Spend the Night in a Massive 'Lightning Field' in the New Mexico Desert
''The land is not the setting for the work but a part of the work.”
That statement was written by artist Walter De Maria, and it lives in the cabin notebook at his art installation The Lightning Field. The massive work, set on a plateau in the New Mexico desert, is comprised of 400 stainless steel poles with pointed tips, arranged in a 1-mile-by-1-kilometer grid. The poles measure 2 inches in diameter, and each is set 220 feet apart from the next. The height of each pole varies with the undulating ground—from about 15 feet to nearly 27 feet—so that the tops of all the poles are level.
Since its completion in 1977, The Lightning Field is only ever occupied by six people at a time. Visiting requires making a reservation and spending the night in a small cabin, which costs $150 to $250 per person depending on the time of year. It’s only open from May to October—which is during lightning season.
Even after you’ve made a reservation, the exact location of The Lightning Field is never disclosed. Instead, there’s a pickup point in the town of Quemado, New Mexico where the Dia Art Foundation (the organization that commissioned and maintains the work) has an office. There, a driver picks up the scheduled guests and takes them to the cabin about an hour away. Simple meals are provided, electronics are not allowed, and after the mid-afternoon drop-off, visitors don’t see anyone from the outside world again until 11 a.m. the next morning.
The Lightning Field is meant to be experiential art. Photos aren’t allowed (and some say it’s rather unphotographable, anyway), and while camping isn’t allowed either, De Maria (along with associates Robert Fosdick and Helen Winkler) intended for visitors to spend as much time in the field as possible, particularly during daybreak and at dusk. Contrary to its name, the sculpture isn’t about seeing lightning—in fact, a strike on one of the poles only occurs around 60 times a year, despite being in the high desert, some 7220 above sea level. It's probably for the best, as lightning is actually destructive to the work.
For those who might be alarmed by the idea of such stark isolation, fear not: a short-wave radio will connect guests to the Dia Office if necessary.
Banner image: John Cliett, Dia Art Foundation // Instagram