– Spring/Summer 2006

The Administrative Sublime, or The Center for Land Use Interpretation

Michael Ned Holte

Tags: Center for Land Use Interpretation, Land art, Robert Smithson

Infrastructure designed to irrigate salt grass on Owens lake. Photograph by Steve Rowell

Infrastructure designed to irrigate salt grass on Owens lake. Photograph by Steve Rowell


Nature is an infinite sphere, whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.

- Blaise Pascal

One is liable to see things in maps that are not there. One must be careful of the hypothetical monsters that lurk between the map's latitudes...1
- Robert Smithson

Behind an anonymous grey brick storefront, on a relatively nondescript section of Venice Boulevard in West Los Angeles is The Center for Land Use Interpretation. Driving past with the steady flow of traffic, the Center fades into the general atmosphere, devoid of exemplary qualities. Stopped at the red light, one might notice other things in the neighbourhood: a boxy, deep-purple bar called Carbon; the 'world's shortest main street', a mere half-block-long street, situated perpendicular to Venice Boulevard; or the Center's somewhat-more-notorious neighbour, The Museum of Jurassic Technology, whose façade and signage are just ostentatious enough to get noticed at a glance. The Center, on the other hand, hides in plain sight, marked only by an unremarkable display case featuring a cork bulletin board and a decidedly Cartesian logo. Almost comically, the Center, which states its mission as a '[dedication] to the increase and diffusion of information about how the nation's lands are apportioned, utilised and perceived',2 is located at the somewhat contested border of Culver City and the city of Los Angeles - slightly complicating municipal funding opportunities, among other inconveniences. The Center was founded in 1994 (or, as founder Matt Coolidge casually explains, 'paperwork was ?led') near the industrial port of Oakland, California, with its seemingly endless network of shipping containers. Two years later the Center relocated to its current Los Angeles

  1. Robert Smithson, 'The Spiral Jetty', in Jack Flam (ed.), Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996, p.151

  2. http://www.clui.org

  3. Ibid.

  4. Center for Land Use Interpretation, 'Around Wendover: An Examination of the Anthropic Landscape Through Maps and Photographs', The Lay of the Land, Summer 1996

  5. R. Smithson, op. cit., p.146

  6. Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, 'Conceptual Art, circa 1962-1969: From the Aesthetics of Administration to the Critique of Institutions', in Alexander Alberro and Blake Stimson (eds.), Conceptual Art: A Critical Anthology, Cambridge: MIT Press, p.532

  7. http://www.clui.org