Memorial for Queer Rhyolite, a temporary monument to dreams in the dust
Memorial for Queer Rhyolite, a temporary monument to dreams in the dust is a public work originally installed for the inaugural Bullfrog Biennial at the Goldwell Open Air Museum in October 2019. The piece memorializes a 1980s dream to establish “Stonewall Park,” a queer utopian effort aimed for Rhyolite, NV, a ghost town that lies on Western Shoshone land between Death Valley National Park and the Nevada Test Site. In the 1980s, a gay couple with a small following tried to purchase Rhyolite with the hopes to escape discrimination during the height of the AIDS epidemic and create a peaceful, openly-queer community. But after relentless protest from the surrounding area, and lack of critical funding, they had to abandon their dreams. I felt compelled to memorialize their effort and shed light on their story, while also honoring the many sadnesses of their struggle. Both ephemeral and future-gazing, the work asks, did they really fail?
Memorial for Queer Rhyolite, a temporary monument to dreams in the dust is a column of packed desert sand and mine tailings. The form at the top represents the “home” they sought. Held together only with water, it will eventually crumble, burying the tiny monument hidden inside: “here lie dreams of Stonewall Park, a safe and peaceful place.”
I discovered the story of Stonewall Park as my partner and I wandered the desert, also seeking a new home. I referenced the Stonewall Park Collection from the UNLV Lied Library Special Collections and Archives. The Bullfrog Biennial 2019 was curated by Sierra Slentz.
Thanks to The Washington Post for mentioning this project while remembering the history of Stonewall Park.
Read my essay Queer Cities and Their Temporary Monuments, written for Nevada Humanities.
Read about my approach to working with archives from Engaging Collections and UNLV Special Collections.
Featured in Stacker's Landmark LGBTQ+ history in every state.
Amy brought me to the Mojave desert when we fell in love. I was in a state of constant mobility as I sought a queer ecotopia through my work. Here in this new landscape where bold stripes of iron-rich red rocks meet bright sand dunes and powerful forests of its famous icon, the Joshua tree, we search for home. We visit nearby Rhyolite, a Nevada ghost town featuring the crumbling shells of old buildings and lurking mineshafts abandoned when the gold ran out. We hold hands under the blazing sun. In the 1980s, a gay couple wanted to purchase the ruins of this town to create a community where queer people could live openly, free of discrimination during the height of the AIDS epidemic. But after relentless homophobic and racist protest from the surrounding area, they abandoned their dreams. Recently, more gold has been discovered and mining may begin near Rhyolite again. I wonder if a latent queer space still lies here, waiting to be rediscovered, or if I’ve caught the glitter of fool’s gold.
I want to create a radically small Memorial for Queer Rhyolite, a reminder of my queer ancestor’s dreams lied to rest near the ghost town that looks out over the rainbow-colored mountains. Perhaps it is made of metal, able to stand the test of time and converse with the future. Perhaps it is made of sand, and fades quickly, again lost to the desert winds of time and change.