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 description and visual translation, travel, and contemporary theme park simulacra. Using my own collection of thousands of snapshots of fake theme park landscape, taken on vacations, I am piecing together digital collages to match Brewer’s journal entries, producing improbable Romantic landscapes.
Something about American culture that I enjoy, but also fear, is our ability to entertain and distract ourselves. Theme parks offer experiences and sensations abstracting, representing, and displacing actual geographical travel. Through theatrical sets, collaborative artistry, and carefully planned logistics, they seek to elide many political, economic, and ideological tensions, for the sake of recreation. The recreated wilderness– jungles, mountains, swamps, and Western wastelands– compresses the visuals of a world into a day at the park, while sparing its audiences the inconvenience and vulnerability of confronting the sublime.
I’m also ambivalently attracted to Romantic images of the American landscape from the 1860s, by painters like Church, Bierstadt, and Moran. I love how they capture a sense of fantastic adventure and potential, using color and light to imply grace amidst the realities of weather and terrain. But I don’t love an underlying jingoist ideology that prompted these depictions, the idea that this land was provided for any one culture to dominate and exploit, no matter the costs or consequences.
I’ve always particularly loved the fleeting moments where the illusions in Disneyland simultaneously function and break down, and one hovers in a non-location, part in Anaheim, part in a fictional space. I want the images I am making to recall Brewer’s travels, but to similarly hover in a technologically-informed non-place, for the picture to sometimes make sense from afar, but for the details to show Photoshop, fantasy, and artifice rather than authentic research or experience. My images should look inviting, almost idyllic, but ultimately unstable. I want to explore this question: In the time since we first mapped California, how has our cultural relationship to the landscape changed, and what have we gained and lost?
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.