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Landscape Painting as Counter-Surveillance of Area 51

From: Joel Slayton 
Date: Wed, 7 May 1997 16:07:00 -0800
Subject: Landscape Painting as Counter-Surveillance of Area 51

On April 25th and 26th 1997, a team of media artists lead by Joel Slayton
collaborated on a site-specific conceptual artwork in the remote high
desert region of south central Nevada known as Area 51.  This vast desert
region encompassing Nellis Airfare Base and the Sandia Laboratory Tonapah
Test Range is the locus military experimentation and research including
nuclear, flight and experimental weapons testing.  It is renown for UFO
sitings by the public and for supposed extraterrestrial research.

On the afternoon of April 25th, a caravan of four wheel drive trucks and
passebger automobiles arrived in Rachel Nevada via the Extra-Terrestrial
Highway, a small community of house trailers and site of the Ali-Inn Bar
and Grill and the Area 51 Research Center.   The artists strategy was to
stage a conceptually based site work involving  landscape painting as
counter-surveillance of Area 51. Over the next few hours and numerous
beers the artists conducted informal discussions with locals, reviewed
photographs and paraphernalia on display, explained our mission, sought
advise and strategized on how to proceed.  A French Television Crew
producing a documentary on Area 51, and seemingly very interested in our
endeavor, would play out over the next two days.

Trespassing, photography, videography, filming and sketching of Area 51 is
strictly prohibited.  The selected entrance into Area 51, 20 miles north
and east of Rachel, is dramatically marked with red on white government
signs indicating the seriousness and severity of any violation.  Breach of
Area 51's security is enforced by 'Camo-Dudes", an unidentifiable policing
force roving bluffs and remote dirt roads in white four wheel drives
equipped with surveillance technology.  The 'Camo-Dudes' notoriety stems
from publicly documented responses to perceived intrusions to security
along although not necessarily within the perimeter.   Instances of
decisive and aggressive encounters have reached mythological status.  The
'Camo-Dudes' highly visible deterrence along the perimeter serves as a
catalyst drawing visitors to Area 51 in an attempt to see what is being so
diligently protected.  In fact the vast remoteness of the desert and the
mountains surrounding Area 51 permit no direct observation of any
facilities or activities.

On the morning of April 26th, as the Art 210 team caravaned to the Area 51
border on a dirt access road.  The 'Camo-Dudes immediately appeared taking
up surveillance positions on the hillsides assess the situation.  After a
survey of the selected site twenty pre-prepared easels, pre-stretched
canvases and supplies were transported up to a small bluff providing a
vantage point into Area 51, approximately fifty meters from the actual
perimeter.  Each artist was positioned 6 feet apart in a precise row
perpendicular to the perimeter with their easel at 45 degrees looking
directly into Area 51.  Vehicles were then moved a 1/4 mile back from the
site off the main road as stipulated by county regulation.   Our presence
and activities were continuously monitored by the 'Camo Dudes' using high
focal length binoculars and perhaps sound surveillance or other media.

Over a period of five hours individual paintings were realized using
either acrylic or oil paint as was preferenced by the artist.  No direct
contact was made with the Camo Dudes, although their presence was
continuous and overt surveillance of our project was evident.  Upon
completion of the extraneous support materials were removed and the
finished paintings depicting the landscape motif of Area 51 documented.
The resulting installation of easels and paintings stood alone as a
sculptural manifestation atop the bluff.

The paintings and easels were then transported directly to a communal camp
in Alamo Nevada, 20 miles south of Rachel, where they were re-displayed
and critiqued. The process was documented by the French Television Crew to
be featured in a broadcast on French National Television later this year.
The following morning the paintings were photographed, tagged and then
delivered to the Area 51 Research Center where they were put on exhibition
and offered up for sale at $51.51 including a 51% commission to the
Research Center.  Individual paintings will be rotated daily in a
continuous exhibition throughout the summer.

Digital art and the traditional fine arts are often considered as
operating within distinct critical fields of discourse.  This is
differentiation is the subject of debate and serves as a conceptual
framework from which the art enterprise and resulting site work and Area
51 Landscape Painting As Surveillance project was conceived.

Discourse in the arts informed by the philosophies of scientific research,
information technologies and engineering results in re-assessment of
traditional concepts involving intention, subjectivity, identity and
meaning as central premises upon which art is to be culturally
significant. Artists affiliated with the CADRE institute (Computers in Art
and Design/Research and Education) are particularly concerned with such
discourse and strive to produce works which serve to explore arts function
within an information based societal context.

That artists primarily, although not all, affiliated with the production
of new media technology choose to paint landscapes of Area 51 is both
interesting and provocative.  The social banality of landscape painting
and painters was strategized to be used as a means of counter-surveillance
by the surveyed, serving as a no threat typology of threat.   In this
context the artists demonstrate a perception of art as safe and innocuous,
permissible and lacking in relevant information content.  The need to
surveil such activity is both necessary and unnecessary simultaneously.
The Camo-Dudes duty, as it were, being that of serving as a critical agent
to assess the significance of the event and resulting information
liability.  Because the paintings have no content beyond the individual
expectations of the painter, neither artists or art can be understood as
being anything other than a modernist perception of art as being
personally expressive and expressive.

Yet, the action of landscape painting in the context of the Area 51
phenomena is clearly relevant as critical discourse on the nature of
information culture and information systems.  Area 51, is a simulacra, a
reality constituted from a media folklore, super secrecy and the
governments denial of its very existence.  The reality of Area 51 exist
only as pure simulation, constructed from the voluminous de-centralized
and publicly assessable information that surrounds what might be there.
The popularity of what cannot be seen or experienced directly is a
catalyst to a composited identity formed of electronic networks, e-mail
correspondence and media folklore.  Area 51s notoriety as a physical and
virtual tourist attraction provides an cultural experience as information
simulation ripe with conspiracy theory, Hollywood style potentialities and
the guarantee of being survielled.

Painting', specifically landscape painting, serves to beg the issue of how
it is that we think of art as being art while emersed and dependent upon
an information system as simulacra.   It is in this sense that this
artwork is most interesting.  While functioning within a hyper-logical
system of Area 51, it too was devised to unfold as a logical
determination.  The result being the fulfillment of a logical absurdity,
in this case the expansion, participation and re-enforcement of the
simulation all the while elevating the artistic accomplishment to a
revered status.  The exhibition at the Area 51 Research Center and the
French Documentary are testimony to accomplishment, quality and success.

The artwork continues in its evolution along a hyperlogical path.  It is
desirable that the paintings be purchased by individuals traversing the
Extra-Terrestrial Highway stopping at the Area 51 Research Center where
they will remain on exhibit indefinitely and can be supported
intellectually by their staff.  Each painting is to be geographically and
demographically tracked relative to the purchaser.  Purchasers will be
engaged in a continuos electronic mail dialog and requested to document
the paintings in their final display environment.  A feature video
documentary of the event is being produced encompassing all elements
leading to and comprising of the event.  An exhibition, public lectures
and publication of documentation materials electronically and in print are
being planned.

Certificates of Recognition are provided by the CADRE Institute to
participating  artists indicating contributions to this collaborative

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