What are your current research interests?
As director of Land Arts of the American West at Texas Tech University my research gravitates around the core ambition to expand awareness of the intersection between human construction and the evolving nature of the planet. Land Arts is a teaching and research program leveraging immersive field experience in arid lands to open horizons of perception, probe depths of inquiry and advance understanding of human actions shaping environments. Land Arts attracts architects, artists, writers, and others from across the university and beyond to a "semester abroad in our own backyard" traveling 6,000 miles overland while camping for two months to experience major land art monuments such as, Double Negative, Spiral Jetty, Sun Tunnels, The Lightning Field, while also visiting sites to expand our understanding of what land art might be, such as pre-contact archeology, military-industrial infrastructure, and sites of contemporary wilderness and waste. Throughout the travels, and on-campus, participants make work in response to their experience, which is exhibited at the Museum of Texas Tech University to conclude the field season.
Additional zones of interest include platforms, vehicles, collectives, and Far West Texas. The Terminal Lake Exploration Platform is an ongoing project, original created as the Great Salt Lake Exploration Platform with funding from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts and Texas Tech, to facilitate visual and performative research within under-examined basins and internal fringes in the American West. It is a solar-powered platform enabling a small group of people to remain upon remote and extreme bodies of water for specific durations of time with necessary life support and research infrastructure (shade, fresh water, food and waste storage, electrical power, communications, and evacuation provisions). Its modular design maximizes research agility and sustainable support ecosystems.
The Land Arts Support Vehicle is an adaptable all-terrain backcountry truck that will be outfitted with mobile kitchen and lab to propel the ongoing field research of Land Arts of the American West at Texas Tech University. The program will design, build, equip and test the custom service body for the vehicle that will carry essential gear and provisions that include: cooking tools and utensils, food and water storage, safety equipment, computing and communications infrastructure, sound and video projection, service lighting, and solar power generation. Pushing beyond paradigms of recreational vehicles, this project's ambition is aligned with scientific, and artistic, production vested in remote design-build field work. Think of a cross between inside-out food-truck and mobile construction workshop. Students will be involved in the design, build and ongoing maintenance of the support vehicle to honor the ethos, aspirations, and complexities of the Land Arts program. The vehicle is on order and will be built out to launch the next Land Arts field season. The acquisition was made possible with a generous donation from a Land Arts 2003 alumna.
The Lubbock Scapes Collective is an interdisciplinary group composed of faculty from programs in cultural studies, media and communications, poetry and translation, linguistics, Spanish literature, landscape, art and architecture within a single university. Its purpose is to break through the boundaries of "disciplines" by creating holistic projects that problematize questions of landscapes through scholarly collaborations that seek to understand, define, evaluate, and represent spaces people inhabit. They do so by using landscape as a structural model or framework to bring together a diverse group of disciplines firmly rooted in social space and the production of situated knowledge. The kaleidoscope of shifting spaces in which individuals and groups interact through face-to-face and mediated communication creates multiple horizons for creative reflection and engagement, reclaiming human experience in a world that has been depicted by objects perceived as knowledge outside human feelings. This historical framing of landscape is now obsolete, and the collective is searching for new dimensions of the term. (Following paragraph from the collective manifesto writing by Curtis Bauer, Rafael Beneytez-Duran, Idoia Elola, Susan Larson, Chris Taylor, and Kenton Wilkinson.)
And I remain committed to expanding initiatives by Texas Tech, the College of Architecture, and Land Arts that celebrate and activate the powerful character and possibilities of operating in Far West Texas, from Lubbock to Marfa, El Paso and beyond.
What types of outreach and engagement have you been involved with?
The visibility of the Land Arts program provides unique forms of outreach and engagement—from interactions on the road, to resupply parking lots, and remote field location. The publics and participants we engage are diverse, expansive, and always deeply informative. The broad network extends through national organizations, academic press manuscript and foundation award reviewer, to membership on the Advisory Council of the NOW International Dance Company based in Salt Lake City.
Why did you choose this field?
That's a bit of a mystery. In part I wonder if it was subliminal messaging from my parents at an early age. Being an architect was a clear direction when I entered high school, however as someone who grew up in the suburbs of Southwest Florida, I think it's safe to say I had no idea of what that really meant. After spending time learning to draft mechanical drawings I went to the University of Florida where my preconceptions of what architecture might be were immediately challenged and expanded. I quickly realized I was more curious, driven and captivated in the discipline—in what architecture can be and in the design process. I was very fortunate to have, almost accidently, chosen a powerful design school that was just starting to launch students into top graduate programs. At Florida I also learned to weld—to put things together. During our final semester a group of us were a bit underchallenged, so we created an extracurricular project to design and build a thirty-five-foot-tall steel tower. The project existed somewhat as rumor or vapor until we installed it on campus to the side of our studio the day before graduation. That momentum of physical construction—of thinking through making—was carried into my graduate work and continues to this day. Along the way the potential challenges and opportunities of architecture have grown deeper, expanding investments in composing and constructing spaces, happenings, and landscapes. Key figures have also directly helped foster and propel these sensibilities. A quick list includes Harry Crews, Jeff Skoka-Smith, David Gregor, Irene Keil, Laurie Hawkinson, Raimund Abraham, John Hejduk, John Stilgoe, Ingrid Schaffner, Matthew Coolidge, Barry Lopez, Simone Swan, Jo Harvey and Terry Allen, Boyd Elder, Anne Tyng, and Gabor Szalontay.
How do you define good teaching?
Good teaching produces work and energy that surprises both student and teacher. It is a place of deep connection beyond expectation. A place of transformative engagement. Good teaching is vested in making things super groovy.
What is your proudest professional accomplishment?
I generally struggle with questions of favorites. The persistence of changing light at sunrise and sunset is more powerful, and beautiful, than the spectacle of lightning in a field. Suppose, I also struggle a bit with this question because the answer may well be out there still—just over the horizon. I tend to be someone looking where we are trying to go, rather than where we've been, and generally super happy that I'm able to do this work. That said, there have been some noteworthy highlights that continue to hold water. Seeing the Land Arts program featured in the New York Times and in the documentary film Through the Repellent Fence were humbling honors and tributes to efforts by many. Spending a year of research in Venice, Italy funded by the James Harrison Steedman Memorial Fellowship in Architecture was particularly transformative. Another highlight, being able to see the shipping crate for "50 cc of Paris Air" by Marcel Duchamp in sculpture storage at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
How do you integrate research and outreach into teaching?
Research and outreach are rarely separated from teaching in my work. While this is clearly manifest in graduate offerings such as Land Arts, it is also vested in framing undergraduate coursework. Without research questions and engagement in dynamic and expanding worlds, architectural education atrophies. Central to good architecture teaching is cultivating inquiry that examines, interprets, and augments the worlds we inhabit.
More About Chris Taylor
Chris Taylor is director of Land Arts of the American West at Texas Tech University and an associate professor of architecture. In 2001 he began developing Land Arts as a semester abroad in our own backyard to investigate the intersection of human construction and the evolving shape of the planet. The books Land Arts of the American West and Incubo Atacama Lab document the definition and reach of this interdisciplinary work. He has lectured at institutions such as Yale University in New Haven, Parsons The New School for Design in New York, University of Arizona in Tucson, Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia and Universidad Catolica in Santiago de Chile. Taylor studied architecture at the University of Florida and the Graduate School of Design at Harvard.