Barbara Norfleet: Landscapes of War

Barbara Norfleet: Landscapes of War
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On View May 15, 2010 - Aug 29, 2010
Exhibition Location: Second Floor Gallery

Barbara Norfleet's interest in Americana and social history has taken many forms over the course of her 50-year career as photographer, curator, professor, and social scientist. Barbara Norfleet: Landscapes of War highlights the Cambridge-based artist's most recent work in photo-collage alongside her seminal 1990 portfolio, The Landscape of the Cold War, from which the newest series stems. For this new work, Norfleet juxtaposes found, hand-painted photographs of botanical specimens with cropped test prints of her poignant black and white images of high-security, Cold War military sites from the 1990 portfolio. The constructed triptychs are at once formal studies, historical records of U.S. war preparation, and meditations on the environmental issues that confront us today.

Both the recent collages and the Cold War portfolio are products of Norfleet's larger sociological study, the Aesthetics of Defense, by which she documented the effects of the Cold War on the American landscape and people. During the Cold War (1945-1991) the U.S. military commandeered thousands of miles of land in the West to build, test, and power weapons in the name of national security. In the late-1980s Norfleet traveled to sites like the White Sands Missile Range and Holloman Airforce Base in New Mexico to photograph the armed landscape and interview the people living in these military zones. The resultant photographs became the raw material for Norfleet's later photographic series and the larger project culminated in an unpublished manuscript of the same name, selections of which are on view in the exhibition.

By collaging photographs of the Cold War sites with floral postcards in her recent work, Norfleet opens the images to new interpretation. The photo-collages speak to the life of images as objects that can be included in institutional and personal archives as records and as art. Through the process of collage, the images are reborn into new conversations and integrated into alternate archives and histories. As an amalgam of visual material collected over the span of 50 years, the collaged images also represent an archive of the artist's practice. In line with Norfleet's multidisciplinary practice as artist and sociologist, Barbara Norfleet: Landscapes of War presents the artist's newest series as a subject for interdisciplinary study.