Back in the spring of 1984, I had just lost my job at an auto parts warehouse in Tillicum. So, I hopped aboard my 1961 Ford Fairlane and started to drive, intent on going all the way to Mexico. My vehicle, however, did not even make it through Snoqualmie Pass before the engine seized up. Young and determined, I simply abandoned the car and hitched a ride with a good samaritan, who took me as far as Cle Elum. From there I bought a bus ticket for a ride all the way to El Paso, my jumping off point for the plunge into Mexico.
I recall very little of that long ride aboard the Greyhound bus. My only memory is of a stop somewhere in Wyoming. The bus came to rest at a truck stop so that the passengers could go inside and buy something to eat. Although it was March, winter still held Wyoming in its grip. Instead of going into the restaurant, I stuck my hands into the pockets of my trusty Swiss army coat and walked out into a snowy field that was adjacent to the truck stop. For those brief few minutes, I had an experience of Wyoming — the climate and the landscape — that has remained as the only memory of that entire bus ride across the continent. The few moments that I got out and actually walked on the land is the gem that I retain from that overland trip. To walk in a place is to know a place in an intimate way.
That idea, of the absorption of place into one’s self, of making contact with the land, is at the heart of Minoosh Zomorodinia’s new art installation at the Feast Art Center’s art gallery. A Muslim, Iranian woman, Zomorodinia came to the United States to attend school in the San Francisco Bay area. In 2015 she earned her MFA at San Francisco Art Institute and has been making a name for herself as an artist working in photography, video, installation and performance art.
Tacoma’s Feast Gallery is hosting “Colonial Walk,” a new installation by Zomorodinia. The show was organized and curated by Thea Quiray Tagle, PhD, a faculty member at the University of Washington-Bothell’s School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences.
The raw material for “Colonial Walk” is a series of walks that Zomorodinia took — mostly at Northern California’s Marin Headlands, a former military base that is now a national recreation area. While hiking the trails, Zomorodinia used a phone application that mapped the route of each walk. Each route that she took had its own shape. By piling these shapes one atop another, the accumulated walks become a three-dimensional form, a virtual sculpture that represents the experience of walking the land day by day. These forms are a kind of digitized crystallization of Zomorodinia’s foot-based dialogue with the land.
Simply getting out and ambulating through an unfamiliar landscape is but the first part of Zomorodinia’s project. In the process of becoming familiar with a new place, Zomorodinia is “interrogating” a number of issues dealing with the self and its place in the environment. “What is home?” asks Zomorodinia. “How does an immigrant make home in a place that may not want you?” In addition to exploring the plight of the proverbial stranger-in-a-strange-land, Zomorodinia also talks of homelessness and issues of gentrification and house affordability in her examination of what it means to have a home or make a home or feel at home.
The show itself consists of several components. On one wall, there are a series of “missile maps,” paper and wire sculptures that are in the shape of some of the paths that Zomorodinia walked. Many are roughly triangular in shape and the sharp ends are all pointed in the same direction like the nosecones of so many missiles. There is also a series of digital prints of virtual sculptures, forms that the artist made using various computer software. The maps of the walks are combined with photographic and video images from the walks and are then shaped into unique forms according to the whim of the artist. They look like crystalline masses with sharp angles, rather like icebergs. There is also a video of one of these forms, the surface of which is in motion. An analogue model of one of these was constructed out of fabric and plywood and is mounted on the wall. In the center of the space is a large construction made of paper. More of the “paths” are cut into of the paper. The paper construction and the whole back wall are dappled with a projected image of a rock wall that Zomorodinia encountered on one of her walks. The reddish rock makes for an interesting pattern that projects not only on the wall and the paper sculpture, but also on the visitors to the gallery.
Zomorodinia’s question of one’s relationship to place is relevant to everyone. What does rootedness mean? Does the fact that one’s ancestors have occupied a given region mean that an individual has some greater sense of belonging to that region? If so, how many generations of continuous occupation does it take for a person to belong? And in today’s world of mobility, in which large numbers of people find themselves transported from one place to another, how many people can have any sense of generational belonging to a given region? If our species came into being in Africa, all of us come from people who were on the move at numerous points in time as populations of people shifted throughout history pushed and pulled by a variety of natural and human-made forces. All of us are in some sense dispossessed. And ultimately we are all transient, since we exist here for but the span of our own lifetimes. The miracle is that we humans are adaptable enough to open ourselves to whatever part of the world that we happen to find ourselves in. I have fallen in love with every place in which I have set foot. I find myself always curious to encounter the flora and fauna, the atmospheric effects and the geographic features of every place I go. By making the acquaintance of things more deeply connected to a location than myself, I come to know more of a place. This familiarity is what brings that sense of belonging and it is through familiarity and simple habitation that places become part of our experience of the world, and thus our own.
It is because of this experience of absorption of a new part of the world and making it our own that Zomorodinia chose to call her show “Colonial Walk.” By drawing a new place into our experience, memories and being, we are in some sense colonizing, moving into what we do not know and taking it as our own. This is a form of spiritual or metaphorical colonization, not the physical taking of land and claiming the right to dominate what is already there and excluding others from entry to it.
Zomorodinia’s art is cerebral and abstract and one must understand the complex process by which it was made to be able to grasp it satisfactorily, but the issues that are evoked are as complex and fascinating as the works of art themselves.
“Colonial Walk” runs through March 10 at Feast Gallery, 1402 S. 11th St. (up on the Tacoma Hilltop). For gallery hours and further information, visit www.feastarts.com. To view some of Zomorodinia’s videos and to learn more about her, visit rahelehzomorodinia.com.