Magazine article Artforum International

True Beauty: Jeffrey Kastner Talks with Matthew Coolidge about the Center for Land Use Interpretation

Magazine article Artforum International

True Beauty: Jeffrey Kastner Talks with Matthew Coolidge about the Center for Land Use Interpretation

Article excerpt

Sewer systems and traffic patterns; abandoned air-force bases and simulated Main Streets built to train law-enforcement officers; dead shopping malls and towns swallowed by the rising waters of technologically diverted rivers. This is the American landscape as seen through the eyes of Los Angeles's Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI): a complex national topography that's emphatically physical yet also has a certain uncanny lyricism, one rich in the cadences of what CLUI's director, Matthew Coolidge, calls "anthropogeomorphology"--the landscape as altered by humans.

Founded in 1994 by Coolidge with a small group of colleagues and run today out of a modest Venice Boulevard storefront in Culver City, CLUI has emerged as the most astute of many creative groups around the United States currently engaging contemporary issues related to land and its uses, both functional and aesthetic. Though increasingly known for its exhibitions--including this spring's "Terminal Island," a show focusing the organization's celebrated research on that man-made landform in the Long Beach area of Los Angeles, the largest container port in the United States--CLUI actually presents a wide range of programming, from books and lectures to multimedia bus tours. These tours put people in direct experiential contact not only with the various sites they visit but also with local experts and spokespeople who bring firsthand, sometimes divergent perspectives to the discussion. Perhaps CLUI's biggest enterprise is its least public, the Land Use Database, a collection of photographic and analytical information on thousands of "unusual and exemplary" locations around the country--"from industrial sites to military sites to Land art to prisons to housing developments to tennis courts," says Coolidge--that the organization has spent years processing for use as source material in its various projects.

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In addition to its West Coast headquarters, CLUI has an office in upstate New York and is currently branching out around the country through its American Land Museum project, a network of far-flung "landscape exhibition sites" designed to serve as bases for an ongoing interpretive project on the distinctiveness of regional land-use patterns, from the Pacific Northwest to the Great Plains breadbasket. For now, CLUI administers the museum's first outpost, with its own residency program, in Wendover, Utah. One could hardly imagine a more CLUI-esque location. Just off Interstate 80 in the shadow of the Silver Island Mountains, the Wendover complex occupies a series of buildings on the site of an abandoned airfield where the crew of the Enola Gay was trained. Within a few hours' drive of both one of the world's largest open-pit mines and Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty, 1970, the complex lies adjacent to two tantalizing and telling artifacts of our recent sociocultural past--like its own mission, somewhere between art and science, between myth and matter.--JK

JEFFREY KASTNER: How was the Center for Land Use Interpretation created?

MATTHEW COOLIDGE: A few other people and I were already doing individually what we now do together as an organization. Most of us had some background in the arts. I studied geomorphology in school, as well as art history and film. In 1994, we filed papers to become an official institution and established a methodology that we've been following ever since: We collect information on places across the United States, storing and then using that raw material to organize regional or thematic exhibits.

JK: What was your practice as an independent artist at the time?

MC: I took pictures, I did videos, I made things. I was interested in point of view, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle--what happens when you look at things, how medium and mediation change the view of the object.

JK: So what were your first CLUI projects like?

MC: We began to establish the database, as we call it: a systematic analysis of land use across America. …

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