Wednesday, April 1, 2009

How to make the site specific

© Matts Leiderstam "Papago Park," 2007

It's a tricky business, commissioning artists to do site specific work that has some resonance with your local audience. I had invited Matts Leiderstam to do a new work as part of a Scandinavian show I co-organized with Silvia Cubina, then-director of The Moore Space in Miami (other commissioned artists include Ragna Robertsdottir, Egill Saebjornsson and Torgeir Husevaag). Because landscape is such a primary material in the Sonoran desert, because it is the way people around the globe know Arizona (through early photography and Westerns), Matts's work seemed appropriate to grapple with a contemporary range of references that can be found in the landscape--beyond the cliches of surburban sprawl and golf courses littered with retirees.

Through his interest in history--both official and unofficial--Matts chose a promontory in Papago Park to photograph through his Claude lenses--lenses developed by an English inventor to help tourists find picturesque landscapes, like those of Claude Lorraine, father of landscape painting--Papago Park, Phoenix, is home to the zoo, the Desert Botanical Garden, a national guard battery, picnic tables, the phallic tomb of the state's first territorial governor--and is an active cruising site. (There was a WW II prisoner of war camp there, they had a breakout of German marines one Christmas eve, all surrendered or were found with a day or so.)

Matts uncovered histories unknown even to area residents, and thus, made something that resonated for the museum audiences.

Making site specific work is then about working with the right artist, not just the right landscape.

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