SARAH BAUGH
about

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a transect — Due East is a body of work based on a series of cross-country hikes that enabled me to generate visual and written notation, correspondence, interviews and historic research. The location is specific to my homeland in the San Joaquin Valley of California where I traveled due east into the foothills and Sierra Nevada Mountains on several separate occasions between 2006 and 2008.

This work is centered on the ways in which human constructs of land influence our experience of place. Within this context I have created prints that reference the graphically encoded language of conventional maps (both current and historic), and nineteenth-century Romantic landscape traditions. This wide-ranging discourse has been channeled through the undertaking of a pilgrimage in order to contemplate the way our mind frames the land and our experience of landscape. With this work I aim to demonstrate the vitality of deep-lasting human connections to land use by interweaving autobiographic and historic narratives.

Walking Due East
The field research for this suite of prints consisted of well over 200 miles of walking among the mountains near my small hometown of Dinuba, California, where I have taken a particular interest in the seemingly detached and rarely noticed backdrop of distinctive high peaks. As I walked across both public and private land – on and off roads and trails, bushwhacked through dense wild brush, swam across rivers and traversed steep mountaintops I found that my experience of the land became defined by the tight gridwork of surveyed land parcels in addition to natural barriers and steep topography. Since the 1860’s much of the foothill region has been used for farming and grazing cattle and has stayed in the hands of private landowners whose wellbeing is directly tied to the land. As a result, I had to acquire permission from protective landowners to simply walk across the land which contributed to my understanding of the geographic importance of these mountains in relation to the social dynamics of the region.

Visualizing the Land through Human Constructs
Throughout the course of my research I have found that maps, (particularly those published by governmental agencies) along with emphasizing ownership and control, imply an aspect of power over the land and its inhabitants. This region, like many others within North America, is framed by lines established in the mid-nineteenth century that unrelentingly cut straight across the land no matter how wild or steep the topography is. The land has become segmented into smaller more comprehendible portions that continually shift in ownership and jurisdiction throughout generations. This grid-work in contrast with the natural topography has played a major role in determining the way I visualize the land within a contemporary context as a contrast between humans and nature. In addition to grids, our current understanding of “wilderness” is also a construct that reinforces this contrast. For example, It is only within recent years that “man himself is a visitor who does not remain” within landscapes now classified as National Parks (as defined by the United States Wilderness act of 1964), a construct which in many cases has displaced First Nations people who previously lived in such places without the problem of pressuring the land’s resources.

In relation to landscape history, my artistic practice builds on European doctrines and discourses associated with the Romantic landscape tradition as well as Post-Modern conceptual land-based artistic practices that have shaped my perception, experience and expectations of land. For example, my aesthetic sensibility, my attention to naturalistic detail and my intrigue with exploring the land reflect the influence of nineteenth-century artist-explorers, land expeditions and survey photographers. However, my intermixing of drawings, photographs, written field notes, correspondence, and personal interviews is reflective of more contemporary influences, where fragments of various forms of research and or visual language refer to the limitations of memory, written history as opposed to oral history and loss with regard to the shifting and layered histories of the land.

My location drawings of large expanses throughout my journey serve to reinforce our land-based visual codes by the activity of transcribing the land through yet another system of careful measurements. This practice deepens my personal connection with the land, lending a sense of embodied awareness of its natural and/or unnatural characteristics. I allow the process of discovery from gathering extensive research to play out in the final compositions, where maps I have gathered are combined with my location drawings to set the stage to depict personal encounters and experiences that re-present the land through a framework that speaks of the constructs humans place on the land which, in turn, inform our experience.

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Matthew Rangel

Posted on Jan 13th, 2013 at 07:37am

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