Kevin Hamilton: Mount of the Holy Cross

The Mount of the Holy Cross has been my entry point into exploring the construction of race and racism through place and space.

I chose this site, and Colorado as a larger political entity, because of its central role in my own moral education about civic space, land, and Belief. This line of work for me is a first attempt at trying to describe and see my own "whiteness" - whiteness as a racist ethic - when as a white male I'm of course largely allowed to pass as unmarked..

The mining ruins that litter the Colorado mountainscape emerge like the wildlife,unseen at first but revealing of a presence upon the land. To my eyes a scan across a mountainside there usually registers an untouched or even unreachable space, a place not even hospitable to the flora and trees I'm used to from the older mountains in the American east. To then glimpse the mining ruins, camouflaged through age, calls to mind (white) humanity as an alien presence on that scape. From afar, the remnants of human presence appear obviously alien in a way that bears the colonizing promise of a satellite in space or a modernist slab, and the colonizing threat of a first encounter.

Up close, the same ruins call much different things to mind. One is reminded of the hardship of living in those spaces, the threat to working bodies. Consecutive failed attempts at reworking the earth are revealed through a palimpsest of materials and signage from successive eras of mining engineering.

But for me it's all too easy to separate myself from those spaces. Even walking among them, I can extract myself from "those" histories. With the Mount of the Holy Cross, I'm less easily extricated. Is it really a cross in the mountains?...I activate it by looking at it. A matter of subjective perception, but of subjectivity constructed and informed by centuries of violence.

In the 1920's, the Cross became a site of religious pilgrimage while still remote enough to require great sacrifice by travelers. Entrepreneurs eager to see their mining prospects improved by roads and rails grabbed on to the religious fervor, and pushed for state- sponsored construction toward improved access for the faithful. They got what they wanted, the Mount became a National Monument, with all the funding and attention attached. New mining towns appeared around the Mount, and as Colorado filled with new white workers from the East (the Utes long relocated to New Mexico or Western Colorado), the State began to brew with tensions around its own distinct identity in relation to Eastern politicians and barons. The Klan took hard hold at that time, and many a poor mining worker in the mountains joined the efforts of white monied Denverites to unite around the purity of race. Colorado saw a Governor elected on a Klan platform, and Denver a mayor. For a while in the thirtes, during the
Mount's greatest popularity, the Klan controlled the State, including most of the Supreme Court and police force.

The mines began to decline as the State's great economic promise just as WWII gripped America. Around the Mount, the Army set up a large military base that cut off access for the religious faithful for decades. Colorado's "skiing soldiers" later returned from Europe after the War to start all of today's largest ski resorts, and Colorado found itself a new industry. Moving into the Cold War, the base finally looked to close, its last act serving as a training ground for Tibetan soldiers later dropped into Communist China and never heard
from again. By that time, all the surrounding mines had long closed. The Mount is again accessible, but at its base one finds Gilman, a former Viacom-owned mining town closed to all and sitting atop a Superfund site.


A Conversation : Eye and Gut (Mickey Smith)


Overheard at the Circulation Desk

E Back then periodicals represented a tangible common culture
around shared interests, shared standards, shared identities.

G The content I am looking for is, how blood and guts transmute
into books and then into your image and then into our brains

E But looking at them past their expiration dates
has the opposite effect!

G Still I would find it boring to read 'how ' something works as a
pharmakon. Once one can 'say' what it 'is' is it no longer effective
as a spell?

E Publications seem insufficient. The audience for them is a
universe of disparate and disunited lives loosely bound.

G Just imagine coming upon these bindings. How you felt when you found them in the stacks.

E A library was the lifeblood of culture, and the central repository of
intellectual activity.

G Against the cold outside the radiators shutter and pop.

E The written word goes there to die.

G You wander into the general medicine archive circa 1970. To your surprise you spy an unfamiliar sequence.

E Printed matter enters its period of neglect.

G When I was in art school worked as a shelver in a medical library.

E The titles represent a serial aspiration on the part of an
immigrant nation toward a finally resolved sense of identity.

G I worked nights.

E We think now of the library as a cemetery

G A sick sweet smell of farts and dust intermingles with sweat.

(Mickey Smith press release with anonymous remix)


Eliza Fernbach: Rushing to Your Death?


In 2001 at an empty French airport I was shoved aside by a harried "fonctionnaire". Searching the vast space around me for some potential hazard, I found nothing apparently dangerous and I wondered why, given the room available, this person needed to shove me.

On one of the highways that lead into the great rushing metropolis of New York I wonder in much the same way as cars speed past narrowly missing each others' bumpers, sides and spewing smoke from their neglected engines.

At the airport my knee-jerk response was to cry out "Rushing to Your Death?" The man stepped onto the escalator at that moment and stood quite still staring at me as the moving stairs smoothly carried him aloft. It was a moving pause. The question is now embedded in my psyche and my work, I have been posing it by way of various media ever since. Pascal suggested we stop and reflect- every artist is in some way dedicated to precipitating this full stop.

So to the Pharmakon...and rushing, I suppose, to your death or to anything. Christina invited me to ponder this intriguing duality when we met at the Book Arts Fair in New York this Fall and talked about illness and velocity. I'm not sure a billboard, a question or even speed itself have duality but Kevin's references to skepticism and enchantment struck me as very apt lens' through which to look at the potentially fatal nature of speed and at the same time the exhilarating super-heroic possibility of eternity that supersonic nay even super-galactic speed suggests.

Until now there was no upside to speeding for me. It is dangerous, it burns more gas and it blurs vivid color into dull greyness. But in the world of Superman and since he's been in the news Batman too- speed actually allows for time travel. More so for Superman who can really go back in time and well, isn't that the most enchanting way of imagining REALLY slowing down? Slowing so much you can actually re-do something...And so, if you don't speed you may get a little closer to Superman by not HAVING to re-do anything because you did it slowly enough to get it as right as it needs to be.

The only time I have seen speed enchantingly benefit anyone was when it was combined with precision. A tap dancer navigated a contemplative labyrinth I had set up and I was amazed at how he maximized his passage and his experience of the journey. Perhaps that is why speed has doses on the highway. It is poison at one point and er, shall I say useful if not healing at another.

There's something in Jacques Prévert's quip about the passage of time that touches this duality of velocity..." Time,you say that it passes just as it stops to sit down and watch you go by."

So is the billboard a sort of pharmakon? I'm not sure. It certainly made some people irate enough to submit poisoned reactions in the comment section of the accompanying website and inspired others to enchanting, maybe even healing epiphanies which they graciously shared with me too.

I suffered pretty rugged symptoms with chemical and environmental sensitivity myself and found the use of antigens successful in healing my broken immune system. As a result I am no longer a skeptic about the importance of moderation and the idea albeit more and more a fairytale that there is "Just enough, just exactly enough of something" and finding it can be a real joy ride.

-Eliza Fernbach


Kevin Hamilton: "Magic Wand Tool"


He stood transfixed.There was his blessed mountain in all its magnificence. Unknowingly, he removed his hat and bowed his head humbly. Tears welled in his eyes. He dashed them away and focused his gaze again on this miraculous symbol. And while he gazed, the clouds folded together again- a curtain closing before a wondrous spectacle. -Clarence S. Jackson, 1952

Kevin Hamilton: "Healing Brush Tool"


For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality,when the perishable has been clothed wit the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." "Where , O Death, is your victory? Where , O Death, is your sting?"

I Corinthians 15: 53-55

Kevin Hamilton: Pharmakon "Clone Stamp Tool"


Over one of the largest and finest, the snow-fields lay in the form of an immense cross, and by this it is known in all the mountain views of the territory. It is as if God has set his sign, his seal, his promise there, a beacon upon the very center and height of the continent to all its people and all its generations. -Samuel Bowles,1869

Kevin Hamilton: Pharmakon Rocky Mountain High

Kevin Hamilton

The Mount of the Holy Cross is a real place, and one of Colorado's highest peaks. Each summer the winter snow melts away first from the mountain's rock face, and last from the two ravines that form the snowy shape of a cross. Hidden behind other high peaks in the vicinity of former mining towns and present-day ski resorts, the Mount is only visible from either very close or very far. As a result, this hard-to-reach location achieved the
status of lore and legend until the Hayden Survey finally mapped and measured the peak in 1873.

During that same visit, photographer William Henry Jackson captured an image of the cross that would serve him in various iterations throughout his career. Reproductions of his famous picture found their way into countless American
homes; painter Thomas Moran borrowed from Jackson's image for a popular and epic painting.

For many, this white cross served as divine confirmation of the right of white men to possess the land. The "red" Utes were forcibly removed from the Rockies, while the Mount was made a National Monument, an economic
boon to tourism and mining. Only when the surrounding forests were claimed by the military for Camp Hale during World War II did the Holy Cross begin to fade from the public imagination. By the time Camp Hale closed in the 1960s, re-allowing public access to the Cross, religious faith had been successfully confined to the private domain, and no longer a subject for collective civic attention. No longer a National Monument, the Mount today is a popular destination for "peak-baggers" in their quest to climb all of Colorado's mountainsthat measure over 14,000 feet in elevation.

Zippy the Pinhead is the subject of a syndicated comic strip by artist William "Bill" Henry Jackson Griffith, great-grandson of the photographer William Henry Jackson. In the Summer of 2008, Zippy finally paid a visit
to the Mount of the Holy Cross, where he posed for a photograph and answered some questions from artist and fan Kevin Hamilton.

KH: Zippy, it's pretty high up here above the treeline - are you newly inspired by the oxygen-thin air, the unfiltered UV rays, the glinting skin of commercial airliners?

ZP: Actually, I just keep thinking about Ferris wheels!

KH: Really? Don't the vast views and unspoiled tundra leave you feeling closer to the divine?

ZP: I don't know, something about the total absence of Cracker Barrels and Toyota Scions just leaves me dizzy.

KH: Maybe you need to drink more water. Do you think the Ferris wheel is some repressed memory from your childhood, revived by the sight of the 1000-foot cross of snow before us?

ZP: No, I never wore white. A muu-muu isn't a robe exactly, and the hood gets in the way of my MYSTICAL THIRD EYE.

KH: Yeah, I keep meaning to ask you - what have you got against pants anyway? I hear that Schlitzie the Pinhead wore a dress because of the incontinence caused by microcephaly.

ZP: Yes, tectonic plates are moving even as we speak! The mountains sing of an impending ideological earthquake!

KH: No, Zippy, that's just more unexploded ordnance down the hill at Camp Hale. Some poor hiker probably just lost his shit.

ZP: You would too if you'ld just seen the ghost of Orion W. Daggett!

KH: The storied newspaperman of Red Cliff! If only his dream of a highway to the Cross had come to life. Then we'd be standing on a real tourist mecca.

ZP: Well I've always been a believer.

KH: Me too! But what good is a private fantasy? Don't you long for the old days, when thousands trekked up this peak to hold mass in the morning light?

ZP: There's plenty of light! Just take the picture!

KH: I know, you're probably right. Who needs another mass cult in the snow? Besides, with global warming there won't be enough snow anyway, the cross will be gone.

ZP: Pine beetles! Kludd and Kleagle! Is there a sequel?

....It seems to me that the "magic" power of a pharmakon comes
from its duality, no? It's magic when a poison heals me, or when a
remedy kills me.

There's a lot going against this in the modernities I know. We moderns
don't believe in magic - we either rationalize it away or banish it to
the domain of counter-rational romanticism. To read subjectivity into
the pharmakon - to allow the poison to be a poison only to whom it
kills - is to kill it. Or maybe it's the other way around - we
construct subjectivity through splitting the pharmakon's powers.

Within an enchanted world, the pharmakon will still be a poison even
for the person it cures - it will still be a remedy even for the
person it poisons. The power in the thing grants it ontology apart
from our perception of it. In the disenchanted world, the pharmakon
will be only a poison to the dead and will only be a remedy to the
cured. The thing only exists for the receiver.

We can look, for example, to the function of the Colorado Rockies as a
pharmakon for white Americans, seeking a pastoral remedy from their
urban/suburban lives.

As a modern skeptic, I can divide the poison from the remedy, and see
how what heals me there in my fancy hiking boots is what kills the
place and the people displaced by white settlement. I'm racist without
meaning to be - sounds like the definition of white guilt.

But what if that's too subjective for the pharmakon? Can I look at how
what's healing me is also a poison to me, in addition to looking at it
as a poison to someone else?

Is my Rocky Mountain High a poison to me as well, a changing agent
within me, that I exist in those spaces as someone who benefits from
genocide? I think so. But it's hard to get my modern mind around - I
fall so easily into displacing the evil done by attending to my own
positive or negative transformation.....