Road to Ruscha by Sherwin Rivera Tibayan
(left) A group of students and faculty from the University of Oklahoma stop for a group picture near a “D.I.Y.” signpost, Mojave Desert, CA. Photo by Sherwin Rivera Tibayan. (right) Sherwin Rivera Tibayan, Fresh Jerky, 36 Miles (near Rice, CA), Photography
For ten days in the middle of spring, three white vans full of students and teachers from the departments of Geography, Architecture and Art & Art History at the University of Oklahoma (OU) travelled from Oklahoma to California and back documenting their efforts to collaboratively retrace and reframe sites first made famous in a book of photographs from the 1960s by artist Ed Ruscha. The book, Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1962), a work largely conceptualized before the first photo was taken, presents a straightforward series of black and white images (with accompanying captions providing names and locations) of the fill-up stations that Ruscha came across during road trips from his family’s home in Oklahoma City to Los Angeles. In the years following its publication, the book’s unadorned photographic style and use of comic understatement has established a deep influence on contemporary artistic practices and ways of looking.
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In 2012, fundraising efforts by the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art to acquire Ruscha’s painting, No Man’s Land (1990), coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of the book’s publication. Todd Stewart, Associate Professor of Photography and Digital Imaging, saw an interdisciplinary educational and artistic opportunity to recast the influence and example of Ruscha’s original book through the multiple lenses of contemporary media. With institutional support from OU, the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art and the Kirkpatrick Foundation, and the committed participation of faculty, staff, students—and Ed Ruscha himself—the Road to Ruscha trip was set to begin in May 2013. As a 2012 OU MFA graduate, I had stayed in touch with Stewart, my former professor, and was excited when he contacted me about participating in the project. It was an interesting position to be in, neither student nor teacher. Everyone involved seemed to have projects and ideas they wanted to work on or were asked to engage
with: site photography, audio recording, video interviews with locals, writing and speculating on the geography and changing shapes of places. In the absence of my own personal project, I began to pay attention to their projects, the processes they undertook and the larger work that each was helping to create, sometimes using my camera to cast them and their work against the landscapes of the American West, and other times just watching, giving myself enough space to commit some observations to memory. For the first few days of the trip, however, all that I seemed to observe was the heat from an unbroken sun. We usually worked in the cloudless afternoon sky. It felt the same at the beginning of a long washboard roadway near Amarillo, TX as it did at the end of a fence line protecting an old military training ground in the Mojave Desert of California. I can remember that at each stop the brightness limited where I could look—a few degrees here, a few degrees there, mostly straight ahead. But with my camera I could see the
Published on Aug 29, 2013
September/October 2013 Art Focus Oklahoma is a bimonthly publication of the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition dedicated to stimulating insight...