© 2022



TEXT Maria Villanueva
Ofrenda by Maria Villanueva
Bridgetown, Barbados

This land is located at 909 Lindsey Street in Denton, Texas, and it is currently owned by the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT). It is considered an empty, nonconforming lot off IH-35E North Highway frontage road. It is a total area of 15,986.84 ft2 (1,485.23m2). According to the Law Insider Dictionary, nonconforming means “a lot, the area, dimensions, or locations of which was lawful prior to the adoption, revision, or amendment of the Zoning Code, but which fails by reason of such adoption, revision, or amendment to conform to the present requirements of the zoning district” [1]. For three years, this empty lot was my neighbor while I was a graduate student at the University of North Texas. At first, I didn’t understand the purpose of this land which appeared abandoned and forgotten. Living so close to it, I often saw people setting up camps and coming and going, but this was not my property and I tried to mind my own business. Through my dining room window, I saw strangers meet there, or police flashers shining at night from people getting pulled over or accidents at the freeway ramp. It was not a quiet place to live.

This land was strange to me, even though I lived next to it for a long time. During my last year of graduate school, the Covid-19 pandemic started and with more time on my hands, I began investigating this curious piece of land from a close and personal perspective. I discovered traces of a house and what appeared to be remnants of a garden. One can still see the digital imprint of the house on www.bing.com [2]. This land seems to have been forgotten by the city. The busy freeway traffic all day and night passes by without acknowledging this land’s existence. The plants and trees are overgrown and unkept. During the pandemic lockdown, parks and public spaces closed down and we all lost access to nature. This piece of land was empty and full of life so I decided to clean the trash collected over the years and make it my own little park. I managed to collect about five household bags of trash the first day. I found car tires, remnants of car bumpers and various other car parts, plastic and glass bottles, fast food packaging, aluminum cans of various brands, clothes, tarps, food wrappers, toys, paper, and many other small household items. In the cleaning process, I also began noticing the ecological diversity. In the Spring and Summer, the small plot of land thrived with wildflowers and various grasses. Birds and squirrels made it their home and playground. Amid a global pandemic, I began caring for this small piece of land that wasn’t mine but offered me a different type of comfort, it was the beginning of a friendship during a lonely time.

I made the effort to visit the piece of land often and simply provide company to it. The best times to visit were in the morning as the birds fed on the birdfeeder I installed. In the spring of 2021 as I concluded my studies at UNT, I landed a job in the state of New York, and I would be moving away from this piece of land in the Summer. Without realizing it, I had grown attached to this land. As an art practitioner, I immerse myself in field research and I get involved in the subject, physically and psychologically.

After living in Denton for three years, I successfully completed my studies and achieved a master’s degree as a first-generation student. This land and I went through so much together during those three years of graduate school. I wanted this land to remember me, and I wanted to remember it. The word “ofrenda” is Spanish for “offering” or a gift. Ofrenda is a project that concludes a chapter in the story of a young girl who dreamt of achieving an education more than twenty years ago. I am that girl, not so young anymore but still dreaming. My offering consisted of walking 120 miles and exploring the idea of making maps and data collection in a nontraditional approach. This is a map of a closed-loop path that I made by walking a total of 50 miles in the course of six days as a practice of physical mark-making. It is a map written directly on land. The image was captured with a drone, similar to how we capture images of land via satellites and see them through Google Maps.

This walking project was my very own personal journey. It was a time of reflection and learning to see my neighborhood from a local perspective. Walking for long periods of time gave me the opportunity to reflect and observe my own environment. Each step was felt through my body. Each step made a mark on the soil and it remembered it. Each step was multidimensional, quantifiable with numbers and time. I used mark-making as data collected by images, minutes walked by hour, measurable distance by feet. Each turn on the paths provided a different view and each view had its own story. The southern view depicts the passing vehicles of the busy freeway at 70-80 miles an hour. The northern view was my two neighbors’ houses, typical single-family houses with well-maintained front yards and the newest edition of Ram trucks. The Eastern view was the house I rented and lived while attending graduate school. The house was also a typical single-family brick house with a big tree in the front yard. The Western view was the corner of street with bushes and trees where Lindsey Street meets the frontage road.

After concluding my walking project, I have more questions than answers, but that is a good thing. Can we befriend the land? What does it mean to care for the land? What does the land give us? How do we remember the land? What if we all befriended a piece of land? This piece of land could be bulldozed any day because it is at TXDOT’s disposal. It is vulnerable and exposed. Places like these are the result of population growth and urban development. They appear and disappear throughout time. In a way, I relate to this land as I move to different places attempting to find my own place in the world. I continue my research in new lands and adapt to my surroundings. I search for connections in land and nature as a human being. My nature is not so different from nature itself. I continue to reflect on these questions through my art practice. This little piece of land in Denton, Texas, will forever hold a special place in my memory, and I can only hope it remembers me as I remember it.

[1] https://www.lawinsider.com/dictionary/nonconforming-lot

[2] https://www.bing.com/maps

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