James Trainor


Southern Loop

Southern Loop

Lecture course and field seminar, June 2009
University of Southern California, Roski School of the Arts, MFA Program

California, Arizona, Nevada

Los Angeles/Bombay Beach/Slab City/Salton Sea/Salvation Mountain/El Centro/Felicity – The Center of the World/Caterpillar City/Scottsdale/Taliesin West/Cosanti/Arcosanti/Montezuma Castle cliff dwellings/Sunset Crater/Wupatki Pueblo National Monument/Flagstaff/Hoover Dam/Las Vegas/Double Negative/Valley of Fire/Death Valley/Tecopa Hot Springs

Participants: Alyse Emdur, Sam Ekwurtzel, Cayetano Ferrer, Samara Golden, Alex Israel, Sean Kennedy, Lisa Ohlweiler, Samantha Roth, Kenn Tam, Tellef Tellefson, Keith Bormuth, Christian Cummings, Michael Hayden, Lee Lynch, Emily Mast, Nicole Miller, Dianna Molzan, Michael Parker, Virginia Poundstone

Instructors: Andrea Zittel, James Trainor

Chapter VII: Illusions

In our studies of landscape we are very frequently made the victims of either illusion or delusion. The eye or the mind deceives us, and sometimes the two may join forces to our complete confusion. We are not willing to admit different reports of an appearance. The Anglo - Saxon in us insists that there can be only one truth, and everything else must be error. [...] The reality is one thing, the appearance quite another thing; but why are not both of them truthful?

— John Van Dyke, The Desert: Further Studies in Natural Appearances (1901).

Salvation Mountain.

Many visitors know to bring offerings of house paint.

Leonard Knight guiding visitors toward the grotto.

Extra Love, waiting to be put to use.

Knight's psychedelic Merzbau.

Bombay Beach, Salton Sea. 120 degrees F.

Bombay Beach, looking south.

Most common fauna of Salton Sea: dead tilapia.

Beach adjacent properties.

The unincorporated town of Felicity, California. Permanent population: two. Status: happily married. Founded 
on May 21, 1985 and declared the precise Center
 of the World by its self-appointed mayor, designer, architect, historian, archivist, postmaster, brasserie chef, high priest, resident parachutist, and fifty percent of the local populace: the French-born Jacques-Andre Istel. Designation recognized by the Imperial County Board of Supervisors and, purportedly, the Institut Géographique National in Paris.

The official center of the official Center of the World.

Seven ceremonial steps to the plaque which lies at the bottom at center of pyramid.

All the fruits of human knowledge, achievement, and history is slowly being inscribed on acres of red granite tablets, as a cliff notes hedge against Armageddon.

The Giotto Chapel atop the man-made mastaba.

The futurist ruins of the City of Caterpillar on the CA-AZ-MX border.

Taliesin West, Scottsdale, AZ and the ancient pictographs that Frank Lloyd Wright had relocated from distant hills and repurposed as the axial centerpiece of his workshop and residential compound.

Cosanti. Scottsdale, AZ.

90-year-old Paolo Soleri, visionary architect and founder of Cosanti and Arcosanti, being questioned by visitors at Cosanti.

Bronze foundary at Cosanti.

Helping produce modular fresco concrete units


Their buildings are good, and are so uniform that a whole side of a street looks like one house. The streets are twenty feet broad; there lie gardens behind all their houses; these are large but enclosed with buildings that on all hands face the streets; so that every house has both a door to the street, and a back door to the garden. Their doors have all two leaves, which, as they are easily opened, so they shut of their own accord; and there being no property among them, every man may freely enter into any house whatsoever. At every ten years' end they shift their houses by lots.

Thomas More, Utopia, (1516)

'Camp' - the hamlet-like cluster of cubic dwellings (originally all with circular doors and windows) in the valley below the mesa. Camp served as a proto-Arcosanti starting in 1969, housing Soleri and co-founders and workers during initial construction of Arcosanti above beginning in 1970.

Each subsequent resident, over a period of forty years, was permitted to modify, customize and personalize the uniform cube-and-circle living unit.

Hoover Dam. The new bridge being constructed over the chasm of the Colorado River Gorge. The Sublime terror of titanic half-built monuments.


The Neon Boneyard, Las Vegas.

Michael Heizer's Double Negative, slowly crumbling.

'Burning the Map' at abandoned talc and borax mines, Nevada-California border. In reconstitutive honor of similar ritual performed by artists Michael Heizer, Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt forty summers earlier near Mono Lake. Intentionally getting lost in the annihilating, transformative glare of the desert West.

End of the road.