Andy Mattern Moonlight Towers

November 20, 2009 – January 9, 2010 Gracie R. Cavnar Gallery

Artist Statement

In 1895, the City of Austin acquired a street-lighting system from Detroit, Michigan consisting of thirty-one 165-foot tower lights. The network originally ran on hydroelectric power and provided illumination to the city center and surrounding neighborhoods. By the late 1930s, however, the lighting system was all but obsolete, and yet the city kept it in use due to public admiration and advertising value. However, for a variety of reasons including public safety and urban growth, more than half of the original towers have been removed over the years.

Today, the so-called ‘Moonlight Towers’ occupy a seemingly random assortment of locations from residential neighborhoods to high-traffic intersections downtown. This series of photographs is a catalog of the remaining towers, systematically seen, as they are nearly identical. Including the supporting guy wires, each tower traverses nearly an entire square city block, but today these unusual structures easily go unnoticed. Amid The tangle of surrounding infrastructure, they are looming and yet unseen. The towers are perhaps most visible at twilight immediately after the lights turn on. Photographing during this brief window of time, the result is a monumental view of each tower, alone and idealized. And yet the sameness of each tower redirects attention to the surrounding context, shifting these typological photographs to an investigation of place punctuated by the industrial objects they depict. In 1995, the then seventeen Moonlight Towers were added to the National Register of Historic Places and were celebrated with a $1.3 million restoration effort. However, at the time of this writing, only fifteen towers still stand; two of the seventeen officially recognized towers have been removed due to new construction downtown. It is unclear if they will be reinstalled.”