Book Reviews
Books New to the Shelves of the CLUI Library

Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)
by Tom Vanderbilt, Knopf, 2008
A helpful explanation of many of the things we encounter each day that we drive, as well as a sympathetic look at the sociology of driving. It seems, for example, that the late merge (using the empty lane to get as close as you can to the merge point at a construction site lane closure) actually is more efficient for the group. Now if only there was a way to convey that, to all the self-sacrificing and indignant drivers you pass by on the way to the head of the line. We recommend the unabridged audio book version, so you can listen to nine hours of this while on the road.

Trash,
edited by John Knechtel, MIT Press, 2007
A great little book about a big subject. Part of MIT Press’ Alphabet City series of books that are sort of like the thematic, well edited and omnivorous Cabinet Magazine, but published in consistently small hardcover book form, and from more of a design/landscape/development perspective. Other subjects in the annual series are Food, Suspect, Fuel, Water, and Air, the latter two forthcoming. Makes you wonder if size does matter.

Brown Acres: An Intimate History of the Los Angeles Sewers, by Anna Sklar, Angel City Press, 2008
Finally, a book about Los Angeles’ sewers—and with photographs.

An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar,
by Taryn Simon, Steidl, 2007
The hardbound catalog of Taryn Simon’s photographic project exhibited at the Whitney in 2007. A treasure chest of negotiated access, the photographs (taken with permission and a 4x5 film camera) are ingots of the American condition, as she sees it—a photographic cabinet of curiosities from across the land. The collection itself is perhaps the real curiosity.

Detroit City Map,
by Kati Rubinyi, 2008
Over 200 continuous black and white photographs, taken in 1991 by Kati Rubinyi of a cross section through downtown Detroit. The photos are sequenced according to the fold-lines of a road map, with typed phrases from newspaper accounts of the race riots of the 1920s, 1940s and 1960s.

Over: The American Landscape at the Tipping Point,
by Alex S. MacLean, Abrams, 2008
More of Alex MacLean’s aerial photographs. Fun to look at as usual— MacLean is one of the most prodigious aerial photographers of the built landscape out there. Despite a heavy environmental argument, expressed in the captions, the chapter headings, and the introduction by Bill McKibben, the book has a refreshing ambiguity, between the lines.

Blank Spots on the Map: The Dark Geography of the Pentagon’s Secret World
by Trevor Paglen, Dutton, 2009
Paglen’s ongoing gonzo-geographic odyssey through the black budgets and dark worlds of the tools and spaces of secrecy, espionage, surveillance, and power, fully flowers into political bloom in this book of his research and interviews. The conspiracy is that there is no conspiracy.

Energy Metropolis: An Environmental History of Houston and the Gulf Coast
edited by Martin Melosi and Joseph Pratt, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007
A good start on a subject that is remarkably underexamined. This volume is broad in its subject matter, covering subjects such as air pollution, freeway construction, suburbanization, air conditioning. But only two of the twelve essays focus on the oil industry, the superlative and principal industrial feature of the region. An inventory of waste processes and issues for petrochemical production remains forthcoming, oddly.

How the States Got Their Shape,
by Mark Stein, Smithsonian Books, 2008
A wonderfully literal and basic explanation of the morphology of America. The author (normally a playwriter and screenwriter - he wrote the Steve Martin/Goldie Hawn comedy Housesitter) conveys the subject with the same exploratory surprise and sense of discovery as the reader experiences reading about it. Another good argument for why experts shouldn’t always be the ones writing books.

Deep Challenge: The True Epic Story of our Quest for Energy Beneath the Sea
by Clyde Burleson, Gulf Publishing Company, 1999
A good historical overview of the subject from the point of view of an industry insider. Who else would you trust to know about this?

Westward: The Course of Empire,
by Mark Ruwedel, Yale University Art Gallery, 2008
Catalog of the exhibit of Ruwedel’s black and white photographs of places in the west where the railroad used to be. Resonates conceptually with the history of western landscape photography, romanticism, and the end of the 20th century.

Trees Hit By Cars,
by Adam Frelin, published by Adam Frelin, 2007
Photographs of trees with scars created from the impact of cars. Helps to know thats its from the POV of a conceptualist sculptor.

The Pablo Helguera Manual of Contemporary Art Style,
by Pablo Helguera, George Pinto Books, 2007
Entertaining cynical reflection of the contemporary art world, done in the style of a style guide, from a “failed artist” who clearly has been around the block, and back, a few times. He works for MoMA, last we heard.

Public Phenomena
by Temporary Services, Half Letter Press, 2008
A renegade book of photographs depicting ephemeral structures, incidental patterns, improvised solutions, and other observations in urban space, mostly found along sidewalks in the cities of the world.

 

Book Reviews
Recent Book Related To CLUI Programming, In One Way or Another


On the Banks of Bayou City: The Center for Land Use Interpretation in Houston
edited by Rachel L. Hooper, Nancy L. Zastudil. Blaffer Gallery,
the Art Museum of the University of Houston, 2009
The book published about the Center’s time in Houston, leading up to the Texas Oil exhibit. Many interviews, a photographic essay on land use in Houston, a panoramic, foldout section, and a comprehensive chronology of the CLUI’s projects and publications over the past 14 years.

Aereality: The World from Above
by William L. Fox, Counterpoint, 2009
Another timely subject—aerial viewing—by Bill Fox, now the Director of the Center for Art + Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art. The book is all over the place, covering the ground from Walter De Maria and Michael Heizer’s pilot to current aerial art photographers like David Maisel and Michael Light. Fox discusses CLUI projects in Wendover and the Hudson River.

Big Box Reuse
by Julia Christensen, MIT Press, 2008
Christensen’s selection of stories from across the country creates a portrait of a contemporary America at apogee, and of people making what they can with what they have been left with, as the tidal wave of consumerism washes through their town. Appropriately too, this book is outside the box, and not from any definite place, like urban studies, architecture, or social scholarship. Christensen approaches the issue freshly and directly, on a personal level, like the communities and projects she describes. The book is an inspiring product of someone astounded by the variety and richness of the extra-ordinary American landscape, and who takes us on a journey, trying to figure it out. At least that is what the Center’s director Matthew Coolidge says on the back cover.

Experimental Geography: Radical Approaches to Landscape, Cartography, and Urbanism,
Independent Curators International, 2008
The catalog to Experimental Geography, an exhibit which is travelling around to various venues around the country through 2010, looks at all. The CLUI contributed a series of posters of past projects to this group exhibit of work that deals with human interaction with the land.

Grand Tour, Perspecta 41,
MIT Press, 2008
The concept of the classic European “Grand Tour” is still a lively one, and nowadays it can be applied to other less traditional destinations. The CLUI contributed A Tour of the Monuments of the Great American Void, a circumnavigation of the Great Salt Lake Desert, to this collection of writings on the Grand Tour put together by the Yale Architectural Journal.

Hydromancy, by Simparch with Steve Rowell,
University of Texas at El Paso, 2007
Catalog to the 2007 project Hydromancy—in which Rio Grande river was distilled, through a natural process, to become potable. Simparch is a build/design team that has worked with the CLUI in a number of locations, and Steve Rowell is a CLUI associate.

The Infrastructural City: Networked Ecologies in Los Angeles,
edited by Kazys Varnelis, Actar, 2008
The CLUI looked at gravel pits in this essential book about Los Angeles, examining the city of Irwindale, source of aggregate for much of the built landscape of Los Angeles, and a place so full of holes that more of the land in the city is a pit than not. Also included in this book is a section on traffic by CLUI associate Steve Rowell, as well as Lane Barden’s spectacular aerial photographs of the city, and much more, about oil, water, telecommunications, and other infrastructure.

International Airport Montello,
by e-team, Art in General New Commissions Program, 2008
The project International Airport Montello, by the artist group e-team, involved the purchase of land in a remote area of Nevada, near West Wendover, and the attempt to revive an abandoned airstrip, with the enthusiastic participation of the citizens of the nearby town of Montello. e-team, based in New York, were CLUI Wendover residents in 2004.

Land Arts of the American West,
by Chris Taylor and Bill Gilbert, University of Texas Press, 2009
The Land Arts of the American West program, run by Chris Taylor and Bill Gilbert, annually takes a group of art and design students into the landscape of the Southwest for an intensive 50-day expedition. This book is a thorough and colorful overview of the wide expanse they cover, and of their creative interpretations of the places they visit and make work in, which include Spiral Jetty, Chaco Canyon, Roden Crater, Marfa, and CLUI Wendover.

The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-sufficient Living in the Heart of the City,
by Erik Knutzen and Kelly Coyne, Process, 2008
CLUI operative Erik Knutzen is a co-author, with Kelly Coyne, of this practical handbook of urban self-sustainability and green living. A comprehensive guide, with step-by-step projects explaining how to grow food on a patio or balcony, how to preserve food, cook with solar energy, how to divert your grey water to your garden, and how to have fun with your backyard chickens.

Wendover, No(s) Limit(e)s,
by Jean-Michel Pancin, Monografik Editions, 2008
Jean-Michel Pancin, a photographer from Switzerland, was a CLUI Wendover Resident in 2005. For his project, he interacted with residents of Wendover, to discover how they envision their environment, and he photographed participants in their home or place of work, as well as the areas in Wendover they found most meaningful. The result is this honest and beautiful book.

Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes,
by Walker Art Center, 2008
A catalog of the exhibit that originated at the Walker Art Center, then went to the Carnegie Museum of Art, and the Yale School of Architecture. The CLUI contributed a series of aerial photographs titled Autotechnogeoglyphics: Vehicular Test Tracks in America, a series that was completed as a commission for this exhibition.

Badlands: New Horizons in Landscape,
edited by Denise Markonish, MIT Press, 2008
The catalog of an exhibit up at Mass MoCA, from May 2008 - April 2009. The CLUI selected a series of images and text of places in Massachusetts to include in the exhibit, creating a sub-exhibit entitled Water and Power: 30 Sites in Massachusetts from the Center for Land Use Interpretation Database and Photographic Archive. And oh yeah, the rest of the show was interesting, too.

Aspects of Mel’s Hole: Artists Respond to a Paranormal Land Event Occurring in Radiospace
edited by Doug Harvey, Grand Central Art Center, 2008
Catalog of the exhibit sort of about Mel’s Hole, a notorious alleged hole of unknown but possibly infinite depth in eastern Washington State. The area was one of several places left blank by Microsoft’s Terra Server maps, the web-based satellite and aerial photo mapping system that was developed before Google Maps, and was talked up a lot on Art Bell’s radio show, becomming a well known thing for people who are into such things, such as Doug Harvey, the art critic for the L.A. Weekly, who made a show about it. The CLUI loaned its sample of dirt that was allegedly collected during the excavation of Mel’s Hole. The dirt was mysteriously lost in shipment back to the CLUI after the exhibit.