In fall 2020 semester, Professor Al Denyer was awarded a Collections Engagement Grant to work on a group project with MFA students from her Graduate Critique class. These awards are part of “Landscape, Land Art and the American West,” a joint research and engagement initiative between the Utah Museum of Fine Arts and the Marriott Library supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and matching funds from the University. Denyer and her students conducted research using material from the UMFA and Marriott Library Special Collections, to explore what “A Sense of Place” means in historical and individual contexts.
Our research as a group parses out the complexities of Identity embedded in Place. The internal awareness of the struggle and vulnerability it takes to share our relationship to “the west” led to the creation of works exploring these boundaries. Not surprisingly, identity of place in the American West is complex. Our collective research as a group of visual artists has revealed issues ranging from the relationship with nature and survival, to personal identities and psychological dialogue of strategies to cope with our habitat. Life in the American West is characterized classically by rugged individualism, but it is more subtle than that.
While it seems nature can hold its own here in the west more than other parts of the world, how humans identify here is as complex and nuanced as anywhere. Seeing how artists documented and saw themselves in their environment, through this osmosis, we invented and tested new lenses to explore whether we fit into our own spheres. Situated in the dynamic interplay of environmental and psychological issues and relationships of the American West, including reconciliation with a murky past, our personal identities and psychological dialogues have emerged in diverse artistic inquiries. We established a new respect for the forgotten or nameless, whose voices and contributions intersect as threads on a woven blanket to become one.
Through research in library archives, museum collections, and in our own artmaking studios, we have examined how artists from the past portrayed and created their identities in reaction to their environment and contributed to a contemporary artistic and cultural inheritance. An internal awareness of the struggle and vulnerability it takes to share our relationship to the west has led to the creation of works exploring these boundaries. The works that have emerged from this examination ask viewers to reevaluate their own connections to eroding narratives embedded in Place, and identify with a sense of belonging.
Read more about the project here: https://www.art.utah.edu/a-sense-of-place/