Las Vegas’ story, perhaps unsurprisingly, begins with a foreclosed house. From it came two towns, both called Las Vegas. Hardly anyone remembers the first Las Vegas anymore, wiped away in drought and arson, and fewer still realize how much thought initially went into shaping the second into the opposite of what Las Vegas has come to mean in the place-name lexicon. Perhaps, then, this is why the city became what it is now: so absorbed with the notion of forgetting as to literally advertise itself as an lawless, unrecordable netherworld that must be forgotten.
But, I grew up there. Lots of people have. Las Vegas isn’t just some round-the-clock bacchanalia concluding with a mandatory memory wipe at the airport—it was also for twenty years the fastest growing city in the United States and a home to millions during its century in existence, even if the obsession with implosions and a parallel push for expansion have replaced much of the historic fabric of the city with fenced vacant lots. If those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, perhaps that’s why the narratives with which the town began—foreclosure, premature abandonment, an unwinnable fight against the desert itself, and communal destruction—keep following the city from where little else of its past can be found.
Places of value can be recovered, though, from the memories of those who haven’t yet forgotten what their home meant to them. Displaced from my home town, I’ve spent the past year between there and here ensconced in memory, in search of what history can be salvaged from the scraps of urban fabric, diffusing the spectacles of implosive destruction, and monumenting it all in the city’s dust itself.
Several times in the past year, I’ve mentioned that I’m writing a dictionary of the city—not just about it, but describing it in form and experience. Most of you (rightfully) thought I was insane, but yet, I have done it. What’s more, I’ll be retracing it in graphite live for two weeks in the gallery, from 10am to 5pm weekdays, because just writing a dictionary is not itself crazy enough—I had to make it a self-destructive spectacle, too. Those who come to see it, who will surely bring something lost from the city everyone seems to know with them, can pick up pencils too and contribute to, correct, corrupt, or just read from the growing, fragile index of places not left behind in Las Vegas.
Join me, April 30th through May 10th in PSU’s Art Building and, by proxy, at historic place
#87001892, for a look at a city always shifting into dust in Book of Sand.
Oh my lord.