The nights are dark and the mesas isolated, but the stars hang clearly overhead in the desert. It is this spatial dynamic that, in 1971, drew artist Charles Ross Ross from the galleries of New York City to New Mexico in search of a site for “Star Axis,” the architectonic observatory he has been conceptualising and building for the past 49 years.
‘In the beginning, I wasn't completely sure of all the qualities I was looking for in the land,’ says Ross of his four-year search throughout the Southwest. ‘When I finally found this mesa, I realised I had arrived at a place where you could stand at the boundary between earth and sky.’
Star Axis is both sculpture and science. Its calculated relationship with astronomy recalls the pyramids of ancient Egypt. The structure stretches eleven stories high and a tenth of a mile long, and consists of five primary features: two chambers, a 147-step stairway, a pyramid, and the adjacent ‘shadow’ field across which the pyramid’s outline moves with the desert light. Each interconnected component is exactingly calibrated to allow viewers to explore the relationship between time and celestial movement. It’s a massive undertaking of sandstone, bronze, granite, stainless steel and raw earth, built directly into the shelf of the mesa.
‘The piece should rise up out of the land,” says Ross, “not be imposed on it.’