City Cast

A Massive Complex — of Time

Scott Dickensheets
Scott Dickensheets
Posted on July 14
Aerial view of a massive desert earthwork

An aerial view of a portion of Michael Heizer’s earthwork, “City,” a few hours north of Las Vegas. (Eric Piasecki/Triple Aught Foundation)

Eight years ago this week, President Obama created the Basin and Range National Monument a few hours north of Las Vegas. Along with the preservation of the area’s natural and Indigenous resources — and some political considerations — a major reason it came into being was to protect the massive work of land art you see just a part of in the photo above: “City,” by Nevada artist Michael Heizer.

Technically, I suppose, this photo isn’t “from the archive” — it’s much too recent. But in every other meaningful way, it’s about time. For instance, 50 years: That’s how long Heizer labored on what you see, beginning in 1972, when, at 27, he bought some cheap land and began moving dirt around according to his grand vision of a highly stylized, perfected, monumentally immersive landscape experience. For decades he labored on it pretty much by himself, running through his money and wrecking his health. Eventually donors and institutions pitched in.

But “City” is also about the experience of time — both the long hours necessary to explore it, as you can tell from the picture (it’s 1.5 miles long and half-a-mile wide), and in the texture of being there, isolated from any sense of what time period you’re in. This could be an ancient ruin, a secret annex of nearby Area 51, or some unknown thing beamed in from the future. It’s the eeriest, coolest damn feeling you can imagine.

I got to wander “City” a few weeks ago; I’m still dwelling on the experience. Some of my thoughts about it will be included in a couple of podcast projects I’ll hip you to next month. And if you think you want to see it, applications for the next visiting season open in January.

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