Category Archives: national monuments

From Russia with Love? Monuments of Global Kitsch

The transactional nature of Trump’s world view has been so much on view in recent weeks that it is hard to shock. But the cast of characters involved in promoting a grotesquely colossal statuary of the navigator Christopher Columbus, cast out of bronze in Moscow, that he planned to install staring outer the Hudson River in 1997 on a new property development he had secured. If the story of this odd addition to New York’s many monuments–it was to be taller than the Statue of Liberty, an icon of American immigration and ideals–the authoritarian imagining of the navigator long identified with patriotic ideals is an early if particularly telling illustration of how transactional Trump’s world-views,– and how removed they were from any sense of the recreation of political space.

The oddly stateless notion of the figure of Columbus–evoking rational arts, to be sure, and a lettered tradition of civility, learning, and mental apprehension of the globe, beneath which a history of colonization is barely concealed-moves between different worlds as an emissary. The poise and stature of the figure of Columbus suggests a future able to move outside a state, or navigate stateless waters in a strikingly frictionless manner. Represented in 1892 in New York as a preeminent Renaissance figure, as if without concern of his relation to his surroundings, but to be a testimony to a removed past, but self-contained in his dignity, but affirming his role in spatial conquest in multiple ways.

Christopher Columbus in Columbus Circle/Peter van der Krogt

The Columbus cast in the 1996 Tsereteli monument in bronze was triumphant in his ability to move outside of sovereign boundaries, demanding recognition as a vanquisher and victor who with the support of a foreign imperial ideology and faith, in the act of claiming ownership by a single gesture over a newfound land. First presented to Trump four years before he declared himself a candidate for the Presidential primary as a candidate for the Reform party in 2000, the image of such imperial identity would have provided a model for the excavation of a public sphere by entertaining a new symbolics of global empire.

Zurab Tsereteli, “Birth of a New World” (1997)

Without any sense of triumphant reaction to transoceanic travel, the odd image of an impassive, idealized, “white” Columbus erases race, omits questions about his own relation to the new land of the so-called American continent or its inhabitants, and seems to have been carried by the winds that billow behind him as if to designate him as a royal Catholic emissary of a foreign land, or ensure smooth landing in port as he guides his ship across international waters by anachronistic means of a rotary wheel. The kitsch image of the monumental Columbus would be an aspiration to a global stage that Trump had aspired with Trump Intenational, but was sanctioned by his post-Soviet hosts.

Was the monumental Columbus, first commissioned from Tsereteli in 1992, a prescient image of a future President who would distinguish himself primarily by moving outside legal precedent and defining his exceptionalism to the law? The monumental statue had its origins in the post-Soviet restructuring of Moscow by he new image of Columbus, who seemed to view Columbus as an iconic symbol of a new world order after the Cold War when Luzkhov and Tsereteli had jointly arrived in America to present “The Birth of the New World” as a gift of friendship, recasting this emissary from foreign lands as a triumphant herald of a new world order. By 1997, Luzhkov’s attraction of billions of dollars into Moscow’s development, as housing complexes replaced historic buildings and the monumental Christ the Savior Cathedral was rebuilt in its gold electro-plated splendor of onion domes as seat of the Patriarch, after Stalin had destroyed the structure with dynamite in 1931, represented the intersection grandiose plans for monumentality.

As the monuments and buildings of Luzhkov’s Moscow, tied to embezzlement for his wife’s development business, redesigned the face of the city Trump visited, Columbus was an apt choice of subject to curry Trump’s taste for grandiosity–and Trump’s penchant to place himself outside the law. Was the monumentalization of Columbus emissary of foreign lands, this image of a bronze Columbus cast in Russia, an oddly prescient image of a future President who has distinguished himself as working outside of legal precedent? Is it only unintentional that it echoes Trump’s ability to place his own speech as existing outside of the law–and indeed to place himself, or his invitation of a foreign government to intervene in American elections, outside the law? The sense that this Columbus travelled in international waters in new ways seems but his ability to block public or congressional testimony as U.S. President,–and his own legendary obliviousness to constraint?

The increasingly nationalist figure Columbus evokes seems a way of pandering to an audience, in “Birth of a New World,” seems a figure of sovereign authority taking command over a new world, hailing or heralding an imaginary audience with grandiosity and sovereign majesty that is not only un-American, but seems to be captured in the act of remapping global relationships in 1996, when Trump confirmed the impending arrival of the statue, shortly after he returned from Moscow, where he met the sculptor, and the man known as redefining the art of the deal signed a deal to license his name for projects of non-exclusive ownership funded by the post-Soviet government, with the promise of participating in the rebuilding of Moscow’s public space in the apparent free market of the post-Soviet era as a landscape of the flowering of capitalist construction and unprecedented building development. What Luzhkov¥ branded as a Europeanization of Moscow was criticized as a Disneyfication of nineteenth century architecture to a theme park.

Closely tied to building companies, including that of his wife, billionaire developer Yelena Baturina, Yuri Luzhkov’s restructuring of historical Moscow with a pseudo-historical opulence created a landscape rooted in replicas of rapid fabrication and hyper-development. It was typified by the restoration of the gold-gilded Christ the Saviour Cathedral, on whose site Stalin had built the monumental the Palace of Soviets on Moskva River–after having spectacularly dynamited the cathedral seat of the Patriarch, built by Tzars to celebrate Napoleon’s defeat, which Stalin in 1931 Stalin had detonated in a public spectacle commanded as a vanishing of all solid to air, and the instantaneous vanquishing of a sacro-imperial past that Stalin had sought to symbolically banish by rebuilding a site for Soviet glory.

The curious coincidence between recycling a new icon of imperial authority whose grandiosity might appease or please Trump, his Moscow projects paused or placed on hold, was nothing less than a form of bait for the developer even before his political designs would become known. Did the promise of a statue of Columbus inflate the ambitious developer to imagine his role on a truly global political stage? The notion of placing Columbus, perched atop a global map that wraps around the statue’s pedestal, provided a cartoonish rending of the world as a global play space, removed from political power or individual claims, suggesting a sort of global chess board of confrontation and domibnation, as if rewriting public memory of an inhabited public sphere.

Yuri Luzhkov’s itineraries with Tsereteli to Miami, Washington, and other American cities, as a power-broker of a new age of development, shopped around a dunification of authoritarian monumentalism with Disneyfied kitsch epitomized by the 1997 erection of a statue to Peter the Great, at the costs of $120 million, across from the Cathedral’s gold domes–a work that epitomized his bend of populism and overbearing intervention in the re-engineering of Moscow’s public space to rewrite public memory in a seat where 80% of Russia’s wealth was concentrated–with two-thirds of foreign investment; he crafted his own style of privatization with the development firm of his second wife, Intenko, promoting a new vision of Russonationalism and Russian chauvinism while guiding Moscow through the real-estate boom in which Donald Trump had landed in 1996. When Trump toured the vast underground shopping complex, Manezh, beside Red Square, as a potential site to build a hotel.

At a time when increasing capital was arriving for construction projects in Moscow, Trump offered a known model for global capital, no doubt familiar to Luzkhkov’s wife, Yelena Baturina, who exploited her husband’s office as a developer, and whose connections to organized crime has been revealed by Wikileaks. Trump claimed losses of $916 million in his 1995 tax returns, as projects failed in Atlantic City and the Plaza; he hoped to refurbish his finances by ventures in Yuri Luzhkov’s Moscow, boasting to build Trump International and a new Trump Tower–expanding the developer’s 1986 hope, about which he crowed in Art of the Deal, for “a large luxury style hotel across the street from the Kremlin” bearing his name, despite resistance at erecting the world’s highest skyscraper in competition with the Kremlin–a qualification of which Trump’s unbounded ambitions were perhaps not aware.

In Moscow, Trump had proposed a $250 million investment for a Trump International complex at a November 1996 news conference, bragging upon returning to New York that his ties to Luzhkov boded success in building only “quality stuff”–when he first dropped a public hint about plans for the Columbus statue. The trip to Moscow was not so climactic, for Trump International, although the trip led to attracting Russian investors only to a Trump International Beach Resort in South Florida.

Trump International Beach Resort in Sunny Isles. (Angel Valentin/The Washington Post)

One might pause, however, at this globe that Trump seems to have adopted as his new venture’s emblem, and the similarly gaudy image of a new globalism distinguishing Trump International–epitomized by the rebuilding of the enormous silvered globe encircled by orbital rings. This very globe long stood at the building Trump has rebranded as Trump International Hotel and Tower at New York’s Columbus Circle–as if the globe could provide a powerful basis of international brand that Trump could tap into having purchased the old Time-Life building at Columbus Circle, and the globe itself had come on its property.

The iconic statue outside Time-Life–or Gulf + Western building seems to have been prized by Donald Trump that it became a target of his desires. Yet in October, 1996, New York’s City Planning Department rejected the proposal to emblazon the orbital globe with “Trump International” on the orbital globe as a way to brand his new venture–but the developer took the shiny orbital globe, silhouetting the world’s continents on a thirty-foot wide globe, modeled after the Unisphere built for a 1964-65 World’s Fair, as fair game to brand his ambitions, as it lay on property he now owned, and even if the words “TRUMP INTERNATIONAL” were not emblazoned on it to reveal his new global ambitions, the shiny sphere was replicated, in Sunny Isles, as an icon of the global scope of Trump Properties.

Brandell Studios, Architectural Rendering

The provision of Trump with a new image of Columbus on his own Hudson Yards development would be, perhaps, an alternate glorification of hi self-fashioning and marketing as a truly international developer. Was the discussion of the arrival of Tsereteli’s monumental figure of the navigator meant to hold an image of the orbital globe that Trump saw as an emblem of his new expansive network of global real estate properties beyond New York City

The brokering of new sites of power and monumentality were both local, and occurred on an international stage. Was the statue of Columbus that Luzhkov brought to America nothing less than a bid to rewrite the memory of the navigator as a figure of the place of commerce in the globalized world. The monumentalization of the voyage of discovery installed eventually in Puerto Rico in 2016, on the eve of the Trump Presidency, hinted at a new image of authoritarianism to come, blurred and with soft edges: in casting a Christopher Columbus on steroids as an emissary of royal Catholic majesty, he seems almost an emissary of a new global order. If a relic of the rebuilding of Moscow under the Luzhkov’s corrupt mayoralty, when billions arrived in Moscow for rebuilding d to the awarding of building and development contracts often tied to Intenko, his wife billionaire wife Yelena Baturina’s real estate company, over the eighteen years he held power since 1992 in Moscow, rewriting the past by the free market, this unmoored Columbus, arms elevated in apparent victory, offered a disturbingly authoritarian image, inaugurating hidden financial exchanges in a new global era of illicit international transfers and underwater financial transactions.

This Columbus seems dressed in neoclassical robes to bolster his authority, and anachronistically cast as guiding his craft by a rotary wheel, but as an emissary of sovereign right, who claims a pride of place as existing outside any legal code or precedent. The evocation of such a figure of extra-legal majesty, and truly transnational authority, seems crafted from a symbolics of authoritarianism, dear to a devout sculptor who would specialize in Neo-imperial statuary, who had already reclad Tsar Peter the Great in Roman robes in a strikingly similar sculpture.

While no-one imagined at the time that Trump boasted to all who would listen that he had negotiated the arrival of such a statue that Trump would be United States President, the “gift” he announced was conveyed from the Russia people moved outside international laws. At the time, his own global ambitions as an hotelier drew attention post-Soviet society. And the approach, made by Moscow’s Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, cast an icon of patriotism in the guise of authoritarian nationalism, recasting the iconic figure of American nationalism in a sovereign fashion removed from legal precedent, democratic practice, or inclusive politics.

In deeply disturbing ways, the combination of self-interest and public interest, or the inability to distinguish self-interest and public interest, that is so characteristic of a Trump Presidency, seems encapsulated, before the fact, by the cloaking of the proposed arrival of this massive monument, whose height he specified as greater than the Statue of Liberty from the base of its pediment to torch, on a proposed riverside development on the Hudson, as a marker of personal and national grandiosity. The “gift” he claimed to convey from the “Russian people” would serve as an adornment to his projected properties, and elided international politics with international commerce of undisclosed nature, but touching on tax-free transfers of goods and cash, in ways that turned on a figure–the fifteenth-century navigator–who acted outside any body of laws, but as the emissary of a sovereign decree, in ways that were already disturbing to be seen as a basis for national identity.

The model was already presented as a gift to the United States when in 1992 Moscow’s new elected populist mayor Luzhkov proposed gifting the statue for the Columbus quincentennial, its size larger than the statue of Peter the Great would assume when it was erected in 1997 in Moscow, which assumed such status as an evacuation of public space. As billions of dollars entered Moscow–$4.6 billion of foreign investments in 1996–the monument that did not provoke engagement with the past but propose a traditional model of global authority suggest a distraction, a worthy precedent for Trump’s late massive monument of a border wall. As Columbus in “The Birth of the New World” seems to obscure all else to fill the fragmenting of the post-soviet state, the public statuary seeks not to create a new innocence and stability, in a time of uncertain post-Soviet social order, but a celebration of identity removed from social improvement, or from meaningful political action and inclusiveness.

Trump was eager to promote the promised arrival of the monumental statue to media outlets when he returned from surveying real estate prospects in post-Soviet Moscow, boasting about his contacts with the affable Georgian sculptor who had won the Lenin Prize and was awarded Hero of Socialist Labor. As much as only an artist, the sculptor Trump treated with customary familiarity by praising “this great work of Zurab” as a gift that it “would be my honor if we could work it out with the city of New York” manufactured his own authority as an international intermediary in ways that omitted that “Zurab” was not only an artist, but a bit of a figure of state, who identified his work as an artist as a Hero of Socialist Labour who designed war memorials, and statues in Soviet embassies throughout the world; since 1997 was President of the Russian Academy of Arts, offering multiple post-Soviet monuments including for 9/11 to other countries on behalf of the state.

And what better place to position the image of the fifteenth-century royal navigator than to detract attention from the Enlightenment inheritance of the Statue of Liberty Enlightening the People, over which it would tower from the perspective of Trump Properties, in the New York skyline? It is telling that if Tsereteli’s later contribution of a statuary honoring 9/11, “Tear of Grief,” located in Bayonne, NJ, is situated in a site where it is seem before the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor–as if to redefine public political space and to take the place of the Statue of Liberty as the image that defined the visual experience of all who arrived in New York Harbor, rewriting the experience of universal ideals with mourning and global fears. The monument that used steel from a former Soviet military factory located in a Soviet “secret city” called Dzerzhinsk, suggesting its tie to a project of national calculations as much as a generous gift.

While artworks are branded an autonomous aesthetic status, the placement of Teresteli statues in embassies and consulates in Brazil, Portugal, and Japan, suggest we examine their role as an art of state. The promoting of the Russian-Georgian sculptor’s work transformed a relatively obscure Georgian artist to a figure of state in the post-Soviet era, as millions of tax dollars were pilfered to instal his folk-like sculptures in Moscow’s public spaces, imbuing with a false populism that suggests reproductions of kitsch inscribed with globalist ideals. The image of creating a new space of public admiration was central to Tsereteli’s works of art. “Make way, rogues of political blackmail,” reads a 1997 inscription on his monumental statue to Peter the Great, for founding a navy that was used to invade Ukraine, “Welcome the ship which has sailed into the eye of a grand Moscow scandal./ At the head of the tiny vessel . . . /Stand Peter in bronze!” The glorified elevation of its vision of authoritarian identitarian politics, familiar to post-Soviet Moscow as a new glue of public space, suggested a symbolics of political unity that Trump may well have taken as a model for global politics.

The attention-getting image of Columbus as a glorified authoritarian figure, to stand beside Manhattan in the Hudson, may have been far to heavy to be supported by the landfill of Trump Properties. The statue, weighing in at approximately 6,500 tons of sheer bronze, would not be likely to be supported by the landfill Trump had rezoned for residences. Rather than most solid metal sculptures built in Moscow, where a similar image of Peter the Great was erected in 1997, the image of Columbus would be hard to support. But the monument whose imminent arrival of which Trump boasted as an adornment to his most recent developent reveals a complex entangling of symbolic icons, redefining public spaces, and personal gain,

The recycling of patriotic platitudes in the monument during the post-Soviet era seems an attempt to refurbish Russia’s relation to the world. The monument Trump promoted was hardly designed with Trump in mind, or his property development as its intended site–but Trump Properties offered the perfect presence for its erection in ways that might be under the radar. Tseretelli had presented the statue, “Birth of the New Man,” to the city of Miami in 1992 to mark the cinquecentennnial of Columbus’ arrival, through a businessman with multiple Moscow business interests, Sol LeBow, who helped broker an early deal for the 600-ton sculpture by ponying up $20 million to install it off the beach, which brought both Luzhkov and Tsereteli to Miami’s City Hall during the Columban cinquecentennary in 1992, before Trump entered the scene. Once rejected, it was offered to the city of Columbus, Ohio in 1993, but rested in storage in Puerto Rico, an island where Columbus had actually set foot, and made landfall in 1493, before Zurab or his handlers proposed Trump serve as an intermediary who might erect it on his own property development whose monumentality would illustrate the majesty of the complex boasted to hold the hemisphere’s tallest building.

The image Tseretelli designed may have been preferred by the sculptor, but certainly made the rounds on the international stage. For Tseretelli presented a smaller version of the monument to UNESCO’s center in Paris in 1994, and a larger version in Seville in 1995, continuing to seek a global stage for the gigantic bronze monument, “Birth of the New World,” a vertical sculpture of the navigator before royal flags only installed in Puerto Rico in 2016. If the presence of patriotic populism provided a cover for transporting the statue across the Atlantic–or moving it up the seaboard–the prominent Muscovite’s backers, probably including not only Mayor Luzhkov but Vladimir Putin, who had begun to work in Moscow in the Department of residential Property Management; Trump was identified to bring the monument of the fifteenth century navigator to the New World as a new triumphant image of globalism.

John Alex Maguire/REX/
‘Birth of a New World’ by Zurab Tsereteli

The planned arrival of the monument designed by the court sculptor of Moscow’s mayor, Zurab Tsereteli, led Trump to gloat about the Neo-imperial visions of the fifteenth-century navigator raising his right hand to hail the world in an imperious neoclassical salutation of open address, that the sculpture was designed for his properties–“Zurab would like it to be at my [new] development,” blurring state and personal interests as only Trump can. While no one wanted the massive statue, which would long remain in limbo, the curious tracking of this gigantic monument spoke to Trump’s sense of grandiosity that may well have inflated his sense of himself as a global figure, and indeed paralleled the launching of Trump Properties on a global stage that makes one wonder about the power of monumentalism and Trump’s attraction to monumental art as a nexus of personal interests and state power.

The developer crowed about Zurab’s preferences as if to promote his new friendship with Moscow’s post-Soviet oligarchs’ preferred monument man, as well as to subtract himself from a grand affair of state that was working out around his land. The gambit to offer an apparent icon of patriotism, refracted through Tsereteli’s imperial lenses, shows an image of Columbus whose imposing presence stepped off a boat he apparently guided to the shores, hailing his presence before Christian-Imperial flags that double as the sails of the original caravel, an eery emissary of a new world order, offering no recognition of the inhabitants of this new land.

Trump was an unlikely medium of the monumental sculpture showing Columbus, hand raised in a gesture of imperial salute, as if victorious over a new continent, a statue that had itself in face mirrored the transatlantic voyage in traveling from Moscow, where it was cast, to the New World. And unlike the elegantly poised figure of Columbus poised contraposto Columbus standing elegantly atop a pedestal in Columbus Circle, the geometric center of New York City, the Columbus that Trump boasted to be built on rezoned landfill on the banks of the Hudson was Neo-imperial and gigantic in size. The sculpture that itself echoed the statue to Peter the Great of such massive proportions that had replaced the Soviet realist monuments of the past with a folksiness bordering on cartoons, in stone sculptures and brightly colored surfaces that captured Russian folklore and state emblems for the Russian Parliament in the White House, blurring state functions and public art with sacred art, who Moscow’s mayor acclaimed as a “new Michelangelo for our time.” When Trump celebrated the sculptor as both “major and legit” in 1997, was he only echoing the praise Luzhkov bestowed so lavishly on the Georgian-Russian sculptor whose work he had preferred as a new public language for state-sponsored art at a moment of historical change?

The comparison between Tsereteli and the papal sculptor Michelangelo, who was commissioned to design St. Peter’s dome by Pope Paul III, as a symbol of papal opulence and the chief architect of what would be the tallest dome then existing in the world, and a symbol of ecclesiastic grandeur, was telling. Boris Yeltsin visited the sculpture and called it “truly horrible;” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn bemoaned the “massive and third-rate memorials” by which Moscow was increasingly “disfigured” as such state largesse was conferred on a romanticized past so huge and immersive that it all but erased the present, and seemed an unlikely hybrid of the cinematic and the folk that seemed to be most distinguished by abdicating any ethical code of governmentality. The very overwhelming nature of monumentality seems to drown the viewer in a mythic sense of transcendence of the state, and rehabilitates an imperial sense of conquest as natural.

But the comparison to Michelangelo would of course have appealed at base to Trump’s vanity. What was the inspiration for its future placement on Trump’s property? He had returned from Moscow, “impressed with the potential” of Russia’s capital and, after meeting Moscow’s mayor, investigating the possibility of Russian backing for the luxury complexes in the post-Soviet era, when intelligence sources were hoping to cultivate new foreign ties. The power of Tsereteli’s statues lay in their increasing universal reproduction of that, as Bruce Grant has identified in his compelling analysis of patronage of Tsereteli’s public statuary in Moscow, keeps an imaginary state in public eye even in corrupt regimes, that in its immensity all but erases civil society–an aesthetic, or lack of one, that seems oddly similar to the illusion of a symbolics of prosperity that Trump International increasingly sustained. Grant ties Tsereteli’s ability to sustain an “artful prosperity in elite Russian circles” in the post-Soviet era not only as a sign of corruption, but of how corruption offer a set of practices that reconstitute the state.

The Columbus figure that serves as a symbol of a “New World”–a figure rewriting the notion of the Soviet “New Man” or “man of the future” to be created by socialism, a superman emblematic of a world of post-scarcity, a man of selfless individualism, the sculptures of Tsereteli remove the state from political practice, and indeed rewrite the relation of the realtor to the past, by providing an authoritarian image of globalism or globalization from Russia with Love.

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Filed under Columbus, commemoration, Donald J. Trump, national monuments, Zurab Tsereteli

Clipping Bears Ears

The recent demotion of Bear’s Ears and the Grand Staircase-Escalante as national monuments pose risk of a deepening widespread and almost inevitable alienation from public lands.  The tenuous status of public lands was apparent in the mandate of protection after intense lobbying of the American Petroleum Institute and other players in the energy industry to cut the limits of National Monuments across the United States, in ways that stand to redefined American West.  And even as our so-called President touts his relation to the common people, apart from the political class, the proprietary relation to public lands that he seeks to instill by removing protected lands of national monuments like Bears Ears stands sadly at odds with the longstanding image of the identification with the legends of the white man in the open space of the American west’s sun-drenched outdoors, whose landscape was open to the grit of white, male conquest of an empty space–although the decision to remove Bears Ears from the list of protected lands suggests an abandonment of that image of the heroic cowboy, replaced by the disillusioned world-weary post-industrialist capitalist character we seem to have as American President.

 

Trump and Wayne in western backdrop.jpg

 

For Trump has definitively moved away from that imaginary, and the image of the open frontier, or of this land is your land, this land is my land, into a vision where the very same land is now poised to be opened to mineral extraction and prospecting, reducing the area once identified with the West to an area defined by the priority of industrial claims, and transforming it to a terrain inviting the colonization by extractive industries.  With his pursed lips, and evasive eyes, turning his back on a monumental landscape of the West, President Trump appears oblivious the destruction of space to occur across the national monuments opened to prospective mining, extraction of resources, and mineral industries, as if to deny their history, and allow the big rigs of extractive industries to enter to repossess those areas they have claimed on the map.

The preservation of a national monument that would rejoin fragmentary Indian Lands, indeed, was the strategic scope of the declaration of the two regions as part of our protected national heritage, in an attentive to remove previously protected lands from mineral prospecting in southern Utah, with the aim to improving the local economy and attract investment to the state now represented by Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch, who have both advocated the proposal to open the region to prospectors, with far less concern for its future of the country–responding to heavy lobbying by uranium mining company Energy Fuels Resources, which provoked a widely criticized Interior Department review, Trump issued executive orders that shrunk the monument to newly reduced boundaries.  For Hatch, eagerly labeling the designation of the national monuments as “unjustified federal land grabs,” evoking the increasingly militant anti-federal lands movement, particularly strong in Utah, who act as if the government had hidden interests in staking claims to a territories form wildlife refuges, conservation areas, national parks, or national monuments, summons a misguided anti-government credo as a basis for ending public lands.

 


Protection of National Monument of Bears Ears would expand claims to native lands in Southern Utah/Joe Burgess for New York Times

 

In replacing a sense of “goods” for the nation worthy of protection by the federal government–the purpose of the Antiquities Act of 1906, which expanded executive ability to conserve areas for preservation of their historical or scientific interest–to a vision of the executive asfacilitating abilities for exploitation of national space, and ensuring energy extraction.

The result is to threaten fragile material evidence of the region’s prehistoric inhabitation in a site recently put off-limits to oil and gas exploration on account of its use value to extractive industries, contesting the inherent value of preserving an area that has been considered among the most “endangered” historical sites in America.

 

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The rewriting of what constitutes a national monument is quite a sense of a sharp change in history, marked by an inevitable separation of the landscape from the past.  The shift of Bears Ears from a site worthy of conservation,seems definitively erased as the revelation of the minerals, oil, and gas that lie beneath the ground within the earlier boundaries of the former National Monument.  The possibilities of extraction had been mapped in surveys of the mineral resources of the region, which focus not on the delicate nature of its environment; the map of minerals ignores sacred remains lying on the surface in its boundaries, and foreground them, rather than the delicate ecosystem of animals and pure water.  Indeed, its pollution would irreparably compromise the region, and replace the reasons cited for its historical and cultural value to its exchange value.

Are we in danger of mipmapping not only our national patrimony, but future?  It is almost as if Trump is following a new map, provided by the extractive industries with which he has thrown in his lot.  And in place of preserving individual sites of antiquity, this map shifts from the above-the-ground complex ecosystem and archeological ruins previously cited as warranting protection for future generations and for the nation:  what was a “good” for the nation is in the course of being redefined, as the underground “goods” able to be extracted displace those lying on the surface of a bioregion of southeastern Utah currently in danger of being compromised–even as the newest national monument in the intermountain desert protected by Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition largely in recognition of widespread evidence of its historic inhabitation.  While Trump argues at his own tribal rallies, exultantly insisting “we’re into [clean air and water” also, folks–but you don’t have to turn off all business!” even as the EPA rolls back clean air and water rules, the absence of attention to environmental preservation in the national monument is striking and mind boggling, if not a relinquishing of duty.

By revoking the region’s status as a national monument, and reducing the protected area to almost 80 percent of the current Bears Ears National Monument and the Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument by 45 percent, Trump has divided Bears Ears into two smaller regions, to allow access to the red, mineral-rich areas, in particular, following on the recommendations of his Interior Secretary drastically to shift the status of a considerable range of national monuments that would include the historic mesas.

 

 

The new geography of the national monument suggests a vision that is stubbornly and insistently reduced to mineral resources, flattening the historical value of the region and replacing any sense of its place by mapping it at a dangerous remove, and foregrounding the value of its industrial resources above its landscape.  Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History could not see the destruction of the open spaces of lands until after they have occurred, of course, at which point they lie at the feet of the Angelus Novus, who is propelled forward in time, seeing only the wreckage at his feet; but the rewriting of the material relation to the land–and the symbolic relation to the land–constitute a broad remapping of the place of the west and western lands within our minds.  If labor was the exploitation of nature for Benjamin, the exploitation of nature rests both on material labor, but the remapping of the landscape we once saw as part of historical memory as a nation to a material resource, destined to be opened to a growing energy market, and be converted into petroleum and gas.  Trump has, in short, turned his back on any romantic concept of the open spaces of the west, with some uncertainty, as he seems to take a step into an unknown future of open access to energy resources mapped as lying under these once hallowed grounds, which stand to become transformed into an industrialized landscape, and changed beyond recognition, without a sense of what we have lost.

We are in danger of losing any sense of the picture on the ground.  The map of resources seems to compromise the map of the land by local inhabitants, or indeed the picture of the region on the ground of a lived landscape, filled with rich traces, and freshwater streams, that has long held status as a sacred site in our national imaginary as a frontier.

 

Wlderness Photography Bears Ears

 

The accelerated arrival of an entirely new relation to the land, as extractive industries that has been used to demote Bears Ears from a nationoal monument stands to transform open spaces that were once identified with the mythos of the nation.  The resulting removal of all regulations that the reduction of national monuments would mean fails to understand the monument as an ecosystem of environmental integrity, and indeed the historical value of the lands as sites:  it is almost as if the difficulty of defining the value in a society which uses GPS to map locations on a UTM projection to locate mineral deposits and sites of potential petroleum drilling–and erases the holistic image of a vanishing landscape that has long been so central a part of our national patrimony.  For by reducing the land set aside in the National Monument to questions of cash flow, the administration seems to have decided to use a map to abstract the Bears Ears area to the value of resources hidden beneath its historic landscape.

 

Mesas of the Valley of the Gods in former Bears Ears National Monument near Blanding, Utah/Alex Goodlett for The New York Times

 

The revisionary mapping of public lands that has occurred within the Trump administration is no less than a dramatic revision of national priorities.  It reveals something like an amnesia of the relation to the land, now seen as an antiquated practice of political regulation, and a rhetoric of opening valuable historical regions to mineral prospecting, in ways that no President has ever elected to disrespect one of his predecessors by rescinding the area of a designated monument that a president has decided to set aside.  In ways that shifts our relation to our own futures and pasts, the remove of the landscape suggests a remapping of priorities and space, removing protections from red rock canyons where some 10,000 artifacts remain.  As parcels of that landscape increasingly stand to be leased to extractive industries, despite the fragmentation of open lands across western states.  Indeed, the encroaching the interests of the American Petroleum Institute on what was once understood as preserved wilderness has become a way to rewrite the state’s relation to federal lands, and indeed the patriotism of the protection of public lands of longstanding historical value.  In ways that reflect the deep anger at the protection lands negotiated by the Obama administration–and done so in a way that tried to involve community stakeholders over time, if concluded late in the Obama Presidency–and the obscuring of claims historically made from 1976-2010 alone in the region once defined as Bears Ears–

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–the division of the national monument into two rumps opens many of the areas where mining claims  were staked, and allows further claims to be made, as well as encourages easy transport of extracted materials from the historic grounds, by denying their claims to historical value.  Indeed, by reopening many of the BLM claims on the region, the decision to parse Bears Ears from a continuous monument seems a give-away to extractive industries.

The gains of that lobby in asserting their claims and rights to access mineral deposits and veins stands to emerge as one of the largest land grabs in American history, reshaping the notion of the protection of public lands and access allowed to drilling, pipelines, and mines on federal lands, as if definitively abandoning any concept of the value in their preservation for posterity.  Indeed, only by recasting the role of government as securing lands worthy of protection as a case of undue restraint on business can the dire effects of  the plans for expanding private leases on public lands be failed to be recognized as a shifting the preservation of historical legacies to permit widespread industrial leases on federal lands in ways that abandon and relinquish a clear long-term view of their value.  When Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke questioned whether a third of Interior employees were “loyal to the flag” before the National Petroleum Council, a petroleum industry group–and desired to reduce the “physical footprint” of the Interior Department by reducing the civil service employees who he sees as obstacles to opening up the permitting process for oil-drilling, logging, uranium mining, and energy development he sees as President Trump as having a legal mandate to accelerate, Zinke seems to make an end-run around the public custody or preservation of increasingly fragile lands of sacred resonance to many of the residents who most prize its integrity.

 

Bears Ears Buttes Big expanseGeorgy Frey, Getty Images/National Geographic

 

Valley of Gods, in Bears Ears National Monument 

 

Indeed, the agressively regressive attacks that the Trump administration has made on environmental regulations or responsible custodianship of public lands–leading states to file suit against the Environmental Protection Agency and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt for rolling back agency policies of designating areas of dangerously high ground-level ozone in unprecedented ways–is mirrored in the attack on protecting public lands, on which the Interior Secretary seems to have no endgame save leasing them to industry.  The agressiveness with which Zinke has taken aim at the government’s custodial role over wilderness and public lands–some of the few places where undisturbed ecologies exist–suggest a widespread attack on the notion of wilderness.  Is it possible that the Trump administration is preparing to excavate any federal mandate to protect historic lands, as well as to allow the expansion of extraction across previously protected lands?

When Interior Secretary Zinke complains “I can’t change the culture without changing the structure,” he suggests a broad disbanding of regulations accumulated over time with local groups after consideration of public impact that he wants to cast as obstructionists and arbitrary bureaucrats.  Yet when Zinke suggested that “Fracking is proof that God’s got a good sense of humor and he loves us,” he conjures a terrifying hybridization of manifest destiny and unrestrained corporate greed.  Zinke’s initial review of a full twenty-one National Monuments on federal land stand to change the landscape of the American west.  For in removing acreage of interest to private industry from federal protection, in a particularly short-sighted move under the quixotic banner of energy independence, the Trump administration seems bent on allowing the very federal lands protected by government for posterity to be treated as lots able to be leased for private development, without appreciation of their historical, cultural, or sacred value.  The map of National Monuments under “review” suggest a euphemism analogous to downsizing, and a shift in the conception of the custody of national lands–including the Grand Canyon–that seems to prepare for the excavation of what were the most protected federal lands.

 

 

Reduced Monuments

 

The expansion of national monuments currently designated “under review”–which has led to the recent declaration shrinking Bears Ears and renaming two protected areas that constitute but a rump of the once National Monument he Obama administration named after substantive negotiation with local stake-holders, reveal the dangerously unconsidered course by which protected public lands stand to be declassified in order to meet the demands of private industries, many of whom have already mapped mineral deposits or previously leased mines in their ground.  Zinke tweeted images of how he rode to his first day as Secretary on Interior on a horse named Tonto, sporting a ten gallon hat, flanked by the US Park Police, in a coded gesture to fulfill the demands of farmers and outdoorsmen:  the self-designated cowboy of Trump’s cabinet was on his way to eliminate protected status of federal lands, ready to remap most delicate open areas for extractive industries and the environmentally toxic mining and drilling of fossil fuels, in the name of energy independence:  if intended to evoke Theodore Roosevelt’s commitment to the outdoors, the dark garb and black hat suggested apt funereal garb to preside over the dismemberment of the American West.  But the usurpation of an identity as a cowboy outdoorsman in which Zinke has cultivated seems an apt metaphor, if unintentional, for the disenfranchisement of native inhabitants of a land that has been hold sacred for generations, and is a priceless repository for cultural artifacts and prehistoric ruins, as well as a priceless fossil record of dinosaur bones.

 

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Zinc’s cultivation of the image of a cowboy outdoorsman who loves western open lands exemplifies a dangerous sort of double-dealing.  For his policies he adopts run rampant over protection of the most fragile federal lands.   And despite presenting a public face of affection for the outdoors concealing the agenda of energy industries to shift the landscape of the American West, the re-dimensioning of public lands and National Monuments opens them to coal industries and petroleum and uranium mining.

The redrawing of Bears Ears is isolated, but foretells a terrible vision of the curtailment of federal lands by future leasing, drilling, and mining–at the same time as curtailing access to parks by substantially raising their entrance fees nationwide.  Nowhere are the fears of opening lands to drilling more feared than in the Alaska’s Wildlife Refuge.   Yet under the quixotic directive of ensuring “American energy dominance” the koan of the Trump administration, and the meaningless slogan “Energy Is Good,” the charge to remove regulations on coal, drilling, and oil pipelines are cast as a means to confirm our prosperity and energy independence as a nation, in deeply misguided ways that are based only on doublespeak, but epitomized by the withdrawal of any sense of custody for the increased scarcity of undisturbed open lands, or an obligation to future Americans.

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Filed under American West, Bears Ears, environmental preservation, federal land protection, national monuments