Friday, February 11, 2011

Brennan Conaway "Trajectory" 2008

TRAJECTORY from Brennan Conaway on Vimeo.

Artist Brennan Conaway could have shot this bullet at any other barren location, but he chose this scenic dessert with all its natural elements that add richness and depth to this video.


  1. Hi Virginia,
    Thanks for posting my documentary. Here's some more information about my selection of rifle, ammo and location. Hope it adds something to the film-viewing experience.

    To begin the project, I selected a specific type of rifle that has a lot of history in the deserts of the American West. The lever-action rifle is the quintessential cowboy gun, seen in every Western movie and shoot-em-up.
    When I first saw this rifle at the gun shop, I thought “Oh, it looks like a toy.” And it does. When I was a kid, I played with the plastic toy version, and shot a BB gun that looked a lot like it.
    But the history of the lever-action rifle is not childish and innocent. In the 1890s, this was a weapon of mass destruction. It was a ‘repeating rifle’ that could fire bullets quickly and was easy to reload. It’s often called ‘The Gun that Won the West,’ ‘Winning’ the West meant killing or imprisoning the Native Americans, so this seemingly romantic phrase is really a euphemism for genocide.
    Before the invention and wide distribution of the lever-action rifle in the 1890s, Native Americans were holding their own in the so-called Indian Wars. It took time to reload old-fashioned muskets, and the Native Americans used that time between volleys to attack the militiamen and soldiers. This balance of power changed when Army rifles could fire six or eight bullets and then be reloaded quickly.
    The bullet they were loading is called a .30-30. It’s been in continual production for over a hundred years, and it’s the caliber I chose for my rifle. There are probably millions of these bullets in the dirt throughout the West, and I was going to be adding another.
    In 2008 I was awarded an artist residency at the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) in Wendover, Utah. This was a perfect place for the Trajectory project. It was near wide-open salt flats, where I could safely fire at the horizon. Wendover is also surrounded on two sides by vast weapons-testing areas, which make hundreds of miles of desert into a no-man’s-land. This was a good place to perform my own weapons test.
    During World War II, Wendover was a large air base for the military. From this base, the Enola Gay flew to Saipan and then onwards to Japan, where it dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Enola Gay’s hangar was right next to the CLUI facility, and as I thought about it, I began to see a connection that linked the Indian Wars of the 1800s to the testing of the atomic bomb in the 1940s and the current desert warfare in the Middle East.
    I saw how this beautiful wilderness was being cordoned off and used to test increasingly deadly weapons. These weapons were usually used to kill non-white people in ‘foreign’ lands. This pattern suggested a chilling conclusion, which I’ll discuss later in this essay.
    With the help of CLUI director Matt Coolidge, I found a good spot for Trajectory. He suggested a valley about 20 miles north of Wendover. The surface of the valley was mud for most of the year, but it dried out in the summer and was covered by a thin crust of salt. I was fortunate that it had rained a few days before. The rain erased all the small marks on the salt - a blank slate - so that anything new, like a bullet hole, would be clearly visible.
    I found hoof-prints in the drying mud, made by deer or antelope passing from one valley to the next, and my friend Matt found an arrowhead, as we were setting up my shooting stand at the base of a small mountain range. In the cliffside above me, a shallow cave looked down on the valley. Native Americans had once sheltered there, out of the elements, and waited for game to appear. People were ‘shooting’ there long before I came along and set up my firing range.

  2. A common thread (a ‘trajectory’) connects the lever-action rifle to the atomic bomb, and the atomic bomb to modern weapons. This makes me wonder what’s hiding in the vastness of the desert right now. What weapon is the military developing and testing in the middle of nowhere? And what will be the ‘unintended consequences’ of this next weapon?

  3. Wow! Thank you, Brennan, for sharing all this info. about "Trajectory" with us. I'm so glad you discussed the location of this piece and its significance to your insightful!

  4. You're welcome! Is this a blog for a specific school or university?

  5. Yes...this blog is set up for an art history course taught at Westmont College. Each week, students (and professor) research and post videos that reflect the theme of study for that week, i.e., artist as content, text and language, on location, etc. This is the first time our class is using this blog and so far it's working out wonderfully! As part of lecture, we screen the videos and discuss the artist's work and significance. I'm sure I can speak for the whole class when I say we are all learning so much about new media art. And as always, getting a comment from an artist is a special bonus!