In September 2017, the United States Secretary of the Interior leaked a memo revealing plans to drastically reduce the borders and protections for four national monuments established by the Obama administration. The sites included Casacade Siskyou which reaches across Oregon and California, Gold Butte in Nevada and Utah’s Grand Staircase Escalante and Bears Ears.
A couple of months after the initial leak, the Trump administration officially signed a highly controversial declaration to reduce the two national monuments in Utah. As a result, Bears Ears has been reduced by 85%, losing around 1.3 million acres of land and catastrophically allowing sacred indigenous sites to be exploited by oil, gas and uranium mining; which is currently underway in the previously protected lands.
Largely effected by this environmental atrocity, the digital artist Rick Silva’s latest work Western Fronts confronts this issue at hand. The Oregon-based artist’s work revolves around ongoing themes of the landscape and wilderness, and more recently, has delved into the politics and historical questions of place. As well as an associate professor of art and technology at the University of Oregon, Rick’s work has toured the world from several international solo shows to Barcelona’s Sonar festival and Transmediale in Berlin. His work has been acquired by the likes of the Whitney Museum’s permanent collection while he’s presently exhibiting Western Fronts at LA’s Transfer Gallery until August 2019.
With a background in experimental film, Rick cites how he was lucky enough to study under film pioneer Stan Brakhage during the mid 90s as an undergrad in Colorado. He tells It’s Nice That: “Many of the sensibilities in my digital art like rhythm, composition, colour and even conceptual approaches come from that time studying experimental cinema.”
At 18-years-old, Rick obtained his first computer, a Compaq desktop, where he first ventured into the realms of electronic music and video. “And soon after getting that PC” remarks the artist, “I found out about file sharing, net art and flash animation, and I haven’t looked back since.” It’s taken Rick approximately one year to complete Western Fronts from refining the initial idea to the film’s release.
Along with friend and fellow artist Zack Dougherty and with a grant from the University of Oregon, the pair embarked on a two week road trip shooting over ten hours of aerial drone footage of the four national monuments. “I then used software to analyse and create photogrammetry type reconstruction of the landscape,” explains Rick on his process. “Because the technique is relatively new and glitchy, it looks just as much like a reconstruction of the scenery as it does a deconstruction which works well conceptually for the project” adds the artist on the technical process.
And with sound design from Kuedo + Holy Other, Western Fronts was finally born as a nature documentary that collapses into itself. “The wilderness is scanned by large shapes that momentarily reduce the landscape into grayscale polygons. And in these redactions, we glimpse a near-future dystopia of computer-vision added resource extraction.”