Postcard Promises: Tourism at the End of the World

Katie Hargrave’s and Meredith Lynn’s Over Look / Under Foot
This essay was written for Epicenter's Why This Place?: A Future-Forward Retrospective catalog published in 2021. This is in response to a project by the artists Katie Hargrave and Meredith Lynn as part of their Frontier Fellowship.

The hope of pristine and picturesque wilderness, adventure, fresh air, and memories forged with friends and family is the siren song of the outdoor tourism industry. Utah, in particular, is a destination for many seeking this type of experience. It is home to five national parks that comprise over 1,300 square miles of geological and historical wonder: Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion National Park. High chroma photographs that accentuate the fiery red-rock formations against ethereal blue skies are the bait to entice would-be adventurers to traverse the desert landscape and stand in silent and meditative awe of Mother Nature.

When visiting a national park, there are a number of factors that unexpectedly frame the experience. Travelers have to negotiate vacation time, reserve campsites, buy equipment, plan their road-trip playlists, pack their vehicles, drive for hours on end, haggle over bathroom stops, find palatable roadside dining, circle parking lots, work with shuttle schedules, set up camp at often congested sites, deal with pit toilets, and hike in unfavorable weather. When the perfect picture is to be captured for posterity, a vantage that excludes all the other posing tourists, upraised camera phones, and distracting detritus can be nearly unattainable. It is akin to pilgrims traveling to Paris to view the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, only to find that the desired intimate and quiet communion with the artwork is impossible as they are jostled by the swarming and camera-happy crowd in front off the diminutive artwork sitting distantly behind barriers and bullet-proof glass.

Images of national parks found on postcards, social media, and park websites consumed prior to a vacation shape visitors’ expectations as they look forward. Then the photos and videos taken by tourists cement and mold their memories as they look back. The roads, trails, and signage direct movement and attention to the primary attractions and photo ops. The pristine wilderness exists only as a myth to the sightseer since their experience is highly guided, mediated, and manicured. Often, direct rapport with the earth is not even desired. Campers bring with them all the amenities they can in their cars, trucks, SUVs, and RVs—creating a portable, bougie, suburban home with a national park as their front lawn in search of an idyllic #vanlife.

Our national parks were initially envisioned as part preserve and part playground, and these two interests are continually colliding. Access to protected land results in the scarification of the earth with roads and trails, restrooms, and visitor centers. It is this type of interference and mediated experience that irked noted author and one-time resident of Arches, Edward Abbey, who wrote, “Arches National Monument has become a travesty called Arches National Park—a static diorama seen through glass.”1

Artists Katie Hargrave and Meredith Lynn were fascinated by Utah’s national parks, not solely for the landscape, but for the thing that Abbey despised: the cloud of surrounding tourist culture—from the postcard promises of leisure and adventure to the nitty gritty of camping. Outfitted as proper vacationers with a rented van and a teardrop camper, the artists set out to visit all five national parks in Utah in the early spring of 2020, counter to Abbey’s insistence that it was “better to idle through one park in two weeks than try to race through a dozen in the same amount of time.”2

Katie Hargrave and Meredith Lynn Starting their trip outside of Epicenter in Green River, UT
Katie Hargrave and Meredith Lynn
Starting their trip outside of Epicenter in Green River, UT

As John Steinbeck noted in his American travelogue, plans, schedules, and intentions are for naught as trips cannot be completely controlled. Hargrave and Lynn’s trip was cut short as fears surrounding COVID-19 began spreading across the nation in March and organizations began to shut down, including national parks. Fortunately, the abbreviated itinerary allowed them to fly home the day before a 5.7-magnitude earthquake manifested just southwest of the Salt Lake City Airport, forcing it to shut down on the day of their original departure. This same earthquake damaged property in downtown Salt Lake City including the historic Rio Grande Depot that houses a gallery space where the artists were scheduled to exhibit the fruits of their collaborative trek through Utah’s national parks. Their exhibition was postponed indefinitely while repairs took place and COVID restrictions were enacted. Their original plans were dashed to “wreckage on the personality of the trip.”3

The artists were able to pivot and still exhibit their work at The New Gallery at Austin Peay State University in Tennessee, November to December, 2020. References to the work in this essay are based on their exhibition at The New Gallery titled Over Look / Under Foot.

The project started in Arches National Park. In advance of their trip, they scoured the internet for Creative-Commons-licensed images previous sightseers had taken of popular vistas of Arches National Park, including other people in their shots. The artists pasted these photographs of red rocks and blue sky together and had them printed onto fabric that would be fashioned into their campsite tent. When erected at the campground in Arches, the tent became a strange form of camouflage that both hid the structure within the similar landscape and caught the attention of other campers because of its unique appearance. In the gallery, video of people photographing themselves and each other in the park were rear-projected onto the tent’s doorway.

Katie Hargrave and Meredith Lynn The Arches tent in situ (left) and installed at The New Gallery at Austin Peay State University (right)
Katie Hargrave and Meredith Lynn
The Arches tent in situ (left) and installed at The New Gallery at Austin Peay State University (right)

In 1971, when Arches was designated a national park, the number of annual visitors was 202,100. In 2019 (pre-pandemic), 1,659,702 individuals came through the park.4 On peak days, the park can see over 3,000 vehicles pass through its gates.5 This dramatic increase of car and foot traffic means more roads, parking, pollution, trash, and the creation of the single developed campground in the park featuring restrooms with flush toilets. It was at this campground that the artists pitched their tent highlighting the increasing human presence in the park.

Moving on to the next nearest park, Canyonlands, Hargrave and Lynn covered the windows of their camper leaving only one small hole as an aperture, effectively turning the interior into a camera obscura to capture all seven scenic overlooks as they drove through Canyonlands National Park. The resulting photographs were exhibited as they were captured, with the landscape upside down, having been inverted by the aperture. Because the photographs were taken from the vantage of the camper, without the aid of zoom lenses, the images don’t quite resemble the typical tourist pics that seek desperately to mimic professional promotional images. Instead, the camera obscura photos contain the picturesque views as well as roadside gravel, concrete parking bumpers, and road signage. They are more honest images that do not crop out the manmade facets that frame the sightseer experience.

Katie Hargrave and Meredith Lynn
Camera Obscura: Capitol Reef

Photography and video are such integral parts of tourism. Pics or it didn’t happen. Whereas static photography is ideal for capturing single vantage points, video is for journeys. Using the same camera obscura setup, the duo shot a video of the sixteen-mile round trip drive along the paved roadway through Waterpocket Fold in Capitol Reef National Park as the passing scenery cascaded across the camper’s interior cabinetry. The external was brought internal, as if the camper were an eye on wheels, continually watching.

At Bryce Canyon National Park, the artists turned their lens on the visitor center. They shot video around the center and gathered found footage of old national park promotional videos and vacation films from the 1950s and ’60s. Ultimately these videos and films manifested in a work at The New Gallery. Their found footage and video of the visitor center were placed inside graphic arrows found in and pulled from driving manual diagrams to assist drivers with maneuvering a vehicle with an attached camper trailer. This video was rear-projected inside another custom tent similar to their Arches tent. The nylon shell remained dark except for the slivers of the footage shimmering through the arrow’s outlines scattered across the tent’s taut fabric, like constellations guiding travelers in the night.

Katie Hargrave and Meredith Lynn
Bryce Canyon Tent

The last stop was at Zion National Park, the busiest of all the Utah parks, receiving 4,488,268 travelers in 2019.6 This concentration of traffic has led to unique solutions at Zion, including a new seasonal shuttle service. The road in and out of the park is often highly congested and the visitor center has a line of people awaiting information, brochures, and maps. However, as the artists arrived, they noted that the visitor center was closed. This was a symptom of COVID-19 as it began shutting down the nation in mid-March. Hargrave and Lynn were able to hike around the park, but not execute their original plan. Prior to the trip, they amassed vintage postcards of Zion, hoping to compare the old imagery with new ones in the visitor center gift shop. Instead, the artists sprinkled the roads depicted in their postcards with the tiny glass beads employed in reflective paint used to stripe roadways—drawing attention to this alteration of the landscape that literally paved the way for millions of visitors.

Katie Hargrave and Meredith Lynn Altered vintage postcard of Zion National Park
Katie Hargrave and Meredith Lynn
Altered vintage postcard of Zion National Park

Arriving in Zion—named in reference to a holy utopia—as the world began to crumble under a plague and earthquake, was an appropriately apocalyptic way for Hargrave and Lynn to end their trek. This land which was formed by seismic upheaval, now draws throngs to spend their leisure time hiking, camping, biking, and most importantly, photographing. On top of the strata of indigenous, colonial, and Mormon histories, is a new crust of millions of digital, geotagged images and videos. This latest geohistorical layer was the mine from which the artists drew the raw materials for their project. And it is back to this layer that their project returns, as images, videos, and texts such as this.

  1. Edward Abbey, Beyond the Wall: Essays from the Outside (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1984), xv–xvi. [Back]
  2. Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire : A Season in the Wilderness (New York: RosettaBooks, 2011), 54. [Back]
  3. John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America (New York: Penguin Books, 1962), 4. [Back]
  4. “Arches NP,” National Parks Service, accessed March 16, 2021, [Back]
  5. “Traffic and Travel Tips,” National Parks Service, accessed March 16, 2021, [Back]
  6. “Zion NP,” National Parks Service, accessed March 17, 2021, [Back]

With Five (or Fewer) You Greet Friends

Calista Lyon’s Localized Gestures (2019)

This essay was written for Epicenter's Why This Place?: A Future-Forward Retrospective catalog published in 2021.

In the spring of 1928, the artist John Heartfield stood outside a Berlin factory, asking to examine the hands of exiting workers. When he saw a quintessentially calloused and rough hand, he took the laborer to a nearby site to photograph the hand before returning to the factory to resume his search. Heartfield was part of the agitprop division of the KPD (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands)—an anti-fascist party—where he had recently accepted an assignment to promote the party’s ballot placement in the fifth slot.1 He had a vision for using a proletariat hand reaching for the camera to seize political victory—the five extended fingers creating a visual reminder to voters of which box to check.

After sorting through hundreds of photos, Heartfield and his colleagues selected a hand featuring thick, boxy fingers with deep, weathered crags.2 The dark lighting appeared as a layer of factory soot and grime, lending a further air of gritty authenticity to the image. This was the hand of the people. It was isolated on a white background and emblazoned, larger than life, on posters pasted around Berlin with the accompanying tagline: “5 Finger hat die Hand. Mit 5 packst Du den Feind.” (5 Fingers Has the Hand. With 5 You Seize the Enemy.).

Nearly ninety years later, and 8,000 miles away, the artist Calista Lyon began collecting short video clips of the residents of Green River, Utah, waving hello/goodbye for the camera. Only their hands and arms are visible in the camera frame, with mildly blurry backdrops of the rural town as a secondary character. The resulting silent seven-minute video, Localized Gestures, is a cheery catalog of greetings.

Calista Lyon, Localized Gesture, 2019, video projected on a billboard
Calista Lyon
Localized Gesture, 2019
Video projected on a billboard

Bright, hazy, desert light cascades across each scene featuring grocery stores, homes, the Green River, Main Street, and other locales. There is not an archetypal Green River hand or wave. Lyon created the video “as a way to see this community together, to hold the nuance of each person through their own gesture.”3 The aggregated 173 vignettes (featuring 175 gestures), become a composite portrait of Green River and its variances. A pudgy toddler, withered senior, sno-cone shack worker, tattooed twenty-something, and hands with missing digits wave frantically back and forth, throw out three-fingered hails, rapidly open and close their mitts, and twiddle their fingers as part of the salutation parade. A single middle finger is jokingly jabbed in the air by an aged citizen as a humorous counterpoint.

Lyon grew up in a family of farmers in Tallangatta Valley, Australia. She recognized the similarities between her rural upbringing and the bucolic Green River. She wrote of her time in Epicenter’s Frontier Fellowship:

One thing I always love when I visit rural communities is that everyone greets one another. [. . .] Almost everyone knows everyone, a lot of people wave to one-another from their vehicles, as a kid I used to love to watch the different gestures of people’s waves from above the steering wheel. To this day, I love going to smaller communities where this is common practice.4

The symbolic gesture of a wave is a call-and-response that seeks reciprocation and connection. It is an acknowledgement of seeing and having been seen. By its nature, like a tango, waving takes two.

Lyon’s cavalcade of kindness rolled out in 2019 in the heart of Trump’s America. Amid national calls to return to civility, Lyon’s video is an example of the ingrained courtesy endemic to rural areas and the sense of communal familiarity. Small towns remove the sense of anonymity found in larger cities. Schools, churches, community organizations, and events create an environment for the mixing of classes and groups that might otherwise remain more homogeneous and bring them together in waves, handshakes, backslaps, and hugs.

Green River’s added layer is an economy tied to travel and tourism. Not only is the city friendly to insiders, but outsiders are welcomed into the community and its etiquette as well. Epicenter itself even plays that role—introducing artists from the outside to various social strata within the city.

Calista Lyon, Localized Gesture, 2019, video projected on a billboard
Calista Lyon
Localized Gesture, 2019
Video projected on a billboard

Lyon’s finished work was projected after dark at a community picnic, on the sides of parked semi trailers that pulled off of Interstate 70, the exterior of a popular local restaurant, and a billboard visible to cars as they drove out of town. This project was made in part by the locals, primarily for the locals, with local symbolic gestures connecting and responding to one another as its subject. Placing the work into the public sphere reflects back to the locals a story of a generosity of spirit; and to those passing through, an invitation to engage with the community on friendly terms.

Although Heartfield and Lyon share a methodology of searching for and collecting images of hands, Heartfield’s hand of the oppressed aggressively reached for and discursively defined a political enemy, whereas Lyon’s hands welcome unity and solidarity. Heartfield sought an emblematic worker’s hand to highlight class division and power struggles, and Lyon’s collective video is not building an “us vs. them” narrative but just an “us.” Heartfield was engaged in agitprop, Lyon in what I call “civicprop.”

Civicprop mediates the bringing together of people, not in opposition to others, but in celebration of geographic proximity and situational commonalities. Lyon’s work in Green River, as well as other areas, falls into this category that is part social anthropology and part representational narrative that reflects back histories, characteristics, and stories to help archive and solidify collective civic identity.

Calista Lyon, Localized Gesture, 2019, video still
Calista Lyon
Localized Gesture, 2019
Video still

Lyon’s Localized Gestures is a document of Green River in 2019, pointing to larger political climates, symbolic gestures, and the similarities and quirks of rural cultures. It is also a centerpiece of public pride and a clarion call to visit or stay. As a disseminated video, it is a postcard sharing the greetings of Green River with anyone who sees the video, anywhere in the world. With five or fewer fingers, it waves to you and hopes you wave back.

  1. Sherwin Simmons, “‘Hand to the Friend, Fist to the Foe’: The Struggle of Signs in the Weimar Republic,” Journal of Design History 13, No. 4 (2000): 329–330. [Back]
  2. Simmons, “‘Hand to the Friend,’” 329–330. [Back]
  3. Calista Lyon, email message to author, January 16, 2021. [Back]
  4. Lyon, email message to author. [Back]

Peaks and Valleys

The Rise of Utah's Alternative Art Platforms

New alternative platforms for presenting art were cropping up in Utah utilizing apartments, garages, the internet, and the desert landscape as their homes. This article is a snapshot of these spaces in 2020 as COVID-19 shut down physical spaces—highlighting the value of a virtual presence and documenting how others pivoted online.

Publication: New Art Examiner

Geologically, the state of Utah is a panoply of strata, formations, and colors. From the sterile expanses of the Bonneville Salt Flats, to the soaring peaks of the Wasatch Mountain Range, to the otherworldly red rock deserts of the south, Utah is constantly and slowly changing. Wind and water contour stone; floods and droughts reveal, and submerge the land; while underground volcanic, and tectonic activity pushes and pulls the surface into craggy wrinkles. A magnitude 5.7 earthquake shook northern Utah as recently as March this year.

In Utah’s evolving cultural landscape, there are only a few steadfast art museums that have weathered corroding social and economic factors over the decades, and of those, there is only one that is not directly tied to a university. Over the years, smaller, artist-initiated projects have emerged then eroded away. Such endeavors are generally founded to provide opportunities that would otherwise be absent given the paucity of galleries and museums. What has changed is the sheer number of initiatives that are continuing to crop up. They each have a stance on sustainability, engagement, and scope—variations that make their coexistence interesting, and relevant.

Pal Gallery started in Provo, Utah in the spring of 2018, with an apartment show of seven artists. Eric Edvalson, the curator, and organizer who recently graduated from Brigham Young University’s (BYU) MFA program, initially thought of it as a one-time thing, but also considered lending the project some legitimacy by naming the space. “There is something interesting about calling it a gallery, and stating that this is our first show.” Assuming that wearing the mantle of a gallery conveys authenticity, a platform is then established for artists to surpass the pall of amateur endeavors, and invite people into their homes, welcome other artists, and avoid the awkwardness in offering casual approaches—“Hey, would you like to display your art in my house?”

Edvalson named his gallery Pal, because he saw it as a chance to build relationships—strengthen friendships he already had with his exhibiting artists, and form new connections by asking people into his sanctum. Given the spatial challenges of his apartment, the shows could only last for one night. He produced pocket-size print catalogs for each exhibition to document their fleeting nature, and used Instagram to advertise, and serve as his sole digital archive. The future of Pal is in question with the onset of COVID-19, when bringing strangers into one’s apartment is not currently an option, but it does provide Edvalson with time to reevaluate where, and how, he invests his energy and resources. He always hoped that Pal would be a catalyst, saying, (with tongue partially in-cheek) “Part of me doesn’t want to do these things. I’m just doing them because no one else will. And if other people start doing it, then I won’t have to.” This do-it-yourself drive is very common in the arts in Utah. There is not a multi-tiered ecosystem in which artists can thrive. As such, artists must create their own opportunities, or languish waiting for others to lead the way.

Gregory Eddi Jones, Brokkenfreute and Other Similar Pictures, 2020, installed at Washer / Dryer Projects, 1/17/2020 - 2/14/2020, image courtesy of the artist and Washer / Dryer Projects | Actual Source, Beefy T, 2019, installed at Washer / Dryer Projects, 9/7/2019–9/30/2019, image courtesy of the artist and Washer / Dryer Projects
Left: Gregory Eddi Jones
Brokkenfreute and Other Similar Pictures, 2020
Installed at Washer / Dryer Projects, 1/17/2020 – 2/14/2020
Image courtesy of the artist and Washer / Dryer Projects
Right: Actual Source, Beefy T, 2019
Installed at Washer / Dryer Projects, 9/7/2019–9/30/2019
Image courtesy of the artist and Washer / Dryer Projects

Another BYU alumnus, Mitchell Barton, sought to fill those same opportunity gaps, in the fall of 2018. He didn’t have the funds to start a space, given Utah’s rising real estate prices. What he had, thought, was an unfinished laundry room that he thought would make a suitable antithesis to a sterile white-cube space. His wife was pregnant, and extremely sick at the time, so to reduce their stress, they decided no one would actually come to their apartment. They embraced their situation, and Washer / Dryer Projects became an exhibition space that was only publicly accessible through online documentation. Work was physically installed, and photographed for Instagram, and the Washer / Dryer Projects site. Barton treated the shows as he would any public exhibition, keeping work up through the entire stated duration, and moving it only as needed to keep the laundry room functional. When their living situation changed, they no longer had a dedicated laundry room, so Barton invited others to franchise the idea, resulting in upcoming projects in other artists’ laundry rooms.

For many Utah artists—as elsewhere—the digital realm is a more manageable and efficient location for artistic dissemination. Most art that is consumed is via photos on the internet, rather than in-person experiences. Their own artistic output is also more likely to end up on Instagram or web-based portfolios than in a bricks and mortar gallery. Such physical sites are no longer the ultimate destination. Documentation has expanded the chances of professionally beneficial outcomes, while still adhering to traditional presentation standards.

Radical Hope, 2020, installation screenshots courtesy of artists and Madeline Rupard
Radical Hope, 2020
Installation screenshots courtesy of artists and Madeline Rupard

Radical Hope is a good example of this approach. Initiated by Madeline Rupard—who studied at BYU, and is now based in New York—its curatorial team includes Utah-based artist Aloe Corry, Pittsburgh-based Isabelle Brourman, and Ohio-based Connie Fu. The affirmative project opened May 28th, 2020, and was built using ArtSteps, an online platform that employs a 3D gaming engine to create virtual environments, with a retro feel. Launching in the middle of the Coronavirus shutdown, the exhibition leveraged its decentralized nature to inexpensively assemble works from artists around the world into the bespoke space. The curators utilized this fantasy world to play with scale and display, free of physical limitations.

Installation view of MGNT exhibition, 2019, by PARC Collective, image courtesy of the artists and PARC Collective | Kelsey Harrison, Luxury My Way, 2019, installed in MGNT exhibition by PARC Collective, image courtesy of the artist and PARC Collective
Left: Installation view of MGNT exhibition, 2019
By PARC Collective
Image courtesy of the artists and PARC Collective
Right: Kelsey Harrison
Luxury My Way, 2019
Installed in MGNT exhibition by PARC Collective
Image courtesy of the artist and PARC Collective

The PARC Collective began when artist Ron Linn was looking to collaborate with, and support other cultural producers around Provo, where he was based. Initially, he approached the artists, Tiana Birrell, and Art Morrill. Since Birrell was living in Salt Lake City (forty-five minutes north) and Morrill lived near Ogden (a further half-hour north), they aimed to widen their net geographically. Their inaugural curatorial effort was an exhibition of emerging, and established artists from across the northern part of the state. After that, they brought on artist and designer Sarah Waldron Brinton to the collective. Before they could develop more of their plans, COVID-19 interrupted production, causing a necessary shift. Birrell spearheaded a partnership with the Granary Art Center, a more established, artist-run non-profit in Sanpete County, and the collective began curating from art submitted via Instagram. The result was Incubation Period, an online exhibition, and proposed publication. Linn has stated that, as an artist, he worked harder when he felt that his community was watching. He said that by assuming the role of an organized group, the PARC Collective could encourage other artists to work more fruitfully, and think more about what it means to be producing work in Utah.

Jacob Thompson, My Amazon Journey Boxes / From Heaven, 2020, installed at the_openroom
Jacob Thompson
My Amazon Journey Boxes / From Heaven, 2020
Installed at the_openroom

Henry Becker, Nolan Flynn, Josh Graham, and Andrew Rice, inspired in part by Pal Gallery, rehabbed Becker’s garage into a small gallery space and named it the_openroom. They built-out programming that included exhibitions, and accompanying online artist presentations. The art is generally only accessible for one night, but their focus is on post-internet practices, which lends itself to digital documentation, and archiving. Since the pandemic isolation restrictions, they have shifted focus to online discussions with artists and curators, and teamed with the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art on an internet-based project that invites public collaboration on artists’ digital images. Of the individuals, and groups featured in this text, the_openroom is the only one to state that it is dedicated to a sustainable practice in Utah, rather than being provisional and ephemeral. Currently, their collective is entirely self-funded, but they see it as “investing in [their] culture.”

Final Hot Desert is the creation of artist Ben Sang. He attended Snow College, in remote Ephraim. Feeling distant from the art world he was studying, he spent a year researching and writing about contemporary artists. After accepting a corporate job, he dedicated his newfound disposable income to inviting artists to Utah to install their work in unique locations. His first exhibition consisted of work by two locals who responded to, and presented their work at, Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty. Later, Sang leveraged relationships he had cultivated over Instagram to invite national artists. He works with his guests to identify ideal locations for their work, which have included the Salt Flats, Little Cottonwood Canyon, and The Tree of Life sculpture near Wendover. There are no opening receptions or public viewings, only crisp photo-documentation that has earned his project an international reputation. For Sang, Final Hot Desert is about establishing and nurturing networks and relationships, and reaching out from Utah—which is often perceived as a cultural desert—to introduce himself, and his state to the outside world.

Ian Bruner, three dollar narrative (plus eternal shipping), 2019, Amazon box, clay, thread, melted plastic, fake mosses, fake eyelashes adhesives, photograph, light, incense, installed at the Tree of Life, image courtesy of the artist and Final Hot Desert | Natalia Janula, Laminar Body^ies~, May 7, 2020, installed at the Great Salt Lake, Utah, images courtesy of the artist and Final Hot Desert
Left: Ian Bruner
three dollar narrative (plus eternal shipping), 2019
Amazon box, clay, thread, melted plastic, fake mosses, fake eyelashes adhesives, photograph, light, incense, installed at the Tree of Life
Image courtesy of the artist and Final Hot Desert
Right: Natalia Janula
Laminar Body^ies~, May 7, 2020
Installed at the Great Salt Lake, Utah
Images courtesy of the artist and Final Hot Desert

The youthful optimism that permeates these examples has shaken the cultural ground of Utah. Artists are learning from these individual, and collective efforts, and are communicating, and networking across geographic divides as never before. They are experimenting within their artistic practices and with modes of installation and display. By encouraging and supporting each other, and in questioning the necessity of standard exhibition models, they are creating excitement, and establishing innovative working methodologies. Whether we are beginning an ascent to a lofty summit, or heading back down into a valley of cultural apathy is yet to be determined.

Image at top:
Riccardo D’Avola-Corte
You will never understand what your caresses leave on me…, July 14–August 20, 2019
Installed at the Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Image courtesy of the artist and Final Hot Desert

Wicked Arts Assignments

Practising Creativity in Contemporary Arts Education
I had two assignments featured in this publication along with a third in an appendix titled "Too Wicked to Handle."

Wicked Arts Assignments are bold, unusual, contrary, funny, poetical, inspiring, socially committed, or otherwise challenging. Everyone who teaches the arts knows them: assignments that are seemingly simple but challenge participants, students and pupils to the max. Many artists and arts teachers have that singular, personal, often-used assignment in which everything comes together: their artistic vision, their pedagogical approach, and their love for certain techniques or methods.

Take Something and Make It Worse
“Take Something and Make It Worse,” from Wicked Arts Assignments

The almost one hundred arts assignments collected here connect to the visual arts, performance, theatre, music and design, but more importantly: they encourage cross-disciplinarity. They reflect themes and ways of working in contemporary arts, offering opportunities to learn about ourselves, the arts and the world.

Apologize Monumentally
“Apologize Monumentally,” from Wicked Arts Assignments

The first part of this book provides a theoretical view on arts assignments from historical, artistic, and educational perspectives, complemented by interviews with experts in contemporary arts and education. The second part consists of the actual wicked arts assignments. These can be carried out in various contexts: from primary schools to higher education, from home to the (online) community, and from Bogotá to Istanbul. They are intended to spark the imagination of both teachers and students, contributing to new, topical educational and artistic practices.

Take a Detour Around Your Art-Making Habits
“Take a Detour Around Your Art-Making Habits,” from Wicked Arts Assignments‘s “Too Wicked to Handle” appendix

Editors: Emiel Heijnen, Melissa Bremmer
Co-editor: Sanne Kersten
Contributors: Pavèl van Houten, Jorge Lucero, Nina Paim, Erik Schrooten, Stephanie Springgay, and many many others
Design: Laura Pappa

Valiz, 2020 | in cooperation with Amsterdam University of the Arts | paperback | 304 pp. | 22 x 15 cm (h x w) | English | ISBN 978-94-92095-75-6 | € 19,90

A walkthrough of Wicked Arts Assignments
My workshop titled “Take Something and Make It Worse” from the Wicked Arts Assignments symposium, November 27, 2020

PARC Collective Opens Their MGNT Series with “dis/place”

December 13, 2019
Publication: 15 Bytes

Attempts to gentrify south Provo have been quietly underway for decades. The area around 500 South just west of University Avenue is one of the few industrial areas from the early 20th century in Provo, and developers have recently started to capitalize on the industrial aesthetic fetish, turning former factories into reception halls and co-work spaces. Homes in the surrounding neighborhoods have slowly been purchased, quickly renovated, and flipped while new generic condos have been erected to alleviate the housing crunch. The Frontrunner now chugs through and sighs to a stop in south Provo a block away from Provo Studio, the site of the first exhibition by the curatorial collective working under the name PARC. Comprised of Tiana Birrell, Ron Linn, Art Morrill, and Cole Walker, PARC assembled a cohort of seventeen artists (including themselves) and six writers around the exhibition’s theme and title of dis/place.

Leaden galvanized-steel sheets clad the walls of the main gallery space that is the entry of Provo Studio. Unframed works on paper are gingerly adhered to the metal using neodymium magnets. The magnets are both a practical solution to temporarily affixing the work and a metaphor for the exhibition series of which this is the first. Titled MGNT (“magnet,” minus the vowels), this quarterly series brings together artists to highlight the unseen forces that attract them to one another, and in this case, issues of place. The title of this inaugural MGNT exhibition is obviously meant to be read as a fracturing and self-reflexive displacement of the word “displace” but also can be read as slang: “dis place,” as in “this place,” or “dis” meaning “insult.” All of these readings can be found in the varying work in the exhibition spaces.

Eric Edvalson, Meiji Jingu, 2019
Eric Edvalson
Meiji Jingu, 2019
Color photograph
Courtesy of the artist.

Standouts from this well-populated show include Eric Edvalson’s unassuming photograph “Meiji Jingu” (2019), from his Meanderings series. The largely monochromatic photograph depicts a pair of stanchions huddled as closely together as their bases will allow, blocking a narrow path between an empty garden bed and a wall wrapped in a grommeted vinyl photo mural. The mural depicts a set of seven stone stair steps climbing up to a platform behind a wooden railing. The mural’s perspective is warped by the oblique angle at which it is photographed, creating a disorienting space that is made inaccessible by ad hoc fencing and the impossibility of entering the illusionistic space of the mural. Edvalson quietly celebrates these unintentional collaborations as different parties add elements to their built environment, resulting in quirky juxtapositions.

Ron Linn’s understated graphite drawings on tracing paper of photo negatives read as a series of found imagery — children in thick wool sweaters loitering around a fishing dock, vintage alpine skiers, the start of a swimming race in a narrow swimming pool, a small rural structure belching thick smoke into the sky as the building burns. As negatives, the images can be hard to read. Linn has taken the drawn negatives and used them to create positive cyanotypes that are displayed below the graphite drawings, but not paired. The results are rich, Prussian blue photographic scenes that look akin to mezzotints or early 20th-century Pictorialist compositions. The photographic sensibility is moderated by the meticulous scribbles of the parent drawings. This translation from photo to drawing, and back to a photographic process reflects the fleeting relationships to places visited and the evolving and devolving nature of memory of those places.

Ron Linn, a far blue country i-iv, 2019
Ron Linn
a far blue country i-iv, 2019
Graphite on tracing paper and cyanotypes on paper
Courtesy of the artist

Jaime Trinidad’s 3D-printed sculptures graft together classical Western art icons with sculptural forms of Trinidad’s native Mexico. In “Small Colossal Head of a WESTERN Youth” (2019), the artist has taken the marble “Fragmentary Colossal Head of a Youth” from the second century BCE and completed the missing upper portion of the head with an Olmec stone sculpture known as “San Lorenzo Colossal Head 4,” dating to before 900 BCE. Both of these “colossal” works are about the scale of tchotchkes picked up in roadside tourist markets around Italy and Greece. It is common to view a fractured Greek sculpture and wonder what is missing. Trinidad’s clever response is to fill that negative space with what is missing in most canonized art history.

Most of the work in the exhibition is small and physically unassuming, which is to be expected given the modest rooms. However, Kelsey Harrison received the lion’s share of the exhibition space, occupying one-third of an adjacent studio/gallery. This work includes a modular interactive sculpture called “Luxury My Way” and two lighted signs resting on an adjacent wall spelling out the titles of the works, “Repeatable Experience” and “Limited Options.” “Luxury My Way” is composed of a set of minimalist forms bearing postmodern ornamentation. The styles and color schemes of these building blocks are taken from new construction going up around Salt Lake City and other areas around the West. Each piece quotes the earth-tone architecture of a storage space, new metal-wrapped condominiums (like the complex neighboring the exhibition), or other similarly generic buildings that utilize a late Modernist aesthetic solely because it allows the owners to be cheap. Visitors are welcome to stack the pieces to create their own bland, khaki, mid-sized Hell.

Kelsey Harrison, Luxury My Way, 2019
Kelsey Harrison
Luxury My Way, 2019
MDF, LifeProof vinyl flooring, steel, enamel
Image courtesy of the artist

The adjacent glowing signage borrows the typography habitually found on a real estate office or nail salon and declares exactly what the artist sees within these generic spaces and businesses: “Repeatable Experience” and “Limited Options.” The signs themselves were cut from the walls of Nox Contemporary where the work was first exhibited last year. Since they were built directly into the wall, the walls themselves were displaced to their new temporary home in Provo Studio.

dis/place is a smart first effort that shows these artist-curators working through ideas and democratic collectivism. At times, the impulse to include more artists for more vantages of the curatorial theme results in a less focused experience with some timid, small objects. Since PARC declares that their future endeavors will be nomadic, I hope to see them address the sites of the projects more directly — and I would have especially expected that to be more prevalent in an exhibition about displacement staged in a quickly gentrifying area. The group’s bravado is to be commended given the paucity of established contemporary art venues in the state, let alone Utah County, but I am heartened by newcomers PARC, PAL gallery, the open_room, and other fledgling artist-driven projects. I look forward to them growing, maturing, and developing their voices.

Jaime Trinidad
Santo Partido Revolucionario Institucional (left) and
Small Colossal Head of a WESTERN Youth (right), 2019
3D prints with PLA
Image courtesy of the artist