Encountering “Zephyr,” a recent Texas Tech University Public Art commission by Mark Fornes, is like approaching an otherworldly object tentatively touching down. It’s a visual aberration, something forged more from computer screen than from earth. Or like a giant treat, plucked and dropped from a box of colorful candies. As art, it appears to share formal cues with the Robert Bruno sculpture outside the College of Architecture. Yet, shape grammar comparisons limit more generative readings of art, architecture, and site. Deeper stories always exist.
Lubbock is a place that collects curious appearances, or witnesses of such appearances. We can chart deep timelines through megafauna remains of Columbian mammoths hunted while they visited water sources. We can register the expansive impact of the nomadic equestrian skills of the Comanche Nation occupying the Llano Estacado from the 1600s through the 1800s. And, we can track terraforming that followed the introduction of cotton cultivation in the early 1900s and subsequent cattle feedlot development. Bill Brown’s 1997 16mm essay film, “Hub City,” presents three weather reports from Lubbock linking invisible lines in the sky across the direct tornado strike that decimated downtown in 1970, the day the music died with the crash of the plane carrying Buddy Holly in 1959, and the sighting of the unidentified Lubbock Lights in 1951. The film stands as an operational portrait of place and time. Like another recently completed public artwork, “Oblique Intersection,” by Lead Pencil Studio, it activates genuine connections and narrative possibilities. Near the film’s end, Brown states: “I like to think Buddy could read the writing in the sky, the way people born on the Plains can read the sky better than almost anyone else. But, maybe he couldn’t. Maybe in the end, when he looked up at the sky, that’s all he saw. Just the sky.” This prompts one to ponder how “Zephyr” may be more than just a wind-blown uniform flying object.
Chris Taylor is director of Land Arts of the American West at Texas Tech University and an associate professor of architecture.