When I first moved to Pennsylvania about a decade ago, my studio practice hit a wall. As a young academic following opportunities, I had moved frequently in preceding years, and this last move had left my sense of place in shambles. Since I had previously looked to place as a source of inspiration in my work, I was at a loss.
Fortunately, at about that time I was introduced to the work of the poet Charles Reznikoff and his 1930’s work titled Testimony. This book of poetry is a very long procedural experiment, where Reznikoff appropriated and aggressively edited witness testimonies from US criminal court records dating from 1855-1915. His process drew a remarkable portrait of that moment in time.
From 2005-2014, with Reznikoff’s project in mind, I began to make drawings that appropriated and edited images from the Sunday Edition of The New York Times. The images chosen were necessarily topical, covering events such as Hurricane Katrina, the London subway bombings, the war in Iraq, the Indonesian earthquake & tsunami, global terrorism, unrest in the Congo, Chechnya, and the Sudan… These topical horrors were all part of the global trend of war and climate change leading to political and economic destabilization, which then led to massive displacements of people.
I was interested in the way news photographs, which are essentially visualized chunks of information, were able to mediate, frame, and deliver to us the human narratives in the midst of these epic events. My drawings chose to convey these narratives by focusing on the visual common denominators that these images share. I distilled the visual signifiers I found in the photographs, stripping them from their journalistic context in order to develop a lexicon of structures, objects, and skylines. I then combined the elements of the lexicon using a “collage consciousness,” in the hopes of tracing patterns of connection. I wanted to find a way to show that these images, which can seem so detached in the newspapers and in our minds as we read about them, are actually inherently related.
The politics of architecture, the way our built environments serve to tell the story of both the everyday life of people on this planet and the power structures that influence their lives, emerged as a primary focal point for this body of work. Global, social, and economic conditions are dislocating a tremendous amount of people. Technology has collapsed most people’s conception of place. Businessmen and tourists can easily fly across the planet without a thought to the space between departure gates, while people looking for opportunity or refuge have to increasingly sneak across borders. The world is shrinking for those with the privilege of mobility. Simultaneously these conditions are making ‘The Other” more strange and fearful to those on the losing end of the global exchange of goods and capital. Additionally the current rates of rural to urban migration continue an unprecedented climb, with some cities growing at wild, unsustainable rates, generating megaslums in close proximity to walled-off private communities. Many rural regions responsible for food production are depopulating at a frightening rate. And it has become clear that this level of displacement has brought about some startling changes in many governments, as a new global industrial border complex is been being erected to control the flow of the refuge seekers.
My media-isolation experiment is intended not to glorify or monumentalize the dystopic events unfolding around us. My interest is in distilling and cataloging the patterns and forms of our daily world through an intuitive editing process. We normally see these kinds of documentary images as topical, disposable, something to process and consume quickly in the newspaper. By sifting through the pictorial evidence of displacement and strife, I try to discover what is hidden in plain view: essential visual elements that draw crucial lines of connection.