Adrian Wall is a Native Arts and Cultures Foundation (NACF) board member and renowned sculptor who uses his work to bring light to issues that center around identity, inter-human relationships, and the environment. His latest piece speaks to the impact of hydraulic fracking on Pueblo lands and culture. In this story, Wall tells us how he came about his new work.
Adrian Wall (Jemez Pueblo), NACF Board Secretary
Chaco Canyon is located in the high desert of Northwestern New Mexico and was the center of trade and ceremony for ancient Pueblo life. The architecture of Chaco is unprecedented in the Southwest. The people of Chaco had immense knowledge of celestial movements and used this knowledge extensively in creating their world. The Greater Chaco area consists of nearly 8,000 square miles in northwestern New Mexico, with Chaco Culture National Historical Park at its heart.1 The site is still used and is considered sacred by the descendants of these Pueblo people today. Chaco also happens to sit on the San Juan basin, an area ripe for hydraulic fracking.
Hydraulic fracking is a process where chemically laden water is injected with great pressure into the earth to force oil and natural gas to the surface. Research shows that hydraulic fracking generates critical risks to the water table, public health and a sustainable climate. The area surrounding Chaco is public land that is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Despite outcry from surrounding communities, Tribes, environmental groups and politicians, the BLM continues to sell fracking leases in the area adding to the 40,000 plus fracking wells in the San Juan Basin.
The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act (H.R. 2181) on Wednesday October 30, 2019. This bill will prevent the use of federal land for oil and gas development within a 10-mile radius of Chaco Canyon National Historical Park. Read more about it here.
Written by Adrian Wall (Jemez Pueblo)
On a cold October day in 2016, I made a trip to Chaco Canyon. I hadn’t been to Chaco in more than ten years and I was surprised by how much the landscape surrounding Chaco had changed. The trip marked the culmination of a weeklong artist residency. The Maxwell Museum of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico had acquired a grant to bring together ten Pueblo and Navajo Artists to participate in the residency. We had spent the previous week deep in the collections of the Maxwell Museum and the National Parks Service Chaco Cultural Museum Collections, looking at some of the most incredible material from Chaco.
As we pulled off the main highway and on to the primitive dirt road that leads to Chaco, I couldn’t help but be disturbed by the site of the many hydraulic fracking wells that littered the landscape. The sun was low in the southern sky that day creating long shadows on the ruins. I explored the site in awe of the architecture and technology my ancestors had employed. While at Chaco, I couldn’t escape the feeling that time was standing still. The quietness of this area created stillness in my heart and mind.
I came away from the residency with a ton of sketches, a memory card full of photos, and not a clue about what my work would produce. Residencies are great for artists because of the separation they create from our daily practice. Of course, the demands of being a father, artist and musician slowly reclaimed my focus. As I tried working through my ideas, I would often long to revisit the site and re-experience that time shift.
As I reflected on my experience at Chaco, I became interested in the solar alignments and solar/lunar calendars that were created there. I began making sculptures that depicted Sun Watchers, the individuals that are responsible for tracking these alignments. I also started researching solar calendars from different historic Pueblo sites throughout the Southwest. I was impressed by the inventive and sculptural nature of these solar calendars. These earth-works were skillfully crafted using only the materials that were available and the function they served was extremely valuable to everyday Pueblo life.
Around this time, I had an opportunity to apply for another residency. This time at my Alma Matter, the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, NM. For the IAIA A-I-R residency application, I proposed to make a monumental solar calendar using mixed media. I was fortunate to serve this residency in the fall of 2018. This time I had three months to work on my project. My intention was to create a place of reflection. A space to leave the hustle and bustle of everyday life behind and have an experience with time that wasn’t segmented into minutes or seconds, but rather days or seasons.
As all things related to art do, my project began to evolve as I started working out my ideas. My sculpture, as I imagined it, would consist of a large central stone with Pueblo designs carved on to it. Three outlaying sculptures would be erected out of steel. The outlying sculptures would be aligned to solar events. The footprint of this sculpture would be around 24 feet. As the sun would rise on the Summer Solstice, the “Summer” sculpture would cast a shadow on the center stone with the designs from each sculpture aligning for a brief moment. I envisioned the winter marker to be a sunset alignment, like an ancient solar calendar that exists in the Verde Valley of Northern Arizona. The spring and fall equinox are so close together, they would be one sculpture.
I spent the majority of my time at IAIA carving a six foot tall piece of Italian grey marble and developing my ideas further. I realized that I had an opportunity to add contextual weight to my sculpture by documenting the encroachment of the fracking sites on Chaco. I resolved to make the outlying sculptures representative of fossil fuel production. Steel is the perfect material to convey this industrial threat. I feel like including this element would bring awareness to the importance of our Sacred sites and the impact their loss has on its people. From Mauna Kea in Hawaii to Oak Flats and Snow Bowl in Arizona, our Sacred sites are under attack. This diminishes the spirit of the people associated with these sites and strips them of their connection with the land.
Rarely do I have an opportunity to work on a project of this magnitude. The resources required to complete this project are immense. This has become a long-term project for me. I am grateful for the time and resources my fellowships have afforded me. I am currently working on finishing this sculpture at my studio in Jemez Pueblo, NM. I ultimately would like to see the piece installed at the visitor’s center at Chaco Canyon National Historic Park.