HDTS: Epicenter

Situated in and around the rural environment of Green River, Utah, HDTS: Epicenter was a weekend-long collection of site-specific artworks, happenings, and performances inspired by the desert landscape of Southeastern Utah and its rural communities. HDTS: Epicenter also served as a meeting of minds, with the two kindred institutions of High Desert Test Sites and Epicenter equally contributing to the organization and curation of events.

High Desert Test Sites’ then-managing director Aurora Tang first became aware of Epicenter’s work in 2010 from a trifold brochure left at the Center for Land Use Interpretation’s Regional Arts Complex in Wendover, Utah, where she also works. Aurora and HDTS co-founder/director Andrea Zittel were both familiar with Samuel Mockbee and the Rural Studio program at Auburn, the Epicenter co-founders’ alma mater, and followed Epicenter’s activities from afar.

It wasn’t until a few years later that the two organizations came directly into contact with one another, when HDTS 2013 participating artist Bennett Williamson was concurrently in residence at Epicenter as a Frontier Fellow. Bennett took a brief leave of absence from his residency to install his project in Joshua Tree, bringing Epicenter crew member Ryann Savino along for the 1000 mile ride.

Following the HDTS 2013 event, which took High Desert Test Sites on the road from Joshua Tree to Albuquerque, HDTS decided to turn its focus to the communities and contemporary art programs in rural Utah for 2015. The original idea was to work with a range of partners in rural communities all across the state, but after visiting Green River and Epicenter, it became clear that this single area was so unusually and incredibly rich and diverse in its natural, agricultural, cultural, industrial, and recreational offerings, that they could devote the entirety of the event exploring and highlighting this often overlooked region and still only begin to scratch the surface. Having Epicenter as inspiring and enthusiastic partners sealed the deal.

Participating artists
Steve Badgett
Alyse Emdur and Michael Parker
Butchy Fuego and the Seeing Trails Division of Fine Arts
Kathleen Johnson and Mark So
Alison Kinney, Daniel Nickerson, Cyrus Smith, and Matt Takiff
Nicole Lavelle
Charlie Macquarie
Allan McCollum
Jordan Topiel Paul and J. Gordon Faylor
Ephraim, Kiersten, and Raivo Puusemp
Bennett Williamson

HDTS: Epicenter was made possible with support from the National Endowment for the Arts (Art Works–Design), Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Utah Division of Arts and Museums, Emery County Travel Board, and the Sorenson Legacy Foundation.

Read more about HDTS: Epicenter.


Tuesday, April 12th, 2016


HDTS: Epicenter Recap

Julie Brody, Kate Brown, Dominique Cox, Mari Garrett, and Gabie Strong performing “Brainchild Part 3” by Kathleen Johnson and Mark So (click to enlarge)

This weekend Green River welcomed over 100 visitors for HDTS: Epicenter. Twelve different artist groups from around the country showcased projects, installations, and performances in and around Green River, including folk ballads performed in Black Dragon Canyon, interactive hammock weaving (with corn stalks, no less!), and a chance for visitors and locals to be photographed with their car. The project was a collaboration between Epicenter and High Desert Test Sites, an arts organization based in Joshua Tree, California that has put on similar events in the past.

Friday night potluck at Epicenter (click to enlarge)

Things officially kicked off on Friday with a potluck and swap meet hosted at Epicenter. Over 75 people showed up to share food, meet new friends, and catch up with old ones. Several projects went on display, including Alyse Emdur and Michael Parker’s “Geyser Girls” drawing residency at Crystal Geyser and “Rural Light” at the Dunham Melon Stand, Jordan Topiel Paul and J. Gordon Faylor’s “Motel Room” installation at the Robbers Roost, Allan McCollum’s “Reprints” at the USU Eastern Prehistoric Museum in Price, and the Puusemp family’s “Gamma,” an installation that made radiation experienceable by sonically representing each radiation wave passing through a small area. Visitors passing through Green River for a pit stop got the opportunity to be photographed with their car as part of Nicole Lavelle’s “Autoland” at the Conoco Gas ’n Go. Those willing to get out of town could visit “Site Specific Hammock 2 and 3” by Bennett Williamson, a set of two hammocks which visitors could participate making by learning a weaving technique. One hammock was made of recycled fabrics, while the other was made from harvested corn stalks.

“Site Specific Hammock 2 and 3” by Bennett Williamson and “Gamma” by the Puusemp Family (click to enlarge)

On Saturday visitors could catch projects they didn’t see the day before as well as attend a few unique events. Charlie Macquarie’s “Library of Approximate Location” was open at Swasey’s Beach, where visitors could peruse a unique collection of books and documents pertinent to Green River, Utah, and the Inland West. Butchy Fuego and the Seeing Trails Division of Fine Arts performed “Doppler” at the Municipal Airport: two trucks, one with Butchy Fuego and a drum kit, the other with Jeremiah Chiu and a keyboard, began at opposite ends of the runway and drove toward each other, meeting in the middle, creating a unique sonic experience for the stationary audience. Steve Badgett’s “River Quaternion”—a giant, floating black pyramid, sailed/hovered down the Green River from the Main Street bridge to the Crystal Geyser as the sun set. In the afternoon, a group of explorers left for Cabin-Time’s “Sleepout” at Wild Horse Butte—a no electronics, all-wilderness overnight experience, while those still in Green River attended the Seeing Trails DFA’s “Past on Present” projection and laser show/party at the Bunker.

“Past on Present” by the Seeing Trails DFA and “Rural Light” by the Michael Parker and Alyse Emdur (click to enlarge)

Sunday began a day of travel and performances. In the morning, Alison Kinney, Daniel Nickerson, Cyrus Smith, and Matt Takiff gave a performance of folk songs and cowboy ballads in Black Dragon Canyon—the unique shape of the canyon enhancing and distorting the acoustics to create a magical experience. In the afternoon, visitors traveled to the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville for a performance of “Brainchild” Part 3, an otherworldly performance set among the alien earth formations that lie between Capitol Reef and the San Rafael Swell.

“Doppler” by the Seeing Trails DFA and “Desert Dreamscape” by Kinney, Nickerson, Smith, and Takiff (click to enlarge)

On Monday things began to wind down, but not before the Seeing Trails DFA led a hike around Blue Castle, a grey-blue monolith north of town. During the hike, visitors could engage with various viewing portals that framed different views of the landscape. The event officially wrapped at noon. Overall it was a highly successful weekend and a great collaboration with High Desert Test Sites.

“River Quaternion” by Steve Badgett

Our participating artists included Steve Badgett, Cabin-Time, Alyse Emdur and Michael Parker, Butchy Fuego and the Seeing Trails Division of Fine Arts, Kathleen Johnson and Mark So, Alison Kinney, Daniel Nickerson, Cyrus Smith, and Matt Takiff, Nicole Lavelle, Charlie Macquarie, Allan McCollum, Jordan Topiel Paul and J. Gordon Faylor, Ephraim, Kiersten, and Raivo Puusemp, and Bennett Williamson.

Thanks to our local volunteers and partners: Allen Burns, Dunham Melons, Gas-N-Go, Green River Thrift Store, PACT, Robbers Roost Motel, and Shady Acres.

Thanks to our wonderful crew of volunteers who made this weekend run so smoothly: Andrea Bacigalupo, Paulina Berczynski, Cari Carmean, Matthew Dannevik, Bob Dornberger, Luke Forsyth, Leah Gallant, Adam Geremia, Marisa Goedhart, Bill Morrison, Joelle Neuenschwander, Antonia, Julia Schenck, and Sophie Trauberman.

“Autoland” by Nicole Lavelle and “Library of Approximate Location” by Charlie Macquarie (click to enlarge)

HDTS: Epicenter was made possible with support from the National Endowment for the Arts (Art Works–Design), Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Utah Division of Arts and Museums, Emery County Travel Board, and the Sorenson Legacy Foundation.

Photos and video by Bill Morrison. Find more photos from the event on our instagram and at #hdtsepicenter.

Monday, October 19th, 2015


HDTS: Epicenter Participating Artists

Epicenter and High Desert Test Sites (HDTS) are co-hosting HDTS: Epicenter on October 9-12, 2015. HDTS: Epicenter is a collaborative curation of 12 artists’ projects, along with many regional points of interest and programs in diverse locations in and around the rural Utah community of Green River, Utah.

Our 12 featured artists:
Steve Badgett
Alyse Emdur & Michael Parker
Butchy Fuego
Kathleen Johnson & Mark So
Nicole Lavelle
Charlie Macquarie
Allan McCollum
Jordan Topiel Paul & J. Gordon Faylor
The Puusemp Family (Ephraim, Kiersten & Raivo Puusemp)
Cyrus Smith, Alison Kinney, Daniel Nickerson & Matt Takiff
Bennett Williamson

With additional support and programming by:
Sarah Baugh
Taryn Cowart
Miles Mattison
Richard Saxton & students

…stay tuned for more!

HDTS is a non-profit organization located in Joshua Tree, CA, that supports immersive experiences and exchanges between artists, critical thinkers, and general audiences – challenging all to expand their definition of art to take on new areas of relevancy.

Epicenter is a non-profit organization located in Green River, that provides housing and business resources and promotes the arts to accentuate Green River’s rural pride and pioneering spirit.

This project is made possible through support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Utah Division of Arts & Museums, the National Endowment for the Arts, Utah’s Emery County Travel Board, and the Robber’s Roost Motel.

Friday, July 17th, 2015


Frontier Fellowship Report: Bennett Williamson

Biking home at sunset

I first came to Green River in February 2012 to visit my friend Ali Osborn, who was here as a Frontier Fellow. A drive through the San Rafael swell in the morning light, a few West Winds breakfasts, and walking an open field in the shadow of the Book Cliffs was enough to get me to apply for the Fellowship this year. I’ve happily spent the past six weeks watching Green River turn from summer to fall, working on a variety of projects, and trying to put my finger on what makes this tiny town so darned interesting.

Frontier Fellow Dylan Adams unloading supplies for the Seed Spittin’ contest. Hay bales and Book Cliffs looking especially picturesque. Snackin’ at Crystal Geyser.

I’ve moved six times in the past few years, and when I get back to L.A. next week, I’ll be packing up to turn right around and move again. Green River is by far the smallest place I’ve ever lived, and while it has it’s related small-town problems, it also has a profound simplicity that is entirely refreshing. “Why is there an Amtrak stop there?” asked my Mom. Why is Green River here at all? This is where the river gets shallow and slow enough to cross. There’s no big industry keeping the town alive, this is a place that people have been passing through for hundreds of years. This is the only place with water and gas for a hundred miles either direction on the interstate. The people are friendly, the sunsets are incredible. When they built the railroads, this was the overnight stop. Sometimes cars break down and their drivers just decide to stay. Simple.

City Code Enforcement Manager C.J. Vetere herds chickens off a neighbor’s lawn

Maybe that’s just the myth of The West playing tricks on me. But it’s the vast unfeeling desert creeping at the edge of town that made me see how hard people are working here, it’s stark cliffs towering over one tiny piece of humanity, everyone pulling their weight to keep it flourishing. The small business owners, the ranchers, the farmers, the volunteer Mayor, the people who organize softball games, and of course the Epicenter staff, helping keep roofs over people’s heads.

Here is a place where clearly you can be an agent of change. Coming off a busy summer managing a huge project, I was excited to have the time, space, tools, encouragement, lack of responsibility, and limited email access that would allow me to focus on my own projects for as long as it took to finish them. Like, ‘I made this, that means I am alive.’

Green River Community Radio
I built a Part-15 AM radio broadcasting kit, to experiment with broadcasting in Green River. I know about the programming side of radio but I wanted to learn more about engineering. I also filed an application for a Low Power FM license for Epicenter, which, if granted, would allow them to build an FM station that could potentially reach the entire town. Many thanks to Common Frequency, who helped guide me through the FCC’s application process.

Testing the AM transmitter at Epicenter. Transmitter detail.

Weaving Workshop
I taught a weaving workshop at Epicenter, introducing the class to basic techniques on a frame loom, focusing on using yarn and fabric scraps, and showing ways to use cheap materials to make your own tools. I was really impressed with how quickly everyone got into the rhythm of the weaving, with some people finishing their first ever weaving in just three hours.

Tying off a completed weaving. Weaving detail.

Next Punchline 30 Miles
I installed two 8′ x 12′ billboards as part of High Desert Test Sites 2013 in Joshua Tree, CA. The piece was designed and constructed in Epicenter’s backyard, and then deconstructed for transport. Thanks to AmeriCorps VISTA Ryann Savino who helped with construction and installation. She travelled with me and the signs to HDTS and wrote about the trip more detail in a previous blog post.

Tracing the letters of the first sign. The completed punchline sign on Kelbaker Rd. near Amboy, CA.

Additionally, I did a ride-along interview with City Ordinance Compliance Manager CJ Vetere for the upcoming Green River Magazine, worked shifts at the Green River Thrift Store, took a field trip to melon and corn fields with The Boys and Girls Club of Green River, helped plan the Melon Days Seed Spitting Contest and worked the spin art bike at the arts and crafts booth, worked on my crockpot cooking for family dinner (carnitas, beef stew, veggie chili), helped Armando put in a new ceiling at Faye Sweat’s house, fixed a bicycle, learned what a goathead is and then picked a million out of my shoes, saw the petroglyphs at Sego Canyon at dawn, borrowed Justin’s truck a lot (thanks Justin!!), ate curly cheese fries at Chow Hound, and much more.

Smashing over-ripe watermelons left in the fields after harvest.

Thank you Epicenter. You gave me a place to work, a place to live, a group of friends, and a real taste of life in a small town. I admire the work you do and I’ll be sure to come back to Green River to check in on you.

– Bennett

Visiting former Frontier Fellow Raphy Griswold’s Czech Hedgehog

Sunday, November 10th, 2013


High Desert Test Sites 2013

Leaning against the bed of the old pickup truck, I watched as a train of bikers blew past us, their heads turning one by one to take in the blue sign perched atop sand. We were parked along Kelbaker Road just outside the Mojave National Monument and our presence in the arid desert landscape must have appeared as if a mirage to the clad-in-black riders. Little did they know their answer would come just five miles further down the asphalt roadway. “How do billboards talk?” Well. “They use sign language.”

“Next Punchline 30 Miles” by Bennett Williamson

Started in 2002, “High Desert Test Sites” is based in Joshua Tree, California, with a mission to support experimental art that engages with the local environment and community. This year, they decided to create an art event larger and more ambitious -a 1,000 plus mile long journey along the roads of the Southwest from Joshua Tree to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Hundreds of artists from around the country submitted proposals for the event and almost sixty were selected to install their pieces, serve their food, share their goods, and perform along these desert roadways. One such artist to be selected was current Epicenter Frontier Fellow, Bennett Williamson of Los Angeles, California. His piece, entitled, “Next Punchline 30 Miles” was located just east of Amboy, CA between I-40 and Route 66. Two handmade billboards –the first a set up to a joke, the second the punchline –(designed, constructed, and painted here in Green River!) were placed roughly five miles apart on a desolate desert highway. Bennett described the joke as, “a real stinker,” and was inspired to create them in an “attempt to create a bit of absurdity for the passing audience captive in the ennui of a long road trip.”

“Self Storage” by Lars Fisk, “Magnetic Influence” by Roxanne Bartlett & Maria Lorenz, “We Build Excitement” by Jesse Sugarmann

What intrigued me most about High Desert Test Sites was how it took people out of conventional galleries and placed them in natural areas to interact and experience art. As Andrea Zittel, artist and co-founder of HDTS, commented, these projects are putting “art in places one normally might not even think to look.” The open space and vast views created an atmosphere of inclusion between viewer, artist, and art. Individuals had to commit to making the long treks through arid lands to find certain sites, some only in place for a mere day. From the Joshua Trees to the Book Cliffs here in Green River, landscapes are in a constant state of shift. The fleeting art of HDTS actively reminds one to be present. One day I found myself at “Magnetic Influence” witnessing viewers dressed in large elastic clothing wrapped around boulders, an ode to Franz Anton Mesmer’s (1779) philosophic belief that all bodies are subject to the gravitational pull of the heavens. Another day I walked up to a pop-up storage unit masking a Volkswagon bus, a creation by Lars Fisk, who through his own discrete minimalist housing is exploring the significance of personal storage units across the United States. If I had returned the following morning to either site, not a trace would be left of these detailed art pieces.

Wagon Station sleeping pod at A-Z West, “Desert Appliqué” by Léa Donnan, Wagon Station Encampment

Part of HDTS 2013 seemed to be focused at celebrating the diverse desert habitats of the southwest –just getting people out there to see space for themselves. Their mission and work was, and is inspiring. They write, “To create a ‘center’ outside of any preexisting centers…To contribute to a community in which art can truly make a difference.” Who knows, maybe Green River can be a stop along the caravan next year? I sure hope so.

Special thanks to Aurora Tang and Andrea Zittel for being welcoming and sharing A-Z West and HDTS. Big gratitude goes to Bennett Williamson for allowing me to help along this journey.

This post was written by Ryann Savino, an AmeriCorps VISTA here at Epicenter. Originally from the granite-clad foothills of Northern California, she first came to Green River in 2012 via canoe. A recent graduate of Whitman College, she wrote her Environmental Humanities Thesis on the Green River Watershed and her family history held within its silty flow.

Friday, October 25th, 2013