Jennifer Lanski
Local History Series
Back to Gallery
Previous Image

“Hofhooistraat 30 (10 Augustus 2011)”     Typewriter ink, fountain pen, and india ink on BFK Rives paper     20” × 9.5”     2010–2011

“Local History” is a series of 28 drawings depicting locations familiar to the artist that have changed over the time during which the artist has known them. In some cases, the business that occupies a structure has changed or closed. In some cases, a building has been torn down, built, or altered, or changes have been made to an interior space. In other cases, another change to the urban environment has been made, such as a park being created out of a vacant lot.

For each drawing, a typewritten text (created on an old manual typewriter originally belonging to the artist's father) describes the artist's experience of what was formerly present at the specified location (the street address for which is given in the title of the drawing). Beneath this text is a drawing, done in 15 minutes on-site, of what was present at the specified location at the moment the drawing was done, with the date written below that drawing. The remainder of the vertically oriented paper is blank, allowing for the idea that the location will continue to change over time; its future is yet not visible. And depending on the accumulation or force of memory (which corresponds to the length of the text at the top), there may be more or less mental space (represented by the physical white space) for new associations with that location.

The text for the drawings is written in English, with the exception of two drawings that were made in the Netherlands; the text for those is written in Dutch. To recognize changes in an urban environment (and to know what was previously present) requires an extended relationship with a place (just seeing a new building go up does not indicate what it is replacing); hence we can only create local histories by being attentive to and aware of our surroundings over a period of time. These “local history” locations, therefore, also represent the artist's connection to place, built over time and through many experiences. Most are in or around Pasadena, California, as that is where the artist grew up and later returned to (living in Pasadena at the time this work was made). The drawings with text in Dutch reflect the artist's process of coming to know the Dutch village close to the home of the artist's mother-in-law, as well as the artist's corresponding acquisition of the Dutch language. The passage of time is especially evident in these drawings, as the artist could not possibly have written in Dutch at the time of the experiences described (made evident from the content of the Dutch text itself).

The drawings on-site were made in 15 minutes with the idea that over a long span of time, what is present at a location at any given time is rather fleeting; hence the drawing is a quick snapshot of what is present at the brief moment when the artist revisited the site. The resulting work represents a slice of history, as it includes both the memory of what is not there anymore, filtered through the specific experience of the artist, and a representation of the “present” (now already past), with room allowed for the future. The specific time allotted of 15 minutes also humorously references the idea that places (not just people) may all have their 15 minutes of fame. Additionally, making a drawing on-site in 15 minutes allows access to locations that might not otherwise permit unexpected drawing activity: by the time other people at a given location (relevant only when it was an interior space or a construction site) start to question the legitimacy of the artist's presence and creative activity and consider taking some sort of action, the drawing is finished and any potential conflict or unease is averted as the artist departs just as suddenly as she arrived.

The drawings in the “Local History” series have not yet been exhibited publicly (though they were available to be seen by any member of the public who happened to be passing by during their creation).