Hidden in Plein Sight
Public billboard located on Route 23A in the Catskills near Hunter Mountain
August 1- 28, 2023
This work contrasts the interior of a prison cell with the painting, “View on the Catskill-Early Autumn” by Thomas Cole who was known for his famous 19th century paintings of the Hudson River Valley. Referencing this artwork found in the public domain, poses difficult questions about who has access to public space, including bucolic parkland, pastoral fictions, and prisons themselves.
The early Hudson River School painters depicted the region as the canvas for a bucolic American Dream which often foreshadowed their fears of an industrial take over of the landscape. Thorugh my social practice in prisons, I have witnessed various interiors filled with fluorescent light, disheartening color tones, mixed with sounds of clanging heavy doors and keys echoing traces of radio commands—a sensory landscape missing connections to the natural world, one that could potentially cultivate healing and care. In a recent conversation I had with a formerly incarcerated individual, he told me that in an effort to connect with something natural while in prison, he would gently touch the singular weed growing up through a crack in the prison yard outside as he gazed at the Catskill mountains.
Additionally, as part of this public project, formerly incarcerated artists of The Columbia Collective, named after a facility in which they were incarcerated, share their artwork on billboards across the Hudson Valley as they reframe the landscape. This work was presented on the occasion of the exhibition ‘A Copious Flow, organized by Shandanken Projects & co-sponsored by the Athens Cultural Center.