“And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?”
It was 1938 when Langston Hughes wrote these words in Let America be America Again, a poem demanding fulfillment of a Dream that never was. Since then, decades of American mythologies still leave us pondering this question. How has heroic identity been constructed in the United States, and how do these images affect both our political lives and imaginations? The work of these seven artists examines pervasive and predominantly masculine American icons: the explorer, the cowboy, the president, the war hero, or the family man. Informed by the legacy of a military family, a father’s encounter with a former president, a grandfather’s archives of war and exploration, or contemporary manifestations of masculinity in crisis, these artists question the limits of the national imagination, and in turn, the impact these limits have on individual lives. By shifting, morphing, and redirecting constructs of militarism, power, gender, and race, these artists’ interventions reveal the duplicitous nature of myth and its vast contradictions. Who is behind the veil; what was burnt out by the stars?Greta Pratt
A Cloud of Dust
Currently, I am examining the mythology of the Wild West and how it is carried on today through the Western Heritage circuit. While the heyday of the open range cowboy lasted only 20 years the mythic west’s vast reliquary brims with tales about legendary characters. This exotic and yet familiar place occupies a solid foundation in national memory and its basic tenets, freedom and self-sufficiency influence present-day issues and politics such as gun control, foreign policy and land and water usage.
Western heritage is a term used by many different groups of people to mean many different things. To some it is a code that stresses integrity, self-reliance and accountability. For others it is a reminder of their ancestors and a past that was ripped away by conquest.
Heather M. O’Brien & Jonathan Takahashi
we take pictures so we can forget
three-channel 35mm slideshow (120 slides), 25 min, 2014
Two family albums, reconstructed to perform their inner tension and bliss. One collection roots in Japan, the other in the U.S.––there is overlap, crossing of oceans, borders––fragmented memories of war are built into imagination. Decades of internment, nationalism and domesticity. Projections transform into fantasy, ruminating in the unfamiliar. To forget is the only way to remember.
Jasmine Rayna Clark
My photographic work is directly shaped by my upbringing in a conservative military community in Twentynine Palms, California. Both of my parents served in the United States Marines Corps. My own perspective on the military is very complicated, and that has spurred my curiosity about the military’s role in American life.
In many American places, especially areas surrounding military bases, military culture is an inseparable part of the landscape. One can see many signals of how the military is intertwined in the established American patriotic and national identity. Support for the military and veterans is simplified and combined with complex and polarizing issues such as religion, race, class, patriotism, and gun control through the use of symbols and iconography. I find the saturation of these oversimplified messages problematic, however I am also fascinated by what they reveal. These messages, in both public and private spaces, are meant to have clear meanings, but these places and artifacts suggest other, more problematic truths about American life and our relationship to our military.
Bug out Bag
Earthquakes. Superstorms. War. Martial Law. The Rapture. The Zombie Apocolypse. The Bug Out Bag is the most basic piece of gear for disaster preparedness. It is usually a backpack or an easy to carry duffel bag containing the essentials needed to sustain life for 72 hours, or to possibly begin a new civilization. I have been traveling around the country documenting the Bug Out Bags of people I have come to know. I photograph them unpacked and ready for inspection or inventory. Each bag becomes a portrait of its owner, showing us their fears in the face of environmental and global change. The contents also reflect the survivalist instincts and character of each owner. In my travels I have met a public school teacher, veterans, self-subscribed Preppers who live “off grid”, and a man who will sell you a Bug out Bag for your cat for $90. Everyone I meet tells me that preparedness is a necessity in Post 911 America. They are eager to discuss their gear, share tips, and some will even share their resources. Most are community minded but some are fiercely independent. Independence is a fundamental principle when describing the American character and survival is a natural state. At its most extreme, the new self-reliant American no longer experiences transcendence in nature, but instead, escapes to nature in an effort to hoard and protect their property. Living off grid has become a capitalist enterprise, banking on the fears and desires for stability in a progressive state.
All the Presidents’ Men
All the Presidents’ Men combines photographs made in presidential museums and historic sites across the United States with images from my father and grandfather’s homes. In 1959, after a spontaneous all-night road trip, my 18-year-old father met former president Harry Truman out for a morning walk on the streets of Independence, Missouri. He doesn’t remember what they talked about, only the thrill of meeting a “powerful”, yet “unassuming” man. Nearly 50 years later, I visited Truman’s presidential museum and noticed there was little evidence of the restlessness and uncertainty that have shaped my father’s generation and characterized Truman’s legacy.
I am intrigued by photography’s increasing role within history museums, where historical narratives intersect with the complexities of photographs, replicas and ephemera, and are interpreted through the viewer’s imagination and personal experiences. In particular, I see presidential museums as archives of a particular version of American masculinity, informed by American dreams, fictional narratives and political rhetoric. Presidential power is reified and celebrated within the history museum while aspects of presidential identities that are more revealing of their complexity, individual struggles or humanity are rarely or only subtly articulated. Full of blind spots, these fictional heroic narratives are absorbed into our political and personal lives despite the tenuous grasp they hold on the complexities of history and the multifaceted lives of men.
Rocketless Launch Series
I am a media artist who works across modes of communication, from video and photographic images to sound, text, and display. Inspired by the presentation modes that are found in the institutions that specialize in the delivery of knowledge – museums, libraries, and the media. I consider each of these and their roles and contrast them with heuristic experiential modes of acquiring knowledge. I mine these same locations and their archives for the materials that I utilize in my work.
My projects are concerned with exploration. Using my own family legacy as a footpath I am tracing the arc of exploration from the first spark that motivates an adventure to the final resting place of the ephemera and the propagation of the mythic character. Specifically I am examining South Pacific exploration through the lens of my Grandfather and Great Uncle’s voyages. They sailed the South Seas for the American Museum of Natural History in the late 1930’s – early 1940’s and their artifacts and recordings are found in several museum and library collections.
My explorations begin in the institutions that house the archives and tell the tales of these acts and expand out in to the field, re-imagining and representing material. I am drawn to the character of the explorer and their singular focus on frontiers in spite of risk–the possibility that they could see something authentically new that could then lead to a place in history.
Jasmine Rayna Clark
Born in 1986, Jasmine Rayna Clark is the daughter of two United States Marines and grew up in a military community in Twentynine Palms, California (MCAGCC). Clark received her BFA in Photography from California State University, Long Beach and will receive her MFA in Photography from Columbia College Chicago in 2016. Her career in photography began with a long-term interest in the military, depictions and theories surrounding war photography, and the military’s impact on the American landscape. Clark’s current work focuses on the display of symbols of American patriotism, nationalism, religious belief, and support for the military in American landscapes.
McLean Fahnestock is a media artist who works in video, sound, sculptural installation, and photographic prints. McLean reclaims material from institutions, seeking out footage, images, and items that carry the weight and specificity of history and the trappings of exploration.
McLean received a BFA from Middle Tennessee State University and MFA from California State University Long Beach. Her work has been exhibited and screened across the United States and Internationally in Ireland, Canada, Belgium, Germany and Japan. She has received an ARC Grant from the Durfee Foundation, two Hoff Foundation Grants, and was awarded a Professional Artist Fellowship from the Arts Council for Long Beach. Her work was included in a DVD compilation of short videos by the LA Film Forum. She was a finalist for a 2012 Vimeo Video Award and was recently named “Most Promising New Artist” at MADATAC 05, in Madrid, Spain. McLean is currently based in Nashville, Tennessee
Heather M. O’Brien and Jonathan Takahashi
Heather M. O’Brien is an artist based in Los Angeles where she is exploring how capitalist desire and militaristic legacy construct our ideas about home. Working with photographs, film, installation, performance and writing, her projects seek to build encounters around the illusion of accurate memory, familial archives and the fallacies of the American Dream. Heather’s work has been exhibited across the U.S. in venues including The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA Los Angeles, The International Center for Photography, SF Camerawork, Parsons/The New School, The Photographic Center Northwest, The Bronx River Art Center, Baxter Street at the Camera Club of New York, SUNY Purchase College and The Center for Photography at Woodstock. Her projects have been featured in a variety of publications including The New York Times, Conveyor Magazine and The Los Angeles Review of Books. Heather received an MFA from California Institute of the Arts and currently teaches courses in Photography, Art History and Writing at California State University Long Beach and Moorpark College. In 2016, she will be a resident at the Santa Fe Art Institute in New Mexico as well as the Marble House Project in Dorset, Vermont. www.heathermobrien.com
Jonathan Takahashi received his MFA at the California Institute of the Arts and his BFA from California State University of Long Beach. His practices investigates historical narratives through the construction of an image based archive. He has exhibited in galleries, book fairs and alternative art spaces. http://jonathantakahashi.com
Allison Stewart grew up in Houston, Texas and currently lives in Los Angeles, CA. She received her MFA in Photography from California State University Long Beach and her BFA in Painting with a minor in Art History from the University of Houston. Her work explores the construction of American identity through its relics, rituals, and cultural institutions. Her work has been shown in gallery and museum spaces internationally, including The Contemporary Art Center in New Orleans, The Torrance Art Museum, and Soho Photo Gallery in New York City. Her work is included in the Rubell Family Collection and private collections.
Greta Pratt’s photographs examine American myth and identity. She is the author of three mongraphs, In Search of the Corn Queen (Smithsonian National Museum of American Art, 1994) and Using History (Gottingen, Germany: Steidl, 2005) The Wavers (Blue Sky Books, 2014). Pratt’s work has been exhibited internationally and nationally at MASS MoCA, Beirut Art Center, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum of Fine Art, Houston, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Mattress Factory Museum, DeCordova Museum, Contemporary Art Museum Houston, the Chrylser Museum, Atlanta Contemporary Art Center and the Museum of Contemporary Photography among others. Public collections include The National Museum of American Art: Smithsonian Institution, The Museum of Fine Art, Houston, The Museum of Contemporary Photography, The Portland Art Museum, The Chrysler Museum and the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Pratt was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and her photographs have been featured in The New York Times Magazine and The New Yorker. Pratt is currently an Associate Professor of Photography at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA.
Rebecca Sittler is a co-founder of the institute for Inverted histories (iIh), established to bring lesser known, mysterious, and sometimes contradictory historical narratives surrounding gender, political and cultural identities to a larger public via publications, public discussions, and museum displays. Sittler is also photographer, writer and Professor of Art at CSU Long Beach. She has exhibited her work in over 70 exhibitions in the last 10 years at venues such as: Sam Lee Gallery, PCNW, Torrance Museum of Art, the Griffin Museum, Atlantic Center for the Arts, RayKo Gallery, and the PRC, Boston. She received her MFA from Massachusetts College of Art in 2003. Her recent series, All the Presidents’ Men received a 2015 Collection Award for Innovation in the Documentary Arts from the Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke University.