Press play to experience a "hearing" of Virginia City while you learn more about Tailings.
Created by Cebe Loomis, 2018
Bound book, 186 pages
Exhibition video featuring photographs and self-produced sound montage, runtime 09:22 min
Along an amber dusted highway in Nevada sits Virginia City, a timeworn mining town clinging to a mile-high mountain peak. As a well-preserved national monument and lived “ghost town”, Virginia City straddles the blurred line between truth and myth everyday. Tailings uses analogue photography, sound art and personal testimony to explore how Virginia City and its residents grapple with selling the mythology of the Wild West to its visitors, while living their day-to-day lives in a silver mining town founded on colonial expansionism.
Virginia City is also called by another name, the Comstock. Home to the Comstock Lode of 1859, Virginia City’s mining history is renowned and complex; tangible fragments of this history can be found scattered throughout the town. Some of these fragments are called tailings—the organic waste materials that remain after the valuable minerals have been extracted from an ore. This detritus continues to litter the landscapes of placer and hard rock mining towns across the United States. Although these rises of earth can be immense in size, their fillings are most often perceived as the redundant, the forgotten and the unobserved. These ruptured insides are the reason I returned to Virginia City. Seemingly lost in time, Virginia City works to reveal its “tailings” everyday—sometimes in large chunks or small pieces, in raspy fragmentation or embellished banter at a local saloon.
Virginia City is home to 855 residents that breathe life into a town that was expected to decay and be abandoned like the many ghost towns scattered through the West. Although the town’s very existence hangs on the demonstrative performance of Wild West mythology for its one million visiting tourists a year,the town’s dwellers eagerly protect a fragile authenticity of both the lived place of Virginia City and its “great” American history. This paradoxically layered struggle between truth and myth raises many questions: Whose histories are being celebrated? Whose histories are being disregarded? Whose definition of authenticity is privileged? Through photograph, text and sound, Tailings represents this layered, multiple and uneven recounting of place, history and home; unpacking how Virginia City’s custom of storytelling affects how place and identity is rendered, remembered,and endlessly remade.