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November 12, 2009

'Dust Storm' — by John Gerrard

The caption for the video above: "Dust Storm (Dalhart, Texas) 2007 is based on a single archival photograph of a storm from the 1930s American Dust Bowl... a major contributor to what became the Great Depression. No moving images of the event are known to exist. The production of this work involved the virtual reconstruction — based on hundreds of the artist's own photographs and films — of a ten-mile square section of Texan landscape close to the town of Dalhart, a landscape dotted with windmills, farms and fences. This documentation was subsequently enhanced by publicly accessible satellite and topographical data. Once activated, a virtual storm unfolds in a sculptural and constantly random manner within the reconstructed landscape."

The work is currently on display, projected on a large scale at the Hirschhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., part of its latest "Directions" show.

Blake Gopnik, reviewing it in the November 5, 2009 Washington Post, wrote, "Gerrard uses video-game software to craft stunningly convincing virtual worlds...."

"'Dust Storm' is projected huge on the rear wall of a gallery, and shows the pancake-flat plains of northern Texas. A camera circles the middle of a field, and as it performs its eight-minute, 360-degree pan of the horizon, a dust storm comes into view. First it's just a tiny glimpse of cloud at the edge of the projection screen, and then the moving camera shows it to us as a sky-blackening tempest, which then disappears as our view circles back to showing blank horizon."

"The piece is based on Gerrard's own photos of a real spot in rural Texas. The technicians in his studio in Austria fed those high-resolution stills into customized Realtime 3D software, then married them with data gleaned from Google Earth and other geographic sources. The goal was to make a virtual-reality re-creation of a moment on Sunday, April 14, 1935, when the Dust Bowl was just about at its worst. 'Darkest dark I ever experienced,' wrote one observer caught in the Black Sunday storm."

"Then that single moment gets drawn out. Gerrard's ever-circling camera records the storm's presence hour after hour, day after day, month after month, season after season for an entire year. The light on the landscape changes as it should — the animation is programmed to re-create the light in Texas at the very moment Washingtonians are viewing the piece, down to the position of the Texan stars at night — but the one thing that never changes is that looming storm. Gerrard's catalogue explains that it was caused by the devastation of the land by mechanized, oil-powered agriculture. The artist describes that stripping of an entire landscape's soil as an 'ecocide,' and says the Texas plains have yet to recover from it."

November 12, 2009 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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