Sheri Wills and I recently returned to New York after completing a collaborative residency at The Ragdale Foundation in Lake Forest, Illinois. It was an opportunity to define what collaboration means for us and to bring our thinking about our work into sharper focus.
Our pre-residency research questioned what constitutes nature and focused on the changing ecology of the Chicago area, a place whose transformation from prairie to urban environment has been marked by the disappearance of flora, fauna and culture that formerly defined this territory as part of “The Great West”. In part we looked to the writings of William Cronon, Professor of History at University of Wisconsin–Madison, as an early touchstone for our residency work, especially his books Nature’s Metropolis and Uncommon Ground.
Through continued reading and conversation, our approach evolved from an initial engagement with landscape as the sum of vanished and forgotten ecological features to a perspective that incorporates those concerns in human experience; the loss, obliteration, and erasure of cultural landscapes. As we reflected on what has disappeared into history, a deeper and more personal sense of urgency set in and the moral imperative of memory emerged; the need to acknowledge a complex landscape whose horizon ranges from generosity to dehumanization.
At the end of our residency we found that our work had, to some degree, turned outside-in – from the exterior ‘natural’ world to the places that lay within and between us, an entanglement of landscape, history and memory.
Below are a handful of images that show our work process at Ragdale.
Reclaiming material from a branch pile that has been set aside for an annual prairie burn.
Stripping bark, carving and sanding.
Constructing the scaffolding that will allow the installation to be built in place (suspended in space).
Digital 3D reference model and the actual wooden framework based on that model
3D Sketchup reference model on screen.
Editing the photographs that were compiled into the final video that was incorporated into the installation.
Selections from the thousand-plus images that were edited down into the video.
Drilling pilot holes for the ceiling anchors.
Scaffolding and installation framework.
Installing branches inside the wooden framework.
Documenting the installed video.
The video and surrounding outdoor environment.
© 2016 John Schettino