The Big Idea
Untrammeled: At Wilderness' Edge
August 6 - October 22, 2021
Howard Zahniser of The Wilderness Society wrote the Wilderness Act of 1964, he defined wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” The word untrammeled is key to the act, which established the National Wilderness Preservation System and instructed federal land management agencies to manage wilderness areas and preserve wilderness character. This adjective, which signals the absence of human control or restriction on the landscape, has long been a measure for designating wild lands. In 2021, more than half a century since the Wilderness Act became law, wilderness areas have become magnets for human exploration and recreation as well as desirable communities to live in.
Many resort towns, including Sun Valley, sit at the edge of large areas of wilderness. The very existence of these communities depends upon people’s desire to be in and experience places where "the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man.” This has been particularly true in the last year, as the Covid-19 pandemic has driven unprecedented numbers of visitors into wilderness areas in search of safe places to recreate. Those who are able to work from home have been attracted to places like Sun Valley, and many resort towns have seen a significant influx of new residents. What does this demographic shift mean for the future of wilderness? Will it/should it change how we define and interact with the wild lands that bump up against densely occupied communities?
This BIG IDEA project was spurred in part by the 2015 designation of the Cecil D. Andrus-White Clouds Wilderness, 276,000 acres of mountain backcountry within Idaho’s Boulder-White Cloud Mountains. That designation followed several years of community conversation about the meaning of wilderness, the human responsibility to protect it, the individual’s right to use and enjoy it, and what form that use should take. The tension between those values is at the heart of this exhibition. We invite the community to join us as we consider our relationship to wilderness today.
The Wilderness Act’s definition of wilderness serves as a framework for the exhibition, which features four artists who consider wilderness through various lenses: wildland (“the earth”), wildlife (“its community of life”), and human use of and intersection with wilderness (“man himself is a visitor”).
Mark Klett first examined the changing nature of wilderness through his work rephotographing the sites of 19th-century survey photographs made by Timothy O’Sulllivan, Carleton Watkins and others in the Western U.S. Untrammeled coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Sun Valley Center for the Arts (now SVMoA), where Klett spent several years teaching at the beginning of the organization’s history. He recently returned to the area to make new work exploring the collision between the built and natural environments, and the ways that interface has changed in the Wood River Valley and beyond since his time here in the 1970s and 80s.
Photographer Laura McPhee, who lives in the Wood River Valley and along the East Fork of the Salmon River, adjacent to the White Clouds Wilderness Area, has made many bodies of work investigating the landscapes of the Intermountain West. For this exhibition, McPhee has created an immersive experience featuring large-format photographs and an installation of charred trees.
While Klett and McPhee consider shifts in the definition of wilderness and the impact of human-wildland interface, artist Marie Watt explores the contradictions between the human relationship to wildlife and the stories that we tell about creatures who live in the wilderness. Watt, a citizen of the Seneca Nation, explores the intersection of history, storytelling and community in her work. Her Companion Species series responds to Seneca and Iroquois beliefs that animals are our first teachers and that we are engaged in a reciprocal relationship with them. The exhibition features Companion Species: Underbelly, an enormous cedar sculpture of a reclining she-wolf that triggers contradictory responses—fear and danger, but also companionship and play.
James Lavadour’s approach to painting and printmaking is rooted in his intimate relationship with the land of western Oregon as an avid hiker and a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla. Rather than depicting specific landscapes in his expressive, abstract canvases, Lavadour uses his painting practice to convey his sense of oneness with the land. Lavadour’s process involves applying layers of paint, then scraping or wiping it away, performing his own kind of creation act to suggest and celebrate land. The exhibition includes Expecting Rain, an installation of 18 paintings investigating the way our experience of landscape changes with shifts in light, weather and topography.
Major support for Untrammeled comes from The Robert Lehman Foundation with additional support from Jane P. Watkins and Jennifer Wilson.
Laura McPhee's installation was made possible in part through a grant form the Idaho Commission on the Arts.
Sun Valley Museum of Art acknowledges the Shoshone and Bannock peoples and their homelands here in the Wood River Valley, as well as their use of these lands in past, present and future.
Admission to the museum is always FREE