I’ve moved around a lot in my life — Actually, just a few weeks ago, I officially moved to my 9th U.S. state in yet another time zone. I fall in love everywhere I go — I long to keep each spot in my grasp forever, even as I itch for the adventure of moving on. Henry David Thoreau talks about his response to place in his famous essay Walden. He describes his belief that he can belong to a place — and even “own” it — simply with his eyes and senses. It doesn’t matter who actually holds the legal title. The possession is momentary and fleeting, but real nonetheless.
For me, the seemingly benign questions “Where are you from?” or “Where is your hometown?” are really loaded. I don’t have an appropriate answer. I don’t have a special place where I “belong”. It’s not uncommon, in the United States especially, for people like me to feel ungrounded. We’re constantly on the move — for education, jobs, and family, among other reasons. However, in some ways — no matter where I go in this vast country — things are always the same — the movies playing at a theater, chain restaurants, hotels, stores, and general infrastructure. So, in spite of my almost constant awareness of dislocation, there’s also an odd feeling of déjà vu. Places have lost their special identities, and by extension, so have their people. Elizabeth J. Roberts remarked that “Public life . . . is very much like a BIG MAC — It can be replicated in exactly the same form anywhere.”
But — I want to exist in and experience a wide-ranging and varied world that defies this kind of monotonous civic landscape. I am expanding the traditional definition of visual communication design to include socially-engaged practices that enhance community health and cohesion. As designers, our expertise in understanding motivation, user experience, and message delivery can benefit our audiences in ways that are far more personal, visceral, and effective than practitioners from other disciplines. Pretty-much everything we experience communicates in one way or another — and as visual communication designers, we shouldn’t limit our practices to conventional two-dimensional or screen-based formulas.
I make three-dimensional public art with the intent to cultivate a sense of place for the residents and visitors who encounter it. My mission is to bring magic and enchantment to people’s everyday lives. I use color, light and shadow, transparency, and movement to communicate values such as play, lightness, and transformation. Visitors are invited to approach my work with a playful mindset. One of my favorite authors — Diane Ackerman — writes: “In moments of deep play, we can lay aside our sense of self, shed time’s continuum, ignore pain, and sit quietly in the absolute present, watching the world’s ordinary miracles.”
Our surroundings are full of important art that often goes unnoticed, even as it hugely affects our personal experiences of time and place. As another part of my research practice, I’ve embarked on a long term series of road trips to survey and explore — in person — outdoor and public art throughout the United States. So far, I’ve traveled about 12,000-miles, visiting small towns and big cities across several Western states — including Washington, Idaho, Montana, Utah, California, Arizona, and New Mexico. Because I’m able to travel long distances and visit many places in succession, my observations are concentrated and potent. I’ve compared the ways in which communities approach their relationships to land and art, and I’ve developed a number of questions I believe are critical to a broader understanding and to the success of these programs. Please take a look at my field notes online: http://mowart.tumblr.com