Land Use Interpretation

By Emily Adams (MFA 2011)

A "sbloomberg" on Franklin Ave, Brooklyn
The snow plow outside my apartment was stuck for two days. On the second day, a group of guys decided to build a "sbloomberg," a Bloomberg snowman, in front of the giant, frozen metal blade. As the uncollected trash formed adjacent mountains to the snow piles people dug around the sidewalk corners, kids went whizzing down Franklin Avenue on hot magenta plastic toboggans and groups of store owners and families gathered in groups to laugh and grumble at the various activities put on hold by mother nature. The landscape of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, was drastically changed by this year’s Snowmageddon, and with it the entire culture of the neighborhood, if just for a day.
This was only my second New York snow storm, and I’m sure it’s been superseded in years past, but I couldn’t help but think about the event in terms of landscape and landscape’s quiet foundation to our pedestrian, daily lives.

I guess I’m thinking particularly of landscape in terms of cultural geography—the paths we carve out for ourselves to do what we do. In focusing on landscape in contemporary American art for my thesis, it has been revealing to look to artists for new definitions of what landscape can be and how it has been visualized. Artists like Christo/Jean Claude, Gordon Matta Clark, even James Turrell or Robert Smithson, work/ed in landscape, changing our paths, and coaxing us to look in directions different from our customary habit. The work seems to pose questions about the habits we form in landscape. Distraction sometimes becomes an element of investigation. To me, there is a close connection between these examples and the snowstorm’s aftermath.

(my painting) Landscape Letter, oil, ink-jet on canvas, 2010
My task is how to translate this way of working with landscape in painting. The pieces I showed for the midyear critiques were made with varying ‘tools of perspective’ - observational still-life on photographs. They’re fantasies in many ways, but also composed of symbols from veins in American natural and cultural history. Because much of my interest has been rooted in the landscape of the American West, I have recently been looking at the work that has come out of the Center for Land Use Interpretation, in addition to authors like Rebecca Solnit who explore the cultural history of landscape (her book, Savage Dreams, is a perfect example). Catching the recent Anselm Kiefer show at Gagosian has also provided some new food for thought on landscape-as-cultural-history.

A view from the Kiefer show at Gagosian Gallery, Chelsea

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