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The Memory of Space.

What is space and how does it define who we are?  How do we in turn define the space we occupy?


Point No Point, oil on board, 18.5 x 42 inches


March 2010, Project Statement by Treacy Ziegler

The Memory Of Space began with the idea that as a landscape painter, I experience space as ontological; it defines the meaning of being. Prison is an extreme example of the ontological nature of space. But whether we are in prison or not, we all are defined by the space we occupy and as we move through space we are constantly reaffirming (an extreme example is the “ugly American”) or redefining ourselves through the memory of space in relation to the present. In the case of the inmate, I originally thought memory was his largest dimension of space. A warden at a men’s prison (of which 40 percent are incarcerated for murder and of which 15 years is the average length of stay) corrected my thinking and informed me that memory of space is the first dimension that the inmate loses and this loss of spatial memory is one of the biggest sources of anxiety. In both the show for the incarcerated population and for the non-incarcerated population, I started with the idea of how (or if) visual images address the relationship between present space and remembered space.

Furthermore, if space defines being then being defines space. It is said that a blind person who moves through space with a cane develops sensitivity to the world through the cane such that the cane feels like an extension of the body. I wonder if that can happen with art. If a person intensely explores the world through art, does that art become an extension of the self? If the self is the center of perception, then its potential boundaries are infinite. We merely have to extend the length of the cane.


A Thousand Islands, oil on board, 27 x 48 inches


When I refer to “remembered space,” I understand that I am referring to “home” and the ontological dimension of “home” in the sense that this is the space where we originally develop our sense of being. I wonder how this notion of “home” and homesickness fit into the present experience of space. Homesickness here is not defined as pathological psychology but as an experience that everyone in some way or form experiences all the time: The need to feel at home in the world, whether we bring “home” into our offices, with us when we travel, etc. At a women’s prison where I exhibited 20 paintings I asked the women what title would they give the show? A number of them answered: Home. (Of course, one does not have to assume in the case of the inmate that they are homesick. I sat in the visitors’ room of a men’s prison in Connecticut with a young woman who said she was picking up her newly released uncle. She then went on to tell me that her father, her three brothers, her boyfriend and her cousin were still in this prison. The difficulty (it seemed to me) for this woman was not that her family was in prison but that they were being transferred to several prisons. Prison may be home.)

I am now looking at this ontological influence of space as threefold: present space, remembered space (home) and the experience of “elsewhere,” (maybe the “lake”). The “elsewhere” for me seems to be the place, although it may be remembered space, that a person anticipates/wants to go to in the future…. that their sense of being will never be fulfilled until that person gets to that place. (This obviously reflects the three dimensions of time.) I am interested in looking how the “elsewhere” defines one’s sense of being. For some reason, these three aspects of ontological space/place get reflected when people look at landscape paintings. I visited another men’s maximum prison in Ohio where one of the inmates looked at the trailer monoprint and exclaimed that this was the place where he really belongs; not prison. I see prison as the rock bottom way of exploring this threefold ontological influence of space.


We All Live By the Lake, oil on board, 25 x 56 inches


Mostly, I think everyone has a personal landscape: not necessarily an external landscape to which they like to look; that beautiful sea, or mountain. Nor is it an internal landscape that is of a psychological nature. Rather, it is an intuitive landscape where the boundaries between the external and internal seem to fuse, and it is this intuitive landscape that seems to provide a guide for moving through space from which a person maintains a cohesive sense of who they are. I don’t know how this intuitive landscape is manifested for anyone or if a painter of landscape has any more sense of it than the average person. In this blog I am interesting in collecting people’s experience of space and through the medium of visual imagery explore this intuitive landscape of the viewer.


April 2010, Comments from Treacy

A landscape architecture student at a university came across the above essay and asked permission to use it in her class discussion on “home” and “landscape.” When I asked her why she thought the essay would be useful for her class, she wrote: “I was really interested in how you deal with tangible spaces as fundamentally conceptual experiences.  Studying landscape architecture, it seems like we're constantly straddling the physical creation of a space with the more abstract creation of an experience.  Your essay reminded me how much of this tightrope walk has its origins in landscape painting, and that a similar negotiation continues to take place in that realm.  I really enjoy the way you handle that in both your paintings and writing...

I wrote back to the student: “Thank you for your comments.   I am thinking about your "tightrope" and wondering that perhaps there is no tightrope; that each experience is of itself.   That the phrase of  It's a bird! It's a plane! It's superman! are each valid experiences......   One could look at phrase and say, man, we got it wrong as a bird, then we got it wrong as a plane and then finally we realized it was only superman     Or we can experience it as.....when it was a bird, it was a beautiful bird, or a stupid bird, but it was a bird until it was no longer a bird, and it was then a plane and it a a great plane or a stupid plane,  and it was a plane until it was no longer
a plane, then it was superman and we thought he was funny or sad or whatever.    Maybe there is no binary relationship between the tangible and conceptual.   In the realm of experience there does not need to be the referencing to make something valid or invalid because measurement of validity does not exist.    Of course, I refer to "remembered space" or the "elsewhere"  and I do say "reference" but I am thinking of "remembered space" as an experienced in itself........not necessarily a referencing to the past.  I should probably change the wording in the essay on that part.  I have to think about this more.”


June 2010

The feedback from the class discussion included these comments from another student:
“I really like the idea of art as an extension - like a blind man's cane - there could be some fun platonic references for that.  I would be interested if that is true for anyone, and if so, I would be interested in how they define their existence.
I think the definition of ontological sounds stretched, I admittedly had to look up the definition, and the 'state of being' aspect seems to get muddled...  Maybe there is a clearer way to describe this.
I like - and am at the same time uncomfortable - with the idea of the 'intuitive landscape.'  The meaning is confusing, but strikes something that may be very true.”

To which I wrote to this student:
  “Thanks for your comments.  It is very helpful for me to think about the essay more.  I agree with what you said about the definition of "ontological sounds stretch".  I have stretched it.    Technically ontological would give a more of final definition or meaning of what it is to "be." that we "are all creatures of God,"  or some kind final word on what is our defining nature.    I do not mean this.    What I mean is that the lens that I use to explore the world is the lens of space/place (as a landscape painter) and it is this lens that I am trying to understand what it is to "be."    But it is merely just one perspective of many possible perspectives. thus not making it really ontological. 
What kind of platonic reference? I think of the cane more   phenomenological rather than as an abstract ideal.  But I would be interested in understanding the abstract ideal variation of it.
I think the problem with using "intuitive landscape" is that it is one of those non words that may or may not describe anything, like a filler.  I think to make it more relevant, I would have to explain the manifestation of this intuitive landscape.    What would this intuitive landscape look like and how would it be "embodied in a person's life.    I have to think further on this point.  But as yet, I don't have enough experience to explain it.
Sense of space in prison is seemingly lost.  One of the questions I ask the inmates is "Where is the horizon in prison?"  Not a psychological one, or an emotional one.  These things I don't care about.  In fact in the prison project I have no interest in the criminality of the inmate, or any kind of therapy. I am not interested in fixing anything.  I am merely interested in developing a dialogue of landscape and art.  I know that there is a horizon (that visual spatial line we come to rest our eyes on for equilibrium. Without one, being in a space without a horizon, is like being in a fog or having snow blindness.   There are several spatial elements that seem to be missing in prison  (or are more ambiguous or hidden than in the outside landscape) and I am trying to figure out what these elements are so that I can explore them in prison. If you can think of any, please let me know. “

July 13 Comments from Treacy

For this show I am primarily interested in the relationship we have to space. What is space? Can we “be” without space; can space “be” without us? Furthermore, what is place? What is landscape? Are these things different or are these terms interchangeable. And if different, how are they different? Is landscape metaphor of place and space? If so, how do we use this metaphor? Do we need this metaphor as a visual way to find ourselves in space/place like a map to guide us?

August 10

This project evolved out of exhibiting my paintings in a medical setting where patients had very serious illnesses. Although I was struck by the responses, I was struck more by the realization that my work was in a space where the viewer was not only challenged by that space but also defined by that space: the ontological influence of space on the viewer through the immeasurable dimension of space that adds to what it is “to be.” I became interested in landscape as a parameter of defining the self not with a psychological focus but with a metaphysical lens in determining a fundamental element of the self. It seemed to me that the most extreme example of this ontological aspect of space is prison. Whoever one is, doctor, lawyer, artist, one is defined as an inmate in prison. What happens when I put my work, those landscapes of very personal space, into the space of prison Like a box within a box. Does my work become annihilated by the larger space, or does it create new space within this institutionalized space?

I wrote to 22 wardens of medium and maximum prison asking them to exhibit my paintings within their facilities. I emphasized that I was not interested in art as therapy but that I wanted to present my work to the inmate audience as I would any other audience. I was interested in what kind of dialogue would emerge as a result. There has not been a precedent for exhibiting outside professional artwork in prison. Of these 22 prisons, I have had 6 respond positively to my letter. In particular, I have donated 46 paintings to a men’s medium/maximum prison outside of Boston where the painting are hung throughout the prison. I originally thought memory of space was the largest dimension of space for the inmate. The superintendent of this prison corrected my thinking and informed me that the inmate loses his memory of space and this becomes a large source of anxiety for the inmate.

In the show at Chase Young, I am interested in understanding how we all come to see space; what is space and how does it define who we are, and how, in turn, do we define space we occupy? Is our relationship to space more than that of being an occupant? Furthermore, how do we use the metaphor of landscape to understand who we are? Does the metaphor of landscape function as the red dot on a map that says, “You are here”, or “You are not here”, or ”You will never be here.” What is the metaphysics of “here?” Does “here” exists through space? Do we experience “here” directly? How do we experience “here” through metaphor? Furthermore, is “there” basic to a “here”? If “here” contributes to who we are, does “there” also contributes to who we are? How are “here” and “there” different from a space of confinement?
This show does not pretend to have the answers to these questions. The exhibition at both the gallery and at the prison is a medium through which these questions may be explored. With both the non-incarcerated (those people who are free to visit the gallery) and those incarcerated (those inmates who will view the work from prison), I am exploring these questions through questionnaires; online through the gallery website for the nonincarcerated and through workshops at various prisons to get feedback from inmates.

August 10 - Questions to consider while viewing Treacy's recent work:

What space/place in your life most describes who you are? How do you feel connected to this place?

If you were to create a self portrait through the imagery of space what would this self-portrait look like? (Not necessariy the space that describes you in number 1. For instance, my studio is the place that best describes who I am, but I never paint this space.) In this self-portrait, what colors would you use, what medium would you use?

Is there a “here” that exists through space for you? How do you describe “here?” Is “here” a physical place? a psychological state? metaphysical?

When looking at the paintings in this exhibition, what paintings appear as “here” to you? Why/how?

What paintings appear as “there” to you? Why/how? Is this “there” a potential “here?”

Is it important to know what is happening in the paintings? Are there questions that arise about the space of the paintings and if so, what are these questions?

Do you create a “time” in the painting?

If you were to title this show, what would you call it?

If you would like - please answer these questions and email them to Treacy