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At the Lightning Field

An essay by Laura Raicovich

An exploration of coincidences of history, light, space, duration, chaos theory, mathematics, memory, and Walter De Maria’s The Lightning Field.

April 11, 2017
4.5 x 7 | 104 Pages
Trade Paper

Thanks to a 2013 ADA Access Improvement Grant administered by VSA Minnesota for the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, this title is also formatted for screen readers which make text accessible to the blind and visually impaired.

To purchase this title for use with a screen reader please call (612) 338-0125 or email us at info@coffeehousepress.org.

ISBN: 978-1-56689-466-1.



Walter De Maria’s The Lightning Field is four hundred stainless steel poles, positioned two hundred and twenty feet apart, in the desert of central New Mexico. Over the course of several visits, it becomes, for Raicovich, a site for confounding and revealing perceptions of time, space, duration, and light; how changeable they are, while staying the same.

Laura Raicovich works as president and executive director of the Queens Museum. She is the author of A Diary of Mysterious Difficulties (Publication Studio), a book based on Viagra and Cialis spam, and is an editor of Assuming Boycott: Resistance, Agency, and Cultural Production (OR Books).


“[Raicovich] combines her intimate, studied observations with the writings of a vast array of mathematicians and thinkers, including Benoit Mandelbrot and Gertrude Stein. Attempting to answer the question “How reliable is memory?,” the essay is a beautifully chaotic map of thought and experience that both mirrors the experience of a work of art and probes its essence.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

“A detailed observation of what it means to make a detailed observation.”—Kirkus

“Raicovich’s sharp, almost scientific concessions to confusion and disorder make the essay, like de Maria’s work, a fiercely poignant treatise in which “concentration is more easily achieved, revealing the remarkable.” —Publishers Weekly, PW Picks

“To read the book is to gain entry into a mind, its streaks and blazes, its patterns and rhythms, sometimes straightforward, sometimes oblique, with bolts of language that dazzle and linger in the mind like a strong light after you close your eyes.”—Boston Globe

“Make a pilgrimage to The Lightning Field by walking the lines of this book and building something beautiful in your mind’s eye with the author, who will take you there and many places besides.” —Rebecca Solnit

“A slim but powerful primer on viewership, At the Lightning Field is as enlightening as it is pleasurable to read. Laura Raicovich is in the business of complicating what it means to engage with a work of art, and as she describes her exploration of The Lightning Field she draws on the wide-ranging influences that informed her experience, situating the work within a rich matrix of natural, scientific, and cultural activators. Generous and nimbly wrought, At the Lightning Field is a model for what rigorous engagement with art should entail.” —Katharine Solheim, Unabridged Bookstore

“Laura Raicovich’s At the Lightning Field is a beautiful and striking meditative essay on art, memory, time, and space. The lines on the page dance and, just as the lightning poles on that plateau in New Mexico do, vary in length in order to create an even plane in both space and mind. The rhythm that this pattern instills in the reader fosters an almost mystical quality in the writing that leaves an indelible impact on the mind. This repetitive pattern will urge you to, no, demand that you devour this essay at once.

She says, ‘Permanence: Begin with permanence (a slippery concept—despite its will to be otherwise—and inextricably tied to time). Permanence makes me look more closely, notice details, large and small, that define moments as they accumulate.’

That is beautiful. This was a truly pleasurable read.” —Matt Keliher, Subtext Books

“Laura Raicovich’s hauntingly evocative At the Lightning Field is not so much a work of criticism or art history as a veritably Rilkean exercise in co-presence, lyrically resonating, that is, off of the Rilke who spoke of ‘that love that consists in this, that two solitudes meet and touch and shelter one another.’” —Lawrence Weschler, author of Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees

“Laura Raicovich is a sensitive and eloquent witness to contemporary art’s strangeness; she renders the tempo and atmosphere of her pilgrimages to Walter De Maria’s The Lightning Field with an admirable severity, delicacy, and lyricism. Her beautifully distilled and rigorously experimental book will inspire anyone wanting to learn how to take alert notes on an aesthetic experience and then how to transform those notes into complex verbal art.”—Wayne Koestenbaum