Lightning in a bottle (almost) Matt 05 Apr 2005

12 comments Latest by GO77

Lightning StrikesIf you think Christo is ambitious, how about Walter De Maria? In 1977, the sculptor set up the Lightning Field, a work of Land Art situated in a remote area of southwestern New Mexico. It’s comprised of 400 polished stainless steel poles installed in a mile-wide grid — as one observer put it: “a bed of metal asparagus in the middle of nowhere”.

When passing clouds get within 200 feet of the poles, they often feel the tug of the steel and unleash a load of lightning. “Sometimes the pole tips are surrounded by auroras of St. Elmo’s Fire and blaze like plasma tiki torches in the desert,” according to this article in Popular Science detailing a visit to the Lightning Field (further description after the jump).

In the distance, the storm clouds are like an advancing army of purple airships. I wrap a blanket around myself and start to walk into the field, between the poles, as a lasso of electricity flashes from one side of the heavens to the other. I’m not certain whether this is protocol, or safe, and without the protection of the cabin, I feel naked, exposed on all sides. Especially up. The lighting is now a Close Encounters light show, which makes it easy to forget to breathe. Steady pulses of heat and light burn toward the earth, hitting it, bang, and again, bang-bang, the electricity cutting the air over and over. The wind grows stronger, my ears are warm, the hair on my neck is standing up. I’m thinking of the science, the ionization, the cirrus anvil. But mostly I’m thinking: holy s—-.

Sound like your cup of tea? The good news: It’s almost lightning season (the Lightning Field is available to visitors from May 1 through October 31). The bad news: The cabin is often booked over a year in advance.

12 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Tim Uruski 05 Apr 05

It’s kind of a let down that they won’t let you take photos of your stay there, but it sounds like a really great experience.

Justin Perkins 05 Apr 05

Unlike Christo however, this work was never taken down. Still over 25 years after the installation, they are charging $110/person to “experience” the artwork.

The idea does sound pretty cool though.

Andrew 05 Apr 05

yeah, I actually had understood Lightning Field to be mostly about the poles glowing with light at a certain time of day. Pretty, but not so dramatic as bolts of lightning zapping them outta the sky.

Also, surely Christo is more ambitious than de Maria? Wrapping the Reichstag was a hugely complex project, taking years of planning, permit negotiation, and the efforts of a city and national government to pull off. The Gates in Central Park also were the result of a very complex planning process, and certainly were seen in a couple of weeks by more people than have ever seen de Maria’s peice. To me, Christo’s ambition far outweigh’s de Maria’s.

John 05 Apr 05

It’s worth it just for the stars alone… And the ride out there. The guy who drives people out to the cabin from the Dia office helped De Maria build it. He’s a local, and has some fingers on one of his hands permanently “stuck” down from riding bulls. He drove 65 mph on dirt roads, almost catching air over the slight rise of the cattle grates used at fence lines… His wife prepares food for all the guests, and he told us stories about being young there, buying jewelry from the nearby Indian reservations and selling them out in California for profit.

It was an interesting experience, even without the lightning…

You aren’t “supposed” to take pictures, but I’m sure people do. They don’t frisk you or anything when you arrive at the Dia office in Quemado, NM.

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