Artist Statement

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BrownfieldDEP # G000033386

One Year Walking – Place | Memory | Ritual

I am an artist who walks. I walk to think about where I am, to sort out where I am going, to ponder what discoveries lay ahead. John Muir’s convictions resonate with me, that the walker’s bodily contact with the world benefited both walker and the world, and that going out was really going in.

In the fall of 1996 the industrial buildings that occupied a site one half mile from my home, burned down in an all-night conflagration. For the next 18 years, NJDEP Brownfield G000033386 has remained fenced, fallow, and neglected. I have adopted this land with its polluted ground as my place to walk and work. For the last year, I enter the field through a break in the fence and then wander the land as a form of ritual. This 11 acre site has endured our worst and experienced a renaissance. Mature trees now mark the land where industrial buildings once stood. This process of healing and regeneration informs us of endurance and longevity. Today, an expansive variety of flora grows in this contaminated, scorched earth. This spectacle of rebirth is a source of reassurance to me in knowing there is a continuance.

My work is not just about traversing this space, but also thinking about it, knowing its seasonal iterations, recording and collecting materials at different times of day. These bits and pieces can take many forms. Text, photography, textural rubbings, or mixed media constructions containing simple found objects all become surrogates for memory, the experience and the place.

Walking is an attitude to site. It is an engagement with the earth, and also concepts of entropy and time. Hamish Fulton’s and Richard Long’s contemporary artistic practice is the walk which contains two aspects, first there is the walk which might be delineated, defined and carefully structured, secondly there is the artwork in which Fulton and Long represent the singular, personal experience of the engagement. It is in this tradition of engagement that my work and walking can be placed.

Although my walks are not structured or delineated, they are wanderings in which the walking creates receptiveness to the landscape and at the same time offers a journey into the unknown that allows me to navigate the topographies of my interior terrain. According to Lucy Lippard’s conceptualization, “ idea, process and experience are prioritized above objecthood.”

Deborah Sperry