The Seven Summits
Serial Intent, Akron Art Museum
In most of my artwork, there is always a tension between the created fiction, the actual, and what is believable. For the Seven Summits project I decided to depict the tallest peak on each continent and explore how these structures are represented through photography. Of the seven summits, some are quite iconic, such as Mt. Everest, and Kilimanjaro, while others are less present in the visual vernacular. These mountains are discernible and intimately known by the climbing community, but to most individuals they are barely recognizable.
This mix of the ubiquitous and the obscure presented an interesting challenge, as I could not assume that any peak would be easily identified. Initially I was intrigued by the ways in which Everest is represented, and how it is seen as the pinnacle of accomplishment; yet such a remote and extreme environment has become a bit of a tourist destination and reduced to souvenir replicas. I was compelled to address its iconic status, but as so many other peaks were more obscure I had to approach the photographs differently. Therefore each mountain was a puzzle to solve physically in terms of the construction of the paper or clay dioramas, but also an enigma to solve visually.
My approach to creating the photographs was one of observation, practice, and repetition. I culled numerous photos and maps from the impressive, yet pedestrian visual archives of the Internet, and carefully tried to piece together a paper model of each monolith. I studied the lines and contours of each mountain and practiced folding each shape out of paper. Once folded, I could draw and paint in the shadows on each surface and photograph these approximations. I related the act of continually tracing each structure to the multiple attempts made by those wishing to summit all seven peaks. Though certainly not as arduous of a task, in it there was an intimacy, a way of trying to know the face of something I have never seen in its actuality or in its greatness. There was also a futility in the process, for how could one represent something only seen in photographs. Of course this is also the delight of the project, for in the end these images are photographs of drawings of photographs of iconic summits. The images are three times removed from the source, and therefore pale approximations. The photographs are translations. They are metaphors for triumph and failure, for they embody the essence of art making and the continual desire to achieve greatness while knowing it is an impossible task. One will never reach the summit, but perhaps that is not the only reason for trying.