The video featured on the start page of our German website, Hogup Pumping Station, 2014, single channel HD video with sound, as well as the video on our English website, Lakeside, 2012, single channel HD video with sound, were both created by Herwig Turk, in the context of his research project The Bonneville Laboratory at the Great Salt Lake in the U.S. State of Utah. Since 2005 the Austrian artist has developed a series of videos and installations, for example, INVERSUM (2008), Lakeside (2012), Clymanbay (2013), Hogup Pumping Station (2014), and his most recent work Linescape (2016). The project’s title, The Bonneville Laboratory, refers to prehistoric Lake Bonneville, now dried up, which existed until the Pleistocene 14,500 years ago, covered more than 51,000 square kilometers, and extended into today’s State of Nevada. One of its remnants is the Great Salt Lake. This now desertified region is named after Benjamin Bonneville (1796–1878), a French-born officer in the U.S. army who in the first half of the nineteenth century conducted explorations of the American West on behalf of the government.
In his Bonneville Laboratory video and photographic works Herwig Turk approaches the conditions under which time and space is perceived within a landscape of extremes that by nature of its barrenness and hostility questions our very notion of “landscape”. Utilizing a variety of media Herwig Turk pursues a visual narrative that seeks a revision of the cliché-ridden reception of American Land art of the 1960s and 1970s, the historiography of which continues to be dominated by attention to monumental earth works by artists such as Robert Smithson, Michael Heinzer, or Walter De Maria. Exponents of Land art produced their works in remote locations like the Great Salt Lake and the Lake Bonneville region, a purported protest against the established art system in America. The dimensions and natural materials of Land art, the selection of remote desert regions as the locations of their production and reception, sought to create a unique aesthetic experience in stark contrast to the traditional experience of art in urban venues. The arid landscapes in the American West, accessible only with difficulty, were imagined to be endless, timeless, and without any history, and thus promised to provide the artists with a new form of aesthetic autonomy which could not be appropriated for the commercial interests and exploitation by museums and private galleries. This founding myth of the Land art movement, to locate their artworks in terrain that was empty or ahistorical and thus to break spatially and ideologically with the art system, Herwig Turk seeks to deconstruct. In his works he documents the toxic legacy and how the deserts of the American West — long before Land art discovered them — were shaped by human technology, for example, by uranium mining or being used by the U.S. military as a testing ground and for restricted facilities. For instance, the Dugway Proving Ground (DPG) has been utilized by the U.S. military since 1941 for testing biological and chemical weapons, and also the restricted facility Utah Test and Training Range (UTTR), which is near Spiral Jetty, an icon of American Land art, created in 1970 by Robert Smithson. Scars and marks on the land, visible on aerial photographs, reveal the Utah desert has been turned into an outdoor laboratory or a large field for experiments — an apocalyptic place — as a landscape that is profoundly affected by the deployment of weapons and technology; something that Land artists like Robert Smithson somehow managed to ignore completely.
Herwig Turk lives and works in Vienna and Lisbon. His projects and artworks engage with the fields of art, technology, and science. From 2010 to 2013 he was Artist in Residence at the IMM (Instituto da Medicina Molecular), Lisbon. From 2003 to 2009 he worked with Paulo Pereira, Director of the Centre of Ophthalmology at IBILI (Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Life Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Coimbra. Recent exhibitions of Herwig Turk’s work include shows at the MAK Museum für angewandte Kunst, Vienna, the Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul, the Neues Museum Weserburg, Bremen, the TESLA Labor für Medienkunst, the Georg Kargl Gallery, Vienna, and the Transmediale festival, Berlin. He is currently preparing a solo show for the MMKK (Museum Moderner Kunst Kärnten), which will open at the end of September 2016, Herwig Turk. Landschaft = Labor. Since 2014 he teaches as Senior Artist at the Institute of Social Design, University of Applied Arts Vienna.