Aspen Times Weekly cover story: ‘Continental Drift,’ a show of ideas |

Aspen Times Weekly cover story: ‘Continental Drift,’ a show of ideas

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado
Courtesy Aspen Art MuseumCover by Afton Groepper

ASPEN – Jacob Proctor, who took the position of curator of the Aspen Art Museum a little more than a year ago, has some roots in Colorado. Proctor earned his undergraduate degree, in art history, from the University of Colorado at Boulder before heading to a master’s program at Harvard and a curating job at the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

But only in the past year or so has Proctor truly received his introduction to the Colorado art scene. Proctor, along with Nora Burnett Abrams, associate curator of MCA Denver, has curated “Continental Drift,” an exhibition that was open to Colorado-based artists. An open call resulted in the submission of more than 300 portfolios; Proctor and Abrams eventually visited 20 studios before narrowing the show down to seven artists.

“This was a crash course in a lot of Colorado artists,” said Proctor, who began receiving proposals before he even arrived in Aspen and spent his vacation in Maine looking at portfolios for the show. “I probably saw more regional work because of this show in two months than I would have seen in two years without this show.”

The curators had no specific thrust for the show in mind.

“We went in completely open, not knowing what show these artists had to fit. We just chose work we thought was interesting – not based on geography, not based on medium, not based on content,” Proctor said.

But as they selected the work, a distinct theme emerged.

“We saw this thread emerge of artists dealing with location, place. We decided this thread was strong enough to make it a thematic show,” Proctor said, adding that the theme is not necessarily the point of the exhibition. “Geography is a factor. But you could not know the theme and it would still make sense as a show.”

“Continental Drift,” which showed at MCA Denver through most of the summer and opens at the Aspen Art Museum with a reception on Oct. 18, isn’t Colorado-centric in content. The artists – all of whom, as it happens, are from the Front Range – addressed ideas of the sky, Italy, interiors and more.

Proctor shared some observations on the artists and art in the exhibition.

Christina Battle Battle’s video installation, “Dearfield, Colorado,” explores an early African-American agricultural community that had become a ghost town by the middle of the 20th century.

“It’s a very particular landscape. But a site that’s not very well known, a forgotten place that not many people have seen. The Great Depression sealed its fate. The project is an oblique reference to the challenges places have faced since 2008. To me, there’s that resonance.”

Scott Johnson Johnson’s 19-minute video “Ruminando” wanders the streets of Venice, Italy, offering a dual viewpoint that mimics the perspective of an animal with eyes on either side of its head.

“It’s interesting as an experiment on perception, how the physiological way we see affects our experience of a given location. But historically it’s also interesting how the city of Venice played a role in Italian Renaissance painting and the ways of rendering space, one- and two-point perspectives. What Scott has done here is a completely different way of experiencing space.”

Jeanne Liotta Liotta’s 2007 film “Observando El Cielo” is images of the night sky recorded at various locations over a span of seven years.

“It’s the most broad and abstract idea of space in the show. It’s the night sky, the cosmos, and how we experience a space that is so vast. It’s both abstract, but also with the observatories, it’s fact-based and conveys a sense of the wondrous.”

Sarah McKenzie McKenzie’s paintings draw from the geometry of the Gates Rubber factory, near downtown Denver.

“It’s one building in Denver, a very particular location. It’s taking a built structure and turning it into a formal pattern.”

Adam Milner The series “Beds” comprises photographs that Milner takes first thing every morning that he wakes up alone. The “Bed Drawings” series are done each night as Milner drifts to sleep.

“Both have to do with the bed as place or space. To my mind, he’s taking these banal locations and turning them into a compositional practice, a generational process for making work. It’s very self-aware. He’s the youngest artist in the show, in his early 20s. It’s interesting watching a young artist figure out his methods.”

Yumi Janairo Roth The “Meta Mapa” series examines the tourist experience of asking for and receiving directions to sites of cultural significance.

“She goes somewhere, has someone draw a map on her hand, and she actually tries to navigate based on the drawing. It’s a universal experience – asking someone to direct you to a destination. But it’s also almost a performance between herself and the people she’s interacting with on the street. It’s the difference between the cartographical ideal of a map and the bric-a-brac: How do you make do with the tools you have on hand?”

Edie Winograde Winograde’s two photographic series examine historical sites and events and their preservation as tourist attractions.

“‘Sight Seen’ is photos taken at tourist destinations, mostly in the American West, with people visiting them, and the infrastructure like benches and golf carts. ‘Place and Time’ is photos of historical re-enactments – battle scenes, crossings of rivers. They document how our contemporary activity is connected to history and how the place is important to that.”