In my recent work, abandoned barn structures become symbolic of the farming itself, a uniquely human connection with the animate landscape that our collective culture has ceased to place value on. Over the past century, the United States has transitioned gradually from “family farm” centered food production to a system of specialized, federally funded industrial farming operations. As human participation in agriculture decreases within our society, we risk becoming alienated from the land and an essential part of our cultural heritage. As someone raised in an agricultural community, the disappearance of farming as a way of life troubles me deeply. The images evoke the loss and nostalgia I feel when I encounter and explore these abandoned skeletal structures. For me they are mausoleums to the work ethic of our ancestors, and a way of life that should be etched into our cultural memory.
The etchings are rendered using a combination of remembered experience and photographic references captured to document my exploration of rural America. The fibrous texture of the rotting twisted wood is painstakingly replicated with thousands of etched lines. During the intaglio printing process, the unique combinations of paper, pressure, and ink create deep embossments which stand out from the surface of the image. The dimensionality of the embossed lines adds a sculptural quality to the print. Through experimentation I discovered that when the plates are printed with highly transparent ink, changes in lighting can add or subtract visual information for the viewer. I am interested in the delicate, ghostly quality of the images when printed with ink that is similar in color to the paper. The intricate details of the etchings are lost in places where the lines fade into nothing just as these structures, and the lifestyle they represent, are fading from our collective memory.
Michael Whitehead CV