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DIRT: Inside Landscapes

A two-part residency project at the Samuel Dorsky Museum in New Paltz, NY.


My aim was to explore the history and current usages of the word 'dirt' to open a wider public discussion about contemporary relationships with local land, dissolving in the process the neat barriers between the museum, the community and the landscape.

An exhibition of landscape works by local artists from the museum's permanent collection, ranging from Thomas Cole and George Inness to contemporary works by Sharon Core and Jean-Marc Superville Sovak, asked visitors to reconsider how we look at landscapes in different spaces. Labels prompted an investigation of each artist's personal relationship with the land, while wall texts introduced a basic historical context of pre- and post-colonial local land uses, concepts of ownership, an introduction to environmental racism, and addressed the myth of human separation from local ecologies. 


Opposite the landscape works, a growing organism of public associations with 'dirt' appeared on the museum wall, next to a cabinet display containing a definition and etymology of the word 'dirt'. People generously contributed their drawings, memories and thoughts, spanning a wide range of experiences: 'dirt' as beloved site of play, source of shame, welcome and unwelcome in specific contexts, connections to food, family and childhood, illicit gossip and self worth, with polarised tactile associations.



The public additions created a subterranean organism under a handwritten horizon of questions, forming the iconic Mohonk skyline visible from the Dorsky.

The invitation to participate was extended beyond the museum, through workshops and social media, to high schools and the greater New Paltz and Poughkeepsie communities.

The DIRT Project has continued beyond the residency through public workshops and installations, and through the instagram page @_thedirtproject_ .

To set up workshops and other DIRT Project events, please email here

Links for DIRT: Inside Landscapes

Artist talk on youtube

Dorsky exhibition webpage

Instagram project page @dirt.scapes

Works from the exhibition:

Thomas Cole, Lines to my sketchbook (poem), sketchbook, 1828

George Inness: Keene Valley, Adirondacks, 1885

Stefan Hirsch, Clouds, Waves and Rocks, 1941

John Pfahl, Salt Pile with Bagels, 1976

N. Jay Jaffee, Rock Detail #3, Saugerties, N.Y., 1980

Sharon Core, Drive-Thru, Kingston, 2005

Peter Iannarelli, This Land Is My Land And This Land Is Your Land, 2007

Jean-Marc Superville Sovak, A-Historical Landscape no.7, Weehawken, 2019

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