Luttrell’s current body of work entitled “No Man’s Land” brings forth a nuanced portrayal of CaliforniaCity, California. Located on 80,000 acres of Mojave Desert land, real estate developer Nat Mendelsohn purchased the site in the 1950’s with the intention of creating the next great city in California, rivaling Los Angeles in its size. Mendelsohn’s vision never became reality, however, and as of 2010, 14,120 people called California City home living amongst unbuilt roads and empty cul-de-sacs that were intended to become a place where California’s middle class could flourish.
No Man’s Land includes a series of digital images created through a process where Luttrell printed photographs that she took and re-scanned them, manipulating the photographs as the scanner processed the image. The result is a set of arresting works that take representational images and re-imagine them as abstracted landscapes that recall the bent light rays produced by mirages. By introducing this element, Luttrell keenly draws a connection between the false visions evoked by a mirage and the failed utopian project that California City has become.
The word utopia has become synonymous with the idea of a “perfect society”. However, upon consideration of its definition, one realizes that the egalitarian ideals of a utopian society contradict the capitalistic power structures that dominate the globalized world. What’s to be made of the fact that California City, a failed attempt at building out a utopian enclave, sits in ruins? Do the works suggest the impossibility of escaping capitalism? Luttrell’s works could be read as a parable warning us of an impending apocalypse unless we can figure out how to embrace a more balanced, financially equal society.
The desert landscape as a subject matter also recalls images of the devastating effects of Global Warming. One of the primary reasons for California City’s demise was the intense dust storms that rolled through the planned city’s unpaved streets which is evoked in the video “desert dust”. It seems more than coincidence that this reality has been mirrored in the collapse of towns across Texas (and the World) that have literally dried up due to the devastating effects of climate change.
Luttrell’s portrayal of the demise of this modern ghost town leaves us to ask ourselves – do we continue to stay the course at the risk of creating a world dotted with our own versions of California City?
-David Yun, Director of Backstock Gallery