At the opening of The Subtle Land, Berea College, Kentucky.

At the opening of The Subtle Land, Berea College, Kentucky.

The Subtle Land (2008) 
3 radios, AM transmitter, and 4-channel audio.
Total time: 60 minutes, continuous loop.

The Subtle Land is a multi-channel sound installation that is a reflection on the agricultural landscape of Ohio and Kentucky. The agrarian essays of Wendell Berry are also a primary influence on this work: I searched for ways to reflect Berry's principals of adaptability, variety, respect, and local economy to sound. The Subtle Land borrows from integrated farming systems in content, form, and the position of audio speakers in the installation.

Detail of the AM transmitter that broadcasts to radios in the room.

Detail of the AM transmitter that broadcasts to radios in the room.

Most importantly: with the rapid depletion of small farms in the United States and my home state of Ohio, it occurred to me that these radical changes are happening quietly––without the knowledge of  many people living in regions close to the farmland––and that the profound, subtle benefits of the land are often appreciated only after they are gone.

The Subtle Land was made with the generous support from Fossil Fools, Berea College, Kentucky, and a National Performance Network Creation Fund grant. It was premiered at the Berea College Appalachian Center Gallery, as part of the Fossil Fools residency, “Art, Activism, and Appalachia” (April, 2008). 

Detail of AM radios broadcasting historic farm reports and agrarian interviews from Ohio and Kentucky.

Detail of AM radios broadcasting historic farm reports and agrarian interviews from Ohio and Kentucky.

The archival recordings come from many sources, including ballads, radio programs, field recordings, instrumentals, news, and farm reports. The radios and speakers each have shared and separate material, creating a balance between independence and interdependence. Inspired by old farm radios, the three used here are from the 1940s-50s, and are part of my father’s personal collection (he also kindly assembled the AM transmitter for this project).

The structure and installation layout of The Suble Land was based on integrated farming systems, like this one from Harnetty's journals about the project.

The structure and installation layout of The Suble Land was based on integrated farming systems, like this one from Harnetty's journals about the project.