Lightning Field: A Garden Made up of Hundreds of Electrical Discharges
In his land-art installation, Walter de Maria attracts thunders to bring life to a desert landscape.
Gardens are first and foremost places made for wanderers. Whether they’re made of stones, trees, sand, or, in this case, lightning; they all have the power to energize the sleepy or downtrodden visitor. This land-art installation by Walter de Maria is a mythical garden on the desert, and its trees are lightning streaks.
Like any fantastical place, this lightning field lies hidden behind its own mystery. In the words of its creator, pioneer of the land art movement and ex Velvet Underground drummer Walter de Maria, the best way to go to one of these places is alone or in the company of very few people. The Lightning Field is set in the featureless landscape of the desert just a few miles off the Continental Divide. De Maria makes the most of the disorientation the desert inflicts on its visitors to create an enigmatic air of magic.
The installation is made up of 400 stainless steel lightning rods that form an enormous grid which extends over the otherwise spotless desert landscape. Each rod has a pointed end and is 67.5 meters high. It takes approximately two hours to walk around the perimeter of the metal forest and, depending on how fast you go, the rods appear and disappear from your line of vision, continuously changing their pattern and rhythm. In fact, the installation is so big that it looks like a living being, a thing that comes to life like a mirage, changing shape as you move around it.
If you approach it you can see peach, mauve, and purple daisies, plus wild sunflowers growing between the rods. There are also millions of ants that have built mounds and tunnels within the installation. During the day, the rods are illuminated by the sun and seem as though they glow with a light of their own. But the strongest element of beauty here is the stunning lightning storms that hit about sixty times a year and that can be seen a short distance away from a cozy, rustic wooden cabin.
The lightning’s ferocity and the portent of its immediate sparkle can be admired from wooden chairs, in complete safety, and maybe even with a glass of wine in hand. The most memorable natural experience that we could ever dream of seeing lies waiting for us in this liquid garden of metal rods. Think of the ramification of thousands of colorful lightning steaks dancing in front of you, silent like the desert around them, like a gathering of electrified ghosts.
“I sing the body electric”, sang Walt Whitman while surrounded and surrounding himself with a humanity charged with light. Lightning is the most irresistible and overwhelming natural phenomenon, perhaps because it is a special link between sky and land, perhaps for its visual approximation to the most magical part of the subtle world of the luminous, the thermal, the chemical and the atmospheric. Here we have an opportunity to show respect and humility before this flood of celestial light and become illuminated, as Bob Dylan would say, with the ghosts of electricity hauling in the bones of our face.
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