The impulse for this exhibition emerged from our responses to the pandemic – a reckoning with our ongoing solitude and a longing for new places and people. Because we have so specifically stayed away from strangers while sheltering in place, the curators at Ejecta Projects were especially interested in making connections with new-to-them artists and artwork. After a long closure, we now are opening our doors this spring with Scatter Terrain, an exhibition featuring videos, sculpture, paintings, drawings, photographs, and prints that offer new, diverse perspectives on landscapes both familiar and strange; while some of the works are curiously attentive to seemingly mundane details, others reimagine our world, in all its disaster, disappointment and wonder, with a kind of critical care.
The term “scatter terrain,” borrowed from role playing and war games, refers to fragments of architecture, landscape, or small props that provide a visual aid for players. Often conspicuously disjointed against an otherwise unadorned tabletop, these detailed, three-dimensional objects serve as cues to better envision the larger, shared narrative of the game. During this extended time of Covid-induced seclusion, the idea of scatter terrain offers an appropriate metaphor for imagined adventure and escape when real travel is difficult – especially against a backdrop that sometimes feels featureless, repetitive, or isolating.
For this open call we invited artists to help us create an installation populated with pockets of “terrain” – secluded or strange landscapes, architectural gestures, intimate domestic corners – with the simple goal of transporting viewers to new places. Avye Alexandres, Chad Andrews, Sarah Aziz, Jackie Brown, Stefani Byrd, Locus Xiaotong Chen, Sarah Crofts, Jason Cytaki, Jon Duff, Stephen Grossman, Stacy Isenbarger, Leekyung Kang, Heather Leier, Julia Matejcek, Ryan Sarah Murphy, Sarah Nance, Ken Reker, Dan Rule, Samantha Sanders, Stephanie Serpick, Chloe Wilwerding
Blind Spots and Memories
The recurring motif among many of the works included in the exhibition focused on these themes of fragmentation and isolation. For some artists, such as Julia Matejcek’s Void 2, the center of photographed landscape is blurry, difficult to see – a kind of blind spot that distorts and confuses the sense of foreground and background space. Here, one’s vision is scattered, as the bare branches push and pull one’s perspective in an inaccessible, unpopulated landscape.
Similarly, a haunting, almost imperceptible landscape is at the center of Samantha Sanders’s Fraktur Portal #2. Made with black walnut ink and gouache, this nocturn is framed by an abstracted vegetal arch, a reference to Fraktur, or Pennsylvania German folk art. This allusion to the artist’s own cultural heritage invites a sort of apprehensive entry into the closed Amish, Mennonite, and Brethren communities among the farms and small towns of Central Pennsylvania.
This curious, somewhat restricted look into a fairly foreign, seemingly picturesque, or antiquated Amish culture conveyed in Sander’s painting finds a parallel in Sarah Crofts’ distant, bounded, telescopic view in her video titled Spyglass. Through a rounded lens, only blurred impressions of the landscape are visible, and the darkened circumference of this sight evokes a detached, distant kind of voyeurism; the viewer’s perspective on the busy harbor and skyscrapers at night seen in the film are limited by what can be perceived through the spyglass – a push and pull of physical and optical proximities. Her inclusion of the rackety clicking sounds (reminiscent of a Super-8 camera) provides a temporal estrangement, too – an intimation of a bygone technology that underscores our distance from the documented landscapes.
Wayward Mapping and Ruptured Data
Other artists in this exhibition investigate the intersection of nature and technology, not to distance oneself from the potential threats of one or the other, but rather to challenge how systems of information affect our understanding of both our immediate and faraway environs. Technological reinterpretation of the landscape is at the center of Sarah Nance’s points of rupture (Apollo 15 passive seismic event 1971). This letterpress print, in the artist’s words, depicts “knitting patterns that were coded using seismic data from glacial and lunar quakes. Each quake captures ‘a point of rupture,’ a moment when a previous landscape transforms into a new one through seismic activity.” Nance’s landscape transforms esoteric, scientific signifiers into domestic, manual instruction. She conflates seemingly contradictory notions of technical measure and homemade craft, bringing faraway, unseen data into a domestic (and gendered) context.
This investigation into abstract mappings and scientific representations of landscape also characterizes the work of Leekyung Kang. Her prints, titled Invented Landscape, consider how one processes information – both digitally and physically. Kang’s fragmented iconography – such as rocks, a compass rose, and almost incomprehensible geometric diagram – refer to geology, cartography, and mechanical technologies. In the artist’s words, her work dwells in an imaginary space that is marked by “disorientation, randomness, and repetition.”
Stefani Byrd’s Texture Map.v001, a digital photographic print, was made with a three-dimensional scanning technology. The print, taken from a video installation series titled domicile, records textures and spaces in the artist’s home. During the pandemic, Byrd – like most of us – turned her attention to the restricted domestic space. But in contrast to many of us finding tedium in our surroundings in quarantine, the artist examines the ordinary through what she calls “hyper-documentation.” Byrd publicly shares these private, inaccessible, and almost unidentifiable details with sophisticated laser scanning. The result is an exceedingly accurate representation that also is fragmented and obscured.
In contrast with the digital innovations in Byrd’s practice, Sarah Aziz reflects on older photographic processes in Walmart Analogue Slitscan. Aziz works with slit-scan photography and 35mm film, a technique that uses a small slit in the film to distort the focal plane, then prints the abstracted panorama on aluminum. The resulting composition alludes to a cinematic progression of film stills, but the referent of her print – Walmart – is aggressively, threateningly contemporary, an indication of an increasingly commodified American landscape.
Confined to Home
Like Byrd, several other artists in this exhibition focused on the terrain within the walls of home, when stay-at-home orders prevented any faraway explorations. For instance, in Stephanie Serpick’s Housebound (Dishes), a teetering mountain of bowls and plates is set against an inky black background, a void that speaks to the seeming endlessness of the panic, fear, and isolation of the pandemic, as well as to the weariness of domestic chores that define one’s days. The fragile and precarious stack of dishes is not just a painted still life, but stands in both as portrait of the inhabitant and can be read, too, as the topography of a home to which most of us have been bound.
Personifying interior place also defines Ken Reker’s series titled Sad Sinks. His small watercolors depict the toiletries and tiles that surround the faucets and washbowls of various bathroom sinks. Taken together, they appear as a taxonomy of intimate spaces, as the viewer identifies slight differences in color and composition among the paintings. Yet, in noticing the water flowing from one, the saturated blue shadows in another, and the warm expanses of sandy pink of another basin, these sinks signify their own kind of scenery, offering a tour through domestic terrain.
Jason Cytaki’s Capriccio 5 (Mom’s Shelf) similarly takes as his subject a fragment of home, characterized by a particular kind of domestic decoration. His sculpture, a grisaille drawing of Hallmark figurines and folksy Americana on a wooden shelf adorned with a daisies and leaves, set against a similarly homey patterned wallpaper, implies the larger environs of a middle-class American home. But, his somewhat flattened, abstracted reconstruction of the “real” three-dimensional objects can be perceived as a kind of black-and-white snapshot, a hazy, childhood memory of a mother’s home, that now perhaps exists only in recollections.
Coincidentally, Recollection (finger tap’s sigh) is the title of Stacy Isenbarger’s assemblage. Isenbarger also takes materials from a living room – an amorphous cushion, upholstered in a floral damask, trimmed with rich red, pink, and gold fringe – and alludes to an enigmatic scene. Her sculptural gesture that is at once organic and fabricated, as tree branch-like forms, wrapped in burgundy velvet, sprout from this curiously cozy remnant. Isenbarger is interested in the idea of our surroundings defined by “our edges – our reaches, our landings, our thresholds.”
This idea of a liminal occurrence – a boundary between one place or period and another – defines Heather Leier’s photopolymer intaglio print titled Bouquet. She captures a moment after a bouquet has dropped on a rug and before it’s been reassembled or thrown away. A sort of violence and tragedy is implied in this scene – a lover’s quarrel, an impulse to destruction, an unfortunate accident. Alongside Isenbarger, Cytaki, Reker, and Serpick, Leier reimagines how “landscape” can be defined within interior space. In other words, the foliage and flowers, scattered across concrete and industrial carpet, offers itself as terrain to be experienced. The horizontal crack dividing one surface from the other functions as a horizon line; the pictorial space transforms into land and sky, but then returns to a latent chaos, a lingering calamity.
In contrast to the recently subdued realities of our immediate environs, a few of the artists offer an explicit escape to more fantastical realms. Dan Rule’s video Magic Mountain takes the viewer on a journey through a lush, disorienting landscape that incorporates collaged flora, fantastical structures, sinking cars, and an occasional character from the two 1980s animated series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Panning to the right, a magical, mountainous world is reflected in the water. Rule presents, in his words, “collective idealized visions of nature,” but he also challenges conventional notions of a natural idyll with objects and architecture that pollute or populate the wondrous landscape. Rule’s subtle and surreal references to childhood fantasy also perhaps reveal a nostalgia for Eternia, He-Man’s legendary world.
This great wish to simultaneously imagine and return to, somehow, a faraway place – both in time and space – is the subject of Chloe Wilwerding’s A Great Homesickness I. Wilwerding collages vividly hued orchids that surround what she sees as a sacred font. The depiction of “nature,” according to the artist, “is collected from databases of user-contributed 3D models.” Her constructed landscapes, like Rule’s animated world, emphasize the artifice of nature. Wilwerding’s print illustrates the Anthropocene, as the aggressive impositions of human development have influenced the natural environment. Nature, understood as sacred, unmarred, or exquisitely isolated, now only exists in one’s imagination.
Chad Andrews’s print Death by Delivery can be interpreted in comparable critical terms, as commercial development and capitalist impulses envelop a once-bucolic environment. Signs for an Adult Video Gift Shop, juxtaposed with the New Buffalo Alliance Church, alongside the too familiar aesthetic of Amazon packaging, are smudged and stacked underneath a barn. The resulting montage is a haunting, upside-down landscape that has driven away any trace of nature. As the farmlands in Central Pennsylvania quickly give way to miles of industrial warehouses and logistics depots, a viewer can sympathize with Andrews’ admonition of death by (Amazon) delivery.
The video The Average Attendee by Avye Alexandres offers a Cheshire Cat-like glittering smile, sparkled lips hovering in the darkness, making promises about success in housing market sales. This disembodied /de-faced figure stands in for the drive toward real estate investment, expansion, particularly the efforts to recruit “people, just like you” to participate in this unscrupulous system, whose stated goal is to change the way people inhabit the landscape.
The lips in Alexandres’ video taunt and tease. Their movement and message are simultaneously suggestive and scary, and echo the madness and magic of other works included in this exhibition, such as Jon Duff’s Terrible Architecture 3. In its dystopian distortions, this painting, like The Average Attendee, nods obliquely to Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland. But, instead of finding anthropomorphic characters that cajole and confuse, Duff offers neon-hued globs, bubbles, and bulbous, translucent forms that snake, sink, and float amid sprouts of grass and architectural remnants. Duff describes his “apocalyptic piles” as a response to the overabundance provided by global commerce, the masses of things that crowd, smother our landscape and our lives.
Gestures of Escape and Constraint
Jackie Brown’s Strata, 3D-printed and hand-built ceramic stoneware, at first looks like a naturally-found, organic specimen, a fragment of coral reef or a collection of fungus from deep in a forest. The title of this ambiguously topographic sculpture, Strata, alludes to geological layering (most often sedimentary rock), but the carefully accumulated coil trails and narrow loops reveal the digital “hand” of the 3D printer. Brown not only embraces the accidents and aesthetic process of this means of automation, she also acknowledges that technology is only a single step in a more intimate process of shaping and combining forms.
Brown’s sculptural gestures, which seemingly subvert the singularity of a material process, can be seen as almost analogous to Ryan Sarah Murphy’s careful consideration of materiality in her work. Murphy’s sculpture In Brackets takes found (unpainted) cardboard to create an analogy between detritus and large-scale urban ruin. The repetition of arches and other fragments that suggest posts, lintels, walls, and windows torn edges depict an architectural space that appears violently torn, blown apart from its surroundings. Murphy’s work illustrates both this sense of catastrophic aftermath and offers a quieter meditation on what she has identified as the “inherent energy within discarded objects.”
Like Murphy’s interest in finding structure within disarray, the balance between order and chaos is central to understanding Locus Xiaotong Chen’s Labyrinth I. Elliptical grains of rice seem to be scattered somewhat evenly over the left side of Chen’s composition, but the right side is emptier, darker, as the grains punctuate the background like stars in a night sky. A square labyrinth – an ancient symbol that evokes a pilgrimage, that encourages the walker to move forward and to use one’s mind and body holistically and spiritually – is balanced in the center of this composition. Chen’s work evokes terrain that is mathematical and artificial, yet also sacredly abstracted and irrationally disordered.
Stephen Grossman’s Monument is not conventionally monumental, and akin to Murphy and Chen, his work embodies seemingly contradictory measures of scale within topography. The green encaustic encases the base of a block of maple at first denotes artificial turf, a lush ground. The carved wood above might then indicate a mountain or a remnant of a stepped pyramid, an ancient wonder in miniature. Despite its diminutive size, the sculpture indeed stands in as monument, but it’s understood more modestly as a marker of space, of the search for significance in our ever-shifting landscape.
With the doors now open at Ejecta Projects, after a year of lock down, we are grateful to learn about others’ experiences in the pandemic, particularly how the artists in this exhibition continued, remarkably, to make art and to respond to our call for entries. As the artists’ offered their interpretations of the concept of “Scatter Terrain,” our expectation that the work would offer disparate glimpses into faraway lives and locations shifted toward a realization that everyone’s isolation, dependence on technology, among moments of fear, sadness and boredom, offered profound shared perspectives. Seeing the resonances and repeated themes among the artworks now provides us with a sense of hope for further connections with the artists, in-person encounters with our visitors, and continued conversations across our virtual and physical spaces.
SCATTER TERRAIN is currently on display at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Click HERE to learn more.
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