A Lamentation and a Goodbye: Kathy Hettinga’s “4 3 2 CRY”September 8, 2014
After a 34 year absence, Artists’ Book Resident Kathy T. Hettinga paid a visit to Johnstown Farm, a modest, thoughtfully made farmhouse in Weld County, Colorado. It was there she once lived with her husband Duane, raised chicks in the basement, and reveled in the clear, open landscape. What she found upon returning was a region transformed by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking: well pads puncturing the farmhouse’s backyard, condensate tanks dotting the horizon, a haze hanging in the sky.
Affixed to the condensate tanks were diamond-shaped, Mondrian-like signs in ironically playful primary colors, emblazoned with peculiar numbers and codes. “I didn’t understand; these signs looked like they were for children,” says Kathy, “and then I found out they meant this stuff could kill you.”
The signs were the National Fire Protection Association’s “hazard diamonds” used by emergency personnel to quickly identify hazardous material risks—and they quickly became the visual and thematic point of entry for Kathy’s recently-completed artist’s book 4 3 2 CRY: Fracking in Northern Colorado. For the book, Kathy created her own coded sign using the numbers 4, 3, 2 and the cryogenic code “CRY” to symbolize a “Countdown to Environmental Lament” she says, where “CRY” works as “both a wailing, and a freezing of the heart against environmental stewardship.”
Kathy is a content-driven, Pennsylvania-based artist working at the intersection of design, photography, digital printmaking, and book arts. With maximalist abandon, 4 3 2 CRY embraces technology even as it implictly questions it: using digital sourcing, imaging, and printing, and reveling in Kathy’s interest in working somewhere between mass production and fine art. Working with an archival digital printer, Kathy produced the book’s folios before arriving at WSW this summer, and used WSW’s facilities to fold, cut, and bind the edition.
The digitally-printed, hand-bound book she created this summer at WSW mediates on twin narratives of loss inspired by her visit to Johnstown Farm: the tragic death of her husband and the destruction of land, air, water, and families in what is now one of the most densely drilled areas in the United States. On the outside, 4 3 2 CRY mimics the condensate tanks along Colorado’s horizon, each book wrapped in drab book cloth with an actual aluminum NFPA hazard diamond riveted onto its cover. On the inside, 4 3 2 CRY‘s 48 pages are packed with visual and textual information: satellite maps, personal photographs, screenshots from websites, scrawled handwritten annotations, and technical text and narrative poetry are digitally juxtaposed to create rich surfaces and textures. Aerial maps of the drilled earth’s terrain create strikingly abstract, patterned compositions decoded by Kathy’s text.
“The land is pierced, perforated, and gauged beyond comprehension,” she writes in the book’s introduction. “Northern Colorado is sitting on a pincushion of drilled and fractured earth.”
The hazard diamond echoes throughout the book, folding out three dimensionally and working as chapter markers to guide readers through Kathy’s dense, meticulously researched narrative. Like the satellite technology it references, 4 3 2 CRY zooms in as it progresses. Chapter by chapter (“4”, “3”, “2,” and “CRY”), readers begin by looking at aerial maps of Colorado’s drill sites, then enter the town of Greeley, peer into vignettes of Kathy’s idyllic life and love on the farm, and bear witness to Duane’s early death—all the while uncovering, in parallel, the mechanics and effects of fracking in increasing detail. The result is a collaged, interwoven atlas of mourning and imminent loss.
“Your life is one complete whole—you can’t separate ‘I love this farmhouse’ from ‘Look what fracking is doing to this region,’” says Kathy. “That’s the trajectory of the book: it’s an all-out lament for the loss of a beautiful young man—and then the salt in the wound to find out that the place we so loved has been raped, really, by corporate greed.”
Widowed at the young age of 24, Kathy has always been compelled to ask how we make sense of loss, grief, and fragility—these themes hum constantly underneath her interdisciplinary digital work. But it’s Kathy’s “activist radar” and her belief in the democratic nature of self-publishing that drives her to create projects that, like 4 3 2 CRY, use visual communication to call for justice.
“I’m really interested in activist causes; it’s what first got me into printmaking,” she says. “How can you get content out and into the hands of people, outside of the museum? What the artist can do is take something that people can tune out and make it personal and important.”
4 3 2 CRY is at once intimate and expansive, overflowing with images and patterns, methodical detail, and a deeply conveyed sense of personal and environmental loss. “When I look at satellite images or street views of the Johnstown Farm I feel sick / with memories and loss,” writes Kathy just over halfway into the book. By the end, Kathy says, “4 3 2 CRY is a Lamentation and a Goodbye.”
Kathy T. Hettinga is an award-winning artist, designer, and photographer who holds an MFA in printmaking from Colorado State University. She is the first woman to receive the Distinguished Professorship at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, where she teaches in design, artists’ book, and digital images. If she could sit down for coffee with any artist, it’d be April Greiman, a pioneer of early digital and computer art. See more of Kathy’s books at Vamp & Tramp Booksellers.