Pending Cipher for the Open Present
A series of ten billboards from El Paso, Texas to Deming, New Mexico along interstate 10.
This project is a part of Los Angeles Nomadic Division's LAND Manifest Destiny Billboard Project, a series of billboards and activations that unfolded along interstate 10 from Jacksonville, Florida to Los Angeles, California through spring 2015.
The billboards were constructed by culling materials from two faux-historical sites: the Los Lunas Decalogue Stone near Los Lunas, NM, and the ruin of a buried film set used in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments located in Guadalupe, CA. The ten billboards depict text from the Decalogue Stone, believed by many as an attempt at writing the Ten Commandments in a fabricated language derived from Cypriot Greek and a form of paleo-Hebrew. The stone was purportedly found by archaeologist Frank Hibben who was known to fabricate archaeological evidence to support his theory that another unknown civilization made pre-Columbian contact with North America. It has since been a highly contested site within the epigraphic and local archaeological communities since it is situated within a Native American site with petroglyphs on adjacent rock faces. When a carbon dating test was to be performed on the rock face where the Decalogue inscription was written, local proponents of Hibben pressure washed and scrubbed the surface so no test could be performed which has led to the ongoing debate about it's authenticity, and led to even more projection into its provenance. After working with an epigrapher the text was loosely translated so different phrasings and words could be lifted and appropriated for re-writing The Ten Commandments.
Cecil B DeMille's first attempt at adapting the Biblical story of Exodus in The Ten Commandments (1923) and its ruin in Guadalupe California is a part of an ongoing project Excavation II. The site of burial composes layers of screen memories embodied in archaeological artifacts, a registered historical site that masquerades as the original, and a site at which geographic expansion west, and the fantasy associated with it, met it's own metaphoric end. The film was produced in Guadalupe California due to it being a perfect geographic proxy for ancient Egypt in the Western imagination with rolling sand dunes that lead to the Pacific Ocean which made it an ideal site for filming Moses' parting of the Red Sea. The images used on the billboards were taken at the site of where DeMille had the famous film set loaded with dynamite, blown up, and buried after the filming wrapped.
Taken together, the billboards address complex and layered notions of history where it seems historical consciousness has entered an age of dissociation from memory, which in turn has become a possible object of history. The billboards connote the ancient past and distant future, by both literally and figuratively excavating and conflating narratives.
In Spring of 2015 a local truck driver was interviewed by the Las Cruces Sun News in regards to the billboards and was quoted:
"I was beginning to wonder if it was some kind of threat or warning. You never know, we’re close to the border and you think that ISIS or some other subversives might be trying to get at us."
This sentiment of terrorism was later mirrored by Michael Flynn, Donald Trump's short lived National Security Advisor in regards to the billboards. In an interview with Brietbart he was quoted:
"I know from my friends in the Border Patrol in CBP that there are… radical Islamist countries, state-sponsored, that are cutting deals with Mexican drug cartels for some of what they call the lanes of entry into our country. And I have personally seen the photos of the signage along those paths that are in Arabic… they’re like way points along that path as you come in. Primarily in this case the one that I saw was in Texas and it’s literally… signs in Arabic… [that say] ‘this way, move to this point’…"