Ed Ruscha at the Joslyn

In regards to the artwork BARNS AND FARMS, what about this piece sparks my interest? My answer is as follows:

You’re telling me about something that you’re not showing me. With two layers presented in a square, a square that would feel very-much-at-home on an Instagram feed, I’m moved by the vibrant colors of a big sky as well as the purity of machined, white type.

The horizon line of blackened land at the base of the work anchors and helps to let me know just how small I am. The golden sunset (or is it a sunrise?) gives me a cue to close up shop for the evening (or to get ready for the day). 

As an advertisement, there’s a cadence I like. Chop-chop, barns and farms. Let’s kick the tires and light the fires. I didn’t live on a farm growing up, but I visited the one where my grandparents lived often. I’ve seen this scene thousands of times driving on the gravel county roads of Nebraska. I didn’t need a message to entice me there, I was there already. 

As a moment in time, with the clouds frozen in place, it causes me to pause and to recall the smell of those massive, wooden structures called barns. The dirt floors, the hay bales, the musty interior of the vehicles parked there. Things stored inside were protected, sort of.  Things stored inside had value, monetarily speaking. The barn was a key part of the working farm operation.

People lived on farms, but they were there to work. Sunrise to sunset, constantly doing some form of labor. Gotta do the chores, grow the crops, and tend to the animals. You eat, sleep, and procreate so you can do those work things better, more efficiently. 

As nostalgia, there’s love in that square. Memories of family. As history, there’s mixed emotions in that square. A country feeding itself and also causing a great big dust bowl. Prosperity and livelihood for the working man and then the corporations squeezing them out with monoculture. The freedom and good nature of rural America now with declining populations, economic insecurity, immigrant tension, drug crisis, and an often referenced part of one side in the country’s deepening divide.

I’m in a car when I’ve seen this scene. I’m moving and feeling the freedom of the open road. But I’m also a little scared. Because I don’t want to stop. I don’t want to break down and have to venture onto a farm for help. There might be a big dog. There might be a suspicious farmer with a gun. It might be where I’m knocked unconscious and wake up in a dark basement. It’s there I’m plumped up over a few weeks and then turned into soup for a very traditionalist family of cannibals. Seen that movie

And I feel anxious. Like I get with most advertisements these days. I like the beautiful presentation of type over image but am also unsettled with the unspoken outcomes that could lie beneath. That’s not Ed’s fault. Na, that’s just advertising.

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