Self Must Have a Certain Width (2011-12) Re-scripting newspapers to think about what version of the world they depict

self must have a certain width

This group of collages is a meditation on past and present, America and her image abroad, and the changing technologies that define each age. The work is constructed from century-old photographic prints of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (an event that defined American Industrial optimism) in combination with contemporary press images from the New York Times, my local paper.

A few years ago I was using a printer and it stalled, striping the remainder of the image I was printing out. It was a surprise. I thought about the weird beauty that could come from the malfunction of technology and started to reflect on the “weirdness” of America’s identity as a technologically forward-striving country.

The Chicago World’s Fair (known as the Columbian Exposition) is a crucial step in that history. America was determined to display her technological brawn by building an entirely new city inside Chicago (“the white city”) in just a few years. The fair was illuminated by the new American invention of electric light and attempted to supersede Paris with something bigger and better than the Eiffel Tower-- the Ferris Wheel. What this display of industry and American ingenuity actually inspired were works of fantasy—the “Emerald City” in L. Frank Baum’s Land of Oz as well as Walt Disney’s theme parks (Disney’s father was a construction worker at the fair).

The collages in this show are a mash-up of photographic fragments from The Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, mixed with bits and pieces of contemporary news—in the end these collages are very physical, very much made by hand while nodding to the technological mishaps which help fuel imagination.

In addition to collages, the show will include sculptures based loosely on the phrase "self must have a certain width". The title comes from marginalia (notes written in the margins of a book) by the great religious philosopher William James--notes he scribbled exactly the same year the Chicago World's Fair was taking place. “Self must have a certain width” was penned in a dog-eared manuscript while America was trying to define her expanse and influence. After that phrase James wrote in big letters—WHY? This phrase and the ensuing question is the jumping off place for the works in this exhibition.