Photography / Editorial / Print

Residing in huge residential buildings, we are often disconnected from nature, from being able to immerse ourselves amongst plants or even to be able to walk barefoot on grass on a daily basis. It is for some, one of the greatest pleasures of life. Kathleen Vance's work explores this relationship with nature, artificial environments and issues of displacement and order, which we encountered when viewing “Travelling Landscapes,” a series of beautifully curated lush environments inside reclaimed trunks and travel cases. On a larger scale, we see fallen branches and sticks, intertwined in Boundsticks, coiled together, motionless and resembling wintry tree trunks growing through walls, perhaps awaiting new growth in Spring. The once discarded part of a tree, given new life, becoming part of a new whole. Running streams and fauna are juxtaposed against geometric white walls in Creating Realities, which almost has a meditative effect, coupling the sound of trickling water with the sight of lush greenery. We asked the artist about her background and this fascination with bringing back nature into the course of one’s daily life.

Where did you grow up and now work / call home?

I grew up in the 'country-side' of Maryland, outside of Baltimore, in an area which is now considered a historically preserved valley. I feel a strong connection to the land from my upbringing on a small farm. Forestry and the wilderness edging up on manicured land were points of interest as I grew older. I came to New York to study at the Pratt Institute and received my BFA in Sculpture.  I then took some time to travel, investigating natural preserves throughout the US and then I received a grant to visit Iceland and study the environment and geothermal regions there. My graduate studies at Hunter College helped create a stronger conceptual context to my work, and upon graduation I decided to remain in New York. I live and work in Brooklyn the majority of the year, there is a fantastic community of artists here and a really active art scene. In the summer, I travel often to Maryland where I have a studio and can create large sculptural works, whilst also engaging with nature.

What are your personal views on human connections with nature?

I have a fascination with native environments and the idea of displacing elements from these environments to give them a new meaning and context.  There is a dialogue in my work about the defining points of what is artificial and what is natural: why it is that we often choose elements closer to the artificial in our lives over that of the natural. In New York, in the urban environment here, there are few points where you can be immersed in nature and I feel that it is important for everyone to consider their natural origins and try to maintain a sense of these in their daily lives.

How important is nature conservation and preserving the landscapes around our homes?

This is extremely important. We must be good stewards of the land and our resources. I address the rationality of the concept of ownership and water-rights within the series, "Travelling Landscapes." We, as individuals, can have a great impact on our local eco-system (in both negative and positive ways). Care and maintenance must be upheld, the concept of absolute ownership of land, water, air is an illusion. As individuals, we should realise that there are many shared resources and we should work together, for not only individual immediate interests, but also for prolonged sustainability.

What inspires you? 

I am inspired by areas of nature that appear to be 'untouched' by humans. There is a magical element and strength in nature to rectify and reclaim areas that have been abandoned and polluted.  Time, care and consideration returns these areas to the natural balance. I also like to find the line of definition between: wilderness, manicured nature and the urban environment. These are often mysterious and very subjective points, but help to define the level of urban, suburban encroachment, and the inverse with the wild creeping back into urban areas.

Favourite artists?  

Robert Smithson, Michael Heizer, Richard Long, Walter de Maria, Ursula von Rydingsvard, Earthworks and Land Art of the 60's and 70's.  

Are you an avid gardener? Do you have a garden?  

I do love gardening! and in the summers tend a large vegetable and flower garden in Maryland. My dream would be to have access to a garden space in Brooklyn. I have worked on a variety of local community garden projects and received a grant from the Brooklyn Arts Council for an after school program for a garden-art project in East New York. 

With reference to Travelling Landscapes, exploring themes of ownership could you tell us about the illusion of travel?

The Travelling Landscapes create imagined scenes of nature within suitcases, train cases and steamer trunks, often with running streams, rivers, and small waterfalls. I choose the cases to give the illusion of travel, and I specifically select cases that are from a certain era (no modern cases are used) to act as an indicator of travel, without the involved reference to direct travel. Although everyone can relate to these cases, they are no longer in regular use, it would be quite uncommon to see a traveller with one of these cases in their baggage. Thus a curiosity evolves, questioning of the length of the voyage the case itself has taken, is it still travelling and so on.   
Along this line of thinking relative to it's contents, the landscape and its duration as a 'traveller' itself create interest for a fuller investigation. I have used live plants to create these scenarios, but prefer the artificial because it further extends this level of investigation. Each landscape looks to be a section taken from nature, I imagine this as a thought that 'you can take it with you', at least in concept and your personal love of the land and environment. There are all of the elements of life: light, water nutrients; sustainability of the environment is possible, it would just take care.

What is your favourite plant? and why?

This is a difficult one, I am very drawn to mosses and plants that grow on the forest floor. Ferns and light grasses, those that catch just a bit of light through the forest canopy.

Do you like the feeling of soil in your hands?

Yes, there are so many varieties, from the clay based mushy, to sandy and dry. The colour stays with some and gets caught in your nails, but it is nice to get down, and dirty!

The Boundsticks Installation are imposing sculptures, tell us about the cycle of life, use of a closed circuit?

This piece developed from a very basic system of construction, a reduced method with a limited materials:  base materials reclaimed from the forest floor. The concept is to allow for the combined language of the forest to speak through the collected sticks. The growth patterns, due to light, weather, nutrients would become evident in the accumulation of the sticks as they are sorted and bound together.  
In order to reactivate the totality of the individual units there must be an internal force. By using a closed circuit, the pressure of containment creates basic counteractive forces of suspension and compression, which allows for once comparatively weak singular elements to become a very strong whole. Returned to a utility within a (communal) structure, each stick, branch, twig has a purpose within the installation, and the totality of the piece speaks to the language and forms of the forest in which they were collected.

What one message do you hope a viewer takes away from your work?

I would like for viewers to take away a moment of consideration. I think the best artwork does not immediately give 'answers' but allows viewers to question and come upon their own conclusions over time. (Of course, as artists, we must aim to direct those conclusions)

What plans do you have later this year and beyond?

I have an upcoming solo exhibition at Rockelmann & in Berlin, for which I will be preparing over the summer.  I will be working on a installation that incorporates natural environmental 
elements and architecture.

Interview by Nardip Singh
Images provided by artist 
Copyright © Kathleen Vance

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