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 piece installed for the inaugural Bullfrog Biennial at the Goldwell Open Air Museum in October 2019. A small group of LGBTQ people in the 1980s came here to establish “Stonewall Park,” a city where queer people could live safely and peacefully during a time of rampant homophobia in the US. They tried to purchase the ghost town of Rhyolite, NV, an abandoned mining town in ruins between Death Valley and the Nevada Test Site. They suffered violent protest from the surrounding area, and unable to raise critical funding, they abandoned their dreams. This column of desert sand and displaced mine tailings will eventually crumble, burying a tiny monument that lies inside: “here lie dreams of Stonewall Park, a safe and peaceful place.” I felt compelled to memorialize their effort and continue their story, knowing in my heart they didn’t fail.
I discovered the story of Stonewall Park as my partner and I wandered the desert, also seeking a new home, trying to decide between rammed earth and sand castles. I referenced the Stonewall Park Collection from the UNLV Lied Library Special Collections and Archives. The Bullfrog Biennial 2019 was curated by Sierra Slentz.
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 strange forests of its famous icon, the Joshua tree, we search for home. We visit nearby Rhyolite, a gold-rush-era ghost town with nothing left but 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 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 wanted 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.