Mythic journey


Artist Jeff Erickson sits alongside part of his landscape sculpture, <i>Argonaut</i>. The letters are about six inches deep, illuminated from beneath, and use about a thousand pounds of salt.

Artist Jeff Erickson sits alongside part of his landscape sculpture, Argonaut. The letters are about six inches deep, illuminated from beneath, and use about a thousand pounds of salt.

Photo By Nicholas Higman

It was dusk on Sunday. I bundled up, and with detailed directions in hand, loaded myself into the car and set out to Lemmon Valley en route to Hungry Valley. I was off to view Argonaut, an on-site installation by Reno artist Jeff Erickson.

This was the second of the two-night presentation of Argonaut. Erickson estimated that more than 130 people experienced the outdoor installation the first night in freezing, stormy conditions. For those who missed both nights of the on-site experience, a documentary exhibition of the installation runs through tonight, April 24, at Grayspace Gallery; a closing reception will take place from 6 to 8 p.m.

I’d learned two things from friends I’d talked to who’d been there the night before: Wait until dark to experience Argonaut, and make sure you follow the directions exactly—because, since the piece can only be found after traveling over five miles of rough dirt roads, it’s easy to get lost.

Argonaut, inspired by the Greek myth of the hero Jason and the crew of his ship, the Argo, is about making a journey. The effort it takes to find and experience the artwork is part of the piece.

“I wanted this to be a struggle for the viewer,” says Erickson.

The difficult journey is not just physical, but emotional. This work is also inspired by Erickson’s desire to cope with a recent personal tragedy, the loss of a family member. As the viewer moves through the component pieces of the artwork, the coping process begins to reveal itself.

Argonaut begins with a passage between two large steel drums that huddle close to the road. Unfor-tunately, by Sunday night, the lights that were supposed to shine through holes in the steel had been stolen, diminishing what I’m told was a stunning effect.

Farther up the dirt road, three junipers stand in a row, their cores burnt out by a wildfire. Erickson had filled them with a rock-salt medium embedded with lights that emit a frosty glow. The salt and lights completed the trees, making them whole again.

Next, was “Yes.” Metal forms dug into the ground, filled with salt and light, spell out the letters Y, E and S, lined up vertically. The inspiration for the piece is a passage in Friedrich Nietzsche’s book, Twilight of the Idol, which translates roughly as, “Say yes to life in spite of death.”

The full yellow moon rose as I looked down at those big beautiful letters glowing in the ground, sending their message of hope in the face of life’s greatest challenges. I’d forgotten about the cold.

And lastly, I took in “Saline Weep,” a weeping salt pool—the catharsis of tears. Calm and gentle, its presence is plainly necessary: Any great and trying journey has moments that need a purge.

The journey complete, I meandered back to my car. It was getting late. I was no longer tired (though, I must admit, I was cold again). My heart felt raw but open. A few tears found their way to the surface, as did a deep smile.

Erickson’s Argonaut is art in the purest sense: a clear but subtle and beautiful experience wrenched from a heartfelt, soulful journey created in a personal language that has the power to touch us all. Its presentation in the sage of our desolate, desert landscape, a glowing surprise offering solace and comfort where there had previously been only a fearful unknown.