At the Lightening Field – Laura Raicovich


A short review today, of a short book (eighty-two small pages), a poetic essay, the ekphrastic “At the Lightening Field” by Laura Raicovich.

As the opening paragraph explains:

Walter De Maria’s The Lightening Field is composed of four hundred stainless steel poles positioned 220 feet apart. The site, in the desert of central New Mexico, was selected for its “flatness, high lightening activity and isolation” and is bounded on the east, west, and south by ridges of distant mountains. The sharply pointed poles demarcate a grid one mile by one kilometre and six meters.

Laura Raicovich worked for the Dia Art Foundation from early 2002 to late 2011 and the Foundation is charged with the maintenance and protection of The Lightening Field, hence several visits, four that Raicovich recalls and presents poetically in this work.

I thought about perfect geometries and the incremental,
expansion of the universe;
the messiness of the cosmos;
the slowing
of the earth. (p 7-8)

The poetic recollections are themselves disorienting, but at the same time formally structured, reflecting the artwork itself, being on a massive site in the desert, with poles forming a structured grid, disorienting the viewer, but also encompassing a full immersion experience.

My sense of time in the city meant nothing in this place. It was replaced by a feeling of forever that was closer to geologic time than my own notions of a day or week passing. I thought I could understand big things better if I stayed. I wanted to commit to being in this place – as I said, I would have stayed longer. (p 8)

This text, written from memory, is an unreliable construction, unlike The Lightening Field itself, which is firm, unmoving, however also like the field the text moves with your movement, you become part of the artwork, the text relaying a physical experience.

Within the austerity of the desert, there are few distractions
from the acts and implications of perception. Concentration
is more easily achieved,
revealing the remarkable. (p 28)

A work that contains quotes from well-known writers including Boris Pasternak, Vladimir Nabokov, Gertrude Stein, and Julio Cortázar, those names alone signifying literary as well as mystical poetic work. The descriptions of differing light, throughout a single day, the air, the endless horizons and skies all creating the location specific mood.

The Lightening Field was completed on 31 October 1977 and there is a recreation of the feeling at the time, through references to NASA space mission photos “music and film adopting “space” as a subject” (p 53), the book is space specific, using the construction and grid like feel of the artwork itself, and blank space on the page, short sharp lines.

I wanted to stay longer. (p61)

The feeling of isolation, coming to the fore through the poems and descriptions, again site specific, as guests visiting the filed must report to a nearby town, and are driven to a hut on the site, where they stay for at least one evening before being picked up again the next day and transported back to their own transport. The experience of the artwork The Lightening Field is an immersion experience, a personal experience, where no photographs are allowed, Laura Raicovich has captured this isolation, and the structure of the artwork through her poetic essay.

Raicovich’s book has provoked me enough to have me thinking about a visit to New Mexico (which is a LONG way from Australia) to experience the remoteness, the accommodation and the artwork myself. As a frequent visitor to the central desert regions of Australia, the isolation and remoteness captured in Raicovich’s essay can be transposed to similar remote experiences here, an impressive feat indeed.

Included in the book is an extensive bibliography, for people who are interested in learning more about The Lightening Field. The official website is here if you are interested in reading a little more about Walter De Maria’s work.

Another fine publication from Coffee House Press, an independent USA based publisher who is fast becoming one of my “go to” publishers for essays. I will review another short work from Coffee House Press here, hopefully tomorrow, Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli’s essay about the immigration process for children entering the USA, “Tell Me How It Ends; An Essay in Forty Questions”.


3 thoughts on “At the Lightening Field – Laura Raicovich

  1. I was curious about this book. I first heard about the Lightening Field listening to a podcast interview with Geoff Dyer (while out training for my trip to Australia) and it ignited my interest enough that this book caught my eye. Definitely want to read it now.

    Liked by 1 person

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