Convexity / Concavity
2015, silkscreen on sheer fabric, thread, grommets, surveying tape, plastic sheeting, cardboard, pallets, variable size- up to 24' x 50 ' x 4'
Convexity / Concavity is a photographic landscape collage of Google Earth aerial views of an iron strip mine in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The image has been enlarged, divided into a grid and meticulously re-registered as a 2-color, multi-panel screen print on sheer fabric. Each set of 4 panels is sewn into an 8 x 14 foot textile with a heavy-duty border lined with grommets. These large sheer photographic textiles function as tarps, to cover and conceal, but are simultaneously a portable sculptable image, and a sheer and fallible camouflage.
The installation of Convexity / Concavity at the Garner Art Center marked a decidedly new way of working for me. After printing and sewing multiples of the sheer aerial view tarps, I designed and fabricated a modular steel frame structure for the them to drape over. In preparing to travel with this work across the country via public transit, I abandoned the structure because of the cost of shipping and the physical toll of carrying the material. Instead, I brought a backpack with the printed fabric tarps, other objects, and a selective array of tools to improvise an installation based on the unwanted materials (“the best local trash”) that I could scavenge near the warehouse gallery. The expansive sculpture that emerged contains three 8 x 14-foot hand-printed sheer tarps draped over black plastic sheeting, orange surveying tape, and a massive landscape composed of scavenged cardboard stapled to wooden pallets.
Due to the availability of a massive amount of unwanted material and a massive vacant warehouse space-cum-gallery space, over several days I was able to arrange more than a dozen pallets and sculpt hundreds of pounds of cardboard into a landscape that spanned 5,000 square feet; An object too complex to be knowable from a single perspective.
My exploration of the contemporary American landscape has been fueled by a concern for availability of resources, material value, and the identification of our culture’s most abundant and untapped resource, our own waste. Recent works question the human impulse to alter the Earth's legible geological story, and through the rearrangement of past accumulations of matter, overwrite our own. On an industrial scale, man-made forms and accumulations operate as landscape, and Convexity / Concavity considers these human actions in the context of a geological time scale, imagining this movement of matter from site of extraction to site of disposal: from mountain to hole to a different kind of mountain: the homogenization of matter and culture through mass-production and global distribution. Our material footprint will outlive the emblems and statues designed to signify our political and moral ideals, and stand as a chronicle of human activity, similar to the legibility of sedimentary rocks and minerals: an unintended compressed cultural monument spanning the majority of the Earth’s surface.
In his 1757 essay, A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful, Edmund Burke’s criteria for sublimity, as oppositional to beauty, are: astonishment, obscurity, vastness, infinity, terror, and power- viewable at a safe and removed distance. I find Burke’s elemental components of the sublime as defined at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution easily transferable to what I refer to as The Contemporary Sublime, with a multitude of sub-categories including The Technological Sublime, The Industrial and Post-Industrial Sublime, The Economic Sublime, and The Climate Sublime. I could (and will, soon) write at length about how Burke’s criteria translate into The Contemporary Sublime, but here, I will focus on Obscurity, as it relates to Convexity / Concavity, and to matter in general.
The state of being unknown, inconspicuous, or unimportant. As a society that is increasingly less involved or interested in making things by hand, our engagement with matter is extremely narrow, momentary, and often multiply removed from its raw material form- material extraction and material disposal are intentionally invisible to us. With the institution of mass-production, from the t-shirt that you’re wearing to the plastic-wrapped prepared foods you buy, matter has become things.
The result of the obscuring of material origins is a detachment from haptic and material intelligence, a dependence on industrial scale production, a loss of a relationship to raw materials, of understanding of material properties and processing methodologies, of interest in where things come from (or go to), and of the concept of the local. The shift from the local the global means that a few people with economic priorities decide for many people what is mass-produced and how. Within this tightly choreographed, multiply complex and compartmentalized structure for the movement of matter there are opportunities for removal of accountability.
Our detachment from material origins and processes of production has shaped how we define value for matter, and I would argue that as an extension of this culture of devaluation of matter, we have also become invisibly compliant in devaluing all varieties of living things (including people), with the notion that, just as the supermarket shelf is always stocked full, there will always be infinitely more.
The aerial view has sometimes been referred to as God’s eye view, implying a perspective of authority, a position of power, but also one of morality. It is a view that humans have only accessed in the past century with the innovation of flight, but it is from this internalized position of dominance that the Earth has been surveyed, surveilled, mapped, re-mapped, re-sculpted, re-arranged, and although still undeniably vast, is now knowable in an unprecedented quantifiable and controllable way.
Conversely, the aerial view can drastically alter the understanding of space and uncover an entire world of intentionally hidden activity that is absent from the pedestrian experience of place.
In West Haverstraw, New York, where this installation took place, there were two major landmarks that I passed daily on my drive from my friend’s house to the temporary gallery space: a gravel factory and a formidable mountain with a sheared face similar to that of Yosemite’s famous Half Dome. From the banks of the Hudson River, the road snaked between a cliffside and a complex of multi-story pulverizing machinery, then spiraled up to the highway, ascending slowly to the towering heights of the conical piles of gravel. From there, Conger Avenue wound through a crack between two mountains that were formerly one. With a right turn onto Long Clove Road, I caught glimpses of the sun-lit exposed rock strobe like a zoetrope through the dense foliage. After several days of taking this path, I realized that I had been driving underneath a conveyor belt that passed through the mountain from the site of extraction, tunneled beneath the highway, over the frontage road along the Hudson, and delivered rock fragments to the Tilcon machinery to homogenize into a new mountain of smaller units of rock. From the adjoining port on the Hudson they begin their journey of distribution. (see screenshots)
Astonishment, obscurity, vastness, infinity, terror, and power- These are all constantly and intentionally at play in every globalized aspect of late capitalism. Our world is global, yet wholly fragmented and compartmentalized in terms of our relationship to matter: its production, consumption, and disposal. The invisible network of these fragments in motion is the underlying structure of the hyperobject economy, which each of us is inextricably entangled with.