Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Geographic Observatory

As my last comment on representation of the Maine landscape, i want to introduce the work of a young artists couple, Jessica George and Cole Caswell. Their collaborative creative endeavors are intensely idea-driven and take a wide range of forms, from clothing design to book publishing. They also just opened what they refer to as a “a stepping stone for the curious public trafficker” at 157 High Street in Portland (www.wearex.org). Making art and life one continuous practice, it is sometimes difficult to wrap one's mind around their projects. Their investigative spirit will use any tool available to them that relates to direct interaction and can incorporate antiquated techniques including cyanotypes and tintypes or technological systems such as GPS tracking systems.

The artists are based on Peaks Island and have made that geographic locale the focus of several of their Geographic Observatory projects from 2007 to 2009. As an island it provides the site for the artists' shared interest in boundaries and edges and ways to deal with them. Their engagement with land is always site-specific, based on observations from various angles and changing priorities, and results in multiple layers of representation and understanding. For the Canine Tracking Project, their dog was outfitted with a GPS marker and her perambulations across the island tracked. The resulting linear pattern is reproduced as a cyanotype and represents the island's surface with a totally different set of parameters along non-human points of interest. More traditional Plein-air Paintings record the artists' direct response to the landscape in a conventional way. A second set of paintings aims for a more contemporary feel and is executed from memory of a place or event. These small paintings are more abstract and can be hung in configurations that make sense to the viewer.

The Species series required more scientific interaction with the land as well as photographic records of it. In the margins of large images of areas of land, specific plant species are identified with their botanical names (not reproduced here). The same kind of scrutiny is the basis of a series of Botanical Sketches of wildflowers, each outfitted with a label of identifying information. Invertebrates shifts the focus to the animal world and consists of scanned images of insects found in the artists' house. Finally, exploring the physical edge of the island where it meets with the surrounding water, a complete circumnavigation yielded two sets of photographs collected in a duo of books. Detritus: Views documents a continuous view of the island, and Detritus: Objects what human trash and traces were found at predetermined intervals. Together, the two series establish a firm interaction between time and space.

While not all of these different approaches carry the same force, they deliver a cumulative, selective representation that affords a deeper understanding of a specific site. Like quasi-scientists, George and Caswell collect data of objective and subjective character, to understand systems of information that overlay the land. This kind of engagement with a place requires a lot of time on the part of the artists and viewers as well.

http://www. jessicageorge.org

Monday, June 14, 2010

Other Writing

I am very sorry to have neglected this blog so much for which, at least partially, other writing projects are to blame. I now have a bi-weekly column in the Rockland-based Free Press newspaper and am posting two links below. The first is about a presentation Belfast painter Linden Frederick gave and the second reviews an exhibition of drawing collages by Tony Fitzpatrick. Next up is my review of the CMCA Biennial. Stay tuned.