The Center for Land Use Interpretation Residency. Wendover, Utah. Summer 2015.


The emergent patterning of desert sage in the Great Basin appears random to human eyes. Not random, it is a spatial order scripted by local relationships - an expression of gradations in moisture and microtopography, the mineral composition of the ground, and the height and shadows of nearby rocks. The Sage Grid installations - a reordering of the desert’s biotic syntax - highlight the distinct field conditions of desert brush at two sites in the Great Salt Lake Desert.

At the site of Sage Grid #1, in the salt flats of Utah, the ground-plane is a boolean patchwork of moist, pale clay and cracked, khaki-colored earth. The former is host to the bristly Bonneville Sage, one of the rare species of plant that survives here. The latter is too dry for vegetation - a vast plane of parched, craquelure crust.

Sage Grid #2 is located in the arid landscape near White Horse Pass, twenty miles south of West Wendover, Nevada. The widely-spaced brush reflects the limited availability of moisture and suggests an extensive subterranean root system. The surface between the shrubs is pocked with holes, one to four inches in diameter - vestiges of burrowing voles and insects. The plants rely on these perforations as much as the fauna: when desert rains flash flood the valley, holes retain needed moisture that otherwise fails to percolate.  



Each Sage Grid installation uproots and replants existing sage into a square grid of 25, altering the relative position of each plant but not the type or overall number. The regular intervals of the grid are immediately recognizable within the larger, chaotic, field. It is a reminder that new elements need not be introduced to a site to provide a new means of seeing it. 

This break in the desert schema is, moreover, an anthropic mutation of the existing organization of plants at each site. An artificial, or non-natural, arrangement, the grids are uniquely human. Having this quality, they are further distinguished in the visual field, becoming orienting devices, or landmarks.

If, as Alberti says, “beauty is a form of sympathy and consonance of the parts within a body, according to definite number, outline, and position,” then this installation, a calculated repositioning of existing vegetation, perverts one pillar of this axiom. The sage is not altered, which is to say, the individual plants remain as they were. Only the relationship between them - and us - has changed.