Infrastructure bias

Exploring humans + landscapes at Colby
By ANNIE LARMON  |  April 7, 2010

MOVING A MOUNTAIN Francis Alys, “The Making of Lima,” 2000; still from single-channel video projection.

“Experimental Geography,” a group show organized by Independent Curators International at the Colby College Museum of Art, surveys the recent work of 19 international contemporary artists and artist collectives seeking to provide new frameworks for understanding various aspects of human interaction with the environment. Employing a breadth of mediums including alternative cartography, physical intervention, sculpture, sound and video installation, and photography, the featured works provoke reconsideration of the politics and mapping of space.

The exhibit takes the form of an interdisciplinary laboratory, blending art practice and scientific research methods to explore the infinite ways we are both a product of our environment and the physical and social realities or conceptions of our environment a product of ourselves. This study, the field of “experimental geography,” a term coined in 2002 by Trevor Paglen (whose work is included in the show), here explores a range of exchanges between human and landscape, from the Spurse collective’s attempt to distill cultural clues from samples of dust and grime found on stairs and rooftops, to the 40 wildly subjective drawn maps of Waterville for AREA Chicago’s “Notes for a People’s Atlas of Waterville.” The Center for Land Use Interpretation uses a tour bus as a museum, traveling to and thereby “exhibiting” the less picturesque American interventions with nature, here represented by poster/postcard-like images from a “Tour of the Monuments of the Great American Void” or “Margins in our Midst: A Journey into Irwindale,” getting the viewer in touch with the underbelly of American convenience. Trying to become intimate with geological processes, to understand in our terms the extremities existing in our physical world, Ilana Halperin boils milk in a hot spring. Becoming intimate with the reality of fear in a post-9/11 urban America, Kanarinka measured the experience of running a Boston evacuation route in breaths.

Curator Nato Thompson describes the works in the show as existing on a grid with one axis ranging from the didactic to the poetic and the other from the urban to the geological, together forming a holistic portrait of the possibilities of organizing and experiencing the world. Two poetic video installations were especially resonant: the collective Multiplicity’s 2003 “The Road Map,” detailing the effects of territory delineation on Israeli and Palestinian citizens, and in “The Making of Lima,” documentation of Francis Alys’s project “When Faith Moves Mountains.”

In “The Road Map,” an Israeli and a Palestinian travel similar distances by car. While the Israeli traveler smoothly rides highways for one hour to reach the destination, the Palestinian must negotiate checkpoints, use smaller back roads, and endure endless delays due to territory lines. The route takes the Palestinian five and a half hours. The installation is experienced through two large-scale projections documenting the drives, and monitors on the floor showing two maps — one of the smooth highway route, the other of the jagged, inconvenient Palestinian route — quantifying the disparity of a spatial experience based on ethnicity.

In 2002 Francis Alys organized 500 volunteers to attempt to displace a giant sand dune outside Lima, Peru, if only by a few inches. The volunteers formed a single file line across the expansive dune, and armed with shovels began the journey over the dune, shoveling sand forward as they progressed. The video exhibited includes interviews with participants, as well as impressive footage of the 500 people, all dressed in white shirts, coming together to move a mountain.

Annie Larmon can be reached 

“EXPERIMENTAL GEOGRAPHY” | through May 30 | at Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville | 207.859.5600

  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Visual Arts, Cultural Institutions and Parks, Museums,  More more >
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