Artist's Statements

Child of the Sprawl

I am a child of suburban expansion. In 1970, I lived in Lower Akron, near the Goodyear Airdock. At the time, there was an influx of low-income minorities in the area, and a mix of drug traffic and racial conflicts led to gunfire in our neighborhood. A number of people were shot, and our family moved to North Canton, to an allotment that was formerly a farm estate.

I was confronted with the influx of people into the North Canton area in the 90's, and my ambivalence about this expansion and development initially manifested itself as resentment and loss. But then, I asked what was any different about this expansion than the one that led me to live here? Probably one was manifested by social pressures, while the other was more dependent on the bubble economy of the 90's.

The inspiration for this piece came from a conversation I had with a couple nearly 4 years ago. In it, they were telling me about their purchase of a home in one of the newer allotments about five years ago. During that time, their area had been developed, and they felt that the rural charm of the community was somehow diminished. It seems, they said, that a few thousand of their friends had gotten the same idea to move to the country, and that the quality of life they were experiencing was approaching that which they had moved from in the first place. In addition, they related that they were planning to move further south, to a place that was more like the North Canton they had moved to half a decade ago. There was no mention of the possibility that they would experience the same events in their new suburban home.

What is the Sprawl?

Sprawl has come to be associated as a term for the widespread expansion of the suburbs in the 1980's and 90's. It is is characterized by strip malls, developments of middle- to upper class housing(with large parcel single family dwellings), and the progressive decentralized development of rural areas. Once again, North Canton and Stark County are thought to be rather typical of this effect of Sprawl.

Science fiction writer William Gibson wrote of the Sprawl as a progressive conglomeration of construction in the Boston-Atlanta megalopolis that eventually collapsed under the inability of unstable governmental forces to maintain the suburban landscape. The images depicted here are not intended to be suggested as progenitors of Gibson's Sprawl, but as a site where numerous issues come into question that beg consideration of such a future.

What is the role of suburban expansion at the turn of the second millennium, and how is it changing the character of the American landscape and the sense of identity we ascribe to it? Is the outward expansion to the suburbs another form of American Manifest Destiny, and are malls like The Strip now indicative of the idealized landscape of Capitalist America; the vistas of Amsel Adams transposed into the age of corporatized consumerism? Are there warning signs on the horizon, is this merely progress, or is this merely one more chapter in the evolution of American identity?

The definition of sprawl in the context of this exhibit is elusive. This installation(SPRAWL) is a series of panoramic online photographs of the suburban landscape as it expands into the surrounding countryside in the 1990's. I chose North Canton, Ohio as my site of inquiry as it was the place whewre I was raised, and the area is also peculiar in that it has been chosen numerous times as a target area for commerce and Miidwestern demographic research. Furthermore, if one looks at a landscape in the metaphorical sense as a matrix of related issues evloving over time, such as social, economic, cultural, environmental, and political concerns (to name a few) what results is a web of concurrent 'landscapes' that are being shaped by the course of human interaction. Sprawl is merely an attempt to construct a partial map of thatterrain for Stark County at the turn of the second millennium.

Initial moments

In 1998, I sought to preserve a moment in time in light of widespread development through the creation of over twenty panoramic digital photos, as in doing so, there would be a play with the idea of virtual space when the places would then exist only in an online or digital form. The inception of the project in 1998 was out of a profound sense of loss for the surrounding farms that I grew up around, the photos were an expression of that angst. However, this interpretation of the situation was only the most simple reading of the events transpiring in my community, and upon further consideration in creating this installation what revealed itself was a complex matrix of issues that revealed the interdependence of all aspects of any community, and especially Stark County.

Not the only voice, not a simple question

When I created the first series of images in 1998, the viewpoint representied was that from my singular vision. But after working with these images for the past three years, I realized that mine was not the only opinion in the community, but the voices of Stark County would express a variety of concerns that I had not considered. This is the reason for including the interviews in this installation. Hopefully, after looking at the panoramas, and listening to some of the stories of the Stark County residents will reveal that the issues and lives entangled in the suburban expansion of the US weave a complex story that is not easily reducible.

In fact, this complexity is exactly what I found as I travelled through my old home town. As Jim Holl (former area planner for the Stark County Regional Planning Commission) mentions, an event in the north of the county can have far-reaching effects on the citizens of Canton, and an expansion or change in one area can bring about totally unexpected outcomes in another sector. In short, the systemic, web-like nature of this topic is what impressed me, and a systems-level approach to the development of communities like Stark County is necessary for the optimum quality of life for all residents and the surrounding flora and fauna.

A problem with the demography contained within this project is that I had trouble arranging times with two key groups: minorities (non Anglo-) and farmers, although I hspoke with a number of people who were involved in farming at one point or another. Farmers generally had work schedules that were difficult to coordinate with at the time, and Stark County is largely Caucasian in composition in nature, except for within certain parts of the inner urban areas (Canton, et al). In saying this, I understand that although a broad cross section of the population of Stark County is represented here, it is difficult to give a complete account of such a large topic. Despite its imperfection, I hiope that Sprawl shows some of the key concerns that are attributed to the issues of urban sprawl, and the possible feelings of those living around it at the end of the millennium.

As I finish this stage of the work, two questions come to mind. I wonder if the motivations and the influences surrounding each of the postwar suburban expansions have some inherent similarity, and serve to show part of our identity as Americans. Perhaps the strip mall and tract home is what defines a significant part of American identity at the turn of the millennium. Also, what will the culture of the strip mall, minifarm, and tract mansion look like in thirty years? Will the malls and suburban culture still have the dynamic is has now, and how will it relate to the rural and the urban? The answer is that all of these relations will change, but from instances like Lakemore, Ohio I consider the maturation or decline of these newly developed areas.