set my watch against the city clock

I have a solo exhibition coming up in the Vault Gallery at Fayetteville Underground. Set My Watch against the City Clock opens Thursday, October 6, and runs through October 29. I am showing all new work. Each piece in the exhibition is the result of inspiration demanding to be let in during the snow days in early February. Stuck at home for four days, I began to think about the words “house,” “home,” “place” from an interior perspective instead of the exterior one I take when I photograph buildings I pass on walks and drives. If humans are capable of building structures that not only provide shelter but hold memory and a historical residue felt by passing strangers years and generations later, where is that human information contained? What is the principle of “house”?

There is no exact answer, seeing how it’s not an exact question.

One afternoon, I suddenly remembered making miniature houses as a child. Sometimes I used twigs, leaves and moss to create a sort of log cabin. Often I removed the lid from a shoebox or other small cardboard box, cut windows and doors in the sides, glued cardboard pieces on the bottom to create rooms, and cut and folded tiny pieces of cardboard or paper into beds, tables, and chairs. Gift-wrapping paper and ribbon became wallpaper and curtains. They weren’t dollhouses; nobody inhabited the miniatures. I simply wanted to keep rearranging rooms and objects.

Now I began to make paper miniatures in attempts to give physical shape to the principle of house. I refined the designs until I’d stripped everything superfluous away–things such as doors, windows, chimneys, roof overhangs, and other architectural details. I tried to condense the house structures into the most minimalist design possible. I experimented with other materials and found that rag paper works best for what I had in mind.

I set the miniatures in spots all over Fayetteville and Northwest Arkansas. Some places were carefully chosen, others seemed to invite me to put a house there. With each passing month, I found myself drifting farther and farther away from the city and deeper into the Ozarks, drawn by myths and stories. I took hundreds of photos. Most did not reveal what I was looking for: a palpable connection between the house as archetype and its environment. Others did. I could tell that they worked because when I showed them to friends, my friends had strong and immediate responses. I was reminded of Gaston Bachelard’s (and C.G. Jung’s) idea that “there is ground for taking the house as a tool for analysis of the human soul” (The Poetics of Space).

At the end of June, fortuitousness led me to the Artist’s Laboratory Theatre and their Place Project. One photo, taken during a rehearsal break, is featured prominently in my show:

I made about two dozen houses. A few got lost or destroyed. I sent one floating down War Eagle Creek. Another was crushed by the paw of a friendly black lab. The rest I took to one of my favorite places in the Ozarks, a tiny church off a winding highway. On a previous visit, I had discovered a stack of suitcases. This time, I zipped the top one open and filled it will all my houses. The result became the final image in the exhibition:

Found Suitcase

And finally, a note about the title of my exhibition: It has been a very good year for music with lots of releases by favorite musicians as well as new bands. Some years, it’s hard to find enough contenders for a top-ten list. For 2011, it would be difficult to pick only ten songs and albums, but “Drover” from Bill Callahan’s Apocalypse has been with me constantly since its April release. Its verse “And I set my watch against the city clock/It was way off” condenses a feeling I’ve often had on road trips and photography excursions for my house project.

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2 thoughts on “set my watch against the city clock

  1. Sabine, I picked up a card (Set My Watch against the City Clock) at the Fayetteville Library sometime back. It spoke a story to me. I was wondering how you created the picture?

  2. Pingback: Semi-Planning of a Trip: Snakes, Angel Costumes, and an Angry Mutti | Schmidt & House

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