EVERY EXPLORER NAMES his island Formosa, beautiful.  To him it is beautiful because, being first, he has access to it and can see it for what it is.  But to no one else is it ever as beautiful – except the rare man who manages to recover it, who knows that it has to be recovered. 

-- Walker Percy


The above quote expresses a dominant theme of Recasting Site.  The first version of this exhibition was seen at Bard College’s Center for Curatorial Studies in 2008.  The quote, however, is a particularly romantic excerpt from Walker Percy’s essay “The Loss of the Creature,” which asserts the virtual impossibility of subverting the complex forces, such as packaging and expectation that prejudice our experiences. According to Percy, these forces make it impossible to truly see things as we encounter them, whether they are, to use his examples, the Grand Canyon on a tour, the Shakespearean sonnet in the classroom, or the dissected dogfish in the science lab.


In Recasting Site, artists transform ordinary objects, interiors, and environments. Recasting the familiar, they salvage and repurpose the overlooked or not fully seen, including the media they employ in their own art.  This allows for rediscovery, interjecting clues about each object’s physical histories and social functions. Artists also find flaws in media, turning accident and mechanical limitations into artistic virtues (as in Robert de Saint Phalle’s Chameleon, Mads Lynnerup’s Clock, and Mary Lucier’s Dawn Burn and Fire Writing).  Additionally, delivery systems are exposed through role reversal, correspondence, and the humorous topsy-turvy treatment of common tropes in advertising, tourism, and the artist/viewer relationship (as in Roe Ethridge’s awkward, yet slick, photos of print ads and a diaper; Robert Smithson’s satirical Hotel Palenque lecture; Mary Lucier’s Mapping Space postcards; and Mads Lynnerup’s  posters stating, “You are the Artist. You figure it out.”)


In “The Loss of Creature”, Percy goes on to say:

A man in Boston decides to spend his vacation at the Grand Canyon. He visits his travel bureau, looks at the folder, signs up for a two-week tour. He and his family take the tour, see the Grand Canyon, and return to Boston. May we say that this man has seen the Grand Canyon? Possibly he has. But it is more likely that what he has done is the one sure way not to see the canyon.  Why is it almost impossible to gaze directly at the Grand Canyon under these circumstances and see it for what it is-as one picks up a strange object from one's back yard and gazes directly at it? It is almost impossible because the Grand Canyon, the thing as it is, has been appropriated by the symbolic complex which has already been formed in the sightseer's mind. Seeing the canyon under approved circumstances is seeing the symbolic complex head on. The thing is … that which has already been formulated-by picture postcard, geography book, tourist folders, and the words Grand Canyon.  As a result of this preformulation, the source of the sightseer's pleasure undergoes a shift. … now the sightseer measures his satisfaction by the degree to which the canyon conforms to the preformed complex. If it does so, if it looks just like the postcard, he is pleased; he might even say, 'Why it is every bit as beautiful as a picture postcard!' He feels he has not been cheated. 

This lengthy quote is worth noting because it is at the heart of Recasting Site at Ramapo in which the straightforward expression of pure discovery’s impossibility takes center stage.

At Ramapo, I also chose artworks that more directly confront popular culture’s commercialism and consumerism, including a more assertive look at the exchanges surrounding exhibitions and education.   In Recasting Site’s first iteration, artists transformed ordinary objects, interiors, and environments. Here the element of communication between experts and consumers is added. Percy describes these parties: “The expert and the planner know and plan, but the consumer needs and experiences. In the first Recasting Site, the packaging of experience was explored. At Ramapo, the consumer’s needs are also in the room through new artworks that address market and cultural exchanges, whether they involve pie crust or tourist art or education or time itself.