repurposed books, mirror 8’ x 8’ x 14’
a site specific installation for the Atlantic Highlands Arts Council, NJ
The Laura Ingalls Wilder books were a fundamental part of how I became an artist, because they presented a world of materials that could be transformed by creativity and ingenuity; I continue to rely on this approach to artmaking to this day.
After coming across several of these volumes being discarded by the Atlantic Highlands library down the street from the gallery - and being aware that the series has been criticized recently for including racist content - I thought about how to make sense of the contradiction between my love for these books and my desire to untangle and reduce racism. Getting rid of these books forever does not accomplish the latter, but reexamining them might.
Referencing the gallery window and adjacent brickwork that holds the installation, I visualized the untold narratives of westward expansion as similar to a brick wall: like mortar, the Little House books provide a past framework for understanding American history, but the missing bricks suggest that much of the story has yet to be told. The area of Laura's journey, depicted on the interior window, suggest some of what is missing, both by maps of Native American land, separated into arbitrary blocks, and by the map of Laura’s journey depicted in reverse, referencing the need to go back and unearth additional versions of this place and time. On the floor, the empty footprints traversing the plain of romantic illustrations culled from the discarded books signifies the forced removal of Native Americans concurrent with these happy scenes.
The theme of building is constant in these books, so using the books themselves to both literally and figuratively convey that fundamental human need seemed logical. Dissecting the text line by line and reconfiguring it, while researching the biographical, as opposed to fictional, narrative of Wilder’s writing process, revealed her to be an author of great contradictions. Her decisions and omissions have helped make the America of 2018 more recognizable to me.
view through window
view out, daytime
detail, foot prints
detail through window