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Map Quest: 'Imprint of Place' Urban Landscapes are Seen Through the Guise of Cartography

By John Carlos Cantu

Ann Arbor News, March 11 , 2007

Leave it to Ann Arbor's cutting-edge Gallery Project to host a landscape exhibit that doesn't have all that much to do with landscape in the traditional sense.


"Imprint of Place'' - Ann Arbor's contribution to the current international "Shrinking Cities'' public program series devoted to the phenomena of the world's shrinking urban centers being held here regionally at the Cranbrook Art Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit - is landscape as seen through the guise of cartography.


Curator Gregory Tom, who's coordinating the program in Detroit, has selected a show that well lives up to the gallery's press release: "The geographic location of a place is much more than its location on a map or the terrain a place exists in. What gives meaning to a geographic location is its history, such as the memories associated with a place, and context of its surroundings.


"The artists for 'Imprint of Place' represent a range of artistic practices, conceptual methodologies and disciplines that use location as the starting point for their own work, but move rapidly beyond a strict sense of geography to convey the sense, or mental imprint, of a place.''

There are, as a result, few "landscapes'' on display - although everything in the display is a landscape, map, or land form of one sort or another. Each artist's conceptual leap is part of the display's postmodern charm.


The artists from the Detroit metropolitan area include Adrian Blackwell, Susan Goethel Campbell, Christina P. Day, Chris Erchick, Chris Fabian, John Ganis, the Paul Kotula Project, Frank English, Jacque Liu, and Steven Mankouche. Ann Arbor talents are Brent Fogt, Toby Millman, Abigail Murray and Juan Rois.


Perhaps one of the works that strays the farthest from traditional landscape towards a sort of assemblage as cartography is Chris Fabian's salt, charcoal, plexi, steel "Exodus.'' This work - a free-standing display case with exterior glass housing small mounds of salt crystals growing by the hundreds - is in its way a bird's-eye view of a geographic contour.


Toby Millman's "Planned and Constructed'' and "Restricted and Prohibited'' cover the same ground, so to speak, but in a far more conceptual manner. These artworks are large sheets of paper hanging from the gallery wall that have been cut with a single line slicing the paper interior. Ingeniously, the cut paper line conceptually approximates skylines and flat terrain in alternating patterns.


My favorite works in the exhibit, The Paul Kotula Project's "Object Orange Series,'' are iris prints whose photographic fidelity is so colorfully lifelike, they appear digitally manipulated - but they're not. Kotula's project members seek abandoned houses and buildings slated for demolition in the Detroit vicinity and paint them a bright orange before their destruction. When photographed on an overcast wintry day, the contrast between the building's bright colors, its dilapidated surroundings, and the dreary sky make for an exceedingly vivid "Imprint of Place.''


"Imprint of Place'' will continue through March 25 at Gallery Project, 215 S. Fourth Ave. Exhibit hours are noon to 6 p.m., Tuesday-Thursday; noon to 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday, and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Fo