The White Sands Missile Range is a world-famous site of military bomb testing, but its recent history is tied to an isolated village 600 miles to the north. For ten years during the Cold War, Green River, Utah was the launch site for test missiles that detonated in White Sands. That’s the reason Arizona artist Erika Lynne Hanson landed there for a month-long research project in 2017.
Hanson’s time in Green River marked the start of a major body of work regarding the scraps from the missile tests. In a new series of weavings and video artworks, Hanson uses a little-known language to inspire nuanced perspectives on these sites. Her artworks pose open questions about the nature of humanity and our relationship to nature. Movement Choir: Landscape Scores opens at form & concept on Friday, May 25 from 5 to 7 pm, and runs through June 23, 2018. Hanson will conduct an artist talk on Saturday, May 26 from 2 to 3 pm.
“Green River was the stage for a fascinating chapter in American history,” says Hanson. “We were quite literally bombing ourselves for a ten-year span.” During her stay in Green River, Hanson became fascinated with the considerable marks—both psychological and physical—that the project left on the community and its surroundings. “These parts of the missile would fall off and land in the landscape, leaving behind scars,” she says. Hanson researched the sites of this accidental jestam. She returned to her loom with a challenge: how to explore the significance of these unintentional land artworks through fiber?
Hanson is accustomed to tackling creative projects that span many miles and artistic mediums. She’s an Assistant Professor of Fibers and Socially Engaged Practice at Arizona State University, and also maintains a multidisciplinary artistic practice that has taken her from Alaska to Iceland. Broadly, her artworks propose potential connections between material, history and place. Recently that has manifested in a series of imagined dialogues between humans and different elements of the landscape. Before her Green River excursion, Hanson completed a project in White Sands, New Mexico where she planted gypsum-colored flags as tributes to the land.
“The idea is to say, ‘I will weave a flag in your honor, and then we will have a conversation,’” Hanson explains. “It’s a funny proposition to think that a human can broker a dialogue between, say, a gypsum crystal and the White Sands dunes. It never totally works, so it becomes an absurdist proposition. I’m in this landscape, I don’t fully understand it, but I’m going to try.” Flags appear in Hanson’s body of work for Movement Choir: Landscape Scores as well, though they’re more than just offerings.
To incorporate the story of the missile fragments into the work, the artist turned her banners into semaphores of sorts. She used the Labanotation system, invented by 20th century choreographer Rudolf Laban for dance performance scores, to indicate how the viewer might move their body through each site. Video artworks of Hanson planting the flags will also appear in the show. “By suggesting how the body might move through these spaces, I’m proposing potential connections amongst material, history, and place,” the artist says.
After all, Hanson points out, the places that were in the paths of the missiles were hardly empty. “They picked Green River to deploy these missiles because they said it went over the least amount of inhabited lands to reach White Sands,” she says. “It goes over all of this National Park and BLM land, so it’s not really uninhabited, it’s just uninhabited by people.” If the landscape could speak, Hanson wonders if it would complain about these rusty thorns in its side. “Is it a trauma when the landscape is hit with a missile?” she asks. “What does a rock care, or does it care? Maybe I’m just reflecting my mortality into this, which is a very short span in the face of geologic time.”