Zelda Zinn

Topical Geology

In the summer of 2009, I was fortunate to attend a month-long artist's residency at Santa Fe Art Institute. In thinking about what I might do during my stay, I immediately focused on the presence of the landscape and its distinctive high desert character. The more I looked, the more I saw the effects of erosion caused by dryness, water, and wind. Looking down, I began to notice the prevalent cracks in the earth, which seemed to be a macro expression of the barren landscape. The variety of shapes that these fissures took surprised and captivated me, and I began to make photos of them. When out shooting, I found evidence of rabbits and birds preserved in the wet earth, and I thought of how the mud held impressions of the natural world which was sometimes otherwise invisible to us.

After a long dry spell in the normally wet summer, I began to think about making my own clay. I wondered whether I could get it to crack along pre-determined lines of my own choosing. So I made mud from powdered clay, and poured it over sand. As it began to dry, I drew into it, creating my own mud pictures, photographing the results. The experience of working with such a basic and pervasive material made me think about early artwork painted on cave walls, and of the Native Americans who had built ancient pueblos from adobe, and who still fashioned beautiful pots from clay.

Back in Santa Monica, I wanted to continue my work with clay and mud to see how it would translate into this more humid and more urban environment. Having built several mud boxes of various dimensions, I begun the project anew in my backyard.  My thoughts turned to Southern California, and to our ongoing water problems. Having started this experiment with naturally occurring marks in the landscape, I ended up working with wholly man-made, symbolic representations of it.