Understanding the Past through Sculpture

I reach over my workdesk to find a suitable bookmark. I come up with a postcard of the Carlsbad Caverns, and I place it into the exhibition catalogue that I’m engrossed in. As a slight aside and a confession, I have stacks of old postcards. I’ve been collecting them since my teens. I have always loved their bygone-era designs, but now find that I’ve been literally taking pictures of places I’d hoped to see someday. Greek sculptures, highway motels, the desert southwest of the United States, and the White Cliffs of Dover are just some of the amassed places or experiences I’d hoped to have.

That Caverns postcards is currently holding my place in the exhibition catalogue of the show Cyclorama, which took place from May – September 2013.  Andrea Torreblanca, Associate Curator at the Museo Tamayo in Mexico City, and curator of Cyclorama, shared this book and these artists with me recently.

This grouping of artists all work with landscape in ways that are informed by knowledge, mapping, and other endeavors of science that heavily engage the aesthetic of their works. Right away I was interested in the beautiful distance of that these works created. The artists in this group (Salvatore Arancio, Elena Damiani, Haris Epaminonda, Cyprien Gaillard, and Matts Leiderstam) seemed to commandeer time by manipulating old images or engravings, by collaging over 1920s maps, and even utilizing the space of a lens to further remove us from seeing in absolutes. The past is never fully available for our study, and without mournfulness or sorrow, these artists seem to confront this truth. Leiderstam questions the facts presented to us as historical accuracies by copying classical paintings through his magnifying glass. This may feel at first like a closeness and precision that can only be achieved through absolutes, but when seeing his representations it suddenly makes sense to me that I have been pursuing something unattainable in my own work.

Elena Damiani’s Macelos series works on several levels to confront the viewer with the feeling of the sublime as well as the poetic, human interpretation of large rock features. These are the works that I identified with as an artist, and as one who has struggled to attach meaning to the craggy surfaces of outcrops beyond the scientific. I’ll admit I’ve had the Romantic notion, in a moment of sublime awe, to write my own history in the pages of earth’s great encyclopedia.

Marble, glass, collage. 2012
Elena Damiani                                    Marble, glass, collage. 2012

I have briefly returned to the present to examine my own work, and to learn something about what is the driving force in me to collect these images, to live in a time of climatic chaos and to search for a peaceful past. Snapshots and preserved images are similar to our fossil findings in that they lived and existed at one point, helping to shape the way the world works now. We cannot go back, yet the drive to understand that deep and elusive historical record seems an always-present human desire. If only we could have more information about what has happened before, might we change what’s to come?