Commuting back and forth to Cedar Rapids, I often turned off the interstate in North Liberty to take a quick spin through farmland on my way back to Iowa City. A new high school condemned that last patch of farmland to development – the definition of “pioneering sprawl” – and I watched as a favorite farmstead was razed to the ground. The subsequent reformatting of the land has been seductively dramatic, and this fall I created work responding to the uncompromising destruction and contextless reconstruction of Scanlon Farm into Scanlon Farms North Ridge. The land was ripped open, pushed around, rebuilt, and then sutured together with black erosion fence, creating a sterilized and entirely unrecognizable topography.
I approached my work with a similar mindset, creating paintings and drawings with a process informed by the same forceful and aggressive handling of the landscape. Working on site, I sought to capture the expansive and spectacular landscapes that would often appear and disappear in the course of an afternoon. I approached larger studio works with the same kind of additive and subtractive energy and force I witnessed edit that once pastoral part of my drive. The resulting drawings and paintings depict a dramatic, transitional landscape of false geologic scale, scattered with the arbitrary punctuations of surveying flags and sewage mains.
“How we represent the land to ourselves affects the ways in which we value and act upon it.”
- James Corner
Torn landscapes and built landscapes interest me. Midwestern agriculture is viewed, divergently, as either seductively bucolic or disturbingly industrial. In either case, farming in this part of the country embodies ponderous externalities of cost. In some instances, these environmental, political, and social land-use ramifications are difficult to see. In other instances, they become difficult to ignore.
Through desaturation, aggressive handling, ripping, tearing, scratching, scraping, and so on, I try to illustrate the industrialized landscape using similar processes to how it is created. It is a landscape that is, in its purest essence, brutally elegant.
Knowing the darker side of the bucolic and appreciating the aesthetic side of the industrial creates paradigms for finding the landscape’s hidden burdens and unexpected attractions. I am attempting to come to terms with a vast and alternatingly violent and beautiful landscape – one I am visually attracted to, philosophically opposed to, and entirely surrounded by.
POSTCARDS FROM IOWA
Botanical gardens provide curated spaces where we can experience a summary of the greater environments we live in. Cobbled together in one place, we can browse through a multitude of species and gain a greater understanding of the environment as a whole. Today, less than 0.1 percent of the original 28.6 million acres of Iowa prairie remain. Our native ecosystem has instead been supplanted entirely by a handful of nearly identical varietals of corn and soybeans, only distinguishable by signage and corporate logos.
Heading east from Grinnell, Iowa, on Highway 6 - or for that matter, most anywhere in the Midwest - seed demonstration plots line the highways. In a warped sense, these plant showcases are our own contemporary botanical gardens. For this series, each seed sign from Monsanto's 2008 demonstration plot has been drawn and screen printed as postcards. When we travel, we buy postcards that represent important monuments, individuals, or subtle facets of a culture, sending them back to our family and friends. I hope that you will take a postcard, mail it, and share a little bit of Iowa with someone you know. These postcards are free to take! Please pick your favorite strain and disseminate as you see fit.