The Road of a Thousand Wonders
I first came across "The Road of a Thousand Wonders" researching something else entirely. While looking through newspaper clippings in a local archive, a postcard fell out. The image was of a striking Neo-Baroque building with a tall central clock tower, pointed terracotta arches, abundant windows, and circular turrets. It seemed to call out to you from the 19th century. The dark rusticated blocks of red sandstone were imposing; it looked built to last. It didn't. The first large courthouse in Los Angeles, it was erected in 1888 and razed in 1936. The upper right hand corner of the image read "On the Road of a Thousand Wonders".
During the early 20th century, "The Road of a Thousand Wonders" was the promotional name given to the Southern Pacific railroad line running from Los Angeles, California to Portland, Oregon. This particular line, like many others still in use today, was surveyed and first laid out in the 19th century, before the advent of the automobile. These early surveyors relied heavily on old walking trails, following the traces of previous travelers. They found their way through the landscape by following a path of least resistance; drawing a line that utilized natural grades that were not too steep, curves mild enough for the trains of the time, and maximizing level ground. The routes of that time were laid upon, rather than through, the landscape.
Automobile roads would later follow the first rail lines. Over time, new roads realigned the old routes. The highways grew wider and straighter, bypassing small communities. We know the old roads today as "business loops" and "scenic byways". "The Road of a Thousand Wonders" follows roughly the original Camino Real upon which Spanish missionaries built a system of religious outposts up the Southern California coast. Portions of highway 101 would later be built to follow this course. Farther north, Interstate 5 pursues the old line. These roads are literal palimpsests, offering traces of man's movement through the land.
The history of these early railroad lines contributed to the public's perception of the West. Early 20th century boosterism enticed western migration, which increased railroad ticket sales. The Southern Pacific Railroad Company invested heavily in printing postcards that depicted views along their routes. "The Road of a Thousand Wonders" series is a visual record of a particular kind of looking at a particular time. The traditional landscapes and city views traffic in, while simultaneously helping to establish, the clichés of western imagery. What might traveling that road look like today? Where might it take us?
by Sharon Lockhart
At this point, it is a cliché to say that we live in an era of information overload. With all the emails, web-surfing and media each person faces in a day, it is a fact of life. Yet in all that information, there is much that is overlooked. We are more likely to look forward for new forms and content than carefully back at the information stream itself. Greg Wilken's investigations of lost or overlooked archival material involve detailed research and conceptual analysis. He looks for those places in which the information society becomes explicit: in which histories define the landscape, in which the bureaucracy attempts to cover up it's tracks, in which media shape the nature of spectacle. Almost all his projects involve elegant self-published books in addition to photographs and/or films. His work is literary in the sense that it is fascinated with the language of images and archives, and it carefully mines, both looking for ways to pick apart that language and see how it relates to economic, political, and social histories.
Greg Wilken in a Los Angeles based artist. He received a BFA with a concentration in photography from Otis College of Art & Design and an MFA from the University of Southern California.
Sharon Lockhart is a Los Angeles based artist working in photography and film. Her work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at institutions worldwide, including the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, Kunsthalle Zürich, Kunstverein Hamburg, the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Musem in St. Louis, and the Vienna Secession. In the fall of 2011, her installation Lunch Break will be on view at MUMOK in Vienna and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Espai d'art Contemporani in Castelló, Spain in the winter of 2012. Her latest exhibition, SHARON LOCKHART NOA ESHKOL, will open at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem in December 2011, followed by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in May 2012.