Exploring the methods of orientation to one’s surroundings is central to my process of thinking. From locating the self, to locating the self in relation to others, my work is an inquiry into the built and natural worlds’ methods of orienting. When studying Japanese language here in the U.S., I noticed a continuum between language construction, propagation of culture, and self-image. A six-month stay in Japan (2006: awarded by Japan/US Friendship Commission) revealed the depth of differing philosophies about inhabiting space and locating the self within a community, leading me to ask questions about the significance of “orienting” as a component in a philosophy of being. As a result, I am driven to seek the relationship between orienting and the objects we produce as mnemonic markers to guide us. Upon my return to the U.S., I began to develop these “orienting” ideas for exhibitions and have shown the work in art and non-art venues, including science museums, libraries, homes, etc.
Ultimately, orientation or disorientation in a place may be linked to our ethical sensibility: when we are lost, we may untether ourselves from many things including other sentient beings. My work investigates both the untethered state (lostness) and the steps (dérive, or drift) we make to reconnect to something/somewhere.
What kinds of mapping instruments can we use or make to navigate our condition? I think about sculpture as an instrument, broadly defined as something that aids in, or causes, an action or reaction. The sculptures I build can be listened to, spoken into, bumped, and manipulated as they interfere and interact with their environment. They may require the viewer to become a participant, creating camaraderie by choreographing their movements in order to evoke a response from the work. They toggle between assisting us in orientation and being the subject that we watch as they make attempts at traveling a terrain of their own situation.
Thinking of language as purely sound — rhythmic interruptions of silences — I give equal weight to the role that sound and materiality play in my work. The objects I make are like echoes that bounce off of boundaries in feedback loops until they decay. I work with sound as an element that matches the ephemeral nature of my sculptures.
I use scale as a means of inviting the viewer into my work. I have made pieces that switch between intimate models and large architectural sculptures. I’ve hung with train hobbyists and found their fantasy extravaganzas and mine to be similar forms of re-placing or re-enacting through artificial props. Size and scale, as well as sound and movement are the means from which I work to hook into the body’s shifting sense of presence and place.
While the role of movement and sound are central in my sculptures, I use walking as a generator of ideas in my mapping practice. While many of my maps are not on paper — they take a dimensional form — my works on paper (drawings) follow a map-based format that incorporates chance, time and memory often produced by collaborating with humans or machines. I have taken groups on mapping tours in cities, using our bodies like sound recorders as we’ve moved significant sounds from the forest to the city. As human mappers, I create a map after an experience vs. using a map to lead to a destination. Contrary to conventional cartography, the way I think of mapping the terrain is real, it is 1:1, the map IS the terrain. I am continually trying to find a way to script this sensation, this elegant, elastic connection with what we regard as real.
While in a residency at the Zentrum für Kunst und Urbanistik in Berlin, Germany in 2015, I sought to map and learn the city through my foreigner’s experiences of its territory. I had a bicycle, a hand drawn map, a camera, and a plan to enter Berlin through various conceptual portals. I rode the streets with a large map-sized paper, blank except for the sprawling blue trace of the River Spree, asking people to tell me where the center of Berlin was. Each person drew their representation of a city center icon and placed it where they thought it lived on the map. I rode to that spot, asked another stranger for their city center opinion and rode to wherever they declared to be the center. I had 5 months to learn the depth of this divided city’s legacy which stretched to such extremes that on many days I felt I had passed through centuries in just a matter of blocks. From this, I produced a series of maps, “Plans for Berlin: Paper Solutions to Real Problems” in a facetious attempt to resolve urban problems and historical fact by redrawing the map of Berlin’s city limits. My interaction with each individual lasted anywhere from a few moments to half a day — as I was literally and figuratively drawn into their personal lives. The reverse side of the map, usually reserved for the street index is filled with daily entries and descriptions of the mappers’ interaction with the map. While this project produced an object, handled and populated by many, it also recorded a form of individual memory and pencilled residue as its record. Similarly, my sculptures (“Sayonara”, “Smudge”, “After All”) are materially heavy yet constructed with intricate parts and delicately suspended for the sake of bringing out their shadows on the walls. As the pieces move, their shadows track their comings and goings in and out of focus… here and gone, here and gone. Orientation is a fleeting state, yet it is continually pursued for the sake of a moment’s clarity.
I seek out artists and urban researchers (geographers, anthropologists, urban planners, architects, etc.) who share an interest in projects that address “the city” from material and conceptual standpoints. It teaches me how to ask that which I wasn’t yet able to articulate, to ask it through art and thereby widen my reach. With each new experience, I hope to land in strange new territory.