Language and Land Use, Alberta 1993

A series of 6 assemblages.
medium: each assemblage includes 3 black and white photographs, selenium-toned silver prints, each 16 x 20 inches (41 x 51 cm); hand written text panel, pencil on matboard, 8 x 10 inches (20 x 25 cm); and found natural objects from the site.
installed dimensions of each assemblage: 70 inches high (from floor) x 79 inches wide, plus floor space; 178 cm high (from floor) x 2 m wide, plus floor space.
works from the series are in the following collections: Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton; Medicine Hat Museum and Art Gallery.

I don’t know what's ‘natural’ anymore. ( ' ’ ) ’ '

As a visitor to southern Alberta, I experienced the area, for the most part, as a tourist would. In order to find out which places the public is encouraged to visit, I looked at local publications and tourist brochures — how is Alberta officially packaging and presenting itself for outsiders? I focused on visiting outdoor recreational areas: municipal, provincial, and national parks; golf courses; campgrounds; and a ‘World Heritage Site’. When I arrived at each place, I was intent on looking at the printed public signs — what are the instructions telling us to do in these places? What words are being used?

Most public notices now in recreational areas seem to express some current thinking about ‘environmentalism’: in these ‘natural’ places, evidence of present-day human activity is considered undesirable, except, of course, for the roads and parking lots that have been put there for our convenience in arriving. I am fascinated by the different layers of history — ‘natural’ and human — that can occur in the same place. When I think about them, they often seem wonderfully incongruous, or even absurd.

The geography around each of these signs, the territory that is under the influence of the printed public message, is a place circumscribed by human activity. The panoramic format I used to photograph these places produced some interesting individual views of banal as well as beautiful southern Alberta ‘landscape’. Under the central photograph, in juxtaposition to the format and language of the public sign, I have placed a small, hand-written panel describing my personal observations and experiences in each place. With the representations of these places are assembled tangible ‘natural’ objects I collected there.

When I was young and my father would come back from trips, he would show us the slides he had taken of the places he had visited; many of the pictures were of historic plaques. It became a family joke. We all used to groan when he projected yet another slide of a plaque, all the while eagerly and painstakingly reading it out loud to us. When I started working on this project and found myself taking pictures of public signs, I remembered my father's photographs of historic plaques. Perhaps I got that from him: the thrill of thinking about what happened in this place, on this very spot, in the past. “Look at this,” he'd often say to us, “this is History.” The signs that I have photographed are not about the past, but about the current use of land, where infinite changes and events have taken place over the course of time. These signs record what some people think should not take place there now.
Marlene Creates, 1993
A publication of the complete series is available:
Language and Land Use, Alberta 1993