"Currently I live in Orlando, Florida and we are about to get hit by a hurricane and I'm not exactly sure what that is going to entail. Let me get back in touch with you in a few days." That's artist and educator Brooks Dierdorff back in October when we first got in contact with him. Category 5 Atlantic hurricane--Hurricane Mathew--had formed and was just about to pass through Lesser Antilles and Southeastern United States among other adjacent regions. Hurricane Mathew was set to bring widespread destruction and damage through high-pressure winds which it did in its dissipation. It caused a catastrophic amount of fatalities as it moved through Western Atlantic. For us living in central Canada where hurricanes are rare, all of sudden we were no doubt tuned in to see what will happen next in the Florida area and with Dierdorff. Luckily the powerful winds just missed a better part of Orlando.
Dierdorff is no stranger to natural glitches growing up in Southern California but this was different. There's was anticipation and an expectancy for the worst. “Natural disasters make me feel so helpless and vulnerable. They remind me of the lack of control that we have as human beings and of the terrifying indifference of nature” Dierdorff remarks.
It's almost appropriate the circumstances under which we first meet Dierdorff given what he principally explores in his art work is our relationship with the natural world. We get into Dierdorff’s thought process within his practice, how its evolved and evolving, the difficulties of balancing his studio work with teaching, the highs and lows of living in outside traditional art centers, and hunting culture in Florida among other conversation topics.
"i think it’s important to think about the natural world right now and how we want to choose to relate to it. And how we relate to it I think is dictated in a huge part by images. In every image depicting nature, in every advertisement, stock image, photograph in a textbook, every hunting trophy image, or image of a trip on Instagram there is imbedded within those photographs a set of culturally constructed values about nature. My practice attempts to discover what those values are and searches for new meanings in the intentional and incidental forms that we individually and collectively create through our representations of nature."
LK: You have lived in several different places have you experienced anything like having to prepare for a potential natural disaster like that before? I suppose you lived in California, parts of it is known for earthquakes did you ever experience anything like that?
BD: I have lived in a lot of places in recent years. It is one of those consequences of being at the beginning of a teaching career. You have to go wherever the jobs are and at the beginning they are usually year-to-year. But now that I have a tenure track position at the University of Central Florida and it seems I will be in Orlando for the foreseeable future. It's a nice change to stay in a house and studio for more than a year! Florida is the winner in terms of natural threats by far. There are giant insects, snakes, alligators, terrible drivers and hurricanes that keep you on your toes here. Hurricane Mathew came through in September and that was my first experience with a hurricane. A friend here gave my wife and I the wise advice to prepare for the worst and don't watch the news. I actually found the anxiety of the build up to be the worst part of the whole thing. It made me nostalgic for the sudden, middle of the night earthquakes of Southern California of my childhood. At least they were over with quickly! Natural disasters make me feel so helpless and vulnerable. They remind me of the lack of control that we have as human beings and of the terrifying indifference of nature. Luckily the hurricane stayed a bit east of Orlando and we didn’t get hit as bad as we could have.
LK: How are you finding the art scene down there compared to the other places you've resided?
BD: There is a small but dedicated community in Orlando. Unfortunately there are many factors that make it difficult for artists to thrive here, but we still try. Miami is only 3 hours away though and my wife and I try to get there as much as we can. But living outside of the traditional art centers is nothing new to me. I think more important is to think of creative ways to cultivate the art community that you want wherever you happen to live. While in grad school at the University of Oregon I was a part of an artist-run space called Ditch Projects and we rented a 3,000 square foot warehouse and made it into an exhibition space. The only way we could possibly afforded a space like that was because it was located in a small and economically depressed community hours away from any major city. We invited artist from all over the country and to our surprise they most often said yes, in large part because they were at least going to come away with some great looking images of their work in a huge space. Essentially we were trying to find ways to bring the art world that we wanted to us. As our website hits for shows were always way more than the number of people who came to our openings, we thought of the online presence of Ditch Projects as equally important as getting people to see the shows in person. I tried to replicate this same model when I taught at Southern Oregon University. My wife and I founded a space called Grammar Center and sought to cultivate the art community we wanted through that project. Things are becoming more and more decentralized and so are the lives of artists. I think its possible now more than ever to be a part of a larger art world and live outside of the major art centers. That’s not to say it’s easy to live away from the art centers and still feel connected because its not, you still have to work at it. But I think there is more possibility for alternatives than there use to be.
LK: Do you find it any challenging to balance making your own work and also doing your day job? It looks like you've been fairly consistently putting up work for shows...
BD: It’s so hard. Much of my life is trying to figure out how to balance the demands of teaching and my art practice. I try to find people who it seems have figured it out and look for ideas and models, but I think mostly what I have found is that there is no right way and everyone is different. If you need to make the work then you will find a way. I think being an artist often feels like an endurance test. It’s so easy to just not make art and do something else where the effort and the reward more often match up. But for me I simply just don’t want to do anything else. I love making work and showing work and the community that kind of life cultivates.
From AWildlife District 3 Headquarters, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Inkjet Print, 2016
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Field Office, Corvallis Oregon, Inkjet Print, 2016
What Else Do You Need?, Iridescent Stained Glass, Perforated Vinyl Mesh, Styrofoam Coolers, 2016
LK: Has the work you've been making for recent shows based off your on-going series The Aesthetics of Eden? Or is that just like a side project?
BD: It’s all a continuation of a line of inquiry. The Aesthetics of Eden is the result of learning from and being directed by previous projects. In the case of the Aesthetics of Eden, I’ve become more interested in the idea of the idealized nature state, or Eden, to which state and federal park systems in the United States continually strive to return to while simultaneously navigating the complex and often conflicting demands of animal and environmental protections, land use priorities, public access, and a lack of funding. I think at the root of it is a desire to explore how the idea of Nature is constructed and by whom. How do most people experience nature today and how does that effect how we treat it and relate to it?
"at a time when images are increasingly becoming detached from the contexts in which they were created, I think it a crucial and necessary act to draw attention to the contexts within which images are seen. For example how do the proliferation of stock images effect how we think, feel about, and treat nature? How does encountering a photograph in a three-dimensional and physical form make us rethink how we see images?"
LK: Would you say it's a research-based project in comparison to previous works?
BD: I think it maybe relies a bit more heavily on research than previous projects. For the Aesthetics of Eden project I have been travelling all over the US interviewing park officials, photographing in state and national parks, going through habitat restoration plans, sending out public record requests for park director emails, and discovering the history and ecology of these parks as much as I can. I don’t go into projects thinking about whether I should make this one more documentary or not but instead think about what is best for communicating that particular idea.
LK: I would imagine [based on nothing concrete] that there's a big hunting culture over were you are or just in Florida in general...is it something you've looked into at all being there? I only because your Trophy series…
BD: Hunting is indeed a big part of the culture here in Florida but I am not as involved in hunting as I use to be. Initially I got interested in hunting during graduate school in Oregon. Hunting culture was never really something that I encountered much being from Southern California. I found it to be this incredibly fascinating and complex relationship to nature that I absolutely didn’t understand, but genuinely wanted to. It seemed that hunter’s love nature, and maybe know it more intimately than most, but it was always hard to for me to understand how to reconcile that deep love and knowledge with the inevitable violence and suffering. But I was also a meat eater at the time, and recognized my own distance and ignorance about the life of the animals that I was eating. So with all of those thoughts in my head I hired outfitters and went hunting many times in various parts of Oregon. I found it to be incredibly valuable for my understanding of nature and how we as humans choose to relate to nature. The series Trophy and Line of Sight were made in the midst of all of that. I had the idea for Trophy one day after seeing image after image of a hunter holding up the animal he just shot in exactly the same way as all the other images that came before. I thought how interesting that there is a language to the presentation of an animal to the camera. What is this language and why does it exist only for a photograph? It also seemed that the entire performance of the hunt all led to that final photograph that could then be posted on the wall of the local convenience store or put in the family photo album. All of the images in Trophy are images that I appropriated in culling through hundreds of images online.
Drying Racks, Inkjet Prints, Wood, Wire Mesh, 2015
Midnight Sun Installation View, Marshall University,2015
Fata Morgana, Perforated Vinyl Mesh, Wood, 2015
LK: I think threads surrounding that same subject has moved through your works that came after...
BD: I tend to investigate the same subject through many means. At the core of my practice remains this unending interest in the natural world and how it is represented through photography. I think it’s important to think about the natural world right now and how we want to choose to relate to it. And how we relate to it I think is dictated in a huge part by images. In every image depicting nature, in every advertisement, stock image, photograph in a textbook, every hunting trophy image, or image of a trip on Instagram there is imbedded within those photographs a set of culturally constructed values about nature. My practice attempts to discover what those values are and searches for new meanings in the intentional and incidental forms that we individually and collectively create through our representations of nature. It is in that space that I want to insert myself and my practice as an artist.
Remnant, Inkjet Print, Arrow 56" X 28"
Organizing Principles, Double-Sided Inkjet Print, Ballistics Gel, .22 Caliber Bullets
Late Season Tactics, Inkjet Print, Clear Acrylic, 40"x 52"x 18"
LK: Majority of your work has taken photography through three-dimension (Midnight sun & Line of sight) and installation forms with some light installation...what do you see the photo as an object "doing" that the two-dimensional flat image couldn't "do"--in terms of how you communicate images through?
BD: At a time in our cultural history in which we are inundated with images, a fundamental question arises for a photographer of how can images hanging on a wall still be relevant? Or maybe instead the question is how can I engage a viewer with a new way of looking at a photograph that might make that viewer reconsider the ways in which we experience images? A new set of conditions exist right now for photography that have never existed before, so what should we make images of and how should we present them to an audience? I see the turn towards more sculptural-based works as a way of addressing the individual bodily experience of a viewer looking at an image. It is a way of experiencing a photograph that is not reproducible and it dependent on a viewing person being there in that space with that piece in a singular moment in time.