Created by Cebe Loomis
Self-published book, 186 pages
Exhibition video featuring analogue photographs and place-based soundscape, runtime 09:22 minutes
noun tail·ing \ˈtā-liŋ\
1. The material that remains after minerals have been extracted from an ore by ore dressing.
Along an amber dusted highway in Nevada sits Virginia City, a timeworn mining town clinging to a mile-high mountain peak. This boomtown was home to the Comstock Lode of 1859, the United States’ first major silver ore discovery, and today is the nation’s second-largest national historic landmark, offering an “authentic” 1860s experience that mythologizes histories of the American West. Tailings uses analogue photography (35mm & 120mm), sound art, and personal testimony to unpack how Virginia City’s custom of storytelling and demonstrative celebration of its Western folklore affect how place and identity are rendered, remembered, and endlessly remade.
Exhibition video featuring experiential sound montage (Del Mar Theater, Santa Cruz, CA, June 2018)
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.
Although it has been expected to decay and be abandoned like the many ghost towns scattered through the landscapes of the West, Virginia City lives on through its robust tourist industry and small, dedicated population. The synthesis of past and present makes itself obvious to anyone walking along C Street. Opera houses are used for regional punk festivals. Gold-panning troughs are filmed with iPhones. Virginia City’s demonstrative celebration of its Western folklore calls notice to the mythologies of the West, but also raises questions as to whose histories are being celebrated, whose histories are disregarded and why?