Friday, February 9, 2018

Recent Fallen Giants

Famous Pioneer Cabin / Tunnel Tree falls during storm, January 2017 [image via]

The Golden Spruce (the book and the movie) [image via]

Westward The Course of Empire Takes Its Way: 19th Century Painters and Photographers

Andrew Russell, Meeting of the Rails, Promontory Summit, Utah, 1869

In the second week of student led presentations, our subject was nineteenth century photography and all the technology that came along with it. In Anderson’s article she wrote about the many artists, both photographers and painters who traveled west to create representations of the wilderness of the West. She also discussed how the invention of the railroad and the artworks created in this time inspired Americans to move and visit the West. Adams, a contemporary black and white photographer, compares the works of the greats like O’Sullivan to the West today. Through this, he covers the impact of light, loss of simple space, and overall land use. Rebecca Solnit’s book discussed the early life and innovative studies of Eadweard Muybridge, and the colossal and historical improvement that railroads gave to the United States in the 1800s.

Carleton Watkins, Cape Horn, near Celilo (Oregon), 1867

In our class discussion, we began with questions about how technology developments have made the world feel smaller. Students remarked on how railroads in their day, and cars in our have dramatically changed the way that we get to these places out West. They are more accessible and much easier to get to, but a student also remarked that these things are merely just tools of a bigger change. That change allowed for new lives, jobs, and opportunities within the untouched land.

Albert Bierstadt, The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak, 1863

People were attracted to the West by the paintings that such as Bierstadt and Moran. These paintings were basically advertisements for the West, with canyons and large trees that weren’t found in the East. The photographs of the Muybridge showed a more realistic side of the West, which may have been less desirable. We talked about the morality more realistic images in paintings and photographs back then of not. This in comparison to how we use art now, which brought up the difference between photojournalism and photography for the fine arts. The main difference is that fine art photography has gained the reputation for being a more manipulative process and thus seen as untrustworthy. The opposite can be said for photojournalism, and this is a concern for when these are combined.

Loggers cutting down a sequoia in 1917

The last thing we discussed is how many people made the change to move West and adapt to a different lifestyle. It was not a cheap or easy way to live considering that the first settlers knew it would be an unsuitable place for large cities. The idea of this led to the conversation about how this change became destructive to the land. Now that we have seen what development has done, people are faced with looking for alternative means to sustainable living. We conversed most passionately in final part of our discussion which addressed the need for a more eco-friendly way of life, such as recycling and the oil corporation.

Jacob Bobeck, Krystlyn Lee, & Gabby O’Neal

Articles: “The Kiss of Enterprise” by Nancy K. Anderson, “In the Nineteenth Century West” by Robert Adams, River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West by Rebecca Solnit

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Native American Art: Indigenous Cultures Before and After European Contact

Fred Kabotie (Hopi), Detail from The 1680 Pueblo Revolt at Hopi, 1976

For our topic, we discussed Native Americans before and after Europeans came to America. This included learning of their customs, homes, and art as well as their social conflict with Europeans and subsequent injustices that occurred due to colonization. The articles focused primarily on Native Americans of the Southwest including Anasazi, Hopi, Zuni, Mimbres, Navajo, and other native peoples. After a brief recap of the readings, we discussed various questions that our classmates had inquired through their responses on blackboard. 

Great Kiva of Chetro Keti

We talked about whether trading fairs such as the ones conducted by Native American tribes pre-colonization could happen in present times. The conclusion was that it could occur once again, but in a very organized manner due to changes in economic systems. Another topic was if humans would ever be able to look past cultural differences in order to see everybody around them as just people rather than something to look down on. It was said that cultural differences are important, that they are part of being human, and shouldn’t be disregarded but rather that humans need to accept differences and appreciate them. 

The class also talked about the problematic construction of Mount Rushmore on sacred Native American grounds. Is it considered land art? The consensus seemed to be that it was technically land art since it was sculpted by an artist. However, much was discussed how disrespectful to Native Americans it is, and how in response to Mount Rushmore Mount Crazy Horse is being constructed. This led into much interesting discussion about Native American representation in media and the strides that have been made to be more respectful in recent times. 

 Julian and Maria Martinez making pottery, San Ildefonso Pueblo, NM, c. 1950

After this discussion, we asked if people who create Native art that are not Native American disenfranchising or appropriating Native American art. This came down to education and being respectful about subject matter. Many agreed in the class that it is important to study different culture’s art in order to understand their process and forms. It is also important to make sure you educate yourself on the origins on the subject matter you are borrowing from and why it was made. 

Lastly, and perhaps our main topic, was whether the darker history of European colonization and the treatment of Native people should be taught earlier in school. This came from the fact that most people in the class had little to no education on the true history of the United States. It was agreed that the true history should be taught sooner than high school, we also discussed how to go about explaining the wrongdoings of early settlers toward Native Americans in a kid-friendly way. The class was very passionate about this topic and wished they had learned more sooner than a junior/senior in high school since it is almost world-altering information.

Overall, the discussion was very interesting since it was a passionate topic for the class. I think that everybody learned a lot more about our nation’s history than we had previously known and will strive to support changes that we felt should be made during our discussion. 

Cassi Amman, Teddy Lepley & Aly Didier

Articles Read: David W. Penney "Chapter 4: The Southwest"; Colin G. Calloway, "First Peoples: A Documentary Survey of American Indian History"; and Akim D. Reinhardt, "Native America: The Indigenous" 

Friday, February 2, 2018

"Sweet Medicine" and "Americans"

Two links surfaced the week our class started reading about Native American art and culture. Colin Edgington suggested I investigate Drex Brooks' Sweet Medicine after hearing about this class and it could not be a more appropriate contemporary investigation of the subjects we are starting to explore.

Nicole Pasulka writes in the link above that Brooks "photographed historical sites where conflict between Native Americans and white settlers occurred. Brooks’s work forces audiences to consider the massacres and exploitation Native Americans suffered at the hands of these settlers. The stillness of these overgrown or repopulated sites reminds us of what’s been forgotten and what’s missing."

Drex Brooks, Bad Axe Massacre Site, Vernon County, Wisconsin, 1991

Drex Brooks, Site of the Bascom Affair, Apache Pass, Cochise County, Arizona, 1988

Drex Brooks, Pyramid Lake Battlefield, Pyramid Lake Reservation, Nevada, 1988

Drex Brooks, Children's Graves, Carlisle Indian School, now U.S. Army War College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, 1988

Drex Brooks, Medicine Lodge Treaty Site, Barber County, Kansas, 1988

[All images are from the Blue Sky Gallery website]

After reading Peter Schjeldahl's review "America as Indian Country" in The New Yorker, I looked up the exhibition on the National Museum of the American Indian website and promptly started clicking on nearly every single object. 

Schjeldahl writes: "As an old white man, I can’t propose my pleasure in “Americans” as a model response to it, given the plurality of brains that burn with variants of rage or anguish in this time of identity politics. But I’ll dare to endorse an approach ... that lets identity and politics float a little free of each other, allowing wisdom to seep in. The show attempts it by parading crudely exaggerated understandings of Native Americans, ossified in kitsch, to awaken reactive senses of complicated, deep, living truths."

While immersed in this world of kitsch, Lara informed me that the Cleveland Indians decided to phase out their logo this week (after how many decades of discussion?).

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Field Trip to Indianapolis

Last week we traveled to the the Indianapolis Art Museum/Newfields and the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art. At the IMA, the goal was to see some of the artists we would study this semester (James Turrell) or view on the road trip (Robert Irwin). The City as Canvas, a NYC graffiti filled extravaganza was also on display and we immersed ourselves in 1980s rap music, pay phones, and recreations of subway system signage.

Celina, Alex, Kaiti and Alix in front of Robert Irwin's Light and Space III at the Indianapolis Museum of Art / Newfields

The light falling on the doorway walking out of James Turrell's Acton at the Indianapolis Museum of Art / Newfields

Joan and Cassi participating in "The City as Canvas: New York City Graffiti from the 70s and 80s" at the Indianapolis Museum of Art / Newfields

Native Art Now, showcasing two decades of artists who participated in the Fellowship program at the Eiteljorg was the focus of this year's trip. We saw sculptures from Bonnie Devine and Sonja Kelliher-Combs, paintings by Rick Bartow and James Lavador, and photographs by Will Wilson and Wendy Red Star (to name a few). Below are highlights:

Sonya Kelliher-Combs in Native Art Now at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Paper Dolls for a Post Columbian World with Ensembles Contributed by the US Government in Native Art Now at the Eiteljorg Museum

Will Wilson, AIR Auto Immune Response #5

Wendy Red Star, Apsáalooke Roses

Gerald Clarke, Manifest Destiny

In addition, we spent time with the Native American and Western collections in preparation for our upcoming readings on Native American Art and Culture in the Southwest. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

Land Art in the News

Agnes Denes, Tree Mountain [Image via]

Here are a couple articles written within the last year that relate to the topics we will discuss over the next few months:

"How Can Ecological Artists Move Beyond Aesthetic Gestures?" by Ben Valentine

Interview with Leigh Arnold on Women Artists, Land Art, and Representation, Glasstire
[of particular interest is Arnold's preparation for an upcoming 2020 exhibition on women in the Land Arts movement]

Sunday, January 28, 2018

2018: Round 2

Space, Land, and Concept in Art of the American West has returned three years later with a new group of nineteen students (Alex, Alix, Aly, Carrie, Cassi, Celina, Demi, Gabby, Holly, Jacob, Joan, Kaiti, Katherine, Krystlyn, Lilly, Megan H., Megan S., Molly and Teddy). As before, we will study the art, culture, and mythologies that embody the West. This blog will continue to record our conversations and once the semester is over, it will document the journey that we will travel from Muncie, Indiana to Texas, the Desert Southwest and the Great Basin.

Once again, Lucy Lippard's Undermining: A Wild Ride Through Land Use, Politics, and Art in the Changing West was our starting point. Cultural and historical geography, despoliation through fracking and nuclear waste storage, Native American rights and tourism were all of interest to the group as we questioned what our roles as artists, art educators and art historians were in response to these issues. Many of us were concerned with the impact of the government's new regulations, future development, and whether or not earthworks were harmful to the environment.

Image via...

Kaiti asked: "What do our altered landscapes tell us about our society collectively and individually? As bystanders and as people taking part? We have watched countless people and places be ruined by our decision making in land use. How far is 'too far?' When and where will we draw the line?"

Demi wondered "Is land art useful?" while Alex contemplated "to what extent are we the place(s) where we grew up in?"

Teddy was curious whether or not "the museumification of earthworks was beneficial or detrimental to their purpose."

Mississippi Basin Model from the CLUI website

We also dove into the Center for Land Use Interpretation's website, database and publication, Overlook: Exploring the Internal Fringes of America through the Center for Land Use Interpretation. We learned how altered landscapes like stylized representations of a portion of the earth (the Mississippi Basin Model), show caves as tourist destinations, intentionally drowned towns, military domination of the land, and transgressive communities like Slab City and Burning Man inform who we are as a society.