The landscape of West Virginia, where I was born and raised, is the source of my fascination with geology and landscape interpretation. The fecund, jungle-like forests teeming with life, the hills and hollows shrouded in mist, and the mysterious karst landscape pocked by caverns, sinkholes, and manmade mineshafts still resonates in my memory. This environment invited me to meditate on mountain vistas but also on its hidden spaces: the zenith and the void, the sublime and its shadow. I am particularly drawn to the earth, with its associations with body and womb, the feminine and hidden, the source of life and its ultimate destination. It’s the opposite of Platonic striving, a journey in the wrong direction, inward and down. Yet we have a long history of seeking to discover those dark places, to plunder them for energy and wealth. There are few places where this is felt more viscerally than in West Virginia, where the connection is held fast through coal mining and its subsequent effects, both social and ecological.
My yearning to understand the complex, layered histories underlying the meaning of place led me to study earth sciences and landscape architecture as well as art. I have also worked in the fields of historic preservation and geology, and the experiences of being embedded in these varied discourses, studying the landscape through a variety of lenses, has profoundly shaped my artwork and my worldview, allowing me to shift between different ideologies.
Likewise, my art practice is a synthesis of intellectual inquiry and material exploration in which I draw upon my experiences as an artist and researcher to survey, interpret, and re-imagine my environment. My studio practice prompts me to examine new ways of thinking about material, its transformation, history, and meaning. In this way, my intellectual life and creative practice are bound together and feed one another, continually spurring and challenging my artwork as I investigate natural phenomena through visual language.
I am deeply interested in the presence and meaning within material itself, what Robert Smithson referred to as the infraphysical. Through material experimentation and inciting chemical reactions within the environment of the kiln, I discover information about the properties of matter and metamorphosis. My process begins with a given structure: an object collected or excavated from my surroundings. The found object is a core sample that I extrapolate in order to project a broader view of the landscape.
In the series of sculptures Incidents of Naturalis Historia, Reconstructed, I drew on Pliny the Elder’s ancient encyclopedic work Naturalis Historia in which the idea of natural history contained and connected biology, geology, and mineralogy with the history of painting and sculpture. Art was categorized as an extension of the natural world because its materials were extracted from plants, animals, and, particularly, mined and quarried pigments, stone, and metals. In my Incidents, I combined wasps’ nests, honey, architectural fragments, and other found objects with elements of glass that resemble lichen, crystallization, and geological specimens. These works simulate artifacts of an alternative history; one in which the divergent histories of art, craft, biology, and geology are again united.
In my most recent body of work, Problematica, I collected manmade materials from my environment and cast them in glass to create speculative future fossils of our plastic age. Problematica is the term given to geological specimens that defy categorization; they may be true fossils of organic origin or specimens that merely resemble once-living things. They are objects of unknown origin.
In the microcosm of the kiln I generate my own problematica. By translating “disposable” materials such as plastic bags, packaging, foil and foam through casting processes akin to fossilization, I envision a new era of the geological record: an amalgamation of manmade objects and the natural forces transforming them. Utilizing sculptural methods that mirror accretion, crystallization, and lithification, I enact and witness the metamorphosis of matter by the geological forces of heat, gravity, and time. In this way, I seek to investigate on an intimate and personal scale the incomprehensibly vast span of geologic time.
My sculptures meld natural specimens with human artifacts and, arranged in the gallery, these isolated objects become models in a system of geological and philosophical inquiry. Relationships, both real and implied, are conveyed through spatial composition and by manipulating the familiar museological frameworks of the art gallery and the natural history museum. I consider my art practice a form of praxis, as Paolo Freire conceived it, “reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it.” By fusing natural specimens and art objects, I want to blur the boundaries that separate cultural practices from the environment, to complicate our notions of Nature, and to facilitate a dialogue about our place within the more-than-human world.