“The old house, for those who know to listen, is a sort of geometry of echoes.”
– Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space
While I’m not originally from North Dakota, it is where I became an artist. It was here that I fell in love with long drives on roads that paralleled railroad tracks and with the view of seemingly endless fields surrounding me. This landscape carried the narratives of lives and moments that are now long past, and I began to seek out the fragments of these histories by exploring abandoned houses. For years I reveled in the search for abandoned houses and the dirt roads that led me to them, the thrill of stepping into the open doorway or climbing through a window, scouring the house for forlorn objects. Listening to the way the wind blew through the cracks in the walls, I would create narratives from both the information left behind and my own imagination. When people leave a house for the last time and it remains empty, the house becomes the caretaker of their story. When I find the house I become it’s caretaker, giving voice to what the house has preserved over the years.
For this exhibition, I revisited the rural abandoned houses in North Dakota after years away. When I leave a house, I know that it will never look that same way again. Permanent though they may seem, the houses are part of a shifting landscape. This transience is what makes the experience of them so singular, like looking through a portal to another time that could disappear at any moment. When I revisited the houses nearly five years after moving away, every single house was different: some had been repurposed, others had been torn down, and some I could not find, even though I was certain I knew where they had once stood.
All representations of the exteriors of the houses live in a space between presence and absence, just as they do in the world. The houses are no longer homes, but structures or vessels that allow us to glimpse the lives of the former inhabitants while making us sharply aware of their absence. The ephemera (letters, handmade cards, calendars) I have saved and collected are a poignant reminder of what remains, or what is left behind when someone is gone. Meanwhile, the houses themselves evade my return. For those I have been unable to locate again, the photographs that I took nearly a decade ago are all I have left. I don’t even know if they are still standing. Yet I recollect the strongest memory from each image, in the hopes of keeping it with me just a little while longer. The objects, offering clues, and tantalizing hints of a narrative are safely enshrined in transparent vessels, ghostly recreations of the objects’ former homes.
– Katelyn Bladel