Walter de Maria “Lightning Field”
Lucky for me, there was a cancellation at the art installation “Lightning Field” in West Central New Mexico in August. Run by the DIA Art Foundation, the Lightning Field officially opened in 1977. My mother and I got dropped off at 3pm and picked up the following day at 11 am. The four people who stayed with us in our rustic cabin were two couples from California. It was a really cool experience that lived up to my expectations though we did not experience any lightning there (the truth is, most people don’t).
Walter de Maria searched the states of California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and Texas for five years by truck before finding this isolated and flat spot in New Mexico. The location is 7,200 feet above sea level and 11 1/2 miles east of the Continental Divide.
The work is made up of 400 polished stainless steel poles that measure one mile by one kilometer and six meters in a rectangular grid. Each pole is spaced 220 feet apart, and a walk around the perimeter that Sue and I did took about an hour and a half. Apparently viewing the work form the air is pointless which is why DIA organizes the trips to the cabin in groups of six because de Maria believed that the ratio of people to space is a crucial element of the work.
Though the work is called the “Lightning Field”, lightning rarely strikes the poles. The work is much more about light itself and taking time to stop and watch how moment by moment the light changes and shifts your perception of everything you see. I had never before seen a 360 degree view of a sunrise. What a beautiful thing! Sue and I woke at about 5:55 and stood silent for an hour as we watched the sky morph in color and form. Stunning!
At midday the poles are difficult to see. Optimum times for viewing are sunset and sunrise when the light bounces off the side of the steel. The work is intended to be viewed over 24 hours hence the stay in this cute little cabin.