The Marfa Pillars

"Actual Contact"

The Quest of Jason W.A. Tucker

The Pillars at Burning Man 2013

The Pillars project as seen in daylight at Burning Man 2013.

Way out in the Texas desert, on the plains of Presidio County, a new Marfa mystery is waiting to be built. Called "Actual Contact," it will be an enigmatic arrangement of twelve 10ft steel pillars inscribed with Jason WA Tucker's arcane symbols. It is the culmination of a long-held artist's obsession.

One of Jason's enigmatic paintings

One of Jason's enigmatic paintings

For the past 15 years Jason has been developing increasingly complex projects around a series of images. The images at first glance appear to be a cross between some inspired desert hieroglyphics and an imaginative space alien's technical drawing.

Jason's first project involved printing a selection of these images on heavy card stock, and placing stacks of them in cafes and stores throughout North America and parts of Europe. The cards were free for anyone to pick up and take; they had no information on them, no names, no words whatsoever. One can only imagine the curiosity such a find would invoke in the discoverer.

Jason's cards were free for anyone to pick up.

Jason's cards were free for anyone to pick up and take.

Over time he crossed paths with many strangers who had found his cards, having picked them up in one city or another. To many people the cards were meaningful and special because they were pure art with no strings attached. A gift from the universe. Jason felt these random encounters were confirmations that this approach worked as he had hoped, to bring the images to people in a way that was both accidental and surprising.


One of Jason's original paintings that was printed and
distributed in the anonymous art gifting project.

Then came the next project, the Pillars. He assembled a team that created an installation at Burning Man in 2008. It was a great success. Twenty-one columns were built made from mahogany, metal, plastic, and light. On each column there were two images, one on each side. The images were lit from within; during the daytime they were columns with a faint line drawing, but when darkness came the image was lit up, floating far above the ground.

The Pillars in 2013

The Pillars project at night at Burning Man 2013

In 2013 Jason and his team created another similar installation, but on a much larger scale. This time the pillars were made of 16 gauge steel, plastic, and light. There were 12 pillars in all, each one 10 feet tall and weighing over 350 pounds. The response the team received from this installation was incredible. But Jason was already imagining the creation of something more significant and permanent.

For many years Jason had dreamed of placing a large installation in Marfa, Texas. Marfa is a small, intriguing town in West Texas known for its support of visual artists and art installations. It’s home to Donald Judd's Chinati Foundation. People come to see not only Judd's minimalist art installations, but other artists as well. Ballroom Marfa is another hub of art in the town, the premier gallery and center of activity. The town also attracts visitors to see the Marfa Lights, also known as the Marfa Ghost Lights, an obscure phenomenon that augments the town and its surrounds' reputation as a rare experience. Marfa is a place where art, light, mystery and community intersect. Because of the minimalistic style and the otherworldly nature of Jason’s images, it was the perfect location to permanently house his vision.

Jason, who had discovered he has a rare condition called PCD (Primary Ciliary Dyskenesia) and has been getting progressively more ill, began to feel an urgency to get his project built. Jason and his wife Wendy, an artist who is part of the Pillars team, took a trip to Marfa to secure a site for a permanent installation of the Pillars.

In a serendipitous encounter one afternoon, they were introduced to a couple who had lived in Marfa for a long time, Jane and Robert Crockett, by mutual friends Lynda McKnight, and Robert and Mimi Allison. (Jane Crockett is Leo Villareal's mother – he is the artist who did the Bay Bridge Lights installation.) Jane's family has lived in Marfa for generations. The Crocketts were excited to help locate a site for the installation, realizing what a benefit it would be for the town of Marfa.

The Tucker's goal is to create this installation with the help of the community in Marfa as well as friends and colleagues, so that, like Jason’s original anonymous card project, the art belongs to everyone.

Now with the site's location determined, they are ready to make the Marfa Pillars a reality. The installation in Marfa will be a major accomplishment for Jason and Wendy, for their team, David Wright and Nathan Kandus, and for the town of Marfa. The Pillars will add an additional mystery to Marfa.

For more information, or if you'd like to help support the Marfa Pillars project, check out their website here:

Read more about Jason's theories on art, synchronicity, and communication here:

Ingolfur Gudmundsson

Marfa Pillars - CG visualization by Ingolfur Gudmundsson

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