During the winter break, my time was spent trying to wrap my head around what I was actually trying to say with my work. My scope was too large, and realizing this it was important to find a way of paring down my ideas on urban and rural landscape. My decision was made to focus on an area on the outskirts of Houston where new buildings and stores are changing the landscape.
In his book, “Society of the Spectacle,” Guy Debord quotes Lewis Mumford. “The explosion of cities which cover the countryside with ‘formless masses of urban residue’ is directly regulated by the imperatives of consumption.”
The nature of my work is concerned with the urbanization of an area on the outskirts of the city of Houston in Texas. It is almost exclusively migrants, both legal and illegal that build these monumental structures to facilitate growing consumerism. Working in temperatures of up to 35oC, (95oF) and 100% humidity.
Photography has provided a new way of picture making, based on selection. Paintings are made using various studied skill sets, photographs are a snapshot of time, and are taken as opposed to produced. There is a skill set required to make that sliver of time resonate. Taking into account Szarkowski’s five elements, and how they pertain to my own studies was really quite interesting. My initial thoughts were, well clearly that does not feature in anything that I produce, as there are no people, just empty buildings, however on reflection most of these elements are present, time and vantage point are definitely present, but what about the other elements? Framing is also there and the detail of the migrants work, which leaves the thing itself, but is it interesting enough?
To quote Piotr Sadowski, “Psychologically a compelling sense of direct causal link between objects once physically connected but later separated.” Sadowski’s words resounds here with reference to links between structures and migrants. Speaking metaphorically, the connection between concrete, walls and construction is a thought provoking subject especially here in Texas, where Governor Greg Abbott has recently vetoed migrants from settling here, because “We already have our fair share.”
The migrant construction workers here are being physically connected to the architecture by the placing of hands on buildings in order to render them with concrete, leaving a historical imprint of the migrants’ craft. Taking a new look at the work from the last module helped me reconnect and I found myself looking closer at the migrants’ rendering of the concrete walls. The mark making is so beautiful, but ephemeral since when the building is complete, this will be covered with brick and stucco, erasing every trace of the migrants’ hands. I see this as an erasing of the knowledge of the migrants’ input and contribution to society. The skeletal state of these buildings is what interests me most, but the vast areas of concrete gave me some problems as it is difficult to convey the sheer size of these structures. I spent a good deal of time thinking on how I could resolve this, as I really enjoy WOP (works on paper) and my thoughts kept on returning to that idea.
Szarkowski also quotes Baudelaire, saying, “This industry, by invading the territories of art, has become art’s most mortal enemy”. This statement may have instilled a fear into the art world broadly, though I’m sure that the two genres can sit alongside one another and can definitely share a very exciting space. Baudelaire’s statement made an observation on photography in the 1800’s, but I think that today’s art and photography world is more accepting of expanding and interlinking both genres.
Reflecting on Szarkowski and Baudelaire’s words my research moved to considering inter-disciplinary techniques. Julie Mehretu has always intrigued me with her monumental scale, and stunning layering techniques while Jessica Rankin’s delicate needlework has also captured my attention, so perhaps I could implemented a combination of these techniques into my work to trace steps and journeys. I also recall Joanna Choumali’s work from Unseen Amsterdam, as her multi-disciplined approach really intrigued me.
I needed to find a way to make connections with the land and explore different ways to illustrate the sheer scale of this architecture. Looking at my images of rice silos gave rise to the idea of working on rice paper. My aim is to create work that showcases the migrants’ renderings and capture them before they are lost beneath the socially acceptable external facades. To do this, I intend to experiment with alternate supports, combining of images and layering.
Forum this week was great, as I really appreciate my peers and tutor taking the time to help me unpick my work. I was inspired to revisit my construction site in Katy, usually I visit when the site is empty, however this time I had the chance to be brave and ask for some images of the migrants working there. It took a few minutes before I was removed form the area. This is complex; the migrants are reluctant to be photographed and the managers are perhaps reluctant to have the migrants photographed, as they are more than likely illegal.
My work perhaps remains in the gallery art world at the moment. Whether my approaches can be housed elsewhere remains to be seen. There are many galleries in Houston and it is also the home of HCP.
SADOWSKI, Piotr. 2020. ‘The Iconic Indexicality of Photography’. ill.10.20sad [online]. Available at: https://benjamins.com/catalog/ill.10.20sad [accessed 28 Jan 2020].
‘Politicized Landscapes, Julie Mehretu’. 2020. Art21 [online]. Available at: https://art21.org/watch/extended-play/julie-mehretu-politicized-landscapes-short/ [accessed 7 Jan 2020].
DEBORD, Guy. 2010. The Society of the Spectacle. Reprint. Detroit, Mich: Black & Red [u.a.].
SZARKOWSKI, John. 1966. The Photographer’s Eye.
‘Joana CHOUMALI – Accueil’. 2020. [online]. Available at: http://www.joanachoumali.com/ [accessed 2 Feb 2020].