A UT alumnae road trip inspired the newest installation at the Visual Arts Center


Marshall Tidrick

UT alumna Maia Schall works on setting up the exhibit "Girls Gone West" at the Center Space gallery at the Visual Arts Center on Wednesday afternoon. The exhibit, created by Schall and several friends, will be on display from Jan. 31 to March 8. 

Eleanor Dearman

For their senior spring break in 2012, UT studio art alumnae Ally Acheson-Snow, Karina Eckmeier, Maia Schall, Allie Underwood and Chantal Wnuk used their undergraduate professional travel grant to travel 3,600 miles and visit famous Earthworks. 

These pieces, located in New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada and Texas, are artworks created from the materials found in the surrounding environment.

The trip resulted in a final gallery exhibit, “Girls Gone West,” which opened at the Visual Arts Center on Friday. 

“A lot of students want to go to New York or Los Angeles or other big art capitals and go to museums and galleries, and we decided we wanted to do something different and see these other artworks that weren’t accessible in that same way,” Schall said. 

Over 10 days, the girls visited “Spiral Jetty” and “Amarillo Ramp” by Robert Smithson, “Double Negative” by Michael Heizer and “Sun Tunnels” by Nancy Holt. They also later visited “The Lightning Field” by Walter de Maria in New Mexico a little more than a year after the first trip, since the piece was closed during their spring break.

The pieces were completely set in nature. For instance, “Spiral Jetty” is a large spiral made from basalt rock that can be seen in the Great Salt Lake in Utah. 

“It’s totally different than going to a gallery and seeing a painting on the wall because the trip there is part of the
experience; also, the context of the work is extremely important, so the surrounding landscape is a huge part of it,” Wnuk said. “Those are all things you can’t experience just through photos. You actually have to go and see the work.”

The artists got lost on multiple occasions and had many unanticipated roadblocks during their trip. Some of these were just bad luck, such as when the girls were forced to sit in their car and wait for a herd of about a thousand sheep to cross the road. Other challenges occurred because many of the sites were hard to find because of natural factors, such as weathering and erosion.

“Because [the pieces] are so site-specific and they’re built from the land, they sort of start to blend in with the landscape,” Schall said. “Part of that is time taking over and the elements having an effect on the works.”

Although the art inspired by the road trip is being displayed together as “Girls Gone West,” the exhibit is made up of the artists’ separate works of art. 

“I think each piece is really our individual reactions and the way that we approached the pieces and the way that we think about them afterwards,” Schall said. “I think that trip really affected a lot of the things that we think about as artists and that has continued on to what we’ve made since the trip.” 

One of the pieces is a series of videos featuring Eckmeier’s alter ego, Corey, a strong and feminine character named after a body builder. In these videos, Eckmeier sets up difficult obstacles for Corey to complete. 

“For ‘Spiral Jetty,’ I swam the jetty, using the jetty as a lane because we found it underwater,” Eckmeier said. “For ‘Amarillo Ramp,’ I ran the ramp and touched the end.”

The drive from location to location became just as important as seeing the pieces. 

“Another important thing about the trip is it wasn’t just going to the works,” Wnuk said. “We really embraced the journey in between.”

Wnuk, Eckmeier and Schall all said that some of the best parts of the road trip were the things other than the Earthworks. 

“So we went places like the Grand Canyon, Cadillac Ranch, et cetera,” Wnuk said. “We embraced the idea of the American westward road trip, which is kind of a romantic thing.”