FINDING THEIR PLACE: A Q&A WITH TYLER CORBETT AND ERINN KATHRYN
Tyler Corbett & Erinn Kathryn
Lightbox Kulturhaus, Portland
Alaska House Gallery, Fairbanks
June 8-July 29
Interdisciplinary artists Tyler Corbett and Erinn Kathryn live and work together in Portland, Oregon. Interested in space and distance, location and place, they traverse the real landscapes that are eventually interpreted in their work. Kathryn is a 2012 Regional Arts and Cultural Council project grant recipient, and her work has been shown at Guardino Gallery and the Pacific Northwest College of Art. Corbett’s work has recently been shown at People’s Art of Portland, the Goodfoot, and Milepost 5.
This interview was conducted in person. —Sara Sutter
PROPELLER: We live in the Northwest, a region where many people define natural places in relation to their particular and intimate experiences—camping, backcountry skiing, a day hike. A map, on the other hand, defines natural places in relation to the whole landscape and from a general and detached perspective. How does this blend of intimacy and detachment relate to your perspectives of Northwest landscapes and this map-inspired series?
TYLER CORBETT: We constantly perceive and conceptualize land. We create icons and symbols out of landforms. These are unifying features of our place, and our recognition of these also unites us. Mount Hood, for example, is commonly representative of this region. One woman who viewed our exhibit in Portland correctly identified nine of our unnamed ten landscapes. She probably would have guessed them all, but she didn't expect to see Mount Hood twice. Anyway, these landforms seen from above or within are unifying common features—mundane and ubiquitous but unifying, like the weather or the cornfields of Iowa.
ERINN KATHRYN: It was especially interesting to witness the intimacy that erupted when viewers realized that our unnamed landforms were not simply ambiguous, imaginative places, but icons from their common landscape. Viewers’ voices ringed with nostalgia; the perspective shifted from detachment to intimacy.
PROPELLER: Have you found your place in the Northwest? The verb tense of “Finding” implies that the search is ongoing.
ERINN KATHRYN: This, Portland, is the closest I’ve come to finding my place, but it’s not finite, not final. It’s an ongoing process to find one’s place—geographically, culturally, artistically.
TYLER CORBETT: Finding a place can actually be coming to a deeper understanding of the place where you stand. You don’t have to jet set, but you can actually go a few miles over, or keep going to the same place and find something new there. Looking at the maps and the paintings for so long, staring at them in the analytical sense, we got much closer to the places. And then when we actually go into the landscape, the whole understanding is accelerated. Artistic exploration of something is a very intensive observation...
ERINN KATHRYN: ...out of which develops an intimacy that could only occur from either being in the place or observing it from the outside.
PROPELLER: You’re both Northwest transplants and frequent travelers, not uncommon of our nomadic generation. Has your wanderlust contradicted your desire for home?
ERINN KATHRYN: YES. It’s a theme I’m always addressing.
TYLER CORBETT: When I met Erinn, she talked about home like it was so important—but if you look at the reality, she is very transient, in and out of apartments, houses, households—her focus on home is because she never manages to maintain one.
ERINN KATHRYN: I haven’t found an answer to my home question for a reason. My definition of home is not typical. You have to create that. My definition is fluid, undefined; it’s not owning a house. We would never want to be tied down with a house.
PROPELLER: Researching your paintings, how did you think about the history of mapmaking? Of the intersection of art and mapping in older maps? About the loss of terra incognito? The precision of satellite technology?
TYLER CORBETT: Maps conveyed invisible places before satellites. Now there’s more of a vastness in what a map can be: satellite or hybrid or print. Our generation is so curious, but we also have answers to everything. Erinn and I use Google Earth often; it’s a gem in terms of digital information. In a few seconds, you can zoom in to see a man standing on the top of a building. In this way it’s helpful, but the various possibilities also strangely manipulate one’s sense of scale. There are general landforms—a mountain range, a body of water—beside artificial forms—city limits, a state border, a skyscraper. There’s a huge vocabulary for objects on these maps, but when you see things from above, everything is equalized. Everything shares one field. Mount Hood is two miles high, but two miles on a map is nothing. A blobby form. It’s this weird world that interests me.
ERINN KATHRYN: Google Earth. USGS. Topographical maps. Technology has been our basis for research, but then we trail off into making the art. We’re always thinking about the relationship between map usage and artwork. Land-sat images are so beautiful. The color-coding can be gorgeous—pink, turquoise. If you look beyond the utility, switch your perspective, these representations be can seen as art.
PROPELLER: For materials, you used acrylic paint, paper, and wood to create these rugged-looking yet actually quite fragile canvas-scapes. Why did you use these materials and how have you thought about them in relation to the subject matter?
ERINN KATHRYN: Wood was lying around—we save everything—and I decided to soften the edges by putting paper over it. We kept playing with this and noticed how the paper lay on the canvas and looked organic, though I hate to use that word.
TYLER CORBETT: Wood canvas stacked up is very geometric, very obviously wood. But paper over it conceals this, and produces new sudden forms. A triangle. A ripple. The paper is so delicate that it conceals the base structure yet also reveals it in tiny ways. You get a hint of physical heaviness and a draping, flowing effect.
ERINN KATHRYN: The manufactured materials, arranged together, took on the irregularity of a landscape.
PROPELLER: Your paintings suggest a cartographic proportionality and precision, yet the palette, color application, and collage technique seem guided by intuition. How do you understand this relationship between precision and intuition in this body of work?
ERINN KATHRYN: This is an integral dualism in our art. Also in our partnership.
TYLER CORBETT: We both get into both worlds, but we both have our separate camps. In general, we start with the math, the scale, the hard science. It’s detached, formulaic, but as we continue to work, it becomes increasingly personal. I tend to want to stay in map-mode, but then it’s easy to get hung up on accuracy.
ERINN KATHRYN: You take something that is so, that is fact, and then there’s a middle area for you to express it your way, to make it your own, and to then share it with others.
TYLER CORBETT: We could just be sloppy cartographers, crappy mapmakers.
ERINN KATHRYN: Or you could say we take maps and make them more beautiful and less informational. We create our own scale and reference. For upcoming projects, we’re interested in portraying human-made structures—road networks, maybe—rather than all this idealizing of nature.
Sara Sutter’s first chapbook, Sirenomelia, was recently published by Poor Claudia, the chapbook imprint of OCTOPUS. Sutter’s poems are published or forthcoming in The Awl, Bayou, Fence, Windsor Review and various artisan journals.