“New Mexico,” I reply. “You?”
Like most people I answer the question of where I am from with one location. My answers can shift depending on social settings. Cities and states are often interchanged. Through the course of a conversation these places work to illuminate more specific interpretations of one’s personal identification with a location. They offer associative points of familiarity while simultaneously failing to illustrate an individual’s reality lived there.
New Mexico for example, only covers the period from my early childhood to my early twenties, not my birth, not my ancestral heritage or the places I’ve lived for the past thirteen years by choice. New Mexico frames the location of my story in the singular. It places me in an imagined southwest. It hints at where I travel to on holiday. It sparks cultural inferences that would remain invisible if you were just to look at me. New Mexico as the locative point within my introduction is both informative and problematic for these reasons.
Specific addresses are far more telling.
This summer I traveled to New Mexico and began documenting the homes I’ve lived in by collecting soil samples and taking photographs of the properties. Missing from the collection above are samples from 6 years of living in the Northern California, one house in Memphis, TN and two locations in Wisconsin, which coincidentally is where I was born and currently reside. This month I am writing a grant proposal that will help in completing this portion of my thesis research hopefully by spring.
The first leg of the soil collecting project this summer procured a few surprising realizations. For one thing I didn’t foresee the potential of trespassing until I approached the first property. In that moment I became viscerally aware of my transition from inhabitant to invader. The land became property; the home a house. I was surprised by how few memories surfaced when witnessing the sites in person. Each place became less fantastic and the past unapproachable. Curiously some of my memories were put to rest.
The soil at this point is acting as an enigmatic force behind the new work I am making*. It functions as a compass, keeping me aligned to my true north. This involves speaking what I know, not what I think. Once I have completed my collection of residential soils (insert grant money here) I will revisit what can be made from it. The soil very well may become a piece on it’s own. When I have it all in front of me I’m looking forward to engaging thoughts on how a collection of locations is both an adequate/inadequate representation of wholeness, what is involved in the experience of place as well as link the relation of soil to the body.
My relationship to relocation is proving to be a natural theme to engage with my practice. I believe I can offer a particular vantage point through my work on what it means to be transient, focused on horizons and the process of negotiating one’s sense of place. New pieces and entire bodies of work are unfolding in my mind, and then sketchbook nearly every day. There is no way I will be able to realize all of these pieces before I am finished with the graduate program this year, but that reality is totally welcome. This period feels akin to the beginning of a great journey; each piece a step, not a punctuation mark.
*Check out the earlier posts to see some of these pieces in process! More to come soon.