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Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Interpreting the land

On Friday, we attended a slide show presentation by Matthew Coolidge of the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI), held at Chicago's outstanding community space Mess Hall. Suffice to say that Coolidge presented a strange array of odd places that his organization has interpreted through documentation and -- ah! -- creative interaction. CLUI aims to reveal the strange contradictions that our landscape presents to us as well as seeking how social use inscribes these contradictions. Coolidge's slide show covered many parts of the West, a decaying model of the Chesapeake Bay, roadside curiosities and such. These are only the strangest of the strange places CLUI engages, since we have seen short films of theirs that cover the whole country.

CLUI aims to open up museums in each of the seven "interpretative units" of the USA that they have designated, so they are doing more than taking their findings back to their L.A. headquarters. Coolidge stated that they are still seeking a Midwestern location, since talks with an owner of an abandoned Ohio amusement park are falling apart. St. Louis, anyone? We mentioned the Carondelet Coke Plant to him after his talk, and offered to take him there should he visit St. Louis in the future.

Coolidge is smart, likable and exults in the delightful paradox of joy and sadness that careful investigation of the US landscape brings. Like us, he knows that revealing the landscape's alterations could be a step toward transformation. I recommend that everyone look into CLUI and its exciting work, which may be the most important geographical research going on in North America.

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