Beta Laydown is an interlocutor landscape articulating surplus capacity within a mineral reclamation system. In Beta the reciprocity between slow, geological processes of evaporation mining are linked to the exceptional velocities of land-speed trials
Site Location Wendover, Utah | Program Center for Land Use Interpretation Wendover Residency.
In 2008 I was a resident at the Center for Land Use Interpretation’s Wendover Field Station. The residence is located adjacent to the Wendover air field, on the edge of the Bonneville Salt Flats and potash evaporation ponds. Extensive pumping of the shallow brine aquifer for potash mining has depleted the salt crust of the Bonneville Salt Flats Raceway. I proposed a site work interpreting the Laydown Project, a public-private project to restore the salt crust at the Bonneville Salt Flats Raceway.
The proposal linked parametric modeling with satellite-controlled excavation and grading equipment. Parameters in the script varied the shape and depth of excavations in the salt flats.
ABOUT POTASH MINING
30,000 acres of salt flats east of Wendover are carved into channels and solar evaporation ponds to gather potash for fertilizer. A series of pumps, at the toe of the Silver Island Mountains north of Interstate 80, lift brine from the aquifers below the salt flats. The brine flows south to the evaporation ponds. After evaporation, the operators harvest potash precipitate with bulldozers, and transfer it to a mill for further processing and shipping.
Across Interstate 80 is the Bonneville Salt Flats Raceway, another important economic force in the region It is the site of land speed records and a favorite location for film and TV commercials. The two operations are hydro- and geologically linked. Brine pumping depletes the aquifer, which in turn causes the depletion of the salt crust that supports the raceway operations.
The Bureau of Land Management engineered the Laydown Project to re-distribute mineral-rich brine onto the salt flats. They created basins to re-suspend brine, a pump system, and a manifold to spread the brine northward to the raceway. This essential hydrological and geological remediation apparatus was nearly invisible in the great scale of the salt flats landscape. I was intrigued by this additional layer of technology that bridged the needs of the very fast—the salt flat racers—with the very slow—the potash evaporation operations.
How is this place work? How is it organized? How might we work with the existing elements, processes, and apparatuses?
The salt flats landscape is made of basic elements and processes: gypsum soils, minerals, water, wind, sun. These elements interact with one another at varying scales of time and visibility. Though the salt flats are a very arid place, the territory has been engineered with channels and dikes to accommodate periodic flooding, potash production, and transportation infrastructure. Subtle elevation changes created large-scale effects. Artifacts adjacent to brine outflows were covered in crystals; armatures influencing how processes were revealed.
Outside, I created a series of test pieces—influenced by Eva Hesse’s studio studies of the interactions between materials—to observe saline deposition patterns. I created wire mesh armatures and left them in baths of brine to reveal crystal deposition patterns.
I studied the Processing language to model field patterns on paper to translate to a proposal for an excavated intervention in the vast salt flats. I experimented with varying excavation depth, shape and size through gradients between black and white. I converted these black and white images to height fields in Rhino to generate a series of topographic surfaces.
During my residency, I covered Wendover on foot and by bicycle, after an unfortunate series of events left me without a car. I began sketching and photographing two themes in the landscape: decay and depressions.
The first involved processes of decay. The extreme environment of the desert caused the structures of the former air base to decay into splintered, monochrome piles. These piles are represented in a series of sumi-ink drawings of the Domestic Geology series.
Alongside the roads I took note of the small depressions in the gypsum, how the profiles of the depressions were shifted by wind erosion, and the brilliant reflective qualities of water on the salt substrates. These observations formed the seed of the project: manipulations of the substrate to collect water and register the effects of wind and water erosion on that field.