Nothing cuts off self-determination more efficiently than eradicating its language. Replacing it with misdirecting prattle… is a magnificent coup for those who would like to keep us wary of one another.
Language in museums and on educational signage guides the broader narrative. The authority behind this language can be easily assumed, and it has great influence over how we relate to, and learn from, history. I offer that a landscape dotted with heavily-biased wording has a similar psychological effect as a landscape dotted with bronze statues of men we’re not sure we want to revere. Statues and historical markers are not, in and of themselves, our history. Rather, they are part of a conversation about our history, and the authors of that conversation can sometimes have motives that aren’t always transparent.
This is my starting point.
These selective rubbings of historical markers are an ongoing, evolving project for understanding the language of state-sanctioned history through an intentional erasure and omission which mirrors that of many “official” narratives. This work interrupts the provisional authority of the historical marker by disrupting static, languid interpretations of the plaque’s narrative.
I’m focused on state-sanctioned historical plaques that feature language which glosses over or replaces colonialism, state oppression, and military violence with truncated accounts that marginalize the motivation and origin of popular revolts, disregard whole communities, and other acts of erasure. In choosing which plaques to work with, I’m searching for wording that drives a particular, dominant historical narrative. As I work, I am carefully excluding, or redacting, all of the other text on the plaque. By deliberately letting negative space dominate the large sheets of paper, critical sections of directive language stand out nakedly, akin to the practice of erasure poetry.
Each piece in this ongoing series is a wax relief rubbing that I’ve created on-site using hand-made crayons. My process is deliberately visible, public and accessible: I carry a roll of durable Tyvek paper, crayons that I’ve melted into palm-sized discs, a short ladder, and I wear a high-vis fluorescent vest. As a public performance, I make these rubbings during daylight hours, wearing a simple costume that gives the suggestion of a municipal worker. At times this process has necessitated harmless acts of trespass, exposing some of the tensions inherent in our conventions of private and public property and how authority determines who gets to create the historical narrative.
As this project continues, I’m interested in new exhibitions where this work fuels discussion and action around public monument “authority” and language, demystifying and highlighting the need for new memorial methodologies to take root in our shared public landscapes. If you’re interested in bringing an exhibit of this work to your gallery, please get in touch.
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Landscape & Site-Specific