The Search for Identity in the American Landscape

8897900438_de9ebf3b79_oThe New Explorers was inspired by my quest as an artist. My interest in artistic representation of the American landscape began in the early 1980s. As a very young photographer I was drawn to the genre of landscape photography and the work of iconic landscape masters—such as Carleton Watkins, Ansel Adams, Minor White, and Eliot Porter. The group of artists I admired was exclusively male, and the sublime beauty of their imagery both attracted and repelled me. I found the perfection of well-known landscape photographs, like Autumn Moon by Ansel Adams, unsettling. My mixed response to landscape photography triggered a fascination with the powerful role that idealized images of the American landscape have played in masking power and conflict. The violence and suffering that took place in these lands has no trace in such photos. To this day, I remain captivated by how art shapes cultural meaning, affirming certain historical narratives while at the same time erasing others.

Artists have always played vital roles in illustrating the foundational narratives of America, emphasizing landscape as not only a natural phenomenon but also an intellectual and cultural endeavor. The projects in The New Explorers examine how these persistent narratives of landscape offer valuable insight into the continuing quest for American identity. And now, perhaps for first time in American history, female artists are active participants.

Although artists have been creating “experiences” since the 1960s, the past decade has seen a rise in the number of projects that offer experiences in landscape rather than objects like paintings or photographs. Notably, the concept of creating an “experience” has also been taken up in other areas of culture, such as design, food, and travel. Certain artists have been re-entering spaces avoided by the general public. Such spaces were considered too industrial or even toxic to be beautiful. These were often the same places that the early EuropeanAmericans escaped by moving west. As these spaces become reclaimed by artists like Marie Lorenz, these projects, tours, gardens, walks, and boat rides disrupt the control of the commercially driven institutions of the art world.

As a woman who has sought to make new meaning in my art, and as someone who is schooled in contemporary social theory, I intend to bring attention to artists whose fresh perspectives reveal an abundance of opportunity for discovery in the twenty-first century landscape and the continuing search for an identity that is uniquely “American.”


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