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Visual Art: We Built This City

Arial View of Interstate 15
Photography by Aaron Mayes
Photography by Aaron Mayes

Writers riff on images from photographer Aaron Mayes’ broad new exhibit examining LV’s built environment

Big Game

We built these paths for speed and scale and speculation. The 15 has always had to be two steps ahead of today, because tomorrow comes so swiftly. The liminal spaces, the empty zones between resorts and roads, become realized, one after another: a Park north of the Big Apple, the Knights’ ice clad in bronze. It’s hard to imagine that once the Hacienda horseman rode this route, that his modest home greeted our guests and they called it a resort, that some of them said their vows at the Little Chapel in the horseman’s shadow. This was long before Mandalay, back when resorts had backlots that extended forever in their purposelessness and possibility. Now the Events Center is hard against the 15, and the boxers and singers and sharks have been performing for nearly two decades, and the Aces are coming to play basketball. Our mother road has always been up to the task of our growth. Do you see the Big Empty west of the freeway? The desert scraped clean of its crust, stripped and purified. The Raiders are coming. They always come, in every generation, dreaming, arriving, transforming. We never turn them away. The road was built for raiders. Greg Blake Miller

Under a Watchful Eye

(A house near West Sahara Boulevard)

If you come here, tired and huddled, poor and yearning, put a gate on your own door. Pull your blinds closed. Build your cozy fortress with brick and stone and stucco, and we will drop in at the front door but once a year, wearing masks and demanding candy. You’ll pretend we’re entertaining. We’ll laugh and run and, just this once, we’ll make light of the fear embedded in liberty.

Sponsor Message

Gates beg to be opened, right? Or is shelter really a place to hide from the wilds of freedom, whether physical, cultural, or psychological? Can you come to the home of the brave to hide? Or is there in our social contract an understanding that the Mother of Exiles has some expectation of you?


Who’s there?



Sponsor Message

I’m standing right behind you, watching.

Stacy J. Willis


Gone With the Flow

(Homeless man near Las Vegas flood channel)

The invisible made visible: That’s what I can’t stop seeing in Aaron’s photo of a homeless man losing his belongings in a flood. As a physical entity, our flood-control system is so slight — manmade versions of the basins and channels sculpted so casually by nature — and it exists so peripherally to our daily life, that it barely registers as engineering. It has more presence as irony than infrastructure: the hilarity of an arid desert city spending hundreds of millions to protect itself from ... water. Yet, water is what makes the system visible, these temporary rivers appearing suddenly in our midst. It’s also brought into view this homeless man, representative of an interstitial, unseen population — however often we see them, we rarely see them. Now we can’t miss him. Cowled in a wet blanket, bereft of stuff, he’s a searing scarlet reminder of all the protective systems we’ve failed, or worse, declined to build. Even the viewing dynamic indicts us: Our inability to help the guy, because we’re just looking at an image, becomes the perfect aesthetic complement to our unwillingness to confront the problem in real life, where we’d rather just go with the flow. Scott Dickensheets

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A survey of the built environment by photographer and curator Aaron Mayes.

Opens Feb. 9, 5:30p, in UNLV’s Lied Library, with a talk by Brookings Institute Director Robert Lang

Through summer