Spring 2006

Artist Project / APL (Alaskan Pipeline)

It goes in there and it comes out here

Jason Middlebrook

On 21 May 1977, the Alaskan Pipeline was completed. The construction process took only two years but the American landscape was forever changed. The 800-mile-long pipeline, half of which is below ground, crosses three mountain ranges, thirty-four major waterways, and 800 small streams. The oil travels at 5.4 miles per hour and takes 6.2 days to cover the length of the entire pipeline. Its starting point is Prudhoe Bay, which is considered one of the most fertile oil regions in the Western hemisphere and has been geologically likened to areas of Saudi Arabia and Iraq, and it ends at the Port of Valdez, the site of the Exxon Valdez spill that dumped thirty million gallons of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean in 1989.

The works presented here are excerpted from a larger project involving forty drawings shown simultaneously at Sara Meltzer Gallery in New York and Els Hanappe Underground in Athens in 2003. The full suite from which these images were chosen depicts the pipeline winding its way through the stark landscape of Alaska—snaking past a landscape littered with corporate logos, populated by animals both real and metaphorical, and occasionally having imaginary interactions with iconic Earthworks such as Michael Heizer’s Double Negative and Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field, artworks that share certain formal characteristics with the pipeline, which was built in the midst of Land Art’s heyday. These elements suggest the complex of aesthetic, environmental, and economic concerns that inspired my interest in this unique technological artifact.

Jason Middlebrook was born in Jackson, Michigan, in 1966 and raised for the most part in Northern California. He is represented by Sara Meltzer Gallery in New York and Margo Leavin in Los Angeles. He lives and works with his wife Kate and their daughter Violet in upstate New York. Although he is still essentially living on the grid, he hopes one day to be officially off.

If you’ve enjoyed the free articles that we offer on our site, please consider subscribing to our nonprofit magazine. You get twelve online issues and unlimited access to all our archives.