Karrie Higgins’ Performances on Salt

Utah’s Salt Flats are a striking natural feature in the state’s West Desert. It is one of two places on the earth so attuned to the earth’s gravitational pull it is said you can see the curve of the earth on the horizon.

After living in Salt Lake City for four years Karrie and I had yet to go visit it.

I remembered seeing it as a kid on trips west to visit my grandparents and uncle on my Father’s side, but my last visit had probably been in the 4th grade.

We made the trip in spring 2013.

Photo at the Salt Flats 2013 by Alan Murdock

The ground was still wet from snowmelt which brings fresh salt and minerals down from the mountains each year, creating a fresh crust of salt when the flats have dried out by Fall.

That first trip it was little things that stood out: a dead sparrow partially preserved, salt incrusting its wings and beak. A plastic pirate sword, probably from a mixed drink or fruit skewers from a casino in the Nevada border town just twelve minutes away by car.

“It reminds me of Matthew Barney,” I said, remembering the Cremaster 2, the story of Mormon murderer Gary Gilmore, parts of which were filmed on the Salt Flats.

Opening to Cremaster 2 by Mathew Barney

The vastness, brightness and starkness of the environment were hypnotic. After only a few minutes it hurt to look without squinting. Taking photographs was a challenge as it was nearly impossible to check color or contrast on a camera display. We didn’t stay long, but the place created a draw.

“I think I want to come back here and do a performance,” Karrie said on the drive home.

She started imagining elements that could come together into a performance influenced by the story of Ezekiel. The starkness of the place suggested something of the apocalyptic messages of destruction and of the starkness, clarity and rigidity demanded of prophecy.

We went back in 2014 in late summer and shot “Valley of the Dry Bones,” Karrie’s video engaging with the apocalyptic messages in Mormon culture about “latter day” saints as the world prepares for end times.

“Valley of the Dry Bones” by Karrie Higgins video and post production by Alan Murdock

In March 2016 we went back on Memorial Day weekend to shoot more photography and more video footage. This time we produced a series of images with printed images on skirts, the prints designed by Karrie, and the skirts sewn by her as well. These images relate to literature Karrie has been writing and publishing that relate to truth in the face of victimization, medical trials by fire, and the writer Virginia Wolf, among other themes.

In one still photograph, Karrie stands by the sodden flats in a skirt with Virginia Wolf’s image on it, holding a cane similar to the one Virginia Wolf used, gazing out across the water wearing a modern jean jacket.

Karrie stands on shoreline of flooded salt flats. Wearing a skirt printed with the portrait of Virginia Wolf and holding a wooden kane, Karrie looks pensively towards the mountains on the horizon. Soft clouds float in the distance in the upper right of the photograph.
“Virginia Wolf” Karrie Higgins performance still 2016 photo by Alan Murdock

In a video Karrie holds her arms in the position required during a lie detector test with a stethoscope from her heart to her ears and a blood pressure cuff around her arm, the pump to increase pressure in her right hand and the gauge in her left. Exploring the possibility the epileptic mind is a superior mechanism for memory, Karrie flips assumptions and transforms her experience into disability poetics.

“Control Questions” by Karrie Higgins video by Alan Murdock (no sound)

So far no one is looking back, and no one is turning into a pillar, despite Karrie’s references to biblical texts. I suspect salt and the flats will continue to inform Karrie’s work, and these pieces have not yet reached their resolution. They will become components of essays, installations and other video. These are only a test. These are only control questions for work to come.

Essay and Images by Higgin’s artistic collaborator and husband Alan Murdock


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