On Friday, November 2, The Chart’s Jenna Crowder joined Currents 8 artist Carly Glovinski for a discussion about Glovinski’s exhibition at the Colby College Museum of Art and a reading list Crowder generated in response to the work. A condensed version of their conversation appears here, and a copy of the list appears below.
JC: When Carly invited me to write up a reading list, I appreciated being able to think about her work in relation to all of these associated thinkers and writers who are touching on a lot of similar concepts but in really different ways. One of the earliest ideas we discussed was that of the viewshed, and I’m wondering if you could talk about that now since it was a huge influence on how I put this list together.
CG: In my work I focus on how we can find landscape, sometimes once removed. How does landscape inhabit our lives as we inhabit our specific landscapes? The things that we choose to bring into our homes and use as part of our lifestyles help to shape an immediate landscape of objects within the larger context of the place we are in, and I tried to consider the Lunder Collection first as a group of objects. This type of looking led me to focus on objects that were connected to specific locations, and this in turn led me to Frederic Edwin Church’s View from Olana in the Snow. I traveled to Olana, Church’s historic home and property, and ultimately made a work about it.
The topography of Olana is unique. It’s in a location that sits above and overlooks the whole Hudson River Valley. It was here, on an informational plaque, that I first encountered the idea of the viewshed. Viewshed is a term associated with terrain analysis, architecture, and surveying of land; it refers to the landscape that is visible from the site of a structure. It is what is in front of you, your vista. In creating this body of work I asked myself: Can we apply the term to a larger cultural idea or be more conceptual about it?
JC: When you introduced me to the viewshed concept, I got excited about how it connects to legibility and understanding. One of the readings on my list is by Gelare Khoshgozaran, an artist and the cofounder and one of the writers and editors for a journal based in Los Angeles called Contemptorary. They wrote this really beautiful essay about the artist Morehshin Allahyari and her work, and how legibility functions within it. It touches on how we understand certain cultural phenomena, the subjectivity of certain historical and art historical narratives we’ve been told thus far, and how artists occupy an interesting space where they push our understandings and create more legibility around certain ideas. I was thinking about legibility and subjectivity in the context of your work, and especially Olana in how it engages with different viewsheds, and I was wondering if you could talk some more about your process for that piece.
CG: I traveled to Olana and took a photo. I used that photo to generate a puzzle, and I used that as a guide to create a painting on laser-cut plexiglass that appears as a puzzle but is actually a trompe l’oeil painting. I did that for a few reasons. I love the idea that a puzzle goes back to the Renaissance concept of a painting as a window. When you assemble [a jigsaw puzzle] you are simultaneously responding to shape and responding to image: you need to pay attention to the physical pieces in front of you as they fit together, but you also are looking out into the window of the image that you are trying to build. The behavior of making is often to close off the borders first, and I’m also interested in that as a human instinct in responding to shape and picture. Leaving the center out was connected to feeling left out as a woman standing in a landscape made famous by a male Hudson River School painter many years ago. To empty the middle is to make a statement about how women were excluded from art history and especially the Hudson River School.
JC: In this exhibition you’re thinking about both the Hudson Valley and the western deserts. What, for you, is the connection between these seemingly different landscapes?
CG: I’ve been on the New England coast for most of my life, and this past spring my partner and I decided to take a trip out and drive all around the Grand Canyon and Zion and take in everything in between. And I realized while I was out there that the whole landscape is the story of water. As I worked on this project, this theme of water emerged, in large part due to the luxury of having a whole other topography revealed to me during that trip as if I were walking around on the bottom of the ocean. I got to see it empty. Being able to see the Grand Canyon like a vessel, an empty vessel, was crucial to my work.
JC: In her essay “Time Preserved,” Aruna D’Souza describes Spiral Jetty [a 1970 monumental work of land art by Robert Smithson] in a very relevant way. She writes:
Smithson’s attention to this landscape, like my attention as I surveyed it, revealed the potential danger of thinking in terms of deep time, geological time, evolutionary time—namely, the risk of forgetting the now, the way landscape is always contested, fraught, necessary to sustain the now. There are other times to consider, including the time of human destruction, of environmental devastation, of colonial violence. The desolation of the landscape that I first perceived was merely my inability to understand its language, not being able to see its history and its present fullness inscribed in myriad ways on its surface. It was a desolation produced by looking through only one historical accounting of temporality.
I’m interested in how your work brings so many perspectives to the land, and especially how this comes through in your weavings. Can you discuss this process as craft adjacent or weaving adjacent?
CG: The vessels in Canyon Picnic are woven from photographs that I took of the ground and mountainsides in the Grand Canyon and Zion during my trip. I felt like looking at this cracked ground was very much like looking at the surface of a clay vessel, and I liked the idea of a vessel being a container, or being able to hold or collect water. By printing those photos on paper and weaving them with watercolor images I tried to make a connection between the canyons and water, the thing that is lacking from those landscapes.
I should say also that I’m really interested in the role of craft in fine art, and I think the conversation about makership and craftsmanship and the value of craft in art is very important. But I want to be clear: I am not a master weaver. I will never be. What I am passionate about is that that process exists. I’m passionate about dissecting and reinterpreting the process onto other materials, so you’ll see that my weaving on my vessels is not any sort of planned, skilled thing; it’s very intuitive, and the marks that make up the scroll drawing on the wall are very meditative. They’re about what paper can do; they’re about me finding out a way to use a marker to act like fabric. So it’s about transposing these ideas from one to the other, about fine art process and craft process and using them together as a third, separate thing.
JC: It’s interesting to me to have this conversation and see how you are bringing your take to mass-produced objects like puzzles or books. How do you connect the work that’s at the Colby Museum with the work at the Waterville Public Library?
CG: The project installed at the library is called Secret Garden (Waterville), where I’ve taken these ideas about landscape and considered how to apply them to the space of the library. Libraries can be so transportive for so many people. They provide a way to travel in books and gain knowledge outside of our experience. So I’ve selected ten books that had something to do with landscape and I’ve remade those books as trompe l’oeil objects, which is a big part of my work—I’ll remake objects to look like the things that they are but they’re actually art objects made in this case of painted wood. In some cases the selections connect to the theme very literally, like a Better Homes and Gardens book. Other times they’re more suggestive and about a journey, so Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire is in there.
It’s important that this project is in a public space, because I’m giving you a search in this project, a look-up-and-find experience, and the ability to handle something that I as a maker also handled.
JC: I love that there’s a suggested prompt in the connection between the journey and the trompe l’oeil object that acknowledges that we go to libraries because we’re looking for inspiration or information and they potentially hold the answers for us. The way that you selected the books is part intuitive, part sincere, and part trying to cause a little trouble and make us question the information that we’re seeking and finding. We often do this kind of questioning in art spaces, where we are prompted to think more deeply about certain things that we’re looking at and the questions they pose. Here, you are asking viewers to apply this mode of questioning to a different environment. You want us to think critically about how the perspective on land has changed since, say, Henry David Thoreau published Walden in 1854, about all of the new voices that have emerged and cultural shifts that have taken place since that seminal text was written. It’s a really generous offering, in a lot of ways.
I also think the idea of applying monument status to a library is key here, especially in connection with your feminism. One of the works on my list is the essay “Natural Causes” by Annie Godfrey Larmon, in which she talks about the monumentality of land art. One of the works she addresses is City, which Michael Heizer has been building in the Nevada desert since 1972. The question, Larmon says, is about the purpose of City—does it alert us to climate change, as a work like Spiral Jetty does, or is it really about ego, since it requires such a taxing, carbon-consuming pilgrimage to the site in order to experience it? It’s interesting to consider the implications of a pilgrimage on foot to your local library that’s right down the street as opposed to Heizer’s monumental site that’s still in progress and much more problematic.
CG: It’s important that each time I do this, the book selections are intentionally limited to the specific collection of the library in the town or city where the project is based. I’m interested in how collections are unique and how a library’s holdings have the potential to drive the local community’s beliefs or feelings. On the other hand, I am also very interested in the power that we never question embedded in the books we consider to be “the classics.” All the books I chose, “classic” or not, are in the nonfiction section, but in remaking these nonfiction books I am creating a fiction.
Reading List by Jenna Crowder:
With links to online versions where available.
John Berger, “Field,” in About Looking, Vintage International, 1991, pp. 199–205.
Aruna D’Souza, “Time Preserved,” Contemptorary, May 25, 2018, http://contemptorary.org/time-preserved
Dana Goodyear, “Strawberry Valley,” The New Yorker, August 21, 2017, pp. 30–35.
Gelare Khoshgozaran, “To Know the Beast Intimately,” The Photographers’ Gallery, May 26, 2017.
Annie Godfrey Larmon, “Natural Causes,” Even Magazine, Issue 10: Summer 2018, pp. 78–97.
Kathryn Schulz, “Pond Scum,” The New Yorker, October 19, 2015.
Original publication dates included.
Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses, 1990.
Mary Austin, The Land of Little Rain, 1903.
Roland Barthes, Mythologies, 1957.
Willa Cather, O Pioneers!, 1913.
Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa, 1937.
Camille T. Dungy, Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, 2009.
Carolyn Finney, Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors, 2014.
Rebecca Solnit, Savage Dreams: A Journey into the Hidden Wars of the American West, 2014.
John Steinbeck, To a God Unknown, 1933.
Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome, 1911.