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Pondering Place

Lucy Lippard helps MOCA bridge the gap between visual and textual arts

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For those of us who are serially monogamous, yet passionate, about our multiple geographies, we have our reasons for leaving--or arriving.

Notions of rootedness play against restlessness. For artists as well as writers, the landscape may be a palette. It may be a way to integrate the fragments.

Lucy Lippard, who is both an art critic and writer about the landscape and its culture, has spent years exploring the connections.

"Artists are very nomadic. It's a product of the global art scene," explains Lippard. "Some of them parachute in and never do anything in depth. That's not a value judgment. I just don't think you could get into a local geography in a year or two. It took me three years just to figure out Galisteo Basin."

Living not so far from Santa Fe, N.M., a "local" steeped in centuries of conquering and rebellion and revisionist history, Lippard surmises you don't have to search for the Starbucks whenever you land in a new town. Instead, artists-transients can be challenged by their temporary exile and bring new material to their work. She also encourages rubbernecking at home.

Lippard was a nomad herself before landing in New Mexico 13 years ago. There was a stint where she trundled between Manhattan and Boulder, Colo.; she still spends a month in Maine every summer.

Lippard's first book was published in 1966; 19 more have followed. She's been a columnist for The Village Voice and Z Magazine. Known for her feminist art criticism, the author-theorist co-founded the Heresies Collective. She has curated more than 50 exhibitions, organized guerrilla theater and edited independent publications. The latest is the decidedly local La Puente de Galisteo, a monthly newsletter reporting on her tiny village.

Her most recent books include The Lure of the Local: Sense of Place in a Multicentered Society (1997) and On the Beaten Track: Tourism, Art and Place (1999), the latter an extended chapter out of the former. Her criticism--Mixed Blessings: New Art in a Multicultural America (1990) and Overlay: Contemporary Art and the Art of Prehistory (1983)--are staples on artists' bookshelves.

Lippard's newest book is still in progress.

"Scratching the Surface is about the land but also the maps that reflect the geography," offers Lippard cryptically.

For the first time, the author is approaching her writing in a more leisurely way. The book is supported by a Lannan Foundation grant--a process entirely different from pitching to publishers.

"I don't think they'll like the title. Maybe I'll call it Trespassing. But it's also different in that I thought I'd read about the land and the lives and the petroglyphs, but I found there's little written. I've got bits of information," Lippard explains.

She says there are stories buried in Galisteo Basin and is excited to focus on this little patch of land. The watershed spans a mere 750 square miles. Much of it is closed off. Archeological sites sit on private property.

"They don't want you traipsing around. With the basin being more inhabited now, there's more nastiness," Lippard admits.

It's not a book about artists. Lippard muses no one's making art there. Galisteo has just 265 people nestled around its scruffy washes. There's no school, no post office. If it weren't for Lippard, there'd be no newspaper.

"Somehow I fill up four pages every month, mostly articles about land grabs and water-restoration issues. There's a woman who writes a bird column. I don't print gossip--there's enough of that in the village," she quips.

As for just slipping in to live quietly in rural New Mexico, that's impossible.

"I'm not anonymous in Galisteo. In fact, I'm very well known, both liked and disliked. It'd be nice to be anonymous, the way I was in New York, but if you're doing something like I am, it's unavoidable."

The locals call it "Lucy's paper." Most of them don't know about Lippard's work in the last 40 years. She's just the person who edits the village newsletter.

The West had its pull on Lippard long before she moved here. After 20 years of visiting, she saw this long strip of land was being parceled up.

"So I bought part of it. I began building the house in stages. At first, it was very small, maybe 16 feet by 20 feet. At this point, it's 1,000 square feet. I've been adding to it by rooms--not a smart way to build a house, but it's all I had money to do," says the life-long freelance writer.

Perhaps Lippard's spontaneous attraction to this place was, as she explains in Lure of the Local, really an emotional response to the landscape. But for Lippard, space combined with memory defines place. That begs the question about the sprawl of faux adobes in Tucson and in the West in general: Can these contemporary fake fortresses talk to ghosts when they lack a history of their own?

Out of Lure of the Local came Lippard's book on tourism. Both focus on artists' role in traveling and settling. In On the Beaten Track, Lippard notes there's little art about tourism; there's still less art within tourism. Monuments, museums and parks have been thought of as frames more than forms.

Lippard swoops into Tucson for a lecture and discussion this week, part of MOCA Lit--a Museum of Contemporary Art think tank devoted to cultivating the relationship between the visual and the textual arts. Lippard says she'll focus on the distinctions among public, community and activist art for her talk titled "Imagine Being Here Now."

"Unlike public art, which is more interesting when it's place-specific, or community art that often invites people into uneasy alliances, activist art is issue-oriented. It's temporary, outspoken, underfunded, scruffy. It often has no posterity.

"That's what I mean by being here now."

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