Jules Schmuker's art project about a new Lakefront Housing Development on previous gravel pits on the Grand River. (Image)

Artists' "Field Notes" statement

While traveling, I am often stopped in my tracks to curiously take a closer look at rapid changes in the physical landscape. These changes include natural decay or the use of machinery to alter a terrain on a massive scale. I take note of landscapes, man-made structures, inhabitants, and communities. The histories of these as well as people’s relationships to them are important, especially in light of their inevitable dissolution.

In The Grand River’s watershed area known as Grand Valley, land is being quickly re-developed. The land had previously been farmed, but is now in the end stages of being dug out for gravel sales. The large pits that remain are then excavated further to create small lakes whose banks are sold as lakefront-housing property.

As a way of documenting what I have observed, I photograph these sites. I use these in my prints and drawings after manipulating them in order to give a photographic sense of reality. I also invite the local community to participate in gathering historical and current information. With this archive, I show what present changes are taking place, create visual histories of the land and visualize possible futures of that environment. By drawing or printing etchings over the surface of manipulated photographs, I make obvious the physical changes that are in progress. The photograph represents the present, blueprint line drawings the future, and etchings the past.

Stories and opinions from residents of the area are essential. I have listened to their stories while sipping coffee and sitting at their kitchen tables. I interview both new and established residents. Generally, most discuss the great variety of wildlife they see. They enjoy the lakes as calm open space to look at, as a playground for jet skiing, boating, and ice hockey, and appreciate them for their increasing property value. Some have moved there solely for the water, while others have family living nearby. At this stage of the lake’s development, most residents are new to the area, but some who had established ties to the community and land have planted a “For Sale” sign in their yard.

My goal in generating this work is to emphasize change and question whether this rapid type of development can be sustainable for our future. It is our responsibility to make sure that our environments and resources are sustainable and we must be conscious of the affects every decision we make can have. The visual histories I create can cultivate questions about these massive changes and encourage thoughts about our relationships to land and the communities that help define ourselves, our stories, and history.