Two negatives make a positive

In 2003 I was a field assistant for AUDRI (the Aberdeen University Dryland Rivers Initiative), helping my friend Alex with her PhD fieldwork in California and Nevada.

One of the key study localities in Nevada was the Double Negative, a pair of deep gouges through one side of Mormon Mesa, not far from the small town of Overton. We were a little baffled as to why two straight cuts had been made into a landform in a very sparsely populated corner of Nevada, but they provided fantastic detail of the Virgin River fluvial sediments Alex wanted to study, so we didn't complain. Enquiries into the origin of the Double Negative led to us being told it was something to do with the proposed site of a local airfield.

Double Negative, Overton, Nevada (Photo by Chris Fullmer, Wikimedia Commons)

So it was something of a surprise to read this passage in The Observer Book of the Earth, free with last Sunday's newspaper:

"Michael Heizer's Double Negative (1969-70) consists of two 100ft-long, 50ft-deep cuts in the rock, facing each other across a canyon in Nevada, forming a negative sculpture, the construction of which required the removal of 240,000 tons of rock."

No images were included, but a coincidence seemed highly unlikely. I went onto Google, typed in "Double Negative", and there it was. A website dedicated to the work of Michael Heizer, showing that the locals knew nothing.

This wasn't reconnaissance work for an airstrip, this was a quite crazy piece of sculpture. Even more bizarrely, it was apparently bequeathed to the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art by a lady named Virginia Dwan. So, even though it is a) a couple of giant scours, b) hundreds of miles away from California, and c) immovable, it is officially part of the LA art scene.

Has anyone else ever accidentally carried out sedimentary logging of a giant artwork? I suspect it is unlikely, but by doing so, we can say with certainty that the rocks are not 'mostly rhyolite and sandstone' as the websites claim. They are sands, gravels and calcretes, and they look like this:

Sediments inside the Double Negative