Minnesota:Oct. 2001
New York Mills Regional Cultural Center Artist Retreat

Notes written during my residency:

Before I came to NY Mills I decided to focus on an overall idea of continuity. This came up in the book "Interpretation of Ordinary Landscape" - that what may seem unremarkable to an outsider is an important signifier of continuity to a local. A particular use of the land, or a building on Main St. And I think Americans are of two minds on this, for there is always the particularly American notion of "progress".

Historically trains stitched the country together. While highways have taken over this function for transporting people, goods are still also transported by train. NY Mills has many trains each day come through town (my house is on the other side of the tracks from downtown and the Cultural Center). Does this provide a sense of historical continuity to the locals? Irritating and comforting at the same time? The source of the only traffic jam in town.

History is certainly more visible in Minnesota than in California, and people seem to have a greater interest in it. Is it a nostalgia held on to in the face of economic difficulty?

Yesterday continued thinking about the idea of railroads stitching - the dirt roads were basting stitches, the railroads were the real connecting stitches, and the paved roads, highways, etc. are the embroidery - what everyone notices now that the garment is done.

This morning's idea: stitching together canvas prints. Like a quilt in a way, or like the clothing made out of animal skin, or skins hung up to dry. Waxed afterward like oil cloth. Continuing the digital & physical collage I started with A Thin Veneer, but in this case not dependent on a hard surface to hold it together.

It travels with you, like memories do. Quilts used to be made from leftover scraps, so you could recall memories by looking at it, each piece bringing a particular event (the dress made for the senior dance... this was from a dress your grandmother made for me when...). More crazy quilt than a set pattern, fragmentary or combination of story quilt and crazy quilt. (ideas from "Signs and Symbols: African Images in African American Quilts", book used in Process of Art I with Deborah Small at CSUSM).

Don't want to photograph people like they're novelties, like people used to do to me.

Toy camera photos of everyday stuff - houses, etc. Surprisingly I can't bring myself to stop and photograph "dead" houses. Seems wrong, too voyeuristic, not like photographing grave markers, which are erected for display and visit.

Counties laid out in a grid, all straight lines, Towns too at first, then annexed sections, Rivers squiggle around. Railroad swoops, almost straight, long curves, intersections. Original roads all straight, crisscrossing, the streets with numbers like 425th St. (a recent system, designed to help find rural addresses, but actually makes it harder).

Sewn together pieces, different stitching. Cut-hole, with layer below showing through, what traditions do this? I can think of Hmong. Could make a skirt - a story skirt. Backing of muslin. Backing of fur.

See if I can scan historical photos, otherwise can scan from books. Not sure if I want to use them through, photos not my own, Then it's in danger of becoming more an historical item, less an interpretation of ideas.

Topo maps, map of rail lines as patterns. Aerial photos, pattern of roads and farms resemble faux rock siding on some homes, and pattern of counties.

Continuity requires connections. Communities require connections between people. People require connections with other people. Most intact memories are about interactions with other people, Time dissapears without markers. Markers are our connections with other people. Visual markers are buildings, people, land - use as markers of thime si dependane on their presence in our memories. Stories.

I think I'm pursuing these ideas because I have lost my own connections/community/people/stories - all seem in the past, a gap has occured in my life, and rather than create new continuities in my life I'm creating them in art, and widening the gap (or at least only allowing tenuous threads of abridgment across it). Life the railroads tracks sprouting weeds, though they are likely still passable if needed enough.

Most folks don't have fenced yards here.


from Minnesota Historical Society
starting points:
from Minnesota Historical Society