The Plains of Sweet Regret
At the turn of the twenty-first century, Mary Lucier began to visit North Dakota, traveling across seasons and time, into the far northwest corner of the state. Seismic change has forced the people of the Northern plains to re-imagine their lives as family farms, small towns, and rural communities have shrunk to nothing. The land is now occupied by agribusiness; the lone farmer, the cowboy, migrant workers and field hands have gradually moved on. The remains dot the landscape like the skeletons of fish washed up on far distant shores.
Mary Lucier’s eighteen-minute, five-channel video installation creates the experience of moving through the landscape, across the prairies and the plains, and into the West of the imagination–the West, which, if it ever existed, lies in ruins.
The Plains of Sweet Regret is part of the North Dakota Museum of Art’s much larger Emptying Out of the Plains initiative. Photographers, film makers, poets and essayists have been commissioned to create work that marks this moment in the history of this northern land. Their charge is difficult. Endless photographs and video footage of abandoned towns and farmsteads already exist—most overwhelmingly sentimental. How does an artist grapple with the essence of loss and then expose the ambiguity at its core? Mary Lucier wanders with her camera into these deserted places—empty, forlorn, littered with the remnants of human life. She films a doll, a school desk, a bowling trophy, cast aside, all stripped of their former usefulness. The churches and the schools and the homes, once filled with immigrants’ dreams, now house the wind. Only nature’s creatures come to call. The Plains of Sweet Regret is a lyrical ode to this lonely and desolate place, to a shifting in time, and to an untested future.