MICHAEL SHERWIN (Morgantown WV, USA)
Michael Sherwin is a multimedia artist exploring scientific, cultural and historical interpretations of the natural world. He has won numerous grants and awards for his work and has exhibited and lectured widely. Select images from his Vanishing Points project have been featured in exhibitions at the Atlanta Contemporary Arts Center, Morris Museum of Art, Huntington Museum of Art, and the Center for Fine Art Photography among others. The project has also been publicized widely, including essays, reviews and features in Don’t Take Pictures magazine, Aint-Bad Magazine, Light Leaked, Fototazo, Oxford American’s “Eyes on the South”, Prism magazine, Looking at Appalachia, Humble Arts Foundation, Medium’s Vantage and on National Public Radio. The project was also chosen as a Finalist in the 2015 Critical Mass competition and included in Duke University’s Archive of Documentary Arts in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Sherwin earned an MFA from the University of Oregon in 2004, and a BFA from The Ohio State University in 1999. Currently, he is an Associate Professor of Art in the School of Art and Design at West Virginia University.
In 2011, I discovered that our local shopping center had been built upon a 2,000-year-old sacred burial ground and village site of the Monongahela tribe. I frequently shopped at the Center and this new revelation transformed my understanding of the landscape and place I called home. Reflected in the scene in front of me was an ancient, spiritually important and hallowed landscape clouded by the tangible constructions of our modern culture. I am fascinated by the persistence of the landscape and in the apparent disparity between Western and Native views of the sanctity of the land. I felt compelled to document the site and the resulting photograph inspired a project that I have been actively working on for the past six years.
In Vanishing Points, I combine extensive research of historical archives, maps and contemporary satellite imagery, as well as direct collaboration with archaeologists, historians and scholars in an effort to locate and photograph significant sites of indigenous American presence, including sacred landforms, earthworks, documented archaeological sites and contested battlegrounds. The sites I choose to visit and photograph are literal and metaphorical vanishing points. They are places in the landscape where two lines, or cultures, converge. They are also actual archaeological sites where the sparse evidence of a culture’s once vibrant existence has all but disappeared. While visiting these sites, I reflect on the monuments our modern culture will leave behind and what the archaeological evidence of our civilization will reveal about our time on Earth.
Recent controversy over the Dakota Access Pipeline project on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation, and subsequent protests, has brought new attention to issues regarding the treatment of sacred Native American land and its people. The Vanishing Points project participates in this important conversation, providing a reflection and critique on the historical impacts of Manifest Destiny and the continued subjugation of Native American tribes, while also connecting a mysterious and ancient past with the familiar present.
Practice Statement: How does photographing on film (or using your material photographic process of predilection) inform your artistic practice?
I find the slow and measured process of shooting large format film more in-tune with my desire to communicate with the land and its mysterious history. As opposed to digital photography, I often make just one, or two, pictures at each site I visit. These limitations require me to be fully present and engaged with my representation and understanding of the place.