This project—commissioned by The ONWARD Project—is the culmination of an approximately 18-month period in 2019 and 2020 studying the archives of the Rainbow Bridge-Monument Valley Expedition (RBMVE). The Expedition—often framed as the last “great” exploration of the American West—took place from 1933-1938 and encompassed some 3,000 sq. miles of land in the Four Corners region of the Southwestern United States. At least eleven institutions across six states hold archival materials from the RBMVE, and the descendants of Expedition participants have their own collections of photographs, personal diaries and other miscellany.
The project is structured around my interactions with these archival data and objects, as well as the physical locations visited by the RBMVE, and I use the format of a handmade art book to contextualize the legacy of the Expedition from my (contemporary) perspective as an artist with a deep interest in the land. In an attempt to make this document of interest to the specialist, I include transcribed interviews with various historians, archaeologists and media specialists who have studied the Expedition and use our exchanges to guide my inquiry. This text, then, addresses themes as varied as settler colonialism, archaeological methodology, historiography, contemporary virtual reality technology, paleontology and the relationship between geology and architectural vernacular. This handmade book exists as an edition of one.
I would like to give special thanks to the Littlesalt and Austin families for allowing me to visit their land within the sovereign territory of the Navajo Nation. I would also like to thank Elizabeth Kahn, Madi Fair, Allison Fischer-Olson, Ron Maldonado and Marydee and Chris Donnan for their time and assistance with the research component of this project, and to Prof. James Snead, Eric Hanson and Andy Christenson for time and consideration throughout the interview process. Additional thanks to Wendy Teeter and Sedonna Goeman-Shulsky for their generosity, patience and expertise as I explored the RBMVE archives at UCLA.
Photographs by Hans Baumann