The Tallgrass prairie is a landscape that evades expectations. While in the prairie, you are fully aware of your presence. Aside from the bison, you may be the tallest figure walking through the preserve. With nothing to block its beams, the sun casts deep shadows over your form: this is of interest to me. Shadows are a literal representation of our animal-like existence on earth, they are evidence of our materiality. Just the same as all other beings and things (with exceptions of transparent materials such as glass) on this planet, sunbeams halt at the presence of our bodies. Our shadows are just one distinct similarity we hold in common with boulders and storm clouds. Shadows, in this way, highlight flaws in the hierarchies that western culture sets from nature. I felt aware of myself in a strikingly different way in the Tallgrass prairie.

My residency took place in July. It was actually quite rainy the week I was there. As the week ended, the sun beamed strong and hot. Bugs emerged from the wet soil- the grasses were alive- bugs jumping, flying, and singing. I love that the longer you sit with the landscape of the prairie the more that you discover and the more you understand. I learned that the soil is quite rocky; it is full of bits of limestone. This is the reason that the prairie remained preserved over the years- it was unable to be tilled into farmable soil due to the rocks. Beyond the screen door of my bunkhouse room, the bugs clicked and clacked into a charming melody that could only exist within this place.  

Matfield Green marks the halfway point between my now home- Boulder, CO- and my hometown- Louisville, KY. The literal in betweenness of the location of this place was attractive to me. I was also lured by the landscape; I had not spent time in the Tallgrass Prairie before. Due to the lack of immersion in the specific landscape, I packed along with me multiple supplies that would act as mediators to my understanding of the Tallgrass Prairie. I feel the need to understand a place firsthand before I can make work within it. Scientific glass rods, white cloth, an exacto knife for cutting the cloth, and mirrors were carried along from Boulder to Matfield Green. During my first few days, I was doing simple ‘acts of connection’ with the supplies to develop an understanding of my position within this place. I placed mirrors into the grasses and documented the bug’s interactions. 

I began to cut a pattern of squares from the white cloth to make shadow ‘drawings’ with the sun’s light.

I was reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass. A quote stuck with me, 

“Science can be a language of distance which reduces a being to its working parts; it is a language of objects. The language scientists speak, however precise, is based on a profound error in grammar, an omission, a grave loss in translation of the native languages of these shores.”

I gathered the scientific glass rods that were with me and installed them outside of the bunkhouse, in front of the train tracks. A subtle blur of the landscape occurred when looking through the glass rods. How is our connection to the landscape distorted through the lens of western science? I am interested in this blur- the literal and metaphorical distortion of our understanding of our position within the landscape. 

This work could not exist anywhere but within this place and time in the prairie. The rawness of the prairie inspired and provoked this work. The Tallgrass prairie is simple yet complicated and promotes an understanding of the world distinct from that of other landscapes. I am very grateful for my time spent there- and know it won’t be long before I am back. 

Amy Hoagland is a Louisville, KY born artist. She is currently attending the University of Colorado, Boulder as a candidate for her Masters of Fine Art in Sculpture. Her work focuses on the entanglement that humankind has within nature, discussing how human’s technological advancements are progressing Earth’s ever evolving structure.

Amy received her BFA from the University of Kentucky and was granted a 2017 Windgate Fellowship award presented by the Center for Craft. She has completed residencies with the Marpha Foundation in Marpha, Nepal, Casa Lü in Mexico City, Mexico, and Firehouse Art Center in Longmont, CO. Amy has recently had several solo exhibitions: one as a visiting artist for the Kentucky College of Art and Design in 2019, at the Firehouse Art Center, and Arbor Institute in 2021. She has exhibited internationally in Mexico City and nationally including Los Angeles, Austin, Denver, and Portland.