Actually, this was a visit to a studio used by two artists: John Schettino and Sheri Wills, who are currently enjoying a month-long residency at the Ragdale Foundation in Lake Forest, Illinois. John makes sculptures, Sheri makes film/photography based work. During August they collaborated on works which they showed in a temporary exhibit in a beautiful purpose-built studio building. The floor to ceiling windows offered stunning views of the expanse of wild prairie that stretches for many acres west of the residency buildings: trees, wildflowers, grass as high as your shoulders. The art inside the building seemed at first to be a response to this environment. John's sculpture was an assemblage of tree branches found outside, suspended from the ceiling by monofilament wire along with a framework of thin wood strips. Sheri's piece consisted of a darkened box containing a slide projection of images of trees, rivers, glades, the images being rear-projected onto a crumpled piece of tissue paper.
The photos were not taken in Illinois, however, but back on the east coast. Similarly, John's piece had only a tangential relationship to the very visible landscape around the building. During our conversation, they spoke about many ideas raised by their work. Nature and culture. Naturally growing wood versus machine made lumber. Free nature and tamed nature. Making a tear or rip in the viewing mechanism so that you appear to be looking out through a crack in the wall. Interior space versus exterior space. Finding an object and changing an object.John elaborated these ideas via email:
During the residency, through continued reading and long hours of conversation, our notions of landscape expanded beyond the literal to include cultural landscapes. The vanished, forgotten and overwritten features – the invisible history – of our 19th Century western ecosystem retained it’s importance for us but as we contemplated what has disappeared in history in the cultural world – the loss, obliteration, and erasure – a deeper and more personal sense of urgency set in. The moral imperative of memory emerged, the need to gesture to a complex cultural landscape whose cumulative scope ranges from generosity to dehumanization. Our thinking came to hinge on not only the exterior ‘natural’ world but also the worlds within and between us as landscape and memory intertwined at the heart of our new work.
I remember when I did a residency in Vermont, way up in the hills near Burlington, how everyone eventually just couldn't help themselves: no matter how hard you tried to resist, no matter how abstract your work, you drew something relating to trees in the end. That's partly my way of saying that I responded positively to the combination of beauty and intellectual rigour in Sheri and John's work. There are more ways of reflecting the outer world than repeating the well-worn gestures of Impressionism, after all.
You can see more of their work here: John's site. Sheri's site.