Through November, visitors to the Asheville Art Museum can explore Rural Avant-Garde: The Mountain Lake Experience in its final public presentation—the last opportunity to see many of these momentous works together in the same galleries for the foreseeable future. Multiple hands often created the artworks in this exhibition, embracing collaborative artmaking at the Mountain Lake Workshop’s annual sessions. In addition to the theme of collaboration, the utilization of chance operation is another through-line in the exhibition. Our Executive Director Pamela Myers had the fitting idea to bring that spirit to the installation of one of the artworks on view as well, Pathways: The Appalachian Trail Frieze (1994), which has taken a different visual form at each institution at which it has been exhibited.
The organizers of the 1993 workshop envisioned Pathways: The Appalachian Trail Frieze as a reflection of the experience of hiking the Appalachian Trail through Jefferson National Forest near Mountain Lake, VA. Over the course of two years, Joe Kelley, in conjunction with the US Forest Service, led workshop participants on hikes in the forest and asked them to photograph or draw anything that caught their eye. Details captured by the participants include leaves, twigs, stones, and other elements found in nature. The photographic records of these individual visual experiences were then gathered and arranged using chance to create a long frieze—the central series of panels of the artwork—that would mimic the experience of walking the Appalachian Trail. The drawings, arranged above and below the photographic frieze, recall encounters with findings observed along the way.
When installed, the photographic frieze and the accompanying drawings span a width of nearly 28 feet. At our Museum, the artwork turns a corner creating an uncommon and visually-intriguing example of an artwork installation utilizing two adjacent walls. The installation strategy used for the 30 drawings that join the central frieze presented an opportunity to again imbue this artwork with chance procedures. On the morning of Thursday, August 19, just ahead of the Members-Only Preview and reception for the exhibition later that evening, Museum staff members gathered to learn about the artwork as a group and play a role in its presentation. Choice of placement was removed from the curators, and the possibilities of random chance were embraced. Staff selected their favorite drawing and then determined the exact coordinates of each drawing on the walls by pulling numbers from a bowl. The three factors that each staff member randomly selected included whether the drawing would go on the left or right wall, the height of the drawing, and the distance of the drawing from the corner. The result is a wave-like, parabolic effect, one that would be difficult to pursue intentionally without the use of chance.
Check out Pathways: The Appalachian Trail Frieze to see the result in person! Rural Avant Garde: The Mountain Lake Experience will be on view at the Asheville Art Museum through November 1, 2021.