From Outside In: Heather Kapplow’s “Going”

August 3, 2017 by

On the hillside outside of WSW are over thirty white wooden signs crowded together. The series, hand-printed by Public Art Grant Resident Heather Kapplow in the silkscreen studio, was meant to guide visitors the entire length of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail.

“I wanted to reach out to people across the span of the trail, and for the Workshop to have impact more far flung than on Rosendale,” Heather says about the original project, which placed signs all the way from nearby Kingston, through New Paltz, and into the town of Gardiner.

A Boston-based artist who works with performance, engagement, and the concept of spectacle, Heather designed the sign series, titled Going, to be an inclusive experience in a field historically reserved for exchanges among small groups. Ideas and art were discussed in salons, coffeehouses, cabarets—even contemporary gallery and museum culture fight the stigma of exclusivity. “Each part [of the Rail Trail] brings you through such different cultures,” Heather continues. Installing in this communal space allowed for the most shared encounters.

When in the last week of her residency the signs had to be removed and relocated due to conservation easement agreements, the hillside was a compromise to keep the series on display. Instead of being encountered one by one, they overwhelm visitors all at once. Heather was thinking of zealous political yard sign owners during the re-installation—except her signs bear phrases such as “I’m doing the same things other people do but for different reasons.”

At the beginning of June Heather walked and biked sections of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail nearly every day, using weekends to go the entire twenty-two mile stretch. Although she has ties to the local area, she had not been on that particular trail before her residency. Carrying a notebook and map, she tried to keep her mind as blank as possible as she traveled along the strange, new path.

“As soon I caught myself having a conversation in my head,” she explains, “I would pull something from that. If it had anything that had to do with where I was or internal dialogue or how it functions, I would write it down.”

The Rail Trail winds through backyards and fields, past markets and above lakes. At times it’s a tunnel through a canopy of trees, leaving only a few feet for cyclists to pass the countless families, runners, and dog-walkers populating the path daily. Heather’s note-taking was not a silent process; when she came across these crowds of people she would stop to talk, reorient, or check out a local business before continuing onward.

Refining her notes to determine the text for her signs, she noticed three voices taking shape. The first she dubbed the “Benevolent Observer,” second was first person perspective, and the third straight observation. This running dialogue of questions, judgement, and comments range from “You are your own witness” to “Things appear and disappear here” to “I know where I am with my eyes closed.”

While these voices were to run along the path, they’re a contemplation of the human experience and moving through life. Another wayfinding project Heather completed as a collaboration with Caitlin Foley, Warren, Echo, Salt: A Sleepwalker’s Guide to Georges Island, used temperature, birds, and other uncommon indicators of place as an unofficial map of a historic fort. The guide, which closely mimicked the real maps, played with visitors following something seeming official while being led astray. One thing that drew Heather to the Rail Trail was the opportunity to apply this way of working to a singular, linear, twenty-two mile run where there seem to be no other options to move.

While printing the series Heather found that she missed the trail. “It awakened this thing I’ve never really used in my life. There’s this way of looking at your surroundings where your eyes look at every little brown pile of leaves and have to make an assessment: is there a living thing moving in there or is it still?” she says. One day she stopped just short of running over a snake.

Off the trail or in the process of being made, Going crossed over into the day-to-day of Heather’s residency. In a moment of inattention, a sign reading “My mind is wandering” was dropped. The endurance needed for biking the trail was met with the exertion of sawing, painting, printing, installing, and uninstalling the project in just a month. Going came to encompass all parts of life, the woods, and art making, documenting the incidents of deviation along a supposedly straightforward line nestled in the Hudson Valley. 

Going will be on view at the Women’s Studio Workshop through October, 2017. 

Heather Kapplow is a self-taught conceptual artist living and working in Boston, MA. She creates engagement experiences that elicit unexpected intimacies using objects, alternative interpretations of existing environments, installation, performance, writing, audio and video. Her work has received government and private grants and has been included in galleries, film and performance festivals in the US and internationally. 

Read her take on the project on her blog and see more photos from her residency on our Flickr!