Thursday, March 30, 2023

The Marfa Project

Marfa, the county seat of Presidio County, is at the junction of U.S. Highways 90 and 67 in the northeastern part of the county. It was established in 1883 as a water stop and freight headquarters for the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway.

Note: Please click on any image for further photo documentation of Marfa.

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It is reported that the wife of a railroad executive suggested the name Marfa from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, which she was reading at the time. Marfa is in an area that has been called one of the last American frontiers.

It is situated at an altitude of 4,830 feet above sea level in a semiarid region with many dry streambeds that the summer thunderstorms fill and further erode. To the north are the Davis Mountains, to the southeast the Chisos Mountains, and to the southwest the Chinati Mountains.Marfa lies semiprotected within these escarpments on a great highland plain known as the Marfa Plateau.

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Although this may at first seem as some sort of tourist guide, it would be devastating to think that a keen viewer would think as such. Marfa is becoming, if it is not already, a getaway for the New York art crowd. What you are witnessing may be the last vestige of a once remote area dedicated to the study of minimalist art. Paul Virilio’s lucid observation can be analogized here: “there isn’t a goddamn thing that isn’t eventually used for war!”

The question still arises: what makes Marfa so appealing to artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers, and other creative individuals?

The answer may lie not only in Marfa’s immediate artistic re-birth, but perhaps more so in the nature of the West Texas landscape and its surroundings. The 2 ½ (or 3hr) drive from El Paso to Marfa can be summarized as a vestibule of solitude and happiness. For those used to the Los Angeles freeway craze or the “L”-train morning dysfunction, the 2 ½ hr drive can be a welcome moment of eventual recluse.

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Witnessing an empty landscape that allows miles of Mexico to be seen, a daytime drive will also elicit empty road signs and billboards, abandoned industrial buildings and ghost-like homes. This daytime daze will be shattered by the occasional roadrunner or armadillo scattering across the I-10 highway.

Nurturing this solitude will be the occasional locomotive train, graphed with the globally present Uniglory, KMT or Union Pacific freight cars.

A four-hour drive south to Ojinaga, Mexico delivers a wild-west still ever-present. Drug kings, shootouts, disappearances and new-beginnings can all be found here, furthered by Norteños, corridos, and UFO and Air Force drone interruptions of AM Christian radio.

Marfa is, to be precise, a place where many histories and identities are buried, yet like the Cacti in 115 degree heat, stubborn in their desire to live a new found existence.

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Copyright © 1997- 2006 Sergio Muñoz-Sarmiento. All Rights Reserved.



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