Constellations Over Playas

Since 2003 the US has enacted simulated terrorist attacks against Playas NM; Constellations Over Playas is an ongoing online diagnosis of this place.

The town of Playas, New Mexico began its life in the 1970s as a company town, fabricated out of the desert by the Phelps Dodge Corporation in order to house the workers of the then-new Playas Copper Smelter. This manufactured town, whose life as a settlement for the employees of Phelps Dodge ended in the late 1990s, was reborn in 2003 with its purchase by New Mexico Tech, who transformed the site into a living laboratory for The Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center. Law enforcement from all over the world have come to Playas to train for domestic terrorism attacks within the domestic confines of a manufactured suburbia. At the same time, the international stage of the war on terror has been set up in the town of Playas as a recreated Afghan village where U.S. soldiers rehearse prior to deployment.

While these exercises may yield legitimate data, the extravagance of their staging and often morbid enthusiasm of their participants point to a theatrical excess. Constellations Over Playas proposes that we look at this place as an imaginary stage for the dramatization and repetition of collective traumas, a stage where the recreation of the past is used to control the future.

We have created a “double” of The Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center website. Woven into this structure are the images, videos, texts, and artificacts that we collect on our journeys through the southwestern U.S. Following rehearsed trails through the region, both literally travelling on the colonial, capitalist, and military built roadways through the land and travelling through the imaginary southwestern landscapes of the cinema, we continue to add material. One of these trails is that of the art historian Aby Warburg who travelled in the region in the late 19th century in search of the Hopi Serpent Dance. Our website’s structure is inspired by Warburg’s later non-textual method of writing art history, the Mnemosyne Project, which created collaged sites of association between images of disparate origin. Each user of our website experiences a different iteration of associative networks pulled from our source material and can follow their own rehearsed path through the online landscape.


Joseph Moore is an artist and Assistant Professor of Art at the City College of New York. His work investigates topics such as perception, interpretation, and similarity. He has exhibited as a solo artist and in collaboration with the collectives and Future Archaeology in venues such as The New Museum, SFMOMA, STUK Kunstencentrum in Leuven, Eastern Bloc in Quebec, and elsewhere. He is a graduate of The Atlanta College of Art and Bennington College. Additional work can be found at

Stephanie Vella is a PhD student in Theatre at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York where she researches European theatrical modernism and its engagement with spatial, temporal, and racial otherness in primitivism, classicism, and orientalism. She is also the Artistic Director of the collaborative performance ensemble, Impossible Bottle. She has previously studied at Bennington College, the Moscow Art Theatre, and Brooklyn College.


Constellations Over Playas is a 2013 commission of New Radio and Performing Arts, Inc. for its Turbulence website. It was made possible with funding from the Jerome Foundation. Additional funding was received from the Research Foundation of the City University of New York. Special Thanks to the staff of the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center for their hospitality and knowledge.