Languages of the Land, A Dialogue with Salter Grove grew from my curiosity about the spirit and history of this small bayside park on Narragansett Parkway, just south of Pawtuxet Village. Salter Grove remains in a natural state, molded by centuries of storms, tides, ice and sun. The landscape of Salter Grove embraces the memory of its past inhabitants, the wildlife, the people and their cultures. As a newcomer to Rhode Island, Salter Grove welcomed me, its rawness, delicacy, stillness and storm allowed me to be with myself in nature. In conversations with others at the park, I found that many come to Salter Grove for solace, comfort and socializing. Just as the Narragansett Indians drew sustenance from the waters of Narragansett Bay at Salter Grove, today this park draws many local residents, Southeast Asians and Latinos to its shores for fishing and social gatherings.
With this exhibit I wanted to create a visual and sound installation that is a history portrait of Salter Grove, told through both the physical landscape and the different cultures who have interacted with that landscape. I have been fortunate to be able to combine my interests as a painter, printmaker, artist book maker and collagist into this single piece: a life size, visual book. Rather than illustrate the history of Salter Grove, I have created a picture of its spirit. In developing this installation, I spent time photographing, researching and asking local residents about Salter Grove’s past and their personal experiences in the park. Involving local communities in artwork has been an aspect of my work for many years. I handed out disposable cameras to park visitors and asked them to photograph their favorite spots or views. These photographs form the map of Salter Grove seen as you enter the installation. During a weekend cleanup of the park, I asked participants to select a “treasure” from the items collected. These treasures are arranged on the walls of the gallery. As you look at these objects, notice the cuts and tooth marks on the bone, a blue and white pottery shard, selected by an archaeology enthusiast, the clam shell harboring two starfish, and the voodoo dolls.
Hanging in the interior space of the installation are the pages of my visual book. The paper panels, handmade from fibrous Thai hemp, feel like hide but move like cloth. The book pages are collaged archival digital prints, scanned and enlarged from original monoprint collages. The thinness of the paper allows the landscape and the silhouettes of timeless figures to be seen from both sides. Thus, the shadows of the past haunt the landscape. The first row represents the basic natural elements of wood, grass, water and sky. The subsequent rows progress through the human history of Salter Grove from colonial times to the 20th century. The movement of these paper collages echoes the fragility yet the constancy of Salter Grove. The landscape is always there, yet changing, affected by even our slightest movements.