As Dag's fictional character Oliver asks in the 1991 novel Generation X, "'You mean to tell me that we can drive all the way here from L.A. and see maybe ten thousand square miles of shopping malls, and you don't have the weentiest inkling that something, somewhere, has gone very very cuckoo?'"
In the mid '90s French anthropologist Marc Augé noted that we are all spending increasing amounts of time in non-places, spaces like shopping malls that are devoid of historical or regional context. Sixteen years after he published Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, Ashley Ford, a University of Miami MFA student, captures South Florida's anonymous commuter experience in "Metrouroboros," opening at the UM Wynwood Project Space this Saturday. We spoke with Ford about the non-places featured in her photographs, books, and printmaking.
New Times: Talk about the exhibit name: Metrouroboros.
Ashley Ford: The title of the show is derived from the term ouroboros - a symbol common throughout art history, which depicts a serpent or dragon eating its own tail. In my work it, represents cyclical time and self-reflexivity. The prefix metro was added to refer to the MetroRail (and TriRail), which I rode everyday for three years from Palm Beach County to attend grad school at the University of Miami. The experience of perpetually being in between my origination and destination and observing how passengers interact or consciously choose not to, sparked my interest in the non-place and liminality.
Is there one image that you think encapsulates the tone of the exhibit?
I would say there are two. One is a flag book created from a photograph I took as the MetroRail rushed by an overpass. The photograph is blurry and the structure of the book is such that all the pages move at once upon its opening. For me, it clearly expresses the dizzying rush of the metropolitan landscape and lifestyle as well as the psychological toll these liminal spaces take.
The second is a photograph from a series titled "Privy" in which I captured images from underneath the stalls in women's public bathrooms. The images aren't salacious in any way. I do not catch anything more that anonymous ankles and shoes. These places and as an extension the people that inhabit them, become indistinguishable non-places.
How extensively is Miami infected with these non-places compared to other cities?
I would say Miami is clinging to some amount of character - especially with the older Miami Modernist and Art Deco buildings. But like any other city, certain architectures become necessary to accommodate the population.
As someone who's documented plenty of these spaces, how do you think non-places affect everyday life?
The loss of place becomes disorienting, maddening in a way. These places become numbing and we willingly hand over our identity as part of the crowd - a sacrifice for convenience.
Initially, the pervasiveness of these non-places seems incredibly alienating. But do you think your images reveal any unexpected positive sides to this homogeneous landscape?
There is a certain amount of solace among the crowd, a bit of tranquility in the city landscape.
Who are some of the artists you admire?
Lorna Simpson's Haze series and her use of repetition. Jemima Stehli's examination of the voyeur. Lewis Baltz's examination of anonymity and loss of place.
What are your plans after graduation?
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See "Metrouroboros" at the Wynwood Project Space (2200 NW Second Ave., Miami). The opening reception is Saturday at 6 p.m., and the gallery is open by appointment through July 29. Admission is free. Visit as.miami.edu.