ESSAY BY TIM MAUL
In 2007 Tiana Peterson began work on a body of art derived from an intense examination of the biography, work and residual traces of the renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, a towering “grandfather” of modern architecture. The various photographs, accumulations, videos and objects do not further mythify or cozy up to Wright’s vast legacy. Instead she constructs a language filtered through the iconic vision of this Chicagoan and free-thinker of the prairies. What I suspect Peterson may see in Wright is a heliocentric monolith of a subject from which emanates an aura of occult veneration worth messing with. Peterson’s courtship of her subject via the standard means of communication (letters, proposals, etc.) earned her close proximity to the central power place, specifically a short residence at Taliesin Wisconsin, Wright’s compound and “source, sketchbook and laboratory.” Safely within its borders Peterson, the welcome guest, stalks the peripheries, photographing debris adjacent to a Wright structure and purchasing sanctioned gift shop fodder like playing cards. Play and social interaction camouflage the artist’s intentions as she travels closer to the eye of the conical storm. Neither trespasser or pilgrim, the artist’s determined homing in on sacred ground recalls the travels of a displaced fictional Midwesterner, Dorothy, of Frank Baum’s Oz books, America’s most enduring fairytale. Through a Baumian lens, that great skateboard ramp of a temple, Wright’s Guggenheim Museum in New York, transforms easily into the Emerald City, citadel of the medicine show, conjuror-turned-wizard. Taliesin, despite the upbeat description on its website, is one dark entity having witnessed events comparable to any Stephen King novel. Tiana/Dorothy gains entrance only to find the wizard not at home. She occupies herself through interchanges with the other worker bees in this particular hive. She initiates and photographs a gathering of earnest young architects and fellow residents engaged with assembling a picture puzzle of a Wright design—a distraction from whatever it is they should be doing, recognizing patterns instead of originating them. Peterson is purposely creating a black hole in the fabric of productivity, “wasting their time”—anathema to the competitive environment of an architectural office.
In yanking out the three dimensional cardboard pop-ups from a children’s book on Wright (2007) and later on Frank Gehry (2009), Peterson performs another disruption in the pulsing field of her subject’s wide ripple of affect. Whether opened upon a table or more appropriately, on one’s lap, none of these “Grand Pops” pop-ups pop out—so what do we see? In Wright’s case jagged white tears remain, specters across a landscape, while Gehry’s photogenic masterpieces have been gently steamed off the page leaving blunt, geometric forms (footprints?) in their absence. Splayed open, these slim publications renege on their cover’s promise, leaving only awkward shapes where miniature landmarks once sprung forth. To speculate upon what once occupied these bases requires determined scrutiny, like that of Peterson’s youthful puzzle-solving Taliesin colleagues. Here the artist’s agitation of these rippled waters of her subjects aura bears resemblance to recent gains towards the development of “invisible” architecture; structures “cloaked” by light-bending materials making them immune to destructive waves of earthquakes. Early in her stay at Taliesin, Peterson sent me an image of herself sitting at a desk with her head in her hands. Her eyes betray that she’s either exhausted, bemused, or both. Like Baum’s Dorothy (and her great granddaughter Princess Leia) Tiana’s penetrated the defenses of the Dark Practitioner and waits, pondering her next move.