My work has been devoted to landscape concepts since 1989. Six years ago I began reading military tracking manuals, David Harvey’s writings on human political geography, capitalism, and forced migrations of humans, and Goethe’s writings on morphology. In order to see the landscape in new ways, I interviewed U.S. Border Patrol trackers. The meetings resulted in tracking lessons, information about human and drug corridors in the area, and a conversation about nearby Mount Livermore, a mountain that can be seen from my studio. After a tracker pointed out that Mount Livermore is a landmark for drug traffickers and undocumented workers backpacking through the area, I adopted the mountain as the focus of my artwork.
Mount Livermore (8,176 feet) is situated 50 miles from the U.S./Mexico border, north of Marfa, Texas. It is designated a sky island having “supreme conservation value” by The Nature Conservancy. Surrounded by a high desert plain and protected by its isolation, scientists and environmentalists study the unique flora and fauna on the mountain. Archeology digs on the peak and in the shadow of the mountain have yielded artifacts thousands of years old. Several decades ago, surveyors from a National Geodetic Survey team occupied the peak for the collection of data for the Lunar Laser Ranging Project, the oldest “living” Apollo project. Currently an antenna at the peak is used by the Border Patrol to receive and transmit information from thousands of sensors buried in the area and for emergency broadcasts. In short, many historical moments, technological stages, and political agendas converge at this site. Since my initial meeting with the Border Patrol tracker, I have interviewed other trackers, undocumented workers, a former moon rock curator at NASA, the lead archeologist at a local university, the director and the lead botanist for the Davis Mountain Preserve of The Nature Conservancy, an engineer from the McDonald Observatory, naturalists, a pilot, and a designer of military holograms to understand the cultural complexity of this site.
While learning elementary tracking techniques, I trained my eyes to see through the distraction of the foreground toward what is hidden in the less focused background. I was forced to consider a number of factors that revised the models of figure/ground relations I was taught as an artist: the absence of clearly distinguishing separations of foreground to background, the presence of subtle disturbances on the ground, the positioning of the perceiving body relative to the object, and the possibility of attempted concealment and camouflage. Gestalt Aesthetics created the bridge between the tracking experiments and the formal parameters of art. Rather than seeing a series of discrete phenomena or isolated events, I now recognize the inadequacy of separating the particular from the context. Gestalt is a continuum of moving and changing experiences. It is necessary to interrelate phenomenon (objects) and process (events or experiences) in order to track. The dynamic nature of my experiences in these isolated landscapes has prompted me to consider how each new assembly of art objects is a traveling caravan of moving figure-ground relationships. These transitory sites can be imaginatively formalized in the gallery space.
What started as tracking lessons in order to see the landscape differently has resulted in a series of art installations that stage an unlikely encounter between pre-Enlightenment Cabinets of Curiosity, Goethe’s writings on morphology, Kurt Schwitters’ Merzbau, and the dazzle paint and anti-range finding camouflage schemes of World Wars I and II (so-called ‘dazzle painting”). The black and white installations are built with photos, video, painting, drawing and text. In addition, the installations are documented in a continuing series of black and white photographs that I regard as thresholds to subsequent installations. By regarding the installations and documentation as continuous actions rather than isolated occurrences or fragments I trace the original experience through subsequent events. Taxonomy of Unusual Events on the Mountain (Houston, TX, Mixed media installation, 2010, floor to ceiling, five walls, ceiling is 10 feet.) raises questions about the relationships between fragments and totalities, formalizing this inquiry in the tentative space of the installation. In Ungrammaticalities (NYC, Installation, 2010, wall painting, floor to ceiling, eight walls, ceiling is 9.5 feet.) the complex geometric shapes of dazzle paint and anti-range finding camouflage schemes of World Wars I and II are used to disorient and disrupt the observer. The documentation of the installation misleads the viewer once again through the angles and surface disorientation of the camera viewpoint. Watcher: Strategies for Art, Observation and Adaptation (Saratoga Springs, NY, Installation, 2010, wall painting, floor to ceiling, four walls, height is 12 feet.) was assembled during my residency at YADDO. I began a series of events to create different combinations of and contexts for sense perception. As watchers, observers and inter-actors, I invited writers, performance artists, DJ’s and playwrights to perform as I video and photograph them in my evolving installation. Artists such as Aaron Hamburger read his essay, “The Eroticism of Football” from I Like it Like That: True Stories of Gay Male Desire and Dan Fishback performed from his new musical, The Material World, about Madonna, Britney Spears and socialist Jews in the 1920s. paraMuseum: Environmental Exigencies (Houston, TX, Installation, 2010, four b/w photos on canvas, 4 x 8 feet each.) is a public art project for Rice University. Upon the initial installation event in mid-October there will follow a second event, an interdisciplinary conference on the environment that will take place in 2011.
The kinetics of wilderness is the source for my art. Investigating the semantic networks, transitional experiences, and changing morphologies of Gestalt Aesthetics presents the opportunity to explore the relays between perceptual activity in the natural environment and the formal practices of art. The result is a tentative step toward the redefinition of landscape art.