Monday, April 5, 2010

Here...Half Blind by John Gossage

The headline for the January 27th Post-Bulletin newspaper out of Minnesota declares; New Life for Old Landfill. The Olmsted Country garbage dump will be turned into Minnesota's first "solar farm." Other articles cover a state delay in funding education, and sadly that a Rochester man was killed in a 40-car pile-up. The frontpage "Factoid" reports that Thomas Edison owned the Edison Portland Cement Company, and although they supplied concrete for Yankee Stadium, they went out of business trying to manufacture cement pianos. In the upper left corner, sharing space with the masthead is a tiny triptych of pictures - they announce an exhibition by the photographer John Gossage.

Working off a commission from the Rochester Art Center from the Summer of 2009, Gossage photographed Rochester and some of its inhabitants resulting in an 80 page newspaper supplement that went out to some 40,000 customers on the Post-Bulletin's subscriber rolls.

The work itself is identifiably Gossage. He explores the foundations, pathways and community of Rochester, making known the insignificant details often disregarded by the casual passerby; a plank of wood holding up a small boat, a silhouette of a squirrel traversing power-lines, a handle-less shovel balanced against a tree stump, the last piece of bright concrete at the end of a sidewalk. New Life for Old Landfill. I can't think of a better summation of Gossage's accomplishments over his long career.

The final exhibition and supplement is called Here...Half Blind. The exhibition, as described by Kris Douglas the Chief Curator at the Rochester Art Center in the introduction, mentions Gossage's photographs accompanied by postcards and archive material that "packaged" stereotypical views of Rochester for visitors. The supplement publication does not have this material but instead a single line of newscrawl-type text at the bottom of the page regurgitating banal facts about Rochester's history.

As a book maker, Gossage has explored many forms - none of which have had this mass distribution. One imagines those 40,000 copies stacked in convenience markets, on newsstands, on kitchen tables and resting in the sun on porch steps. The headlines inform and infuriate (school funding delayed!), the human interest stories give hope, and what could this supplement invoke? No doubt a few were interested in looking a little closer at their community through the eyes of an outsider but certainly some would cry out "My four-year old takes better pictures than these!"; Gossage isn't what art looks like for most.

Of those 40,000 copies, maybe 2000 will survive, the rest will be discarded without thought and recycled. My hope is that a single copy will escape pulping and scatter across the Olmsted landfill before the solar farm takes root.