whispers of the desert
Art by Shelby McAuliffe
Almost Heard: whispers of the desert is a collaborative project focusing on the complex relationship one has with a desert. A space & place often overlooked.
One may witness the interwoven passage of time visually, metaphorically, and phenomenologically while viewing Almost Heard: whispers of the desert, in which the human condition is transposed onto an ephemeral plane, both in structure and in reflection. The installation is a transient landscape in light, color, texture and occupied space. The interpretive nature of this art installation is referential to the lava beds and alkali flats of northern Nevada. The Black Rock Desert has gained notoriety for becoming a ‘home’ for tens of thousands of Burning Man visitors, through their relationship to the unbelievably extravagant and fugacious city built to experience for one otherworldly week on the desert floor. That which intrigues me, though, is the identity of the desert outside of this event. The desert as a home for rabbits, for sage brush, and for the elusive fairy shrimp, steeped in alkaline dust and surrounded by the playa’s perimeter hot springs. This project aims to empirically embody solastalgia through anecdotes from the arid playa. This inquisitive art piece weaves the traces of human influence and natural elements of the land through a curated immersive representation of the desert. This is a visual interpretation that stands in sharp juxtaposition to the immense desert often thought of as empty or dismissible. If society continues to embody separability to marginalized landscapes, depleted or void of resources, how can we move forward in effective global environmental change towards any communal ground?
 Fox, William L. Playa Works: the Myth of the Empty. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2002, pg 10
Submit your story
Accepted written pieces will be turned into whispers to be used in conjunction with the installation at the University of Colorado Art Museum in March 2021
Write a poem, a prose, a story or haiku. Let your mind wander in inspiration, criticism and admiration for the Black Rock Desert
Submit your written word in the form below with completed release to allow your entries to be transformed into whispers.
Read a selection of submitted entries below.
Art and photographs by Shelby McAuliffe
O Desert! My Desert!
O Desert! My Desert! Our endless journey has begun.
Your playa filled with aging cracks, formed from piercing sun.
The peaceful violent paradox that lives within your sand,
A time before they came, they laid, they burned an effigy of a man.
Oh playa! playa! playa!
The palette vast and grand,
Where on the earth the feet extend,
Taken roots and land.
O Desert! My Desert! The city rises from your dust.
Birthing flames to call your name, but your heart cannot be touched.
For you we dance, we drink, we cry- for you the land is all,
For you we travel, around the world, to dissolve all foreign walls.
Here Desert! dear Desert!
My body beneath the sand,
It is a dream above that instead we will,
Take up roots and land.
My Desert answers with the wind, its body full and vast,
I feel my mothers wounded heart forever captured by the past,
The chariots that bring them home are moving forever still,
From captured minds set free for a time but shackled to the will,
Exult the day and Rise the sun,
With a saddened step I plan,
To dance upon the barren earth,
Taken roots and land.
To The Water That Raised Me
An homage to the water that raised me
Geothermal pools, granite rocks and birch trees
An epilogue to the experiences that shaped me
Dancing through trees watching marbled skies
Red leather yellow leather
Little mouse and wide lions
Baguettes served on the metro
accompanied by rose on river banks
An ellipsis to time well spent
A space for all who have not entered yet
What begins and begins again
For all who have seen an end
Forms, ambiguous in admiration
Seeps through my pores until I see them
Mentors and influences
Traumas and lessons
We track only what is needed, shelve the others for later
Performance as thank you
Language as limitation
Snow globe Broken Nose
Is this real? I do not know.
Intense colors. Is this death?
Rock formations, now they're gone.
I love this place? I do not know.
Why do I call this place home?
Calm Before the Storm
I watched as the horizon inched closer, almost imperceptibly. The dark mountains which ring the Black Rock Desert had disappeared long ago, leaving me alone with the dust. Not a whisper of sound touched my ears. But the faintest of breezes kissed my lobes, a portent, like the first heavy drop of rain on a sunny day, felt by nobody else around. A wall of tan-grey, near or far, or in the infinite middle distance. Quiet emptiness, or so it seemed, a hint of gathering gloom.
Wind whipping, confusion of seeing nothing but spirals of dust. A swirl outside time, outside space. The world forgotten. The houses, the offices, the trees, another universe, another lifetime.
The storm was like a failed love story, arriving in a barrage of lust and danger, departing gradually, fading inexorably, grasping. As I gazed to the North, I felt a sense of relief tinged with longing. Longing to be in that power again, to be that gusty strength. Left behind. Turning around, my eyes found the mountains behind me. Dry and angular, but comforting, familiar.
Stark, foreboding, moody, and impossibly beautiful.
The Black Rock Desert.
You salty bitch. I envy you. How can you be so cold and callous? How so hot and ornery? Critters and cracks. Saline and sunlight. You’ve scared me once, and every time I come back, arms wide open like a mouth for the taking. If I didn’t know to bring everything I am to survive your wildly open and unforgiving performance, I’d still be with you. I wouldn’t mind being with you, youR beauty is sublime of course, especially as the sun comes sideways across your skin...but you're so proud of your independence and secrets, I’d say it’s more hazard than virtue. I guess like all women, you ought to know how to handle the curves before you start driving 100. Please stay hardened, firmer than the first. If you get any softer, I’ll be stuck on you forever. Damned if I already ain’t.
**Spitting noise like an old miner**
Vera the Artist
big open barren;
empty, alien, pregnant -
your song calls us home.
The flip ticket
The Black Rock Dessert helped me sneak into burningman a few times in early 2000s, but not with taking her due. My plan was filled with grit and fueled by youth-based stupidity. Friends left me a mile from the perimeter well after dark with the piece of paper that had the address of the camp, a liter of whiskey, and my bicycle. I waited for the 2 perimeter guards to pass each other (as one went clockwise and the other counter-clockwise) then drank all the whiskey , putting the bottle in my backpack, and biked as fast as i can towards the fence. The arch stone of the plan my plan was pedaling at great speed through the almost pitch dark, knowing that eventually i would hit the perimeter gate and flip. That was what the whiskey was for. It worked like a charm and I flipped landing on my side with just enough time to start rolling around the playa like a mad man. In a few minutes the guards showed up. I did not talk, but showed them the empty bottle and the scribbled address sheet implying they were absurd for having to explain my self on so much booze and probably drugs. They took me to camp and other than a few bruises I was in. Free and without having to come up with a burningman name at the gate. Thank you Black Rock Desert for your darkness and your grimy surface. Hugs and kisses.
on the margins of the black rock,
looking out into the desert
the immensity of it,
you never imagined the sheer magnitude of space
the way it can completely enclose you
and also within that space:
dust, and sound,
light, and thought,
and perhaps most of all
the memory of thousands of years,
the memory of a sea
standing on the shores of the desert,
looking out, you begin to understand:
is simply an illusion
It burns for so long. Suddenly we are lost. Our one landmark turned to charcoal that he used to paint my face. The stars above are reflected in the dust at my feet. Glad I wore closed-toed shoes.