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 a little Photoshop, I am piecing together both digital and hand-cut collages to match Brewer’s journal entries, producing improbable Romantic landscapes.
I’m interested in hyperbole in American culture. What does anyone want from the “happiest place on earth”? Is the landscape there the prettiest? Why are fake places interesting? I’ve been to many theme parks, and have even worked on restoring one in Oakland, California. The pictures I’ve taken become my digital and physical collages. I’ve noticed that theme parks offer experiences abstracting and displacing actual geographical travel, and they seek to elide many political, economic, and ideological tensions. The recreated wilderness– jungles, mountains, swamps, and Western wastelands– compresses the visuals of a world a single day, while sparing its audiences the inconvenience and vulnerability of confronting the sublime.
There is also hyperbole in Romantic images of the American landscape from the 1860s, by painters like Church, Bierstadt, and Moran. I’ve been looking at these paintings for many years because I love how they capture a sense of fantastic adventure and potential, 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 use their compositions as guides for my collages, and am inspired by the visceral scale of their works.
In the hundred years between the era of Brewer’s journey and the Hudson River School painters (and the Civil War), and then Disneyland’s opening, a national middle class emerged, and our country achieved a kind of economic grace for many people, which allowed a “Magic Kingdom” to be built. I am curious as to how or why a collective idea of our landscape became more cartoonish during this time span. Exploring these topics today, I am also responding to a national “will to power” that feels louder and more abstracted than ever. I’m particularly influenced by the New Aesthetic tumblr and video game imagery. What is drone warfare if not an even more aggressive way of displacing travel? Cutting and pasting, whether virtually or physically, feels appropriate. The images I am making are a way for me to use landscapes to test out ideas about hyperbole, national identity, and simulation.
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.