Traces in the Desert- An Interview with artist Anna-Marie Veloz
Once an important stop on the steep and dry Union Pacific Railroad line between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles, the Kelso Depot in Mojave National Preserve stands today as a relic of another era. The prominent uses of the mid 1920s Mission Revival style railroad depot have long since ceased, and in the years between its heyday and its current stewardship by the NPS, the former oasis-like grounds were left to dry up leaving only four original Canary Island date palms. Today, however, the depot is taking on new meaning as a cultural resource and as the primary visitor’s center for the Mojave National Preserve. The landscape has recently been rehabilitated to reflect its historical significance, and to accommodate contemporary uses.
The Kelso Depot Visitor’s Center is currently exhibiting the work of an artist who understands the importance of cultural landscapes well. We recently spoke with Anna-Marie Veloz about her show, Inhabitance, in the Desert Light Gallery through September 20.
CLP: Did you grow up near the desert? How have you been inspired by this landscape and its ruins?
AMV: Yes, I was raised in the high desert, Hesperia, CA. Growing up, there was not much to do as a young person, so my friends and I always wanted to get out of the desert. We thought it was too brown and rural. It was not until I moved away to college that my love for the desert was revealed. I found out many of my college peers did not know where Hesperia, or the High Desert was located, which became very interesting to me. I had an old Hesperia t-shirt and began wearing it around the college campus. I was very proud to represent a place that few were from or knew of. I also started to notice the beauty of the desert— color, landscape, clear skies, awesome weather, and vast empty landscapes, with occasional abandoned structures off the sides of the roads. My eyes were open, especially to the dilapidated buildings; I found such strength and beauty in these places where many see an eyesore.
As for the history, there is more than meets the eye. I am fascinated by what came before me, and the evidence left to tell pieces of the story. It makes history come alive, because I am experiencing something that existed decades ago and it is still here for me to see it now.
CLP: How did you come across these abandoned buildings and sites?
AMV: Some were found by accident, and some by asking locals. Also, my father works in a military base out in the Mojave Desert so he is very familiar with the environment. They are mostly found through paved roads, some easily off the highway, others on dirt roads.
CLP: What was your process in creating this series of images and miniatures, from the discovery of the subject to the making of the objects?
AMV: My process is really about the entire physical experience—what I mean is engaging all my senses in the site. I am influenced by sight, touch, smell, sound, and the feeling, they all form a memory of the experience and it helps me to use this in the studio, so I am not just looking at reference photos, but also allowing that photo to act as a vehicle for that experience. To help with documenting my influences, I will sometimes, record sound, sketch at the site, journal, research and document natural objects. I may even just sit there in silence, allowing the moment to take over and listen.
CLP: These beautifully detailed and constructed sculptures remind me of architects’ models, except that they depict structures which are headed toward decay rather than construction. What made you decide to make miniatures for this project? Is it a way to preserve these buildings as they are? Or a way to understand them in differently?
AMV: The interest in the miniature goes back to my childhood. During the summer months I would make miniature theme parks, complete with log rides, park maps and little gift shops. These parks acted as a vehicle for the memories I had with my family going to parks and how they were so transformative, making me feel I was in this other world.
This series of miniature abandoned structures is meant to bring the experience to the viewer how I remembered it. There are no exact replicas as I would feel too contrived as an artist, to measure dimension by dimension and recreate a blueprint. As funny as it sounds, I used a miniature doll to act as the scale. In order to create structures that acted as an invitation for the experience, I focused on the memory of the space.
CLP: How would you explain the term cultural landscape? Is this something that inspires you?
AMV: Cultural landscape means to me how humanity (society) has influenced the landscape, bringing a sense of place and identity and showing a tracing of our lives overtime. Yes, I absolutely think my work connects to that.
CLP: How did you decide to have this show in the Kelso Depot Visitor’s Center?
AMV: Kelso Depot represents a passion for preservation, awareness, and history and that fit my body of work, Inhabitance.
CLP: As someone who has spent time working with and contemplating these places, what do you think we can learn from them?
AMV: We can learn to appreciate what we have and where we came from. It is so fascinating to see how others lived just 50 years ago; the décor, style, and most of all why they came.
These places that once held an importance within our society, whether it was railroad, mining, agriculture, recreation or estate development, all reflected western exploration and settlement. People came to the desert with a purpose. Although many of these specific purposes no longer function as a way of life today, we still see remnants of the past. I traveled through the Mojave Desert in search of remote places that have been left empty by the progression of society. The American Utopian Dream is ever present and it is important to know where we came from and the rich history cultivated within the desert.
To plan your trip to the Kelso Depot Visitor’s Center: http://www.nps.gov/moja/planyourvisit/visitorcenters.htm
To find out more about the history of the Kelso Depot cultural landscape: http://www.nps.gov/cultural_landscapes/snp/700002.html
To see more work by Anna-Marie Veloz: http://www.annamarieveloz.com/