Samantha Roppelt on Sites and Stations

Blog Post on Sites and Stations: Samantha Roppelt, Stamp Gallery Staff, Class of 2012, Studio Art Major

On February 12, 2012, Cliff Evans, our current featured artist, along with Andrea Pollan, Director of Curator’s Office in Washington DC, gave a gallery talk for this exhibit discussing Evans’ work, process, and concepts. If you did not get a chance to come to the gallery talk, now is your chance to read up on some of the main topics that I found to be particularly interesting. I am an artist and therefore it is of personal interest to understand where other artists derive their ideas. His descriptions of specific influences for the content of Citizen: The Wolf and the Nanny caught my attention. Evans talked about the green movement, the natural world, the idea of the city-state, panopticons, and various other related subjects. Pollan described it as having a “nature versus city” theme and asked Evans to describe the content and its origins. Evans explained:

“The initial interest came from the hyper-commercialization of the green movement. I used to teach part time in Boston while I was still living in New York so I was commuting back and forth and it was in some place in New Haven, where there was this huge billboard. It was for an oil company that sold heating oil and it happened to be called, probably for decades and decades, Green Apple Heating. All they had to do was slightly change their advertisement to say “Go Green, Green Apple Oil Company”. They presented themselves as if they had somehow revamped their company as if they were more environmentally friendly, but that wasn’t the case. So they were just working off of that term. So I thought about the artificiality of what we consider to be green and what we consider to be nature and realizing that the idea of nature has to be presupposed by the idea of the city state. We can say that everything is natural, et cetera, but what I’m talking about is the idea of the outside which is in the wilderness and that can only be defined with the idea of an enclosure. You can’t have an outside without an enclosure. I was thinking about ways that we romanticized nature and the wilderness, so I was wanting to work with that idea and how that juxtaposed against the enclosure. Also, I came across the idea of the Vargas which is the idea of the expelled; That which is sacred, but you’re able to kill with no repercussions. Vargas is transliteration of the word wolf. The wolf is always represented in at least agricultural, post-agricultural, or enclosed polis systems as that which is sort of an intermediary between the two, outside and inside, but at the same time that which represents the polis. For the polis to be safe, the existence of the Vargas can’t exist within it. Again, it only exists outside of it because it has been expelled.“

One topic of particular interest to me was Evans’ influence from the idea of the panopticon. If a 360-degree surveillance tower is not alluding to the idea of a dystopian futuristic society with a totalitarian government, then certainly not knowing whether someone is actually watching you is. The idea is that you will be on your best behavior in case there is someone actually watching you. During the talk, he even took a moment to point out contemporary panopticons that are present in Citizen:The Wolf and the Nanny.

“Those are guard stations that are put up around neighborhoods in New York City. They function as panopticons because you never know if you’re being watched or not. You never know if there’s actually an individual in there watching. So yes, the panopticon is a continuing thing that shows up in my work. There are always cameras everywhere and so there are security cameras, drones, there are the panopticons. There are things such as the hazmat suits, the police, the hardhats. There are all these ideas of safety. That then protects you from the unknown, the uncertainty of the wilderness, the outside. That’s where the nanny comes in. The theme of the wolf I talked about, but there’s the theme of the nanny. Even though it’s sort of a cliché libertarian ribbing of contemporary society, the idea of an annex state, it is that we are overly protected. So, what we talked about before with the enclosure which defines the outside as we become more and more enclosed and protected in various and different ways then the outside, the wilderness, then becomes closer and closer to the actual individual. Because we do have a sense that we’re always being surveilled. We do have a sense that we’re always being watched or tracked, whether it be in the public space or perhaps a private space. They come together in a broad theme of a creation of a myth of the city-state. Which to have a creation of a city state you have to have that transition from the wilderness, the wild, to the foundation of the polis. Even though my version of the wilderness is very artificial, you have tourists in the wilderness, but the nanny which represents the protection delivers and sort of sees to the society into the polis.”

If you have not had a chance yet, make sure to stop by the Stamp Gallery by March 10, 2012, in order to see Cliff Evans’s solo exhibition, Sites and Stations. Being able to view the work in person, on large panels, is incomparable to the previews you can find online. By displaying these pieces in a gallery, they exist in a traditional context as if we are observing a painting rather than a projection, creating an overwhelming viewing experience.

Posted by: Samantha Roppelt, Stamp Gallery Staff, Class of 2012, Studio Art Major

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2 Comments on “Samantha Roppelt on Sites and Stations”

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