Present Place

Part 1:  Soil Collection is Complete

I returned home from the final leg of travel needed for my thesis research at the end of last month.  This time I went to California and documented my remaining twelve houses with a camera as well as a spade and several quart sized yogurt containers (for soil samples).  After getting back to Wisconsin I met with faculty for my end of semester critiques and then, out of nowhere, built a new piece.

Before I get into what transpired to make this new work happen I want to introduce the most asked questions I’ve had to field during this portion of my research.  They are:  “Did you remember anything when you were on the property?” and, “Did you feel haunted?”

My answer to this is both Yes and No.  Yes, in relation to witnessing a type of kinesthetic memory and No in respect to experiencing emotional/psychological remembrances on site.  Above all I was able to recall floor plans.  I could remember how to maneuver through hallways, sensations of unlocking the front door, walking pathways in backyards or in a few cases moving firewood to the stove.  My memories then were corporeal; systems of mapping and touch intertwined.

I believe my interactions and perhaps emotional objectivity with memory have been greatly informed by the analytical questions I’ve been asking.  They’ve included:  What is home?  How does site inform identity?  Are memories futile in relation to the lived reality of place?  If not, what is their relationship to site?  And finally, to what extent does the past exist?

My answers to these questions, if anything have grown longer- and for the sake of my readership I will not indulge in trying to answer them in full.  Instead I will redirect attentions to next segment of this entry, which has to do with soil.  Specifically why I am collecting it, what it means and how I’m beginning to place it in my new work…

Part 2:  Placeholder

On the plane ride home, after crisscrossing the U.S. on a hunt for homeland I was still at a loss for what the dirt (now in my checked luggage) meant.  I knew how I felt about it- the dirt was mine, something I could feel in my bones, that containers I already had in my studio created a presence much like that of another body…peculiar, really.  For the summer I truly enjoyed being in the space of wonderment with the material but after completing the collection I felt a strong need to evoke the uncanny space I felt with it in a way that was less personally specific.

The week I returned home I was reminded that the sculpture department was slotted for a show the next week.  So I did what I am learning to do: I put down my head and built.

Three days later I had Placeholder, a 4’x 4’x 4′ picket fence filled with several tons of earth.

The piece itself is simple, and in that way I believe it is generous.  For me it points to soil as the site upon which activities of the domestic take place.  True, there maybe several floors and layers of linoleum, wood and cement between us and the ground, but it is the land itself that we purchase, rent or lease.  This piece to me, points to the overlooked as well as the desired.  The title opens to suggestions to the devices in which we frame out chapters in our lives- In this instance through location, but I feel it then begins to work more broadly, addressing notions of lifetime, home and self.

*What these images do not convey is how this mass of earth behaves in relation to the body.  It carries scent as well as a physical weight that only works on site.


Part 3:  Bookends for the Bookless-

This brings me to my latest semi-instant project taking place in the Madison Public Library…

The downtown branch located a block from the state capitol is being gutted for renovation.  Trent Miller, local artist and library enthusiast along with the help of a few other fine folks have gotten the city to  host a large scale art exhibition (40 or so artists) before the build in.  Over the past two weeks he has hosted numerous site visits, one of which I was on.  This is what some of what I saw:

The basement.

Floors of empty shelves.

Circuit boards.

And a rainbow of bookends.

Both the basement and the bookends sparked my interest, so I went back with a couple proposals and spent a day collecting all of the bookends from the four-story building.  Here are some of the preliminary shots I have of the bookends that I will be spicing up with a better camera soon:

So far I have proposed two pieces for the show.  One involves building a large scale installation in the basement out of moving boxes.  The other centers around the bookends.  I am seeing the bookend project as taking two forms: as sculpture and as a photographic series.

It’s a one night event opening January 28th so it’s going to be a wild ride!

Finale:  Practice Revisited-

Making Placeholder and now being involved in Bookless (the library exhibition) have further reinforced my feelings about how essential having a rapid/loose/unpredictable way of working fits with my more methodical and belabored need to make.  I believe intuition plays an important role in both, and their opposing relationship to time investment is helping to keep my value system (often tied to slavish hours) in check.  My hope of creating a practice that is sustainable, active, invested and open appears to be happening.  And for that, in this time, I feel truly thankful.

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