Whether by Winnebago or Airstream, many a road trip has been made in recreational vehicles.
Families live in small quarters for a shared summer vacation. Views from RV windows rush by in between stops at campgrounds or tourist attractions.
And one of three new art exhibits at the Wiregrass Museum of Art takes those views and literally turns them upside down.
Inspired by their own road trip, artists Meredith Lynn and Katie Hargrave began working on “Sight Lines” two years ago. The exhibit, which opens July 18 during the museum’s Art After Hours, features pinhole photographs along with video projected into rearview mirrors and onto walls. There’s also diagrams created from pages of old Airstream manuals filling the space in one of the museum’s galleries.
Along with “Sight Lines,” the Wiregrass Museum of Art will also open exhibits by photographer Carolyn DeMerritt and sculpture by visual artist Jessica Smith.
Lynn and Hargrave met while they were both attending graduate school at the University of Iowa. Lynn is now a curator of the Museum of Fine Arts and Director of Galleries for the College of Fine Arts at Florida State University in Tallahassee. Hargrave is an assistant professor of art and Foundations coordinator with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
In 2017, they attended a Signal Fire artist residency in Oregon. Unlike the usual artist residency in a studio, Signal Fire involved camping, hiking and backpacking on public lands. Lynn and Hargrave decided to make a road trip out of the residency.
“We drove across the country together and we started becoming real aficionados of RVs,” Lynn said. “RVs have these names almost like people, like you would name a person.”
It got them thinking about how people use recreational vehicles to get out into the world but still keep some semblance of home with its creature comforts.
“The RV facilitates a kind of relationship to nature but then also protects you and insulates you from nature,” Lynn said.
They eventually decided to transform an RV and a van into a camera obscura, which is a darkened box, tent or room with light only admitted through a small hole on one wall. An exterior image is projected through the hole onto a white screen on the opposite wall inside the darkened space. Images are projected inverted and transposed. Eventually, the ancient optical technique was modified with a lens and was the predecessor of pinhole cameras and modern cameras.
Artists once used the technique to trace portraits. It’s also used to view solar eclipses.
“The strange thing about it is you can see all of our stuff is right side up but the image is upside down because the pinhole camera reflects everything upside down,” Hargrave said. “For us, that’s really interesting because it’s about the kind of strangeness and the inversion of the landscape.”
Lynn and Hargrave used black vinyl and thick garbage bags to black out the windows of an old Airstream as well as a rented U-Haul van. They perfected their camera obscura traveling around Florida. Then, they took the idea to Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California.
“We’re interested in the RV as a tool,” Hargrave said. “It does allow access to wild spaces for people who would otherwise not try to go to those places. There are people who aren’t going to camp in a tent or can’t camp in a tent. So it does provide access, but it also changes and limits what you see and how you see it.”
“Sight Lines” will be on display at the Wiregrass Museum of Art until Sept. 28.
Other exhibits opening during the July 18 Art After Hours include “As Long as the Waters Flow: Native Americans in the South and East” a series of black and white photographs by Carolyn DeMeritt, a North Carolina native who is a self-taught photographer. The series features portraits and images of Native American culture in communities from Maine to Florida and the Great Lakes to Louisiana.
“As Long as the Waters Flow” will be at the museum until Sept. 28.
“In Flux” is a collection of sculpture by artist Jessica Smith, who has taught at University of West Alabama for 14 years and is an associate professor of art.
The sculptures featured in the exhibit were made from clay gummy bears put together into a tessellating piece, a mosaic of repeated shapes. The individual pieces make one large ceramic sculpture and really are no longer observed as individual pieces. Smith’s work takes on the appearance of everything from sea coral to woven baskets.
“In Flux” will be open through Dec. 28.