“We are in the epoch of simultaneity: we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of the near and far, of the side-by-side, of the dispersed.” Michel Foucault, Of Other Spaces (1967)
"Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road."
Jack Kerouac, On the Road (1957)
One of the first questions one might ask a recent acquaintance is: where are you from? In many ways, “place” roots us to a specific identity, to who we are or why we behave a certain way. Simply examining common figures of speech can further demonstrate how flexible and pervasive concepts of place are in our daily lives. We refer to events as having “taken place” or we may also use place to indicate social roles (“it is not my place to say…”). Something “in its place” suggests proper position, or someone “out of place” might allude to a sense of feeling outside one’s normal location or station. Clearly, place connects us to more than just an environment or locality—one’s sense of place is connected to physical, historical, and cultural attributes that condition perspective and shape one’s experiences.
The artworks selected for Both Near and Far explore the diverse ways contemporary artists have considered the theme of place. The exhibition includes four Florida-based artists alongside a selection from the Collection of the University of South Florida.
Both Near and Far features works on loan from Carol Mickett and Robert Stackhouse, as well as from the studios of Victoria Trespando and Matthew Wicks. The works by Abraão Batista, Josiah McElheny, Andrea Modica, José Restrepo, James Rosenquist, and Janaina Tschäpe are on loan from the Collection of the University of South Florida. The exhibition presents a diverse range of conceptual and material approaches that connect to a sense of place, including drawing, photography, printmaking, sculpture, ceramic, and video.
Artists can create dynamic experiences of place that nuance the way we perceive the world around us. Carol Mickett and Robert Stackhouse have worked collaboratively for over a decade, producing large-scale sculptures, paintings, drawings, and prints. Their art is often site specific, thoughtfully engaging with signs and symbols that evoke the natural world. Included in this exhibition are three photographs and a preliminary sketch that document a sculpture titled Breath of Cypress Moon (2013) originally installed at the Ringling College of Art and Design. The installation, which no longer exists, invited viewers to both bodily and conceptually engage with their perceptions of the moon—for example, the way the moon is both familiar and mysterious, how it affects the tides, and its distinctive connection to the light of the sun.
In the contemporary art world, many artists are virtual nomads travelling from country to country to live and exhibit work in locations all over the globe. Several artists included in Both Near and Far touch upon diverse reactions to leaving home, exploring new places, and the tensions between rootedness and travel. One such example is Abraão Batista’s A Brazilian in Florida (Um Brasileiro á Florida), printed in 1998. The work consists of eight woodblock prints and an eight-part poem in Portuguese and English, which chronicle Batista’s journey to Tampa in 1996. Batista is a well-known author/artist of the traditional literary form called "cordel," which dates from the 18th century in the artist's Northeastern Brazil. Combining folkloric elements with generational traditions, Batista lends both prose and images to his experiences in new lands filtered through the familiarity of his own home.
Florida (2000), a folio of nine landscape photogravures by New York photographer Andrea Modica, takes the perspective of a first-time visitor to Florida working to find a sense of place beyond the quixotic views of sun, beaches, and tourist attractions. Using an 8x10” view camera, Modica captured various landscapes taken from the back roads in central and western Florida. The resulting images utilize the photogravure’s subtle three dimensionality, tonal range, and capacity for detail to infuse each image with particular, sensuous life.
Matthew Wicks’s three-dimensional artworks reflect on the differences and particularities between places he has lived and worked. The Weekender (2013) interprets signs and symbols unique to place, such as the characteristic mountain ranges of the American northwest and the bright, neon colors typical to Florida’s coastal cities. Relic (2016) explores the historical and cultural functions of ceramics and sculpture. The resulting form thoughtfully expands upon tradition while simultaneously invoking the towering architectural forms found in modern cities.
In other works, artists represent and interpret artificial, imagined, and
simulated places. Some artists turn outward, creating synthetic environments that blend the fictional with the real; other artists choose to turn inward, inventing entirely new settings through dream-like scenarios and fictional places. Janaina Tschäpe’s three exquisite color lithographs, Partenope, Inaie, and Undine (2004), captivate the viewer with scenes that blur the distinction between dream and reality. Working with the professional mermaids at the Florida attraction, Weeki Wachee Springs, Tschäpe designed sculptural costumes worn by the mermaids for unique performances documented by these images.
Welcome to the Water Planet (1987) is a stunning, large-scale aquatint created by James Rosenquist. Through fragmenting and combining otherwise mundane images, such as flowers, faces, and stars, Rosenquist constructs an otherworldly place teeming with intrigue and drama. A leader in the American pop art movement, Rosenquist is well known for culling images from advertisement and mass-consumer culture to invoke a sense of modern life. In Welcome to the Water Planet, the artist’s enduring mastery of line, texture, and shape invites the viewer to ponder how we might give form to our own imagined spaces.
Place can refer to both the finite the infinite. Eternity through the stars (2011), a suite of six photogravures with colophon, represents artist Josiah McElheny’s ongoing investigation into the origins of the universe. McElheny is a conceptual artist best known for his sculptural works blown in glass. Each print presents a photograph of the Lincoln Center chandeliers designed by Lobmeyr in the 1960s alongside text adapted from a cosmological treatise written by the Marxist revolutionary Louise Auguste Blanqui (1805–1881). The dramatic contrast and unique cropping of the images, read in relation to the text, transforms the glass fixtures into abstract patterns of light that recall the infinite and mysterious nature of the cosmos.
Artists often demarcate or symbolize places through objects. Victoria Trespando’s Untitled (Predella triad for space vacation) (2016) utilizes objects and formal juxtapositions in order to confuse and conflate historical, artistic, and cultural narratives. The word “predella” in the title refers to a platform on which rests the altar in a Christian church. Formally altered and abstracted in combination with Trespando’s triune composition, the sculpture creates a layered representation of sacred, secular, and artistic space.
Finally, the transformation of rapidly evolving technologies has also profoundly effected how artists visualize and translate place. José Restrepo’s Video/Print (1996) combines video and digital with print and sculpture, bringing together centuries-old processes with recent technologies into a single installation. Conceptually, Video/Print considers broader affinities between video and print by examining the ways in which methods of transmission of knowledge have formed and affected relationships between the Old World and the New World, specifically Latin America and Europe.