Bad Luck, Hot Rocks: Conscience Letters and Photographs from the Petrified Forest, Edited by Ryan Thompson and Phil Orr, 2014
Visitors to the Petrified Forest National Park in northern Arizona are not supposed to take any of the unusual rocks home with them, but of course many do, and there is no way, really, to stop them. But, for some perpetrators, guilt, a sense of a karmic imbalance, and even bad luck attributed to the rocks in their possession, compel them to return the rocks by mail, usually accompanied by an apologetic note or letter. Since 1934, the park has been saving these conscience letters, and putting the returned stones in a pile. This book presents some of the letters, and some of the rocks, along with an interview with a park curator. Published by our friends at Ice Plant, it's like Letters to Mount Wilson, CLUI-style.
Memorial Mania: Public Feeling in America, by Erika Doss, 2010
Monuments constructed to commemorate tragedy and triumph are all over the place, and in America they are part of the national fabric. They are symbolic interpretive mushrooms popping out of ground that has been culturally or politically soaked by the events that transpired there. Each is an expression, as well as a claim, of the moments they represent, and as such they can be volatile, tense, and fraught. This book examines this highly charged terrain, navigating a veritable minefield of memorials that is spreading across the landscape.
Trees in Paradise: A California History, by Jared Farmer, 2013
Trees are big in California, and despite their natural look, they are products of commerce and industry. This book examines this state of trees and its four principal tree-doms: palm trees (Los Angeles/urban real estate/romanticism); eucalyptus (San Francisco, railroads); redwoods (logging, Sierras and North Coast); and oranges (agriculture, the Southland’s suburban arc, and more romanticism). California’s major economic and cultural regions do indeed seem to have their roots in trees.
Lasting Impressions: A Glimpse into the Legacy of Surveying, Rhonda L. Rushing, 2006
This is a commemorative and corporate picture book, a celebration of the trade of surveying, written by the president of Bernsten International, the largest manufacturer of survey markers. Though it seems intended for people in the industry, and to sit on the waiting room coffee tables of field engineering firms, it is full of fantastic, functional, historical, and overlooked observations of the American Land. The parallel universe of surveying, after all, holds everything in its clutches.
Undermining: A Wild Ride Through Land Use, Politics, and Art in the Changing West, by Lucy R. Lippard, 2014
This book is proof that big things (like “the West”!) can come in small packages. It might be a new kind of book, though a form she has explored before, but not to this degree, a metadatic indexical “romp” (her word), where the style follows function, using a small form factor, but, somehow, with hundreds of color images, streaming by legibly, on recycled stock, with captions (hers), along the bottom (attribution, cable news style), and a central text threading it all together. The subject is broad, focused on contemporary issues that she thinks are important, and if we agree, its because her idiosyncracies are ours too, and the fact that she is a refined cultural curator critic who despite more than half a century of doing so behind her, is always looking forward. And we are not just saying that because she says kind things about the CLUI.
Learning by Doing at the Farm, by Robert J. Kett and Anna Kryczka, 2014
The Farm discussed in this book was at UC Irvine as it was forming in Orange County, California, in the late 1960s. The Farm was a remarkable and short-lived experimental academic happenstance that fused emerging notions of earthiness, modernism, and globalism, into a new form, suggesting a possibly unprecedented trajectory, that was cut short by circumstance. The book is mostly archival images taken of the Farm in formation and action at the time, like photos from an anthropological field session among the bulldozers building the concrete campus. A modernist hippie dream bubble that popped.
Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since 1950, edited by Deborah E. Horowitz, 2014
A large format catalog of an exhibit arranged by the Hirshhorn Museum. The curators, Kerry Brougher and Russell Ferguson, rise to the challenge of such a broad subject, and manage to pull it off on the scale required for a museum on the National Mall.
Mass Destruction: The Men and Giant Mines That Wired America and Scarred the Planet, by Timothy J. LeCain, 2009
This book focuses on the big copper holes in Bingham and Butte, and the man that engineered large scale open pit mining, Daniel Jackling. Though we have made the connection between the Guggenheim Museum’s spiral interior void and that of the pit where much of the family’s wealth came from (via Jackling), the author makes another interesting connection: Jackling built his mansion in the West Coast robber barons’ enclaves south of San Francisco, and it was later purchased by Steve Jobs, a technology baron of the post-copper age. He tore it down in 2011, months before he passed away.
City Water, City Life: Water and the Infrastructure of Ideas in Urbanizing Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago, by Carl Smith, 2013
A cultural study of the idea of municipal water in these three early American cities, as they developed their waterworks in the late 18th and early 19th-century. Large-scale water systems for water supply and waste are functional public works, but are also collective expressions of the relationship between urban and natural worlds. The historic rhetoric of selling a water plan, of building it, celebrating its opening, and ultimately acknowledging its obsolescence, are revealed here as a compelling story arc of our developing nation.