Tumbleweed Rodeo, led by artists Sarah Aziz and J. Eric Simpson, tracks the non-human journey of tumbleweeds through the Llano Estacado.
Tumbleweeds—the spinning spheres of plant life that bounce and twirl across the desert—have gone high tech, thanks to Tumbleweed Rodeo. The collaboration between Colorado-based artist and architect Sarah Aziz and Texas-based artist and farmer J. Eric Simpson features the two placing GPS tracking devices on tumbleweeds and then releasing the nomadic weeds into the outskirts of Lubbock County, Texas.
“The project is a multi-sensory approach to understanding escapism and elsewhereness in the Llano Estacado through the movement of tumbleweeds,” writes Tumbleweed Rodeo in a project statement. The Llano Estacado (or “Staked Plains”), located in eastern New Mexico and northwestern Texas, is one of the largest mesas in North America.
One of the ambitions of the multisensory experiment is documenting the path of non-human movement in a region known for its agricultural production. Thinking about and considering human and non-human migration and “problematic notions regarding invasiveness and nativeness of both human and non-human life” are some others.
The Tumbleweed Dérive (2021) plant drawing is one result: the 750-foot-long piece maps a tumbleweed’s journey through a ten-acre plot on Simpson’s farm. Sorghum, sunflower, millet, amaranth, and broomcorn—attractive crops for migratory birds—were planted along the tumbleweed’s path.
“The work becomes a living ‘drawing’—a transitory piece of land art that is both a visualization of the tumbleweed’s trajectory through the landscape, and a safe haven and food source for other living things that move across the Llano Estacado,” write Aziz and Simpson. “In this way, the project becomes a conversation and collaboration between the human and non-human—between artist, architect, farmer, and tumbleweed, bird and grain crop, each one in a process of giving and taking from the others.”
The collaboration has also included an installation by Aziz and Jack Craft that featured the pair transporting 800 cubic feet of tumbleweed from the Llano Estacado to CO-OPt Research + Projects in Lubbock, where they recreated a tumbleweed tornado inside of the gallery in early 2020.