Mary Lydecker is a landscape designer and artist based in Somerville, Massachusetts. Her work includes gouache and graphite paintings, collages, and installations with a focus on the re-construction and re-presentation of found images, information, and landscapes. Her exhibition for The Gallery at Sasaki, Post Places, includes a series of postcard collages. Mainly comprising spliced landscape studies using found postcards, these works explore expectations surrounding and the potential of built landscapes. Learn more about Mary's process and experience the pieces in person on Thursday, May 22, from 5–7pm.
Q: What is your connection to the medium/media in which you work?
A: My work typically borrows in some way from pre-existing sources—postcards, texts, photographs. There is so much material already out there. The re-presentation of this material in an interesting or provocative way and the conflation of diverse sources are powerful means of making viewers critical interpreters of their environment. Collage is such a basic and satisfying art form; it's a way to collect and reorganize what we see into something new and meaningful. Today, I think we see a lot of collage that we don't even recognize by that word, since digital tools have made the product so seamless. I started making these at a time when I was learning Photoshop. I missed the use of my hands—the tactile experience of making—and I also missed the evidence of the hand in the final piece. Although these collages appear more or less to be singular images (particularly in scans) you can always find the seam in person.
The postcard itself is a fascinating art form. It reflects history and culture. Postcards have an inherent expectation of veracity as cultural artifacts, which I find compelling and useful. We buy postcards when we go somewhere to remember or share our experience with others—we expect these to be real vistas, actual places. Of course, these are subjective representations (see Zoe Leonard's 2008 piece "You see I am here after all," a display of 4,000 postcards of Niagara Falls), but I find that we still approach them as familiar and benign images, which provides a powerful format for disrupting expectations.
Q: How does your work relate to the built environment?
A: In this series, I splice together postcards of disparate landscapes to create vistas of imagined and fantastic environments. The interface between the two landscapes—a single cut line—creates the illusion of a singular new hybrid place. For example, a beach in Maine is joined to a view of pump jacks in the Permian Basin; Coney Island is set atop a hydroelectric dam in Oregon; a plaza in Bologna, Italy, is tucked within the road to the Dead Sea. At first glance they appear familiar or viable. Closer study reveals the line between distinct landscape typologies, patterns of urban development, or climatic conditions.
I am most interested in juxtapositions that result in tension between human activity and the built environment—images that highlight how deeply manipulated the built world is and how dynamic and unpredictable that resulting environment can be. These certainly embody fears and anxieties about how we modify and inhabit our landscapes, but they also seek to capture the strange sublimity of manufactured landscapes, to express the enormous trust that we have in the builders of these places: architects, landscape architects, engineers, planners, and policy makers.
Q: What is your process like?
A: For this series, I'm always accumulating postcards. Some are from my own travels, others found in antique stores and on the Internet. Sometimes I know immediately the combination I want to make when I acquire a postcard, but more typically I spend a lot of time at a table with postcards spread all over, testing out different combinations, reading them, wondering about the process that led to the original production of the postcard, particularly the less photogenic scenes or unexpected subjects. During this process, I often find that I conflate two images that seem disparate and the resulting image is entirely unremarkable. I sometimes even find original full postcards, in which the existing conflation of landscape and human activity jars in a way that is very similar to my collages. When I do decide to make the cut, the process is largely unforgiving, although I do sometimes re-cut and patch, the initial cut is usually the only one and I don't know if the final combination will work until the cut is complete.
Q: Why were you drawn to the Gallery at Sasaki?
A: My art process is very much influenced by my professional work in the field of landscape architecture. It is a way to explore my approach to the built world, to push my understanding of landscape conditions, expectations about the environment and how we inhabit it. I think a lot about the practicalities of the built or designed world, so these collages give me a break. They allow me to work in a more open-ended process that does not have the same constraints or consequences. I was interested in the Gallery at Sasaki because it's a community of people who think about similar themes: the built environment and the role/responsibility of the designer; the spectrum of what is known and expected to what is unfamiliar and sometimes uncomfortable.