Wednesday, December 9, 2009
What I've Been Thinking About: Geography
Seeing the Anne Truitt show at the Hirshorn took me back to wondering about the influence of geography and landscape on artists. Truitt is often quoted talking about how important the Maryland shore was to her work, her sense of color, proportion, etc. I had never seen very much of her work in person before, so I had had to accept this as a factoid without any other information to support it. After seeing so many of her works together in one place, I was really surprised by their specificity of color, shape, and line; this specificity helps me know that these artworks refer to something real out in the world.
I know that my work went off into wild, different directions when I moved to LA and got caught up in its pink light, palm trees, and neons.
So how will a new place change my work this time around? Jaime Castillo, a curator I worked with this summer, asked me that question in August. Here it is December and I don’t have a clue yet, except that working without a studio means finding materials that require only minimal clean up (sewing, drawing, digital photography).
I just finished reading Peter T. Kilborn’s new book Next Stop, Reloville and am thinking about how I do and don’t fit into that category. (The book profiles the lives of families who follow one parent around the country/world in the quest for the ultimate corporate job.) On the surface I do, because I’ve moved to a new place every few years since, oh….college? 1997? However, this book focuses on the “relo enclaves” in the far suburbs of big cities, like Fairfax or Loudon Counties here near DC, or the Woodlands near Houston, or Alpharetta near Atlanta. The MO in these places for the people who choose to live there is to replicated over and over the same experiences, architecture, and social groupings to make life seem more stable, as if they aren’t really having to make radical adjustments in the way they live their lives every few years. That kind of lifestyle is anathema to me; I want to seek out the sights, tastes, and sounds that gives a place its uniqueness. So, even though I choose to live in city centers and seek out neighborhoods with more geographically-related particularities, I end up wanting to be in the same kinds of spots from city to city: old architecture with “character,” independent small businesses, coffee shops, and a general air of bohemianism. So maybe I really am a relo. Maybe an Indie-Relo, or something.
I’ve also been listening to a lot of Bad at Sports, particularly the recent episodes about the Heartland exhibition at the Smart Museum, and interviews with Jonathan Watkins and Mary Jane Jacob. A common theme running through the episodes was the curators’ wish that geography become both key and unimportant for artists. That is, that artists no longer need to be in the centers of display (NY, LA, London, etc.) in order to be members of vital centers of productions (Memphis, Kansas City, Chicago, and Glasgow were mentioned). Their thinking seems to be that we all need to have a global view anyway, so your physical location doesn’t matter as much as what you do there, what you make of it.
As someone who recently left a center of display for someplace else, I hope they are right. However, I know and fear that for this model to be successful, it takes a whole lot more work on everyone’s part. But it’s good to hear curators espousing what hinterland artists have been hearing for so long, in this the Golden Age of Internet. Fingers crossed.