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Seminar week

Nevada, seminar week HS 2017

October 23, 2017

ETH Zürich D-ARCH, Joint Seminar Week, 23-27 October 2017
Prof. Dr. Alexander Lehnerer and Prof. Dr. Philip Ursprung

“What is your utilization of the desert, Professor Banham?”
“The Bureau of Land Management is studying desert utilization; what is it you actually do in the desert?”
“Oh! Well, I…er…stop the car and look at the scenery!”
“Hm? I don’t think we have a category for that”
—Reyner Banham, Scenes in America Deserta, 1982

A journey to a desert mirage. To a place that is there and not there. It’ll be hot and unforgiving. Bring sunscreen. And make sure you know how to handle a mule. We’ll ride into towns that hardly exist, and if so, mostly within our collective memory and imagination of places ten thousand miles further across the Atlantic. This is the farthest west we get in Europe.

The image of the desert as a space to be colonized was shaped by endless Hollywood  movies in the last century. Once upon a time in the1960s until nowadays, the Spanish Sierra Nevada and Tabernas Desert offered an adequate American setting for European film makers. Here, the “Spaghetti Western” debunked its heroic model by means of irony and transformed the American tragedy into a European comedy.

We will be searching for the sites where these movies are shot. Some of the backdrops are still standing, either in decay or reactivated as tourist attractions. We will walk with donkeys—a homage to Sancho Panza—through Southern Spain. We will take our time to admire the sublime landscape, to visit the ruins of the European film industry, and to reflect on the present between reality and fiction. And we will interact with animals that—since antiquity—are the most faithful and stubborn companions of mankind.

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  • Reyner Banham in the Mojave Desert, 1981