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Inside Texas Tech: Land Arts, A Transformative Semester

The Texas Tech classroom for Chris Taylor’s Land Arts of the American West course is immense. For a semester he guides a group of students to five Southwestern states. They camp and go to beautiful spaces, some of which have ugly pasts.

Darkness creeps over the campsite inside Cebolla Canyon about 100 miles west of Albuquerque. A waxing moon casts muted light as seven students from across the country and the globe, associate architecture professor Chris Taylor and a field guest circle up their slack-backed chairs.

It’s the first of many seminars the class will take in over the next three months, two of which are spent away from showers and toilets, heating or air conditioning, or a cozy bed.

Someone spots a small black widow spider inside the circle. Taylor gently scoops it up on his notebook and carries it away from the group.

“So humanity has been living on marking shaping land for our entire history. Today—and I think always—it’s been vital for people to understand our relationship to the land both in terms of how we’ve emerged from it, but also the impact of our actions on it and the consequence of a decision made for deep into the future,” Taylor said. “Thinking about architects, writers, people who have the potential for their career and lives ahead to be involved in a more intimate and more nuanced and intelligent relationship to land, that’s why we’re doing this.”

After two months of camping, hiking and looking and learning at the sites, each student will produce a project that will be exhibited at the Museum of Texas Tech.

They also produce art in the field and will submit for an archive of the course their journals, field notes and sketchbooks.

The students immerse themselves in the diverse landscapes. Land Arts of the American West is a trans-disciplinary field program exploring the juncture of geomorphology and human construction -- from geology and weather to cigarette butts and hydroelectric dams.

The students saturate themselves in the various locations. They take note of discarded trash in the landscape as much as they do naturally occurring artifacts, like petroglyphs and shards of pottery left behind decades ago, and famous land art installations, like the Spiral Jetty in Utah.

“The diversity geographically and disciplinarily of the group is super important and it dovetails with the diversity of the sites we’re seeing. We’re looking at a wide range of things—beautiful things, tragic things—basically the record of what humans have done on the land. From that we want it to rattle and affect what our response to the land is,” Taylor says.

Nicolle LaMere, a Texas Tech MFA graduate from Wisconsin, says she she’s ready for whatever is to come.

“I know that there’s going be a lot of unpredictable things that are going to happen and I feel that as long as I keep a cool head and really listen and look, I’ll benefit the most from that,” LaMere says. “I have no idea how it’s going to change me and my process, or who I am as a person, but also it’s terrifying. A lot of the past participants say that this is a transformative experience. So I really don’t know what to expect except for change.”