About recent work:
My long-term project as an artist is to explore the nexus of landscape imagery, narrative, and ideas. Recently I found a collection of vivid descriptions of the California landscape written by Whitney Expedition botanist William Brewer between 1860-1864, and I am using these passages to explore visual translation and contemporary theme park simulacra. Using only my own collection of snapshots of fake theme park landscapes and Photoshop, I am piecing together both digital and hand-cut collages to match Brewer’s journal entries, producing improbable Romantic landscapes.
Growing up participating in many geologic field trips and camping trips, ironically I’ve been more interested in “fake” places since I was a little kid. I love theme parks, and have even worked on restoring one in Oakland, California. I love the feeling of experiences abstracting and displacing actual geographical travel, although I feel weird about they way they seek to elide many political, economic, and ideological tensions one would normally confront by actually going to real places. I’m both comforted and disturbed by the way that fake wilderness spares its audiences the inconvenience and vulnerability of confronting the sublime.
Romantic images of the American landscape from the 1860s, by painters like Church, Bierstadt, and Moran, are also pictures of idealized places. I’ve been looking at these paintings for many years because I love how they capture a sense of fantastic adventure, using color and light to imply grace amidst overblown weather and terrain. The places they depict also emphasize greatness and magnificence, as if a national “will to power” could be embodied in the land. I often use their compositions as guides for my collages, and hope that by making hyperbolic, cartoonish reference to these images, their ideological content can be made more obvious and possibly disarmed.
I am curious as to how or why a collective idea of landscape became more abstract and infantilized over the past few centuries, disconnecting from reality. It’s important to explore how or why the representations we love, which can seem so harmless, can still embody troubling ideas. Taking things apart and putting them back together seems like a good place to start.
About Visitor Center:
My recent work is a conceptual project which began with a simple exercise. I asked my geologist father to describe the formal attributes of his favorite rocks from his collection, which he has been amassing over his entire 40-year career. Then I made ceramic models based only on his descriptions, having no other specific knowledge of the originals. Once I had these ceramic “abstracted rocks”, I then asked my dad to guess which rock sample matched up with which ceramic piece, and got him to tell me basic stories about the places he found each original. I then made dioramas to re-create the scenes he described, and took photographs to document these simulations.
The final presentation is a faux-museum, displaying the c-prints and ceramics alongside the language we used to create them, as well as watercolors made from the original rock samples my dad was thinking of, and infographic paintings elaborating on the ideas and conversations sparked by the process.
My basic goals were to to examine what is gained and what is lost by describing and simulating personal stories, to dramatize one person’s experience collecting objects over a lifetime, and to emphasize a contrast between language and visual information, especially as it pertains to narrative.
This work was strongly influenced by my love of theme parks, Romantic landscape paintings, Travels in Hyperreality by Umberto Eco, Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation, Cindy Sherman’s set and costume photography, Edward R. Tufte, Harrell Fletcher’s social sculpture, and of course, my dad.