the landscape it represented.
A new palimpsest from two sides being included for a show at Kleven Contemporary back in Las Vegas based on used books and the inadvertently editorial marks they pick up over time. The first 17 pages from this edition from 1956 has been recopied, excising of all content and context but for what was noted by previous owners as important, along with their direct additions and commentary within the margins.
Exhibition and performance at Portland State University’s Art Building Lobby & MK Galleries: April 30–May 10, 2012
In Borges’ “The Book of Sand,” the narrator describes the most unique book in existence: written in a language unknown, no page passed and remembered could ever be relocated—the words in the book were no more permanently affixed to the page than sand is to any point in the landscape.
Built in a hostile desert for travelers and a never-settled populace, the ever-shifting nature of the city is the only permanence Las Vegas has. As an impermanent geography that is forever in transit, the desert sand always underfoot is the ultimate Las Vegan. It even attains preciousness as the thing that survives demolitions to be fenced off after places looming on the cliff of historicity were removed.
Book of Sand attempted to organize the city’s past, present, and future into the permanently temporary structures of tourism and historical study in the contexts of academia. The two week performance of A Dictionary of Displaced Names recorded identities and contexts of places destroyed in graphite as shibboleths that visitors could add to or erase from while sitting across from the artist-editor, making for a text whose potential to shift mirrored that of Borges’ story.
During the two-week long performance of the Dictionary of Displaced Names, both Schumacher and his visitors acted as source and platen simultaneously, tracing with graphite out of recollection and source the text left behind by terms no longer defined in the landscape. The Dictionary, arranged as a dictionary of place names, follows the format’s core idea to pull together terms from a specific human landscape—the origins of street names, geospatial features, and important points—and couples them contextually back with their meanings. Perhaps appropriately for Las Vegas, too, rather than telling a place’s history in an tightly organized, well-structured manner, the place-name dictionary instead sprawls across a thousand cul-de-sacs of narrative, haphazardly woven into each other with little consideration of their neighbors.
Wholly composed on semi-opaque vellum pages usually reserved to protect plates in old books, the index of the Dictionary becomes the margins; white space can be reclaimed by participants with little more than an erasure, and with it the facts as the artist proposed them could be rewritten, misremembered, distorted for either more or less accuracy. It existed not solely as a repository for fixed, dead information tattooed permanently onto a page in ink, but like a wiki: growing, changing, and expanding infinitely to suit every possible experience. Dictionary’s malleability is a representation of both the wiki and history itself as they exist with humanity: always being warped, torn apart, and defaced by an anonymous, faceless mob only sometimes armed with actual information, but more often with the tools of memory and other accessible generated forms of identity.
The oldest hotel in Las Vegas still as recognizable to its creators as it is today isn’t glitzy. It isn’t glamorous. And the closest thing it has to a glittering light is a streetlamp the city sloppily jammed through the arcaded two story veranda that shields the sidewalk from a long-since tamed desert sun.
It’s historic status revoked at the owner’s request, what now might best be called the “City Block Redevelopment Opportunity” after the banner affixed to it stands vacant. Unable to be honored on site with a plaque in the way most historic buildings are, surveying monuments—nearly invisible discs that draw out cities in implied lines— linked a front wall of the building with a plaque in a gallery space. Both the plaque and the survey monuments, made out of graphite and dust respectively, implied the fragility of the site, the building, and the honor bestowed on it.
Using the National Register of Historic Places listing statement for the building reinterpreted through the degradation of multiple generations of photocopies, a new document was created that combined the original with the narrative of its time after being de-historicized.
One of the oddities of participatory exhibition projects is that the only participants that can contribute are, in effect, in one place. That isn’t true of Las Vegans, though. They’re dispersed, and so what information, disinformation, facts, and nonsense they have to contribute often are left out of records.
“A Past Rewritten,” the preface to theDictionary of Displaced Namesand Schumacher’s graduate thesis paper, was collaboratively live-editable online for the duration of the exhibition, projected on a central wall. Whenever visitors added or removed something to the text online or in the exhibition space, all copies were immediately updated. While the text could simply be read, it was frequently edited both online and on-site.
At the close of the exhibition, the document’s final edits were collected and bound into a single folio alongside the original text as Schumacher’s required graduate thesis book. Owing to the inherent sense of destructiveness at all stages of the project, the volume was printed onto pages of Eaton’s Corrasable Bond, a powder-coated erasable typewriter paper that, when bound together, begins to rub against itself, erasing each page’s contents.
“The Autzen’s corner of block 199 is no exception. The house that stood here for 70 years is today reduced to a picture in a hallway to pass by, a strange Victorian thing that doesn’t make sense. The few clapboard homes and brick apartments like it that remain are indistinguishable filler for the alleyways between the cast concrete walls, no older or more significant than the rest of the landscape. To a person walking down Broadway, the cast concrete and glass walls seem so permanent, but eternally so. They will always will be, and always were. That house couldn’t exist here, because we can’t let go of the freeway and the college and the things particular to our experiences that could be leveled as easily as that house was in 1966. It may be, as Stegner writes, ‘impossible to be unconscious of or indifferent to space’ for Westerners. How often, though, are we conscious upon entering this space that its footprint is the size of a home, or that countless other lost places are tucked just beneath us as we walk through these halls?
“The house has eroded from this plot of land, and its memory has eroded from our sense of this neighborhood. What’s left of a place whose photographs and other artifacts lack broad significance enough to be cherished and saved into archives? Our present means of entry to its existence, however flawed, are halted and the place shifted even further from possibility. How could it have mattered to anyone if they never photographed it, we wonder, and decide it isn’t deserving of our remembrance as well. And, because of it, our ability to empathize with the fact that seeming perpetuity of the ground we stand on too will be interrupted and our equally nomadic successors will be unable to comprehend our lives and our connection with this place. The last ghostly outlines of our predecessors’ lives are scattered away with the swing of our boot as we walk through, and without a continuity of people and places to settle new visitors, no one that follows us would know it had ever been any different. The lines in sand are a means to entry to the little house every bit as flawed as a photograph or bronze plaque, but whose ease of erasure I hope illustrates how lossy remembrance can be over time and between visitors.
“As Robert Smithson noted of his non-sites, ‘the [gallery’s] room reminds us of the limitations of our condition,’ but that is not entirely the case here. The house within this room reminds us of the limitations of our positioning within causal time—for what few steps we can take into the house are through the demarcations of the walls, crumbling and scattering a place that is already dust. It also reminds us of the scale of the gallery’s present space, large enough to fit nearly the entire contents of the home of dozens of people over seven decades.
“Stegner writes of ‘every city’s edge’ as being the divide between civic life and the endless, timeless arid stretches that make up most of the West, the sunset into which the wandering hero always rides. But time complicates boundaries like this because the edges are everywhere, unevenly shorn and layered throughout its stream; the edge of a city is at any moment at any place within it waiting to be forgotten—waiting for the places we find holy to be scattered and swept away.”
Though the near hundred-year-old Sanzenbacher marked the start of a transformation from suburban mansions to urban downtown now long forgotten on the downtown campus, PSU could find in it no future, and, more pointedly, ‘no historical significance’ worth preserving.
Significance is a difficult word to define in relation to place because the associations are with fame and money that often characterize the term describe so few places and rarely have anything to do with them at all; neither Sanzenbacher nor those who lived in it had either. But it had a past and left a trail of evidence from those who recalled it in the records of the university and the public domain.
After compiling as many of these records as could be found, they were fashioned into the shape of one of the discarded bricks—inscribed using the institution’s laser cutter with the statement of insignificance placed upon the building by the institution—and then abandoned to the field as a monument lasting no longer then the elements would have it.
Exhibited and performed as part of I never wanted it to be this way, either at UNLV’s Grant Hall Gallery
Archie C. Grant Hall, the home of UNLV’s art program, has spent much of its fifty years maligned and in disrepair, waiting for death; as longtime professor Mark Burns said, the building has been “two years away from demolition for the last twenty.” Despite its checkered existence, Grant Hall is presently the only structure remaining on campus from the school before 1960. I never wanted it to be this way, either echoed the calls from students and faculty that it be demolished with its own suicidal yearning on the very day its cornerstone was laid 50 years previous (April 26, 1959), celebrating darkly a birthday the frustrated few who occupied the structure hoped would never arrive.
I never wanted it to be this way, either also encompassed a ceremony recreating the ceremony to lay of the building’s cornerstone, following the script and Masonic ceremony of the original cornerstone’s laying exactly 50 years prior to that day and time but replacing the finishing cornerstone with the filthy structure’s true missing piece: hand soap.
The birthday also comprised the public unveiling of a project memorializing 50 small moments, rumors, lies, and the built past of Grant Hall with historical structures made out of discarded paper found around the building. “50 scraps for Grant Hall” details that project’s installation and destruction over the course of 2009.