To Become Visible: Archaic Petroglyphs in Oregon Country | Juli R. Brode

The exhibit at the Jacobs Gallery at the Hult Center, titled, “To Become Visible: Archaic Petroglyphs in Oregon Country,” features four artists who present photographs as well as paintings of petroglyphs and pictographs of the northern Great Basin, a region that includes land in Oregon, northern Nevada, and northeastern California. The petroglyphs (incised into stone) and pictographs (applied onto stone) are valued by a diverse population and remain subjects of study that do not give up all their secrets.

The show might surprise the visitor in both its focus and the questions raised and but left unanswered.  Douglas Beauchamp, the curator, has been engaged in rock art studies and photography for some years, and he readily acknowledges that those “who carved the stones… have created and sustained a remarkable legacy of presence… within a changing landscape.” The subject matter of the photographs and paintings, the rocks and graphics, are undoubtedly beautiful and mysterious; they also provide a framework that asks the viewer to contemplate the pervasive complexity of the surroundings. Tim Ingold argues that landscape is not “land,” is not “nature,” and is not “space.”[1] Instead, it is a concept we engage, not abstractly, but physically and materially—the activities of our lives are not inscribed onto the surrounding land, so much as they form, in a bodily way, the collective landscape of which each of us is a part. In a post-modern sense, the landscape might also be considered a “text,” a condition that is socially constructed (written) and interpreted (read), though the interpretation fluctuates in relation to the interests, desires and agendas of its reader. This notion of the landscape as text coincides with the multiple and sometimes conflicting interests, claims and values that surround both artifacts and places.

Image: Fragment of the Ana boulder, north of Summer Lake and Ana Springs, eastern Oregon. © 2013 Douglas Beauchamp.

Above all else, this exhibit extends an invitation to the changing landscape, and the landscape into which one is invited is engaging and active. The exhibit includes close-up studies by Douglas Beauchamp and Gary Tepfer, where painterly surfaces reveal nicks, gouges, scores, colors, patinations, and polychromes; surfaces made some time ago but still animate. Tepfer’s interest in the “relationship of the carving to the material carved” is evident in abstract, painterly photographs that probe textured surfaces and explore colors, man-made or resulting from mineral oxidation and microplant growth. Adjacent and contrasting to these, Peter Goin places the petroglyphs in context, framing relations to the larger landscape—hard, earthen, riven and cracked forms of an older earth, subjected to weathering and geologic shifts; changes in topographies and vegetation types; or alterations made by contemporary infrastructures of highways and fencing. The selected works by Susan Applegate include assemblages and paintings, some of which are thick with built up surfaces that are, in their turn, scratched and inscribed, as if to reconnect to the stories relayed by playing the role of contemporary scribe. A Merleau-Ponty citing, paired with a Beauchamp photograph across the gallery, poses the notion that each thing exists beyond itself, each fact can be a dimension, each idea has its regions.[2]

Image: Petroglyph and Lichen at School Section. © 2012 Gary Tepfer.

As conveyed by the artists, the glyphs are decidedly human and storied, and the photographers and painter have rendered them audible (or nearly so). The markings whether pecked, carved, printed or painted, are intriguing as they make the past, present. Though the specific meanings may be elusive, the etching, writing, recording, signing that may mark routes, narrate stories, observe rites, are understandable in relation to our own daily activities. Together, the collection emphasizes a quality of landscape that we do not often think about, not daily, and that is not always visible—of time. These artists, with varying intents and tactics give visibility to space-in-time, most purposefully in the layer they themselves add. Peter Goin has captured the image of a stone, surface marked and etched, at a particular time of day, as the sun glances across the surface, as it has at this time of day, perhaps a handful of days a year, for many, many years. A person could observe this relatively few times in a lifetime, in comparison with the many times this stone has been raked in that light regardless of whether the horizon lifted or fell, whether a road or electric lines ran through the background.  Each artist here senses what may have been, what is, and what might be, and makes choices that communicate the temporal landscape to us.

Image: LandMarks, acrylic on plastered wood, triptych, each panel 11.5” x 16” to total length 36” x 16”, 1996. © 1996-2013 Susan Applegate.

To Become Visible: Archaic Petroglyphs in Oregon Country opened on Friday, January 25 and ran through March 16, 2013 at the Jacobs Gallery at the Hult Center in Eugene, Oregon. The exhibit honors and recognizes the beauty and importance of petroglyphs produced by Native Americans of many traditions and considered as archaic images and human markings within a changing landscape.

Banner image: Churchill County, 2004. © 2004-2013 Peter Goin.

[1] Ingold, Tim. 2000. The perception of the environment: essays on livelihood, dwelling & skill. London: Routledge.
[2] Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, Ted Toadvine, and Leonard Lawlor. 2007. The Merleau-Ponty reader. Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press.

Posted on by admin1963 Posted in Perspectives, Spring 2013

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