Oklahoma Contemporary
Photo by Todd Stewart
Todd Stewart LADWP Owens Lake Dust Mitigation Project California 2016

New Light

Dec. 15, 2020

Leaving a Trace

Fieldworks: Beyond Measure explores our impact on the environment in the Mary LeFlore Clements Oklahoma Gallery at Oklahoma Contemporary
A photograph of high-rise buildings in front of a dramatic mountain landscape
The Ogden, Las Vegas, Nevada, 2014. (Photo by Todd Stewart)

The traces left by humans on the natural world have a lot to say about our relationship to the environment. Parsing that message and turning it into art is the goal of University of Oklahoma professors Todd Stewart and Robert Bailey, whose Fieldworks: Beyond Measure exhibition opens Thursday in the Mary LeFlore Clements Oklahoma Gallery at Oklahoma Contemporary.

Through extensive study of arid regions in the western United States, Stewart and Bailey's long-running Fieldworks project cultivates an archive of objects, images and texts that form the basis for exhibitions, publications and teaching. Beyond Measure will present a selection from the Fieldworks project’s diverse archive of objects, photographs, texts, videos and more. Clusters of photographs by Stewart — discarded personal items, polluted waterways and more — immerse the viewer within the landscapes they depict. Text by Bailey excavates layers of meaning throughout the display, suggesting more complex relationships between artworks. Together, they deepen our understanding on the various ways people locate themselves within their environments.

A severely rumpled, torn and dirty gray hooded sweatshirt depicts the text: Univ. of Love
Discarded Sweatshirt, Quitobaquito Springs, Arizona. (Photo by Todd Stewart)

Building from initiative launched by faculty in the School of Visual Arts at the University of Oklahoma, Fieldworks: Beyond Measure occupies a unique space at the nexus of visual art, scholarly research and travelogue. "I see fieldwork as a way to stretch my discipline beyond some of its familiar habits, starting with the idea that art historians are supposed to write about art as the stuff that goes in museums," Bailey said in an interview with The Humanities Forum at the University of Oklahoma. "It seems completely reasonable to me to write about a lake like the Salton Sea, which is a manmade product: a result of human artistry applied to nature and bound up with aesthetic sensibility."

Themes explored include the human role in ecology, the origins of different measurement/recording practices and the limits of movement across the land. The mixed-scale objects and texts invite each visitor to construct their own experience and make their own unique set of connections between the works presented.

A river polluted with trash and everyday household items gives way to dense housing development and a semi-truck crossing a bridge in the background
Las Vegas Wash, Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Todd Stewart)

“Fieldworks: Beyond Measure embodies our mission to foster an appreciation of contemporary art in all of its forms; we accomplish that goal through a combination of education, exhibitions and programming,” curator Pablo Barrera told ArtDesk. “An ongoing art project by two University of Oklahoma professors utilizing a combined research and artistic approach was a natural fit. It makes sense to launch an updated version of the project at our new building as a homecoming for [their] ever-evolving work.”

Oklahoma Contemporary members will have a chance to see an exclusive preview of the exhibition tonight as part of the Members After Hours programming beginning at 6 p.m. CST. The general public can experience Fieldworks: Beyond Measure at your new arts center beginning Thursday and running through April 19. In the meantime, check out the video below featuring Stewart and Bailey in conversation with The Humanities Forum at the University of Oklahoma to get a sense of what's in store.

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Mary LeFlore Clements Oklahoma Gallery Fieldworks: Beyond Measure environmentalism nature photography Oklahoma artists Exhibitions

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