In most of the world, geographies are clearly delineated: this is a house, that is a park, there is the road.
In the United States, many natural environments are operated and maintained by the state. These national, regional, and state parks assign meaning to certain rocks and land formations. They direct visitors along paths to explore the area, and they provide contextual information. Throughout, large placards announce the age and history of certain “important” trees, along with botanical descriptions.
The Center for Land Use Interpretation, a research and educational organization based in LA, is dedicated to “the increase and diffusion of information about how the nation’s lands are apportioned, utilized, and perceived.”
Neither an explicit conservation group, like the Trust for Public Land, nor an industrial developer, the CLUI explores the range of interpretations of the land around us.
The CLUI hosts a unique residency program in Wendover, Utah, near the Great Salt Lake. Artists stay at the compound in Wendover, a former Air Force Base, and mine the unusual landscape in which they are situated.
With traveling exhibitions, a few permanent sites, and fascinating tours, the CLUI continues to educate the public, asking them to look closer at their environs. A tour of the Great Salt Lake focused on the perceived voids - perceptual and material. In Houston, the tour explored how oil plays a central role in the city and its history as a bayou. In LA, one of many tours brought curious visitors to the Irwindale pit that mines for asphalt and concrete ingredients, the foundations of our world.
The CLUI has a long-term project called the American Land Museum, which will eventually be represented by physical museums and land in different regions of the United States. This is a work in progress. Lastly, their Land Use Database is an outstanding resource to curious folks who seek a new way to look at the land around them.
The Center for Art + Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art recently acquired the archives of the CLUI.