An affirmation: landscapes are portable.
For over a decade, I have developed a multidisciplinary art practice that engages perceptions of landscape and wonder. My work ranges from site-specific public artwork combining archival research & animation to creating devices that record the sensory elements of a landscape through creative coding and physical computing. I believe that witnessing the small and obscured events of the physical world heightens our relative awareness of the intangible.
The interest in landscape initially arose out of growing up in two distinct terrains, suburbia near Baltimore and the remote city of St. John’s, Newfoundland. This focus continued through a Fulbright Grant to study Chinese traditional landscape painting and into my MFA thesis. This thesis researched issues of temporality and minimalism by placing industrial processes from the food system directly into sculpture. Through the use of fermentation and Arduino microcontrollers as a time-based media, those artworks connected the bodily act of breathing to landscape through the combination of natural materials, family history, and data collection.
After receiving my MFA, I participated in a six month artist residency at the Hacktory where I focused on working with real-time data and woodworking. Sculptural works included using GPS to point to the closest mountains and lakes, using wind data from NOAA forecasts, and automating a daily supercut of NASA meteorite footage from the previous evening.
These investigations of the natural world through code and sculpture made me question how observations of a place can be intertwined with our sense of curiosity and wonder. Our relative awareness of the physical world is slippery, and often based on screens and digital readouts. Using traditional methods of craft such as woodworking to encase and interact with electronic components counters the mass produced notion of technological tools and objects. The physical movement of carved pointers and motorized wooden panels, continually shifting, offers an authenticity and gravity to knowing where we are in relation to the world beyond our doorsteps.
I invent and program data collection tools to investigate my own relationship to memory and the geography of a landscape. These alternative ways of recording memory are enabled by my coding practice, which allows me to bring my sculpture closer to the phenomena they represent in the physical world.
During a visual arts fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA in 2018, I took daily walks in the pine barrens and sand dunes at the National Seashore. I developed a series of tools, both titled Memorandum for Walking, which data-logged the walks through sensors enclosed in footwear. One recorded the texture of the landscape through recording the force exerted in each step through pressure sensors. The other recorded the chroma of the terrain underfoot through a color sensor. Each of these recorded datasets became foundations for sculptures.
One represented the texture of the land as motion and replayed the walk through motors moving wooden panels in and out of two forms. The other replayed the recorded colors as changing LED light reflected onto the walls. The constant movement of these works also reflects our steadily changing climate, where the geographic boundaries of place are slowly shifting. Since the datasets are played within the sculptures as a loop, it becomes visually difficult to discern where the piece begins and ends. Like the act of recalling the specific memory of a place, not everything can be visible or present all at once.
My current work continues to address issues of how we experience landscape, specifically through archival research combined with experimental animation and public performance. Floating Archives is a public artwork on the lower Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. This project was supported through the Mellon Artist-in-Residence program at the Penn Program in the Environmental Humanities. In two performances in September 2018, hand-drawn animations based on archival materials from 1800 to today were projected on a screen suspended between two canoes as the watercraft moved upstream from Bartram’s Garden to the Fairmount Water Works. As we approached the location on the river that each original image depicted, the corresponding animation was projected onto the screen, creating a spectral layering for the viewer of landscape, history, and wonder.
Floating Archives asks Philadelphians to consider the Schuylkill River as a source of narratives that tell of the ever-changing borders between land and water. Some stories show us of who shaped the river, and the funds and materials used to harden its edges. Other stories are more difficult to surface, obscured by centuries of persistent structures of power and displaced ecologies of humans, animals, and plants. These narratives, whether researched or imagined, whether documented as a drawing or photograph can help each person have a greater sense of belonging. This renewed sensitivity to the past allows a person to begin to reexamine their own connection to their immediate environment. Collected together and projected above the river, these stories invite us to consider, and perhaps re-consider, our own interconnected relationship to the past, present, and future of our immediate landscapes.