Bagnasciuga, 2017. Folded collagraph. 28.5" x 6" x 10.5" total piece is 29 feet.
During the midnight sun months in Iceland, MONTANA TORREY painted the sunset daily on her window. She hung gauzy ghosts of American Private Property signs In a Finland forest, where Everyman's Law rules. In Venice, she looked to the horizontal line of algae growth along the sides of the canals as a document of the difference between wet and dry. In each case, landscape is a lens that magnify the dualities inherent in particular sites. Montana earned a BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a MFA from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has been an Artist-in-Residence at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Headlands Center for the Arts, Vermont Studio Center, Catwalk Institute, and the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, among others. Recent Exhibitions include shows at Hotel Art Fair (Bangkok, Thailand), the Subhashok Arts Centre (Bangkok, Thailand) and SAC Gallery and Lab (Chiang Mai, Thailand). Montana currently lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where she is a Visiting Lecturer at Chiang Mai University.
OtherPeoplesPixels: According to your website, your work “employs the landscape as a metaphorical tool to investigate sites of opposition.” What kinds of oppositions? Can you give us some examples?
Montana Torrey: My work is a response to particular sites, either through direct physical engagement with the landscape or by using metaphorical elements of the landscape contained within architecture. The sites of oppositions are an arrangement that I create as a way of recontextualizing and understanding place. I do this by structuring a dialogue between the site, material, and an idea.
I approach the site by questioning its dualities: public/private; absence/presence; tangible/intangible; fear/comfort; freedom/containment; heaviness/ weightlessness, etc. My most recent work, Floodplain (126), re-imagines an ancient flooded ruin in Chiang Mai, Thailand through the dualities of absence/presence, past/presence, heaviness/weightlessness. This work embodied the temporal past and present of the ruin, suggested the flood waters through the piece’s movement, and transformed the seemingly inherent weight of brick by making them from paper and creating the illusion of weightlessness.
I have used oppositional structures to create and form a new experience of place and understanding of the site in its relation to the present.
Division of Labor, 2015. Hand-sewn silk organza. 30 feet.
OPP: Can you talk about the various barriers—both literal and metaphoric—in your work?
MT: The use of barriers, borders and fences started when I was in graduate school. Much of my work then was about public and private space and the psychological factors that determine what we deem as protective/protected space within the American psychic landscape. This was the beginning of my interest in literal divisions of the landscape and how we divide, manipulate and control space to further convey these ideas. At that time, I was looking at a lot of historical American landscape paintings—such as those of the Hudson River School—that were celebrating the vastness of the landscape as a form of propaganda to promote westward expansion and Manifest Destiny, which in turn resulted in the exploitation and further division of the landscape into private property.
Morning Light Barrier, 2016. Hand-painted silk organza. Variable dimensions.
OPP: What about the light barriers?
MT: I created the sewn “light barriers” for several exhibitions at the Catwalk Institute in Catskill, NY as a response to the work of Frederic Church. With these pieces, I was re-inserting elements of Church’s skies back into the landscape, inverting the horizon and imprisoning shafts of light. So, my first sewn light barriers were a reference to Church and others’ use of the horizon as a representation of the future, a collective future of the land beyond. However, when my pieces were inserted into the landscape they functioned as barriers, by creating physically blocks and restricting the suggestion of the infinite.
From there I began using the horizon more and more, working with the horizontal and vertical elements of dusk and dawn and experimenting with these pieces in relation to architecture.
We Buy Gold, 2011. Tarpaulin.
OPP: You’ve been to numerous residencies in European countries—Iceland, Finland and Italy, to name a few. It seems that many of your projects in these countries refer back to the American landscape by inserting what is missing. Is this a planned agenda or an intuitive response?
MT: Each site is tangible, present. One of the ways I approach my practice is by searching for an absence or ways of evoking absence through presence. I am interested in the formation of spatial perception and how spatial perception can be culturally defined. So, when I am working in a new country, I seek to insert my own spatial understanding of the landscape into that place. It is a form of place-making, rooted in memory, and cultural conditioning about the landscape. I try to collapse the distance of my own past and my immediate present in space.
On one hand, it is a calculated way of working, but within this, I allow for the experiential. I like to remain open to how my ideas will evolve and be informed by new places and cultures that help to shape the development of my work.
Permanent Sunset, 2012. Paint on window. Skagaströnd, Iceland.
OPP: What does your practice look like when you aren’t at residencies?
MT: Because I create installations about place, my work is always in flux and requires the continual investigation of materials and research, through both conceptual and academic development. Much of my work is informed by architecture and nature, so this is an endless and peripatetic investigation. Moving through space and observing the ways in which we understand the landscape through movement is very much a part of my research: when I live in the U.S., I am constantly driving and searching for architectural forms or sites to use within my work, but also making note of time and distance. I am seeking to create more of a phenomenological experience within my current installations, so finding ways of understanding a more embodied experience is critical.
Much of my practice takes place outside of the studio, in the field or in the library, and my studio is much more of a laboratory for the testing of materials, but the work all comes together in the installation.
Floodplain (126), 2018. 126 folded collagraphs. 3.5 x 3.5 meters.
MT: A collagraph is a basic printmaking technique in which the plate can be created with very inexpensive materials such as cardboard, glue, gesso. I started using this technique last year (2017) when I was a fellow at the Scuola Internazionale di Grafica in Venice, Italy. I found that collagraphs gave me the ability to create a wide variety of textures and to mimic the water line on the Istrian stone for my piece, Bagnasciuga. I began to make installations out of 3-dimensional collagraphs.
Both Bagnasciuga and Floodplain (126) explore the intersection between water, the built environment and the physical vulnerabilities of these structures through climate change. I intentionally used paper for these works because it helped to convey vulnerability via a shift in materiality from stone or brick to a fragile material. The paper also created another conceptual dichotomy; the illusion of weightlessness. Both of these installations move with the gentle swaying of water. Bagnasciuga moves back and forth like the rocking of the vaporetto or a dock as you move throughout the city, and Floodplain (126) moves like debris floating on the surface of water. Again, the experience of movement through space is critical to the function of both of these pieces, as I tried to evoke the feelings of floating, shifting, swaying, gliding, drowning and rising to the surface of water as the viewer moves around and through these works.
Portable Widow's Walk, Bird Island Lookout, 2008. Handcut canvas/ acrylic paint.
OPP: Where to next?
MT: I am currently living and working in Chiang Mai, Thailand as a Visiting Lecturer in the Painting Department at Chiang Mai University. I’ve been in Thailand for the past eight months, having originally come here as an artist-in-residence with the Subhashok Arts Centre in Bangkok, but subsequently secured a position as a guest lecturer. For now, I plan to stay here for the foreseeable future, possibly with an intermittent break pursue a Ph.D.
It is important to me to find alternative and affordable ways of creating an art-practice and to seek teaching experiences outside of the U.S., given the current political and financial climate for the arts. While I believe in art as an essential element of resistance, the responsibility of maintaining an arts practice in my home country, where funding for the arts is being slashed and the cost of living continues to rise, was becoming unsustainable for me. Furthermore, being in Southeast Asia has given me a deeper understanding of how dynamic and ever-changing the global art world is. My work will always reflect my experience growing up in the U.S., but I want to find more and more ways of connecting that experience to the rest of the world.
To see more of Montana's work, please visit montanatorrey.com.