Katie Bachler is an artist and the 2014 Meadows Fellow at The Baltimore Museum of Art. In July, she spent a week mapping notions of home at Mildred’s Lane – a contemporary art complex(ity), situated deep in the woods of rural northeastern Pennsylvania. These are her reflections.
I was invited to go make a map of the layers of a place; of the home as the natural world and all the tiny tendrils of what grow on the land – the ferns and the weeping moss walls – the blue Marsalis shale. The cups and bowls, the caring of the body, how the towels are hung over the edge of the sink, a garden for growing food, the places we walk in the morning, shared meals, the way that the counters get wiped with a sponge… All of these acts are part of the Mildred’s Lane complex, a home-space that is a laboratory and school about how to live, how to create systems of engagement that are unique and outside of the dominant modes of production in the art world as object making and exchanging. What if all of the parts of life are treated with as much care as the art objects themselves?
I was invited to look at the complexity of this site, by talking with people and learning how to live in an intentional way, my hands holding objects in a new way; Mildred’s Lane became a home through the mapping of it. This is a story of that process.
Through the many hills that make up the state of Pennsylvania – the marble of Wilkes Barre – the great Delaware River Gap where people live off the land and the Hudson River school painters felt the thrill of light – exist the possibilities of what could be around a bend or the edge of some far away hills, and the romanticism of what was not the city in a time of the industrial revolution. It prompts a question: Where do we go to feel like ourselves; a parallel need for a wild place as the urban becomes future-like, not stopping, not us, not now.
Over a bridge that was a drawbridge painted green, and that rumbles underneath the tires as we drive, artists who wanted to make a life that was everything that a life is, moved up here in 1996 to build a home on some land; a home that started as a slab of concrete. Morgan Puett and Mark Dion, who had been a part of perhaps the last great swell of galleries and spaces in NYC in the early 1990s with American Fine Arts began making art to return to life; to all of the singular events and decisions that make up a moving life. A home is a place to learn about how to live together. A home is a shared intentional world. Puett calls it entanglement, workstyles, comportment. The creation of a language to name the specificity of a world.
How to map what matters to people, to map a relationship between city and country, between land and people? A map is a changing organism that responds to space and time, and to the people who relate to it, who create it, who feel the woods and the way the paint peels off of buildings, or the light hits a long table in the evening as we prepare a meal on zig-zag tables, with upside down cups, in a way that is called workstyles because everything is done with intention.
Creating a map with people becomes about mapping a way of being, a specificity of a human intention to make a new sort of place, one with its own order and ways of investigating the components of a human existence, how we make decisions, how we live together in a world that is based on capitalist modes of production much of the time.
What if all modes of life are self-determined? Is this kind of utopia possible? Maybe it is my job to map it, but then to think of the map as a shifting exploration of a place. A map of any kind of utopia has to be open to change, so I make a growing map, an open map.
I will go back for a weekend in August to keep working on it, and for time after that as well, being in time and through time.