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Michelle Murphy

first performed on June 25, 2019
White Sands National Park and Missile Range, Alamagordo, NM
performed four times in 2019


Albuquerque, NM / Chicago, IL


In the summer and fall of 2019, I carried out endurance performances at White Sands National Park and Missile Range. The guerrilla performances were witnessed by tourists and park rangers, as I performed for them while shooting myself with a still and video camera.

The sun was direct and reflected off the gypsum dunes. There were high winds and temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38°C), as I became my own “stunt double” in a green chroma key suit. I manually tumbled a tumbleweed across the crushed and uneven gypsum dunes for 4-5 hours a day. Taking many breaks for water, snacks, and to resettle my eyeballs after the sun-strobe afterimage effects. The land was dangerously remote, extremely dry, and without cell phone signal. It became disorienting due to the heat and reflective quality of the gypsum “sand”; the dunes create low visibility which makes it difficult to see a horizon line, and with wind erasure of footprints it is challenging to re-find your car if you venture too far in the 224 miles of park.

Several plants qualify as tumbleweeds (also called “wind witches”). They are invasive unwanted plants, a symbol in Western films of an absurd declaration: an awkward silence, a bad joke, a dual between two characters, and most interestingly for me…an opportunity to perform for the camera and reflect on another cycle of land misuse. Tumbleweeds are emblematic of the Dust Bowl or “Dirty 30s”: severe drought, agricultural depression, all due to unethical and misinformed social and agricultural practices.

These land misuses continue as White Sands was re-designated in December 2019 by the US government (Trump Administration) from the status of National Monument to Park; this determined the “use” of the land will have a significantly increased budget and infrastructure to do more missile testing, which will create more deathly weapons and more pollution in New Mexico.