Steel Tanks and Delivering Mail (Columbus, Ohio, December 1999)
Steel Tanks and Delivering Mail (Columbus, Ohio, December 1999), 2000–2002
Steel; video installation
Tanks: 8’-6” dia. Installation dimensions variable
Commissioned for the exhibition “Illusions of Eden: Visions of the American Heartland,” Columbus Museum of Art; Museum of Modern Art/Ludwig Foundation, Vienna; Ludwig Museum/Museum of Contemporary Art, Budapest; Madison Art Center, WI; Washington Pavilion of Art & Science, Sioux Falls, SD

The curators of this exhibition identified major themes in the works of painters and photographers depicting the Midwest in the 1920s–’40s and commissioned four contemporary artists to address them. (Maya Lin, Mary Lucier, and Kerry James Marshall were the other three.) I was assigned the topic of “work.” The steel tanks in this installation are derived from my experience of seeing tank trucks and cement mixers rolling up and down Ohio interstates. The use of raw steel is a reference to one of the primary materials of the Midwest, and I employed multiples so that the work would feel manufactured, produced on an assembly line or in a context that requires the cooperation of many workers. Like the transportation industry, they are part of a large system. By contrast, the video of my neighborhood mail carrier focuses on the solitary, nearly anonymous labor of an individual whose presence is so much a part of daily life that it is often overlooked. By concentrating on his hands and feet (we do not see his face), I aimed to address work in the simplest of terms. This camera angle also records details of sidewalks, steps, and porches: minutiae that define place.

Installation photos: Columbus Museum of Art and Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art, Budapest

In Columbus: The video loop was shown on a 15” monitor mounted at baseboard height in a location not immediately visible on entering the gallery so that visitors would see it after having viewed the tanks.

In Budapest: Tanks were constructed in sections just small enough to fit through the doors of the Columbus Museum of Art gallery. The main doors at the Ludwig Museum proved to be too small to accommodate the sections. As an alternative, the tanks were installed in a cluster directly in front of the entrance so that viewers had to pass through them to enter. The video was shown inside the museum.





Steel Tanks and Delivering Mail (Columbus, Ohio, December 1999)