/07 Trees

Susan Lipper

Off Route 80

It was only recently that I decided on a name for this series: Off Route 80. Before that the work done in Grapevine, West Virginia, since 2006 was called provisionally New Landscapes. My reticence in giving the series a title stemmed from a desire to resist naming a specific place or region, in this case Appalachia with its negative connotations dating back to before the Civil War. To do so would be declaring the work a documentary record – which of course it is, albeit a highly subjective one – belonging to a tradition where the artist admits to being part of the situation portrayed.

My 1994 monograph Grapevine is a visual diary of the first five years I spent in the community. Grapevine is a place I have revisited now for over twenty years, much like Atget’s parks. Central to the meaning here and in most of my work is that these photographs and videos share the vantage point of a liberal female artist from New York City who is contemplating the bigger fiction of America.

The natural versus the urban world is the over-arching theme here. This series also draws upon the Romantic traditions of literature and painting highlighting our place in nature. In this seemingly bucolic setting, the intimate, formal landscapes provide a sense of place but also hint at no return. Off Route 80 is a solitary voyage on foot that goes nowhere (as opposed to Route 66) but it may be that nowhere is somewhere. American Eden? Wherever it is, it is away in nature and far from the common everyday.

The installation of Off Route 80 also includes an enclosed space with video portraits of local inhabitants among would-be hypnotic ambient sounds of nature. The inhabitants gaze back at the viewer in intimate yet semi-confrontational ways that perhaps test the viewer’s resolve to watch or be involved. Some people might see traces of “Deliverance,” images of the Noble Savage or just the claustrophobia of a small village. Their choice is whether or not to join this “other” community and leave the mundane cultural urban and global reality they have known.