NAME:Janina Joffe
SPECIALISM:Art
LOCATION:The Lightning Field - Catron County, New Mexico
MATERIALS:X 16 Photographs / X 2 Objects

Overview of Voyage D'etudes

Janina Joffe is the founder of East of Mayfair , an online destination for art and design shopping. A gallery concept she explains is aiming to set the precedent that “Art collecting does not need to be complicated, pretentious or expensive.” She works internationally with emerging and established artists to source and produce affordable and beautiful works of art for collectors worldwide. The East of Mayfair site has been conceived as an artwork in its own right and created in collaboration with renowned illustrators Pierre Le-Tan and Thibaud Hérem. It takes the form of a virtual Georgian townhouse with six rooms, which are regularly curated by her to sell paintings, drawings, photographs, and prints “off the (digital) wall” of each unique room.

The american conceptual artist Walter de Maria died in July 2013 at the age of 77. Our long scheduled trip to his monumental work The Lightning Field was booked for one month later. The Lightning Field is a work of Land Art commissioned by the Dia Art Foundation in 1977. It is situated in a remote area of the high desert of western New Mexico and consists of 400 polished stainless steel poles installed in a grid measuring one mile by one kilometer. All visitors spend one night in a small cabin at the installation and under certain rare conditions lightning converges on the poles in a unique display. Witnessing this is not, however, essential to experiencing the installation in full effect. I have often thought that museums and art exhibitions are a modern day, middle class equivalent of churches and destinations of pilgrimage. Today, both believers and the agnostic worship and ponder in silence in the echoing halls of cultural institutions. They congregate at gallery openings, in the packed aisles of art fairs and wait in endless lines to view priceless works of art in blockbuster exhibitions worldwide. Although I avoid these queues as best I can, I do find myself joining many people in feeling compelled to visit certain artworks and shows. In light of Walter de Maria’s recent death, it seems almost necessary to make my way to his most famous artwork.

A pilgrimage is a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance – often this journey is long and arduous. In the case of De Maria’s work the journey certainly matches this description. Cultural pilgrims must take on quite the challenge to get there since the experiential land art installation is almost always closed to the public (opening dates are: July 1 through October 31) and is usually fully booked from the day the reservations office opens every year.

“THE LAND IS NOT THE SETTING FOR THE WORK BUT A PART OF THE WORK” (De Maria)

Was Walter de Maria playing god or was he bowing his head respectfully before the unpredictability of nature and the vast uncontrollable universe with this perfect human display of precision and symmetry. Is every artist playing god when he creates something from nothing, particularly on such a monumental scale? If there is no lightning here tonight, is this just a field with giant needles built into it? Perhaps the promise of lightning is merely the attraction you need to explain to others why you have travelled to a field in the middle of nowhere to sleep in a cabin with strangers for one night.

In his Artforum article about the installation, De Maria wrote: “THE INVISIBLE IS REAL”

And it is. It is palpable and moving and beautiful. And it is about nature and humans and perception and time. The poles begin to glow at sunset and we stand respectfully among them feeling humbled by this unique experience that feels natural and universal as well as humanly crafted and artistic.

Conclusion

I am one of of a few thousand people to see this place who both wonder about it and understand it completely. It is a spiritual and delicate place that inspires awe and mystery and it takes a certain type of person to make this journey and gain meaning from it. Aligning expectation and reality also form a big part of the artistic experience because its totality is far greater than the sum of its parts, even if the lightning doesn’t occur.

Leaving the site is bittersweet after feeling such a connection to it in a such a short space of time. I could come back, but this would inevitably be a completely different experience.

Flicking through my notes and photos I came across another quote from De Maria’s article that sums this up completely.

“THE SUM OF THE FACTS DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE WORK OR DETERMINE ITS AESTHETICS”.

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