Like an optical illusion – one in which the embedded image is impossible to see until its outline is defined – a new caste system lurks invisibly within the maze of rationalizations we have developed for persistent racial inequality. 1
Invisible walls have been erected by those who have power, both to confine those who have no power and to perpetuate their powerlessness. 2
Now, solidly institutionalized and frozen in concrete, 3
The modern city enthroned the automobile, not human beings, as the arbiter of urban spatial design, and its planners clamed the authority of reason and science, promising to rescue humanity from its self-destructive attachments to history, community and identity. 4
1. Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow, 2010 2. Kenneth B. Clark, 1965 3. Douglas S.Massey & Nancy A. Denton, American Apartheid, 1993 4. Eric Avila, Folklore Of The Freeway – Race and Revolt In The Modernist City, 2014
This Innocent Country is a print series told in chapters that deeply consider the mythic nature of American history.
The first several chapters are dedicated to: making visible, the hidden, architecture, structure and systems of inequality by investigating how the construction of physical space mirrors our construction of racial and economic hierarchy.
From 2003-2007, I lived in a historically segregated community making the documentary film Dare Not Walk Alone, about the Civil Rights movement and its aftermath in St. Augustine, Florida. Like many southern towns, old Jim Crow lines still defined the city’s space. Working on the film, I became acutely aware of how historic decisions of infrastructure, such as, highway construction, redlining, housing, and lending policies were used as tools of control. The Civil Rights movement and national interstate highway construction were simultaneous events. Across the country, city planners designed highways to physically connect and/or separate communities. In 1965, just as the walls of segregation were coming down, St. Augustine city leaders constructed highway interchanges around the black section of town, effectively bordering it with concrete and steel. This “out of sight, out of mind” mentality led to further disinvestment, creating pockets of persistent poverty and neglect.
For many years I have searched through archives for 19th century stereoviews from the South, especially St. Augustine Fl. These Reconstruction era images are from a “brief moment in the sun” in American history when the institution of slavery was being torn down, and just before Jim Crow was established. I am particularly drawn to stereoviews of former slave cabins, turned share cropper dwellings, as a way to understand the relationship between housing (the gateway to the middle class), infrastructure and economics. Using images from places and communities I intimately know, these obscure 1870’s stereoviews have become the basis for a large-scale prints series. These prints investigate how infrastructure, urban planning, designed utopia, institutions and revised histories are used to include or exclude certain people, and how those decisions continue to echo, ripple and repeat.
Stereoscopes work through the proximity of two nearly identical images taken from slightly different perspectives. When seen through a viewer, the optical effect creates a single three-dimensional image. From a conceptual standpoint, stereoviews function the same way we as individuals relate to the world- looking at the same thing but seeing something different depending on one’s perspective. So they create a natural visual conflict. In an effort to construct meaning, the eye unconsciously moves between each image to detect the difference. This desire to resolve the image allows for artistic intervention - By visually manipulating each of the double images differently and reordering where on histories timeline the new images fall, these prints question American myths of equality - creating parallel histories that question repeated cycles of disparity and barriers to social mobility.
The prints are intended to be viewed two ways: as an object where one is free to derive comparative and narrative inferences, and through a stereoscopic device. When seen through a viewer, the images cross-dissolve into shifting forms - time is reordered, and matter co-exists, merging into a new paradigm that invites the viewer to imagine an alternative perspective of the historical document.
It is impossible to recreate the optical effect of looking at the images through the viewing device, however, this approximation begins to give a sense of how the image changes when seen through the viewer. Here the two images have been overlaid and the picture totally transforms. What was once a single cube isolating a long figure becomes a maze of spacial separation.
Here separate planes transform into a series of interlocking cubic barriers.
Building on early binocular color theory experiments, these prints not only challenge spatial perception but also perceptions of color. When seen through the viewer the brain combines colors in a way that creates new colors or eliminating existing ones. In this image what appeared as a fragile barrier now seems to cast in concrete.
Stark black and white boundaries dissolve into a chromatic image of historical reality.
The above images are all studies for the upcoming series. The final large scale 30" x 44" stereo prints will be made using a mixed print technique. The archival image will be made by the artist as the photogravure from a hand wiped plate printed on an etching press. This 19th century process renders a photo quality hand printed image.
Next the visual content of each side of the print will be altered using: collage, drawing, screen printing and/or other printing methods. This labor intensive process creates a series of unique, edition prints that become meditations on history, memory and the American myth.
Future chapters will explore the myth of The West and the Hawaiian islands.