Model, Colorado; photograph by Matthew Fluharty
Introducing Middle Landscape Projects
by Matthew Fluharty
There are two Ripenings –
One – of sight – whose Forces spheric wind
Until the Velvet Product
Drop, spicy, to the Ground –
A Homelier – maturing –
A Process in the Bur –
That Teeth of Frosts, alone disclose –
On far October Air –
— Emily Dickinson
Middle Landscape, an endeavor long in the making, seeks to continue our work both in advancing the field of rural arts and humanities and in facilitating the ever-expanding networks of exchange across rural America and its urban partners.
For many years, I have been designing (and re-designing) how Art of the Rural would go about matching its digital work with the production of recordings and publications, and how such work might hold true to our philosophy of the open cycle, an ethic that fosters continuity between online documentation and on-the-ground engagement. After weighing the virtues of the two forms of “ripening” Emily Dickinson evokes above, we’ve chosen a course in spirit with the chestnut and its “Process in the Bur.”
We do not categorize Middle Landscape as an imprint, a record label, or “brand” of any kind. Although we will co-create recordings, publications, and all manner of media in between, such products are not an end in themselves. Instead, we seek to combine releases of artistic and cultural material with digital work and on-the-ground action to facilitate a collaborative space that creates relationships between ideas, individuals, and communities.
Each Middle Landscape project is be co-designed as a long-term collaboration with a range of partners. Collectively, we enter into these projects with a vision for exchange and an understanding that these projects will develop – and meet with new collaborators and audiences – in ways we cannot entirely anticipate. As each project progresses, its focus will create expanding circles of engagement and facilitate networks that can continue to collaborate into the future – even beyond a specific Middle Landscape project. Our sense of mission is founded in this evolutionary process.
Middle Landscape operates with five imperatives:
• Highlight extraordinary work that deserves a sustained focus and platform
• Reimagine the potential for archival material beyond the archive
• Promote multidisciplinary exchange and collaboration
• Engage with a range of communities and audiences on a local, regional, and national level – and across rural and urban geographies
• Contribute to an equitable, connective vision of American culture
Each project will proceed incrementally over the course of many years, cycling between physical releases, on the ground engagement, and various forms of digital work. As this process continues, and the circle expands, both the audience and narrative will be enlarged.
The Lackawanna Valley; George Inness, c.1856, National Gallery of Art
This notion of Middle Landscape borrows its metaphorical frame from usage of the term within art history and landscape architecture. I am indebted to the work of Angela Miller, whose writing has propelled this concept into the center of conversations across many fields. In The Empire of the Eye, she describes middle landscape’s presence in nineteenth-century painting as that of “a rural Arcadia gently shaped by the hand of the farmer and aesthetically balanced between the extremes of wilderness and city;” this is a political and psychic landscape that made sense of the intersections of rural and urban, nature and industrial modernity, and, at a crucial moment in the development of the nation, offered an image of how, Angela Miller writes, “conflicts between freedom and order, change and continuity, growth and stability, could be rehearsed through spatial scenarios.”
As I have learned in the last four and half years of Art of the Rural, the legacy of this “spatial scenario” persists. Our Middle Landscape projects seek to explore those intersections and occupy a connective space not only between rural and urban places, but also between universities and surrounding regions, between artists, scholars, and curators, and between cultural institutions and community organizations. With the help of a diverse range of partners, we can advance a thoughtful, resonant vision of how these projects, like Inness’s canvas, can help us understand the bedrock conditions of our cultural moment.