Here in Marfa, Texas with Those Desert Eyes: THO
by Luke B. Goebel
“In other words, we need the most powerful telescope, that of a polished utopian consciousness, in order to penetrate precisely the nearest nearness. Namely, the most immediate immediacy, in which the core of self-location and being-here still lies, in which at the same time the whole knot of the world-secret is to be found.” – Ernst Bloch
A once wildly innovative and forward pushing artist, Donald Judd, set the town of Marfa, TX as his private sarcophagus to house his lasting remains—his art—in two armory buildings. The armory buildings and most of the town are protected into perpetuity by immensely wealthy foundations controlled by his estate.
It strikes me as I drive through on this, my seventh visit (I want cred for being a repeat tourist?!!) that Marfa exists to be witnessed. We have, however, mistaken gawking and spectating for witnessing. We have mistaken gawking for experiencing life…maybe it was always like this this? Maybe we the dumb masses always gawked, commentated, but now, now, gawking has become mistaken for interaction.
Gawking is: post a photo of yourself in Marfa—identify with Marfa without investigation. Stay in a spendy hotel/rehabbed trailer boutique hotel. Take lots of selfies. Witnessing Marfa is perhaps viewing the art—thinking of yourself finding a cheap desolate desert landscape with water to inhabit and wondering how to be here now in the world creating something new—feeling the effects of minimalism and minimalist art, transcending and elevating your consciousness as you reflect, expand, open up, inspect yourself with your utopian telescope—whatever you find.
The gawk here is being confused with finding something new—something beyond now—when what is mostly being found and fetishized about Marfa is only beyond now—because it is so far behind now, it is nostalgia found.
Visitors come to Marfa, perhaps even have an art residency, and think they are discovering a new frontier, but they inhabit a space that has already been sealed. The town of Marfa as tourist spot offers us a unique insight into the new society of the spectacle.
Marfa, Texas offers all the sensations of being in a minimalist artists’ community, a vast liminal space seemingly removed from time—from the now hell of capitalism—(tho) it is a town that’s already past that moment of opportunity, which has been devoured by the professional art world, turned into a destination by commerce with all the tourist trap trappings—the hipster traps! Boutique hotels! Tasty snacks!
Once we engaged, in my lifetime, and sought, actively, the new frontiers, with our eyes dilated, our bodies in full movement (our self-conscious awareness of the effect of our every move, look, angle, still uncharted), our physical being-here-bodies in danger, now we come to spectate, snack, spend, and snapture.
Maybe this is the dominant cultural characteristic of the new now—the snacking, spectating, visiting done by professional-class hipsters who seemingly desperately want out of now, but continue to work in cities, paying exorbitantly climbing rents, fetishizing nostalgia for something before, something else, while remaining plugged into the urban capitalistic infrastructure that drives them to so eagerly embrace nostalgia, outsider culture, throwback and outlaw totems.
Collectively as a culture we read and write about and deride privilege, domination, murder, cops killing people of color, every injustice and atrocity—the news violence—but we remain in the systems that economically are built to support these cycles. What can be done?! What is Utopia?
It may or may not take some privilege to step out of the system, but it surely takes imagination and cooperation and a collective dream to strive for utopia! Marfa was a utopia, but it is an old version of utopia built by a very successful and wealthy man on he and his friends’ art being immortalized…Do we need a new utopia? Where can be the new utopia?
Here in Marfa, Texas with those desert eyes. Heard of it? Marfa? Are you over it, yet, dear eye rolling reader? It's my seventh or eighth time. Give me a badge again. I’m the hipster queen! I'm here with my Colt .45 and four typewriters and all my records. No drugs. No booze. Sober. Bored. All that looms ahead of me (if you skim the magazine write-ups) is the Prada store installation. (The Prada art installation is a hermetically sealed fake Prada store replete with handbags and shoes and PRADA signage standing alone miles from town across the highway from railroad tracks, surrounded by tumble weeds—having no entrance.) OMG. Get it? Do you get it? Mock capitalism. Yolo! But is that enough? To mock and celebrate what consumes us?
In the art town of Marfa today as compared to Judd’s time, it strikes me that Prada is the example…Marfa (same number of letters as PRADA/two A’s/invert the Pr to Ma/ Rah to Ahr /Dah-Fah). It is a perfectly branded aesthetic tailored experience where everything feels just elegant, minimalist, clean... it’s art, real art, and nothing else…on the surface…capitalism and the world of 2015 seemingly just runs off and away like rain on a well lubricated surface—think condoms—but who uses them?!
Also, a dream does live, two open twin wide intersecting streets, side streets of dirt, the border a sniff away, free galleries, a tour each day of Judd’s art holdings, and for this one city, this town, this art paradisio, which only six years ago had houses for sale for 30K (when one could really join in and drop out and settle in) there is almost no 2015, no bullshit, no capitalism spectacle, no war, no torture, no professionalism, no workplace hell no NOW! This is the trick, I think perhaps which drove Judd to MARFA, and which has been enhanced and preserved in amber—it feels outside of “NOW”, outside of late stage capitalism… the town is now a sort of stage, a spectacle for spectator sport a la the art experience.
The hip art world of New York and LA have mixed into a curated art simulation in the expanse of a southwest Texas town which, where I stand, feels so decidedly not Texas, taken over, transformed, refashioned by Donald Judd, famed egomaniac, visionary minimalist, who passed by on railcar on his way to fight in the Korean War at 18, and wrote a postcard home, let’s speed this up (I’m saying this not Judd on his postcard), about the town, who later went to Columbia to study, yawn(me again), art and philosophy, yawn (me again), bought up town and wildly funded/sued for fellowships and made a legacy for himself, an entire village that stands as a museum. It’s just the land and him and his buddies, their work, and some new galleries. A Palm Springs without the irrigation or the shopping detractions, or anything around for hundreds of miles save some mountainous terrain and an eccentric camel safari far into the mountains toward Mexico. Also, an illuminating of the heavens at night with a phenomenon called The Marfa Lights, desert terrain, something outside of the typical hullabaloo of pure commerce.
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Fiction writer Luke B. Goebel is armed with wit and dangerous. He also carries a colt 45 pistol but that's the least of your worries. With an insatiable appetite for the dark, mystical phenomena of the American West, Goebel's writing has found him living for stretches in Marfa, Texas; San Francisco; Portland, Oregon; and many more landscapes that nourish his writing. Last year Goebel published his first novel, entitled Fourteen Stories: None of Them Are Yours, which won the Ronald Sukenick Prize for Innovative Fiction.