Crocker Land, 2014
Installation View, "Oblique Strategies," Peter Fingesten Gallery, February, 2014
[Optical Wallpaper, framed pigment photographic prints, refractive plexiglass, each 16 x 20 inches. Crocker Land expedition map and text, edition of 200 pigment prints on rag paper. Available to viewers.]
Crocker Land Map with text, verso. [PDF]
In 1906, Commander Robert Peary saw a glimmering landmass from the far northern shores of arctic Canada. He claimed it to be a continent, named it Crocker Land after one of his benefactors, and marked it on the map. Seven years later, the American Museum of Natural History and the American Geographical Society funded a follow up expedition in order to, in the words of the trip's leader, "solve the world’s last geographical question.” On closer inspection, Crocker Land turned out to be a mirage.
This piece looks at the photographic afterlife of this failed, five year expedition. In August 2013, I went to the American Museum of Natural History to try to find a photograph of the Crocker Land mirage. If the mirage that bedeviled the explorers had been documented, what would that photograph look like? There are nearly 5500 images in the museum’s Crocker Land Expedition Field Photographs. I looked at every photograph in the archive and there is no photograph of the mirage.
I was searching for a non-existent photograph of a non-existent place. What might explain the image’s absence? And why did I need to see it so badly? The Crocker Land archive, I came to realize was, like most archives, a 'refraction' of the interests and desires that fueled the expedition: the drive of discovery, imperialism. and its spoils. The mirage that generated this archive continues to refract knowledge in the wake of its own disappearance.
The installation features a photograph of an iceberg from the Crocker Land expedition field photographs. This photo was used as a stand-in for Crocker Land in several of the museum's publications about the expedition. Presented here under a refractive plexiglass, the iceberg appears and disappears as viewers move around it. The Crocker Land expedition map, wall-mounted and available as a handout, shows the hypothetical continent as a banana-shaped sliver in the arctic sea. This map was found in the Crocker Land Expedition Papers at the American Museum of Natural History. The text on the back side of the map is a summary of what is lost and found in the Crocker Land archive--an archive instigated by a mirage..