Language and Land Use, Newfoundland 1994

A series of 13 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, 10 x 12 inches (25 x 30 cm); and found objects from the site.
installed dimensions of each assemblage: 70 inches high (from floor to top of frames) x 79 inches wide, plus floor space (178 cm high x 2 m wide, plus floor space).
works from the series are in the following collections: The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery, St. John's; Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, Ottawa.

Almost ten years ago I wrote that my work was about “places and paths: absence and presence, leaving and arriving, identification and dislocation.” These ideas still preoccupy me and I would now add: memory and language – layers of language and narrative hovering over and infused in the land. 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.

Most of the places represented in this series are, at this time, public recreational areas: municipal, provincial, and national parks; golf courses; campgrounds; and historic sites. In each place I looked at the printed public signs – What are the instructions telling us to do, or not to do, in these places? What words are being used?

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. In each assemblage, under the central photograph in the three-part panorama, in juxtaposition to the print and language of the public sign, I have placed a small, hand written panel describing my personal observations and experiences in each place; and below these, a tangible object 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 series 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, 1994

A publication of the complete series is available:
Language and Land Use, Newfoundland 1994