12.19.10 Eighteen Tombs of Titan II: SAC 570-5

Activated: May 1, 1962
Deactivated: December 2, 1983

Latitude: 32°31'23.72"N
Longitude: 111°14'22.10"W
Nearest town: Rillito, AZ

Visited: December 18, 2010
Distance from home: 31 miles
CP access advisory: 570-5 is easy to access and is not posted. Beware bees living in the partly
excavated portal.

12.19.10 Eighteen Tombs of Titan II: SAC 570-6

Activated: May 1, 1962
Deactivated: December 2, 1983

Latitude: 32°25'41.10"N
Longitude: 111°8'15.90"W
Nearest town: Rillito, AZ

Visited: December 18, 2010
Distance from home: 21 miles
CP access advisory: 570-6 is a nursery and greenhouse operation so you could visit like any customer. The area of the LCC is cordoned off and not accessible without permission of the owner, Tim W-----. Tim is a friend of the museum but is reluctant to let people look at his excavation efforts.

12.15.10 Eighteen Tombs of Titan II: SAC 570-1

Activated: January 1, 1962
Deactivated: July 31, 1984

Latitude: 32°35'50.61"N
Longitude: 110°53'21.53"W
Nearest town: Oracle, AZ

Visited: December 15, 2010
Distance from home: 29 miles
CP access advisory: 570-1 is a sand and gravel operation posted no trespassing. You could contact the owner and see if they would agree to let you in. We do not know who the owner is, but there is a sign on the gate.

12.15.10 Eighteen Tombs of Titan II: SAC 570-9

Activated: May 1, 1962
Deactivated: December 2, 1983

Latitude: 32°28'42.51"N
Longitude: 110°55'44.53"W
Nearest town: Catalina, AZ

Visited: December 15, 2010
Distance from home: 20 miles
CP access advisory: 570-9 is a Methodist church. The only artifacts visible are near the edge of
the parking lot. No reason you couldn't wander in and have a look.

11.26.10 Guardrail

Shot Thanksgiving Day along the Santa Cruz River between Tucson’s downtown and the Arizona Portland Cement plant twenty miles north. Ordered chronologically.

10.09.10 The Last Days of Dixie Square

The Kickstarter campaign launched for this sub-project failed to reach its funding goal. Its project page will remain online until the end of time. Here's the video.

The country’s most well-known dead mall, Dixie Square, is approaching the end of its thirty-year life as a ruin. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn recently announced the allocation of $5 million to raze the 800,000 square-foot structure south of Chicago. Demolition is expected to begin next month.

The Last Days of Dixie Square seeks to document this final chapter in the mall’s history with digital photography, video, audio recordings and interviews. After Dixie Square’s final moments of stillness give way to a cataclysm of falling brick and cinderblock, Last Days will be its visual and auditory eulogy.

Much loved by urban explorers, the site has been photographed regularly throughout its decomposition. In addition to producing new imagery, Last Days will function as a survey of creative work inspired by Dixie Square. This archival collection, composed of photographs culled from the past, will animate the disordering processes forced by human and non-human life forms and an unforgiving Midwestern climate.

Certain to be a contested symbol, the leveling of America’s first suburban mall is ripe with social and cultural implications. Given Dixie Square's dual identity as an architecture of loss and a feral garden of rebirth and renewal, the structure’s passing will spark celebration in some and lament in others. Through the lens of Dixie Square’s last days, we’ll examine the cultural motif of abandonment, the arc of our consumerist tradition, and the value of ruined space.

Some background:
Start with the wikipedia page.

If you're intrigued, read this great newsletter article by the slyly dry-witted Center for Land Use Interpretation. Here’s their Land Use Database entry on Dixie Square. Notice the photographer has only taken photographs of the structure’s exterior.

Dixie Square (zone edit) is a twenty-minute portrait of the mall over three seasons, shot more than two years ago, and Dixie Square (skate edit) chronicles a day of flirtatious winter recreation within the structure.

Finally, an article covering the demolition’s announcement.


Update #1: Brian and Jon

I've recently been in touch with two photographers whose work I'd like to include in the Last Days book. Among the fantastic photographs in Brian Ulrich's Dark Stores series are several images of Dixie Square. In case you're in Munich, the work is currently on display at Galerie f5,6.

Jon Revelle is a 19 year old who may have more images of Dixie Square than anyone. He's clearly made it a priority, possibly an obsession, to preserve the history of the mall and to document its decline. His Flickr page includes a great historical summary alongside some compelling photography.

Update #2: Samuel

Last night I met a talented bookbinder from Boston who’s in Tucson for the annual Guild of Book Workers conference. It’s cosmically appropriate to cross paths with a bookbinder while proposing a book project, and I’m sold on the idea of commissioning hand-stitched bindings for each of the 200 Last Days books. With silk in their spines, acid-free paper and archival inks, the volumes will be art objects fit to endure.

Update #3: Christopher

In 2008, Christopher W. Luhar-Trice published a book with over fifty of his own Dixie Square images. The square-format photographs are often tightly composed, placing the viewer opposite a corner or squarely facing a wall. They reveal obvious attention to texture and pattern, showcasing the mall’s original 60s/70s design elements articulated in brick, paint, and wallpaper. Christopher’s is yet another lens through which Dixie Square has been examined. His work would be a valuable contribution to the Last Days book.

Update #4: Michael

While most photographs portray Dixie Square as a place haunted only by the invisible ghosts of shoppers, here are two images by Michael Brown reminding us that a living human held the camera.

Exterior (January 27, 2008) and Interior (August 28, 2008)

Why is this contingent of urban explorers so eager to climb around in a crumbling building guarded by feral dogs? Are they drawn by the prospect of a rare authentic experience, or is it about fetching compliments on UE websites with snapshots of peeling wallpaper? The authors of Corporate Wasteland suggest we reexamine our motivations for entering such places. Last Days will attempt to do just this.

Update #5: Jon

I asked Jon to share his thoughts on the demolition of Dixie Square Mall. Here’s his video response.

Update #6: Chuck and Hermine

Thank you everyone for your pledges. Your trust in me is humbling. I hesitate to include these because they both contain some serious inaccuracies, but to tie up loose ends, here’s what the press said:

U of C Grad Seeks Funding for Documentary of Dixie Square Mall
The Chicagoist (October 21, 2010)

Hope for Harvey
The Columbia Chronicle (November 1, 2010)

To be clear, I don't view the "redevelopment" scheme as a positive. Building big box retail on Dixie's grave is unlikely to improve the lot of Harvey’s residents. I'd much prefer the mall be allowed to continue deteriorating at its own pace. Getting others to recognize its value as a ruin is at the heart of the Last Days project.

I intended this quote, “If we’re finally knocking this thing down, it must mean the economic tide is changing,” to express the casual observer’s point of view—it's the "hope" that the demolition ritual is supposed to embody. But I don't see much actual hope for Harvey. In economic terms, things are more likely to get worse, not better.

09.26.10 Eighteen Tombs of Titan II: SAC 571-9

Activated: May 1, 1962
Deactivated: December 2, 1983

Latitude: 32°0'15.53"N
Longitude: 111°21'16.95"W
Nearest town: Three Points, AZ

Visited: September 25-26, 2010
Distance from home: 30 miles
CP access advisory: 571-9 is owned by Pima County. It is not posted [no trespassing] but I
would try it on a weekend just to be sure.

09.13.10 C.A.P. the Central Arizona Project by bicycle

High up on Black Mesa, 1000 feet above the surrounding semi-arid grassland of northeastern Arizona, seams of bituminous coal are unearthed and shaved off by mechanized strip mining equipment at an average rate of 15 tons per minute*. The coal is placed on a 17-mile-long elevated conveyor belt that lowers it off the mesa and deposits it into a large silo. Three times a day, the silo fills a string of 80 rail cars pulled by 50,000-volt electrified locomotives. The trains travel 78 miles along a dedicated line to the Navajo Generating Station near Lake Powell. Here the coal is pulverized into a fine powder and burned to create the superheated steam turning the plant’s three 750-megawatt turbines. A significant portion of the resulting electrical energy** is transmitted along power lines to the Mark Wilmer Pumping Plant at the southern end of Lake Havasu. The plant’s six 60,000-horsepower pumps lift 3000 cubic feet of water per second from the reservoir to the top of Buckskin Mountain. The water summits 824 feet above lake level before discharging from a 22-foot diameter tunnel that has funneled it seven miles through the mountain. From here it begins a 329-mile-long journey inside an open, concrete-lined channel. Before arriving at a terminus a few miles southwest of Tucson, it’ll pass through nine siphons, fourteen more pumping plants, and be lifted an additional 2000 feet.

Starting way back on Black Mesa illustrates CAP’s impressive reach. The Central Arizona Project, costing almost $5 billion over its twenty-year construction period, is the largest and most expensive water conveyance system in the country. CAP’s website brags: “Last year, CAP used 2.8 million megawatt hours to deliver more than 500 billion gallons of Colorado River water to a service area that includes more than 80% of the state's population.”

Like the California Aqueduct, CAP is a river that flows uphill. It’s a complex system requiring sophisticated remote monitoring and computerized flow regulation, constant maintenance, and a phenomenal amount of energy. Unlike the California Aqueduct, whose canal-flanking maintenance roads have been opened to cyclists, the Central Arizona Project flows along behind chain link fencing and padlocked gates. My ambition with C.A.P is to document features of the system’s southern section that typically remain out of sight and out of mind.

A cap is an upper limit—a ceiling beyond which further expansion is either undesirable or impossible. In the desert southwest, a region with inherently marginal carrying capacity, it’s the availability of fresh water that will cap further growth (read suburban development). The Colorado River, which feeds the Central Arizona Project from behind Parker Dam, is already strained to its limits. If a proposed emergency conservation plan goes into effect, significantly less water could be flowing into the CAP system in the not-too-distant future.

from the NY Times: Water Use in Southwest Heads for a Day of Reckoning
CAP Virtual Tour parts one and two

* based on a reported 8 million short tons per year
**24.3 percent for CAP as a whole. Mark Wilmer uses more than half of this.

09.13.10 Eighteen Tombs of Titan II: SAC 570-3

Activated: May 1, 1962
Deactivated: December 2, 1983

Latitude: 32°22'4.95"N
Longitude: 111°27'44.08"W
Nearest town: Rillito, AZ

Visited: September 11-12, 2010
Distance from home: 37 miles
CP access advisory: 570-3 is on BLM land. The complex has been breached via the airshaft.
Beware smugglers.

09.07.10 Eighteen Tombs of Titan II: SAC 571-4

Activated: May 1, 1962
Deactivated: December 2, 1983

Latitude: 31°57'26.29"N
Longitude: 110°39'46.15"W
Nearest town: Pantano, AZ

Visited: September 4-5, 2010
Distance from home: 32 miles
CP access advisory: 571-4 is a very interesting site. Owned by Pima County. Probably posted [no trespassing] but I wouldn't let that stop you. The worst that could happen is that the sheriff would tell you to leave. Unlikely you would encounter the sheriff. The county seems to have abandoned work there.

08.12.10 Cloud Lapse (Teenage Crime)

I wanted to get a rough cut up before someone else makes a cloud time-lapse video for Adrian Lux’s buoyant composition (expected any day now). With a few exceptions, shots were taken from the top of Sentinel Peak. The summit is only 520 feet off the valley floor but gets you above the haze, provides clear shots to the horizon, and brings you close enough to the level of passing thunderstorms that you effectively enter their world.

Shooting good time lapse requires anticipating what's likely to occur within the camera’s frame over awkwardly long durations. With each five or ten second cut representing between six and twelve minutes of real-time video, the sunset window is usually only long enough for three or four carefully composed takes. When the monsoons return, I’ll do a few more ascents and complete the piece.

ammendment: The first cut has been replaced with a meticulously edited final version.

08.02.10 Eighteen Tombs of Titan II: SAC 570-2

Activated: May 1, 1962
Deactivated: December 2, 1983

Latitude: 32°6'4.05"N
Longitude: 111°15'45.19"W
Nearest town: Three Points, AZ

Visited: August 1, 2010
Distance from home: 21 miles
CP* access advisory: 570-2 is easy to get to and is not posted [no trespassing]. So feel free to look around. Beware snakes.

In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence: and his children will have a place of refuge.

An earlier visitor to my first Titan II missile site had highlighted the above passage (Proverbs 14:26) in his bible before abandoning it to the elements. Strangely, 570-2 was littered with ecclesiastical objects: a vinyl record titled In the Name of Jesus, sermons by William Branham recorded onto half a dozen cassette tapes, a recipe for unleavened bread. Graffiti on the walls of a sunken concrete box, perhaps the entrance portal, identified it as the “WAY TO HELL.” It matters little whether or not these desert evangelicals were aware that the ground beneath their feet once sheltered the most destructive weapon ever devised. In such a place, their celebrations of the divine are a potent allegory.

It had rained hard a couple days before and the complex’s concrete surface features prevented some of the water from soaking into the porous soil. The largest puddle, on the oxidizer hardstand, was teeming with tadpoles frantically devouring the algae in their rapidly shrinking world.

Examining the human detritus at the edge of a burn pile was like working an archeological dig site. There were odd ceramic figurines, hypodermic needles, scraps of fabric, the tip of an aluminum hunting arrow, tin cans, and colored pencils for the kids. It felt appropriate not to disturb the artifacts and the ‘leave no trace’ ethic of treading lightly and taking only photographs will be protocol within the launch silo compounds.

[*CP is my contact at the Titan Missile Museum. He’s provided access information for each of the sites including potential hazards.]

07.07.10 No Turning Back: dancing into the deindustrial sublime

Turns out this drafty old fuselage is even more dramatically lit at sundown. I’m going to try and do weekly trips out to the yard (nine miles away)—always at the extreme ends of the day—to throw my body around for the camera. I'm short on hard drive space so I’ll pull out the finest moments then delete the long takes. Eventually I’ll have enough to compile into a full-length video of pulsing, gyrating madness.

07.06.10 The Boneyard (AM)

Locate this piece opposite the original, a PM shoot. Besides this difference and obviously no Neil, the camcorder's audio has been replaced with a single binaural recording made on site. That intermittent roar is coming from nearby Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Daily jet engine tests remind us that the military is still second to none when it comes to burning huge amounts of highly refined aviation fuel. We’re running out of oil—quick, burn it faster!

07.02.10 No Turning Back (warmup)

This piece is a screen test version of a full-length dance video I’m doing for Gui Boratto’s pleasure heavy No Turning Back. This far into the project the title should be considered an affirmation. Longtime readers may remember these 30-second adverts from almost two years ago featuring Gui’s Beautiful Life.

The Boneyard has become my industrial ruin away from home and I’ll be shooting there periodically all summer: waking at sunrise to dance inside bombed-out aircraft. Why make a dance video? Consider this one in the same vein as Brownlands Fitness: passionate physicality in ruined space.

06.25.10 At Home After the Apocalypse

Neil is the unofficial keeper of the boneyard: theses are a few of his personal effects. He’s been "enfacinated" (enthralled/fascinated) by post-apocalypticism for some time now and has surrounded himself with home furnishings made of aircraft fragments and bizarre cultish objects. He wakes each morning into a disordered landscape of enormous metallic corpses strewn about a parched slab of earth. Coyotes trot along perimeter fencing and tank-killing jet aircraft pass low overhead. It’s scorching hot an hour after sunrise, but with copious amounts of water and a Peruvian straw hat, Neil thrives. Perhaps more than anyone, he knows the beauty and spiritual value of this otherworldly place. “People come here to pray,” he said to me at the end of a recent visit. His words confirmed my suspicion that the yard has not only become a node of creative production, but a place for quiet contemplation (periodically interrupted by ear-splitting noise). Wandering amongst the severed heads of cold-war era bombers and dismembered C-130s, it’s easy to imagine the end of an age where a magical black liquid, a gift from the prehistoric past, kept these awkward birds aloft.

06.24.10 Eighteen Tombs of Titan II

In the early 60s, the government built 54 underground launch silos for this country’s largest intercontinental ballistic missile: the Titan II. 18 of the silos were clustered around Davis-Monthan AFB near Tucson, AZ.

The once identical sites have taken divergent trajectories. After being stripped of anything valuable and dismantled (blast doors tack welded shut, ventilation shafts plugged with grout, headworks dynamited and launch duct filled with rubble) a handful were later sold and started new lives in the civilian sector. There’s a plant nursery, a gym and a Methodist church. Some are partially excavated, revealing bizarre concrete forms, and a few have become almost indistinguishable from the surrounding desert terrain. Eighteen Tombs of Titan II will look at how the surface above each tomb is evolving. In the spirit of a pilgrimage, they'll be visits conducted with reverence and curiosity.

I'll be cycling to each of the 18 remote launch complexes over the next few months, locating them with hand drawn maps derived from satellite imagery and spending the night whenever possible.

Download a print quality PDF here. (8.1 MB)

06.01.10 Watertower Sessions

infinity_1.mp3 2m 23s (ambient)
infinity_2.mp3 4m 0s
infinity_3.mp3 0m 57s (ambient)
infinity_4.mp3 6m 14s

Mp3 versions of recordings made in the Davis Brownlands watertower on May 24, 2010. A cropped version of the last one is the audio for The Joy of Infinity: part two vignette. As always, headphones recommended.

The enormous steel cylinder, whose internal geometry is responsible for elevating and refining my voice, is effectively a musical instrument (you sit inside). I’d like to see it, and the biologically rich land it sits on, preserved for its cultural potential. I'm convinced it is more valuable now than it ever was during its stint as a receptacle.

05.27.10 The Joy of Infinity: part two

The images are stage three cutting room floor and the audio is a recently recorded water tower session: me "singing" this time instead of whistling. Clips are in chronological order.

05.02.10 Tailings

A tailing is anything leftover—the residue of a process.

view stage three: part three here.

stage three: part four

Tucson, AZ