Elise Kirk: The States Project: Kansas
Elise Kirk’s photographs investigate the concept of the “Midwest,” an undefined region inhabited by people that are often misunderstood. She traces the contours of a seemingly Midwest geography. She traces the lines in the faces of those that inherited this place, in the faces of those that can’t remember the day they arrived, and of those that long to escape but can’t fathom how far they must travel to get away. As a person who identifies as a Midwesterner, I understand this plight. Perhaps it is because the Midwest is everywhere and it is also nowhere. But a place that is undefined could also be described as limitless. This is the power of Kirk’s photographs. We see our own backyards, our neighbors, our friends, or our ancestors. I see the evidence of apathy, pain and pride scribed in the flesh and the land that Elise Kirk photographs. There is something for all of us in Kirk’s depiction of the Midwest because she describes a universal psychological geography—It is a terrain shaped by love, longing and ambivalence for the places we call home.
Elise Kirk is a photographic artist and visual storyteller from the Midwest, though she can’t quite tell you what qualities make her a Midwesterner, or even where the borders of the Midwest lie. She is currently based in Lawrence, Kansas, where she is Assistant Professor of Photo Media at the University of Kansas, and on the road, where she also produces nonfiction television stories when she’s not making pictures. Her personal work gravitates towards familial relationships (inherited and constructed), mythologies of place, liminal states, and the impermanence of all of the above. The photographs in her series Mid— were made in her ancestral towns in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, and points in-between.
Mid— explores a personal and cultural tension between rootedness and restlessness, set against the backdrop of my native Midwest. The large-format portrait and landscape photographs reflect a paradoxical longing to pull up stakes and put down roots, and the liminal state we often dwell in as a result. Playing on the conception of the Midwest as a transient zone to be passed through en route to somewhere else, the work refers to the pervasive belief that our greatest hopes and potentials can only be realized in some other place, at some future or past time. It’s a syndrome I’ve grappled with myself, centrifugally lapping the country in perpetual search of the impossible landing pad. As American society drifts increasingly towards untethered mobility and develops a homogenized temporary landscape in its wake, our identifications with distinct regional home places are more likely to reach mythical proportions. As such, the Midwest becomes not just my centripetal anchor, but also my stage — a metaphorical intersection between movement and stasis drawing from observation, experience, memory and fantasy. Here, my personal myth of place unfolds.
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Marydorsey Wanless: The States Project: KansasOctober 30th, 2016
Adam Long: The States Project: KansasOctober 29th, 2016
Mike Sinclair: The States Project: KansasOctober 28th, 2016
Elise Kirk: The States Project: KansasOctober 27th, 2016
Morgan Ford Willingham: The States Project: KansasOctober 26th, 2016