Art, Surveying and the Detached Eye

Krista Caballero

 “The real voyage of discovery consists in not seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
— Marcel Proust


Participants are invited to take part in a photographic reinterpretation of historic survey images. Through the photographic lens, this session will examine contemporary intersections of gender, land use, and the environment. Recalling the surveys of the American West that so emphatically helped define the landscape of a generation, these images will be in conversation with the photographs of the past, but follow a different conceptual trajectory forward. Archival images from the U.S. Geological Survey Library and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration database will be source material for the series.

Rather than purely restaging historic photographs, this session aims to interrogate and re-envision images through performative group action. Dialogue and contribution will be an integral component of the entire process as participants will actively discuss the role images play in developing our understanding of land and self.  Participants will also utilize two sculptural leveling rods created specifically for the workshop as a visual and physical device for coming together in this photographic reinterpretation. After the workshop, video documentation from our time together will be incorporated into the transformed sculptures. (Note: Leveling rods are moveable poles that can be observed at a large distance to determine elevations and are seen in a photograph from 1918 depicting an all-female survey crew).

The most important surveys of the United States (such as the Fortieth Parallel Survey and Hayden Surveys) included artists and photographers who accompanied geologists, surveyors and naturalists in exploration. This complicated relationship of the artist and environment is further compounded by the historical conflation of Nature and Woman. As a result, this session aims to interrogate the role of the artist as well as the role of women in myths of the frontier, not to merely critique the exploits of the past, but rather, to imagine ways we might generate new social and ecological landscapes for the future.