Free For All
GALLERY HOURS (during exhibitions)
Monday – Saturday, 11am – 4pm
Open until 7pm on Thursdays

AUGUST 23 - OCTOBER 4, 2014

Kathleen Robbins

INTO THE FLATLAND

AUGUST 23 - OCTOBER 4, 2014

Kathleen Robbins

INTO THE FLATLAND

The Halsey Institute opens the 2014 fall season with two photography exhibitions including work by Yaakov Israel and Kathleen Robbins. Both exhibitions are curated by Mark Sloan, Director and Chief Curator at the Halsey Institute.

Into the Flatland, by Kathleen Robbins, is a series of photographs documenting the land, people, and culture of the Mississippi Delta. The artist returned to her ancestral home as an adult in 2001 after completing graduate studies in New Mexico. She and her brother lived on the farm for nearly two years, breathing life back into family properties that had been long dormant.

 

Excerpt from Tom Rankin’s essay, Into the Flatland

The Mississippi Delta could be the most photographed place on earth-if not now, eventually. The magnetism of the Delta sprouts in part from the visible contrasts of the place: soil more fertile than most in the world, alongside virulent and uninhabitable swamplands; communities holding some of the richest while also the poorest inhabitants; over-soaked wet and drought-ridden land; lush green and somber gray seasons; a landscape defined by shapely hardwood breaks and infinite horizons. As the Delta can be rich and fertile, it can also be poor and desolate: as one can hear the powerful chords of humanity’s best music there, one also knows of Delta nights of terror and injustice. In part it’s these extreme contrasts that grace the culture with its irresistible power, creating a deep and at times confusing paradox. Artists of all stripes and leanings have migrated in and out of the Delta, fueled by an aesthetic dynamism that is palpable, alluring, and profoundly felt. Distinct from all the travelers, visitors, and recent Delta arrivals, Kathleen Robbins draws her artistic energy from a deeply placed history within the Delta, from knowing familial stories and domestic vegetation and from her people’s long presence in Leflore County. When Kathleen Robbins ventures into the flatland, it’s an act of return and remembrance, nothing at all like a first or new encounter.

There’s a reverence to Robbins’s point of view-no nostalgia or obligatory embrace-in the way she looks directly at a deeply global place through the intimate familiarity of her relationship to people and place. Her photographs inhabit the space they come from-or as she says, “re-inhabit”-since they are at once about home and about a return to home, about what has been known for a long time and about rediscovering new ways of knowing. There is no anonymity here, no sense that we’re simply passing through. The figures we meet in Robbins’s photographs are not “subjects” but instead are “her people.”

© 2015 University of South Carolina. From the book Into the Flatland, Photographs by Kathleen Robbins, published by the University of South Carolina Press. Used with permission.

Kathleen Robbins

INTO THE FLATLAND

AUGUST 23 - OCTOBER 4, 2014
ARTIST LECTURE WITH KATHLEEN ROBBINS
Friday, August 22, 5:30PM
OPENING RECEPTION
Friday, August 22, 6:30-8PM
GALLERY WALK-THROUGH WITH KATHLEEN ROBBINS
Saturday, August 23, 2PM
MEMBERS-ONLY CURATOR-LED TOUR WITH HALSEY INSTITUTE DIRECTOR MARK SLOAN
Thursday, October 2, 6PM
VIEW THE EDUCATIONAL BROCHURE HERE
CLICK HERE
ABOUT THE ARTIST

Kathleen Robbins was born in Washington DC and raised in the Mississippi Delta. Robbins received her MFA from the University of New Mexico in 2001. Her photographs have been exhibited in galleries and museums including The New Orleans Photo Alliance, The Light Factory Museum of Contemporary Photography & Film, The Weatherspoon Museum, John Michael Kohler Art Center, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, Addison Gallery of American Art, and The Southeast Museum of Photography.  Robbins’ work has also been featured by Fraction Magazine, Flak Photo, Conscientious, Humble Arts New York, NPR’s Picture Show, PDN’s Photo of the Day, Oxford American, and Garden and Gun. She is represented by the Rebekah Jacob Gallery in Charleston. In 2012, she was part of the Critical Mass top 50 and she was the recipient of the 2011 PhotoNOLA Review Prize. She currently resides in Columbia, SC with her husband Ben and their son Asher, where she is an associate professor of art, coordinator of the photography program, and affiliate faculty of southern studies at the University of South Carolina.

ESSAY | "Into the Flatlands" by Tom Rankin

Kathleen Robbins: Into the Flatland

The Mississippi Delta could be the most photographed place on earth-if not now, eventually. The magnetism of the Delta sprouts in part from the visible contrasts of the place: soil more fertile than most in the world, alongside virulent and uninhabitable swamplands; communities holding some of the richest while also the poorest inhabitants; over-soaked wet and drought-ridden land; lush green and somber gray seasons; a landscape defined by shapely hardwood breaks and infinite horizons. As the Delta can be rich and fertile, it can also be poor and desolate: as one can hear the powerful chords of humanity’s best music there, one also knows of Delta nights of terror and injustice. In part it’s these extreme contrasts that grace the culture with its irresistible power, creating a deep and at times confusing paradox. Artists of all stripes and leanings have migrated in and out of the Delta, fueled by an aesthetic dynamism that is palpable, alluring, and profoundly felt. Distinct from all the travelers, visitors, and recent Delta arrivals, Kathleen Robbins draws her artistic energy from a deeply placed history within the Delta, from knowing familial stories and domestic vegetation and from her people’s long presence in Leflore County. When Kathleen Robbins ventures into the flatland, it’s an act of return and remembrance, nothing at all like a first or new encounter.

A Delta daughter, in her eighties at the time, once told me her father would say of someone he respected and admired that, “he covers all the ground he stands on.” Such statements are expansive, metaphoric measurements based on the solid presence of the earth, the soil, a calculation born of the culture and life of agriculture.

Drainage has always determined the destiny of the Delta. Hodding Carter, Sr., the notorious Greenville, Mississippi, newspaper editor, wrote in 1942 that the Delta region is “a precarious Eden, which the river has fashioned and caused to be populated because of its promise.” Carter continued, aware of history but also a prophet in his predictions of what was to come, “It’s a promise beset by ordeal and still only partially fulfilled.”

Like many people born in the Delta, Kathleen Robbins may have had to leave home to see as she does. We all have trouble seeing clearly without the perspective offered by distance. While a native daughter never fully leaves the Delta, being away-in New Mexico or South Carolina-brings change. Looking at Robbins’s photographs I’m regularly reminded of Laura, Eudora Welty’s character from Delta Wedding. “Thoughts went out of her head and the landscape filled it,” Welty writes as Laura rides the trainfrom Jackson down intotheDelta. “In the Delta, most of the world seemed sky.” Robbins’s photographs Dad’s Apple Tree and Mom New Year’s Eve, 2007 give us that great sense of the world seeming mostly sky, of the diminutive nature of human presence and imprint. While the land and the sky dominate, what is so particular and also so universal is right there for us in the photographic frame. Land and sky seem the final equalizer here in these Delta photographs, where everyone and everything gets similarly swallowed by the landscape, all treated one and the same.

There’s a reverence to Robbins’s point of view-no nostalgia or obligatory embrace-in the way she looks directly at a deeply global place through the intimate familiarity of her relationship to people and place. Her photographs inhabit the space they come from-or as she says, “re-inhabit”-since they are at once about home and about a return to home, about what has been known for a long time and about rediscovering new ways of knowing. There is no anonymity here, no sense that we’re simply passing through. The figures we meet in Robbins’s photographs are not “subjects” but instead are “her people.”

She views an African American church in the rain not from a mysterious and unexplained vantage point, but instead from Dad’s Cadillac.

The dogs in Robbins’s photographs seem like family, and her 2011 portrait of a sweetgum tree is Mom’s Sweetgum Tree, 2011. There’s a transforming luminance in her picturing of the familial, finding that photographic sense that Welty saw when she wrote of the Delta, “The land was perfectly flat and level but it shimmered like the wing of a lighted dragonfly. It seemed strummed, as though it were an instrument and something had touched it.” That shimmering touch is ever present in the photograph Me on Belle Chase, 2008, where we feel the power of “Delta” time and space completely interwoven with Robbins’s inclusively endless shadow, an image with incantations of then, now, and later.

When we first meet Little Steele (in Little Steele, Christmas Day, 2006), we know there must be a Big Steele, but he’s nowhere to be seen. Later, of course, he appears in Big Steele in the Ivy, 2009, the kind of wonderful reward that a good story delivers in time. It’s the return that provides the gift, Robbins’s return home, once and again and again, and the way her story circles back and around, making some things clear and suggesting through other things, the unexplainable complexity of these flatlands. It’s impossible to say Money, Mississippi, without evoking the tragedy of Emmett Till and the deep residue of that history. And in Money Elementary, 2009 we can feel the cold encroachment of water and time and the dissolution of everything within the image on this chilled blue day.

Leaving and returning, away and at home, the symbolic and the particular are what’s at work here, all are grounded powerfully by that place, that Delta, and by Robbins’s fluent knowing. These journeys of the leaving and the returning converge here, each so dependent on the other. There may be but two places in photography: home and away from home. But they are hardly ever as separate as they seem. This confluence (a riverine word, of course, evoking blending waters), in Welty’s words, “exists as a reality and symbol in one. “She went on to say that she found this to be “the only kind of symbol that for me as a writer has any weight, testifying to pattern, one of the chief patterns, of human experience.” Here too is the power of Kathleen Robbins’s work, the blending of these confluent themes-with beauty and truth, honesty and devotion-imagery that covers all the ground it stands on.

 

Essay by Tom Rankin
Professor of the Practice of Art and Documentary Studies
Director, MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts
Duke University

© 2015 University of South Carolina. From the book Into the Flatland, Photographs by Kathleen Robbins, published by the University of South Carolina Press. Used with permission.

Free For All
GALLERY HOURS (during exhibitions)
Monday – Saturday, 11am – 4pm
Open until 7pm on Thursdays
843.953.4422


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